Tony Karon writes: “We have to fight terror as if there were no peace talks,” former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin famously said in the early ’90s, “and we have to pursue peace as if there were no terror.” That statement may have defined the relationship between Israel and the then-nascent Palestinian Authority, established in 1994 as an interim administrative arrangement to prepare the way for Palestinian statehood. But events of the past few weeks have served up a morbid reminder that 20 years after the Oslo Accord, the peace process remains in long-term paralysis while a new wave of violence threatens to spiral out of control. Moreover, Rabin’s premise that Israeli and Palestinian leaders share the same goal has become difficult for either side to sustain.
Israeli outrage over the killing of three teenage settlers abducted near Hebron has translated into a wave of citizen attacks on Palestinians on the back of a widespread Israeli crackdown, and the discovery of the body of a Palestinian teenager said to have been abducted in Jerusalem on Tuesday prompted fresh clashes as Palestinian protesters blamed Israeli settlers for the death.
Today, of course, there are no peace talks, nor is their absence temporary: Israel and the Palestinian leadership failed to agree on terms for a political solution to their conflict at the Camp David talks in 2000, and since then — periodic attempts to revive the conversation notwithstanding — if anything, the gulf between them has widened. Israel’s political median has moved steadily to the right since Rabin signed the Oslo Accord, while the political standing of PLO chairman and PA President Mahmoud Abbas has steadily diminished in the face of challenges from Hamas and from the fact that settlements have continued to grow despite his peace efforts. [Continue reading...]
The Guardian reports: A group of former British ambassadors have joined a campaign calling for Tony Blair to be removed from his role as Middle East envoy after his recent attempt to “absolve himself” of responsibility for the crisis in Iraq.
The letter, organised by the makers of George Galloway’s film The Killing of Tony Blair, says the 2003 invasion of Iraq was to blame for the rise of “fundamentalist terrorism in a land where none existed previously”.
The signatories, led by Blair’s former ambassador to Iran Sir Richard Dalton, describe the former prime minister’s achievements as Middle East envoy as “negligible”.
Other former diplomats to sign the letter are Oliver Miles, who was ambassador to Libya when diplomatic relations were severed in 1984 after the killing of WPC Yvonne Fletcher, and Christopher Long, ambassador to Egypt between 1992-95. [Continue reading...]
BDS: Pressuring Israel, Presbyterian church divests from firms tied to occupation of Palestinian land
Gideon Levy writes: The abduction of three yeshiva students in the West Bank last Thursday was ordered in advance – by Israel. At the time of writing, Saturday, their fate was unknown and concern for their welfare outweighed all other issues connected to their disappearance. But no matter what happens in the end, whether they return home safely or not, God forbid, whether the responsible party turns out to be global jihad or the local kind, the context of the action cannot be ignored.
Perhaps the operation took Israel’s oh-so-sophisticated espionage agencies by surprise, but it could not have been a real surprise to anyone.
Those who stubbornly refuse to release Palestinian prisoners, some of whom have been incarcerated for decades, from before the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, and some of whom Israel has promised to set free; those who imprison detainees without trial for years; those who ignore the hunger strike by 125 “administrative” detainees, some of whom are dying in hospitals; those who intend to feed them using force, and those who planned to pass sweeping laws to prohibit their release – these people cannot pretend to be surprised or shocked by the abductions. They arranged for them in advance.
Israel, which is so worried about the welfare of every one of its citizens, has for years arrogantly ignored the Palestinian concern for the welfare of their prisoners.
Israel holds the copyright to concern for its people, as it does for the worship of the heroes of the national struggle. Meir Har-Zion [a founding member of Unit 101, who in 1953 led a retaliatory raid against a Bedouin tribe after his sister and others were killed while making an illegal trip to Petra] was a national hero; Ahmad Sa’adat [the secretary general of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine] is a base murderer.
Gilad Shalit was all ours, but the fate of Walid Daka, who has been imprisoned in Israel for more than 30 years, for the crime of membership in a militant cell that killed an Israeli soldier – without a single furlough or conjugal visit – is of no interest to anyone here.
No one here cares about the thousands of Palestinian prisoners. Last week, Israelis were much more interested in Meir Sheetrit’s housekeeper than in 125 hunger strikers who have been slowly starving to death for 53 days now.
Among the thousands of Palestinian prisoners are some base murderers, but also many political prisoners – and all of them are seen as heroes of the Palestinian national struggle. It’s the same in every national struggle. Behind them stands an entire society, which is no less worried about their fate than Israelis are for that of their loved ones. [Continue reading...]
The New York Times reports: The pension board of the nation’s largest mainline Protestant denomination, the United Methodist Church, has decided to divest its shares in a British company that supplies security equipment to Israel for use in prisons and in the occupied West Bank.
The move comes as Israel has been trying to fend off resolutions by academic institutions, businesses and church groups to divest from companies that do business with Israel.
The Methodist Church’s investment in the company, G4S, involves only about $110,000 worth of stock holdings, said David Wildman, executive secretary for human rights and racial justice for the church’s General Board of Global Ministries. But the action is intended to have a larger symbolic impact, adding to the pressure on Israel to stop building settlements and end the occupation. [Continue reading...]
The Jerusalem Post reports: Palestinians want to bring Israel before the International Criminal Court more than they want to fight them in the streets in an armed third intifada, according to a poll conducted by Khalil Shikaki of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research.
Palestinians continue to support a two-state solution and do not believe that the newly unified Fatah-Hamas government is an obstacle to renewed negotiations, according to Shikaki’s data, which he presented at the 2014 Herzliya Conference on Tuesday.
Israelis also believe it is possible to negotiate with the new Palestinian government, according to pollster Mina Tzemach, who spoke on the same panel as Shikaki. [Continue reading...]
Reuven Rivlin was elected in the Knesset today as Israel’s 10th president, replacing outgoing President Shimon Peres.
On Sunday, Dimi Reider wrote:
As speaker, Rivlin’s commitment to parliamentary democracy (and democracy in general) saw him turn time and again against his own party and its allies, stalling most of the anti-democratic legislation pushed by Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud and Liberman’s Israel Beitenu, while at the same time trying to instruct his fellow right-wing legislators about the dangers of nationalist populism.
As a staunch right-winger, Rivlin is opposed to partition but is emphatically opposed to racism, coupling his opposition to a Palestinian state with support for offering Israeli citizenship to all Palestinians. While this is a stance being taken up by a number of right-wing politicians in recent years, Rivlin, as a democrat, goes one step further. When I interviewed him for Foreign Policy four years ago, for instance, he spoke nostalgically of a rotation-based executive espoused by Revisionist Zionists like Ze’ev Jabotinsky – and held up by Belfast as one possible inspiration for a future of power-sharing. It’s a far cry from nationalist self-determination, or from the one state advocated by Palestinians and the pro-Palestinian Left. But it still offers infinitely more room for maneuver than anything ever plausibly offered or actually given to Palestinians by the centrist two-state Left.
Rivlin is certainly no left-winger – he hasn’t opposed any Israeli military operation and as communication minister in Sharon’s first cabinet, he presided over a major privatization drive. Still, Rivlin’s tenure as Knesset speaker earned him praise in liberal circles (including the soubriquet of “a bulwark” for democracy from The Economist), and the lasting ire of both Netanyahu and Liberman. Netanyahu, in a lamentable display of panic amplified by a petty squabble with Rivlin over some comments the latter made about Netanyahu’s wife, tried preventing Rivlin’s candidacy by canceling the presidential post at a few week’s notice, and trying to recruit American author Eli Weisel (who is not even an Israeli citizen) to stand in Rivlin’s place. Only when Weisel refused did the prime minister yield and offered Rivlin his sour-faced support. Even if Netanyahu is getting behind Rivlin only so he can eventually stab him in the back (to borrow a Yes, Prime Minister line), he apparently failed to warn Liberman of this decision, prompting the latter to denounce and renounce Rivlin and to hint he himself might support Dalia Itzik.
Larry Derfner writes: What is J Street doing? Why is it acting in concert with right-wing Zionist organizations like AIPAC and StandWithUs in fighting against boycott, sanctions and divestment, while offering no alternative of its own for ending the occupation?
Because the truth is that J Street offers no alternative anymore; now that the Kerry talks have failed, and all the secretary of state has to show for them is a footprint on his pants seat courtesy of the Netanyahu government, America is through trying to make peace between Israel and the Palestinians. And everybody seems to acknowledge this except J Street. Which is not a surprise, because without America in the peace process, J Street’s reason for being is gone.
That’s tough; the organization is going to have to change or close shop. And I hope it does change successfully by finding a new way to advance the two-state solution. Moreover, I hope it finds a less antagonistic way than BDS to accomplish this. And if it does find such a way, I will join J Street in a minute, because as an Israeli I don’t particularly enjoy supporting the boycott of Israel – but I do it because I see no other way anymore to end the occupation and allow the two-state solution to come into being. And nobody else has come up with another way, either. So as far as anyone can see, it’s either BDS or occupation forever.
Yet J Street, by default, has thrown in on the side of occupation forever. With nothing left to offer except hollow pep talks about the peace process, it’s fighting BDS – together with the pro-Netanyahu, pro-occupation American Zionist right. [Continue reading..]
The New York Times reports: From the earliest days of his papacy, when he walked slowly into a grand reception hall in the Apostolic Palace for his first meeting with a curious diplomatic corps, Pope Francis has promoted a fairly conventional foreign policy agenda: fight poverty, pursue peace, bridge ecumenical or interreligious divisions and protect the environment.
What has been unconventional is how Francis has elevated that agenda through adroitly timed gestures and initiatives — none more unexpected than the prayer summit meeting that he is holding on Sunday with the presidents of Israel and the Palestinian Authority. He has placed himself in perhaps the world’s most complex diplomatic dispute — at a moment when American-led negotiations have collapsed — by arguing that dialogue and prayer can help.
If few analysts expect any major breakthroughs, Francis’s summit meeting shows how he is trying to pursue his goals by positioning the Vatican as an independent, global diplomatic player. Analysts also note that Francis’s status as the first Latin American pope has given him credibility in the non-Western world and is helping the Vatican have influence on a broader array of issues and disputes.
“He is planning his own global role,” said Alberto Melloni, a Vatican historian. “He is showing there is a space in international relations for a different diplomacy. That is the purpose of this diplomatic action — to show they are independent and reliable for the world.” [Continue reading...]
Sheera Frenkel reports: United States officials have been holding secret back-channel talks with Hamas over the last six months to discuss their role in the newly formed unity government, according to two senior diplomatic sources with direct knowledge of the talks.
The meetings were held between U.S. intermediaries and Hamas’ leadership, which lives outside the Gaza Strip in third-party countries ranging from Egypt to Qatar and Jordan. Topics included the ceasefire agreement with Israel and the recently formed unity government between Hamas and Fatah.
During the talks, Hamas gave assurances that allowed the U.S. to support the unity government, despite heavy pressure by the Israeli government for them to condemn it, the diplomatic officials — one American and one Palestinian — said. They said those assurances including a commitment to maintaining a ceasefire with Israel.
“Our administration needed to hear from them that this unity government would move toward democratic elections, and toward a more peaceful resolution with the entire region,” said one U.S. official familiar with the talks. He spoke on condition of anonymity, as the U.S, government’s official stance is that it has not, and will not, talk to Hamas until certain preconditions are met. “It was important to have that line of communication,” the U.S. official said. [Continue reading...]
BBC News reports: US Secretary of State John Kerry has rejected Israeli criticism of his recognition of the new Palestinian government formed by Fatah and Hamas.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday that he was “deeply troubled” by the decision.
But during a visit to Lebanon, Mr Kerry noted the ministers were independent technocrats and insisted that they would be watched “very closely”.
Peter Beinart writes: On the Israeli and American Jewish right, it’s common to hear Mahmoud Abbas dismissed as illegitimate: Both because he remains president of the Palestinian Authority even though his term long ago expired, and because he doesn’t oversee the Gaza Strip, which since 2007 has been under the control of Hamas.
Well, hawks, fret no more. The Palestinians have just formed a unity cabinet designed to lay the groundwork for elections in both the West Bank and Gaza. The effort may fail, but it offers the best chance in years to create what the Jewish right says it wants: A Palestinian leader with the legitimacy to make a deal.
So how are Benjamin Netanyahu and his conservative American allies reacting? Not well. The Israeli government is threatening to end all contact with the Palestinian Authority and some Republicans in Congress are pushing to cut off U.S. aid. The reason: The new government has the blessing of Hamas.
And here’s where things get interesting. For years, Israel has justified its opposition to a government that includes Hamas by citing a statement by the “Quartet”– the United States, European Union, the United Nations and Russia—in 2008. That statement demands that any Palestinian government recognize Israel, adhere to previously signed treaties and renounce violence. But the new Palestinian government gets around that. Although Hamas as a party still doesn’t accept the Quartet conditions, Abbas—who will remain President—insists that the unity government does. His aides point to Lebanon, whose government includes Hezbollah, which like Hamas is designated as a terrorist group by the United States. The U.S. shuns Lebanon’s Hezbollah ministers, but accepts the Lebanese government as a whole. Abbas wants his new government to get the same treatment.
For Bibi, this is unacceptable. His position, which the American Jewish establishment will doubtless endorse, is that it doesn’t matter if Abbas says his government adheres to the Quartet conditions. Any Palestinian government “supported by and dependent on” a political party that violates those conditions must be shunned by the world.
Which raises an intriguing question. Could Bibi’s own government pass the test he’s applying to Abbas’?
Not likely. [Continue reading...]
Leanne Gale writes: As I made my way out of the Muslim Quarter, the dark alleyways suddenly seemed too quiet. Just moments before, crowds of ultranationalist Jewish celebrants had marched through this same space shouting “Death to Arabs.” Children had banged against shuttered Palestinian homes with wooden sticks and Israeli police had stood by as teenagers chanted “Muhammad is dead.” Now, all that remained were eerie remnants of their presence: “Kahane Tzadak” (Kahane was right) stickers plastered over closed Palestinian shops and the ground littered with anti-Muslim flyers. As Israeli police and soldiers began to unblock closures, Palestinian residents of the Muslim Quarter cautiously ventured outside. This is the only time I cried.
Jerusalem Day marks the anniversary of the Israeli conquest of East Jerusalem in 1967. The March of Flags has become an annual tradition in which thousands of ultranationalist Jewish celebrants parade through the city waving Israeli flags. It culminates in a dramatic march through the Muslim Quarter, generally accompanied by racist slogans and incitement to violence. Israeli police arrive in the area earlier in the day, sealing off entry to Palestinian residents “for their own safety.” Those Palestinians who live in the Muslim Quarter are encouraged to close their shops and stay indoors, while any Palestinian counter-protest is quickly dispersed.
Growing up at the Solomon Schechter Day School of Long Island, I have fond memories of Jerusalem Day. We celebrated every year with school-wide assemblies and dances, singing “Sisu et Yerushalayim” (Rejoice in Jerusalem) and “Jerusalem of Gold” with pride. Even in high school, I never knew the political significance of the day or imagined that my joy might be at someone else’s expense. Today, I know better. [Continue reading...]