David Landau writes: In Israeli political conversation one often encounters a much-used maxim: “He [an Arab leader who has offered a concession] is not a member of the Zionist executive, you know. And he’s not planning to become one…”
In other words, the concession, if it is indeed real, flows out of the Arab country’s interests, not out of its leader’s conversion to Zionist belief, a scenario that is evoked as a sort of joke. The Arab leaders have their own narrative and they aren’t suddenly buying into Israel’s.
This maxim is didactic as well as amusing. It has helped generations of Israelis to understand where they are in the world, in relation to regional rivals.
Not anymore. Not since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has actually begun demanding from the Palestinians – and presumably from the Jews, too – that they accept and endorse his version of Zionist belief regarding the identity and historical role of the modern-day state of Israel.
“Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people, where the civil rights of all citizens, Jews and non-Jews alike, are guaranteed,” is how Netanyahu detailed his demand in his speech to AIPAC last week. “The land of Israel is the place where the identity of the Jewish people was forged. It was in Hebron that Abraham blocked the cave of the Patriarchs and the Matriarchs. It was in Beit El that Jacob dreamed his dreams. It was in Jerusalem that David ruled his kingdom. We never forget that, but it’s time the Palestinians stopped denying history.”
The Palestinians, of course, flatly deny that the Bible stories are history or that they give Israel a claim over the Holy Land. They deny that modern-day Israel is the real-estate successor of Biblical Israel.
But so do some Jews. They love Israel and are loyal and devoted to it not because its present leader or previous Zionist leaders declared it to be “the nation-state of the Jewish people,” but rather as the strongly and determinedly defended haven for all Jews everywhere in the wake of the Holocaust, and as the one state where the Jewish religion and Jewish culture are central components of the national ethos.
That makes them Zionist, but with no allegiance to Netanyahu’s imperious version of Zionism, nor to his effort to force it down Palestinian throats. [Continue reading...]
Shibley Telhami writes: A public opinion survey I commissioned, which was conducted by the polling firm GfK, found that U.S. popular support for a two-state solution is surprisingly tepid. What’s more, if the option is taken off the table, Americans support the creation of a single democratic state — in what is now Israel and the Palestinian territories — in which Jews and Arabs are granted equal rights. The GfK survey consisted of 1,000 interviews conducted through an Internet panel and was weighted to ensure that the results were consistent with several demographic variables, such as age, education, and income.
The Obama administration’s focus on mediating an end to the conflict has been predicated on two assumptions — that a two-state solution is in the national security interest of the United States, and that the current diplomatic efforts may be the last chance to achieve it. Americans themselves, however, are more lukewarm on the possibility of Israeli and Palestinian states living side by side: fewer than four in 10 survey respondents preferred a two-state solution. [Continue reading...]
Jeffrey Goldberg writes: When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits the White House tomorrow, President Barack Obama will tell him that his country could face a bleak future — one of international isolation and demographic disaster — if he refuses to endorse a U.S.-drafted framework agreement for peace with the Palestinians. Obama will warn Netanyahu that time is running out for Israel as a Jewish-majority democracy. And the president will make the case that Netanyahu, alone among Israelis, has the strength and political credibility to lead his people away from the precipice.
In an hourlong interview Thursday in the Oval Office, Obama, borrowing from the Jewish sage Rabbi Hillel, told me that his message to Netanyahu will be this: “If not now, when? And if not you, Mr. Prime Minister, then who?” He then took a sharper tone, saying that if Netanyahu “does not believe that a peace deal with the Palestinians is the right thing to do for Israel, then he needs to articulate an alternative approach.” He added, “It’s hard to come up with one that’s plausible.”
Unlike Netanyahu, Obama will not address the annual convention of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a pro-Israel lobbying group, this week — the administration is upset with Aipac for, in its view, trying to subvert American-led nuclear negotiations with Iran. In our interview, the president, while broadly supportive of Israel and a close U.S.-Israel relationship, made statements that would be met at an Aipac convention with cold silence.
Obama was blunter about Israel’s future than I’ve ever heard him. His language was striking, but of a piece with observations made in recent months by his secretary of state, John Kerry, who until this interview, had taken the lead in pressuring both Netanyahu and the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, to agree to a framework deal. Obama made it clear that he views Abbas as the most politically moderate leader the Palestinians may ever have. It seemed obvious to me that the president believes that the next move is Netanyahu’s. [Continue reading...]
Larry Derfner writes: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is expected sometime in the coming weeks to weigh in decisively on the Israeli-Palestinian talks he’s been shepherding, and the reports, statements and signs are that he will come down on Israel’s side like no American mediator ever has. Indications are he will present the outline of a deal that’s less forthcoming to the Palestinians than the offers presented them by Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert in 2008 and premier Ehud Barak in 2001. In other words, the emerging American “framework agreement” appears to ask the Palestinians to accept peace terms that are worse than the Israeli ones they already rejected.
This doesn’t mean anything for the chances of a peace agreement, though, because no such chance has ever been sighted, not six months ago when the talks, scheduled for nine months, began and certainly not now, when the bad blood between the Israeli and Palestinian sides has only increased. But seeing as how the talks were hopeless, the goal of each side has been to make sure that the other side ends up with the blame for their inevitable failure. If Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu comes out looking like the rejectionist, it would accelerate the growing boycott, sanctions and divestment (BDS) movement against Israel, especially in Europe, and put the wind at Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ back in his diplomatic campaign in the United Nations, which envisages bringing Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians to The Hague. But if, on the other hand, Abbas gets blamed, then the Palestinians would be thrown on the defensive and Israel would be able to breathe much easier.
The import, then, of a heavily “pro-Israel” U.S. proposal is that it would all but compel the Palestinians to reject it, putting the blame – at least in American eyes – on them. The recent momentum of the anti-occupation movement would likely be blunted. Thus, the effect of Kerry’s incredibly dogged efforts and evident good intentions would be to strengthen the status quo – Israel’s 46-year military rule over the Palestinians – weaken the opposition to it and even further darken the dimming prospect of a Palestinian state arising alongside the State of Israel.
This is the opposite of what Kerry had in mind when he set out on his mission. But it’s exactly what Netanyahu has been playing for. And it appears the earnest, optimistic American has been played. [Continue reading...]
Earlier this week, Ron Kampeas wrote: On Facebook today, Tzipi Livni, the Israeli justice minister and the top negotiator in talks with the Palestinians, posted an attack aimed at her coalition partner Naftali Bennett.
Bennett, Israel’s economy minister and leader of the pro-settler Jewish Home party, had the night before delivered a speech in which he apparently argued that Israel’s problem was one of hasbara, or PR. This is not a new argument from him — it’s not a new argument at all — but something set Livni off this time.
So in a Facebook post that was dripping with sarcasm, she proposes a PR campaign for Bennett’s vision of an Israel that has rejected of Palestinian statehood, and wonders if it could be even worse than apartheid South Africa.
Livni is not the first Israeli politician to warn that a failure to arrive at a two-state solution could lead to apartheid; she is not even the first scion of the “fighting family” of right-wing Revisionists who once stood for a Greater Israel to do so — that would be Ehud Olmert, the former prime minister.
But I’ve never seen any Israeli leader so senior describe so brutally an erosion of democracy in the country, nor have I seen anyone use real-time examples to posit an apartheid analogy. Olmert and Ehud Barak before him said that demographic realities could lead to Apartheid; Livni sees it looming before her in the radical Hilltop Youth settler movement and the “price tag” attacks on Palestinians. [Continue reading...]
The Guardian reports: Kerry announced the start of a new peace process in July – itself the product of intensive negotiations – flanked by Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, beneath the chandeliers of the State Department’s Benjamin Franklin Room in Washington. “I believe that history is not made by cynics,” he declared. “It is made by realists who are not afraid to dream.”
The goal Kerry set for the talks had defeated previous secretaries of state and presidents: a peace agreement, based on a resolution of every single major issue that has divided Israel and Palestine for decades. And he wanted it secured within just nine months.
The 68th secretary of state had by then already acquired a reputation for grandiose speeches; privately, some diplomats began asserting that his self-belief could border on hubris.
Now some of his critics say they are being proved right. “It does not seem to me the talks are going well,” said Elliott Abrams, a former White House advisor who worked on the Israel-Palestine conflict under George W Bush’s administration. “The secretary went into this initially with the goal of a final status agreement. It is very clear that that is impossible. He maybe has a rabbit in his hat. But I doubt it.”
Much of the scepticism is born from the fact Kerry’s ambitious talk of the all-encompassing “final status agreement” has, for some months now, been replaced with more modest noises about a getting the sides to endorse a set of basic principles for further talks.
Others say that persuading both sides to agree to a “framework deal” will be a remarkable achievement given the wide gaps between them thus far, and could lead to further progress. “A framework agreement is a logical part of trying to get to a final, comprehensive agreement,” said a senior US administration official close to the process.
But, clearly, the goalposts have shifted. Gone is the promise of a wide-ranging final agreement, achieved in one go; instead, the US has settled on a step-by-step approach. [Continue reading...]
The Washington Post reports: As Secretary of State John F. Kerry resumes talks here Wednesday in the quest to create “two states for two people,” a vocal faction in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government is, more openly than ever, opposing the very idea of a Palestinian state — and putting forward its own plans to take, rather than give away, territory.
Ministers in Netanyahu’s ruling coalition and leaders of his party, the Likud, are in revolt against the international community’s long-held consensus that there should be two states between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. In the process, they are seeking to overturn the commitments of every U.S. president since Bill Clinton and at least four Israeli prime ministers, including the current one.
While once content to simply voice their opposition to giving up what they see as Jewish land or rights in the West Bank, these two-state opponents have gone beyond shouting “no” and are preparing details of their own vision for how Israel should proceed unilaterally after the current round of peace talks fails — which they say is inevitable.
“The day after peace talks fail, we need to have Plan B,” said Knesset member Tzipi Hotovely, a rising star in the Likud party and deputy minister of transportation in Netanyahu’s government.
Instead of a sovereign Palestinian nation arising in the West Bank and Gaza, with East Jerusalem as its capital — which has been the focus of on-again, off-again peace negotiations since the Oslo Accords in 1993 — the two-state opponents envision Israel annexing large swaths of the West Bank. [Continue reading...]
M.J. Rosenberg writes: Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu gave a major speech the other day at Bar Ilan University. Most of it was saber rattling at Iran. But enough of it was about the Palestinians to steel my belief that negotiating with Netanyahu is a waste of time and that Kerry’s initiative is a charade.
The centerpiece of his discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was this: his demand that Palestinians recognize Israel “as a Jewish state.”
This is the nation state of the Jewish people….Recognize the Jewish state. As long as you refuse to do so, there will never be peace. Recognize our right to live here in our own sovereign state, our nation state – only then will peace be possible. I emphasize this here – this is an essential condition.
It’s a new demand, one that only became Israeli policy when Netanyahu came to office. Every prime minister prior to Netanyahu only demanded that the Palestinians recognize Israel. But then, on September 9, 1993, PLO Chairman Yasir Arafat sent this statement to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (in exchange for Rabin’s recognition of the PLO as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people). This agreement stands to this day and is recognized as binding by both sides.
The PLO recognizes the right of Israel to exist in peace and security. The PLO accepts United Nations resolutions 242 and 338. The PLO commits itself to the peaceful resolution of the conflict between the two sides and declares that all outstanding issues related to final status will be resolved through negotiations.
This commitment — encompassing Palestinian acceptance of Israel’s three long-standing conditions – led to Rabin’s agreement to begin negotiations with the Palestinians.
Netanyahu, who was then leader of the Likud opposition, vehemently opposed Rabin’s acceptance of Arafat’s concessions and began a campaign of incitement against Rabin himself. He understood then, as he does now, that Palestinian recognition of Israel meant that the largest obstacle to a land-for-peace agreement was gone. [Continue reading...]
Jamie Stern-Weiner writes: Having declared independence in May 1948, the new State of Israel was lacking in international legitimacy. Recognizing the deficiency, Israeli officials invested tremendous effort over the course of 1948-1949 in securing Israel’s admission to the United Nations.
A recent paper identifies three arguments advanced by Israeli diplomats at the time in support of Israel’s application:
- Peace: “Holding the peace process hostage” to UN admission, Israeli officials argued that the latter would advance peace talks. This approach — of insisting that UN admission precede a peace agreement — was championed by Israel’s first ambassador to the UN, Abba Eban. Speaking before the General Assembly, Eban impressed upon delegates that Israel’s admission would “contribute to the rapid conclusion of [peace] agreements.” Indeed, “nothing could be more prejudicial to the prospects of conciliation and peace than…doubts regarding Israel’s international status,” for why should the Arab states recognize Israel “if the United Nations hesitated to do so itself”?
- Equality: The UN should accept Israel’s application in order to place it “on an equal footing with the Arab states in the ongoing armistice and upcoming peace talks.” “Surely,” Eban urged the General Assembly in December 1948, “the cause of conciliation would be advanced if both parties…had the same obligations, bore the same responsibility and enjoyed the same status.” It is “obvious,” he continued, that peace efforts “would be gravely undermined” without “a serious effort…to place both parties on an equal footing.” “At every stage of its checkered relations with the Arab world,” he repeated four months later, “Israel had felt equality of status to be the essential condition of partnership.”
- Prestige: The UN’s legitimacy as a body aiming at “universality” would be undermined should it reject Israel’s application. UN prestige was particularly implicated in the case of Israel, whose establishment and recognition the UN had itself recommended. In rejecting Israel’s application, then, the UN would in effect be “repudiating its own decision.” “It would be an extraordinary paradox,” Eban declared in May 1949, “if the United Nations were to close its doors upon the State which it had helped to quicken into active life.” If it did so, “the future authority of the United Nations” would suffer.
In September 2011, after decades of fruitless bilateral negotiations, the Palestinian leadership applied for admission to the UN. Facing a certain US veto in the Security Council, the request was never voted on. [Continue reading...]
Ground breaking research performed by Israeli, Palestinian, and Jordanian researchers examines for the first time the regional implications of the implementation of the two-state solution.
Under the auspices of the European Union Partnership for Peace program and co-sponsored by the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, Israel, the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Strategic Dialogue at Netanya Academic College, in partnership with Data Studies and Consultation and the Amman Center for Peace & Development, have engaged in a two year, tri-lateral research project to examine the regional effects of a two-state solution. The research is published as an edited book in October, 2013 in three languages (English, Hebrew, and Arabic) and is being presented to key decision-makers, opinionshapers, and publics in the region, attempting to affect regional processes, by illustrating to leaders what “the day after” a peace agreement would look like.
The participating researchers, leading academics, retired generals, and former diplomats, were divided into five research teams, each one comprised of one Israeli, one Palestinian, and one Jordanian, with each team given the task to examine how the establishment of a Palestinian state would affect a certain key fields, described as follows.
The following is a summary of each research group’s findings. [Read more...]
Ian S. Lustick writes: Conceived as early as the 1930s, the idea of two states between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea all but disappeared from public consciousness between 1948 and 1967. Between 1967 and 1973 it re-emerged, advanced by a minority of “moderates” in each community. By the 1990s it was embraced by majorities on both sides as not only possible but, during the height of the Oslo peace process, probable. But failures of leadership in the face of tremendous pressures brought Oslo crashing down. These days no one suggests that a negotiated two-state “solution” is probable. The most optimistic insist that, for some brief period, it may still be conceivable.
But many Israelis see the demise of the country as not just possible, but probable. The State of Israel has been established, not its permanence. The most common phrase in Israeli political discourse is some variation of “If X happens (or doesn’t), the state will not survive!” Those who assume that Israel will always exist as a Zionist project should consider how quickly the Soviet, Pahlavi Iranian, apartheid South African, Baathist Iraqi and Yugoslavian states unraveled, and how little warning even sharp-eyed observers had that such transformations were imminent.
In all these cases, presumptions about what was “impossible” helped protect brittle institutions by limiting political imagination. And when objective realities began to diverge dramatically from official common sense, immense pressures accumulated.
JUST as a balloon filled gradually with air bursts when the limit of its tensile strength is passed, there are thresholds of radical, disruptive change in politics. When those thresholds are crossed, the impossible suddenly becomes probable, with revolutionary implications for governments and nations. As we see vividly across the Middle East, when forces for change and new ideas are stifled as completely and for as long as they have been in the Israel-Palestinian conflict, sudden and jagged change becomes increasingly likely.
History offers many such lessons. Britain ruled Ireland for centuries, annexing it in 1801. By the mid-19th century the entire British political class treated Ireland’s permanent incorporation as a fact of life. But bottled-up Irish fury produced repeated revolts. By the 1880s, the Irish question was the greatest issue facing the country; it led to mutiny in the army and near civil war before World War I. Once the war ended, it took only a few years until the establishment of an independent Ireland. What was inconceivable became a fact.
France ruled Algeria for 130 years and never questioned the future of Algeria as an integral part of France. But enormous pressures accumulated, exploding into a revolution that left hundreds of thousands dead. Despite France’s military victory over the rebels in 1959, Algeria soon became independent, and Europeans were evacuated from the country.
And when Mikhail S. Gorbachev sought to save Soviet Communism by reforming it with the policies of glasnost and perestroika, he relied on the people’s continuing belief in the permanence of the Soviet structure. But the forces for change that had already accumulated were overwhelming. Unable to separate freedom of expression and market reforms from the rest of the Soviet state project, Mr. Gorbachev’s policies pushed the system beyond its breaking point. Within a few years, both the Soviet Union and the Communist regime were gone.
Obsessive focus on preserving the theoretical possibility of a two-state solution is as irrational as rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic rather than steering clear of icebergs. But neither ships in the night nor the State of Israel can avoid icebergs unless they are seen. [Continue reading...]
Joseph Dana writes: Twenty years after the Oslo Accords were signed on a sun-drenched White House lawn, the two-state solution has become the butt of jokes, in both Israel and Palestine.
Among Palestinians, the phrase “Oslo Accords” has become a concise way to refer to land theft, economic domination and the failure of the international community to pressure Israel into moving towards a two-state solution.
Meanwhile Israel, despite a superior army, a tendency for violence and the backing of the United States, finds itself stymied by internal indecision and infighting about a sustainable solution.
Israeli settlers and their supporters in the government have taken advantage of society’s uncertainty. And the more deeply the occupation entrenches itself, the more valuable control over the West Bank becomes for Israel.
To put it simply, Israel is in the throes of creating its own worst nightmare: a binational state.
Walk around any West Bank city these days and you will find people who are quick to say that Israel wants a “South African” solution to the conflict. That is, they want to control the land and administer it through an unequal system of governance which affords privileges and rights on the basis of religion.
Many Palestinians have come to understand that Israel could not disengage from them, even if it wanted to. They see that the land of the West Bank is simply too valuable, that holding the Palestinian economy captive is too lucrative and that the appeasement of radical Jewish settlers is too convenient; for these reasons Israel is unwilling to end its control and really begin to move towards a two state solution.
All but the most starry-eyed and emotional supporters of the two- state solution can now clearly see the reality of the current situation: Israel has built its system of domination into the very fabric of life for all between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, but at the same time had been timidly reticent to take responsibility for the results of its actions. [Continue reading...]
Avi Shlaim writes: Exactly 20 years have passed since the Oslo accords were signed on the White House lawn. For all their shortcomings and ambiguities, the accords constituted a historic breakthrough in the century-old conflict between Jews and Arabs in Palestine. It was the first peace agreement between the two principal parties to the conflict: Israelis and Palestinians.
The accords represented real progress on three fronts: the Palestine Liberation Organisation recognised the state of Israel; Israel recognised the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people; and both sides agreed to resolve their outstanding differences by peaceful means. Mutual recognition replaced mutual rejection. In short, this promised at least the beginning of a reconciliation between two bitterly antagonistic national movements. And the hesitant handshake between Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat clinched the historic compromise.
Critical to the architecture of Oslo was the notion of gradualism. The text did not address any of the key issues in this dispute: Jerusalem; the right of return of 1948 refugees; the status of Jewish settlements built on occupied Palestinian land; or the borders of the Palestinian entity. All these “permanent status” issues were deferred for negotiations towards the end of the five-year transition period. Basically, this was a modest experiment in Palestinian self-government, starting with the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Jericho.
The text did not promise or even mention an independent Palestinian state at the end of the transition period. The Palestinians believed that in return for giving up their claim to 78% of historic Palestine, they would gain an independent state in the remaining 22%, with a capital city in Jerusalem. They were to be bitterly disappointed. [Continue reading...]
The Guardian reports: Israel has said it will release “heavyweight” Palestinian prisoners as part of an agreement to enter preliminary talks in Washington, with the aim of an eventual resumption of long-stalled peace negotiations.
Hours after the US secretary of state, John Kerry, announced that the two sides in the conflict had agreed to discuss terms for negotiations, Yuval Steiniz, Israel’s minister for international relations, said a prisoner release would be carried out in stages.
“I don’t want to give numbers but there will be heavyweight prisoners who have been in jail for tens of years,” he told Israel Radio. The release of long-serving prisoners has been a key Palestinian demand.
But Steinitz said Israel would balk at agreeing on the pre-1967 border as the parameter for territorial negotiations. “There is no chance we will agree to enter any negotiations that begin with defining territorial borders or concessions by Israel, nor a [settlement] construction freeze,” he said.
Kerry’s announcement of progress in his four-month mission to revive the Middle East peace process was delivered in Amman on Friday night after four months of intensive diplomacy. It received mixed interpretations. [Continue reading...]
Rachel Shabi writes: Just for a moment, let’s feign astonishment at this new revelation: Naftali Bennett has just become the latest Israeli official to declare the two-state solution a dead end. Speaking at a conference for Jewish settlers, he said the idea of negotiating for an independent Palestinian state alongside an Israeli one was “futile” and “hopeless” and that the only Israeli approach to this conflict should be to “build, build, build” in the Palestinian West Bank (sorry, in the land that has been Israel “for 3,000 years”).
That last line should make clear that this is not a sudden Bennett endorsement of a one-state solution, with equal rights for all.
But it should, of course, be no great surprise that coalition partner Bennett, the Israeli trade minister and leader of ultranationalist party Jewish Home, should come up with this kind of comment. He is not the first to do so, either. The past few years have been studded with similar pronouncements from high-profile officials.
Just last week the deputy defence minister, Danny Danon, said that the coalition government flatly opposed a two-state solution. Another Knesset member, Tzipi Hotovely, has called a two-state solution an “illusion”.
None of that is so dissimilar from statements made by other Israeli ministers throughout the occupation. For instance, former prime minister Ariel Sharon, back in 1998, summarised the official approach when he gave this advice to the settler movement: “Everyone there should move, should run, should grab more hills, expand more territory. Everything that’s grabbed will be in our hands.” [Continue reading...]