Israel brushes off criticism of settlement policy as U.S. assumes increasingly tough posture

The Washington Post reports: The Israeli government pushed back Thursday against the latest U.S. condemnation of its settlement enterprise as commentators called it another sign of fraying relations between the Jewish state and its most steadfast ally.

The Foreign Ministry issued a statement reacting to the unusually sharp language in the State Department’s “strong condemnation” of Israeli plans to build new settler housing “deep in the West Bank,” closer to Jordan than Israel. The Foreign Ministry said the 98 housing units approved for the Shilo area do not constitute “a new settlement.”

Ayelet Shaked, Israeli’s justice minister and a member of the pro-settler Jewish Home party, said Washington should train its condemnation on Syria “rather than criticizing where Israel builds houses.”

Education Minister Naftali Bennett said Thursday that “we must give our lives” for the cause of annexing the West Bank to Israel.

The Israeli government’s ire was piqued by statements Wed­nesday from the White House and State Department that further ratcheted up the Obama administration’s criticism of Israel’s settlement policy.

The tone began changing late last year, when Secretary of State John F. Kerry told a gathering at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Forum that Israel’s settlement expansion was closing off possibilities for a two-state solution. He said Israel would not be able to maintain itself as a Jewish and democratic state if the trend continued.

Since then, in what seems a deliberate calibration, the State Department has spoken out strongly almost every time Israel has announced new housing, not only in the West Bank but also in East Jerusalem, where Palestinians hope to have the capital of an independent state. In July, the State Department called Israeli construction over the Green Line, Israel’s pre-1967 border, “provocative and counterproductive.” In August, the White House said “significant settlement expansion” poses “a serious and growing threat to the viability of a two state solution.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his coalition fear that between the presidential election in November and Inauguration Day, President Obama could seek a way to try to enshrine U.S. parameters for a future peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.

Far worse in Netanyahu’s mind would be U.S. support for a resolution along those lines in the United Nations.

“There is no doubt in Israel that Obama wants to leave a legacy,” said former Israel diplomat Jacob Dayan, who was chief of staff to two foreign ministers. “A legacy is created in two ways — a comprehensive speech on the issue, which I am sure Israel will accept because speeches are nice and memorable, but not more than that, or an American U.N. Security Council Resolution on the issue. . . . That is Israel’s biggest fear.” [Continue reading…]


Obama & Palestine: The last chance

Nathan Thrall writes: Barack Obama entered the White House more deeply informed about and sympathetic to the Palestinian cause than any incoming president before him. He had attended and spoken at numerous events organized by the Arab-American and Palestinian-American communities, in which he had numerous contacts, and he had repeatedly criticized American policy, calling for a more even-handed approach toward Israel. Yet if there has been a distinguishing feature of Obama’s record on Israel-Palestine, it is that, unlike his recent predecessors, he has not a single achievement to his name. In the view of some top advisers, Obama’s final months in power are a unique opportunity to correct the record, and, more important, score an achievement that his successors could scarcely undo.

When he came to office, Palestinians looked to Obama as a potentially historic figure capable of ending their occupation. In a 2003 toast to Rashid Khalidi, the Palestinian-American historian of the University of Chicago and later Columbia University, Obama reminisced about meals prepared by Khalidi’s wife, Mona, and the many talks that had been “consistent reminders to me of my own blind spots and my own biases.” He had met, dined with, and attended the lectures of such figures as Edward Said, the most famous and eloquent Palestinian critic of the Oslo accords, and he had offered words of encouragement to Ali Abunimah, the Palestinian activist, writer, co-founder of the Electronic Intifada, and leading advocate of a one-state solution. Unlike other presidents, Obama was able to relate personally to the Palestinian experience. He could draw parallels with Britain’s colonization of Kenya, where his Muslim father was born, and the African-American struggle for civil rights that had culminated in his presidency.

In his first days on the job, Obama did not disappoint. Within hours of taking office he made his first phone call to a foreign leader, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. “We were not expecting such a quick call from President Obama,” a pleased Abbas adviser said, “but we knew how serious he is about the Palestinian problem.” On his second day, Obama appointed a Special Envoy for Middle East Peace, Senator George Mitchell, author of a 2001 fact-finding report that called for a freeze in Israeli settlement construction. Four months later, ahead of a White House visit by Abbas, the administration publicly confronted Israel with a call for a complete freeze in settlement building in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. [Continue reading…]


Views on U.S. policy on Israel and Palestine show little difference between supporters of Clinton and Sanders

Shibley Telhami writes: In the lead-up to the Democratic National Convention, Hillary Clinton, now officially the Democratic nominee, and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont clashed over U.S. policy on Israel and Palestine. In one debate, Sanders criticized Clinton for not playing an even-handed role in the conflict, and more recently, the candidates’ appointees to the party’s platform committee disagreed over language calling for an end to the Israeli occupation. But is this disparity between the candidates and their surrogates reflected in the views of their constituents? Polls suggest not.

Political scientists are already debating whether Sanders supporters tend to be more “liberal” than those of Clinton on domestic policy, with two political scientists indicating they are not. Based on two national polls I conducted in May and June, these results seem to hold true for U.S.-Middle East policy as well. There is generally little difference between the supporters of Clinton and Sanders on these issues, despite significant demographic differences.

In contrast, the divide between Clinton and Sanders supporters and Donald Trump supporters is huge on some Middle East policy issues — even larger than on some of the most deeply divisive domestic issues. [Continue reading…]


Israel-Palestinian peace initiatives are suddenly popping up everywhere

The Washington Post reports: Until a week ago, it seemed the Israeli-Palestinian peace process was a flat-liner.

President Obama thought so. In March, he said he wouldn’t seek to jump-start talks — the two sides were too far apart; it was not in the cards.

Now Israeli-Palestinian peace initiatives are popping up all over.

On Friday, the French will host a meeting of about 25 foreign ministers, including Secretary of State John F. Kerry, to seek international consensus on a way to move talks forward.

State Department spokesman John Kirby said Kerry was going to Paris to learn and listen — not to lead.

“It’s about being there, being part of the discussion, exploring ideas and options that might get us closer to a two-state solution,” Kirby said.

But Kerry’s presence in Paris worries Israelis who fear that the international community is going to press them to end the 49-year military occupation of the West Bank and the partial trade and travel blockage of Gaza, and to stop ongoing construction of Jewish settlements on land the Palestinians want for a future state.

The Israelis also have their eyes on the calendar. They are concerned that the Obama ­administration will, before leaving office, enshrine a two-state ­solution in a speech or a U.N. resolution, in effect laying out the final status ahead of negotiations.

Kerry spent nine months trying to bring the two sides together in 2014. The talks ended in recriminations about who was to blame for their failure.

Across the political spectrum in Ramallah and Jerusalem, nobody holds out much hope for the French effort.

French diplomats shrug and say in briefings with journalists, “We have to do something.”

In Israel, there is a feeling that something is happening.

Just this week, the once-moribund Arab Peace Initiative is back in the game after years on the sidelines.

Proposed by Saudi Arabia in 2002, the deal offers the idea that the Arab states will normalize relations with Israel after Israel withdraws from the occupied territories — including East Jerusalem — and begins the process of allowing for a Palestinian state.

Former Israeli governments have been hostile or lukewarm to the Arab proposal.

Former prime minister Ariel Sharon called the Arab Peace Initiative a “nonstarter” when it was proposed.

This week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the Arab peace offer intriguing. But Netanyahu also suggested that the Arab states recognize Israel first as Israel makes moves toward giving the Palestinians a state.

That will be a tough sell in the Arab League.

Into this mix comes former British prime minister Tony Blair, who has been shuttling between Egypt, the Arab Gulf states and the Israelis, trying to broker a way to get the sides talking.

Also intriguing, Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi said in a recent speech that he thinks the time is ripe to revisit a deal between Israel and the ­Palestinians.

The French seem ready to press ahead with what they see as a solution to the conflict — including what borders should look like for a Palestinian state and whether Palestinians should have a capital in Jerusalem.

The French also may try to set deadlines for future talks. If their efforts fail, French diplomats have warned that they may unilaterally recognize a ­Palestinian state. [Continue reading…]


Israel tells France it’s not interested in multilateral peace talks

The Washington Post reports: French officials said Sunday that they will continue to press ahead with plans to host a multilateral Middle East peace conference later this year, despite hearing, in blunt language, that Israel doesn’t really like the idea.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday to promote what diplomats are calling the “French Initiative,” a still evolving and admittedly vague diplomatic project that seeks to bring global attention to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and find consensus among the international community on how to move forward with a two-state solution.

The French are planning to host about 30 foreign ministers — from Europe and the Middle East as well as Russia, China and India — at a preparatory meeting at the end of this month, which could lead to a peace conference later this year.

Neither Israel nor the Palestinians, who support the French Initiative, will attend the May meeting in Paris.

U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry has not said whether he would be there.

Israeli officials have been pressing Washington to pour cold water on the French effort, which seeks to fill the vacuum left behind by the Obama administration, which declared that it would not be making any major move to bring Israel and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table. [Continue reading…]


Bill Clinton recalls killing himself for the Palestinians

Politico reports: Bill Clinton went on the defensive over his record on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as well as his wife’s, after a spectator at a Friday afternoon campaign event repeatedly pressed the former president on the issue.

Clinton was explaining his wife’s policy positions in Ewing Township, New Jersey, when a spectator yelled, “What about Gaza?”

“She and the Muslim Brotherhood president of Egypt stopped the shooting war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza,” Clinton responded.

“She said neutrality is not an option,” the spectator said, prompting boos from the audience, but Clinton told them to stop.

“Depends on whether you care what happens to the Palestinians as opposed to the Hamas government and the people with guided missiles,” the former president answered.

“They were human beings in Gaza,” the audience member said.

“Yes, they were,” Clinton said. “And Hamas is really smart. When they decide to rocket Israel, they insinuate themselves in the hospitals, in the schools, in the highly populous areas, and they are smart.”

The line prompted applause, and he continued: “They said they try to put the Israelis in a position of either not defending themselves or killing innocents. They’re good at it. They’re smart. They’ve been doing this a long time.”

“I killed myself to give the Palestinians a state. I had a deal they turned down that would have given them all of Gaza,” Clinton said. [Continue reading…]

When Bill Clinton supposedly “killed himself” in his efforts at Camp David, one of his principle aides was Robert Malley, Special Assistant to President Clinton for Arab-Israeli Affairs. After Clinton and others blamed Yasser Arafat for refusing to accept a “generous” offer from Israel’s prime minister, Ehud Barak, Malley set the record straight in the New York Review of Books in 2001:

Robert Malley and Hussein Agha wrote: In accounts of what happened at the July 2000 Camp David summit and the following months of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, we often hear about Ehud Barak’s unprecedented offer and Yasser Arafat’s uncompromising no. Israel is said to have made a historic, generous proposal, which the Palestinians, once again seizing the opportunity to miss an opportunity, turned down. In short, the failure to reach a final agreement is attributed, without notable dissent, to Yasser Arafat.

As orthodoxies go, this is a dangerous one. For it has larger ripple effects. Broader conclusions take hold. That there is no peace partner is one. That there is no possible end to the conflict with Arafat is another.

For a process of such complexity, the diagnosis is remarkably shallow. It ignores history, the dynamics of the negotiations, and the relationships among the three parties. In so doing, it fails to capture why what so many viewed as a generous Israeli offer, the Palestinians viewed as neither generous, nor Israeli, nor, indeed, as an offer. Worse, it acts as a harmful constraint on American policy by offering up a single, convenient culprit—Arafat—rather than a more nuanced and realistic analysis. [Continue reading…]


U.S. feels ‘overwhelming frustration’ with Israeli government, says Biden

Reuters reports: U.S. Vice President Joe Biden on Monday acknowledged “overwhelming frustration” with the Israeli government and said the systemic expansion of Jewish settlements was moving Israel toward a dangerous “one-state reality” and in the wrong direction.

Addressing the J Street lobby group in Washington, Biden said despite disagreements with Israel over settlements or the Iran nuclear deal, the United States had an obligation to push Israel toward a two-state solution to end the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

“We have an overwhelming obligation, notwithstanding our sometimes overwhelming frustration with the Israeli government, to push them as hard as we can toward what they know in their gut is the only ultimate solution, a two-state solution, while at the same time be an absolute guarantor of their security,” Biden said. [Continue reading…]

The Times of Israel reports: The United States on Monday objected to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s assertion that the Golan Heights will forever remain under Israeli control, reiterating that it does not recognize the Jewish state’s claims to the strategic plateau.

US State Department spokesman John Kirby said that the Obama administration does not consider the Golan Heights to be part of Israel.

“The US position on the issue is unchanged,” Kirby said at a daily media briefing at the State Department in Washington. “This position was maintained by both Democratic and Republican administrations. Those territories are not part of Israel and the status of those territories should be determined through negotiations.” [Continue reading…]


Israel’s non-democratic destiny

Michael N. Barnett writes: Believing in a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict today is a little like looking for unicorns on the moon — it doesn’t matter how much you search, you still won’t find any. As recognition of this fact has become increasingly widespread, grappling with its implications has been hampered by the lack of normatively attractive or politically viable alternatives. In his review of Padraig O’Malley’s “The Two State Delusion,” Peter Beinart calls the book and its research impressive but nevertheless faults the author for not telling us how the story ends.

Although Beinart and others committed to a two-state solution make it sound like the alternatives are a great mystery, the search for unicorns has been distracting them from increasingly plausible outcomes. As the two-state solution fades into history, its alternatives become increasingly likely: civil war, ethnic cleansing or a non-democratic state. Although all three are possible, the third is rising on the horizon. Whether it goes by the name of an apartheid state, an illiberal democracy, a less than free society or a competitive authoritarianism, the dominant theme will be a Jewish minority ruling over a non-Jewish majority. Although such an outcome would be an emotional blow to those who favor the two-state solution as a way to maintain Israel’s democratic and Jewish character, it looks quite familiar in a world where liberal democracy not only remains the exception but has actually lost ground over the last decade. [Continue reading…]


Jimmy Carter: There is zero chance for the two-state solution

Prospect Magazine reports: “At this moment, there is zero chance of the two-state solution,” said Jimmy Carter, giving his bleakest pronouncement yet on the Israeli-Palestinian deadlock to which he devoted much effort while President of the United States, and even more time since then.

“These are the worst prospects for peace between Israel and the Palestinians for years,” he said, adding that he didn’t think that Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s Prime Minister, “has any intention” of making progress towards the goal, the thrust of international efforts for decades, of the creation of a separate state for the Palestinians alongside Israel. After John Kerry’s efforts as Secretary of State to broker a deal, which collapsed in the spring last year, the “US has withdrawn” from the problem, he reckoned. [Continue reading…]


Israelis lean right toward one-state solution

Daoud Kuttab writes: Of all the Israelis who spoke out against the burning of the Dawabsheh family in the village of Duma near Nablus, the voice of Israeli President Reuven Rivlin seemed the most sincere.

Speaking at a rally in Jerusalem on Aug. 1, the Israeli president rejected the idea that this was an isolated case with no context to it. “Every society has extremist fringes, but today we have to ask: What is it in the public atmosphere that allows extremism and extremists to walk in confidence, in broad daylight?” he asked. American writer Peter Beinart later wrote in the Israeli daily Haaretz on Aug. 5 that Rivlin accepted moral responsibility while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “denied and lied about incitement including his own.” This was the clearest accusation against Netanyahu of responsibility for what happened.

But beyond Rivlin’s humanistic exterior is a senior Israeli official who is an ardent supporter of the total annexation of the West Bank to Israel. Rivlin’s actions don’t hide the fact that he, like many in his and Netanyahu’s Likud Party, has a much more radical plan for solving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. [Continue reading…]


The end of the two-state solution

Avi Issacharoff writes: On Tuesday afternoon I drove to Duma, the village where 18-month-old Ali Dawabsha was murdered in what appears to have been an act of terrorism perpetrated by Jews. At the Shilo junction (I was coming from Ramallah), I headed east along the “Wine Route.” Such a romantic name for a region of illegally constructed outposts, some of them on privately-owned Palestinian land: Ahiya, Kida, Adei Ad, Esh Kodesh. The ruins of what had been the outpost of Geulat Zion were still on one of the hills.

The view is spectacular, breathtaking — and in some cases, so are the homes. For example in Kida, a settlement populated by career and reserve IDF officers, there are several villas so exquisite that residents of Israel’s central region could only dream of such luxury. The combination of stone houses and vineyards gives a feeling almost of a foreign country until we remember that this is the West Bank, and that hardly a week goes by here without reports of violent confrontations between the inhabitants of Esh Kodesh and their Palestinian neighbors from Qusra.

The continuum of Jewish communities stretches from Route 60 to the Allon Road in the direction of the Jordan Valley, making it obvious that the locations of these outposts were not selected at random. The territorial continuity between Nablus and Ramallah is disrupted over and over by numerous Jewish communities, and a Jewish territorial continuity has been created between Beit El, via Ofra, Shilo and Eli and, to the east, Shvut Rahel and the abovementioned outposts. A similar phenomenon exists around Nablus as well: Yitzhar, Bracha, Itamar, Elon Moreh and then a series of outposts descending eastward toward the Jordan Valley. Same goes for the stretch between Bethlehem and Hebron. Conditions are now such that an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank has already become impossible.

And here it must be said: The watershed line seems to have been crossed. The two-state solution is no more. [Continue reading…]


Vatican formally recognizes Palestinian state by signing treaty

The New York Times reports: The Vatican on Friday signed a treaty with the “state of Palestine,” a development that the church hopes will lead to improved relations between Israel and the Palestinians.

The accord, the result of 15 years of negotiations, covers “essential aspects of the life and activity of the Catholic Church in the State of Palestine,” the Vatican said in a statement.

The Vatican’s foreign minister, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, said the agreement could be a “stimulus to bringing a definitive end to the longstanding Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which continues to cause suffering for both parties.”

He also called for the two countries to take “courageous decisions” so that the “much desired two-state solution may become a reality as soon as possible.” [Continue reading…]