Henry Siegman writes: The greetings President Obama extended last week to Israel’s new government may have sounded conciliatory, but Mr. Obama no longer entertains any illusions about Israel’s leaders.
In the wake of last month’s election, the longtime peace activists and diplomats who have devoted much of their professional lives to achieving a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are more depressed and demoralized than ever before.
Well before Mr. Netanyahu declared during the recent election campaign that Palestinians would remain under Israeli military occupation as long as he is Israel’s prime minister, Mr. Obama understood that the Israeli government’s enthusiasm for continued peace talks with the Palestinians served no purpose other than to provide cover for Israel’s continued expansion of Jewish settlements and to preclude the emergence of anything resembling a Palestinian state in the West Bank.
Faced with this grim reality, some observers naïvely rooted for the center-left Zionist Union during the campaign. But the notion that a government led by Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni might have produced a two-state accord with the Palestinians was also a delusion. An agreement based on the 1967 lines never appeared in the Zionist Union’s platform or crossed Mr. Herzog’s lips.
Indeed, it was clear to anyone familiar with the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that what little hope remained for a two-state solution would depend on the emergence of an Israeli government entirely under the control of Israel’s far right. Only a far-right government that so deeply offends American democratic sensibilities — as this one surely will — could provide the political opening necessary for a change in America’s Middle East policy. [Continue reading…]
Israel declared its independence in 1948. Less than twenty years later it expanded its territorial control across the West Bank and Gaza (and Sinai).
What has subsequently come to be referred to as “The Occupation” has referred to the status quo which (with a few modifications) has endured for the overwhelming majority of Israel’s existence.
The Oslo Accords, signed in 1993, and the so-called “peace process” which followed, have merely provided political cover for the relentless expansion of Jewish settlement and Palestinian dispossession across the West Bank.
What right-wing Zionists refer to as Judea and Samaria is not an aspiration — it is the political reality of a state in which full democratic rights are granted to Jews but not Palestinians.
While the mantras of ending the occupation and dismantling the settlements have tirelessly been repeated, year after year, the settlements have grown.
Both the terms settlement and occupation, mask with seeming impermanence a reality that has been set in reinforced concrete.
Given that over the course of more than twenty years, no progress whatsoever has been made towards the implementation of a two-state solution, the fact that it has now been rejected by Benjamin Netanyahu is a non-event. Yet this is a non-event that is deeply upsetting to many American Jews.
It’s not that they believed that peace was just around the corner. On the contrary, the value of the two-state solution has never derived from expectations about the future. Instead, its value is based very much in the present.
For liberal Americans — Jewish and non-Jewish — the two-state solution ideologically sanitized Israel by ostensibly embodying the desire that the political aspirations of both Jews and Palestinians could be recognized. If this promise is taken away, liberals are deprived of a fiction that allowed them to avoid confronting the illiberal nature of the Jewish state.
Americans want to be able to say they support Israel and democracy and Israel is forcing them to choose between the two.
Noam Sheizaf provided a reality check for participants at the J Street conference in Washington DC this week, when he said:
In Israel, we’ve got to the point where arguing for a state for all its citizens — equal rights for everyone — is a form of ‘Arab nationalism’ that should be made illegal. While arguing for an ethnic state that gives privileges to one group over the other is ‘democracy’…
I am 40 and I only know one Israel — and that’s from the [Jordan] River to the [Mediterranean] Sea. And in which there live Palestinians and Jews, roughly the same size of populations — they’re totally mixed with each other. They’re mixed in the Galilee, they’re mixed along the coast, they’re mixed in the West Bank by now, they’re mixed in the Negev — everywhere Jews living next to Palestinians.
One group has everything — all the rights — the other one has privileges given to it according to a complicated system of citizenship and where they happen to live and where their grandparents were in ’48…
I think we need to start looking at this in civil rights issues, if that’s what we believe in — and that’s the kind of activism I’m looking for. Not redrawing maps in a way that will keep some people in and some people out so that we can call themself [a] democracy.
Sheizaf also took J Street to task for its failure to talk about Gaza:
David Shulman writes: Benjamin Netanyahu has won again. He will have no difficulty putting together a solid right-wing coalition. But the naked numbers may be deceptive. What really counts is the fact that the Israeli electorate is still dominated by hypernationalist, in some cases proto-fascist, figures. It is in no way inclined to make peace. It has given a clear mandate for policies that preclude any possibility of moving toward a settlement with the Palestinians and that will further deepen Israel’s colonial venture in the Palestinian territories, probably irreversibly.
Netanyahu’s shrill public statements during the last two or three days before the vote may account in part for Likud’s startling margin of victory. For the first time since his Bar Ilan speech in 2009, he explicitly renounced a two-state solution and swore that no Palestinian state would come into existence on his watch. He promised vast new building projects in the Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem. He made it clear that Israel would make no further territorial concessions, anywhere, since any land that would be relinquished would, in his view, immediately be taken over by Muslim terrorists.
And then there was his truly astonishing, by now notorious statement on election day itself, in which he urged Jewish voters to rush to the polls because “the Arabs are voting in droves.” One might have thought that those Arab voters were members of the body politic he headed as prime minister. Imagine a white American president calling on whites to vote because “blacks are voting in large numbers.” If there’s a choice to be made between democratic values and fierce Jewish tribalism, there’s no doubt what the present and future prime minister of Israel would choose. [Continue reading…]
Dimi Reider writes: Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday announced that his commitment to a demilitarized Palestinian state alongside Israel was no longer relevant.
The statement was released by the prime minister’s Likud party following the circulation of a synagogue newsletter, which catalogued the different parties’ stances on a Palestinian state. The newsletter claimed the prime minister announced that his 2009 Bar Ilan speech, where he made the commitment, was “null and void,” and emphasized that Netanyahu’s entire political biography was “opposition to the Palestinian state.”
After initially attributing the comment to MK Tzipi Hotovely and denying she represented anyone’s position but her own, the Likud changed tack Sunday evening. “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that in the present situation in the Middle East, any vacated territory will be immediately overtaken by radical Islam and terrorist organizations sponsored by Iran,” a party statement read. “For this reason, there will be no withdrawals and no concessions, this is simply irrelevant.” [Continue reading…]
Gideon Levy writes: Only one scenario is worse than the reelection on March 17 of Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister, and that’s the election of Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog (and his political partner Tzipi Livni). Another term for Netanyahu would be a disaster, but a victory for Zionist Camp could be a worse disaster.
Yes, it’s true there’s no comparison between Herzog and Netanyahu — or between their parties. Herzog is a moderate, modest, fair person who’s much more liked than Netanyahu; the same can be said for Livni.
And Zionist Camp’s Knesset slate is of much higher quality than Likud’s. Not only does Zionist Camp not have thugs like Likud, it doesn’t have people with nationalist and racist views inciting and agitating. The CVs of most Zionist Camp candidates are much more impressive.
Now let’s assume Zionist Camp wins. Jubilation; Netanyahu will be ousted and a new day will dawn in Israel with a Herzog-Livni government. Actually, the first and most dramatic change will come from abroad — a global sigh of relief. [Continue reading…]
Roger Cohen writes: Uneasiness inhabits Israel, a shadow beneath the polished surface. In a violent Middle Eastern neighborhood of fracturing states, that is perhaps inevitable, but Israelis are questioning their nation and its future with a particular insistence. As the campaign for March elections begins, this disquiet looks like the precursor of political change. The status quo, with its bloody and inconclusive interludes, has become less bearable. More of the same has a name: Benjamin Netanyahu, now in his third term as prime minister. The alternative, although less clear, is no longer unthinkable.
“There is a growing uneasiness, social, political, economic,” Amos Oz, the novelist, told me in an interview. “There is a growing sense that Israel is becoming an isolated ghetto, which is exactly what the founding fathers and mothers hoped to leave behind them forever when they created the state of Israel.” The author, widely viewed as the conscience of a liberal and anti-Messianic Israel, continued, “Unless there are two states — Israel next door to Palestine — and soon, there will be one state. If there will be one state, it will be an Arab state. The other option is an Israeli dictatorship, probably a religious nationalist dictatorship, suppressing the Palestinians and suppressing its Jewish opponents.”
If that sounds stark, it is because choices are narrowing. Every day, it seems, another European government or parliament expresses support for recognition of a Palestinian state. A Palestinian-backed initiative at the United Nations, opposed in its current form by the United States, is aimed at pushing Israel to withdraw from the West Bank by 2017. The last Gaza eruption, with its heavy toll and messy outcome, changed nothing. Hamas, its annihilationist hatred newly stoked, is still there parading its weapons. Tension is high in Jerusalem after a spate of violent incidents. Life is expensive. Netanyahu’s credibility on both the domestic and international fronts has dwindled. [Continue reading…]
Click on image above to see complete infographic (and click on that to expand) showing findings from the latest Brookings survey on American public attitudes toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Download the full report.
Dimi Reider writes: [O]ver 8 percent of Israel’s Jewish population already lives beyond the Green Line, the armistice line separating Israel from the territories it occupied in 1967. Those who do not live there have family, friends and relatives who do.
As a result, the view of settlements as a crazed project by religious fanatics dragging with them reluctant Israel Defense Forces (IDF) is increasingly out of date. Key posts in the IDF and in other branches of government are occupied by settlers, and the settlements themselves appear ever more normal to the Israeli eye.
The Israeli real estate bubble, which has fueled a rising gap between prices within the Green Line are those outside it, makes the dismantling and evacuating of settlements seem all the more unlikely.
So how will the settlements affect the direction the peace process takes?
The reality is that the settlements — Israeli-only communities, often wedged deep in Palestinian territory – make the chances of a genuinely independent Palestinian state in the foreseeable future virtually non-existent.
This does not mean that peace, along with Palestinian political rights, is necessarily ruled out. There remains the possibility of one-state solution. [Continue reading…]
AFP reports: The European Union’s new foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini Saturday appealed for the establishment of a Palestinian state, saying the world “cannot afford” another war in Gaza.
“We need a Palestinian state – that is the ultimate goal and this is the position of all the European Union,” Mogherini said during a trip to Gaza, devastated by its third conflict in six years.
J.J. Goldberg writes: In what appears to be the largest-ever joint protest by senior Israeli security personnel, a group of 106 retired generals, Mossad directors and national police commissioners has signed a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urging him to “initiate a diplomatic process” based on a regional framework for peace with the Palestinians.
Several of the signers told Israel’s Mako-Channel 2 News in interviews that Israel had the strength and the means to reach a two-state solution that “doesn’t entail a security risk,” but hadn’t managed to reach an agreement because of “weak leadership.”
“We’re on a steep slope toward an increasingly polarized society and moral decline, due to the need to keep millions of people under occupation on claims that are presented as security-related,” reserve Major General Eyal Ben-Reuven told Mako’s Roni Daniel. “I have no doubt that the prime minister seeks Israel’s welfare, but I think he suffers from some sort of political blindness that drives him to scare himself and us.”
The letter was initiated by a former Armored Corps commander, reserve Major General Amnon Reshef. He told Yediot Ahronot in an interview published Friday, and posted in English today on Yediot’s Ynetnews.com website, that he was “tired of a reality of rounds of fighting every few years instead of a genuine effort to adopt the Saudi initiative.”
He was referring to the Saudi-backed peace proposal that was adopted unanimously by the Arab League in 2002 (here is the full text) and later endorsed 56-0 by the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation, with Iran abstaining. It has since been repeatedly reaffirmed and its terms softened. As currently framed, it offers full peace, diplomatic recognition and “normal relations” between the Arab states and Israel in return for Israeli withdrawal to borders based on the pre-1967 armistice lines, with negotiated land swaps, and a “just” and mutually “agreed” compromise solution to the Palestinian refugee problem. [Continue reading…]
Carlo Strenger writes: Israel’s political class has largely chosen to ignore the U.K. parliament’s ringing endorsement to recognize Palestine as a state last week. It seems Israel’s leaders hope the rising wave of European determination to stop Israel’s creeping annexation of the West Bank will simply go away.
Doing so is a remarkable instance of one of humankind’s most primitive defense mechanisms: denial. In denial we simply screen off awareness of any unpleasant fact, with the tacit belief that it will go away. Israel’s political right has been quite adept in making use of this.
Its reaction to the European Union’s growing determination to no longer accept Israel’s annexation of the West Bank has shown various levels of immaturity, ranging from the mild to the truly pathological. Lieberman has reacted to EU criticism by telling it to solve its own problems before lecturing Israel – a masterpiece of diplomatic finesse, if there ever was one.
Naftali Bennett has been even more remarkable: When the EU passed a law that doesn’t allow cooperation with Israeli organizations in the occupied territories, he called for the severing of ties with the body. This is a truly fitting reaction from Israel’s economy minister, and a stunning exhibition of political and psychological immaturity, given that the EU accounts for about half of Israel’s foreign trade.
Lieberman, of course, looks longingly to his political idol, Vladimir Putin, and envies him for getting away with annexing Crimea. And Bennett seems content to see himself as a latter-day Bar Kochba – forgetting that he only brought destruction on the people of Israel. But Lieberman isn’t Putin, Bennett isn’t Bar Kochba, and Israel isn’t Russia – which is quite fortunate, as one million Russian immigrants in Israel can attest.
So let me spell out the reality in very simple terms. As far as the EU is concerned, the West Bank does not belong to Israel. The Knesset has, therefore, no mandate about whether to annex the West Bank, or to “give” the Palestinians a state, any more than it can make decisions about southern Italy. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: Sweden’s new center-left government has decided to recognize the state of Palestine, the new prime minister, Stefan Lofven, said during his inaugural address to Parliament on Friday.
Sweden will be the first major state of the European Union to recognize Palestine, although some East European countries did so during the Cold War, before they joined the union.
The Swedish announcement comes at a time of new tension between Israel and many European nations over the recent fighting in Gaza, the civilian casualties there and other issues. Efforts to promote boycotts of Israeli companies operating in the occupied West Bank have gained momentum, and the conflict in Gaza has prompted a spike in anti-Israel and anti-Semitic episodes in Europe.
Mr. Lofven leads a minority government made up of his Social Democrats and the Greens that is quite likely to be a weak government; it commands only 138 seats in Parliament — 37 short of an outright majority. The Social Democrats emerged as the largest party in elections on Sept. 14, defeating a center-right coalition led by Mr. Lofven’s predecessor, Fredrik Reinfeldt.
Though Mr. Reinfeldt’s government had been critical of Israeli policies on settlements and the recent Gaza war, it refused to recognize Palestine as a sovereign state, arguing that the government there did not satisfy a basic criterion of sovereignty: to have control over its territory.
Mr. Lofven told Parliament on Friday that “the conflict between Israel and Palestine can only be solved with a two-state solution, negotiated in accordance with international law.” Such a solution, he said, “requires mutual recognition and a will to peaceful coexistence,” and “Sweden will therefore recognize the state of Palestine.” He did not specify when that would happen. [Continue reading…]
Pankaj Mishra writes: Successive Israeli governments may appear to have succeeded in creating indestructible boundaries on the ground, as well as in the air. The Israeli Defense Forces’ barrier, which separates Israeli territory from the West Bank, has successfully blocked the flow of suicide bombers. The so-called Iron Dome prevents most Hamas rockets from reaching their targets.
In the past, too, freedom and democracy depended upon the exclusion of others; the walls of the Greek polis drew clear lines between citizens and enemies. But the impulse to shut oneself off in an interconnected world can only clash with other aspirations that modernity creates: whether to grow and expand or to live a quiet and dignified life.
The IDF’s barrier and the settler enclaves not only make a Palestinian state unachievable and, if it was ever attained, ungovernable. It also, ironically, contradicts the expansionist vision of “Eretz Yisrael.”
In any case, the most primitive rockets can clear all fences and walls; better-designed ones will no doubt beat even the Iron Dome; and deeper tunnels will be dug. Not surprisingly, punitive Israeli measures — the blockade of Gaza from 2007 and military incursions in 2008-2009, 2012 and 2014 — eventually reveal themselves as futile exercises in self-assertion. Each time, the increased sophistication and ferocity of the attacks is matched by greater resilience on the other side.
The consistent Palestinian refusal to be shocked and awed by superior firepower will puzzle only those who have failed to grasp the central idea and event of the 20th century: the urge of self-determination and decolonization. [Continue reading…]
Stephen Robert writes: So much tragedy and insufferable grief now engulfs the Israel-Palestine debate that the past year’s transformation of Israeli politics is easily overlooked. Yet, it is the nutrient for the present catastrophe, and perhaps for even worse in the future.
In 2009, Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu gave a major speech at Bar Ilan University, which, though highly nuanced, purportedly supported a two state solution. His father, a darling of the right-wing, then gave an interview to Israeli TV in which he stated that his son would never approve a state the Palestinians could possibly accept. The past year has demonstrably proved the father’s prophecy.
Netanyahu’s pretense to the contrary has been demolished, both by others and himself. Since there is no other sustainable solution, Palestinians have now lost all hope of their God-given right to govern themselves with the dignity humanity demands. History informs us that when that hope is lost, radicalism will ensue. Occupiers lose in the end.
Public and private statements from officials deeply immersed in these talks suggest this Israeli government was never serious about peace. Comments by U.S. Special Envoy Martin Indyk and President Obama’s chief Middle East advisor, Philip Gordon, place considerable blame on Israel; perhaps with bluntness unprecedented for American diplomats. They cite Israel’s refusal to discuss borders, produce maps, end settlement expansion and negotiate many of the big gap issues. Indyk believes Palestinian President Abbas was humiliated and embarrassed by Israel’s coupling of settlement expansions with each release of Palestinian prisoners, implying that Abbas had agreed to pay for the prisoners. During the nine months of negotiations, Israel announced the planning of 8000 settlement units, largely outside the area likely to be part of Israel in any peace agreement. Both men also place considerable responsibility on the Palestinians, but the proportionality is notably different from previous failed attempts to broker peace.
Most important, Prime Minister Netanyahu has now removed his mask. At a recent press conference, after implying Secretary Kerry and General John Allen were naïve about Israel’s security, he proclaimed that any Palestinian state contiguous to Israel constituted an unacceptable danger. Therefore, he said, such a state must have indefinite Israeli military occupation, not only in the Jordan Valley but throughout all of its territory. It appears that the alleged supporter of two states envisions a sovereign Palestinian state – but under Israeli occupation.
Certainly Netanyahu’s position doesn’t pass the laugh test. Still, it represents a less nuanced and unrestrained hawkishness by the Israeli right wing. Perhaps because the press conference was in Hebrew, these transformational comments have been vastly under reported.
Foreign Minister Lieberman fought for the invasion of Gaza, and driving Hamas out. His goal is an occupied Gaza, as compliant as the West Bank, creating a “stable condition similar to the West Bank.”
The smoke screen of a two state solution has disappeared. [Read more…]
Speaking in Washington DC on Monday afternoon, Chas Freeman said: In April, our four-decade-long effort to broker a secure and accepted place for a Jewish state in the Middle East sputtered to a disgraceful end. In the tragicomic final phase of the so-called “peace process,” instead of mediating, the United States negotiated with Israel about the terms of Palestinian capitulation, not with the Palestinians about self-determination. The U.S. effort to broker peace for Israel is now not just dead but so putrid it can’t be shown at a wake. Israel didn’t believe in it, so it killed it. May it rest in peace.
From the outset, Israel used the “peace process” as a distraction while it created facts on the ground in the form of illegal settlements. Israeli expansionism and related policies have now made Israel’s peaceful coexistence with the Palestinians– and, thus, with Israel’s Arab neighbors – impossible. The United States created the moral hazard that enabled Israel to put itself in this ultimately untenable position. Forty years of one-sided American diplomacy aimed at achieving regional and international acceptance for Israel have thus perversely produced the very opposite – increasing international isolation and opprobrium for the Jewish state.
We will now “cover Israel’s back” at the United Nations as its ongoing maltreatment and intermittent muggings of its captive Arab population complete its international delegitimization and ostracism. We will pay a heavy political price for this stand globally, in the Middle East, and very likely in escalating terrorism against Americans abroad and at home. It may satisfy our sense of honor. But it more closely resembles assisted suicide than a strategy for the survival of Israel and our own position in the Middle East. [Continue reading…]
Freeman spoke at the Middle East Policy Council, preceded by Kenneth Pollack, Paul Pillar, and Amin Tarzi — the 77th Capitol Hill Conference can be viewed here.
In a news conference held on Friday in which Benjamin Netanyahu spoke only in Hebrew, the Israeli prime minister spelled out why he believes a two-state solution is impossible:
The priority right now, Netanyahu stressed, was to “take care of Hamas.” But the wider lesson of the current escalation was that Israel had to ensure that “we don’t get another Gaza in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank].” Amid the current conflict, he elaborated, “I think the Israeli people understand now what I always say: that there cannot be a situation, under any agreement, in which we relinquish security control of the territory west of the River Jordan.”
Not relinquishing security control west of the Jordan, it should be emphasized, means not giving a Palestinian entity full sovereignty there. It means not acceding to Mahmoud Abbas’s demands, to Barack Obama’s demands, to the international community’s demands. This is not merely demanding a demilitarized Palestine; it is insisting upon ongoing Israeli security oversight inside and at the borders of the West Bank. That sentence, quite simply, spells the end to the notion of Netanyahu consenting to the establishment of a Palestinian state. A less-than-sovereign entity? Maybe, though this will never satisfy the Palestinians or the international community. A fully sovereign Palestine? Out of the question.
He wasn’t saying that he doesn’t support a two-state solution. He was saying that it’s impossible. This was not a new, dramatic change of stance by the prime minister. It was a new, dramatic exposition of his long-held stance. [Continue reading…]