How the ‘peace process’ sustains the status quo in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Nathan Thrall writes: In the early days of the Gaza war that took the lives of some 2,150 Palestinians and 72 Israelis, a number of officials in Washington, Ramallah, and Jerusalem began to speak of renewing Israeli-Palestinian negotiations mediated by the United States. As the fighting dragged on, this talk intensified, again showing that the “peace process” gains greatest urgency from the threat of Israeli-Palestinian violence, as well as from the U.S.’s desire to calm a roiling region, including by helping Arab allies justify pro-American stances to their publics. This was why the 1991 Madrid talks occurred during the first Palestinian intifada and immediately following Arab support of the United States in the 1991 Gulf War. It was why President George W. Bush’s 2003 Road Map for Middle East Peace was drafted during the second intifada and as the U.S. assembled a coalition for the 2003 Iraq War. And it is why the United States may soon seek to restart Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, following sharply increased Israeli-Palestinian confrontation not just in Gaza but also in the West Bank and Jerusalem, and after Israel’s actions in Gaza were given both tacit and overt support by Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority.

There is little reason to believe that renewed talks would succeed. The obstacles that caused the failure of the negotiations led by Secretary of State John Kerry have not disappeared. Many of them have grown larger. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his political program of nonviolence and negotiation have been weakened by Hamas’s strategy in Gaza, which impressed many Palestinians, although the costs were enormous. Hamas sent thousands of rockets into Israel, killing seven civilians, while Israeli air strikes and artillery killed hundreds of children, devastated large parts of Gaza, and left tens of thousands of people homeless. Reconstruction will cost many billions and take years.

Still, Hamas demonstrated that its militancy and its willingness to endure a ferocious Israeli attack could achieve more in weeks than Abbas’s talks have achieved in years. During the Gaza war, Israel did not announce a single new settlement in the West Bank. Although Israel did not agree to some of Hamas’s most important requests—for example, the opening of a seaport and the release of recently arrested prisoners—it showed eagerness to negotiate with the Palestinians and willingness to make significant concessions, including the easing of some border crossings, extending fishing rights, facilitating the supply of construction materials, and offering to begin working in Gaza with the new Palestinian government formed in June. [Continue reading...]

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#Israel, trapped by 19th century nationalism

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...]

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The smoke screen of a two-state solution has disappeared — #Netanyahu’s plan for #apartheid

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...]

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Obama’s foreign policy and the future of the Middle East

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.

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For Netanyahu, Gaza proves why Palestinians cannot be allowed to govern themselves

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...]

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Poll: Palestinians prefer suing Israel at the ICC rather than starting third intifada

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...]

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How J Street ended up supporting the occupation

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..]

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Israel pushes West Bank toward economic disaster

A recent survey conducted by the Anti-Defamation League found that the highest levels of anti-Semitism in the Middle East exist in the West Bank and Gaza.

These are some of the views cited as evidence of anti-Semitism among Palestinians:

Jews have too much power in the business world.
Jews don’t care what happens to anyone but their own kind.
Jews think they are better than other people.
People hate Jews because of the way Jews behave.

If you’re living in territory that is held under military control by Jews, and you’re frequently abused by Jews operating military checkpoints, and your economy is being strangled by a Jewish-controlled government, is it anti-Semitic to fail to recognize that the Israelis you encounter every day and who are the representatives of the Jewish state, happen not to be representative of the Jewish people as a whole?

If the ADL or anyone else really wants to effectively combat anti-Semitism, they should perhaps pay less attention to the prejudices of non-Jews and focus more on what has become the engine fueling contemporary anti-Semitism: the actions and policies of the State of Israel.

Akiva Eldar writes: One should not put too much diplomatic stock into the threats of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to sever ties with the Palestinian Authority (PA), in reaction to the inclusion of Hamas in the new Palestinian government. Even when Hamas was a pariah in Ramallah, the nine months of negotiations did not generate anything near a permanent arrangement.

The diplomatic damage will be nothing compared to the economic implications of severing contact with the PA. Turning the West Bank into an economic twin of the Gaza Strip will result in a similar situation in terms of security, as well. Initial signs of this are already evident in a new-old phenomenon of attacking Israeli journalists covering the occupied territories.

To enable Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to take part in the “process,” taxpayers in the donor countries Ad Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC) have transferred some $2 billion of their finest money into the PA’s coffers. Absent even a semblance of negotiations on a solution of the conflict, the management of the conflict will become a mission impossible.

The Republican majority in the US Congress will take advantage of the alliance with Hamas to reduce or even completely void the line item of aid to the PA, which in any case is not a particular favorite with the conservatives. The heads of the EU states will have a hard time justifying to their voters continued support for the defunct peace process.

Cutting off diplomatic ties, which will damage and perhaps put an end to the security coordination, is expected to deter the handful of foreign businessmen who are considering investments in research and development in the West Bank.

An official death certificate of the September 1993 diplomatic agreement known as the “Oslo Accord” will also ring the death knell, in theory and in practice, for its economic appendix known as the Paris Protocol, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary these days. The agreement included joint taxation by Israel and the PA; its legal significance is a lack of economic boundaries between the two partners, whereas its practical significance is continued dependence of the Palestinian economy on the Israeli one. The agreement also anchored the total Palestinian dependence on Israel in everything relating to trade with the world. Implementing the “closure and blockade” method that Israel applies against the Hamas Gaza government, also on the Fatah-Hamas government in the West Bank, will turn all of the occupied territories into one big slum.

Nothing symbolizes this dependence and the implications of severing ties more than the danger of cutting off electricity. [Continue reading...]

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After Kerry, only BDS may save the two-state solution

Larry Derfner writes: Now that the Kerry peace talks have failed and everyone has given up hoping that Netanyahu will change, what’s the new plan for ending the occupation one day? For liberal Zionists – people who want Israel to become a Jewish state that respects Arabs – it would seem to focus on Isaac Herzog, head of the Labor Party. Unlike fellow centrist party leaders Tzipi Livni and Yair Lapid, Herzog hasn’t been in a position of leadership long enough yet to fail or sell out, so he’s the one. The hope is that he can get elected in the coming years to head a coalition government of the center, left, maybe an ultra-Orthodox party, maybe even an Arab party for once, and do what prime ministers going back to Yitzhak Rabin 20 years ago tried but were unable to do – reach a peace deal with the Palestinians.

Putting their hopes on Herzog is a natural progression for liberal Zionists. After all, they can’t just throw in the towel and resign themselves to the occupation being permanent; it’s unthinkable, psychologically insupportable. Besides, who can tell the future? Herzog seems solid; he’s very smart, competent, likable, the son of a beloved army general and president – a consensus-type figure. And now that the Kerry initiative has failed, and even the timid Obama administration is blaming the Netanyahu government for it while exonerating the Palestinians (off the record), clearly the thing to do is replace the Netanyahu government. Then there will be a fighting chance for peace again (unless of course the Republicans get elected).

Here is my heartfelt, urgent advice: forget it. It’s a waste of time. Electoral politics in either Israel or America, as far as it concerns the peace process, is a waste of time – hopefully not forever, but certainly for now and for the next several years. And maybe forever. This is what liberal Zionists are going to have to face, or they’re going to continue wasting their time, which will make it that much more likely that the peace process will not just be dead for now, and not for the next several years, but indeed forever. [Continue reading...]

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The reasons the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians collapsed

This week the Israeli columnist, Nahum Barnea, spoke to senior American officials involved in Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace effort and heard their explanation for the talks’ failure. Barnea writes, “what they told me is the closest thing to an official American version of what happened.”

Let’s go back to the beginning. Was this round not doomed for failure from day one?

“The negotiations had to start with a decision to freeze settlement construction. We thought that we couldn’t achieve that because of the current makeup of the Israeli government, so we gave up. We didn’t realize Netanyahu was using the announcements of tenders for settlement construction as a way to ensure the survival of his own government. We didn’t realize continuing construction allowed ministers in his government to very effectively sabotage the success of the talks.

“There are a lot of reasons for the peace effort’s failure, but people in Israel shouldn’t ignore the bitter truth – the primary sabotage came from the settlements. The Palestinians don’t believe that Israel really intends to let them found a state when, at the same time, it is building settlements on the territory meant for that state. We’re talking about the announcement of 14,000 housing units, no less. Only now, after talks blew up, did we learn that this is also about expropriating land on a large scale. That does not reconcile with the agreement.

“At this point, it’s very hard to see how the negotiations could be renewed, let alone lead to an agreement. Towards the end, Abbas demanded a three-month freeze on settlement construction. His working assumption was that if an accord is reached, Israel could build along the new border as it pleases. But the Israelis said no.”
[...]
Compare the current round of talks to Henry Kissinger’s efforts after the 1973 Yom Kippur War, an effort that led to disengagement agreements between Israel and Syria, and Israel and Egypt. Compare it to James Baker’s effort after the first Gulf War, an effort that led to the Madrid Peace Conference in 1991.

“At the end of a war there is a sense of urgency,” they said. And then one of them added bitterly: “I guess we need another intifada to create the circumstances that would allow progress.

“20 years after the Oslo Accords, new game rules and facts on the ground were created that are deeply entrenched. This reality is very difficult for the Palestinians and very convenient for Israel.”
[...]
Were you surprised when you discovered that the Israelis don’t really care what happens in the negotiations?

“Yes, we were surprised. It surprised us all along the way. When (Moshe) Ya’alon, your defense minister, said that the only thing Kerry wants is to win a Nobel Prize, the insult was great. We were doing this for you and for the Palestinians. Of course, there were also American interests at play.

“A lot of people told us – ‘don’t stop. Keep going.’ We told them: ‘It’s in your hands. Take responsibility for your own fate.’ But, stuck in their own ways, they preferred we do their job for them. Public apathy was one of our biggest problems.

“One of the Palestinians who participated in the talks told an Israeli participant: ‘You don’t see us. We’re transparent, we’re hollow.’ He had a point. After the second intifada ended and the separation barrier was built, the Palestinians turned into ghosts in the eyes of the Israelis – they couldn’t see them anymore.”

It almost sounds like you wish for an intifada.

“Quite the opposite, it would be a tragedy. The Jewish people are supposed to be smart; it is true that they’re also considered a stubborn nation. You’re supposed to know how to read the map: In the 21st century, the world will not keep tolerating the Israeli occupation. The occupation threatens Israel’s status in the world and threatens Israel as a Jewish state.”

The world is being self-righteous. It closes its eyes to China’s takeover of Tibet, it stutters at what Russia’s doing to Ukraine.

“Israel is not China. It was founded by a UN resolution. Its prosperity depends on the way it is viewed by the international community.”

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Israel can never justify the denial of Palestinian freedom

Gershon Baskin writes: John Kerry said the “A word” and was then forced to apologize.

I don’t have to apologize.

I repeat Kerry’s exact words and believe in every single one of them: “A unitary state winds up either being an apartheid state with second-class citizens – or it ends up being a state that destroys the capacity of Israel to be a Jewish state.”

If the two-state solution is dead, as it seems it might be, Israel will become a unitary state with two populations, one with privileges and political rights and the other living in Bantustans, surrounded, isolated from each other, with no real control over their lives, denied their political rights. If Israel does not end its occupation over the Palestinian people, sooner, not later, Israel will become a new form of apartheid.

No, not apartheid like South Africa was, but a new type of political discrimination, forced separation, with separate legal systems, separate roads and more. One society will be the masters and the other the servants. To a large extent this already describes the reality. We already have a unitary state reality, and it has existed for 46 years. With no real hope for political change that will bring about the end of the Israeli occupation over the Palestinian people, this can no longer be thought of as a temporary situation over disputed territories. With annexation or without it, Israel is and has been in full control over the territories for the past 46 years. [Continue reading...]

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Kerry’s ‘apartheid’ gambit a bigger deal in U.S. than in Israel

Gershom Gorenberg writes: On Monday morning, “Apartheid” was the first word in the headline of the editorial at the top of page 2 in Israel’s Ha’aretz daily. The newspaper’s editorial page is an old-fashioned grey mass of type, the print equivalent of the low monotonous growl of an aging foreign policy commentator on public radio. But Ha’aretz wasn’t growling about U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s leaked warning, published late Sunday night, that unless Israel reaches a two-state agreement, it risks becoming “an apartheid state.”

Rather, the editorial was about the planning bodies that allow Israeli settlement construction and block Palestinian building in Area C, the part of the West Bank where Israel rather than the Palestinian Authority runs day-to-day affairs. The paper urged Israel’s Supreme Court to rule against the discrimination.

From this we learn two things: First, intentionally or not, whoever leaked Kerry’s comments to a meeting of the Trilateral Commission on Friday did so with timing that guaranteed a muted coverage in Israel. Saturday night on the American East Coast was Sunday morning in Israel. The day’s ink-on-paper newspapers were already printed and lying on doorsteps. And since Monday was Israel’s’ memorial day for the Holocaust, the up-to-the-second media, online and on the air, were devoted entirely to painful memories and the political uses or misuses of them. On talk radio, talk about Kerry would have to wait.

The second lesson is that “apartheid” is a strong but not shocking word within Israel’s own political conversation. [Continue reading...]

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Kerry clarifies when, where, and how the words ‘Israel’ and ‘apartheid’ can be used in the same sentence

In a statement issued by the State Department, Secretary of State John Kerry said: “I do not believe, nor have I ever stated, publicly or privately, that Israel is an apartheid state or that it intends to become one.” [Emphasis mine.]

In a closed-door meeting on Friday, Kerry had said:

“A two-state solution will be clearly underscored as the only real alternative. Because a unitary state winds up either being an apartheid state with second class citizens—or it ends up being a state that destroys the capacity of Israel to be a Jewish state.”

Kerry has now offered clarification to that statement by saying:

“I have been around long enough to also know the power of words to create a misimpression, even when unintentional, and if I could rewind the tape, I would have chosen a different word to describe my firm belief that the only way in the long term to have a Jewish state and two nations and two peoples living side by side in peace and security is through a two state solution. In the long term, a unitary, binational state cannot be the democratic Jewish state that Israel deserves or the prosperous state with full rights that the Palestinian people deserve. That’s what I said, and it’s also what Prime Minister Netanyahu has said. While Justice Minister Livni, former Prime Ministers Barak and Ohlmert have all invoked the specter of apartheid to underscore the dangers of a unitary state for the future, it is a word best left out of the debate here at home.”

In other words, in order to avoid startling and disappointing the likes of Abe Foxman, ‘apartheid’ is a word best reserved for conversations with Israelis.

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Kerry warns Israel could become ‘an apartheid state’

John Kerry echoes former Israeli prime ministers Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak. The Daily Beast reports: If there’s no two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict soon, Israel risks becoming “an apartheid state,” Secretary of State John Kerry told a room of influential world leaders in a closed-door meeting Friday.

Senior American officials have rarely, if ever, used the term “apartheid” in reference to Israel, and President Obama has previously rejected the idea that the word should apply to Jewish State. Kerry’s use of the loaded term is already rankling Jewish leaders in America—and it could attract unwanted attention in Israel, as well.

It wasn’t the only controversial comment on the Middle East that Kerry made during his remarks to the Trilateral Commission, a recording of which was obtained by The Daily Beast. Kerry also repeated his warning that a failure of Middle East peace talks could lead to a resumption of Palestinian violence against Israeli citizens. He suggested that a change in either the Israeli or Palestinian leadership could make achieving a peace deal more feasible. He lashed out against Israeli settlement-building. And Kerry said that both Israeli and Palestinian leaders share the blame for the current impasse in the talks.

Kerry also said that at some point, he might unveil his own peace deal and tell both sides to “take it or leave it.”

“A two-state solution will be clearly underscored as the only real alternative. Because a unitary state winds up either being an apartheid state with second class citizens—or it ends up being a state that destroys the capacity of Israel to be a Jewish state,” Kerry told the group of senior officials and experts from the U.S., Western Europe, Russia, and Japan. “Once you put that frame in your mind, that reality, which is the bottom line, you understand how imperative it is to get to the two state solution, which both leaders, even yesterday, said they remain deeply committed to.” [Continue reading...]

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Hamas and Fatah unveil Palestinian reconciliation deal

Israel’s divide-and-rule strategy is collapsing and the failure of John Kerry’s Middle East diplomacy may turn out to have been one of the Obama administration’s few successes.

BBC News reports: Rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas have announced a reconciliation deal, saying they will seek to form a unity government in the coming weeks.

It comes as the peace talks between President Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israel near collapse.

Hamas and Fatah split violently in 2007. Previous reconciliation agreements have never been implemented.

Israel’s prime minister said Mr Abbas would have to choose between peace with Israel and peace with Hamas.

“You can have one but not the other. I hope he chooses peace; so far he hasn’t done so,” warned Benjamin Netanyahu.

Palestinian officials responded by saying reconciliation is an internal matter and uniting Palestinian people would reinforce peace. [Continue reading...]

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Palestinians mull handing territory ‘keys’ back to Israel

AFP reports: Palestinian negotiators have warned they may pass responsiblity for their territory back to occupying power Israel if peace talks remain stalled, a senior Palestinian official said on Sunday.

The official said the Palestinians told US peace envoy Martin Indyk on Friday that unless Israel releases Palestinian prisoners as agreed and freezes settlement building, they could dismantle the Western-backed Palestinian Authority (PA) of president Mahmud Abbas.

“The Palestinians informed Indyk that if this Israeli intransigence continues, they have several options to resort to,” the Palestinian official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

“First, handing the keys of the PA to the UN so it will become in charge of the Palestinian people and the state of Palestine, which is under occupation, or that the (Israeli) occupation assumes again full responsibility for everything.” [Continue reading...]

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In the Middle East, time for the U.S. to move on

The Editorial board of the New York Times writes: The pointless arguing over who brought Israeli-Palestinian peace talks to the brink of collapse is in full swing. The United States is still working to salvage the negotiations, but there is scant sign of serious purpose. It is time for the administration to lay down the principles it believes must undergird a two-state solution, should Israelis and Palestinians ever decide to make peace. Then President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry should move on and devote their attention to other major international challenges like Ukraine.

Among those principles should be: a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza with borders based on the 1967 lines; mutually agreed upon land swaps that allow Israel to retain some settlements while compensating the Palestinians with land that is comparable in quantity and quality; and agreement that Jerusalem will be the capital of the two states.

Perhaps the Obama administration’s effort to broker a deal was doomed from the start. In 2009, the administration focused on getting Israel to halt settlement building and ran into the obstinacy of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and resistance from the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, to entering peace talks. Since then, members of Mr. Netanyahu’s coalition government have tried to sabotage the talks. As Tzipi Livni, Israel’s chief negotiator, told the website Ynet, “There are people in the government who don’t want peace.” She cited Naftali Bennett, the leader of the pro-settler party Jewish Home, and Uri Ariel, the housing minister.

Mr. Obama made the right decision to give it a second try last summer, with Mr. Kerry bringing energy and determination to the negotiations. But, after nine months, it is apparent that the two sides are still unwilling to move on the core issues of the borders of a Palestinian state, the future of Jerusalem, the fate of Palestinian refugees and guarantees for Israel’s security. The process broke down last month when Israel failed to release a group of Palestinian prisoners as promised and then announced 700 new housing units for Jewish settlement in a part of Jerusalem that Palestinians claim as the capital of a future state. According to Mr. Kerry that was the “poof” moment when it all fell apart, and the Palestinians responded by applying to join 15 international conventions and treaties. That move won’t get them a state, but it is legal and they did not seek to join the International Criminal Court, a big fear of Israel’s.

In recent days, Israel, which denounced the Palestinians for taking unilateral steps, took its own unilateral steps by announcing plans to deprive the financially strapped Palestinian Authority of about $100 million in monthly tax revenues and retroactively legalizing a 250-acre outpost in the Gush Etzion settlement, which the Israeli newspaper Haaretz said was the largest appropriation of West Bank land in years.

An Israeli-Palestinian peace deal is morally just and essential for the security of both peoples. To achieve one will require determined and courageous leaders and populations on both sides that demand an end to the occupation. Despite the commitment of the United States, there’s very little hope of that now.

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Why John Kerry’s peace mission should worry liberal Zionists

o13-iconPeter Beinart writes: As John Kerry’s bid to broker Israeli-Palestinian peace approaches its moment of truth, you can sense the desperation among liberal Zionists. “Kerry’s mission is the last train to a negotiated two-state solution,” declared Thomas Friedman in January.

“This is a watershed moment after which Israel will face a completely different situation – one which will be governed by new realities much less favorable than those Israel faces today,” argued the philanthropist S. Daniel Abraham that same month. Kerry himself has said that, “If we do not succeed now, we may not get another chance.”

I get it. You have to be blind not to see that liberal Zionists—those of us who believe in the legitimacy of a state dedicated to Jewish self-protection and the illegitimacy of Israel’s unjust, undemocratic control of the West Bank—are losing ground to one-staters at both ends. Kerry’s failure, which might spell the end of the American-led peace process itself, could turn that retreat into a rout.

But there’s a problem with being desperate for a deal: You lose your leverage over its content. Kerry and the rest of the Obama foreign policy team know that if they present a framework that Benjamin Netanyahu dislikes, he and the right-leaning American Jewish establishment will make their lives miserable. If, on the other hand, they present a framework that tilts against the Palestinians, the resulting Palestinian outrage will be far easier to withstand. That’s partly because Palestinians wield little influence in Washington. And it’s partly because we liberal Zionists—desperate to see Kerry succeed—have given every indication that we’ll support whatever he serves up, the particulars be damned.

The consequences of this political imbalance have been quietly playing themselves out for months now. Numerous press reports have suggested that Kerry is contemplating a framework that offers the Palestinians substantially less than what Bill Clinton offered them in December 2000 and what Ehud Olmert offered in 2008.

The Clinton parameters, for instance, called for Israeli troops to leave the Jordan Valley—the twenty-five percent of the West Bank that abuts its border with Jordan— within three years of a peace deal. Olmert was willing to withdraw them even faster

Mahmoud Abbas is also reportedly calling for a transition of three to five years. Netanyahu, by contrast, depending on whose reporting you believe, insists that Israeli troops must remain for ten or even forty years. 

And Kerry? Palestinian sources say he’s endorsed the ten-year timetable. According to the Washington Post, he’s suggested somewhere between five and fifteen

Kerry’s proposal, in other words, violates both the Clinton parameters and the understanding reached by Olmert and Abbas. Yet with rare exceptions, liberal Zionists aren’t protesting at all.

That’s just the beginning. When it comes to Jerusalem, the Clinton Parameters declared that, “the general principle is that Arab areas are Palestinian and Jewish ones are Israeli.” 

According to Bernard Avishai, Olmert and Abbas agreed to the same concept: “Jewish neighborhoods [of Jerusalem] should remain under Israeli sovereignty, while Arab neighborhoods would revert to Palestinian sovereignty.” 

And Kerry? In January, Israeli television reported that he had offered to locate the Palestinian capital in only one, relatively remote, neighborhood of East Jerusalem. (Either Isawiya, Beit Hanina, Shuafat or Abu Dis, which is not even in Jerusalem at all). Late last month, the Palestinians leaked that Kerry had again offered them a capital in Beit Hanina alone

Notice a pattern? Once again, assuming the reports are true, Kerry is pulling back from the principles established by both Clinton and Olmert. And once again, liberal Zionists are cheering him on.

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