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…]

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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…]

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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…]

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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…]

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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…]

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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…]

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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…]

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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…]

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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…]

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Palestinians giving up on statehood, Israeli ex-security chief says

The Times of Israel reports: The death of the two-state solution among the Palestinians is no secret to the Israelis, nor is it mourned by government officials. To the political echelon, the threat of a binational state is not sufficiently tangible, and the possibility that radical Islam will take over the West Bank if there should be a peace agreement seems more real.

But things sound different in the defense establishment, and particularly among those who have left it. Quite a few former generals, Shin Bet directors and Mossad chiefs have warned any number of times that maintaining the status quo in the territories, which has become a kind of strategy in Netanyahu’s era, could change the face of the State of Israel.

“I’m hearing from various Palestinian officials with whom I am in contact that they have given up on the two-state solution as an option for resolving the conflict,” says former Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin, 59, who now owns a hi-tech firm in Herzliya. [Continue reading…]

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Give up on Netanyahu, go to the United Nations

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…]

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The myth of the two-state solution

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:

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Under Israeli rule, Palestinians are destined to remain subject to a regime of state terror

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…]

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If the peace process is over, what’s Plan B for Palestine?

Israeli Settlements Timeline Chart 1966-2014 — Gaps of data in some years mean that the information is not available.

Alan Philps writes: Benjamin Netanyahu’s pre-election declaration that there would be no Palestinian state under his government was hardly a bombshell. Though he has on occasion declared his support for a Palestinian state, it never felt like a genuine commitment. His disavowal of Palestinian statehood has merely torn away a mask that had become transparent.

In diplomatic circles, however, Mr Netanyahu’s coming clean is a game-changer. The prospect of a Palestinian state, however distant, has been the corner stone of all Middle East peace efforts. Without some kind of agreed process, diplomats fear that Israel and Palestine are heading for a new explosion.

The peace process is what justifies the US preserving the status quo. When Washington vetoed the Palestinian Authority request for statehood at the UN Security Council in December, the justification was that it was “more likely to curtail useful negotiations than to bring them to a successful conclusion”. Without any prospect of “useful negotiations”, it is hard to see how the US could to that again.

Likewise ,it would be hard to justify the US and European Union continuing to fund the Palestinian Authority, a government in the West Bank whose popularity, such as it is, depends solely on its ability to pay 160,000 public sector salaries. If Israel wants the land, why should it not have to pay those salaries? And if there is no prospect of gaining their own state, why should Palestinians continue with the security cooperation that helps Israelis sleep at night? [Continue reading…]

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Netanyahu says two-state solution is ‘simply irrelevant’

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…]

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