Erekat on unity: respect our democracy

Posted: April 29th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Settlements | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Abu Mazen: Like it or not, Hamas is part of Palestinian people.

Ramallah - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas declared today that the reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas shouldn’t stand in the way of future negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. In a meeting with representatives of “Israel Initiatives,” a group of businessmen and veteran security officials who advocate a solution based on the Arab League Peace Initiative, Abbas said, “I am ready to talk. If Prime Minister Netanyahu calls me tomorrow, I will talk to him.” The reason for the breakdown of negotiations, Abbas said, is Israel’s refusal to freeze settlement activity and to discuss the future borders of the Palestinian state.

“I have met Netanyahu in Washington and in Jerusalem, and it led to nothing,” Abbas said. “All he wants to talk about is security. I understand the Israeli concern, but I won’t have Israeli forces in the Palestinian state. Netanyahu wanted an Israeli army in the West Bank for another forty years. That means the occupation continues.”

Abbas declared that he will not chose between Hamas and the peace process, as Netanyahu demands. “Hamas is a part of the Palestinian people, whether one likes them or not. They are a part of our people. You, Mr. Netanyahu, are our partner. We don’t need to choose. It’s you, Netanyahu, that needs to make a choice between peace and settlements.”

Regarding declarations from Hamas leaders rejecting the diplomatic process, Abbas said that the united Hamas-Fatah goverment will deal only with the rebuilding of Gaza and the preparation of new elections, due to take place no later than a year from now. “The PLO will continue to lead the political process. It is our duty.”

Abbas refused to say if Prime Minister Salam Fayyad will continue to lead the Palestinian government, claiming that details of the reconciliation agreement haven’t been finalized. Yet rumors among the journalists in Ramallah were that the agreement has taken Fayyad by surprise, and that he only learned of it a short time before the deal was made public.

The reputation of the Prime Minister might pose the first challenge for the Palestinian president, since Fayyad is identified with the diplomatic and financial support the Palestinians have achieved in recent years.

Among other Palestinian officials present were former head of security Jabril Rajoub, who was rarely seen together with Abu Mazen in recent years, and former chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, who added his own comment to questions from the Israeli media regarding the reconciliation agreement. “This is about peace, but also about democracy,” he  said. “We respect the democratic choices of the Israeli people. We ask Israel to respect ours.”

Among those present on the Israeli side were former head of Mossad, Danny Yatom, former Labor Minister Moshe Shahal, business tycoon Idan Ofer and Adina Bar Shalom, the daughter of Shas leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.

“I’m glad I came to Ramallah today,” said Bar Shalom. “I feel that we have a partner.”


US media more exited about peace talks than Israelis and Palestinians themselves

Posted: September 2nd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, media, The Right, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Take a look at today’s front pages shown here. The one on the Left is Yedioth Ahronoth’s, Israel’s leading tabloid. On the right is the American NY Post.

yedioth vs. nypost

Yedioth’s top story reads “wave of terrorism”, referring to the two shooting attacks carried out by Hamas militants against settlers in the last 48 hours. On the bottom and on the right side of the page there are health, sports and other magazine stories. The only reference to the peace process is the quote in small print, on the top of the page. It reads: “Netanyahu: I came for an historic compromise.”

The place, the size and the coloring of Netanyahu’s words put his speech in its proper context. But if you get your news from the Post (and let’s hope you don’t), you might actually believe history can be made here.

maariv

This is Maariv, another Israeli tabloid: the front page combines the story of the West Bank attacks and their aftermath, the attempts by settlers to renew construction in the territories and the diplomatic process. The talks themselves don’t get the top story, not even a central image, like they do in the New York Times, shown below. Again, the US papers seem to give the talks a greater importance than the Israeli media. Bizarre, to say the least.

NY_NYT

As part of a research for a story I’m working on, I recently went through the archives of Maariv and Yedioth from 1993-1994, the years the Oslo accord was negotiated and signed. Entire papers, not just the front pages, dealt with the talks. The same goes for the days of the Camp David summit in 2000. Today on the other hand, nobody in the Middle East really cares about the diplomatic process, and I actually wonder how many even know we might be “one year from a final agreement,” as the White House puts it.

It’s easy to tell when things get serious. The settlers make a good litmus test for the intentions of the Israeli leadership. They have good ties with the Israeli administration and army. When the settlers sense danger, they let it show. And while they went after Sharon and Rabin with everything they got, they are awfully quiet now. There wasn’t even a single major protest against Netanyahu, The NRP is still in the government, and the right flank of the Likud has never been more silent. The Israeli tabloids – like all tabloids – reflect their society’s mood: This is clearly not a country on the verge of its most important decision in decades.

The NY Times editorial declared that with optimism and conviction, the talks might lead to an agreement and the administration asked the parties not to give in to cynicism. But the diplomatic process is not a sports competition, and pep talks can’t help when the gap between the parties is too big.

The Palestinian leadership has lost most of its credibility and legitimacy with its own people, and the bleeding gets worse with every picture of Abu-Mazen shaking hands with Netanyahu. Hamas has just given us the first taste of what leaving it out of the process means. Even so, the positions of PM Fayad and President Abbas are incredibly far from those of Barak and Netanyahu. The Israeli leadership – and to be honest, the Israeli public as well – cannot give the Palestinians the minimum they can settle with. Under these circumstances, even if an agreement is reached, it won’t mean a thing.

As I’ve written before, the current stage in the conflict is not just about peace. It’s about ending the occupation and getting the Palestinians their rights. Some people in the American administration understood that, but for their own reasons, they decided to pursue the failed policies of the past two decades. I have a lot of criticism for the way the Israeli media covers the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but this time they got it right: for now, this round of talks is a farce.

UPDATE: The Israeli media finally joined the party. Friday’s top story is the summit in Washington, though most pundits remain very skeptic regarding the chances that the talks will have a meaningful result.

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I will be working and writing from New York in the next three months.


Diplomacy | Why won’t the Palestinians agree to direct negotiations with Israel?

Posted: July 5th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

One of the most repeated talking points of Israeli leaders these days is that by refusing direct negotiations, the Palestinian leadership is proving (again) that it doesn’t want peace. It is, Israelis say, another case of Arab Rejectionism.

Even members of the Israeli Left often wonder: if the Palestinian leadership really wants its own state, why not negotiate? What do they have to lose? After all, they can’t hope for a more sympathetic American administration, so why not take advantage of the current political circumstances, and try to gain something?

I’m not in the business of defending whatever the Palestinian Authority does (clearly an impossible task), but I do think that from his own perspective, Abu-Mazen is doing the right thing in refusing direct negotiations with the Israeli government (or at least postponing it as much as he can). The reason for this is the unbalanced nature of the diplomatic game.

By “unbalanced” I don’t mean that Israel is the strong side. Clearly, Israel has the upper hand from a military perspective, but this is not the important issue on this stage of negotiations. The unbalanced nature of the negotiations refers to the currency both sides are expected to exchange, and the moment in time in which they would exchange it.

It is pretty clear what does the Palestinian Authority want from Israel: land. Israel is expected to leave the territory it captured in 1967, give or take some minor changes. But what does Israel expect to get from the Palestinians? Most people will answer “security”. But that’s not true. Israel’s security will be put at risk by evacuating the land, and there is nothing the Palestinians can say or do that would eliminate this risk. Any kind of agreement Abu-Mazen signs won’t promise that in five, ten or twenty years the Palestinians won’t decide to attack Israel (or Israel the Palestinians, for that matter). The Peace we all hope for will depend on political circumstances and the way both leaderships conduct themselves in the years to come, not on documents they sign today.

The thing that Israel needs from the Palestinians is not security. It’s something even more important, and the one currency Israel was always short of: legitimacy. Legitimacy in the eyes of the international community, and legitimacy in the eyes of most of the Arab world. That what Israel lacks, and that’s what the Arabs have offered it in the 2002 Arab League peace initiative: full legitimacy in exchange for a full withdrawal. Back then Israel declined this offer, so the Palestinians kept hitting it where it hurts, by questioning Israel’s legitimacy in controlling the West bank or even its entire right to exist.

And here is the important part: Israel will gain some legitimacy from the first moment of negotiations, while the Palestinians will get the land only after an agreement is signed, and even this is not certain (Israel have never completed fulfilling its part in the Oslo agreement, for example). In other words, the Palestinians start paying when they enter the negotiating room, while Israelis only pay at the exit.

For an Israeli Prime Minister – given his own political considerations – it will be very tempting to stay in the room forever.

Read the rest of this entry »


Fire Ambassador Oren

Posted: December 15th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: The Right, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

Israel’s ambassador to the US, Michael Oren, believes that supporting a two states solution and a full Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, or opposing the war in Gaza, are illegitimate positions, which open the door for no less than the distraction of Israel. J street, the pro-peace lobbing group which advocates such ideas, is in Oren’s view “a unique problem”.

Forward reports:

Addressing a breakfast session at the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism’s biennial convention December 7, Ambassador Michael Oren described J Street as “a unique problem in that it not only opposes one policy of one Israeli government, it opposes all policies of all Israeli governments. It’s significantly out of the mainstream.”

After a speech that touched on the spiritual basis for and the threats to the state of Israel, Oren issued an unscripted condemnation of J Street.

“This is not a matter of settlements here [or] there. We understand there are differences of opinion,” Oren said. “But when it comes to the survival of the Jewish state, there should be no differences of opinion. You are fooling around with the lives of 7 million people. This is no joke.”

If I were one of Meretz or Labor’s member, or even Kadima’s, this would have been enough for me to demand for Dr. Oren to be sent back to Jerusalem. These parties hold some of J Street’s views (in Meretz’s case, probably all of them), so Oren is practically accusing them of “fooling around with the lives of 7 million people”. Even if he didn’t cross the line of talking about elected members of the Knesset, he got very close to it, considering the fact that Meretz, Labor and Kadima even sent representatives to the J Street convention.

James Besser touched this point on his blog at The Jewish Week site, when he wrote that “[according to the ambassador's approach], guys like Rabin and Ariel Sharon must have been secretly anti-Israel.”

It is no surprise that Oren is turning out to be the Likud’s ambassador to Washington, rather than Israel’s. Prior to his appointment, Dr. Oren was an associate researcher on the Shalem Center, the rightwing think tank and publishing house which is financed by Benjamin Netanyahu’s close friend, gambling billionaire Sheldon Adelson (who is also the publisher of the free rightwing tabloid Israel Hayon). When Netanyhau returned to the PM office, he appointed people from the Shalem Center and Israel Hayom to senior positions in his administration. These are the hardcore ideologists behind Israel’s current policies. Read the rest of this entry »


Two things to watch in the next few weeks (and a good word for pro-Palestinian activism)

Posted: December 3rd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Right, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off

After PM Benjamin Netanyahu announced his partial settlement moratorium, many observers were right in noting that Israeli leaders had no problems declaring a settlement freeze in the past and than doubling their building efforts in the West bank and East Jerusalem. Therefore, monitoring what’s happening on the ground will play a major role in the months to come.

Before we can hope for renewal of negotiations, there are political developments that will have to play out on both Israeli and Palestinian side. This might take between few weeks, even months.

On the Israeli side, we will have to see if Netanyahu will actually stop construction in the West Bank, or if this is just another one of the Israeli stalling games we have seen before. As I wrote, I don’t trust the PM, but constant pressure from the US and from Labor might actually make him turn his back to the settlers. There is already some minor protest from the right against the moratorium, and it remains to be seen whether this is a real split between Netanyahu and the “ideological right” or just a show for the media. We have known this before as well.

On the Palestinian side, we have yet to find out the effect of the Shalit deal on the relations between Fatah and Hamas. If Abu-mazen does resign in two weeks or so, anything can happen. It can pave the road for negotiations with Israel under a new Palestinian leadership (perhaps Marwan Barguti. there are contradicting reports on the possibility of his release), or it can lead to the collapse of the Palestinian Authority and an end to the peace process as we know it. Read the rest of this entry »


What moratorium? Netanyahu playing games

Posted: November 25th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Right, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The top news item this evening on walla.co.il – Israel’s most popular web site – reads as follows: “Netanyahu in a message to Obama: Abu-Mazen has no more excuses”. I think this sums it all up. The settlements moratorium PM Benjamin Netanyahu announced was never intended to re-ignite the peace process. It’s not a step toward the Palestinians. It is, as Netanyahu all but put it himself, a message to the White House, asking it to get off our back, and start blaming the Arabs for the occupation, like they did until a year ago.

Netanyuahu and Barak know very well that the Palestinians won’t settle for this. A moratorium that does not include Jerusalem, does not include public buildings, does not include projects already under construction, does not include “security needs”? – what is it exactly that it does include? No wonder all the Right wing’s ministers but one voted for it!

In the State Department’s briefing today, George Mitchell was walking a thin line: wanting to praise Netanyahu, but at the same time being very careful not to say that the Americans got what they asked for:

The steps announced today are the result of a unilateral decision by the Government of Israel. This is not an agreement with the United States, nor is it an agreement with the Palestinians. United States policy on settlements remains unaffected and unchanged. As the President has said, America does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements.

We recognize that the Palestinians and other Arabs are concerned because Israel’s moratorium permits the completion of buildings already started and limits the effect of the moratorium to the West Bank – concerns which we share.

As to Jerusalem, United States policy remains unaffected and unchanged. As has been stated by every previous administration which addressed this issue, the status of Jerusalem and all other permanent status issues must be resolved by the parties through negotiations.

And if the US thinks that’s not enough, how can a Palestinian leader agree to negotiate with Netanyahu now? It will be as if he is saying “go ahead, do your stuff in Jerusalem. I’m cool with that.”

Abu-Mazen can barley hold on to his post right now, with Israel is doing all it can to undermine him. This week Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman declared again that the Palestinian Authority asked Israel to invade Gaza. Imagine what happens to the Palestinian president if he sits to talk with Netanyahu and Liberman, when they not only humiliate him this way, but declare that they will go on settling East Jerusalem?

Here is a naïve question: why is it the world that has to beg Israel to stop building the settlements? The whole goal of this 42 years old project was to prevent the establishing of a Palestinian state or handing back the West Bank to Jordan (it was funny to hear Sarah Palin says that the settlements has something to do with housing needs for Jews. Then again, I wonder if she can find the West Bank on a map, or the entire Middle East for that matter). Now, if Israel is going to evacuate most of the area anyway – and Netanyahu said so himself, didn’t he? – Why go on building there? Why move there people that you will have to evacuate and compensate in a few years?

Israel is playing games, and it’s all too familiar. Read the rest of this entry »


Israel prefers Hamas (part III)

Posted: November 24th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, the US and us | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment »

In previous posts I’ve explained how the US and Israel’s policies strengthen Hamas on the expense of the Palestinian Authority, and most notably, Abu-Mazen.

The prisoner exchange deal – which reportedly is about to be signed soon – will make things even worse for the Palestinian president. The timing of the deal – which could have taken place months, even years ago – makes me believe that Netanyahu’s diplomatic plan which is about to be announced is not a serious effort to restart the peace process, but rather another attempt to contain the international pressure his government is facing.

The sad part is that the US administration plays into the hands of Netanyahu.

Israel is currently holding around 11,000 Palestine in its prisons (many of them without a trail, including hundreds of teens). That’s thousands of Gilad Shalits. Releasing hundreds of them – including PLO people – will be Hamas’ greatest achievement since the Israeli unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. In a time when Israel is depriving Abu-Mazen from any significant gain, it is handing Hamas one of its greatest victories, well worth the suffering and the victims of Cast Lead.

We are at a critical crossroad. If Netanyahu releases the prisoners, and than gets US approval for its partial settlement freeze, it will be a death blow to Abu-Mazen (and to the new administration’s credibility). I really hope the Americans understand that. Read the rest of this entry »


Israeli media: Netanyahu to announce partial settlemets freeze, diplomatic plan

Posted: November 23rd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Right, The Settlements | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off

netanyahu_bibiRecent reports in the Israeli media suggest Benjamin Netanyahu is about to present a diplomatic initiative, probably accompanied by a partial, time limited, settlement freeze. It is unclear whether this plan is coordinated with the US administration and the European Union.

UPDATE: 30 minutes after I posted this item, Haaretz’s headline declared Netanyahu about to bring limited settlement freeze before cabinet.

PM Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak seem to be thinking that the diplomatic standstill is beginning to cause them damage, both on domestic and on international level. Barak is standing the real risk of a split in Labor, if the government won’t come up with some sort of an initiative soon, while Netanyahu is worried from other plans being put before the public by rival politicians. But the real threat for both Barak and Netanyahu is the two contradictory ideas the Palestinians are discussing: a unilateral declaration of independence and the dismantling of the Palestinian Authority.

According to Yossi Beilin, Netanyahu will soon announce a settlement freeze which will not include existing projects, the so-called “settlements blocks” and East Jerusalem. Then he will invite the Palestinians to renew the negotiations. UPDATE: Alex Fishman reports in Yedioth that the IDF is already preparing for construction freeze.

Maariv’s Ben Caspit reveled last week that Barak and President Peres are working on a way to make the two sides come to the table. According to this new idea, both Israel and the Palestinians will receive official letters from the US administration addressing their main concerns. Israel will get a paper acknowledging the Jewish nature of the state and a promise that the Palestinian state will be de-militarized; the Palestinians will be promised that the negotiations will be limited in time and that the territory they will get at the end will equal in its size to the West bank and Gaza.

According to Netanyahu’s idea, by the end of a certain time frame, the Palestinians will be able to declare independence on temporary borders (roughly the territory they hold now), and a time table for a permanent deal will be set.

Haaretz reports that Uzi Arad, the head of the Israeli National Security Council and the top advisor for Benjamin Netanyahu, said today that the government hopes to resume negotiations with the Palestinians “within the next few weeks”, and that a move forward with the Palestinians is more important right now than the Syrian front (Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazy is said to be pushing for an agreement with Syria, and there are many indications that the Syrians are more than ready to reach a deal. On the other hand, no Israeli leader is willing to commit to a complete withdrawal from the Golan Heights). Read the rest of this entry »


A Palestinian Game-Changer

Posted: November 15th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Settlements | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off
President Abbas and PM Fayad

President Abbas and PM Fayad

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has an unbalanced nature, as Israel is holding most of the economical and military power in the region, while the Palestinians have only the world’s public opinion to rely on. But lately it seems that the Palestinian Authority is able to take the game to a field in which it has the upper hand – that of public NGOs and multinational bodies. That’s what happened with the Goldstone report, and this is the context, I believe, in which we should understand the Palestinian plan to unilaterally declare independence in a couple of years.

In the last decade, both Yasser Arafat and the Hamas tried to gain political achievements through the use of force (not a new approach in the Middle East; Arab and Israelis have been doing it for a century). This effort didn’t only fail, but also handed Israel the currency it lacks the most: international legitimization for its military actions. Thousands of dead and years of suffering have passed, and all the Palestinians got was the withdrawal from Gaza, and Israel is still making them pay for it through its siege on the strip.

After losing the current military round, the Palestinians are playing a game in which Israel will find it much harder to win.

The basic idea of the Palestinian PM, Salaam Fayad, is this: if Israel will go on refusing to freeze all settlement activities and the peace process won’t reignite, the Palestinians will ask for a UN resolution recognizing their independence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as their capitol. Such proposal will enjoy an overwhelming majority in the general assembly. Things might get a bit trickier for the Palestinians in the Security Council, where the US holds veto power, but given the new administration’s support of the two states solution, it’s hard to imagine the White House blocking the Palestinian move altogether. More likely, it will push for some sort of compromise.

An Israeli diplomatic counter-attack could have stood some chances with a centrist Israeli government and a neo-conservative US administration like we had a year ago, but with the current world atmosphere and a radical right-wing coalition in Jerusalem, this effort will be doomed from the start. Read the rest of this entry »


Poll: Israelis ready to negotiate Hamas, but don’t feel need to talk to Abu-Mazen. High ratings for Netanyahu

Posted: November 13th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, Polls | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

The Israeli public is fairly satisfied with his government. According to a public opinion poll published today in Haaretz, PM Benjamin Netanyahu keeps high ratings and the public generally believes that the absent of negotiations with the Palestinians is Abu-Mazen’s fault. The only surprise in the poll is a majority of Israelis willing to negotiate with Hamas.

Exactly half of the public (50 per cent) is satisfied with the Prime Ministers’ work so far, while only 40 percent are “unsatisfied” (the rest are undecided). Defense Minister Ehud Barak gets 50 percent positive approval as well. The only concern Netanyahu should have is with his Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, who is viewed positively only by 38 of the public.

50 percent of the public blames Abu-Mazen for the absence of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, while 27 percent think it’s both sides’ fault. 25 percent thinks that the White House treats Netanyahu in a humiliating way (42 percent perceive the administration’s behavior as “reasonable”; only 12 see it as respectful)

If elections were held today, Netanyahu’s Likud would have risen to 33 Knesset seats (they have 27 now), while Livni’s Kadima would have grown to 29 (it has 28). Labor drops from 13 now to 6, and altogether the Right-Orthodox wing is getting stronger, to 72 seats (65 now), while the Center-Left block drops to 48.

The common wisdom is that in times of terror attacks the public moves Right, but now we had almost a year of relative quiet accompanied by an effort for renewal of negotiations, and the Right is getting stronger. This is bad news for those who believe in persuading the Israelis to join the peace effort. The public simply doesn’t want that. As I explained before, the meaning of these numbers is that without intense international pressure, no Israeli leader would be ready for concessions – since it would mean confronting a hostile public opinion. The rational choice for every Israeli leader right now- regardless of its ideology – is to oppose the peace effort. Read the rest of this entry »