No, Egyptian uprising won’t hurt the peace process

Posted: February 1st, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments »

(simply because there is no such thing)

Time to come up with new excuses? (photo: Pete Souza / white house)

Time to come up with new excuses? (photo: Pete Souza / white house)

Yesterday, Politico’s Laura Rozen posted this tweet:

On Isr/Egypt, official tells me while Egypt unrest demos status quo unstable, makes Isr hunker down, less willing to “take risks for peace.

Hey, wasn’t that the Israeli reply to… just about any event in recent history?

Turmoil in Lebanon? Further proof that Israel can’t take risks. The publication of the Palestine Papers? PM Netanyahu concludes that he could go on building in East Jerusalem. Unilateralism? it’ s bad for peace. International community’s involvement? You guessed it: A disaster for Peace.

Avigdor Lieberman, the Israeli Foreign Minister, says we shouldn’t negotiate with President Abu-Mazen because he has no real authority over his people. And we shouldn’t, god forbid, allow new elections in the Palestinian territories, because the Hamas would only get stronger. A united, Fatah-Hamas government, is clearly out of the question, and if the Palestinian president tries to go to the UN, we have the answer ready: the US should veto it, because it’s bad for peace.

Until recently, Israel used to say that democracy in the Arab world is the key to peace and stability. This is Netanyahu in 1993 (h/t Aeyal Gross):

“Here, in a nutshell, is the main problem of achieving peace in the Middle East: Except for Israel, there are no democracies. None of the Arab regimes is based on free elections, a free press, civil rights and the rule of law”

Now Netanyahu is talking about a “tremendous threat” from the changes in Egypt, and the Israeli Right claims that the Arabs “are not prepared” for democracy and that the reform movement puts the peace process in danger. It seems that even if all Palestinians join the Likud tomorrow, an Israeli minister would explain why this is bad for the peace process, and three hundred House representatives would sign a letter condemning Arab Rejectionism. All in the name of peace, of course.

The truth is there is no peace process, and it’s not because of the Palestinians, the Syrians, the Iranians, the reform movement or the coaching staff of the Minnesota Vikings. There is simply no point in talks with Israel right now. The Israeli government refuses to commit to evacuating settlements, refuses to discuss borders or even open maps and refuses to talk to Syria. In recent months, some ministers wanted to come out publicly with a “peace plan” that would leave the Palestinians with something like 60 percent of the West Bank, but even that was too radical for this government.

Two years after he returned to the PM office, Netanyahu has yet to come up with some sort of practicl offer for the two state solution – the vision he claimed to have adopted. Perhaps this is asking too much of him. All Netanyahu wants is to engage in meaningless talks that would go on forever, because that’s his only way of handling the mounting international pressure.

For that exact reason, the only way to push things forward is to apply even more pressure on Jerusalem.

Lieberman: Israeli government cannot agree on peace plan

Posted: December 27th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , | 10 Comments »

But clearly, the Palestinians are to blame for negotiations’ failure

Even before the administration’s peace effort collapsed, speakers for Israel were pulling the old “Arab Rejectionism” card to defend Jerusalem’s decision to prefer settlements over talks. Prime Minister Netanyahu wanted a Palestinian state, they explained, but Abu Mazen refused to negotiate.

One thing you can’t take from Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is his ability to say things as they really are. The Israeli government cannot even come up with a peace offer, he explained yesterday, let alone implement one:

“In the current political situation, I don’t think it’s possible to find a common denominator between [Shas chairman] Eli Yishai and [Labor chairman] Ehud Barak or between me and [dovish Likud minister] Dan Meridor, or even within Likud, between [ministers] Benny Begin and Michael Eitan,” [Lieberman] explained. “In the existing political circumstances, it’s not possible to present a diplomatic plan for a final-status agreement, because the coalition will simply no longer exist.”

The best thing was Netanyahu’s comment on this: He actually explained that his Foreign Minister does not represent the Israeli government.

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 »

Israel looking for strong women to handle next flotilla, a flash game on the Gaza blockade, and other stories

Posted: June 22nd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

I’m going on vacation until the end of June, so I probably won’t be blogging that much. Meanwhile, here are a few things worth checking out.

● Israeli pundits agree: the flotilla has won, Netanyahu governments (and I might add the Obama administration) lost. From now on, it’s all political damage control.

● Maariv: Concern in the American Administration over the age of two of the members of the Turkel committee, who was appointed by PM Netanyahu to look into the raid on the Gaza-bound flotilla.

● Ad in an Israeli newspaper: private contractor looking for women volunteers with “great physical strength and motivation” to help deal with the passengers of future flotillas (h/t Richard Silverstein).


● More evidences of misuse of flotilla passengers’ credit cards (Hebrew)

“Safe Passage”: The flash game Gisha organization has created in order to inform the world of the measures Israel is taking as part of its separation policy between the Gaza strip and the West Bank.

The story of prisoner X: The man in Israel’s Ayalon prison, whose identity no one knows. Initial report on him was published on Ynet, only to be removed later from the site due to a government gag-order.

● Speaking of gag-orders, writer and Israeli Arab activist, Ameer Makhoul, who is charged with espionage, has written a public letter from his jail. The full charges against Makhoul were never made public, and his trail is being conducted behind close doors, with some of the “confidential material” not allowed to be viewed even by his own attorneys.

● We often here the argument of “Arab rejectionism”, meaning that Palestinian leaders rejected all the generous peace offers that were handed to them by Israeli leaders. But what about Israeli rejectionism? Why, asks Akiva Eldar in Haaretz, hasn’t Israel responded to the Arab peace initiative?

Israelis want peace, but only if it’s free

Posted: May 23rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Polls, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off

Even with this extreme rightwing government at power, the conventional wisdom is that “Israelis want peace”. Most of the polling shows more than 50 percent of the public supporting the two state solution, and even parting Jerusalem is no longer taboo with Jews. The mystery is how with such a dovish public, Israel is still building settlements and using every trick in the book to postpone what seems like an inevitable evacuation.

Gadi Baltiansky, Director General of the Geneva Initiative in Israel, offers an explanation in an article on Foreign Policy:

Consider the following: about two-thirds of Israelis support the evacuation of most settlements as part of a peace agreement with the Palestinians. Yet at the same time, only 30 percent believe that this is the opinion held by the majority (…)

Thus, a majority that supports the evacuation of most settlements as part of a peace agreement sees itself as a minority, while, perversely, a small but vocal minority that is against the evacuation acts as if it represents the general will. The majority’s mistake derives not only from its silence and preoccupation with other things, but from the reluctance of its leaders to offer a convincing sense of urgency to the issue at hand. The minority’s strength is in turn derived from the voluminous way it expresses itself, its focus on one issue only, and of course, from the trepidation displayed by the leaders of the majority.

One might add that Israeli leaders – as well as most journalists – are simply lying to the public, leading it to believe that we can reach an agreement while keeping settlements which are deep into the Palestinian territory, such as Ariel and Maale Edomim; that we can have a peace settlement without parting the holy basin in Jerusalem; or that we can make Hamas disappear (and when all of these fail to materialize, they blame Arab rejectionism). Akiva Eldar just had an interesting piece in Haaretz on the damage of baseless believes on both sides.

But the failure of leadership is only half the story. The real problem is the fact that Israelis are unwilling to pay the price that the implication of the two state solutions involves. As I’ve written before, the status quo is simply too comfortable for us, and there is no real incentive to go through the difficult internal confrontation – not to mention obvious security threats – that a withdrawal from the West bank might bring.

This is why I only partly agree with Baltiansky’s conclusion – that a foreign leader who wants to make progress should communicate itself to Israelis. Communication is important, but it will be all but useless without applying real pressure on Israeli leaders, such pressure that will make it clear that the current situation cannot go on.

Deconstructing Rightwing arguments (I): The Palestinian Charter

Posted: May 4th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: The Right, The Settlements | Tags: , , , , , , | 19 Comments »

Every now and then you get to hear Israelis argue that we cannot have peace with the Palestinians or even withdraw from the West Bank because Hamas is still opposing the idea of a Jewish state, and more important, because the Palestinian National Charter, which the PLO’s binding document, still states that the Palestinians have a right for the entire land of Israel, and that “Zionist occupation” of the land is illegal.

But have a look at article 1(b) in the constitution of the Likud, Israel’s ruling party: it turns out the Likud never accepted the idea of parting the land either, and its stated goal remains to settle and annex as much territory as possible.

This is the official translation of the constitution to English, taken from PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s own website (my italic):

Article 2: General purposes

1. The Likud is a national-liberal party which advocates the ingathering of the exiles, the integrity of the Jewish homeland, human freedom and social justice, and it strives to achieve these goals:


b. Safeguarding the right of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel as an eternal, inalienable right, working diligently to settle and develop all parts of the land of Israel, and extending national sovereignty to them.

Personally, I don’t pay much attention to such documents. We can negotiate with PLO and even Hamas, and Palestinians can talk to Likud Prime Ministers. Negotiations deal with the future, and those charters and constitutions are documents of the past. All arguments regarding them are no more than excuses.

Israeli sense of humor

Posted: December 9th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, media | Tags: , , | 1 Comment »

A screenshot of Haaretz news site today:


The top story: “Knesset to approve ‘Referendum Law’”
(According to which, withdrawal from Israeli territory will be subject to a referendum, thus making it much harder to carry out).

The bottom story: “Netanyahu: the Palestinians’ strategy – postponing negotiations / PM attacked the Palestinian Authority: they avoid implementing Israel’s and the international communities’ demands.”

In the middle: the trail of Jack Titel, the Jewish terrorist, opened today.

Back to the 90′: the “Phased Plan” argument strikes again

Posted: June 10th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: The Right | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Whenever the prospect of renewed negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians remerges, those who oppose the peace process bring up again the famous “Phased Plan” or the “Phased Strategy” argument.

At the base of this argument is the assumption that the Palestinians don’t want peace, pure and simple. They might negotiate with Israel in the hope of winning concessions, but this is only in order to move to the next phase – from which they will start fighting again, to win more concessions, and so on, until all Jews – much like the Crusaders – are kicked out of the Middle East (“thrown into the sea”). During his lifetime, Yasser Arafat symbolized this approach in the eyes of the Israeli Right Wing and its supporters, and now they try to pin this to Abu Mazen.

It is almost impossible to argue against this logic – not because it’s true, but because the people who hold it claim to know the hearts and minds of the other side. Nothing the Palestinians do would satisfy the Phased Plan prophets: even if they abandon the armed struggle completely and start teaching Zionism in their school, it would only be perceived as a trick, aimed at getting more concessions out of Israel. And if the Palestinians continue the armed struggle – well, this is just further proof that they don’t want peace. It’s a perfect circle, who’s only possible conclusion is that you should never sign an agreement with the Palestinians or offer them any territorial concessions.

Read the rest of this entry »