The Palestine Papers: An end to the myth of Israel’s generosity

Posted: January 24th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , | 10 Comments »

Instead of going through the commentary on the recently released “Palestine Papers,” I suggest readers start by checking out some of the documents themselves. Even for those suspicious of the “generous Israeli offer vs. Arab rejectionism” narrative of the 2008 talks as I was, some of the documents are quite shocking.

Take, for example, this meeting, in which the Palestinian side learns that the Israeli negotiators wouldn’t agree to use 1967 borders even as a starting point (h/t Matt Duss):

Udi Dekel (Israel):     As you know, our guiding principles are UNSC Res. 242, the need for boundaries that can provide security for Israel, and we’re talking about the situation on the ground, as per Pres. Bush’s letter.

Samih al-Abed (Palestinian):      Do you mean the situation as it was then, or now?

UD:     Reality now… But we’re not going to argue.  We can’t change reality on the ground.  We don’t see the 1967 border as a reference, first because we don’t even know exactly where the line is.

SA:      We have all the maps that were signed by you.

UD:     But that wasn’t exactly the line on the ground.

SA:      If not the 1967 line, then what is your reference?

UD:     We said already, the situation on the ground.

And here Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni insists on annexing the settlement of Ariel – which lies some 15 miles to the east of the Israeli border, deep in the West Bank:

Livni: The idea behind our desire to annex Ariel settlement was not to get more water but because thousands of people live there. We want to have an answer for those who have lived there for forty years.

Future borders will be complicated but clear. I have seen in Yugoslavia how areas can be connected. The matter is not simply giving a passport to settlers.

Abu Ala: Having Ariel under our control means also that the water basin will be under our control.

Livni: We have said that even if we agreed to have Ariel under Israeli control, we have to find a solution to the water issue.

Abu Ala: We find this hard to swallow.

Rice:  Let us put Maale Adumim and Ariel aside. I am not trying to solve them here.

Or the now-famous Yerushalyim quote, in which Palestinian negotiator Dr. Sael Erakat used the Hebrew name when referring to Jerusalem:

Erekat: Israelis want the two-state solution but they don’t trust. They want it more than you think, sometimes more than Palestinians. What is in that paper gives them the biggest Yerushalaim in Jewish history, symbolic number of refugees return, demilitarised state… what more can I give?


The obvious result of the massive leak of documents would be a blow to the Palestinian Authority’s credibility, and most notably, to the public image of president Mahmoud Abbas and chief negotiator Saeb Erakat.

The documents, published by Al Jazeera and the Guardian, reveal the extent of concessions offered by the Palestinian leadership at those talks, and expose the PLO leaders to charges of betrayal of the Palestinian cause – not so much because of the offers themselves, but more due to the tone used by the Palestinian negotiators (Erekat calling PM Sharon “our friend,” using the Hebrew name for Jerusalem, and more), and due to their cooperation with Israel in the persecution of Hamas activists. It’s not clear yet whether the PA leadership can survive this crisis.

Evaluating the effect of the Palestine Papers on the Israeli side is even harder.

Prime Minister Netanyahu will probably not suffer any damage on the home front, at least in the short term. Netanyahu might even use the papers to claim that his government’s construction projects in occupied East Jerusalem pose no threat to the peace process, since the Palestinians have already agreed to give up most of the Jewish neighborhoods in this part of the city.

The Israeli government would also benefit from a renewal of the internal war on the Palestinian side. For years, Israel has tried (and for the most part, succeeded) to break Palestinian society into sub-groups with different political interests and agendas. When those groups fight each other, the Palestinian cause suffers.

Yet from a wider perspective, the release of the Palestinian offers during the 2008 talks serves as proof that Israel in fact had a partner for peace on the Palestinian side. Actually, the question from now on will be whether Israel itself is a partner for an agreement. Furthermore, after the steps Palestinian and Israeli negotiators took towards each other in previous rounds of talks, the current Israeli offers, such as a temporary state on half of the West Bank’s territory, will appear cynical and unrealistic.

For years, Israel has used the peace process as a way to hold back international pressure on the Palestinian issue. It will be harder to do so from now on.  This will be Netanyahu’s greatest problem.

As far as the Israeli public is concerned, opposition leader Tzipi Livni comes out fine from the papers. Unlike the Palestinian negotiators, Livni can’t be accused of double talk. She presented the same hardline positions both in public and in private. Yet Livni will soon try to position herself as an alternative for the right-wing government of Netanyahu, which had Israel isolated in the world and damaged relations with the US. Given her attitude during the 2008 talks, how could Livni convince the Israeli public and the international community that she can succeed in negotiating a deal with the Palestinians?

More than anything, it’s the very notion that Israelis and Palestinians can reach an agreement on the two-state solution that suffered another tremendous blow (some people in the US administration apparently gave up on this even before the papers were released). Many people believe that Israel went as far as it could in the offers that were handed in 2008 to the Palestinians; now they may think that the Palestinians did the same, and yet the distance between the two parties remains too big. It seems that Israeli leaders are simply unable to deliver the minimum required to solve the Palestinian problem. No wonder that one of the first Israeli politicians to comment on the papers was Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, which said that the documents proved a final agreement impossible to achieve.

Even for those who don’t subscribe to Lieberman’s ideas, it’s clear that a new approach is needed. Will it be the unilateralism president Abbas is promoting, the mounting international pressure on Israel, the “nation building” effort by PM Salam Fayyad, or even another Palestinian uprising that changes the political dynamic? Only time will tell.

Ariel settlement in 2007: We are NOT part of Israel

Posted: November 13th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Settlements | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments »

Not long ago, the large settlement which is now at the heart of the controversy over the refusal of Israeli theater actors to perform in its new auditorium, tried to prove in court that officially, it lies outside Israel, and therefore should be exempted from paying VAT

Culture Minister Limor Livnat (Likud) was present this week at the opening of the new theater hall at the settlement of Ariel. A couple of months ago, several Israeli theater artist declared their refusal to perform in Ariel, which sits deep in the Palestinian territories, some 15 miles east of the Green Line.

Livnat and other rightwing figures believe that Ariel is a part of Israel, and as so, its people are entitled to the same services other citizens receive. “Ariel is like any other community in Israel,” said Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz (Likud). The Culture Minister went even further and declared that the state would stop supporting theaters and artists who refuse to perform in any place in Israel, including the Occupied Territories.

Similar arguments were recently made by Israeli officials to explain the construction of hundreds of new housing units in Ariel.

But just a few years ago, it was the municipality of Ariel itself declaring that it is not a part of Israel, and even trying to prove it in court.

In December 2007, the Petach Tikva court of appeals issued a ruling (Hebrew) in the case of the municipality of Ariel vs. the State of Israel. In its appeal, the municipality demanded to be exempted from paying VAT to the state; its argument was that the settlement doesn’t fall under the legal category of an ‘Israeli citizen’ or ‘An Israeli resident’, and therefore cannot be required to pay VAT.

Alternatively, Ariel demanded to be exempted from paying taxes over the work of its Palestinian employees.

The Petach Tikva court ruled in favor of the state, and Ariel was required to pay its taxes.

The 2007 case shows again how Israel is trying to have it both ways in the West Bank: claim it as its own territory and reject all efforts to limit or question its actions there – and at the same time, never formally recognize it as a part of the state (that’s the loophole the municipality of Ariel was trying to use), since that would reveal the fact that there are 2.5 million people without rights within this territory, thus officially labeling Israel as an Apartheid state.

In 2007 the Petach Tikva court decided that for tax purposes, Ariel is a part of Israel. At the same time, many Israelis who have factories or businesses in the West Bank don’t pay their Palestinian workers minimum wage, claiming – as one company did before court a couple of months ago – that they are operating “outside Israel” and are subject to Jordanian regulations.

If Ariel and other settlements are indeed part of Israel – isn’t it time that their Palestinian neighbors and workers will have full rights as well?


(h/t Y.N.)

Brecht in the West Bank: Israel’s major theaters going to the settlements

Posted: August 25th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: culture, The Settlements | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

The first major theater hall in a West Bank settlement will open on November 8th. The Ariel Culture Hall, located in the settlement of Ariel (south of Nablus) will host major productions of leading Israeli theaters, including Habima, Israel’s national theater, and Tel Aviv’s city theater, The Cameri.

According to Haaretz, The Ariel Culture Hall will have 540 seats, and 40 million NIS (11 million USD) were spent on its construction. The Hall will open with the Israeli adaptation of Piaf, a play by British Pem Gems on the life of the famous singer, performed by the Beersheba theatre. Later this year, Ariel will host Tel Aviv’s Cameri theatre’s Caucasian Chalk Circle by Bertolt Brecht

Some Israelis noticed a cruel irony in hosting a play dealing with concept of justice and fair trial in a place where the majority of the population have no rights, and is tried in military courts, without due process. Arab-Israeli actor Yousef Sweid, who plays in “A railroad to Damascus”, also scheduled to show in Ariel, told Haaretz that “I’m opposed to it, but this is the first I heard about it and I’d like to investigate the matter further.”

Israeli journalist and blogger Ofri Ilani wrote in the leftwing group blog Eretz Haemori that this marks a new record in the whitewashing of the occupation’s crimes:

To what level of ridicule will the heads of the culture scene degrade (…) we had murders who talk about spiritualism, Arms dealers who play the piano and Military radio stations that play protest songs (…) but to recruit Brecht to legitimize the colonial project of [Ariel's mayor] Ron Nachman?

But those voices are an exception. Most Israelis are blind to the occupation, and Ariel – which sits literally in the heart of the West bank – is by now an ordinary Israeli town, with a secular population, not that different from the Israelis living in Tel Aviv’s suburbs. The entire idea that one can separate “good” Israel west of the Green Line from “bad” Israel lying to its east is ridiculous. Every aspect of Israeli civilian life, from the economy through real estate to culture, has something to do with the occupation.

It seems that the heads of the major theaters in Israel were even surprised somebody made a deal out of their recent bookings. A Habima spokeswoman told Haaretz: “Habima is a national theater, and its repertoire is supposed to suit the entire population.” Chairman of Jerusalem’s Chan theater said that “Everybody is invited to watch the shows. We don’t take side in the political question.”

Bertolt Brecht, I think, would have loved this last one.