Peace talks resuming: actually, there is nothing to talk about

Posted: August 23rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

The Obama administration finally got what it wanted, and the Palestinians were dragged into direct peace negotiations that would probably lead to nowhere. Even Yossi Beilin, maybe the single most committed politician to the idea of direct talks and the two-states solution, is pretty sure that no agreement will come out of this, not to mention every member of the Israeli seven-minister cabinet, the top decision-making forum, who has an automatic majority against any concessions. In this cabinet, the only difference between the “dovish” Defense Minister Ehud Barak and the “hawkish” Foreign Minister Lieberman is that one thinks we should negotiate so that the world will learn again that “we have no partner”, while the other believes we shouldn’t even do that.

As for Beilin, this is what he told the New York Times:

“I think this is a huge mistake by the U.S. administration (…) There is not a chance in the world that in a year — or two or three — peace can be achieved. The gap between the sides is too big. Netanyahu did not come to power to divide Jerusalem or find a solution to the Palestinian refugees.”

On a phone conversation I had with him a month ago, Beilin expressed similar views. At best, he said, Netanyahu will end up unilaterally withdrawing to the security barrier, and even this will happen under tremendous pressure, and when the Prime Minister feels really cornered. “Netanyahu simply can’t do it,” he said.

Yesterday, Nahum Barnea, Israel’s top diplomatic correspondent, wrote in Yedioth Ahronoth that while he received a torrent of phone calls from foreign media representatives regarding the talks, Israelis and Palestinians hardly care about them. Some people view low expectations as a good sign, but in the peace process’ dynamic they make both sides enter the negotiations with the sole purpose of blaming the other party for the inevitable failure. This seems to be the case this time as well.

Sources in the administration told the NY Times that “while talks may be risky, the current drift is even riskier, and the only possible way forward is to put the leaders of the two sides together with American help”. This is complete nonsense. When talks fail, the urge to resort to violence is higher. It seems that the administration simply wanted a political achievement here, the famous photo-op with Israeli and Palestinian leaders every president must have. Since the White House failed to get any real concessions from Netanyahu, it started applying the pressure on the Palestinians in order to create the appearance of progress.

This has been the path all US presidents, Democrats and Republican alike, have taken in the past two decades. As a precondition to dealing with them, they demanded the Palestinians to stop resisting the occupation, to change their national charter, to recognize Israel, to conduct elections, to ignore the results of the elections, and lately, to cancel the elections altogether; to negotiate while Israel is building settlements (that’s “without preconditions” for you), to arrest those opposing negotiations, to withdraw their request to have the Goldstone Report discussed in the UN, to negotiate while half their population is under siege, and to do it with an Israeli Prime Minister who refuses to accept the 67′ borders even as a starting point for the talks.

The Palestinians did all this, and more. Being the weakest party in the Middle East, they never really had any choice. Even the “moderate” Arab leaders didn’t back them when it came to confronting the White House.

And what do you know? In two decades, all these negotiations didn’t lead to the evacuation of a single settlement. Not one. It was the armed struggle, and the thousands of casualties on both sides, that made the Israeli government pull out of Gaza. This time, there were no negotiations involved.

————————–

The truth is that there is very little to negotiate. Strange as it may seem, the Palestinians don’t have anything to give Israel. More often than we care to believe, Israel’s demands are nothing but excuses, reasons not to give the Palestinians what is theirs to begin with: their freedom.

What can Israel possibly get from the Palestinians in exchange for the termination of the occupation? A guarantee they won’t attack us? Suppose we have one – how do we know the next Palestinian government will honor it? And the one after it? The truth is we can’t know. No matter what agreement is signed, Israel will have to take care of its own security, possibly with the help of the US. For that we don’t need the talks.

Maybe we want the Palestinians to give up the right of return? But the problem is not the abstract right but the very real refugees. If we don’t come up with some solution for their situation, they will continue to demand to go back to their families’ old homes, no matter what will be written on the piece of paper president Abbas will sign, immediately before he loses the elections and disappear forever.

The same goes for Jerusalem – if the problem won’t be solved and the sovereignty will be divided, the battle over the city will go on, regardless of what any agreement might say. The latest of Netanyahu’s tricks is the demand that the Palestinians will declare that Israel is a Jewish state. This is completely absurd. Since when do we need Abu-Mazen to decide out national character? This is an internal Israeli affair, nothing to do with the talks.

In short, Israel simply asks the Palestinians to make all kinds of promises they might or might not keep, and while we debate these issues endlessly, the occupation goes on and on.

Yes, there are many minor issues to debate: borders, taxing, water etc, but there has already been a lot of thinking on these details, and there are solutions at hand. The only real question is whether Israel is capable of doing one of the two: get out from the West Bank and accept the consequences this step might have on its security, or annex the land, give the Palestinians their rights, and see the character of the state changed. Both are bad options from most Israelis’ point of view, so it’s little wonder we rather not chose. What incredible is our ability to convince ourselves that the Palestinians are to blame.


Diplomacy: Is Obama leading us to a new Camp David?

Posted: August 2nd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Right, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

Last week, the Arab League authorized Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas to engage in direct negotiations with Israel. Abbas is still refusing the talks, but estimates are it’s only a matter of weeks before negotiations will be launched. So it seems that the US administration finally got its first achievement: Palestinians and Israelis will be talking again.

In recent months, the US administration abandoned its initial policy, of applying pressure on the Israeli government, and instead put the heat on the Palestinians. Whether the change of course was taken due to the political price the president was paying at home for his public disagreements with the Israeli government or simply because those in the administration closer to Israel finally had the upper hand, the shift in the American policy remains unmistakable.

According to Palestinian sources, in a letter to president Abbas, the administration threatened that failure to resume negotiations will have “grave consequences” for American-Palestinian relations. On the other hand, if Abbas agreed, he was promised a Palestinian state “within a couple of years”.

I won’t go into why the Palestinians refused to negotiate with Netanyahu’s government to begin with (I addressed this issue here). What’s important is that unlike Israel, president Mahmoud Abbas has no leverage in Washington. He can’t disobey an American president in the way an Israeli PM can. If Washington and Jerusalem want direct negotiations, they are all but inevitable.

On the verge of a new round of talks, it’s important to look on the lessons of the past.  the last time the Palestinians were forced to negotiate with Israel against their will was at Camp David. Back then, the Oslo agreements reached a dead end (a leaked video recently revealed PM Netanyahu boosting on how he managed to stop Oslo), hostility and mistrust were on the rise, and an Israeli leadership, with the help of an American administration eager for immediate success, tried to impose a final agreement. Just like today, at first the Clinton administration rejected the idea of a summit on the final agreement, but Prime Minister Ehud Barak was able to convince them that this was the only way to go.

In his important article on the failed 200o summit, Robert Malley, who was a member of the US team to the talks, analyzed the internal dynamic both on the Palestinian and on the Israeli sides coming to Camp David and during the negotiations. The similarities to the situation today are striking:

Barak’s team was convinced that the Israeli public would ratify an agreement with the Palestinians, even one that entailed far-reaching concessions, so long as it was final and brought quiet and normalcy to the country. But Barak and his associates also felt that the best way to bring the agreement before the Israeli public was to minimize any political friction along the way. Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin had paid a tremendous political (and physical) price by alienating the Israeli right wing and failing to bring its members along during the Oslo process. Barak was determined not to repeat that mistake.

Much in the same way, Netanyahu’s main concern today is to keep his government intact and the public behind him. He made it clear that he would not make any step that would put his coalition in danger.

Barak saw no reason to needlessly alienate the settler constituency. Moreover, insofar as new housing units were being established on land that Israel ultimately would annex under a permanent deal—at least any permanent deal Barak would sign—he saw no harm to the Palestinians in permitting such construction

(…)

In Barak’s mind, Arafat had to be made to understand that there was no “third way,” no “reversion to the interim approach,” but rather a corridor leading either to an agreement or to confrontation. Seeking to enlist the support of the US and European nations for this plan, he asked them to threaten Arafat with the consequences of his obstinacy: the blame would be laid on the Palestinians and relations with them would be downgraded. Likewise, and throughout Camp David, Barak repeatedly urged the US to avoid mention of any fall-back options or of the possibility of continued negotiations in the event the summit failed.

This logeic was interpreted by the Palestinians as an attempt to force on them accepting an agreement that they couldn’t swallow. I suggest reading the next part carefully (my italic):

behind almost all of Barak’s moves, Arafat believed he could discern the objective of either forcing him to swallow an unconscionable deal or mobilizing the world to isolate and weaken the Palestinians if they refused to yield. Barak’s stated view that the alternative to an agreement would be a situation far grimmer than the status quo created an atmosphere of pressure that only confirmed Arafat’s suspicions—and the greater the pressure, the more stubborn the belief among Palestinians that Barak was trying to dupe them.

(…)

On June 15, during his final meeting with Clinton before Camp David, Arafat set forth his case: Barak had not implemented prior agreements, there had been no progress in the negotiations, and the prime minister was holding all the cards. The only conceivable outcome of going to a summit, he told Secretary Albright, was to have everything explode in the President’s face. If there is no summit, at least there will still be hope. The summit is our last card, Arafat said—do you really want to burn it? In the end, Arafat went to Camp David, for not to do so would have been to incur America’s anger; but he went intent more on surviving than on benefiting from it.

As for the US, what damaged its role as a mediator more than anything was an exaggerated understanding to the Israelis’ political concerns at home.

As the broker of the agreement, the President was expected to present a final deal that Arafat could not refuse. Indeed, that notion was the premise of Barak’s attraction to a summit. But the United States’ ability to play the part was hamstrung by two of its other roles. First, America’s political and cultural affinity with Israel translated into an acute sensitivity to Israeli domestic concerns and an exaggerated appreciation of Israel’s substantive moves. American officials initially were taken aback when Barak indicated he could accept a division of the Old City or Palestinian sovereignty over many of Jerusalem’s Arab neighborhoods—a reaction that reflected less an assessment of what a “fair solution” ought to be than a sense of what the Israeli public could stomach. The US team often pondered whether Barak could sell a given proposal to his people, including some he himself had made. The question rarely, if ever, was asked about Arafat.

A second constraint on the US derived from its strategic relationship with Israel. One consequence of this was the “no-surprise rule,” an American commitment, if not to clear, at least to share in advance, each of its ideas with Israel. (…) the “no-surprise rule” held a few surprises of its own. In a curious, boomerang-like effect, it helped convince the Palestinians that any US idea, no matter how forthcoming, was an Israeli one, and therefore both immediately suspect and eminently negotiable.

———————-

Ehud Barak was warned by the Israeli intelligence that failure in Camp David would end in another round of violence, yet he chose to try and impose on the Palestinians the final agreement he wanted to have. The US Administration had its issues with this approach, but it decided to back Barak. Dennis Ross, the US special envoy to the Middle East at the time, played a key role in this decision. Later, Ross had a major part in creating the American tendency to back the Israeli side and ignore the Palestinians during the negotiations. Aaron David Miller, who was on Ross’ team, accused him of leading the US to act as “Israel’s lawyer“. This policy had resulted in disastrous consequences for both Palestinians and Israelis.

Barak and Netanyahu, The Israeli hawks that rejected the Oslo accord, are in power again, and Dennis Ross is again advocating pressure on the Palestinians so that they would agree to an agreement the Israeli public would have no troubles with.

The frightening part is that nothing really changed in the Israeli-American position since the year 2000. Israel still refuses land exchange that would leave the Palestinians with a territory equal to the occupied land of 1967 (according to Mr. Malley’s account that was a major part of the reason negotiations broke in Camp David). If anything, it seems that the current Netanyahu-Barak government is willing to fewer concessions then those of the Barak’s 1999-2001 government. Just like in the 90′s, Netanyahu is still refusing to evacuate the Jordan Valley and East Jerusalem. The only difference is that now he is willing to call the remaining territory “a Palestinian state”.

The year 2000 was not that long ago, and I remember well the failure of Camp David. Back then, no one imagined how bad the second Intifada would be for both sides, just as it’s hard to imagine what a new round of violence might bring. I hope the Obama administration, whose motives I don’t doubt, would look deep into those lessons, and avoid taking the same path.


Netanyahu: Clinton administration was “extremely pro-Palestinian”, I stopped Oslo agreement

Posted: July 15th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Right, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off

A couple of months ago I discussed here the debate between Peter Beinart and Jeffrey Goldberg regarding Bibi and Oslo. As some readers might remember, Goldberg accused Beinart of fabricating facts in claiming that Netanyahu rejected the peace agreement.

Last Friday, channel 10 broadcast a homemade video of a visit by Netanyahu to a settler family in 2001, two years after his defeat to Ehud Barak. Netanyahu is seen answering the family’s questions, referring to the Clinton administration as “extremely pro-Palestinian” and boosting how he managed to stop the Oslo agreement – while publicly endorsing it – well before the second intifada broke.

This is from Richard Silverstein’s transcript of the video:

Woman:  The Oslo Accords are a disaster.

Netanyahu: Yes. You know that and I knew that…The people [nation] has to know…

What were the Oslo Accords? The Oslo Accords, which the Knesset signed, I was asked, before the elections: “Will you act according to them?” and I answered: “yes, subject to mutuality and limiting the retreats.” “But how do you intend to limit the retreats?” “I’ll give such interpretation to the Accords that will make it possible for me to stop this galloping to the ’67 [armistice] lines. How did we do it?

Narrator: The Oslo Accords stated at the time that Israel would gradually hand over territories to the Palestinians in three different pulses, unless the territories in question had settlements or military sites. This is where Netanyahu found a loophole.

Netanyahu: No one said what defined military sites. Defined military sites, I said, were security zones. As far as I’m concerned, the Jordan Valley is a defined military site.

Woman: Right [laughs]…The Beit She’an Valley.

Netanyahu: How can you tell. How can you tell? But then the question came up of just who would define what Defined Military Sites were. I received a letter – to my and to Arafat, at the same time – which said that Israel, and only Israel, would be the one to define what those are, the location of those military sites and their size. Now, they did not want to give me that letter, so I did not give the Hebron Agreement. I stopped the government meeting, I said: “I’m not signing.” Only when the letter came, in the course of the meeting, to my and to Arafat, only then did I sign the Hebron Agreement. Or rather, ratify it, it had already been signed. Why does this matter? Because at that moment I actually stopped the Oslo Accord.

I agree with Gidon Levy: this item should have gotten much more attention. One could only imagine how history could have looked if Netanyahu carried out Israel’s part in the peace agreement.


Netanyahu won’t deliver

Posted: July 12th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Right, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

A year and a half into Benjamin Netanyahu’s second term, it’s clear that no matter what the Palestinians do or say, this Israeli PM will not sign a final agreement. I don’t think that even the US administration can change that. At most, it could ignite a process that the next government can carry on; much in the way President Bush forced PM Yitzhak Shamir into the Madrid conference.

Every Israeli leader is more likely to prefer the statues quo to concessions on the Palestinian issue (I explained why here). But in Netanyahu’s case, stalling the process doesn’t seem to be a tactical decision, but a strategic one.

As Akiva Eldar points in Haaretz today, in recent weeks, the Palestinians have agreed to everything Israel always asked them. They are ready for border changes that will leave the big settlements on the Israeli side; they agree to international forces in the West Bank that would monitor the situation and help protect the border; they are ready to give up the right of return into the state of Israel; and it seems that they are ready for a reasonable compromise in Jerusalem.

The Palestinian leadership explained its positions on all the core issues in details, both to the American envoy and in public – something that surly didn’t help them in their political battle against the Hamas hardliners – yet they got no response from Israel. Netanyahu refused to reveal Israel’s positions, in public or in private.

Every step Netanyahu took, from the partial settlement moratorium to allowing more goods into Gaza, was done under tremendous international pressure, and only after any other alternative failed. When felt cornered, he preferred to take the political battle to Washington, where, with the help of AIPAC, he repeatedly embarrassed the US president. By doing so, he made the support of Israel a partisan issue, divided the Jewish community and used much of the Israeli lobby’s political credit. All of this didn’t matter as long as he got what he wanted: for now, it seems that the administration is finally off his back.

Netanyahu is no fool. He knows what price this sort of maneuvering carries. Yet he prefers it to every alternative. I guess he estimates that the maximum he is willing to give is not even close to the minimum the Palestinians can settle with. So why do anything that would start a political fight with the right?

I don’t know the roots of Netanayhu’s positions: is it his upbringing, his reading of the political map in Israel or his view of the country’s long-term interests. Yet the bottom line couldn’t have been clearer: Netanyahu simply prefers the statues quo.

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).

238527_hezbollah-gaza-flotilla-women-wanted-ad

● 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?


Flotilla | why did Israel take credit cards, money, from passengers?

Posted: June 12th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, media, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments »

White house accepted the idea of an Israeli-led probe, but Jerusalem and Washington are still at disagreement over nature of the investigation

Almost two weeks since the IDF attack on the Gaza-bound flotilla, the government is yet to announce what form of civilian investigation it will conduct (the army has already started its own probe).

Reports in the Israeli media indicate that the reasons for the delay include disagreement with the White House over the investigating committee’s authorities. It seems that the US accepted the idea of an Israeli-led probe with international observers,and the problem is Jerusalem’s insistence that soldiers and low-level officers will not testify, and that the committee won’t have a legal authority to subpoena witnesses and material, and to issue conclusion regarding decision-makers. In other words, Israel wants the committee to deal with legal matters only. This way Netanyahu and Barak hope to contain political fallout from the raid both at home and abroad.

I believe the US should stay away from such an investigation – rather then lend it its own credibility and rescue the government from the trouble it brought upon itself – but it seems that the White House already decided to stand by Netanyahu, even if it means damaging relations with Turkey. The question for the US now is how to form an investigating panel that would look credible enough to European leadership.

UPDATE: PM Netanyahu confirmed reports that former Supreme Court justice Yaakov Tirkel will head the Israeli probe. Netanyahu didn’t announce the creation of the committee itself yet, probably due to disagreements with the US over the authorities of the comittee.

Haaretz’s editorial: “The government’s efforts to avoid a thorough and credible investigation of the flotilla affair seem more and more like a farce.”

———————-

Here is something an investigating panel should look into: It seems that Israel’s security forces confiscated all personal items from activists when they got off the ship. According to MK Hanin Zoabi, as well as other reports [Hebrew], credit cards, money and electronic gear were taken from the passengers, with almost none of them returned. I saw no official Israeli response on this issue, and there is at least one report of misuse of a confiscated credit card.

The flotilla’s passengers broke no low. Yet some of them were beaten, held in custody against their will, and had their valuables taken from them. Who should answer for this?

It should also be noted that Israel still holds almost all the photographed material from the Gaza flotilla – including tapes confiscated from journalists – editing it and releasing only what suits its own PR effort. Regardless of what we think happened on the Mavi Maramara or who is to blame for it, in the name of truth and freedom of press alone, the world need to make Israel hand back all confiscated videos and photographs.

———————-

Filmmaker Iara Lee have posted more then one hour of raw footage she was able to hide from the soldiers and smuggle out of Israel. You can watch the entire video on NYT’s The Lede blog. Here is a 15 minutes long edited version:

You don’t see much of the fight here, but you can get a feeling of the minutes after the soldiers took control of the upper deck. It seems likely that at least some of the casualties were shot later, during the soldiers’ attempts to find and rescue the two or three commandos held in the lower deck.

Since the Gilad Shalit kidnapping, there is a standing order in Israel not to let any IDF soldier to be captured alive, even if it means risking his own life – let alone the life of the people around him. Soldiers are instructed to use whatever means necessary to prevent another soldier being taken hostage, as such an event always turn into a major strategic problem for Israel. I wonder what orders were the soldiers given once it was clear that at least a couple of the commandos are missing.

Towards the end of the posted video, you can here MK Hanin Zoabi calling the soldiers to hold their fire.

● Believe it or not: Netanyahu’s and Liberman’s approval ratings surged this week.


Flotilla | The case against an Israeli-led investigation (part II)

Posted: June 8th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, the US and us, war | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

By agreeing to an Israeli legal panel that would look into the attack on the flotilla, the US administration might end up saving Netanyahu’s government

In a previous post I tried to explain why I think an Israeli-led investigation will not result with a credible account of the events concerning the attack on the Gaza-bound flotilla. The facts that Israel has already tempered with the evidences; that it cannot be expected to collect testimonies from the passengers that it has attacked and arrested; and that the whole affair occurred on foreign territory, make the very idea of an Israeli investigation absurd, at least from a legal point of view.

Since than, the UNHRC decided to form a fact-finding mission, similar to the one that produced the Goldstone report, and the international pressure on Israel to agree to some sort of inquiry has mounted.

Yesterday (Monday), Israeli media reported that the government has presented the White House with its preferred model of investigation, and since there was no formal comment on the issue from both Jerusalem and Washington, we can assume that the two sides are negotiations this very idea.

According to media reports, the Israeli government wishes to form a legal panel of some sort, on which a couple of international experts will serve as observers. Israel will have veto power on the identity of the observers, and they will not have access to confidential military material.

The committee will concern itself mainly with legal issues such as the legitimacy of the blockade on Gaza, the flotilla’s attempt to break it and Israel’s decision to capture the ships. It will not have access to soldiers or officers, and would have to settle for the report the army’s internal probe will produce. It is not clear whether the committee will collect testimonies from the flotilla’s passengers, and if so, how it will be done. According to one of the ideas I heard, the foreign observers will be in charge of this part. However, most reports in Israel don’t even mention this issue.

Israel’s legal system has already ruled that the siege on Gaza is legal, and Israel’s Supreme Court approved limiting gas, electricity and food supply into the strip. Therefore, Israeli leaders can expect that almost any Israeli legal scholar will declare the attack on the flotilla legal as well according to paragraph 67(a) of the San Remo Manual on Armed Conflicts at Sea, even if it occurred on international water. The international observers that will serve on the panel would only make this claim even more credible. In other words, the committee won’t serve as an investigating panel, but as an Israel’s defense attorney.

But we should always understand Israel’s international policy (or any country’s, for that matter) in the context of its internal dynamic, and this is where this legal panel carry the real benefits for Israeli leaders.

Right now, the Israeli public is mostly united behind its government and military. But such moments don’t last long, and there are already calls for a civilian inquiry into the decision making process that led to the attack – and even into the attack itself. There calls are likely to intensify as time passes.

Civilian committees carry tremendous political risks to both generals and political leaders. More often than not, the reports they produce lead to the resignation of senior government ministers. Such was the case with the Agranat committee after the 1973 war, the Kahan committee which investigated the massacre at the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps (1982) and the Winograd committee that looked into the 2006 war in Lebanon. A tough report might force defense Minister Ehud Barak to resign – and without Barak, Netanyahu won’t be able to hold on to an extreme rightwing coalition for ling. This could end up being the break the US was hoping for.

On the other hand, a panel that would look into the legal aspects concerning the attack is not likely to produce a politically dangerous report. The panel’s aim will be to defend Israel from the world, but its by-product will be defending top decision makers from the public anger, and containing political damage.

In other words, by agreeing to an Israeli legal probe of the attack, the White House would end up strengthening Netanyahu’s government, and who knows, even saving it from collapsing or from having Kadima from entering the coalition on a peace platform.

From what I read, it seems that all the administration wants right now is to put the entire flotilla affair behind it, as there are much bigger concerns it deals with, especially at home. By doing so, instead of gaining some political capital from its decision to be on Israel’s side in the days following the attack, it now stands the risk of making a political mistake that would hunt it for the months, possibly years, to come.


Poll: Most Israelis don’t believe Netanyahu willing to take “real measures” for peace

Posted: May 9th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off

Only 17 percent view President Barack Obama as “hostile” to Israel

In their report today of the new poll for the War and Peace Index, Yedioth Ahronoth chose to emphasize the fact that 48 percent of the public blames US President Barack Obama for the recent crisis between Israel and the US. Yet a closer look reveals some very interesting numbers, and possibly a slightly different picture:

To the question: “In your impression, what is President Obama’s attitude toward Israel?” 43% replied that it is pragmatic-neutral, 34% that it is very friendly or friendly, while 17% defined his attitude as hostile or very hostile toward Israel (6% did not know).

Furthermore, on the eve of the proximity talks between Israelis and Palestinians, a majority of the Israeli public does not believe Netanyahu is sincere in claiming he is willing to take substantial measures to reach a peace agreement (the Jewish public is split almost evenly on this question, with a slight advantage to those who don’t believe Netanyahu).

As for whether Binyamin Netanyahu genuinely wants and is taking real measures to reach an agreement with the Palestinians, the public is divided. The rate that agrees with this (45.5%) is only slightly higher than the rate that does not (43%). In the Arab sector, a sweeping majority of 72% goes to the naysayers.

The important lesson is this: AIPAC, Elie Wiesel and Ed Koch would have found themselves in a minority here. They represent Netanyahu, not Israel.


The litmus test for Israel’s intentions

Posted: May 3rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off

Every now and then I get to hear the argument that Israel never claimed the West Bank for itself (therefore it’s not Apartheid nor occupation, etc.). After all, Barak offered almost the entire West Bank to the Palestinians in Camp David, and in 2008 Ehud Olmert had gone even further, so basically it’s the Palestinians fault that we are still there.

But even of you subscribe to the “generous offers” idea – and I don’t – actions speak louder than words, and Israel never stopped colonizing the West Bank. Even while talking to the Palestinians about evacuation, we kept sending our settlers to the occupied territories, thus making it practically impossible to carry out a full withdrawal. The greatest trick Israel was ever able to pull out was the spreading the notion that the settlers “hijacked” the state. The settlements are, and have always been, a government project, financed by taxpayer money and carried out by state agencies, from the justice and housing departments to defense ministry.

Read Akiva Eldar’s report in today’s Haaretz. Israel wouldn’t even evacuate the outpost that the state itself has declared illegal, and it states so publicly!

A statement that prosecutors sent the High Court at the end of last week on behalf of the defense minister, the army’s commander in the West Bank, the head of the Civil Administration and the commander of the Samaria and Judea Police District needs to be read at least twice in order to believe it is a document from a supreme law enforcement authority.

The statement relates to a petition by Palestinians via human rights organization Yesh Din, asking to enforce a High Court decision to evacuate the illegal outpost Amona, established about 10 years ago. Petitioners have also asked for the removal of fences that prevent access to their lands. The petitioners’ attorney, Michael Sfard, noted that during the four years since the demolition of nine structures at the outpost (which took place only after a previous petition by Yesh Din), Amona settlers have built new buildings to replace them.

In the statement to the High Court, the State Prosecutor’s Office confirms Amona is an illegal outpost. It stresses that the defense minister, the Civil Administration and the police take a grave view of the improper conduct of the Mateh Binyamin local council (which receives its budget from the state!), “and most certainly when it comes to construction on private lands belonging to Palestinians”. The prosecution saw fit to boast that “for many years now the state has been strict about not building any settlement on private land”. Really, bully for the state. It would be interesting to note, incidentally, what it intends to do with the property it handed out to settlers before it stopped stealing private land.

And here comes the line that could go down in a book of records for insolence: The prosecution asks to reject the demand to evacuate the illegal settlement, since diverting the limited means of enforcement to old illegal construction “is not high on the respondents’ agenda.” And why not? “Means of enforcement” are needed to implement the temporary building freeze in the settlements.

In other words, the government’s decision in the matter of the temporary moratorium on construction in the settlements has become the illegal settlements’ insurance policy. All that remains is for them to ask the government to extend the freeze.

President Obama was right to insist on the settlements issue. It is the litmus text for Israel’s intentions. And right now, it doesn’t show any sign of a policy change.


Obama plan a good idea for both Palestinians and Israelis / a response to Mondoweiss

Posted: April 13th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Left, The Settlements | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

The New York Times and the Washington Post reported last week that the Obama administration is considering presenting its own peace plan sometime in the near future, possibly around the fall. Israel has made it clear it would oppose such a plan, and the current government is insisting that an agreement can be reached only through direct talks between the two parties.

Thought some US officials sort of backed down from the idea, claiming that the US “would not impose a solution“, I agree with those thinking that the leak to the WP and the NYT was a test balloon, aimed to show Israel what will happen if it would not commit to the peace process or if it would consider ending the limited settlement moratorium Netanyahu has declared.

Zbigniew Brzezinski and Stephen Solarz repeated the idea on a Washington Post op-ed this weekend.

This goes for the Israeli side. Alex Kane summed up on Mondoweiss the case against an imposed plan from a Pro-Palestinian perspective. According to Marwan Bishara, Al Jazeera English’s senior political analyst, the administration’s plan would follow the “Clinton Parameters” from the failed Camp David summit. These include:

Sharing of Jerusalem; no right of return for the Palestinians; a return to the 1967 borders with mutual adjustments to allow Israel to annex big settlement blocks; and a demilitarized Palestinian state.

Kane argues that:

the terms presented above wouldn’t be “fair or just,” because they would relinquish the “right of return” for Palestinians displaced by the 1948 Nakba, a right “enshrined in international law and international humanitarian law, and isn’t for Obama to deny, nor even for Mahmoud Abbas, the PLO chairman, to give away.”

And a demilitarized Palestinian state? With Israel keeping a presence “in fixed locations in the Jordan Valley under the authority of the International force for another 36 months” and having Israeli “early warning stations” inside the West Bank (as the “Clinton Parameters” state)? That doesn’t sound like an end to the occupation.

I assume the Clinton Parameters would serve as a starting point for negotiations on an actual agreement (that what was supposed to happen in Camp David), but even if they were to be implemented as they are, I think opposing them would be a grave mistake, and a move that would play right into the hands of those who wish to prolong Israeli control over the West Bank and Gaza.

Let’s start with the issue of refugees. This, and not Jerusalem, is the biggest problem in any future settlement. According to UNRWA, There are around 1.7 million registered refugees in the PA territory, and around 3 million registered refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. There are probably between several hundred thousands to several millions unregistered refugees living in other countries, mostly in the West.

Israeli Jews, from the far left to the right, are opposing any return of Palestinians to the state of Israel. The only Jewish MK to ever speak in favor of a return was Dov Khenin from Hadash, and even he meant a limited return of several hundred thousand people at maximum. Hadash, it should be noted, got around 0.5 percent of the Jewish vote in the last elections.

Naturally, the international community doesn’t need to accept whatever the Israeli public do or say, but it should be understood that while there is a political base in Israel for ending the occupation, a return of refugees would have to be imposed on the entire system. Even if there was a way to do it, this would mean prolonging the occupation in years, probably even decades.

Furthermore, I don’t understand how this return should look like. Most of the Arab villages are gone, and in many cases, Israeli towns and neighborhoods were built in their place. Would a solution to the problem include the expulsion of millions of Jews, many of them refugees from Arab and European countries themselves? As you can see, this is getting very complicated, both politically and a morally. It is not enough to say that the refugees must return. One should explain what is it exactly that he means by ‘return’. Read the rest of this entry »