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.”


Lift the blockade on Gaza, talk to Hamas

Posted: April 17th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News | Tags: , , , , | 9 Comments »

It’s easy to forget Gaza. The strip is sealed from all directions, and only few can enter or leave it. Since the raid on the flotilla, more food is allowed in—at least that’s what Israel claims—but for all other purposes, the closure persists.

There are no reports in the mainstream media on life in Gaza. Very few journalists travel there. The only exceptions occur during military escalations, or when an event like the murder of Vittorio Arrigoni takes place. When you only hear of people in the context of war and murder, it’s very hard to think of them as human beings.

In modern Hebrew, “go to Azazel” (“לך לעזאזל”) means “go to hell.” Azazel is a biblical name that represents either a real place near Jerusalem or a demon. But the first part of the name, “Aza”, sounds and is written exactly like the Hebrew name for Gaza (עזה). So you could sometimes hear people say “go to Aza” (“go to Gaza”) as an abbreviation for “go to hell.”

Sometimes this use is intentional: It is not uncommon to read comments on the internet calling for a lefty or an Arab to “go to Aza,” and when Palestinian MK Hanin Zuabi was attacked by other Knesset Members for her support of the flottila, she was told by several MKs to go to Aza—one of them even telling her this in Arabic. It’s interesting that Zuabi wasn’t “sent” to Ramallah or even Jenin, but to Aza. Those MK’s clearly wanted Zuabi to leave the Israeli Parliament, but they also wanted her simply to go to hell.

In short, for many Gaza is hell, a demonic place which represents your deepest fears and to which you send—at least in your mind—your worse enemies. In a way, the rise of Hamas to power in Gaza made it easier to maintain this mythical view of the strip. Gaza is hell, and it is governed by the devil. Building walls around it and shooting anyone who comes near them actually makes sense this way. You don’t want to devil to spread its evil doings.

————–

We’re told that the aim of the blockade on Gaza is to “contain” the problem and ultimately, bring Hamas down. Even Israeli leftists sometimes think that this is the only way to have peace: You should negotiate with the Palestinian Authority and fight Hamas. It all sounds so very logical. I’m no fan of Hamas, as I don’t care for any religious ideology, but there is something about this theory which feels too self-centered and rooted in this mythical view of Gaza and its people. In short, I am not convinced. I don’t have a solution for the immediate political and diplomatic problems, but I there are a few questions which nobody seems to be asking.

Looking back, wasn’t it better to let Hamas enjoy its victory in the 2006 elections? People argue that Hamas is not ready to abandon the armed struggle and become a political movement – but when it actually did, the election results were canceled and the political leaders of Hamas put under Israeli arrest. So instead of political confrontation, the fight between Hamas and Fatah became a civil war. Shouldn’t we encourage the politicization of Hamas, as oppose to its militarization, as we do now?

Second thought: Isn’t isolating the strip just making Hamas stay in power?
This is pretty obvious—when Gaza is disconnected from the world, and no elections take place, who is there to challenge Hamas? And how exactly could one do so? It seems to me that by isolating Gaza, we are actually making it much easier for Hamas to exercise complete control.

If we break Hamas (I’m not sure how this can be done, but still)–are we going to like those who will replace them? What if it is a group like the Salafi who killed Vitorrio?

What is there to be lost from talking to Hamas? This is something I really don’t get. Even if Hamas is all about destroying Israel, who says that by talking to it we are excepting its views or even aiding it in any way. Some might think we shouldn’t “legitimize” Hamas – yet to me it seems that Hamas, having won the general elections, is seen by Palestinians as a legitimate political force, and does not need Israel’s approval. More over, it seems that currently, talking to Israel is a way to delegitimize a Palestinian leader, and not the other way around.

As for the rockets, nothing prevents Israel from retaliating against them, even if it’s in the process of negotiating with Hamas or with a united Palestinian government (which I think is the best option). More than anything, the rockets seems like a desperate attempt to get attention – and such attempts are likely to go on, even if Israel develops more high-tech defensive systems or retaliates with more force. You cannot lock up more than a million people and expect nothing to happen. What positive incentive do you leave them with? Needless to say, I don’t support Hamas’ goals or its tactics of targeting civilians. I just wonder, what other options do the people have right now if they want the world to hear their voice and take them seriously?

————–

The blockade is not just a stupid policy, it’s simply morally wrong. Locking up 1.5 million people in an open air prison in order to bring a political change of their leadership cannot be justified. It does not advance peace, but rather convinces people that Israel is exercising forms of control over the Palestinians even after leaving some of the territory intended for their state. It actually makes people wonder how independent will a Palestinian state be, and quite rightly so.

I think we should begin by remembering the real people living in Gaza. When I was a kid, we used to see the day workers from Gaza in the street corners, waiting to be picked up by their employees. It was a form of exploitation and economic control, yet there was contact between Palestinians and Israelis that made it harder to dehumanize the people of Gaza the way we do now.

More than anything, I get the feeling that people simply want Gaza to disappear—not very different from those who want the Jews to disappear from the Middle East—and until it does, we prefer to communicate with its people by ways of bombs and rockets. After all, it’s a form of dialogue we think we have the upper hand in.

But Gaza won’t disappear. Quite the opposite. As one Fatah member I once met told me, Gaza might even be the center of everything. It is populated mostly with refugees, who carry the memory of the 48′ Nakba. It’s the place where the first Intifada started. It is the largest urban center in the land, after Tel Aviv. Gaza is not hell, nor it is heaven. It’s a place with real people, who deserve to be free from oppression and fear.

Lift the blockade now. It’s the right thing to do.


It’s time the US talked to Hamas

Posted: September 14th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The positive reports coming out of the Israeli-American-Palestinian summit in Sharm el Sheikh– like those which came from Washington a week earlier – shouldn’t surprise anyone. There is a strange dynamic to these talks: both sides present an optimistic smile to the world and a hawkish, pessimistic face at home.

As both recent polls and the relative indifference of the Hebrew media reveal, the Israeli public finds it hard to believe that these talks would actually lead to the establishing of a Palestinian state. Even more telling is the fact that the Israeli Prime Minister hasn’t engaged yet in a real effort to prepare the Israeli public to what could be the nation’s most difficult moment in 62 years of independence.

But all this can change, and I guess that’s what keeps the US officials going. The process, they must believe, could influence public opinion and change the political trends. Maybe. The problem is that the US is only trying this approach with the Israelis who refuse compromise. Somehow, the same logic is never applied when the Palestinians are concerned.

While we are being told that a rightwing leader like Netanyahu, with an extreme government like the current one, actually stands a better chance to reach peace because he won’t have to deal with a meaningful opposition from his right flank, when it comes to the Palestinian society, the US will only deal with the equivalence of Meretz, if such an analogy could be made.

When the Israeli public elected again and again a rightwing leaders who never recognized the Palestinians’ right for independence (or for full civil rights within the state of Israel), the world was asked to respect the Israeli democracy and hope that with time, the political process and basic realities of the conflict would change these leaders’ views. To some degree, it’s actually happened. But when the Palestinians elected a political party which wouldn’t recognize Israel, the result of the elections was suspended – though their integrity was never questioned – and new ones weren’t held. No wonder that Hamas took power by force where it could, and than violently made both Jerusalem and Ramallah remember that they can’t ignore it.

Would the Likud have acted differently if it won the elections and was kept out of power through the intervention of foreign powers? The scenario is so hypothetical that it’s not even possible to answer such question. But let’s take it even further: what happens if under these conditions, the losing party – let’s say Labor – signs an agreement in which it is to evacuate settlements and give up East Jerusalem? I think that the only question is when violence will break, not if. The same goes for Hamas and the Palestinian society. Imagine what happens the day President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayad give up the right of return, or accept the presence of Jewish settlements blocks.

If we are to be serious about these peace talks, it should be understood that there won’t be an agreement and there won’t be peace without Hamas. It’s something most Israelis and even Americans won’t like to hear, but from a Palestinian perspective, Hamas is no different from Likud. Not because it is an extreme movement, but because it’s a well rooted and legitimate political power, too large to be ignored.

I would have loved things to be different. I think Israel should have made a more generous deal with the PLO in the eighties or nineties, so it wouldn’t have to deal now with an Islamic party which has some very radical elements in it. But that’s water under the bridge. Hamas is here to stay, so better have it as part of the political process than as the worlds’ outcast.

Having Hamas won’t be easy. It might make a “final” agreement much harder to get, but the chances of such an agreement to actually work will be much higher.

Niall O’Dowd, the secret conduit between Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams and the White House in the years 92′-94′, wrote last week in the Huffington Post that an American willingness to talk to Hamas might be the out-of-the-box idea that could jump start a real process, much in the way that the Clinton Administration’s decision to grant Gerry Adams a US visa help convince the IRA to call for a complete ceasefire. I might add that it was a US decision to recognize the PLO in 1988 – when talks with the organizations’ officials were still illegal in Israel – that paved the way for the direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in the nineties. It’s time for another such bold move.

The positive reports coming out of the Israeli-American-Palestinian summit in Sharm el Sheikh– like those which came from Washington a week earlier – shouldn’t surprise anyone. There is a strange dynamic to these talks: both sides present an optimistic smile to the world and a hawkish, pessimistic face at home.

As both recent polls and the relative indifference of the Hebrew media reveal, the Israeli public finds it hard to believe that these talks would actually lead to the establishing of a Palestinian state. Even more telling is the fact that the Israeli Prime Minister hasn’t engaged yet in a real effort to prepare the Israeli public to what could be the nation’s most difficult moment in 62 years of independence.

But all this can change, and I guess that’s what keeps the US officials going. The process, they must believe, could change public opinion and alter the political trends. Maybe. The problem is that the US is only trying this approach with the Israelis who refuse compromise. Somehow, the same logic is never applied when the Palestinians are concerned.

While we are being told that a rightwing leader like Netanyahu, with an extreme government like the current one, actually stands a better chance to reach peace because he won’t have to deal with a meaningful opposition from his right flank, when it comes to the Palestinian society, the US will only deal with the equivalence of Meretz, if such an analogy could be made.

When the Israeli public elected again and again a rightwing leaders who never recognized the Palestinians’ right for independence (or for full civil rights within the state of Israel), the world was asked to respect the Israeli democracy and hope that with time, the political process and basic realities of the conflict would change these leaders’ views. To some degree, it’s actually happened. But when the Palestinians elected a political party which wouldn’t recognize Israel, the result of the elections was suspended – though their integrity was never questioned – and new ones weren’t held. No wonder that Hamas took power by force where it could, and than violently made both Jerusalem and Ramallah remember that they can’t ignore it.

Would the Likud have acted differently if it won the elections and was kept out of power through the intervention of foreign powers? The scenario is so hypothetical that it’s not even possible to answer such question. But let’s take it even further: what happens if under these conditions, the losing party – let’s say Labor – signs an agreement in which it is to evacuate settlements and give up East Jerusalem? I think that the only question is when violence will break, not if. The same goes for Hamas and the Palestinian society. Imagine what happens the day President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayad give up the right of return, or accept the presence of Jewish settlements blocks.

If we are to be serious about these peace talks, it should be understood that there won’t be an agreement and there won’t be peace without Hamas. It’s something most Israelis and even Americans won’t like to hear, but from a Palestinian perspective, Hamas is no different from Likud. Not because it is an extreme movement, but because it’s a well rooted and legitimate political power, too large to be ignored.

I would have loved things to be different. I think Israel should have made a more generous deal with the PLO in the eighties or nineties, so it wouldn’t have to deal now with an Islamic party which has some very radical elements in it. But that’s water under the bridge. Hamas is here to stay, so better have it as part of the political process than as the worlds’ outcast.

Having Hamas won’t be easy. It might make a “final” agreement much harder to get, but the chances of such an agreement to actually work will be much higher.

Niall O’Dowd, the secret conduit between Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams and the White House in the years 92′-94′, wrote last week in the Huffington Post that an American willingness to talk to Hamas might be the out-of-the-box idea that could jump start a real process, much in the way that the Clinton Administration’s decision to grant Gerry Adams a US visa help convince the IRA to call for a complete ceasefire. I might add that it was a US decision to recognize the PLO in 1988 that paved the way for the direct Israeli-Palestinian talks in the nineties. Maybe it’s time for another such bold move.


Flotilla | A probe that would get Netanyahu’s government off the hook

Posted: June 14th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

“[the] commission’s conclusions were pre-determined… members of the panel did give the facts a chance to confuse them.”

(Israel’s Foreing Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, on the Goldston’s commission’s report)

“Gaza flotilla probe will show the world Israel acted lawfully.”

(PM Benjamin Netanayhu talking at the start of the cabinet meeting which unanimous approved the probe).

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced today the forming of an investigative commission into the raid on the Gaza-bound flotilla. The commission will include three Israelis and two foreign observers. The internationals won’t be bale to vote on decisions or view confidential material.

The three Israeli members were carefully chosen so that they would suit Netanyahu’s political needs. The Prime Minister wishes to keep the government intact, and not have Defense Minister Ehud Barak forced to resign. It shouldn’t be too hard with Supreme Court justice Jacob Turkel heading the committee. Turkel explained his views of on such probe in an interview to the IDF radio three weeks:

“I don’t like personal recommendations. The main thing is what stands before me. I don’t want any more failures, and whether a certain person is dismissed or not, or whether his role is frozen or not is of secondary importance.”

Two elderly gentlemen will serve under Turkel:  93 years old international law professor Shabtai Rosen, and 86 years old Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Horev, who has been know for his criticism on the army in the past, but will probably not put the political leadership in danger.

In order to take care of the international crisis, add some credibility to the committee and give the US something to justify backing it with, two international observers were added to the panel. The first is Lord David Trimble, a former leader of Northern Ireland’s Ulster Unionist party, a known supporter of Israel and a member of the recently launched “Friends of Israel” group. In 2007 Mr Trimble wrote a report for the Conservative Friends of Israel in the UK, explaining that the international community should oppose to negotiations with Hamas. You can read more on his appointment in NYT’s The Lede blog.

The second international observer is Canadian Brig. Gen. Ken Watkin, an expert on terrorism and on fighting none-governmental organizations. Terrorism experts usually back Israel.

This committee will probably not hear evidences from the passengers. It won’t be allowed to talk to IDF soldiers and officers, except for chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi. To gain knowledge of the events on the Mavi Marmara, it will have to rely on the army’s report – if they even let the two observers to see it. Its report will deal with the legal justifications for the siege on Gaza and with the legitimacy of the Israeli raid.

The US has welcomed the commission. The rest of the world is doubtful, which is not surprising. It’s interesting to note that the Obama Administration, who supposedly believes working with in international institutions, helped Israel bypass a UN resolution (or at least try to: we don’t know what will happen with the UNHRC planned commission).

I think the administration is simply looking to put the entire affair behind it, and go back to the diplomatic game with the Palestinian Authority. Maybe the White House hopes to get some concessions out of Netanyahu for getting him and his government off the hook. Otherwise, I can’t imagine that they really take this probe seriously, and I even guess that’s the reason they didn’t put an American observer on it – so they don’t be part of the report which will find that Israel, believe it or not, did act within its rights. But if there is something that both the US and Israel needed to understand from the past two weeks, it’s that you can’t ignore Gaza, isolate Hamas and hope the problem will just go away or sort itself somehow. In fact, both should have learned that after Cast Lead. There won’t be half a peace, just in the West Bank. And even the flotilla incident is far from being over.


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.


The problem with Benjamin Netanyahu

Posted: December 25th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: elections, In the News, The Right | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Why the PM’s brilliant political moves this week won’t help him

netanyahu

This was one of the strangest weeks I can remember in Israeli politics. It started with everybody waiting for a prisoner exchange deal with Hamas that could change the diplomatic reality in the entire region – just to forget it immediately as PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s move against Kadima was reveled. Gilad Shalit was back in his cave in a split of a second, and all attention was turned to the seven backbenchers who supposedly agreed to deflect from Kadima to Likud, thus making Netanyahu’s coalition – which is fairly strong as is – significantly more stable.

Even as it turned out that Netanyahu wasn’t able to split Kadima (only one Knesset Member, the unimportant Eli Aflalo – known mostly for his impressive mustache – announced his departure from the opposition party), it seems that he handed his political opponent the blow of her career. Now Tzipi Livni has to chose between abandoning her entire political strategy and accepting Netanyahu’s offer to join his coalition, to trying to keep her party together in the opposition – a task which seems much more daunting by the day, if no entirely impossible.

In the last couple of days, many pundits were praising the PM for his brilliant move. Here is for example Amir Mizroch, news editor at The Jerusalem Post, on his blog:

If he had managed to pull it off, Netanyahu would have stepped up a level as a political operator. This was a Sharon-like move. In fact, this was the move designed to counter Sharon’s establishment of Kadima. Sharon undone. Disengagement from Kadima. If he had managed to pull it off…

But to what end?

When Yitzhak Rabin was split Tzomet party in 1995 he did it to pass the Oslo agreement in the Knesset, once it was clear that the Orthodox Shas would vote against it; and when Ariel Sharon split the Likud he did it to carry out his plan of unilateral withdrawal from the Palestinian territories. Netanayhu, it seems, is trying to break Kadima for little more than getting even at his political opponents. The only reason that would really require Netanyahu to strengthen the left flank of his coalition is some sort of diplomatic progress with the Palestinians or with Syria. With regards to Iran, the Goldstone report, the Hamas and Gilad Shalit, the Knesset and the public are more than likely to support whatever decision the PM would take.

Right now there are no negotiations with the Palestinians or the Syrians, and in any case, all indications are that Netanyahu wouldn’t go one step further than where the White House forces him. He accepted the two state solution because of president Obama’s speech in Cairo, and he agreed to a partial settlement freeze only after tremendous pressure from Washington. As even some of Netanyahu’s supporters recognized, in both cases, his move came too late to hand him real political gains, and the world remained suspicious of the Israeli PM’s agenda.

——————————-

This is something that characterized Netanyahu’s approach to politics throughout his career: he (almost) never initiates moves. He always reacts. This has nothing to do with ideology, Left or Right. There are leaders on the right who try to shape reality themselves (Ariel Sharon and George W Bush come to mind, and maybe that’s part of the reason they had such good personal relations), as there are some leaders on the Left who tend to react to events. It’s a matter of personality. 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 »


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 »


Surprise from Mofaz: Israel should talk to Hamas

Posted: November 8th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

mofaz_shaulUnlike any other army I know of, IDF soldiers carry around and even go home with their guns. I don’t know the precise reason for this: some say it’s meant to create an additional unofficial security force in the streets; others claim that it makes soldiers take better care of their guns; I guess it also simplifies things logistically. The only problem is with the clip: You don’t want everyone carrying around loaded guns, so where exactly should a soldier keep the clip?

To solve this issue, all soldiers during the late 80s and early 90s were issued a small, strange-looking, plastic box. Every soldier was supposed to put the clip in the box, and than attach the box to his belt or put it in his pocket. The box was soon nicknamed Mofazit, after the senior officer who invented them, one Shaul Mofaz. Basically, it was the most useless thing in the world. The Mofazit was too big and uncomfortable, and it took too much time to take the clip out – so soldiers just went on placing the clips in their pockets (I’ve never seen anyone actually use the Mofazit), and the army went on issuing the plastic boxes, until one day somebody put an end to the whole business.

Shaul Mofaz was appointed chief of staff mainly to prevent Mathan Vilnaiy from getting the job; later on he zigzagged between Likud and Kadima, and didn’t leave much of an impression in both parties. His last term in the government, as Minister of Transportation, was marked by professional disasters and appointments of friends and political allies to senior positions. As a person who made a name for himself for his political ambition – and not much more – it was no surprise that since the general elections Mofaz has been doing his best to push Kadima into Netanyahu’ government, so he can get himself another cabinet post. This hurt his ratings with the public even further. So it is easy to figure out why when Mofaz said he was going to announce his new diplomatic plan for an agreement with the Palestinians, most people didn’t exactly hold their breath.

But Mofaz did come up with something new: breaking one of Israel’s Taboo’s, he suggests no less than talking to Hamas:

“At the moment that Hamas sit down at the negotiating table, assuming that Hamas are elected and want to talk, they accept the Quartet’s guidelines and are no longer a terrorist organization.”

To understand the context of this idea, it’s enough to remember that just recently Netanyahu (wrongly) accused Sweden of contacts with Hamas. Read the rest of this entry »