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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jerusalem: Municipal committee ratifies construction of neighborhood that caused Biden crisis

Posted: June 15th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Jerusalem’s municipal planning committee ratified today the plan to built 1,600 housing units in Ramat Shlomo neighborhood in the “eastern” part of the city (Ramat Shlomo is actually in north Jerusalem, but still in the part of the city which Israel occupied and unilaterally annexed in 1967).

Three months ago, the initial decision on the project caused a major crisis between Washington and Jerusalem. According to a report in Haaretz, the committee approved today the protocol of the meeting that dealt with Ramat Shlomo. This is a procedural act, which will enable the city council to move the project to its next stage.

Committee member Yair Gabay told Haaretz that Prime Minister Netanyahu prevented the protocol from being ratified on the committee’s last meeting, due to the visit of U.S. special envoy George Mitchell.


Flotilla | the case against an Israeli-led investigation

Posted: June 3rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , | 10 Comments »

It seems that the White House is now suggesting that Israeli will lead the investigation of the flotilla incident, with a US representative serving as an observer. VP Joe Biden mentioned this idea in his Bloomberg interview yesterday, and Barak Ravid reported today in Haaretz that it was mentioned in talks between American officials and two of PM Netanyahu’s men. earlier Today Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman expressed support for such an investigation (Ehud Barak still objects it).

It’s a bad idea. Here is why:

1.    The attack occurred in international water, and it involved a Turkish vessel (which is regarded as Turkish sovereign territory) and Israeli soldiers. Even if one thinks that the soldiers had the right to board the ship in order to impose the blockade, during the fight it was still Turkish territory. How can Israel investigate something that happened in another country?

2.    Israel has confiscated some of the most important material for the investigation, namely the films, audio sections and photos taken by the passengers and journalists on board and the Mavi Marmara’s security cameras. Since yesterday, Israel has been editing these films and using them for its own PR campaign. In other words, Israel has already confiscated most of the evidence, held it from the world and tempered with it. No court in the world would have trusted it to be the one examining it.

3.    This is probably the most important argument: even if Israel can be persuaded into handing the recorded material, testimonies from the passengers will take a considerable part in the investigation. It’s clear that Israel cannot be the one questioning them, since even if the passengers agree to speak to Israeli investigators, this would look more like interrogations then testimonies.

We are left with the option of having an investigation that will take place without presenting the recorded material and without talking to the passengers. The report it will produce won’t enjoy much credibility.

Having the US use put its own name on this probe – on which it will serve only as an observer, without the power to subpoena material or to question witnesses – is pure madness, not just from an American point of view, but also from that of those wishing to see it reignite the diplomatic process in the region. Not only that it might destroy American credibility in Europe and the Middle East, but it could also damage its relations with Turkey beyond repair, not to mention weaken the administration at home, as both sides won’t like this move – all of this in order to cover up for the failure of en extreme Israeli government.

Even the Bush administration, who all but gave Israel a Carte Blanche regarding the use of military force, never placed itself in such a position.


Flotilla attack, day 4 | News round-up: who will lead the investigation?

Posted: June 3rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Breaking News: Ynet quotes a Turkish news agency that reported the nationality of the casualties: one American and 8 from Turkey.

The big question this morning in Israel is the probe. Yesterday, the UNHRC decided to form a fact finding mission of the attack on the Gaza bound flotilla, similar to the one which issued the Goldstone report. The US, together with Italy and Netherlands, opposed the resolution, and according to reports, suggested that Israel will lead the investigation, but that US observers will take part in it. VP Joe Biden proposed something similar on his Bloomberg interview yesterday, saying Israel would ran the investigation, “but we’re open to international participation.”

There are conflicting reports as to what Israel will agree to. The army, as always, wants to investigate itself. The IDF was able to block all suggestions of a civilian Israeli investigation into the war in Gaza or the events in Jenin in 2002 (it’s very hard to touch the army in Israel: it even blocks attempt to have external inquiries into fatal training accidents when those occur). But this time the IDF might lose the battle, the military blunder is so evident and as even Israeli sources are admitting that an investigation is all but inevitable.

Strangely enough, Israel might even agree to an international probe, and for the most cynical reason of all: an internal civilian investigation might force leaders to resign (as happened after the war in Lebanon in 2006), but an international one won’t have immediate political consequences for them.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Netanyahu, as well as other officials, refused to address the issue at all.

UPDATE: both Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman and minister Ben Eliezer spoke in favor of an Israeli probe with a foreign, probably American, observer.

More political fallout: the battle between Ehud Barak and Labor to Avigdor Liberman and Israel Beitenu has officially opened. After unnamed ministers called for Barak’s resignation two days ago, today Barak and his proxy, minister Ben-Eliezer, are publicly declaring that the attacks on Israel are the result of failed PR effort, or Hasbara, by the foreign office.

Ecuador will be sending home its Ambassador in Tel Aviv. UPDATE: so does South Africa.

NY Times reports that the US wants Israel to abandon the siege policy:

The Obama administration considers Israel’s blockade of Gaza to be untenable and plans to press for another approach to ensure Israel’s security while allowing more supplies into the impoverished Palestinian area, senior American officials said Wednesday.

Turkish TV reporting that all 9 casualties in the raid died of gun wounds. Their bodies’ arrived yesterday to Turkey. More evidences are published on the way the passengers were treated by Israeli security authorities. Regarding the attack itself, here is Former US Ambassador Edward Peck, who was on the Gaza aid flotilla, followed by Israel deputy ambassador to the UN:

recommended commentary:

Nicholas Kristof (NY Times): “Saving Israel from itself: President Obama needs to find his voice and push hard for an end to the Gaza blockade.”

Cenk Uygur (Huffington Post): “If the Israeli government is convinced they took the appropriate action in this case, they can go a long way toward proving that by giving us the whole tape. If not, we have to assume they’re hiding something.”

Ari Shavit (Haaretz’s pundit and Netanyahu and Barak supporter until recently): “Instead of rallying the Palestinians, Syrians and Turks against Iran, Netanyahu is pushing them toward Iran. Instead of rallying the Europeans and Americans in Israel’s favor, he is inciting them against Israel. The process reached a frenzied peak with the flotilla.”

Haaretz editorial: “Like a robot lacking in judgment, stuck on a predetermined path – that’s how the government is behaving in its handling of the aid flotillas to the Gaza Strip.”

Daniel Machover (Guardian): “This was almost certainly a breach of international law and Turkey has the right to take charge of a criminal investigation.”

Moshe Yaroni: flotilla fallout: winners and losers of the raid (very good analysis, with an emphasis on US reaction).

Harold Meyerson (Washington Post): The collateral damage from Israel’s raid (a look on the US Jewish community’s trends).


Flotilla: VP Biden justifies Israel (but gets his facts wrong), UK Prime Minister condemns raid

Posted: June 2nd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

US Vice President Joe Biden supported today (Wednesday) Israel’s claim that it acted within its rights when it attacked the Gaza-bound flotilla. In an interview with Bloomberg’s Charlie Rose, Bidern said that “You can argue whether Israel should have dropped people onto that ship or not, but the truth of the matter is, Israel has a right to know — they’re at war with Hamas — has a right to know whether or not arms are being smuggled in.”

This is from the transcript published in Politico:

…And so now the question is what do we do? Well, we had made it clear, the President of the United States has spoken three times, yesterday with Bibi, or the day before yesterday, he’s spoken once yesterday with a guy that I have spent a fair amount of time with, with Prime Minister Erdogan in Turkey; the Turks, we passed a resolution in the U.N. saying we need a transparent and open investigation of what happened. It looks like things are –

Charlie Rose: International investigation –

Joe Biden: Well, an investigation run by the Israelis, but we’re open to international participation, just like the investigation run on the sunken sub in — off the coast of Korea. That was run by South Korea, but the international community joined in that investigation. And so that is very possible here as well. I might add by the way for all those who say the Israelis, you know, you know, you can’t trust them, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled today that every one of the people on those ships had to be released immediately, immediately.

Even though the VP repeated “immediately” twice, he actually got it wrong. Supreme Court didn’t rule on the issue, and the government even argued before the court it had the right to hold the passengers, only to release them a short while after under fierce Turkish pressure.

Meanwhile, the UK’s new Prime Minister, David Cameron, has a very different view, calling the raid “totally unacceptable” and adding that:

“Friends of Israel – and I count myself a friend of Israel – should be saying to the Israelis that the blockade actually strengthens Hamas’s grip on the economy and on Gaza, and it’s in their own interests to lift it and allow these vital supplies to get through.”

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Check out my op-ed on the flotilla affair, from the Israeli point of view, in the Jewish Daily Forward:

…Amid feelings of sorrow and anger, Israelis should be asking one simple question: What were the soldiers doing aboard an unarmed private vessel, carrying hundreds of civilians — hostile and violent as they may have been — dozens of miles from Israel’s territorial waters?

Full text here.