British PM Cameron: Gaza is a prison camp

Posted: July 27th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

In a visit to Turkey, newly appointed British Prime Minister said that the attack on the Gaza-bound flotilla was “‘completely unacceptable”

This is from the Telegraph’s report:

Today Mr Cameron said: ”The situation in Gaza has to change. Humanitarian goods and people must flow in both directions.

”Gaza cannot and must not be allowed to remain a prison camp.”

And he added: ”The Israeli attack on the Gaza flotilla was completely unacceptable.

”And I have told PM Netanyahu we will expect the Israeli inquiry to be swift, transparent and rigorous.”

PM David Cameron’s senior coalition partner, Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats, referred in the past to the Israeli siege on Gaza as “a living nightmare” for more than a million Palestinians.

I think we should pay attention to these declarations. Israel has lost the battle in the UK’s public opinion long ago, and now it seems that the new British government is moving toward a more critical approach of Jerusalem as well. This is happening at a time when Washington is taking Israel’s side both in regards to Gaza and to the talks with President Abbas. PM Benjamin Netanyahu was able to contain the pressure from president Obama by using the political battle in the United States and making Israel a major issue for the Republicans, but elsewhere his government is getting more isolated by the day.

In the months to come, it will be interesting to see whether the British could lead Europe into playing a larger role in the region, and what effect this would have on the US policy.


The Israeli Right going one-state? My Haaretz piece

Posted: July 16th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Right, The Settlements, this is personal | Tags: , , , , , , | 26 Comments »

Haaretz published my report on the growing support for what seems like a one-state solution in the Israeli Right.

“The prospects of the negotiations with Mahmoud Abbas do not look promising. President Obama undoubtedly thinks otherwise, but if Abbas speaks for anyone, it’s barely half the Palestinians. The chances of anything good coming of this are not great. Another possibility is Jordan. If Jordan were ready to absorb both more territories and more people, things would be much easier and more natural. But Jordan does not agree to this. Therefore, I say that we can look at another option: for Israel to apply its law to Judea and Samaria and grant citizenship to 1.5 million Palestinians.”

These remarks, which to many sound subversive, were not voiced by a left-wing advocate of a binational state. The speaker is from the Betar movement, a former top leader in Likud and political patron of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a former defense and foreign affairs minister – Moshe Arens. On June 2, Arens published an op-ed in Haaretz (“Is there another option?” ) in which he urged consideration of a political alternative to the existing situation and the political negotiations. He wants to break the great taboo of Israeli policy making by granting Israeli citizenship to the Palestinians in the West Bank. Arens is not put off by those who accuse him of promoting the idea of a binational Jewish-Palestinian state. “We are already a binational state,” he says, “and also a multicultural and multi-sector state. The minorities [meaning Arabs] here make up 20 percent of the population – that’s a fact and you can’t argue with facts.”

As Washington, Ramallah and Jerusalem slouch toward what seems like a well-known, self-evident solution – two states for two nations, on the basis of the 1967 borders and a small-scale territorial swap – a conceptual breakthrough is taking place in the right wing. Its ideologues are no longer content with rejecting withdrawal and evacuation of settlements, citing security arguments calculated to strike fear into the hearts of the Israeli mainstream. Their new idea addresses the shortcomings of the status quo, takes account of the isolation in which Israel finds itself and acknowledges the need to break the political deadlock.

Once the sole preserve of the political margins, the approach is now being advocated by leading figures in Likud and among the settlers – people who are not necessarily considered extremists or oddballs. About a month before Arens published his article, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin (Likud ) said, “It’s preferable for the Palestinians to become citizens of the state than for us to divide the country.” In an interview this week (see box ), Rivlin reiterates and elaborates this viewpoint. In May 2009, Likud MK Tzipi Hotovely organized a conference in the Knesset titled “Alternatives to Two States.” Since then, on a couple of occasions, she has called publicly for citizenship to be granted to the Palestinians “in gradual fashion.” Now she is planning to publish a position paper on the subject. Uri Elitzur, former chairman of the Yesha Council of Settlements and Netanyahu’s bureau chief in his first term as prime minister, last year published an article in the settlers’ journal Nekuda calling for the onset of a process, at the conclusion of which the Palestinians will have “a blue ID card [like Israelis], yellow license plates [like Israelis], National Insurance and the right to vote for the Knesset.” Emily Amrousi, a former spokesperson for the Yesha Council, takes part in meetings between settlers and Palestinians and speaks explicitly of “one land in which the children of settlers and the children of Palestinians will be bused to school together.”

It’s still not a full-fledged political camp and there are still holes in the theory. But although its advocates do not seem to be working together, the plans they put forward are remarkably similar. They all reject totally the various ideas of ethnic separation and recognize that political rights accrue to the Palestinians. They talk about a process that will take between a decade and a generation to complete, at the end of which the Palestinians will enjoy full personal rights, but in a country whose symbols and spirit will remain Jewish. It is at this point that the one-state right wing diverges from the binational left. The right is not talking about a neutral “state of all its citizens” with no identity, nor about “Israstine” with a flag showing a crescent and a Shield of David. As envisaged by the right wing, one state still means a sovereign Jewish state, but in a more complex reality, and inspired by the vision of a democratic Jewish state without an occupation and without apartheid, without fences and separations. In such a state, Jews will be able to live in Hebron and pray at the Tomb of the Patriarchs, and a Palestinian from Ramallah will be able to serve as an ambassador and live in Tel Aviv or simply enjoy ice cream on the city’s seashore. Sounds off the wall? “If every path seems to reach an impasse,’ Elitzur wrote in Nekuda, “usually the right path is one that was never even considered, the one that is universally acknowledged to be unacceptable, taboo.”

Read the rest here. There are also comments I got on the issue from Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, Yossi Beilin and two Palestinians officials.

If you have any questions or comments, post them here and I’ll do the best to answer.


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 »


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the rest of this entry »


Israeli rejectionism?

Posted: June 10th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Settlements | Tags: , , , , , , , | 21 Comments »

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas recognizes Jewish rights in Israel, and is ready for a two state solution with some borders modifications that will allow Israel to keep some of the bigger settlements.

In a meeting in Washington with 30 Jewish leaders, among them those who supports Netanyahu’s government such as AIPAC and ADL, Abaas declared that if Israel accepts a solution based on the 67′ borders, direct negotiations can resume.

Haaretz reports:

The Palestinian president said during the discussion that he had in the past proposed creating a trilateral commission to monitor and punish incitement, but that Israel did not agree to it.

When asked what he could offer Israelis to show that he was serious about peace initiatives, Abbas reminded the participants that he had addressed the Israeli public in an interview on Channel 10. “Why wouldn’t Bibi go to Palestinian TV and do the same?” said the Palestinian president.

“I would never deny [the] Jewish right to the land of Israel,” Abbas then declared.

A few months ago, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said that he is ready to have the Palestinian refugees return to the Palestinian state (rather then Israel), so basically, it can be said that all of Israel’s major concerns have been met by the Palestinians. We need to appreciate the price Palestinian leaders are paying at home for such declarations.

Yet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continues to show very little enthusiasm for the diplomatic process, and his senior cabinet ministers keep opposing any concessions. Deputy PM Moshe Yaalon just recently said in an interview to Yedioth Ahronoth that “nobody in the seven ministers cabinet (the Government’s decision making forum) believes we can reach an agreement.”

The reason for Israeli rejectionism lies in the internal political dynamic in Israel. No matter what Palestinians say or do, Israeli leaders have no real incentive to go through the extremely difficult process of evacuating settlements. This is why they are preparing the public for a failure of the negotiations, even though we now have the most moderate Palestinian leadership ever.

UPDATE: Laura Rozan’s report of Abbas’ meeting with Jewish leaders refers to a couple of important issues which Haaretz didn’t mention: PM Olmert’s “generous offer” which the Palestinians supposedly turned down, and the demilitarization of the Palestinian state:

It was his first such public forum speaking event in Washington ever, Brookings’ Vice President and former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk noted when he introduced the Palestinian leader, who he said he had known since 1993.

(…)

Indyk pointed out that it’s generally understood in the West that Abbas did not accept the proposal Olmert offered, based on 1967 borders and agreed land swaps, but Abbas said they were still negotiating when Olmert stepped down amid an Israeli corruption investigation.

“The man has said in the clearest of terms he accepts Prime Minister Netanyahu’s assessment of a demilitarized state,” former Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.) told POLITICO Thursday. “He doesn’t want tanks, he doesn’t want missiles, he wants an internal security force.”


Goldberg vs. Beinart | Netanayhu did reject Oslo

Posted: May 25th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: The Right, the US and us | Tags: , , , , | 25 Comments »

Jeffrey Goldberg accuses Peter Beinart of fabricating facts in claiming that Benjamin Netanyahu rejected the Oslo agreement.

Goldberg quotes Yaacov Lozowick:

Once he won he never (never: not once) rejected the Oslo process. He slowed it down, he added conditions, he did all sorts of things. But the leader of Likud was elected in 1996 on a platform that explicitly accepted the principle of partition.

14 years later – that’s all – a noticeable voice in American Jewry can glibly invent a story about Israel that contradicts the facts, and no-one calls him out on it because no-one knows any better, or if they do they join him in preferring to imagine a fantasy world rather than face reality.

But in an interview to Arye Golan in 2002, while serving as Foreign Minister under PM Ariel Sharon, Netanyahu firmly rejected Oslo:

Minister Netanayhu: “… the Oslo Accord is canceled. After all, what’s left…”

Q: “Your name is signed under the Hebron agreement.”

Netanyahu: “These agreements were in fact canceled by Arafat. We signed and I inherited the agreement, approved by the Knesset as part of the Oslo accord, and I’ve said on the campaign that I will fulfill my part while minimizing their damage but I will demand reciprocity and so I did.”

Q: “that means that the Hebron agreement is canceled as well as far as you are concerned.”

Netanyahu: “absolutely…”

One might argue that Netanyahu viewed the agreement as canceled only at the time of the interview (and not in 1996, as Beinart implied). Still, I would expect Goldberg to mention the fact that as Foreign Minister Netanyahu publicly declared Oslo to be canceled (without going to everything he said against the agreement prior to 1996, as leader of the opposition).

I also think that while serving as Prime Minister Netanyahu did everything in his power to bury Oslo, but that’s a different story.

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Here is the transcribed of the Arye Golan interview in Hebrew: Read the rest of this entry »


Israelis want peace, but only if it’s free

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


PM Shamir on terrorism: it’s ok, if you are a Jew

Posted: May 10th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: The Right, The Settlements | Tags: , , , , | 7 Comments »

Here is something funny a friend posted on Facebook:

shamir

Now, it’s not that I support Palestinian terrorism, and I do think Jews were right to fight the British occupation – though Shamir doesn’t mention the fact that many of the Lehi and Irgun attacks were against Arab civilians, not foreign soldiers – it’s just that this quote offers a glimpse into the twisted, double-standards, thinking that got us to where we are. This interview was published in 91′, and I believe that by now most Israeli understand that the Palestinian problem won’t just go away, but they clearly haven’t reached the point where they are willing to do something serious about it.


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.