It seems that every state agency in Israel is becoming a tool in the effort to further colonize the West Bank and deepen the control over the lives of Palestinians.
Soon after the government reached an internal “deal” with the settler movement that would keep the families who settled in a so-called “illegal” outpost on the ground, the Government Press Office – once in charge of handling press cards and other bureaucratic duties – is now engaging in propaganda efforts on behalf of the settlers.
A few days ago, the foreign press corps received the following mail, inviting members to an ideological tour in the heart of the settler land – “Samaria,” in the north of the West Bank (links appeared in the original):
Ministry of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs
Government Press Office
Jerusalem, 12 January 2012
TO: Foreign Journalists in Israel
FROM: Israel Government Press Office
GPO TOUR OF THE SHOMRON (SAMARIA) REGIONAL COUNCIL
We are pleased to invite you to a tour (in English) of the Shomron (Samaria) Regional Council on Thursday, 19.1.12, from 09:30-16:30. Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein will participate.
09:30 Departure from Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem.
11:00-11:30 Visit to community of Barkan: Briefing by local resident Natalie Hershkowitz on the history of the community, westward view to the Mediterranean Sea.
11:45-12:15 Barkan Industrial Park: Tour of plant that employs Palestinians, briefing on effect of Arab boycott on the plant.
12:45-13:15 Itamar: Meeting with local resident Leah Goldsmith at her home. Briefing on her move from the US, the establishment of Itamar & life in the community.
13:30-14:15 Lunch at Giv’ot Olam Organic Farm, with participation of Minister Edelstein, and Shomron Regional Council Chairman Gershon Mesika and Asst. Chairman Yossi Dagan (responsible for Council Strategic Affairs Dept).
14:30-15:00 Overlook of Nablus, Joseph’s Tomb and local communities from Mt. Gerizim; guided by David Haivri & with participation of Minister Edelstein.
16:30 Return to Teddy Stadium.
Government Press Office
Haaretz’s publisher Amos Schocken had a very strong op-ed this weekend titled “The necessary elimination of Israeli democracy.” Schocken is referring to the settlers’ ideology as “promoting Apartheid” and accuses all Israeli governments, except Rabin’s during Oslo and Sharon’s during the disengagement, of playing along.
Schocken has also something to say about the United States’ role in the process (my bold):
… The fact that the government is effectively a tool of Gush Emunim and its successors is apparent to everyone who has dealings with the settlers, creating a situation of force multiplication.
This ideology has enjoyed immense success in the United States, of all places. President George H.W. Bush was able to block financial guarantees to Israel because of the settlements established by the government of Yitzhak Shamir (who said lying was permissible to realize the Gush Emunim ideology. Was Benjamin Netanyahu’s Bar-Ilan University speech a lie of this kind? ). Now, though, candidates for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination are competing among themselves over which of them supports Israel and the occupation more forcefully. Any of them who adopt the approach of the first President Bush will likely put an end to their candidacy.
Whatever the reason for this state of affairs – the large number of evangelicals affiliated with the Republican party, the problematic nature of the West’s relations with Islam, or the power of the Jewish lobby, which is totally addicted to the Gush Emunim ideology – the result is clear: It is not easy, and may be impossible, for an American president to adopt an activist policy against Israeli apartheid.
This week, when the American president was attacked for his “open mic” rants with French president Sarkozy over the Israeli PM’s character, it was hard not to remember this video from 2001, in which Netanyahu bragged on how he manipulated the Clinton Administration and stopped the Oslo Accords.
[By the way, this clip was discovered and aired by Channel 10. Last week, it was revenge time for Netanyahu: The PM ordered all coalition members to oppose a new arrangement on the the channel's debts. As a result, Israel's second commercial channel - known for its aggressive and critical news desk - has announced it will cease to exist in 2-3 months.]
This is from Richard Silverstein’s transcript of the video:
Woman: Aren’t you afraid of the world, Bibi?
Netanyahu: Especially today, with America. I know what America is. America is something that can easily be moved. Moved to the right direction.
Child: They say they’re for us, but, it’s like…
Netanyahu: They won’t get in our way. They won’t get in our way.
Child: On the other hand, if we do some something, then they…
Netanyahu: So let’s say they say something. So they said it! They said it! 80% of the Americans support us. It’s absurd. We have that kind of support and we say “what will we do with the…” Look. That administration [Clinton] was extremely pro-Palestinian. I wasn’t afraid to maneuver there. I was not afraid to clash with Clinton. I was not afraid to clash with the United Nations. I was paying the price anyway, I preferred to receive the value. Value for the price.
In the following segment, Bibi boasts about how he emptied the Oslo Accords of meaning by an interpretation that made a mockery of them:
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 me 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 me 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.
This is not a Peace Now report, but an official document of the Jerusalem Municipality: According to a survey conducted at the request of the mayor’s office, 60,718 new housing units are slated for construction in Jerusalem in the next decades. Of those, 52,363 of them will be built east of the Green Line, in the territory annexed to Israel after the Six-Day War.
The document, revealed today by the daily paper Maariv, states that 23,628 of the planned units were already approved by relevant zoning committees – 20,263 of those for the “eastern” part of the city. In the area of Silwan, the biggest Palestinian neighborhood in Jerusalem, nearly 5,000 housing unites are planned. Silwan has seen many demonstrations in recent years against the attempt to settle it with Jews, and tension is likely to grow in light of the new plans.
Jerusalem employs a system of separation between the Palestinians living in the city, who only hold the status of “residents” and the Jews, who enjoy citizen rights. Under those conditions, Arabs in Jerusalem don’t have the right to vote in national elections, their ability to purchase houses are limited, and if they leave the country for several years, they are likely to lose even their legal residency status. Most Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem receive limited municipal services.
Hundreds gathered in the West bank village to witness the removal of the Separation Wall after more than six years of protest, but the IDF was in vindictive mood
Protesters march from Bil'in to the wall, June 24 2011 (photo: Oren Ziv/activestills)
Bil’in, West Bank – It was a hot Friday in Bil’in – one of those early summer days here that remind you what to expect come August. The crowd at the village’s center was unusually large: The weekly march to the fence—a protest which made this village an international symbol of unarmed resistance—was to take the form of a celebration, after the Israeli army has began moving the infamous barrier that separated Bil’in’s people from their land.
Some context: Instead of having its separation wall on the Green Line—the internationally-recognized border until 1967—Israel decided to have it run deep into the Palestinian territory, cutting through villages and neighborhoods, separating farmers from their lands and families from their loved ones, and most important, annexing to Israel lands which had excellent market value, for their proximity to the Israeli cities along the Mediterranean coastline. Under the pretext of “security concerns,” communities like Bil’in, Nil’in and Budrus saw their fields being taken away, olive trees uprooted, and valuable land annexed to nearby settlements.
Palestinian residents of these villages made two important choices: To fight for their lands—the source of most of their livelihood–and in doing so, to use popular, unarmed resistance. It wasn’t something new for Palestinians–general strikes and mass protests were common in the years leading to the first Intifada–only that this time, the Palestinian farmers weren’t alone: Almost from the beginning of the protest against the security barrier they were joined by international and Israeli activists.
You can read about the role these activists played in the struggle, and the effect it had on the Israeli society in this piece Joseph Dana and I wrote for The Nation a few months ago.
Every week, and sometimes every day, Palestinians and activists would march to site of the planned wall, confront the army and try to reach the lost lands. Some tied themselves to the bulldozers, while others sat on the road in front of it for hours. In places where the work was completed, the protesters tried to make it to the wall or the fence, occasionally crossing or cutting it. They were met with beating, tear gas, arrests and even live bullets.
A young Palestinian is seen injured during a protest against the wall in Bilin, April 2004 (photo: Anne Paq/Activestills)
Around the time the protest began, the people of Bil’in filed a petition to the Israeli high court, demanding the barrier be removed and their land returned to them. It was not an easy decision on their part: Petitioning to court is seen as recognition of the Israeli occupation and the authority of its institutions over the lives of Palestinians in the West Bank, who have no civil rights or representation in those institutions. But the need to get even some of the land back overcame this argument.
The Israeli Supreme Court is a relatively liberal institution, but at the same time, it is extremely hostile to Palestinians – contrary to its public image, the court rarely rules against settlements or the army, and in most cases it wouldn’t even hear Palestinian petitioners. This time, however, even the Israeli court couldn’t ignore the obvious attempt to rob Bil’in’s people of their property. In a landmark verdict against the army and the defense ministry, the court ruled that the land was taken from Bil’in not to increase security, but to make way for the nearby mega-settlement Modi’in Ilit. It ordered a new barrier to be constructed in a route that would have some of the land returned to the people of Bil’in.
The court didn’t order the removal of Modi’in Ilit settlement, or the return of the land already built upon. It never does.
What happened next was even more shameful: the army didn’t carry out the verdict. Months and years passed, and the barrier–part fence, part wall—wasn’t moved. Only after an escalation of the demonstrations and a threat of contempt of court on behalf of the defense establishment, did the work on the new barrier begin.
A few days ago, after more than six years of struggle, the removal of the old security barrier near Bil’in began. the new barrier, already seen in the hills surrounding the village, will be a concrete wall.
All these years, the protest in Bil’in continued. Every Friday, dozens of Bil’in residents marched in the direction of their lost lands. Occasionally, some kids hurled stones at the soldiers, but most of the time the protest was peaceful and creative. Yet it was met with brutal oppression: Hundreds of people were injured. Two – a brother and a sister – killed. Warning – graphic images]. Dozens of Palestinians, many of them minors, were arrested and held without trial for months in military prison. At nights, the army raided the village’s homes (as seen in the video above, one of many), searching for suspects in “incitement” offenses, i.e. organizing protest.
One of these organizers, Abdallah Abu Rahmah, was tried for one year in military prison. When he finished his term, rather than releasing him, the army simply kept Abu Rahmah in prison, and meanwhile appealed the sentence. While serving his time, Abdallah met in prison his cousin, Adeeb, who was also arrested, tried and imprisoned. 99.8 percent of Palestinians’ trials end in conviction. Watch this emotional outburst by Adeeb in front of the soldiers in one of the protests:
Both Adeeb and Abdallah remained men of peace. Like the rest of the people of Bil’in, they didn’t let their persecution change them. During the worse days of the struggle, they kept declaring that they are fighting the army and the occupation, not Israelis or Jews. When Jawaher Abu Rahma died from IDF tear gas, her family and friends invited the Israeli activists to her funeral.
Here are some things Abdallah Abu Rahmah wrote in a public letter from Ofer military prison. The entire text can be found here. It’s more than worth reading.
I have been accused of inciting violence: this charge is also puzzling. If the check points, closures, ongoing land theft, wall and settlements, night raids into our homes and violent oppression of our protests does not incite violence, what does?
Despite the occupations constant and intense incitement to violence in Bil’in, we have chosen another way. We have chosen to protest nonviolently together with Israeli and International supporters. We have chosen to carry a message of hope and real partnership between Palestinians and Israelis in the face of oppression and injustice.
Tear gas, shot by the army, inside a bulldozer driven by a Palestinian protester, during the weekly protest against the Israeli wall in the West Bank village of Bilin, June 24, 2011 (photo: Oren Ziv/ Activestills.org)
Politicians love to co-op success, so Bil’in saw visits from Palestinian PM Salam Fayyad and Israeli Palestinian MK Muhamad Barakeh prior to yesterday’s festive protest. There were around 40 Israelis present, and many international activists. A few hundred Palestinians led the march. A pickup truck with large speakers played music. At the village’s edge, a bulldozer joined the convoy—the people of Bil’in wanted to take part in dismantling the fence that had become the symbol of their misfortunes, and their lack of freedom.
The army had other plans. When the bulldozer approached the old fence, dozens of tear gas canisters were shot simultaneously at the crowd. Live fire was used to stop the bulldozer. A teargas grenade penetrated the driver’s cockpit. He barely made it out alive out. The rest of the crowd—unarmed and not threatening anyone—was sprayed with “skunk,” a stinking liquid, one of the most humiliating and dehumanizing crowd control weapons there is (and naturally, an Israeli invention). A few brave Palestinians in storm suits were trying to collect samples of the awful liquid (to be analyzed later, I was told), before collapsing from the effect of the smell and the gas. It all happened so fast that many members of the media didn’t have time to put on their gas masks and started chocking themselves.
Standing a couple of hundred meters back, I couldn’t open my eyes and could feel my throat burn. I figure the army shot around 60 or 70 canisters at the protesters.
A protester, injured from tear gas, lies on the ground during the weekly protest against the Israeli wall in the West Bank village of Bilin, June 24, 2011 (photo: Oren Ziv/ Activestills.org)
As we walked back to the village, everyone around me was coughing and choking. Yet the spirit was high. The unbelievable violence – aimed against unarmed people, for the defense of a fence that is already been taken down (the new barrier is up and ready for a long time now), showed how scared and confused the army is, how lost it is because of the immoral and self-destructive mission it carries out.
In the next few days, the army will continue to dismantle the fence it so vigorously protected yesterday.
The people of Bil’in might continue the weekly demonstration. Even with the removal of the old barrier and the construction of a new one, much of their land won’t be returned to them. The simple fact is that as long as the occupation goes on, the Palestinians have every right to resist it.
Israeli army begins to remove parts of the separation barrier, Bil'in, June 2011 (photo: Oren Ziv/activestills.org)
Whether they chose to do so, or prefer to heal their community from the long struggle – it’s up to them. But the victory of Bil’in’s people—however partial or limited it was—has taught us a valuable lesson: Israel will have to either give up the occupation or to considerably escalate its methods for maintaining it, at a growing cost. Either way, the occupation’s days are numbered.
A protester in Bil'in, October 2009 (Photo: Keren Manor/Activestills.org)
Some stuff you have to read with your own eyes in order to believe it. Prof. Richard Landes, who writes a pro-Israeli conservative blog named Augene Stables, is making what seems like a comparative case for Israeli colonialism.
Answering a reader’s question regarding the legality of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank, Landes writes:
Indeed, in the history of settling conquered areas, including the record of Islamic conquerors, Israeli behavior in the West Bank as been exceptionally mild and constructive. All the indicators of quality of life are higher there than any of the surrounding Arab states. And all this was accomplished with comparatively little violence from the conquering settlers (the norm is harsh violence from conquerors; the action of the most extreme settlers is peanuts in comparison)
Yes, it’s the old “our blacks are better off than in their own countries” argument – making a surprise comeback into Western political thinking. And yes, Israeli occupation might be “better” than the colonization of Australia or the Armenian genocide, but this is hardly a reason to support it, no?
But even if you do accept the twisted logic according to which one crime legitimize another, supposedly milder one, Landes, like most Neo-Cons, is still avoiding the heart of the matter when it comes to the occupied territories: the existence of two populations on the same territorial unit (Jews and Arabs), one having full citizen rights and the other very partial ones.
Recently, I had a conversation with rightwing Israeli writer Ben-Dror Yemini in which he referred to the situation in the West Bank as “Apartheid-land”. We discussed the application of this specific term, and Yemini even claimed to have used it in public as well, but I couldn’t find any reference to that. Anyway, while I didn’t agree with most of his conclusions – Yemini supports evacuation of settlements but keeping the IDF’s presence in the West Bank – his analysis was pretty honest. When dealing with the legitimacy of the settlements, the policy of separation and the lack of rights is the real issue that needs to be addressed. Unlike Ymini, Landes prefers not to see the elephant in the room.
For a more detailed discussion of the Israeli interpretation to the legal statues of the West Bank and Jewish settlements in it, check out this post.
The Washington Post’s conservative blogger visited the West Bank and returned home convinced Israel should keep it. Many on the left would agree, though not for reasons that would please Rubin
For some time now, settler leadership has been undertaking a PR campaign, designed to improve the way that Jews living in the West bank are presented in the media, and to fight attempts to boycott or isolate them. As part of this effort, Israeli and international celebrities, politician and journalists are taken to tours between holy sites and flourishing settlements in the West Bank. Their goal is to show that settlers are “ordinary Israelis” rather than the violent fanatics you sometimes get to see on TV.
…What I saw surprised me. Even well-informed consumers of international media imagine that the West Bank is crowded, dangerous and replete with roadblocks and officious Israeli security forces. So when one leaves Jerusalem, crosses the Green Line — a cement wall and a checkpoint (not unlike the set-up for an agent at a U.S. border) — and travels up and down the highways of Samaria (the portion of the West Bank extending north), you realize how little non-Israelis know about the Jews who live in territory that is the focal point of so much international attention.
The media terminology doesn’t comport with one’s direct observations. “Settlements” are not hovels tended by goat herders. Settlers are not uniformly religious. The Palestinians who demand the right of return are generally the descendants of those who left Israel proper in 1948; the region is still sparsely populated and was even more so in 1967.
Naturally, Rubin wasn’t taken by her hosts from the Yesha Council (the settlers’ representative body) to Palestinian towns or villages, and the only non-Jews she met were two workers in a Jewish-owned factory. She praises the Israeli landlord for the salary he pays his Arab workers, and engages in a short conversation with the Palestinians, in which she tried to expose them as Hamas-sympathizers, and ends up declaring that “at least for now, economic cooperation has not inspired political realism.” Oh, those ungrateful Arabs.
Rubin is a radical neo-con, so it’s not surprising that her trip to the West Bank reads like a journey to the segregated south, hosted by a hospitable Klan member. Traveling on the Jewish-only highways, Rubin portrays a picture of a pleasant co-existence; she spots a Palestinian in a grocery store and concludes that the boycott attempts goes against the will of ordinary Palestinians. Obviously, she knows nothing about the military courts, the arrests of children and the tortures, the severe limits on traveling from and to the West Bank or the limited access of Palestinians to Jerusalem. At one point, Rubin claims that 95 percent of the Palestinians have no interaction with the IDF. It’s not clear whether it’s her ignorance that fails her, or if she knows the truth – Palestinians encounter soldiers daily, at checkpoints, during nightly raids, in Jewish Hebron and more – but prefers to engage in propaganda.
All this was not that interesting, if it wasn’t for the the political sub-text of Rubin’s post. Even if she doesn’t say it in so many words, it’s obvious that Rubin accepts the settlers’ narrative, according to which (a) the West Bank is the heart of the land of Israel, part of Israeli life and of Jewish history and that (b) for security reasons Israel cannot leave the West Bank. The Zionist-Liberal line was always that Israel prefers not to rule over the Palestinians, but is forced to do so because of the effect of extremist – settlers and Palestinians – on the political dynamic. Rubin presents a different narrative: The West Bank belongs to Israel, but it’s actually not that bad for Palestinians as well.
We are left with the unpleasant issues of equal rights. There are over 2 million Palestinians living in the same territory as the settlers, subject to military control, and with no political rights. Even after Oslo and the establishing of the Palestinian Authority, Palestinians can’t travel freely; they are tried in military courts and are subject to the decisions of the regional military commanders. Ben-Dror Yemini, a conservative rightwing columnist for Maariv and the Jerusalem Post, calls it Apartheid (though he blames the Palestinians for it). So who are we to argue?
A year ago, I interviewed a group of rightwing people who were experimenting with these ideas; among them were former Defense Minister Moshe Arens, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin and former Chief of Staff for PM Netanyahu, Uri Elizur. It’s no surprise: One cannot think of another sustainable solution that wouldn’t include the evacuation of most settlements. If Jenifer Rubin’s political sympathies truly lie with the settlers, she should be honest enough to extract the full meaning of her views, that Israel should apply its laws on the entire West Bank population rather than just the Jews, and become a bi-national state.
Instead of going through the commentary on the recently released “Palestine Papers,” I suggest readers start by checking out some of the documents themselves. Even for those suspicious of the “generous Israeli offer vs. Arab rejectionism” narrative of the 2008 talks as I was, some of the documents are quite shocking.
Take, for example, this meeting, in which the Palestinian side learns that the Israeli negotiators wouldn’t agree to use 1967 borders even as a starting point (h/t Matt Duss):
Udi Dekel (Israel): As you know, our guiding principles are UNSC Res. 242, the need for boundaries that can provide security for Israel, and we’re talking about the situation on the ground, as per Pres. Bush’s letter.
Samih al-Abed (Palestinian): Do you mean the situation as it was then, or now?
UD: Reality now… But we’re not going to argue. We can’t change reality on the ground. We don’t see the 1967 border as a reference, first because we don’t even know exactly where the line is.
SA: We have all the maps that were signed by you.
UD: But that wasn’t exactly the line on the ground.
SA: If not the 1967 line, then what is your reference?
UD: We said already, the situation on the ground.
And here Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni insists on annexing the settlement of Ariel – which lies some 15 miles to the east of the Israeli border, deep in the West Bank:
Livni: The idea behind our desire to annex Ariel settlement was not to get more water but because thousands of people live there. We want to have an answer for those who have lived there for forty years.
Future borders will be complicated but clear. I have seen in Yugoslavia how areas can be connected. The matter is not simply giving a passport to settlers.
Abu Ala: Having Ariel under our control means also that the water basin will be under our control.
Livni: We have said that even if we agreed to have Ariel under Israeli control, we have to find a solution to the water issue.
Abu Ala: We find this hard to swallow.
Rice: Let us put Maale Adumim and Ariel aside. I am not trying to solve them here.
Erekat: Israelis want the two-state solution but they don’t trust. They want it more than you think, sometimes more than Palestinians. What is in that paper gives them the biggest Yerushalaim in Jewish history, symbolic number of refugees return, demilitarised state… what more can I give?
The documents, published by Al Jazeera and the Guardian, reveal the extent of concessions offered by the Palestinian leadership at those talks, and expose the PLO leaders to charges of betrayal of the Palestinian cause – not so much because of the offers themselves, but more due to the tone used by the Palestinian negotiators (Erekat calling PM Sharon “our friend,” using the Hebrew name for Jerusalem, and more), and due to their cooperation with Israel in the persecution of Hamas activists. It’s not clear yet whether the PA leadership can survive this crisis.
Evaluating the effect of the Palestine Papers on the Israeli side is even harder.
Prime Minister Netanyahu will probably not suffer any damage on the home front, at least in the short term. Netanyahu might even use the papers to claim that his government’s construction projects in occupied East Jerusalem pose no threat to the peace process, since the Palestinians have already agreed to give up most of the Jewish neighborhoods in this part of the city.
The Israeli government would also benefit from a renewal of the internal war on the Palestinian side. For years, Israel has tried (and for the most part, succeeded) to break Palestinian society into sub-groups with different political interests and agendas. When those groups fight each other, the Palestinian cause suffers.
Yet from a wider perspective, the release of the Palestinian offers during the 2008 talks serves as proof that Israel in fact had a partner for peace on the Palestinian side. Actually, the question from now on will be whether Israel itself is a partner for an agreement. Furthermore, after the steps Palestinian and Israeli negotiators took towards each other in previous rounds of talks, the current Israeli offers, such as a temporary state on half of the West Bank’s territory, will appear cynical and unrealistic.
For years, Israel has used the peace process as a way to hold back international pressure on the Palestinian issue. It will be harder to do so from now on. This will be Netanyahu’s greatest problem.
As far as the Israeli public is concerned, opposition leader Tzipi Livni comes out fine from the papers. Unlike the Palestinian negotiators, Livni can’t be accused of double talk. She presented the same hardline positions both in public and in private. Yet Livni will soon try to position herself as an alternative for the right-wing government of Netanyahu, which had Israel isolated in the world and damaged relations with the US. Given her attitude during the 2008 talks, how could Livni convince the Israeli public and the international community that she can succeed in negotiating a deal with the Palestinians?
More than anything, it’s the very notion that Israelis and Palestinians can reach an agreement on the two-state solution that suffered another tremendous blow (some people in the US administration apparently gave up on this even before the papers were released). Many people believe that Israel went as far as it could in the offers that were handed in 2008 to the Palestinians; now they may think that the Palestinians did the same, and yet the distance between the two parties remains too big. It seems that Israeli leaders are simply unable to deliver the minimum required to solve the Palestinian problem. No wonder that one of the first Israeli politicians to comment on the papers was Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, which said that the documents proved a final agreement impossible to achieve.
Even for those who don’t subscribe to Lieberman’s ideas, it’s clear that a new approach is needed. Will it be the unilateralism president Abbas is promoting, the mounting international pressure on Israel, the “nation building” effort by PM Salam Fayyad, or even another Palestinian uprising that changes the political dynamic? Only time will tell.
With challenges to the Israeli PM around the corner, the White House finally has some leverage over Jerusalem. But will theadministrationuse it?
The main problem the White House faced in its attempts to renew the settlements moratorium was the lack of political leverage over Jerusalem. The administration offered Netanyahu some carrots, but it didn’t have sticks ready for the event of an Israeli refusal. It seems that president Obama simply couldn’t spend more political currency on confronting the Israeli PM and his powerful allies in Washington.
Ironically, it is the collapse of the peace talks that seems to present the US with an opportunity to force concessions out of Neatnayhu – or make him pay a price for his political choices. In the coming months, the Israeli PM will need the administration’s help in rescuing him from two tough challenges, one at home and one abroad.
At the UN, the Palestinians are expected to bring before the Security Council a resolution deeming Israel’s settlements as illegal.
“Final status issues can only be resolved through negotiations between the parties, not by recourse to the UN Security Council. We, therefore, consistently oppose any attempt to take final status issues to the council as such efforts do not move us closer to our goal of two states living side by side in peace and security.”
Yet as diplomatic correspondent Barak Ravid notes, a vote in the Security Council can put the US in an embarrassing position:
In contrast to similar cases, the draft resolution distributed by the Palestinians this time is relatively moderate, avoiding extreme anti-Israeli language. The Americans may therefore find themselves isolated in the UN if they decide to veto the resolution, and they may find it difficult to do so.
Instead of looking at the Palestinian move as an attack on US policy in the region, the administration could chose to view the whole situation as an opportunity, and not a risk. In exchange for supporting Jerusalem, the US could demand Netanyahu to come up with an offer on borders (unlike former Israeli PMs, Netanyahu chose not to present a peace plan or even a map) and if Natanyahu refuses, deny him the diplomatic umbrella. The American argument could be very simple: if Israel wants to defend its settlement policy, it should make clear which settlements would be left in the final agreement, and which ones are to be evacuated (and therefore, couldn’t be expanded).
Netanyahu could use American help at home as well. He needs at least the appearance of negotiations to maintain his coalition. Labor strongman Binyamin Ben Elyezer said this week that if there is no peace process, Laborwould quitthe government in a month or two. Minister Avishay Bravermanwants out now. If Labor does quit, we might end up with an extreme rightwing coalition – but these don’t tend to last very long.
Since the announcement on the failure of the settlements deal, the Labor party is in turmoil, and pressure on it to leave the government is mounting. As long as US envoy George Mitchell is running back and forth between Ramallah and Jerusalem, Ehud Barak continues to claim he remains in government in the interest of peace. But the US could easily deny him this excuse.
Altogether, it seems that the failure of the moratorium deal actually helped Washington more than it did Jerusalem. For the first time in months, Netanayhu needs Obama more than Obama need Netanyahu.