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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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.


WH about to make disastrous mistake? Yossi Beilin thinks so

Posted: November 18th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Left, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment »

Yossi Beilin, the former head of Meretz party, who is known for his good sources on both Israeli and Palestinian sides, believes the current path the US administration is taking in its effort to restart negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians might lead to the collapse of the Palestinian Authority.

“I’m afraid we are facing disaster,” Beilid said.

Ynet’s Attila Somfalvi reports:

During a ceremony at the Jaffa residence of French Ambassador Chritophe Bigot (…) Beilin said he has learned that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plans to declare a 10-month settlement freeze. According to him, the Palestinian will not accept such a move and may dissolve as a result.

Beilin said the construction freeze will not include Jerusalem or building in the West Bank that is aimed at accommodating “natural growth” within the Jewish communities there.

“The Americans will say they had nothing to do with the declaration but that it indicates major progress and will call for resuming peace negotiations. The Palestinians will say, ‘No’,” according to Beilin.

“Such an announcement will create a vacuum, because the Palestinians will say that this marks the first time that the Americans recognize Israeli construction in the territories,” said the former Knesset member, “This may lead to the PA’s collapse.”

Read the rest of this entry »