Posts Tagged ‘Israeli settlements’
The ongoing stalemate in peace talks has led to another op-ed in the New York Times by Michael Oren, Israel’s Ambassador to the US. As is often the case with Oren’s op-eds, the piece is full of weak arguments, hyperbole and hypocrisy.
The introduction sets the tone for the entire piece:
NEARLY 63 years after the United Nations recognized the right of the Jewish people to independence in their homeland — and more than 62 years since Israel’s creation — the Palestinians are still denying the Jewish nature of the state.
This, like the entire article, tries to oversimplify an incredibly complex issue and then make the Palestinians out to be some sort of irrational, anti-semitic barbarians. Oren is talking about a “Jewish nature of the state” when clearly defining Jewishness is a problem in itself, let alone boiling the nature of a state down to an ethno-religious identity.
Back in 1948, opposition to the legitimacy of a Jewish state ignited a war. Today it threatens peace.
Sure, it threatens peace as much as Israeli intransigence over the demands of the Palestinians. That’s what negotiation is. As for 1948, really Mr. Oren? Was 1948 really so simple? If Israel had established a Christian state, a secular state or a Rastafarian state, I’m pretty sure the Arab reaction would have been much the same. When you establish a state on land occupied partly by those who have inhabited it for the last thousand or so years, they being outside your ruling class, and partly by a massive population of recent migrants, war kind of tends to happen.
Such a step by the Palestinian Authority would be a confidence-building measure,” Mr. Netanyahu explained, noting that Israel was not demanding recognition as a prerequisite for direct talks. It would “open a new horizon of hope as well as trust among broad parts of the Israeli public.”
I’m pretty sure Israel wouldn’t fight so hard for a “confidence-building measure”. Building confidence takes a great deal more than that.
So what is the purpose of this new obsession then? Well Oren will actually tell you:
Indeed, Israel never sought similar acknowledgment in its peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan. Some analysts have suggested that Mr. Netanyahu is merely making a tactical demand that will block any chance for the peace they claim he does not really want.
The problem is, Oren then fails to actually refute this. And I don’t mean robustly, I mean at all. Oren goes on to claim that Israel “recognizes the existence of a Palestinian people with an inalienable right to self-determination in its homeland”, which sounds nice but the reality of it is very different. This is because Israel doesn’t actually recognise a Palestinian homeland. How else would you explain its policy to settle Palestine’s “inaliable homeland” with hundreds of thousands of Jewish settlers?
Oren’s position gets even more tenuous:
So why won’t the Palestinians reciprocate? After all, the Jewish right to statehood is a tenet of international law. The Balfour Declaration of 1917 called for the creation of “a national home for the Jewish people” in the land then known as Palestine and, in 1922, the League of Nations cited the “historical connection of the Jewish people” to that country as “the grounds for reconstituting their national home.” In 1947, the United Nations authorized the establishment of “an independent Jewish state,” and recently, while addressing the General Assembly, President Obama proclaimed Israel as “the historic homeland of the Jewish people.” Why, then, can’t the Palestinians simply say “Israel is the Jewish state”?
Oren’s reference to “international law” seems to contain very little actual law. We can discount immediately a random speech by Obama, which could only have been intended as complete buffer. Citing the now extremely defunct League of Nations policy as a “tenet of international law” is tenuous at best. The Balfour Declaration too was a British policy statement, and though the British mandate over Palestine was accepted by the League of Nations in 1922, one would then also have to consider the McMahon-Hussein correspondence and the Churchill White Paper, which both repudiate much of the Balfour Declaration. Besides, Palestine had zero representation in the League of Nations.
Moreover, Mr. Oren’s extremely selective use of international law is galling. What about the whole host of UN Security Council resolutions that Israel routinely ignores? Not to mention the recent UN HRC fact finding missions into both Cast Lead and the flotilla incident? The hypocrisy is maddening.
The rest of the op-ed then collapses into fear mongering about “a two-stage solution leading, as many Palestinians hope, to Israel’s dissolution” and Palestinians failing to accept ”that the millions of them residing in Arab countries would be resettled within a future Palestinian state and not within Israel”. Why should they accept this? They have no hope of being “resettled” in Israel regardless of its identity, and why should they want to be resettled in Palestine? Should we forcibly resettle the Jewish diaspora in Israel? This is ridiculous beyond words.
Israelis need to know that further concessions would not render us more vulnerable to terrorism and susceptible to unending demands. Though recognition of Israel as the Jewish state would not shield us from further assaults or pressure, it would prove that the Palestinians are serious about peace.
And equally the Palestinians need to know that Israel is serious about peace, that it is willing to accept the right of a Palestinian state to exist and immediately halt the illegal settlement of occupied land within that future state. Though a halt to that settlement would not shield Palestine from further assaults or pressure, it would prove that the Israelis are not suicidally inclined towards an inevitable one-state solution. That’s how easy it is to turn this ridiculous argument on its head.
Mr. Oren concludes his op-ed with a paragraph that neatly sums up the tone and content of the rest of it, namely unabashed propaganda without meaning, logic or sense.
The core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been the refusal to recognize Jews as a people, indigenous to the region and endowed with the right to self-government. Criticism of Israeli policies often serves to obscure this fact, and peace continues to elude us. By urging the Palestinians to recognize us as their permanent and legitimate neighbors, Prime Minister Netanyahu is pointing the way out of the current impasse: he is identifying the only path to co-existence.
There are many ‘cores’ to the conflict, be they territory, security, national self-determination, dignity or oppression, but no one serious “refuses to recognize the Jews as a people”. The fact that some Jews are “indigenous to the region” is a matter of irrelevance and as for “the right to self-government”, the only way that Jews are going to lose the right to govern Israel is if they absorb a massive demographic shift of Palestinians under an inevitable one state solution.
And therein lies the irrational, paradoxical quality of the debate today. Mr. Oren’s op-ed reflects a fear that Israel will lose its Jewish character, but the most surefire way that that can happen is by not fast-tracking a two state solution by halting settlements and negotiating seriously. Every day the two-state solution grows further out of reach, until the inevitable point when Israel will be the only political entity between the Mediterranean and the River Jordan. On that day, Israel will be faced with a choice: give the Palestinians a right to vote or create a state of true apartheid character. I strongly suggest that, instead of writing hyperbolic op-eds in the New York Times, Mr. Oren devote himself to getting his country out of that inevitable mess.
We’ve heard that the appeal has been made in private before but, over the weekend, Mahmoud Abbas publicly requested that President Obama impose a solution to the Middle East conflict. This implies, of course, that he’ll ‘impose’ a Palestinian state on the Israeli people, and ‘impose’ concessions on behalf of the Palestinians also. While I can appreciate Abu Mazen’s frustrations, even he must understand this is impossible and stating it is also not doing Obama any favours.
The obvious implication of Abu Mazen having the boldness to make such a request is that he believes Obama is firmly on ‘his side’. In an increasingly polar, divided and confrontational political arena, this is more bad press for the President as it could further erode his base of support within Israel and the Jewish community as well as giving tea party activists and the like another bone to chew on. I don’t see any political benefit for Abu Mazen here either. What political ends could it possibly serve for him to once again confirm his total political impotence? Begging the President of the US to do the job for him against the Israelis does not build confidence in a leader.
No, I see this as a statement made purely out of desperation. Perhaps Abbas really thought that he would be the one to bring a Palestinian state? Perhaps he really thought he could finally step out of Arafat’s shadow and be the father of a new Palestine, a Palestinian Ben Gurion or something. But even Abbas must think twice, a state will not be achieved by begging. Politics respects the strong, not the weak.
Let’s take a quick look at the frustrating political stalemate that has brought this desperate situation about.
Of the main players:
- Abbas is looking inreasingly weak, impotent and useless. He has completely lost Gaza, there have been plenty of allegations about corruption and very few people among his own constitutents have any respect for him or hope under his leadership. He has been treated like a pawn by the Israelis time and time again, eclipsed even by Salam Fayyad’s proclamations of Palestinian statehood being just around the corner.
- Obama is presiding over an increasingly bitter and divided country. The watered-down health care reform bill that he passed may have been lauded in the papers as monumental but drew a huge toll in blood & sweat from the Democratic party and himself. His first term has been far from easy. Both Iraq and Afghanistan are still looking like losing battles, Israel-Palestine is spiralling out of control, his power base on the left thinks that he hasn’t gone far enough whereas the right is getting more and more hostile as the days wear on.
- Netanyahu, what can we say about poor old Bibi. It’s a testament to the man’s political canniness that he has been able to hold his shaky coalition together for this long. The inordinate amount of power held by the far right in the Israeli Knesset has made it almost impossible for Netanyahu to make any real progress in any direction when it comes to Palestine. What the man actually wants to do is no longer even relevant, he is basically a middleman. Bibi is trying to strike a balance between increasing pressure from the international community in the wake of Cast Lead and from a far less friendly President in the White House on one side, and a powerful far right not willing to make any concessions on the other.
But more on Netanyahu. This piece from Hagai Segal for YNet further highlights the delicacy of the tight-rope that Bibi is walking. Segal highlights what we already knew, there is no actual construction going on in East Jerusalem, probably a part of the ‘gentleman’s agreement’ Bibi is said to have struck with Obama. Bombastic announcements of settlement expansion were made and we assumed they were to curry favour with the right, but is the right so stupid as to accept these announcements without bricks and mortar? Is the Israeli public going to keep buying the line that Bibi is running rings around Obama? Or is something going to give somewhere?
Meanwhile, Abu Mazen is still refusing to enter negotiations with Israel until they agree to a total settlement freeze in East Jerusalem. So while the settlement announcements served to hold the right-wing at bay for a time and the lack of construction is holding Obama at bay, Abu Mazen is refusing to accept it. The only political points Bibi can score at the moment is that the Palestinians are being belligerent about refusing to enter peace talks. He can’t even point out the lack of construction in East Jerusalem as a concession because it’s meant to be one that flies under the radar.
Where to from here?
The AFP reports that Abbas has been invited to Washington for direct talks with Obama. Ha’aretz is reporting that the stalled indirect ‘proximity’ talks are to start no later than mid-May, citing the perennial deus ex machina, unnamed officials. I’m inclined to believe this claim. I think Abbas is heading over to Washington for drilling. Obama is going to tell Abbas to back down on the request for a settlement freeze, to take heed of the lack of construction, to stop pushing Bibi because a collapsed coalition and a political vacuum in the Knesset would help no one (least of all Obama) and to enter ‘proximity’ talks.
The irony of the settlement situation is that, although settlement construction in East Jerusalem has stalled, none of the principal actors mentioned above can draw any political capital from it unless proximity talks begin. If proximity talks happen then that can be considered a limited victory for Obama & Mitchell, which is why they are presumably keen to see them start again in earnest.
Whether these talks will amount to anything is the million dollar question asked before every single round of talks, every single new ‘peace process’ or ‘road map’. I’m tempted to say no, but presumably Obama wants us to have ‘the audacity of hope’.
It’s been a Middle East fest for the Obama Administration today with several key pieces of news being discussed. An issue that’s dominated discussion over the past few days is the alleged transfer of scud missiles from Syria to Hizbullah in Lebanon, with Hillary Clinton fielding questions on it on Thursday. Israeli President Shimon Peres has accused Syria of sending Scuds to Hizbullah. Syria denies the charge and says Israel may be using the accusation as a pretext for a military strike. (Daily Star)
The National gives a succinct roundup of the latest phase in Syrian-Israeli games:
Syria wants the Golan Heights back, but Israel does not feel the necessity to make concessions to a weaker adversary. Israel wants Syria to break its ties to Iran, but Damascus will not abandon an alliance that gives it more influence. When the two countries have engaged in indirect talks, most recently under Turkish mediation, they have been interested in theatrics, not progress.
FP’s Blake Hounshell, in a controversially titled post, cannot understand why Syria would do something like this, given its position:
For all the figures you read in the press about the size of Syria’s military and its vast arsenal of tanks, the country is essentially a tin-pot dictatorship with little ability to project power beyond Lebanon, where for decades it has dominated its smaller neighbor’s domestic affairs.
That post drew the ire of a Syrian embassy spokesman in Washington that fired back:
How can the “dumbest country” outmaneuver the strongest country in the world, and its superpower, along with the numerous Western and other countries that followed in its footsteps and that tried to isolate it? How can the superpower, during its previous administration, work so diligently on isolating “the dumbest country”, yet end up being isolated itself (former Bush-official and current Obama-appointee, Assistant Secretary of State Jeffery Feltman: “consequently, the United States, not Syria, seems to be isolated”; Senators John Kerry and Chuck Hagel in a 2008 op-ed: “our policy of non-engagement has isolated us more than the Syrians.”)? how can the “dumbest country” face all these economic sanctions imposed by the superpower, while simultaneously achieving some of the highest economic growth figures in the region and being considered one of the top ‘frontier markets’?
It seems this Scud fiasco is provoking a broader discussion about Syria’s position in the region and the future of Syrian-Israeli talks as well as Obama’s policy of engagement.
UPDATE: There is growing doubt about whether this transfer actually took place and, it seems, certain US officials at least, agree that Syria is usually not a dumb country:
“We don’t think Scuds of any shape or size have been moved to Lebanon,” one of the officials said.
“The Syrians aren’t always known for making the right political calculations. But in this case, surely they realize that transferring this kind of weapons system to Hezbollah — and especially to Hezbollah in Lebanon — could lead to serious consequences,” the official added. [Khaleej Times]
Meanwhile, Netanyahu has rejected President Obama’s request to halt settlement construction in East Jerusalem:
The aides said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered his government’s position to Obama over the weekend, ahead of the arrival Thursday of the US president’s special Mideast envoy, George Mitchell. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the contact between the two leaders was private.
The State Department responded via spokesman Philip Crowley who told reporters that the long-standing Israeli position on settlement in East Jerusalem is understood but that the status quo cannot last. There has also been talk of a “gentleman’s agreement” between Obama and Netanyahu whereby Israel won’t publicly announce a freeze in East Jerusalem so as not to lose face but will not announce any new settlement building either. This, to me, at least seems the most likely case. While it’s obvious that Netanyahu cannot afford to to be seen as if he is giving in on this issue so as to preserve his coalition in Israel, neither would he want to rock the boat further by announcing more settlements, considering the shit-storm the last announcement caused.
The other piece of US-MidEast news today has been further talk of renewed Iran sanctions in May. Read the full story here.
It’s been a hefty week of diplomatic news for Israel. Apart from the news of the expulsion of a UK diplomat and the possibility of Australia following suit, there has also been settlement news, Obama love-hate news, potential intifada news and even Osama comes back from the dead to weigh in with his two cents, what fun.
On the settlement/Obama front there’s been so much random news that I don’t even know where exactly to start digging in all this muck. Let’s start with the fact that Israel announced another 20 settlement units in East Jerusalem, once again impeccably timed with Netanyahu’s visit to the US. Paltry, you might say, nothing compared to announcing 1,600 to welcome Joe Biden with, but still, fairly similar. Sure 1,600 is a bigger number than 20 and Netanyahu is visiting the US not welcoming Biden, but in principle, it’s essentially the same damn thing. Mondoweiss rightfully asks the question, why isn’t Obama outraged?
Moreover, constructing the new 20 units is going to involve demolishing a historic building, the Shepherd Hotel in Sheikh Jarrah:
The Shepherd Hotel, close to the British consulate, was once a headquarters for Haj Amin al-Husseini, the former Palestinian grand mufti of Jerusalem. After 1967, Israel deemed it absentee property. It was then bought, reportedly for $1m, in 1985 by Irving Moskowitz, a Jewish American millionaire who funds settlements.
Elisha Peleg, a Jerusalem city councillor, said the Shepherd Hotel building permit was a “technical step” and that more construction would follow there and in other Palestinian areas of the city. “We will continue to build all over Jerusalem, in Sheikh Jarrah and Ras al-Amud as well,” he said. [Guardian]
So what of the talks between Bibi and Obama? Reportedly, Bibi got freaked by the supposed crisis happening in US-Israeli relations, cancelled a bunch of appointments and flew to Washington quick-smart. A media blackout was imposed during the meeting, an unusual step and a possible indicator of the frosty atmosphere. This was no ‘beer summit’.
The White House spokesman suggested that talks were “honest and straight forward” and early reports from Israel suggested that Netanyahu was claiming ‘progress’ made during the meeting but a recent report from the Sydney Morning Herald suggests otherwise. Apparently, according to leaked documents, Bibi was ‘humiliated’.
According to leaked accounts reported in the Israeli media, Mr Obama humiliated Mr Netanyahu by leaving the meeting early.
”I’m going to the residential wing to have dinner with Michelle and the girls,” Mr Obama reportedly said, adding that Mr Netanyahu should consult his aides about goodwill gestures Israel was prepared to make towards the Palestinians before renewed peace talks. ”’I'm still around,” he said. ”Let me know if there is anything new.”
When the President returned, Mr Netanyahu is said to have made a counter-offer which Mr Obama did not accept. [SMH]
I’d snub Bibi for dinner with Michelle and the girls too. After all, they are considerably more attractive than that stern-faced gargoyle pictured above.
For an alternative and very well-reasoned take on how the talks should have gone, Avi Issacharoff for Ha’aretz:
How could Netanyahu have safeguarded the construction in East Jerusalem? By offering something in return. Past Israeli governments have indicated their intent to build in Jerusalem beyond the Green Line, but they simultaneously gave the U.S. a political strategy to present to the Palestinians. Netanyahu’s government is backtracking on all fronts and offering nothing to the Americans or the Palestinians.
More on the Shepherd Hotel demolition, also from the Guardian, an important thing to consider:
“What it means politically is that it is one very important project that can torpedo the peace talks,” said Hagit Ofran, a settlement expert at the Israeli group Peace Now. “It is in the hands of the settlers to decide when to bring the bulldozers … It is a very dangerous step.”
This is a salient point. If the settlers control the bulldozers then the settlers have a very provocative tool at their disposal, it’s like allowing a bunch of potentially crazy wingnuts to have control over the red button that starts a war. How’s that Palestinian powder keg coming along?
Well not great, Israel is still planning to enlarge the Jewish prayer plaza at the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City. I’ll let Electronic Intifada explain this one:
The site eyed by Israeli officials is located at the Mughrabi Gate, an entrance to the mosque compound known as the Haram al-Sharif, the most sensitive site in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Inside are al-Aqsa Mosque and the golden-topped Dome of the Rock.
Earlier encroachments by Israel on Islamic authority at the site have triggered clashes between Israeli police and Palestinians. A heavily armed visit to the compound by Ariel Sharon in 2000, shortly before he became prime minister, to declare Israeli rights there sparked the second intifada.
There’s also the contentious killing of four Palestinian teenagers at the hands of the IDF that has sparked protests in the Occupied Territories and, supposedly, an Israeli investigation into the matter. All of this sounds very very intifada-like.
Also, Ban Ki Moon is going to ask the Arabs to go back to peace talks, yeah… that’ll work. Sometimes the man’s, or rather the position’s, impotence astounds me. Jordan’s King Abdullah thinks Israel is playing with fire. Bashar al Assad has no faith in Israel. Oh and there’s also that other guy, he’s not happy either. And if anyone is still wondering why people are angry about Gaza, here’s yet another story. Two soldiers are being tried in an Israeli military tribunal (any guesses as to how it will turn out) for using a 9 year old boy as a minesweeper… classy.
It seems the fiasco of the 1600 slaps received by Joe Biden has escalated somewhat, newspapers are now calling it a ‘crisis’. The big piece of news came when details of a telephone conversation between Hillary Clinton and Netanyahu came to light.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley described the nearly 45-minute phone conversation in unusually undiplomatic terms, signaling that the close allies are facing their deepest crisis in two decades.
Clinton called Netanyahu “to make clear the United States considered the announcement a deeply negative signal about Israel’s approach to the bilateral relationship and counter to the spirit of the vice president’s trip,” Crowley said. Clinton, he said, emphasized that “this action had undermined trust and confidence in the peace process and in America’s interests.” [WaPo]
Strong words perhaps, but it remains to be seen how the relationship and the supposed damage that has occurred to it will unfold. Israel’s response so far has been to order an enquiry into the matter, which will probably turn into the usual political obfuscation of the truth. I’m not entirely sure what this enquiry is even supposed to ascertain. According to Khaleej Times:
“The prime minister has decided to create a committee bringing together ministry directors to examine what happened during vice-president Biden’s visit and lay down rules to ensure such incidents are not repeated in future,” a government spokesman said.
But it’s clear what happened. An ill-advised announcement about settlement expansion plans in East Jerusalem was made at an inopportune time, showing more signs of arrogance in the Israeli government’s approach to peace. This is nothing new. As for, ‘rules’, what possible rules can be laid down? Something like, let’s make controversial announcements at more opportune times when we’re less on the international diplomatic radar? What’s the point of the exercise?
The latest is the following from Haaretz:
Instead of accepting Netanyahu’s partial apology and letting bygones be bygones, Obama issued a stern warning to the Israeli prime minister and is now demanding that he take “specific actions” to show he is “committed” to the U.S.-Israel relationship and to the peace process itself.
Netanyahu is still governing a fragile and cumbersome coalition which includes a good number of prominent right-wingers who are against any negotiation and any compromise over East Jerusalem (some over the West Bank altogether). Where, up until this point, Bibi has ridden the trend of defiance against Washington and reaped its domestic political benefits, with this added pressure to actually maintain the diplomatic relationship and the ball now firmly in his court, what happens next remains to be seen.
An editorial in Haaretz:
There is one reason for the crisis: Netanyahu’s persistence in continuing construction in East Jerusalem, in placing Jews in Arab neighborhoods and evicting Palestinians from their homes in the city. This is not a matter of timing but substance. Despite repeated warnings and bitter experiences, he stokes the flames over the conflict’s most sensitive issue and is bound to get himself in trouble. Netanyahu has made it clear by his actions that American support for Israel, especially essential now in light of the Iranian threat, is less important to him than the chance to put another few Jews in the Sheikh Jarrah or Ramat Shlomo neighborhoods. Even if Netanyahu’s adversaries in the U.S. administration have exploited his misstep to push him into a corner, as his “associates” will certainly argue, a statesman as experienced as he should have been especially careful.
There was news today that the statesman placed a few calls to Europe, namely Merkel and Berlusconi, telling them that Israel has no plans to “accelerate” the pace of settlement construction in East Jerusalem. Bibi is probably trying to cut his losses and limit the fallout from the 1600 slaps after the Quartert (The US, Russia, the EU and the UN) also condemned the settlement announcement. It should be noted that, in all public statements to this date (including the announcement of the enquiry), Bibi has expressed vehement condemnation… but only at the timing of the announcement, rather than the announcement itself. This is of course understandable, Bibi still holds the ideological position of support for housing expansion in East Jerusalem, but I wonder if he thinks vehement condemnation of timing will be enough to pull the wool over people’s eyes.
Speaking of his ideological position, Aluf Benn in Haaretz seems to think that the shit has hit the fan, so to speak, for Netanyahu who “has reached the moment of truth, where he must choose between his ideological beliefs and political cooperation with the right on one hand, and his need for American support on the other.” Benn rightly points out that Obama has been fearful of exerting too much pressure and causing the fragile coalition to collapse, creating an volatile and unpredictable power vacuum. Better the devil you know? We soon shall see.
I’m predicting some sort of diplomatic overture, a few public statements about peace and some efforts to restart peace negotiations. Netanyahu probably knows that some well-mannered stalling is now his safest route but I’m sure he has on intention of actually taking any real action. He still can’t afford to rock the boat in the Knesset, even if he wanted to. The Obama administration, while mindful of being treated like a doormat and losing face in the eyes of the international community, is also mindful of its own domestic problems over health care and wars and its need to get reelected. It can’t afford a total public break with Israel right now. The name of the game right now is not ‘actions’, at least not the sort we expect, it’s face saving and politics.
In other ‘action’-related Israeli news, Israel has put the West Bank on lockdown and restricted access to the Al Aqsa mosque after increased clashes with troops in response to the East Jerusalem announcement and the usual frustrations with living under occupation. UAE Foreign Minister Shaikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan has said that Arabs won’t continue to support Middle East peace talks until Israel halts colony expansion, putting further skids on the peace process which now appears completely dead in the water.
On a high profile visit to Israel to begin ‘proximity talks’ or rather, indirect talks that involve shuttling between Tel Aviv and Ramallah, Joe Biden has been met with closed fists instead of open arms. We heard about the resumption of construction on 112 new homes in occupied East Jerusalem on Monday. Now comes the announcement from Eli Yishai, leader of the right-wing Shas Party, who has made Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem one of his central clauses, that Israel will be constructing 1600 new homes in East Jerusalem’s “ultra-Orthodox” Ramot Shlomo district. To add insult to belligerence, Danny Danon, the deputy speaker of the Knesset, said the following to WaPo: “While we welcome Vice President Biden, a longtime friend and supporter of Israel, we see it as nothing short of an insult that President Obama himself is not coming.”
So uh, great start to the vaunted four months of indirect peace talks announced by George Mitchell on Monday. Incidentally, speaking of this latest round of peace talks, Paul Woodward hits the nail on the head:
That was 2006. Now in 2010 the Israelis don’t even need to inconvenience themselves by sitting in the same room as the Palestinians, even though Netanyahu would be happy to be granted the photo-op of face-to-face talks — talks that he can be confident will be fruitless. [Mondoweiss]
And that was before the 1,600 slaps. So, the question begs… why? Why insult Joe Biden when the Obama Administration just seemed to be (and I have no idea why, really) trying to cosy up to the Israeli electorate by pushing a softer line (The Majlis called it a ‘velvet glove’) on Israel? Haaretz goes some way to explaining:
The profit, for the hard right, is political. It mines an emotional vein along a relatively small but potent segment of the Israeli electorate, which holds that to insult Israel’s indispensible ally is to assert the Jewish state’s independence.
In their drive to expunge any trace of hitrapsut – groveling to the colonial master – there are those among the ostensible super-patriots of the right who revel in shots across the bow of the American ship of state.
Well it seems Netanyahu has been surprised yet again by one of these shots, again coming form a right-wing coalition partner. Though, undoubtedly, as with the humiliation of the Turkish ambassador, he’ll be able to put it behind him and even turn it to his advantage. Yet again, the David of Israel is standing up to the Goliath of its erstwhile US supporter, that dares to mildly chide the Israelis about their intransigence on settlement building and real peace negotiations.
Biden, incidentally, responded by condemning the announcement:
I condemn the decision by the government of Israel to advance planning for new housing units in East Jerusalem. The substance and timing of the announcement, particularly with the launching of proximity talks, is precisely the kind of step that undermines the trust we need right now and runs counter to the constructive discussions that I’ve had here in Israel. We must build an atmosphere to support negotiations, not complicate them. [The Majlis]
A solid statement but, yet again, it’s only a statement. Israel knows what it can get away with and, at the moment, it seems that it can get away with just about anything.
Haaretz has made public details about the supposed map of a proposal that Ehud Olmert offered Abu Mazen to delineate a prospective Palestinian state. Details of the map and proposal have always previously remained clandestine:
Together, the areas would have involved the transfer of 327 square kilometers of territory from within the Green Line.
Olmert presented his map to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in September of last year. Abbas did not respond, and negotiations ended. In an interview with Haaretz on Tuesday, Abbas said Olmert had presented several drafts of his map.
Olmert wanted to annex 6.3 percent of the West Bank to Israel, areas that are home to 75 percent of the Jewish population of the territories. His proposal would have also involved evacuation of dozens of settlements in the Jordan Valley, in the eastern Samarian hills and in the Hebron region. In return for the annexation to Israel of Ma’aleh Adumim, the Gush Etzion bloc of settlements, Ariel, Beit Aryeh and settlements adjacent to Jerusalem, Olmert proposed the transfer of territory to the Palestinians equivalent to 5.8 percent of the area of the West Bank as well as a safe-passage route from Hebron to the Gaza Strip via a highway that would remain part of the sovereign territory of Israel but where there would be no Israeli presence.
Olmert is currently suggesting that his map provide the basis for the resumption of negotiations with the Palestinians. In his talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and foreign statesmen, the former prime minister has said the international community must demand a formal response from Abbas to the Olmert proposal and proceed from there in the talks. Olmert has not presented the detailed map to Netanyahu.
While this can be seen as an admirable effort by Olmert, I’m not sure how feasible it is. I seriously question Olmert’s, Netanyahu’s or anyone else’s ability to get this through the Knesset unscathed and actually deliever this kind of land to the Palestinians. This is what makes Middle Eastern peace such a difficult proposition. The other notable thing is that there is no mention of East Jerusalem or of a Right of Return. While I personally believe the latter is unfeasible and not something the Palestinians can expect to receive, the former, in my opinion, or East Jerusalem being the capital of a Palestinian state, should be a minimum condition to peace or land deals. If the original proposal did not include East Jerusalem then it is perfectly understandable that Abu Mazen didn’t want to sign it, that sort of concession would need a great deal of thought and discussion, if it was to be made.
In Israel-related news, the media today had to make a decision over what was more relevant. Do we report on Hillary Clinton’s furious back-pedalling over her statements regarding the fairly irrelevant, and existent in name only, peace process? Or do we instead report on US Congress predictably landslide-voting to bury the Goldstone Report, the irrelevance of which seems to be growing by the day? Predictably, the media felt that a foreign policy gaffe by the Secretary of State was an opportunity too good to pass up, and happily plumped for the former. And why not? Didn’t anyone else think that Clinton falling all over herself to appease AIPAC was amusing? As in, depressingly amusing, but hey this is Israel-Palestine we’re talking about, it’s always going to be somewhat morbid amusement.
So Clinton says to Al-Jazeera in Morocco:
“I think, as you know, President [Barack] Obama clearly said he wanted to see an end to settlement activity,”
“That had never been requested prior to any negotiation entered into by any representative of either the Palestinians or the Israelis.”
After her trip to Morocco, Clinton flew to Cairo to deal with the aftermath of her gaffe committed in previous days, to talk to “Egyptian leaders” as the Star Tribune reports. VOA reports that she’s meeting Uncle Hosni.
The NZ Herald has the following to say:
Clinton’s comments in Jerusalem appeared to reflect a realisation within the Obama Administration that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Government will not accept a full-scale settlement freeze and that a partial halt may be the best lesser option. Her appeal seemed designed to make the Israeli position more palatable to the Palestinians and Arab states.
But the ever-present question begs. If the settlements are illegal, and if the Obama administration ‘unequivocally’ opposes them, then why can’t the Obama Administration put more pressure on the Netanyahu Government to halt them entirely. There has been precious little evidence of any real pressure on Netanyahu, in fact Bibi, and other pro-settlement folk, have been glowing with pride over his constant ‘victories’ over Obama. So why bother saying that you’re against something ‘unequivocally’ but do nothing tangible to actually stop it? Ah yes, well, that’s called empty rhetoric, ladies and gentlemen, and Obama’s Administration seems to be very good at it… until now when the rhetoric spills over into weird fawning, as Clinton’s statements the other day indicate. What Clinton terms ‘positive reinforcement’ to the rest of us looks like diplomatic genuflection.
As per the words of the Hillary, “We need to work together in a constructive spirit toward this shared goal of a comprehensive peace.” Indeed, the Netanyahu Government’s spirit has been very constructive – constructive of settlements in the Occupied West Bank, not sure how ‘comprehensive’ the peace is going to be though, unless the Palestinian residents of the West Bank are simply built over with cement.
Oh and about that Goldstone report? Yeah Congress voted 344-36 to bury that baby, something that Mondoweiss called “Pyongyang-style”. That linked post also contains a list of the “Nays” in case you’re American and want to write a letter to your local congressman congratulating him or her for possessing some modicum of cojones. I believe Gregg from The Majlis, who live-blogged the debate from Congress, pretty much sums up how the rest of us feel about this vote.
But it’s not all bad news, folks. Mondoweiss:
My sources tell me that the total of 36 No’s and 22 voting Present is actually a giant improvement over, say, the Lebanon votes that typically were in the 400 range, Yes-wise.
In the wake of the Goldstone Report (which The Majlis is blogging also as they read, check their coverage out) , we have a tri-partite summit in New York between President Obama, Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas. All of this, of course, assuming that Netanyahu actually cares and that Abbas still has some sort of authority to throw around… you know, just assuming of course.
There has been a slightly conspicuous silence coming from the Israeli right on this, usually they would be all over it. The silence was explained in Haaretz today, an explanation that is, well, fairly on point:
MK Tzipi Hotovely (Likud), one of the ideological rebels, explained the silence Monday: “We all know that this summit has no significance. There is no possibility of achieving anything, so there is no real argument about where we are going. There is a united front in the Likud for now.”
Aluf Benn for Haaretz discusses the different working styles and varied expectations between the US, Israeli and Palestinian approaches to the peace process and politics in general:
He (Obama) is not dependent on a coalition in which the majority of members oppose diplomatic steps, as is Netanyahu, or in legalistic tricks keeping him in power after his term has ended, as is Abbas.
That leaves Obama time to work determinedly, yet gradually.
This is also Mitchell’s style: another meeting, another discussion, another preparation, all aimed primarily at building trust and bringing both sides closer to the bigger decisions to be made later.
I agree with Benn, US politics moves much slower than Israeli politics, has more time and opportunity for careful consideration and planning and relies a great deal more on lengthy dialogue – in many ways this can be a good thing. On the other hand, the idea that the Palestinians have another 4 years to wait for Obama to get his act together is dismissive. While realistically, it may take that long, and even longer, to actually achieve something (if possible at all), during this time Palestinians continue to live in squalid, repressive and humiliating conditions that prevent their development and progress as a people. This may not mean that everyone has to hurry, but it is not a situation that should be dismissed lightly. The Palestinians will wait, because they have to, but that doesn’t mean that they should be made to unnecessarily.
But I digress… the summit.
Yes, so I agree with the Israeli right for once, I don’t think this summit is going to achieve anything but a photo-op. Let’s see, the Israelis refused to halt settlement in the West Bank, the Palestinians refuse to negotiate or engage in “peace talks” unless said settlements are halted, Obama has his hands full with domestic politics anyway so he might well be a touch distracted… seems like a recipe for a nonsensical waste of time to me.
Apparently the Obama Administration realises this and some ideas have been thrown around for how to avoid this. According to Haaretz:
One idea to “upgrade” the summit was that Obama would announce at the end of the meeting that Israel has agreed to suspend construction in the settlements temporarily. This would be seen as an achievement and would jump-start the talks, a Jerusalem source said.
Another idea was to have Obama announce the United States was interested in resuming the talks in mid-October, after further talks with the two parties.
Obama could also announce that the sides are close to resuming the peace talks and call for an international peace conference in the next few months, at which the negotiations would be launched, the source said.
Ahh you have to love politicians and their never-ending ability to spin bullshit, pretending that it constitutes something real. An “announcement” that peace talks will resume later seems hardly an achievement to me, and seems hardly a reason to invite Abbas & Netanyahu to New York in the first place. The announcement of an international peace conference, likewise. If you want a conference, run a conference, you do not need a summit to announce a conference. Which leaves the temporary settlement freeze, the only tangible result from the summit, and we can all agree that it’s far from a sizeable one. Besides that, I’d say that it’s unlikely that Netanyahu will agree to even a temporary settlement freeze considering how strong his coalition is looking right now and how secure the Israeli Right is with this summit. I don’t think he would want to stab them in the back, even if it’s only a small stab. UPDATE: Twas silly of me to have missed this but there’s in fact been a settlement freeze on the table for weeks. Bibi offered 9 months, Mitchell was gunning for 12 (excluding East Jerusalem & necessary public works either way), no agreement was reached and Mitchell went home. [Thanks @Elizrael & @glcarlstrom] The settlement freeze possibly to be announced at this summit is referring to this contested one. Whether this constitutes a sizeable outcome is up to you. I still wonder why the Israeli Right seems so comfy with a 9 month settlement freeze, please inform me in the comments if you should know.
So there you go kids, you can look forward to another non-event in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, mmmm, surprises surprises.
UPDATE: Neither Hamas nor Fatah are particularly happy with Abbas’ decision to meet with Netanyahu while settlements are ongoing, Hamas describing it as “stabbing Palestinians in the back”. The response from the PA has been that this is not signalling the restarting of peace talks but rather a “courtesy meeting”. [Haaretz]
UPDATE 2 (22/09 3pm GMT): According to a Washington Times exclusive confirming the above, Israel has agreed to a 6-9 month settlement freeze excluding East Jerusalem and 2,500 homes already slated to be built. This is still shy of Mitchell’s requested 12 month freeze. However here’s the meat: