Commentary Magazine


Topic: West Bank

Revisiting the Failed Gaza Experiment

This past weekend, southern Israel was hit by more than 200 rockets flying over the border from Hamas-controlled Gaza. Dozens of the missiles were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system but most got through with some casualties and damage. The lives of more than a million Israelis living in the southern part of the country were disrupted by the assault. Schools were closed as the population was urged to take shelter until the latest crisis passed.

To the extent the world is paying much attention to this (it was overshadowed by the story of the American soldier who murdered Afghan civilians) it has been in the form of the usual “cycle of violence” stories that depict the situation as one in which both Israel and the Palestinians are seen as being at fault. As is generally the case, the focus quickly shifts to efforts to reinstate a cease-fire, with Secretary of State Clinton condemning the missile fire while also calling for both sides to show “restraint.” But the real issue here is not who started it or how well the Iron Dome system is working. It is the way Israel must learn to live with an independent Palestinian state in Gaza in all but name that is run by terrorists. Those who continue to demand Israel withdraw completely from the West Bank and Jerusalem, as they did from Gaza in 2005, need to understand the lessons of that failed experiment will not be forgotten.

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This past weekend, southern Israel was hit by more than 200 rockets flying over the border from Hamas-controlled Gaza. Dozens of the missiles were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system but most got through with some casualties and damage. The lives of more than a million Israelis living in the southern part of the country were disrupted by the assault. Schools were closed as the population was urged to take shelter until the latest crisis passed.

To the extent the world is paying much attention to this (it was overshadowed by the story of the American soldier who murdered Afghan civilians) it has been in the form of the usual “cycle of violence” stories that depict the situation as one in which both Israel and the Palestinians are seen as being at fault. As is generally the case, the focus quickly shifts to efforts to reinstate a cease-fire, with Secretary of State Clinton condemning the missile fire while also calling for both sides to show “restraint.” But the real issue here is not who started it or how well the Iron Dome system is working. It is the way Israel must learn to live with an independent Palestinian state in Gaza in all but name that is run by terrorists. Those who continue to demand Israel withdraw completely from the West Bank and Jerusalem, as they did from Gaza in 2005, need to understand the lessons of that failed experiment will not be forgotten.

This latest dustup along the border started when the Israeli Defense Forces acted to foil an impending terror attack being launched by one of the dissident Islamic groups that operate in Gaza with Hamas’s permission. The Popular Resistance Committees’ leader and several of his terrorist cadres were killed by Israeli action. The Palestinians responded with a massive missile barrage in response to the Israeli “aggression.” But as Israelis who live in the region know, missile fire from Gaza is hardly an unusual occurrence. Since the cease-fire agreed to by Hamas and Israel in January 2009, more than 1,200 rockets have been fired from Gaza, including 100 in just the last month prior to this weekend’s fighting.

The missiles are a fact of life in southern Israel, and though the country has learned to live with this threat, it has taken a toll on the people who live there that is often ignored abroad as well as by some who live in the central part of the country not currently under fire. If anything, the improved missile defense has lessened some of the pressure on the Israeli government to consider a repeat of the December 2008 Operation Cast Lead in which the IDF conducted a counter-offensive designed to silence the intolerable attacks on the country.

But few in Israel are oblivious to the meaning of this standoff. By its withdrawal of every settlement, soldier and Jew from Gaza in 2005, Israel set the stage for the creation of a terrorist state there that has given an indifferent world a foretaste of what Palestinian independence looks like. The assumption then, reinforced by the presence of the legendarily tough Ariel Sharon in the prime minister’s office, was that any cross-border attacks would be met with such force as to make them unlikely. However, the terrorist government of the strip has launched terrorist attacks on Israel with relative impunity and counts on the international community’s outrage to force Israel to always respond to these provocations with the “restraint” that Secretary Clinton desires. It is far from clear the stricken Sharon would have been any more capable of reversing this situation than his successors Ehud Olmert or Benjamin Netanyahu.

While few in Israel seek a permanent return to Gaza as they have no interest in ruling over Palestinians there, possible negotiations with the Palestinian Authority about withdrawal from the West Bank are necessarily informed by this example. Should the West Bank become as much of a no-go zone for the IDF as Gaza is, the likelihood of its long border with central Israel turning into another battleground is a nightmare for Israelis. With Hamas now planning on joining Fatah in the government of the West Bank, it takes little imagination to understand what a sovereign Palestinian state there would mean for Israel’s security. Rather than rockets flying over just the southern portion of the country, Hamas would acquire the ability to terrorize the whole of Israel as well as to interdict flights out of its international airport. No missile defense system could possibly protect the nation under those circumstances.

The vast majority of Israelis, including the majority of the members of its right-of-center government, have embraced a two-state solution as the answer to the conflict. Were the PA to return to the negotiating table, they would find most Israelis willing to talk about such an outcome. But the missiles flying out of Gaza provide us with a vision of what an independent Palestinian state actually looks like. So long as the Palestinian sovereignty is expressed in this manner, there is little chance Israel will be so foolish as to repeat the failed experiment in Gaza.

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Put Palestinian Tactics, Not Israeli Military Justice, On Trial

Yesterday, the New York Times devoted considerable space to the story of one Islam Dar Ayyoub, a 15-year-old Palestinian from a village near Ramallah. According to the story, Ayyoub’s childhood was stolen from him when he was thrust into Israel’s military court system a year ago. Ayyoub is the Times’ candidate for the position of poster child for what it calls Israel’s “harsh, unforgiving methods” in dealing with Palestinian violence. But though the purpose of the story was to indict Israel, anyone reading between the lines of Ayyoub’s sob story could see the real villain of this tale is not Israel’s military but the Palestinian “activists” who have exploited their children. They are recruited into gangs explicitly tasked with starting violent confrontations with Israelis by the throwing of stones and other lethal weapons, hoping the soldiers will defend themselves and kill one of the kids.

Ayyoub is depicted as a victim because he gave up his confederates to the Israelis and in particular a local Palestinian adult named Bassem Tamim, who was the overseer of what in any other context would be called a violent youth gang. “Human rights” activists think the prosecution of this person should be scrapped because the kid who dropped the dime on him didn’t have a lawyer or his parents present when he talked. That might be what would happen on an episode of “Law and Order,” but the realities of the Middle East conflict are such that Israel’s tactics are justified.

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Yesterday, the New York Times devoted considerable space to the story of one Islam Dar Ayyoub, a 15-year-old Palestinian from a village near Ramallah. According to the story, Ayyoub’s childhood was stolen from him when he was thrust into Israel’s military court system a year ago. Ayyoub is the Times’ candidate for the position of poster child for what it calls Israel’s “harsh, unforgiving methods” in dealing with Palestinian violence. But though the purpose of the story was to indict Israel, anyone reading between the lines of Ayyoub’s sob story could see the real villain of this tale is not Israel’s military but the Palestinian “activists” who have exploited their children. They are recruited into gangs explicitly tasked with starting violent confrontations with Israelis by the throwing of stones and other lethal weapons, hoping the soldiers will defend themselves and kill one of the kids.

Ayyoub is depicted as a victim because he gave up his confederates to the Israelis and in particular a local Palestinian adult named Bassem Tamim, who was the overseer of what in any other context would be called a violent youth gang. “Human rights” activists think the prosecution of this person should be scrapped because the kid who dropped the dime on him didn’t have a lawyer or his parents present when he talked. That might be what would happen on an episode of “Law and Order,” but the realities of the Middle East conflict are such that Israel’s tactics are justified.

Getting arrested and questioned by the Israeli military was probably no picnic for Ayyoub. Yet, as the Times reported, he was not tortured. His interrogation was videotaped and reveals nothing the Palestinians could claim was an atrocity. Like many another culprit, he got scared and talked. The result was not an injustice but the arrest of an adult Palestinian who exploited Ayyoub and other village kids in an effort to keep the war against Israel alive. Tamim and other Palestinian terror facilitators train kids to attack soldiers and hope some will be hurt. They are not promoting non-violence but instead are deliberately placing teenagers into harm’s way so as to provide more martyrs for their cause.

As France’s World War One leader, Georges Clemenceau, said, “military justice is to justice as military music is to music.” But the situation on the West Bank is complicated because Israel is still forced to have a security presence in the region in order to prevent attacks on its forces and civilians. Because it is impossible to apply Israel’s own civilian laws in the area, the military uses the laws that existed there before Israeli rule from the British and Jordanian eras. But unlike the courts run by the Palestinian Authority, all terror and violence suspects are given trials and have the chance to defend themselves. The system is, like all justice systems, imperfect, but despite the assumption that Israel’s actions are unfair, there was nothing in the story that doesn’t pass the smell test.

We are told in the conclusion to the piece that Ayyoub, who has been released unharmed and is free to go to school, is afraid of the soldiers. More likely, he is afraid of revenge from other Palestinians who treat people who inform on those involved in violence as “traitors.”

Until the Palestinian leadership is prepared to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state and make peace, Israel will be forced to keep order in the region and to do its best to fend off terrorism and the orchestrated riots that were at the core of the Ayyoub case. The real scandal is the willingness of Palestinians to sacrifice children like Islam Ayyoub on the altar of hate for Israel.

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How “Evil Israeli Soldiers” Saved an Anti-Israel Filmmaker’s Life

“Five Broken Cameras” didn’t win the World Documentary competition at last week’s Sundance Film Festival, losing out to another anti-Israel film. But it has garnered plenty of international attention, including two awards at Amsterdam’s International Documentary Film Festival and a glowing write-up in the New York Times. The film, according to the Sundance synopsis, documents what happened after the West Bank village of Bil’in “famously chose nonviolent resistance” against Israel’s security fence: “an escalating struggle as olive trees are bulldozed, lives are lost, and a wall is built to segregate burgeoning Israeli settlements,” in which a child’s “loss of innocence and the destruction of each camera are potent metaphors.” In short, another tale of good Palestinians versus evil Israelis.

You have to persevere to the end of the Times piece to find another angle to Palestinian filmmaker Emad Burnat’s story:

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“Five Broken Cameras” didn’t win the World Documentary competition at last week’s Sundance Film Festival, losing out to another anti-Israel film. But it has garnered plenty of international attention, including two awards at Amsterdam’s International Documentary Film Festival and a glowing write-up in the New York Times. The film, according to the Sundance synopsis, documents what happened after the West Bank village of Bil’in “famously chose nonviolent resistance” against Israel’s security fence: “an escalating struggle as olive trees are bulldozed, lives are lost, and a wall is built to segregate burgeoning Israeli settlements,” in which a child’s “loss of innocence and the destruction of each camera are potent metaphors.” In short, another tale of good Palestinians versus evil Israelis.

You have to persevere to the end of the Times piece to find another angle to Palestinian filmmaker Emad Burnat’s story:

“In late 2008, he accidently drove a truck into the separation barrier and was badly injured. A Palestinian ambulance arrived at the same time as Israeli soldiers, who saw what bad shape he was in and took him to an Israeli hospital.

“‘If I had been taken to a Palestinian hospital,’ Mr. Burnat said, “’I probably wouldn’t have survived.’ He was unconscious for 20 days. Three months later he was back filming.”

In short, Burnat is alive today to win prizes for a film about evil Israeli soldiers suppressing “nonviolent resistance” in Bil’in because those same evil Israeli soldiers saved his life four years earlier. And this is not an irrelevancy; it epitomizes the flaw in the “good Palestinians versus evil Israelis” trope: As anyone who makes any effort to discover the facts quickly learns, Israelis all too often refuse to play the part assigned to them.

And for that matter, so do Palestinians – with Bil’in being a classic example. For contrary to the prevailing wisdom encapsulated in that Sundance synopsis, Bil’in residents certainly weren’t practicing “nonviolent resistance.” Here, for instance, is Haaretz’s report on a major demonstration in Bil’in to mark five years of protests against the fence:

“The activists maintain that their demonstrations are peaceful. However, youths were preparing slingshots, and took up positions in front of an IDF checkpoint on the other side of the fence, throwing stones. IDF statistics claim that since the start of the demonstrations 110 members of the security forces suffered injuries, and one officer lost an eye as a result of projectiles fired with slingshots.”

Slingshots have been lethal weapons since biblical times (remember David and Goliath?). And it’s hardly unusual for soldiers attacked with lethal weapons to respond with deadly force. What’s unusual about Bil’in is that the Israelis generally didn’t: While Palestinians have been killed, most of the deaths were accidental. Burnat’s friend Phil, for instance, was killed when a tear gas canister – not usually a lethal weapon – happened to hit him in the chest.

Reasonable people of goodwill can certainly disagree about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But no reasonable person of goodwill can view it as a “good Palestinians versus evil Israelis” morality play. And anyone tempted to think otherwise should remember Emad Burnat.

 

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How Israel’s Gaza Pullout Radicalized Sinai

Anyone who still thinks more Israel territorial withdrawals are a good idea should carefully study Ehud Yaari’s chilling new report for The Washington Institute on “Sinai: A New Front.” To anyone who has been following the situation, Yaari’s bottom line – that Sinai-based terrorism “could break a fragile bilateral peace [with Egypt] that is already challenged by growing post-Mubarak demands to abrogate, review, or amend the treaty” – isn’t new; I’ve been warning of this for months. Where the veteran Israeli journalist and Arabist makes a real contribution is his analysis of how Israel’s 2005 pullout from Gaza contributed to Sinai’s radicalization. And while he doesn’t say so, the implication of his research is obvious: An Israeli pullout from the West Bank could similarly radicalize and destabilize Jordan.

Clearly, radicalization doesn’t happen overnight, and Yaari indeed describes a slow spread of radical Islam among the Sinai Bedouin since the 1980s, along with a consequent rise in arms trafficking and terror. But Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, “and subsequent removal of troops from the Sinai-Gaza border,” catalyzed the process:

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Anyone who still thinks more Israel territorial withdrawals are a good idea should carefully study Ehud Yaari’s chilling new report for The Washington Institute on “Sinai: A New Front.” To anyone who has been following the situation, Yaari’s bottom line – that Sinai-based terrorism “could break a fragile bilateral peace [with Egypt] that is already challenged by growing post-Mubarak demands to abrogate, review, or amend the treaty” – isn’t new; I’ve been warning of this for months. Where the veteran Israeli journalist and Arabist makes a real contribution is his analysis of how Israel’s 2005 pullout from Gaza contributed to Sinai’s radicalization. And while he doesn’t say so, the implication of his research is obvious: An Israeli pullout from the West Bank could similarly radicalize and destabilize Jordan.

Clearly, radicalization doesn’t happen overnight, and Yaari indeed describes a slow spread of radical Islam among the Sinai Bedouin since the 1980s, along with a consequent rise in arms trafficking and terror. But Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, “and subsequent removal of troops from the Sinai-Gaza border,” catalyzed the process:

As Bedouin political activist Ashraf al-Anani put it, “a fireball started rolling into the peninsula.” Illegal trade and arms smuggling volumes rose to new records, and ever-larger sectors of the northern Sinai population became linked to Gaza and fell under the political and ideological influence of Hamas and its ilk. Sympathy and support for the Palestinian battle against Israel grew; according to al-Anani, the closer one got to the Gaza border, “the more people are inclined toward Hamas.” In short, despite then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s quiet hope that Cairo would assume unofficial responsibility for Gaza affairs, the Israeli withdrawal instead allowed Hamas to export its influence into Egyptian territory.

Facilitated by the dramatic increase in the number of tunnels—which numbered no less than 1,200 at their peak—the expansion of Hamas and other Palestinian activities in the Sinai was unprecedented. In fact, the arms flow was often reversed, with weapons going from Gaza to the Sinai. During the revolution, for example, observers noted a huge demand for firearms in the peninsula. And even in late 2010, well before Mubarak’s ouster, Hamas was already in the process of transferring heavy long-range missiles to secret storage places in the Sinai, including Grad rockets and extended-range Qassams…

Today, a significant number of Hamas military operatives are permanently stationed in the Sinai, serving as recruiters, couriers, and propagators of the Hamas platform. A solid network of the group’s contact men, safe houses, and armories covers much of the peninsula … In addition, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and other factions have been moving some of their explosives workshops—which produce homemade missiles, rockets, mortars, improvised explosive devices, and so forth—from Gaza to the Sinai in recent months. In many ways, the Sinai has already become a sort of hinterland for Hamas military forces in Gaza. Dual-purpose materials used for the production of explosives are regularly transferred to the peninsula, allowing the group to place a significant part of its military industry beyond Israel’s reach.

As in Gaza, an Israeli pullout from the West Bank could easily end in a Hamas takeover. True, the Palestinian Authority is protected by American-trained troops, but the same U.S. general, Keith Dayton, trained the PA forces in Gaza, and Hamas routed them in a week during its 2007 coup.

Moreover, like Sinai, Jordan already has both a homegrown Islamist movement and some serious stability issues. Additionally, Jordan is roughly two-thirds Palestinian, and its Palestinian citizens have close ties of kinship and friendship with West Bank Palestinians. Thus, radicalization on the West Bank would likely spread to Jordan quickly if Israeli troops were no longer serving as a buffer between the two.

So if Western leaders think a radicalized, destabilized Jordan is a good idea, they should by all means keep pushing an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank. But if not, they should be praying that Israel stays put.

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Reminiscing with the Aged Leaders of Fatah

Greg Sheridan, the foreign editor of The Australian, is spending a week in Israel and the West Bank and reports it is “dangerous” to visit Israel — “because it is impossible to reconcile the evidence of your eyes with the accepted international narrative”:

“In the international media, Israel is presented as militarist, right-wing, oppressive. In fact it is the only pluralist democracy in the Middle East, the only nation where women’s rights — and gay rights — are protected. It has a vibrant left wing, a cacophonous democracy and an innovative economy.”

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Greg Sheridan, the foreign editor of The Australian, is spending a week in Israel and the West Bank and reports it is “dangerous” to visit Israel — “because it is impossible to reconcile the evidence of your eyes with the accepted international narrative”:

“In the international media, Israel is presented as militarist, right-wing, oppressive. In fact it is the only pluralist democracy in the Middle East, the only nation where women’s rights — and gay rights — are protected. It has a vibrant left wing, a cacophonous democracy and an innovative economy.”

Compare his summary of the situation among Palestinians, unable to live side-by-side in peace and security even with themselves, lacking a pluralist society, missing any protections for women and gays, dependent on an economy funded by Western “donors” (because Arab states contribute a lot of rhetoric but few funds):

“So how can there be a Palestinian state when the two parts of it have recently been killing each other and cannot even travel in each others’ territories? Palestinian friends tell me that Hamas would be likely to win a Palestinian election held now. Neither Fatah nor Hamas is remotely democratic. Fatah is also increasingly sclerotic. All its leaders are aged, all figures from the past in office for decades. There is no youth or vitality about it.”

Well, at least the aged leaders of increasingly sclerotic Fatah — cooped up in their half of the quasi-state, understandably afraid to hold another election — can look back on their decades in office and reminisce about all the times they almost had a state.

There was July 2000 at Camp David, when Israel offered a state on substantially all the West Bank and Gaza, with a capital in Jerusalem, and they turned it down. There was January 2001, when they turned down the Clinton Parameters, refusing a state again. There was September 12, 2005, when they got Gaza and announced “no more security turmoil and weapons chaos and abductions, which are not characteristic of our culture.” The January 2006 election did not go well, but there was the February 2007 Mecca agreement, adopting “the language of dialogue as the sole basis for solving the political disagreements” — until the other party threw Fatah off the tops of buildings. In September 2008 there was another offer of a state, which they turned down again. In May 2009 they set “preconditions” for the democratically elected government of Israel to talk to the unelected aged leaders of sclerotic Fatah, saying they would do nothing further since they had a “good reality” in the West Bank. Since then, they have occupied themselves with seeking UN resolutions.

And during this entire period, billions of dollars came their way for participating in this “process.” Good times, good times….

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Is This the End of Land-for-Peace?

Some have noted that the situation in Egypt may mark the demise of Israel’s land-for-peace strategy. At the New York Post, Abby Wisse Schachter makes this point well, as she looks into Israel’s peace treaty with Egypt (h/t Israel Matzav):

Consider how the agreement with Egypt worked out. Because of its military success in 1967 and 1973, Israel actually had the entire Sinai Peninsula with which to bargain and that piece of land represented a massive physical buffer between the two countries. Then, after having relinquished the territory and removed hundreds of Israelis from their homes in Yamit (no they were not crazy religious “settlers”), the Israelis got a cold, even belligerent, peace with Egypt that never prevented Egypt from remaining the greatest producer of anti-semitic literature in the world. … And finally, 30 years later, the agreement still rests in the hands of one man, the dictator of Egypt. If Mubarak had been assassinated as his predecessor Sadat was, the accord might have been cancelled years ago.

It’s still far from clear how a new Egyptian government would impact the peace treaty, but, according to the Jerusalem Post, protesters in Egypt have been calling for the peace treaty to be revised by the leadership that succeeds Mubarak:

[Egyptian protester Hazan] Ahmed said he didn’t want Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel completely demolished, but for it to undergo a serious change.

“It should be remodeled. With Mubarak leaving, we know that whoever comes next will remodel the agreement.”

And, of course, any land-for-peace deal with the increasingly unstable PA would be an even bigger strategic blunder if the West Bank government ends up collapsing. Israel undoubtedly has taken note of this, and it’s sure to be factored into the negotiations with the Palestinians.

Some have noted that the situation in Egypt may mark the demise of Israel’s land-for-peace strategy. At the New York Post, Abby Wisse Schachter makes this point well, as she looks into Israel’s peace treaty with Egypt (h/t Israel Matzav):

Consider how the agreement with Egypt worked out. Because of its military success in 1967 and 1973, Israel actually had the entire Sinai Peninsula with which to bargain and that piece of land represented a massive physical buffer between the two countries. Then, after having relinquished the territory and removed hundreds of Israelis from their homes in Yamit (no they were not crazy religious “settlers”), the Israelis got a cold, even belligerent, peace with Egypt that never prevented Egypt from remaining the greatest producer of anti-semitic literature in the world. … And finally, 30 years later, the agreement still rests in the hands of one man, the dictator of Egypt. If Mubarak had been assassinated as his predecessor Sadat was, the accord might have been cancelled years ago.

It’s still far from clear how a new Egyptian government would impact the peace treaty, but, according to the Jerusalem Post, protesters in Egypt have been calling for the peace treaty to be revised by the leadership that succeeds Mubarak:

[Egyptian protester Hazan] Ahmed said he didn’t want Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel completely demolished, but for it to undergo a serious change.

“It should be remodeled. With Mubarak leaving, we know that whoever comes next will remodel the agreement.”

And, of course, any land-for-peace deal with the increasingly unstable PA would be an even bigger strategic blunder if the West Bank government ends up collapsing. Israel undoubtedly has taken note of this, and it’s sure to be factored into the negotiations with the Palestinians.

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Media- and NGO-Fueled Ignorance on Egypt and Tunisia

Amnon Rubinstein, a former Knesset member and minister from Israel’s left-wing Meretz Party, made an important point in today’s Jerusalem Post. The uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt took the West by surprise, he wrote, because Westerners know almost nothing about what goes on in undemocratic societies. And this ignorance stems largely from the fact that the bodies it relies on to provide information — the media and nongovernmental organizations — devote most of their energy to the low-hanging fruit, exposing real or imagined failings by democracies, instead of focusing on dictatorships, where getting information is much harder.

The openly pro-Palestinian reporter Amira Hass provided an excellent example in Monday’s Haaretz. At a Ramallah store where everyone was watching Al Jazeera, an employee asked if she had caught what a Tunisian protester just said: that “the Palestinians’ situation is better than that of the Tunisians, that they [the Palestinians] have food.”

I told him this was the same impression members of Egyptian solidarity delegations had upon visiting the Gaza Strip after Operation Cast Lead [Israel’s 2009 war with Hamas]. They were amazed at the abundance of food, especially fruits and vegetables, they were able to find in Gaza. And I heard that not from the Israeli Civil Administration spokesmen but from Egyptians and Palestinians.

But nobody would know this from media or NGO reports. Can anyone remember reading a news story about food shortages in Egypt or Tunisia in recent years? Yet hundreds of articles have been published about alleged humanitarian distress in Gaza, including many that claimed Israel’s blockade was causing starvation.

Indeed, the UN has run an annual humanitarian-aid appeal for the West Bank and Gaza since 2003; this year, it’s seeking $567 million, making it the organization’s fifth-largest “emergency campaign.” Can anyone remember the last UN appeal for aid to Egypt or Tunisia?

The same goes for NGOs. On Amnesty International’s website, the “features” page has nothing about either Egypt or Tunisia. Yet Israel merits two condemnatory features (the only country so honored), including the top-billed story — which, naturally, alleges food shortages in Gaza due to Israel’s blockade.

Then there’s the UN Human Rights Council — which, as Rubinstein noted, actually praised the human-rights situation in both Egypt and Tunisia, even as it issued 27 separate resolutions slamming Israel.

Thus most Westerners were utterly clueless about the economic distress and oppression that fueled the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings. Indeed, based on the available information, the reasonable assumption would have been that Gaza, not Egypt or Tunisia, was the place most likely to explode.

Human Rights Watch founder Robert Bernstein decried his own organization in 2009 for betraying its “original mission to pry open closed societies” — to shed light precisely on those dark corners where information isn’t easily available — in favor of a focus on open societies, especially Israel. That, as I’ve argued repeatedly, leaves the world’s most oppressed people voiceless.

But it turns out the obsessive media/NGO focus on Israel also has another price: depriving the West of the information it needs to make sound judgments and set wise policy.

Amnon Rubinstein, a former Knesset member and minister from Israel’s left-wing Meretz Party, made an important point in today’s Jerusalem Post. The uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt took the West by surprise, he wrote, because Westerners know almost nothing about what goes on in undemocratic societies. And this ignorance stems largely from the fact that the bodies it relies on to provide information — the media and nongovernmental organizations — devote most of their energy to the low-hanging fruit, exposing real or imagined failings by democracies, instead of focusing on dictatorships, where getting information is much harder.

The openly pro-Palestinian reporter Amira Hass provided an excellent example in Monday’s Haaretz. At a Ramallah store where everyone was watching Al Jazeera, an employee asked if she had caught what a Tunisian protester just said: that “the Palestinians’ situation is better than that of the Tunisians, that they [the Palestinians] have food.”

I told him this was the same impression members of Egyptian solidarity delegations had upon visiting the Gaza Strip after Operation Cast Lead [Israel’s 2009 war with Hamas]. They were amazed at the abundance of food, especially fruits and vegetables, they were able to find in Gaza. And I heard that not from the Israeli Civil Administration spokesmen but from Egyptians and Palestinians.

But nobody would know this from media or NGO reports. Can anyone remember reading a news story about food shortages in Egypt or Tunisia in recent years? Yet hundreds of articles have been published about alleged humanitarian distress in Gaza, including many that claimed Israel’s blockade was causing starvation.

Indeed, the UN has run an annual humanitarian-aid appeal for the West Bank and Gaza since 2003; this year, it’s seeking $567 million, making it the organization’s fifth-largest “emergency campaign.” Can anyone remember the last UN appeal for aid to Egypt or Tunisia?

The same goes for NGOs. On Amnesty International’s website, the “features” page has nothing about either Egypt or Tunisia. Yet Israel merits two condemnatory features (the only country so honored), including the top-billed story — which, naturally, alleges food shortages in Gaza due to Israel’s blockade.

Then there’s the UN Human Rights Council — which, as Rubinstein noted, actually praised the human-rights situation in both Egypt and Tunisia, even as it issued 27 separate resolutions slamming Israel.

Thus most Westerners were utterly clueless about the economic distress and oppression that fueled the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings. Indeed, based on the available information, the reasonable assumption would have been that Gaza, not Egypt or Tunisia, was the place most likely to explode.

Human Rights Watch founder Robert Bernstein decried his own organization in 2009 for betraying its “original mission to pry open closed societies” — to shed light precisely on those dark corners where information isn’t easily available — in favor of a focus on open societies, especially Israel. That, as I’ve argued repeatedly, leaves the world’s most oppressed people voiceless.

But it turns out the obsessive media/NGO focus on Israel also has another price: depriving the West of the information it needs to make sound judgments and set wise policy.

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Palestinian Authority Announces ‘Surprise’ Elections

The Associated Press reports that, in a “surprise move,” Palestinian Prime Minister Fayyad’s cabinet said it would set dates for local elections soon. The AP says the announcement reflects fears that Egypt-like protests could inspire unrest in the West Bank.

You can understand the thinking. Hosni Mubarak got protests while he was still serving his term of office; Mahmoud Abbas is about to begin the 74th month of his 48-month one. Mubarak at least had a presidential election scheduled for September, even if he (or his son) would have run — like Abbas in 2005 — effectively unopposed. Abbas has no election scheduled, nor any prospect of scheduling one, since he cannot campaign in half his territory and might not win in the other half, as his standing has been damaged by disclosures that he made minimal private concessions in peace talks with Israel.

Nor will elections be scheduled for the non-functioning Palestinian parliament, because its principal factions cannot co-exist with each other in a single state, ever since one of them threw members of the other off the top of buildings, and the other started arresting its opponents in the West Bank as part of efforts to build a security state much like … Egypt.

At least elections for local councils may now be held, even though they will result from fear rather than compliance with last year’s order of the Palestinian “High Court,” which the formerly fearless Abbas/Fayyad government ignored as it headed into the final months of its two-year plan to build a state.

The Associated Press reports that, in a “surprise move,” Palestinian Prime Minister Fayyad’s cabinet said it would set dates for local elections soon. The AP says the announcement reflects fears that Egypt-like protests could inspire unrest in the West Bank.

You can understand the thinking. Hosni Mubarak got protests while he was still serving his term of office; Mahmoud Abbas is about to begin the 74th month of his 48-month one. Mubarak at least had a presidential election scheduled for September, even if he (or his son) would have run — like Abbas in 2005 — effectively unopposed. Abbas has no election scheduled, nor any prospect of scheduling one, since he cannot campaign in half his territory and might not win in the other half, as his standing has been damaged by disclosures that he made minimal private concessions in peace talks with Israel.

Nor will elections be scheduled for the non-functioning Palestinian parliament, because its principal factions cannot co-exist with each other in a single state, ever since one of them threw members of the other off the top of buildings, and the other started arresting its opponents in the West Bank as part of efforts to build a security state much like … Egypt.

At least elections for local councils may now be held, even though they will result from fear rather than compliance with last year’s order of the Palestinian “High Court,” which the formerly fearless Abbas/Fayyad government ignored as it headed into the final months of its two-year plan to build a state.

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Clinton, Jordanian FM: No. 1 Priority Is Israeli/Palestinian Peace Process

Tunisia’s transition government is creating black lists of long-serving officials to be expelled from the government, which covers most of the people who have experience governing. Egypt is literally on fire, Yemen is about to follow, and Jordan is on deck. The nightmare land-for-peace scenario — where Israel cedes strategic depth to a stable government only to see it fall to radicals who abandon previous agreements — is roughly at 50/50 right now, with only an unstable Egyptian government standing in the way.

Under normal thinking, the uncertainty over land-for-peace would cause a rethinking of land-for-peace, and violent riots would engender a focus on things that aren’t violent riots. But dogma is dogma:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday that peace in the Middle East remained the top US priority, despite unrest in the region and a leak of alleged Palestinian negotiation documents. Clinton confirmed she would head next week to Munich for talks of the “Quartet” of Middle East mediators and said she spoke at length about the conflict with Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh of Jordan, a close US partner. “For both our nations, permanent peace in the Middle East remains our number one priority,” Clinton told a joint news conference with Judeh. … “Such an agreement, Jordan and the United States believe, will not only bring peace and prosperity to those who are directly affected, but it will be a major step toward a world free of extremism,” she said. [emphasis added]

Good to see that the Jordanians are keeping their eyes on the ball, too, despite already facing tribal pressure and now being subject to the same economic-Islamist alliance sweeping the rest of the Middle East. Given the Palestinian Authority’s precarious weakness, it’s not unlikely that a West Bank state would quickly become radicalized, with the instability spilling across the Jordan River and all the way into Amman. Though, in fairness, under this scenario, their declared “number one priority” would have been solved, and Israel would be out of the West Bank, such that they’d finally be able to focus on less-critical issues like the Jordanian kingdom not getting overthrown.

Usually the diplomatic obsession with Israel — irrational and incoherent as it is — at least has the quality of being interesting. Foreign-policy experts have to invent elaborate geopolitical and geo-cultural theories like linkage. Then, because those theories are wrong, they have to come up with creative epistemic and rhetorical ways of justifying them — insider access to Muslim diplomats, movement detectable only to experts, critical distinctions between public and private spheres in the Arab world, etc. It’s like reading about all the brilliant people who tried to save the medieval church’s Earth-centered solar system by sticking epicycles everywhere. Sure, it’s a last-ditch effort to save a fundamentally incorrect theory, one being propped up in the interests of ideology — but at least it’s interesting.

This, in sharp contrast, is just silly. And while I hope and think that the secretary of state was just mouthing the usual ritualistic incantations, the fact that she felt the need to do so shows how far removed from reality Middle East diplomacy has gotten.

Tunisia’s transition government is creating black lists of long-serving officials to be expelled from the government, which covers most of the people who have experience governing. Egypt is literally on fire, Yemen is about to follow, and Jordan is on deck. The nightmare land-for-peace scenario — where Israel cedes strategic depth to a stable government only to see it fall to radicals who abandon previous agreements — is roughly at 50/50 right now, with only an unstable Egyptian government standing in the way.

Under normal thinking, the uncertainty over land-for-peace would cause a rethinking of land-for-peace, and violent riots would engender a focus on things that aren’t violent riots. But dogma is dogma:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday that peace in the Middle East remained the top US priority, despite unrest in the region and a leak of alleged Palestinian negotiation documents. Clinton confirmed she would head next week to Munich for talks of the “Quartet” of Middle East mediators and said she spoke at length about the conflict with Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh of Jordan, a close US partner. “For both our nations, permanent peace in the Middle East remains our number one priority,” Clinton told a joint news conference with Judeh. … “Such an agreement, Jordan and the United States believe, will not only bring peace and prosperity to those who are directly affected, but it will be a major step toward a world free of extremism,” she said. [emphasis added]

Good to see that the Jordanians are keeping their eyes on the ball, too, despite already facing tribal pressure and now being subject to the same economic-Islamist alliance sweeping the rest of the Middle East. Given the Palestinian Authority’s precarious weakness, it’s not unlikely that a West Bank state would quickly become radicalized, with the instability spilling across the Jordan River and all the way into Amman. Though, in fairness, under this scenario, their declared “number one priority” would have been solved, and Israel would be out of the West Bank, such that they’d finally be able to focus on less-critical issues like the Jordanian kingdom not getting overthrown.

Usually the diplomatic obsession with Israel — irrational and incoherent as it is — at least has the quality of being interesting. Foreign-policy experts have to invent elaborate geopolitical and geo-cultural theories like linkage. Then, because those theories are wrong, they have to come up with creative epistemic and rhetorical ways of justifying them — insider access to Muslim diplomats, movement detectable only to experts, critical distinctions between public and private spheres in the Arab world, etc. It’s like reading about all the brilliant people who tried to save the medieval church’s Earth-centered solar system by sticking epicycles everywhere. Sure, it’s a last-ditch effort to save a fundamentally incorrect theory, one being propped up in the interests of ideology — but at least it’s interesting.

This, in sharp contrast, is just silly. And while I hope and think that the secretary of state was just mouthing the usual ritualistic incantations, the fact that she felt the need to do so shows how far removed from reality Middle East diplomacy has gotten.

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Why Did Peace Talks Fail? Abbas Wouldn’t Take the Pen and Sign

The New York Times is reporting today that former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert’s memoirs confirm what has long been known to be true: that in September 2008, Mahmoud Abbas walked away from a peace agreement that would have guaranteed a Palestinian state in virtually all the West Bank, Gaza, and part of Jerusalem.

Excerpts from Olmert’s memoirs were published yesterday in the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot, and his recollections, along with the Palestinian documents released by Al Jazeera this week, provide a fairly comprehensive picture of what went on in the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in 2008. This week we have been hearing a great deal about how accommodating Abbas was in “conceding” that Jews would be allowed to stay in their homes in Jerusalem and that Israel would not allow millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees to transform the Jewish state into one more Arab one. But the real concessions were, as has consistently been the case since the Oslo process began in 1993, made by Israel.

Olmert’s 2008 concessions were unprecedented. He not only was prepared to give the Palestinians their state; he also gave in on the question of an Israeli security presence along the Jordan River (that border would be patrolled by an international force with no Israelis present); he was prepared to allow Jerusalem’s holy places to be placed in the hands of a multinational committee; and he was even prepared to allow a symbolic number of refugees to settle in Israel while “generously compensating” all others who claimed that status. Read More

The New York Times is reporting today that former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert’s memoirs confirm what has long been known to be true: that in September 2008, Mahmoud Abbas walked away from a peace agreement that would have guaranteed a Palestinian state in virtually all the West Bank, Gaza, and part of Jerusalem.

Excerpts from Olmert’s memoirs were published yesterday in the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot, and his recollections, along with the Palestinian documents released by Al Jazeera this week, provide a fairly comprehensive picture of what went on in the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in 2008. This week we have been hearing a great deal about how accommodating Abbas was in “conceding” that Jews would be allowed to stay in their homes in Jerusalem and that Israel would not allow millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees to transform the Jewish state into one more Arab one. But the real concessions were, as has consistently been the case since the Oslo process began in 1993, made by Israel.

Olmert’s 2008 concessions were unprecedented. He not only was prepared to give the Palestinians their state; he also gave in on the question of an Israeli security presence along the Jordan River (that border would be patrolled by an international force with no Israelis present); he was prepared to allow Jerusalem’s holy places to be placed in the hands of a multinational committee; and he was even prepared to allow a symbolic number of refugees to settle in Israel while “generously compensating” all others who claimed that status.

These concessions represented grave setbacks to Israeli security and Jewish rights. Israel’s past experience with international security forces along its borders are mixed, though the horrible record of United Nations forces in Lebanon — which allowed terrorists free access to the frontier — is a reminder of the cost of relying on foreign troops to guarantee Israeli security. Similarly, it should be noted that the only period during which Jews — and members of other faiths — have had full access to sacred spots has been since 1967. Prior to that, Jewish access to the holy places was virtually nonexistent. Olmert’s reliance on the goodwill of an international community that has never been particularly concerned with Jewish rights was extraordinary. And as for the refugees, his willingness to allow some back into Israel and to compensate the others completely ignores the fact that the hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees from Arab countries who were forced out of their homes after 1948 seem to have been completely forgotten in his pact with Abbas.

Olmert would have had a difficult time selling such a terrible deal to Israelis, but the odds are they would have accepted it if it meant that the Palestinians were truly willing to end the conflict. But it never came to that. Why? It was simply because Abbas couldn’t bring himself to take yes for an answer. For all the chatter about how many concessions the Palestinians were willing to make, when it came to actually making peace and taking the best deal possible, Abbas was no different from his old boss Yasir Arafat, who turned down Bill Clinton and the Israelis at Camp David in 2000.

As Olmert tells it, on Sept. 16, 2008, in a meeting at the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem, the Israeli handed Abbas a map showing his Palestinian state including parts of Jerusalem.

“Abu Mazen [Abbas] said that he could not decide and that he needed time,” Mr. Olmert writes. “I told him that he was making an historic mistake.

“ ‘Give me the map so that I can consult with my colleagues,’ he said to me. ‘No,’ I replied. ‘Take the pen and sign now. You’ll never get an offer that is fairer or more just. Don’t hesitate. This is hard for me too, but we don’t have an option of not resolving this.’”

Abbas and Olmert never met again. Faced with an opportunity to end the conflict and create the Palestinian state that has supposedly been his movement’s goal, Abbas couldn’t take the pen and sign because he knew that the culture of Palestinian politics was such that he could not persuade his people to compromise. The essence of Palestinian nationalism has always been and remains the negation of both Zionism and the legitimacy of a Jewish state. Concede that and there is no Palestinian nationalism. So once again, the Palestinians walked away from peace.

Yesterday Abbas’s top negotiator, Saeb Erekat, claimed in an article in the Guardian that the Al Jazeera documents show that the Palestinians had no partner for peace. We will continue to hear more big lies from the Palestinians and their Western cheerleaders in the future. But the truth is, as Abbas’s refusal to take the pen proves, even the most moderate Palestinian leaders still can’t make peace.

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Partial Freezes, Complete Freezes, and Eskimos

One of the most interesting “Palestine Papers” is the Minutes of a September 17, 2009, meeting between Saeb Erekat (SE), the chief Palestinian negotiator, and Dan Shapiro (DS) of the White House National Security Council, along with several high level State Department people and George Mitchell’s chief of staff.

The Americans urged the Palestinians to commence negotiations even though the U.S. had been able to obtain only a partial building freeze. The discussion in the Minutes represents, in my view, a microcosm of the 17-year peace process.

Erekat expressed his unwillingness to negotiate with Benjamin Netanyahu (BN), since Netanyahu had made his position clear, which was unacceptable to the Palestinians:

SE: … On substance, from day one BN said: Jerusalem the eternal undivided capital of Israel, demilitarized state without control over borders or airspace, no refugees. Once you agree to this we can negotiate a piece of paper and an anthem.

Erekat’s position was that “anything short of 2 states on the 1967 border is meaningless.” He explained his theory on Netanyahu’s strategy:

SE: When Bibi talks about excluding Jerusalem it is to make sure we can’t attend, because he doesn’t want to.

DS: So by not going aren’t you playing into his hand?

SE: You put me in this position! It’s like having a gun to my head — damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

Netanyahu had set forth an adamant negotiating position, but also his willingness to negotiate without preconditions. The Palestinians responded with their own adamant position (nothing short of the indefensible 1967 lines) and their unwillingness to negotiate. If the Palestinians were correct about Netanyahu’s strategy, they were playing right into it — and blaming not themselves but the United States! Read More

One of the most interesting “Palestine Papers” is the Minutes of a September 17, 2009, meeting between Saeb Erekat (SE), the chief Palestinian negotiator, and Dan Shapiro (DS) of the White House National Security Council, along with several high level State Department people and George Mitchell’s chief of staff.

The Americans urged the Palestinians to commence negotiations even though the U.S. had been able to obtain only a partial building freeze. The discussion in the Minutes represents, in my view, a microcosm of the 17-year peace process.

Erekat expressed his unwillingness to negotiate with Benjamin Netanyahu (BN), since Netanyahu had made his position clear, which was unacceptable to the Palestinians:

SE: … On substance, from day one BN said: Jerusalem the eternal undivided capital of Israel, demilitarized state without control over borders or airspace, no refugees. Once you agree to this we can negotiate a piece of paper and an anthem.

Erekat’s position was that “anything short of 2 states on the 1967 border is meaningless.” He explained his theory on Netanyahu’s strategy:

SE: When Bibi talks about excluding Jerusalem it is to make sure we can’t attend, because he doesn’t want to.

DS: So by not going aren’t you playing into his hand?

SE: You put me in this position! It’s like having a gun to my head — damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

Netanyahu had set forth an adamant negotiating position, but also his willingness to negotiate without preconditions. The Palestinians responded with their own adamant position (nothing short of the indefensible 1967 lines) and their unwillingness to negotiate. If the Palestinians were correct about Netanyahu’s strategy, they were playing right into it — and blaming not themselves but the United States!

Shapiro suggested that the Palestinians had a sympathetic U.S. president and should start negotiating, given his commitment to them:

DE: The President has demonstrated a personal and real commitment to you. What you are saying indicates that you tend to discount the President’s commitment. It strikes me that it doesn’t seem to be worth a lot to you.

SE: This is not about personalities or conscience. Bush did not wake up one day and his conscience told him “two state solution.” It’s about interests. We have waited a painful 17 years in this process, to take our fate in our own hands.

But quite a lot happened in those 17 years. They got three offers of a state on substantially all the West Bank and Gaza, with a capital in Jerusalem — and turned all three down. They received all of Gaza and a chance to show they could build a state without threatening Israel — and demonstrated the opposite. They got a U.S. president personally committed to them, who undoubtedly would eventually push “bridging proposals” more to their liking than to Israel’s — and they refused to start negotiations without a complete freeze. A lot of opportunities came their way during those 17 years, while they were “waiting.”

In an old joke, a man tells a bartender he lost his religion after his small plane crashed in frozen Alaskan tundra and he lay there for hours, crying for God to save him, and nothing happened. The bartender says, “wait — you’re here.” “Right,” says the man, “because finally a damned Eskimo came along.” Some day Saeb Erekat will explain to some bartender that he was a negotiator for 17 years but nothing happened, except for all the damned Eskimos who came along.

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Palestinian Terrorists That Killed American Used Gap in Security Fence

Most accounts of the interaction between Israel and the Palestinians these days treat terrorism as largely a thing of the past. Yes, there are those nasty Hamas guys who run Gaza and shoot missiles over the border; but since the end of the terrorist war of attrition known as the second intifada, terrorism emanating from the West Bank has ceased to be much of a story. The reason for this is that strong Israeli countermeasures — of which the border security fence is the most important — have made it much harder for Palestinians to cross into Israel and kill Jews or those they think are Jews.

But there are still gaps in the barrier south of Jerusalem and it is apparently one of these that were used by Palestinian killers last month to murder one American woman and seriously wound another. Earlier this week, four Palestinians who are members of an independent West Bank terror cell were indicted for the crime. Thirteen men have been arrested in connection with this group. It is believed to be responsible for at least one other killing as well as rapes dating back to the summer of 2009.

The point here is not just the heinous nature of this crime, which was apparently committed simply because these Palestinians decided they wanted to kill some Jews that day. The hikers who fell into their hands were not Jewish but American Christians who the killers thought were Jews. The main lesson here is that the fence, which is routinely denounced as a crime against Palestinians, has saved countless lives, and that the American, Kristine Luken, a 44-year-old Virginian who fell prey to this terror group’s murderous impulse, may have died in large part because the barrier is still not finished. Those “human rights” groups and other anti-Israel activists who believe the fence is wrong should ponder the fate of Luken and the many Israeli Jews who have been killed by Palestinian terror in the last decade. Were the fence to be taken down, as so many Israel-bashers demand, the cost in blood would be considerable.

Most accounts of the interaction between Israel and the Palestinians these days treat terrorism as largely a thing of the past. Yes, there are those nasty Hamas guys who run Gaza and shoot missiles over the border; but since the end of the terrorist war of attrition known as the second intifada, terrorism emanating from the West Bank has ceased to be much of a story. The reason for this is that strong Israeli countermeasures — of which the border security fence is the most important — have made it much harder for Palestinians to cross into Israel and kill Jews or those they think are Jews.

But there are still gaps in the barrier south of Jerusalem and it is apparently one of these that were used by Palestinian killers last month to murder one American woman and seriously wound another. Earlier this week, four Palestinians who are members of an independent West Bank terror cell were indicted for the crime. Thirteen men have been arrested in connection with this group. It is believed to be responsible for at least one other killing as well as rapes dating back to the summer of 2009.

The point here is not just the heinous nature of this crime, which was apparently committed simply because these Palestinians decided they wanted to kill some Jews that day. The hikers who fell into their hands were not Jewish but American Christians who the killers thought were Jews. The main lesson here is that the fence, which is routinely denounced as a crime against Palestinians, has saved countless lives, and that the American, Kristine Luken, a 44-year-old Virginian who fell prey to this terror group’s murderous impulse, may have died in large part because the barrier is still not finished. Those “human rights” groups and other anti-Israel activists who believe the fence is wrong should ponder the fate of Luken and the many Israeli Jews who have been killed by Palestinian terror in the last decade. Were the fence to be taken down, as so many Israel-bashers demand, the cost in blood would be considerable.

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Middle East Optimism Requires Blinders

Optimism about peace between Israel and the Palestinians has always been a matter of religious faith rather than rational analysis. Every new proof that the process begun in 1993 with the Oslo Accords was based on false premises must be dismissed or ignored simply because believers in peace insist it is possible and because they wish it be so. While the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg has not generally been among the most dogged optimists about peace, he was still willing to co-author a 2,200-word essay with Hussein Ibish of the American Task Force on Palestine published on today’s New York Times op-ed page that argues that despite the evidence of our lying eyes, there is still plenty of room for belief that the process can be revived.

Their thesis rests on the idea that changes in the political cultures of both Israel and the Palestinians make progress inevitable. It is true that there is an overwhelming consensus within Israel in favor of a two-state solution and that even the supposedly intransigent right-wing government of the country has made it clear it is ready to accept a Palestinian state. It is also true that the Palestinian Authority under the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad has made great strides toward making the territories a better place for its inhabitants, though Goldberg and Ibish overestimate the PA’s abandonment of anti-Semitic incitement and the language of delegitimization of Israel. The PA has also created a security apparatus that has been allowed greater scope by the Israelis, and Abbas and Fayyad understand it is in their interest to clamp down on terrorism.

These are factors that theoretically ought to allow the two sides to come to an agreement and finally make peace. But that hasn’t happened. The reason is that the less-hopeful developments of the past few years are still far more important in determining whether the conflict can be brought to an end. Read More

Optimism about peace between Israel and the Palestinians has always been a matter of religious faith rather than rational analysis. Every new proof that the process begun in 1993 with the Oslo Accords was based on false premises must be dismissed or ignored simply because believers in peace insist it is possible and because they wish it be so. While the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg has not generally been among the most dogged optimists about peace, he was still willing to co-author a 2,200-word essay with Hussein Ibish of the American Task Force on Palestine published on today’s New York Times op-ed page that argues that despite the evidence of our lying eyes, there is still plenty of room for belief that the process can be revived.

Their thesis rests on the idea that changes in the political cultures of both Israel and the Palestinians make progress inevitable. It is true that there is an overwhelming consensus within Israel in favor of a two-state solution and that even the supposedly intransigent right-wing government of the country has made it clear it is ready to accept a Palestinian state. It is also true that the Palestinian Authority under the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad has made great strides toward making the territories a better place for its inhabitants, though Goldberg and Ibish overestimate the PA’s abandonment of anti-Semitic incitement and the language of delegitimization of Israel. The PA has also created a security apparatus that has been allowed greater scope by the Israelis, and Abbas and Fayyad understand it is in their interest to clamp down on terrorism.

These are factors that theoretically ought to allow the two sides to come to an agreement and finally make peace. But that hasn’t happened. The reason is that the less-hopeful developments of the past few years are still far more important in determining whether the conflict can be brought to an end.

The chief of these is the power of Hamas. Optimists like Goldberg acknowledge the fact that Gaza is a Hamas state and that no peace can be signed without its agreement. Unacknowledged in the Goldberg-Ibish piece is the fact that Abbas’s hold on the West Bank rests not on his legitimacy or the strength of his forces but on Israel’s unwillingness to allow it to fall into the hands of Hamas, as happened in Gaza in 2006. After all, Netanyahu’s predecessor Ehud Olmert offered Abbas a state in the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem in 2008 and was turned down flat. President Obama’s foolish insistence on an Israeli settlement freeze even in those areas (as the recently released Al Jazeera documents show) the PA had already agreed would stay in Israeli hands has made it impossible for those talks to be renewed. But even if Abbas were to return to the table, he would be faced with the same dilemma he had before. Were he to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state, no matter where its borders were drawn, he would face the wrath of his own people (as the reaction from the released documents proves), and even Israel’s support might not be enough to keep him in power, or alive.

Goldberg and Ibish conclude their lengthy article by calling for both Netanyahu and Abbas to visit the other side and acknowledge their antagonists’ respective rights and pain much in the way that Anwar Sadat and King Hussein of Jordan once did. But they forget that the original Oslo Accords were just such an acknowledgment, and that while Israelis swooned over such gestures (even though Yasir Arafat’s credibility was very much doubtful), Palestinians merely took Israel’s willingness to make concessions as a sign of weakness and lack of faith in the rightness of their cause. Moreover, Abbas doesn’t dare do more. In a region where both Israel and the PA are faced with the growing influence of Iran and its allies Hezbollah (which is moving toward control of Lebanon) and Hamas, the tide of extremism is more than a match for Fayyad’s pragmatism. Under such circumstances, optimism about peace requires the sort of tunnel vision that comes only with blind faith.

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The Difference Between Public and Private Words

Robin Shepherd, Director — International Affairs at the Henry Jackson Society in London, notes that after the Palestinian leadership “accepts what any reasonable person has been able to accept for decades,” the Guardian “slams them as surrender monkeys” — since the paper is “more hardline against Israel than the Palestinian leadership itself”:

But it gets worse. The only conceivable way out of this for the anti-Israel community is to turn this all upside down and argue — as analysts, reporters (anyone they can get their hands on) have been doing on the BBC all day — that what this really shows is the extent of Israeli “intransigence”: the Palestinians offer all these concessions, and still the Israelis say no! …

Tragicomically, it just won’t wash. Privately and morally, senior Palestinians can see that there is nothing illegitimate or even especially problematic about most of the “settlements” (as reasonable observers of the MidEast have been saying for years). This we know from the leaks themselves. But publicly and politically they cannot sell such concessions to their own people. … because they educate their own people in an implacable rejectionism which extends to the “moderate” Palestinian authority glorifying suicide bombers and other terrorists by naming streets and squares after them.

The irony of the “concessions” reflected in the Palestine Papers is that they fell far below the minimum necessary to obtain a Palestinian state, but far beyond what Al Jazeera and Al Guardian would accept once they found out about them.

The Palestinian Authority “conceded” some Jewish areas of Jerusalem could stay Jewish … but not Har Homa, a community with nearly 10,000 people (more than the total number withdrawn from Gaza in 2005). They “conceded” some Jewish communities near the Green Line … but not Ma’ale Adumim, a city with 34,600 people located on strategic high ground right next to Jerusalem and directly connected to it, established 35 years ago. They “conceded” Israel could call itself whatever it wanted, but would not themselves recognize a Jewish state, much less one with defensible borders.

So, once again, as with Camp David in July 2000 and the Clinton Parameters in December 2000, the Palestinians declined an offer of a state on virtually all the West Bank and a capital in Jerusalem – and rejected George W. Bush’s proposal to “turn the private offer [made by Olmert] into a public agreement.” Having failed to educate his public for peace, Abbas knew what the reaction would be if he ever did anything in public other than glorify suicide bombers and name streets and squares after them.

Robin Shepherd, Director — International Affairs at the Henry Jackson Society in London, notes that after the Palestinian leadership “accepts what any reasonable person has been able to accept for decades,” the Guardian “slams them as surrender monkeys” — since the paper is “more hardline against Israel than the Palestinian leadership itself”:

But it gets worse. The only conceivable way out of this for the anti-Israel community is to turn this all upside down and argue — as analysts, reporters (anyone they can get their hands on) have been doing on the BBC all day — that what this really shows is the extent of Israeli “intransigence”: the Palestinians offer all these concessions, and still the Israelis say no! …

Tragicomically, it just won’t wash. Privately and morally, senior Palestinians can see that there is nothing illegitimate or even especially problematic about most of the “settlements” (as reasonable observers of the MidEast have been saying for years). This we know from the leaks themselves. But publicly and politically they cannot sell such concessions to their own people. … because they educate their own people in an implacable rejectionism which extends to the “moderate” Palestinian authority glorifying suicide bombers and other terrorists by naming streets and squares after them.

The irony of the “concessions” reflected in the Palestine Papers is that they fell far below the minimum necessary to obtain a Palestinian state, but far beyond what Al Jazeera and Al Guardian would accept once they found out about them.

The Palestinian Authority “conceded” some Jewish areas of Jerusalem could stay Jewish … but not Har Homa, a community with nearly 10,000 people (more than the total number withdrawn from Gaza in 2005). They “conceded” some Jewish communities near the Green Line … but not Ma’ale Adumim, a city with 34,600 people located on strategic high ground right next to Jerusalem and directly connected to it, established 35 years ago. They “conceded” Israel could call itself whatever it wanted, but would not themselves recognize a Jewish state, much less one with defensible borders.

So, once again, as with Camp David in July 2000 and the Clinton Parameters in December 2000, the Palestinians declined an offer of a state on virtually all the West Bank and a capital in Jerusalem – and rejected George W. Bush’s proposal to “turn the private offer [made by Olmert] into a public agreement.” Having failed to educate his public for peace, Abbas knew what the reaction would be if he ever did anything in public other than glorify suicide bombers and name streets and squares after them.

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Is This the End for the Palestinian Authority Leadership?

As more Palestinian Papers continue to leak out, the Jerusalem Post is reporting this morning that Hamas has called on Palestinians to protest the alleged “concessions” the PA offered to Israel.

Hamas’s incitement is no surprise. Since yesterday, Al Jazeera has reported that the PA offered the Israelis many of the settlements and admitted that the “right of return” was impractical. And tomorrow, the news network has indicated it will be broadcasting a story on the PA’s alleged collaboration with the Israeli security forces.

Jerusalem Post columnist Khaled Abu Toameh writes that the manner in which Al Jazeera has covered the papers is the equivalent of a show trial.

“In other words, PA President Mahmoud Abbas and his men have been convicted of high treason — which, in the Arab and Islamic world, is a crime punishable by death,” he wrote. “Al-Jazeera is now waiting for the executioner (the Palestinians, in this case) to carry out the death sentence.”

That seems like a very possible fallout from the papers. While PA leaders claim that the documents are inaccurate, they have little ammunition to fight back against Al Jazeera’s reporting. Al Jazeera is a widely respected news outlet in the Arab world; in comparison, Mahmoud Abbas’s government was already viewed suspiciously by many Palestinians.

Toameh sees this as the beginning of the end for the current West Bank government:

It’s hard to see how, in light of this damning verdict, the PA will be able to salvage what’s left of its credibility. Al- Jazeera has succeeded in instilling in the minds of many Palestinians and Arabs the belief that the leaders of the PA are a bunch of corrupt traitors who serve Israeli and American interests.

The damage to the PA’s image and reputation is colossal and irreparable.

Maybe not irreparable, but it’s very hard to see how the already unstable PA will be able to survive this one.

As more Palestinian Papers continue to leak out, the Jerusalem Post is reporting this morning that Hamas has called on Palestinians to protest the alleged “concessions” the PA offered to Israel.

Hamas’s incitement is no surprise. Since yesterday, Al Jazeera has reported that the PA offered the Israelis many of the settlements and admitted that the “right of return” was impractical. And tomorrow, the news network has indicated it will be broadcasting a story on the PA’s alleged collaboration with the Israeli security forces.

Jerusalem Post columnist Khaled Abu Toameh writes that the manner in which Al Jazeera has covered the papers is the equivalent of a show trial.

“In other words, PA President Mahmoud Abbas and his men have been convicted of high treason — which, in the Arab and Islamic world, is a crime punishable by death,” he wrote. “Al-Jazeera is now waiting for the executioner (the Palestinians, in this case) to carry out the death sentence.”

That seems like a very possible fallout from the papers. While PA leaders claim that the documents are inaccurate, they have little ammunition to fight back against Al Jazeera’s reporting. Al Jazeera is a widely respected news outlet in the Arab world; in comparison, Mahmoud Abbas’s government was already viewed suspiciously by many Palestinians.

Toameh sees this as the beginning of the end for the current West Bank government:

It’s hard to see how, in light of this damning verdict, the PA will be able to salvage what’s left of its credibility. Al- Jazeera has succeeded in instilling in the minds of many Palestinians and Arabs the belief that the leaders of the PA are a bunch of corrupt traitors who serve Israeli and American interests.

The damage to the PA’s image and reputation is colossal and irreparable.

Maybe not irreparable, but it’s very hard to see how the already unstable PA will be able to survive this one.

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Palestinian DNA Won’t Accept Equality with Jews?

More documents detailing Palestinian negotiating stands with Israel were released last night by Al Jazeera, providing observers with more information about the negotiations that took place from 2007 to 2009 between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The latest bunch show that PA leader Mahmoud Abbas was realistic enough to understand that the notion of Israel’s accepting a million descendants of the original 1948 refugees was a non-starter.

The idea that Abbas was giving up on the Palestinian dream of swamping Israel with Palestinian Arabs is widely seen as a disgrace among his own people, as well as with their European cheerleaders at places such as the Guardian newspaper, which has also played a role in revealing the documents. Some critics of Israel are claiming that the PA’s willingness to acknowledge that hundreds of thousands of Jews were never going to be turned out of their homes in Jerusalem as part of a peace deal shows that Abbas was a true peace partner. But the furor over these documents reveals anew the insurmountable obstacles to an agreement that are created by Palestinian public opinion. The problem is that anything that smacks of recognition of the legitimacy of a Jewish state (something that even these documents show the PA was never willing to admit) is considered anathema to the Palestinian street, not to mention that the Guardian seems to be as appalled by Abbas’s willingness to dicker over Jerusalem and refugees as Hamas has been. That is why, despite all the excruciating negotiations that took place with the Olmert/Livni government, which offered the PA a state in virtually all the West Bank, Gaza, and part of Jerusalem, Abbas’s answer was still no.

Even amid all these supposed signs of moderation on the part of the PA, a glimpse of the extreme nature of Palestinian political culture still shines through. For example, during one session involving then Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni and PA negotiator Saeb Erekat, the two explored the possibility that Israelis living in the Jerusalem suburb Ma’ale Adumim might be allowed to stay there if it became part of a Palestinian state. When Livni asked Erekat how she could provide Israelis “living in Palestine with security,” his reply was telling: “Can you imagine that I have changed my DNA and accepted a situation in which Jews become citizens having the rights that I and my wife have,” asked Erekat. “Can you imagine that this will happen one day?”

The Israelis present had no such illusions, and it soon became clear that any Jews living in Palestinian territory after a proposed peace would wind up like the greenhouses of Gaza that were left behind when Israel evacuated that territory in 2005. They would have to flee since, unlike Arabs living in the State of Israel, who enjoy equal rights as citizens, such persons wouldn’t last a day. This should provide an explanation to anyone wishing to understand why the majority of Israelis appear to have given up on the idea of a real peace with the Palestinians. Under such circumstances and with such peace partners, what hope is there for peaceful coexistence in the foreseeable future?

More documents detailing Palestinian negotiating stands with Israel were released last night by Al Jazeera, providing observers with more information about the negotiations that took place from 2007 to 2009 between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The latest bunch show that PA leader Mahmoud Abbas was realistic enough to understand that the notion of Israel’s accepting a million descendants of the original 1948 refugees was a non-starter.

The idea that Abbas was giving up on the Palestinian dream of swamping Israel with Palestinian Arabs is widely seen as a disgrace among his own people, as well as with their European cheerleaders at places such as the Guardian newspaper, which has also played a role in revealing the documents. Some critics of Israel are claiming that the PA’s willingness to acknowledge that hundreds of thousands of Jews were never going to be turned out of their homes in Jerusalem as part of a peace deal shows that Abbas was a true peace partner. But the furor over these documents reveals anew the insurmountable obstacles to an agreement that are created by Palestinian public opinion. The problem is that anything that smacks of recognition of the legitimacy of a Jewish state (something that even these documents show the PA was never willing to admit) is considered anathema to the Palestinian street, not to mention that the Guardian seems to be as appalled by Abbas’s willingness to dicker over Jerusalem and refugees as Hamas has been. That is why, despite all the excruciating negotiations that took place with the Olmert/Livni government, which offered the PA a state in virtually all the West Bank, Gaza, and part of Jerusalem, Abbas’s answer was still no.

Even amid all these supposed signs of moderation on the part of the PA, a glimpse of the extreme nature of Palestinian political culture still shines through. For example, during one session involving then Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni and PA negotiator Saeb Erekat, the two explored the possibility that Israelis living in the Jerusalem suburb Ma’ale Adumim might be allowed to stay there if it became part of a Palestinian state. When Livni asked Erekat how she could provide Israelis “living in Palestine with security,” his reply was telling: “Can you imagine that I have changed my DNA and accepted a situation in which Jews become citizens having the rights that I and my wife have,” asked Erekat. “Can you imagine that this will happen one day?”

The Israelis present had no such illusions, and it soon became clear that any Jews living in Palestinian territory after a proposed peace would wind up like the greenhouses of Gaza that were left behind when Israel evacuated that territory in 2005. They would have to flee since, unlike Arabs living in the State of Israel, who enjoy equal rights as citizens, such persons wouldn’t last a day. This should provide an explanation to anyone wishing to understand why the majority of Israelis appear to have given up on the idea of a real peace with the Palestinians. Under such circumstances and with such peace partners, what hope is there for peaceful coexistence in the foreseeable future?

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Who’s Behind the Palestinian Papers?

As Noah and others have written, nearly all the supposed revelations in the Palestinian Papers were already public knowledge before yesterday. And while the media has unsurprisingly spun the story to make Israel look as bad as possible, the political fallout for the Israelis will be minimal.

In fact, as Noah pointed out, if the papers make any Israeli lawmaker look bad, it’s the current opposition party leader, Tzipi Livni. So if the point of the leak was to harm the Netanyahu administration, then this was a pretty brainless way to go about it.

One other possibility is that the papers were meant to undermine the peace process. But that would have been a failed strategy as well. The negotiations can’t get much deader than they are right now, so releasing the papers to that end is simply unnecessary.

The ones who have been most damaged by the papers so far are PA officials, who are perceived by hardliners in the West Bank as being too soft during negotiations. PA leaders have been extremely defensive about the leak today, claiming that the documents were doctored and that their statements were intentionally mischaracterized.

The Guardian noted the political consequences for the PA in an article yesterday, and pointed out that the leak could benefit Hamas:

Some Fatah leaders are likely to accuse al-Jazeera of having an anti-PA agenda by publishing the leaked documents, which they believe will benefit their Hamas rivals, backed by Iran — as shown in critical comments about the TV station in the documents themselves.

Al Jazeera, the news outlet the documents were released to, is also known to have a bias against the PA. So it seems reasonable that whoever released the papers may have been aiming to embarrass the current West Bank leadership. The question is who?

Hamas officials or sympathizers are one possibility. But there isn’t a strong likelihood that anyone like that would have had access to these government documents.

It’s also possible that the leak could have come from a current or former PA official who has an ax to grind with the present leadership. And while there are many possibilities, one name has been mentioned as a potential leaker: Muhammad Dahlan. Once an extremely powerful Fatah leader, Dahlan has undergone a steep fall from grace over the past few months. After clashing with President Mahmoud Abbas, Dahlan has been exiled from the Fatah movement, stripped of his government position, and is currently being investigated for allegedly plotting to overthrow Abbas.

It’s likely that Dahlan would have access to the types of documents that were released. And he certainly has a reason to want to weaken the current Fatah leadership.

Of course, there’s no serious evidence linking Dahlan to the leak. And there are undoubtedly many others in the PA government and elsewhere who would also have a motive to release the documents. But one thing seems to be obvious, based on the evidence so far. Despite the media spin, the Israelis were not the intended target.

As Noah and others have written, nearly all the supposed revelations in the Palestinian Papers were already public knowledge before yesterday. And while the media has unsurprisingly spun the story to make Israel look as bad as possible, the political fallout for the Israelis will be minimal.

In fact, as Noah pointed out, if the papers make any Israeli lawmaker look bad, it’s the current opposition party leader, Tzipi Livni. So if the point of the leak was to harm the Netanyahu administration, then this was a pretty brainless way to go about it.

One other possibility is that the papers were meant to undermine the peace process. But that would have been a failed strategy as well. The negotiations can’t get much deader than they are right now, so releasing the papers to that end is simply unnecessary.

The ones who have been most damaged by the papers so far are PA officials, who are perceived by hardliners in the West Bank as being too soft during negotiations. PA leaders have been extremely defensive about the leak today, claiming that the documents were doctored and that their statements were intentionally mischaracterized.

The Guardian noted the political consequences for the PA in an article yesterday, and pointed out that the leak could benefit Hamas:

Some Fatah leaders are likely to accuse al-Jazeera of having an anti-PA agenda by publishing the leaked documents, which they believe will benefit their Hamas rivals, backed by Iran — as shown in critical comments about the TV station in the documents themselves.

Al Jazeera, the news outlet the documents were released to, is also known to have a bias against the PA. So it seems reasonable that whoever released the papers may have been aiming to embarrass the current West Bank leadership. The question is who?

Hamas officials or sympathizers are one possibility. But there isn’t a strong likelihood that anyone like that would have had access to these government documents.

It’s also possible that the leak could have come from a current or former PA official who has an ax to grind with the present leadership. And while there are many possibilities, one name has been mentioned as a potential leaker: Muhammad Dahlan. Once an extremely powerful Fatah leader, Dahlan has undergone a steep fall from grace over the past few months. After clashing with President Mahmoud Abbas, Dahlan has been exiled from the Fatah movement, stripped of his government position, and is currently being investigated for allegedly plotting to overthrow Abbas.

It’s likely that Dahlan would have access to the types of documents that were released. And he certainly has a reason to want to weaken the current Fatah leadership.

Of course, there’s no serious evidence linking Dahlan to the leak. And there are undoubtedly many others in the PA government and elsewhere who would also have a motive to release the documents. But one thing seems to be obvious, based on the evidence so far. Despite the media spin, the Israelis were not the intended target.

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Palestine Papers Confirm What Israel Has Said All Along

I don’t know whether the “Palestine Papers” published yesterday by Al Jazeera and the Guardian are real or, as Barry Rubin argues, a fake aimed at discrediting the Palestinian Authority’s current leadership. What is certainly false, however, is the claim, as Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland put it, that “Now we know. Israel had a peace partner.”

If the papers are true, then, as Noah pointed out, they show the PA agreeing to let Israel keep most — though not all — of the huge Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, which are home to hundreds of thousands of Israelis. The Guardian deems this concession shameful. Freedland terms it “unthinkable”; the paper’s editorial goes even further, accusing Palestinians of agreeing “to flog the family silver.”

Yet, as Rick noted, every peace plan of the past decade — starting with the Clinton Parameters in 2000, which virtually the entire world claims to view as the basis for any agreement — has proposed assigning the Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem to Israel. The Guardian is entitled to fantasize about a Palestinian state “created on 1967 borders, not around them,” but no serious mediator or negotiator ever has. Even UN Security Council Resolution 242, which everyone accepts as the basis for talks, was drafted so as to allow changes to the pre-1967 armistice lines.

Indeed, far from constituting an “unthinkable” concession, the PA offer detailed in these documents didn’t even amount to the minimum that every peace plan of the past decade has deemed necessary for an agreement — because every such plan, again starting with the Clinton Parameters, has also proposed giving Israel additional parts of the West Bank (usually in exchange for equivalent territory inside Israel) so as to allow it to retain some of the major settlement blocs. And, according to these documents, the Palestinians wouldn’t agree to that.

This, of course, tallies exactly with what Israel has said for the past decade. Israel never claimed that negotiations broke down over Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, but it repeatedly claimed that talks broke down over other issues, such as borders. In 2008, for instance, Ehud Olmert offered the Palestinians 93 percent of the West Bank plus territorial swaps equivalent to the remainder, but the Palestinians refused to sign: they insisted on land swaps of only about 2 percent (see here or here).

The Palestine Papers also claim that the PA agreed to cede exclusive control over the Temple Mount in favor of management by “a body or committee.” But that, too, was in Olmert’s offer: a five-member committee composed of Palestine, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the U.S., thereby ensuring an Arab majority. And, again, the Palestinians refused to sign. Indeed, PA President Mahmoud Abbas subsequently told the Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl that “the gaps were wide.”

The documents did, however, contain one revealing quote: chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat allegedly told an American official, “Israelis want the two state solution but they don’t trust. They want it more than you think, sometimes more than Palestinians.”

Whether or not Erekat actually said that, it’s unfortunately true. And until it changes, peace will remain a distant dream.

I don’t know whether the “Palestine Papers” published yesterday by Al Jazeera and the Guardian are real or, as Barry Rubin argues, a fake aimed at discrediting the Palestinian Authority’s current leadership. What is certainly false, however, is the claim, as Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland put it, that “Now we know. Israel had a peace partner.”

If the papers are true, then, as Noah pointed out, they show the PA agreeing to let Israel keep most — though not all — of the huge Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, which are home to hundreds of thousands of Israelis. The Guardian deems this concession shameful. Freedland terms it “unthinkable”; the paper’s editorial goes even further, accusing Palestinians of agreeing “to flog the family silver.”

Yet, as Rick noted, every peace plan of the past decade — starting with the Clinton Parameters in 2000, which virtually the entire world claims to view as the basis for any agreement — has proposed assigning the Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem to Israel. The Guardian is entitled to fantasize about a Palestinian state “created on 1967 borders, not around them,” but no serious mediator or negotiator ever has. Even UN Security Council Resolution 242, which everyone accepts as the basis for talks, was drafted so as to allow changes to the pre-1967 armistice lines.

Indeed, far from constituting an “unthinkable” concession, the PA offer detailed in these documents didn’t even amount to the minimum that every peace plan of the past decade has deemed necessary for an agreement — because every such plan, again starting with the Clinton Parameters, has also proposed giving Israel additional parts of the West Bank (usually in exchange for equivalent territory inside Israel) so as to allow it to retain some of the major settlement blocs. And, according to these documents, the Palestinians wouldn’t agree to that.

This, of course, tallies exactly with what Israel has said for the past decade. Israel never claimed that negotiations broke down over Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, but it repeatedly claimed that talks broke down over other issues, such as borders. In 2008, for instance, Ehud Olmert offered the Palestinians 93 percent of the West Bank plus territorial swaps equivalent to the remainder, but the Palestinians refused to sign: they insisted on land swaps of only about 2 percent (see here or here).

The Palestine Papers also claim that the PA agreed to cede exclusive control over the Temple Mount in favor of management by “a body or committee.” But that, too, was in Olmert’s offer: a five-member committee composed of Palestine, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the U.S., thereby ensuring an Arab majority. And, again, the Palestinians refused to sign. Indeed, PA President Mahmoud Abbas subsequently told the Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl that “the gaps were wide.”

The documents did, however, contain one revealing quote: chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat allegedly told an American official, “Israelis want the two state solution but they don’t trust. They want it more than you think, sometimes more than Palestinians.”

Whether or not Erekat actually said that, it’s unfortunately true. And until it changes, peace will remain a distant dream.

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RE: Palestine Papers: 99 Percent Hype, 1 Percent News

I would rank the news percentage slightly higher than Noah’s penetrating post, at least by comparing a document released yesterday — the May 21, 2008, “Minutes from Plenary Session on Territory” — with the just-released Makovsky Report on possible borders for a Palestinian state.

In the May 21, 2008, session — six months into the Annapolis final status negotiation — Tzipi Livni (TL) had a significant exchange with Abu Ala (AA) after he said that Palestinians could not accept Israeli retention of Ma’ale Adumim and Ariel. Livni noted that there were 38,000 people in Ma’ale Adumim and insistence on dismantling it would be “a historic mistake.” That generated this colloquy:

AA: There are 30,000 people in Ma’ale Adumim. They can live under Palestinian rule.

TL: You know this is not realistic.

AA: So take them [out], like you did in Gaza.

Livni responded that, under the Israeli proposal, many other settlers would be removed, and she challenged the Palestinians to accept a state with everything they could reasonably expect:

TL: … My question is why you cannot have a state that represents most of your aspirations? You will get some compensation. … Why do you insist on 98%? … I know you are going to get — not most ––almost all of your desires, and compensation for things you don’t get. Saying there will be no state unless it’s 1967, would be a shame. [The ellipses reflect my editing of a back-and-forth conversation -- RR]

In the Makovsky Report, the map showing a contiguous Palestinian state on 95 percent of the West Bank leaves Israel with both Ma’ale Adumim and Ariel. Ma’ale Adumim, with 37,400 people, is considered by most Israelis not as a “settlement” but as a Jerusalem neighborhood. Ariel, with more than 31,000 people (including the bloc to its north), is home to Ariel University, one of Israel’s largest institutions of higher education, with around 9,500 Jewish and Arab students. Neither city — each established more than 30 years ago — is going to be dismantled in any realistic peace agreement, not only because that is not necessary for a contiguous Palestinian state, but also because, more important, each is located on strategic high ground essential to defensible borders for Israel.

So the news out of a comparison of the Minutes and the Report is that the Palestinians, given yet another chance to establish a state in 2008, passed one up yet again, insisting on dismantlement of places not necessary for a contiguous state, which would have been offset by a land swap. The news, in other words, is not the concessions the Palestinians were willing to make but rather the ones they were not.

I would rank the news percentage slightly higher than Noah’s penetrating post, at least by comparing a document released yesterday — the May 21, 2008, “Minutes from Plenary Session on Territory” — with the just-released Makovsky Report on possible borders for a Palestinian state.

In the May 21, 2008, session — six months into the Annapolis final status negotiation — Tzipi Livni (TL) had a significant exchange with Abu Ala (AA) after he said that Palestinians could not accept Israeli retention of Ma’ale Adumim and Ariel. Livni noted that there were 38,000 people in Ma’ale Adumim and insistence on dismantling it would be “a historic mistake.” That generated this colloquy:

AA: There are 30,000 people in Ma’ale Adumim. They can live under Palestinian rule.

TL: You know this is not realistic.

AA: So take them [out], like you did in Gaza.

Livni responded that, under the Israeli proposal, many other settlers would be removed, and she challenged the Palestinians to accept a state with everything they could reasonably expect:

TL: … My question is why you cannot have a state that represents most of your aspirations? You will get some compensation. … Why do you insist on 98%? … I know you are going to get — not most ––almost all of your desires, and compensation for things you don’t get. Saying there will be no state unless it’s 1967, would be a shame. [The ellipses reflect my editing of a back-and-forth conversation -- RR]

In the Makovsky Report, the map showing a contiguous Palestinian state on 95 percent of the West Bank leaves Israel with both Ma’ale Adumim and Ariel. Ma’ale Adumim, with 37,400 people, is considered by most Israelis not as a “settlement” but as a Jerusalem neighborhood. Ariel, with more than 31,000 people (including the bloc to its north), is home to Ariel University, one of Israel’s largest institutions of higher education, with around 9,500 Jewish and Arab students. Neither city — each established more than 30 years ago — is going to be dismantled in any realistic peace agreement, not only because that is not necessary for a contiguous Palestinian state, but also because, more important, each is located on strategic high ground essential to defensible borders for Israel.

So the news out of a comparison of the Minutes and the Report is that the Palestinians, given yet another chance to establish a state in 2008, passed one up yet again, insisting on dismantlement of places not necessary for a contiguous state, which would have been offset by a land swap. The news, in other words, is not the concessions the Palestinians were willing to make but rather the ones they were not.

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Still Another Peace Plan

Today’s New York Times describes the report by David Makovsky of the Washington Institute — “Imagining the Border: Options for Resolving the Israeli-Palestinian Territorial Issue” — which provides detailed maps showing that Israel’s borders could cover 80 percent of the settlers while providing Palestinians a contiguous state on 95 percent of the West Bank. Makovsky tells the Times that his report shows peace is possible:

The goal, Mr. Makovsky said, is to “demystify” the territorial hurdles that divide Israelis and Palestinians, and to debunk the notion that there is no way to reconcile the Palestinian demand for sovereignty over the West Bank with the Israeli demand for control over a majority of the settlers. … “There are land swaps that would offset whatever settlements Israel would retain. The impossible is attainable.”

Makovsky’s report demonstrates that the stated premise of the Palestinian’s draft UN resolution — that the settlements are “a major obstacle to the achievement of a just, lasting and comprehensive peace” — is false. But this is not exactly news: the premise has been demonstrably false for more than 10 years. If you look at the Makovsky map the Times links to in its article and compare it to Dennis Ross’s map of the Clinton Parameters (posted here), you can see the two maps are substantially the same.

In the past 10 years, the Palestinians received two offers of a contiguous state on virtually the entire West Bank — first in 2000 and again in 2008 — and rejected them both (for a total of seven rejections of a state since 1919). They received a settlementrein Gaza in 2005 and turned it into Hamastan. They demanded a settlement freeze as a precondition to negotiations (without offering any concessions of their own), got a 10-month moratorium on new construction … and refused to negotiate.

They could have had a state long ago, if a second state were what they wanted. But the Palestinian Authority is already a failed state several times over — unwilling to recognize a Jewish state next to it, unable to “live side by side in peace and security”™ even when given land without a single settler in it, unable to negotiate even when given a 10-month settlement freeze, unable even to hold local elections in the half-state it governs.

The Makovsky report is ultimately irrelevant, since it proposes a “solution” to what is not the problem.

Today’s New York Times describes the report by David Makovsky of the Washington Institute — “Imagining the Border: Options for Resolving the Israeli-Palestinian Territorial Issue” — which provides detailed maps showing that Israel’s borders could cover 80 percent of the settlers while providing Palestinians a contiguous state on 95 percent of the West Bank. Makovsky tells the Times that his report shows peace is possible:

The goal, Mr. Makovsky said, is to “demystify” the territorial hurdles that divide Israelis and Palestinians, and to debunk the notion that there is no way to reconcile the Palestinian demand for sovereignty over the West Bank with the Israeli demand for control over a majority of the settlers. … “There are land swaps that would offset whatever settlements Israel would retain. The impossible is attainable.”

Makovsky’s report demonstrates that the stated premise of the Palestinian’s draft UN resolution — that the settlements are “a major obstacle to the achievement of a just, lasting and comprehensive peace” — is false. But this is not exactly news: the premise has been demonstrably false for more than 10 years. If you look at the Makovsky map the Times links to in its article and compare it to Dennis Ross’s map of the Clinton Parameters (posted here), you can see the two maps are substantially the same.

In the past 10 years, the Palestinians received two offers of a contiguous state on virtually the entire West Bank — first in 2000 and again in 2008 — and rejected them both (for a total of seven rejections of a state since 1919). They received a settlementrein Gaza in 2005 and turned it into Hamastan. They demanded a settlement freeze as a precondition to negotiations (without offering any concessions of their own), got a 10-month moratorium on new construction … and refused to negotiate.

They could have had a state long ago, if a second state were what they wanted. But the Palestinian Authority is already a failed state several times over — unwilling to recognize a Jewish state next to it, unable to “live side by side in peace and security”™ even when given land without a single settler in it, unable to negotiate even when given a 10-month settlement freeze, unable even to hold local elections in the half-state it governs.

The Makovsky report is ultimately irrelevant, since it proposes a “solution” to what is not the problem.

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