Understanding Netanyahu’s Rejection of the Arab Peace Initiative

On Monday, just two weeks after saying that he accepted the “general idea” of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative (API), Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected it as a basis for talks with

the Palestinians. This rejection is actually more than it seems, and it is important to understand both what the API itself says and, concomitantly, what Netanyahu’s rejection implies. Read more at FMEP’s blog, Facts On The Ground.

Where is the Israeli Sadat?

In this week’s piece at Souciant, I look at Akiva Eldar’s revelation that former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert refused an invitation to address the Arab League in 2007 in order to promote a regional peace process with the goal of fully normal relations between Israel and all Arab League members. It serves as a reminder that, while the Netanyahu government is so radically right wing and makes an easy target, Israeli obstruction of any steps that might lead to an end to occupation runs much deeper than the current government.

New Stuff: Miller, Avishai and J Street

Dear Friends,

My latest blog piece is now live on Allvoices.com. You can check it out by clicking here.

The “Right to Exist”: A Double-Edged Red Herring

When negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians begin to gather steam or, as is the case now, seem to be re-starting, emotions on both sides are stirred by the question of Israel’s “right to exist,” particularly its right, or lack of same, to exist as a Jewish state.

That such a debate would raise passions to a boiling point on both sides is self-evident. For Israelis, the question goes to the very legitimacy of their state and to the history of the Zionist movement. More, it implies a question of whether it is morally justifiable to seek to destroy Israel by any means necessary.

For Palestinians, the question has two layers: one, acknowledging and recognizing that Zionism succeeded in establishing the Jewish state. The second layer implies a demand that Palestinians acknowledge that their dispossession was justified and legitimate. Most, though far from all, Palestinians can accept the first layer. But search as hard as you might and it is unlikely you’ll find more Palestinians than you can count with your fingers that can accept the second.

Such a vexing question is not asked about other countries. The “right” of the United States to exist was not questioned before, during or after the Americans and their colonial predecessors nearly wiped out the native population. The right of Lebanon, a country sliced out of Greater Syria with an arbitrary pen stroke on a map, or of Jordan, a country split apart from the rest of the British Mandate over Palestine, to exist is not similarly questioned. But Israel’s is. By the same token, those countries do not ask for their “right to exist” to be acknowledged, merely that their sovereignty be recognized and respected. But Israel does ask this. Continue reading

Tipping the First Domino: An Israeli-Syrian Agreement

The Israeli daily, Yediot Ahoronot reported recently that the Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad, had reassessed its view on Syria’s sincerity in seeking talks with Israel. Mossad now agrees with all the other branches of Israeli intelligence that the Syrian overtures are sincere and that Israel should put Syrian President Bashar al-Asad’s willingness to the test.

The potential benefits of an agreement between Syria and Israel are enormous for many parties. The United States is one of those parties, although one of the few players who stand to lose from such an agreement are the neoconservatives and hawks in the Bush administration. There are also real obstacles to an agreement, especially in the arenas of domestic politics in Israel and the US. But the chief factor blocking Israel-Syria talks at this time is the Bush Administration’s refusal to allow them. This is not something often talked about, which is not surprising–one can only picture the response of the overwhelming majority of Jews to the news that the US is blocking Israel-Arab peace talks that Israel desires.

Yet for all the difficulties, a deal with Syria is a lot easier to attain for Israel than one with the Palestinians, and it might have just as many, maybe even a few more, benefits for Israel as well as the region as a whole.

The Ground On Which To Build An Israel-Syria Agreement

To understand the potential benefits, we must first understand where we are now. The Middle East as a whole is engulfed in burning conflicts, simmering conflicts and growing potential for conflict. The ongoing bloodshed in Iraq and Sudan, the deepening tensions in Lebanon and growing concerns over increasingly tense situations in Bahrain, other Gulf states, Egypt and even to some extent, Saudi Arabia make this always explosive region all the more so. The fuse that is sitting too close to the flame is Israel and the Palestinian Territories.

Though not always reported, there are multiple, daily incidents of violence between Israelis and Palestinians in both Gaza and the West Bank as well as ongoing clashes between Fatah and Hamas as well as other Palestinian factions from time to time. Israel’s deepening of the infrastructure of the occupation makes matters worse. The wall continues to be built, Palestinian land continues to be appropriated and Israel continues to discuss its plans to hold onto various chunks of the West Bank and the Jordan Valley. Promised relief from checkpoints and settlement “outposts” has not materialized, echoing for Palestinians the Oslo years when Israeli promises of peace were accompanied by a massive acceleration in settlement expansion. Continue reading

An Idiotic Initiative

As a matter of course, one might well ignore “peace plans” put forward by Knesset members like MK Benny Elon of the ultra-right Moledet party, a central member of the National Union coalition party. But Elon’s new “Israeli Initiative” bears some examination both because it may unfortunately become a significant part of Israel’s policy planning if Benjamin Netanyahu is elected Prime Minister after the fall of Ehud Olmert and because it has at least one point of interest.
Benny Elon
Under Elon’s initiative, Israel would annex the entire West Bank, placing it all under Israeli sovereignty. But the Palestinians in the West Bank would then become citizens of Jordan, without actually leaving, although those that wished to would be given financing to do so. Elon revives the old right-wing contention that there is already a Palestinian state, and it is Jordan. But he adds to this a fairly bizarre layer wherein Palestinians would be living on sovereign Israeli land, but would be represented by Jordan. Thus, they would be subject to Israeli security arrangements (this is the most basic characteristic of sovereignty, after all) and their only recourse would be to the Jordanian government in hopes it would plead and win a case with Israel. What happens in Gaza is unclear.

Elon either willfully misrepresents or completely misunderstands various polls of Palestinians who say they would move elsewhere if they could. Rather than ascribe this to the obvious, and accurate, cause–the misery, economic devastation and hopelessness of living under occupation–Elon decides this is because they don’t have faith in the Palestinian Authority, hence would not wish to live in an independent Palestinian state that would be led by the PA. He similarly distorts Jordan’s view by saying it sees the emergence of a Palestinian state as a threat, something that might be true if such a state was headed by Hamas, but not if it is headed by Fatah. Continue reading