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.

Talk Talk Talk

Please check out my latest piece on allvoices.com, regarding the possibilities of indirect talks with Hamas. Click here to read it.

Hamas Driving A Wedge Between Israel and Egypt

On Monday, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni recommended that Israel permit Egypt to double its force in the Sinai along the border with Israel. This is a response to Hamas’ breaching of the Gaza border which has allowed them to place operatives in the Sinai. The results of that repositioning were felt yesterday in Dimona as a Hamas suicide bomber killed a woman and wounded 11 other people.

The Egyptians, of course, have been requesting an increase in troop presence for a long time. Instead of granting what was a sensible request from Egypt (the Israel-Egypt peace treaty strictly limits the number of Egyptian troops that can be stationed near the border, so Egypt needs Israel’s consent to increase the presence), Israel refused until circumstances literally blew up in their face.

Israel is also considering building a new fence along the Egyptian border. This, of course, is Israel’s right, and it’s not an insensible decision. The Gaza/Egypt border is not likely to be hermetically sealed as it was before; Egypt is likely going to have to allow more movement in and out of Gaza than it had before. This means that Hamas, despite what is likely to be a concerted Egyptian effort to prevent it, has an avenue to access to Israeli civilians for murderous attacks like the one in Dimona. The barrier is thus a sensible precaution, albeit one that is merely a band-aid and not the solution to the problem at hand.

It should be noted that this proposed barrier is different from the wall/fence snaking through the West Bank. Had that barrier been built, like the one around Gaza, along the line of Israel’s internationally recognized border, the Green Line, it would not have been the target for condemnation that it was. Israel has every right to build walls along its border if it wishes; erecting a barrier whose course is through occupied (or, if you prefer, “disputed,” in this instance the point holds in either case) territory is not within its purview, though it is obviously well within its capabilities. Continue reading

The First Step: Confronting the Settlements

The famous idiom from Abba Eban, that the “Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity” has often been turned back on Israel. Yet it is no truer in any arena than it is with regard to the diffuse Israel-Palestine “peace movement.” It is happening again right now, and one of the best chances to turn the tide, not to mention one of, if not THE last chance to save the two-state solution is once again being missed.

It’s a presidential election year in the US and the Israeli Prime Minister is bracing for the release of a report which could stand a chance of bringing down his government. And what, in these days, are President Bush and Prime Minister Olmert saying?

Bush is saying that settlement outposts “ought to go.” Olmert said the presence of those outposts is a “disgrace.” Were these empty words? Absolutely. Bush even said that Israel needs to end its occupation of the Palestinians and Olmert is fighting with Defense Minister Ehud Barak over the removal of some few settler outposts. Is this mere political posturing? You bet it is.A settler and a soldier

But the words are still sign of the times. Right-wing Israelis, fearful of both a withdrawal from parts of the West Bank as well as some arrangement to share Jerusalem, called a rally to protest Bush’s visit to Israel. But they were unable to bring large numbers of people to the demonstration. Israel is battling the (correct) perception that it has not undertaken the tasks it has agreed to in the past. Removing outposts, sharing Jerusalem, even removing established settlements are part of the political discourse in a way they have not been in the past.

What would it take to at least start turning these words into actions? The answer is the same as always: political pressure. And that, both in the US and in Israel, is sorely lacking. Continue reading

Stumbling Down the Road to Annapolis

My e-mail box has seen a great many messages in the past week calling for protest of the upcoming Middle East peace conference at Annapolis, MD. These have provided more evidence of how well the extreme right and left actually get along quite well despite disliking each other so intensely.

Americans for A Safe Israel is bringing its demonstrators to Annapolis. They essentially object to any settlement of the conflict that is not tantamount to a complete surrender on the part of the Palestinians and Arab states. They will be joined by the starkly Orwellian-named Shalom International, a Christian group that opposes any withdrawal by Israel from the Occupied Territories on religious grounds.

While no left-wing groups have, as of yet, announced any intention of physically protesting the conference, messages of protest from various small groups have been circulating. Most of these have been based on the point that the “Bush agenda” is being forwarded at the conference and therefore it should be opposed out of hand. Typically, alternatives are not presented nor, from my experience, even thought about for a moment.

Two liberal Jewish groups, Americans for Peace Now and Ameinu, have also announced that they plan to demonstrate in support of the conference.

In truth, this is much ado about nothing. The agenda for the conference has yet to be set, but the past few months have seen the Americans, Israelis and the Palestinian Authority all working overtime to tamp down expectations of this conference. And with good reason. Continue reading

Hope To Fix the Peace Conference, Not Bury It

The Middle East peace conference, announced with much ballyhoo over the summer and convened by the Bush Administration, is struggling, with good reason.

The easiest obstacle to overcome is the one that’s gotten the most publicity: the talks between Mahmoud Abbas and Ehud Olmert attempting to devise a joint Israeli-Palestinian agreement on some framework before the conference. There are many problems here, but both parties have a vested interest in making this agreement happen. Olmert needs to do something concrete to support Abbas, both in the eyes of Palestinians and of Israelis. Abbas needs to show he can get something accomplished with Israel, or his ability to hold control of the West Bank will be seriously diminished.

Yet both sides are facing increasing pressure, both internal and external, against any real progress being made. Saudi Arabia, for instance, remains noncommittal about its attendance at the conference. This is no small point. The Saudis’ absence form the conference will significantly diminish the credibility of any agreement reached in the eyes of the Arab world. But they are not going to give their imprimatur to a conference that doesn’t seem serious about addressing the Palestinians’ rights. The Saudis are also committed to try to bring Fatah and Hamas back into one unified government. This is now a long-range plan, as the Saudis surely recognize that Fatah has little inclination or incentive to pursue this goal right now. That means the Saudis have to be concerned about building relationships with both sides. Fatah is, at best, ambiguous (one might say divided) over the conference, and Hamas is strongly opposed to it. While Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Haim Ramon has opened the discussion about sharing Jerusalem in Israel, an aide to Mahmoud Abbas has made the explosive claim that the Palestinians must retain control over the holiest Jewish site, the Western Wall, an obvious non-starter. This illustrates the splits within Fatah more than anything else, as the aide, Adnan Husseini, surely knows that such a claim will never be supported even by the Arab League. Thus it should be seen as an attempt to scuttle the conference more than anything else. The Saudis need to tread carefully here.

While Hamas and Hezbollah have been vocal in calling on Arab leaders not to attend the conference, the reality that a failure of this conference will have severe repercussions, including repercussions beyond Israel and Palestine, is a much more significant force in casting a shadow over the proposed meeting. One of the purposes, from the Arab point of view, of this meeting is to put together some sort of united front to counter increasing Iranian influence in the region. For the Arab states, it is imperative that this be accomplished without military action, either by Israel or the United States. But both of those countries are not so kindly disposed to a diplomatic initiative, especially the US. Continue reading