My latest piece for IPS News is up. It looks at the meeting today between Benjamin Netanyahu and Barack Obama and the fallout from it.
Al Jazeera unloaded a bombshell on the US-brokered Israel-Palestine diplomacy today when they released the first wave of what they are calling “The Palestine Papers.”
These papers consist of some 1,600 internal documents (e-mails, minutes of classified meetings, maps and strategy papers) from negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis from 1999-2010. The revelations are staggering, largely in that they confirm what most serious analysts have been saying for the past decade: that these negotiations have been futile from the beginning owing to the severe imbalance of power between Israel and the Palestinians and the US’ failure to act as an honest broker.
The revelations in the initial release include these:
- The Palestinian Authority (PA) was willing to give over to Israel all the existing territory on which Israel has established settlements in East Jerusalem except for Har Homa (Jabal Abu Ghneim). This was something Yasir Arafat had specifically refused to do in 2000
- The PA was also willing to settle for only a token number of refugees returning to Israel and would agree to a 1:1 land swap of 1.9% of West Bank Territory in exchange for an equal quantity of Israeli territory
- That Israel rejected these offers out of hand, while insisting that it was the Palestinians who were being intransigent
- That the US told the Palestinians that they must cede the areas of the settlements of Ariel and Ma’ale Adumim or the Palestinians “won’t have a state,” fully adopting the Israeli position
The US, frequently said to have acted as Israel’s lawyer, simply was not even trying to balance the power scales in these negotiations, but only adding the weight of the world’s only superpower behind that of the regional power, Israel.
Israel, for its part, is convincingly revealed as not being interested in reaching a deal with the Palestinians without a complete Palestinian surrender; there was no hint here of compromise, even with the allegedly more moderate Kadima government. Tzipi Livni, indeed, seems assured that the Palestinians would eventually have to agree with her, since the alternative would be dealing with Benjamin Netanyahu.
Let’s look at what these, and many other, revelations mean for each of the parties and for the peace process more broadly. Continue reading
My latest piece is up at allvoices.com. It concerns a historic petition being brought to the Israeli courts. You can read it by clicking here.
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
Virtually any article, except for unusually long ones, necessarily narrows its focus and leaves out important aspects of the broad subject it is discussing. In facile, pseudo-intellectual attacks, those who disagree with such articles often point out what is not there, as if it is possible, in just a few pages, to consider the breadth and scope of any problem, much less one as complex as the Israel-Palestine conflict.
In the new edition of the London Review of Books, there is a pair of articles, however, which, when taken together, give a fairly rounded view of the situation as it stands now in Israel and the Palestinian Territories. Making them perhaps more valuable and credible, the article criticizing Israel is written by a Jewish former executive director of the American Jewish Congress, Henry Siegman; while the article criticizing the Palestinians is written by an American of Palestinian ancestry, Prof. Rashid Khalidi.
Khalidi continues a theme explored in his superb book, The Iron Cage:The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood. Palestinians are often portrayed, by themselves and others in very distorted ways. By pro-occupation zealots, they are depicted as far more powerful than they are, and powerful enough to constitute a substantial threat to Israel. That characterization is absurd on its face, and it is a measure of the hysteria this subject can generate that there is a significant, albeit minority, number of people who actually believe it. But they are also often portrayed by their own supporters, and even at times by themselves, as completely helpless actors who are pure victims and have no role in creating the situation they now find themselves in. Khalidi’s valuable self-criticism paints a more realistic picture.
In “Shared Irresponsibility,” Khalidi draws careful attention to the actions of both Fatah and Hamas in creating the split that exists now in the Palestinian political body and which finds its expression in a geographical split between the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Khalidi writes, “Fatah and Hamas have been fighting for control of a Palestinian Authority that has no real authority. The behavior of both has been disgraceful…In the four decades since the founding of the PLO, there has never been such a gulf between two parts of the [Palestinian] national movement.” Continue reading
Last week, I reported on a petition circulating opposing a bill in the Knesset that would affirm the Israel Land Authority’s practice of leasing Jewish National Fund land in Israel to Jews only. I offer here some background on this issue…
It is often said that a major sign of discrimination against Arabs in Israel is that the cannot buy land. It is important to note that Jews can’t either. The exception is the 7% of land that is privately owned (about half of which is owned by Arabs and half by Jews), though this land very rarely changes hands. Instead, the practice governing the remaining 93% of the land, which is administered by the Israel Land Authority (ILA), is that it is leased, for terms that can be short or up to 99 years.
Of course, leasing ends up being discriminatory in practice, but on paper, Arabs have the same right and opportunity to lease land. The exception has been Jewish National Fund (JNF) land. This is the issue that has been raised in recent years by Arab citizens of Israel who have sued the state to allow Arabs to compete for lease tenders on JNF land. The claim is that since the ILA administers this land, it falls under the Basic Law of Israel which prohibits discrimination against any of its citizens. The Attorney General agreed and ruled that tenders for JNF land must be open to all. The High Court has not yet ruled, but it is widely expected that they will concur with the AG’s ruling. This is why the current bill, stipulating that JNF lands must be administered according to JNF guidelines (which stipulate that the land was bought for use by Jews) is being promoted in the Knesset. It is an attempt to circumvent the High Court and the Attorney General. Continue reading