The “Palestine Papers”: What Do They Mean?

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.

Lead PLO Negotiator, Saeb Erekat

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

Barring Chomsky, Another Blow to Democracy

I had been wondering only recently when Israel would bar the entry of Noam Chomsky. That time has come today.

About two years ago, I recall that the controversial scholar Norman Finkelstein had been detained at Ben Gurion Airport and eventually deported. I got some heat for not wanting to raise that as an issue for Americans and American Jews. My reasoning was that a country has the right to restrict who may enter its territory. In a democratic society, we expect that the country in question hold very stringent standards for who it might bar, and that the null assumption is that a visitor with a valid passport may enter.

Noam Chomsky

In Finkelstein’s case, he had, not long before, appeared publicly in strong support of Hezbollah. Did that make him a security threat? No one in their right mind believed that, but, in my view, it gave Israel enough of an excuse to bar him from entry that I felt the issue was one that should be taken up by Israelis and Palestinians, not Americans.

In reality, of course, Finkelstein was not being barred because anyone believed him a security risk, but because of his political views and scholarship. But he also acted in a way that gave Israel an excuse to do what it did.

The same cannot be said about Chomsky. I find it interesting that Chomsky is consistently described as “anti-American and anti-Israel.” I wonder how many of those folks have actually studied the breadth and scope of Chomsky’s work. He is, above all, anti-state. I cannot imagine a single country that would consider him a supporter of their government. Continue reading

Knesset Attempt To Cripple Israeli Civil Society

In the wake of the public row over the attack on the New Israel Fund, many supporters of Israeli civil society are stopping to catch their breath. The support NIF received was quite impressive and speaks very well about the deep and abiding care that Jews and our friends the world over have for the best ideals among Israelis as expressed by a stunning array of groups that seek to improve conditions both in Israel and over the Green line.

But while people recover from that episode, a far more dangerous threat has emerged, this time not coming from an ultra-nationalist private group like Im Tirtzu but from the Knesset itself.

Thousands marched last December in Tel Aviv in Israel's first human rights march

A bill that has passed its preliminary first reading in the Knesset, with the Orwellian name “Bill for the Duty of Disclosure for Someone Supported by a Foreign Political Entity,”purports to close “loopholes” regarding transparency of funding for Israeli non-profit entities.

In practice, the bill selectively targets a wide array of progressive groups and would seriously impact their ability to fund their activities or even to engage in them. Any state programs funded by “foreign political entities” would not be included in the bill’s restrictions; nor would right-wing groups which are universally funded by private money.

Before I explain how this would come about, we should first understand some background about non-profit organizations in Israel. The field there is very different than what most of us are used to.

In the United States, there exists a broad network of foundations and philanthropies, encouraged through tax examptions by the government, to fund various social causes of all sorts. In Europe, government funds are dispersed through various agencies that act much like foundations in the States.

But Israel has none of this; not surprising as Israel was born with the help of support from outside funding sources from the earliest days of the Yishuv through the creation of the state and up to the present day. Thus, Israeli organizations that pursue advocacy, social services and other forms of activism depend on funding from overseas. The government itself gets help from other countries to pursue various projects, as does Israel’s education sector, Israeli settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and a wide variety of Jewish religious and cultural projects throughout the country. Continue reading

Stand Up For Democracy, Civil and Human Rights In Israel

How pernicious is the campaign against the New Israel Fund (NIF)?

The group that started this, Im Tirtzu, bills itself as a centrist group, although its founder and lead spokesperson, Ronen Shoval, was also a leading activist against the Gaza withdrawal and ran for the Knesset on the ticket of the far-right Habayit Hayehudi (The Jewish Home) party. As the campaign against NIF started to flag, such right-wing all-stars who never let facts get in the way of their ideological programs as Gerald Steinberg and David Bedein jumped into the media pool to try to prop it up.

Im Tirtzu demonstrating at Na'alin, where regular protests against the separation barrier often leave Palestinians injured

But indeed it would be a mistake to see this as a hardcore right-wing attack. The Im Tirtzu campaign is certainly hateful enough, but the real threat came up when a drive in the Knesset began to set up a subcommittee to investigate the NIF. This drive, which failed as well, was not led by a fanatical right-winger, but by Yisrael Hasson and Otniel Schneller of the “centrist” Kadima party (that Kadima can be called the Israeli center realistically says much about the rightward drift in the past decade of Israeli politics, but thatg is a separate matter).

It is also worth noting that there was a lot of opposition to this idea, and it came not only from the left but also from Kadima (by MK Nachman Shai, for example) and from Likud (including such leading figures as Dan Meridor, Benny Begin and Michael Eitan).

The witch-hunters who have set their sights on NIF are not giving up, and Im Tirtzu and their supporters in the media (notably Ben Caspit of Ma’ariv, Israel’s second-leading daily newspaper) are still working to launch governmental probes of NIF and to revive Knesset legislation to prevent Israeli NGOs from receiving foreign funding (no similar action against settlements and settler organizations receiving foreign support is in the offing). Continue reading

AN ELECTION THAT OFFERS LITTLE CHOICE

In my capacity as the Director of B’Tselem’s US Office, I’ve been asked frequently of late about the Israeli elections that are winding down as I write this. In general, B’Tselem stays away from matters of politics. Our credibility is dependent on our being focused on human rights, no matter what the shape of the Israeli, or any other, government may be.

An Israeli ballot box

An Israeli ballot box

But this time, I could answer honestly: It really doesn’t matter. Historically, Israel’s observance of international legal standards regarding the Palestinians, while having its peaks and valleys, has moved independently of the party or Prime Minister in power. And in this case, none of the candidates has offered any hint that they are different from the others.

The exception is not one of the contenders for Prime Minister, and that is Avigdor Lieberman. And all that signifies is how much of a threat Israeli democracy is really facing.

Settlement expansion, lack of law enforcement on the West Bank, ongoing house demolitions, the effects of the Separation Barrier, the massive proliferation of roadblocks…and many other issues, all of them get the silent treatment from all of the major candidates. Continue reading