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.

Does Everybody Know What Everybody Knows?

The following piece was originally published at The Palestine Note

I wrote yesterday about a particular instance where I felt the Guardian (UK) had distorted and enflamed the content of one of the increasingly notorious Palestine Papers. Today, fellow blogger Bernard Avishai takes it a step further.

Avishai calls the Guardian’s coverage “outrageous” and openly wonders if “…the Guardian actually like(s) this conflict?” I think Bernie is somewhat overstating his case, but his essential point is valid.

Avishai points out that “Any prospective agreement would be a compromise,” and he’s right. For the most part, the really explosive stuff in the Palestine Papers, at least in terms of the Palestinian Authority, is the stuff of pragmatism and compromise.

Ceding Jewish areas in East Jerusalem? Perfectly consistent with the Clinton Parameters. Only a token return of refugees? This has long been understood to be at the very heart of the two-state solution, and precisely the reason so many Right of Return activists are also one-staters. Land swaps to minimize the number of settlers Israel would have to move? Again, this is a very familiar part of the discourse.

Ron Kampeas at the Jewish Telegraphic Agency sees something different in the Papers. As he puts it, “If anything, the documents shatter the illusion that there is a bottom-line consensus about certain settlements being annexed to Israel in a final-status agreement. Many groups refer to these as the “everybody knows” settlements, such as Maaleh Edumim and Efrat, both near Jerusalem.”

I think Kampeas comes very close to the mark as to the real significance of the Palestine Papers. Sure, those of us on the left see in it the confirmation of American bias toward Israel and Israeli reluctance to compromise.  But then why is it that the Americans and Israelis seem not in the least concerned about the revelations, while the PA is in a panic? Continue reading

Livni: I Am Against International Law In Particular

Wow. Tzipi Livni really lays it on the line in this one: “I was the Minister of Justice. I am a lawyer…But I am against law — international law in particular.  Law in general.”

Israel has generally argued that its policies are legal under international law. The classic example, of course, is the argument that the Fourth Geneva Convention, which governs, among other things, the behavior of states that occupy

Tzipi Livni, seeming to say "Yo, I got your international law right here!"

territory not their own, does not apply to the Palestinian Territories because they were not legally part of a state prior to the Israeli occupation. Sure, no one else buys the  argument (even, at least technically, the US doesn’t, though they’ve accepted the Israeli terminology referring to the Territories as “disputed” rather than “occupied”), but the ability to make the argument has always been important to Israelis.

Well, Livni does away with all of that, doesn’t she?

The comments were part of a discussion aimed at producing a joint statement at the Annapolis Conference. Livni went on to say that “If we want to make the agreement smaller, can we just drop some of these issues?  Like international law, this will make the agreements easier.” The disdain for international law, seeing it as an inconvenience and annoyance, both something undesirable and not much of an obstacle, couldn’t be clearer. Continue reading

The Need to Read the Palestine Papers With a Critical Eye

The Palestine Papers are certainly explosive, and very important. But this article in The Guardian (UK) also points up the need for some critical examination of the coverage of the Papers. There is a pretty important distortion in the article that really needs to be addressed.

Guardian writers Ian Black (who really should know better) and Seamus Milne write the following: Continue reading

PA Panicked by Palestine Papers

The PLO’s spokesman, Saeb Erekat, released a statement today in response to Al Jazeera’s publication of The Palestine Papers. The release is pasted below.

The statement would seem, at least at this early stage, to reflect genuine panic on Erekat’s part. The standard denial of something having been “taken out of context,” which is often very valid, plays very badly when the full contents of the minutes of meetings and entire documents are what he is addressing.

Saeb Erekat seems to know he's in a very bad position because of the Palestine Papers

His statement that the PA position has maintained the traditional Palestinian stances — “…to establish a sovereign and independent Palestinian State along the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital and to reach a just solution to the refugee issue based on their international legal rights, including those set out in UNGA 194…”– is clearly contradicted by the contents of the Papers.

Even more, the assertion that the PA made today, that Al Jazeera was essentially acting as a tool of the Qatar government, which is relatively friendly toward Hamas, has no foundation. It’s similar to the Israeli tactic regarding the Goldstone Report, which was to try to attack the source’s credibility rather than deal with the substance, which was largely unassailable.

Also today, a mob of Abbas supporters attacked the Al Jazeera headquarters in Ramallah on the West Bank. They did some damage an no one, apparently, was injured. The crowd was said to number around 250 people. Was that staged? Who can say, though I have my suspicions. But if a lot of Palestinians really bought Erekat’s response, that number would surely have been much higher; Ramallah is a pretty packed city.

Even if the PA, with its current Fatah leadership, somehow manages to stay in power after this, the PLO’s legitimacy as the “sole representative of the Palestinian people” is hopelessly compromised.  Continue reading

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