The Palestinian Refugee Issue is Not Going to Resolve Itself

When I started getting serious about action on the Israel-Palestine conflict and the associated US foreign policy, I found it imperative to Talbieh Palestinian Refugee Camp in Jordanconvince people that the Oslo Accords were doomed to fail. There were the obvious critiques of the accords: the lack of any sort of human rights framework, the absence of consequences for failing to abide by conditions or fulfill agreed upon commitments, and the formal recognition of Israel without any mention whatsoever of a potential Palestinian state. But I saw an even bigger obstacle.

Conventional wisdom has it that Jerusalem is the most difficult stumbling block. But I have always maintained that it is the Palestinian refugees that were the most serious obstacle to a negotiated solution. Read more at LobeLog

Arab Democracy and Israel: They Can be Compatible

The following post was originally published on the Meretz USA blog. – MP

It is hard to imagine that a matter as explosive as The Palestine Papers (a massive leak of some 1,600 documents the Palestinian Authority had, including minutes, strategy papers, maps and e-mails) could be completely drowned out by other events, but the massive upheaval in Egypt has done just that. The implications for Israel and the United States of the widespread protests throughout the Arab world and the Papers are not yet fully predictable, but they are sure to be profound.

The Palestine Papers have exposed the “peace process” as a sham, with the Palestinian Authority offering concessions that would probably not have been acceptable to most Palestinians, Israel downplaying and even ignoring many of those same massive concessions and the United States doing nothing to bridge gaps and putting pressure only on the Palestinian side.

But the spreading protests in the Arab world signify a major shift in the status quo on the horizon. The United States, which learned nothing from its experience of forcefully keeping a ruthless dictator in power in Iran, has done the same with petty and violent dictators throughout the Arab world. Interestingly, the protests in Tunisia and Egypt, and the simmering ones in Jordan and Yemen, have been completely focused on those countries’ respective dictators, and there has been relatively little anti-American rhetoric thus far; or at least very little has been reported. This may have a lot to do with American silence on both matters and our quick abandonment of our favored proxies once it became obvious they had lost control. Or it may be yet to come.

In any case, the issues of the US and Israel, and even the Palestinians have been sidelined as Egyptians, like Tunisians before them, demonstrate for democracy to overthrow their tyrants. But these developments will have serious implications for the US and Israel nonetheless.

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