U.S. Secy of State John Kelly on new efforts to improve the Palestinian West Bank economy

This is not a new idea, of course.

In fact, Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu is one of its main proponents… It’s just that the time was never ripe, before. Or, that the Palestinians were doing something to prevent implementation of Netanyahu’s good intentions [which Palestinians believe is a way of distracting them from pursuing their political goals, such as self-determination].

In any case, here is an excerpt from remarks U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made at Israel’s Ben Gurion airport just before leaving after a 42-hour visit to meet officials in Ramallah + Jerusalem. It was his first on-the-ground effort to prepare the way for eventual resumed Israeli-Palestinian talks:

“It’s our intention, and we all committed to this, every party, to continue our intensive discussions with the belief that they are constructive and they are in good faith, and that we intend to try to create the conditions for peace so that we can resume negotiations between the parties in a clear and precise, predetermined manner.

“We also spoke about other steps that could be taken in order to facilitate this process and to make it more conducive to success. Specifically, we agreed among us – President Abbas, Prime Minister Netanyahu, and ourselves – that we are going to engage in new efforts, very specific efforts, to promote economic development and to remove some of the bottlenecks and barriers that exist with respect to commerce in the West Bank, to move very rapidly towards increased business expansion and private sector investment in the West Bank, all of which, we are convinced, will help improve the economic security of the people living there as well as improve the security of the people of Israel. Economic growth will help us be able to provide a climate, if you will, an atmosphere, within which people have greater confidence about moving forward. But I want to emphasize – I emphasize this very strongly: This is not in lieu of, or an alternative to, the political track. It is not a substitute. The political track remains the primary focus. But this is in addition to, in a way that could help to facilitate that track, and I believe will begin to take hold immediately. I held discussions regarding these efforts with both Israeli and Palestinian officials, as well as with the Quartet representative Tony Blair, and other private sector business people. And this will be a focus of our work over the course of the next months in a very intensive way, and I will have more to say about this in the very near future…”
Kerry’s remarks at the airport before leaving the region today are posted here.

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Dan Meridor: another way to propose an interim agreement

A veteran Israeli politician, Dan Meridor, who speaks in sober and measured tones, says that the Palestinians have twice [in 2000, and in 2008] rejected proposals that would have brought about a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Meridor explained, in an interview [published by Al-Monitor] with Mazal Mualem, chief political analyst of Maariv, why this convinces him that only an interim agreement is possible now:

Al-Monitor: Where did negotiations with the Palestinians disappear to in the last four years?

Meridor: “The election campaign here created the illusion as if there is no Palestinian problem. Except for [Tzipi] Livni, no-one talked about it. A kind of fallacy was created here, that we can live with the situation for generations, and that is definitely not correct. It is an anomaly. For forty-five years we have an anomaly, and it is not important who is right. I think that we are right, but things can’t continue this way. Therefore I hope that the government that will be formed now will deal with it seriously, because a continuation of the current situation is dangerous for Israel.

There is an illusion that since there is no terror, we can continue this way. I think that the thwarting of terror is not only our success, but also Abu Mazen’s strategy. But if we continue in the same path we are on today, without clear borders, in the end we’ll have one state from Jordan to the sea, and this, in my eyes, represents a threat to the entire Zionist vision. I think that the Palestinians also have an interest in changing the current situation”.

Al-Monitor: So what actually happened here?

Meridor: “Four years ago, we ‘had arrived’. [Former Prime Minister] Olmert proposed a final settlement. He offered [Palestinian Chairman] Abu Mazen the entire territory, including partitioning Jerusalem, thus bringing an end to the conflict. Abu Mazen didn’t accept it. That poses a very big question for us. Why didn’t Abu Mazen grab that proposal with two hands, after he had dedicated dozens of years of his life to the Palestinian issue?

I don’t have a definite answer, but the fact is that, until today, the two very far-reaching proposals submitted by Israel to bring, at last, an end to the conflict encountered Palestinian rejection. I was involved in one of them, with [then Prime Minister Ehud] Barak and [then Palestinian Chairman Yasser] Arafat in Camp David [in 2000]. The second one, proposed by Olmert, I also observed from close up. I am ready even tonight to sign an agreement, but I am not convinced that the Palestinian side is ready”.

What does he think should be done?  Well, Meridor says that he does not want an interim [as opposed to final] agreement, but says that seems to be the only solution possible — at least for now. He says that Israel should announce an end to any further settlements [outside of Jerusalem, and already-existing settlements, which Israel intends to keep...]

And, he says, “We need to start to decide on the border, not to wait. An international agreement that is in the process of being formed is that the border will not be exactly like the 1967 borders, but will be based on 1967. That appears in Obama’s speech of two years ago, and appears in a letter from [then President] Bush to [then Prime Minister] Sharon. It even appears in the Geneva Accord of [Palestinian politician] Yasser Abd-Rabbo and [former Knesset Member] Yossi Beilin … Netanyahu delivered the Bar Ilan speech [2009], then went to the Knesset and said: I want the [settlement] blocs and Jerusalem. We froze [construction in] the settlements for 10 months, but Abu Mazen didn’t come. Therefore I don’t blame Bibi [Benjamin Netanyahu], precisely because we went far on this issue and you have to be fair”.   These remarks are posted on the Al-Monitor website, here.

Now, the Palestinians have said they absolutely do not want either an interim agreement, or a provisional state [another aspect of the same proposal, nowadays].   They have also been astonished at the suggestion that both Yasser Arafat [in July 2000] and Mahmoud Abbas [in September 2008] said “No”.  At least, they might agree, neither leader said “Yes”.  That, they explain, is because the Americans [the brokers, both times] and the Israeli negotiators knew that these proposals did not meet the Palestinian bottom line.  In 200 + 2001, Arafat was waiting for a better offer.  In September 2008, Mahmoud Abbas was waiting for Ehud Olmert to be indicted on  charges of corruption — so, the Palestinians concluded, Olmert’s offer wasn’t firm or reliable — and in any case a better offer might yet appear on the horizon.  But, the Palestinian negotiators agree, they were close, at least in 2008.  [We have reported here and on our sister blog, www.un-truth.com, that the differences were narrowed to something less than 3% of the West Bank territory.]

And, the Palestinian negotiators have said that they want negotiations to resume at the point they ended in 2008 [with the same proposals on the table] –  but it is the Israeli government negotiators who have refused…

We’ve heard it before: Netanyahu reportedly ready to offer Palestinians an old Israeli proposal of temporary or interim agreement [which the Palestinians have previously rejected]

In advance of U.S. President Obama’s planned visit to the region on 20-22 March [during which Obama will reportedly spend about 3 hours in Ramallah, as compared to 45 hours in Israel] Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu is reportedly planning to offer a “new” plan for arranging things with the current Palestinian leadership.

This has been heard before.

Meanwhile, the New U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said, in a joint press conference in Washington with Jordan’s Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh, that he and President Obama were planning to visit the region in order to “listen”.

This has also been heard before.

Kerry bravely proceeded, anyway, saying that “the President is not prepared, at this point in time, to do more than to listen to the parties, which is why he has announced he’s going to go to Israel. It affords him an opportunity to listen. And I think we start out by listening and get a sense of what the current state of possibilities are and then begin to make some choices. It would be a huge mistake, almost an arrogant step, to suddenly be announcing this and that without listening first, so that’s what I intend to do, that’s what the President intends to do”.

Jordan’s Foreign Minister Judeh said: “The most important thing is to have results. And I think that we’ve seen failed approaches, false starts, media events. I think we have to look at all of this and put it in perspective and see how we can produce results in the next phase. The Secretary and I are in full agreement that the window of opportunity on this is closing fast, and that makes it all the more important for us to work together in addressing this issue”.

[ Ynet is reporting here that on Thursday morning March 21, "Obama will depart for Ramallah to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Obama will return to Jerusalem by noon, when he will be taken by Netanyahu to examine a model of Second Temple Period Jerusalem. They will continue to the Shrine of the Book, where Netanyahu will show him the Dead Sea Scrolls"... and so on].

Akiva Eldar reported in Al-Monitor here that high-level Likud officials believe that Netanyahu “really appears to want to jump-start diplomatic negotiations with Palestinian Authority Chairman Abu Mazen in an attempt to bring about a long-term interim agreement. This, he feels, is because a final status settlement is not achievable in the coming years.”

Again, this has been heard before.

Not least of all when the same view was recently expressed by Netanyahu’s previous Foreign Minister, Alexander Lieberman.

The thing is, none of the Palestinian leadership, from Mahmoud Abbas to Khaled Meshaal of Hamas, will accept an interim or temporary agreement. They believe that Israel will continue to create facts on the ground, mainly in settlements in the West Bank, that will make the Palestinian state — and any solution — non-viable.

So, this will be an extremely irritating move, at least for the Palestinians — and, at best, a waste of time.

The UN Human Rights Council [HRC] in Geneva has just received a tough report that relies on international law to say that Israel’s settlements are illegal and must be evacuated.

We reported on reaction to this HRC report in late January on our sister blog, here.

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Clarification from Mahmoud Abbas — but not clarity

Does Mahmoud Abbas have the right to refuse, on behalf of Palestinian refugees caught up in fighting in Syria, the reported condition set by Israel [that these Palestinian refugees give up their Right of Return to their original homes that may be in areas now inside Israel] — in order to allow these Palestinian refugees to come to into the West Bank now?

Well, he said in Cairo on Wednesday night [9 January] that he refused this reported Israeli condition — which he said was communicated to him by UN Secretary-General BAN Ki-Moon — anyway.

Mahmoud Abbas and his delegated representatives have engaged in negotiations with Israelis for decades — and during this time, in some of these conversations, he was involved in conversations in which it was said, or rather speculated, that surely not every Palestinian refugee around the world would want to return to his/her original homes…

Some of these conversations, incoherent in part, full of innuendo that can’t be communicated by transcription, have been revealed in release of documents like the Al-Jazeera Palestine Papers.

In response, Palestinian critics have said that the Right of Return is an individual, not a collective right — and that Abbas had no right to give it up pr waive it in negotiations on behalf of each and every Palestinian.

Now, we are faced with the opposite situation.

It was Abbas himself who said, in mid-December, during fighting that had reportedly emptied 95% of Yarmouk Camp [which is now a suburb of Damascus], that Palestinians forced to flee that violence should be allowed to come to the West Bank.

He asked for the UN to help.

Now, we learn from a report in the Times of Israel today, that:

    “Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas rejected an Israeli offer to allow Palestinian refugees fleeing Syria to enter the Palestinian territories on condition that they forgo their ‘right of return’ to Israel proper, Abbas told the Egyptian press on Wednesday evening.  Following a meeting with Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, Abbas said that he had appealed to the UN to intercede on behalf of Palestinian refugees living in Syriaand demand that Israel allow them to enter the West Bank and Gaza.  UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told Abbas that Israel agreed to the request, on the condition that the refugees sign a document in which they forgo the ‘right of return’ to areas within Israel.  Abbas said he rejected that condition”.  This is published here.

The Associated Press, economizing with words, reported that:
“The fate of Palestinians uprooted by Israel’s creation is an explosive issue. Israel worries that a mass influx of Palestinians could destroy the notion of a Jewish state. Last month, Abbas asked the U.N. to seek Israeli permission to bring Palestinians caught in Syria’s civil war to the Palestinian territories. Abbas said in comments published Thursday that Israel linked its acceptance to refugees relinquishing claims to returning to what is now Israel. Abbas says ‘we rejected that’. Israeli officials declined comment”. This was published by the Washington Post here.

Did Mahmoud Abbas think his proposal to allow Palestinian refugees caught up in fighting in Syria was only a temporary solution?

Did Mahmoud Abbas think that he was  offering Palestinian refugees [mainly from Yarmouk Camp] just shelter from the immediate conflict now?

Getting Real: A Jewish debate

“Daniel Gordis has it backwards”

Mark Baker [writing in The Daily Beast], in an argument worth following, has taken on Daniel Gordis [who addressed American Jewish leaders via an article published in Haaretz] — over the responsibility for the current situation:

Mark Baker wrote here that “For a long time, Daniel Gordis has been telling us to get real. He has written numerous books about getting used to a war without end, and has joined a growing chorus of commentators who preach despair against hope, realism in place of reconciliation…”

And here is Gordis’ latest piece of writing in Haaretz — the article that Baker is takgin issue with:

“The dangerous myopia of American Jewish leaders”

The progressive Jewish leadership calls for peace while Hamas calls for hatred.  When will these Jewish leaders stop denying reality and start grappling with the dangers in the real world in which Israel has to try to survive?  By Daniel Gordis:
“From coast to coast, as Progressive American rabbis continue to call for peace, they are inadvertently revealing their tragic inability to acknowledge that the world in which they once formulated their positions on Israel has changed almost beyond recognition…” This is posted here.

In his reply ["Daniel Gordis Has It Backwards"], published by The Daily Beast, Mark Baker wrote:

“But what is this realism that our leaders are supposed to acknowledge before bettering the world? Is it the realism that builds on road-maps or biblical maps? Is it the realism that punishes Palestinians for supporting a U.N. resolution that recognizes Israel alongside Palestine? … Or are we supposed to accept the realism that pits itself against peace by acquiescing to an infantile building game of settlement blocs?

“Is it the realism that will extend a temporary occupation into a never-ending system of control and discrimination? Is it this realism that allows us to accommodate ourselves to the fruits of occupation—the burning of olive groves and mosques, the culture of holy harassment that has come to typify day-to-day life in Judea and Samaria [n.b. - the West Bank]?

“Such cynical realism demands that Palestinians forget their losses, while we fetishize our memories. It makes Palestinian West Bankers dependent on Israeli utilities and then punishes them by withholding revenues. It means destroying Bedouin villages in the place where Jews civilize the desert. It commands us to assassinate their leaders until there is no partner left for peace.

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Palestinians express frustration + Daniel Seidemann does too

Reuters reported that the Palestinian leadership sent a letter, signed by Riyad Mansour as Ambassador of Palestine, to UNSG BAN Ki-Moon and to the UN Security Council, accusing Israel “of planning to commit further ‘war crimes’ by expanding Jewish settlements after the Palestinians won de facto U.N. recognition of statehood and warned that Jerusalem must be held accountable”.

In the letter, Mansour wrote that Israel, after the decision to upgrade Palestine to state status last Thursday, was acting “in a rogue, hostile and arrogant manner, contravening all principles and rules of international law and reacting with contempt to the will of the international community”.

Israel was bitterly opposed to the Palestinian UN move, and warned it would retaliate — which it has started to do by announcing new settlement building around north, south and east of Jerusalem.,

In February 2011, the Obama cast the only negative vote on a Palestinian-drafted UN Security Council resolution against Israel’s settlement building, as we reported at the time here:
“All of the other 14 members of the UNSC voted in favor of the resolution, which would have condemned Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory. At least 120 UN member states co-sponsored the resolution, despite a few last-minute drop-outs… The draft resolution, if it had passed, would have ‘demanded that “Israel, as the occupying power, immediately and completely ceases all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem and that it fully respect its legal obligations in this regard”. The British Ambassador later made a point of saying not only that Israeli settlements are illegal, but also added that the three largest EU members hope to see Palestinian State by September of this year…The U.S. apparently preferred to say only that Israeli settlements were ‘illegitimate’.
From the State Dept. briefing:
QUESTION: Yes, Ambassador Rice, you say that you reject the continued building of settlements on the West Bank as being illegitimate. Yet you vote that no on a resolution that calls it illegal. Why is that, considering that the State Department, as far back as 1978, considered settlement activities illegal?
AMBASSADOR RICE: The United States has not characterized settlement activity as illegal since, I believe, 1980. And – but what we do believe firmly and have reiterated forcefully, including today, is that continued settlement activity is not legitimate”…

Meanwhile, Israeli-American lawyer and Jerusalem expert Daniel Seaman has been issuing warnings that could not be stronger, saying that the two-state solution, which he said is essential to the preservation of Israel’s existence, will soon become impossible because of the increased Israeli settlement-building activity in and around Jerusalem.

Daniel Seidemann standing in front of Maale Adumim - photo by Matthew J. Bell

Daniel Seidemann standing in front of Maale Adumim - photo by Matthew J. Bell - December 2012

Daniel Seidemann explained his concerns — in particular,his intense concern about an adviser’s advice to Obama to walk away from this problem — to Public Radio International/The World’s Middle East correspondent Matthew J. Bell:

Netanyahu + his cabinet react to the Palestinian achievement of state status [non-member observer] in the UN

Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu said at the regular meeting of his cabinet on Sunday — after the cabinet announcement on Friday that 3000 new settlement units would be built + the E-1 area east of Jerusalem would now be developed — that “Today we are building and we will continue to build in Jerusalem and in all areas that are on the map of the strategic interests of the State of Israel”.

Netanyahu pointed out that Rabin did the same. He quoted Rabin as saying: “The response to the attack on Zionism and the State of Israel must reinforce and underscore the implementation of the settlement plan in all areas in which the Government decides regarding settlement”. Netanyahu went on: “These are not my words. These are the words of the government of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and this is the language of the Cabinet’s 1975 decision in the wake of the UN decision that equated Zionism with racism”.

Netanyahu also said: “There will be no Palestinian state without an arrangement in which the security of Israeli citizens will be ensured. There will be no Palestinian state until the State of Israel is recognized as the state of the Jewish People. There will be no Palestinian state until the Palestinians declare an end to the conflict. Israel will not agree to Judea and Samaria becoming a base for Iranian terrorism, as happened in the areas we evacuated in the Gaza Strip and Lebanon”.

Concerning the UN vote on Thursday to upgrade Palestine to state status [albeit still a non-member observer], Netanyahu said: “The Palestinian Authority’s one-sided step at the UN constitutes a gross violation of the agreements that have been signed with the State of Israel; accordingly, the Government of Israel rejects the UN General Assembly decision. I would like to thank US President Barack Obama, Canadian Prime Minister Steven Harper, Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas and the leaders of the other countries that voted against the proposal at the UN. History will favorably judge those countries that lined up on the side of truth, on the side of peace and alongside Israel at this time”.

Netanyahu also said: “the Cabinet will be briefed on the incitement that the Palestinian Authority is leading against Israel. I must say that in addition to this report, there is, to my regret, Abu Mazen’s sharp incitement speech at the UN, in which he incited against IDF soldiers and Israeli citizens while using lies and historical distortions. I must note that Abu Mazen did not see fit to say even a single word about the terrorism and rocket fire being directed against Israeli citizens; this is not the talk of a man who wants peace”.

Israeli paper says Palestinian negotiators agreed to swap Sheikh Jarrah [and put it under Israeli sovereignty]

The idea of “land swaps” arose in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations since the Camp David talks in late July 2000.

The Geneva Initiative, signed in Geneva in December 2003 between representatives of Israeli and Palestinian “civil society” [who included or who were in close touch with the former Camp David negotiators] said these proposed “land swaps” should be carried out on a 1:1 basis [of equal size, and also of equal quality].

In an article by correspondent Barak Ravid published today, Haaretz included the following new information as background [it's left to the final paragraph]:

    “The Palestinians also showed readiness to make certain compromises in Jerusalem, during both the Camp David and the Annapolis talks. The Palestinians were ready to leave under Israeli sovereignty most Jewish neighborhoods founded in East Jerusalem after 1967, with the exception of Har Homa. Also, the Palestinians even expressed agreement to the plan for international administration over holy sites, and offered to leave the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood under Israeli sovereignty in a territorial swap“. This is published here.

Palestinian negotiators are supposed to have agreed that Sheikh Jarrah will be put under Israeli sovereignty? This is the first report about any such Palestinian agreement.

    Israel extended its law and administration to Jerusalem in June 1967, a few weeks after the Six Day / June war — a move tantamount to [but not quite] annexation. This move was declared null and void, and has not been recognized, by almost all UN Member States. At that time, boundaries of a new “Greater Jerusalem” were drawn up by the Jerusalem Municipality, including Sheikh Jarrah and a larger crescent of land extending in an arc from Ramallah in the north to almost Bethlehem in the South. Since then, Israel considers this as Jerusalem, more or less — although a large area of “Greater Jerusalem” was West Bank land before the June 1967 war and the subsequent Israeli military occupation. In 1980, the Israeli Knesset adopted a Basic Law declaring Jerusalem as its eternal + undivided capital [and annexing the Golan Heights].

There have been previous reports that Palestinian negotiators had indicated that French Hill, Ramot, and Pisgat Zeev to the north of the Old City [as well as Neve Yaakov, which was Jewish property under the Ottoman and British Mandate periods] could be left as is. It was not clear about Gilo to the south, near Bethlehem. But the Palestinian negotiators were adamant about the return of Har Homa [which Palestinians call Jabel Abu Ghneim], and they had also not given in on the very large settlement of Maale Adumim to the east, between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea.

But never Sheikh Jarrah…

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“…the Israeli-Palestinian issue costs a lot of political capital”

Some weary and wary views of Obama’s victory:

Noam Sheizef wrote in Israel’s +972 Magazine today, here, after Barak Obama won reelection: “I think the White House has realized that the Israeli-Palestinian issue costs a lot of political capital, but brings very little results. Furthermore, the administration continues to believe in the Oslo framework, as if two decades haven’t passed. The Palestinian Authority hardly represents anyone these days, the government in Jerusalem is anxious to renew negotiations for the sake of negotiations, and the whole thing is clearly leading nowhere. The only way the White House can move things forward is by confronting the Israeli desire to maintain the current status quo”…

Open Zion’s Peter Beinart wrote, in a post published here that If Obama launches a diplomatic initiative that leads him into conflict with Netanyahu, it will be the Democrats in Congress, especially the ones who run the Democratic Congressional and Senatorial Campaign Committees, and thus spend their time raising money for the 2014 midterms, who will make their displeasure felt. And given how much of Obama’s second term fate depends on Democrats controlling the Senate (and not falling further behind in the House), he won’t easily be able to ignore them … And while the chances of a politically costly confrontation are high if Obama makes a renewed push for peace, the chances of success are low. Netanyahu, a heavy favorite to win reelection, vocally opposes the only parameters—the 1967 lines plus swaps—that could conceivably lead to a peace deal. Mahmoud Abbas publicly favors them, but in the four years since he negotiated seriously with Ehud Olmert, he’s grown weaker and less legitimate in the eyes of his people” … it’s worth noting that while Obama mentioned the peace process often during the 2008 campaign, he barely ever mentioned it this year. He didn’t bring it up in his convention speech, the debates or his acceptance speech. The 2008 Democratic platform promised a “personal” presidential “commitment” to Israeli-Palestinian peace. In 2012, that was taken out”.

Chrise Doy;e of the Council on Arab-British Relations wrote here that: “Received wisdom has always been that second term Presidents will be bolder. They do not have to face the electorate again. If Obama so chooses, he could certainly live up to this, as numerous challenges await him in his international affairs inbox. Much may depend on who he chooses as Secretary of State to replace Hilary Clinton – John Kerry and Susan Rice are in the mix … Obama may think twice before embarking on a direct confrontation. He blinked three times when clashing with Bibi over settlements. He will have to weigh up the pros- and-cons of trying to push for Israeli-Palestinian peace or keeping his distance. Given the limited prospects of genuine negotiations he may opt for the latter. His first test will be to react to any attempt by Mahmoud Abbas to seek non-member status for Palestine at the UN. My suspicion is that the US may still oppose but perhaps in not quite such a strident manner…”