Tzipi wins Kadima party primary, pushes Olmert to resign

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he would resign after the Kadima party primary, Tzipi Livni said after her win in that primary last week (18 September), so let him resign. And, Livni indicated, Olmert should not wait until 2 October, after the Jewish New Year, as Olmert aides indicated — he should resign ASAP, Livni said.

Olmert’s resignation is expected at or after the weekly Sunday Cabinet meeting today.

The primary exit polls had predicted a much wider margin for Tzipi’s victory (nearly ten points), but she turned out to win by only 1.1% over runner-up Shaul Mofaz. Both Tzipi and Mofaz got more than 40% of the primary vote, so a second round of balloting was not needed.

Mofaz then declined to challenge the results, despite his supporters claims of irregularities — and said he intended to withdraw from politics for a time.

The Associated Press reported that Tzipi said after her win that: ” ‘The national responsibility (bestowed) by the public brings me to approach this job with great reverence’ … Livni will have 42 days to form a new ruling coalition. If she succeeds, she will become Israel’s first female prime minister since Golda Meir. If she fails, the country will hold elections in early 2009, a year and a half ahead of schedule. Olmert will remain as a caretaker leader until a new coalition is approved by parliament. Olmert spokesman Mark Regev said the prime minister called Livni to congratulate her on her victory and would notify the Cabinet on Sunday that he would resign. ‘After that, he will resign’, Regev said … The primary was Kadima’s first since the party was founded by then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in 2005. Sharon suffered a debilitating stroke in early 2006, and Olmert subsequently led the party to victory in elections”. here .

The McClatchy newspaper group’s Dion Nissenbaum wrote that “Livni will have to use her diplomatic acumen to persuade skeptical political adversaries to join her in forming a new coalition government that can lead the nation. If she fails to form a coalition by early November, she’d be forced to lead the Kadima Party in national elections. And polls find her facing a difficult task in topping Benjamin Netanyahu, the Likud Party leader and former prime minister, who’s taken a harder line on peace talks with Israel’s adversaries. By choosing Livni over Mofaz, Kadima voters implicitly endorsed the foreign minister’s diplomacy-before-warfare approach to tackling Israel’s biggest concerns: making peace with the Palestinians and neutering Iran’s nuclear program. Should Livni succeed in becoming the next prime minister, she’s expected to press ahead with two of Olmert’s biggest diplomatic gambits: U.S.-backed peace talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and nascent, indirect negotiations with Syria that are being overseen by Turkey. Both tracks face significant hurdles, and there’s a growing sense among politicians and academics in the region that there’ll be no diplomatic breakthroughs until U.S. voters choose a new president”. Dion’s analysis can be read in full here.

An article in Haaretz by Amir Oren stated that “Livni’s first priorty will be to de-Omertize the Kadima party: If she were leading a rock group, we could call it Tzipi and the Expectations [a play on words in Hebrew — see Uri Avnery below]. She is expected to form a nimble yet stable government, broad enough to avert early Knesset elections yet efficient enough to work and to make policy. Her first priority will be to briskly de-Olmertize the party and to purge the rot and corruption at the top of the government. In practice, this should mean the swift exit of Olmert’s crony culture in the Prime Minister’s Office and in the cabinet, starting with Haim Ramon and Daniel Friedmann”. This analysis/comment can be read in Haaretz here.

YNet reported that: “Shas Chairman Eli Yishai, a key potential coalition partner … said he was ‘sure that Livni knows that the public doesn’t care about her victory today, but rather, about her actions tomorrow. The elections are a means, not an end’. Shas’ chairman added that ‘If Livni addresses the issue of a million hungry children and doesn’t give away the country’s assets – with an emphasis on Jerusalem – we’ll be in her government. If not, we won’t be’ … However, Yishai added that certain Kadima members preferred to go to general election. ‘I feel that within Kadima there are those who desire elections. A government cannot be established now. We will be part of the government only if our demands are fulfilled. I don’t believe in the option of a government with 61 MKs. Either there will be a stable government with Shas, or elections’, he said”…

There was some shock when it was announced that Livni had approached Meretz to join the Government. Israeli analyists said that if Meretz would agree, then the government would have to be “balanced” by at least one of the religious parties to make it less “left-wing”. It’s too bad that the Arab parties who are represented in the Knesset have traditionally refused to serve in the government — it would be very interesting to see the country’s lead negotiator in the Annapolis-process peace talks with the Palestinian Authority leading a government in which pro-peace forces dominate, and in which Israel’s “Arab” [i.e. Palestinian] elected parliamentarians would responsibly participate … and help make a negotiated peace possible.

Is there a deal?

Speculation is rising about the possibility of a deal on the eve of an election to replace Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as leader of his political party, Kadima — which may or may not result on his leaving office (depending on whether his successor can form a new government).

This is admittedly confusing, as Olmert has pledged to resign immediately after the party primary on Wednesday.

Here is the fire and the smoke from the Israeli press today:

Haaretz says that “Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is seriously considering Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s proposal of an agreement in principle on the core issues in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos told Haaretz Monday after he met with the two leaders. ‘My conclusion from the talks with Olmert and Abu-Mazen [Abbas] is that the discussion and the proposals are extremely positive. I think that they are very close. I am convinced that these peace talks are going to be irreversible from what they have achieved. Whatever happens in Israeli internal politics and in the U.S. administration – both sides and the international community need to work to make them irreversible’, Moratinos said. Moratinos said that in his meeting with Olmert, he received details of the main points of the Israeli prime minister’s proposal to Abbas, and that the proposal was “based on a long series of bilateral negotiations” between Olmert and Abbas … This afternoon, Abbas is to hold another meeting with Olmert at the prime minister’s official residence in Jerusalem, and according to the Spanish foreign minister, the Palestinian may then give Olmert his answer. Moratinos said Abbas was ‘impressed by the proposal and he is studying it. They are quite impressed by the proposal and they see it as a serious proposal. In general they consider it positively – but they still need to make the decision’. In a meeting of his own with Moratinos on Sunday night, Olmert told the Spanish foreign minister that he was concerned over pressure being applied by senior Palestinian officials on the PA president to say no to Olmert’s proposal for an agreement in principle on the core issues. Olmert told Moratinos that some Palestinian officials had fallen in love with the negotiations and are trying to thwart an agreement. Olmert was apparently referring to Ahmed Qureia, who is in charge of the talks with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and is urging Abbas to continue the talks into 2009.
Moratinos is encouraging Abbas to accept Olmert’s proposal. He has also discussed the matter with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and will be in Damascus tomorrow for talks with President Bashar Assad”. The full Haaretz article can be found here.

Another article in Haaretz reports that “Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Monday said he was sorry for the plight of Palestinians and Jews who became refugees as a result of Israel’s establishment. ‘I join in expressing sorrow for what happened to the Palestinians and also for what happened to the Jews who were expelled from Arab states’, the prime minister said. Olmert made the comments before a meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, apparently in his last such session as prime minister. He was speaking in reference to the key Palestinian demand for a ‘right of return’ in peace negotiations with Israel … ‘Under absolutely no circumstances will there be a right of return’, Olmert declared, ‘but we are prepared to be part of an international mechanism that will work to solve the problem’. Palestinians have demanded that Israel accept responsibility for the suffering of Palestinians who fled or were driven from their homes in the War of Independence that followed Israel’s 1948 creation. Olmert’s remark Monday fell far short of meeting this demand. But it was unusual for an Israeli prime minister to say Israel will participate in expressing sorrow for what happened to them. The premier also said that a peace deal with the Palestinian Authority will involve proportionate land swaps between the two sides. ‘The territorial price of peace with the Palestinians will bring us very close to the land-for-land formula. This needs to be said forthrightly and with courage. There are different ways of reaching this formula through annexing or exchanging territories’, Olmert said.” This article can be read in full here.

And, yet another Haaretz article states that “According to Olmert, by the end of 2008, it should be possible to attain understandings with the Palestinians on three issues: borders, security and refugees. However Olmert stressed that the implementation of the understandings is conditioned on the application of the Bush road map and eradication of the Palestinian terrorist infrastructures, and so implementation will take place at a much later stage. ‘It is important to reach understandings, even if their implementation is delayed’, he said … Olmert also said: ‘We will be sorry for every day that goes by without an agreeement with the Palestinians, and the person saying this is one who once held different opinions and even fought for them.” Olmert said the price of not reaching an agreement quickly would be ‘intolerable’. Olmert said that even exchanging equal territory with the Palestinians would be ”less than what we will have to pay in the future’. According to Olmert’s proposal, the Palestinians would receive 93 percent of the West Bank and the equivalent of another approximately 5.5 percent of territory, in the Negev adjacent to the Gaza Strip, in exchange for the large settlement blocs, which would be annexed to Israel. Olmert has also proposed an international compensation mechanism for Palestinian refugees and the symbolic return of a few thousand such refugees without Israel recognizing the right of return or responsibility for the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem. Olmert reportedly wants to postpone discussion of Jerusalem, and to hold talks on that subject in a broad international framework. The prime minister told the committee that there is a concern over ‘the entrenchment of the narrative of a binational state, in which we will not be the majority. Ever-growing segments of the international community are adopting the idea of a binational state. I see a Jewish state as a condition for our existence’. Olmert said an agreement would lead to international recognition of Israel’s borders in the context of a two-state solution … In response to a question about his position on exchanges of territory and populations, he said: ‘I am not in favor of taking a million Arabs out of Israel’. Olmert said that an agreement with the Palestinians would make it much easier to solve problems involving Israel’s Arab citizens”… This story can be read in full in Haaretz here.

The Jerusalem Post is reporting that “Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is scheduled to meet Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday. The two leaders are expected to formulate a document that will include the agreements reached during negotiations so far, ahead of Abbas’s upcoming visit to Washington. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Ahmed Qurei, who head the Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams, will not attend the meeting.” This brief JPost report is posted here.

nd the JPost is also reporting that: “Ehud Olmert has discussed with the Palestinians transferring to them 98.1 percent of the West Bank, Channel 2 [television] reported on Sunday evening. The report on the ongoing negotiations was broadcast in advance of Tuesday’s planned meeting between Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The Prime Minister’s Office declined to comment on the news item and said only that many such media reports had been published in the last months regarding the talks. Earlier in the day, during what could be his last cabinet meeting before he becomes the head of a transitional government, Olmert addressed Israel’s relationship to the West Bank when he spoke of a voluntary evacuation bill to help relocate settlers living east of the security barrier. ‘The vision of a greater Israel no longer exists. Those who speak of it are delusional’, the prime minister said. No vote was taken on the measure. According to Channel 2, however, Olmert is considering concessions far beyond land east of the barrier and could transfer 98.1% of the West Bank to the PA. That is significantly more than the 94% to 96% that had been discussed in previous negotiations …

The report states that Abbas has asked that Israel cede the Jerusalem area settlements of Ma’aleh Adumim and Givat Ze’ev, but is willing to negotiate the status of the Jerusalem neighborhoods of Gilo and French Hill, which are over the Green Line. In the past the Palestinians have demanded that Israel fully withdraw to the pre-1967 borders, including from eastern Jerusalem. Israel has insisted it plans to keep the larger settlements blocs including Ma’aleh Adumim and Givat Ze’ev as well as the Jewish neighborhoods of east Jerusalem. The future of Jerusalem, according to Channel 2, was being negotiated between Olmert and Abbas, and not by the team led by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. [n.b. – remember the -U.S. State Department information note, after the flap over the interview by U.S. Consul in Jerusalem Jacob Walles, which stated cryptically that Livni has not been negotiating on Jerusalem … see our earlier post here].

The article continues: “Olmert has also agreed that 5,000 Palestinian refugees would return to Israel – a thousand refugees every year for five years, according to the report. Abbas allegedly rejected the proposal and was demanding the return of many more refugees. According to the report, the Palestinians were also interested in access not only to the Dead Sea but also to the Kinneret, as they claimed they deserved some rights over the water flowing into the lake because the Jordan River runs through Palestinian territory … Speaking in defense of the voluntary evacuation bill at the cabinet meeting, Olmert said that for the 40 years since it acquired the West Bank during the Six Day War, Israel had been making excuses as to why it could not do anything. This, he said, did not help Israel. It was important Israel showed it had taken initiative in the peace process. ‘We have to advance the voluntary evacuation compensation bill and to bring it to the cabinet [for a vote]’, the prime minister said. Olmert said he had not always supported territorial concessions and that he had initially felt that then-prime minister Ehud Barak had offered the Palestinians too much at Camp David in 2000. ‘I thought that the land between the Jordan River and the sea was ours’, he said. In the end, he said he came to the conclusion that we had to reach an agreement with the Palestinians if we did not want to see Israel become a binational state. There was no time to waste, Olmert said. adding: ‘We can argue about every small detail and find that when we are ready for an agreement there is no partner and no international support’. In the not too distant future, there would come a day when ‘we will want those same solutions that we are rejecting today’, he said”. This JPost article can be read in full here.

Also from JPost article, we learn that “Vice Premier Haim Ramon in briefing reporters on Sunday, expressed skepticism as to the success of the negotiations. Ramon said he was not optimistic that a final-status agreement would be reached, ‘not at the end of this year and not at the end of next year’.
But what was clear, he said, was that in the future, ‘settlements east of the barrier won’t be under Israeli sovereignty’. There was no reason why those settlers who understood that the barrier represented a future border should have to wait five or 10 years to be evacuated, Ramon said. At Sunday’s cabinet meeting, he proposed a voluntary evacuation bill that would offer property owners in the 72 settlements outside of the barrier an average of $300,000 or NIS 1.1 million for their homes. Those homes would then be sealed or destroyed so they could not be reused by other settlers, Ramon said … According to Ramon, there are an estimated 61,808 settlers living outside of the barrier, out of whom 11,000, or 18%, would accept such an offer. Such a measure, Ramon said, would help those settlers who did not enjoy the same security offered Israelis living inside the barrier and would also be seen by the Palestinians as a sign of good faith toward the negotiations. Ramon’s proposal was immediately objected to by the four candidates competing in Wednesday’s primary for the Kadima leadership. If the government wanted to make a gesture toward the Palestinians that involved territory, it should evacuate the unauthorized outposts, said Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit. That was particularly true, he said, given that it had already promised the international community that it would do so. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni warned that the Palestinians would view the measure as a unilateral step. She added that Israel should not take steps to determine a border while it was in the midst of negotiating one with the Palestinians. Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz said that such a law would embolden the Palestinians to increase their demands. Public Security Minister Avi Dichter said the proposal would be impossible to implement. More to the point, it would make any future evacuations harder to carry out because the net effect of the bill would be to replace less ideological settlers with more determined ones. In defense of his proposal, Ramon told reporters that the borders under negotiations with the Palestinians were already well known. Livni, he said, could only wish that the barrier would in fact be the final border” … This article is posted here.

Gershon Baskin: "There is a package deal – and either we both win, or we both lose"

There has been a steady drip of leaks in the past couple of weeks. Something is in the air.

Today, Gershon Baskin, the Israeli co-CEO (with Palestinian Hanna Siniora) of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information, wrote in the Jerusalem Post that the outlines of a package deal have taken shape. All that needs to be done is to grasp the opportunity.

Baskin writes: “The only way to prevent the next round of violence, which will signal the beginning of the end of the two-state solution, is to reach an agreement as soon as possible. It may not be possible before the end of the Bush administration, but the parties should already indicate their commitment to go beyond that deadline into the beginning of the next US administration. Both sides will have to make concessions on fundamentals, crossing lines that were painted “red” for them in the past. There is a package deal that can be reached and agreed upon.

“The Palestinian state will have to be established on about 96 percent-97% of the West Bank and all of Gaza (once the political regime there changes). Israel will have to give up most of the West Bank, including the ‘Ariel finger’, and should consider accepting a fair monetary price from the Palestinians for Ma’aleh Adumim – two areas that take up huge tracks of land in the West Bank . Most of the settlers will be able to remain in the areas where they live today.

“The parties have already accepted the principle of a 50-50 split of the ‘no-man’s’ land areas alongside of the Green Line. Finding 3%-4% of land inside of the Green Line for a swap is not so problematic. The Palestinians already understand and are willing to wait a period of at least five years for Israel to vacate all of the settlements that will be transferred to them. They are also ready to offer citizenship to settlers who may wish to remain within their state.

“PART OF the package includes recognizing that Jerusalem will be the capital of both countries. The Palestinian capital will be in the Palestinian parts of east Jerusalem and Israel ‘s capital will remain in west Jerusalem . The Palestinians understand that the Jewish neighborhoods within the municipal boundaries that were built after 1967 will remain under Israeli sovereignty. They account for about 1% of the West Bank .

“The Old City will be shared under a special regime, perhaps with international involvement, or through the division of sovereignty within its walls. The Palestinians will have sovereignty over the Muslim, Christian and Armenian Quarters and Israel will have sovereignty over the Jewish Quarter. The Jewish Quarter is already physically separated from the other quarters by internal checkpoints. The Palestinians will have sovereignty or guardianship over the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif and Israel will have sovereignty or guardianship over the Western Wall. Both sides will agree not to dig, excavate, renovate or construct anything on, around or underneath the “Holy Compound” without mutual agreement.

“All of the mainstream rabbinic authorities agree that no Jew should enter the area of the Temple Mount until the messiah comes. Until that time, the Temple Mount will be turned over the Palestinians de jure instead of just de facto as now. When the messiah comes, we can all agree to place the issue of sovereignty in his/her hands.

“Both sides will guarantee the right of access and prayer at holy places within their sovereign areas for members of the relevant faiths from the other state.

“PALESTINIAN REFUGEES will go home to the state of Palestine . Perhaps Israel will accept some humanitarian cases of family reunification. There will be financial compensation available for all Palestinian refugees for real property loss claims and for suffering. The State of Israel will participate in an international fund for that purpose.

“Palestinians and Israelis will recognize the Jewishness of Israel and the Palestinianess of Palestine. Both sides will agree to ensure the equal rights and opportunities for minorities within their state. Palestinian Israeli citizens will remain within the State of Israel, as part of their birthright and Jewish citizens of Palestine will be welcome to remain within the Palestinian state as long as they wish.

“It may take years to implement the agreement. Everything will depend on the security situation. Both sides will end up agreeing to an international force being stationed within the Palestinian state for an agreed designated period. That force will be composed of and led by European nations.

“It is quite clear that both sides will have to allow their people to vote for the agreement – for it to be ratified by the people…”

The article by Gershon Baskin in the JPost today can be read in full here.

Akiva Eldar interview with Mahmoud Abbas

Akiva Eldar and his colleague at Haaretz newspaper interviewed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The whole interview was published in Hebrew on Friday, but only in summary form in English on Friday. (The whole interview will be published in English on Sunday).

Eldar reported that in the interview — the publication coincides with the 15th Anniversary of the signing of the Oslo accords — “Abbas stressed that he will not agree to an interim arrangement such as a state in temporary borders. Any agreement must address all the components of the conflict, including Jerusalem and the right of return, he said; therefore, ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’ … The outlines of an agreement are well known, he said, and Israel’s internal political disputes are apparently the reason no progress has been made. ‘We presented our ideas and demands regarding the six issues’ [borders, security, refugees, Jerusalem etc.], Abbas stated, ‘but have not received any answer from the Israeli side’ … [T]he West Bank and Gaza must be united, or there will be no Palestinian state. Nonetheless, he insisted that this must be achieved only through diplomatic means. ‘We erred when we made the second intifada into an armed struggle, and I will do everything to prevent a third armed intifada’, he said …

“Regarding the refugees, the Palestinian president said: ‘We understand that if all five million refugees return to their homes, the State of Israel will be destroyed’. Nonetheless, he added, Israel must discuss both its responsibility for the refugee problem and a practical right of return. ‘Palestinians who do not return to Israel will be able to return to Palestine’, he continued. He also said a solution to the refugee problem would be based on the Arab peace initiative of 2002, which stated that the solution must be based on United Nations Resolution 194, but acceptable to Israel. Abbas pointed out that every Muslim nation in the region, including Iran (prior to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s election as president), adopted the Arab initiative. ‘I presented the document with the Iranian signature to Olmert, but he did not respond’, Abbas said. ‘Regrettably, to this day no debate has been held by the Israeli cabinet’…”

The English-language summary of the Haaretz interview with Mahmoud Abbas can be read here.

US Consul in Jerusalem gives rare interview – causes uproar

The US Consul in Jerusalem Jacob Walles said in an interview with the Palestinian daily paper Al-Ayyam that there has been little observable progress in implementation of Road Map obligations — such as the end to Israeli settlement-building.

But what really caused an uproar was his statement that U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice believed that the post-Annapolis direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority was — and should be — conducted on the basis of 1967 borders.

This confirms what Israeli sources who follow their government’s settlement activities closely have said in interviews this past week — that there is strong American pressure on Israel concerning certain areas in and around Jerusalem, and to have a solution fast…

UPDATE: The Jerusalem Post has reported that “Israel conveyed its displeasure to Washington on Thursday over remarks reportedly made by US Consul General Jacob Walles that it had agreed to start negotiations with the Palestinians over Jerusalem. The comments prompted a bitter row among Kadima’s would-be leaders. According to government sources, Walles’s comments, which appeared in the Palestinian daily Al-Ayyam, were ‘highly inappropriate’, since there is a US-Palestinian-Israeli agreement not to go public with what is being discussed by the negotiators … Walles said changes to those lines were possible should both sides agree”.

The JPost report added that “Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told a Kadima Party meeting at Kfar Hamaccabiah in Ramat Gan on Thursday night that his government was sticking by its position that Jerusalem should be left until the end of the talks. ‘We have achieved significant progress, but we haven’t started the negotiations on Jerusalem yet’, Olmert told a crowd of several hundred party activists and supporters. ‘We said this issue would be handled last, and that is what we’ll do’ … Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, in an interview on Channel 1, said in reference to the Walles comments that ‘what was said was not correct’. [But] She refused to answer when asked whether she thought Israel should control the Arab neighborhoods of east Jerusalem. After the problematic nature of Walles comments became clear – they contradict what Olmert has been saying for months, and also put Livni, the head of Israel’s negotiating team, in an uncomfortable position facing next week’s Kadima primary – State Department spokesman Sean McCormack issued a clarification. ‘The US government has not taken a position on borders’, the McCormack statement read. ‘While the discussions between the parties are confidential, we can state that the parties have not in any way prejudiced long-held views on borders. A senior US official who participated in the discussions denies that the Israeli side, led by chief negotiator Foreign Minister Livni, has been willing to negotiate concerning Jerusalem. The secretary participated in the negotiations in a way that respected the Israeli position’. During his interview, Walles said that although the goal of the Bush administration was to have a working agreement between the Palestinians and the Israelis by the time US President George W. Bush leaves office in January, should that deadline fail to be achieved, all progress made up until that point would pass over to the next administration … Walles also said that Israel had made little progress in removing settlement outposts, and had increased settlement construction since the Annapolis conference last November”

This JPost article can be read in full here .

The One-State “threat”: a new manifesto? … continued

On the Electronic Intifada website, Ali Abunimah asks if the Palestine Strategy Study Group has come up with a new Palestinian strategy, or the same old failed one…

Abunimah writes. “The PSSG paper does indeed provide further evidence of the rapid crumbling of the dogma that the two-state solution is just and achievable and moreover that it has no plausible alternatives. And yet it is far less than a full embrace of the one-state solution. Rather, it would appear that among PSSG participants there are quite different and even contradictory goals. This is hardly surprising because as one participant, Sam Bahour wrote, the group included ‘Palestinians from all walks of life — men and women, on the political right and left, secular and religious, politicians, academics, civil society and business actors, from occupied Palestine, inside Israel, and in the Diaspora’. This group could never meet in one room due to Israel’s travel restrictions on Palestinians. The PSSG workshops were funded by the European Union and convened by the Oxford Research Group, a British non-governmental organization.

“Some participants clearly saw the PSSG as an opportunity for a badly needed, sincere and deep reassessment of Palestinian strategy and took part in that spirit. For Bahour it represents a challenge to ‘a never-ending ‘peace process’ that has created a peace industry in Palestine, all underwritten by taxpayers from around the world’…

“The paper does have several strong points that Palestinians and all those who support their cause should endorse and rally around. It calls on Palestinians to seize the initiative and to define the terms of the discourse rather than continue to allow Israel and its backers to do it for them. The PSSG calls for national unity and broad consultation among all Palestinians. It also calls on Palestinians to reject and expose the deceptive language of ‘peacemaking’ and ‘state-building’ that have been used to conceal and perpetuate a lived reality of expulsion, domination and occupation at Israel’s hands…

“In addition, the paper stresses that the appropriate discourse for Palestinians living under these conditions remains that of ‘self-determination’, ‘decolonization’ and ‘liberation’. The paper asserts — correctly — that Palestinians are not as weak as they appear and can prevent Israel from achieving its preferred option of maintaining the status quo by reconfiguring or even abolishing the Palestinian Authority, adopting ‘smart’ resistance and reorienting their goals towards a one-state solution.

“In spite of its positive attributes, a close reading of the PSSG final report entitled “Regaining the Initiative – Palestinian Strategic Options to End Israeli Occupation,” (available in English and Arabic at also offers reasons for caution.

“While the paper is strong on diagnostics, it becomes more problematic with what it prescribes and at key points Palestinian Authority heavyweights who participated might have steered it in a decidedly less principled direction.

“It suggests that one of the key Palestinian ‘strategic tasks’ is to ‘spell out the minimum terms acceptable for negotiating a fully independent Palestinian state on 1967 borders and to explain clearly why this is by far the best offer Israel will get’. The paper argues for ‘a final and conclusive push to compel Israel to negotiate immediately and seriously for a swift two state outcome acceptable to Palestinians — or face the reality of a concerted Palestinian strategic orientation in an entirely different direction — and one far less favorable to Israel’.

“”Using the one-state solution as a tactical threat is unlikely to move Israel and simply discredits such a solution in the long-run by playing into Israeli claims that a democratic state where everyone is equal would be a disaster for Israeli Jews. Indeed, the PSSG report explicitly warns against such an approach. Palestinians ought to be making the case that the one-state solution, as a democratic solution in accordance with universal rights, is the best and most moral outcome for all sides, not a victory for Palestinians and defeat for Israelis. Nor does the paper examine the relative merits of a two-state or a one-state solution from the perspective of achieving fundamental rights and justice for Palestinians.

“As long as the two-state solution remains the objective of the Palestinian movement, the report defines three ‘strategic objectives’, which I will examine in turn. Unfortunately these reproduce the vague and deceptive language that the peace process industry has long used to erode Palestinian rights and expectations. This is compounded by major, substantive discrepancies between the English and Arabic versions. (It is unclear how these came about; I heard from two PSSG participants who were familiar with the Arabic version which they considered authoritative, and both were surprised and shocked to learn of such differences.) First, let’s look at the English — which has been widely circulated and reported in the media:

”The first strategic objective is to end occupation of Palestinian lands’. (p.23) – Notably, this does not say which occupation and which Palestinian lands and fails to insist on a complete Israeli withdrawal from all the lands occupied in 1967.

‘The second strategic objective is to establish a fully independent and sovereign Palestinian state’. ‘In accordance with the PLO [Palestine Liberation Organization] declaration of 1988’, the report adds, the second objective means ‘the establishment of a fully independent Palestinian state on 1967 borders with its capital in East’. – The lack of the definite article ‘the’ before ‘1967 borders implies that actual borders could deviate significantly. And, the 1988 PLO declaration of independence does not talk about a capital in Jerusalem (whose boundaries Israel constantly manipulates and redefines), but says that Jerusalem is the capital of the Palestinian state.

“Most glaring is the third strategic objective which is ‘to honor the right of return of Palestinian refugees’. – The use of the word ‘honor’ signals a less than firm commitment to actually implement the right of return as guaranteed in UN Resolution 194 among other key instruments of international law. This is confirmed a few sentences later when the paper notes that the demand for the right of return ‘rings alarm bells’ that it is really a ‘coded message’ to revoke PLO recognition of Israel because any substantial return of refugees would swamp the Jewish state demographically. Yet it assures Israel that ‘This will not be the case if Israel negotiates seriously and with time-urgency … and has been extensively discussed in earlier Palestinian-Israel negotiations notably those that took place in 2000-2001’.

“What is even more shocking is that the Arabic version of this same document contains substantially different language — as if Israeli and Western audiences were supposed to read one thing, and Palestinian and Arab audiences another.

“In the Arabic version’s ‘Strategic Objectives’ section (p.26), the three goals are as follows and they use firmer language in line with long-standing official Palestinian positions (my translation):
‘The first strategic objective is ending the occupation of the Palestinian lands occupied in 1967 and the realization of national independence’.
‘The second strategic objective is the acknowledgment of the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination which guarantees its right to establish a fully sovereign Palestinian state whose capital is Jerusalem’.
‘The third objective is solving the refugee problem according to a just solution guaranteeing the right of return and compensation’.

“More telling is that the paragraph which appears in the English version, assuring Israel that the right of return is merely a threatening demand that would not be pressed if Israel quickly negotiated a two-state solution is omitted from the Arabic version.

“ater, in the English text, it is again asserted that various prior Palestinian-Israeli negotiations including those at Camp David ‘exhaustively and repeatedly clarified’ key issues including ‘the range of options for honoring the rights of Palestinian refugees’ (p.27). In the analogous sentence, the Arabic version refers to the ‘options for implementing [tanfith] the rights of Palestinian refugees’ (p.29).

These are not mere discrepancies in translation. They are substantive differences that recall the Palestinian leadership’s long-standing tactic of telling Palestinians that they will achieve their rights, while reassuring Israel and its backers that they will get all their demands which are incompatible with even minimal Palestinian rights.

“If anything, such destructive ambiguity indicates that for some the PSSG was a cynical exercise to maintain the peace process industry and the PA, and to conceal that the two-state solution is even less viable than realized, rather than to move in a new strategic direction.

“The PSSG document appeared just weeks after Ahmed Qureia, the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority’s former Prime Minister and now chief negotiator, issued another of his periodic warnings that Palestinians may abandon the two-state solution. With no chance of an agreement with Israel before the end of the year, PA heavyweights may be trying to use the PSSG exercise to shore up their own positions by scaring Israel into giving them anything at all that could keep the two-state show on the road… [But] These maneuverings do not invalidate the need for a fundamental reassessment of Palestinian strategy…”

This analysis by Ali Abunimah can be read in full here.

Friday night at the Dome of the Rock on the Haram as-Sharif – the first Friday in Ramadan

The growing cresent moon is visible in the sky, about one-third of the way from the top and one-third of the way from the right of the photo taken outside of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem … at the end of the first week in Ramadan.

The first Friday in Ramadan - evening prayers at the Dome of the Rock

For more photos, see here.

What did Mahmoud Abbas really say?

Reporting from Italy today, where there is a big conference taking place attended by (among others) Israel’s President Shimon Peres and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Reuters says that Peres’ office issued a statement revealing that Abbas has remarked: “It appears as if we will not be able to reach full agreement on the issues of Jerusalem, borders, refugees and water by the end of the year … But we are determined to continue accelerated diplomatic negotiations concurrently with the change of administration in the United States”. The full Reuters report can be read here .

Haaretz, picking up material from the Associated Press, puts a somewhat different cast on the same story, reporting that “Israeli President Shimon Peres appeared side by side to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Friday at the Ambrosetti Forum, an annual gathering of global political and business leaders in an Italian lakeside resort. The two leaders … said that Israel and the Palestinian Authority are closer than ever to a peace deal. Abbas pledged to try to reach a final status peace agreement with Israel by the end of the year – but he admitted the goal, set by U.S. President George W. Bush, might not be achieved. Abbas also rejected the notion that he and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert might put forth a partial document outlining the areas in which they do agree and leaving open other issues – most notably, and most sensitive, the sharing of Jerusalem as a joint capital. ‘It is necessary for the agreement to address all … issues’, said Abbas. ‘It is all or nothing, really … We might not be able to reach a final status agreement by the end of the year [but] We will make all possible efforts’. Abbas said if no agreement was reached while Bush remained in office, ‘the new administration should not wait seven years for us to start negotiations … It should begin immediately as soon as a new president is in the White House’. Israeli President Shimon Peres, who has used his largely ceremonial role and his stature as an elder statesman to push peace efforts in the past, addressed the forum after the Palestinian President. ‘We have to try to reach an agreement’, Peres told the crowd. ‘We have to act on the supposition that it is possible’.” This report can be read in full in Haaretz here.

The One-State "threat": a new manifesto?

Is this the boogey-man strategy? Or is it an interesting new effort to mobilize a people that had been nearly paralzyed into lethargic and despairing submission? There’s still a lot of the same old rhetoric — is that really necessary?.

It is clear, however, that all the efforts (some more and some less successful) undertaken during the Second Intifida to reassure the Israelis, to soothe their anxieties and understand their psychological mind-set and their (directly and indirectly-expressed) security concerns has not changed one damn thing. The situation has only gotten worse and worse.

Sam Bahour, American-Palestinian businessman and activist living in Ramallah, sent this information in a message today with attached document by e-mail today. Here are some excerpts:


“Palestinians have been historically outmaneuvered, politically neutralized, and made totally dependent on international handouts. Or have they? A newly released Palestinian strategy document which outlines strategic political options gives witness to a renewed breath of fresh air in the Palestinians’ struggle for freedom and independence…[M]any of the world’s power brokers are convinced that the Palestinians are successfully being forced into submission and acceptance of the colossal injustices that have been carried out against them [after 60 years of dispossession and 40 years of a brutal Israeli military occupation].

“Leading the choir is the U.S. and its Israeli ally, along with several undemocratic Arab regimes. On the political front, they continue to take great pride in a never-ending ‘peace process’ that has created a peace industry in Palestine, all underwritten by taxpayers from around the world. This peace process has no intention of realizing peace with justice, but rather looks to fragment Palestinians’ national aspirations into bite-sized pieces with state-like trappings — the antithesis of a state with real sovereignty, let alone self-determination.

“On the security front, they claim that the Palestinian Authority (referring to the unelected government of Salaam Fayyad in Ramallah) is excelling by installing a heavy-handed security regime, frighteningly reminiscent of the undemocratic, police-state Arab regimes such as Egypt, Jordan and the entire batch of oil-rich Gulf states, which the U.S. has propped up for decades. Driven by US General Keith Dayton and sanctioned by the Ramallah-based Palestinian leadership, this security-heavy thrust of activity appears to many observers to be nothing more than another outsourcing option for an Israeli version of its own “security” needs.

On the economic front, they point to grand plans to establish a handful of industrial mega- zones, the majority being located on the unilaterally-defined (illegal) Israeli border between the West Bank and Israel. These industrial zones are meant to absorb the over 150,000 Palestinian laborers that Israel has prohibited from working in Israel. Moreover, as I was recently told by an Israeli promoting these industrial zones, for every job created in such a zone, three will be created for Palestinians outside the industrial zones — thus, in essence, creating an entire artificial economy built around Palestinian and foreign-owned, but Israeli- controlled economic bubbles.

“The 1.5 million Palestinians trapped by Israel in the world’s largest open air prison, Gaza, are not even a part of the discussion.

“In short, the approach of the international community is one of creating a dynamic whereby Palestinians co-exist, not with their Israeli neighbors, but rather with the system of Israeli military occupation, or put simply, sugar coating the status quo which benefits Israel.

“What the international community fails to mention is that the dynamic on the ground is explosive.

“Over the past several months, I participated together with a group of 45 Palestinians from all walks of life — men and women, on the political right and left, secular and religious, politicians, academics, civil society and business actors, from occupied Palestine, inside Israel, and in the Diaspora. We were a group that is a microcosm that reflects the dynamics of the Palestinian society. We could not all meet in one room anywhere in the world because the reality (of travel restrictions) that Israel has created does not permit it, nevertheless we continue to plan and to act. Our mission is to open a discussion on where we go from here: What are the Palestinians’ strategic options to end the Israeli occupation, if any?

“After several workshops in Palestine and abroad and a continuous online debate we have produced the first iteration of “Regaining The Initiative: Palestinian Strategic Options To End Israeli Occupation.” The document is posted at and reflects an alternative to an official but impotent Palestinian discourse that will very shortly, in the judgment of most Palestinians, run head-on into a brick (cement) wall.

“Palestinian society is a dynamic, thinking society which has been so battered and demeaned by Israel and its supporters that many folk, including many Palestinians themselves, will be surprised that the Palestinians have any options whatsoever. One thing is for sure: No matter how long the illegal Israeli occupation continues, do not expect the Palestinians to wake up one morning and accept that they are somehow less human than any other free person in this world. The Palestinian people have given everyone – including their own traditional leadership – plenty of time to end this humiliating and brutal occupation. When all else fails, Palestinians will reclaim the initiative, and will continue to do so over and over, until this occupation is consigned to the trash bin of history, along with all the war criminals who allowed it to persist for so many years”.

Sam Bahour lives in occupied Palestine and is co-editor of “Homeland: Oral History of Palestine and Palestinians.” He may be reached at



“The central proposal in this Report is that Israel’s strategic calculations are wrong. Israeli strategic planners overestimate their own strength and underestimate the strategic opportunities open to Palestinians. There are four main perceived alternatives to a negotiated agreement that are attractive to Israel and therefore prevent Israel from reaching a final settlement on the terms offered.

First, the default option of prolonging negotiations indefinitely by pretending that ‘progress has been made’ and that suspensions are temporary as during the past twenty years, with ongoing encroachments and military incursions, few burdens, and considerable financial and other benefits from continuing occupation.

Second, a pseudo provisional ‘two state agreement’ with a strengthened but severely constrained PA masquerading as a Palestinian government while Israel disaggregates and picks off the ‘historic issues’ and retains permanent control.

Third, a unilateral separation dictated by Israel.

Fourth, a control of the occupied territories by Egypt and Jordan.

But these four alternatives are unacceptable to Palestinians. They do not take Palestinian national aspirations seriously. Indeed, they aim to undermine Palestinians’ national identity and rights altogether. So, if Israel refuses to negotiate seriously for a genuine two-state outcome, Palestinians can and will block all four of them by switching to an alternative strategy made up of a combination of four linked
reorientations to be undertaken singly or together.

First, the definitive closing down of the 1988 negotiation option so long abused by Israel. This blocks the first two preferred Israeli alternatives to a genuine negotiated agreement.

Second, the reconstitution of the Palestinian Authority so that it will not serve future Israeli interests by legitimising indefinite occupation and protecting Israel from bearing its full burden of the costs of occupation (it may become a Palestinian Resistance Authority). This also blocks the first two preferred Israeli alternatives, and also helps to block the third.

Third, the elevation of ‘smart’ resistance over negotiation as the main means of implementation for Palestinians, together with a reassertion of national unity through reform of the PLO, the empowerment of Palestinians, and the orchestrated eliciting of regional and international third party support. The central aim will be to maximise the cost of continuing occupation for Israel, and to make the whole prospect of unilateral separation unworkable.

Fourth, the shift from a two state outcome to a (bi-national or unitary democratic) single state outcome as Palestinians’ preferred strategic goal. This reopens a challenge to the existence of the State of Israel in its present form, but in an entirely new and more effective way than was the case before 1988.

Is this what Israel wants? Israel cannot prevent Palestinians from a strategic reorientation along these lines. Does Israel really want to force Palestinians to take these steps?

The result of a reorientation of Palestinian strategy will clearly be much worse for Israel than the negotiation of a genuine two state outcome on the basis of the existing 1988 offer. Although many Palestinians may still prefer a genuine negotiated two state solution, a failure of the present Annapolis initiative will greatly strengthen those who argue against this. Most Palestinians are then likely to be convinced that a negotiated agreement is no longer possible. What is undoubtedly the case is that a reversal of the 1988 offer and the adoption of an alternative strategy is much preferable for Palestinians to any of the four preferred Israeli alternatives to a negotiated agreement. So, if current negotiations fail, Palestinians will be driven to replace the 1988 offer by a new strategy, not just rhetorically but in reality. The negotiated two state outcome will then be definitively cancelled. Palestinians will ensure that Israel is seen to be responsible for the closure of their 20 year offer. Israel will have lost an historic and non-recurrent opportunity to end the conflict and to secure its own future survival on the best terms available for Israel.

The first strategic task is the detailed working out of a fundamental reorientation of Palestinian strategy along the lines outlined above, including the new preferred strategic path, and the full range of means of implementation. All of this is commented upon in the main body of the Report. This task must be undertaken in all seriousness and on the assumption that present negotiations will fail. Even if only used as a strategic threat in order to force Israel to negotiate seriously, the intention must still be to implement the new strategy should negotiations fail. An empty threat is strategically no threat. A mere bluff does not work. So it is now an urgent priority for Palestinians to agree and work out in detail their alternative to a negotiated agreement and to communicate this as soon as possible and as forcefully as possible to Israel. This must be the immediate focus of unified national strategic planning that includes all Palestinians, from different backgrounds, generations, genders, and political affiliations, both those living in the occupied territories and those living elsewhere.

The second strategic task is to make sure that Israel understands the terms on which the 1988 offer is still held open by Palestinians and is clear about what Palestinians can and will do should these terms not be met. Has a national movement ever made a concession on a similar scale to that made by Palestinians in 1988? In negotiations Israelis repeatedly say ‘we do all the giving and the Palestinians do all the taking’. This is the opposite of the truth. Palestinians continue to demand no more than 22% of their historic land. It is Israel that has done all the taking through continuous government-backed settler encroachment on this remaining 22%. The second strategic task for Palestinians, therefore, is to spell out the minimum terms acceptable for negotiating a fully independent Palestinian state on 1967 borders, and to explain clearly why this is by far the best offer that Israel will ever get, including guarantees for Israel’s future security from neighbouring Arab states. Palestinians will set out a clear timetable for judging whether this has been attained or is attainable. It is Palestinians who will judge ‘success’, and it is Palestinians who will decide how long to persist in negotiations and when the moment has come to change strategy entirely.

The third strategic task is to ensure that it is the Palestinian discourse that frames international discussion of the Palestinian future. This is elucidated in the Report. The aim is to make clear to regional and international third parties that in all this it is not Palestinians who are lacking in commitment to a negotiated outcome, but Israel. Palestinians have persisted for twenty years with their historic offer of 1988. Israel has refused to honour it. That is why Israeli protestations are no longer credible to Palestinians. Israel has given Palestinians no option but to look elsewhere for fulfilment of their national aspirations. Israel bears full responsibility should negotiations fail.

In conclusion, it needs to be understood clearly that we Palestinians will never allow Israel to continue its encroachments and domination under the pretence of insincere negotiations, nor to go on imagining falsely that there are better alternatives available to Israel. Israel will have to decide whether to accept the time-limited negotiation offer that is evidently in its own best interest, or not. And we Palestinians will then act accordingly at a time and in a way of our own choosing.

It is now up to us as Palestinians to regain the strategic initiative and to take control of our own national destiny. Israel, regional partners, and international actors, must understand definitively that Palestinians will not be divided in their strategic objectives, and that the Palestinian people, steadfast and determined, will never give up their national struggle…”

This document can be read in full here.



Here is the daily SUMMARY OF EDITORIALS FROM THE HEBREW PRESS, compiled and sent by email from the Government Press Office … the gap between this and the Palestinian document appears very great:

“Yediot Ahronot accuses Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of behaving irresponsibly in the negotiations with the Palestinians given that his is a lame-duck administration. [n.b. – this seems to suggest Olmert must not make any concessions…]

Ma’ariv suggests that the, ‘peace activists,’ like those who recently sailed into the Gaza Strip, ‘bubble over with hatred, preach boycotts and miss no opportunity to justify our most murderous enemies.’ The editors add that, ‘Those whom our objective media has coronated with the crown of peace are aggressive, war-mongering enemies, people who have nothing to do with peace and tranquility.'”

Yisrael Hayom surveys the history of the peace process and asserts that, ‘The fact is that the withdrawals have not succeeded, not because this or that detail has not been honored but because of the discovery raised by the Palestinians’ conduct since the Oslo accords – they do not want peace.’ The editors believe that too many Israelis hold to the concepts that, ‘We need only to find a partner and there will be peace or that in order to assure the continuity of the Jewish state, we must sign peace agreements as quickly as possible.’ The paper warns that, ‘Re-entering the Jewish ghetto inside the 1967 borders will crumble Israeli society, deepen hatred and – mainly – invite further terrorism and unnecessary wars.’

[Gilad Sharon, Eiland, Nadav Haetzni and Dror Edar wrote today’s articles in Yediot Ahronot, Ma’ariv and Yisrael Hayom, respectively.]”