David Grossman: Netanyahu and Palestinians both missed an opportunity

David Grossman, one of Israel’s most respected and politically-engaged writers, who backed the Geneva Initiative in 2003 and lost a son in Israel’s 2006 war on Lebanon — and who agreed to give Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu the benefit of his views on the eve of Netanyahu’s big speech on Sunday 14 June, has now expressed his disappointment at the result.

He accused both sides of “desistance” — or do-nothingness — which he said he fears means there will be no peace unless it is imposed upon both sides.

Grossman wrote in mid-week in Haaretz that “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech was indeed, as it has been decribed, the speech of our lives. Our bogged-down, hopeless lives. Once again, most Israelis can snuggle up around what appears to be a daring and generous offer, but what is in fact, as usual, a compromise between the anxieties, the weakness and the self-righteousness of the center just-to-the-right and the center a-little-left. But what a great distance between them and the harsh demands of reality, as well as the legitimate needs and rightful claims of the Palestinians, now accepted by most of the world, including the United States.  Now, after every word of the speech has been analyzed and weighed, we should step back and look at the whole spectacle, the big picture. What the speech exposed, beyond all its juggling and parities, is the desistance we have come to, we Israelis, in the face of a reality that requires flexibility, daring and vision. If we turn from the skilled orator to his audience, we will see how passionately it barricades itself behind its anxieties, and we will feel the sweet stupor from pulsating nationalism, militarism and victimhood, which were the heartbeat of the entire speech.

“Other than acceptance of the two-state principle, which was wrung out of Netanyahu under heavy pressure and sourly expressed, this speech contained no tangible step toward a real change of consciousness. Netanyahu did not speak ‘honestly and courageously’ – as he had promised – about the destructive role of the settlements as an obstacle to peace. He did not look the settlers in the eye and tell them what he knows full well: that the map of the settlements contradicts the map of peace. That most of them will have to leave their homes. He should have said it. He would not have lost points in future negotiations with the Palestinians; rather, he would have allowed these negotiations to begin. He should have spoken to us, the Israelis, like adults, and not have swaddled us in more insulation from the facts known to all. He should have related specifically and in detail to the Arab peace initiative. He should have pointed out the clauses that Israel accepts and those it does not. He should have initiated a challenging call that would have allowed them to respond, and begun Israel’s most essential process.

“He spent many minutes regaling the audience with the promises and assurances that Israel had to receive from the Palestinians even before negotiations began. He did not speak of the risks Israel had to take or its desire to achieve peace. He persuaded no one that that he really intends to fight for peace. He did not lead Israel to a new future. He only collaborated with its old, familiar anxieties. I looked at him, and at the impressive data on the support he received after the speech, and I knew how far we are from peace. How distant, and perhaps even whithered within us, are the ability, the talent and the wisdom to make peace, and even the instinct to save ourselves from war. I saw my prime minister in his tight-lipped juggling act, a sophisticated performance of close-eyed rejection. I saw how his ever-ready internal mechanism turns every attempt-to-talk-peace into self-persuasion that an edict from heaven commands us to live by the sword forever. I saw, and I knew that none of these will bring forth peace.

“I also observed the Palestinians who responded to the speech, and I thought that they are the most faithful partners to desistance and missed opportunities. Their response could have been much wiser and more prescient than the speech itself; could they not have grasped even the drooping branch Netanyahu offered them, unwillingly, and challenged him to begin negotiations with them immediately, as he proposed at the beginning of his address; negotiations with some chance that the two parties will climb down from the lofty heights of reverberating declarations onto the soil of reality, and perhaps to each party’s promised land. But the Palestinians, trapped like we are in a mechanism of contention and haggling, prefered to speak of the thousand years that would pass before they would agree to his conditions”.

It seems, Grossman wrote, that “there will be no peace here if it is not forced upon us”.

David Grossman’s analysis can be read in full here.

Netanyahu calls for a demilitarized Palestinian state with ironclad security guarantees

Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu said, in a speech on Sunday night that was billed as a response to Obama’s speech to the Muslim world from Cairo on 4 June, that Palestinians are living in the Jewish homeland, and must recognize the Jewish right to be there.

Palestinians could live as a “free” people, side-by-side with the Jewish people, with each having its own “national existence”, Netanyahu said, if (1) they recognize Israel as the national state of the Jewish people, and if (2) they agree that “the Palestinian entity must be demilitarized”, with Israel retaining a real defensive edge with “ironclad” security guarantees.

See our full analysis here.

The Israeli organization Peace Now responded to the Netanyahu speech with this critique:
“Bibi is still Bibi, perhaps more sophisticated but without a real message for the State of Israel.
Without vision, without a course of action and without any willingness to lead Israel to the necessary decisions, Netanyahu tried to remake himself, but even the pair of words ‘Palestinian state’ is no magic formula that can cover the political nakedness of Netanyahu and his government.
In Netanyahu’s vision of an upgraded autonomy called a ‘demilitarized Palestinian state’, the lives of the Palestinians will be dictated solely by the whims of the government of Israel in Jerusalem”…

Continue reading Netanyahu calls for a demilitarized Palestinian state with ironclad security guarantees

Obama speech in Cairo on Israeli-Palestinian conflict: "the situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable"

Without comment (it is everywhere) here is the section of Obama’s big-deal, well-rolled-out, historic speech in Cairo on Thursday 4 June in which he speaks about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:

Obama speech in Cairo 4 June 09 - Official White House photo by Pete Souza

Photos are official White House photos from Flikr photo stream – this one is by Pete Souza

“The second major source of tension that we need to discuss is the situation between Israelis, Palestinians and the Arab world.

“America’s strong bonds with Israel are well known. This bond is unbreakable. It is based upon cultural and historical ties, and the recognition that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied.

“Around the world, the Jewish people were persecuted for centuries, and anti-Semitism in Europe culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust. Tomorrow, I will visit Buchenwald, which was part of a network of camps where Jews were enslaved, tortured, shot and gassed to death by the Third Reich. Six million Jews were killed – more than the entire Jewish population of Israel today. Denying that fact is baseless, ignorant, and hateful. Threatening Israel with destruction – or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews – is deeply wrong, and only serves to evoke in the minds of Israelis this most painful of memories while preventing the peace that the people of this region deserve.

“On the other hand, it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people – Muslims and Christians – have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. For more than sixty years they have endured the pain of dislocation. Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring lands for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead. They endure the daily humiliations – large and small – that come with occupation. So let there be no doubt: the situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own.

Obama speaks in Cairo on 4 June 09 - Official White House photo by Chuck Kennedy

Photos are official White House photos from Flikr photo stream – this one is by Chuck Kennedy

“For decades, there has been a stalemate: two peoples with legitimate aspirations, each with a painful history that makes compromise elusive. It is easy to point fingers – for Palestinians to point to the displacement brought by Israel’s founding, and for Israelis to point to the constant hostility and attacks throughout its history from within its borders as well as beyond. But if we see this conflict only from one side or the other, then we will be blind to the truth: the only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security.

Obama speaking in Cairo on 4 June 09 - Official White House photo by Chuck Kennedy

Photos are official White House photos from Flikr photo stream – this one is by Chuck Kennedy

That is in Israel’s interest, Palestine’s interest, America’s interest, and the world’s interest. That is why I intend to personally pursue this outcome with all the patience that the task requires. The obligations that the parties have agreed to under the Road Map are clear. For peace to come, it is time for them – and all of us – to live up to our responsibilities.

“Palestinians must abandon violence. Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and does not succeed. For centuries, black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation. But it was not violence that won full and equal rights. It was a peaceful and determined insistence upon the ideals at the center of America’s founding. This same story can be told by people from South Africa to South Asia; from Eastern Europe to Indonesia. It’s a story with a simple truth: that violence is a dead end. It is a sign of neither courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus. That is not how moral authority is claimed; that is how it is surrendered.

“Now is the time for Palestinians to focus on what they can build. The Palestinian Authority must develop its capacity to govern, with institutions that serve the needs of its people. Hamas does have support among some Palestinians, but they also have responsibilities. To play a role in fulfilling Palestinian aspirations, and to unify the Palestinian people, Hamas must put an end to violence, recognize past agreements, and recognize Israel’s right to exist.

At the same time, Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel’s right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine’s. The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop.

Obama finishes speech in Cairo on 4 June 2009 - Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

Photos are official White House photos from Flikr photo stream – this one is by Pete Souza

“Israel must also live up to its obligations to ensure that Palestinians can live, and work, and develop their society. And just as it devastates Palestinian families, the continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza does not serve Israel’s security; neither does the continuing lack of opportunity in the West Bank. Progress in the daily lives of the Palestinian people must be part of a road to peace, and Israel must take concrete steps to enable such progress.

“Finally, the Arab States must recognize that the Arab Peace Initiative was an important beginning, but not the end of their responsibilities. The Arab-Israeli conflict should no longer be used to distract the people of Arab nations from other problems. Instead, it must be a cause for action to help the Palestinian people develop the institutions that will sustain their state; to recognize Israel’s legitimacy; and to choose progress over a self-defeating focus on the past.

“America will align our policies with those who pursue peace, and say in public what we say in private to Israelis and Palestinians and Arabs. We cannot impose peace. But privately, many Muslims recognize that Israel will not go away. Likewise, many Israelis recognize the need for a Palestinian state. It is time for us to act on what everyone knows to be true.

“Too many tears have flowed. Too much blood has been shed. All of us have a responsibility to work for the day when the mothers of Israelis and Palestinians can see their children grow up without fear; when the Holy Land of three great faiths is the place of peace that God intended it to be; when Jerusalem is a secure and lasting home for Jews and Christians and Muslims, and a place for all of the children of Abraham to mingle peacefully together as in the story of Isra, when Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed (peace be upon them) joined in prayer”…

OBAMA interview with NPR: Israel should take U.S. interests into account

The new U.S. President Barack H. Obama said during an interview with National Public Radio (NPR) show hosts Michele Norris (of NPR’s All Things Considered program) and Steve Inskeep (of NPR’s Morning Edition) that: “Part of being a good friend is being honest. And I think there have been times where we are not as honest as we should be about the fact that the current direction, the current trajectory, in the region is profoundly negative, not only for Israeli interests but also U.S. interests. And that’s part of a new dialogue that I’d like to see encouraged in the region”.

In other words, Obama would like to see Israel take into consideration U.S. interests, as well as vice versa which has been the normal state of affairs up till now…

The excerpt from the OBAMA interview in which he speaks on this matter can be listened to here.

Obama speaks with Mahmoud Abbas on his first day in White House - 21 Jan 09

In the White House photo, above, Obama is making his first phone call in office to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Speaking about Afghanistan (in advance of his widely-anticipated address to the Muslim world later this week from Egypt, but applicable world-wide) Obama said that “Every time you have civilian casualties, that always complicates things … whether [it’s in] a Muslim or non-Muslim country”.

Israel’s YNet news website reported today that “Speaking to NPR, Obama argued it is in Israel’s best interests to make peace. ‘I believe that strategically, the status quo is unsustainable when it comes to Israel’s security’, Obama said. Over time, in the absence of peace with Palestinians, Israel will continue to be threatened militarily and will have enormous problems on its borders’.” This YNet report can be viewed in full here.