Gideon Levy profile: Oslo "peace talks" were a scam from the start (17 years ago)

In a profile of Israeli journalist Gideon Levy of Haaretz, who has chronicled Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory for decades, Johann Hari of The Independent evokes his thoughts on the peace process.

He starts with Oslo: “Levy believes the greatest myth – the one hanging over the Middle East like perfume sprayed onto a corpse – is the idea of the current “peace talks” led by the United States. There was a time when he too believed in them. At the height of the Oslo talks in the 1990s, when Yitzhak Rabin negotiated with Yassir Arafat, ‘at the end of a visit I turned and, in a gesture straight out of the movies, waved Gaza farewell. Goodbye occupied Gaza, farewell! We are never to meet again, at least not in your occupied state. How foolish!’ Now, he says, he is convinced it was ‘a scam’ from the start, doomed to fail. How does he know? ‘There is a very simple litmus test for any peace talks. A necessity for peace is for Israel to dismantle settlements in the West Bank. So if you are going to dismantle settlements soon, you’d stop building more now, right? They carried on building them all through Oslo. And today, Netanyahu is refusing to freeze construction, the barest of the bare minimum. It tells you all you need’. He says Netanyahu has – like the supposedly more left-wing alternatives, Ehud Barak and Tzipi Livni – always opposed real peace talks, and even privately bragged about destroying the Oslo process. In 1997, during his first term as Israeli leader, he insisted he would only continue with the talks if a clause was added saying Israel would not have to withdraw from undefined military locations’ – and he was later caught on tape boasting: ‘Why is that important? Because from that moment on I stopped the Oslo accords’. If he bragged about ‘stopping’ the last peace process, why would he want this one to succeed? Levy adds: ‘And how can you make peace with only half the Palestinian population? How can you leave out Hamas and Gaza?’.”

He continues: “These fake peace talks are worse than no talks at all, Levy believes…

Continue reading Gideon Levy profile: Oslo "peace talks" were a scam from the start (17 years ago)

Salam Fayyad speech in Washington D.C.

The New America Foundation has posted a Youtube video [found via a story by Matt Duss on The Wonk Room blog] of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad speaking to the group in Washington recently: .

Matt Duss’ piece here concentrates on Fayyad’s views on the issue of recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. Duss includes a brief transcript of the relevant remarks, in which Fayyad mentions only the exchange of recognition between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, which was formally exchanged on the eve of the live event, broadcast worldwide from the White House lawn on 13 September 1993, when the U.S. then- President Bill Clinton hosted the late Yasser Arafat and the late Yitzhak Rabin for the formal signing the Declaration of Principles Olso Accords.

The transcript notes that Fayyad said (in response to a question — asked by Matt Duss himself, as it happens — at 49:25) that: “Actually we did a lot more than recognize Israel’s existence in 1993”:

Continue reading Salam Fayyad speech in Washington D.C.

Facebook friends like this "dissection" of Obama speech at UNGA

Facebook friends are abuzz this morning about Al-Jazeera’s interview with Electronic Intifada’s Ali Abunimah, in which, they say, he “dissects” the speech made this week at the UNGA by U.S. President Barack Obama:

“Well, anyone watching this speech would have to be a cynic”, Abunimah said. There really wasn’t anything really new in the Obama speech, Abunimah stated — adding: “and that bodes very ill for the peace process that he’s so invested in”.

Continue reading Facebook friends like this "dissection" of Obama speech at UNGA

"Direct" talks on life support as Israeli settlement "moratorium" nears end

Just hours before the Israeli unilaterally-declared settlement “moratorium” expires on 26 September, the U.S. and the parties involved are looking for a way to keep the talks going.

U.S. Acting Assistant Secretary of State [Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs] Jeffrey Feltman told reporters in New York on Friday, where world leaders are still hanging around the margins of the UN General Assembly, that “Yes, we are urging Israel to extend the moratorium. Yes. And we also are making clear to the Palestinians that we do not believe that it is in their interest to walk out of the talks. We do not believe that it helps them achieve their national goals if they would walk out of the talks. But we – but at this point, we are urging both sides to create the atmosphere that is most conducive to reaching a successful conclusion for negotiation and for both sides to take the negotiation process seriously … [W]e we want to see a two-state solution that’s an anchor for comprehensive peace. The best way to get to a two-state solution is through negotiations. The Palestinians and the Israelis have started a serious process. It is a process that is not going to be without difficulties. The gaps on some issues are quite wide. But it’s nevertheless the – a promising way for the Palestinians to achieve their goal of statehood, for the Palestinians to have a state that they can call their own”.

Asked by a journalist if “it’s counterproductive for every time Abbas sees something that he doesn’t like to walk out of the talks”, Feltman replied: “We don’t think either side should be using the threat to walk out to interrupt a process that has the promise of bringing Israel security and bringing the Palestinians a state”.

Continue reading "Direct" talks on life support as Israeli settlement "moratorium" nears end

Danny Ayalon gives a glimpse of what Israel officials mean by "a state for the Jewish people"

One of the main points that Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu raises, when talking about what it would take to achieve success in “direct” negotiations with the present Palestinian leadership, is the necessity for Palestinian recognition of Israel as a “state for the Jewish people”.

This is an improved formulation over the earlier version (which former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon included in Israel’s 14 reservations to the U.S.-backed Road Map in 2003) of requiring acceptance of a “Jewish State”.

However, there is no real clarity about what, exactly, that would mean. Palestinians fear it is formula to withdraw rights and citizenship from the one million or so (20-25% of Israel’s population) who are Palestinian Arabs, and that it also means agreement acquiescence in wiping out any and all residual claims of some 4 or 5 million Palestinian refugees and their descendants living in a diaspora around the world.

So far, it is a dialog of the deaf.

Palestinians of almost all political views react with outrage, anger… and smoldering fury.

Continue reading Danny Ayalon gives a glimpse of what Israel officials mean by "a state for the Jewish people"

Palestinians are not talking about a mere zoning issue

Writing in complaint of an article signed by AP correspondent Robert Burns, Daoud Kuttab has written that “Every US president since 1967 has chastised Israel for building settlements in occupied territories. Every UN Security Council Resolution and UN General Assembly decrees or statements have repeatedly censured Israel for violating the Geneva Conventions. As late as July 2004 the International Court of Justice at the Hague unanimously agreed in a decision about the Israeli wall, built deep in Palestinian territories, that settlement activities in the West Bank are in violation of international law. While AP reporters, international law, and the unanimity of world opinion agree to call Israeli building activity in the territories settlements, the AP reporter, Robert Burns, insists on his own terminology. Ironically, his insistence is not only restricted to what terms he gives to settlements, but he has the audacity and the lack of professionalism to put his language in the mouths of Palestinians. Speaking about the difficulties facing Clinton, Burns tells the readers what he thinks Palestinians want. ‘But the most immediate obstacle for negotiators is a Palestinian demand that Israel extend a curb on new housing construction [emphasis mine] in the West Bank, a constraint that Israel says will expire Sept. 26’, Burns writes. [But] Palestinians have never demanded a ‘curb on housing construction’, as if this was a mere zoning issue. Palestinians have consistently sided with the international community [actually, the international community, or ic, did not come up with this by itself, rather the ic sides with the Palestinians] that these Jewish-only settlements, built on illegally confiscated Palestinian land, are in violation of international law and must be removed. This demand is not aimed at the race or religion of the settlers but the fact that this was done in violation of international law. In a gesture for peace during proximity talks this summer, Palestinians officially handed the US peace envoy a written approval that Palestinians would be willing to make a compromise for some of the settlement blocs in areas cradling the Green Line on condition that they are swapped for lands equal in size and importance. But this has not changed Palestinians’ demands that settlement activities be suspended during the peace talks“… Daoud Kuttab’s complaint is posted here.

Israel was a full UN member state within a year of independence (but Jordan was made to wait)

Israel was admitted to the UN in May 1949, one year and a couple of days after its declaration of independence as the last British troops pulled out of what had been, for over 25 years, the Palestine Mandate.

Jordan was not admitted to the UN until late in 1955. The Soviet Union opposed its admission because the Western Powers refused to admit each of the Soviet republics separately (which would have given the Soviet Union a big bloc of votes in the UN).
The U.S.S.R. also said that it did not regard the Hashemite Kingdom as being sufficiently independent from Britain.

However, Israeli and Jordanian troops were nose-to-nose all along the UN-brokered armistices lines.

Imagine how it did not improve communications to have Israel a full UN member state, and Jordan refused membership…

It was not until 1955 that a deal was made, whereby just two Soviet Republics (in addition to the USSR) would get a seat and full membership in the world body, the major international organization — and in exchange a group of other states (including Jordan…and Ireland) were also given full membership at the same time.

Haaretz’s Barak Ravid reported today that “The [Israeli] Foreign Ministry has asked senior European Union officials to renew the process of upgrading Israel’s relations with the organization, in view of the renewal earlier this month of direct talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority”. This is posted here.

Akiva Eldar on what the Palestinians got in Washington – and what they will get in "direct" talks

On 7 September, Akiva Eldar wrote in Haaretz that “The Palestinians returned from the Washington summit with a sense that the Americans, for a change, understand them and perhaps favor their side [n.b. – this is what Palestinians hoped for ever since Obama’s taking office in January 2009]. The optimism prevailing in Ramallah is not due to cautious hope that Netanyahu will decide to divide Jerusalem. It stems from Obama’s promise that the United States will not surprise [emphasis added] the Palestinians, a formulation for years reserved for the ‘special relationship’ between the U.S and Israel. This is what Abbas received in return for his consent to open direct negotiations.

If among Israelis there is widespread concern that a final status arrangement with the Palestinians will turn out to be temporary , the Palestinians have learned that with Israelis, the temporary easily turns into the permanent. The impending solution was intended to combine the permanent with the temporary. The American mediators will strive to get the parties to sign a framework agreement that is based on the principles of the Clinton outline from December 2000: the 1967 borders; proportional territorial exchanges; disarmament of assault weapons; division of sovereignty in eastern Jerusalem based on the ethnic makeup of the neighborhoods; realization of the right of return in the Palestinian state. The signing of such an agreement in principle by Netanyahu and Abbas, with accompanying timetables, will pave the way to interim stages. The first stage should be delineating settlement blocs that will be freed of the construction freeze”.

This Akiva Eldar report is posted here.

Netanyahu speaks – but doesn't answer questions – about security

Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu said at the start of his regular weekly Cabinet meeting today:
“After one and a half years, in which I called for direct talks without pre-conditions, I had, in Washington, the chance to hold a long, private talk with Abu Mazen. I very much hope that this conversation and the others that will come will allow us to open a direct, continuous and reliable link, which is essential to our ability to formulate a peace settlement between our two peoples. I proposed that we meet for such a private talk every two weeks, in which we would discuss the main issues on the agenda vis-à-vis a peace settlement, because I believe that what is currently necessary to move the process forward is not a plethora of teams, but decisions by leaders. I believe that the start of the Washington talks was an important step en route to a framework agreement between us and the Palestinians. We are aware of the difficulties. They are still before us, both in the short- and medium-term, but we will continue with our efforts to reach an agreement. As I said in my [14.6.09] Bar-Ilan University speech, the anchors for peace are recognition of the State of Israel as the national state of the Jewish People, recognition of our historic link to our homeland, an end to the conflict with us and an end to claims, and practical security measures on the ground that are in keeping with the new reality that has been created here in the past decade and which we will face in the coming decade as well. These security procedures will ensure that there will be no repetition of what occurred after we left Lebanon and Gaza“.

Meanwhile, the Jerusalem Post reported ahead of the talks that “Israel is looking into the possibility that it will receive an arms package as compensation from the United States in the event that it reaches a peace agreement with the Palestinians that entails significant concessions, The Jerusalem Post has learned. Israel’s argument is that there is a need to compensate for security assets that would be lost under a deal that would necessitate a withdrawal from almost all of the West Bank … Ahead of the launch of this long-waited round of peace talks, the IDF’s Planning Branch formulated a paper outlining Israel’s security requirements that was recently approved by Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. In the plan, the IDF referred to three requirements necessary for any withdrawal from the West Bank: a commitment that rockets would not be smuggled into the West Bank, a commitment that the Palestinians will not resume terrorist attacks against Israel like during the second intifada, and a commitment that if Iraq were to one day pose a military threat to Israel again, the Palestinians would not allow it or any other country to deploy military forces in the West Bank. In talks Netanyahu and Barak have held with US officials, there appears to be a readiness by the US to offer Israel an arms package if the direct talks succeed and result in a peace deal with the Palestinian Authority. One example of what the package could include are additional F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets. Israel recently announced it was buying 20 JSFs for around $3 billion, but there is skepticism within the defense establishment as to whether it would have funds to purchase additional aircraft down the road” etc. This JPost report is published here.

Questions for Netanyahu

Haaretz journalist Zvi Bar’el posed a series of questions in print about the restart of direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and where things would go from here: “Netanyahu began well. He declared in the measured tone of a master of rhetoric that he is ready for a historic compromise and that genuine peace will require painful concessions by both sides. What, for example? Continuing the construction freeze in the settlements? Dismantling unauthorized outposts? Adopting the map that former prime minister Ehud Olmert proposed to Abbas? Stationing a multinational force in the Jordan Valley?

“What prevented Netanyahu from offering these things to Abbas during the indirect talks? Does he have a mysterious rabbit in his hat that he can sell Abbas without anyone noticing? In three weeks he will have to publicly confront his adversaries regarding construction in the settlements. No bluffing will do here. Bulldozers can’t be hidden in drawers. So it can be safely asserted that Netanyahu has no new wares to peddle to the Palestinians, and Abbas knows it.

“What is needed here is a decision by the leaders, not negotiating teams, Netanyahu said, explaining his mission. [n.b. – Chief Palestinian negotiator Sa’eb Erekat said this first, followed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas…] If so, why is it necessary to have a referendum on the agreement, if and when it is achieved? Does Netanyahu fear that he is acting outside the mandate given him by the public, contrary to his party’s platform? Or maybe he’s sure the public will approve what his coalition partners will reject? But this is the same public that elected the rightist majority that formed the governing coalition. It’s the same public that Netanyahu has done nothing to convince that it would be best to withdraw, strike a peace agreement and separate from the territories.

“The next stage is even more dangerous, because it’s too easy to con the Israeli and Palestinian peoples and present them with the trap of interim arrangements, a flexible timetable or a framework agreement that contains no practical details. These are minefields that have already exploded, from the Mitchell Report, to the Tenet Plan, to the road map, to Annapolis”…

This was published here.