"An eye for an eye"… and a unilateral move for a unilateral move?

Is there anything new on the “peace talks”?

In response to questions from journalists in Washington yesterday, U.S. State Department Spokesperson, Assistant Secretary of State Philip J. Crowley, said:

“I have nothing specific to report to you. We continue our contacts with the parties, and I don’t have anything to report”.

The “direct talks” process that the U.S. launched in September, after “indirect talks” failed in March have all fizzled out. Only a bold few are now venturing to say that the effort is dead, but nothing is happening except behind the scenes contacts.

Everything is on hold until the U.S. mid-term Congressional elections in early November.

Then. another journalist put a follow-up question to Crowley:

QUESTION: On the peace process, President Abbas has said yesterday that Israel has been taking unilateral steps for decades by building settlements. So the Palestinians might take one of their own, asking the United Nations to recognize their independent state.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think our position has been pretty clear. We continue to encourage the parties to avoid unilateral steps on one side of the ledger or the other. Our position on settlements has not changed, and we continue to encourage the parties to resume direct negotiations as the only mechanism to resolve these myriad of issues.

Pretty mild, actually…

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu offered, a few weeks after his unilateral ten-month settlement “moratorium” expired on 26 September, to resume the “moratorium” for an indefinite time period if the Palestinian leadership would recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people. The Palestinians recoiled and shreiked.

Now, Netanyahu is reportedly considering another unilateral three-month extension…

"The State of Ishmael"

Shay Fogelman wrote in the weekend Haaretz that Rehavam “Gandhi” Ze’evi, a right-wing Israeli politician who was assassinated in an East Jerusalem hotel [the Hyatt Regency] nine years ago, at the height of the second Intifada, by Palestinian gunmen, had drawn up plans in 1967 for … well, not a Palestinian state, exactly… more like what Fogelman called the “state of Ishmael”.

Ishmael was the other son of the prophet Abraham, Patriarch of the Jews and founder of the monotheistic tradition is continued in Islam. Ishmael was fathered by Abraham with his wife’s servant, Hagar. Abraham’s wife, Sarah — who had been believed to be barren — then gave birth to Isaac. [It is believed that the Jewish tribes are descended from Isaac, while Arabs are descended from Ishmael…]

Fogelman wrote that “Ze’evi’s plan to create the state of Ishmael, in the form of a secret four-page document, has been gathering dust in the archives of the Israel Defense Forces since it was conceived. But anyone who examines the details closely will not likely describe it as a dovish project, reflecting a recognition of the Palestinians’ national rights. Submitted to then-chief of staff Yitzhak Rabin five days after the end of the Six-Day War, the plan was entitled ‘Political Arrangement for the West Bank − A Proposal’. Ze’evi begins by noting, ‘The following proposal follows conversations held recently and in light of the task assigned to me to put forward a proposal on the subject’. It does not, he notes, ‘refer to possible solutions for the Gaza Strip, which need to be considered separately’. Ze’evi’s proposal called for the establishment of ‘an independent Arab state in part of the West Bank, which would be tied to Israel by a contract that would ensure the rights of both sides. The new state will be called the state of Ishmael ‏(and not Palestine, in order not to increase its ‘appetite’ and representation‏)’ …

Continue reading "The State of Ishmael"

B'Tselem's Jessica Montell on Israel's settlements

Jessica Montell, Executive Director of B’Tselem [the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories] has just written on Foreign Policy’s Middle East Channel that:
the implications of settlements extend far beyond land issues. Settlements bring with them a host of hardships for Palestinians, ranging from restrictions on movement to obstacles to sewage treatment. They dictated the winding route of the Separation Barrier deep in the West Bank which in turn causes more hardships. Perhaps the most disturbing feature of this landscape is the entrenchment of two completely separate and discriminatory legal systems in a single area. In some cases, Palestinians and Israelis literally live side by side, yet the former are governed by military law while the latter enjoy all the benefits of Israeli democracy. This discrimination is manifest in almost every sphere of life: access to justice, due process, protection from violence, planning and building codes, access to water, and much more. Israel repeatedly promised to halt construction in settlements. This was explicitly part of the 2003 Road Map agreed with the Quartet as well as the 2007 Annapolis conference under the Bush administration. Despite this, settlements continued to grow, and at a much faster rate than the Israeli population as whole. While Israel argued that this “natural growth” cannot be stopped, it also continued to provide a myriad of financial benefits to encourage Israelis to move to settlements, including free preschools, a long school day, housing and mortgage subsidies, grants and subsidies for industry and agriculture, tax breaks and government assistance to municipalities to cover their debts. It is no wonder that in 2008 fully 20 percent of settlement growth was the result of migration from Israel proper“… This can be read in full here.

Netanyahu urges quiet

At the start of a post-holiday cabinet meeting today, Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu said in public remarks to his ministers that “One month ago, the Palestinians entered into direct talks with us, following a series of gestures that the Government carried out in order to advance the peace process. We have fully lived up to our commitment, a difficult commitment that we took upon ourselves. Now there is interest in continuing the peace negotiations. This is a vital interest for the State of Israel. We are in the midst of sensitive diplomatic contacts with the US administration in order to find a solution that will allow the continuation of the talks. Now is not the time for issuing statements. We have no interest in causing an uproar. Neither do I have the possibility of denying the baseless media report. But I do have an interest in responding calmly and responsibly in order to advance the diplomatic process. We will quietly consider the situation and the complex reality away from the spotlights. I propose that everyone be patient, act responsibly, calmly and – above all – quietly. This is exactly what we must do.”

Half the Quartet failed to move Netanyahu

Half the Quartet was in Israel last week (the EU’s Catherine Ashton, and U.S. Special Middle East Envoy George Mitchell) — and they failed to move Israel’s Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu to agree to extend, even a little bit, his unilateral 10-month settlement freeze that expired on 26 September.

The Palestinian leadership gave the USA an additional four days — until 30 September — to keep trying.

But, there was no movement.

After that, the rump PLO leadership and the Fatah Central Committee meet in the Presidential headquarters in Ramallah, and urged Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to stop “direct” talks with Israel as long as there is any settlement construction going on. Following Saturday’s meeting, Yasser Abed Rabbo, Secretary of the PLO Executive Committee, said that “The leadership confirms that the resumption of talks requires tangible steps, the first of them a freeze on settlements”…

Netanyahu said there should be no preconditions.

An Arab League summit meeting is due to convene in Sirte, Libya, on 8 October. Palestinian proposals to have earlier emergency consultations with the Arab League have been cancelled.

Fatah Central Committee member Mohammad Dahlan was reported by Ma’an News Agency as saying that Abbas will tender his resignation when the Arab League summit meeting does open. Dahlan is in charge of the Media portfolio for Fatah. His comments are reported here.

[So, Abbas will not resign in front of his own people, but rather in front of Arab leaders?]

Meanwhile, Abbas is saying he still intends to work with the U.S. to find a solution…

Continue reading Half the Quartet failed to move Netanyahu