The big story: September State

This is a gem — “September State (Dawlat Aylul)” by Jerusalem-born artist Ahmad Dari, a long-term resident of France, posted on Youtube here:


This was a follow-up to Ahmad Dari’s earlier observations on the mission of former U.S. Special Envoy, George Mitchell, posted on Youtube here:


Arab League Ministers give another month for U.S. efforts to relaunch Israeli-Palestinian negotiations

This is the second renewal of a deadline.

Arab League Ministers have just extended for another month a deadline set on 8 October — after a unilateral settlement “moratorium” declared by Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu expired on 26 September without renewal — to give American officials one more month to try to get things going again.

Arab League officials have (1) threatened to remove the Arab Peace Initiative from the table — it basically offers full recognition of, and normalization with, Israel, in exchange for an Israeli agreement to withdraw to the 1967 borders — and (2) hinted that they might withdraw backing for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations under American auspices, if Israel does not cease its settlement activities.

Netanyahu is going to the U.S. next week, and Israeli officials have hinted that important moves may be made during Netanyahu’s meeings in Washington. So far, he is only scheduled to see American Vice President Joe Biden — whose visit to Israel last March was marred by Israeli announcements of movement in settlement construction in Ramat Shlomo on West Bank land adjacent to East Jerusalem.

U.S. State Department officials have indicated that efforts are underway to find a time for Netanyahu to meet U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Sari Nusseibeh – again, on the two-state vs one-state solution

Former New York Times man Bernard Gwertzman, now a Consulting Editor with the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, has just published an interview with Sari Nusseibeh, President, Al-Quds University in Jerusalem — and a former Palestinian representative in Jerusalem — in which Nusseibeh has repeated again his support, and preference, for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Nusseibeh told Gwertzman: “I believe a two-state solution, if it’s realizable, is probably the best kind of option. It would involve compromises from both sides. The alternative is not really doable through negotiations. For example, if you think about a one-state solution, it’s not going to happen through negotiations because the majority of Israelis would probably be against it. And if you think of any other scenarios, again, you’ll find that most people will probably be against it. So we have a situation where if we are left without a two-state solution, then we’re going to be in for a long haul. I don’t want to overdramatize it, but it’s not going to be beautiful, or a good situation for either side”…

What does he mean by “in for a long haul”? Hasn’t it already been a long haul?

It seems what he means is, there needs to be a better occupation until the two populations can be separated…

Continue reading Sari Nusseibeh – again, on the two-state vs one-state solution

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.”

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.

George Mitchell on direct talks

U.S. Special Envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell told journalists after the September 1 + 2 meetings in Washington that were said to have relaunched direct talks between Israelis and Palestinians that “Any realistic appraisal of the situation, including the recent history – by which I mean the last two decades – makes clear that there are very serious differences between the parties, that there are many difficulties which lay ahead both in terms of the substance of the issues, the impact on their domestic politics, the needs and interests of their societies. We have not, of course, attempted to prescribe what they can or should say about any issue. These are independent and extremely able leaders representing the interests of their societies. What we have sought to convey in innumerable conversations that I have had personally with both leaders over many, many months is President Obama’s conviction that despite all of the difficulties – near term, long term, political, substantive, personal, and otherwise – the paramount goal of making the lives of their citizens more safe, more secure, more prosperous, more full can best be achieved by a meaningful and lasting peace between the parties and in the region; that the alternative to that poses difficulties and dangers far greater to the individuals, to the leaders, to their societies, than those risks which they run in an effort to reach an agreement that brings about their lasting peace; that any realistic evaluation of the self-interest of the people of Israel and the Palestinian people must, in our judgment, conclude that they are far better off living side by side in two states in peace and security than in a continuation of the current situation“.

Ehud Barak on eve of Washington talks – one-upsmanship or coordinated leak?

Just hours before the opening of events scheduled in Washington to relaunch Israeli-Palestinian direct talks (which were cut off in late December 2008, after the IDF launched a massive military operation against Hamas in Gaza, Ehud Barak has made big waves with remarks he made in an interview published this morning in Haaretz.

Was it Barak-style one-upsmanship? Or, was this a leak coordinated with Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu?

Here is an extended excerpt of the published Q+A:

Q: Ehud Barak, is there any chance that you and Benjamin Netanyahu will succeed in reaching peace with the Palestinians now, the same peace which you did not succeed in achieving in 2000 and Ehud Olmert did not succeed in achieving in 2008?

A: “In the current reality that is encircling us, there are remarkable changes underway. Thirty years ago, the Arabs competed amongst the Israelis in spouting rejectionist slogans that were reminiscent of [the three “nos” at] Khartoum. Today the Arab states are competing amongst themselves in arguing over which peace initiative will be adopted by the international community. The same situation is taking place with us. When I returned from Camp David a decade ago, the most vocal critics of my “irresponsible” concessions were Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni. Take a look at where they are today. It doesn’t mean that the task is a simple one. The gaps are wide and they are of a fundamental nature. But I believe that there is a real chance today. If Netanyahu leads a process, a significant number of rightist ministers will stand with him. So what is needed is courage to make historic, painful decisions. I’m not saying that there is a certainty for success, but there is a chance. This chance must be exploited to the fullest”.

Q: What are the principles of a peace deal that you believe can be agreed upon by the conclusion of the talks?

A: “Two states for two nations; an end to the conflict and the end of all future demands; the demarcation of a border that will run inside the Land of Israel, and within that border will lie a solid Jewish majority for generations and on the other side will be a demilitarized Palestinian state but one that will be viable politically, economically, and territorially; keeping the settlement blocs in our hands; retrieving and relocating the isolated settlements into the settlement blocs or within Israel; a solution to the refugee problem [whereby refugees return to] the Palestinian state or are rehabilitated by international aid; comprehensive security arrangements and a solution to the Jerusalem problem”…

[Asked to describe a possible Jerusalem solution, Barak mentions that 200,000 Israelis now live in 12 “Jewish neighborhoods” in East Jerusalem that will become “ours” [i.e., Israel’s]; while 250,000 Palestinians in “Arab neighborhoods” will be “theirs” [i.e., be handed over to the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority, whether or not they like it]. And, Barak went on, there should be a “special regime” [UN terminology from early UNGA resolutions] for the East Jerusalem areas of the Old City, the Mount of Olives, and the “City of David” – i.e., Silwan, an East Jerusalem Palestinian neighborhood south and east of the Old City walls.

In other words, what’s “ours” is “ours”, and part of what’s “theirs” will also be “ours”.

If this succeeds, it will be the first time ever that the Quartet (including the U.S. but also the European Union, Russia and the UN), as well as Jordan and Egypt would swallow Israeli claims in East Jerusalem without protest…

Barak’s remarks are published in Haaretz here.

Our fuller analysis of Barak’s remarks concerning East Jerusalem is posted here.

Tony Blair – once restricted to economics – now upgraded

It’s not for the time he’s put on the job — the Quartet’s Middle East envoy Tony Blair is a real absentee.

If he’s here, at the Quartet’s quarters in The American Colony Hotel in East Jerusalem once a month, that’s a lot.

It’s not that the problems here aren’t urgent.

But, as a seasoned politician, Blair doesn’t want to waste his “image” on just spinning his wheels for nothing.

But now, the U.S. is hard up. The Obama Administration’s efforts have not “yielded fruit”, crushing everybody’s hopes.

And, just as there have been calls over the past year-and-half or so for Tony Blair to resign as Quartet representative [and for the UNSG to resign as well], there have been calls on the past couple of months for George Mitchell to resign.

But, that would be to admit defeat — and that won’t happen, at least not quite yet.

So, now there is new idea: a decision for Blair + Mitchell to work together.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced yesterday in Washington that “Consistent with Prime Minister Fayyad’s plan for a future Palestinian state, Tony Blair, as the Quartet representative, will intensify his partnership with Senator Mitchell in support of the political negotiations”, as we also reported here.

While I wondererd if it were an upgrade, or a downgrade — I’d say it’s an upgrade, because from the time of his appointment (immediately after leaving his post as Prime Minister of the U.K.) until now, Tony Blair was restricted to dealing with “economic” improvement of the Palestinian situation, a battle in which he has declared victory numerous times.

Now, with this new announcement from Washington, Blair is now upgraded to working in support of “the political negotiations”, mainly but not exclusively in efforts to revive direct Israeli-Palestinian talks.

Geneva Intiative input into Annapolis negotiations

Haaretz reporters Aluf Benn and Barak Ravid have published an account of a meeting of the Israeli team that supports the Geneva Initiative between Israeli and Palestinian civil society (in December 2003) that gives a glimpse into what happened in the direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations under the Annapolis process in 2008. This account also explains why Israel’s then-Prime Ehud Olmert was looking for information from the experts who had worked on drafting the Geneva Intiative.

Here is an extended excerpt from the Haaretz article:

    “I do not believe that in the foreseeable future there is a possibility of an agreement with the Palestinians on all the issues, especially on the problematic core issues,” says Udi Dekel, who headed the negotiations task force in the previous government. Dekel spoke on Thursday at a conference on the unofficial “Geneva Initiative” peace plan … He was highly critical of the negotiating tactics of former prime minister Ehud Olmert and his Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni in their dealings with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and the head of his negotiating team, Ahmed Qureia. “The biggest mistake was that everything was based on the premise that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed,” Dekel said. “We thought at the time that this could provide the necessary flexibility in the negotiations, but in practice, every time someone showed flexibility, the other side tried to pin him down. Therefore, I suggest that the model be changed and that whatever is agreed is implemented.”

    Continue reading Geneva Intiative input into Annapolis negotiations

Daniel Levy on Relaunching (or not) Israeli-Palestinian Peace Talks

Daniel Levy. the original key player (on behalf of Yossi Beilin) on the Israeli team of the Geneva Initiative (a “civil society” effort to outline a peace agreement), is now in Washington D.C. (a senior fellow at the New America and Century Foundations), and he has recently published a new article (posted originally on Haaretz here and also on his own blog here, in which he argued that:

“If history repeats itself, Netanyahu could drag out talks indefinitely. Once negotiating, there is ample opportunity to create diversions, distractions and provocations … The PLO-Fatah leadership, so far at least, has cast itself in the role of skeptical party pooper. Its members know the consequences of another meaningless negotiation process for their national – not to mention party-political – cause. Many outsiders have been surprised, and some impressed, by the determination displayed over the last several months by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in refusing unconditionally to resume talks. Yet that same leadership has not offered an alternative strategy to replace negotiations, nor has it reunified the Palestinian national movement. The PLO-Fatah leaders are viewed by all sides
as the weakest link, hence the full-court press currently being applied to them. Should they succumb, they will no doubt have to justify such a move by clinging to whatever political fig leaf they are offered, but that will not shield them from what are likely to be harsh domestic political consequences … The main wild card in this equation is the
Obama administration. Year One combined early engagement and a strong declarative commitment to Israeli-Palestinian peace with a frustrating lack of new thinking or political daring from the George Mitchell team, while the president was not personally involved and did not take ownership of the issue. The United States may be satisfied with a convenient and showy re-launch of negotiations, followed by the plodding predictability of process over substance. President Obama may, however, take seriously his own admonition that this issue matters to American strategic interests. That would translate into U.S. leadership in shaping a breakthrough, preferably with EU and Quartet support, creating real choices and deploying new incentives and disincentives with the parties, notably Israel. Ultimately, for all the noise and speculation regarding their resumption, Israeli-Palestinian negotiations are likely to prove rather inconsequential. Success or failure in achieving de-occupation and two states will depend primarily on the conversation between Obama and Netanyahu, their political calculations, priorities and persistence”.