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.

Now, we are being prepared for big American criticism — at least from Rice

We are being prepared for big American criticism of Israel in the coming period.

A week ago, Haaretz reported that “The United States will conduct confidential assessments of whether Israel and the Palestinians are meeting their peacemaking commitments and share the results privately with the parties, U.S. and Western officials said. Israel has sought to keep the U.S. process of judging compliance with the long-stalled “road map” peace plan largely secret. Palestinians say they favour disclosure of judgments on whether Israel is halting all settlement activity and whether the Palestinians are curbing militants as the plan demands”. This Haaretz story added that a senior U.S. official said ” ‘We will conduct this process in confidence … our purpose will be to encourage progress, not to chastise’ the parties. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Washington will share the assessment results ‘with the parties, probably bilaterally, but perhaps in other formats as well. We reserve the option to be public if need arises’, the official added … A senior adviser to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Israel may come into conflict with the United States over increased pressure by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to advance talks with the Palestinian Authority … ‘Their demands from Israel will only increase and it is not certain that we can meet them under the circumstances’, he added. The adviser said that in Vice Premier Haim Ramon’s talks with American officials, he had gone ‘too far in promising them things to please them’. Another senior government official involved in the talks also warned of expected crises with the Palestinians and the Americans. ‘Israel has created a series of far-reaching expectations in the international arena’, this official said, referring to the implementation of the first part of the road map, ‘but this is not going to happen’. ‘There is no political capability either to evacuate settlements or freeze construction in the settlements’, the second official added. According to this official, the problem will be even greater when negotiations begin on the core issues. ‘There are detailed files that include Israel’s position on the day negotiations came to a halt in 2001’, he said. ‘What will happen when they open the Jerusalem file, for example? They’ll find that Israel’s final position at Taba is light-years away from Israel’s opening position today’. ” This Haaretz report was published here.

Now, Haaretz is warning that U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice is losing patience with Israel: “The latest point of friction had to do with the conference of donor countries to the Palestinians that took place in Paris last week. Rice wanted to proceed from the conference to Jerusalem, to make sure that the political process hadn’t withered and died after the fanfare in Annapolis. There was a decision already. What made her change her mind and not come? One version has it that she received a message from the White House not to rush things, to give the Israelis and Palestinians some time to work things out without her. Olmert’s bureau denies that Israel intervened to block Rice’s visit. David Welch, her aide on Middle East affairs, who had visited Israel a few days before that, felt that in any event, she wouldn’t be able to achieve much with a lightning visit so soon after Annapolis. The Americans say they don’t want Rice’s visits to become just a worthless routine. It was clear that this time, nothing much could come of it. In private conversations – and as she said in Annapolis – Rice tends to compare the Israeli occupation in the territories to the racial segregation that used to be the norm in the American South. The Israel Defense Forces checkpoints where Palestinians are detained remind her of the buses she rode as a child in Alabama, which had separate seats for blacks and whites. This is an uncomfortable comparison, of course, for the Israelis, who view it as ‘over-identification’ on her part with Palestinian suffering. For some leaders of American Jewish organizations, who weren’t all that fond of Rice to begin with, her use of this image was the last straw. Rice is now marked as an enemy. It’s also easier for them to blame her, rather than the president, for an approach that’s not to their liking. But Rice’s anger at Israel really derives from more current events: She was deeply offended at the height of the Second Lebanon War, while preparing to leave for Beirut to pull together a cease-fire, when the IDF killed Lebanese civilians during the bombing of Kafr Kana. Her trip was canceled at the last minute, the war went on for more than another two weeks, and some who know her say that Rice never forgave Israel for this slap in the face. In recent months, she’s been heard grumbling about Israel’s foot-dragging in carrying out good-will gestures toward Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The tension became more open in connection with the Annapolis summit, say Israeli sources. Rice changed the title of the event from “an international meeting” to a “summit,” [what??? the last format was “an international meeting”] despite Israel’s express objections. She supported the Palestinian position, which called for the establishment of a Palestinian state in tandem with the implementation of the road map. Israel balked, and managed to win consent for ‘sequential’ implementation – that is, first a war on terror and then a Palestinian state. When the leaders met with President George W. Bush prior to the official start of the summit, Olmert said that if he had any disagreements with Rice, he would turn to the president. “You’ll get the same answer from him,” Rice said. Olmert insisted on his right to appeal to the White House. Bush listened and didn’t say anything, but officials in Washington advise that one shouldn’t attach too much importance to this silence. Bush likes Olmert, but he likes Rice a lot more. Something very serious would have to happen for the president to override her authority. And she’s smart enough not to clash with Israel without first checking with the president just how far she can go. Israel needs an unofficial channel of communication, a “Rice bypass road,” to the White House. Steve Hadley, the national security advisor, who was Rice’s deputy during Bush’s first term, is very close to her and wouldn’t operate behind her back. And there is no Jewish leader in the Republican Party who, like Max Fisher in the past, has sufficient enough influence to just phone up the president and quietly take care of things. Most Jewish Republicans who have a degree of access to the White House are not fans of the political process, and some are busy promoting the campaign against a division of Jerusalem, an effort that Olmert perceives as a personal campaign against him and in favor of Benjamin Netanyahu. Which basically leaves Olmert as the guy who can communicate with Bush. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is maintaining her own channel of communication with her American counterpart, even if it appears that their initial mutual infatuation has faded. At the Prime Minister’s Office, the focus is now on Bush’s January 9th visit. Expected to top the agenda is the Iranian threat and the ramifications of the American intelligence report that said Iran is not planning to develop a military nuclear capability. On the Palestinian issue, those in Olmert’s circle believe that Bush will make do with some nice words and not bug his hosts with demands to evacuate outposts and remove checkpoints. Rice will have to deal with these troubles after Bush goes back home. And she apparently has every intention of doing so …Rice’s exasperation with Israel’s behavior stems primarily from the gap between expectations and results, and from the fast-dwindling time she has left on the seventh floor of the U.S. State Department. Rice thinks that Israel received a lot and didn’t give anything in return. As she sees it, the Bush administration gave Israel two important gifts in the president’s April, 2004 letter to Ariel Sharon: implied recognition of the settlement blocs, and a demand that the refugees return to the Palestinian state and not to Israel. But Israel isn’t responding with the proper counter-gestures. Here, however, they say that Rice received plenty and that she ought to be more patient. After all, within a month, Israel went to the major political event in Annapolis, and then the donor countries agreed to give the PA even more than she asked for. That’s not bad for such a short time. What’s her big rush? The problem is that Rice embarked on this campaign in the belief that she would succeed in cutting the Gordian knot of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She hoped that in Annapolis principles would be set down for a final-status accord, but Israel told her that wasn’t going to happen. She thinks that the PA is making satisfactory progress with the reform of its security forces, while officials in Israel say she’s exaggerating and that the reform is still very far from accomplishing anything. She wanted to Israel to make more good-will gestures, but the Israelis remind here that this will be hard to do as long as Qassam rockets continue to fall on Sderot. She wanted to see outposts evacuated, and in Israel they blew her off, citing the danger it would pose to the coalition. Whether Israel likes it or not, it has been cast in the role of the obstacle, as the one putting the brakes on – while Abbas and his prime minister Salam Fayyad are seen as the ones who want to make progress … And still, Rice’s people ask: Not even one outpost? One little pre-fab? Rice is right in saying that Israel is not making good on its commitment on this matter, but in Israel they say that fulfilling the obligation would sabotage more important moves. Will the coalition’s stability endure when the government tries to evacuate outposts, or to make serious progress in the negotiations with the Palestinians? Rice wants to believe that the answer is yes, but no one in Israel is willing to bet on it. The word in Olmert’s bureau is that the coalition relies on the distinction between ‘theory and deed’. As long as we’re only talking with the Palestinians, everyone can sit comfortably in their cabinet seats. But a forceful evacuation of settlers, or far-reaching understandings with Abbas, could upset the partnership with Lieberman and Shas. Olmert is well aware of this, and prefers to maintain the coalition and the government over making any serious moves in the territorie
s. For Rice to understand this too, however, she’ll have to be convinced each time anew”. This article was published in Haaretz here.

This is a very strange argument — why is Rice supposed to understand that pressures from opposition political parties in Israel will prevent the Prime Minister from honestly suing for peace with Palestinians?

Rice would be right if she sees the pursuit of honest negotiations as more important than maintaining the present political configuration in Israel — though the boogeyman threat being held out is that if Olmert goes, whoever comes in, and whatever new coalition will be formed, will be worse.

But this, of course, leads to a damned-if-you-do, and damned-if-you-don’t scenario … and in either version the Israeli politicians say they face constraints on sincere efforts to conclude a peace.

Lessons from Har Homa – I and II

Israeli settlement activities were discussed — but certainly not resolved — at a meeting between the Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams on Monday.   Now, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas are scheduled to hold a “summit” meeting on Thursday on the subject, which the Palestinians have indicated must be resolved for any further progress to be made.

The announcement that approval has been given for 307 – then 500 – additional homes in Har Homa, which is on a formerly-wooded hilltop between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, is only part of the picture.

There has also been discussion in the press of additional building in Maale Adumim — which an Ir Amim study-tour guide said recently has jurisdiction over a larger physical area than Tel Aviv — and in Atarot,  where a now-disused airport for Jerusalem sits, between Ramallah and Jerusalem, where Jewish housing is growing rapidly in several areas.

In 1997, Israel announced plans to build 6500 homes in Har Homa.  [N.B., so far, only about 2,500 housing units have been built — and many of them appear to be empty.]   The UN Security Council met for weeks, the U.S. vetoed a draft resolution, and the UN General Assembly met in a “uniting for peace” process.

Akiva Eldar wrote recently that “In the Palestinian Authority (and the Israeli peace camp) this plan was seen as another step in a scheme to cut off their capital from the West Bank. Yasser Arafat threatened to declare the establishment of an independent state and the Palestinian Legislative Council announced a general strike in the territories. That crisis was the focus of Arafat’s visit to the White House the following month. Clinton asked the Palestinian leader to be sensitive to Netanyahu’s ‘coalition pressures’. Arafat explained that he, too, had troubles at home and begged the president to at least demand that Israel delay the implementation of the decision to establish the neighborhood … On the other side were the settlers and the activists from the right. They were flanked by then-mayor [of Jerusalem] Olmert, who a short while earlier had pushed Netanyahu into the Western Wall tunnel – an adventure that ended with the death of 16 Israeli soldiers and dozens of Palestinians. Olmert declared that Har Homa was ‘the most substantive test of the government’s ability to withstand pressure and demonstrate leadership’ … The response today of spokesmen for the Olmert government gives rise to the fear that the Annapolis conference did not change the situation on the Israeli side. They claim that ‘the neighborhood is within the area of the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem, over which Israeli law is binding, and therefore there is no prohibition to building there, just as there is no obstacle to building in any other part of Israel’. We have already forgotten that the prime minister agreed that everything would be open to negotiation, including Jerusalem. Is this the way to build a wall to fortify the status of PA President Mahmoud Abbas? And what will ‘the world’ do – all those people who were in attendance at Annapolis – if Olmert decides to hide behind ‘pressures from the coalition’ and approves the new construction?”    Akiva Eldar’s analysis in Haaretz is here.