Israeli and Palestinian Role and Response: UNSC Resolution 2334

Israeli and Palestinian Role in and Response to UNSC Resolution 2334

by

Howard Adelman

The Palestinian reaction to Resolution 2334 seems obvious. Ever since the Fatah faction of the PLO decided that they could not win militarily on the ground, in contrast to Hamas, even as the battle shifted from direct warfare to guerilla warfare or terrorism, Fatah resorted to trying to win in international diplomatic and legal fora. On 4 August of 2009, at the sixth general conference of Fatah held after a hiatus of six years, and specifically convened symbolically in Bethlehem next to the Church of the Nativity within Occupied Palestine and not in a foreign Arab capital, with over 2,000 in attendance, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas sold his movement on the proposition that Palestinians had to adopt a different form of opposition to Israeli power and focus on increasing international support.

“We should introduce new forms of resistance to attract universal public opinion” to reinforce Palestinian rights within the context of international law. Peaceful methods, though not exactly Gandhi’s form of non-violent resistance, recommended earlier by Faisal Husseini before the first intifada, would supersede, but not exclude, military armed struggle to become the foundation stone for building a Palestinian state. It was an explicit rejection of the proposal of President Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel to achieve peace through economic cooperation and integration, a proposal Bibi put forth just after he assumed office in April of 2009.

There is, of course, a huge irony in all this. While Fatah pursued the backing of international law, Abbas consolidated his monopolization on domestic power at the expense of the rule of law. “He is the president of the Palestinian Authority, head of the Fatah movement, head of the PLO’s Executive Committee and the commander in chief of the Palestinian security forces. He neglects the law (my italics) and the movement’s statutes that govern its institutions. He monopolizes power and is abusive toward those who disagree with him.” These are not my words but those of Abdel-Hakim Awad, a member of the Fatah Revolutionary Council who nominated Abbas to his position, but recently was excluded from the movement’s seventh congress in Ramallah held in December because of his criticisms. This step, along with the monopoly of the control of media and lifting the parliamentary immunity of opponents, are sure signs that a leader had turned towards adopting totalitarian methods.

In that Fatah quest for the imprimatur of international law, Jerusalem was front and centre. Not East Jerusalem, but Jerusalem. Jerusalem was to be the capital of the new Palestinian state. The target became freezing settlement activities in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem. No freeze then no peace negotiations. The cessation of settlement activities became the sine qua non for resuming peace negotiations. Settlement activity anywhere in the West Bank and East Jerusalem had to be branded as illegal.

Resolution 2334 was a peak victory in that effort. The upcoming French Peace Summit on 15 January, just next week, may be another, especially if the representatives to that summit endorse a pace plan along most of the lines proposed by John Kerry. I would not expect them to agree to sharing Jerusalem as a joint capital, but if they also get that summit to declare all settlements across the old Green Line as not just an impediment to peace, not just as illegitimate, but as illegal, it would mean defining the Jewish Quarter in the Old City and twelve very large neighbourhoods in Jerusalem as illegal as well as the settlements in Area C and beyond the Separation Barrier, not to speak even of the outposts illegal even under Israeli law. The effort to relocate the Amona settlers to land owned by ‘absentee landlords’ to legalize the settlement in accordance with Israeli law and in contravention of past practice of not putting settlements on Palestinian privately owned property, will become irrelevant.

Further, from now on, as Italian journalist Giulio Meotti wrote, “any Israeli, civilian or military, involved in the ‘settlements,’ will be liable to judgment for violating the Geneva Convention. The Israeli army, which administers areas B and C, may be indicted if it demolishes the homes of terrorists, if it expropriates the land for reasons of ‘security’, if it plans new Israeli homes. The decision is now in the hands of the Hague prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, who has already opened an investigation about the ‘Israeli settlements,’ believing they constitute a ‘war crime.’ Israeli military personnel and politicians could be subject to warrants if they land in London, as occurred with Tzipi Livni.” Further, Israeli banks operating even in the “illegal” Jerusalem neighbourhoods could be charged under international law. The European Council on Foreign Relations has already proposed sanction against some Israeli banks – Bank Hapoalim, Bank Leumi and the Mizrahi-Tefahot Bank.

Another nail will have been driven into the coffin of Resolution 242 which indirectly gave Israel permission to trade peace for territorial acquisitions. The old armistice lines would become once more a reference point for negotiations. Further, if the Summit follows the lead of Resolution 2334 and, on the issue of violence, ignores John Kerry’s speech, Palestinian incitement and celebration of terrorism could continue as a supplementary rather than prime form of resistance. Ostensibly committed to a non-violent path to peace, documents and proposals that emerge from the Summit will only be generalized condemnation of violence with no effort to pinpoint centres of responsibility.

Further, the PA can be expected to use the International Criminal Court to pursue Israeli individuals and charge Israel with more specific legal actions. In addition, the resources of the UN, now being used to prepare the organizational ground for a more comprehensive targeted boycott of Israeli goods, will get a further impetus. Finally, the U.S., Israel’s strongest defender, will be further sidelined and the Trump administration castrated in the world of international diplomacy and international law as much as Trump might shift American policy to a much stronger pro-settler position. The U.S. has been pushed from the centre to the margins in Israel-Palestinian negotiations, a position very unlikely to dent but possibly increasingly cement the close ties on military defence and intelligence issues as well as the huge economic exchange between the two countries.

At the same time, the Trump administration with Democratic Party support will likely fight back on behalf of Israel, threatening legal action against European banks if they begin to boycott Israeli banks, bar European institutions and pension funds from American-controlled systems of economic exchange if they proscribe Israel from investments and if Israeli companies are blacklisted. Instead of the regional economic cooperation that Bibi had proposed in 2009 as a pathway to peace, we will have international economic, legal and diplomatic warfare. How can one argue that Resolution 2334 enhances the prospect of peace?

There is one illusion that has accompanied Resolution 2334. Since it was passed under Article VI of the UN Convention instead of Article VII, many interpret the Resolution as non-binding. General Assembly resolutions are clearly only recommendations, but they also influence practices and budgets of the UN administration. Recommendations of the UN Security Council under Chapter VI have no enforcement mechanisms. However, though disputed by many international legal experts, the ruling of a majority of the International Court in The Hague in 1971 declared that all UN Security Council decisions are binding. There may be no coercive power attached to them, but they have a tremendous influence politically and diplomatically and help build a widespread world consensus on certain matters. In this sense, a resolution can be morally binding even if compliance is only voluntary. One should never underestimate the power of morality even in a dog-eat-dog world.

Of course, Israel’s challenge to Obama on his home turf over the Iran nuclear deal did not help Israel win friends among many Democrats. As Martin Sherman, Executive Director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Affairs put it in a relatively understated matter, the “appalling and infuriating outbursts of vindictive pique” of Israeli politicians led by Bibi Netanyahu probably damaged the Israeli position more than anything and, as Sherman predicted, prepared the ground for the UN Resolution. Then there was a total absence of preparation for the impending storm, either through diplomatic initiatives to propose putting the two-State solution and peace negotiations back on track or, on the other hand, using the stick to get the Palestinians to back off by tightening the economic screws through which Israel primarily controls Abbas. None of these entailed freezing settlement activities.

Former Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon also criticized Bibi for not working to prevent the passage of Resolution 2334 much more assiduously. There is not a single bit of evidence that Israel intends to accept Resolution 2334 as a basis for negotiation, notwithstanding Bibi’s endorsement of a two-State solution in his famous 2009 Bar-Ilan speech. For Israel, while ostensibly holding up that goal, did virtually everything in its power to undermine it, often through means that appeared to any reasonable observer to be disingenuous and insincere, deceptive and deceitful. This became abundantly clear when Bibi vowed that there would never be a Palestinian state on his watch. It is the height of folly to endorse a two-State solution on the one hand and then promise it will never come into being while you are in office on the other hand. Will Israel seek to engage its old European democratic partners once again in dialogue, as extensive as the disagreements are, or will Bibi go on an all-out warpath against them? Merely to ask the question reveals the answer.

The debate in Israel will shift to whether the objective should be strengthening the control and demography of Area C, while also thickening the settlements on the other side of the Separation Barrier, versus those who want to go after all of the West Bank, perhaps sharing part in a condominium arrangement with Jordan, but, in that alternative, denying the possibility of a Palestinian state coming into existence side-by-side Israel. In the wider field, Israel will increasingly become an opponent of the expansion of international law and legal norms and will have surrendered the turf of international diplomacy and law to Palestinian machinations. As Palestine becomes more authoritarian and totalitarian, ironically it increases the number of democracies at the front line of its defence.

Thus, there are divisions within Israel, the majority favouring one or other form of two-State solution and a minority aiming for territorial maximalism. Whatever the divisions, most Jewish Israelis find themselves united in opposition to the premises of Resolution 2334. Given the right-wing character of the Israeli government, the Israeli polity will ensure that not only no transportation link between Gaza and the West Bank will be established, but that Gazan students pursuing higher education degrees will not be allowed direct access to the West Bank. If a man and woman from the West Bank and Gaza fall in love, they will only be permitted to live together in Gaza. Other mechanisms of depopulating Area C of Palestinians will continue.

While Palestinians are increasingly united on the diplomatic and legal strategy but divided on their military and security strategy, on the ground barriers, between Palestinian communities grow. Abdel-Hakim Awad, a member of the Fatah Revolutionary Council and the Palestinian National Council, has attacked Abbas even though he originally made the motion to make Abbas head of the PA. He accused Abbas of excessively cooperating with Israel to maintain security in Area B. The irony is that, while legally and politically, the international community has moved to legitimize Palestinian control over all territories outside the Green Line, on the ground, that line is increasingly totally irrelevant. If a peace agreement is by some far out chance agreed to, Palestinian communities will have to be linked together by a series of sunken and exclusive roads, provided they are part of the agreement and Israel implements those clauses.

What has also evaporated, Kerry’s rhetoric to the contrary, is the vision of two alternatives – an Israel that is Jewish but non-democratic or an Israel that is both Jewish and democratic because it lives within much more restrictive borders. Israel can leave out the major population of Palestinians, use various devices to ensure that Palestine does not become a full self-governing state, and remain both Jewish and democratic. The real choice is between different variations of a Jewish and democratic state.

In a very expansionist scenario, outposts will be “regularized.” In a middle range objective, only Area C will be viewed for incorporation into Israel. In a very modest and dovish proposal, but one which only a small minority of Jewish Israelis share, Israel will just keep the new neighbourhoods of Jerusalem across the Green Line and the Old City. The latter two alternatives allow for a Palestinian state alongside Israel occupying 22% of the territory of the original Mandate. The first does not. But none of these include the most extreme and aggressive Zionist option of a one state solution where there is no Palestinian state at all but where Jordan is expected to play a specific role, one to which it is very unlikely to agree.

In light of the passage of UNSC Res. 2334, what might the effect be of moving the American embassy to Jerusalem? For one, it would send a clear and unequivocal message that America is no longer bound by international law. Many others would be further alienated from both the U.S. and Israel. As Martin Indyk (no admirer of Trump) pointed out, Trump might so shake things up that the peace process could possibly be reconstituted. According to Indyk, it would start by resolving the thorniest issue of all first in contrast to my preference for bracketing Jerusalem as unresolvable. It depends on buying into Kerry’s vision of Jerusalem as a joint capital, which neither the Israelis, Trump and his supporters or even the Palestinians endorse. While Israel would run into this proposal like a bull, the Palestinians would try to bite their tongues and stay out of the fray to gain more diplomatic and legal points. The move of the American embassy will be a demonstration of even more impotence on the part of the international community and a reaction by both Netanyahu (or his successor) to install more footprints in the sand.

Indyk himself admits his proposal is far-fetched, but he felt he had to grasp for straws. I prefer to breathe the political air that is actually out there.

One of the great benefits of Kerry’s speech is that it agreed with and backed the Israeli position that no solution can be imposed from outside, but that the parties themselves would have to come to some compromise. There were other gains. Kerry specifically mentioned the need to endorse Israel as a Jewish state. He also explicitly said that the refugee issue would be resolved through compensation and not through return. However, as important as these gains are, they pale in significance compared to the diplomatic and legal costs of Resolution 2334.

The result will not only be very much increased diplomatic, legal and economic wrangling on the world stage, but greatly increased tensions within the Fatah movement and within Israeli political institutions, all likely to be at the cost of democratic practices. The tensions over democratic norms within Israel are nowhere comparable to those taking place on the West Bank. However, if the treatment of Deputy Attorney General, Dina Zilber, is any indication, democratic institutions in Israel will be roiled in conflict. Zilber’s report recommended that all settlement activities be made accountable to the government and not relegated to a non-accountable World Zionist Federation. This report was thrown in the trash heap. If this treatment is any indication, then the independent advice of professional mandarins is likely to be set aside and ignored. Highly qualified mandarins will be castrated because their professional activities frustrate the ambitions of the more extreme members of the right-wing Israeli cabinet. The civil service will become far less civil and much more partisan in exclusive service to the party then in power.

Instead of peace, Resolution 2334 has opened the floodgates to a huge expansion in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the world stage. As Miriam Na’or of the Supreme Court of Israel stated, “You cannot ignore international law.” Conflict will not only increase between Palestinians and Israelis, but also within both Palestine and Israeli governmental structures. In Israel, the efforts to bend Israeli law to serve partisan political purposes is bound to increase at the same time as the prospect of a peace deal between Israel and Palestinians becomes more remote each day.

With the help of Alex Zisman

Fallout from the Failed Israeli-Palestinian Peace Talks

Fallout from the Failed Israeli-Palestinian Peace Talks

by

Howard Adelman

By fallout, I am not talking about the post-apocalyptic scenario envisioned as a result of a nuclear war that is the backdrop of the videogame of that same name. Fallout need not be so drastic but can initiate a widespread piecemeal catastrophe. I am referring to the fallout Barack Obama predicted that would result if the peace talks failed. At the beginning of March, Obama warned Israel that the United States would have more difficulty defending Israel if the talks faltered let alone failed. Both Barack Obama and John Kerry have warned both sides that the window of opportunity for a deal was closing. “Seize the Day,” was the message. Rephrasing the Jewish sage, Rav Hillel, Obama told Netanyahu directly, “If not now, when? And if not you, Mr. Prime Minister, then who?” The negotiating parties did not for some of the reasons I outlined in previous blogs seize the day or the hour.

ALL failures have consequences. Those consequences are now upon us. The peace talks did not result in an agreement. They did not result in a watered down framework agreement. They did not even result in an agreement to continue the talks. Now is the time to observe the fallout.

Economic – Israel

At then end of January, Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid, a strong supporter of the peace negotiations, predicted that Israel was approaching a tipping point in the BDS movement in Europe based on a Finance Ministry study. The Israeli economy was already jittery in response to an anticipated failure. If a European boycott movement expands, not only in the number of parties engaged in the boycott, but in the breadth of the sanctions movement beyond products produced in West Bank settlements and businesses operating in the West Bank, as is expected, the Israeli economy, that sailed through the international downturn of the last few years, will now contract. This downturn will be exacerbated as the BDS movement spreads its tentacles, including to the southern sphere, especially Australia, where a recent court case against BDS was lost. The decision of Dutch asset manager PGGM, which manages 150 billion in euros in investments, to halt investments in Israel’s five banks is but a foretaste. It is but the tip of the iceberg of shifts in patterns of investment that have fuelled Israel’s tremendous growth over the last decade as private investors, pension funds and foundations begin to shift resources away from Israel, even if they do so only in anticipation of the economic effects of others shifting their investment priorities. Thus, Obama’s warning in early March that Israel could expect sanctions and international isolation should Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fail to support a framework peace agreement was totally consistent with results of the Israeli Ministry of Finance own study and may result even though, in the end, Netanyahu ended up saying yes to a framework agreement.

Economic- Palestine

Any dramatic economic turndown in Israel will have even more dire consequences for Palestine since the West Bank is so dependent for its economic health on trade with Israel. Parallel to the Israeli Ministry of Finance study, a separate study by the Palestinian Authority adumbrated the negative economic consequences of failed peace talks. 

The economic consequences for the Palestinian Authority will be even worse than the consequences for Israel.

An IMF study prophesied that a breakthrough in the peace negotiations would result in a 6.5% growth rate in the West Bank, but its failure would result in a significant economic contraction, increasing the already fraught situation and undermining efforts to forge a non-violent political effort. Instead of the projected 4.5% growth, there would be a significant economic contraction. Even if talks just continued, even if inconclusive, the growth rate would be 2.5%. Given the termination of the talks, expect a decline in growth rate of at least 2%.  If Israel resorts to economic pressure tactics against the PA, that decline will be even worse.

Political – Israel

With all her experience in leading the negotiations under Ehud Olmert, Justice Minister Tzip Livni has been the widely respected chief negotiator for the Israeli side who has been clearly and unequivocally committed to a two-state solution. Though she was undercut by a number of decisions: 1)  the decision to postpone the release of the 26 Israeli Arabs from prison until the Palestinians agreed to continue the talks beyond the end of April deadline, a decision contrary to the agreement on entering the negotiations; 2) Livni was then undercut by the decision of the PA to apply for membership in 15 of 63 international organizations by becoming a signatory to those international conventions, but explicitly excluding the International Criminal Court, though Mustafa Barghouti held out the promise that this graduated approach will end with joining the ICC as the final step. The move to join fifteen rather innocuous conventions was, in itself, a move contrary to the agreement about the negotiating process, all on top of the decision Housing and Construction Minister, Ariel of the HaBayit HaYehudi Party to announce the building of 700 more housing units in Gilo in Jerusalem, a move, though not contrary to what was formally agreed in the conduct of the negotiations, but was a de facto understanding in  proceeding with those negotiations. Livni’s political wisdom is now undermined. Setting aside her rival within the party, Shaul Mofaz, who had his own plan for advancing the peace negotiations but was ignored even though he was the initiator of the previous interim security agreement, Amram Mitzna and Amir Peretz, who backed her controversial move to join the Netanyahu government even with the strong presence of right wing parties, may now enact their calls for their Hatnua party quitting the coalition. The party is in danger of splitting. If it does not leave the coalition, a move unlikely since Livni has been adamant in placing the bulk of the blame on the Palestinians and has defended Netanyahu as having backed her fully in the negotiations in spite of twice being sideswiped by her cabinet colleagues. 

Political – Fatah/Hamas Reconciliation

If Livni blamed the Palestinians, Saeb Ekrat blamed the Israelis. “To build settlements in occupied land, kill Palestinians and demolish hundreds of Palestinian homes is certainly not the behavior of a government that wants to end occupation but of a government that wants to turn occupation into annexation,” Ekrat  explicity labelled the Netanyahu government an apartheid regime. Abbas went out of his way to insist that East Jerusalem is an Islamic and Christian Arab city and will be the capital of a Palestinian state, a capital that will include ALL of Arab East Jerusalem including at the very least the Arab arts of the old city.

Contrary to many, I think the PA/Hamas negotiations will come to an agreement to set up a technical government and to schedule elections. It is in the interest of both parties to do so and instigates an end run around Israel’s complaints that Abbas was not a spokesman for all Palestinians while, at the same time, solidifying Abbas’ position against his rivals. Whether the two parties will be able to go further and unify their competing administrative organizations, given the radically different culture that inform both, is a very different question. But political unity does not require administrative unity. The latter can be postponed.

In the meanwhile, Abbas has stacked up credits by calling the Holocaust the most heinous crime of the twentieth century in direct refutation of the way he downplayed the Holocaust in his PhD thesis written in Moscow years ago. Israelis may dismiss the comment as empty rhetoric, but you cannot call his other denials of the extent of the Holocaust themselves heinous and be unwilling to offer credit when he reverses himself. All this positive payoff is in spite of Abbas’ explicit unwillingness to go ahead with a framework agreement, when Netanyahu approved it, Abbas timing the announcement to sign fifteen international conventions, contrary to the terms of the peace negotiations, on the precise day before the prisoner release was to go ahead in return for America’s release of Jonathan Pollard. Abbas further undermined the initiative to cede control of part of Area C to the Palestinians for building homes in areas slated to be part of Palestine according to previous negotiations, an initiative that in turn was blown up by the announcement of the PLO-Hamas agreement.

One important fallout of the PLO/Hamas reconciliation is an emerging split between the USA and Israel. After all, the USA deals with the Lebanese government even though that government includes Hezbollah characterized as a terrorist organization. As long as the merged government adheres to the three principles of not resorting to violence, accepting a two state solution and recognizing Israel, America sees no obstacle to negotiations with the new government any more than America refusing to negotiate with Israel because its cabinet includes a few from the hard right who still reject Palestinian self-determination and a two-state solution. Israel, thus far, has rejected such a possibility, but as in the case of negotiations with Iran, Israel’s resistance may simply drift into the byways of history as once did its refusal to negotiate with the PLO.

Political – Israeli Unilateralism

In spite of the negative lessons of the past critical of unilateral moves, it is more rather than less likely that Israel will not sit back passively as the PLO pursues broadening its international recognition and status and consolidates unification. Israel is already on the road to consolidation of its settlements. Whether Israel will actually annex the settlements scheduled for the swap, move the 100,000 or so settlers outside the consolidation areas or, at the very least, offer them compensation to relocate at a cost of up to $US10 billion, and, more problematically, whether it will enact the swap and transfer jurisdiction to the PA over the territory scheduled to be swapped, would require a bold conjecture. Michael Oren, Dan Meridor and Amos Yadlin have been advocating bold moves along these lines. Even bolder still, would it be for Israel to offer Palestinians within the annexed territories – an estimated 150,000 – citizenship in Israel, or offer them the houses of the settlers evacuated from the rest of the West Bank? Naftali Bennet, of all people, has proffered such an offer.

But there are moves underway in that direction. After all, in the immediate aftermath of the termination of the negotiations, Netanyahu scheduled a cabinet meeting to discuss future Israeli unilateral moves.  There are even more solid moves to transfer more control over Area B to the Palestinians that could be used as a trade off for Palestine slowing down its own moves towards self-determination. One does not necessarily need a peace agreement to advance the two-state solution and avoid the “apartheid” state Kerry anticipated as one possible outcome. Abbas has been asking for a firm delineation of borders. Israel is free to create them – excluding Jerusalem – thus saving both Abbas and Netanyahu the embarrassment of coming to an agreement on Jerusalem that, depending on its contours, would hurt either or even both parties.

Political – USA

The flak over Kerry’s expression of fear that Israel might in future become an apartheid state, a prediction engaged in freely by Israeli politicians on the left, is only a glimpse of the squabbles sure to erupt as America approaches its mid-term elections in November. of what actually happened. But emerge they will. Kerry may launch a grenade himself by publishing the framework agreement he offered both sides. Martin Indyk is going to go back to the United States and will resume his post in Brookings, putting the final stamp and seal on the failed process. I am unable to imagine what will emerge about the process of negotiations that will shift our perceptions.

Military

Will some of that fallout include increased militancy by Palestinians? We have already witnessed an increase in tensions on the Temple Mount with a resumption of rock throwing by the Palestinians and provocative moves by Jewish zealots who dream of rebuilding the ancient Jewish temple. The root of the militancy is not likely to come from Hamas in the immediate future given both the pressures upon it and its agreement with the PLO, but from other more militant outliers. How much leeway they will be given by the PA or Hamas is a matter of debate, but given Abbas’ international approach and his need to shore up his peaceful modus operandi, it is likely he will continue to cooperate with Israeli security in squelching such developments. Similarly, Hamas, if it is to secure a place at the table given its current weakened state largely as a result of what is happening in Egypt, is also unlikely “to stir the kasha”. So I do not believe that Kerry was correct, at least in the immediately foreseeable future that there will be a significant upsurge in violence. This, in itself, will favour the Palestinians and undercut the rhetoric of the Netanyahu government.

Parallel Tracks

It is here that I betray the hoots of my Owl of Minerva still sitting on the branch of my front tree and engage in prophecy. The Palestinian Authority and Israel will both operate now on unilateral tracks, cooperating when it is in their common interest to do so, and working to undermine one another when that is in each party’s interest. But both sides will be moving towards a de facto two state solution since no other solution is feasible for either side. Each will both help strengthen its rival while trying to undermine the rival in the realm of world public opinion. My suspicion, given that Palestine is the weaker party, it will win this public relations war but Israel will advance and solidify its position on the ground. Israel, in contrast to its previous initiative in Gaza, has had lots of time to work out the logistics of these unilateral moves with careful planning and coordination with not only the USA, Egypt and Jordan but with the PA as well. These moves will be both pressure tactics but also de facto additional moves to instigate Israeli separation from occupation and Palestinian self-determination towards full statehood.

Kerry was right. The status quo is unsustainable. But the alternative is not necessarily the two options he adumbrated. Obama’s prediction that if Israel did not support the framework agreement – which Netanyahu actually eventually did and Abbas did not – then the US would no longer be able to effectively defend Israel, is a threat rather than a prediction. Obama, in particular, cited the Israeli settlement construction efforts. “If you see no peace deal and continued aggressive settlement construction – and we have seen more aggressive settlement construction over the last couple of years than we’ve seen in a very long time,” Obama went onto claim that, “If Palestinians come to believe that the possibility of a contiguous sovereign Palestinian state is no longer within reach, then our ability to manage the international fallout is going to be limited.”

Very true! But Israel and Palestine will now have to manage the pursuit of a two-state solution now on parallel tracks rather than through mediation. The consequences of the loss of American leadership could be terrible. But it could also be beneficial. Recall that the Oslo process got its start when America had dropped into the background and other avenues opened up in the pursuit of peace. The USA was a Johnny-come-lately in the Oslo process. 

So there is hope even though Hope is Barack Obama’s middle name and even if he has given up hope for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Netanyahu, Joseph and Moses

by

Howard Adelman

Over Saturday night dinner, a close friend bemoaned how badly Netanyahu was handling the fallout from the peace talks. My friend is not a leftist but nevertheless thinks that Netanyahu should have shown a greater interest and willingness to forge a permanent peace agreement – not so much for the sake of the Palestinians as for Israel’s reputation in the world. My friend was not alone in this criticism. It is rather widespread. It became more acute with Netanyahu’s unwillingness to free the remaining Palestinian prisoners on time that he had pledged to free as a condition for the Palestinians resuming the peace talks last year, though reports often conveniently omitted the commitment Netanyahu had made to do so if Abbas agreed to continue the talks past the deadline. The fact that this condition to resume the talks was not part of the original agreement did not seem to matter for the defenders of Netanyahu.

Instead of joining in either the criticism or the defence of Netanyahu, I want to first characterize Netanyahu as a leader using the background on Joseph and Moses as foils of two contrasting types of leaders. For example, Joseph made his name and reputation as a political leader on the basis of a domestic political platform, not as Phillipe Couillard did who won a clear majority for Liberals last night on a program of jobs, jobs, jobs versus a boring repetitive refrain of referendum, referendum and referendum by the Parti Québecois. Joseph won popular acclaim for a program even more fundamental tha Couillard’s stressing food, food and more food. In contrast, Moses was a far less popular leader for he was both a top-down chief magistrate with only ears for a divine voice rather than the pleas of the masses, as well as one whose almost exclusive concern was a unique form of separatism, separating one’s own followers from the body politic within which they had lived for over four hundred years and finding a new land to call home under one’s own jurisdiction and under the rule of law handed down from heaven. Ideals rather than daily domestic concerns would or should motivate the people to vote with their feet was Moses’ belief.

Was domestic or international policy the prime concern of Netanyahu’s leadership, granted that security always had to be the number one concern of any Israeli leader. But had security concerns been pushed into the background? After all, look at the long list of domestic political agenda items for Netanyahu. Whatever was on the list, issues of social justice did not seem to have a high priority among them as it did for Québec Solidaire which increased the number of seats it held in the provincial assembly from 2 to 3. Netanyahu seems to have no or little interest in any of the following issues: discrimination in housing against and anti-discrimination protection with respect to jobs for Israeli Arabs; racial profiling of Israeli Arab citizens undergoing security checks at Ben Gurion airport; fair and equal access to purchasing land, though the Supreme Court of Israel did force the hand of the government on this issue by obligating the Israel Land Authority, which controls over 90% of the land available in Israel, to have a fair representation of Israeli Arab citizens (and women as well) on its board (I was not able to find out whether that included Bedouin and especially Bedouin women); racism against Arab-Israeli citizens in general which two-thirds of Israelis recognize, though Israelis believe the racism against Ethiopian Jews is even more prevalent; fostering anti-racism in sport, particularly in soccer; in general, the Israeli government, again unlike the new Quebec government, is not committed to promoting a shared and inclusive society as distinct from one that fosters divisions; fostering a charter of values based on inclusiveness rather than divisiveness; my own particularly important issue, the problem of refugee claimants and illegal economic migrants in Israel, though once again the Israeli court intervened to ensure that the children of these refugees and migrants, especially those born in Israel, had legal rights; protection for Jewish orthodox women unable to divorce their husbands (agunot) when their husbands refuse them a timely and fair get (divorce); the increasing disparities in salaries experienced in Israel (and around the world) compounded by salary discrimination between Ashkenazi versus Mizrachi, Ethiopian Jews, women and especially Israeli Arabs, though the Netanyahu government did get legislation passed to publish information on gender wage gaps; protection and adequate welfare for the 1,754,700 million Israeli citizens or 430,000 households out of a population of eight million who live below the poverty line, including 180,000 seniors and 817,200 children as documented in the National Insurance agency (according to an OECD Report the poverty rate in Israel went from 15% in 1995 to 21% in 2012), although the government did pass a law that made welfare payments payable jointly to a husband and wife rather than just to a husband; Netanyahu, after much dithering, did finally appoint Karnit Flug as the first woman governor of the Bank of Israel; the court’s order and perhaps surprisingly, Netanyahu’s instructions, for the government to implement Israel’s 1998 Public Housing Act; ignoring the problems of the homeless, though when our television program, Israel Today, did a program on the homeless in Tel Aviv where the majority of homeless are to be found, compared to Toronto, we were surprised at how relatively few homeless there were and even more surprised at the large number of agencies and professionals working on this problem; the government did cancel tax hikes on healthcare and housing; fairness in the treatment of Reform and Jewish rabbis and congregations in comparison to the treatment of the Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox, though on this topic the Netanyahu government has demonstrated a degree of initiative, perhaps because the overseas American Jewish community is so important for the issues Netanyahu does prioritize, so the State Attorney’s office ruled that that the Ministry of Religious Services must allow Reform and Conservative rabbis  movements to serve as community rabbis; the requirement of military service by Haredi, however imperfect, is in process of being implemented.

With some notable exceptions, Netanyahu does not run a social justice government or one committed to social inclusiveness. He fails the Joseph test. What about foreign policy, especially the near-to-home policy of dealing with peace with Palestinians? As everyone knows, I strongly supported the Obama-Kerry peace initiative even though I only had faint hope that it would succeed. But that hope was bolstered by the excellent team Kerry had assembled led by Martin Indyk who was committed unreservedly to Israel and had been a student in Israel when the Yom Kippur War took place, authored U.S. President Clinton’s Middle East strategy, had been active in the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).was a former American ambassador to Israel and, as Vice-President at Brookings, the Washington liberal think tank on foreign affairs, led its Middle East program. But the talks are now on life support and most observers seem ready to publish an obituary, though Indyk and Kerry have not thrown in the towel. Just on Sunday, Indyk led serious and evidently sincere talks among Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Isaac Molho, Netanyahu’s personal representative at the talks, senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, and Majed Faraj, the head of Palestinian intelligence services.

Who is to blame for what appears to be an immanent failure? The Palestinians blame Netanyahu for not keeping his promise to release more prisoners. Israelis, especially Lieberman, counter with the argument that why should more prisoners be released if there is no likelihood of the talks continuing past the 30 April deadline let alone any realistic prospect of a deal. Further, while admitting Israel did not release the prisoners, the government had vowed to do so if there was a Palestinian commitment to continue the talks. Instead, the Palestinian Authority, to the surprise of both Israelis and Americans, took unilateral steps to initiate Palestine’s membership in fifteen international bodies in which only states can be members by signing letters of accession, an initiative taken, contrary to the negotiation agreement, without Israel’s permission let alone knowledge. However, the decision to join the International Criminal Court has been held in abeyance. This was a response not only to the non-release of the prisoners but to the Israeli government decision to let a tender for 700 additional residential housing units in Gilo, though the construction ban really only applied to the West Bank and Gilo is virtually an integral part of Jerusalem. Both the Israeli and the Arab negotiators at Sunday’s meeting did ask Indyk to convene another session. But Likud ministers in the government gloated that “the danger of peace had been averted”

Tzipi Livni has come in for particular criticism for being part of an artificial process when the head of the government, Netanyahu, had not truly been committed to the peace process. I believe this criticism is unwarranted and that Netanyahu is committed to a two- state solution, but a commitment not based on a possible deal he can make with the Palestinians. More importantly for an assessment of Netanyahu as a political leader, he was very astute in including Livni in his government, and more astute in appointing an individual with a relatively dovish reputation to be in charge of the negotiations.

The reality is that the negotiations are very painful and complex because Netanyahu and Abbas are totally at odds and equally uncompromising on Jerusalem. Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state can be dealt with through creative ambiguity and indirection by endorsing UN resolutions recognizing Israel as a Jewish state. The issue of Palestinian refugee return, which is so central to Abbas’ history, has witnessed a seismic shift with Abbas’ admission that very few Palestinians would return to Israel, but Abbas remains stubbornly wedded to the principle of the right of return. In the scheme of things, the tractable issue of settlements and borders seem to be the least important issue in these negotiations as everyone seems to recognize the broad outlines and agreement on that policy just as they long ago recognized the deal and discussions over water.  In fact, Netanyahu has initiated steps to demolish illegal building in Yitzhar which has led to clashes between settlers and the Border Police.

So, again, who is to blame? Will the Republican controlled House of Representatives blame the Palestinians and initiate a move to block the half billion dollars of aid America gives the Palestinian Authority?  Abbas has already taken steps to counter such an expected initiative by asking the Arab League to make up for American shortfalls. Most observers sympathetic to the Palestinians place the full blame on Netanyahu. And my friend on Saturday evening who belongs probably to the centre, tends to place the primary blame on Netanyahu. Rabbi Dow Marmur casts equal blame for, as he writes, “the Palestinian and Israeli narratives are irreconcilable”. I do not happen to agree with him. The narratives are reconcilable if both parties give up the claim that, “all of the land is ours and ours only”. Both Netanyahu and Abbas have given up that claim. The issue is not that they are not pragmatists, but their pragmatism has drawn red lines in the sand, now specifically over Jerusalem, that need to be bridged but, given both current governments, no one has been able to build the divide on the ground including the experts and committed members of Kerry’s team.

So though pessimistic, my pessimism is shallow compared to Dow’s. I do not believe that either Abbas or Netanyahu is simple engaged in shadow boxing to keep the Americans entertained and off their respective backs. The fact that Livni has not turned on Netanyahu is but one among many clues. Netanyahu’s problem is that he does not carry a divine magic rod and lacks the backing of a transcendent belief and agent. Abbas and Netanyahu, with all their clever political skills – skills that Moses never mastered – lack a mediating formula which would allow them both to go home discontented with the result but delighted there was a result.

The Israeli-Palestinian Peace Talks

The Israeli-Palestinian Peace Talks

by

Howard Adelman

Are the peace talks led by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu`s special envoy, Isaac Molho, for the Israelis, and  Saeb Erekat and Mohammad Shtayyeh for the Palestinians, headed for a comprehensive peace deal, a bust, an extension or interim measures?  What are the prospects of arriving at a deal on water, security, settlements, mutual recognition, borders, Jerusalem and refugees?

Since the start of the negotiations and the prisoner release on 29 July 2013, the talks began with a rocky start when Israel approved the construction of 1096 settlement units in the West Bank, 63 new units in East Jerusalem, and then an additional 900 units in East Jerusalem in mid-August just after talks began. In spite of this initial flurry of activities and mutual recriminations, the Palestinian-Israeli negotiators have met an additional eleven times since the opening of the talks, four times in August, four times in September and four times in October, three very recently on the 18th in Jerusalem, the 20th in Jericho and the 21st in Jerusalem once again. Martin Indyk, the former American ambassador to Israel and the head of American Secretary of State John Kerry`s advisory team, actively participated in the flurry of recent talks.

Most recently, on Wednesday the 23d, John Kerry met with Netanyahu in a very long meeting in Rome following talks Kerry had with the Europeans, the Saudis, and the Arab League, each with their own special issues quite separate from the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations – American spying on European leaders, American talks with Iran against Saudi vehement opposition, and America`s equivocal dealings with the new Egyptian military government. It was not clear what instigated the long meeting in Rome, but it did not seem unrelated to the letter that Netanyahu released the day before congratulating the Jewish visitors to Hebron to honour their matriarch on the reading of the parashat this week depicting Sarah’s death and burial. Netanyahu wrote: “I hope that the ‘Hebron Shabbat,’ with its thousands of participants, will deepen our connection to the city of our forefathers”. Even though the talks were to focus almost exclusively on the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, the Rome meeting almost certainly spent a bit of time on the positive news emerging from the Iranian-American talks on nuclear weapons if only to assuage Netanyahu`s fears that a deal would be struck before Iran took positive steps to end its nuclear enrichment program and make arrangements for its enriched stockpile.

The Americans leaked that the purpose of the Rome talks was to pin down Netanyahu on the compromises that he is prepared to make on the final status issues as the talks pass the one-third mark on the nine month promised deadline. What compromises are expected? The deal on water is already in the bag and has been for years, secured more recently since Israel has a surplus of gas from its Mediterranean fields and is able to desalinate water to produce surpluses to sell to the Palestinians.

The security aspect of the agreement will build on the successful cooperation between the Israelis and the Palestinians as evidenced most recently on Tuesday with the Shin Bet slaying of Mohammed Assi, 28, one of the Islamic Jihad Tel Aviv bus bombers in 2012, who was trapped in a cave near the village of Bilin in the West Bank. The solution to the security issue is also connected with the recent progress on the ground of Israeli-Egyptian cooperation in shutting down the tunnels and taking action against Hamas militants in the Sinai. Evidently, Israel has been very influential in helping Egypt obtain from the USA equipment to enhance Egypt`s counter-insurgency capabilities.

On settlements, Israel has made clear that it has no intention of limiting its building of residential units in areas of East Jerusalem and the West Bank already intended to be part of the exchange of territory between Israel and Palestine and it is likely that the exchange of territory will have to come close to parity in restoring the same amount of non-Israeli land occupied by the Palestinians in 1967 and not 94 or 97 or even 99%. Border adjustment, though not an easy issue, is no longer an intractable one, especially since, in practice, certain areas are already clearly Israeli or Palestinian. The key issue will be what happens to the settlements that will remain on Palestinian lands to be transferred to the new Palestinian government. There will be no attempt to massively empty the settlements as was carried out in Gaza. Instead, the settlers on Palestinian lands will likely be given a generous economic package to repatriate to Israeli land or to live under Palestinian rule if they so choose, though Palestinians remain adamant that all settlements should be vacated.

This leaves the three tough issues. The Palestinians will not accede to Netanyahu`s demands that they recognize Israel as a Jewish state for they see that as a betrayal of both Palestinian-Israeli citizens as well as undermining their claims on behalf of the refugees. Netanyahu might give up on this explicit declaration in return for some implicit concession as well as an agreement on protection for the settlers who wish to continue to live under Palestinian rule.

The Jerusalem issue is also no longer as intractable as it once was given the current practices of Israelis of avoiding travelling into Palestine residential areas. Certainly, the temple mount will fall under some super-national authority with agreements on archeological arrangements. Whether this agreement extends to include other holy sites, whether the boundaries of a super-national jurisdiction go beyond the temple mount and extend to the Arab parts of the Old City, or whether the problem will be disaggregated along functional lines, I have no idea. However, given the extent of the enormous amount of work and maps already developed, this remains a tough but no longer impossible issue to overcome.

The biggest issue remains Palestinian refugee return – not actual return since very few are expected to return and Israel has been adamant that it will not accede to anything but a humanitarian gesture in this area. The issue has been and remains how to grant a right of return but a right which can never be exercised as a right. Past efforts to square this circle have constantly floundered. The other serious worry is that insufficient preparations have been undertaken on the compensation issue in spite of an enormous accumulation of international precedents not only re the Jews in Europe but with all the discussions of various groups that have been `cleansed`. Unlike the right of return issue which goes to fundamental identity claims by the Palestinians, the compensation issue is a practical one which can flounder if insufficient attention is paid to working out the concrete details. Further, to the extent those details can be settled, the more likely the Palestinians will be in a position to accept an equivocal agreement on the right of return.

I myself remain pessimistic that an agreement can be reached over the next six months, but such a deal no longer resides in never never land and has moved into the arena of possibilism.