b i t t e r l e m o n s. o r g
    December 20, 2010 Edition 24                      Palestinian-Israeli crossfire

  The new American policy
  . What we'll learn from the next round of Wikileaks        by Yossi Alpher
Another failed Mitchell visit, while Netanyahu plays us for fools.
. US shift may mean end of bilateral approach        by Ghassan Khatib
All Palestinians agree it is about time the Israelis engaged in a serious presentation of their positions.
  . Clinton should press the Arab side        by Saul Singer
Today, almost the entire Israeli political spectrum is squeezed into what was once the far left corner.
. The same song in a different key        by Akram Baker
The Americans, Obama and Clinton in particular, know what has to be done to end the conflict.

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What we'll learn from the next round of Wikileaks
by Yossi Alpher

Wikileaks leak of December 2011: secret cable from DCM, US Embassy Tel Aviv, to deputy under secretary of state for Middle East affairs, State Department, Washington. December 28, 2010: I exploited the Christmas/New Years lull here at the embassy, where just a few of us have not left on vacation, to make the rounds of PM Netanyahu's unofficial but highly influential "Cabinet of Seven": Netanyahu, Barak, Meridor, Yaalon, Yishai (needed translator), Begin and Lieberman. A clear majority--the last four on the list--opposes any significant concessions to the Palestinians even if we do get final status talks going. PM himself is, as usual, not credible in his seeming advocacy of peace and readiness for concessions. Meridor will go half way. Barak continues to play role of "only responsible adult" in the leadership but refuses to draw obvious conclusion about this government. Have we really factored this clear and negative reality into our decision-making regarding our "reset" peace process policy?

Wikileaks leak of January 2012: secret cable from political counselor, US Embassy Tel Aviv, to Israel desk, State Department, Washington. December 15, 2010. Over past week made rounds of influential strategic think tanks at Tel Aviv University, Bar Ilan, Ben Gurion, Jerusalem, Haifa, Interdisciplinary Center, to hear scholars' views (many of them former senior diplomats and IDF officers) on peace process. Consensus regarding US efforts: "pathetic".

Wikileaks leak of February 2012: secret cable from US Consul General Jerusalem to Special Emissary George Mitchell and Secretary of State Clinton, Washington. December 22, 2010: Meeting with PLO Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat, Jericho. Saeb spoke on condition of absolute secrecy. Couldn't understand why we are so insistent on "flailing the dead horse" of direct negotiations when after 17 years we should realize they are leading nowhere. Discussed "for my ears only" Abu Mazen's political bind: he's weaker than ever, a lame-duck leader, opposed by Fateh hawks, Dahlan, even left-wing movements like People's Party that insist on full settlement freeze first. Not to mention Hamas. Abu Mazen has no room to maneuver. This, in addition to Abu Mazen's own ambiguity over final status as witnessed in his rejection of Olmert's proposals back in September 2008. Saeb concluded that UN recognition of Palestinian state is only hope to provide a partial achievement. Can't understand why Israelis and we don't appreciate the opportunity this maneuver presents to postpone refugee and holy basin issues in a way PLO can't afford to offer in direct negotiations.

Wikileaks leak of January 2012: secret cable from US ambassador in Jordan to Secretary of State, Washington. December 21, 2010: Another failed Mitchell visit, while PM Netanyahu continues to play us for fools. Hashemites once again nervous about an Israeli right-wing Jordan-is-Palestine plot. King flirting with Iran to show displeasure. We're playing with fire here.

Wikileaks leak of January 2012: secret cable from third secretary, US Embassy Tel Aviv, to Israel desk, State Department, Washington. December 15, 2010: summary of gossip from recent cocktails and picked up on street (writer is fluent Hebrew speaker): Israeli public is laughing at Obama administration's efforts to further Israeli-Palestinian accord. The Netanyahu spin we saw at Carmel mega-fire apparently works with Mitchell and Clinton, too.

Wikileaks leak of December 2011: secret cable from political secretary at US Embassy Tel Aviv to under secretary of state for political affairs, Washington. December 20, 2010: Spoke to several senior officers in IDF Intelligence. They can't understand why we are neglecting the Syria-Israel negotiating track in favor of an obviously failed Israeli-Palestinian process. Exploring Syria's readiness to distance itself from Iran and Hizballah in exchange for the Golan is the only possible means for striking a blow at Iran's aims in the Levant diplomatically, thereby avoiding eventual need to fall back on military means. Officers have repeatedly made this case to their government, to no avail. But, they ask, why are we dragging our tails and setting unobtainable conditions for engaging Syria on this? Wasn't Obama supposed to be different from Bush?

Wikileaks leak of February 2012: secret cable from DCM, US Embassy Tel Aviv, to deputy under secretary of state for Middle East affairs, State Department, Washington. December 16, 2010. Meeting with Deputy Israeli Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon at the Knesset. I only noticed as I was leaving and he wished me a Merry Christmas that he had sat me in a seat lower than his and that the meeting was videoed. . .-Published 20/12/2010 © bitterlemons.org

Yossi Alpher is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, Tel Aviv University.

US shift may mean end of bilateral approach
by Ghassan Khatib

The recent shift in the American approach for running the peace process left the Palestinians with different and sometimes contradicting reactions. Initially, the Palestinians were very worried after news leaked about possible American-Israeli negotiations over a deal that would involve American incentives to convince Israel to freeze settlement activities for two or three months. As one leading Palestinian politician put it, each one of these incentives could be potentially more dangerous to the Palestinians than the continuity of settlement activities themselves. Another problem about the Americans' approach is that it would have also negatively impacted the Palestinians' inalienable right to resort to international agencies such as the United Nations to ask for help.

Furthermore, the Palestinians were met with yet another provocation when they heard that these incentives included possible American support for the Israeli demand of maintaining a military presence in the Jordan Valley within the framework of a two-state solution. Such a guarantee would surely infringe on the Palestinian right to self-determination and complete independence.

On the other hand, the even more recent shift in the American administration's position from trying to resume negotiations on the basis of convincing Israel to extend the settlement freeze to calling for negotiations without a settlement freeze was yet another negative indicator for Palestinians. It pointed to one of two things: either the lack of seriousness by, or the failure of, the United States to convince or pressure Israel into abiding by international law and adhering to the obligations put forth by the Quartet-initiated roadmap that was later to become a UN Security Council resolution aimed at stopping settlement expansion.

This is especially important for the Palestinians because the American-sponsored negotiations are supposedly about ending the occupation whereas the continuity of Israel's settlement expansion is about the consolidation of that same occupation, namely on the land slated for the future Palestinian state. Hence, the failure of the international community, including the United States, to urge Israel to stop settlement expansion leaves the Palestinians with big question marks not only about the credibility of the negotiations process but also about the ability of the international community to convince Israel to end the occupation through these negotiations.

There is, however, one side of this new approach viewed by Palestinians in a more favorable light. It is represented in the statements of both US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and US Middle East envoy George Mitchell about the need for the two sides to put forward serious and complete negotiating positions on final status issues including borders, settlements, Jerusalem and security. This was considered positive by the Palestinians because regardless of the formalities of the process and whether talks are direct or indirect, all Palestinians agree it is about time the Israelis engaged in a serious presentation of their positions.

This would enable the international community to make a sound judgment call on whether the bilateral paradigm should be continued as the proper approach for achieving the international vision of peace embodied in the two-state solution. In this regard, since we Palestinians understand Israel's occupation mentality more than anyone else, we believe that with the current government structure in Israel it would be difficult if not impossible for this bilateral approach to bring about an end to the occupation and consequently the creation of an independent Palestinian state in return for the peace, security and normalization Israel is demanding.

It is clear that the international community is nearing a crossroads at which a decision must be made on whether this current approach should be continued. The alternative is for the international community to take more direct responsibility toward the region by adopting a multilateral approach of further supporting the institution-building of a Palestinian state, eventually followed by a Security Council resolution recognizing an independent Palestinian state along the 1967 borders.-Published 20/12/2010 © bitterlemons.org

Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications and director of the Government Media Center. This article represents his personal views.

Clinton should press the Arab side

by Saul Singer

There is nothing new about the "new American policy" announced by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently at the Saban Conference. This is unfortunate, because the current impasse is an opportunity for a fundamental rethink of the US strategy.

Let's start with what's broken. Clinton's speech was a classic example of the historic and failed US approach. Almost every sentence was crafted to convey absolute evenhandedness. Every ounce of praise or pressure on one side was carefully balanced by an equal weight on the other. To someone unfamiliar with the conflict, it would be impossible to detect which side the US favors. Such neutrality is both deliberate and axiomatic: it is a pillar of US Middle East diplomacy regardless of party, but even more so than usual under the current administration.

Another pillar of the current US approach is that it is overwhelmingly local. There were brief mentions of the Arab states and Iran, but by and large the Israeli-Palestinian problem is treated as just that: a problem between two parties that radiates outwards.

Both of these pillars represent fundamental misunderstandings of the conflict. The conflict is not symmetrical or local; it is asymmetrical and regional.

Declared US policy is built on the premise that both sides want peace and are equally held back by shortsighted leadership. International opinion and the private views of many diplomats are even less kind to Israel and see evenhandedness as a fig leaf for Israeli obstinacy.

The reality is that the conflict is asymmetrical, but in the other direction: Israelis, both people and polity, are much more ready for the two-state solution than is the Arab world. This can be seen by the long, tough road Israelis have taken over the past two decades, compared to where the Arab world is today.

Twenty years ago, the number of non-Arab Israeli parliamentarians who openly favored a Palestinian state could be counted on the fingers of one hand, if that. To be for the two-state solution then would isolate an Israeli politician on the far left of Israeli politics. Before the 1993 Oslo accords, it was illegal for an Israeli to speak to the PLO.

Today, almost the entire political spectrum is squeezed into what was once the far left corner. "Right-wing" Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu stands leftward of former Labor premier Golda Meir. The handful of politicians who would dare openly oppose the two-state solution today are as isolated on the right as the pro-state camp on the left was just a short time ago.

What has happened in the meantime on the Palestinian side? True, open calls for Israel's destruction that were de rigueur before 1967 are now limited to the Hamas-Hizballah camp, as large as it is. But almost no Palestinian leader can openly admit the most basic tenets underlying a two-state solution: that there is a Jewish people; that Jewish temples stood under independent Jewish sovereignty for centuries; and that Jewish moral, legal, and historic rights to sovereignty are not inferior to those of Palestinians.

On the one hand, Palestinian leaders claim all they are asking for is 22 percent of Palestine between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. On the other, as lead Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat explained on Ynet.com, "agreeing to the Israeli demand for recognition of Israel as a Jewish state would empty negotiations on the refugee problem of all content ... and completely negate the Palestinian narrative." In other words, the Palestinian position is what's mine is mine and what's yours is mine: you have no right to live in a Palestinian state, while Palestinians must have the right to "return" to the Jewish state.

It is bad enough that the Palestinians claim to support a two-state solution while accepting none of its basic premises. What is much worse is that no western leader will call them on it. But the asymmetry goes even deeper.

The reason that the Israeli political spectrum has lurched leftward over two decades is simple: the Zionist project has always had one or both feet in the two-state camp. When the United Nations voted to partition Palestine in 1947, the Jews danced in the streets. Two states meant the realization of a 2,000-year-old Zionist dream.

By the same token, if tomorrow a peace agreement were announced in the Arab world there would be much more mourning than dancing. For Arabs, the two-state solution represents the abandonment of a century-old dream: the eviction of the Jews from Palestine. It would be a defeat, not a victory. While a Jewish state of any size is a victory for Zionism, the Arab world has spent the last century convincing itself that a Jewish state of any size is a defeat for Arab honor and rights.

There are, therefore, two fundamental requirements for peace. First, the West must demand that the Arab world accept Jewish peoplehood and historic rights, just as vociferously as it has demanded that Israelis accept the same for Palestinians. Second, the West needs to recognize that the Arab world will not accede to this demand so long as the radical Islamist camp is on the brink of achieving strategic immunity by way of an Iranian nuclear umbrella.

As was revealed by Wikileaks, Arab leaders regard the Iranian threat as an existential one to their regimes. If Iran is going nuclear, why would they throw fire on the flames around them by ratifying Israel's existence?

On closer examination, one notices that Clinton's speech is quite specific on its demands of Israel ("we do not accept the legitimacy of continued settlement activity") while vague with respect to the Arab states ("they should take steps that show Israelis, Palestinians, and their own people that peace is possible and that there will be tangible benefits if it is achieved.") Why not clearly call on the Arab world to stop denying the existence of a Jewish people and admit basic historic facts, such as the Jewish temples that stood in Jerusalem?

Israelis have crossed the two-state Rubicon; Arabs pretend to have done so but are in reality far from it. They need to be pressed to take the first baby steps toward truly accepting Jewish rights in "their" land, and they need to be given the strategic space to do so by defusing the Iranian nuclear threat. The good news is that if these two achievable goals are met, the prospects for Arab-Israel peace will be substantial; the bad news is that absent these steps no amount of negotiations--proximity or direct--will bring us fundamentally closer to a lasting peace.-Published 20/12/2010 © bitterlemons.org

Saul Singer is co-author, with Dan Senor, of "Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel's Economic Miracle".

The same song in a different key

by Akram Baker

Much has been said about United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's December 10 speech at the Brookings Institute. Analysis has ranged from it being admission of complete failure on the part of the Obama administration and a win for Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu (with US President Barack Obama backing down on the settlements) to some in Palestinian-American circles declaring it a victory for the Palestinians (with the withdrawal of the much-criticized, so-called US "security sweetener" package for Israel in return for a 90-day settlement-building moratorium). All of these may be correct in a technical sense, but they completely miss the greater meaning. No new American policy was laid out in Clinton's speech. She utterly failed to lay out any novel approaches to solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. What was interesting was the very subtle change in tone.

Looking first at the visuals, all that was left was for Clinton to put a Star of David crown on her head to underscore just how much she loves Israel. The large backdrop was a montage of dual Israeli and American flags with--more or less--only the Israeli one showing on TV and still images of those behind the podium. I was just waiting for the PA system to break into a rousing rendition of HaTikva. And as is so depressingly common, Secretary Clinton spent the first ten minutes or so of her address parroting every declaration of love possible about the enduring and infinite strength of US-Israel relations. But then something, however subtle, changed. She mentioned Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who was in the audience, and began what could only be called a glowing appraisal of the Palestinian leader.

With Israel, she spoke in general platitudes about the relationship, words taken from the standard handbook if you wish, while with Fayyad, the secretary not only heaped praise in the abstract, but was very specific in her comments: state-building, institution-building, security, economics, infrastructure. And all of this accomplished "under very difficult circumstances"--read: Israel is not helping him, as it should.

On the other side, Clinton had very few nice things to say about Netanyahu. To those who were looking, it was clear that she was seriously miffed about Bibi passing on her way-too-generous offer of unrivalled security, military and political carrots for nothing more than an inconsequential short halt to settlement-building. It had seemed for a while that the US administration was trying its best to imitate Spike Lee's Mars Blackmon in its "Please, baby, baby, please" approach toward incentives for Israel to end its intransigence. Sources say that Obama was particularly upset about the rejection, feeling that Clinton had gone too far in the first place. Whatever the reason, the secretary of state was not happy with the way Israel's government was treating them.

At the same time, there were undertones that Clinton was not happy about the way Obama had thrown down the gauntlet about settlements in the first place, feeling that he shouldn't have bet the barn from the outset of his term. But she qualified that stance with her very clear rejection of the settlement "experiment". I believe that Obama was absolutely right in understanding that stopping the settlements is the first step toward resolving the conflict--which can only come with an end of the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

I have no doubt in my mind that the Americans, Obama and Clinton in particular, know what has to be done to end the conflict. There are enough papers and resolutions and plans to fill the entire White House twice over explaining in finite detail how to divide the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan: an end of the Israeli occupation of 1967, compensation of refugees with a symbolic return of a few to Israel and joint sharing of Jerusalem under international protection. I cannot believe that intellectually, they do not have a firm grasp on this reality. However, what is needed is political will to implement the solution. Clinton forcefully set out the parameters, but just as weakly failed to inject the key element for success: accountability. By not putting the parties (especially Israel) on notice that failure to meet the following measures will lead to A, B and C, she--like administrations before her--took the bite out of her bark. Carrots without sticks are just vegetables.

The hard fact is that Israel cannot continue to occupy Palestine with impunity. Over the long term, it cannot survive unless it decides that making peace with the Palestinians is the only way to guarantee its future. Its military strength is fleeting and no country in history has ever survived on that alone. If the US really cares about Israel, it has the moral responsibility of telling the Israelis as much in unambiguous terms. All the rest is nothing more than an academic exercise. Maybe, just maybe, the tone in Hillary Clinton's voice was the first faint sound of that happening.-Published 20/12/2010 © bitterlemons.org

Akram Baker is an independent political analyst and writer. He is also an organizational development and restructuring expert.

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Editors Ghassan Khatib and Yossi Alpher can be reached at ghassan@bitterlemons.org and yossi@bitterlemons.org, respectively.

Bitterlemons.org is an internet newsletter that presents Palestinian and Israeli viewpoints on prominent issues of concern. Each edition addresses a specific issue of controversy. Bitterlemons.org maintains complete organizational and institutional symmetry between its Palestinian and Israeli sides.