June 20, 2011 Edition 17 Palestinian-Israeli Crossfire
The US and French negotiations initiatives
The European position is key  - Ghassan Khatib
Europe seems to be increasing its political involvement in the conflict.

Why more pathetic attempts to revive a dead process?  - Yossi Alpher
The international community could leverage the UN initiative into a win-win proposition for Israelis and Palestinians.

Political art at its worst  - Sam Bahour
Those immersed in this conflict knew better.

What next?  - Amnon Lord
Abbas-Netanyahu relations could be described as a love story between two people who hate each other.

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The European position is key
 Ghassan Khatib
The period from now until September is going to be crowded with ideas and proposals aimed at achieving two objectives. First, these will seek to head off the Palestinian plan to take the conflict to the United Nations for discussion and ask for recognition of the Palestinian state and membership at the world body. Second, these proposals will try to ensure a resumption of the bilateral negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis.

This race of ideas began with an American attempt, proffered by US President Barack Obama in his speech at the State Department, where he tried to discourage Palestinians from going to the UN and encourage them to resume bilateral negotiations. For that purpose, he adopted one of the main Palestinian requirements for resuming negotiations, which is that talks should be based on achieving two states on the borders of 1967. To encourage Israel, he referred to it as the "Jewish state".

Clearly, that effort wasn't good enough to achieve its purpose. A month later, an official American spokesperson said (after two Palestinian envoys visited Washington) that the US administration was still waiting for Israel's response to Obama's initiative, which otherwise seemed to have been accepted by Palestinians.

The second attempt was made by the French government, which has been preparing in any case for an international donors conference in July. Paris had already agreed to a Palestinian request to make this conference "political" by confirming the success of Palestinians in building state institutions with the help of international donors. This readiness for statehood should, therefore, be complimented by political progress towards realizing the two-state solution, supporting the end of the occupation and establishing the Palestinian state in the borders of 1967.

But in order to combine these agreed-on objectives with its desire to avoid a showdown at the United Nations in September, the French government developed an initiative that would use the July international conference as a launching pad for renewing bilateral negotiations. Officials suggested language for terms of reference in a non-paper distributed to the parties entitled "Peace Process Parameters".

Again, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas welcomed this initiative and said that he accepted in principle. The Israelis, however, said they needed time to consult with their American allies. Apparently, it was too embarrassing for them to outright reject the proposal, so they leaned on Washington to reject it on their behalf. The US Secretary of State flatly dismissed the initiative, which was already dead in the water due to Israel's non-response.

European states and the European Union seem to be increasing their political involvement in the conflict. The main reason for this is that they are being squeezed between the need to support the Palestinian plan for recognizing a Palestinian state at the UN in September, which is compatible with their political positions, and strong US pressure against the UN statehood bid. As a result, Europe is working hard to avoid embarrassment in September by pushing for a resumption in bilateral talks that would preempt the statehood request.

On Monday, the European Union's foreign affairs council will meet in Brussels for decisive talks after extensive diplomacy and visits to the region by EU officials. A second important meeting will be that of the Quartet. No date has yet been set, but a summit is expected to be held soon.

Palestinians are asking the Europeans to stick to their December 2009 declaration, reiterated in December 2010, and push for the adoption of this platform by the Quartet. In turn, the declaration can serve as a reference for an international conference that would relaunch the peace process. The EU statement is comprehensive enough in dealing with the various aspects of the conflict, including borders, settlements, Jerusalem and other aspects. At the same time, it is completely compatible with international legality and relevant resolutions of the UN Security Council and other terms of reference of the peace process. More importantly, it represents the consensus of the 27 European states on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. -Published 20/6/2011 ©

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

Why more pathetic attempts to revive a dead process?
 Yossi Alpher
For nearly three years now, since the demise of negotiations between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and President Mahmoud Abbas, there have been no serious Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. The reasons center on the apparent recognition by both Abbas and Olmert's successor, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, that the gaps separating them on issues of substance are too wide to justify the political risks entailed in rejoining a serious negotiations effort. Lest we conclude that Olmert succeeded where Netanyahu never tried, it must be recalled that the Olmert-Abbas talks also ended in failure, with Abbas noting specifically that "the gaps were too wide."

Considering the nature of both those gaps and the political risks on both sides, there has in recent years been only one conceivable intermediary, the Obama administration. It too has to be held accountable for this failure.

Over the past two and a half years, both Abbas and Netanyahu, in seeking to evade the opprobrium of failure, have struck out in new directions. Abbas has chosen the route of internationalization by seeking to crown a successful Palestinian state-building effort in the West Bank with United Nations recognition of a Palestinian state in September. He is aware that this is a dangerous path to follow, but claims he has no alternative. Lately he has also adopted the route of Palestinian unity, even though both he and his new-old partners, the Hamas leadership, are chronically uneasy with one another. Abbas also threatens periodically to resign, and hints on occasion that anything less than total success in September will precipitate a new intifada. All these moves dovetail nicely with the atmosphere of Arab revolution surrounding Israel and Palestine together.

Netanyahu appears to have concluded that Israel's growing international isolation, which could worsen after September, is both inevitable and tolerable as long as he nourishes his coalition with settlement activity and maintains a strong support base in the US Congress, key Israeli and American constituencies and a few important European countries. He cites the chaos in the surrounding Arab world as justification for taking no initiative for peace. By concentrating on the demand that Israel be recognized by the PLO as a Jewish state, which he knows to be a non-starter, he believes he can weather whatever storms are brewing at the UN, in the West Bank and in the surrounding Arab world.

The depth and substance of the current stalemate are profound. Hence it is hard to understand why the international community, led most recently by French and American initiatives to renew negotiations, is wasting time, energy and prestige on a negotiations-renewal effort so obviously doomed to failure. Parties of good will in the US, Europe and the Arab world would be much better off recognizing that no peace process is possible at present, and that the Arab UN initiative offers a certain potential for progress.

There are three components that must be included in any new UN resolution for it to meet the approval of the Palestinian and Arab leadership: statehood, the 1967 lines and a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem. Why not begin here, then add components to the resolution that could render it acceptable to most Israelis and to many of Israel's supporters.

The resolution would recognize Israel as a Jewish state (harking back to UN General Assembly Resolution 181 of 1947), prescribe land swaps that leave settlement blocs inside Israel, and offer long overdue international recognition of West Jerusalem as Israel's capital. It could comprise a demand that following recognition, Israel and Palestine resolve all outstanding issues through negotiations, beginning with borders and security. This approach would recognize that the refugees issue and the fate of the Jerusalem holy basin and other holy sites would be far easier to deal with when contemplated by two sovereign states with mutually recognized boundaries. The need for Hamas to meet basic international demands in order for the Gaza Strip to become part of the new Palestinian state would be noted. The new resolution could conclude with recognition of Israel's legitimate security needs and a demand that the Arab world respond to the agreed emergence of a Palestinian state with elements of normalization and security in its relations with Israel.

Instead of reacting to the Arab UN initiative with yet more pathetic attempts to jump-start a dead peace process, why shouldn't the international community begin to consider leveraging that very UN initiative into a win-win proposition for both Israelis and Palestinians? The outcome can only be better than what currently awaits us in September.-Published 20/6/2011 ©

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

Political art at its worst
 Sam Bahour
For anyone closely following the Palestinian-Israeli issue, nothing is more insulting than the world's political players peddling another peace initiative, crusading as the ultimate formula to extract the conflict from its current abyss.

The most recent episode of such political peddling happened in rapid fire from mid-May to early June 2011, when US President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu engaged in a ping-pong-like game of four days of policy speeches. The political fallout of these speeches was rather predictable. The media hailed Obama's words as historic and started to view his approach as a new set of parameters (which are actually a step back from past US parameters) that could serve to bring the parties back to the negotiations table and on a path to resolving the conflict.

Those immersed in this conflict knew better. They saw Obama's words for what they really were: a total buckling of US policy to an arrogant and intransigent Israeli prime minister who wields tremendous domestic leverage on US politics by way of the pro-Israel lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). For Obama, who already has his eye on the prize of a second term, the pressure was too much to bear.

A few days later, yet another "peace initiative" was announced, this time from France. In reply to the French announcement, the June 6 Haaretz editorial title read loud and clear: "Netanyahu must accept French peace initiative". The editorial explained why:

France has placed an offer on the desk of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: Begin direct negotiations with the Palestinians in September, on the basis of the Obama plan. The proposal does not define Israel's borders, draw a map of Jerusalem or determine which settlements Israel must remove. It even helps the Israeli position in that it speaks of "two states for two peoples," in other words it acknowledges that Israel is a Jewish state. It opposes unilateral steps by either side--that is, both the expansion of Israeli settlements and the Palestinians' intention of seeking UN recognition for their state.

Anyone who knows anything about this conflict can tell you that this so-called "initiative" has as much chance of serving its proclaimed purpose as Hosni Mubarak has of being re-elected as president of Egypt.

The collective global memory seems to be in deep amnesia. We have been here before--at a point where half-baked initiatives and resolutions, non-compliant with international law and absent of any sense of historical justice, were touted as "the right formula".

Palestinians don't forget so easily, especially since their deep wounds due to dispossession since 1948, military occupation since 1967 and non-stop institutional discrimination against Palestinians inside Israel have never been given a chance to heal.

To name just a few of the past infamous peace initiatives, whose number is mind-boggling: UN General Assembly Resolution 181 (II) Future Government of Palestine (November 29, 1947), Count Folke Bernadotte proposals (1947-1948), UN Security Council Resolution 242 (November 22, 1967), Jarring Mission (1967-1971), Allon Plan (July 26, 1967), Rogers Plan (1969), UN Security Council Resolution 338 (October 22, 1973), Reagan Plan (Sept. 1, 1982), Oslo Accords (1993), Wye River Memorandum (October 23, 1998), Camp David 2000 Summit (2000), The Clinton Parameters (December 23, 2000), Taba summit (January 2001), The Tenet Plan (June 13, 2001), Elon Peace Plan (2002), Nusseibeh-Ayalon Agreement (2002), Arab Peace Initiative (March 28, 2002), The People's Voice (July 27, 2002), Road Map for Peace (April 30, 2003), Geneva Accord (October 20, 2003), Sharm el-Sheikh Summit of 2005 (February 8, 2005), 2006 Franco-Italian-Spanish Middle East Peace Plan and, sadly, the list goes on and on.

For those still believing a two-state solution paradigm is possible, one past initiative is worthy to reflect upon: that of Count Folke Bernadotte. On May 20, 1948, Count Bernadotte, a Swedish diplomat and nobleman, was unanimously appointed as the United Nations mediator in Palestine, the first official mediator in UN history. He was assassinated in Jerusalem in 1948 by the militant Zionist group Lehi while pursuing his official duties. Lehi was led at the time by Yitzhak Shamir, who later became prime minister of Israel.

After unsuccessfully trying to promote the idea of a "union" between Palestine and Transjordan, he proposed two independent states. This proposal was completed on September 16, 1948, and its seven "basic premises" were:

  1. Peace must return to Palestine and every feasible measure should be taken to ensure that hostilities will not be resumed and that harmonious relations between Arab and Jew will ultimately be restored.
  2. A Jewish State called Israel exists in Palestine and there are no sound reasons for assuming that it will not continue to do so.
  3. The boundaries of this new State must finally be fixed either by formal agreement between the parties concerned or failing that, by the United Nations.
  4. Adherence to the principle of geographical homogeneity and integration, which should be the major objective of the boundary arrangements, should apply equally to Arab and Jewish territories, whose frontiers should not therefore, be rigidly controlled by the territorial arrangements envisaged in the resolution of 29 November.
  5. The right of innocent people, uprooted from their homes by the present terror and ravages of war, to return to their homes, should be affirmed and made effective, with assurance of adequate compensation for the property of those who may choose not to return.
  6. The City of Jerusalem, because of its religious and international significance and the complexity of interests involved, should be accorded special and separate treatment.
  7. International responsibility should be expressed where desirable and necessary in the form of international guarantees, as a means of allaying existing fears, and particularly with regard to boundaries and human rights.

Although this two-state approach is more honest in its larger context (as it relates to the flawed notion of "Jewish state" and right of return of Palestinian refugees), the text in premise four demonstrates that Count Bernadotte, 64 years earlier, stated the same principle that President Obama and the most recent French "initiative" promote: setting borders not compliant with the reference at the time, which was UN Resolution 181, the Partition Plan.

Sixty-four years has only changed the reference point of borders to the disadvantage of Palestinians, and today, the forces-that-be are proposing that the 1949 Armistice line (1967 green line) not be respected. Palestinians can only expect that remaining on the same path will result in Israel gobbling up more land while the international community continues to grasp for a workable initiative. In the meantime, the entire two-state paradigm is collapsing.

I'll never understand why they call this field "political science", for it is political art at its worst.-Published 20/6/2011 ©

Sam Bahour is a Ramallah-based management consultant.

What next?
 Amnon Lord
The root cause for the impasse in the peace process is the international community's refusal to accept the Israeli public's verdict about developments in Israeli-Palestinian relations and in the surrounding international envelope. A short review of the reasons for this negative Israeli verdict on the peace process is due because it seems as if everybody is constantly surprised by the failure of peace initiatives like those presented recently by France and the United States.

In early 2006, following the disengagement from Gaza, the Israeli public seemed to have found a path to its liking. It was the policy of unilateral withdrawal from areas in which there was a consensus that Israel would not remain. The proof was that Kadima, led by an unpopular leader like Ehud Olmert, won the elections, while the Likud led by Binyamin Netanyahu crashed and became a small 12-member faction in the Knesset.

What followed was a lesson to Israelis. Everything went contrary to the seemingly rational interest of both sides, resulting in two small but cruel wars. Those unhappy consequences were augmented by the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip four years ago this month. Now, Israelis no longer want to engage in human experiments such as the withdrawals from the security strip in Lebanon or the disengagement from Gaza.

Consequently, there emerged a broad consensus in the Israeli public and among security experts, whether from the left or the right, that an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank would result eventually in a similar Hamas coup and takeover of the Palestinian Authority. Even Kadima leader Tzipi Livni in her naivete is talking about a "shelf agreement" to be implemented gradually and in accordance with realities on the ground.

This state of mind led to the great victory of the rightist bloc in Israel two and a half years ago.

Enter US President Barack Obama. It's largely his fault that negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians are stalled. PLO leader Mahmoud Abbas has stated in meetings with Jewish leaders in the US and in press interviews that he couldn't be less demanding than the US president regarding preconditions to the negotiations. When the negotiations were restarted briefly in September last year, I heard from an adviser to Abbas that he feared failure caused by mismanagement. And he was right. The mismanagement was American.

The Obama Middle East speech last month in the State Department was, as far as the peace process is concerned, a repeat of the same mistake the US president made with the settlements freeze demand on Israel. Everybody noticed it: this time it was the demand for a peace deal based on withdrawal to the 1967 boundaries, which now appears in the new American and French conditions for reconvening negotiations.

But still, PM Binyamin Netanyahu gave Obama and the Palestinians a very generous response in his speech in Congress: he spoke of readiness for Palestinian statehood on most parts of the West Bank and actually left the Jerusalem issue open. The fact that Obama did not embrace that formulation as a starting point for negotiations while accepting the Palestinian approach means that he doesn't have a peace settlement in mind, but rather an un-wise policy towards the government of Israel. Obama and his advisers think in terms of trapping Netanyahu in an existential vice: accept my outline for a peace deal or face the consequences in September in the United Nations.

This is of course a false choice. Obama maintains the pressure in order to push Israel permanently into the international corner or precipitate internal collapse in Israel that ushers in a more convenient prime minister. This is delusional. Netanyahu enjoys a very stable government and wide public support for his stand: according to a poll administered by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, 85 percent support a united Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty and 77 percent reject a withdrawal to the 1967 lines even if that withdrawal results in a peace agreement and an all-Arab end-of-conflict declaration.

Netanyahu appears to have effectively made Israel's point about both conditions for peace negotiations and the negative consequences of a unilateral Palestinian move in September. In parallel, Abbas-Netanyahu relations could be described as a love story between two people who hate one another. Despite holding a very bad political hand that leaves almost no room for maneuver by both sides, the two leaders have managed to improve the reality on the ground considerably for the benefit of Palestinians and Israelis alike. They maneuvered firmly through bumpy stretches like a couple of terrorist attacks in the West Bank, a mini-escalation in Gaza a while ago and the clashes of the Nakba and the Naksa days.

Netanyahu and Abbas seem to have found the formula to render President Obama irrelevant. Looking ahead to September, this experience leaves room for optimism.-Published 20/6/2011 ©

Amnon Lord is a senior editor with Makor Rishon daily newspaper.