Netanyahu Killed the Peace

September 29, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Pres. Bill Clinton says that Netanyahu now rejects the deal that all others, including Israel’s past leaders, wanted.

By Josh Rogin 

2011-09-23T170224Z_853753134_LM2E79N1BC001_RTRMADP_3_UN-ASSEMBLY

Palestine’s Pres. Mahmoud Abbas holds up a copy of the letter that he had delivered to UN Sec. Gen. Ban Ki-moon requesting full UN representation for a Palestinian state, September 23, 2011.     

REUTERS/Mike Segar

Who’s to blame for the continued failure of the Middle East peace process? Former President Bill Clinton said today that it is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — whose government moved the goalposts upon taking power, and whose rise represents a key reason there has been no Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.

Clinton, in a roundtable with bloggers today on the sidelines of the Clinton Global Initiative in New York, gave an extensive recounting of the deterioration in the Middle East peace process since he pressed both parties to agree to a final settlement at Camp David in 2000. He said there are two main reasons for the lack of a comprehensive peace today: the reluctance of the Netanyahu administration to accept the terms of the Camp David deal and a demographic shift in Israel that is making the Israeli public less amenable to peace.

“The two great tragedies in modern Middle Eastern politics, which make you wonder if God wants Middle East peace or not, were [Yitzhak] Rabin’s assassination and [Ariel] Sharon’s stroke,” Clinton said.

Sharon had decided he needed to build a new centrist coalition, so he created the Kadima party and gained the support of leaders like Tzipi Livni and Ehud Olmert. He was working toward a consensus for a peace deal before he fell ill, Clinton said. But that effort was scuttled when the Likud party returned to power.

“The Israelis always wanted two things that once it turned out they had, it didn’t seem so appealing to Mr. Netanyahu. They wanted to believe they had a partner for peace in a Palestinian government, and there’s no question — and the Netanyahu government has said — that this is the finest Palestinian government they’ve ever had in the West Bank,” Clinton said.

“[Palestinian leaders] have explicitly said on more than one occasion that if [Netanyahu] put up the deal that was offered to them before — my deal — that they would take it,” Clinton said, referring to the 2000 Camp David deal that Yasser Arafat rejected.

But the Israeli government has drifted a long way from the Ehud Barak-led government that came so close to peace in 2000, Clinton said, and any new negotiations with the Netanyahu government are now on starkly different terms — terms that the Palestinians are unlikely to accept.

“For reasons that even after all these years I still don’t know for sure, Arafat turned down the deal I put together that Barak accepted,” he said. “But they also had an Israeli government that was willing to give them East Jerusalem as the capital of the new state of Palestine.”

Israel also wants a normalization of relations with its Arab neighbors to accompany a peace deal. Clinton said that the Saudi-inspired Arab Peace Initiative put forth in 2002 represented an answer to that Israeli demand.

“The King of Saudi Arabia started lining up all the Arab countries to say to the Israelis, ‘if you work it out with the Palestinians … we will give you immediately not only recognition but a political, economic, and security partnership,’” Clinton said. “This is huge….

It’s a heck of a deal.”

The Netanyahu government has received all of the assurances previous Israeli governments said they wanted but now won’t accept those terms to make peace, Clinton said.

“Now that they have those things, they don’t seem so important to this current Israeli government, partly because it’s a different country,” said Clinton. “In the interim, you’ve had all these immigrants coming in from the former Soviet Union, and they have no history in Israel proper, so the traditional claims of the Palestinians have less weight with them.”

Clinton then repeated his assertions made at last year’s conference that Israeli society can be divided into demographic groups that have various levels of enthusiasm for making peace.

“The most pro-peace Israelis are the Arabs; second the Sabras, the Jewish Israelis that were born there; third, the Ashkenazi of long-standing, the European Jews who came there around the time of Israel’s founding,” Clinton said. “The most anti-peace are the ultra-religious, who believe they’re supposed to keep Judea and Samaria, and the settler groups, and what you might call the territorialists, the people who just showed up lately and they’re not encumbered by the historical record.”

Clinton affirmed that the United States should veto the Palestinian resolution at the U.N. Security Council for member-state status, because the Israelis need security guarantees before agreeing to the creation of a Palestinian state. But the Netanyahu government has moved away from the consensus for peace, making a final status agreement more difficult, Clinton said.

“That’s what happened. Every American needs to know this. That’s how we got to where we are,” Clinton said. “The real cynics believe that the Netanyahu’s government’s continued call for negotiations over borders and such means that he’s just not going to give up the West Bank.”

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The Fake Outrage of the Israel Firsters

May 26, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By MJ Rosenberg

ISRAEL-PALESTINIANS/NETANAYHU

An Ultra Orthodox Jewish man walks past mannequins on a street in Jerusalem’s Old City May 25, 2011. Palestinians and Israelis alike saw little prospect of a fresh start to Middle East peace talks on Wednesday after Israeli PM Netanyahu’s keynote speech to Congress. 

REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

There was absolutely nothing about President Barack Obama’s Middle East speech to get excited about (and even less in his statement following Friday’s meeting with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu). The president did not even attempt to set out an action plan; he offered broad principles, ones that have been offered before by five previous presidents.

He delivered the speech in an effort to get the jump on Netanyahu who is in town to address Congress and AIPAC. Bibi’s goal is to mobilize his followers against any U.S. efforts to promote an Israeli-Palestinian agreement. Netanyahu, who grew up in the United States, is a de facto Republican and, as in 1998 when President Clinton was in office, he wants to strengthen the GOP vis a vis the Democrats.

Delivering the speech was probably a mistake. But Obama felt that he had to deliver it — to preempt Netanyahu’s war-mongering with some good pro-Israel boilerplate and to neutralize some of the opposition to U.S. policies toward Israel that is weakening our standing with the evolving Arab democracies.

For obvious national security reasons, the United States cannot afford to have a new generation of Arab democrats in nations as significant as Egypt hating us because they view America as being in Israel’s pocket. A strong rhetorical endorsement of peace would both help neutralize Netanyahu’s demagoguery and defuse opposition to both America and Israel in the Muslim world. Meanwhile, it would please Netanyahu’s followers.

In the end, it didn’t turn out that way. As the Wall Street Journal reported in an article called “Jewish Donors Warn Obama on Israel,” a tiny (but incredibly well-heeled) group of donors told Obama in advance that any deviation from the line laid down by Netanyahu would cost Obama campaign contributions. The article quotes a bunch of fat cats, unknown to most Jewish Americans who essentially threatened Obama.

It’s crazy. In 2008 78% of Jews voted for Obama. According to the definitive American Jewish Committee poll, Israel ranks 7th on the list of issues on which Jews cast their votes with 3% citing it as the top concern. 54% mentioned the economy, and many more cited health care, energy and a host of other issues.

But the self-appointed fat cat representatives of the Jewish community tell the White House that our #1 concern is Israel. And, for the AIPAC directed donors, it probably is.

And that is why President Obama delivered a speech on Thursday that was utterly innocuous. There was nothing in it that has not been said before by a host of previous presidents. Virtually all his empathy was directed at Israel while he offered a little sympathy, and nothing else, to the Palestinians. He did what he thought he had to do: appease AIPAC and Netanyahu while pleasing Arab democrats too.

But he failed. Arabs saw the speech as a bunch of empty words. And the Israeli firsters went ballistic. Why? Because of one paragraph.

The president said:

The United States believes that negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine. We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states. The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their full potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state.

And suddenly all hell broke loose. But not immediately. Initially, the right-wing of the “pro-Israel” claque praised Obama for not saying anything that challenged Netanyahu but then Netanyahu, said that he was outraged by the reference to the 1967 lines.

But then the robotic Israel-firsters switched their line as quickly as Red 1930s folk singers changed their lyrics when Moscow complained of deviation. (Stop bashing Nazi Germany; we just signed a pact with it).

This is beyond ridiculous. Obama did not say that Israel would have to go back to the 1967 borders; he said that the “borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines…”
That means that Israelis and Palestinians would sit down with a map that dated back to 1967 and decide what would be Israel and what would be Palestine. What other “lines” could a deal be based on? The border between China and Russia?

As far back as the 1967 United Nations Resolution 242, which Israel signed, it has been the stated policy of the entire world (including Israel) that Israel would return to the ‘67 borders, with alterations made, as necessary, to guard Israel’s security. Every American president has said that and every Israeli government has accepted it. Even AIPAC supports the “two-state solution,” which means a Palestinian state in the territories captured by Israel in 1967. Where else?

So what are these people up to when they suddenly decide to descend into faux-rage when Obama says what they have been saying all along?

The answer is simple. The Israel-first crowd has decided on two things: (1) They do not want Israeli-Palestinian peace, period. They want Israel to keep all the land. And (2) they want to see President Obama defeated in the next election, hoping against hope that they can drive the Obama Jewish vote, and especially campaign contributions, way below 2008 levels. They don’t trust him. They suspect (hopefully, rightly) that in his heart he does not believe the status quo loving nonsense Dennis Ross is feeding him.

Obama’s mistake is to think he can appease these people by going to AIPAC (as he will do next week) or to Israel (as he probably will this summer) and trying to explain himself. Unless he is prepared to tell AIPAC and right-wing Israelis that he supports both settlements and the permanent disenfranchisement of Palestinians, he will not win over these people. They are not potential friends, not of him or of U.S. interests. Or, frankly, of Israel’s. (They seem to prefer the West Bank over Israel itself).

Instead, he should mobilize Americans, pro-Israel Jews and non-Jews, like those of J Street who support the two-state solution and territorial compromise. He should reach out to Palestinians who are prepared to live in peace with Israel (including Hamas, if it will permanently end violence against Israel). And he should support moderate Israelis (still a sizable percentage of the population) who hate the occupation and are desperate to achieve peace with the Palestinians.

Trying to appease Netanyahu and AIPAC empowers the right and cuts moderates off at the knees. It’s time for Obama to treat these people as what they are: enemies of everything he aspires to do. Why would the president think he can possibly find friends on the right? He can’t.

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Life in Gaza… and the Peace Process

August 20, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)

New York City–August 12th–It is hard for the Muslim to realize that Jews are not the enemy for the atrocities within our mutual Holy Land, rather the perverted doctrine of Zionism is the culprit.

I was fortunate to be on a conference call with Mitchell Plitnick, the Director of the U.S. Office of B’Tselem, the Israeli Information for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories.  This independent Israeli Information Center documents abuses under their law, and has been able to make a difference legally and in the sight of public opinion.

This call was sponsored by Churches for Middle East Peace to examine the conditions on the ground especially in Gaza and how it impacts the larger peace prospects.

Mitchell Plitnick, the Director of the American Office of B’Tselem: the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories–is a highly respected analyst.  He was born into an Orthodox Jewish family here in New York, and was educated in a Yeshiva (much like an Islamic Madrassa).   Strangely, he had grown up in an extremist Jewish environment, and during his earlier career supported the Settler Movement until he began to question the status quo.
Plitnick’s B’Tselem attempts to guarantee rights within the Occupied Teritories. 

Yet Gaza itself, which is no longer under law “an Occupied Territory” although Israel still holds responsibility for it under International law due to its brutal blockade — has not changed since the War.  Historically, the Strip has been a dependent district for centuries – Turks, Egyptians, British Israelis et al.  At the moment it is legally beholden to Tel Aviv for supplies which responsibility the IDF (Israel Defense Force) has been ignoring.

There has been no post-War reconstruction of Gaza City and its hinterlands due to the blockade.  Besides, little food or medicine is permitted by the Egyptian and Israeli Commands.

This blockade cannot be justified for Israeli security.  “Gazan human rights cannot be bargained away for Israeli security!” The conditions are desperate!  It is in Israel not Hamas’ hands while the United States has not moved forward along the lines of our new Executive‘s rhetoric.  The situation in Gaza has remained static since Hamas’ 2006 election.  Israel’s raison d’être for the Blockade was to force the Palestinian Arabs to suffer and to overthrow Hamas.  Well, “Collective punishment is illegal!”  Plitnick, further, stated that “The condition on the ground can’t be argued morally or legally.  The International community should add the suffering of the people” into the equation!

On the other side of the struggle, “Most [Israelis] thought Operation Cast Lead [the Gaza War] was not a success… [for its] objectives were not met.”  Most of the post-conflict coverage center on how the War was conducted.  Gaza’s economy has been decimated by the Operation.  The anger in Gaza, of course, is not against their government, but the Jews and Egyptians.  There is a good chance that Hamas could carry the upcoming elections, too, on the West Bank.

The Egyptians are, further, fearful of the Hamas government because of their close relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood, the second largest party in Cairo’s Parliament.  Furthermore, Alexandria does not wish to see refugees overflowing from the Rafah boundaries where there was a revolt of a sub-sect two weeks ago who wished to spread an even more stringent form of Islam over the whole of Palestine than the Islamist Hamas.  Although, at the same time, Egyptian businessmen feel they may be able to wrench the wretched electrical blockage away from the Israelis and to supply the Gazans to Egypt’s economic advantage. 

WHO (the World Health Organization) et al. has declared that medical supplies are grossly inadequate.  The Israeli Branch of Physicians for Human Rights has been able to provide the bulk of medical relief in Gaza itself and, also, to much of the Occupied Territories.  

To a question, Mr. Plitnick replied that Hamas would have a hard time to deny elections now although their relations are still confrontational with Fatah.  Hamas is in firm control of their miniscule republic although the human rights situation is less than optimal (human rights can only arise and thrive in situations where there is political stability with no outside threat bearing down on the “commonwealth”).  Yet their citizens overwhelmingly support their administration.  Still, on the other hand, Gaza City is desperately attempting to discover an open door to the Obama Presidency.

The issue of the Israeli Cabinent’s demand for the one missing Israeli soldier is a question of one to thousands of Palestinian prisoners.  The Palestinians on the West Bank are desirous for change, too, while back in Gaza, none of President Obama’s promises have come to fruition.  In both areas, there has only been the ebb and flow of violence:  In Occupation this is a constant! 

Plitinck acknowledged that Iran was a major International supplier to Hamas for the Farsis own propagandistic purposes –  to demonstrate their unwavering support of Palestine to the Islamic world, but Hamas itself is not an extension of Tehran’s foreign policy agenda.  If Persia and Gaza’s ties were severed, the modern Philistines could and would find alternative aid and support.  The regime in Gaza City is a Palestinian National Movement!

Speaking on the politics of his own country, Mitchell Plitnick stated that the sectarian (Foreign Minister) Lieberman, who is now under investigation for corruption, is one of the worst disasters to overtake his nation’s body politic.  Although our human rights NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) Director stated that he (Lieberman) was not listened to within the Cabinet, he represented a severe tilt towards the right in Tel Aviv, and that is why U.S. pressure must be applied to the government there.  American Jews are much more liberal than Israeli officialdom as a whole, he argued; and, thus must let their voices be heard in American-Israeli debates while taking into account Israel’s legitimate security concerns.  (One of the problems in Israel’s Commonweal is that they over accentuate their security requirements over what is reasonable.) 

For instance, building materials should be permitted into Gaza; so, the Strip can be reconstructed!  

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