May 19, 2011
Number 05/011 #05
This update deals with two related Israeli-Palestinian developments – a relatively hardline piece by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the New York Times on Tuesday, plus the “Naqba Day” clashes over the weekend (video here and here, some photos here), which for the first time saw major efforts by Palestinian residents of Syria and Lebanon to try to cross the border into Israel, leading to considerable casualties.
First up is a response by David Harris, Executive Director of the American Jewish Committee, expressing disappointment and concern at the content of Abbas’ opinion piece, which Harris argues, not only effectively says no to a negotiated peace, but re-writes 60 years of history. He takes particular issue with the matters Abbas elides or misrepresents regarding what happened in 1948 and the period up until 1967. He says that Abbas’ defence of moves to gain unilateral support for Palestinian statehood without negotations is likely to “effectively end the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.” For his full argument, CLICK HERE. Also, Noah Pollack argues that Abbas’ piece essentially announces he is joining the Hamas strategy of attempting to gain statehood without any peace deal with Israel or promise to end the conflict. Meanwhile, both Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic and, in more detail, blogger Daled Amos, strongly challenge, based on his own previous words, Abbas’ account in his piece of his family’s departure from Safed in Israel in 1948. More pieces taking on Abbas’ account of what happened in 1948 comes from Barry Rubin and Eli Herz of the “Myths and Facts” organisation.
Next up is an explanation of what is unique about this year’s Naqba clashes from former senior US official Elliot Abrams. He highlights the role of the “Arab Spring” and the Syrian government’s interest in distracting from its own unrest and repression by shifting the spotlight to Israel, as well as the current Fatah-Hamas unity agreement. However, he stresses that the most worrying thing about the demonstrations were not what was new but the continuity with the past in terms of the goal – not statehood nor an end to settlements – but the right of the return of the descendants of the 1948 refugees and a reversal of the outcome of that war. For his full argument, CLICK HERE.
Taking this last point up in more detail is Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal. He argues pessimistically that the sincere and non-tactical Palestinian devotion to the concept of the the right of return of refugees means Israel may never be able to achieve a final two-state peace. He looks in more detail at what sustains this Palestinian belief and also offers some advice to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu for his upcoming trip to Washington. For the rest of what he had to say, CLICK HERE. Also making a similar point is Canadian academic Gil Troy.
Readers may also be interested in:
- The next few days are likely to be important ones in Washington with respect to Middle East policy, with US President Obama expected to give a major Mideast policy speech tonight Australia time, and another at AIPAC on Sunday, while Israeli PM Netanyahu is arriving in town to meet Obama on Friday and speak to the Congress on Tuesday. In view of this, we recommend:
- Some advice about what Obama should say in his speech comes from Washington Institute scholars Robert Satloff and Michael Singh as well as noted Israeli author Yossi Klein Halevi, while Barry Rubin says he does not expect the speech to make much difference no matter what Obama says.
- Some advice to Netanyahu on his speech from David Makovsky of the Washington Institute.
- Some suggestions for both sides from Israeli academic Zaki Shalom and former Middle East mediator Aaron David Miller.
- Netanyahu gave an important speech on his approach to peace in the Knesset on Monday. Yossi Klein Halevi comments on its significance.
- Two good editorials on the Naqba clashes, and especially the Syrian role, here and here. Meanwhile, Turkey kills 12 border-crossers, but hardly anyone notices.
- In response to Abbas’ NYT piece, entitled, “The Long Overdue Palestinian State”, some reminders about the numerous deals giving a state to the Palestinians have turned down – seven in all, according to this piece, some by Abbas himself, as this one notes. More on this is in an older essay by noted historian Benny Morris.
- David Harris has another excellent piece taking on someone who wants to join a Gaza-bound flotilla. Meanwhile, it is being reported that Turkey is planning to withdraw from a UN-sponsored panel on last year’s Mavi Marmara incident involving a Gaza-bound flotilla because the panel, chaired by former New Zealand PM Geoffrey Palmer, is likely to exonerate Israel of any illegality.
- An Israeli opposition member argues that it is for the sake of the Palestinian future that Palestinians must recognise Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people as part of a peace deal.
- An interesting poll showing most Palestinians support the Fatah-Hamas deal, but also that most expect them to fail, and expect a “third Intifada” to be the result.
- Some responses to the conviction of Nazi death camp guard John Demanjuk in Germany last week from Nazi-hunter Efraim Zuroff and academic expert Deborah Lipstadt.
“In the Trenches” blog
Tuesday May 17, 2011
Opening The New York Times this morning, my jaw dropped as I reached the op-ed page. There, featured prominently, with accompanying artwork, was an article by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas outlining the Palestinian strategy for a unilateral declaration of statehood this September at the UN General Assembly. The stunning piece says no to a negotiated peace with Israel and rewrites more than 60 years of history.
To begin with, he blithely ignores basic facts that have considerable bearing on the present situation.
Moreover, by declaring his determination to pursue UN recognition “of the State of Palestine on the 1967 border,” he is hurtling toward confrontation not only with Israel, but also with other key nations, including the United States, that have publicly declared their opposition to this shortsighted path. Such a strategy contributes not to the quest for peace, but rather its opposite – intensification of the conflict. Let’s be clear: this strategy will effectively end the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Among the astonishing elements in his op-ed, Abbas ignores the war unleashed by Arab armies in 1948 to obliterate the new State of Israel, following the recommendation of the UN General Assembly for the establishment of Jewish and Arab nations in the British-ruled Mandatory Palestine.
The Arab world, including Palestinian leadership, categorically rejected the 1947 UN recommendation, preferring war to peace. War, tragically, creates refugee populations. This was no exception, but it was also far from unique. What is unique is that the Palestinian refugee question has been kept alive for generations without any attempt at permanent resettlement.
Abbas also conveniently neglects to mention that there were two refugee populations, of relatively equal size, created by the Arab-initiated conflict. The other consisted of hundreds of thousands of Jews from Arab countries who were expelled or given little choice but to leave. Their plight has never been recognized by the Arab world.
The Palestinian leader also omits any reference to the fact that, from 1948 to 1967, the Palestinians could have had a state of their own in the West Bank, eastern Jerusalem, and Gaza. All these territories were entirely in Arab, not Israeli, hands. Yet there was no move to sovereignty. Why?
He also fails to mention the efforts to resolve the fate of the disputed lands since 1967, when Israel became the unsought occupier of these very same territories after a war of self-defense.
Four Israeli prime ministers, beginning with Ehud Barak in 2000, have sought to negotiate a two-state agreement with their Palestinian counterparts. In every case, the Palestinians, offering one excuse or another, rejected the extended hand and refused to cross the goal line of peace together. Most recently, when Binyamin Netanyahu took the unprecedented step of a ten-month settlement freeze to show his good faith, Abbas was AWOL for the first nine months, unwilling even to return to the negotiating table.
Nor does Abbas address the newest complication – an accord between Hamas and Fatah. Hamas is committed in word and deed to the destruction of the State of Israel. It is deemed a terrorist organization by the United States and European Union. It seeks the imposition of Sharia law on all territory it occupies. Hamas cannot simply be airbrushed out of the picture for the benefit of readers of the New York Times.
Instead, he paints a rosy picture of the new State of Palestine as “a peace-loving nation, committed to human rights, democracy, the rule of law and the principles of the United Nations Charter.”
All noble aims, but a far cry from where the West Bank, much less Gaza, is today. Are we simply to take his word for it because he says it? Is Israel to risk its own security in what would become a country nine miles wide at its narrowest point because Abbas waxes poetic about a vision that is still, shall we say, rather far from the reality on the ground? The teaching of incitement, glorification of terrorists, torture, legal abuses, and failure to recognize Israel’s inherent legitimacy are still prevalent in land under Palestinian Authority rule, and Gaza, of course, is far worse.
The truth of the matter is that, despite what Abbas may allege, the only true path to Palestinian statehood is at the negotiating table with the Israeli government. Attempts to circumvent this critical process will only violate signed commitments that permanent-status issues must be agreed to by both parties. There is no easy way out, no quick fix for the hard work that has to be done.
Finally, Abbas’s words are a slap in the face to the United States. The American position, articulated by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last month, is: “We do not support any unilateral effort by the Palestinians to go to the United Nations to try to obtain some authorization or approval vote with respect to statehood. We think we can only achieve the two-state solution that we strongly advocate through negotiations.”
By the way, as an upcoming senator from New York in 2000, Clinton, witnessing a similar attempt by the Palestinians to do an end-run around direct talks with Israel, declared: “It must be clear that any unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood would be entirely unacceptable and should be met with a cutoff of United States assistance.”
AJC reaffirms its support for a negotiated two-state settlement based on direct talks between the parties involved. We believe it is an achievable goal if there is sufficient political will and courage.
Israel is ready. It has said so repeatedly and taken concrete steps to demonstrate its sincerity. With this op-ed, President Abbas has thumbed his nose at the entire process and done grave damage to the search for a lasting peace.
Back to Top
The Weekly Standard, May 16, 2011 5:07 PM
This Nakba Day was different because it fell amidst the many recent developments in what we call the Arab Spring. It is probably correct that Palestinians have been feeling left out, as the attention of the world and of their Arab brothers turns to reform, politics, revolts, elections, constitutions, criminal trials—everything but the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. So, this Nakba Day had to be used to recover the stage and demand attention. With President Obama speaking later this week on the Arab Spring and receiving Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu next week, the timing must have seemed right for putting themselves back on the world’s front pages. We are still here, Palestinians were saying.
It is striking that the sum total of demonstrators who got across from Jordan into Israel was zero, while there was violence at the Lebanese and Syrian borders. This fact alone makes it clear that what happened was mostly manufactured by Hezbollah and the Assad regime. The king of Jordan was opposed to trouble, so there were demonstrations but no border breaches or violence along the Jordan River and its crossings. The Syrian regime and Hezbollah were seeking to use this Nakba Day to divert attention from the revolt in Syria, so they organized trouble. Several days ago Assad’s cousin and partner in financial crime Rami Makhlouf issued a threat, saying, “If there is no stability here, there’s no way there will be stability in Israel.” So this Nakba Day was different because it saw the Syrian regime, fighting for survival, hijacking the occasion to cause bloodshed. The only comic aspect—black comedy, admittedly—of this picture was provided by Bashar al-Assad, who took time from murdering protesters all over Syria to issue a statement condemning Israel for violence against demonstrators.
This Nakba Day is also different from those of past years because it arrived just as Palestinians were celebrating a Hamas-Fatah unity agreement. The goal is to bring Hamas into the Palestinian government and the PLO, the body charged with negotiating peace with Israel. So when Hamas officials spoke on Nakba Day this year, they did so not as enemies of the PLO, not as leaders being hunted by Palestinian security forces, and not as people being excluded from an increasingly moderate Palestinian political leadership. Instead they spoke as future officials of the Palestinian Authority and future PLO members and leaders.
This was bad enough. Yet the worst aspect of Nakba Day 2011 was not the differences from past years; it was the continuity. The catastrophe being commemorated was not the Arab defeat in the 1967 war, and a Camp David-type agreement about the West Bank would not reverse it. The catastrophe was not settlement expansion—and Palestinian demands could not be met by freezing construction. Nor were they focused on the coming September vote on admitting a Palestinian state to membership in the U.N., and their demands could not be satisfied by announcing the United States would agree not to use its veto. The demand of Nakba Day is that the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 be reversed. When Hamas’s prime minister Ismail Haniyah spoke on Sunday in a Gaza speech, he told the crowd they were demonstrating “with great hope of bringing to an end the Zionist project in Palestine.” And last week Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas said, “We will never give up the right of return.”
This is what Palestinians’ leaders continue to feed their people and teach in their schools. For Israelis and all those who seek peace in the Middle East, this is the real catastrophe.
Back to Top
Wall Street Journal, MAY 17, 2011
No doubt it is true, as the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth reported on Sunday, that among the Palestinian protesters seeking to force their way into Israel there were some with humbler aims than reclaiming “historic Palestine.”
“We’ve crossed the border in order to stay with our families, away from all the killing in Syria,” the paper reported one of the infiltrators as saying. “We ask the powers that be in Israel to help us stay and not send us back.”
No doubt it is also true, as White House spokesman Jay Carney noted yesterday, that the attempted breach was an effort by Damascus “to distract attention from the legitimate expression of protest by the Syrian people.” The border between Israel and Syria has been quiet for 37 years; it’s no accident, comrades, that the embattled regime of Bashar Assad, perhaps advised by Iran, would choose this particular moment to shift violent energies toward a more opportune target.
But here’s something about which there should also be no doubt: People don’t scamper over barbed wire, walk through mine fields and march toward the barrels of enemy soldiers if they aren’t fearless. And if they aren’t profoundly convinced of the rightness of what they are doing.
For many years it has been the conventional wisdom of Arab-Israeli peace processors that the conflict was, at heart, territorial, and that it could be resolved if only Israel and its neighbors could agree on a proper border. For many years, too, it has been conventional wisdom that if only the conflict could be resolved, other distempers of the Muslim world—from dictatorship to terrorism—would find their own resolution. If the Arab Spring has done nothing else, it has at least disposed of the latter proposition. From Tehran to Tunis to Tahrir Square, Muslims are rising against their rulers for reasons quite apart from anything happening in Gaza, the West Bank or the Golan Heights. This isn’t to say they’ve abandoned their emotional commitments to Palestinians, or their ideological ones against Israel. It’s simply to say that they have their own problems.
But just as the West has consistently misunderstood the Muslim problem, so too has it failed to grasp the Palestinian one. And what it has failed to grasp above all is the centrality of Palestinian refugees to the conflict.
The fiction that is typically offered about the refugees by devotees of the peace process is that Palestinian leaders see them as a bargaining chip in their negotiations with Israel, perhaps in exchange for the re-division of Jerusalem. But listen in on the internal dialogue of Palestinians and you will hear that the “right of return” is an inviolable, inalienable and individual right of every refugee. In other words, a right that can never (and never safely) be bargained away by Palestinian leaders for the sake of a settlement with Israel.
In this belief the Palestinians are sustained by many things.
One is the mythology of 1948, which is long on tales of what Jews did to Arabs but short on what Arabs did to Jews—or to themselves. Another is the text of U.N. resolution 194, written in 1948, which plainly states that “refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date.” A third is UNRWA, the U.N. agency that has perpetuated the Palestinian refugee problem for generations when most other refugees have been successfully repatriated. A fourth is their ill treatment at the hands of their Arab hosts, which has caused them to yearn for the fantasy of a homeland—orchards and all—that modern-day Israel succeeds in looking very much like. A fifth is the incessant drone of Palestinian propaganda whose idea of Palestinian statehood traces the map of Israel itself.
Other things could be mentioned. But the roots of the problem are beside the point. The real point is that a grievance that has been nursed for 63 years and that can move people to acts like those witnessed on Sunday is never going to allow a political accommodation with Israel and would never be satisfied by one anyway.
No wonder Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas’s prime minister, can say he would be prepared to accept the 1967 borders—but that establishing those borders will never mean an end to the conflict. The same goes for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who praised Sunday’s slain protesters as martyrs who “died for the Palestinian people’s rights and freedom.” This from the “moderate” who is supposed to acquaint his people with the reality and purpose of a two-state solution.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is due in the U.S. soon to deliver what is being billed as a major policy address. What should he say? I would counsel the same wisdom that sailors of yore used to tattoo to their knuckles as a reminder of what not to forget on the yardarms of tall ships in stormy seas. Eight easy letters: