October 2, 2014
Number 10/14 #01
Over the past week, both Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu spoke at the opening session of the UN General Assembly (their speeches are available in full here and here respectively). Abbas’ speech was regarded almost universally in Israel as particularly confrontational – not only accusing Israel of planned “genocide” in Gaza and seeming to justify terrorism, but apparently declaring it “impossible” to return to negotiations – and was even condemned by the US State Department as “counterproductive” and containing “offensive characterizations that were deeply disappointing”. Netanayhu’s speech – a useful summary of its key points is here – responded in detail to Abbas on Gaza making it clear Hamas was to blame for the destruction and death in Gaza (and showed a photo of Palestinian kids playing around rocket launchers); addressed the spread of Islamist extremism in the Middle East while especially warning of the threat of a nuclear Iran; and finally contained a new element – a call for a ” “broader rapprochement” between Israel and the wider Arab world which might help faciliate a two-state peace. This Update deals with the implications of both speeches.
First is veteran US analyst and former senior official Elliot Abrams, who argues that Abbas’s bellicose speech is likely to hurt both the Palestinian cause and Abbas personally – especially given its tendency to “lose touch with facts and reality”. Detailing some of the more offensive sections of the speech, Abrams says Abbas completely avoided blaming Hamas for anything, and suggests he was likely angling to impress the Palestinian street. Abrams also notes that Abbas has effectively damaged the Israeli peace camp with his confrontational speech, a very counter-productive thing to do, but something he apparently does not care about at present. For Abram’s full analysis, CLICK HERE. A more detailed textual analysis of the speech, demonstrating how extreme it actually was, comes from Jonathan D. Halevi of the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs.
Next up comes an editorial comment on the speech from the Washington Post. The newspaper notes that “For several years Mr. Abbas has oscillated between half-hearted participation in peace talks and attempts to advance the Palestinian cause through unilateral action at the United Nations” and this speech, rejecting negotiations and calling for the UN Security Council to impose a solution on Israel, appears to amount to a decisive turn to the later. But the paper makes the point that this is likely to be self-defeating – as shown by what happened by when tried the same thing in 2012 – and warns that Abbas, while not as destructive as Hamas, appears to be doing little good for Palestinians or their “cause.” For the complete editorial, CLICK HERE. Meanwhile, Israel columnists Dan Margalit and Nahum Barnea both argue that Abbas effectively ended the peace process with his speech.
Finally, Raphael Ahren of the CLICK HERE. A broader review of Netanyahu’s complete speech comes from Herb Keinon of the Jerusalem Post. Meanwhile, the Jerusalem Post editorialised in favour of Netanyahu’s idea to build ties with Arab States as part of a paradigm shift in the region, possibly facilitating future peacemaking with the Palestinians.“leading states in the Arab world” as the gateway to eventual Israeli-Palestinian peace. Ahren notes that Netanyahu is banking on transforming “common interests” in terms of the threat of the Islamist extremism into “productive partnership” and for the first time has speciifically named the capitals he has in mind – Cairo, Amman, Abu Dhabi, Riyadh and a few unnamed others. Ahren notes that Netanyahu is essentially calling for a reverse of the 2002 Arab Peace Iniative – calling for rapprochement with Arab states to help facilitate peace with the Palestinians rather than the other way around as originally proposed – but warns that Arab states will have great difficulty accepting this idea. For all the details of Ahren’s discussion,
Readers may also be interested in:
- Former Israeli Knesset member turned public intellectual Einat Wilf evaluates Abbas’ speech as essentially part of a war to delegtimise Zionism, and Netanyahu’s reply as an Israeli counter-attack. Also discussing some of the problematic realities on the Palestinian side behind the speech is another prominent Israeli intellectual, Daniel Gordis.
- American political scientist Michael Curtis offers an interesting tongue-in-cheek look at what Abbas might actually have been saying about regional realities in his bellicose speech.
- Isi Leibler writes about Abbas’s bellicose UN speech, what it says about peace prospects, and what Israel should do about it.
- In recent weeks, the PA has reportedly been honouring the terrorists responsible for murdering three Israeli teens in June.
- While polls show support for Hamas is falling from its post-Gaza war highs among Palestinians, Jonathan Toben points out that the polls still do not offer much hope for peacemaking.
- Khaled Abu Toameh offers more on the so-called Palestinian “death boats” – Palestinians fleeing Gaza by sea, facilitated by bribery of Hamas officials, with reports hundreds have died or gone missing.
- The Australian version of the Spectator magazine comments approvingly on the parallels Netanyahu drew between Hamas and ISIS in his UN speech.
- Some examples from the many stories and comments now appearing at AIJAC’s daily “Fresh AIR” blog:
- AIJAC’s Colin Rubenstein had a piece in today’s Australian calling on policymakers not to forget about the Iranian nuclear threat in their rush to do something about ISIS.
- Gabrielle Debinski and Tzvi Fleischer look at the real history of British terror apologist and extremist Yvonne Ridley, who was given a soft interview on the ABC last week – ironically, to get her views on countering “radicalisation” among youth.
- Ahron Shapiro reports from a Palestinian agitprop tour of Hebron.
by Elliott Abrams
Council on Foreign Relation “Pressure Points” blog , September 29, 2014
Last week Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas gave a controversial speech to the United Nations General Assembly.
Reactions have been strong. The U.S. State Department said “President Abbas’ speech today included offensive characterizations that were deeply disappointing and which we reject. Such provocative statements are counterproductive and undermine efforts to create a positive atmosphere and restore trust between the parties.” The Palestinians replied by saying the American comments are “irresponsible, indecent and rejected.” What did Abbas say?
Israel has chosen to make it a year of a new war of genocide perpetrated against the Palestinian people….the occupying Power has chosen to defy the entire world by launching its war on Gaza….the third war waged by the racist occupying State in five years against Gaza….This last war against Gaza was a series of absolute war crimes….In the name of Palestine and its people, I affirm here today: we will not forget and we will not forgive, and we will not allow war criminals to escape punishment….Israel refuses to end its occupation of the State of Palestine since 1967, but rather seeks its continuation and entrenchment, and rejects the Palestinian state and refuses to find a just solution to the plight of the Palestine refugees….Israel has confirmed during the negotiations that it rejects making peace with its victims, the Palestinian people….It is impossible, and I repeat – it is impossible – to return to the cycle of negotiations that failed to deal with the substance of the matter and the fundamental question.
In that speech, Abbas said not one word of criticism of Hamas, nor did he acknowledge what is obvious: that Hamas started this war by its ceaseless bombardment of Israel with mortars and rockets. Presumably he decided that Palestinian domestic politics required him to avoid that truth and blame Israel for the conflict. Nevertheless, he always pays a price when making assertions that his listeners in the General Assembly hall know are not accurate. The accusation of genocide is particularly vile when thrown at Israel. The word has a meaning, and it is obviously absurd to claim that Israel’s actions in the Gaza war last summer were aimed at killing every Palestinian or a very large number of them or at eliminating the Palestinian people.
As to the negotiations, it’s worth recalling what U.S. negotiator Martin Indyk has recently said. Here is one account:
“We gave it everything we had, and we got nowhere,” Indyk said, laying the blame “50-50″ between Netanyahu and Abbas. Negotiations officially ended in April when Abbas opted to press for statehood through the United Nations rather than continue, a move that Israel had long said would be a deal-breaker. In recounting a nearly yearlong series of negotiations, Indyk said that both sides identified the agreement gaps early on and that Netanyahu eventually moved into “the zone of a possible agreement” on such thorny issues as the status of territories, Jerusalem, and mutual recognition of Israel’s and Palestine’s rights to exist. But during Abbas’s visit to Washington in March, he effectively “checked out” from the talks and stopped responding to proposals from the Obama administration on how to close a deal, Indyk said.
Abbas “shut down,” Indyk stated. Indyk spreads the blame to the Israelis and Palestinians both, but that of course was not what Abbas was doing.
Every head of government or head of state who addresses the General Assembly presents his own case, not that of critics or opponents, but when the speeches lose touch with facts and reality they do more harm than good. So it is with Abbas’s words, which have been firmly denounced and rejected not only by the U.S. Government and the Israeli government but perhaps more significantly by the Israeli left as well. This kind of language by Abbas weakens Israel’s “peace camp,” but Abbas does not seem to care. He is playing to a different set of audiences, including the many governments in the United Nations that would not recognize a serious, truthful speech if smacked in the face with it.
Perhaps his main audience is at home, but I wonder how much good it does him, and his Fatah Party, to give Hamas a pass. It is true that Hamas’s popularity rose during and after the war, but that was predictable and the question is where it’s heading now. Hamas promised that this war, and the destruction and death it caused, would be compensated by new and vastly better conditions after the war. But soon it will be getting colder and rainy in Gaza as winter arrives. Will there be a reconstruction bonanza? Will Israel and Egypt open the passages? Will construction begin on a seaport, much less on an airport? And when Gazans see that the answer is no, where will Hamas’s popularity then be?
Abbas’s frustrations must be great, especially after he heard President Obama say very little about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict other than to remark that it is simply not central. In his own address Obama said:
The situation in Iraq, Syria and Libya should cure anyone of the illusion that this conflict is the main source of problems in the region; for far too long, it has been used in part as a way to distract people from problems at home.
A speech that merely expresses anger and frustration is unlikely to help Abbas personally, his party, the Palestinian Authority, or Palestinians more generally. It was a lost opportunity–or perhaps more accurately, another lost opportunity. Perhaps the best description is the via the words his own spokesman used in attacking what the United States said: the Abbas speech was “irresponsible, indecent and rejected.”
Elliott Abrams is a senior fellow for Middle East Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations
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THE GOOD news from the Middle East is that the truce between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip has held for a month, and Hamas appears ready to make concessions to avoid a resumption of fighting. Last week the Islamist movement renewed its agreement with the secular Fatah party to turn over Gaza’s government and security control of its borders to the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority. Though it’s not clear that the accord will last, Hamas is emerging as the loser of the summer war. According to Israel, as much as 80 percent of Hamas’s military arsenal has been destroyed, and its poll ratings among Palestinians are sinking as it fails to deliver the gains it promised from the conflict.
Hamas’s diminution might seem to create new possibilities for agreement between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Mr. Abbas, after all, denounced Hamas’s embrace of carnage and refused to support a simultaneous uprising in the West Bank. Yet Mr. Abbas delivered a bridge-burning speech to the U.N. General Assembly last week, mendaciously accusing Israel of “a new war of genocide” and declaring that a return to negotiations was “impossible.”
For several years Mr. Abbas has oscillated between half-hearted participation in peace talks and attempts to advance the Palestinian cause through unilateral action at the United Nations. The latter initiatives have no chance of substantive success and risk being self-defeating, as the Palestinians should have learned from Mr. Abbas’s last such gambit in 2012. Then their lobbyists were unable to win enough support for a U.N. Security Council resolution even to force a U.S. veto, and a compensatory symbolic measure in the General Assembly provoked Israel to impose painful financial sanctions.
Mr. Abbas nevertheless is trying the Security Council again, after refusing to respond to a U.S. framework for peace talks painstakingly developed by Secretary of State John F. Kerry. He proposes a resolution that would mandate the creation of a Palestinian state based on Israel’s 1967 borders in a set period of time; when it is voted down or vetoed by the United States, the Palestinians hint that they will seek a war crimes investigation of Israel by the International Criminal Court. That, in turn, would almost certainly prompt retaliatory sanctions by Mr. Netanyahu’s government and possibly by Congress, which supplies the Palestinian Authority with much of its funding.
Mr. Abbas has repeatedly rejected violence, and he has convinced a series of U.S. and Israeli negotiators that he has a realistic view of the terms for a Palestinian state. Yet he has now rejected platforms for a settlement on two occasions from two U.S. presidents. He persists in grandstanding gestures that he must know will only delay the serious negotiations that must precede the creation of a Palestinian state and that undermine those in Israel who support such talks. He has spoken for years of retiring but, at 79, he clings to his post four years after his elected term expired. Hamas has done the most harm to Palestinians and their cause in recent years. But Mr. Abbas has done little good.
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For first time, Netanyahu names Saudis and Emiratis as possible partners, as he seeks to turn Arab Peace Initiative upside down
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s combative address to the United Nations General Assembly on Monday could be called Bibi’s “Greatest Hits,” one pundit suggested. Except it had a new tune toward the end.
The speech indeed included many arguments and talking points he has used before: the danger of a nuclear-armed Iran, Hamas’s cynical use of human shields in Gaza, hypocrisy at the UN Human Rights Council, and so on. The prime minister even recycled some of the same phrases he has used in recent weeks, repeating his analogy of Hamas and Islamic State being “branches of the same poisonous tree,” and saying the Nazis believed in a master race while militant Islamists worship a “master faith.”
But late in his 35-minute speech, he broke rhetorical ground when he reached out to “leading states in the Arab world,” suggesting that increased cooperation — and eventually full recognition and peace — could ultimately lead to a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“I believe that with a fresh approach from our neighbors, we can advance peace despite the difficulties we face,” Netanyahu said. Borrowing from an idea advanced recently by Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, Netanyahu turned the Arab Peace Initiative upside down. “But the old template for peace,” he continued, “must be updated. It must take into account new realities and new roles and responsibilities for our Arab neighbors.”
Launched by Saudi Arabia in 2002, the Arab Peace Initiative promises Israel full diplomatic relations with all Arab and Muslim states as soon as its conflict with the Palestinians is solved. On Monday, Netanyahu reversed that idea chronology: “Many have long assumed that an Israeli-Palestinian peace can help facilitate a broader rapprochement between Israel and the Arab World,” he said. “But these days I think it may work the other way around: Namely that a broader rapprochement between Israel and the Arab world may help facilitate an Israeli-Palestinian peace.”
In recent weeks, Netanyahu has repeatedly hinted at a new “diplomatic horizon” with moderate Arab states. The enemy of my enemy could be my friend, and more and more Sunni Arab states are realizing that in opposing Iran’s nuclear ambitions and radical Islam, they have a potential partner in Israel, he has indicated. The fight against Islamic terrorism has led to “new alliances in the Middle East,” Netanyahu said earlier this month at a counterterrorism conference. Arab leaders understand that “Israel is not their enemy but their ally in the fight against this common enemy,” he declared, adding that he believes in “an opportunity for cooperation and perhaps an opportunity for peace.”
On Monday, Netanyahu for the first time mentioned by name those he has in mind: “We must look not only to Jerusalem and Ramallah, but also to Cairo, to Amman, Abu Dhabi, Riyadh and elsewhere,” he said. “I believe peace can be realized with the active involvement of Arab countries, those that are willing to provide political, material and other indispensable support.”
During this section of his address, Netanyahu sounded a bit like Shimon Peres, dreaming of a “new Middle East.” With Iran lusting for nuclear weapons and Islamic State beheading and pillaging its way through Iraq and Syria, he said, this new Middle East certainly presents new dangers, but also new opportunities: “Together we can strengthen regional security. We can advance projects in water, agriculture, in transportation, in health, in energy, in so many fields.”
The challenge, he acknowledged, would be to “transform these common interests to create a productive partnership.”
Only Netanyahu (and a handful other top officials) know the full extent of current covert Israeli-Arab cooperation. Still, that Jerusalem and several Arab countries with which it does not have official diplomatic relations collaborate in several areas is the Middle East’s worst kept secret. The Sunni Arab world was less vocal in condemning Israel over this summer’s Operation Protective Edge than during past such conflicts, ostensibly because such countries realize that they and Israel have a common enemy in Islamic terrorist groups.
But whether Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and other Gulf states are willing to step out of the shadows and officially embrace Israel before the Palestinian problem is solved remains hard to envisage. Academics and policy analysts specializing on the Gulf States so far see no reason to believe that they will abandon their vow never to normalize relations with Israel as long as their Palestinian brethren’s ambitions for statehood are unrealized.
While they long for the warm embrace of the moderate Arab world, Israeli leaders sometimes forget the harsh reality. Finance Minister Yair Lapid, for instance, earlier this month quoted the Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, publicly calling for coexistence with Israel and denouncing “hatred for the Jewish state.” The only problem was that no such statement was ever uttered.
Last week, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni reportedly met in New York with senior ministers from several Arab countries with which Israel has no diplomatic relations. The report was probably true, but at least one Arab state — Kuwait — has already denied that the meeting occurred.
With the spectacular failure this year of the US-brokered bilateral peace talks with the Palestinians, and especially after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s “genocide” speech last week, it is understandable that Netanyahu yearns for a “fresh approach from our neighbors.” On Monday at the UN, he spoke of “the partnership between us” as if it were already a reality. But at this point, it might be little more than wishful thinking.