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“Bottom-up” peacemaking?/ The NGO problem

Jun 29, 2017

Bottom-up peacemaking?/ The NGO problem

Update from AIJAC

Update 06/17 #05

With the Trump Administration reportedly exploring efforts to re-start Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking, and Administration envoys Jason Greenblatt and Jared Kushner in Israel this week to meet both sides, this Update offers advice from some veterans of Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking suggesting the best way forward is to pursue a so-called “bottom-up approach” – building institutions of Palestinian statehood and making other changes on the ground, before moving to achieve a final peace deal. It also includes a critique of the way Europe is making peace harder by funding NGOs involved in incitement and promoting extremist views.

First up is former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who subsequently served as Middle East envoy for the “Quartet” – the US, EU, Russia and the UN – for many years. Blair suggests the growing rapprochement between Israeli and Sunni Arab nations is an opportunity of unprecedented promise – but this requires a new approach to peacemaking. He argues that agreements on concrete issues are only part of the problem, and cultural acceptance and credibility are at least as important  given the lack of faith between the sides. His solution is ““measures on the ground, building peace from the bottom up [to] provide vital ballast to any political process” and a step-by step political process where confidence is built over time, with the help of Arab states. For more of his argument, CLICK HERE

Next up is a former senior US official experienced in  the peace process, Elliott Abrams, who seems to arrive at much the same place from a different starting point. Abrams takes on the claim he has repeatedly heard, including from Trump Administration people, that there is no harm in trying for Israeli-Palestinian peace – arguing that in fact  failed attempts in the past have actually done considerable harm. Instead he argues, if past administrations had pursued “making Palestinian life easier.. building institutions… fostering economic growth and Israeli-Palestinian economic cooperation” – in short a “bottom-up” approach – we would be much closer to final peace today. For his interesting argument in full, CLICK HERE.

Finally, veteran Israeli columnist Ben Dror Yemini critiques European funding of NGOs involved in incitement to violence and demonisation of Israel. He notes that countries like Germany and Sweden do not donate to organisations with similarly extreme stances anywhere in the world – but do so only in Israel. He does point to signs that some in Europe are beginning to understand the destructiveness of this funding – including a new decision of the Swiss Parliament and a new European Parliament decision on defining antisemitism. For this important elucidation of why such funding is hampering peace progress, CLICK HERE

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Article 1

Blair: Need to break from peacemaking ‘theology’, seek regional approach



Jerusalem Post, 06/22/2017

“There exists today a new path to peace… We must grasp it with both hands.”

Former Quartet Middle East peace envoy Tony Blair at Israel’s annual Herzliya Conference: “measures on the ground, building peace from the bottom up, provide vital ballast to any political process.”

The real dividing line in the Middle East is the battle against extremism – be it of the Sunni or Shi’a variety – and in this battle Israel’s place should be with nations of the region “connected to the modern world, not in opposition,” former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Wednesday.

Blair, who following his tenure as British prime minister was also the Quartet envoy, made these comments at speech to the Herzliya Conference where he advocated a wider regional approach to solving the Israeli—Palestinian conflict. He noted that this was his 182nd trip to Israel.

“There exists today a new path to peace. It is based not only on conventional Israeli-Palestinian negotiation, but on the potential for a new relationship between the Arab nations and Israel,” he said. “It is an opportunity of unprecedented promise. We must grasp it with both hands.”

Having been involved in peace processes initiated by former president George W. Bush, Mideast envoy George Mitchell, and former US Secretary of State John Kerry, Blair said that the credibility of the peace process has been damaged because Palestinians have concluded that Israel is not serious about negotiating a Palestinian state, and Israelis have concluded the Palestinians are “incapable of running one consistent with Israel’s security.”

“So the fundamental challenge is not a simply one of negotiation – borders, security etc. It is one of context, cultural acceptance and credibility,” he said.

But, he added, since the Arab Spring in 2011, “several elements have emerged which alter the regional context.”

The first is the realization that the battle is against extremism in the region. Secondly, he said, “a new generation of leaders is emerging who govern young and impatient populations and who know that their route to progress lies in opening up to the world in friendship. And in each of these countries, this leadership is showing courage and determination in making change.”

He noted a survey of Arab youth saying that the country most young Arabs would like to emulate is the United Arab Emirates.

“So we have the objective reason for a regional alliance; and the subjective leadership capable of delivering it,” he said. This does not mean, however, that the Palestinian issue is any less important.

While it is no secret that there are many forms of cooperation between Israel and the region, he said, the “key to a true relationship, where there is overt, public and strategic collaboration – what I call ‘above the table,’ not below it – remains the Palestinian question.”

Therefore, he said, a new way forward is needed, a way that integrates the regional approach with a traditional negotiation.

The engagement of the region would provide “the strength to help carry any peace process,” he said. “It gives the Israelis the comfort of knowing that the region as a whole stands behind any agreement with the Palestinians and offers Israel the huge prize of normalization.”

And, he added, it gives the Palestinians the reassurance that any agreement will be supported by the wider Arab and Muslim world and gives them local partners in the building of the Palestinian state. Crucially, it can help bring about the unification of Palestinian politics – an absolutely essential precondition of peace – but on a basis fully consistent with peace.”

To forge this path, he said, “we must break with some of the ‘theology’ of peacemaking which has become hallowed doctrine over the past 25 years.”

While he said that there can be no separate “economic peace” distinct from a political solution, he said that “measures on the ground, building peace from the bottom up, provide vital ballast to any political process.”

Blair called for a step-by step political process where confidence is built over time.

“This is not the same as so-called ‘interim solutions’ which Palestinians fear become permanent; it is rather a recognition, that without an organic evolution towards statehood, we are left with an ‘all or nothing’ position which so far has actually resulted not in ‘all’ but in nothing,” he said.

Likewise, he added, normalization between the Arab world and Israel “can be turned into a process rather than a one off event. Sensitivity to the politics of both Israelis and Arabs should lead us to create a set of inter-locking points where everyone gets comfortable that change is happening, but in a way which is manageable.”

Blair said that active Arab engagement in a traditional peace negotiation is necessary, not only Arab support for it.  “I can tell you frankly from the conversations and interactions I have with those in the region as well as obviously those here in Israel that this regional approach is now, virtually by consensus, accepted as the right road to travel,” he said. “There is goodwill, a real sense of shared purpose and an appetite.”


Article 2

The Harm in Trying


The downside of the Middle East ‘peace process.’

Among Israelis and Palestin­ians, there’s little optimism about renewed American efforts to negotiate a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. In Ramallah and Jerusalem, officials, journalists, and policy analysts have watched as industrious U.S. activity in the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations came to naught—and they expect the same outcome for the Trump administration.

There is a lot more optimism in the Trump White House, and of course it starts at the top. The president said this in a February press conference with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu:

I think a deal will be made. I know that every president would like to. Most of them have not started until late because they never thought it was possible. And it wasn’t possible because they didn’t do it.

But Bibi and I have known each other a long time—a smart man, great negotiator. And I think we’re going to make a deal. It might be a bigger and better deal than people in this room even understand.

In April, President Trump added, “There is no reason there’s not peace between Israel and the Palestinians—none whatsoever.” And in a May press conference with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas he made his most categorical statement: “We want to create peace between Israel and the Palestinians. We will get it done. .  .  . It is something that I think is frankly, maybe, not as difficult as people have thought over the years.”

The attitude I’ve detected outside the Oval Office is more realistic about the chances of success. But arguments suggesting that there is little or no chance are met with a standard reply: “Okay, but what’s the harm in trying?”

US President Bill Clinton’s approach to Middle East peacemaking – ““We always need to get caught trying—fewer people will die” – was a mistake.

This is not a new idea; it was Bill Clinton’s. As he put it, “We always need to get caught trying—fewer people will die.” So the Trump administration wishes to get caught trying as well, and operates under the assumption Clinton made: that there is no harm in trying, and that indeed it saves lives.

But that conclusion is wrong, as round after round of terrorism should attest. To put it slightly differently, there is harm in failing—and it does not save lives. What’s the harm?

To begin with, it is always harmful for the United States to fail—and for a president to fail. Influence in the world is hard to measure, but when a president devotes himself—as Bill Clinton, especially, did in the Camp David talks in 2000—to any project and fails to pull it off, his influence and that of the United States are diminished. Yes, he does get credit for trying, but there’s no benefit in failing. Opinions may differ as to why this happened: The United States misjudged Yasser Arafat, the White House prepared poorly, the timing was all wrong, the conditions were misunderstood. But getting an A for effort isn’t enough when other people’s security hangs in the balance.

Results matter. When the United States succeeds, as it did for example in the 1995 Dayton Accords on the Balkans or in the Camp David deal under Jimmy Carter, American prestige and influence grow. But that coin has two sides, and failure is never a good thing. With U.S. influence on the wane in recent years, devoting significant effort to a goal that is unlikely to be attained looks like a misplaced priority.

What’s more, the United States has been championing the “peace process” now for about 30 years, if we start with George H. W. Bush and the Madrid Conference of 1991. Palestinians and Israelis have seen negotiators come and go—or in many cases, never go, and instead just age and write memoirs. Round follows round, claims of progress and angry denunciations for blocking progress follow each other, and the “unsustainable occupation” continues. What this produces is cynicism about peace talks and about peace. On the Palestinian side many view the “peace process” as a formula for sustaining the occupation. Many Israelis see it as a shield protecting Palestinian malfeasance and worse: When they demand a stop to official Palestinian glorification of terrorism, they hear, “Don’t rock the boat now, negotiations may start.”

A further reason to be wary of another big peace effort is the opportunity cost. When each successive American administration works for a comprehensive peace deal, it tends to neglect the many opportunities to make less dramatic but still consequential real-world progress.

Palestinian PM salam Fayyad had the right idea – a bottom-up state building approach – but did not the international support his approached deserved.

If the goal were instead to leave things better than we found them, every incremental bit of progress would be a victory. That was the “bottom-up” approach taken by Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who was fiercely dedicated to Palestinian independence but thought this required building the institutions of a viable state first. That meant concentrating on better financial controls and a reduction in corruption, better courts and police, and a more productive economy. Unfortunately, the incremental approach lacks drama and did not win the international support it deserved—including the Israeli and American support it deserved.

During the George W. Bush administration, those of us on the American side often demanded concessions from Israel to “set the tone for talks” or to “get things moving in the talks.” The steps often gave Abbas symbolic victories but they rarely contributed to state-building. For example, we were more concerned with getting Israel to release some Palestinian prisoners—who may have committed acts of violence—than we were about getting Israel to remove checkpoints or barriers that prevented Palestinian mobility in the West Bank and thereby made both normal life and economic activity harder. How returning convicted criminals to the streets contributed to building a Palestinian state was never explained.

A thought experiment: Suppose Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama had for 24 years focused not on “peace,” not on a comprehensive deal, but on progress—on making Palestinian life easier, on building institutions, on fostering economic growth and Israeli-Palestinian economic cooperation. These latter goals were always part of U.S. policy, but were never the main goal; they always took second place. Netanyahu, for example, has removed many barriers and checkpoints in the West Bank in the last 10 years; could that have happened under his predecessors, years earlier, if it had been an American goal? Israel finally relented and allowed 3G wireless access in the West Bank this year; could this have happened years earlier, with accompanying economic benefits, had it been a real U.S. goal? The Allenby Bridge to Jordan is set to be open round the clock on weekdays, starting this month; could that have been arranged a year ago, or 10 years ago, had the United States made it a priority?

So the pursuit of a comprehensive “final status agreement” is not without costs. The idea that there is “no harm in trying” is wrong. The search for a final peace deal is understandable, of course. It would presumably benefit both peoples, and it would benefit those who could claim the credit: There would be Nobel Peace Prizes, handshakes on the White House lawn, memoirs to sell, and speeches to make. If that seems unduly cynical, it shouldn’t: It is possible to be dedicated to peace and also keenly aware of the personal benefits of achieving it.

Forget the cynicism and assume real idealism, which has I think characterized most American diplomats and American presidents confronting the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Talleyrand’s old advice is nevertheless good counsel here: surtout, pas trop de zèle (above all, not too much zeal). Don’t pass up opportunities to make small gains, to get undramatic and almost invisible advances, to set in motion changes that will take a long time to bear fruit. The odds of getting a complete peace deal are very small. It would be quite enough to be able to say, in four or eight years, “You know, we really made things better.”

Elliott Abrams is a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of Realism and Democracy: American Foreign Policy After the Arab Spring, which will be published in September.


Article 3

Europe must stop funding demonization of Israel

Op-ed: In the past, Europe was involved in the demonization of Jews. Today, Europe is funding the demonization of the Jewish state. A normal country can’t allow donations that fund the campaign to destroy that same country, and it’s time for Israel stop this absurdity too.

Ben-Dror Yemini, 26.06.17

About a year ago, the Ramallah-based Popular Art Center staged a musical performance for “the Palestinian martyrs,” titled “No to laying down guns.” There is nothing new here. This is the “education to peace” that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas declared in his meeting with US President Donald Trump. Abbas declared, and the European Union is paying in funding for the center. The more interesting thing is that the grant was given as part of a special project for “increasing Palestinian public awareness of EU core values.”

Particularly large funding, of €2.5 million, was given to the Women’s Center for Legal Aid and Counseling (WCLAC). One of the senior employees of the WCLAC is Manal Tamimi. Tamimi propagates anti-Semitic cartoons, often defines Israel as a Nazi state, and her tweets include content such as “Vampire Zionist celebrating by drinking Palestinian bloods” and “I do hate Israel, I do hate Zionism, I wish a third intifada coming soon and people raise up and kills all these Zionist settlers everywhere.”

Furthermore, dozens of Palestinians NGOs which support the BDS movement have the support of European countries, the European Union and other foundations. Do European taxpayers know that their money is funding anti-Semitic incitement and encouragement of terrorism? Probably not. But the EU knows. A parliamentary question on the issue was submitted at the European Parliament, and the NGO Monitor organization sent a letter to the EU foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, specifying the activities the EU funds were used for. The Delegation of the European Union to Israel said in response that the EU was against incitement and anti-Semitism, and that funding was only provided for the goals defined in the projects.

A double standard in all its glory

Admittedly, there are already signs of change. On May 17, the European Parliament decided to “ensure that no EU funding can be directly or indirectly diverted to terrorist organizations or activities that incite these acts.” More importantly, about two weeks ago the same parliament adopted the working definition of anti-Semitism which clarifies, once and for all, that demonization, drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis and denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination are anti-Semitism. All the bodies supporting the BDS movement fall into this definition.

A pro-BDS rally in France.
There have been interesting developments in other countries in Europe. Only last week, the Swiss Council of States voted in favor of a resolution to prevent funding to NGOs involved in anti-Israel incitement, racism and anti-Semitism, after a similar resolution was adopted by the Swiss Parliament in March. The Swiss Council of States’ resolution explicitly mentioned the BDS campaign. Norway and Denmark are holding back budgets too, following the hard work of the NGO Monitor organization. Germany is one of the only countries in Europe which keeps funding the demonization without a hint of self-criticism.
The right to receive a donation as part of the freedom of association is recognized in the countries’ laws. That doesn’t mean that a country should agree to any kind of foreign meddling. In 2007, Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer rejected a Saudi donation to help fund an Islamic center. In 2010, Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre made it clear to the Saudis that his country would gladly accept their donation for the establishment of two mosques, as long as the Norwegians would be able to donate money for the establishment of two churches in Saudi Arabia. The Saudis gave up.
A report on the link between Saudi funding of mosques and the support of jihadi terrorist groups was submitted to the British government only recently. France and Germany are also considering banning foreign funding of mosques. In other words, there is no constitutional principle in international law which requires a country to accept a grant from any foreign element.
Like in Israel, there are active civil organizations in Western countries too. Britain, for example, has the Stop the War Coalition (StWC). Code Pink: Women for Peace is a US-based NGO that is active against the American involvement in wars and has participated in aid flotillas to Gaza. Iraqi Veterans Against the War (IVAW) helps whistle-blowers like Chelsea (Bradley) Manning, and the Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA) works to prosecute war criminals. The Federation of Expellees (BdV) is active in Germany for the rights of refugees who were expelled after World War II.
Like in Israel, these bodies have been playing in the political field. British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was associated with StWC; one of Code Pink’s leaders, Jodie Evans, was a fundraising bundler for former US President Barack Obama; and Erika Steinbach, a former BdV president, is a member of the Bundestag on behalf of the ruling party, the Christian Democratic Union.
The difference is that not a single foreign state or the EU would dare fund these organizations. The CJA organization, like Breaking the Silence, receives funding from George Soros’ Open Society Institute, but takes pride in the fact that there is no state funding. These bodies receive no foreign funding because there are things that are considered “unthinkable.” It’s definitely unacceptable, to say the least, for Israel to would allow foreign funding to an organization like Baladna, which encourages resistance to national or military service and fosters the “right of return.” Not everything that the law does not forbid is acceptable between countries—unless is has to do with Israel.
Sweden and Germany don’t donate to such organizations in the world, but they do donate to such organizations in Israel. That is a double standard in all its glory. Yet Germany keeps condemning Israel on NGO issues instead of engaging in self-examination over the fact that Germany itself, as well as the EU, donate to bodies that deny Israel’s actual right to exist.

The enemy of peace

So what should Israel do in light of the tens of millions of dollars funding the incitement propaganda and/or the denial of Israel’s right to exist? Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presented an initiative last week to ban donations from foreign states to Israeli NGOs. That’s a comprehensive proposal. It seems, however, that the resolutions adopted in Europe actually point at the right way to go. And even if Europe itself is failing to implement its own resolutions, Israel should implement them when it comes to NGOs that are active in Israel. For that purpose, it must adopt the rules set in the working definition of anti-Semitism, which was adopted by the European Parliament and is in line with the Swiss Parliament’s resolutions.
Israel cannot stop the EU or Germany from funding organizations that support terror or the BDS movement and operate outside Israel. Israel can act, however, when it comes to bodies operating inside Israel. A normal country can’t allow donations that fund, whether directly or indirectly, the campaign to destroy that same country.
Europe is not an enemy. On the contrary, trade relations are thriving and our cooperation with the EU is growing in many fields. It seems, however, that when Europe condemns anti-Semitism on the windshield, it funds bodies that create the demonization on the rear window. In the past, Europe was involved in the demonization of the Jews. Today, Europe is funding the demonization of the Jewish state. Needless to say, this article wouldn’t have been written had Europe been funding bodies—both on the Israeli side and on the Palestinian side—that advance peace and reconciliation. But it’s the other way around: Europe is funding demonization.
There is no need to change the rules of the game. On the contrary, the acceptable rules between democratic countries should be implemented. The double standards must end. Liberal parties in Europe should actually be working to halt the funding of organizations infected with incitement and anti-Semitism, because the demonization campaign is the enemy of peace. It increases hatred, it encourages incitement, it bolsters the fundamentalist elements among the Palestinians. The Swiss Parliament and the European Parliament have already adopted resolutions in the right direction. It’s time for all of Europe, including Germany, to adopt this direction.




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