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Elements of the current Israeli-Palestinian peace process

Feb 21, 2014

Elements of the current Israeli-Palestinian peace process

Update from AIJAC

February 21, 2014
Number 02/14 #03

This Update features three enlightening pieces on important elements of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process currently being mediated by US Secretary of State John Kerry. Kerry is currently trying to get both sides to sign up, albeit with reservations, to a US-written “Framework agreement” that would broadly outline the principles of peace before the current round of talks expire in early April – Israeli analyst Shlomo Brom discusses more of the detail here

The current state of play is that Israel is expected to sign up to Kerry’s “Framework agreement”, but the Palestinians are reportedly telling Kerry that they are leaning toward saying “no”, and noted Israeli political scientist Prof. Shlomo Avineri offers a possible explanation why. Avineri reviews a number of past Israeli-Palestinian negotiations led on the Palestinian side by PA President Mahmoud Abbas and identifies a pattern of negotiating to gain Israeli concessions but then refusing to commit when signing up to Palestinian concessions becomes required. Avineri, very much a man of the Israeli left, makes it clear that he regrets reaching this conclusion, but argues that Israel must now prepare alternatives that will at least manage and improve the situation in the likely event Abbas refuses to commit yet again. For his complete argument, CLICK HERE. Abbas did give a conciliatory speech to Israeli students earlier this week – but Jonathan Tobin offers an argument that Kerry is not likely to succeed and that his failure will have significant costs.

One key issue dividing the sides is Israel’s demand that a peace deal recognise Israel as a homeland for the Jewish people – something the Palestinian leadership vehemently rejects. Israeli author and columnist Ari Shavit explains why he believes this demand remains essential for lasting peace. He offers four reasons in all, but to some extent sums up his case with his final line “Without the Palestinians’ explicit recognition of our name, identity and rights, there will not be peace.” For all the details of his argument, CLICK HERE. Polls show an overwhelming majority of Israelis agree with Shavit on the need for such recognition, while Egyptian writer Ali Salem makes the case that the Palestinians should agree to it.

Finally, this Update features a good news story about the opening this year of the new Palestinian planned  and privately-developed city of Rawabi, north of Ramallah. As the article by Elhanon Miller of the Times of Israel makes clear, the story of Rawabi is not simply a story about successful Palestinian entrepreneurship, but also one of Israeli-Palestinian cooperation, and of both peoples learning from one another. Moreover, Bashar Al-Masri, the managing director of Rawabi, explains what a mistake it would be to try to separate the Palestinian economy from Israel’s, as BDS proponents demand – another lesson of this positive development. For this important story in full, CLICK HERE. More analysis of  the significance of Rawabi is here, more on how BDS would hurt Palestinians first and foremost is here, and a sad counter-case of politics derailing the plans of a Palestinian entrepreneur who could have improved the Palestinian economy is here.

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Don’t expect Abbas to sign anything

So far, the Palestinian negotiating tactic has been to get concessions, then cut off talks and ‘start where we left off.’

By Shlomo Avineri

Haaretz, Feb. 18, 2014

As prime minister, Ehud Olmert met 36 (or was it 37?) times with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and couldn’t reach an agreement with him. But that didn’t stop him from saying in a recent interview on Channel 2 that he’s certain Abbas is a partner for an accord.

Olmert was prepared to go further than any other Israeli leader in meeting the Palestinians’ demands, including on the issues of Jerusalem, the Jordan Valley and territorial exchanges; he offered to evacuate 70,000 settlers as well as make a humanitarian gesture allowing 5,000 Palestinian refugees (or their descendants) to return. This underscored his belief in the need for Israel to make a painful compromise, and given his own political past, his courage and determination was especially admirable.

But what came out of all that? When Olmert proposed in dozens of meetings that Abbas sign a document containing the Israeli concessions, he refused. Olmert explains this by saying that Abbas did not say either yes or no. This is patently ridiculous: By refusing to sign, Abbas clearly said no.

Evidently, Abbas was not ready to commit to anything, but he was able to get Olmert to consent to far-reaching concessions, and then halted the negotiations. The upshot is that when the negotiations resume, the Palestinian side will insist that they must begin “where they left off” – with the starting point being the Israeli positions as set forward in Olmert’s generous proposal, with no concession having been made by the other side.

Am I misinterpreting things? This is exactly what happened in 1995 in Yossi Beilin’s talks with Abbas. Then, too, the talks led to extensive Israeli concessions; then, too, the Israeli side sought to put things down on paper and fashion a final accord – and then, too, Mahmoud Abbas refused to sign. There was never any Beilin-Abbas Agreement. There was only a paper laying out Israeli concessions.

At Camp David, then-U.S. President Bill Clinton became fed up with this method and, as he ran out of patience, told Yasser Arafat that so far he had rejected every offer. Perhaps you have a proposal of your own, Clinton suggested to Arafat. But no such Palestinian proposal was ever placed on the table.

The Palestinians have never outlined their overall vision of an agreement, except, of course, in regard to the territorial issue. But on matters of crucial importance to Israel – forgoing the right of return, some form of recognition of Israel as the Jewish nation-state – the Palestinian leadership has clearly rejected the Israeli position. Though Abbas has stated that he personally has no desire to return to Safed, he has also declared that the Palestinians cannot give up the right of return, saying it is an “individual right.” And both Abbas and Saeb Erekat, his chief negotiator, have outright rejected all calls to accept Israel as the Jewish nation-state, citing the basic Palestinian position that the Jews are a religious community, not a nation.

Abbas’ refusal to sign a document with Olmert or Beilin has a clear implication: not that he is no partner for talks, but that he is an excellent partner for talks — as long as they are talks designed to lead Israel to make more and more concessions, and to put them in writing. Then, on one pretext or another, he is unwilling to sign and brings the negotiations to a halt, so they can be restarted in the future “where they left off”: with all the previous Israeli concessions included, and no concessions having been put forward by the Palestinian side.

In certain circles in Israel nowadays, having anything positive to say about Ehud Barak is considered heresy. But he did reach the correct conclusion from all this. His statement that he went to Camp David in 2000 to expose Arafat’s true face may be regarded with some skepticism. He went to that summit in the honest belief that his readiness to make major concessions, which endangered his political standing, would bear fruit. But when he saw that the Palestinians were prepared to do nothing but engage in negotiations that would squeeze more and more concessions from Israel, without committing to anything in return, he drew the proper conclusion.

One can understand Olmert and Beilin: It’s natural for the people conducting negotiations to fall in love with the process with which they are identified, and to be very eager for it to succeed. But they cannot, or will not, see what any nonpartisan observer is able to see, even if the sight is difficult and uncomfortable. (Full disclosure: This is very difficult for me, since I would much prefer to believe in the optimism of Olmert and Beilin, but it has no basis in reality.)

If a similar thing happens in the current negotiations as well, Israel will have to prepare an alternative to the ever-elusive comprehensive agreement: a serious proposal for interim or partial agreements, unilateral moves, a halt to more construction in the territories, and a willingness to acknowledge that even in the absence of a final agreement that officially ends the conflict, there are things that can be done to reduce the friction and bring about significant change – not only in Israel but also among the mainstream of the Palestinian national movement. It’s already happening in Cyprus, Kosovo and Bosnia. Perhaps this is all that’s possible here too – for now.


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Four reasons why Israel must be recognized as a Jewish state

Ex-Mossad head Meir Dagan says demanding recognition as a Jewish state is nonsense. Here’s why he’s wrong.

By Ari Shavit

Haaretz, Feb. 13, 2014

Former Mossad chief Meir Dagan thinks the demand to recognize Israel as a Jewish state is nonsense. But it is not nonsense – it is the most natural and justified demand imaginable. For four different reasons we must support Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who are placing the demand at the top of the diplomatic agenda.

The first reason: The Israeli-Palestinian conflict did not start in 1967 and does not revolve around the occupation and the settlements. It is a deep national-religious-cultural-social conflict, whose foundation is blindness. For decades Zionism refused to see the Palestinian people and in doing so refused to recognize its right to establish a Palestinian state. To this day the Palestinian national movement refuses to see the Jewish people and recognize in this way its right to a Jewish state. This double and continuing blindness is what ignited the 100-year war between us and them. That is why, in order to end this war, we must recognize their nationalism and their state, and they must recognize our nationalism and our state. Just as peace is impossible without a Palestinian state, peace is impossible without a Jewish state.

The second reason: The great achievement of the Oslo Accords was in their bringing the Israelis to recognize the fact that there is a Palestinian people in the land of Israel with legitimate rights. The great achievement of the Camp David peace summit was in Israel recognizing the need to establish a Palestinian state. The cumulative result of Oslo and Camp David was a revolution in Israel. The people living in Zion finally saw that there is another people in this land and admitted that it is entitled to a different state, which will express its right to self determination. Thus, there is no reason that the people residing in Palestine cannot open its eyes finally and see that there is another people in the land, and that it is entitled to a different country that will express its right to self determination. Reciprocity is not a sin. Symmetry is not a war crime. Those who believe the Israelis and Palestinians are equal have a moral obligation to demand from the Palestinians exactly what they demand from the Israelis.

The third reason: The Palestinians will not give up on the demand for the right of return. The trauma of the Nakba is their foundational trauma, and the experience of the refugees is the experience that molded them, and there is no Palestinian leader who will declare that the Palestinians will never return to the cities and villages they lost in 1948. If there is any solution at all to the refugee problem, it will be a superficial and insignificant one. But because it is actually impossible to demand from the Palestinians that they change their spots and convert their identity, it is required to demand they recognize this: that the Jewish people is a people of this land, and it did not arrive here from Mars. It is necessary to demand of them to admit that the Jewish people has a history of its own and a tragedy of its own and its own justification. The Palestinians must concede that the Jews are not colonialists but legal neighbors. There will not be peace if the children growing up in the Deheisheh refugee camp will not know that the country across the border is a legitimate Jewish state of a true Jewish people, whom they are decreed to live with. It is those who give up on the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state who are actually giving up on peace.

The fourth reason: An Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement is to a great extent a one-sided agreement in which Israel gives and the Palestinians receive. Only the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state would turn the longed-for agreement into a two-sided one. While Israel will transfer concrete assets to its neighbor, territory and rights, the Palestinians will give the only gift they are capable of giving: legitimacy.

Meir Dagan is an Israeli due a great amount of respect. His biography is a heroic one of “by the rights of power.” But peace is not made by the right of power but by the power of right. Without the Palestinians’ explicit recognition of our name, identity and rights, there will not be peace.

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In Rawabi, the brand-new Palestinian city, both sides win

Projects like this bring our peoples closer together, says Bashar Al-Masri, the entrepreneur behind an unprecedented construction project that is changing the West Bank landscape

Times of Israel, February 19, 2014, 2:36 pm

RAWABI, West Bank — If all goes according to plan, this summer 600 middle-class families will begin moving into their new apartments in Rawabi, the largest construction project in recorded Palestinian history.

The city slopes down a hill 9 kilometers (5.6 miles) north of Ramallah, directly between Nablus and Jerusalem, and the Israeli coastline is clearly visible from the balconies of its higher apartments. Rawabi, which is Arabic for hills, is entirely funded by private investment — a joint venture of Palestinian company Massar International and Qatari real estate developer Diar — estimated to surpass $1 billion. When phase A is done, it will be home to more than 25,000 residents seeking to escape the disarray of traditional Palestinian cities.

While the prospects of a positive outcome to negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians seem iffy, Rawabi is a towering certainty. But the shiny new city on the hill is not only a model of Palestinian entrepreneurship, it is also a little-known exemplar of Israeli-Palestinian cooperation.

Bashar Al-Masri, managing director of Rawabi, said that though no Israeli companies have been involved in constructing the city, hundreds of Israeli suppliers provide it with raw materials such as cement, sand, electric components and plumbing. He estimated that Israeli businesses benefit from the Rawabi project to the tune of tens of millions of dollars a month. The only political principle Rawabi holds with relation to Israel is no cooperation with businesses in the settlements.

“We buy from whoever gives us the lowest price,” Al-Masri said. “It makes no difference to us if the company is Israeli, Italian or German.”

“We have no choice but to cooperate with Israel and Israelis, but we also want to do so,” he added. “It is a mistake to separate our economy from Israel’s. Projects like this bring our peoples closer together: Israelis come to the site, they are exposed to Palestinians, and they realize there’s no risk in coming here. There is a sense of comfort.”

These positions have placed Masri — a native of Nablus who spent much of his adult life living in the US, the UK and Saudi Arabia — under fire in his own society. In 2012, the Palestinian National BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) Committee condemned him for normalization with Israel, accusing him of “advancing personal interests and profit making at the expense of Palestinian rights.”

But despite the BDS efforts, the ambitious project is already a huge blessing for the Palestinian economy. Providing 8,000-10,000 jobs in construction, Rawabi is by far the largest private employer in the West Bank. Once complete, the city is expected to employ 3,000-5,000 people in its commercial and cultural center, said Amir Dajani, the project’s deputy managing director.

Rawabi materialized remarkably fast; its planning began five years ago and construction just two. Situated in area A, Rawabi lies within full Palestinian jurisdiction, where planning and construction bureaucracy are far less obstructive than in neighboring Israel. A local quarry feeds an on-site stone-cutting factory active 24 hours a day, six days a week. The city will eventually emerge complete with three schools, two mosques, a church, a commercial center including restaurants and cinemas, and an amphitheater that can seat 15,000. With no residents yet, Rawabi already has an appointed mayor, Majed Abdul Fattah.

But cooperation with Israeli authorities has not always been easy. The Civil Administration, an IDF organ entrusted with the civilian governing of the West Bank, objected to the widening of a local road leading up to the city and passing through area C, which lies under Israeli administrative control. And Israel’s national water company, Mekorot, has still not guaranteed a water supply to Rawabi.

Dov Weisglass, an Israeli lawyer and former bureau chief for prime minister Ariel Sharon, serves as the legal and regulatory adviser to Rawabi in its dealings with the Israeli government. He said that while some officials in the Civil Administration place hurdles before Rawabi since they are “no big supporters of the vision of Palestinian development,” the Israeli government has gradually changed its attitude toward the new city.

“A few years ago, when Rawabi was just getting started, the Israeli attitude was harsher and more suspicious,” Weisglass said. “However, today I can state with satisfaction that most Israeli authorities willingly cooperate based on a deep understanding that history is being made here before our eyes, both domestically and — to a certain extent — with relation to Israel.”

Weisglass asserted that the new middle-class city will be the antithesis of violence and extremism.

“Does this project not contribute to normalization, to co-existence and to peace?” Weisglass wondered. “We are doing something tremendous for the State of Israel.”

A new Palestinian concept: The mortgage

Rawabi looks remarkably different from the typical Palestinian community. The city, which markets itself as environmentally sustainable, will have no water tanks on its roofs and will enjoy a centralized TV service to replace the ubiquitous satellite dishes of Arab urban centers. All of its infrastructure is being laid underground.

When planning began for the city, Masri met with renowned Israeli-born architect Moshe Safdie, who took him on a tour of nearby Modi’in.

“When searching for a model, we first looked at cities next door,” Masri recalled. “Modi’in has similar topography and a similar climate to Rawabi.”

Rawabi’s planners also learned from Modi’in’s mistakes. The planned Israeli city is still widely viewed as a commuter town due a lack of local businesses, a planning mistake Masri said he was determined to avoid with Rawabi. Rawabi’s center is therefore designed as a commercial hotspot built to attract Palestinians from the surrounding areas.

“Today many Israelis come here to learn from Rawabi,” Masri noted. “Just last week we hosted a group from the Israeli association of planners.”

But Rawabi has also challenged the conventional attitude toward home ownership in the West Bank.

Traditionally, Palestinians build their homes on family land, expanding the house as money becomes available. The Rawabi project has introduced a new concept: the long-term mortgage.

Before Rawabi set up a mortgage company granting 25-year loans, the typical Palestinian loan would entail a five- to eight-year payback period. The Palestinian Monetary Authority used to require a down payment of 20 percent of the property’s value, a rate Rawabi successfully lobbied to lower to 15%.

One beneficiary of Rawabi’s financing system is Shadia Jaradat, a 26-year-old civil engineer who has been working for Rawabi for the past four years (a third of Rawabi’s 300 engineers are women). Through an assistance program in which the project helps its employees on their down payment, the Hebron native recently purchased a four-bedroom ninth-floor apartment for $120,000, a price she said was affordable. Eleven percent of home-buyers in Rawabi are single, like Jaradat.  

“I plan to move in as soon as they fit the windows,” she told The Times of Israel.

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