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Peace process crisis/ Palestinians learning about the Holocaust?

Apr 3, 2014

Peace process crisis/ Palestinians learning about the Holocaust?

Update from AIJAC

April 3, 2014
Number 04/14 #01

This Update leads with the crisis in the peace process, with US Secretary of State John Kerry cancelling a planned trip to the Middle East after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas signed applications for “Palestine” to join 15 international bodies in violation of the agreement underlying the deal to hold talks for nine months. This occurred after Israel failed to release a scheduled group of 26 Palestinian prisoners on March 29, arguing that Palestinians were not living up to their side of the deal by refusing to negotiate directly since November. Kerry had been planning to come to the region to try to broker a possible understanding to extend the peace talks after their scheduled end on April 29 – that deal reportedly included the release of Jonathan Pollard, who was jailed in the US for spying for Israel in 1987, as well as more prisoner releases, and a promise of restraint in West Bank construction.

First up is David Horovitz, editor of the Times of Israel, who says the current crisis was always a likely outcome of the process that Kerry initiated in July of last year. While Horovitz notes that there is still some hope things can be patched up, there is a basic asymmetry at the heart of the process – Israelis mostly believe their country needs an accommodation while their Palestinian counterparts do not feel the same need to reach a deal. For his full analysis, CLICK HERE. Other good comments on the background and larger picture behind the crisis come from Shmuel Rosner, Nahum Barnea, Ron Ben Yishai, Dan Margalit, Jonathan Tobin as well as the Wall Street Journal.

Next up, the Times of Israel’s Palestinian Affairs correspondent Avi Issacharoff looks at the details and motivation of the Palestinian announcement of applications to join 15 international bodies. He notes that the applications have not actually been submitted, and thus the announcement amounts to less than meets the eye, so it amounted to an unnecessary performance, full of pomp, which recalls the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. For the rest of his discussion, CLICK HERE. Meanwhile, it is being reported that the Palestinians presented a very extensive list of new demands for the talks to resume at US-brokered meetings yesterday, leading Israel to formally cancel the prisoner release.

Finally, Mohammed Dajani Daoudi, a university professor who also heads the Wasatia movement which promotes moderate Islam, teams up with Washington Institute for Near East Policy head Robert Satloff in the New York Times to discuss the issue of Palestinian learning about the Holocaust. They argue that learning about the Holocaust is essential to any discussion of issues related to genocide and Arabs need to know about it to be more effective in opposing contemporary atrocities. For their complete argument, CLICK HERE. However, as noted Palestinian Affairs journalist Khaled Abu Toameh documents, Mohammed Dajani Douadi’s efforts in encouraging Holocaust education have come under fire from Palestinian anti-normalisation activists, and even his own university has distanced itself from his efforts. 

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Why the peace talks are collapsing, part 94

Kerry’s well-intentioned but flawed oversight hasn’t helped, but it’s a deep asymmetry that is again dooming the negotiations

By David Horovitz

Times of Israel, April 3, 2014, 1:57 pm

‘Our objective will be to achieve a final status agreement over the course of the next nine months…. When somebody tells you that Israelis and Palestinians cannot find common ground or address the issues that divide them, don’t believe them.” – US Secretary of State John Kerry, flanked by chief negotiators Tzipi Livni and Saeb Erekat, at the State Department on July 30, 2013.

For all of Secretary Kerry’s unfathomable optimism eight months ago, Israeli-Palestinian negotiations had been going nowhere for months before they crashed spectacularly this week.

The Palestinians halted direct talks with the Israelis way back in November, in protest at ongoing Israeli settlement construction. (Israel would argue legalistically that, according to the understandings that governed the resumed peace effort, it was not required to limit West Bank building.) The Palestinians then torpedoed Kerry’s efforts to draft a document setting out the “principles of final status,” under which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was prepared to agree to continued negotiations on the basis of the pre-1967 lines. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas rejected the Palestinian quid pro quo, which specified the goal of two nation-states for two peoples — a Jewish nation-state and a Palestinian nation-state.

All is nearly but not yet completely lost. As of Thursday afternoon, some of those in the know were describing the situation as “still fluid.” Tellingly, almost two days after Abbas dramatically signed up “Palestine” to 15 international treaties and conventions in an apparent screw-you gesture to the US and Israel, Netanyahu’s office was still batting away a deluge of requests for comment. The something-for-everybody deal — Israel releases the fourth and final batch of long-term terrorism convicts, including perhaps a dozen Arab-Israelis, as well as 400 security prisoners not involved in violent crimes; Israel halts new settlement housing tenders; the Palestinians come back to the table for at least nine more months and eschew the unilateral route to statehood; and the US releases Jonathan Pollard — could yet, just possibly, be revived. Netanyahu had been well on the way to mustering a cabinet majority for such an arrangement when Abbas got his pen out on Tuesday evening

But in Jerusalem on Thursday there was a degree of bafflement as regards Palestinian intentions — today, and looking back over the unhappy eight months since Kerry so sunnily hosted Livni and Erekat in Washington. Netanyahu emphatically wants the talks to continue, even though there is no indication whatsoever that he and Abbas could ever find mutually acceptable positions on most of the core issues of a permanent accord. But does Abbas want the crisis resolved? Or was the entire Kerry-led negotiation exercise just a pretext, under which the PA would secure prisoner releases and then shift back to the unilateral route — bashing Israel in every possible forum, seeking international endorsement for statehood, while claiming to have negotiated in good faith?

Kerry’s confident assertion that he could midwife peace in nine months was always unwarranted. But one of the sadder aspects of this deeply troubled pregnancy is his own flawed midwife role — the facilitator who sometimes became a complicator.

For it was Kerry who inexplicably gave Abbas to understand that Israel would be prepared to free some of its own citizens in the course of the agreed, four-phase program of 104 terrorist releases — when Israel had made no such commitment. And it was then Kerry, flailing, who sought to sweeten that bitter pill, and wound up prompting a political uproar in the United States, by dragging Pollard into the equation.

It’s not clear that Israel would have released the final batch of prisoners as scheduled last weekend without a promise by Abbas to continue the talks. But the dispute over the Arab-Israelis on the list certainly didn’t help. And it was that delay in the prisoner releases that prompted Abbas’s international treaties stunt — heralding the current crisis.

There will be plenty of dire consequence, including the terrible possibility of a lurch back into violent confrontation and an upsurge in terrorism, and plenty of blame to assign if this week does indeed mark the end of Kerry’s bid for a deal. The Palestinians have a weak president who, while no duplicitous, terror-fostering Arafat, never confronted the narrative bequeathed by his unlamented predecessor, to the effect that the Jews have no sovereign legitimacy in this part of the world. The Israelis have a prime minister who, facing a choice of confidence-building demands from the PA, opted not to take the pragmatic path of curbing settlement expansion and instead betrayed victims’ families, undermined the justice system, and encouraged future terrorists to believe they can get away with their crimes, by freeing dozens of vicious killers.

At the heart of the impasse, however, lies a fundamental asymmetry: Israeli Jews have come to believe that their own best interests, and specifically the imperative to retain a Jewish and democratic Israel, require an accommodation with the Palestinians. There is no comparable imperative on the Palestinian side — not, that is, so long as much of the international community persists in indicating to the Palestinians that they will be able to achieve full independence and sovereignty without the inconvenience of coming to terms with Israel

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Arafat-style, Abbas is playing with fire

In applying to join 15 international organizations, the PA president is trying to pressure Israel and the US. The gambit may backfire

By Avi Issacharoff

Times of Israel, April 2, 2014, 1:33 am

“It was expected that the fourth phase [of prisoner releases] would be executed on the 29th of March, and it is deeply regrettable that so far the decision has not been taken to release them. The leadership committed to not approach international organizations during the nine months [of negotiations] for the sake of the release of those prisoners… I presented to the leadership the matters relevant to the prisoners and we decided that if the prisoners will not be released then we will approach 63 international organizations and request to join them. On this matter we unanimously voted and therefore signed a document for joining 15 international agreements.”

That was how Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas chose to explain his signature on papers to join 15 international charters on Tuesday evening.

Confused? You’re not alone.

The signing ceremony was one of those superfluous performances, full of pomp, by the PA.

In a live broadcast on official television, surrounded by all the members of the Palestinian leadership, Abbas chose to bring to a vote the matter of applying to international bodies — as though there were any chance that even one of the members of the leadership would vote against the push; as though it wasn’t an overly scripted and staged performance, a set up in which the result could be easily predicted.

At times like this, Abbas is all too reminiscent of Yasser Arafat.

The man who helped Abbas with the ceremony was the head of the Palestinian negotiation team, Saeb Erekat, who had been threatening Israel for months with this international push.

But look deeper, and you’ll see Abbas announced that he was immediately signing up for 15 international organizations, but not the big-ticket United Nations organizations. Look deeper still, and you’ll note that the applications were not actually filed.

The president of the Palestinian Authority may have put his name to the applications, but he hasn’t submitted them officially. And Abbas stressed in his speech that he intends to continue negotiations with Israel and the United States until the April 29 deadline.

The gap between the defiant signature ceremony and the announcement of continued negotiations didn’t confuse the Palestinian media, however. Abbas’s media has already declared the peace talks a failure and it stressed the appeal made by Abbas to the Palestinian public, to go out and begin peaceful resistance.

And herein lies a difficult and immediate problem for Abbas. What appears to be an attempt to pressure Israel and the US could easily inflame the Palestinian street, and could push Abbas and the Palestinian leadership once again up a tree from which it would be hard to climb down.

Maintaining the negotiations at this stage is not only in the interest of Israel, but also in the interest of the PA, which knows that erupting anger on the Palestinian street could be directed at Ramallah and Abbas first, even before Israel.

On Tuesday evening a “spontaneous” rally was held in support of Abbas and his “historic” decision. It’s hard to say if the decision really is historic. It is even harder to say where such demonstrations may lead.

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Why Palestinians Should Learn About the Holocaust

Should Palestinian and other Arab schools teach their students about the Holocaust?

This is not an academic question. Many Palestinian and Arab political organizations recently pounced on reports that a new human rights curriculum being prepared for use in Gaza schools operated by Unrwa, the United Nations aid agency for Palestinian refugees, might include historical references to the Holocaust. Their reaction underscores the urgency of answering this fundamental question: Should Palestinians (and other Arabs) learn about the Holocaust? Should this historical tragedy be included in the Arab curriculum?

We — a Muslim-Palestinian social scientist, and a Jewish-American historian — believe the answer is yes. Indeed, there are many reasons why it’s important, even essential, that Arabs learn about the Holocaust. And much of this has nothing to do with Jews at all.

One of the sad realities of many modern Arab societies is that Arab students have been denied history, their own and the world’s. For decades, millions of Arabs have lived under autocrats resentful of the legacy of the leader they replaced and fearful of the leader-to-come. Although Arabs revere the study, writing and teaching of history, and have produced many famous historians, their rulers often tend to view history as a threat. The result is that many historians in Arab countries are more like the court chroniclers of long-dead dynasties, and entire chapters of history have been expunged from the curricula that Arab governments teach their students.

This is particularly true of the Holocaust. A world that has known terrible atrocities has seen none greater than the effort by Nazi Germany and its allies to exterminate the Jewish people. So methodical, so vicious and so exhaustive was the Nazi effort that a new word was coined to describe it — “genocide.” All genocides before and since are judged against the Holocaust. To the extent that we can prevent genocide in the future — an uphill task, given the record of the last few decades — understanding what gives rise to it is essential. Without discussing the Holocaust, discussing genocide is meaningless.

But Palestinians, and Arabs more generally, know little about the Holocaust and what they do know is often skewed by the perverted prism of Arab popular culture, from the ranting of religious extremists to the distortions of certain satellite television channels to the many ill-informed authors. What happened to the Jews during World War II is not taught in Arab schools or universities, either as part of world history or as a lesson in genocide awareness or as an atrocity that ought not to be repeated. Arabs have nothing to fear from opening their eyes to this chapter of human history. As the Koran says: “And say: My Lord, advance me in knowledge.” If Arabs knew more about the Holocaust in particular and genocide in general, perhaps Arab voices would be more forceful in trying to stop similar atrocities.

Palestinians have more specific reasons to learn about the Holocaust. We do not urge Holocaust education just so Palestinians can understand more sympathetically the legacy of Jewish suffering and its impact on the psyche of the Jewish people. While it is important for both Palestinians and Israelis to appreciate the historical legacies that have shaped their strategic outlook and national identities, teaching Palestinians about the Holocaust for this reason alone runs the risk the feeding the facile equation that “the Jews have the Holocaust and the Palestinians have the Nakba.” We urge Palestinians to learn about the Holocaust so they can be armed with knowledge to reject the comparison because, if it were broadly avoided, peace would be even more attainable than it is today.

With all the suffering Palestinians have endured, their struggle with Israel is still, at its core, a political conflict, one that can end through diplomacy and agreements. Today diplomacy is deadlocked, yet the nature of politics is that tomorrow that reality may change. The Holocaust was not a political conflict: the very idea of a “Nazi-Jewish peace process” is absurd. Teaching the Holocaust to Palestinians is a way to ensure they do not go down the blind alley of believing their peace process with Israel is as hopeless as one would have been between Nazis and Jews. Discussion of the Holocaust would underscore the idea that peace is attainable.

Almost two years ago millions of Muslim Arabs listened carefully when President Barack Obama, speaking in Cairo, respectfully recited sentences from the Koran and proclaimed America’s endorsement of a two-state solution to achieve a durable Israeli-Palestinian peace. Few, however, remember that he also condemned Holocaust denial. Now that the Arab masses are applying the universal lessons of democracy, human rights and the rule of law in taking down their authoritarian governments, it is time they take back the learning of history, too. That includes teaching their children the universal lessons of the Holocaust.

Mohammed S. Dajani Daoudi is the founder of the Wasatia movement, which promotes moderation in Islam, and the director of the American Studies department at Al-Quds University. Robert Satloff is executive director of the Washington Institute and the author of “Among the Righteous: Lost Stories from the Holocaust’s Long Reach into Arab Lands.”


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