Update from AIJAC
March 14, 2007
Number 03/07 #05
On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert re-affirmed Israel would “treat seriously” the 2002 Saudi Peace plan, which the Arab League wants to revive at its Riyadh summit later this month. This meeting and the plan are now becoming a major focus of diplomatic efforts.
This Update leads with a good backgrounder on what the Saudi plan says, the changes Israel would need to embrace it, and the efforts and difficulties involved in trying to get the Saudis and the Arab League to agree to those changes. It comes from the the British think-tank, BICOM. To read it, CLICK HERE.
Next, the Jerusalem Post had some well-argued opinion on the key change needed for the Saudi plan to be viable, the ambiguous language apparently creating a requirement that Israel agree to a “Right of Return” to Israel of the descendents of refugees from the 1948 war, a dealbreaker with virtually all Israelis. It explains why the current Arab position, that Israel should recognise the “right of return” but open negotiations about how this will be implemented in a way that meets Israeli requirements, is a non-starter. It also points out that the necessary change in the plan looks unlikely to happen. For this analysis of the key sticking point, CLICK HERE.
Finally, former general Shalom Harari comments on the growing success of Iran in turning Gaza into an armed “Hamas-istan” following the model of the “Hezbollah-stan” established in southern Lebanon. He also discusses the growing divide between Gaza, where Hamas is gaining control, and the West Bank, where Fatah remains reasonably strong. For this discussion of the most important trends in the Palestinian territories, CLICK HERE.
BICOM (British Israel Communications and Research Centre)
12 March 2007
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met with PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas yesterday, at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem. Expectations for the meeting were modest, given the long stalemate in the positions of the two sides. A statement by Prime Minister Olmert at the weekly Cabinet meeting, however, has led to a rise in hopes for progress in reviving the diplomatic process. In the statement, the prime minister confirmed Israel’s support for the Saudi initiative of February, 2002. The initiative envisages the creation of a Palestinian state, in return for the complete normalisation of relations between Israel and the states of the Arab world. PM Olmert expressed his hope that the upcoming meeting of Arab heads of state in Riyadh would lead to further progress. He told reporters that “We very much hope that at the meeting of Arab heads of state in Riyadh the positive elements that have found expression in the Saudi initiative will be reaffirmed and that the chances of negotiations between us and the Palestinians will be strengthened.”1
Political analysts in Israel consider that a likely obstacle in the way of the Saudi Initiative coming to form the basis for a renewed diplomatic process, is the endorsement that the version of the initiative adopted by the Arab League includes for the long-standing Palestinian demand that Palestinian refugees and their descendants be permitted to make their homes in Israel, rather than the Palestinian state to be created. Implementation of this demand would in effect turn Israel into a second Palestinian state, and has therefore been rejected by the Israeli government.
Diplomacy is now likely to focus on this matter as meeting are held in Washington between US officials and representative from Saudi Arabia and Israel.2 Saudi National Security Adviser Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the main interlocutor of the kingdom with Israel, is visiting Washington. At the same time, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is visiting the U.S. capital. Additionally, aides to PM Olmert, visiting Washington last week, apparently held talks with their American counterparts on the Saudi initiative.3
The meeting between Olmert and Abbas confirmed the Saudi Initiative’s new status as the diplomatic plan which the sides hope may form the basis for renewed progress. However, Israel maintains its commitment to the Quartet’s three conditions for any negotiating process between Israelis and Palestinians to commence -namely, that the PA government abandon terror, commit to existing agreements between Israel and the PA, and recognise Israel’s right to exist. This is also the stance of the European Union.
Despite the high hopes now being invested in the Saudi Initiative, there is a certain contradiction, at least at the moment, between enthusiasm for the increased Saudi role in the diplomacy of the conflict, and continued insistence that any PA government must accept the Quartet conditions before contacts can begin.
The Mecca Agreement recently brokered by the Saudis for the formation of a Palestinian unity government demonstrates this contradiction. The Agreement is an attempt to co-opt radical forces that might otherwise be tempted to drift toward increasing alignment with Tehran. It does this by attempting to compromise with at least part of the agenda of these forces. Thus, the letter from Chairman Abbas asking Ismail Haniyeh to form the unity government asks Hamas to ‘respect’ existing agreements – an ambiguous formula – but no reference is made to the recognition of Israel. In return, Hamas will continue to dominate and hold leading positions in the new unity government.4
But should such a government be formed, it is hard to imagine a basis upon which it could embark upon a meaningful negotiating process with Israel. Indeed, Israel has confirmed that it will have no contact with ministers serving in such a government.
The current assumption is thus that should such a government be formed, diplomatic contacts would continue with Chairman Abbas, while no contacts would take place with the PA government. This raises the question of the extent to which Chairman Abbas’s position would be sufficiently strong to force through any concessions he might wish to make, against the probable opposition of the PA government.5
Underlying all this is the unmistakable fact that what has presented the main obstacle to progress in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in the past has been the ongoing refusal of influential parts of mainstream Arab political culture to finally make their peace with the permanent fact of Israel’s presence as a Jewish state. This refusal manifests itself in myriad ways. The attempt to seek international legitimacy for a Palestinian unity government containing elements committed to Israel’s destruction is one example. The current refusal by Arab League heads of state to amend the Saudi Initiative as voted on in Beirut in March 2002 is another. The Initiative voted on in Beirut inserted the demand, which not present in the original initiative, that Palestinian refugees of 1948 and their descendants be permitted to make their homes in Israel.
It is unlikely that this basic, conceptual obstacle to real progress to peace between Israelis and Palestinians will be overcome by any procedural formula. Rather, what is required is a change in thinking: a direct and public acknowledgment of Israel’s right to exist. However, the renewal of contacts between Israeli and Palestinian representatives is a development that is welcomed by all parties committed to the peace process.
Attention will now shift to the scheduled meeting of Arab heads of state in Riyadh. Israeli policymakers will be paying particular attention to the stances taken on the issue of the Palestinian refugees of 1948. Stances taken on this issue will indicate whether the Saudi Initiative can serve as an acceptable platform for a comprehensive diplomatic process in the Middle East.
1 Cabinet Communique, 11/3.
2 Ronny Sofer, “Olmert asks Abas to concede right of return,” Ynetnews, 12/3. http://www.ynetnews.com
3 Aluf Benn, “US in talks with Saudis, Israel ahead of Arab meet,” Haaretz, 12/3. http://www.haaretz.com
4 “Text of Mecca Accord for Palestinian coalition government,” Haaretz, 8/2 http://www.haaretz.com
5 Aluf Benn, “US in talks with Saudis, Israel ahead of Arab meet,” Haaretz, 12/3. http://www.haaretz.com
THE JERUSALEM POST
Mar. 12, 2007
A flurry of diplomatic activity is gathering speed ahead of the Arab League summit later this month. The US and Israel seem to harbor some hopes that the “Saudi plan,” unveiled at a 2002 Beirut summit, will be reintroduced in an improved form.
It should be said at the outset that the likelihood of any breakthrough emerging from the Arab summit is extremely slim, given that the Syrian and Palestinian (read Hamas) delegations hold veto power over any decision, normally issued by consensus. This constraint, however, should not stop the US, Europe and Israel from telling the Arab states what is necessary for any peace initiative to be meaningful.
While any potential peace negotiation is fraught with difficult problems, what made the Saudi initiative a non-starter ought to be removed: the demand to negotiate over a “right of return” to Israel. In the plan’s words, “Achievement of a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem to be agreed upon in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolution 194.” Arab diplomats claim the word “agreed” guarantees that nothing would be forced on Israel. Besides, as one diplomat told this newspaper recently, “No one is saying that all the refugees would go back.” All the Palestinians want is for their “right” to be recognized; exercising that right is not necessary, we are assured.
To many, the Arab position might sound sensible. So why is it so necessary to not only remove this clause but to begin the process of renouncing any “right” of Palestinians to move to Israel?
In 2003, Hebrew University professor and former foreign ministry director-general Shlomo Avineri wrote in a Jerusalem Post op-ed how a senior German minister explained the problem to Arab counterparts at an international conference. Speaking of the “right of return,” the German minister said: “This is an issue with which we in Germany are familiar; may I ask my German colleagues in the audience to raise their hand if they, or their families, were refugees from Eastern Europe?” More than half of the Germans present raised their hands.
An estimated 10 million ethnic Germans were expelled from Eastern Europe in the wake of World War II. Together with their descendants, today they make up almost double that number, which is almost one in four Germans.
The minister continued: He himself was born in Eastern Europe and his family was expelled in the wake of the anti-German atmosphere after 1945. “But,” he added, “neither I nor any of my colleagues claim the right to go back. It is precisely because of that that I can now visit my ancestral hometown and talk to the people who live in the house in which I was born – because they do not feel threatened, because they know I don’t want to displace them or take their house.”
Germans, of course, are not alone. There were about 70 million refugees from World War II, some of whom returned to their homes, but no universal right of return was granted to those who did not. This is especially true when the refugees belong to the side that started, and lost, the war.
There is only one formula that will work in this case, that adopted in the “People’s Voice” campaign launched by former Shin Bet head Ami Ayalon and Palestinian university president Sari Nusseibeh (www.mifkad.org.il): “Palestinian refugees will return only to the State of Palestine; Jews will return only to the State of Israel.” This is the only formula that is consistent with the two-state vision, the road map, and Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. If the Arab League were to adopt this formula, moderate Palestinians would be greatly strengthened, Iranian-led radicalism would be dealt a serious blow, and real peace negotiations would suddenly be possible.
The US and Israel need to be clear with Arab states that claim they are for peace: The Palestinians cannot extricate themselves from their radical rut alone; they need the Arab states to set a dramatic and powerful example. The Quartet, moreover, should be demanding that the Arab states do so, or be justly blamed for the lack of peace.
Jerusalem Issue Briefs
Vol. 6, No. 23 11 March 2007
By Brig. Gen. (res.) Shalom Harari
- There is a growing strategic alliance between Iran and the radical Palestinian forces in the territories. Hamas says it will build its society, economy, and army with the help of the Islamic world, mainly Iran, instead of the West.
- Iran is involved in supporting both the Islamic factions and Fatah, as well. Today, at least 40 percent of Fatah’s different fighting groups are also paid by Hizbullah and Iran.
- Hamas Prime Minister Haniyeh does not speak from the parliament. Rather, he makes his declarations from the mosque every Friday. The Arabs are very aware of the images they project. The head of the government preaching from the mosque creates the image of a new caliphate being built inside Gaza.
- Hamas thinks it can build a new southern Lebanon in Gaza, and this is what it is busy doing. Hamas is seeking to build anti-tank and anti-aircraft systems that will neutralize Israel’s current ability to easily penetrate Gaza, by using new kinds of missiles that were used in Lebanon.
- Hamas is also trying to fortify the cities in Gaza in which it has its main rocket and weapons factories. If Israel again attacks deep into Gaza, Hamas hopes to confront it with something like what was seen in southern Lebanon – reserves of Hizbullah dug in deep under the earth.
- The IDF will have to enter Gaza in a very wide-scale operation in the next year, if not in the next six months. The IDF prefers not to enter Gaza because of the high cost in Israeli casualties, but Israel has to defend its citizens. The big question is whether to do it now or wait, like Israel did in Lebanon – and look at the results.
The Growing Influence of Iran
There is a growing strategic alliance between Iran and the radical Palestinian forces in the territories. Iran is seeking to surround Israel from three sides – from the north, by rebuilding Hizbullah; from the West Bank, which has not been successful so far; and from Gaza.
Hamas feels that it has succeeded in breaking the siege that the Western world tried to put on it, and that it does not have to respond to the demands of the West. Hamas says that instead of depending on the West, it will build its society, economy, and army with the help of the Islamic world, mainly Iran. Iran is sending weapons and experts to Hamas, and is also training Hamas security forces. Hamas members are being trained in Iran, where they are learning various aspects of guerilla and terrorist warfare.
Iran is involved in supporting both the Islamic factions and Fatah, as well. Today, at least 40 percent of Fatah’s different fighting groups are also paid by Hizbullah and Iran. Many Fatah members are sitting on the fence. They don’t know which side to take and, in the meantime, Hamas is growing stronger with money sent from Damascus and Iran.
Egypt had sent 100 experts to Gaza half a year ago, but today only two generals are left, and even they prefer to spend most of their time in Tel Aviv, for their own safety.
Two Different Palestinian States
We are seeing the formation of two Palestinian “states” that behave differently – one in Gaza and the other in the West Bank.
Look at how the new Hamas leadership rules in Gaza. Prime Minister Haniyeh does not speak from the parliament, a five-minute drive from his home. Rather, he makes his declarations from the mosque every Friday. Haniyeh and Abbas also differ in how they dress. Haniyeh comes dressed like a sheikh. The Arabs are masters of preaching and speaking, and are very aware of the images they project. The head of the government preaching from the mosque creates a new image – of a new caliphate being built inside Gaza.
For the last twenty years, the Islamic bloc has had 40 percent support among the Palestinian people inside the territories. It does not have 62 percent support, which was the result in the parliamentary elections. Yet Fatah today is still disorganized and split, and it cannot translate its support into votes.
Abbas’ threat to hold elections is an empty one. He does not have the ability to implement elections in the territories. If he cannot succeed in holding internal elections for Fatah, his own organization, he will not succeed in holding general elections in Gaza and the West Bank.
In the West Bank, Fatah still has much better control, but Hamas is trying to gain strength there. Hamas tried to build up its forces in Bethlehem and in the Hebron district but failed, both because Israel fought it and also because of pressure from Fatah.
Seeking a New Hamas-Friendly PLO
Abbas and the Arab states around Israel were ready to negotiate and compromise. Now there is no compromise. Hamas does not recognize Israel, nor does it recognize the position of Abbas as head of the PLO since Hamas does not recognize the PLO. Hamas says that in order for the Palestinians to unite, the PLO must change. Damascus-based Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal is trying to build a new PLO, either by taking over at least part of the control of PLO institutions or by building a parallel structure.
Hamas Prepares for War
We are seeing the continued growth of the Islamic forces in Gaza, especially after the war in Lebanon. Hamas thinks it can build a new southern Lebanon in Gaza, and this is what it is busy doing. With the support of Hizbullah, Syria, and Iran, arms and ammunition are flowing through Rafiah on the Egyptian-Gaza border every day, both above ground and through the tunnels, in order to build “Hamastan.”
Hamas is increasing its Kassam rocket production and is also improving its rocket capabilities in order to be able to hit major Israeli cities such as Ashkelon, Ashdod, and others. If Hamas acquires 122 millimeter Katyusha rockets, it can reach the center of Ashkelon.
Hamas is seeking to build anti-tank and anti-aircraft systems that will neutralize Israel’s current ability to easily penetrate Gaza, using new kinds of missiles that were used in Lebanon. It is also trying to fortify the cities in Gaza in which it has its main rocket and weapons factories, such as Rafiah and Khan Yunis.
If Israel again attacks deep into Gaza, Hamas hopes to confront it with something like what was seen in southern Lebanon – reserves of Hizbullah dug in deep under the earth. They have air conditioning experts for the underground tunnels they are constructing. They have concrete experts to build bunkers. They have communications and intelligence experts. They have experts for every field connected to the development of weapons and rockets.
In Gaza there are between 80,000 and 100,000 automatic rifles and machine guns. This is the most armed people in the Middle East except for Somalia. In 2006, thirty tons of TNT was brought into Gaza. If the Arabs succeed in bringing in the latest anti-aircraft and anti-tank rockets, then they will not only shoot at the Israeli army but at Israeli civilian targets as well, such as buses, because these rockets have a longer range.
The IDF will have to enter Gaza in a very wide-scale operation in the next year, if not in the next six months. The IDF prefers not to enter Gaza because of the high cost in Israeli casualties, but Israel has to defend its citizens. If there is a continuing military threat in the south that involves continued rocket fire into Israel which could hit a strategic target, then there could be an Israeli invasion of Gaza. At the end of the day, Israel will have to deal with the threat of Hamas rockets. The big question is whether to do it now or wait, like Israel did in Lebanon – and look at the results.
Brig.-Gen. (res.) Shalom Harari is a Senior Research Scholar with the Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya. He served in the territories for twenty years as a senior advisor on Palestinian affairs for Israel’s Defense Ministry. This Jerusalem Issue Brief is based on his presentation to the Institute for Contemporary Affairs in Jerusalem on January 9, 2007