Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

A regional approach to Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking?

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March 2, 2017

Update 03/17 #01

The Update offers a few articles on the idea of a "regional peace", the idea being canvassed by both the Israeli government and the Trump Administration that the Sunni Arab states, who today see Israel as an ally against Iran, might be the key to making Israeli-Palestinian peace. (A good example of advocacy for this approach comes from Israeli Minister of Intelligence Israel Katz in this interview in the Washington Post.)

First up is an article by Israeli intellectuals Einat Wilf and Adi Shwartz, who make the broad theoretical case that such a regional focus is necessary. They argue that the root cause of the conflict is a broad rejection of any right of the Jewish people to sovereignty in their ancient homeland - and that this rejection and hostility extends across the Arab Middle East, and is not confined to the Palestinians, who were merely the thin edge of the wedge for the broader campaign of hostility.  They then argue that to address the broader problem of this regional intolerance requires a powerful nation like the US to pressure regional actors to curtail expressions of anti-Israel hatred and publicly come to terms with Israel's permanency. For their complete argument, CLICK HERE

Next up is Koby Huberman, an Israeli high-tech entrepreneur who co-founded the Israeli Peace Initiative, who offers a detailed proposal for building a regional paradigm for creating peace. He makes the case that such a paradigm can shift the calculations on both the Israel and Palestinian side by offering a "package deal" which can provide more to both sides than a simple bilateral deal can. By reviewing what he calls some "myths" about the current process, he offers a series of guidelines for this new regional peacemaking paradigm, including the goal sought, the negotiating process, and the role of outside mediators. For this interesting look at what a regional negotiating paradigm might look like, CLICK HERE

Finally, Palestinian affairs reporter Khaled Abu Toameh pours some cold water on regional peace schemes with his review of the Palestinian attitude toward Arab participation in the peace process. Essentially, he argues that, based on his intimate knowledge of the Palestinian leadership, the Palestinians do not trust or even like the leadership of the Arab states and will do their best to veto and resist any effort to involve them in peacemaking. Abu Toameh suggests they actually prefer European involvement to Arab involvement - quoting the PA Foreign Minister to prove it - then notes that, in fact, their preferred scenario is that the Europeans will impose a solution on Israel. For his well-informed and pessimistic analysis of the Palestinian view of any regional peacemaking paradigm, CLICK HERE

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Article 1

A very big deal to solve a very big problem

 
By Einat Wilf and Adi Schwartz

The Hill,  02/24/17
 
President Donald Trump, as expressed in the press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, now aspires in the Middle East to “a much bigger deal”, “a much more important deal”, one that “would take in many, many countries" and "​would cover a very large territory.” This kind of regional deal between the Arab world – and perhaps, the entire Muslim world​​ - and the Jewish State of Israel was always the only deal to be had: a very big deal to solve a very big problem.



US President Trump and Israeli PM Netanyahu at their media conference on Feb. 15, where Trump expressed his preference for a “a much bigger deal”, “a much more important deal”, one that “would take in many, many countries" when seeking Middle East peace.

True peace requires addressing the deep sources of the conflict. Those lay with the Arab and Muslim reaction to the return of the Jewish people to powerful sovereignty in their ancient homeland. As far as Muslim theology and Arab practice were concerned, the Jews were non-believers, only to be tolerated, never as equals. They should have never been allowed to undermine Muslim rule over the lands, which the Jews claimed as their homeland, but the Arabs viewed as exclusively theirs since conquering them in the seventh century.
 
The return of the Jewish people to restored sovereignty in their ancient homeland, required Arabs and Muslims to accept that a people, whom they have for centuries treated as inferiors, worthy of contempt, were now claiming equality and exercising power in their midst.This historical “Chutzpah” is what drove the Arab League to violently reject any kind of plan that would grant the Jewish people equal sovereignty over any part of “Muslim land”​, free from their control. This unnatural historical development, in Arab eyes, led Arab governments to take revenge and forcefully expel hundreds of thousands of Jews, living in their midst, often in communities predating the birth of Islam, just after the establishment of the State of Israel. 

It is also the reason why Arab states kept the Arabs who were displaced during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war and their millions of descendants, ​ as perpetual “refugees” – to deprive the Jewish state of legitimacy and peace.  It is the reason that even after losing repeated military wars against the State of Israel, Arab countries have continued their diplomatic and economic war against it to this day. Even Jordan and Egypt, that have signed nominal peace agreements with Israel, have more of a ‘mutual non-attack’ agreements, rather than genuine peace. 

​The animosity to the concept of the Jewish sovereignty in the Arab Middle East is simply too big. This attitude towards the Jewish state is an Arab – and Muslim – issue, and not only a Palestinian one. The Palestinians have been at the forefront of this Arab and Muslim intolerance, but they are not its creators. They are the thin end of the wedge by which the Arab and Muslim world wages its war against a sovereign Jewish people.

If the word peace is ever to truly describe the situation between Israel and its neighbors, it requires the Arab and Muslim world to address the roots of their intolerance. It requires them to accept the Jews as their equals and as an indigenous people who have come home. This was always too large a task to be undertaken by the Palestinians. Only Arabs and Muslims together can legitimize a different theological interpretation of the Jewish presence in their midst: no longer inferiors and no longer foreigners. In doing so, they can enable and legitimize practical solutions in Jerusalem that accept the centrality of the city to the Jewish people, and to the manufactured problem of the “refugees”, by finally rehabilitating them and absorbing them as fellow Arabs.
 
This is a tall order, and therefore only a powerful nation, such as the United States, can create the conditions for such an agreement. This means continuing and even enhancing the American multi-layered support for Israel, so as to disavow any people or nation of the possibility of doing away with the State of Israel. But it also means finally addressing the Arab attitudes towards the Jewish state. The problem is that for decades, the U.S. went along with Arab duplicity, and even enabled it. Washington treated several Arab governments as its allies, while allowing them to foster and spread anti-Israeli hatred. It is time for the new administration to put its money where its mouth is: if the U.S. is serious about achieving a “great deal”, it should start exacting a price on any Arab behavior contrary to that end.

There is a range of actions that the U.S. can take. In any statement regarding the conflict, the new administration must acknowledge that Arab animosity towards the sovereign Jewish state is the root cause of the conflict. The U.S. should put an end to its policy of providing Arab countries a carte blanch for not resettling the refugees for nearly seventy years, and cease financially underwriting this behavior through the American decades-long support of a special UN agency (UNRWA). The U.S. should also put a price tag on any Arab anti-Israeli activity in the UN and in international fora. The U.S. could also exact a financial price on the continued Arab and Muslim economic boycott of Israel as well as its boycott in a variety of fields from soccer to culture. 

By doing so, the U.S. would send an unequivocal message to the Arab and Muslim world that their future is better served by accepting Israel and the Jewish people as sovereign and equal in their midst, rather than by continuing the useless war they have been waging against Israel, Zionism and the sovereign Jewish people.

Einat Wilf is a former member of the Knesset, Adi Schwartz is a  researcher and writer in Tel Aviv.

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Article 2

Seize the Moment – Build a New Regional Paradigm


by Koby Huberman

Fathom Magazine, Spring 2017


Dr. Koby Huberman, cofounder of the Israeli Peace Initiative, speaking at the  Middle East Institute.

The two-state solution is the only viable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Yet we need a new paradigm to reach it because the old ‘Bilateral Negotiations’ paradigm doesn’t work. On the other hand, for the first time in history there is an opportunity for a new regional deal that will generate cooperation between Israel and its new regional allies in order to create stability, limit Iran’s influence, fight radical Islam, rehabilitate the region’s economy and assure Israel’s security. The convergence of interests offers an opportunity to advance the two-state solution, but in a new way.

The old bilateral paradigm assumed that Israelis and Palestinians could negotiate and reach a permanent status agreement for the two-state solution, as if all they needed was to return to the negotiating table and show more seriousness. The recurring failures of the old ways require some fresh thinking – ‘one more heave’ won’t do. In this article I outline five myths and fundamental misconceptions of the ‘Old Bilateral Paradigm’ and set out the five components of the ‘New Regional Paradigm’.


Myth 1: The End Game


Old Bilateral Paradigm: The two-state solution should be the ultimate goal of the negotiations.
New Regional Paradigm: The ultimate goal should be a comprehensive ‘Package Deal’ that combines the two-state solution with a regional cooperation agreement.

The two-state solution is an unbalanced deal, which has proven hard to sell. It requires Israelis to make significant concessions, and in return gain very little from the Palestinians. The Palestinians will be busy building a weak state and trying to stabilise it while facing huge challenges of security and governance. The asymmetry between Israeli expectations and the Palestinians’ ability to deliver is a major risk. It is unrealistic for a demilitarised Palestinian state to be a guarantor of Israeli security against key strategic threats. Israeli security cooperation with Arab states could provide this. Moreover, the scope of economic cooperation required in the region goes far beyond Israeli-Palestinian economic development opportunities. Lastly, the fundamental Israeli demands for normalisation and recognition cannot be met by the Palestinians.

Therefore, for the price Israel needs to pay to achieve a two-state deal, it needs to gain a significantly better ‘product’. Consequently, the outcome of negotiations should be a four-legged deal – the Israeli-Palestinian two-state solution together with a regional agreement on security cooperation, a regional agreement on economic development, and a regional agreement on normalisation. Basically, the new ‘give and take’ formula for the final status end-game should be: Israel concedes to the Palestinians and is compensated by the Arab states.

Similarly, the Palestinians will have to make huge concessions for a two-state deal, particularly when it comes to their narrative of victimhood and their dream of the refugees (and their descendants) returning to their former homes. Their compensation for this should be via the Arab world in the currency of legitimacy and support – morally, financially and economically. In the eyes of the Palestinian leadership, the concessions they have already made and the risks they are facing vis-à-vis their people outweigh the benefits of a small-scale Palestinian state.

Here is an illustration of the asymmetry of Israeli and Palestinian compromises in comparison to the balance of a regional package deal. In short, the ultimate outcome should be a regional package deal which addresses Israeli and Palestinian concerns beyond just ‘two states’.

 

Myth 2: The Negotiation Architecture


Old Bilateral Paradigm: Bilateral Israeli-Palestinian negotiations are the way forward.
New Regional Paradigm: Negotiations should include key Arab states – Egypt, Jordan, Saudi-Arabia and the UAE.

Israelis and Palestinians are unable to reach a deal when negotiating alone for a number of reasons outlined below. Therefore, the involvement of the key Arab states is vital in order to:
  1. Find solutions to the core issues:
  • Jerusalem. In order to solve the issues of sovereignty, custodianship and religious rights, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Morocco must be involved;
  • Security. Ensuring security along borders – Jordan and Egypt need to be involved;
  • Palestinian Refugees. The Arab hosting countries as well Saudi Arabia, UAE and other Gulf states should be involved;
  1. Legitimise the Palestinians’ concessions on Jerusalem and refugees by showing that it is part of a much greater deal between the entire Arab world (as outlined in the Arab Peace Initiative [API]);
  2. Help both publics with public diplomacy and encouragement;
  3. Offer Israel what it needs strategically in return for its concessions;
  4. Take and share the responsibility to block spoilers – political or militant parties and terrorist organisations (Hamas, Islamic Jihad, ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Muslim Brotherhood).


Myth 3: The Process


Old Bilateral Paradigm: A permanent status agreement will be achieved in one step, and until then the sides should work on the assumption that ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’.
New Regional Paradigm: Negotiations should start with an agreed end-game framework, to be developed in steps, under the principle that ‘whatever is agreed should be implemented’.

There is too much risk in entering the negotiation room with a focus on reaching a permanent status agreement in one step. On the other hand, negotiations built around a series of incremental steps, such as the Oslo process, can be derailed because the process gives the spoilers enough room and time to prepare their sabotage. Moreover, the Palestinians will reject any attempt to reach an interim agreement as they will be suspicious that any such interim agreement will ultimately become permanent; and Israelis will find it too difficult to bet on an ‘all or nothing’ approach because the closer the sides get to the final agreement, the more likely the Palestinians will raise new demands, thus trying to improve their position through pressure at the last moment.

The alternative paradigm involves quietly negotiating the Terms of Reference (TOR) for an end-game ‘regional package deal,’ articulating the principles of its four legs mentioned above. The TOR should reflect the concepts presented by the API, and should also reflect Israeli interests and concerns. Then, the parties would build transitional agreements which will allow them to negotiate steps and implement whatever is agreed in order to change reality on the ground, ensure gradual state-building and creating viability for a Palestinian state. And whenever Israel makes progress vis-à-vis the Palestinians, it will trigger positive steps by the Arab states that promote progress towards normalisation.

The new process described above also offers a new opportunity for the leaders to gain public support by proving to their people that even during the negotiations they are able to obtain tangible benefits for their people. For Israelis, the gradual steps towards normalisation are key – practically and psychologically. For Palestinians, the very existence of a political horizon together with changes on the ground is vital. And for the Arab states, the ability to show their people that the cooperation with Israel impacts the progress towards solving the Palestinian issue  is hugely important.


Myth 4: Third Party Actors


Old Bilateral Paradigm: The US assumed the role of (sole) mediator.
New Regional Paradigm: Responsibility lies with regional leaders; mediators should act as conveners and enablers.

The ‘shuttling US Secretary of State’ model should not repeat itself. The US is not alone on the ground (Russia is now intimately involved in the region). Regional parties need to take more responsibility upon themselves. Mediators should become enablers for a regionally-led process. The Egyptian president and the Israeli prime minister should prepare the groundwork for a regional platform that hosts Israel, the Palestinians, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and the UAE. US-Russian cooperation should help encourage the regional leaders to take the necessary steps and launch negotiations. In fact, the regional package deal must be seen as part of a ‘grand bargain’ agreed between Russia and the US in order to build stability in the region and in adjacent areas.
 

Myth 5: The Value of Pressure on Israel


Old Bilateral Paradigm: International actors must use pressure on Israel in order to obtain more Israeli concessions to achieve progress in the right direction.
New Regional Paradigm: International pressure will do the opposite, so avoid it.

Whenever bilateral negotiations fail, many in the international community call for more international pressure on Israel, in the form of UN resolutions, final status parameters, or the Boycott, Divestments, Sanctions movement (BDS). The dominant narrative blames Israel for any failure and is based on the false assumption that pressurising Israel will bring it back to the table. There are several flaws in this analysis and attitude. First, Israel should not be solely blamed for the recent negotiation failures (Palestinian Authority [PA] President Mahmoud Abbas did not respond to then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in 2008; he did not respond to then US Secretary of State John Kerry in 2014). Second, international pressure will only incentivise Palestinians not to compromise, because it feeds their belief that they can gain greater concessions from Israel through pressure rather than via the negotiation table.

Israel is fiercely averse to negotiating under pressure. The recent UN Security Council resolution (2334) actually strengthened that sentiment among Israelis. Any such attempt to impose parameters or ‘punish’ Israel will be counter-productive.

Instead, the international community should start apportioning blame more fairly, and understand that rather than airing their frustration, they must offer constructive ideas and encouragement to all parties (Israelis, Palestinians and the Arabs) to build a different approach.
 

Conclusion: An opportunity to rethink

The new US administration could use the opportunity to re-engineer the paradigm. It cannot go back to the old way of trying to achieve the two-state solution and expect better results. Instead of the old paradigm, the US could drive a new one, based on the following elements:
  1. The end goal should be a regional package deal that comprises the two-state solution as well as regional security cooperation, regional economic cooperation and regional normalisation agreements.
  2. Negotiations should be conducted in parallel between Israel and the PA and Israel and the key Arab states.
  3. Negotiations will be based on TOR of the end game, reflecting the spirit of the API and Israeli interests.
  4. While the end-game package is negotiated, it should be reached in a series of phased and transitional agreements.
  5. The guiding principle should be that everything that has been agreed and can be implemented should be implemented.
  6. The process should be regionally led and internationally supported with the US, Russia and the EU playing a role of conveners and enablers.
  7. There should be no international pressure on Israel since this de-incentivises the parties.
Old habits die hard, but the new American administration has an opportunity to rethink many of the assumptions that have accompanied the Israeli-Palestinian peace process for many years, but which have now lost their relevance. Instead, the US administration must seize the moment to encourage regional leaders to make progress and so serve their shared interests.

Koby Huberman is co-founder of the Israeli Peace Initiative. In 2011, he co-founded ‘Yisrael Yozemet’, a non-partisan Impact Group which has more than 1,800 signatories. Huberman is an experienced high-tech executive with 30 years in global technology corporations, as a strategic visionary, and business development executive.
 
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Article 3

  • Many Palestinians sometimes refer to Arab leaders and regimes as the "real enemies" of the Palestinians. They would rather have France, Sweden, Norway and Belgium oversee a peace process with Israel than any of the Arab countries.
  • Hani al-Masri, a prominent Palestinian political analyst, echoed this skepticism. He, in fact, believes the Arabs want to help Israel "liquidate" the Palestinian cause.
  • The Jordanians are worried that a "regional solution" would promote the idea of replacing the Hashemite kingdom with a Palestinian state. Former Jordanian Minister of Information Saleh al-Qallab denounced the talk of a "regional conference" as a "poisonous gift and conspiracy" against Jordan and the Palestinians.
  • The Lebanese have for decades dreamed of the day they could rid themselves of the Palestinian refugee camps and their inhabitants, who have long been subjected to apartheid and discriminatory laws.
  • Israel as a Jewish state is anathema to Palestinian aspirations. Any Arab or Palestinian leader who promotes such compromise is taking his life in his hands. And Palestinian history will record him as a "traitor" who sold out to the Jews and surrendered to American and Israeli pressure.
  • Abbas and his Ramallah cohorts are already up at night worrying about the talking between Israel and some Arab countries, particularly Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states. Such "normalization", in the view of the PA, is to be reserved for after Israel submits to its demands.
  • Any "regional solution" involving Arab countries would be doomed to fail because the Palestinians and their Arab brethren hate each other. Any solution offered by the Arab governments will always be regarded as an "American-Zionist dictate."
  • Here is what Palestinians really want: to use the Europeans to impose a "solution" on Israel.
Here is a fundamental misapprehension: Arab countries can help achieve peace in the Middle East by persuading, or rather pressuring, the Palestinians to make concessions to Israel.

This misapprehension is both misleading and baseless.

Recently, officials in Israel and Washington started talking about a "regional approach" to solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In this view, as many Arab countries as possible would be directly involved in the effort to achieve a lasting and comprehensive peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. Advocates of the "regional approach" believe that Arab countries such as Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Qatar and Saudi Arabia have enough leverage with the Palestinians to compel them accept a peace agreement with Israel.

The Palestinians, however, were quick to dismiss the idea as yet another American-Israeli-Arab "conspiracy to "liquidate" their cause and force them to make unacceptable concessions. Chief among these "unacceptable concessions" are recognizing Israel as a Jewish state and giving up the demand for a "right of return" for millions of Palestinian refugees into Israel.

What the recent Washington-Israeli notion misses is that Palestinians simply do not trust their Arab brothers. The Palestinians consider most of the Arab leaders and regimes as "puppets" in the hands of the US and its "Zionist" allies. Worse, Many Palestinians sometimes refer to Arab leaders and regimes as the "real enemies" of the Palestinians. They would rather have France, Sweden, Norway and Belgium oversee a peace process with Israel than any of the Arab countries.

In general, Palestinians have more confidence in Western countries than they do in their Arab brothers. That is why the Palestinian Authority (PA) headed by Mahmoud Abbas continues to insist on an international conference as its preferred method for achieving peace in the region and not a "regional approach" that would give Arab countries a major role in solving the conflict. Arab involvement in a peace process with Israel is, in fact, the last thing Abbas and other Palestinians want.


Pictured: French President François Hollande (L) hugs Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during a press conference in Ramallah, on November 18, 2013. (Image source: Oren Ziv/Getty Images): Palestinian leaders would rather have France, Sweden, Norway and Belgium oversee a peace process with Israel than any of the Arab countries.

Hani al-Masri, a prominent Palestinian political analyst, echoed this skepticism concerning a potential role for Arab countries in the Middle East peace process. He, in fact, believes the Arabs want to help Israel "liquidate" the Palestinian cause.

He also predicted that the recent rapprochement between Israel and some Arab countries would embolden "all opposition and jihadist groups" that are fighting against the Arab regimes. According to al-Masri, it is not even clear that any Arab states, especially Israel's neighbors, are keen on a "regional solution." The Jordanians, for example, are worried that a "regional solution" would promote the idea of replacing the Hashemite kingdom with a Palestinian state.

Echoing this fear, former Jordanian Minister of Information Saleh al-Qallab denounced the talk of a "regional conference" as a "poisonous gift and conspiracy" against Jordan and the Palestinians.

The Egyptians, for their part, are worried that a "regional approach" would mean giving up land from Sinai to the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip -- a highly unpopular idea in Egypt. The Egyptians have good reason to be worried: some Arab leaders and countries have expressed interest in this idea.

Likewise, the Lebanese are worried that a "regional solution" would force their country to grant full citizenship and equal rights to hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees living in that country. The Lebanese have for decades dreamed of the day they could rid themselves of the Palestinian refugee camps and their inhabitants, who have long been subjected to apartheid and discriminatory laws.

Another adjacent state, Syria, is far too preoccupied with own implosion to think about peace between the Palestinians and Israel. Besides, when have the Syrians ever expressed concern for the Palestinians? Since the beginning of the civil war five years ago, more than 3,400 Palestinians have been killed and thousands injured. In addition, more than 150,000 Palestinians have been forced to flee Syria to neighboring Arab countries or to Europe. The Syrian regime does not care about its own people, who are being massacred in large numbers on a daily basis. Why, then, might it be expected to care about Palestinians? It would be a Syrian nightmare to resettle Palestinians and grant them full rights and citizenship. Like most Arab countries, Syria just wants its Palestinians to disappear.

Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon and Syria are rather wary, then, about a "regional solution." And no wonder: it poses a massive threat to their national security. So, which Arab countries would help to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Saudi Arabia? Qatar? Kuwait? Oman? Tunisia? Morocco? Really?

Israel as a Jewish state is anathema to Palestinian aspirations. No Arab leader in the world can persuade the Palestinians to give up the "right of return" for Palestinian refugees or accept a solution that allows Israel to retain control over certain parts of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Any Arab or Palestinian leader who promotes such compromise is taking his life in his hands. And Palestinian history will record him as a "traitor" who sold out to the Jews and surrendered to American and Israeli pressure.

Moreover, Abbas and the Palestinian Authority are far from interested in any Arab-Israeli rapprochement. Abbas and his Ramallah cohorts are already up at night worrying about the talking between Israel and some Arab countries, particularly Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states. This is "normalization" -- plain and simple. Such "normalization", in the view of the PA, is to be reserved for after Israel submits to its demands.

Abbas's foreign minister, Riad al-Malki, made it clear this week that the Palestinians reject the idea of a "regional solution" that would give Arabs a role in the peace process. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, he said, was mistaken to think that rapprochement between Israel and some Arab countries would produce anything good. Al-Malki denounced Netanyahu's "regional approach" as a "twisted policy," adding: "Netanyahu thinks that by establishing ties with Arab governments he could force the Palestinians to enter negotiations with Israel." According to him, the Palestinians wish to see the Europeans, and not the Arabs, at their side when they "negotiate" with Israel.

The Palestinian foreign minister is saying that the Palestinians would rather have the Europeans in their court than their Arab brothers when it comes to trying to squeeze the life out of Israel. The Palestinians think that this is a better bet.

In any event, any "regional solution" involving Arab countries would be doomed to fail because the Palestinians and their Arab brethren hate each other. Moreover, even if Abbas were to accept terms dictated to him by such an alliance, his own people would reject them. Any solution offered by the Arab governments will always be regarded as an "American-Zionist dictate."

Here is what Palestinians really want: to use the Europeans to impose a "solution" on Israel. That is why Abbas sticks to the idea of an international conference like a dog that holds for dear life onto his bone.
 
Khaled Abu Toameh, an award-winning journalist, is based in Jerusalem.

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