Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Lebanon Border Incident/ The Arab League and Direct Israeli-Palestinian talks

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Update from AIJAC

August 4, 2010
Number 08/10 #01


As readers are probably aware, there was a significant clash between Israeli forces and the Lebanese Army yesterday, which left a total of five people dead. This Update deals with both this incident, as well as the prospects for renewed direct Israeli-Palestinian talks in the wake of last week's decision by the Arab League to approve such talks.

We lead with a short fact sheet AIJAC has created detailing some facts that seem to be getting short shrift in some of the media coverage. In particular, it highlights the fact that, despite the widely reported Lebanese-Israeli "he said/she said" over the incident, there is actually very strong evidence to back up Israel's claim that the Israeli soldiers were on Israeli territory when there were fired upon by Lebanese soldiers. This includes reported testimony from UNIFIL peacekeepers. For this fact sheet, including an aerial photo of the site of the incident, CLICK HERE. More on UNIFIL's reported agreement that the Israeli soldiers concerned were on the Israeli side of the border when fired upon is here and here. More IDF details about the incident, including a profile of the Israel officer killed, Lt. Col (Res.) Dov Harari, is here. More Israeli and other official reactions are here.

Next up is a look at how the Arab League's decision to endorse direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks is likely to affect the ongoing coyness of PA President Mahmoud Abbas in avoiding such talks. This backgrounder, from the British-Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM), finds pressure coming from an international coalition led by the US for such talks, but that Abbas has placed himself in a difficult position politically to agree to such talks without first gaining some of the concessions he has demanded. The backgrounder explains the calculus of the Arab League decision as part of a larger process, and predicts a trilateral Israeli-Palestinian-US meeting may be the next step. For this complete evaluation, CLICK HERE. Another excellent analysis of the pressures and calculations of Mahmoud Abbas as he considers direct talks comes from Tel Aviv University analyst Mark Heller.

Finally, Israeli intelligence researcher Jonathan D. Halevi reports on some unpleasant and highly problematic statements by Abbas being reported in the Arab media, which arguably call into question his peaceful intentions. In particular, he notes some statements that Abbas will demand a full Palestinian "right of return to Israel," demanding not only that all Jews be removed from the land of a Palestinian, but that even a NATO peacekeeping force in the area must have no Jews in it. For Halevi's complete look at the unforunate implications of these reported statements,
CLICK HERE. Also questioning whether Abbas is now an obstacle to peace is American Jewish Committee analyst Kenneth Bandler.

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AIJAC Fact sheet regarding Israel-Lebanon border incident

August 4, 2010

Overnight, a border clash between Israeli and Lebanese troops left five people dead.

While statements from both sides have been reported in most Australian media, some contextualising facts have been excluded by some media.

These are:

  1. There is strong evidence backing up Israeli claims that Israeli troops were on the Israeli side of the international border when Lebanese soldiers opened fire.
  2. The fence between the two countries was built by Israel, and lies in Israeli territory, leaving a space of some metres between the fence and the international border
  3. Israeli troops had crossed the fence, but had apparently remained in Israeli territory, in order to trim back some bushes.
  4. Israel had informed the UN presence in Lebanon (UNIFIL) of its intention to cross the border.
  5. UNIFIL observers and journalists accompanied the Israeli troops at they crossed the fence, furthering the argument that it was not a cross-border raid and that Israeli troops remained on the Israeli side of the international border.
  6. A UNIFIL officer has reportedly confirmed that Israel forces did not cross the border into Lebanon, according to the Jerusalem Post (08/03/2010).

The following image has been provided by the Israel Defence Forces, and shows where the incident took place, in relation to the border fence and the international border:


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BICOM Analysis: Does Arab League endorsement bring direct talks nearer?


Key points
  • In spite of its expressed scepticism about Israel's intention, the Arab League last week offered its agreement in principle for direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. In so doing, the League left it up to PA Chairman Abbas to decide when to enter direct talks. This places the burden for the resumption of directs talks squarely on the Palestinian leadership.
  • PA President Abbas now faces an acute dilemma. If he agrees to direct talks with Israel without seeing some of his initial demands addressed, he risks losing political credibility. Refusing to resume negotiations will place him at odds with the American Administration.
  • Eyes now turn to the possible trilateral meeting in Washington next week between top Israeli, Palestinian and American negotiators and its ability to create the conducive environment for minimising risks and maximising the chances for diplomatic progress.

On Thursday 28 July, Arab League foreign ministers at a special meeting in Cairo voted to back Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas if he decides to enter direct negotiations with Israel. Importantly, the Arab League left to the PA leadership the decision on the appropriate timing for talks to commence.

The Arab League decision appeared to represent a significant advance in the diplomatic process. However, subsequent statements by senior Arab League officials, and a letter reportedly sent by the League to the White House suggests that the forces and interests guiding regional players are rather more ambiguous. The intense diplomatic activity that surrounded the Arab League's meeting illustrates the long-term complexity and fragility of the negotiation process.

Why did the Arab League vote to endorse direct talks?


The prevailing view among Arab League countries has been one of deep scepticism toward the present Israeli government. Repeatedly, Arab officials maintained that Israel is seeking talks for its own sake, rather than in order to substantively move the process forward. It was therefore surprising that the League endorsed direct talks as the next step in the diplomatic process.

A statement made by Amr Moussa, Arab League Secretary-General following the vote suggested that the League remains sceptical about Israel's intentions, but that significant American pressure was applied. Moussa also added three conditions will have to be met before negotiations can commence. "I assure you I am not of the intention to enter into negotiations, without a time frame, without clear terms of reference and without a monitoring mechanism."

Moussa's statement is significant because it focuses on procedural preconditions and not on substantial issues like extending the settlement freeze to East Jerusalem or agreeing the 1967 borders as the basis for negotiations. If these are indeed the Arab League's conditions, the resumption of direct Israeli-Palestinian talks seems much closer. According to a report in al-Hayat daily newspaper, an unsigned letter was subsequently sent from the Arab League to the White House with additional demands. Nonetheless, the public message sent by the Arab League was one of careful readiness to see the Palestinians enter the next phase of talks.

Abbas's dilemma


The Arab League's decision and the support for direct talks from Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan's Kind Abdullah II seem to place Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in a tough spot. Speaking at the Arab League meeting, Abbas confessed that he had been under US pressure to agree to the commencement of direct negotiations. A State Department official recently stated that the US was engaged in "full court press" to ensure that talks begin soon. With such international support for talks, Abbas will find it increasingly difficult to maintain his opposition.

However, the PA leadership and the Fatah movement also face domestic pressure. For over two decades Fatah has portrayed itself as the only political force that can reach a negotiated agreement for the establishment of a Palestinian state. However, repeated failures of the peace process and widespread corruption have eroded Fatah's popularity on the Palestinian street. Today, the movement stands between Hamas and its agenda of violent resistance and a growing group of independents led by PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. A leaked internal document, reputedly authored by Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat, noted that to cave in on the conditions he has maintained until now would be 'political suicide' for Abbas.

Explicitly, Abbas calls for a continuation of the Israeli moratorium on settlements and the acceptance of the 1967 borders as the basis for negotiations. However, Israel insists that these issues, along with other final-status issues, ought to be discussed when both sides are sitting around the negotiation table. To overcome this deadlock, Abbas may seek American assurances that the direct negotiation process will have substance and purpose. According to Qatari and Egyptian government officials, Abbas has been given a letter of US assurances regarding the peace process, but the content of the letter has not been made public.

In all likelihood, the American Administration will not provide Abbas with any easy solutions to the core issues of the conflict - Jerusalem, borders, refugees and security. However, the Americans have expressed their willingness to see a clear timeframe for negotiations and the establishment of a mechanism that will monitor how each side fulfils its obligations. The actual terms of reference - the issues to be discussed and the order of implementation - will have to be determined by the sides.

Getting talks underway

After months of indirect talks and relative lack of progress, there is now a broad international coalition backing the US call for the resumption of direct talks. Britain, France, Italy and Germany have actively been working behind the scenes to push the Palestinians back to direct negotiations. Similarly, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli President Shimon Peres met with Egyptian and Jordanian leaders in recent weeks and received their support for direct talks.

However, the PA, and in a more ambiguous way the Arab League, are clearly reluctant to move forward without further guarantees from Washington. The Palestinian Authority's stance, according to the latest reports, now appears to advocate a preliminary trilateral meeting of senior US, Israeli and Palestinian officials, which would decide on the agenda and timetable for direct talks. Such a meeting would also discuss the current settlement freeze, due to expire in late September.

With the Israeli settlement moratorium set to expire in late September, there is growing pressure on all sides to avoid a moment of crisis and ensure that progress is made beforehand. Despite Abbas's reluctance to expose himself to domestic criticism for giving up on his previous demands, there is little more he can achieve by maintaining the current stalemate. It is likely that similar calculations led to the Arab League's endorsement of direct talks, despite its longstanding scepticism toward the current Israeli government.

Conclusion

The Arab League's endorsement of direct talks was just one more step toward the resumptions of direct contact between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators. In itself, this is a small but important sign that the Arab world will avoid placing any additional obstacles for the renewal of talks and will allow the Palestinians to take the lead on this issue. For better or worse, Abbas and his close circle of advisors will face the final decision on whether or not to enter talks. Eyes now turn to the possible trilateral meeting in Washington next week between top Israeli, Palestinian and American negotiators. The question is whether such a meeting has the ability to create the conducive environment for minimising risks and maximising the chances for diplomatic progress.

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Beware Palestinian apartheid

 Palestinian leader Abbas seeks to adopt racist policy based on ethnic cleansing of Jews

Jonathan Dahoah Halevi

Ynet.com, 08.04.10

The Palestinian Authority is under heavy international pressure, mostly American, aimed at facilitating the transition from proximity talks to direct negotiations with Israel.
 
The written message recently sent by President Obama to Palestinian Chairman Mahmud Abbas indicated that the American administration is not content, to say the least, with the Palestinian foot-dragging in the peace process, or with what is perceived to be a lack of appreciation for American pressure on Israel (which led PM Netanyahu to accept the two-state solution and to temporarily freeze settlement activity in the West Bank and Jerusalem.)

However, there is no obvious fundamental change in the Palestinian stance. The PA hesitates and refrains from explicit commitment to direct negotiations without any pre-conditions. Instead, it tries to weather the American demands by raising a new proposal to convene a three-way meeting of Palestine, Israel, and America to discuss the agenda of the negotiations, its legitimacy, and the settlement cessation.

While briefing the Egyptian media in Cairo, Abbas divulged last week his version of the failure of the peace talks with former Israeli PM Ehud Olmert and his positions regarding the political settlement of the conflict. Abbas noted that he almost reached an agreement with Olmert, but the negotiations failed at the final stretch because of disagreement on the discussed land swap.

Olmert proposed 6.5% but Abbas accepted to no more than 1.9%. Abbas said that he demanded to divide Jerusalem, with the city’s eastern section handed over to the Palestinians and the western part remaining in Israeli hands, and insisted that the refugee problem must be settled in accordance with an Arab peace initiative from March 2002, and UN resolution 194. He also stressed that he will never recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
 
"I'm willing to agree to a third party that would supervise the agreement, such as NATO forces, but I would not agree to having Jews among the NATO forces, or that there will live among us even a single Israeli on Palestinian land,” he was quoted by Wafa, the official Palestinian news agency.

A state without Jews

The Palestinians intend to demand the implementation of the UN resolution regarding refugees, from a Palestinian perspective, which gives the 5.5 million refugees and their descendants the right of return and to settle in the State of Israel. In his briefing to the Egyptian media, Abbas presented this strategy and denied the Jewish character of Israel. He maintains that Israel should, in fact, become a bi-national state, but on the other hand that Palestine must become a state “clean” of Jews.

The term “Israeli” used by Abbas means “Jew,” as the PA sees Israeli Arabs, Muslims and Christians alike as an integral part of the Palestinian people. The future State of Palestine, according Abbas, must resist any Jewish presence in its territory. In other words, the PA embraces a racist policy – Palestinian apartheid – directed at Jews, based on denial of Jewish history and the cultural and religious linkage of the Jewish people to the land. 

The anti-Semitism embodied in Abbas’ words refers also to his position towards the NATO observers’ force that may be deployed in the West Bank to monitor the implementation of the peace agreement with Israel. He is opposed to Jews being included in this force; meaning, he will ask Germany and all other partner countries in NATO to use their own forces in the West Bank, in an effort to the exclude any Jewish soldiers.
 
He didn’t explain how these countries would determine who is a Jew, whether according to orthodox Jewish laws or just if one of the parents or grandparents was a Jew. But even Saudi Arabia didn’t dare oppose the deployment of American Jewish soldiers on its land during operation Desert Storm (1990-1), and no one in Israel ever demanded to disqualify Muslim soldiers from serving in the international observers’ forces in Lebanon, the Golan Heights and Sinai.

The racist language used by Abbas is particularly despicable as it doubts the loyalty of the Jews to their country. It is for this reason that his comments call for a firm Israeli and European response.

Jonathan Dahoah Halevi is a senior researcher and fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and Director of Research at the Orient Research Group.

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