Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Peace Prospects: Impasse, impossible or improving?

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Update from AIJAC

December 17, 2010
Number 12/10 #05

Today’s Update continues the theme of analysing the latest impasse in Israeli-Palestinian peace making. We begin with Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon who, in his usual direct manner, nails the issue: that Palestinians have retreated from previous agreed-upon positions, remain obstructionist in most matters of negotiating an agreement, and that settlements are not the obstacle on the road to peace. To read this incisive article, CLICK HERE.

We follow this up with another straight talker, the always-insightful Barry Rubin, of the Interdisciplinary Centre in Herzliya. Rubin discusses why confusion remains about the intractability of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. He concludes it’s mainly the result of a severe lack of understanding in the West of the motivations of the Palestinian leadership. Like Danny Ayalon, he encourages people to look at Palestinian statements and actions in their own terms, not merely through Western eyes. And he gives examples. To read them, CLICK HERE.

We finish on a more hopeful note - a Washington Post editorial that realises the US back down on the settlement freeze issue might be a blessing in disguise. This is because it has driven the US to ask both Israel and the Palestinians, in specific terms, what it is they actually want, and what they are willing to concede. As the editorial points out, despite it almost being a cliché that the parameters of an eventual agreement are well known, getting each side to publicly agree to them might prove harder than most people expect. Still, since Israel has long been more willing to compromise for peace, this US policy might actually succeed in pressuring the Palestinians to come to the party, or expose them as being obstructionist. To read the editorial, CLICK HERE.

Readers may also be interested in:

  • Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu has said his defence minister’s pro-division of Jerusalem speech in Washington is not government policy.
  • Evelyn Gordon, writing in Commentary, has some advice for US President Barack Obama, which she gleaned from Amos Oz and Sari Nusseibeh, long-time Israeli and Palestinian peaceniks: deal with the refugees first.
  • Another Evelyn Gordon piece that suggests the West Bank proves terrorism can be defeated using military means. She implies the West can utilise these lessons in Afghanistan.
  • Netanyahu’s speech to the Globes economic forum, in which he outlines the importance of education, infrastructure and peace funding.
  • Hamas has reiterated its desire to replace Israel with Palestine.
  • Douglas Murray writes in the Wall Street Journal of the latest British Christmas tradition – the export of suicide bombers.
  • A blow-by-blow refutation in the Las Vegas Sun of the latest Palestinian claim that the Western Wall is not holy to Jews or part of the Temple Mount complex. 



Who's stopping the peace process? Ask the Palestinians directly and openly if they're prepared to make any concessions.

Danny Ayalon

Los Angeles Times, December 14, 2010

The breakdown of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks has predictably resulted in blame laid almost exclusively on Israel. However, events of the last 17 years — since Israeli-Palestinian peace talks began — demonstrate a different story about what has prevented peace.

Since the Oslo peace accords were signed in 1993, the Israeli position on the peace process has constantly progressed and evolved. That has been best enunciated by the generous offers made by Prime Ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert in 2000 and 2008, respectively. Meeting nearly all of the Palestinian demands, these offers were rejected without further discussion or counteroffer.

The present Israeli government has accepted the principle of a two-states-for-two peoples solution. Israel has contributed to the improvement of the lives of Palestinian to the point where the West Bank's economic growth is greater than almost anywhere in the world; it has removed more than two-thirds of all security checkpoints and initiated a unilateral moratorium on construction in the settlements.

Furthermore, the first act of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he entered office 21 months ago was to call for negotiations with the Palestinians anywhere, without preconditions and with all issues on the table.

Unfortunately, the Palestinian position during these 17 years has not moved one inch from its maximalist demands. Isn't it time that the Palestinians are asked directly and openly if they are prepared to make any concessions? Are they prepared to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and the Jewish connection to the Western Wall and Temple Mount? Are they prepared to recognize that there are Jewish refugees in Arab states, and that Israel has very real security concerns?

While the world has unfortunately focused on settlement building, it has gone largely unnoticed that Palestinian leaders are retreating from previously accepted positions, especially the need for a two-states-for-two-peoples solution. I witnessed this firsthand when Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad refused to sign a meeting summary that included that terminology.

The Palestinians have been extremely successful at presenting Israel as the obstructionist party, even as they have been engaged in a consistent cycle of evasion and rejectionism that has replicated itself many times over almost two decades.

The cycle begins with the Palestinians looking for any excuse not to arrive at negotiations. They run away from an open and honest process, and yet place the onus on Israel for the breakdown of peace talks.

The Palestinians also threaten to unilaterally declare their own state, and on a number of occasions, they have threatened violence against Israel. They have embarked on a political campaign to assault Israel's legitimacy, abusing international forums, such as the United Nations, to try to create anti-Israel momentum.

The recent debate over an extended settlement moratorium is a case in point. From its inception, the current Israeli government cleared the way for direct negotiations with no preconditions. Israel imposed a 10-month moratorium; the Palestinians balked and refused to join direct negotiations. When the moratorium expired, the Palestinians demanded an extension of the very same policy that had not been good enough to bring them to the table for over a year.

Moreover, settlements are a red herring. According to previously signed agreements, settlements and borders are a final-status issue. The Palestinians turned them into a precondition for talks.

While the Palestinians and their supporters wail that the settlements are eating up more of the land they claim for their future state, the real figures suggest otherwise. Today, 43 years since Israel gained control of the West Bank, the built-up areas of the settlements constitute less than 1.7% of the total area.

Both sides would like their demands met, but a negotiated solution is the only way the region will achieve the necessary outcome of a peaceful and historic reconciliation between Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians. Both sides need to make concessions, and Israel has made many.

For the peace process to move forward and succeed, the international community has to make a historic and brave decision to ignore the pressures of the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Conference in international forums, which provide the rejectionists a prize and push the Palestinians further from the negotiating table. The international community also must reject Palestinian excuses and threats.

There is no substitute for a negotiated solution, and this has to be enunciated strongly to all sides. Pressure should be brought to bear on those who refuse to arrive at the negotiating table, not on those already seated.

Uncritically adopting Palestinian positions prevents peace. The international community should break the Palestinian cycle of evasion and rejectionism.

Danny Ayalon is Israel's deputy minister of foreign affairs and the former ambassador to the US.


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The Israel-Palestinian Conflict: Everything You Need to Understand Why It Continues

Barry Rubin

Rubin Report, December 14, 2010

When people ask me why the Arab-Israeli conflict is so misunderstood, the best and simplest way to explain is by citing the central problem; the contrast between reality and what seems logical to those who live in a far-off land that operates by different political rules, have little knowledge of the issues, or have drawn their information from media accounts.

It is logical, but totally misleading, to see the conflict in the following manner:

• Israel has won all the wars, controls the territories and enjoys the fruits of victory—land, independence and prosperity. The Palestinians are suffering miserably. All they want is a land of their own. Therefore, the conflict can be easily settled: Give them a state and everyone will live happily ever after. Issues like borders, security, refugees and Jerusalem are easily settled.

• Why isn’t the conflict over? Because Israel is well off and does not want peace as a result, while the Palestinians are eager to end the conflict and be happy.

• And/or, because no one has come along who is smart enough or has some clever formula to resolve the issue with a win-win solution in which everyone is happy and at peace.

The missing element here, however, is that the Palestinian leadership is not, and has never been, eager for any compromise resolution. Its top priority has been total victory, possession of the entire land, with Israel’s disappearing from the map. If this seems to be an overstatement, it is because Palestinian politics and society are quite different from, say, that of the United States.

The evidence that proves this proposition about unreadiness for peace is evident not only in history but in every television broadcast, radio clip or newspaper report; every textbook; every sermon; and every speech by leaders that comes out of Palestinian institutions. This is not necessarily what is expressed in English, when interviews are given to Western reporters, but it is about 99 percent of the output in Arabic.

And the great majority of Israelis, wherever they are on the political spectrum, know this.

For the Palestinian Authority and its governing party, Fatah, the goal is the transformation of all of the land into a Palestinian, Arab and Muslim state. For Hamas, it is the transformation of all of the land into an Islamist Palestinian state that is also Arab.

Does every Palestinian believe this? Not at all. But to function and succeed in politics, it is almost impossible to reject such a goal. When individuals do come out with moderate statements—as happened when on October 13, Yasser Abed Rabbo’s stated that the Palestinian Authority might accept Israel as a Jewish state—they are quickly shouted down, threatened. and back down.

But all of this makes sense, in a way. After all, if you believe total victory is possible and that anything less is unjust, cowardly, treasonous and even heretical, you are not inclined to want a compromise peace or to let anyone else make one.

What, then, are the factors that prevent moderation and compromise, responses that would seem (to a Western observer) logical for the losers and underdogs, the occupied and poorer side in a conflict? I will answer that by briefly listing and discussing a long list of such factors, almost none of which ever make it into the media or academic literature.

They include:

• Even after all these years, there is profound misinformation and miscomprehension about Israel among Palestinians (and, generally, among Arabs and Muslims), viewing it not as a real country but as one that cannot last. Kill enough Israelis, damage the economy, cut it off from Western allies, and it is believed that Israel will crumble. Radicalism is enhanced by a monopoly on information in the hands of a political and clerical elite. Material benefit is not important to this movement which doesn't cares if the people are suffering. The leaders and activists view this suffering as worthwhile for the purpose of the cause. And, anyway, the leaders live in relative luxury.

• Religious and political ideology, believing that the creator of the universe is on your side, guarantees victory. The idea that the proper organization of a revolution—the power of the aroused masses will defeat superior technology—is also a heady concept.

• A political system in which the most militant wins, if necessary by flourishing a gun and threatening to kill dissidents, and in which moderates are branded as traitors, is very effective in inhibiting an alternative approach.

• Poor leadership—first by the wacky Yasser Arafat and now by the weak Mahmoud Abbas, the PA leader—has prevented what has happened in many other movements: a strong, competent leader persuading the people of what they must do in order to gain a reasonable success. While Abbas is relatively moderate in Fatah terms, the majority of its leaders are quite hard line and continue to believe the traditional viewpoint.

• There are also some easy rationales. For example, a peace agreement with Israel can only be made if it would not block a “second round” in which a Palestinian state can continue trying to destroy Israel. Of course, that kind of agreement would never be acceptable to Israel. The PA has always rejected the idea that a peace agreement would explicitly be a final settlement of all claims, an end to the conflict forever. The last resort of all is to argue that this generation has no right to “give up” the claim on all of Israel since, even if it cannot achieve that victory, it must leave the opportunity opemn for a future generations to do so.

The peace process of the 1990s was an experiment to see if things had changed or could be changed by confidence-building measures and the creation of a Palestinian state-in-the-making. The experiment failed. It showed the answer was “no.”  The rise of radical Islam and the absence of a strong leader has made the situation worse than it was in that earlier period.

These problems cannot be waved away by good intentions or clever peace plans. They will prevent an end to the conflict for decades until Palestinian leadership and ideology changes.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at http://www.gloria-center.org and of his blog, Rubin Reports, http://www.rubinreports.blogspot.com.

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Another chance for progress in the Middle East

Editorial, Washington Post, December 14, 2010

PRESIDENT OBAMA'S embarrassing retreat in Middle East diplomacy may eventually be revealed as a blessing in disguise. The administration was forced to abandon an effort to renew direct peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians. But its fallback position - separate negotiations with the two sides - might offer a better chance of making progress toward a two-state settlement.

The direct talks, which Mr. Obama launched in September, were soon stalled by a pointless controversy over Israel's settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. In desperation, the administration made an ill-advised attempt to restart the process last month by offering Israel major economic and political concessions in exchange for a building moratorium of just 90 days. By scrapping that plan as well as the direct talks, Mr. Obama should succeed, at least, in disposing of the settlement controversy, which was created largely by his own missteps.

More important, the new U.S. strategy outlined by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton offers the United States a chance to achieve what it should have been seeking all along: forcing both sides to spell out where they stand on the fundamental issues involved in creating a Palestinian state. "We will push the parties to lay out their positions on the core issues without delay and with real specificity," Ms. Clinton said in a speech Friday. "We will work to narrow the gaps, asking the tough questions and expecting substantive answers."

This approach should allow the administration to test a much-repeated piece of conventional wisdom: that Israelis and Palestinians already know what each side must concede to strike a deal, and that they must only summon the will to do so. Unfortunately, it may turn out that the nostrum is wrong, at least when it comes to current leaders. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, for example, issued a statement on Sunday repudiating a speech by his own defense minister, who said in Washington that terms outlined by President Bill Clinton a decade ago would inevitably prevail.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, for his part, turned down an offer from Mr. Netanyahu's predecessor that was similar to that of Mr. Clinton. Even some of the would-be international brokers concede that changes in recent years - especially Iran's supplying client armies in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip - mean that new ideas will be needed.

That's why it's important that Ms. Clinton's policy outline contained a second element: continued U.S. efforts to help the Palestinian Authority build working institutions and security forces in the West Bank. Progress on that front is far more feasible in the next few months than is striking an accord on statehood, and it will have a more immediate impact on the lives of Palestinians. If Palestinians can show Israelis, and the world, that they are ready to govern a peaceful and democratic state, what now looks like an unbridgeable divide could start to narrow.

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