Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

The state of Israeli/Palestinian relations

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Update from AIJAC

December 13, 2012
Number 12/12 #03

This Update deals with three pieces of analysis on the state of Israeli-Palestinian relations in the wake of the UN  vote on "non-member state" status and other recent events.

First up is noted Israeli academic analyst and former UN Ambassador Dore Gold, offering some advice on Israeli diplomacy in the wake of the UN vote. He notes that, despite hints to the contrary prior to the UN vote, there is no sign that the Palestinian Authority (PA) is at all prepared to drop its preconditions and resume peace negotiations with Israel - and indeed the long-standing pre-conditions for talks have now been publicly re-affirmed by PA President Abbas. He says Israel and the Palestinians have been talking a very different language, with most Israeli discourse focussed on how to make negotiations work, but the Palestinians have felt no need to prove their commitment to peacemaking, and thus have focussed on discourse which supports and strengthens their uncompromising core demands. For Gold's analysis of this trend and advice on how Israel should respond, CLICK HERE.

Next up, Emanuele Ottolenghi of the Foundation for the Defence of Democracy tries to put the PA's UN bid into the context of the history of Palestinian leadership throughout the Arab-Israel conflict. He exposes a long history of believing that " the international community can deliver what Israel cannot or will not concede through direct talks" and he sees the latest UN efforts as fitting firmly into that historical approach. For this argument in full, CLICK HERE. Making a similar argument to Ottolenghi, Jonathan Tobin argues that Palestinian nationalism and identity is still trapped in the rejectionist "Spirit of 1947", when an Arab state was turned down to prevent the establishment of a Jewish one.

Finally, Barry Rubin argues that the UN decision essentially tears up the Oslo agreement at the heart of the peace process, and of the PA's existence, with the support of Oslo's international guarantors and the only conclusion one can draw is that, despite what the rest of the world thinks, the priority of the Palestinian leadership is not to gain a state beside Israel, but to keep the conflict in play until they can gain total victory. Furthermore, he concludes from the world's behaviour that there is nothing Israel can do - including supplying a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders - that would prevent the international community from backing whatever further demands the Palestinian make, or get them to pressure the Palestinians to keep their written commitments. For the rest of what he has to say, CLICK HERE. Also emphasising Israel's internal strength in the wake of a challenging environment is Israeli academic Ira Sharkansky.

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Israeli diplomacy within the corridor of Palestinian unilateralism

Dore Gold


Israel Hayom, Dec. 7 

The rumor that the Palestinian leadership systematically spread over the last few months was that immediately after the U.N. General Assembly upgraded the Palestinian delegation to the U.N., Mahmoud Abbas would renew negotiations with Israel without any of the famous pre-conditions he has set since 2009: prior Israeli agreement to the 1967 lines as the basis of negotiations and a settlement freeze including construction in Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem. Since these preconditions were never placed before any previous Israeli government, from Rabin to Olmert, there was a basis for questioning what were Abbas's true motives in demanding them. By saying that they would be removed, Palestinian representatives could argue that the U.N. initiative was not seeking to wreck negotiations but rather to get them back on track.

This argument was particularly important to make with the European states like Germany, who were planning to oppose the Palestinians at the U.N., but were persuaded at that last minute to abstain. To secure their support for the upgrade resolution at the U.N., Abbas went public with this argument during November. After a meeting with Arab League foreign ministers in Cairo on November 12, Abbas himself said on the record: "if it is possible to start peace talks the following day then we are ready for that." He was quoted by a reporter for Reuters News Agency. Later, Time Magazine reported on Nov. 28, a day before the General Assembly convened, that Abbas "promised to return to talks immediately after the U.N. vote."

It should have come as no surprise that after the vote on Nov. 29, Abbas did not budge on his famous pre-conditions. He even used the U.N. resolution as future terms of reference that Israel must agree to if negotiations are ever to be resumed. There are many possible explanations for his behavior. After repeated rounds of negotiations with Israeli leaders over the last two decades, he may simply have lost faith in ever reaching an agreement with Israel. He knew the Palestinians' demands and was familiar with the limits of what Israel could concede. In fact, back in 2009, he revealed to Jackson Diehl of The Washington Post that he turned down Ehud Olmert's final proposal because the gaps were still too wide to conclude a peace treaty.

Looking at internal Palestinian politics, real negotiations with Israel in any case would also require Palestinian concessions. Yet since 2006, Hamas has become a growing force in Palestinian political life. With the demise of the regime of President Hosni Mubarak, in particular, Hamas' advantages over Mahmoud Abbas have grown, further diminishing his room for maneuver. Indeed, after coming under attack from Hamas leader, Ismail Hanniyeh, the Palestinian Authority quickly backtracked from Abbas' interview on Channel 2 with Udi Segal, which was being interpreted in Israel as though he had compromised the Palestinian demand for a "right of return," by saying that he personally would not go back to live in Safed. In short, the last thing that Mahmoud Abbas needs at this point are real negotiations with Israel.

Looking at the way Israel and the Palestinians have acted over the last decade and a half it is clear that they have each been driven by two very different kinds of diplomatic logic. On the one hand, Israelis from the main political parties have been consumed with how to make negotiations work. They have tried to understand what the Palestinians need to reach an agreement and have frequently made concessions up front before sitting down with the other side. They used language as a confidence-building measure with the other side.

Thus when the Palestinians declared that they must obtain a full withdrawal from the West Bank to the 1967 lines, unfortunately, there have been a number of Israeli politicians who thought they should offer the equivalent territory, so that the Palestinians obtain the same amount of land regardless of where the final border is located. This kind of diplomatic flexibility was also used to prove a politician bona fide as a peacemaker with the Israeli public and with international elites.

However, by following this kind of thinking, long-standing Israeli diplomatic positions have been badly eroded and international expectations raised about the extent to which Israeli will concede. This approach involved ignoring U.N. resolutions, like U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, that supported Israel's territorial claims as well as past U.S. guarantees that Israel would not have to withdraw to the 1967 lines.

On the other hand, the Palestinians were driven by an entirely different political logic. They did not feel that they had to prove to anyone the sincerity of their commitment to peacemaking. They did not have to take into account Israeli positions, thus while formal Israeli positions over the last decade and a half moved significantly, the Palestinians did not move one inch.

Moreover, Abbas felt confident enough to adopt a unilateralist strategy already in early 2009 while Olmert was still in power. In January, his minister of justice turned to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to get its prosecutor to already designate the Palestinian Authority as a state, which would allow the ICC to have jurisdiction in cases of Palestinian claims against Israeli officers. Undoubtedly, he already had his eyes on the U.N. doing the same.

Abbas also understood that part of the unilateralist strategy involved a long-term effort to win increasing Western backing for the positions he was advancing. That is why he never gave up on using the U.N. to adopt hostile resolutions against Israel, even during the height of the peace process in the 1990s. His advisers specifically say that Abbas put in a reference to the 1967 lines in the recent U.N. General Assembly resolution because of this "war of ideas" he was conducting. It was important to them to counter the Israeli claim that the territories are disputed.

Abbas' war of ideas also involved elements of delegitimization of Israel, especially statements that denied the Jewish historical connection to Jerusalem and the State of Israel. An official Palestinian Authority book published this year insisted that the word "colonialist" be used when describing Israel, otherwise "the Zionist endeavor" will be turned from a "racist" project into "an endeavor for self-definition and independence for the Jewish people." For the Palestinian side, words were not used as "confidence-building measures" but as instruments to be employed for political warfare.

Thus at every opportunity, Palestinian spokesmen hammered this point. Just recently, Nabil Shaath wrote an opinion piece in the Daily Telegraph against the Balfour Declaration, ninety-five years after it was issued, arguing: "Balfour, on behalf of Britain, promised Palestine — over which Britain had no legal right — to a people who did not even live there." The Palestinians, he concluded, were a "victim of British colonialism." In his twisted analysis, that was the context for the birth of Israel. Shaath was not trying to reach out to the Israeli side to make peace, but rather to fully discredit its national rights.

Currently, Israel's problem is that it is being forced to suddenly change its diplomacy after years of talking about how to make negotiations work. If in the past there has been an Israeli reluctance to spell out explicitly what Israel's territorial requirements for its security are, that will now have to change.

After all, how can Israel suddenly annex those areas in the future if Abbas decides to formally declare a state in an effort to alter the legal status of the West Bank right up to the 1967 lines? The Palestinian upgrade initiative at the U.N. did not go that far and did not alter the situation on the ground so far. But what if Abbas goes further down this path? What was thought to be helpful in the context of negotiations actually negates Israeli interests in a unilateralist scenario, which the Palestinians appear to have decided to adopt.

Moreover, Israel cannot wage an international struggle against a withdrawal to the 1967 lines, unless it explains why that would be a disaster for Israel's future. Finally, as seen this week, it is hard to get international acquiescence to Israeli construction over the Green Line, even if it is confined to the settlement blocs, unless it is made clear repeatedly that there are parts of the West Bank from which Israel will not withdraw.

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Palestine's strangely stubborn state of mind

Half a century of lost battles taught mightier powers to change their mindset – think of Germany after two world wars. The Palestinians never seem to learn

Emanuele Ottolenghi

The Commentator, 8 December 2012

The UN vote upgrading the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) to a non-member state with observer status has done nothing to move the cause of Palestinian statehood forward. Instead, it repeats the old adage of Palestinian history: rather than seeking compromise with Israel, Palestinian leaders have again put the fate of their cause into the hands of others, foolishly believing that others will deliver what they themselves are not capable of obtaining.

When nations gathered at the United Nations in 1947 to vote on the UN plan to establish two states – one Jewish, one Arab – in Mandatory Palestine, Palestinian leaders trusted the Arab League. They opposed compromise, since they hoped Arab armies would win the entire country by force. They did not.

Once Palestine was lost, for nearly two decades Palestinian leaders trusted the standard bearers of Arab nationalism to restore them to power and destroy Israel. Instead of asking Jordan – who occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem – and Egypt – who conquered Gaza – to turn those areas into a Palestinian state, Palestinian leaders trusted their Arab patrons to arm for a second victorious round.

Irredentism produced the opposite though: in 1967, Israel repelled the combined onslaught of the Arab world and took over what remained of the Old Mandate.

Half a century of lost battles taught mightier powers to change their mindset – think of Germany after two world wars!

Not so with Palestinian leaders – they embraced the Arab League’s decision, in the summer of 1967, to reject any opening to Israel and continued to wage war. Terrorism was a natural consequence of such an attitude – beneath the murderous acts that followed for nearly two decades rested the foolish belief that Israel could be done with by killing innocents abroad – thereby swaying public opinion in favour of Palestinian grievances.

Public opinion swayed eventually, but still no state.

Even as the PLO replaced Arab leaders as the standard bearer of Palestinian aspirations, their cause did not advance –the late PLO leader, Yasser Arafat, skilfully played Arab intramurals and non-aligned movement politics, but never renounced the old compromise-averse all-demands-and-no-concessions’ stand of Palestinian nationalism.

He relied on whichever Arab leader would champion his cause – and fought anyone who dared encourage compromise with Israel. That brought more grief onto the Palestinians than all the wars with Israel combined. Arafat’s brief stint in Jordan ended with its king, the late Hussein, slaughtering thousands of Palestinians to save his throne.

Arafat’s reliance on Saddam Hussein cost hundreds of thousands of Palestinians their livelihoods in Kuwait in 1991 – after the emirate was liberated – and in Iraq in 2003 after Saddam was deposed. The one leader who sought to negotiate a compromise for the Palestinians was Anwar Sadat – and Arafat called for his assassination to thank him for that “crime.”

In the end, no patron could do for the Palestinian cause more than the Palestinians were prepared to do themselves.

For a brief moment, in the early phases of the Oslo process, the PLO realized that, if it ever was to fulfil its dream of statehood, it would have to negotiate directly with Israel instead of relying on others to deliver its goals on a silver platter.

That the Oslo process turned into a failed opportunity is largely due to the fact that, as the moment of truth beckoned, Arafat chose to revert to habit and put his people’s fate away from direct negotiations and back into the hands of armed gangs on the ground and the international community in the corridors of diplomacy.

Hoping that international pressure could deliver him the deal that talks with Israel could not, in late 2000 Arafat unleashed the Second Intifada. Twelve years later, and eight years after his death, Palestinian leaders are still grappling with this legacy, unable to fully distance themselves from the path of violence embraced by Hamas and still tempted to believe that the international community can deliver what Israel cannot or will not concede through direct talks.

The UN vote upgrading the PLO's status at the UN to "observer state" is thus a continuation of this old adage – and it promises more of the same.

Mahmoud Abbas’ diplomatic victory does not deliver a state on the ground. It does not alter the balance of forces between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. It does not solve the power deadlock between the PA government in the West Bank and the Hamas government in Gaza. It certainly does not restore Abbas’ rule over Gaza. And it definitely will not bring peace closer.

Much like Arafat’s proclamation of a Palestinian state in 1988, the UN General Assembly vote is a farce. Palestine is not a state – 40 percent of the territory it claims is ruled by its rival, Hamas, and much of the rest is still under full Israeli control or joint PA-Israel rule.

What the latest chapter of Palestinian efforts to push others to deliver them a state does is to increase the theatrical aspect of Palestinian statehood – all the paraphernalia of a state, without a state. Adding an observer seat, along with the Vatican, on the UN roster will no doubt boost the Palestinian ego – and empower the PLO to sue Israel in the International Criminal Court. But independence, as in the past, will remain elusive.

All this was avoidable – the other option was direct negotiations between the parties, a process which demands give and take. Palestinian history, unfortunately, offers no precedent for that.

Mahmoud Abbas’ decision to take the UN route, sadly, is the latest chapter of this unfortunate story. The PLO can now call itself a state. Whether it ever gets to preside over one, is a different story.

Emanuele Ottolenghi is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington DC.

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Israel Has No Other Alternative But the Alternative it Has is a Good One

By Barry Rubin

Rubin Reports, 10 Dec 2012


The Palestinian leadership, abetted by many Western governments, has now torn up every agreement it made with Israel. Once the efforts of two decades of negotiations—including irrevocable Israeli compromises in giving the Palestinian Authority control over territory, its own armed forces, dismantling settlements, and permitting billions of dollars of foreign aid to the Palestinians—were destroyed, the world has decided to focus the blame on Israel approving the construction of 3000 apartments.

In 1993, Israel signed an agreement with the PLO to make peace in the Israel-Palestinian conflict. The accord, known as the Oslo agreement, included the following passage in Article 31:

“Neither side shall initiate or take any step that will change the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip pending the outcome of the permanent status negotiations.”

By essentially unilaterally declaring the existence of an Arab Palestine, the world has abrogated that agreement.

What is shocking is not just that this has happened but there has been no discussion much less hesitation by dozens of countries to destroy an agreement that they hitherto supported. Indeed, a study of the history of this agreement shows clearly that the Palestinian side prevented the accord from succeeding, most obviously by permitting and carrying out continuing terrorism and rejecting Israeli offers for a Palestinian state with its capital in east Jerusalem both in the 2000 Camp David summit and in the ensuing offer conveyed by President Bill Clinton at the end of that year.

Now there are certain implications of this move. I am completely aware that virtually no one in a position of power in the Western world cares about these implications but it is necessary to remind them and others of just what they have done.  And at least the Western public should know how this all looks from an Israeli perspective, information often denied it altogether or distorted by the mass media.

--They have rewarded the party that refused to make peace.

--They have rewarded the side that rejected the offer of a state and pursued violence instead, cheering the murder of Israeli civilians.

--They have removed the framework on the basis of which Israel made numerous risky concessions including letting hundreds of thousands of Palestinians enter the West Bank and Gaza Strip; establish a government; obtain billions of dollars of money; created military organizations that have been used to attack Israel; establish schools and other institutions which call and teach for Israel’s destruction; and a long list of other things.

As a result of these concessions, terrorists were able to strike into Israel. Today, Hamas and its allies can fire thousands of rockets into Israel. Israel has paid for the 1993 deal; the Palestinian Authority has only taken what it has wanted.

Abbas Zaki, a member of the Fatah Central Committee, was one of many who stated that the Oslo Accords have now ceased to exist. What then governs the situation and Israel-Palestinian (Palestine?) relations?

Nothing.

There is, for example, no standing for any claim that the Palestinian side has recognized—much less accepted—Israel’s existence. Indeed, a “one-state solution” is daily advocated by Palestinian leaders.

Yet the world’s outrage is reserved for Israel’s announcement that 3000 apartments will be constructed on land claimed by Israel on the West Bank, all built on settlements whose existence until a bilateral agreement was reached was accepted by the PLO and the Palestinian Authority. Incidentally, repeatedly decisions of Israeli zoning boards that permit construction in future provoke global hysteria about the bulldozers moving in next week. Perhaps if the Palestinian Authority would make peace those buildings would never get built in a few years.

Whether or not the announcement of this construction was a good idea, the fact is that it is hardly the biggest outrage in what has just happened. The decision is a signal that if the Palestinian side, or indeed the world, isn’t going to recognize what was in effect a treaty—contrary to international practice—and in favor of the side that violated the treaty—even more contrary to international practice—Israel is not going to be bound by the interpretation of that document by those who have torn it up.

Again, what’s important here is not to complain about the unfairness of international life, the hypocrisy of those involved, and the double standards applied against Israel. This is the reality of the situation and must be the starting point for considering what to do.

And what’s important is to do that which is necessary to preserve Israel’s national security and to ignore to the greatest possible extent anything that subverts it.

What has experience taught us? Very simply this: The Palestinian leadership's priority is not on getting a state of their own--they have missed many opportunities to do so--but to gain total victory. No matter how much you might think it is rational for them to seek to have a country living peacefully alongside Israel forever as it develops its economy and culture and resettles refugees out of the camps they do not think so. And that's all that's important.

Taking a state of that kind  is only acceptable to the PA, and even more to the Hamas, leadership  if it serves to promote that goal. Even if moderation provides material rewards they prefer militancy. But after all, suffering--even if self-inflicted--brings massive political gains for them.

What has the world's behavior taught us? Very simply this: Nothing we can do will suffice. If Israel were to accept unconditionally a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders with its capital in east Jerusalem, the Palestinian Authority would then demand that all Palestinians who so wished and had an ancestor living there before 1948 must be admitted to Israel with full voting and all other rights. And then what would the UN do?

What has diplomacy taught us? That the other side will not keep commitments and those guaranteeing those commitments will not keep their word to do so. And then they will complain that Israel doesn't take more risks, give more concessions, and defend itself too vigorously.

Well, that's the way things are and in some ways they've been like that for decades; from a Jewish standpoint, for centuries. So what else is new?

Of course, all the proper statements will be made and the diplomatic options pursued by Israel. They will not make any difference on the rhetorical dynamics but their point is to limit the material effects.

That is not a pessimistic assessment at all. Basically, this process has now been going on for about 40 years. It will continue to go on, partly because the West has been and will continue to be content with purely symbolic anti-Israel measures so it can reap some public relations’ benefits without any costs. The quality of existence is more important than the quality of the ability to justify one's existence.

By coincidence, several surveys have just been published which pertain to Israel’s achievements in the face of such obstacles as small size, lack of resources, international hostility, and war waged against it by neighbors.

In its November 21, 2012,  issue, The Economist Intelligence Unit, a respected research group which is part of The Economist (which has been bitterly anti-Israel in recent years) published a study—“The lottery of life: Where to be born in 2013””-- of the best places for a baby to be born in 2013 and subsequently live its life. Israel was rated at number 20, just behind the United States (20, incidentally down from being number 1 in the 1980s!) and ahead of Italy (21), France (26), and Britain (27).

In the World Happiness Report, Israel rated 14th and in health it was in the 6th position, ahead of the United States, Germany, Britain, and France.

Living well, as the saying goes, is the best revenge. Meanwhile, Israel’s neighbors don’t get criticized by the UN—many of them get elected to the Human Rights Council despite their records—but are sinking into violence, disaster, and new dictatorships.

So which fate is preferable? To win the wars forced on you, to develop high living standards, to enjoy real democratic life, or to writhe under the torture of dictators, terrorists, and totalitarian ideologies?

Israel's fate includes to be slandered, its actions and society so often distorted by those responsible for conveying accurate information to their own societies. And that also means to be attacked violently by its neighbors, though it can minimize the effectiveness of that violence.  Like our ancestors we have to deal with this bizarre situation, this mistreatment that others don't even understand still exists.

But we cannot let this nonsensical excuse for reality drive us mad or make us mad.

There are only three ways, which must be combined, to survive: to believe truthful things, do constructive things, and laugh at the absurdity of the situation.

For such a set of alternatives to exist--the fictional world of hypocritical and misinformed Israel-bashing or the real world --is ridiculous, empowered by the behavior of the world and especially by the West.

But that’s what does exist in this early twenty-first century era.

Truly, as the Israeli saying puts it and as the story of the Oslo agreement so vividly proves, en breira, there’s no choice. Fortunately, the real-life alternative available is a good one. Go ahead; do what's necessary; reconcile everyone possible; but don't let that stand in the way of survival.

And, to paraphrase Bob Dylan, Time will tell just who fell and who's been left behind. When you go your way and I go mine.

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