Israeli responses to Arab protests

Uri Avnery has written, in his weekly article, that [sarcasm alert here] “JERUSALEM IS abuzz with brilliant new ideas. The brightest minds of our political establishment are grappling with the problems created by the ongoing Arab revolution that is reshaping the landscape around us”.

The Avnery article continues: “Minister of Defense Ehud Barak has announced that he is going to ask the US for a grant of another 20 billion dollars for more state-of-the-art fighter planes, missile boats, a submarine, troop carriers and so on. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had his picture taken surrounded by female soldiers – like Muammar Qaddafi in the good old days – looking beyond the Jordan River and announcing that the Israeli army would never ever leave the Jordan valley. According to him, this occupied strip of land is Israel’s vital ‘security border’. This slogan is as old as the occupation itself. It was part of the celebrated Allon Plan, which was designed to surround the West Bank with Israeli territory. Incidentally, the father of the plan, Yigal Allon, was also a leader of the Kibbutz movement, and the Jordan valley looked to him like an ideal area for new Kibbutzim – it is flat, well watered and was sparsely populated. However, times have changed. When Allon was a legendary commander in the 1948 war, he did not even dream of missiles. Today, missiles launched from beyond the Jordan can easily reach my home in Tel Aviv. When Netanyahu declares that we need the Jordan valley in order to stop the Arabs from smuggling missiles into the West Bank, he is, well, a little bit behind the times. When the politicians bravely face the new world, the army dares not lag behind. This week, several division commanders announced that they were preparing for Tahrir-style ‘non-violent mass uprisings’ in the West Bank. Troops are trained, riot control means are stocked. Our glorious army is being prepared for yet another colonial police job … In the meantime, a dozen top politicians, from Avigdor Lieberman down, have been dusting off moribund plans for ‘interim agreements’ – old merchandise sitting sadly on the shelves, with no buyers in sight”.

Can Israel build bridges to possible new “progressive, multi-party” Arab societies?, Avnery asks … and answers: “I believe we can. But the absolute, unalterable precondition is that we make peace with the Palestinian people. [Yet] It is the unshakable – and self-fulfilling – conviction of the entire Israeli establishment that this is impossible. They are quite right – as long as they are in charge, it is indeed impossible. But with another leadership, will things be different? … A peace agreement – signed by the PLO, ratified in a popular referendum, accepted by Hamas – will radically change the attitude of the Arab peoples in general towards Israel. This is not simply a matter of form – it goes deep into the bedrock of national consciousness. Not one of the ongoing uprisings in the various Arab countries is anti-Israeli by nature. Nowhere do the Arab masses cry out for war. Indeed, the idea of war contradicts their basic aspirations: social progress, freedom, a standard of living which allows a life in dignity. However, as long as the occupation of Palestinian territory goes on, the Arab masses will reject conciliation with Israel … Therefore, Israel will crop up in every free election campaign in the Arab countries, and every party will feel obliged to condemn Israel. ONE ARGUMENT against peace, endlessly repeated by our official propaganda, is that Hamas will never accept it. The specter of Islamist movements in other countries winning democratic elections – as Hamas did in Palestine – is painted on the wall as a mortal danger. It may be worthwhile remembering that Hamas was effectively created by Israel in the first place. During the first decades of the occupation, the military governors forbade any kind of Palestinian political activity, even by those who were advocating peace with Israel. Activists were sent to prison. There was only one exception: Islamists. Not only was it impossible to prevent them from assembling in the mosques – the only public space left open – but the military governors were told to encourage Islamist organizations, as a counterforce to the PLO, which was considered the main enemy … On the outbreak of the first intifada, the Islamist movement constituted itself as Hamas (“Islamic Resistance Movement”) and took up the fight”.

Now, Avnery asks, “Will Hamas accept peace? It has declared as much in a roundabout way: if the Palestinian Authority makes peace, they have declared, and if the peace agreement is ratified by a Palestinian referendum, Hamas will accept it as an expression of the people’s will”.

This Avnery article is an interesting compliment to remarks made by former Mossad Director [he served three terms] Efraim (Ephraim) Halevy to members of the Foreign Press Association at a briefing at the Foreign Press Association last Thursday.

Halevy was presenting the results of a study — entitled “Future Borders between Israel and the Palestinian Authority” — done by the Shasha Center for Strategic Studies, which he heads, at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Federmann School for Public Policy and Government.

Halevy — who told the journalists: “I was an intelligence officer for 48 years — noted that the study is an academic effort which will be sent to “both addresses” (Israeli and Palestinian?), and which was conducted entirely independently of any developments within the current Israeli government (which he said at another point was “weak”), although Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu has announced that he plans to present, soon, some kind of “long-term” but “interim” solution.

Halevy said that the study concluded that the most viable solution would be “no solution” to the Palestinian-Israeli dispute. Paradoxically, he said, the participants agreed that an “agreed-upon international border”, meaning a peace treaty (or a part of one) was not possible, though it was desirable, because “We believe that the penalty or price that would be paid for keeping a no-solution situation is so high and so prohibitive … that both sides would prefer any other solution”.

For the Palestinians, he said, “saying that after all these efforts there is no solution, might well mean the end of existence of the Palestinian Authority (PA)”. And, he added, “even if a Palestinian State is declared, but it’s not operative, this would be political bankruptcy”.

“Israel can live longer with no solution”, Halevy said, “but the penalty the Palestinians will pay is much greater … They can’t live with no solution … and for us [Israel], the existence of the PA is a major interest”.

What is needed is not an “end of conflict” (a term used by previous Israeli governments from Ehud Barak to Ehud Olmert), Halevy noted, but rather an “agreement on co-existence”. While the initial reaction might be, “Oh no, we don’t want this”, Halevy said, “at the end of the day, if you have to choose between bad and worse”, this might be the better option.

This would be better, he said, because [a] the time frame would be less, therefore the chances for implementation would be greater (“you cannot make a commitment for somebody else in the future to implement”); and also because [b] the opposition is much less on both sides, because “we wouldn’t be signing off in the end of the conflict, and in Israel we’ll continue to live the kind of live we have today — in terms of economy, education, and style of life”. For the Palestinians, he said, such an agreement on co-existence would also have a virtue: “maybe we really don’t want a referendum because we can’t guarantee the results”, while for Hamas in particular, he said, “they have been asking for a while for a temporary solution, and they, as spoilers, would give the Palestinians the necessary consensus” to support this “agreement on co-existence”.

Halevy said, in answer to a journalist’s question, that yes, he did see such an agreement as a step along the way to a permanent solution and not an end in itself, as the Palestinians fear it would be. He added that ultimately borders would not have the same significance that they have today – but, he said “it will take generations, and much education”.

In any ase, he said there is now “growing unrest in the West Bank — in terms of conflict between Jewish and Arab populations — and a whole list of possible developments that could be negative for Palestinians in the West Bank that would make the whole solution fall apart, and would cause the loss of the benefits if sitting around in cafés in Ramallah and Nablus”. However, he said, he saw “no great appetite to go back to [Intifada-style] violence in the West Bank”.

He noted that he had recently written in Yediot Ahronot that “Israel is a threat-prone society … but fear is not a policy”.

And, he said, “we’ll know in a couple of weeks what the consequences will be in the West Bank and Gaza” of the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and elsewhere. “I do not feel there will be a copy-cat phenomenon”, but “I do feel there are pressures on the PA to do something, and to do it quick”.

The result of the uprisings, he said, is that “the timetable is much shorter now, and if by September nothing happens, it’s too late”. He indicated later that he was referring to the end-date of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s two year program for the establishment of institutions of a Palestinian State (not, he said, to the possible, or probable, moves in the UN Security Council and UN General Assembly to secure full UN membership for such a Palestinian State).

He said, however, that he didn’t think it’s going to happen, but he did say that by the end of the year we’ll be in a new situation”.

“We don’t have time to mess around”, Halevy added, because the net result is that the uprisings in North Africa have “accelerated the pace of events”.

It was earlier predicted that 2011 would be critical, Halevy said, and “I think yes, 2011 is a critical year”.