Do the Americans know how to do peace talks? Can they get a final status agreement within nine months?

Well, they have tried it before — the Annapolis process, Wye River, Camp David July 2000 and let’s not forget former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker announcing “here’s my phone number, call me when you’re ready”…]

Kerry's Iftar - full table - US State Dept on Monday 29 July 2013

Kerry’s Iftar – full table – US State Dept on Monday 29 July 2013

Above photo Tweeted by @michelghandour + posted here

Secretary Kerry Iftar dinner for Israeli + Palestinian Negotiators
Secretary Kerry Iftar dinner for Israeli + Palestinian Negotiators

Photo taken + Tweeted by AP Photographer Charles Dharapak + posted here

Israerli + Palestinian negotiators at Secretary Kerry Iftar Dinner
Israeli + Palestinian negotiators at Secretary Kerry Iftar Dinner

Photo taken + Tweeted by AP Photographer Charles Dharapak + posted here

So, as Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said at a joint press conference in Washington on Tuesday evening [with an emotion-laden voice, before apparently impulsively kissing U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on both cheeks],  there’s now a second chance:

“A new opportunity is being created for us, for all of us, and we cannot afford to waste it…”

Saeb Erekat + John Kerry + Tzipi Livni after press conference Tuesday
Saeb Erekat + John Kerry + Tzipi Livni after press conference Tuesday

Photo taken + Tweeted by AP Photographer Charles Dharapak + posted here

Kerry said, at the beginning of the press conference on Tuesday, that:

“As all of you know, it has taken an awful lot of work and a long time, a lot of time, to reach this new moment of possibility in the pursuit of an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”.

He said one striking thing at the end of his prepared remarks:

“I think everyone involved here believes that we cannot pass along to another generation the responsibility of ending a conflict that is in our power to resolve in our time. They should not be expected to bear that burden, and we should not leave it to them. They should not be expected to bear the pain of continued conflict or perpetual war”.

And in between, he said:

“The United States will work continuously with both parties as a facilitator every step of the way. We all understand the goal that we’re working towards: two states living side by side in peace and security. Two states because two proud peoples each deserve a country to call their own. Two states because the children of both peoples deserve the opportunity to realize their legitimate aspirations in security and in freedom. And two states because the time has come for a lasting peace.

We all appreciate – believe me – we appreciate the challenges ahead. But even as we look down the difficult road that is before us and consider the complicated choices that we face, we cannot lose sight of something that is often forgotten in the Middle East, and that is what awaits everybody with success. We need to actually change the way we think about compromise in order to get to success. Compromise doesn’t only mean giving up something or giving something away; reasonable principled compromise in the name of peace means that everybody stands to gain. Each side has a stake in the other’s success, and everyone can benefit from the dividends of peace.

We simply wouldn’t be standing here if the leaders – President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu – and their designated negotiators and all of us together didn’t believe that we could get there”…

A few weeks ago, just after Kerry’s flying visit to Ramallah on 19 July, Rami G. Khouri wrote here: “I have not given up hope that a negotiated peace can one day be achieved, but I pretty much have given up hope that it can be attained through renewed negotiations mediated these days by the United States … It is impossible to expect both sides under their current leaderships to make major substantive concessions on core issues simply in order to get to the negotiating table, where they will not be able to agree on a final accord that addresses the big sticker items of land, settlements refugees, and Jerusalem. The strategy now being used seeks to formulate vague agreements simply to resume negotiations will not work because the imprecision of positions on settlements, borders or mutual recognition necessary to restart the talks only cements the inability of both sides to achieve a permanent, comprehensive agreement”.

So what happened in the last ten days? One thing, apparently, was the U.S. issuance of still-unpublished “letter[s] of assurance”, in which the American administration took a stand in favor of concrete positions [such as, the negotiations will be based on pre-4-June 1967 borders, which changed things for the Palestinians…]

US President Obama + VP Biden meet Palestinian + Israeli negotiators
US President Obama + VP Biden meet Palestinian + Israeli negotiators

This photo was Tweeted by the US State Department and is posted here.

Now, Khouri wrote, in a piece entitled “What Do We Learn from 45 Years of Negotiations?”, syndicated by Agence Global and posted here, that he was disappointed in Kerry’s call, Monday [and Tuesday] for a “reasonable compromise” — Khouri said Kerry “sounded more like a high school guidance counselor speaking to teenagers who had an argument”.

Continue reading Do the Americans know how to do peace talks? Can they get a final status agreement within nine months?

Abu Mazen scheduled at Netanyahu's official residence in Jerusalem at 5pm

So, he must already have arrived.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) is to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at Netanyahu’s official residence in Jerusalem — the warmth of the invitation no doubt intended to melt resistance and encourage agreement, even as the Palestinian negotiators face the realization that the will have to stay the course, whatever happens to the settlement freeze…

UPDATE: The U.S. is reportedly suggesting/requesting a three-month continuation of the freeze-that-never-was-a- real-freeze…

Laura Rozen suggests here that there is logic to the idea that Netanyahu + Abu Mazen already be scheduled to meet (perhaps also with Clinton) in another week’s time in New York, in the “margins” of the UN General Assembly’s annual high-level session.

Abu Mazen’s predecessor, the late Yasser Arafat, never got officially invited to Jerusalem (though it is said he was allowed to pass through, in an extremely low-key way, while en route from Ramallah to Bethlehem one time…)

Why is Abu Mazen going through with this?  For reasons that Hillary Clinton will not see, ever, while in Jerusalem or driving through the West Bank for her meeting with Abu Mazen and — of course — also with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad tomorrow…

Amira Hass wrote in Haaretz today that “A peace agreement is not a contract. It requires a change of values of a kind that does not exist within the vocabulary of the democratic Jewish state, which elevates the system of double standards to a level of virtuosity.  The people of this state are incapable of imagining themselves departing from the privileges that this system confers. And who cares if the flip side of those privileges is dispossession, suppression of freedoms and the risk of regional conflagration? The day before yesterday, Science and Technology Minister Daniel Hershkowitz (Habayit Hayehudi ) was interviewed on Army Radio’s morning broadcast, and argued that it was impossible to continue the construction freeze in the West Bank settlements while the Palestinians went on building and building. One cannot expect an interviewer on Army Radio or Israel Radio to surprise and ask, for example: ‘Since the principle of equality is suddenly so important to the settlement lobby, why then residents of Nablus and East Jerusalem cannot have a housing project in Haifa or live in Ashkelon or in a panoramic neighborhood in the Galilee, while residents of Haifa and kibbutz Hazorea are allowed to build in Nablus Heights or in the East Jerusalem Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan? But the interviewer didn’t even correct a distortion of the facts and didn’t tell the listeners that the Palestinians cannot build at will. In the 62 percent of the West Bank under full Israeli control, known as Area C, Israel has frozen Palestinian construction for the past four decades. It can be assumed that the interviewer, despite numerous reports, is unaware of the building freeze beyond the pale of settlement allocated to the Palestinians. Natural growth only applies to Jews. In Area C, schools, kindergartens and water are only for Jews. The Mekorot Water Company’s wells in the Jordan Valley supply quantities of water to the settlements and their orchards. The water flows from the Palestinians’ land, and the pipes are fenced off. And the land is parched, because the Palestinians are not allowed to draw their own water from those pipes, as Israel imposes on them a quota which is not set to human beings’ needs. In the democratic Jewish state, within its virtual borders, it’s as clear as the sun rising in the east. If the American partner had wanted to, it would have demanded to begin evacuating the settlements, not only to continue the construction freeze. But the territory robbed by the separation barrier – Ariel, Givat Ze’ev, Ma’aleh Adumim, Efrat in its Anglo-Saxon elegance and East Jerusalem – are all within the consensus. Whose consensus? The people of the democratic Jewish state and evangelical Christians, of course. No one thinks to ask about the consensus among the residents of Palestinian cities and villages on whose land the settlements have been built. The millions of Palestinians don’t count at all”… This ref=”Amira Hass article can be read in full here.

Two days ago, Amira Hass revealed that, upon reflection, she has now come to the conclusion that it is worse to be Palestinian in [East] Jerusalem than in Gaza. She wrote in Haaretz: “I have found myself wondering which Palestinians have it the worst under the Israeli rule. For many years, I thought there was nothing worse than life in Gaza. I even argued my point with a friend, who claimed the absolute worst is to be a Palestinian with Israeli citizenship because ‘we live in the midst of the Nakba [1948 catastrophe] sites and experience the daily racism masquerading as democracy’. But for more than a year now, I have been vacillating between Gaza and Jerusalem. That is to say, I have been trying to decide which is worse – the isolation and insulation that Israel has imposed on Gaza (which includes being cut off from water sources and from the cultural, social and family ties those residents have with their People ); or the cynicism with which the decision makers continue to turn the population of East Jerusalem into welfare clients and slum dwellers, and then pride themselves of the national insurance payments they grant them. A visit to the [East Jerusalem] neighborhood of Isawiyah decided the issue. Heaps of concrete, uncollected garbage, roads that are becoming narrower due to pirate additions to buildings – forced on residents thanks to construction prohibitions and the expropriation of vacant lots – all lies in sight of the Hebrew University campus and the city’s French Hill, which are so green, spacious and civilized. And now a report from the Association for Civil Rights in Israel has confirmed my determination. The report, titled “Unsafe space: The Israeli authorities’ failure to protect human rights amid settlements in East Jerusalem“, is based on testimonies, media reports and official documents. It highlights the loss of personal and collective security in Jerusalem’s Palestinian neighborhoods, in the heart of which hostile bodies have settled over the past 30 years – settlers supported by millionaires and religious and archeological associations … The authorities who prevent Palestinians from building and developing their lands allocate vacant plots to the Jews, not only outside of the populated areas but also in their very heart. These spaces are allocated for parking or entertainment, archeological digs or construction. As these neighbors are the authorities’ darlings, confrontations are unavoidable, so the Housing and Construction Ministry provides hundreds of armed guards for the Jews at the public’s expense (some NIS 54 million in 2010 ). When [East Jerusalem] Palestinians complain to [Israeli] police about harassment [this would never happen in the West Bank], they find themselves treated like suspects. When they call the police, they feel like the officers are in no hurry to get there. And when police investigate cases in which Jews are suspected of causing bodily harm, these cases are closed swiftly. In this way, the Palestinians are left at the mercy of the aggressive, belligerent and officially sanctioned invaders. The guards, who are employed by a private company, think their position permits them to hit people, to act abusively and even to shoot. The people in whose midst these fortified complexes are sprawling are afraid to get in and out; relatives and friends think twice before coming to visit them. These complexes are also characterized by a great deal of noise – digging at archeological sites that goes on until night, and dancing and religious celebrations accompanied by anti-Arab songs… Ariel Rosenberg, the [Housing and Construction] ministry’s spokesman, firmly denies any claims that guards harass Palestinians and praises their professionalism and the instructions they receive to show restraint and forbearance. ‘In the past year’, he writes, ‘the situation in the area under discussion has significantly worsened and the guards are witness to extremely hostile activity’ … I have been able to memorize only a few Arabic adages. One I learned from one of the many villagers who was handed an expropriation order for his land. Sitting at the entrance to his home, he looked like he was attending a funeral. ‘To whom can a grain of wheat complain when the cock is the judge?’ he said, in response to my dumb question about what he planned to do”… And this Amira Hass article is posted here.d

Netayahu takes a stab at defining what he means by "national state of the Jewish people"

Two days before the second set of “direct” Israeli-Palestinian talks is due to start in Sharm ash-Sheikh, Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu made these public remarks during the weekly meeting of his Cabinet in Jerusalem on Sunday — taking a stab at defining what he means when he says Palestinians must recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people [this formulation is Netanyahu’s own improvement over the shorthand version used by previous Israeli Prime Ministers, beginning with Ariel Sharon, who have insisted that Palestinians should recognize Israel as a “Jewish State” — though, as can be seen below, Netanyahu slips this formulation in, as well].

Netanyahu said on Sunday that: “A peace agreement is based – first of all – on the recognition of Israel as the national state of the Jewish People. The conflict between us and the Palestinians, as opposed to other conflicts that were resolved by peace agreements, is over the same piece of ground. We say that the solution is two states for two peoples, meaning two national states, a Jewish national state and a Palestinian national state. To my regret, I have yet to hear from the Palestinians the phrase ‘two states for two peoples’. I hear them saying ‘two states’ but I do not hear them recognizing two states for two peoples. In 1947, David Ben-Gurion wrote in his diary, and I quote: ‘The state to be established will be Jewish in its role, its designation and its goal. Not a state of Jews who live in the country, but a state for the Jews, for the Jewish People.’ It is clear that his intention was that there would be full equality of civil rights in the Jewish national state, as indeed is the case in the State of Israel, but the foundation of the State of Israel is that it is the national state of the Jewish People. This is the true basis for an end to claims against the State of Israel and for the end of the conflict between the two peoples. Just as we are asked to recognize the Palestinian national state, and I expressed this national agreement during the past year, we also demand and expect the Palestinians to recognize a Jewish state, the State of Israel, as the national state of the Jewish People. This is the true foundation of peace“.

This is the time for the Palestinian negotiators to take on this matter, and ask for international guarantees…

Meanwhile, according to a summary translation provided by the Israeli Government Press Office, Nachum Barnea wrote an opinion piece published today in Yediot Ahronot saying that, “According to Netanyahu’s remarks yesterday, it seems that he has chosen to make the demand to recognize Israel as the Jewish state into the issue, and thus put Abu Mazen in a corner: Abu Mazen will say [insist on] the [settlement] freeze, Netanyahu will say recognition. Both will refuse and thus will be created a balance of blame.”

UPDATE: YNET is reporting on Monday evening that Tuesday’s scheduled talks in Sharm ash-Sheikh are getting off to a bad start. A subheadline reads: “Statement on restarting direct negotiations expected to be postponed”, and the text of the story reports that “The [Israeli] Prime Minister’s Office announced Monday that the media events scheduled to take place during the summit have been cancelled … A press conference sponsored by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, which was slated to take place at the Hayatt Hotel has also been canceled … [T]he differences of opinion between Israel and the Palestinians do not allow a festive announcement. The disagreements between Israel and the Palestinians have grown stronger over the past few days, particularly in terms of the settlement construction problem. US President Barack Obama declared over the weekend that he would make it clear to Netanyahu that Israel must continue the settlement freeze as long as the direct negotiations go on. In response, Netanyahu announced during a Likud ministers’ meeting and during his meeting with Quartet envoy Tony Blair that Israel would not be able to continue the freeze, but that the construction would be restrained”. This report can be read in full here.

According to this YNet report, the U.S. State Department has announced that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be in Jerusalem for further talks on Wednesday, and will then visit the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah on Thursday.

Quote of the day – (6th in our series)

Haaretz (with an input from Reuters) reported today that Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad told journalists in Ramallah on Monday that it was important to know “What kind of state does Mr. Netanyahu have in mind when he says ‘Palestinian state? … I think this is a most fundamental question and I believe, without wishing to really prejudge what will happen in the next few days, the next few weeks, we are approaching that moment of reckoning … Some questions really need to be answered … There is not really a whole lot of time to waste”. Fayyad’s remarks are posted here.

Perhaps not wishing to give it any more attention — or perhaps wanting to avoid certain uproar — Fayyad apparently did not want to ask another important question — which European diplomats here in the region say must also be asked, and that is, what do Israeli leaders mean by the “Jewish State” that Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu said, as recently as Sunday, the Palestinians must recognize.

Background: UN General Assembly Resolution 181, passed in November 1947 in response to a British request for a solution to the Palestine Mandate, conferred by the League of Nations, called for the establishment of two states: one Jewish and one Arab. This resolution is the basis for both the 14-15 May 1948 proclamation of the State of Israel, and for the November 1988 Palestinian Declaration of Independence.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon called for Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish State in his 14 reservations on the U.S.-sponsored Road Map of 2003. Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called for Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish State just before the start of the Annapolis process of negotiations launched in November 2007. Olmert’s successor, Benyamin Netanyahu, periodically repeats the same demand — but has occasionally modified his phrasing to call for Palestinian recognition of Israel as “the State of the Jewish People”.

The Palestinians are all over the place in their responses, and even inconsistent (as if this had not already been done by the PLO leadership and endorsed by the Palestine National Council in 1988). Whatever position they choose, it is universally expressed with great frustration and anger. “We don’t care what Israel calls itself”, the current Palestinian leadership has said. Other Palestinians insist that any endorsement of this formula is tantamount to agreeing to future as well as past ethnic cleansing: the expulsion of Israeli-Arab-Palestinians from “the triangle” of Arab cities in Israel’s Galilee region next to the upper West Bank, and — of course — acceptance of Israel’s refusal to envisage the return of any but a tiny few of those Palestinians (and their descendants) who fled or were forced to flee fighting that surrounded the creation of the State of Israel. Still others respond as if this demand can be treated as some kind of bargaining chip, to be dealt with after the establishment of a real Palestinian state…

On "doctored" evidence

I can’t resist.

The minute I saw this photo, I felt that it might be doctored:

Photo of man aboard Mavi Marmara provided by IDF spokesmans office

The knife looks completely fake.   It looks like a photoshop job to me.  What if this guy, on board the Mavi Marmara, were really only shaking his fist?  Would this be fair?

Besides, How would he have gotten this long sharp weapon on board?  How would he have been able to keep it, once he flashed it like this? Nobody around him objected??

It’s only too easy to do this, in all-out ideological war.

UPDATE: I just saw this now (10 June) — see how Ali Abunimah treated this here and here, and how Max Blumenthal blogged it here.

Now, look at this other photo — also published in Haaretz:

Photo of Israeli PM Netanyahu on 1 June 2010 by Reuters

It would be so easy to do the same…

Continue reading On "doctored" evidence

DEPORTATION is a violation of the Road Map

Deportation — which Israeli officials including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are still trying to make a condition for the release of certain Palestinian prisoners being held by Israel, in exchange for IDF Corporal Gilad Shalit, who has been held by Palestinians since the end of June 2006 — is a violation of the Road Map.

The Road Map was written — and endorsed by the UN Security Council — in 2003, after deportation was devised as the solution to the exit of Palestinian gunmen and other Palestinians who had sought refuge in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem during an Israeli raid which became an extended seige.

The deportation of those 29 or so Palestinian men was thought to be for a period of one year, but they are almost all still in exile seven years later, some in Gaza (they survived last winter’s IDF military onslaught), and others in Europe. Those Palestinian men were pressured or persuaded to accept the deportation agreement that had been negotiated — and thus, it became a “voluntary” deportation.

But, since the adoption of the Road Map, which both the Palestinians and the Israelis (despite the 14 reservations listed separately by Israel’s then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon) have accepted, deportation (voluntary or not) has become a violation of the terms of the Road Map — just as much as is the requirement to maintain a settlement freeze.

It’s right up there at the start of Phase I.

Under the heading “Security”, the Road Map says that: the “GOI [Government of Israel] takes no actions undermining trust, including deportations, attacks on civilians; confiscation and/or demolition of Palestinian homes and property, as a punitive measure or to facilitate Israeli construction; destruction of Palestinian institutions and infrastructure; and other measures specified in the Tenet work plan”…

The Road Map, which can be read in a number of places including on the website of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs here.

In case anyone has forgotten, the Road Map introduces itself as “a performance-based and goal-driven roadmap, with clear phases, timelines, target dates, and benchmarks aiming at progress through reciprocal steps by the two parties in the political, security, economic, humanitarian, and institution-building fields, under the auspices of the Quartet [the United States, European Union, United Nations, and Russia]. The destination is a final and comprehensive settlement of the Israel-Palestinian conflict by 2005 … A two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will only be achieved through an end to violence and terrorism, when the Palestinian people have a leadership acting decisively against terror and willing and able to build a practicing democracy based on tolerance and liberty, and through Israel’s readiness to do what is necessary for a democratic Palestinian state to be established, and a clear, unambiguous acceptance by both parties of the goal of a negotiated settlement as described below. The Quartet will assist and facilitate implementation of the plan, starting in Phase I, including direct discussions between the parties as required. The plan establishes a realistic timeline for implementation. However, as a performance-based plan, progress will require and depend upon the good faith efforts of the parties, and their compliance with each of the obligations outlined below”.