Two useful sites for looking at Israeli and Palestinian polling data:
Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research
Joint Israeli-Palestinian Public Opinion Polls (Truman Institute at Hebrew University)
Arab-Israeli and Middle East Stuff
So finally the week of decision has arrived, and the Palestinian issue will be taken up at the United Nations. Claiming that the Palestinian appeal to the UN is bad for the peace process or is the death of Oslo rings hollow to me. There is no peace process right now if what one means by peace process is high-level Israeli-Palestinian negotiations aimed at resolving the conflict. Since President Barack Obama took office in January 2009, we have only witnessed a few weeks of such talks. So it is bad for something that does not exist?
Moreover, criticizing President Mahmoud Abbas and the PA for turning to the UN because it is a unilateral move also seems odd because a) the UN is the world’s central multilateral institution and b) the UN stamp of approval in 1947 was and is a key building block for Israel’s statehood. In a related sense, if one wants the Palestinians to reject violence, shouldn’t they be permitted diplomatic, political, and legal moves? A Fatah leader quoted in the excellent Crisis Group report: “The world is telling us that we should be doing only peaceful resistance, but what we are doing at the UN is not even resistance, it’s just a legal move, and we are being told that even that is illegitimate. Is there anything that would be considered legitimate?”
The reason we don’t have a peace process is interrelated Israeli and Palestinian opposition. Think of it like a Mobius strip. The Netanyahu government, and the majority of Israelis who support that government, don’t believe in a genuine two-state solution, as I explained here. They oppose a negotiated, genuine two-state solution a) because it runs counter to the Greater Israel project in the West Bank including East Jerusalem – so ideological opposition – and b) because of Hamas. Israelis don’t think the PA can deliver a peaceful state of affairs given Hamas and the Hamas position suggests Palestinians are not ready for peace. The problems associated with the Oslo process (1993-2001) and Gaza Disengagement (2005) fuel and reinforce such sentiments. Of course, Hamas holds some political power in part because Israel has been unwilling to stop settlements and expansion and, with its current government, is disinterested in a two-state solution. Round and round we go.
I have a hard time seeing that this Palestinian move at the UN leads anywhere productive except in one unlikely scenario: If enough Israelis turn on their government because of Israel’s intense political isolation around the world and strained relations with the Obama administration. (Tom Friedman goes house on the Israeli government.) Plausible but unlikely because more political isolation reinforces an Israeli perspective that sees the world as aligned against Israel regardless of Israeli policy.
What will Abbas do after the UN meetings? Abbas: “The Palestinian people and their leadership will pass through very difficult times after” the UN move. Okay, what does that mean? The Palestinians could lose a lot financially if Israel cuts off the return of Palestinian tax revenue that Israel collects and the U.S. Congress blocks aid to the PA. However, Israel might not want to cut off funds if that jeopardized Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation; there is no simple all-good or all-bad option here regardless of one’s interests and viewpoint. The Israeli government fears, and has planned for, mass Palestinian demonstrations and possible violence.
Is it too late to avert a showdown at the UN? Probably, but maybe someone will pull a rabbit out of a hat: a softer UN resolution, a Quartet statement in lieu of a UN debate, a renewal of bilateral talks. Still, it does not seem likely.
Just to make sure things look and feel bleak, let me close with this excerpt from the Crisis Group report (pages 37-38). It explains the PA’s situation even before any UN action:
This comes atop other worrying signals concerning the PA. Since Prime Minister Fayyad announced a cabinet reshuffle the day after Mubarak stepped down on 11 February, he has been unable to form a new government. The West Bank economy, economists say, has been softening; corruption investigations against two ministers are ongoing; and Fayyad has been demoralised by the way he was treated in the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation process. The PA’s financial crisis – acute even without a cut-off of U.S. aid or halt in Israel tax transfers – is causing distress among its employees, especially given that financial obligations are heightened during the summer. In addition delayed salary payments are becoming harder to bear, since many PA employees have taken out substantial loans.
At the same time, security coordination with Israel reportedly has decreased somewhat. The next in a sequence of National Security Forces battalions to be trained in Jordan under U.S. supervision has been delayed; granting of permission for Palestinian security forces to move between various areas in the West Bank has been slowed; and decisions that were taken by Israeli field commanders have been kicked up the chain. The PA seems as intent as ever on combating crime and Hamas, but forward movement on security reforms has ceased. All of this has further shaken popular confidence in their leader’s ability to deliver and in ministers’ faith in their ability to govern. The most difficult consequences may be yet to come: “Our budget situation is absolutely debilitating. We are now working on a very serious austerity budget that could fairly be described as draconian”, a senior PA official said.
I like to see how different writers depict what happened in and around 1948. Tony Karon had this one:
Recognizing that the Palestinian Arabs would not agree to more than half of British-ruled Palestine, in which they were the majority, being carved off for a separate Jewish state, the U.N. nonetheless voted to prescribe such a partition in 1947.
That didn’t settle matters, of course; the two sides fought a war first (involving troops from all of Israel’s Arab neighbors), which saw Israel grow its share of the partition from 55% to 78%, and which turned half the Palestinian population into refugees.
This is a clever shift of the argument (to be clear, clever is not always the same as accurate). So it is not that the Palestinians rejected the UN plan, as some of Israel’s defenders like to argue the point. Rather, it is that the United Nations and UNSCOP ignored the parameters the Palestinians had made clear to them as to what was unacceptable (not more than half).
I wonder if there is any documentary evidence to back up the claim that the Palestinians made that clear or that the UN officials even thought of an upper limit on the Jewish state’s land as a way to try to win Arab support.
The articles on Israel’s troubles are proliferating. “Is Israel Over?” asked Benny Morris, the Israeli historian. The Wall Street Journal, among others, assessed Israel’s problems with Egypt and Turkey. (subscription) (NYT article) And this mess is all before the Palestinian push at the UN.
One challenge is that Israel’s alliance and public relations troubles are taken as confirmation of two rival explanations:
1. Israeli policy, especially on the Palestine issue, caused Egypt and Turkey to turn against Israel.
2. The world, including many in Egypt and Turkey, hate Israel, no matter what Israel does. (Thus, tinkering with Israeli policy or pressing Israel to make concessions is useless).
When Egyptians storm the Israeli embassy, those who adhere to #1 say, see, we should have had real negotiations with the Palestinians to pre-empt or undermine such protests. Proponents of #2 look and see a country Israel supposedly has been at peace with attacking diplomatic personnel, a big no-no. The Arabs will never accept us, they think.
So policymakers and people who support #1 or #2 both walk away from recent events thinking their argument has been further confirmed. That is not a recipe for bold thinking to get out of the current morass.
So despite lecturing (and here and here) President Obama about the audacity of suggesting “The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states,” reports suggest Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is now willing to accept U.S phrasing in an effort to draw the Palestinian Authority away from a UN push for recognition in September.
Let’s be clear: the Netanyahu government is now willing to accept the very lines it said were “indefensible.” Of course the lines were never indefensible. (Never mind that Obama’s phrasing of May 19, 2011, was entirely consistent with past Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.)
In exchange, Netanyahu apparently wants agreement that Israel will be able to annex settlement blocs (and reports suggest the US agrees, not surprising given past talks and the Bush-Sharon letter of 2004. That is why Obama’s phrasing included the term “swaps” in the first place.)
Netanyahu also wants:
Officials in Jerusalem have said that the offer only stands if the Palestinians are prepared to recognise Israel as a Jewish state and retract their application for recognition of an independent Palestinian state, which is to be submitted to the United Nations General Assembly next month.
I found it especially amusing that I received a robocall yesterday from the Republican Jewish Coalition decrying Obama’s call to return to the 1967 lines. The total inaccuracy of the RJC call was especially pathetic given the Israeli government’s apparent change of heart. Suffice to say, the RJC web site has changed and the 1967 lines story has been downgraded.
The PA seems to be waiting for Netanyahu to use the 1967 lines phrase publicly. PA officials remain opposed to the Jewish state language.
What if 25,000 Palestinians marched from Ramallah on the Qalandia checkpoint? What if the protest was coupled with others of similar size? Most importantly, what if thousands of Palestinians in East Jerusalem began marching on West Jerusalem?
Palestinian society seems to be a candidate for an Arab Spring-type protest. My point is not that it is about to happen; this post is more hypothetical (although, see this small example). Rather, the general conditions of a non-democratic regime, economic woes, and the lack of fulfillment of the central Palestinian political aim (statehood), seem as if they would be fertile ground for such a movement.
The initial Israeli reaction would likely be harsh, with tens if not hundreds of casualties. (The Israeli use of live fire in the May and June 2011 protests along its borders is instructive.) I don’t in any way to mean to minimize the death and injuries. But over time – and probably not that long a time – sustained protests could have two effects that would change the political dynamic.
First, they could increase external pressure on Israel to fundamentally address Palestinian self-determination. Democracies, including the United States, would support non-violent protest. It fits with their self-perception and free speech and assembly ethos.
Second, and more importantly, they could help Israelis realize that Palestinians want to find a workable resolution. In the same way that the second intifada and talk of the right of return convinced Israelis that Palestinians don’t accept Israel and want to destroy it, mass, peaceful protest also could teach a symbolic lesson, albeit a peaceful one.
The protests would have to be peaceful. No rock throwing despite its deep roots and symbolic power. Palestinians have used non-violence in the past (e.g. march, tax strike, BDS) but it has co-existed with things like throwing rocks and calling for the right of return. Because Israelis perceive that the exercise of the right of return would erase Israel’s Jewish identity, highlighting it induces fear in Israel, not conciliation. It is not violent as a tactic, but today in Israel it raises the same fears as older calls to militarily push the Jews into the sea.
Neither side believes the other is ready to negotiate a resolution. Such Palestinian protests could change the Israeli public’s mind, especially given the likely international reaction.
One could object to the post thus far in a few ways, but I am skeptical of all these objections:
1. Unlike the Arab countries like Egypt, Syria, and Tunisia, the Palestinians face two entities, Israel and the Palestinian Authority, rather than a single governing regime. That is descriptively true but on the occupation, the Israelis hold the territorial cards and would be the primary focus of the protests.
2. The objective is different than other Arab protests. Palestinians need territorial change not regime change. That is an accurate description of the difference, but I do not see why it precludes an attempt. Is a decision about territorial change somehow immune to popular pressure?
3. Palestinians have already used peaceful protests. This is true to an extent and in a way that is often underappreciated. But they have also made headlines with jaw-dropping violence. More to the point, a rock is not non-violent. We have not seen a societal decision for mass, non-violent protest.
4. The outcome of the Arab Spring is not impressive. A few dictators have fallen but no society has yet emerged as a liberal democracy responsive to the will of the people. I agree this approach is not a magic solution. But given that the menu of options is limited and many other tactics have not helped achieve Palestinian statehood, why not try it now?
Some skeletal notes from a talk I gave last night:
1. US-Israel alliance
The common explanations for the alliance are shared values and shared government type (democracies); domestic interest groups in the US, including American Jews and Evangelical Christians; and strategic relations based on counter-terrorism, intelligence sharing, developing and testing military equipment. I was noting, not endorsing, the explanations.
(I should add that I’ve talked about an additional motivation, alliance restraint, in chapter four of Warring Friends.)(Also, whatever led to the original alliance, the fact that it has endured means it has some institutional and organizational staying power.)
2. The Peace Process
There is a split in the United States about the causal logic. Some like Gen. David Petraeus, have argued that solving the peace process is the key to unlocking other regional issues. Others, like former VP Dick Cheney, have argued that addressing other regional issues is a precursor for success in the peace process. (The road to Jerusalem runs through Baghdad.)
Obama and Netanyahu obviously don’t get along that well. But the structural US-Israeli relationship is still strong with military cooperation as deep as it ever has been. Netanyahu does not support a two-state solution that looks anything like what former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was talking about in 2008. (see my comparison here of what different people mean by two states)
3. The Arab Upheaval
The outcome of the Arab protests is an issue of great uncertainty. It could change the strategic equation for Israel if the Syrian regime falls and a new one came to power that is not close to Iran, thereby cutting off Iran’s land connection to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Egypt under Mubarak was tight with Israel but it may also be less so in the post-Mubarak era.
The Palestinians have not adopted the tactics of the Arab “Spring.” They have used similar tactics but not on a mass-scale without the mixing in of some violent tactics, e.g. during the first intifada (uprising), 1987-1993. (I’ll post a longer post on this soon.)
4. Palestine, September, and the UN
The Palestinian appeal to the UN is more bark than bite. The day after, the occupation will still be in force. The Palestinian Authority (PA) prefers negotiations (but talks don’t seem to be an option). Israel fears a UN resolution will lead to violence and is preparing for that prospect. The PA does not think Palestinian violence is likely.
Israel feels a high sense of threat especially from Iran. The majority of Israelis see no Arab partner with whom to make peace – Abbas is weak, Hamas rejectionist. Many Israelis, including the government, believe the world is lined up against Israel. Any pressure reinforces this view. Thus the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement is considered further proof that the world is against Israel, not that Israel needs to change its occupation policy. BDS speaks 1967 and Israelis hear 1948.
A vigorous discussion followed! Many thanks to Joyce for the invitation.
(Helpful maps for this post)
Over the last 40 years, Israel has gradually tried to cut off East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank. The premise was to cement Israeli control of a huge, new definition of the area of Jerusalem* and end East Jerusalem’s role as the center of Palestinian life including medical, educational, commercial, and cultural activity. In the last few days I participated in three tours of the political and building map in East Jerusalem and the picture is depressing. (One was the free, four-hour Ir Amim tour.)
By limiting access to Jerusalem for Palestinians from the rest of the West Bank, Israel has gone a long way toward strangling East Jerusalem. In addition, tight building restrictions for Arabs, home demolitions, and disproportionately low municipal Israeli budget allocations weaken the fabric of Palestinian life in East Jerusalem. That Ramallah, once a large village, has grown into a small Palestinian city and the center of the Palestinian Authority is in part a testament to Israeli success in taking East Jerusalem off the table, and forcing Palestinian life to develop elsewhere.
The wall** Israel has built over the last decade strengthens the separation of Jerusalem from most other West Bank Palestinians. Metro Jerusalem institutions on the east of the wall, such as Al-Quds University in Abu Dis, are much harder to get to for Jerusalem Palestinians on the west side of the wall. Or, many West Bank Palestinians who used to reach hospitals like Augusta Victoria on Mount Scopus – now on the west side of the wall – face a longer and more difficult journey.
As the Israel state has created challenges for Palestinian life in East Jerusalem, it has, as is well known, settled Israeli Jews in East Jerusalem. Much of the settlement building in the late 1960s and 1970s started on the outskirts of East Jerusalem in places today known as French Hill, Ramat Eshkol, and Gilo.*** The state built huge apartment blocs, playgrounds, sidewalks, sewer lines, and the like and now each one houses (tens of) thousands of Israelis. In recent years, such building has included controversial projects like Har Homa (to the south; see picture at left) and Nof Zion astride Jabel al-Mukhaber.
But Israeli settlement organizations (such as Ateret Cohanim and EL-AD – more on EL-AD here), with the support of the Israeli state, have also been penetrating the inner core of Arab East Jerusalem. Isolated settlers now live in places like the Muslim Quarter of the Old City, Sheikh Jarrakh, on Mt. Olives, in Silwan, Ras al-Amud (see picture at right), and Abu Dis.
These settlers start to dramatically transform the locale. Many require a constant security presence, whether private security personnel or Israeli police. Israeli-Palestinian friction and fighting is a common result.
Now one could attempt to distinguish between the actions of individuals & private organizations and state actions, but the two are actually intimately linked. First, the state, in a bureaucratic and legal sense, comes in and defends these private efforts. It rarely backs the Palestinian opponents or reverses such settler efforts.
Second, such isolated settler homes act as a wedge. One home becomes two and then three (The City of David settlers in Silwan are a perfect example). At best from the settlers’ perspective, such isolated efforts could be used to justify huge new blocs, as, for example, Ateret Cohanim hope to do with its settlers in Abu Dis (the nearby open space is inviting).
The settler movement and the Israeli government are following the central recipe of the Zionist movement and the Israeli state: relentlessly establish facts on the ground and it will inform and shape the political and territorial reality. For example, Zionist land acquisition, building, and farming affected the lines of the UN partition plan (1947). In the last decade, some Palestinian negotiators, not to mention Presidents Obama and George W. Bush, seemed ready to accept the Israeli annexation of settlement blocks in a two-state solution, a testament to the way in which some Israeli building has affected the (hypothetical) political-territorial map.
Moreover, if the Clinton principle from 2000 (“The general principle is that Arab areas are Palestinian and Jewish ones are Israeli.”) is operational, the Israeli incentive is to build as fast as it can so as to create new areas that would have to be under Israeli sovereignty.
In short, determine the outcome with unilateral action; make it a fait accompli. On one tour a former Israeli official asked rhetorically how could you put a border on the 1949 Israel-Jordan armistice line (as we drove along the hotels and Israeli government institutions on Bar-Lev Blvd). That is exactly the implication of building and blurring and covering over the green line.
One common Israeli justification for settlers is that Jews once lived here in these Arab areas (e.g. Sheik Jarakh). But if that logic is taken seriously, it has deep and likely unwelcome implications: the Israeli people and government will have to take the Palestinian right of return seriously because it is based on exactly the same idea. In short, Palestinians were in Haifa or Ramla or wherever so they have a right to live there now.
One caveat: It is important not to over-state the Israeli impact either. Approximately 250,000 Palestinians are still in east Jerusalem. Though they are restricted, they exist as a counter-weight to designs to judaize even the core of East Jerusalem.
A two-state solution relies on a resolution of the Jerusalem question with the most common answer being a division of sovereignty. Yet the complexity of dividing East Jerusalem is stunning. The situation is a mess and would require dramatic changes in a negotiated resolution.
(Text and photos copyright Jeremy Pressman, 2011)
* Prior to 1967, Jordanian defined East Jerusalem was 2.5 square miles. After the 1967 war, Israel expanded the municipal boundaries to include 27 square miles. (Source: Wikipedia)
** While I understand that the term wall is debated, much of the barrier in Jerusalem is a concrete wall, often nine meters high.
*** Most Israelis call these areas neighborhoods of Jerusalem, not settlements, but they are built on what was territory controlled by Jordan.