Archive for ‘Hamas’

July 20, 2018

US Effectively Ends Israel-Palestine Mediation

Back in December, I wrote that the Trump administration’s formal embrace of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital told us a lot about the kind of Israeli-Palestinian agreement they would put on the table. It would be close to the Netanyahu regime’s view.

The US administration still has not released such a proposal but as things have heated up between Gaza and Israel, the three key US officials on Israel-Palestine besides President Trump –  – have penned an op-ed that could have been written by Netanyahu or pretty much any Likudnik. It is a full-throated endorsement of the right-wing Israeli view of the situation with Gaza. In the whole op-ed, Israel is not an actor; it is only acted upon. The implication is Israel shares zero responsibility for the broken and deadly situation.

The reality is quite different. Neither Hamas nor the Government of Israel have been willing to negotiate – directly or through intermediaries – to make the kinds of concessions that would bring about a substantive change in the strategic situation. The instability, suffering, PTSD, and dead that are part of the status quo are a choice (contra the Likud view). The parties could pursue negotiations and change the reality in which they live. But they both have to make concessions.

What concessions you might ask? I think the Int’l Crisis Group has laid it out in great detail; I’d urge you to read their brief closely, both in terms of what it would take and in terms of the low odds of success:

This leaves one other main option, aside from war or continued escalations, and that is to have an intra-Palestinian reconciliation deal under which the PA fully takes over governance in Gaza, relieving Hamas of responsibility for the Gaza economy and providing Israel with an acceptable partner in Gaza with which it can cooperate on development and easing the blockade (Israel is unlikely to fully lift the blockade, even after the PA takes over).

Crisis Group is not optimistic, but the brief does offer a nuanced understanding of the situation on the ground and a reasoned consideration of the policy options. Kushner et al, the ones actually leading US policy, offer nothing of the sort.

In academic parlance, the United States has long been a ‘biased’ mediator in this conflict, closely allied with one of the parties to the dispute. This WaPo op-ed is beyond that; it offers no hint of a United States as mediator of any sort.

August 19, 2011

Eiran: The Terror Attacks in Israel’s Southern Sector (fixed format)

My colleague Dr. Ehud Eiran offers preliminary thoughts on the terror attacks in Israel: (same text but better formatting than first time)

The rather internally-focused Israeli political summer turned again to the external Arab-Israeli conflict following the deadly terror attack in Israel’s southern sector. There are four immediate possible implications:

1. The attacks, the Israeli causalities (eight dead, dozens wounded), and the Israeli retributions in Gaza, all provide potential for further Israeli-Palestinian escalation. This latest interaction adds to concerns that the coming fall may see another large round of Israeli-Palestinian violence following an expected Palestinian move to declare a state at the United Nations.

2. The proximity to the Egyptian border adds the potential of tension between Israel and Egypt. Egypt’s own power shift (struggle?) creates internal incentives for the Egyptian army and the Islamists – for their own, different reasons – to focus on tensions with Israel. Further tensions could occur, for example, if Israel chooses to act militarily in Sinai.

3. Assuming the attackers used the Sinai Peninsula as base, or passed through it, one can see why Israelis did not welcome the Arab Spring: the demise of the Arab security state opened the way for non-state actors to operate against Israel. A weak Lebanon dragged Israel into a four-decade long military engagement in its northern border. Will there be a similar southern exposure?

4. And internally: The renewed concern over security may weaken the potential of the Israeli left to develop a serious challenge to Prime Minister Netanyahu over his socio-economic agenda, as reflected in the “Israeli Spring” demonstrations. The demonstrators canceled a mass event planned for this weekend, and one of their leaders, Itzik Shmuly, explained that if called to reserve duty, he will, in effect, put his involvement in the socio-economic struggle on hold. The attacks will also weaken calls to direct some of the funds from the defense budget to social welfare programs.

June 29, 2011

Netanyahu’s Misleading History

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to the Jewish Agency Board of Governors yesterday. What was his view of history? How did he use it?

1. He used a static view of causes when it worked for him. In short, since Arabs opposed Israel before the occupation began in 1967 as well as after the 1967 war, Netanyahu noted, the occupation itself could not be the cause of Palestinian (and Arab) displeasure with Israel. They must hate and reject Israel in any form. This stance has the added implication that the peace process is of questionable (or no) value because a two-state solution would still leave an Israel for Arabs to hate and attack.

But causes are dynamic. The 1967 War (through the early 1970s) was exactly the pivot point when the central question of the Arab-Israeli conflict changed. From 1948, it had been whether Israel should exist.** Israelis felt their position was tenuous and the Israeli public feared for Israel’s survival on the eve of the 1967 war (though both the Israeli and US governments privately expected Israel to win any war handily). But after Israel had repeatedly demonstrated its military prowess, several key Arab players started to shift: Sadat’s Egypt and then Arafat’s PLO accepted Israel. (Jordan also signed  a treaty in 1994)

The question increasingly became what to do with the Palestinians and the focus was no longer on the territory of pre-1967 Israel but rather on the West Bank and Gaza, the occupied territories. The ground had literally shifted in 1967 and that affected the nature of the conflict. In other words, Israel was state but should the Palestinians exist in the form of a state?

This shift has not been a complete one and important elements of the prior argument are embedded in, say, the Hamas charter. But the much-talked about Israeli-Palestinian negotiated resolution would in any version – US, Abbas, Netanyahu, Peres – leave Israel with as much or more sovereign territory as it had pre-1967 war.

2. His presentation of the Palestinian refugees is misleading and incomplete. Netanyahu:

The second point derives from the first, and that is that the refugee problems are settled in these two respective states – the question of Palestinian refugees will be resolved in the Palestinian state and not in Israel.  Just as the question of Jewish refugees caused by that same Arab assault on Israel in 1948, was resolved within the Jewish state.  The Arab attack, the attack of five Arab armies, with the Palestinians, on the embryonic Jewish state caused two refugee problems.  About 650,000 Palestinian refugees and a somewhat larger number of Jewish refugees expelled from Arab states.  Tiny Israel absorbed all the Jewish refugees and the vast Arab world refused to absorb the Palestinian refugees, and neither justice nor common sense mandates that 63 years later, the Arab world or the Palestinians will come to us and say: Now, absorb the great-great-grandchildren of this part of the refugee problem that we created ourselves.

Note the missing verb: “About 650,000 Palestinian refugees.” The Jewish refugees were “expelled” but there is no verb for the Palestinian ones. The reality is that many of the Palestinians were expelled (e.g. see Yitzhak Rabin’s memoir for one example) and some fled a dangerous war zone. The timing is also wrong since several hundred thousand Palestinians became refugees before Israel declared statehood in May 1948 and thus before the battle between Israel and the Arab states.

Israel was designed to absorb Jews. That was and is its self-defined identity and mission, the ingathering of the exiles. Netanyahu takes pride in this immigration in the speech:

Remember we were 600,000 in 1948 and our population grew over tenfold in 63 years.

That was not the mission of the Arab countries. Maybe you could argue that was the mission of pan-Arabism of the 1950s and 1960s, but pan-Arabism was a failure. Its few attempts at unity, such as Egypt and Syria in the United Arab Republic, were short-lived.

Moreover, Jordan granted citizenship to Palestinian refugees and 41.6% of the refugees live and work in Jordan. Though often mentioned, the blanket claim that “the vast Arab world refused to absorb the Palestinian refugees” is false.

3. Netanyahu has moved the goalposts. For years Israel wanted recognition as the State of Israel. It got recognition. First came Egypt with the peace treaty. Then the PLO in 1988 and again in September 1993 when Arafat wrote:

The PLO recognizes the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security.

Jordan signed a peace treaty in 1994. Syria almost did in 1999-2000, but then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak got cold feet about a full withdrawal from the Golan Heights. (I wrote about it here: “Mediation, Domestic Politics, and the Israeli-Syrian Negotiations, 1991-2000,” Security Studies 16:3, July-September, 2007, pp. 350-381.)

Now Netanyahu wants recognition as a Jewish state as if no one had ever recognized Israel period. There is no acknowledgement of how Israeli policy worked effectively in the past to get recognition of the State of Israel. Of course Bibi wants the Jewish state phrase as a precondition to negotiations because it helps get the PA to make its biggest concession – no refugee right of return to Israel – without getting anything in return such as genuine statehood or Palestinian sovereignty in Arab East Jerusalem.

4. Netanyahu wrongly conflates negotiated outcomes with unilateral ones. Ehud Barak’s government unilaterally withdrew from southern Lebanon in 2000. Ariel Sharon did the same in Gaza in 2005. In 2005, I thought this was a bad idea not to coordinate with the PA because it handed the victory to Hamas. Hamas could claim its military fight had caused Israel to flee and without a negotiated context, what could the PA retort?

So Netanyahu took problems from unilateralism (Netanyahu: “We don’t want a repeat of what happened when we withdrew from Gaza or from South Lebanon.”) and applied them to a hypothetical negotiated outcome. That is mixing apples and oranges.

In falling back on these historical manipulations, Netanyahu is not breaking new ground but simply reinforcing the claims that regularly inform the Likud worldview.

**I left aside the revisionist Israeli historians who have strongly challenged the claim that the Arab world was uniformly intent on ending Israel. e.g. Simha Flapan, Avi Shlaim, Ilan Pappe.

June 25, 2011

Thinking Proactively

Four Israeli Jews with strong credentials argue in a New York Times op-ed that the Palestinian push at the UN in September can be a moment used constructively to advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. (Malley made a similar argument, in brief)

This op-ed is important.

Leaving aside the details for a moment, this is leadership. Rather than simply rejecting the other side’s policy, the op-ed is taking the Palestinian move seriously and thinking about how it can be used to further the peace process (or, more deeply, how to bring about a genuine resolution) and advance Palestinian and Israeli interests. The authors seek  “the components of a possible “win-win” U.N. resolution regarding Palestinian statehood.” (my emphasis) 

Moreover, the op-ed is historically grounded, working in  U.N. General Assembly resolution 181 of 1947, the Arab Peace Initiative, and other building blocks of the past.

The authors do not try to resolve all the hardest issues. They address the “refugee /right-of-return issue” only in passing. But they do offer a list of principles that could guide a final agreement. In the Obama-Netanyahu spat over 1967, they endorse the Obama stance:

Accordingly, support the establishment of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state on the basis of the 1967 lines with its capital in East Jerusalem in parallel with Israel’s recognized capital in West Jerusalem, and with mutually agreed territorial swaps and modifications, subject to negotiation — a state that will live side by side with Israel in peace and security.

They also set broad terms for how to 1) move forward with the two-state solution and 2) set rules for bringing in Gaza and Hamas.

President Obama may have boxed himself into a corner by publicly opposing the Palestinian plan for UN action: “Symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won’t create an independent state.”  I hope it is not too late for the Obama administration to consider support for this different, win-win course that would embrace, not isolate, Israel.

June 17, 2011

The Four Two-State Solutions

Listening to Rob Malley on Fresh Air yesterday, I was reminded that 1) we tend to assume there is a two-state solution waiting on the shelf and 2) Malley disagrees and thinks maybe we are not as close as we believe: “If we all knew what the solution looked like, if everyone agreed, we probably would be there already.” (starts @ about  31:10)

Part of the problem is the use of the phrase “two-state solution” to imply full agreement when in fact it has multiple meanings. I think we have four versions of the two-state solution. (I am leaving aside the Old City for now in #1 and #2.) All of the versions assume Israel exists alongside Palestine.

1. The Abbas version

Palestinian sovereign capital in East Jerusalem. Palestine in Gaza and 97-98% of the West Bank. 1:1 swaps where Israel annexes at Latrun and narrow territorial version of settlement blocs (Efrat, Maale Adumim but not Ariel). Israel annexes Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem like East Talpiot and Pisgat Zeev. Symbolic right of return (5-25K total) but mostly financial compensation for refugees. Israel would close settlements in Palestine.

No Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley but perhaps international peacekeepers.

2. The Olmert Version

Palestinian sovereign capital in East Jerusalem. Palestine in Gaza and 92-95% of the West Bank. 1:1 swaps where Israel annexes at Latrun and more expansive territorial version of settlement blocs (Efrat, Maale Adumim, Ariel). Israel annexes Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem like East Talpiot and Pisgat Zeev including any post-Oslo areas (like Har Homa or Ramat Shlomo). Possibly symbolic right of return (5-25K) but mostly financial compensation for refugees. Israel probably would close settlements in Palestine.

In other words, very similar to #1 but slightly less for the Palestinians on each issue.

3. The Netanyahu Government

Jerusalem united under Israeli sovereignty. Possibly Palestine could have an office there or something short of sovereignty in an outlying suburb (linking back to something like Abu Dis in the Beilin-Abu Mazen plan of the 1990s). Palestinian religious access to holy sites in Jerusalem. Palestine in Gaza and, say, 50-60% of West Bank. Very constrained Palestinian sovereignty. No Palestinian right of return. International community could provide compensation for Palestinian refugees. Jewish refugees from Arab countries are also a live issue. Palestinians must recognize Israel as Jewish state. Israel might close a few isolated settlements but most would stay in place.

Israeli military presence in Jordan Valley and at Palestine’s border crossings.

4. A Hamas version

Borders along the exact 1967 lines including the entire West Bank (100%) and Gaza Strip. No land swaps or Israeli annexation. All of East Jerusalem, including the Old City, would be under Palestinian sovereignty. As many Palestinian refugees as like, or at least a very large number, would be allowed to return to Israel. Israel would close all settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

No Israeli or international military presence in the Jordan Valley.

The United States and EU are probably most comfortable with variants of #1 and #2. The Arab League (and its 2002 plan) is more with #1 (though Israeli critics tend to see it as #4).

So a lot of people mouth the words two-state solution. But they mean different, sometimes incompatible outcomes.