Palestinians Reject Piecemeal Talks offered by Israel

The Palestine Authority roundly rejected on Monday the suggestion by Israeli Prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu that an ‘interim agreement’ between Israel and the PA might be achievable even though the moment was not propitious for a comprehensive peace settlement. Three big issues appear to stand in the way of progress. The first is the Israeli refusal to halt land invasions of Palestinian territory by Israeli squatters while the negotiations over the future of the Palestinian West Bank is being negotiated. The second is Israeli refusal to consider the Palestinian demand that East Jerusalem become the capital of the Palestinian state. The third is the Palestinian insistence that some number of Palestinians be allowed to return to their homes in what is now Israel, from which they were expelled by militant Israel nationalists in 1947-48.

Netanyahu is a weak prime minister and, for all his bluster, a timid man not given to grand breakthroughs. He heads a shaky coalition of mostly rightwing parties that despise one another, with the division between the secular Russians of Yisrael Beitenu (Israel Our Home) and Shas (representing the fundamentalist ultra-Orthodox Jews) particularly bitter.

Netanyahu seems to have decided he needs Yisrael Beitenu more than he needs Shas, and increasingly appears to defer his Foreign Minister, the thuggish Avigdor Lieberman of Moldavia, who leads Yisrael Beitenu. Lieberman has humiliated Netanyahu twice in the past week, and forced his hand on three central issues.

Last weekend, the Mavi Marmara, the aid ship that tried to deliver humanitarian assistance to the civilian Palestinians of Gaza who labor under a brutal Israeli blockade, arrived back in Istanbul after undergoing repairs at another port. Israeli commandos had landed on the ship with guns blazing, killed 9 of its passengers, including one American, and commandeered it, attempting to spread lies that it held weapons (it did not) or was linked to terrorism (no, that was a different IHH). A huge demonstration was held at the dock in Istanbul by flotilla supporters, many of them Muslim fundamentalists, with fiery anti-Israel speeches and chanting, lamenting the loss of the ‘martyrs’, i.e. the 9 men killed by the Israeli troops. Although this video has no English voice-over, it is instructive to watch it:

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu did not attend the docking ceremony, probably not wishing to mingle too closely with the fundamentalists and also not wishing to give credence to (false) charges that the Turkish government was behind the aid flotilla to Gaza last May. But Davutoglu did give a speech in which he underlined that Turkey wanted to repair its relations with Israel but required an apology for the killing of its citizens in international waters, as well as reparations for the victims.

Without waiting to talk it over with his prime minister, Avigdor Lieberman promptly slapped Davutoglu around a little, calling him a liar, saying ‘we don’t need to be their punching bag,’ and saying that Davutoglu’s claim that Israel would not have jumped in to help Turkey as Turkey had sent firefighters to help put out the Carmel fires this fall showed ‘what kind of people those Turks are.’ (Prejudice against Turks is common in Eastern Europe, whence Lieberman hails, partly because of local Christian-heritage resentment of former Ottoman rule there.)

Netanyahu initially tried to put Lieberman in his place, saying there could only be one prime minister. But then he caved, and said that, indeed, Israel would not apologize to the Turks for the attack on the Mavi Marmara (at least he didn’t say ‘to those people’).

Lieberman also gave a speech saying that it is impossible to attain an over-all peace between Israel and the Palestine Authority at present and therefore progress should be made on more limited issues.

After criticizing Lieberman, Netanyahu then turned around and said Monday that an interim agreement of a more limited nature was possible. Netanyahu also gave into Lieberman on the issue of allowing parliament to vote on whether the head rabbi for the Israeli army can accept conversions to Judaism of troops (mainly ex-Soviets) without these being reviewed by the Chief Rabbi in Jerusalem. (Lieberman wants the military conversions to stand, since the official rabbinate has been reluctant to accept large-scale conversions by the hundreds of thousands of non-Jewish Russians who immigrated in the 1990s. The ultra-Orthodox Shas Party is upset by this step and is threatening to leave the government over it).

Since Lieberman is under investigation for major corruption and criminality, that he has become the puppet master of Netanyahu is disturbing in so many ways.

The Palestinians have decided that they are unlikely to have much success negotiating with a weak, far right wing, divided Israeli government that is anyway in the back pocket of the squatters (‘settlers’).

So the Palestinians have decided on a United Nations strategy. They are trying to get recognition of a Palestinian state based on the West Bank and Gaza with 1967 borders, before the Israeli occupation. They have succeeded in getting most of South America to recognize Palestine, and the Israelis were shocked to wake up to the news on Monday that the British iare upgrading the status of the Palestine Authority’s representation in London.

The Palestinians plan to declare their state mid-summer of 2011, and then take it to the United Nations General Assembly for a vote, which they will probably win. They seem to hope that this momentum in the GA will then translate into a UN Security Council resolution that would force Israel into serious negotiations. Since Netanyahu has repeatedly humiliated President Obama, with whom he does not get along, the Palestine Authority probably hopes that the US will decline to exercise its veto on Israel’s behalf at the UNSC on this issue. In the meantime, PA prime minister Salam Fayyad is strengthening security and infrastructure in the West Bank on the theory that he can build the state from the bottom up.

At this point, the Israelis and Paletinians have exchanged their historic roles. The West Bank Palestinians have a vision, are working diplomacy intensively, and have their act together. The Israelis are squabbling internally and needlessly alienating potential friends (like Turkey). Maybe now it is Tel Aviv that is never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

15 Responses

  1. The question is whether the Israeli public is becoming increasingly supportive of the harshest foreign and even domestic policies. The loudest voices from Israel just now reflect a turn to increased harshness. Possibly though the loudest voices are not indicative of the majority of Israelis.

  2. On a point of semantics.

    Squatting is defined in terms of:
    1. To settle on unoccupied land without legal claim.
    2. To occupy a given piece of public land in order to acquire title to it.

    There is a proud tradition of squatting land which is empty and bringing it back into use as a response to the unfair or wasteful distribution of land. So the definition of ‘squatter’ hardly applies to the situation of the Israelis building towns in Palestinian lands.

    The definition of settler is ‘who settles in a new region.’ which in this case doesn’t apply to the actual situation of progressive dispossession of the Palestinians, ethnic cleansing and reducing the original inhabitants to a permanently inferior status economically, legally and socially.

    ‘Colonist’ doesn’t work as the Palestinian lands are hardly distant from Israel.

    To occupy is “to seize possession of and maintain control over, by or as if by conquest.”

    This accurately describes the situation of the Israelis vis-a-vis the Palestinians and the correct description of the Israelis on the Palestinian lands is the “Israeli occupiers.”

  3. With all due respect, this analysis of future political machinations of the Palestinian Authority lacks a crucial element: namely, the corruption and increasing in-fighting of the collaborationist leaders of the PA. Abbas and Dahlan are further apart every day, despite (or perhaps because of) the money and support they have been receiving from Israel and the US. Abbas continues to be the President of the PA even though his mandate has long expired. Ordinary Palestinians in the West Bank have lost confidence in the leadership. And of course there is also the bitter feud between the PA and Hamas. Unilateral declaration of statehood and a UN mandate may sound attractive in the short term, but I have severe doubts about willingness of the US to abstain from a Security Council vote because of the domestic political perils for the Obama administration.

    The only long term solution remains one democratic secular state for all the people living west of the Jordan River.

    • “Lieberman wants the military conversions to stand, since the official rabbinate has been reluctant to accept large-scale conversions by the hundreds of thousands of non-Jewish Russians who immigrated in the 1990s.”

      How funny is the above statement? A Jewish state built on the dispossesion of native Arabs, where many of the colonists aren’t Jewish at all!

      No, I think the only long term solution, is for massive amounts of European Jews to go back to Europe. And take the non-Jewish Russian converts with them.

      But that would be too logical, wouldn’t it?

  4. “Prejudice against Turks is common in Eastern Europe, whence Lieberman hails, partly because of local Christian-heritage resentment of former Ottoman rule there.”

    Don’t be shy, you can call it racism. Also, racism against Turks is not only common in Eastern Europe, but in oh-so-liberal-and-civilized Western Europe as well.

  5. Why would “some number” (is it 4 or 4,000,000?) of Palestinians want to “return” to living in a country that in your view at the least is discriminatory to Arab Muslims and trending toward a pre-Enlightenment worldview?

    The West Bank Palestinians have come a long way, and there was even an article about the West Bank in the NY Times travel section some months ago, as you well know. But Hamas has not disappeared, either in Gaza and the West Bank. The Israeli government’s central failure is not cutting a deal at such an opportune time that would elevate Abbas’s vision in the eyes of West Bank (and Gaza) residents and concurrently neutralize Hamas and the other violent religious zealots. But, alas, Israel has its own zealots to placate.

    • Some number of Palestinians would return because it was and is there property. Simply because there is discrimination against them in the Zionist state does not nullify their desire to return to their ancestral homes. Ask any Palestinian refugee family to show you the keys to their old homes and they will happily oblige.

  6. link to

    December 28, 2010

    Israel Represses Israelis and Congress Approves
    By Stephen Zunes

    It’s been two years since Israel initiated the “Operation Cast Lead” military assault on the besieged Gaza Strip. Since then, the right-wing Israeli government of Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu has launched an unprecedented wave of intimidation against Israeli peace and human rights groups. These groups say they are “working in an increasingly hostile environment,” according to a New York Times report, and that Israeli government leaders are fostering “an atmosphere of harassment” by turning “human rights criticism into an existential threat.”

    However, Congress has chosen to look the other way – and wants the executive branch to do the same.

    A resolution — sponsored by House Foreign Relations Committee Chair Howard Berman (D-CA), Middle East Subcommittee Chair Gary Ackerman (D-NY), and soon-to-be House Foreign Relations Committee Chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) — condemned the findings of the UN Human Rights Council report for documenting such infringements on civil liberties and other human rights violations by the Israeli government.

    Included in the resolution were the words: “even though Israel is a vibrant democracy with a vigorous and free press, the report of the ‘fact-finding mission’ erroneously asserts that ‘actions of the Israeli government . . . have contributed significantly to a political climate in which dissent with the government and its actions . . . is not tolerated.’” It passed the House by an overwhelming 344-36 vote….

  7. It’s clear that the major impediment to peace, as always, is the Israeli invasion and occupation of Palestinian land. It’s shocking how many of the world’s problems would be solved if Israel would just withdraw to the 1967 border.

    • I doubt it would be enough without some kind of acknowledgement that the 1948 campaign of ethnic cleansing was a crime against humanity, or at least an epic act of bastardry.

      It would likely also accompany the resettling of a symbolic number of Palestinians in exile within Israel proper and/or compensation for the many, many Palestinian families who have had to make do with life in refugee camps outside of Palestine for the last sixty years.

  8. It can also be argued that the major obstacle to peace in the Holy Land is America’s unconditional and never changing support for Israel’s brutal occupation of Palestine.

  9. “many of them Muslim fundamentalists”

    you mean Muslim Turks? Not sure what is a “Muslim fundamentalist”. I saw nothing outstanding in the video which points out “Muslim fundamentalists.” Whatever that is.
    Also, we should be clear on what exactly did the Zionists rob from the Palestinians. The border is from 1948, to be exact. That’s what the “Israelis” are occupying. It’s important to recognize that fact because it’s part of the Palestinian concession for peace. Palestinians were not all squeezed into Gaza and other parts of the west bank before the Zionists shipped over. The Palestinians were living everywhere the “Israelis” live now. They owned it, it is theirs.
    Meanwhile “once the Palestinians declare statehood, they can issue themselves passports, birth certificates, official maps, and all the other paraphernalia of being a sovereign state. By forcing a diplomatic confrontation, the Palestinians play to their strengths. The Israelis will have to explain why they need to continue this occupation of a sovereign country, whose existence is based on UN Resolutions 181 and 1402. The Palestinians could set up courts in Gaza to hear land claim suits against Israeli settlements, and to undertake various legal actions against the settlers. While Israel’s military might would prevent the Palestinians from actually enforcing their unilateral acts, the Palestinians will have totally changed the political and public opinion environment. The question then will not be why should the Israelis leave, but what right do they have to be there in the first place? The whole world would see that it is Israeli greed for settlements and the refusal to allow Palestine to exist that are the real impediments to peace.”
    [excerpt from link to

    • Almost everyone in Turkey is a *Muslim*. Those who engage in certain practices rather than others, emphasize literal adherence to certain laws, etc., are fairly called fundamentalists. Christian fundamentalists also are always claiming to be just ‘Christians,’ with the implication that Methodists aren’t really. I’m not amused.

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