Saturday, October 23, 2010

Where We Are Now

Dear Friend,
George Hismeh is a reliable Jordanian, who gives us his assessment of where we stand now (of course, from a Palestinian-Arab standpoint, not represented in the US).
The mid-term (American) election gives pause to Israel and Palestinian activists, looking for more "allies" in their version of "progress".
Ending the Occupation seems a long, long way in the future and will take a cataclysmic breakdown of some sort even to be entertained (think the USSR and Eastern Europe). We're not at that tipping point as far as we can tell. But who really knows? "The Shadow Knows" (from the old-time radio series)!
Meanwhile friends, this is no time to give up "hope". People are building friendships with "enemies" on the other side. This is dangerous to continued conflict. It's hard to keep the conflict going when reconciling relationships continue to be built across fences, walls and barriers. And that is what FPI is all about. Thanks for being part of this building story. JRK

New bag of tricks?George S. Hishmeh
The Jordan Times (Opinion)
October 22, 2010 - 12:00am

While all the world was watching, silently, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu managed to sabotage the US-sponsored “peace talks” with the Palestinians, led by Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority.

Most governments and many international organisations, particularly the United Nations, seemed handcuffed, but the right-wing Israeli government has still lost significant support at home and abroad for its extremist views and shortsightedness.

This disappointing turnaround coincides with another noteworthy milestone, the 15th anniversary of the assassination by an Israeli extremist of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, the first Israeli leader to sign a peace agreement, known as the Oslo Peace Accords, with the Palestine Liberation Organisation. (Rabin, the PLO leader, Yasser Arafat and Israeli president Shimon Perez all received the Nobel Peace Prize for their achievement.)

Whatever led the present Israeli leader to seemingly quash the negotiations, shepherded by the Obama administration, remains to be seen. Nevertheless, the Israeli intransigence must have come as a shock to the White House, which had regrettably tried to cajole the Netanyahu government with military and economic rewards.

The Palestinian leadership has, meanwhile, notified Washington that it will hold off on any action until the end of October, the undeclared understanding being that once the mid-term elections are over, President Barack Obama may feel ready to take stiffer actions against Israeli intransigence.

The uncompromising Israeli tone has clearly been echoed here in the public views of American-born Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren and other Israeli apologists, who all attempted to put the blame on the Palestinians who, like the White House, wanted an extension of the moratorium on colonial expansion in the Israeli-occupied territories.?After all, their reasonable expectation is that Israel will recognise that its settlers on illegally occupied Palestinian territories will have to leave once a settlement i? reached.

Ambassador Oren, born Michael Bornstein in upstate New York, the only Jewish boy in a Catholic neighbourhood in New Jersey, says he experienced anti-Semitism on daily basis.?This may explain his confrontational attitude, as was the case when he told reporters this week in Washington that Israel would not allow anyone to dictate its borders.

“Like Ben-Gurion, Netanyahu will not allow the United Nations, or any other organisation, to dictate our borders. They will be determined through negotiations.”

In an op-ed in The New York Times, Oren argued earlier that?“affirmation of Israel’s Jewishness ... is the very foundation of peace, is DNA”. But he did not explain how a fifth of the Israeli people, who are Palestinian Arabs, can then be assured of equal rights with their Jewish neighbours, something they are denied to this very day.

In turn, Jackson Diehl of The Washington Post maintained, mistakenly, that the “settlement impasse originated not with Netanyahu or Abbas but with President Obama - who by insisting on an Israeli freeze has created a near-insuperable obstacle to the peace process he is trying to promote”. He does not understand that construction in occupied lands is illegal under international law. Moreover, the Arab world has always protested the encroachment of Israeli colonists on the occupied Palestinian territories - ?he West Bank and Gaza Strip - a little over one-fifth of pre-1948 Palestine.

The illegal Israeli expansion has been condemned by the United Nations, several international bodies and many nations. This explains why Obama brought the settlement issue up at the UN General Assembly session last month, much to Diehl’s chagrin who saw it as “misguided rhetoric”.

Netanyahu’s arrogance continues to have no boundaries; last week he approved the construction of 240 new housing units in occupied East Jerusalem - a step the liberal Israeli daily, Haaretz, saw as “an attempt to sabotage the efforts to renew direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians”. Maybe the Israeli leader needs to be reminded that even the United States does not recognise Jerusalem as an integral part of Israel, since it still has its consulate in the Arab sector of the Holy City.

Last but not least, Israel now wants to amend its citizenship law whereby newly naturalised Israeli citizens must pledge allegiance to Israel as a “Jewish and democratic state”, a step seen as “unapologetically racist”. Lately, apparently on a second thought, Netanyahu said he wants all citizens to take the oath - a point that has divided the Knesset to the extent that it may not pass in any version.

Interestingly, more than a year ago, the Israeli government rejected a similar proposal. But can we be sure that Netanyahu has no additional tricks in his bag that may kill any chances of resuming the negotiations with the Palestinians?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Are the Settlers a Problem?

Dear Friend of Palestinians and Israelis,
Many Israelis (as below) are upset with the settlers.
Read on. Starting out as a "secular" experiment, the Zionist movement is now undergirded by a powerful religious zeal (with support from "Christian" Zionists in the US.
The settlers think nothing of "settling" all of the land, no matter how much land the Palestinians has to be confiscated, homes demolished, olive orchards destroyed, and countless other indignities.
Pray that the Obama "team" will keep not only Palestinian feet ot the fire, but Israeli's too. JRK

However wonderful they may be, settlers are an insurmountable obstacle to peace
Avi Issacharoff
Haaretz (Analysis)
October 20, 2010 - 12:00am

Last week I was invited to visit the Hayovel neighborhood in the West Bank settlement of Eli (erected on the 50th anniversary of Israel's establishment). This neighborhood includes several structures that were likely built on Palestinian land and are slated for demolition, pending a court ruling.

I was treated to a pleasant breakfast and a breathtaking view of the Shilo region, and more importantly, I had the pleasure of meeting wonderful unique people, what we call "salt of the earth," who are driven by a sense of duty. Israel Defense Forces officers of the past and the present, social activists (within the Green Line), and many more fine people.

Though most of them have never set foot in a settlement, the Israeli left, especially in Tel Aviv, tends to lump all settlers together – all rightist, extreme, ignorant and narrow minded. In Eli, like in many other settlements, the residents are actually very intelligent and well educated. They are enthusiastic Zionists, true, but not the kind who rejoice when a Palestinian olive grove goes up in flames. In a way I felt envious of these people – while I chase my next scoop they are making their dream of populating the land of Israel come true.

According to Jewish tradition, the settlement of Eli is situated across from Shilo – the capital of the Kingdom of Israel where the pre-temple Ark of the Covenant was housed for 369 years. In the valley between Shilo and Eli, again according to local lore, the women of Israel danced and gave to the Jews the holiday of Tu B'Av – the holiday of love.

I personally believe that under any future agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, these people need to evacuate their land and relocate to land within the Green Line. But I feel obligated to say one or two positive words about the ones I met.

I don't meet a lot of settlers. My journalistic beat encompasses Arabs, and when I do come into contact with Jews living in the West Bank, it is usually when they perpetrate violent incidents, especially during the Palestinian olive harvest. Even during my visit to Eli there were several such violent incidents. On the day before my tour of the area, the residents of the neighboring Palestinian village found that hundreds of their olive trees had been poisoned, apparently by settlers. But the people I met in Eli don't support these kinds of actions.

Now the rightists will say that even in writing these things I am displaying Tel Avivian, condescending qualities because it is obvious that not everyone is the same. But, still, it is important to say these things. It is important to understand that it was the State of Israel that sent these people to live where they currently reside, and now it is the same state trying to pressure them and restrict them. Their pain is understandable as the state tries to freeze their vision, but it is also apparent that the settlement enterprise cannot continue if we want to achieve a two-state solution to the conflict with the Palestinians.

An overview of the region reveals that all the hilltops surrounding Eli are in Jewish hands. Some of them legally owned by Jews, and others illegally claimed. Such is the case in the hilly region surrounding Nablus as well: Yitzhar and its outposts, Itamar and its outposts. The Palestinian aspiration to establish a territorially continuous state seems imaginary, almost infantile, in light of the settlers control over every hilltop surrounding Nablus and Ramallah. Even more imaginary – the discussion surrounding the possibility that Israel will evacuate theses settlements one day. This is an impossible mission, at least for now. We're talking about some 100,000 Jews who will be forced to leave their homes, and that's not to mention the 250,000 Jews living in the settlement blocs that will likely remain under Israeli sovereignty.

The big scandal surrounding the Gaza settlement evacuation, when 9,000 Jews were evacuated, seems like a drop in the ocean when compared to the West Bank. Even if we do achieve a peace agreement with the Palestinians, it is unrealistic to expect the IDF and the police to be able to evacuate such a large number of people. It is especially unrealistic in light of the massive transformation that the IDF is undergoing currently - more and more of its officers are religious Zionists who identify with the right and oppose evacuating settlements.

Will the army be able to complete such a task? I don't have a clear answer. I can be sure, however, that despite my appreciation for the residents of Eli, Shilo and other mainstream settlements, the continuation of construction in these settlements will absolutely prevent the possibility of a peace deal with the Palestinians.

So what is the solution? The one I support remains the two-state solution. I may be overly optimistic, knowing what I know about the changes in the army and on the ground, but regardless, when I listened to the people who hosted my visit in Shilo and its surroundings, the sentence that I kept repeating was that for them, there is no solution.