Posts Tagged ‘Abbas’

Direct Talks: A Path Forward or A Trap?

July 30, 2010

Aaron Miller, long-time State Department official, warns President Obama against pushing so hard for direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

Lara Friedman, of Americans for Peace Now, explores the tangled web that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will

PA President Mahmoud Abbas

need to walk now that even the Arab League has endorsed direct talks.

The sum of both articles, though, leaves one wondering why Barack Obama is pushing so hard for direct talks.

It’s clear enough why Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants direct talks. Israel has done nothing to advance the proximity talks and faced no consequences for it. In direct talks, that will be even truer; holding the talks will satisfy much of the world, and Israel will be able to prolong them indefinitely.

But what exactly does Obama expect to come from direct talks at this stage? Netanyahu is shouting to all that will listen that he can’t even extend the joke of a settlement moratorium or his government will fall (it won’t). So how can we believe he can possibly make the concessions necessary for peace?

That aside, let’s say Abbas and Netanyahu do come to an agreement that satisfies both sides. What happens with Gaza and Hamas? Part of any agreement that the Palestinians can agree to is the affirmation of the principle that the West Bank and Gaza are a single territorial unit.

If such an agreement, then, is not possible, what’s the big rush for direct talks?

It does seem that this is another symptom of the tragic lack of strategy that has dogged Obama’s Mideast efforts from day one. The President has kept this issue on the front burner, and I remain convinced of his good intentions.

But we all know what is said about the road to hell. (more…)

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Webcasting Hasbara

July 12, 2010

The spokesman for the Israeli Prime Minister’s office held a webcast today. Mark Regev, who is expert at talking with the media and is specifically geared toward English-speaking audiences, spent half an hour answering questions that had been submitted through Facebook.

If Israel is smart, they’ll have Regev do a lot more of this. He’s very good at it, and his remarkable skill at disseminating

Israeli PMO spokesman Mark Regev

hasbara (propaganda) was on full display. He sticks as best he can to areas where Israel can make a good case and he’s very good at framing his statements to present Israel in the best light possible. But a careful listen shows once again the limits of even the best public relations; you can sell a Honda like it’s a Mercedes for a while, but eventually the quality of the product you’re selling cannot be disguised.

In a mere thirty minutes, Regev could only touch on the subjects that came up, yet the time amply demonstrated both the strengths and weaknesses of Israel’s arguments.

Recognizing the “Jewish State?”

The first statement Regev made which bears examination is when he described the Israeli vision of a demilitarized Palestine that recognizes “the Jewish State.” The first part of that sentence will raise some hackles, but it is a condition which, while it has never been formally committed to, has always been understood to be a part of a final status agreement.

But the idea of Palestine recognizing not only Israeli sovereignty and its right to exist, but recognizing it as a Jewish state is a deal-breaker. It is a willful wrench that has been thrown into negotiations, actually by Ehud Olmert, who first brought the idea to the fore.

Palestinians might be able to live with a demilitarized state. But recognizing Israel as the Jewish State demands that Palestinians drop their objections to the discrimination their fellows who hold Israeli citizenship face. More importantly, it implicitly demands that they acknowledge that the dispossession they have endured for the past 62 years was justified. Whether one believes that Palestinian dispossession was inevitable, criminal, justified by war or a case of ethnic cleansing, surely everyone can agree that asking Palestinians to make such an admission is simply unreasonable.

It’s also unthinkable. Regev, like many other advocates for the official Israeli position, puts this out there as if it is a normal demand. Far from it—no country recognizes another “as” anything. It simply recognizes another country’s sovereignty, with the rights and responsibilities that implies. One of those rights is for any country to define itself, through its own political and social processes. (more…)

The Play’s the Thing for Bibi and Obama

July 6, 2010

DC theater at its best. That’s what we had today as the much-anticipated photo-op meeting between US President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took place.

Both parties got what they wanted. Obama had a warm press conference with Bibi, sending the message that American-Israeli relations are as warm as ever and reassuring his Jewish Democratic base (which he is more worried about than he needs to be) that he still loves Israel. He got more statements from Netanyahu committing to a general concept of peace and a lot of praise from Bibi about Obama’s concern for Israel.

PM Netanyahu and President Obama at their press conference after the July 6 meeting

Bibi got a good deal more. Not only was he able to show Israel that the relationship with America remains strong, but he got Obama to publicly imply that the US would continue to back Israeli nuclear ambiguity and to say that he would side with Netanyahu on moving to direct talks with the Palestinian Authority despite there being no indication that actions would be taken to make this politically feasible for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

But in the end, it was just a show. Nothing much changed today, though perhaps Bibi’s closing words, urging Obama to visit Israel, set the stage for the next act.

In the next few days we may find out, that something more important happened behind closed doors between the two. But one thing that was anticipated that seems not to have come about is Obama pressing Netanyahu for an extension of the settlement freeze.

Indeed, just as the meeting began, Americans for Peace Now (APN) delivered a petition with nearly 16,000 signatures urging President Obama to press for that extension. I applaud APN’s effort, and the petition was the right thing to do. But I am also relieved that, apparently, Obama did not heed that call. (more…)

Gaza: A Kadima-Made Quagmire

June 22, 2010

The political mudslinging between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and opposition leader Tzipi Livni over the failure of Israel’s siege of Gaza would be amusing if it were not so disturbing.

The exchange basically comes down to Bibi saying that he inherited the Gaza siege from the previous government and Livni responding that under their version of the siege, the world wasn’t condemning Israel for it.

We’ll get back to Bibi in a moment, but let’s look at the depths of Livni’s disingenuousness.

Benjamin Netanyahu and Tzipi Livni

Livni is not just the current head of Kadima; she was Foreign Minister when the siege was enacted and when Israel wreaked havoc in Operation Cast Lead. Unlike Avigdor Lieberman, the FM in the current government, Livni was at the very heart of policymaking under Olmert. She cannot duck responsibility for Gaza.

Under the watch that Livni was a central part of, Israel enacted a policy that was needlessly cruel and ultimately self-defeating. For three years, the civilians in Gaza have been devastated. They, not Hamas, bore the brunt of Israel’s policies. They, not Hamas, were impacted by Israel barring all sorts of household items, cleansers, foodstuffs, coffee, cigarettes, and other consumer products.

These effects were far from unexpected; they were the sole intent of the policies. This was the very definition of collective punishment. (more…)

Solving the Hamas Question

June 16, 2010

Few events are as badly misunderstood as the 2006 election that brought a stunning victory for Hamas.

The factors that led to that electoral victory were:

  • The perception that Fatah had failed utterly to make any significant gains for the Palestinian people
  • The widespread corruption that was the norm for Fatah at that time
  • The in-fighting in Fatah which caused not only disillusionment, but also led to more than one Fatah candidate in numerous districts, splitting the vote
  • Only the smallest factor was a moderate rise in religious nationalism among Palestinians

Hamas enjoyed a certain temporary popularity, more as an alternative than anything else. Much of the current dilemma involving Hamas arises not from their electoral victory but from the coup that the US and Israel attempted to engineer, backing Fatah in Gaza, which was thwarted by Hamas’ pre-emptive strike and led to Hamas ejecting much of

Hamas PM Ismail Haniyeh and PA President Mahmoud Abbas

Fatah completely from Gaza and taking unilateral control.

I bring this up because a friend asked me how Hamas might be undermined today. The answer is both pragmatic and involves no devious tricks or the use of force.

The first step is easing the Gaza siege so that the people can rebuild destroyed homes and business, and resuscitate their economy. Already, even Israel has conceded this can be done without compromising security measures. And that it can be done while largely bypassing Hamas.

From there, Fatah and Hamas must be pushed toward forming a unity government that would have only one purpose—facilitating new elections for the Palestinian Authority. Polls have consistently shown that Fatah would emerge the winner, while Hamas would be a significant minority party. The most recent poll shows that the gap between the two is widening as Salam Fayyad’s popularity is increasing significantly. (more…)

Resolving the Gaza Siege Conundrum

June 13, 2010

The Gaza Flotilla disaster has shone a light on the siege of Gaza. After three years, the international community has finally stood up and said this must stop.

Now the question is how.

I’m reminded of a meeting I had about a year ago with several State Department officials. Already, the Obama

President Obama and President Abbas met this past week in Washington

administration had made it clear that Gaza was not an issue they wanted to deal with. They preferred to advance the peace process with Mahmoud Abbas and hope Gaza would just go away.

That was never going to happen, of course, but the Administration still seems to want to avoid dealing with Gaza if at all possible. The flotilla massacre made it impossible.

At that meeting, I went through the list of reasons why the siege on Gaza was both unjust and against Israel’s better interests. I stressed throughout, and continue to do so today, that Israel has legitimate security concerns that it has every right to address. But that right does not mean all restraints are off.

So after some discussion, I was asked what I thought should be done about it. I believe my answer to them still holds today as a way to address both Hamas and the rights of the people in Gaza. (more…)

United States of Denial

June 6, 2010

One can never accuse the neo-conservatives of a lack of hubris.

Liz Cheney, daughter of Dick and Lynne Cheney, offers a prime example of this in an interview on ABC News. While Cheney was admitting the massive mistake the Bush Administration made in pushing for Palestinian elections in 2006, Cheney condescends as follows:  “I don’t think they [the Palestinians] were ready for it. I don’t think we should have pushed it.”

No, Liz. It is we who were not ready for it, and to a lesser extent, our friends in Fatah. Indeed, even the Israeli government, then under the leadership of Ariel Sharon, turned more and more cool to the idea as the elections approached, fearing significant gains for Hamas (despite some re-writing of personal histories, exceedingly few expected an outright victory for Hamas, let alone the overwhelming one that occurred).

Liz Cheney

Those elections, held under occupation in exceedingly difficult conditions, were universally praised as free and fair, and the results generated far less controversy than many American elections, including both of those which brought Cheney’s boss, George W. Bush to office.

The Hamas victory was due to three major factors:

  • The ineffectiveness of Fatah’s leadership in ending or easing the occupation. The second intifada had simmered down in early 2005, but the revised and intense measures Israel had put in place during the intifada were mostly still in place by the end of that year. Palestinian life was perhaps at the lowest point it has been, before or since. While many Palestinians questioned the intifada, that question was often based in the notion that Fatah, under both Yasir Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas had so badly blown the negotiated approach that the intifada was the only choice many Palestinians saw.
  • Corruption in Fatah. In 2006, before Salam Fayyad reformed many Palestinian institutions, corruption within Fatah continued apace. There is little doubt that corruption was a major problem under Arafat, who dealt with it as part of his system of control. Abbas was not so inclined, but also did very little to stem the tide of corruption in the PA.
  • Poor organization of campaigns by Fatah. In 2005, the Fatah party was on the verge of splitting in two. Although in the end, the breakaway group, al-Mustaqbal, agreed to stay with the party, out of fear of handing Hamas victory, the damage was done. In numerous districts, Fatah ran multiple candidates, splitting the vote. (more…)

Flotilla Fallout: An Early Assessment

June 3, 2010

There’s a lot more information out now about the disastrous Israeli attack on the flotilla that was heading to Gaza last weekend. That doesn’t necessarily mean more clarity about what actually happened, but there’s enough to start assessing at least some of the impact.

There aren’t a lot of winners in this affair. Facts tend to be one of the first casualties in these things, and such has been the case again. We can start with that.

Israel’s claim that she’s entitled to take this action is disingenuous at best. There simply is no legal basis for taking an action such as this one in international waters, far from Israel’s zone of sovereignty. The idea that a civilian ship intending to run a blockade (one which itself has no basis in law, despite claims to the contrary) can be boarded in international waters before attempting such a run is simply absurd. Boarding civilian ships in international waters by armed commandoes invites the use of force, and the notion that such commandoes were “victims” of a “lynching” simply turns reality on its head.

Israel is also talking out of both sides of its mouth. On the one hand, Israel claims that they needed to board these ships in force, with an elite commando unit, because they feared they might be carrying weapons to Hamas, particularly due to the involvement of “terrorist supporters.” On the other, they say they were unprepared for significant resistance and were expecting non-violent tactics. You can’t have it both ways.

There is a lot of wailing to the effect that the real purpose of these ships was to run the blockade of Gaza and make a media splash, not primarily to deliver the goods they brought.

Well, yes. That’s not a secret, and no one is claiming otherwise.

MJ Rosenberg puts it very well: “Of course the goal of the flotilla was to break the blockade.  Of course Martin Luther King provoked the civil authorities of the South to break segregation.  Of course the Solidarity movement used workers’ rights as a pretext to break Soviet-imposed Communism.”

But the facts are not the only losers here. (more…)

Making Bibi Sing

April 23, 2010

In my latest piece for Zeek Magazine, I explore the question of temporary borders for a Palestinian state, and the Obama Administration’s determination to make a peace process work.

At War With America

March 26, 2010

Sometimes an authority figure – a parent, a sober friend to an alcoholic, a supervisor or a senior partner – has to make it clear that there are consequences to someone’s actions. This has been the missing piece from the United States’ “special relationship” with Israel for a very long time. Barack Obama understands this very well.

Steadily, over the course of the Clinton and W. Bush Administrations, Israel has gotten more and more comfortablewith obstructing the possibility of a two-state solution. Over that time, and far more than in the 25 years between 1967 and 1992, successive Israeli governments have expanded the settlement project massively and tightened the physical hold on East Jerusalem.

Both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush looked the other way. They did that for different reasons; Clinton felt it was too much to take on with a peace process so recently started and Bush simply supported Israel’s attempt to create Greater Israel. (more…)