Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Arlene Kushner on The Israeli-Palestinian Peace Talks: Bad News -- And Worse

From Arlene Kushner:
July 31, 2013

Morally Repugnant


That Netanyahu agreed to release 104 Palestinian Arab prisoners was widely broadcast publicly -- starting with a letter to the Israeli public by the prime minister himself.  Heartache and fury, but no secret here.

However, release of the prisoners was only one of the three major demands of Mahmoud Abbas -- the others being agreement to begin negotiations on the basis of the '67 lines, and freezing of building beyond the '67 line, i.e., in eastern Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria.  And we have pretty solid information that building will be slowed, if not terminated all together.  Actually, already has been slowed.

But what about beginning negotiations based on the '67 line?  This is a question -- of more than a little significance -- that has consumed me and many others.  Although definitive answers are next to impossible to come by.  

Yesterday I spoke with several persons connected with relevant government agencies and drew a "no comment" about the basis for negotiations.  Someone from the Foreign Ministry told me candidly, "We've put a fog out over everything."  Indeed.  He "explained" that "this increases the chances of success."  I didn't tell him that I thought what this really does is increase the government's ability to prevent the electorate from finding out something that it doesn't want us to know.  As well as stimulate the rumor mill.

So there is enormous anxiety and unease.  A terrible thing when trust in the government has been destroyed, but that's where we are.

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There are PA sources insisting that Kerry "promised" them that negotiations would use the '67 line as its starting point.  And there are people here so mistrustful of our own government that they are prepared to believe them.  I am not. That is, the Palestinian Arabs say many things that are not true and just because Netanyahu has proven himself untrustworthy does not mean that every negative thing they say about him is necessarily true.

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Based on what I do know, and factoring in my own (possibly faulty) intuition, this is what I believe is going on:

Kerry -- who would do us a favor if he took a slow boat to China and didn't come back -- is playing both ends against the middle.  He has, I am certain, made assurances to the PA about how he will make his very best effort to see to it that when negotiations begin it will be on the basis of the '67 line.  I have information from a solid source on this.  The PA then parlayed these assurances into "he promised." 


Kerry and Abbas
Kerry and Abbas. Why does it seem that Abbas calls the shots?
Credit: State Department
This photo did not appear in the original article by Arlene Kushner

From the Israeli side, Kerry has secured deliberate ambiguity.  Netanyahu is not saying that he knows what assurances Kerry has made to the PA and that he is on board with this.  My bet is that he's not on board with this. But he's allowing it to be said without direct and vociferous refutation -- thereby giving the impression that he is.  And apparently thus appeasing both Kerry and the PA.

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An article from Haaretz out just hours ago seems to confirm what I have been seeing:  It says that, according to a senior Israeli official, yesterday the US gave Israel and the PA letters "which outlined the US position vis-a-vis the peace talks, their conduct and their goals," in order to facilitate the talks. While the article states that the contents of the letters are classified, it seems fairly clear that there was good information acquired.  It says that the letters "likely" address the issues of borders and refugees. 

But this is not startling.  We know the US position on the '67 lines. What it apparently does not say is that "the parties have agreed, and this is to confirm that negotiations will be based on the '67 lines."  In pushing the US position on this, Kerry would be honoring what I understood to be his promise to the PA.  And there is no reason for us to assume, based on this information, that Netanyahu did agree to those lines. 

What struck me was one sentence: "the letter to Israel apparently included an American declaration stating Israel is a Jewish state..." 

Read: U.S. gave Israel, Palestinians letters of assurance in order to renew talks

The letter to Israel? There were different letters to the two parties?  He gave each party what it needed to hear in order to be reassured, while leaving out at least some of what was said to the other party?
Extreme duplicity, if so. And, I suspect, very much part of Kerry's MO.

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But it gets much worse:

In today's news there were two items that I must mention.

Kerry, in announcing the resumption of talks, said that in the coming days and weeks the Israeli government will take a number of steps to improve conditions on the ground...for Palestinians.


This is likely to mean something horrendous such as taking down checkpoints, which puts Jewish life at risk.  And please note that the statement was made definitively.  It didn't say, "We hope Israel will consider..."

In the same article, there is talk about the PA refraining from its unilateral campaign at the UN and from pursuing Israel at the International Criminal Court, and, it was explained that "this had not been explicitly stated." (Emphasis added)

A senior White House official who was quoted said there were "no guarantees of anything," but that "so long as this process is moving forward, I think the risks of that sort of thing are reduced, if not entirely eliminated."

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Well, my friends, I tell you frankly that rage rose up in my throat like bile when I read that. And you will forgive me, one and all, if I step just slightly beyond my normal professionalism to observe that Obama, Kerry and company are kissing a certain part of Abbas's anatomy.

The question is, why? Why is it that we get pushed and leaned on without end. Not enough to agree to release a thousand murderers who should not be let go, we have to agree to "improve conditions" for the Palestinian Arabs in a variety of additional ways.

And yet the US, which is promoting a $4 billion economic plan for the PA, and takes the PA's part with regard to the '67 lines, doesn't say to Abbas, "Listen here.  You want all of this, you agree to stay away from unilateral actions and procedures against Israel."  "Listen here. Shape up or we'll let you hang out to dry."
Just that simple elementary demand.  It's as if Abbas can call the shots, and the US is afraid of him.  As if he holds the key to the salvation of the world, if only he will sit at the table with Israel. 

Maybe what he holds is the key to some sense of diplomatic victory for a failed Obama administration -- and so is to be courted in unconscionable ways.
Morally repugnant. Unbearable.  Obscene.

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Oh, and let me not forget this:  Yesterday Abbas said that no Israeli could remain in a Palestinian state: "In a final resolution, we would not see the presence of a single Israeli -- civilian or soldier -- on our lands." 

Read: As peace talks begin, Abbas rules out any Israeli presence in Palestinian state

He was declaring ethnic cleansing up front -- a judenrein state.  Yet, I picked up not a word from Kerry about this being a regrettable statement as negotiations begin.

Abbas also said this, reflecting the arrogance he surely feels (emphasis added): "We've already made all the necessary concessions".
"East Jerusalem is the capital of the state of Palestine ... if there were and must be some kind of small exchange (of land) equal in size and value, we are ready to discuss this -- no more, no less."
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So, by playing reprehensible games, Kerry has pushed the two sides to the table.  He has announced that the parties will meet in about two weeks, somewhere in this region, and that meetings will be sustained over a period of nine months, with a goal of achieving a final resolution.  All issues are said to be on the table.
But he has done nothing to genuinely bring those sides one iota closer on the issues, and one must wonder what his end game is. 

I have not encountered a single analyst/commentator who sees these talks as viable and offering a possibility for resolution. 

Tzipi Livni -- whom I consider a quintessentially incompetent diplomat -- seems beside herself with the pleasure of having gotten this far, and talks about "hope."  Ugh. Hope for what?

People sometimes say that it can't hurt to try, even if chances are slim.  But I beg to differ.  If we make concessions we shouldn't be making and weaken our position and our deterrence, it hurts.
  
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In closing, I want to backtrack to take a closer look at a statement made by Interior Minister Gideon Sa'ar in defense of voting to release the Palestinian Arab prisoners.  I find it alarming:

He said the vote to release the prisoners was made to prevent a serious diplomatic crisis with the US and other Western allies: 
"A nay vote means...Negotiations won't begin and Israel will be blamed, even by its best friends, for failing to renew the negotiations."
This is terrible thinking that suggests that we buy into the US notion that pressure should be put on us, and Abbas should be given what he wants (he said he wouldn't come to the table unless the prisoners were released).

It further suggests that we are so fearful of anger from our allies that we subvert our own best interests to avoid this.  In my opinion, this is yet another sign of galut mentality.  And I have no doubt but that this is a reflection of what Netanyahu thought.

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But there was a way around this, the way a sovereign state with courageous leaders might have handled the matter. 

The Cabinet should have voted it down, and Netanyahu should have called a major press conference declaring Israeli intentions to pursue peace, but explaining that it is not possible to release the prisoners because 1) Israel is a nation of law and the release would subvert justice, and 2) because the government's first obligation is to protect the safety of its citizens and freeing terrorists puts them at risk. 

It is much to be regretted, our prime minister might have said, that Mahmoud Abbas placed this stumbling block before us, demanding what is not reasonable and refusing to relinquish that demand for the sake of peace.

Netanyahu and his government could have and should have said no.

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Sa'ar said something else, as well:

That "the alternative to releasing prisoners was negotiations based on the 1967 borders or a construction freeze in the settlements, so the prisoner option was the least of all evils."

I've heard this elsewhere, too.  And it suggests that we had to "give" something that Abbas demanded.  Disturbing not only from the point of view of Israeli strength as a nation, but with regard to what was discussed above: the US assumption that Israel has an obligation to "give" to get the ball rolling, even though the PA is not into "giving."

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© Arlene KushnerThis material is produced by Arlene Kushner, functioning as an independent journalist. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution. 
If it is reproduced and emphasis is added, the fact that it has been added must be noted.

See my website at Arlene from Israel 

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