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August 22, 2010: On What Premises?

December 1, 2010

I wrote yesterday about the fact that the Quartet had, in the end, not mentioned pre-conditions in its call for negotiations released on Friday.  Almost.  But this turns out not quite to be so.
In today’s JPost, Khaled Abu Toameh writes that the PLO Executive Committee, which met Friday night, supported talks because they were being held on the basis of a Quartet statement made earlier this year.
The Quartet statement referred to was made in Moscow on March 19, 2010. And, indeed, the Quartet statement released on  Friday states:
“The Quartet reaffirms its full commitment to its previous statements, including in Trieste on 26 June 2009, in New York on 24 September 2009, and its statement in Moscow on 19 March 2010 which provides that direct, bilateral negotiations that resolve all final status issues should ‘lead to a settlement, negotiated between the parties…'” 
This is the old “inclusion by allusion” technique. The Quartet did not have to declare that there were pre-conditions, it merely had to declare its commitment to an earlier statement that implied there were such pre-conditions.  Friday’s statement simply says that there should be direct bilateral negotiations to resolve all issues, etc.  This is slippery (and not accidentally so).  One must look at the Moscow statement in its entirety to know what’s really being referred to.
The text of that statement can be found here:
While it specifically says there are no pre-conditions to negotiations, it also says:
“The Quartet urges the government of Israel to freeze all settlement activity, including natural growth, dismantle outposts erected since March 2001; and to refrain from demolitions and evictions in East Jerusalem.”
And, further, that:
“Recalling that the annexation of East Jerusalem is not recognized by the international community, the Quartet underscores that the status of Jerusalem is a permanent status issue that must be resolved through negotiations between the parties and condemns the decision by the government of Israel to advance planning for new housing units in East Jerusalem.”
The readiness of the PLO Executive Committee to move ahead with negotiations is premised, then, on these statements. 
And understand that when “East Jerusalem” is referred to, this is not a geographic designation but a political one, referring to everything over the Green Line, so that new housing units in Gilo or French Hill would be prohibited.
Meanwhile, MK Ophir Akunis has released an official Likud statement saying that the American statement calling for talks without pre-conditions is a huge victory for Israel:
“It took a year and a half to persuade the international community and the Palestinians that direct dialogue is the only way to reach a solution to the conflict.  This is further proof that when you stand up for your principles and do not give in, you can attain diplomatic achievements.”
Well… I’m totally on board for our standing up for our principles, and I do believe that standing strong can lead to diplomatic achievements.
But I am not yet convinced that we’ve genuinely achieved a diplomatic success here.  It seems to me, rather, that there is a stalemate — because the premises on which the two ostensible negotiating partners will be proceeding will not be the same.  We will proceed under the assumption that there are no pre-conditions.  But the first time we begin to build in eastern Jerusalem (may it be!) Abbas and the PLO will scream and holler that the Quartet said we should not be doing this and we’ve undermined everything (and perhaps made it impossible to proceed).
This, I would suggest, is a paradigm for the entire anticipated “negotiating process.”  We and the PA are so far apart on our goals and intentions that there will be neither a meeting of the minds nor genuine negotiations of any meaningful sort.
At today’s Cabinet meeting, PM Netanyahu made the following statement:

“We are coming to talks from a real desire to achieve a peace agreement between the two peoples, while safeguarding Israel’s national interests, foremostly security. I know that there is a considerable skepticism after 17 years having passed since the beginning of the Oslo process. It is possible to understand why this doubtfulness exists. We are seeking to surprise the critics and the skeptics, but in order to do this we need a real partner on the Palestinian side. It is possible to succeed with a hand extended in peace, but only if someone on the other likewise extends one. If we discover that we have a real partner on the Palestinian side, sincere and serious in negotiations, negotiations which will require both sides to take necessary measures, not only the Israeli side but also the Palestinian side, if we discover we have such a partner, we will be able to shortly reach a historic peace agreement between the two peoples.

“This agreement will be based on three initial components: First of all, on real and sustainable security arrangements on the ground; secondly, upon recognition of Israel as the national state of the Jewish People, and this means that the solution of a problem like the demand for return will be realized in the territory of the Palestinian state; and the third component, the end to the conflict. We are discussing a peace agreement between Israel and a demilitarized Palestinian state. This state, if it should be established after this process, is due to end the conflict and not to be a façade for its continuation by other means….”


While it is difficult indeed at times to accept with equanimity the apparent eagerness of our prime minister to negotiate with the Palestinian Arabs, I remain convinced that he is — as I have discussed on several previous occasions — playing a very calculated game, walking a tightrope.  He does not wish to appear to be the “stumbling block to peace” before the international community — although the Arabs will do all in their power to counter with charges that make it appear that he is.  He plays the game, while setting out stipulations that he very clearly knows are not only important for us but will be rejected outright by the Arabs, thereby insuring that their state does not come into being. 

The insistence, alone, of our being recognized as a Jewish state, with “refugees” to be resettled outside of Israel, is a deal-killer.  While, by expressing intention that any deal must be end of conflict and not “a façade for its continuation by other means,” he is demonstrating awareness of the devious PLO “strategy of stages” and his determination that we not become enmeshed in these Arab plans.

While Netanyahu will be charged with setting out unreasonable demands, it is not because he is genuinely intransigent, but because he is calling the Arabs’ bluff.  They are totally without sincerity with regard to establishing a peaceful state that would exist at our border.

The trick here is for him to remain strong in his stipulations and red lines, and to avoid falling into a trap devised by either the Arabs or Obama.  A tall order, which requires us both to pray a great deal and to express support in a variety of ways.


Another way to play this would be to simply say that the PA is still inciting jihad among its young people and supporting Hamas financially, and thus we cannot negotiate now. But this — which would require great courage and nerves of steel — is not Netanyahu’s style and we would be ill-advised to expect this of him.

His desire to appear before the international community as the cooperative party does have a logic:  There is a possibility that when talks fail, the Arabs will charge us with being uncooperative and head for the Security Council.  Netanyahu wants to be able to say:  Us?  I was pushing for direct talks but they dragged their feet. They have no legitimate right to claim redress.


One additional comment from Dr. Aaron Lerner, of IMRA.  Security interests may be very important in our considerations now, but he is a bit uneasy in finding too much emphasis on this.  He wrote today:

“Israel’s ‘national interests’ go well beyond security.

“Israel has a ‘national interest,’ for example, that for generations to come, Jews will continue to be able to pray at ancient sites sacred to Judaism in places such as Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Hebron…

“Put simply, if the IDF had a special gizmo that could satisfactorily protect Israel’s national security interests with Israel finding itself on the ’67 lines – including the complete division of Jerusalem, Israel still would have national interests to address on the other side of that line.’  


Let us never forget this!


The New York Times the other day informed its readers that the US had “convinced” Israel that there is at least a year until Iran would be able to go nuclear, and that thus there was no reason to rush in bombing Iran.  Obama’s chief nuclear advisor on nuclear issues, Gary Samore, was quoted as saying, “A year is a very long time.”
Well, never mind that a year is a very short time indeed.  I read the report from the Times and thought it strange, for this is, as I’ve been reading it, pretty much what our intelligence has been indicating for quite a while.  So now the US has “informed” us of this? Actually, as I’ve been reading it, the US estimates gave Iran more time, and our people have been saying, no, only a year to two more.
Then along came Jeffrey Goldberg, writing in the Atlantic, confirming my sense of the situation.  Goldberg observes that there is no Israeli quoted in the Times article, confirming or denying what it says.
I mention this here only because the Times article created something of a splash.
The IDF has announced that Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi will be replaced by Major General Yoav Galant, currently head of the IDF Southern Command.  Galant will be the first Chief of Staff to have begun his military career in the Navy.  He moved over to the IDF, however, when he was appointed commander of the Jenin Brigade and then later became commander of the Gaza Division.
According to Yaakov Katz, writing in the JPost:  “A strong charismatic commander with vast field and combat experience, Galant is well respected throughout the IDF.”  Galant was organizer of the Cast Lead operation in Gaza, during which time “he insisted on visiting the Gaza Strip during the operation and spending time with battalion and company commanders in the field.”  He clashed with a more hesitant Ashkenazi, pushing for movement deeper into Gaza.
We can only hope that this report rings true (especially in the light of a major “incident” within the IDF regarding the replacement for Ashkenazi, which I will not explore here, but which had the regrettable effect of tarnishing the IDF image).  We desperately need a well respected, highly competent and courageous leader at the helm of the IDF.



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