Yesterday, the Quartet — that’s the US, the UN, the EU and Russia — met and subsequently issued a statement, which said in part:
“The bilateral negotiations process launched at Annapolis is irreversible and … these negotiations should be intensified in order to put an end to the conflict and to establish as soon as possible the state of Palestine, living side by side in peace and security with Israel.”
Full statement here: http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2008/dec/113216.htm
Let us count the ways in which this is a surreal statement (to be counted among a host of prior surreal statements):
First there is the erroneous premise — that the establishment of a Palestinian state would end the conflict. It wouldn’t, of course, because this is not a conflict about territory, but rather an attempt on the part of the Arabs to weaken Israel with an eye to destroying her.
Then we must recognize that the Palestinians don’t have their act together and are in no position to establish a state. They couldn’t run a state successfully if it were handed to them tomorrow.
On top of this, there is division between the Palestinian people, a division, suggesting enormous instability, that has been exacerbated in recent weeks. PA president Mahmoud Abbas recently announced intention to extend his term for a year, while Hamas has declared it will appoint an interim president because Abbas is finished on January 9, 2009. Now Abbas says he may call for presidential and legislative elections “very soon” in Judea and Samaria and Gaza. But there cannot be elections in Gaza without Hamas cooperation, and Hamas (which has the majority in the legislature) points out the legislative elections are not scheduled for another year. Enormous instability indeed.
Hamas — which just ran a huge rally in Gaza with over 200,000 people coming out to celebrate the organization’s 21st anniversary — is disinclined to participate in a unity government and is not going away.
So there is no political entity representing all of the people, no single address. How this is supposed to be resolved if a state is established is simply not dealt with.
To make matters worse, one of the two groups representing the Palestinian people is overtly (rather than covertly) terrorist. Sort of puts a wrinkle in things, doesn’t it? If Hamas were to join with Fatah in a unity government, it would mean that Israel would be expected to negotiate with terrorists. There is solid precedent suggesting that when Hamas and Fatah get together (as they did for a period of months last year), it is Fatah that radicalizes and not Hamas that moderates. What is more, Israeli defense officials are saying that Iran has increasing influence over Hamas. This means that if there were a unity government and Israel were to negotiate with it, it would be with an eye towards establishing a state at Israel’s borders over which Iran held sway.
But, piffle, these are mere technicalities and shouldn’t stand in the way of a chance to make peace. The members of the Quartet are so dedicated to the cause of peace that they let nothing deter them — certainly not facts on the ground. But not to worry, we all know that the Quartet is interested in safeguarding the security of Israel.
The statement about the “irreversibility” of the Annapolis process was, unquestionably, added in anticipation of a more right wing government being established in Israel after February elections. Don’t even think about walking away from these talks, they are telling Binyamin Netanyahu, who is expected to become Israel’s next prime minister.
There has been distress in the right wing here with regard to Netanyahu’s apparent slide to the center, presumably intended to garner more votes. But there is also another perspective on this: On December 11, Netanyahu met in Tel Aviv with 26 EU ambassadors and assured them that he would continue peace talks. This takes substantial heat off of him.
It should be noted, however, that he told them that his emphasis would be different: He would focus first on economic development within the Palestinian Authority, rather than moving speedily to a state — the implication being, at least in theory, that one would in time lead to the other. And — which I have already written about — he has said that when he does talk about a state for the Palestinians he would put security concerns first, with demands that Israel control borders, airspace, the Jordan Valley, etc. etc.
He would be continuing “the process.” But the negotiations would not be the same.
Those negotiations between Israel and the PA have to this point yielded nothing official on paper. Representatives of Israel have signed nothing. Thus the statement about “irreversibility” has very limited import, if any at all, with regard to the content of the negotiations.
Mark this well, for you may read about it in various contexts: The world seeks to pressure Israel and thus makes it appear that verbal statements that have been made are binding. Legally, they are not. If Olmert has said, for example, that he would be willing to divide Jerusalem, Netanyahu is not bound to this specifically — and indeed has already come out against dividing Jerusalem. He must, no small matter, hold strong.
All of the above is by way of background. Condoleezza Rice is at the UN, where today the Security Council voted on a joint US-Russian resolution declaring support for the Annapolis process “and its commitment to the irreversibility of the bilateral negotiations.” Fourteen nations voted in favor and Libya abstained. After the full text becomes available, I will provide further comment as appropriate.
Rice has been actively promoting this. Said she:
“I believe that will then add the voice of the international community, through its most powerful and its most consequential body, that is the Security Council, to establish … the Annapolis process as the way forward.”
Here’s an Israeli response to a UN initiative that is positive (the response, not the initiative):
Richard Falk, the UN Special Rapporteur on Israeli conduct in the West Bank and Gaza Strip was banned from entering Israel on Sunday. Falk had a mandate from the UN Human Rights Council to investigate Israeli violations of Arab human rights — a mandate that Yigal Palmor, an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman, called “profoundly distorted and conceived as an anti-Israel initiative…It had nothing to do with the promotion of human rights.”
Falk, an American professor, had compared the conduct of Israel in Gaza with Nazi conduct in Europe. He was less than pleased about being put on a plane and sent back to Geneva.
But it turns out that Falk has more in his sites than Israel. Last month he wrote an article in The Journal (Scotland) called “9/11: More than meets the eye,” in which he says that the true story of 9/11 has been covered up by the American government, and that this suggests the possibility of “complicity.” After all, he writes, 9/11 was “relied upon [by the US government] to wage bloody wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to underwrite a disastrously conceived ‘war on terror’ that should be concern of everyone on the planet.”
This is who the UN sends to judge Israel?
Four Kassam rockets and several mor
tar shells were launched from Gaza this morning.
Alex Fishman says in YNet that the Israeli defense establishment has concluded that a major confrontation with Hamas is on the way, and is ready. And indeed, according to Haaretz, Hamas has now decided not to renew the “lull,” as Israel wasn’t “abiding by its terms.” In spite of this, negotiations are still going on.
Maariv reports that it was the Iranians (see above) who pressured Hamas not to renew. The implications here are vast and it is to be hoped that the world will be paying attention. Indeed, Israel is the canary in the mine.
What utter nonsense this is: Syrian president Bashar Assad has drafted a document that provides a Syrian definition of the boundaries of the Golan Heights (which Heights he wants in a peace agreement). According to his version, the Golan reaches all the way down to the shores of the Kinneret. Syria encroached upon this area, which was not originally Syrian, and now claims it. He demands to know what Israel’s position on this is before pursing peace negotiations via Turkey further.
In other words, this is a contested area, but he wants Israel to concede it up front before negotiations.
Responded Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, she “doesn’t know of any negotiations which end before they even begin…What we care about is…the kind [of peace] where weapons smugglings to Hezbollah are stopped and ties with Iran cut and the support of terror organizations like Hamas ends.”
The government of Israel would be wise to be done with this. It’s a pipe dream, the expectation that anything positive will develop. And to ever allow Syria to come down to the Kinneret would be insanity.
What we’re seeing here is a confidence on Assad’s part that he can demand the maximum because Israel has been foolish enough to appear greatly eager for a deal.
I’ve now encountered two reputable commentators — Fouad Ajami of the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies and columnist Charles Krauthammer — who are of the opinion that the focus of the Obama administration will be domestic, with the financial crisis, and not international.
“There is a detached tone to Obama’s utterances on the Islamic world. If Bush believed he could remake that old and broken and wily region, Obama signals a fatigue with it, an acceptance of its order of power.”
Krauthammer suggests that Obama is about remaking America according to his progressive vision.
I would like to recommend an excellent piece by Barry Rubin, “What They Say Is Not What You Hear,” about the duplicity of Arab officials who say one thing in Arabic and something quite different in English. It’s most enlightening, and of considerable importance:
Sad news: A private bus carrying Russian tourists in the area of Eilat, and navigating a winding narrow road, plunged down a 40-foot chasm. At least 28 are dead and 20 wounded.