There are, in fact, two negotiating processes that call for examination. Today I will look at what is euphemistically referred to as the “Peace Negotiations” between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs. Actually, there haven’t been any direct negotiations for a while now, as each side communicates only with US representatives.
Yesterday, Abbas met with Obama at the White House. Reports are that Obama “pressed” him:
“We’re going to have to take some tough political decisions and risks if we’re to move it forward. My hope is that we can continue to see progress in the coming days and weeks.”
The posturing is certainly clear: “…continue to see progress…” Precisely what progress has there been so far? And what tough political decisions does Obama REALLY expect Abbas to make?
Obama’s words notwithstanding, there was no implied threat leveled at Abbas, as there had been at Netanyahu, a few weeks ago.
There are several issues that have become the focus of these stalled “negotiations.”
One is the matter of the PA recognizing Israel as the State of the Jewish People. Netanyahu has presented this demand, up front, as a necessary condition for peace. What’s been going on is that Abbas has now begun hedging it, claiming that in this or that fashion, in this or that context, he or his predecessor, Yasser Arafat, had already done so.
Well, folks, this is simply not the case. Nor will it be the case. There are two very essential reasons for this. The first has to do with the Muslim Arab perception that Israel is illegitimate – a Jewish interloper in the Muslim world. From a religious perspective, it is incomprehensible that they would acknowledge as legitimate a Jewish state on land they perceive to be Muslim. Islam is supposed to supersede Judaism, so how could a Jewish state arise in a Muslim area?
And that is precisely why Netanyahu makes this demand: Unless the PLO/PA acknowledges – officially, on the record – that a Jewish state can be legitimate in this part of the world, the Muslims will continue to seek our annihilation.
The second has to be do with “right of return”: If Israel is Jewish, this would preclude a mass exodus of ersatz refugees, who are Muslims, into Israel. But “right of return” is something Abbas swears not to relinquish.
It is being claimed, first, that the Arab world recognized a Jewish state with UN General Assembly Resolution 181, which in 1947 recommended partition of the Mandate land into a Jewish state and an Arab state. The catch here is that ALL of the Arab states rejected this resolution.
Then Abbas said that recognition was offered as part of the Oslo Accords in 1993, but this is not the case either. The PLO recognized “Israel,” not as a Jewish state. In fact, Abbas is cited as having recently lamented that:
“We recognized Israel in mutual recognition in the (1993) Oslo agreement — why do they now ask us to recognize the Jewishness of the state?”
Perhaps even more troubling than the Palestinian Arab position on this issue is the US position. Talk about duplicity. For a while press statements from the Americans acknowledged the right of Israel to be recognized as a Jewish state and accorded Israel that recognition. Then the backtracking began, with statements about how, yes, the US acknowledged a Jewish Israel, but that was not necessarily the position of all parties, and it was yet to be determined how this would be resolved in negotiations. Blah, blah…
Most recently, Kerry was cited as saying to a Congressional committee that:
…he thought it was “a mistake for some people to be raising it [Jewish state recognition] again and again as the critical decider of their attitude toward the possibility of a state and peace.” (Emphasis added)
Translation: we cannot get the PA to change its stance here, so it’s time to start criticizing Israeli leaders, who are just troublemakers, for making this demand.
Kerry being true to form.
Another major issue has to do with the release of Arab prisoners. Israel had committed to releasing 104 in four groups, over the course of the nine months of negotiations. This was to induce Abbas to come to the table in the first place.
The final group of 26 is supposed to be scheduled for release in a little over a week. The problem now is that this group is said to include Arabs who are Israeli citizens and the notion of releasing them at the demand of the PA arouses the considerable ire of many Israelis (myself included).
PA leaders refer to these Israeli citizens as “our revolutionary Palestinian brothers from the Interior (i.e., Israel). …. from Palestine that was occupied in 1948,.our brothers from the 1948 occupation.” (Emphasis added)
This is a dead giveaway, for anyone who is paying attention, with regard to how the PA sees Israel, even the Israel established in 1948 – as totally not legitimate, and certainly not a Jewish state, because it all belongs to the Palestinian Arabs.
Obviously, the Arab prisoners who are Israeli citizens – with the full rights and benefits bestowed by citizenship – were encouraged to absorb this mindset and to be disloyal to their country: acts of violence as expressions of that disloyalty put them in prison. But as they are Israeli citizens, it is for Israel to deal with them. How galling is it then, that the PA should seek their release.
Before Israeli prisoners can be released, there will have to be another vote in the full Israeli Cabinet, and it is far from a sure thing that this would pass.
Minister of Economics Naftali Bennett (head of Habayit Hayehudi) is a member of the Security Cabinet. Yesterday he made a statement that there would be no Israeli Arabs released in this last group.
What is more, he is calling for a Cabinet meeting to discuss cancellation of this entire final group (tranche) of 26 prisoners:
“Now that it is clear to everyone that there is no advance in the negotiations – all there is is the firing of missiles [from Gaza] and an escalation by [Abbas] on his side – I think it is time for the Cabinet to discuss the matter of the fourth tranche in order to try and find the logic [in a release] when [Abbas] is already saying – ‘I just want the terrorists and then I will derail the negotiations.’
“So, we will give him terrorists just so he can derail the negotiations? What is the logic in this?”
Bennett is absolutely correct here.
The last issue I will mention is that of the continuation of the talks beyond the deadline of April 29th. What is going to happen is anyone’s guess. Abbas is threatening to go to international agencies, starting with the UN, should negotiations come to an end.
Should he do this, he would have abrogated the terms of Oslo (not for the first time), and then Israel would be a position to declare the Accords null and void – but would be exceedingly unlikely to do this. This is something I would like to revisit in some detail at the appropriate time.
The US desperately wants the negotiations to continue.
Regretfully, our government has made statements about a readiness to continue as well. A different tone from that of Bennett, who has addressed the foolishness of extending this situation. I hasten to point out here that Netanyahu’s declarations of readiness do not mean that he is truly eager to pursue that “two state solution” (see about Ya’alon below) or even that he thinks the talks actually will continue. I have had information from some very solid sources indicating that the prime minister anticipates that the negotiations may end in failure in the coming weeks. This is Netanyahu being himself.
And Abbas? He is milking the situation for all it’s worth – making threats, attempting to secure additional concessions: he certainly understands the eagerness of the Americans for an extension of the talks and he plays them for all he can.
If we should withhold release of the Israeli Arabs, this might finish it for Abbas, whose reputation rests in some good measure on his ability to secure the release of prisoners. He may find he would have to walk away in that situation. What he is actually doing now is demanding as the price for staying at the table (along with other things) the release of additional prisoners beyond the 104 that had been originally discussed.
Just days ago, Defense Minister Ya’alon made a statement to Israeli TV regarding the peace process:
Abbas, he said, was “a partner for taking, but not a partner for giving. He’s not a partner for a final agreement, at the end of which there is recognition of Israel’s rights as the nation state of the Jewish people, an end of the conflict and an end to all demands. He [Abbas] says this openly.”
I continue to find it difficult to believe that a man this high in the government would make such statements on a critical issue without a nod from the prime minister.
Ya’alon further said that he was opposed to the release of Israeli Arab prisoners. Maybe, he declared, Abbas “got from Kerry” the impression that Israeli citizens would be released, but that Israel had not made such a commitment.
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by Arlene Kushner, functioning as an independent journalist. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.
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