Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The return of De Gaulle?

The commotion started with the press conference that Prime Minister Netanyahu convened to sum up his participation at the economic conference in Davos . Having said that his meeting with Secretary of State Kerry there had been "very good", Netanyahau casually added "I'm not going to remove even  a single settlement. I don’t intend to uproot any Israeli."  That seemed a very sharp turn to the right, an attempt to drive a king-size nail into the coffin of the diplomatic initiative led by the same John Kerry.

Washington has not made an official response, but could have hardly been very pleased. Two days later, a Netanyahu aide called the foreign correspondents in Israel and provided a clarification. True, the PM is not going to remove any settlement, but that does not mean that all the settlements must remain under Israeli rule. "There should be an option to leave Jewish residents in the territory of a future Palestinian state. Why can’t Jews live in Palestine, just as Arabs live in Israel?" Indeed, why not?

These comments were made in English, apparently designed primarily for an international audience, and were published by the Associated Press. However, in today's media it takes very little time to translate into Hebrew what was published in English. The extreme rightists were astonished and shocked and felt betrayed. "A very grave matter, a panicked loss of values​​" accused Minister Naftali Bennett, leader of the Jewish Home Party. For his part Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon, a member of Netanyahu 's own party, said "We are absolutely not going to abandon the settlers behind enemy lines". It is clear that the possibility of Israel reaching peace with the Palestinians and they ceasing to be 'The Enemy" does not appear on the mental horizon of Danon and of the other heads of the nationalist Right, competing with each other in verbal outrage.

All this is not a real a surprise. Palestinians are committed to the principle of Sumud, which means holding on tooth and nail to your land, remaining hold on to your city or your village, remaining at all costs in your home at your town or village, whoever is the ruler there and even if it is an occupying and oppressive rule from which you greatly suffer. But the settlers who streamed into the Occupied Territories over the past forty- seven years are made ​​of a different stuff. It is all very well to return to the Land of Our Forefathers and settle in the Land of Israel. In Judea and Samaria, but only provided that IDF soldiers will always be around and provide settlers with guard services around the clock . Except for unique individuals such as the late Rabbi Menachem Froman and his handful of disciples, the settlers will not seriously consider the option of staying on and making a life in Palestine.

To those who know Twentieth Century history, the latest Netanyahu tumult  immediately brings to mind the name of French President Charles de Gaulle . In 1962, de Gaulle was faced with a dilemma in many ways similar to the present situation of the State of Israel. At the end of a harsh bloody war, de Gaulle came to the inevitable conclusion that France had to terminate its long-lasting  rule in Algeria and allow its Arab residents to establish an independent state. But what to do with nearly million and a half French settlers who lived in Algeria, some of them fourth- and even fifth generation? Had de Gaulle ordered an eviction by force, with soldiers physically picking up each and every settler and carrying them on board a ship sailing to France, the entire French army would not have been enough for the task. Instead, de Gaulle just set a date for the evacuation of French troops and the transfer of control to the government of the new Algerian state, leaving to each individual settler the personal choice  to stay or to leave. In practice, almost all of them chose to leave Algeria behind them and start a new life in France. (Later, some of them became hard-core supporters of the Le Pen extreme right, but that's another story…)

So, have we finally gotten an Israeli de Gaulle, and is his name Binyamin Netanyahu? N., an old Palestinian friend who managed to get permission to come to Tel Aviv just in the middle of this turmoil, was quite skeptical: "Between Algeria and France there are hundreds of miles of sea. When  the Algerians saw the soldiers boarding the ships and sailing off, they knew that their occupation had really ended. But there is no sea between us and Israel. If the settlers remain on our land, it will be enough that they make some problem or provocation, and immediately the army will return and the occupation will start again one day after it ended. There is no problem about Jews living among us as Palestinian citizens, we will respect them and they will respect us, but Netanyahu demands that they will live there as Israeli citizens " - "There are Israeli citizens who live in New York under U.S. law and the jurisdiction of the American police. " "Yes, in America. But we are not America. We remember Oslo, we know that if there is an agreement with holes in it then Israel will go through the holes and do whatever it wants. What Netanyahu means is that the situation will remain as it is now. A settler can go wherever he wants and commit whatever crime he wants right in front of a Palestinian policeman and the policeman can’t touch him. Only an Israeli police officer has the right to  arrest him, but the Israeli police will not do it, either. If that's how it is going to be, then what kind of a state will we have? A joke, not a state."

Indeed, another memory comes to mind.  In 1978, PM Menachem Begin promised to withdraw from the whole of Sinai in return for peace with Egypt , but played with the idea of keeping the Israeli settlers in northern Sinai in place under Egyptian rule. At first, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat did not reject the idea out of hand - until Begin made clear he did not mean only civilian Israelis to stay on in Sinai, but also an armed Israeli defense force which would have been charged with protecting them. From that moment, Sadat firmly insisted on the Israeli government evacuating each and every settler.

Today’s papers carry a new clarification from Netanyahu's bureau. It turns out that all this had never been a serious proposal intended for actual implementation. It was just “spin”, part of the endless 'blame game’ with the Palestinians, a proposal designed to be rejected by the Palestinians and thus allow Netanyahu to present them as rejectionists and extremists. " Bennett has spoiled our spin " the Netanyahu aides bitterly complain…


Friday, January 24, 2014

Five minutes to twelve, and no Plan B

A few years ago Gush Shalom activists discussed the publication of new stickers in advance of the annual Rabin Memorial, an event which always draws large numbers of peace-minded youngsters who avidly cover their shirts with a great variety of political stickers. We resolved to produce stickers with the warning caption "Wake up! It is five minutes to Midnight " accompanied by  a drawing of the clock hands over the background of flags of Israel and Palestine. We prepared three different versions: "It is five minutes to Midnight - this is the last moment to change course".  " It is five minutes to Midnight - this is the last moment to make peace." It is five minutes to Midnight - this is the last moment to dismantle the settlements."

Apparently our pessimism came a bit early. The fact  is that recently we found a box full of these stickers, and concluded that they can still be used and distributed, i.e. that the hour of Midnight referred to has not yet come upon us. But now we might well be standing on the very threshold. If the diplomatic effort led by Secretary of State Kerry fails definitely - and according to  President Obama, the chances of its success are less than fifty percent - will there be any more chance for whatever process aimed at achieving peace between Israelis and Palestinians? Will anyone try again?

According to media leaks which came out this week, during Kerry's recent visit to Jerusalem he was closeted for no less than seven hours with Prime Minister Netanyahu. People sitting outside the closed doors could hear the echoes of shouting from inside. Kerry then decided to postpone his next visit to the region, which had been scheduled for January 13 , without setting a new date . It was then that Netanyahu announced his determination to Israeli rule over the settlement of Beit El “and the block of settlements around it”, which would require a series of Israeli-ruled enclaves and corridors severing the Palestinian territory and cutting Ramallah off. And he also wants to hold on to the settler enclave in the middle of Hebron, which would mean another series of deep cuts into the Palestinian territory. In total, his claims amount to 13 % of the West Bank, and he is definitely not ready to give the Palestinian in exchange an equivalent amount of land within Israel’s pre-1967 territory. All this, without taking into account the demand for continued Israeli military control over the Jordan Valley…

 But… Netanyahu had in this week also some good moments, during the visit of Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada. Harper has made every effort to show himself a true friend of the Prime Minister of Israel - and firmly rejected any attempt by journalists to hear from him any word of criticism regarding the Israeli construction of settlements. Right-wing newspapers and commentators were delighted, and complained that the Israeli television networks did not broadcast in full the wonderful Zionist speech which Harper made in the Knesset.  

 Netanyahu would have certainly been happy had it been possible to move Stephen Harper southwards and install him in the White House in Washington, or at least at Dawning Street in London or the Chancellery in Berlin. But those who look carefully could see that the great friend Harper does not in fact support Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

When reporters asked him, Harper replied "Our position on this issue is well known".  Indeed, Canada's official position was published by the Harper Government’s Foreign Ministry, a week before he departed on his way to our region. It included the statement that "Israeli settlements in the occupied territories are a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention and constitute a serious obstacle to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace". Also, that "Canada does not recognize Israel's unilateral annexation of East Jerusalem" and “Canada supports the Palestinian people's right to self-determination and the creation of a sovereign, independent, viable, democratic and territorially contiguous Palestinian state."  In short, a Canadian position not significantly different from that of the European countries whose ambassadors were summoned for a diplomatic rebuke at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, just at the time for the Harper visit.

It was also at exactly the same time that a hundred Israeli captains of industry issued a grave warning of the damage which the Israeli economy might sustain should the negotiations fail: ”The continued conflict hurts all citizens in their pockets.  If Israel wants a stable economy, a good future and continued growth, we must reach an agreement. The world is beginning to lose its patience, and the threat of sanctions is becoming ever more imminent from day to day. We have a small window of opportunity with Kerry's arrival in the region, and it should be taken advantage of.”

Before setting off for the prestigious Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where they are to take part in a meeting with Palestinian business people, some members of the group met with Netanyahu to make clear to him the severity of the situation. Smadar Barber Tsadik, CEO of the First International Bank of Israel, pointed out at the meeting that the largest investment fund in the Netherlands had severed all business ties with the Israeli banks, because these banks invest in the settlements. This actually crossed the line between a boycott of settlement to a boycott of the Israeli economy as a whole, an ominous precedent. 

Netanyahu himself also flew to Davos , where among other things he had a new meeting scheduled with Secretary of State Kerry. In his speech he tried to display confidence and optimism, stating that there will not be a boycott of Israel - and even if there were, Israel will overcome it, “it would only encourage our inventiveness and entrepreneurship”. Reporter Gideon Kutz, who covered the event, wrote "Netanyahu was not at his best  in this speech. His appearance was not, for example, like the successful performances at AIPAC. There he was speaking to a King Bibi audience. In Davos he is wary of a hostile response.” 

Veteran commentator Nahum Barnea noted two schools of thought in the Israeli political establishment. The optimists say that boycott calls emanate from a few radical groups which conduct an intensive propaganda campaign but so far did not cause significant damage to the Israeli economy. The pessimists think that irreversible processes are already set in motion, that the image of Israel as an Apartheid state has taken hold in Western Europe, and now "The virus is crossing the Atlantic to the United States. If the talks fail, it does not really matter on whom Kerry will cast the blame. As a result we might face  sanctions like those imposed on South Africa, Serbia, North Korea and Iran.” 

On the other side of the political spectrum, columnist Hagai Segal - a former member of “The Jewish underground " which planted bombs in Palestinian cars and planned to blow up the mosques in Jerusalem – came up with an  interesting proposition: The State of Israel should forthwith establish a secret agency similar to Mossad, whose task would be to “act forcibly” against anyone in the word who dares conceive of boycotting Israel - an agency whose very name would “strike fear and horror among the anti-Semite boycotters”. Segal’s article in the "Makor Rishon" newspaper was illustrated by a drawing of a muscular bearded Jew punching a fat European in the face. 

So far, at least, the Europeans are not intimidated. At a press briefing this week the EU Ambassador to Israel, Lars Faaborg-Andersen, made clear that the European Union, long seen as a ‘payer, not a player’, would no longer let its role as Israel's biggest trade partner and the Palestinians' largest donor be taken for granted. “If Israel were to go down the road of continued settlement expansion and were there not to be any result in the current talks, I am afraid that what will transpire is a situation where Israel finds itself increasingly isolated. While EU states are not advising firms to cut investments in Israel, companies might act unilaterally to avoid any backlash from clients increasingly disenchanted with Israel's presence in the West Bank.” 

And the words of our Economy and Trade Minister, Naftali Bennett, only poured more oil on the fire. Bennett suggested that the government  bolster ties with emerging markets to offset problems with Europe. The EU Ambassador drily noted  that the EU is Israel's biggest economic partner, accounting for almost a third of the country's exports and imports, and that “it would be far from easy for Israel to change focus in a hurry.” Also the Palestinians were warned: “We made it clear to the Palestinians that they will gain nothing if they just sit back and wait for the negotiations to fail. We stressed to them also that the donor countries grow tired of the lack of progress in the peace process. If they think we will continue to foot the bill indefinitely, it is not realistic. If negotiations fail , there is no Plan B.” 

If the negotiations fail, there is no Plan B…  We might really be just five minutes away from a lot of trouble. 

Friday, January 17, 2014

Approaching the Peace Intersection (with a new link)

Friday, Jan. 17 - reporting from the Arlozorof-Namir Tel-Aviv junction

Throughout Israel  car drivers were confronted with the nearly taboo word "peace."

"You are approaching  the Peace Intersection" it said on banners hung around 50 junctions.  Grassroots activists of different groups brought together by the inftatigeable Naftali Raz were letting passers-by sign on a peace pettion "63% for peace say the polls - I am one of those." And at each junction a VIP took part. This was an effort of veterans to overcome  suspicion and cynicism, so widespread in today's Israel  on the left as on the right - and mobilize some support for Kerry's Sysifus labor.  At our crossroads Former Knesset Member Yael Dayan - not in good health - was seen energetically approaching drivers who had to stop for the traffic light and passers-by,  handing leaflets and stickers to people many of them too young to remember and recognize her face. The right-wingers who held a noisy counter vigil, gave up after an hour.

Was it a success? It was less satisfying than helping Palestinians to plant saplings where settlers had destroyed their olive trees, but at least for once, the energy of activists was invested in, in the first place, approaching the Israeli public.

See also: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/50-shades-of-peace-at-the-crossroads

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Sharon and me

In the summer of 1970 I sat among fifteen high school pupils in the basement of an old house in downtown Tel Aviv and listened with horror to a soldier in uniform who had just returned from the Gaza Strip. He told of terrible things, of people being beaten up in the middle of the street, of bulldozers destroying homes and entire neighborhoods in the refugee camps, of executions without trial and bodies thrown into wells. The boy next to me burst out "It’s not true! Our army does not do such things!" The soldier replied "It's all true. I saw it. I myself participated and now I can’t sleep at night”.

Then the boy who had invited us to this secret meeting, who was two years older than me and himself faced imminent conscription, said "The military censorship prohibits publication of what you've heard here, what is going on in Gaza. But we will reveal to the people of Israel what is being concealed from them".  There was a creaking old stencil machine, and we printed some three thousand leaflets and went into the streets and distributed leaflets in the mailboxes of Tel Aviv, constantly looking behind our shoulders. And the leaflets specified the name of the military commander who had ordered the acts of repression in Gaza: Ariel “Arik” Sharon , General in Command South..  

In January 1978 we were still in a bit of euphoria in the aftermath of the visit of President Anwar Sadat of Egypt and his peace speech in the Knesset. Suddenly, there was a highly discordant note with the news of Agriculture Minister Ariel Sharon intensively creating accomplished facts in North Sinai, the so-called “Flying Towers Campaign”. In the evening the phone rang and I got a message from then quite new Peace Now movement. There was an emergency demonstration scheduled for next day, calling upon Prime Minister Menachem Begin  to “Fire immediately Sharon The Provocateur”.  

In the middle of 1981 the papers published, not quite prominently, the news that Begin was about to appoint Sharon to the Defense Ministry, left vacant since Ezer Weizman resigned over the lack of progress in peace negotiations. I called to activists of several groups that we should hold a big demonstration and cry out as loud as we could. But it was a moment of fatigue and ebbing energies in the Israeli peace camp and no one took up the challenge. Anyway, most likely Begin would have appointed him, even if we had demonstrated.

In April 1982 three Israelis were killed in an ambush shooting at the Bois de Boulogne near Paris. As we later learned, Israeli Air Force pilots were immediately called up and were sitting in the cockpits, ready to take off by order of Defense Minister Sharon to carry out a retaliatory bombing of the PLO headquarters in Beirut. And then the French police stated that the people killed had apparently been drug dealers killed by a rival gang, and the Israeli Air Force canceled its red alert. On that week we had in the Tel Aviv branch of the Shelli Party a historian from Tel Aviv University who told about the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 and how the peoples of Europe were swept up with war enthusiasm and only a courageous few like Jean Jaures in France and Rosa Luxemburg in Germany dared to confront the nationalist tide. It was then that we, the young people sitting there all swore that when Sharon would launch his war in Lebanon, we would oppose it from the first day, the very first minute – as we did, in June.

September 1982 we spent three tense days, with no clear information on  what was happening in West Beirut since Israeli troops moved in. And then the clear information did come and it was much worse than the most terrible rumors.  From the world media came the photos of massacre, hundreds of bodies lying in the streets of the Sabra and Shatila Refugee Camps. Within two hours it was agreed in phone consultations to hold a protest at the corner of Ben Gurion Boulevard and Dizengoff Street. The police must have been wiretapping, they were ready there with large forces. Anyone who arrived and picked up a sign was immediately seized and dragged into the waiting giant paddy wagons with wire mesh windows. Dozens were crowded and pressed inside and we were drumming on the metal sides and kicking them and crying out as loud as we could "Sharon - murderer! Sharon - murderer! Sha-ron - mur-de-rer!”. But a few days later there were hundreds of thousands who cried out.

In February 1983 we sat for a whole night around candles in the Tel Aviv square than called Kings of Israel, which would later become the Rabin Square. We were mourning Emil Grunzweig, killed by a grenade thrown at the demonstrators who had demanded implementation of the Kahan Commission's report - which called for the dismissal of Ariel Sharon. We were very tired and exhausted when the radio told that indeed, Sharon did resign at the end of a tense Cabinet meeting. "Finally we are rid of him it " said the activist who was sitting next to me. "That I would say only at his funeral”, said another “and even then it would be better to put a heavy stone on his grave, just in case.”

In 1986 I did a month of military reserve duty in the Negev, one of my last sojourns in the army before departing its ranks and slamming the door. One night I spent four hours on guard duty and my mate was a staunch fan of Sharon . - "Just give Arik the helm, he will make order in this country in no time". - "He will make order? He had the helm for a year and see what a mess  he made in Lebanon, how the army is sinking in the swamp." - "That's because you leftists stabbed him in the back!" - " The country is very lucky to have gotten rid of him before he had a chance to really push us into the abyss." For one moment I feared that the Sharon admirer would turn his gun on me, but eventually he went on with the verbal confrontation. Nothing like a heated political debate to let two soldiers easily get through hours of boring guard duty.  

And then there were quite a few years when Ariel Sharon receded to the background. To be sure, he was always holding one ministry or another and whichever it was he was using its funds and resources to support and extend the settlements, but he was no longer so prominent. The next generation of activists, those who became involved during the Oslo years, barely noticed him - the man whom they really loved to hate was Bibi Netanyahu. But Sharon was always there. He bided his time and never gave up his ambitions and plans. And his opportunity finally came.  

On an afternoon in late October 2000, the phone rang and it was a Palestinian, an old friend from Hebron, and his voice was barely recognizable. "Did you hear it? Dozens killed on Temple Mount, the mosques full of blood, all because of that bastard Sharon, his visit there, his provoking. The bastard, the bastard! How many more will die because of this?" And a lot were killed in subsequent years, Israelis and Palestinians, in the macabre dance of blood which started on that day.

In January 2001, in the midst of a fateful elections campaign, I was in a bus and out of the window I saw Ehud Barak banners which had collapsed and fell on the pavement. Immediately I got off and raised up the signs and fastened them with a piece of rope I found – even though I was full of anger and bitterness at  Ehud Barak who had promised peace and brought us bloodshed. Because Barak’s rival in that race was Ariel Sharon. A week and a half later, on elections night which ended with the very expected results, a group of activists were sharing nightmare scenarios about what we could expect, and there was one who urged all of us to leave the country before it became too late.

In September 2003 the radio gave news of yet another terrible suicide bombing, followed by the report that Prime Minister Sharon was cutting short his visit to the United States and returning to Israel, and that he had summoned members of the Inner Cabinet to meet with him in the guest room at Ben Gurion Airport in order to “take an urgent resolution which could not wait". Well informed sources told of Sharon's intention to send an elite unit to break into the  besieged Presidential Compound in Ramallah and capture or kill PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat. In the Gush Shalom office, through hectic telephoning twenty activists were mobilized within an hour to go immediately to Ramallah. Among the twenty were Uri and Rachel Avnery We managed to get through the army checkpoints, telling the soldiers rather far-fetched stories, and got to the Compound and from there phoned the media to make it known that Israeli citizens were staying right next to Arafat’s room. We spent a tense sleepless night in conversation with Arafat’s young bodyguards, in a mixture of Hebrew and Arabic and English, listening for any suspicious sounds. The night passed and dawn came, and the morning news of the Voice of Israel Radio recounted that the Cabinet had decided not to take any special measures due to "fear of political entanglement".

In February 2004 I was on a family visit in the Netherlands, and looking through Israeli news websites I found reports of the surprising statement by Prime Minister Sharon of his intention to unilaterally evacuate the Gaza Strip settlements, and the confused reactions of commentators.

After that we spent a confused year and a half between the declaration of Sharon’s intent and its actual implementation on the ground, a constant dilemma on how should Israeli peace seekers react. It was clear to us that Sharon felt the need to take such a step because of the momentum gained by the Geneva Initiative, which was pushing for a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian peace, and because of the letter of the pilots who refused to bomb Palestinian cities as well as the objectors from the elite Sayeret Matkal commandos. From his viewpoint , as a man who had commanded  armies and sent soldiers to die in battle, he was ready to sacrifice the settlements in the Gaza Strip in order to deflect the pressures and get a free hand to continue expanding settlements in the West Bank . He did all he could to make the evacuation of 7,000 settlers from the Gaza Strip into a  difficult, long-drawn and traumatic event, so as to make the evacuation of hundreds of thousands from the West Bank seem an absolute impossibility.

Knowing all of that - and still, faced with the choice between Sharon succeeding in implementing the "Gaza disengagement " and the possibility of the settlers thwarting the plan and the settlements in Gaza remaining intact, I found myself walking in a lukewarm Peace Now demonstration called to support the Disengagement and support Sharon. And there were many occasions on that year when I stood at roadsides and junctions to distribute to drivers the pro-Disengagement Blue Ribbons, to counter the settlers’ Orange Ribbons.

At the end of 2005 Sharon split the Likud and founded the Kadima Party which was intended to achieve "The Big Bang of Israeli politics". In the evening I sat with friends and heard TV  commentators praise Sharon’s brilliant move and predict that Kadima led by Sharon would win the 2006 elections and garner forty or even fifty seats and that Sharon would bestride the political system like a colossus for many years to come. We were far from happy at the prospect. Would Sharon have managed to actually bring about all that, and how would he have used his power? Would he have become the Israeli de Gaulle? We will never know.

Just before those 2006 elections , in the middle of a quiet evening sorting out messy bookshelves, the telephone rang and a friend asked "Have you heard what's going on with Sharon?" In a single evening the man who was King of Israel, who ruled our destinies and moved us all as pawns on the chessboard, was betrayed by a small artery in his brain and became a vegetable, a living dead being immured in a hospital room. All at once there was no longer any point to a political debate about this man. Only a humanitarian problem remained, the nagging question about what Sharon would have said had he known what was going to happen to him.  Would he have not firmly ordered – more firmly than any order he had given in his life – that the instruments be disconnected and that these miserable last eight years be cut out of his life?  

And now the most clearly anticipated event happened, and the state funeral will be held grandly, and six generals will carry the coffin, and all dignitaries will pull out the obituary which was prepared and written a long time ago, and those who most despised Sharon in life will heap on him the most praise. And on this day one can give some thought to the three sons to whom Ariel Sharon was a beloved father, who over the last eight years were sitting at his bedside, hoping against hope that he would still wake up and return to them. Now they can bury him and get on with their lives.

From dust thou came, and unto dust thou shalt return

Thursday, January 9, 2014

A new Lieberman?

It is a time-honored rule of media coverage: “If a dog bites a man, it's not news, but with man bites dog you've got a story”. Two weeks ago, "man bites dog" for the Israeli media was the extreme right KM Moshe Feiglin taking part in a rally for the legalization of cannabis and singing "You and I will change the world".  But soon there came up a man biting a bigger dog: the peace-seeking  Avigdor Lieberman.

Yes, none other. Avigdor Lieberman, the tireless provocateur, the most  undiplomatic Foreign Minister in the world’s diplomatic history who had been  an unwelcome guest in Washington and the European capitals, the man who enjoyed Arab-bashing and gained thereby a considerable electoral profit. And suddenly, over the past week we hear quite a new tune in the media:  Lieberman bypasses Netanyahu on the left, Secretary of State Kerry pleasantly surprised by Lieberman, Lieberman became the cabinet’s “responsible adult”, Lieberman inches closer to Tzipi Livni's positions... What a surprise, what a celebration for the media!

So, is there a new Lieberman? Not exactly. It took less than a week for the sheepskin to start sliding off and expose the wolf’s sharp predatory teeth. Lieberman would support an agreement only provided that the region known as “The Triangle", home to hundreds of thousands Arab citizens of Israel, would be passed over to the Palestinian state to be established. And what if these inhabitants do not consent to be so transferred? Lieberman does not care. For him the main thing is to reduce at all costs the number of Arabs in Israel.

But there is a problem, which could have been made clear to Foreign Minister Lieberman had he bothered to consult one of the experts in International Law employed by his ministry. A sovereign state can indeed resolve, through the procedures set forth in its laws, to give up part of its sovereign territory and hand it over it to another state – either an existing one or a newborn nation.   There are many examples of that in history. But a country (at least one which claims to have a democratic regime) is not entitled to deprive its citizens of their citizenship against their will.

In other words, if a government of Israeli so resolves, and if it gets duly  ratified by the Knesset, the border of the State of Israel might indeed be redrawn to run directly east of Highway 6. This would leave Umm al-Fahm, Tira and Taiba and sundry other towns and villages - whose residents happen to be Arabs - in the territory of the to-be-established State of Palestine. However, such a move would in no way change or revoke the status of these Arab residents as full-fledged Israeli citizens. They would continue to hold Israeli passports and identity cards, to be entitled to all the rights of a citizen of Israel with regard to National Insurance and health insurance and the like. They would go voting in Israeli elections and sending their representatives to the Knesset in Jerusalem, and of course would be entitled – like any other Israeli citizen - to live and work anywhere in the State of Israel, their own country.

Should a resident of Umm al-Fahm in Palestine choose to move his residence to Acre or Nazareth to Tel Aviv, he would be entitled to the benefits conferred by the State of Israel upon “returning residents", as are conferred on an Israeli citizen returning here from a life in New York or Berlin. And what about the next generation, those who would be born after the border is redrawn? Also in this respect, the law is quite clear. There have been numerous cases of young people born abroad to Israeli citizen parents - and who, when coming for a short visit to Israel, found that the state of Israel considers them to be Israeli citizens in every respect, including being liable to military service…

In short , if Lieberman is seeking to reduce the percentage of Arabs among Israel’s citizens and to reduce the number of Arab Knesset Members, handing the Triangle to the State of Palestine would in no way move him closer to this goal . When someone finally takes care to clarify to him these facts of life, it would likely cool his enthusiasm for this kind of land swaps.

Or maybe not? It might be that Lieberman does not believe or intend to reach any agreement or land swap of any kind. It might well be that he is just thinking of the next elections and of garnering the votes of both: confused leftists and racist Arab-haters…

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Suicidal government

Translated from my 1.1.2014 article on the Walla site 

This week opened with big headlines, informing us that if negotiations with the Palestinians collapse, the  Europeans will lay the blame on the State of Israel - specifically, on the Netanyahu Government’s insistence upon announcing  spectacular settlement construction projects. Such assigning of blame by the  EU might have far-reaching consequences to the Israeli economy. The logical response of a rational Israeli government should have been an intense diplomatic effort in the capitals of Europe , in order to gain support for the Israeli point of view.

Conversely, what was the actual reaction of the actual government which governs Israel nowadays? Adding insult to injury, piling provocation upon  provocation, as if on purpose to conclusively convince the Europeans that they were right in determining the identity of the culprit. The immediate response of the Netanyahu Government to the storm clouds in the European sky was  to  approve (so far, only in a ministerial committee) a bill to annex the Jordan Valley .
In the past month, the Jordan Valley became the focus of negotiations and debate - between Israel and the Palestinians, between Israel and the United States, as well as among factions of Israelis. This was not by chance, nor is it the first time. One of the main reasons for the failure of the Camp David summit in 2000 was the demand of then Prime Minister Ehud Barak to maintain a long term Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley.

Among the Israel public, the full implications of such as demand, made in the name of "security", are not always fully understood. The Jordan Valley constitutes in effect a huge cork, bottling in the Palestinians and blocking their free access to the outside world. Israeli control of the Jordan Valley means that it would be Israel which is in control of the borders of the State of Palestine,  determining who will go and out and who will be banned, which goods may or may not be imported and exported. It would mean that Palestine will not be a truly independent state, but an enclave under a continued Israeli rule. It would mean that Israeli occupation of the Palestinians will go on - and if the occupation goes on, so will the conflict between Israelis and the Palestinians.

According to various unofficial reports, the security plan submitted by the Americans to the parties includes a continued Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley for quite a few more years - a very bitter pill for the Palestinians to swallow. They just might agree to sign, reluctantly and with a gnashing of teeth, an agreement specifying a long transition period before the termination of occupation in the Jordan Valley – provided that it is a binding agreement with a clear-cut date by which the last Israeli soldier will depart from that region. But is there an Israeli partner ready to make such a commitment? I rather doubt it.

According to the same unofficial leaks, the American proposal does not include any provision for the continued existence of Israeli settlements in the Jordan Valley. Nor is there a reason to include such a clause. The security arguments brought up by Netanyahu and others certainly do not require the presence of Israeli farmers in the Jordan Valley. Israeli settlements in the valley do maintain a flourishing agriculture, based on intensive drilling of water which causes the drying up of the springs which had been used for generations by the nearby Palestinian villages. A security value to these settlements cannot be detected even with a magnifying glass. There is one purpose and one only to these settlements: to make a clearly visible statement that the Jordan Valley is to remain an Israeli territory for decades and centuries to come.

That is also the precise message conveyed by the bill which was authored by Knesset Member Miri Regev and enthusiastically endorsed by Gideon Saar and senior ministers of the Likud and Jewish Home parties, at the vote in the  Ministerial Committee on Legislation. The message is loud and clear: Your attention please, Palestinians and Europeans and Americans! If any of you still entertained any of shadow of a doubt, please get rid of it: we have no intention whatsoever of reaching an agreement with the Palestinians.

How would you define a government which behaves like that? The definition which naturally comes to mind is: a suicidal government .