Ignore the hype. It’s four more years of settlement growth
NAZARETH — Israeli and Palestinian officials have been in Washington laying the ground for President Barack Obama’s visit to Israel and the West Bank, scheduled for next month and the first since he took office four years ago.
Topping the agenda, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said, will be efforts to restart the long-stalled peace process. Last week Palestinian officials said they had urged the White House to arrive with a diplomatic plan.
The US president began his first term on a different footing, ignoring Israel and heading instead to Cairo where he made a speech committing the US to a new era in relations with the Arab world. Little came of the promise.
Now he apparently intends to start his second term — as Netanyahu resumes office too, following last month’s elections — with an effort to engage with Israel and the Palestinians that is almost as certain to prove an exercise in futility.
The prospect of reviving the peace track between Israel and the Palestinians is not one that is appetising for either Obama or Netanyahu. Both are bruised from locking horns over a settlement freeze — the key plank of the US president’s efforts — during his first term.
But equally, it seems, the price of continuing inaction is high too. The Palestinians have repeatedly embarrassed Obama at the United Nations, not least by isolating the US in November as it opposed an upgrade in the Palestinians’ observer status. Inertia also looks risky given the growing unrest in the West Bank over hunger-striking prisoners.
Ahead lie potentially even bigger headaches, including the doomsday scenario — from Israel and Washington’s perspective — that the Palestinians approach the International Criminal Court to demand Israel be investigated for war crimes.
The perennial optimists have been searching for signs that Obama is readier this time to get tough. Neither of the president’s recent major appointments — John Kerry as secretary of state and Chuck Hagel, nominated as defence secretary — has been welcomed in Israel.
US determination has been buoyed, it is argued, by what is seen as a tide change in Israeli public opinion, highlighted by the surprise electoral success of centrist Yair Lapid and relatively poor showing by Netanyahu’s Likud party.
Netanyahu’s officials sense similar motives, complaining that Obama’s visit so soon after the election is direct “interference” in coalition-building. The centrists, they fear, will be able to extract concessions from Netanyahu, who will not wish to greet the US president as head of an extremist government.
Israeli officials, meanwhile, look eager to mend fences: they have hopefully codenamed the visit “Unbreakable Alliance” and announced an intention to award Obama Israel’s highest honour, the presidential medal.
The more hopeful scenarios, however, overlook the obstacles to a diplomatic solution posed both by Israel’s domestic politics and by the Palestinians’ inability to withstand Israeli bullying.
Not least, they ignore the fact that Netanyahu’s Knesset faction is the most right-wing in Likud’s history. He cannot advance a peace formula — assuming he wanted to — without tearing apart his party.
Equally, there is nothing in Lapid’s record to indicate he is willing to push for meaningful compromises on Palestinian statehood. On this issue, he occupies the traditional ground of Likud, before it moved further right. A recent poll found half his supporters called themselves right-wing.
Last week Netanyahu signed a coalition pact with another supposed centrist, Tzipi Livni, a former Likud leader who now heads a small faction called Hatnuah. The goal, as one Likud official cynically put it, was to use Livni to “whitewash the Netanyahu government in the world’s eyes”.
In other words, Netanyahu hopes a Livni or a Lapid will buy him breathing space as he entrenches the settlements and pushes Palestinians out of large areas of the West Bank under cover of what the Israeli newspaper Haaretz termed a “booby-trapped diplomatic process”.
What of the Palestinians? Will they not be able to mount an effective challenge to Israeli intransigence, given an apparent renewed US interest in diplomacy?
Here is the rub. Netanyahu already has a stranglehold on the politics of his potential peace partners. He can easily manipulate the fortunes of the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas on the two biggest tests he faces: the “peace process” overseen by the international community, and reconciliation talks with the rival Palestinian faction Hamas.
The latest talks between Hamas and Fatah broke down in Cairo this month, even though unity, in the view of most Palestinians, is a precondition of their seeking viable statehood. The talks’ failure followed the “arrest” by Israel of 25 Hamas leaders in the West Bank, seizures that Palestinian human rights groups and Hamas warned were intended to disrupt reconciliation.
Meanwhile, Israel has repeatedly undermined Abbas’s rule, and kept his PA close to collapse, by turning on and off one of its major sources of income — tax monies Israel regularly collects on behalf of the Palestinians and is supposed to pass on.
As a result, Abbas is trapped between various pressures impossible to reconcile: the need to keep Israel happy, to maintain legitimacy with his own people and to foster a shared political agenda with other Palestinian factions.
The sticks that Israel wields force Abbas to keep the door open to negotiations even as most Palestinians recognise their utter pointlessness. Likewise, his constant need to appease Israel and the US serves only to widen differences with Hamas.
The Palestinians are stuck in a political and diplomatic cul-de-sac, unable to move forward either with the development of their national struggle or with talks on viable statehood. Whatever Obama’s intentions, the reality is that this will be another four years of diplomatic failure.
Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. He won this year’s Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism.
Moshe Feiglin, who earlier on Tuesday was detained by Israeli police after trying to pray at the so-called Temple Mount, proposed paying Palestinians to leave West Bank.
“The State of Israel is paying 10% of its GNP every year for the two-state solution and the Oslo Accords. It’s paying for separation fences, Iron Domes and a guard at every café. Soon we’ll have to place Iron Domes in every school in Tel Aviv.
“With this budget we can give every Arab family in Judea and Samaria $500,000 to encourage it to immigrate to a place with a better future.
“You may say, ‘But no one will have them.’ That’s not true because the Western nations are shrinking due to low birth rates. The question is whether the world will have Sudanese migrants who can’t build or migrants from Judea and Samaria who do know how to build.”
- Israel forces Jordan Valley Palestinians from homes ahead of war drill (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians will be forced to complete military or community service with the Israeli army, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party announced it would back a controversial plan for reforming the country’s laws.
Meeting in Jerusalem, the party said it would support the recommendations proposed by the so-called Plesner committee last week which also include forcing orthodox Jews to serve.
“The party this morning discussed and unanimously adopted the principles laid out by the Plesner commission,” Likud spokeswoman Noga Katz said in a statement.
The decision means the government will now move towards drafting a law requiring all sectors of Israeli society to complete either military or community service, with penalties to be levied on those who fail to comply.
There are around 1,500,000 pre-1948 Palestinians, who Israel refers to as Israeli Arabs, inside the Jewish state.
Netanyahu’s spokesman Ofir Gendelman later confirmed that there would be no exceptions for Palestinians, many of whom see the Israeli army as a source of oppression.
The new law will replace the so-called Tal Law, which contained national service exemptions for ultra-orthodox Jews and Palestinians, but was overturned by Israel’s High Court earlier this year.
Likud’s decision to back the recommendations of the commission appeared to head off the possibility of a coalition crisis.
The Kadima party headed by Shaul Mofaz, which joined the government in May giving Netanyahu a massive parliamentary majority, had threatened to quit the coalition over the issue of military service for all.
But after the Likud party decision, Netanyahu’s office said the prime minister and Mofaz had agreed on the formation of a panel to draft the new law.
“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and vice prime minister Shaul Mofaz are in agreement on the formation of a commission charged with drawing up a law on the equality of service to be presented at the next government meeting,” the statement said.
Military service is compulsory for most Israelis over the age of 18, with men serving three years and women two.
The Israeli army brutally suppresses Palestinians calling for equal rights and was recently accused of aiding fundamentalist Jewish settlers shooting Palestinian protesters.
- Palestinian stabbed, shot in settler attack near Nablus (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Knesset to discuss bill authorising settlers’ seizure of Palestinian landIsrael’s Knesset (parliament) is due to hold a special session on Wednesday to discuss a bill which would authorise Jewish settlers to build on private Palestinian land, especially in the Migron settlement outpost and other such places. All Jewish settlements, “outposts” or not, are illegal under international law. That the Israeli parliament even gives time to debate such a law is a strong indication of the contempt in which it holds international laws and conventions, and the international community at large.
The parliamentary session will take place because MK Danny Danon, of the ruling Likud Party, has been able to collect the signatures of 25 MKs for this purpose; this is required during the parliament’s Passover recess.
The bill drafted by Danon proposes compensation for the Palestinian owners of land where settlements are to be built. This would cover dozens of families as such a law would give legitimacy to many settlement outposts.
The right-wing members of the Knesset are seeking the support for the bill from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He has announced his intention to strengthen Israel’s illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank.
According to Hebrew media sources, Danon’s efforts follow the Supreme Court decision to cancel an agreement between the Israeli government and the settlers in the Migron outpost which would require them to be re-housed somewhere else. Danon has also been motivated by the decision of Defence Minister Ehud Barak to evict Jewish settlers from a Palestinian house that they seized recently in Hebron.
“The Supreme Court is trying to prevent the government from working,” said Danon, “and we are trying to prevent the evacuation of Jews from their homes. We will not accept another court decision such as the one on Migron and we will not accept an evacuation process such as the one in Hebron.”
Arab MKs expect the Knesset’s summer session to witness a race by right-wing parties in the Knesset for laws supporting settlement construction in the occupied West Bank, including the illegal (even under Israeli law) outposts, especially in light of hints about early parliamentary elections.
- Jewish settlers stealing Palestinian water springs: UN (alethonews.wordpress.com)
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- Settlers Install New Outpost Near Hebron (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Study: Israeli ‘state land’ illegally taken from West Bank (alethonews.wordpress.com)