Middle East Peace Report
Americans For Peace Now (Special Report)
December 3, 2007 - 4:17pm


PEACE, NOT APARTHEID: “If the day comes when the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights, then, as soon as that happens, the State of Israel is finished,” Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told Ha’aretz Wednesday, as his U.S. trip drew to a close. The prime minister also commented that Annapolis “met more than we could have defined as the Israeli expectations, but that will not absolve us of the difficulties there will be in the negotiations, which will be difficult, complex, and will require a very great deal of patience and sophistication.” Olmert added that “we now have a partner,” in Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. “He is a weak partner, who is not capable, and, as Tony Blair says, has yet to formulate the tools and may not manage to do so. But it is my job to do everything so that he receives the tools, and to reach an understanding on the guidelines for an agreement.”


Ha’aretz’s editorial on Friday – titled “A Halt, Not a Suspension” – drew a direct line between Olmert’s South Africa allusion and the need for Israel to stop settlement expansion: “When Ehud Olmert warns that the world could impose a ‘South African solution’ on Israel if two states are not created, side by side, he is tacitly admitting that expansion of the settlements is making Israel look increasingly like an apartheid regime. The agreement to withdraw, or to make ‘painful concessions,’ as it is sanctimoniously called, is therefore less painful than any other alternative. The only question is whether another Yitzhak Rabin can be found, who is capable of really halting, not just suspending, the construction of settlements, to leave the Palestinians some territory in which to establish Palestine.”


“Every expansion, every new neighborhood, every outpost left standing generates more access roads, more public infrastructure, more kindergartens,” noted the editorial. “It adds up to robbing more and more land from what little is left on which to build a Palestinian state. It is settlements that prevent Israel from defining a border with the Palestinians, and this is the central issue it deliberately evades. The same goes for Jerusalem, as more and more construction continues to march eastward. Some 10,000 babies are born in the settlements every year. Israel has no moral or other obligation to make sure they have housing in the West Bank. In April 2004 the government promised the Americans that there would be no more construction ‘beyond the outside line’ of each settlement. That outside line has never been set. Annapolis will not lead Israel to any solution with the Palestinians unless Israel stops cheating and learns to restrain its expansion eastward.” (Ha’aretz, 11/29 & 11/30/07)


PEACE, NOT APARTHEID, PART II: Defense Minister Ehud Barak announced his support Sunday for legislation that would provide incentives for the 80,000 Israeli settlers living east of the West Bank security barrier to move back to Israel. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told Barak that he would consider supporting the move, and has reportedly told several ministers that he favors the idea. One such bill, originally conceived of by Knesset Members Avshalom Vilan (Meretz) and Colette Avital (Labor), is now also being promoted by Minister Ami Ayalon (Labor) and Deputy Prime Minister Haim Ramon (Kadima).


Three weeks ago Ramon told the Israeli cabinet that between 30,000 and 35,000 settlers would respond to the offer of compensation. “We in this room know that in the end we’ll decide to evacuate…. If there are people who want to get up and leave, and there are, let’s let them leave,” he said. Ramon added that the voluntary evacuation law is intended to lower the violence that could occur in the next evacuation.


However, some in Israel are mobilizing to block any possibility of a two-state solution. The “Land of Israel Faithful” movement announced Thursday that it plans to establish eight outposts in the West Bank during Hanukkah. “The gravest thing about the Annapolis peace conference is Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s barefaced talk of a Palestinian state. This is our answer to the prime minister’s plan,” explained settler leader Daniella Weiss. The locations of these new outposts will not be random. Rather, Weiss told Ynet that the sites were chosen to “disrupt the territorial continuum both the Americans and the Arabs are interested in.” In order to thwart a peace agreement, Settler Council Chairman Danny Dayan threatened “an uncompromising battle. We will use all the means we have, including political lobbies, public relations, battles in the field.”


Yet, a report in Ha’aretz identifies the evacuation of settler outposts as the single issue which causes Quartet envoy Tony Blair to become “a little less diplomatic with regard to Israel… This, he says, is a serious problem that must be resolved. If not, it will adversely affect the political negotiations. The two cannot be separated, he says. Negotiations without progress on the ground simply will not work.”


The report explains that Blair sees “three parallel tracks that have to be engaged simultaneously, otherwise things will not move ahead: political negotiations, creation of a Palestinian capacity for governing, and the taking of steps on the ground. If there is progress in all three areas, it will be possible to find a solution. But anyone who thinks that negotiations are a substitute for creating capabilities, or, similarly, that actions on the ground are of no importance, will never reach a solution. All three are crucial. Accordingly, the solution to the problem is for the capabilities of the PA to be developed gradually, enabling the Palestinians to assume security responsibility and Israel to reduce its military presence... However, Blair is not happy with Israel’s performance on the ground. In his view, as important as it is for the Palestinians to demonstrate commitment, it is no less essential for the Israelis to do the same. This is the key to the entire matter, particularly with regard to the illegal outposts. Israel must recognize that this is a serious problem. The practical situation cannot be divorced from the diplomatic talks. If one is discussing territory, and at the same time an illegal outpost is established which entails a seizure of land inside that territory, the Palestinians ask themselves what is going on.” (Israel Army Radio, 11/28/07; Ynet, 11/29 & 12/2/07; Ma’ariv, 12/3/07; Ha’aretz, 11/29 & 12/3/07)


THE POWER OF U.S. DIPLOMACY: “More than ever before, the leaders who gathered at Annapolis this week appeared to want peace between Israel and the Palestinians, believing that time is short and that every passing day diminishes their power against the extremists in their own camp,” observed Ha’aretz’s editorial on Thursday. “The enthusiasm was evident in the speeches, in the body language, in the effort to extract the maximum out of the meeting... The purpose of the meeting was to jump-start the dormant process, and it has been achieved completely. The conditions for pushing forward have been created. “


The editorial commends President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for this foreign policy success. Yet, it notes that there is little time to waste: “If every one of the participants makes himself comfortable and sits on the laurels of his success at the meeting, the memory of Annapolis will be short.” The path forward will require continued U.S. leadership, the editorial argues. “A tough American approach, essentially pressuring both sides to discuss the core issues, could have positive results. Both sides know the details of a possible agreement, but are worried they lack the mandate to sign such a deal. Because of this, they must welcome American pressure. It is a mistake to assume that a new American administration or a new president will have a different agenda. The American interest in the Middle East is to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as soon as possible.”


Writing in Ha’aretz, columnist Aluf Benn elaborates on the impact of U.S. diplomacy: “If there is one lesson to be learned from the Annapolis summit, it is that American leadership in the peace process between Israel and its Arab neighbors is essential. Only the stubbornness of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the backing she received from U.S. President George W. Bush succeeded in bringing here the foreign ministers of most Arab countries and the world's leading diplomats. They came to applaud [Israeli Prime Minister] Ehud Olmert and [Palestinian President] Mahmoud Abbas and push them onward toward another attempt, no matter how desperate and filled with political obstacles, at a permanent settlement.”


Benn adds that “Olmert and Abbas, despite their moderation, their goodwill and the personal chemistry between them, would not have managed to achieve a thing without pressure from Washington. The minute they emerged from their closed meetings in the Prime Minister’s Office, they faced strong opposition from the establishment on both sides, who threatened to bring down the process before it even got started. The forces wishing to preserve the status quo are stronger than the two leaders.” Benn believes that the Bush Administration success at Annapolis “justifies in retrospect the repeated complaints about them these past seven years, that they had allowed the Israelis and Palestinians to sink in rivers of blood and avoided the kind of intervention that could have restrained the conflict and calmed the atmosphere in the region.”


Benn adds that the real test for Bush and Rice “is still before them, and it all depends on their determination and perseverance. Their earlier peace initiatives, the Aqaba summit in 2003 and the crossings agreement in 2005, collapsed a short while later, and the belligerents were once more left alone and reverted to their old habits… The only chance the process has for success, or at least for significant progress on the way to an agreement, lies in continued American leadership. It is common knowledge now that the message hits home only if it is repeated, over and over, until those hearing it are angered by it. This needs to be Rice’s strategy. Only if she stubbornly nags Israel and the Palestinians by frequent visits, by pressing through mediating proposals, and if Bush constantly reiterates that he is backing his secretary of state, will it be possible to make progress. If the administration lifts its hands off the process once again, the Annapolis summit will join the pile of diplomatic events that vanished without a trace.” (Ha’aretz, 11/29/07)


SEEING THE PINK ELEPHANT: IDF Major General (ret.) Giora Eiland – the former director of Israel’s National Security Council – called for Israel to recognize the Hamas government of Gaza on Sunday. In an op-ed published by Yedioth Ahronoth, the retired IDF Major General wrote that the policy of isolating Hamas while rewarding the leadership of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas “has produced four results. The first: Israel is perceived as meddling in an internal Palestinian affair and, as usual, the results have been the opposite of those desired. The second: The failure to recognize reality, that Gaza is governed by Hamas, detracts from our advantage that at long last there is a government in Gaza that is accountable—it both controls the turn of events and has not disabused itself of its responsibility. The third: Hamas has nothing to lose and, therefore, there is no chance that it will want to stop the rocket fire at Israel. The fourth result is that Israel has continued to take responsibility for the wellbeing of the residents of Gaza…”


General Eiland advocates an about-face: “Israel needs to recognize that a de facto government is in place in the Gaza Strip that is not subordinate to the Palestinian Authority. This government bears responsibility for everything that occurs in the Gaza Strip, including the rocket fire into Israel, irrespective of which organization is behind which rocket.”


“Israel and this hostile entity can regulate their relations,” he adds. “This regulation will involve a mutual end to hostilities, supervision over Philadelphi Road and a prisoner exchange. As long as those understandings are honored, Israel will lift the economic siege from Gaza... When Hamas sees that it has two alternatives: de facto recognition of its government in tandem with lifted military and economic pressure, as opposed to an alternative of destroyed infrastructure, attacks on the leadership and a real economic crisis—it is safe to assume that it will make the ‘right’ decision.”


General Eiland’s call for a change in Israel’s approach does not come in a vacuum. Ma’ariv’s Amir Rappaport reports that Israel’s security establishment believes that “Hamas is actually becoming stronger militarily by means of unrelenting arms smuggling and accelerated training of its people, and despite the heavy economic pressure on the Gaza Strip there are no signs of a real break. Hamas has imposed public order that did not exist in the Gaza Strip for many years.” This view, however, apparently conflicts with a perspective found at Israel’s Foreign Ministry, where a policy paper reportedly predicted that “as time passes and on condition that pressure upon the Gaza Strip continues, it may be assumed that the Hamas leadership will begin to realize that a new division of governmental powers is necessary in the Gaza Strip.” The Foreign Ministry paper reportedly concludes that continued sanctions will lead to Hamas’s descent from power.


Writing in Ha’aretz, Zvi Bar’el also questions the wisdom of continuing to isolate Hamas or pushing for its dismantlement. Bar’el offers a nuanced perspective: “Even today, despite a drop in Hamas’ popularity, especially after its takeover of Gaza in June and the street battles against ordinary citizens, Hamas is regarded as more than a terror organization. It is seen as a political movement that does not recognize Israel and rejects negotiations with it - principles that have considerable support among the Palestinian people… Waging a real war against Hamas would resemble a Lebanese attempt to wage war against Hezbollah. That is, it would be impossible without completely shattering Palestinian society. It would be a civil war that splits neighborhoods and families.”


“The other alternative,” writes Bar’el, “is to return to national dialogue and the framework of understandings established in the prisoners’ document, which ultimately led to a national unity government.” Bar’el notes that there would be one significant advantage to such a development: “The Palestinian Authority would maintain one army and one system of law in a united territory, and would represent the entire Palestinian people. It would be more difficult to conduct negotiations with this PA, and even more so, to reach an agreement with it within a year or five years. But it would at least be possible to agree on managing everyday life in a reasonable way. And this would be no small accomplishment - not only for the Palestinians, but mainly for future agreements. Without this, it would perhaps be possible to sign impressive documents, but these would only be documents.” (Yedioth Ahronoth 12/2/07; Ma’ariv, 12/3/07; Ha’aretz, 12/2/07)


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