Forward Thinking

How I Know Israel Won the Gaza War

By Brent Sasley

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In his press conference yesterday on the Gaza operation, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was open and honest about at least one thing: the outcome. He noted that it was “too early” to tell if long-term quiet had been achieved. This was inevitable, given the vague nature of “quiet” as a goal for a military campaign. Indeed, it is too early to tell for sure what long-term effects the war will have on Israel, on Hamas, on the Palestinian Authority, and on the prospects for peace talks.

But four things stand out for the immediate future. First, it is clear that Israel has won the war. Much of Hamas’s military capabilities have been degraded or used up, its regional allies are few and far between (and themselves bereft of much regional influence), and none of its efforts to achieve a tactical victory over Israel succeeded. In addition, the United States and many European governments are now talking about demilitarizing Gaza (essentially, disarming Hamas and the smaller jihadist groups) as part of a longer-term process to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. All of these tilt the balance of power in Israel’s favor.

Second, there is no military solution to the “Hamas problem” or, for that matter, to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict more broadly. But there will be a return to the status quo ante if a political framework is not established as part of the talks that follow from the ceasefire. In this sense, the seeds for Hamas’s rejuvenation have been planted alongside the seeds of its taming. If Israel can work constructively with the Palestinian Authority and the international community, it can bring the PA/Fatah to Gaza to improve the lives of Palestinians there while also tying Hamas down by not letting it rebuild its military capacity or its authority. However, for this work, Israel will have to accept that Hamas isn’t only here to stay, but must be accepted as a political actor — one that has a role to play in the political process.

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Awkwardness Is Reuven Rivlin’s Gift to the Left

By Sigal Samuel

Newly elected Israeli President Reuven Rivlin with Benjamin Netanyahu / Getty Images

Is Reuven Rivlin’s ascendancy to the post of president good news for left-wing Israelis?

Yes, but not for the reasons most left-wing commentators are suggesting.

Progressives should cheer Rivlin’s election not because he supports equal rights for Israeli Arabs or because he wants to give Palestinians the vote in an Israeli-annexed West Bank, but because his new position in the limelight will help to clarify what should already be abundantly clear: that official Israel’s support for a two-state solution is a farce, and has been for a long time.

It’s true that as president of Israel Rivlin will hold a mostly ceremonial, symbolic position. But figureheads are important in their own way. They telegraph to the world what a country (putatively) stands for — its most cherished values and ideals. When Shimon Peres held the top spot, he made clear the value of the two-state solution. Rivlin, by contrast, will signal the exact opposite message: an undivided Greater Israel is, to him, the supreme and ultimate value.

Immediately upon being elected president, Rivlin swore he’d represent all Israelis — not just the right-wing annexationist Jew crew of which he is a part. But that kind of assurance is completely beside the point. Everyone knows what Rivlin really stands for: a State of Israel in which Palestinians get the right to vote, but give up on the dream of national self-determination in the form of a sovereign Palestinian state.

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5 Reasons Israel Was Smart — Not Right — To Kill Peace Talks

By Sigal Samuel

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For Benjamin Netanyahu, timing is a beautiful thing.

When Mahmoud Abbas announced the formation of a Fatah-Hamas unity government on Wednesday, Bibi knew he had it made. He pulled out of the peace talks on Thursday, doing the smartest possible thing at the smartest possible moment. Not the wise thing, not the morally right thing — but, strategically speaking, the smart thing. Here’s why.

1. Abbas gave Israel the perfect out, at the perfect moment

The deadline for U.S.-brokered peace talks — April 29 — was looming, and it really looked as if John Kerry’s endeavor was going to come to an end with a whimper. If that were to happen, Israel would come out looking pretty bad, what with the ongoing settlement building and merciless mocking of Kerry that have characterized its participation in the process.

But then, all of a sudden, Abbas announced something nobody was expecting: a unity accord with — Hamas! Hamas, the internationally recognized terrorist group! What could be easier to condemn? Could anyone have imagined a better excuse to call it quits? It was almost too good to be true.

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Annexation Was Always Naftali Bennett's Plan A

By Emily L. Hauser

Israel’s Naftali Bennett / Getty Images

On Wednesday, the multi-portfolioed Naftali Bennett – Israel’s Minister of the Economy, Minister of Religious Services, and Minister of Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs – sent a letter to his Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

In that letter, according to Israeli Army Radio, Bennett called for a cabinet meeting “to begin the process of imposing Israeli sovereignty on the areas of [the West Bank] that are under Israeli control.” This he called “Plan B,” saying Plan B is necessary because negotiations with the Palestinians have failed – because “the Palestinians have broken new records of extortion and rejectionism.”

Now. It must be acknowledged that this is some phenomenally well-honed and impressively brazen Orwellian doublespeak. Truly.

Because imposing Israeli sovereignty on huge chunks of the West Bank has never been Bennett’s “Plan B.” Unlike Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (who – whatever else his faults – has publicly advocated a two-state solution since 1977), Bennett has never aspired to a two-state peace. Ever. Indeed, one might say that Bennett’s entire political career has been one of rejectionism and extortion. How do I come to this conclusion? By reading his words.

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John Kerry 'Deal' Looks Rigged Against Palestinians

By Larry Derfner

John Kerry with chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat and Israel’s Justice Minister Tzipi Livni at the State Department in Washington / Getty Images

What is J Street going to say if, after urging American Jews to support the Kerry peace mission, that mission wins the support of the right-wing Netanyahu government — but not that of the Palestinians, who view it as the terms of their surrender? And what will J Street say if Western liberal opinion, and even much of Israeli liberal opinion, decides that the Palestinians are right?

This is a question that J Street and all American Jewish liberals supporting U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts should ask themselves now, because all indications are that within a few weeks, Kerry is going to present a “framework agreement” for a peace treaty that the Israeli government would be crazy to reject and the Palestinian Authority crazy to accept.

This week, Israel’s Channel 10 news ran a report saying “the emerging framework document is so unthreatening even to Israeli hardliners that it is unlikely to prompt any kind of coalition crisis.” At the same time, the report, citing sources close to the negotiations, said “Kerry would now face an even greater challenge to persuade the Palestinians to accept it.”

To anybody who’s been following the news of the peace talks, the story made perfect sense. Kerry reportedly has given in to Netanyahu’s demands to the point that the framework agreement is shaping up to be not only more “pro-Israel” than the 2001 Clinton parameters, but even more so than Ehud Barak’s offer to the Palestinians at the 2001 Taba talks or Ehud Olmert’s at the 2008 Annapolis talks.

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Abu Mazen's Son Says No to 2-State Solution

By Jane Eisner

getty images
Mahmoud Abbas

Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority who is known as Abu Mazen, met Sept. 23 with American Jewish leaders, at a dinner hosted by the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace. There were plenty of former ambassadors, members of Congress, diplomats and dignitaries — former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright identified herself as “also a former person” — and even some currently in office. Martin Indyk, the U.S. Special Envoy for the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, for instance. Not to forget Wolf Blitzer.

It was a friendly crowd. All but we journalists (who stayed decidedly neutral) went to great lengths to express admiration for Abbas’s attempts at negotiations and support for a two-state solution. Again and again, it was noted that a strong majority of Israelis and Palestinians favor this outcome.

But Abbas has a more difficult task of persuasion within his own family. One of his sons, it turns out, is not a believer.

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Kerry's New Road Map for a Mideast Peace Deal

By J.J. Goldberg

From Tuesday’s Yediot Ahronot, as translated in the emailed Daily News Update of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace comes a fairly detailed description by Alex Fishman of John Kerry’s game plan for restarting the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Fishman is Yediot’s veteran, impeccably well-sourced military affairs correspondent. He attributes this information to State Department sources. It doesn’t appear on line (neither in Hebrew nor English) so I’m posting the Abraham Center’s translation below in full.

In brief, Fishman reports that Kerry is aiming for a 4-way meeting in Amman between Israel, the Palestinian Authority, the United States and Jordan. (Kerry is very eager to have Jordan step in as a sponsor of peace talks, both to give Abbas some substantive Arab backing and to give King Abdullah II a boost.) You’ll note at once that Abbas is already refusing to attend without a clear gesture from Israel. In the past he’s demanded a full Israeli settlement freeze. Lately he’s begun demanding a map showing Bibi Netanyahu’s notion of a future Palestinian state. As I’ve reported in the past, Abu Mazen has been refusing to talk to Bibi (after willingly talking to Ehud Olmert before him) because his sense is that Bibi has no intention of ever ceding enough land for a real state. The idea of the map is to show that the talks will go somewhere, so Abu Mazen doesn’t enter a dead end and end up looking like a fool.

So if you stop reading after paragraph 2, you get the sense that Kerry’s plan is dead in the water. But Fishman goes on to report that Kerry thinks he can eventually get Bibi to give up some lesser concessions that will satisfy Abu Mazen and get the talks started. The two sides’ notions of final borders are impossibly far apart at this point, but Kerry is aiming for an interim agreement on Israel ceding 80% of the West Bank as a first stage. It’s a long shot, but who knows? So were the 1969 Mets…

The Kerry Plan

By Alex Fishman, Yediot Ahronot, April 9, 2013

The new American secretary of state, John Kerry, is trying to get Israel and the Palestinians to sit down to a four-way meeting in Jordan. The answer he’s received from Abu Mazen, at least for the time being, has been flat out refusal.

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'Dormant' Arab Peace Plan Gets Annual Tune-up

By J.J. Goldberg

getty images
John Kerry

American and Israeli press outlets (Washington Post/AP, Detroit Free Press, Times of Israel, Arutz Sheva/Israel National News) are carrying unsourced reports that Secretary of State Kerry, currently visiting Turkey, Israel and the Palestinian Authority, is hoping to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks on the basis of the “dormant” Arab Peace Initiative, which is “suddenly” springing back to life.

That would be the Saudi-initiated plan adopted unanimously by the League of Arab States in 2002, and reaffirmed in 2007. It offered Israel full recognition, normalized diplomatic relations and a formal end to the Arab-Israeli conflict in return for a return to the pre-1967 borders and an “just” and “agreed” resolution of the Palestinian refugee problem. Kerry reportedly wants to dust off the supposedly long-forgotten plan and introduce certain “sweeteners,” such as better security guarantees and border modifications, to make it more palatable to Israel, which has never formally responded to the offer.

The funny thing is, from the Arab point of view the plan isn’t dormant at all. It turns out the Arab League considers it very much alive and actually has a standing Peace Initiative Follow-up Committee that’s been meeting regularly (2010, 2011, 2012 to discuss the plan and figure out how to get it moving. The committee is meeting today in Doha, Qatar, with the Palestinian Authority’s president Mahmoud Abbas, foreign minister Riyad Malki and chief negotiator Saeb Erekat in attendance, to finalize plans for a delegation of foreign ministers that will go to Washington on April 29 to meet with Kerry.

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Trying to Put Detainees on Obama's Agenda

By Nathan Jeffay

Obama went to Ramallah and held a summit with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas today. The comments that the two men made afterwards were predictable enough – harsh criticism of Israeli settlement by Abbas along with Obama’s reiteration of his opposition to settlements; affirmation by Obama that he wants a Palestinian state along with warnings from Abbas that some Palestinians are losing hope in the two-state solution.

A slightly more interesting aspect of the summit was the fact that Ramallah’s Prisoners’ Affairs Minister Issa Qaraqe was included. This reflects the ever-growing frustration of Palestinians over the issue of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails. The issue is always an important one to Palestinians, but takes on even greater significance at the moment, following the death of 30-year-old Palestinian Arafat Jaradat in Israeli detention last month, and in the light of hunger strikes, including a large-scale strike that ended in June.

There is another factor that most likely led to Qaraqe’s inclusion in the talks. In internal Palestinian politics, his kudos needs boosting, and meeting with Obama certainly improves his credentials. Why is this important? Because his office, which is meant to be the key address for prisoner-related matters, was badly humiliated by the fact that Hamas managed to do more for prisoners in 2011 than it did for years. It secured the release of 1,027 prisoners in the deal to free Gilad Shalit.

Qaraqe gave Obama a letter saying: “More than half a million Palestinian citizens were detained since 1967, and about 4,900 are being held now including men, women, children, lawmakers, elderly people, disabled people, civil servants, militants, former minister and politicians. They are living in inhuman condition and subjected to abusive procedures under military regulations which breach international law and human rights conventions.”

In terms of Qaraqe’s opinions, he believes strongly that the international community should intervene on the issue of Palestinian prisoners. “The entire world, as well as the United Nations, are responsible for protecting Palestinian prisoners … deprived of their basic rights as stated in international law,” he said last year. He takes the view that the United States should be demanding prisoner releases, and insisting on improved rights for detainees.

Of course, these are matters that Obama is reluctant to get dragged in to, avoiding the subject of Palestinian prisoners about as assiduously as he’s avoiding the Jonathan Pollard issue on the Israeli side. He will have listened politely to Qaraqe’s requests, but tried to move on. But in all likelihood, Qaraqe will have left him with a very simple argument: Securing the release of 1,027 prisoners buoyed Hamas, so just imagine the boost to the Palestinian Authority and confidence in the US could come from a release following today’s meetings. And perhaps a parting thought from Qaraqe to Obama: Jaradat’s death didn’t result in the kind of widespread violence that some Israeli observers feared, but if tensions do boil over in the West Bank any time soon, the chances are high that the trigger could be prisoner-related.

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It's Shimon vs. Bibi, Again

By Nathan Jeffay

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Shimon Peres

Israeli President Shimon Peres has locked horns again with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The two men have a troubled relationship, and in the summer had a very tense month after Peres went against Netanyahu’s position on Iran.

Speaking to a large gathering of Israeli diplomats, Peres heaped praise on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas — a man that Netanyahu and recently-resigned Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman have put great energy in to discrediting and portraying as an antagonizer in recent weeks.

“I’ve known him for 30 years,” said Peres. “No one will change my opinion about Abu Mazen, even if they say I cannot express it because I’m the president.”

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Hamas Gains Popularity After Gaza

By Nathan Jeffay

Hours after Operation Pillar of Defense came to an end last month, here at the Forward we published an article suggesting that the campaign could boost Hamas. It was early days, but new polling seems to indicate that this scenario is panning out.

The independent Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR) has just published a survey conducted in the West Bank and Gaza which shows a “dramatic change in public attitude favoring Hamas.”

The more moderate Fatah party, the dominant faction in the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority, normally leads in polls, but this one shows that if elections were held now in the West Bank and Gaza, voters would be pretty much evenly split between Fatah and Hamas.

The most remarkable finding of the poll is that if Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Fatah) went up against Ismail Haniyeh, Prime Minister of the Hamas regime in Gaza, Haniyeh would win. He would get 48% compared to Abbas’ 45%. Haniyeh would also win if jailed Fatah strongman Marwan Barghouti, long considered the most popular person in Palestinian politics, entered the race.

Interestingly, even though it doesn’t translate to support for Abbas, satisfaction with his performance has increased following the successful bid at the United Nations. Three months ago satisfaction with Abbas stood at 46%; it now stands at 54%. What does this show? That while the Palestinian public has been impressed by the UN bid, the perceived victory in Operation Pillar of Defense has impacted political consciousness more.

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Bibi-Liberman End Run vs. 2 States: The Odds

By J.J. Goldberg

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Israel’s political map is about to upended when Netanyahu and Liberman go on television at 2 p.m. Eastern time to announce a joint Knesset run. They’re apparently not merging their parties but forming a joint list. The aim is to ensure that Bibi ends up with the largest Knesset bloc after the January 22 elections, guaranteeing that he can form the next government. A Haaretz poll last week showed that if Ehud Olmert enters the race atop a new list that includes Tzipi Livni and Yair Lapid, he would outscore the Likud by one seat, 25-to-24, and win the first shot at forming a coalition. An earlier Jerusalem Post poll showed the Olmert superlist doing even better, beating the Likud 31-27. News 1 reports today that Bibi and Liberman could jointly grab 40 seats, guaranteeing that they bury even an Olmert superlist.

The kink in the plan is the religious vote. Liberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party puts a very high priority on a secularist agenda. Haaretz reports today that the joint Bibi-Liberman list is expected to give high priority to Liberman’s secularist agenda, and might even reach out to bring Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party into a governing coalition. But the Likud relies heavily on religious voters who won’t like that. There’s a good chance that some of them will flee to the settler-based national-religious bloc, which appears to be running under a new banner that will join the Bayit Yehudi-NRP party with the National Union, reducing the Knesset strength of the Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu list. It’s possible, though, that some will break toward Shas, particularly now that Arye Deri is returning (sharing power with Eli Yishai, who remains no. 1 on the Knesset list but hands over the party chairmanship to Deri).

So the 60,000 shekel question becomes: Can Haim Ramon engineer a center-left coalition that brings back Olmert atop a new list uniting him and Livni with Lapid and Mofaz’s Kadima, and work out a platform that allows them to join after the election with Ramon’s old friend and fellow dove Arye Deri? Can the various personalities bury their egos and feuds and join together to restore the peace process and two-state solution before it dies forever?

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Abbas vs. Netanyahu

By Jonathan Cummings

Getty Images
Mahmoud Abbas at the UN General Assembly on September 27.

Mahmoud Abbas and Benjamin Netanyahu once again avoided speaking to each other yesterday, as they have done for the past three years. Despite both claiming that they want to restart conflict-ending talks, there was little evidence of that in either leader’s speech to the United Nations’ General Assembly.

Abbas was on the attack from the outset. Speaking as the representative of an “angry people,” he leveled a familiar list of charges against Israel. Ethnic cleansing, settler violence, unlawful detention and the closure of the borders with Gaza all got a mention. Most were met with applause. So too, the call for Israel to be “condemned, punished and boycotted.” He noted that the Palestinian population is young and frustrated, hinting that violence could once again return. Yet, he claimed, Israeli policy and an aggressive brand of Israeli political discourse means that the Palestinian Authority, the guardian of Palestinian political and security relations with Israel, is under threat of collapse. There is only one way to understand this and only one conclusion to be drawn, he said. The Israeli government rejects a two-state solution.

Not so the Palestinians. Although time is running out, there is a chance — “maybe the last” — to return to talks. And he reassured the General Assembly that there is no need for marathon negotiations or to solve an “intractable riddle.” The solution already exists. All it needs is a return to the UN’s own terms of reference and the Arab Peace Initiative.

But even whilst calling for a “new approach,” Abbas actually drove peace efforts further up last year’s cul-de-sac. His announcement that he would be seeking a General Assembly resolution to grant non-member status to the Palestinians is anathema to Israel. It is also a pale echo of last year’s thwarted application for full UN membership. Abbas wants the support of the UN to draw the 1967 green line on the maps ahead of any negotiations, and for talks to then discuss changes to that line. Israel’s precondition for talks is that there are no preconditions, and thus rejects this approach. So, we can assume, will the next U.S. president.

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Unilateral Statehood, The Sequel

By Nathan Jeffay

getty images
Mahmoud Abbas

In Take 2 of its push for unilateral statehood the Palestinian Authority has announced it will ask the United Nations to upgrade its status from “observer entity” to “observer state.”

“After the U.N. vote … Palestine will become a country under occupation. Israel will not be able to say that this is a disputed area,” chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat reasoned. “The terms of reference for any negotiations will be about withdrawal, not over what the Israelis say is legal or not legal.”

Israel has long been opposed to unilateral moves by the Palestinians, and soon after details of the latest plan became public condemned it. “The Palestinians committed themselves to resolving all outstanding issues in negotiations, and such a unilateral action would be viewed as a violation,” said Mark Regev, spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

But is this the final word on the subject?

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What Would Israel Do Without Mahmoud Abbas?

By Nathan Jeffay

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Mahmoud Abbas

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has called Israel’s President Shimon Peres to offer him Rosh Hashanah greetings.

“Happy holiday and a Happy New Year to you and the entire Israeli nation,” Abbas said.. Well, perhaps he meant all of Israel with one exception.

At the same time as the phone call from Ramallah came in at Peres’ residence, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman had his team working on his attempt at character assassination of Abbas.

Last month, Liberman wrote to the Mideast Quartet, which consists of America, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations, asking it to insist that long-overdue Palestinian general elections are held, which could lead to the end of the presidency of Abbas.

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Olmert Cleared in Case That Unseated Him

By J.J. Goldberg

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Ehud Olmert

Ehud Olmert, whose indictment and resignation in 2008 aborted his peace negotiations with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and opened the way to the deadlock under Benjamin Netanyahu, was found not guilty this morning by the Jerusalem District Court of the main corruption charges that forced his resignation. And aborted the negotiations.

The three-judge panel, which read aloud a summary of its 700-page verdict, found that the charges had not been proved beyond a reasonable doubt. News 1 reports that the detailed ruling expresses serious doubt about the nature of the charges and the reliability of some key witnesses, making it unlikely that the prosecution could win on appeal.

Olmert was charged with setting up a double billing system through Rishontours travel agency in order to get double reimbursement from overseas groups that invited him as a guest speaker. He was also charged with receiving envelopes of cash from Long Island fundraiser Morris Talansky in what were portrayed as bribes for undetermined purposes. The judges ruled that there was no proof Olmert was aware of the double billing in the Rishontours case, and that no effort was made to hide the activity, which cast doubt on the likelihood of fraudulent intent. Olmert had maintained his complete innocence all along.

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Does Hamas Joining PLO Mean It Accepts 2 States?

By J.J. Goldberg

If you’ve been following the news in the American and international press, you’ve probably heard that the unity talks between Fatah and Hamas have reached a new and alarming phase. According to an Associated Press report that’s been widely reproduced, Hamas has agreed to join the Fatah-dominated umbrella Palestine Liberation Organization, the body that has been negotiating with Israel for the past 20 years, which “could have deep repercussions. Hamas has opposed the peace talks and rejects Israel’s right to exist. A strong Hamas voice in the group would further complicate the already troubled Mideast diplomatic process.” Not surprisingly, “Israeli officials reacted with alarm to the emerging agreement.”

But the Hebrew press is telling a different story. Both Haaretz and Ynet report—in their Hebrew versions only—that Hamas has agreed, as a condition of joining the PLO, to discontinue “armed struggle” against Israel and apparently has agreed to accept Palestinian statehood within the 1967 borders, alongside Israel.

The Ynet report quotes Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas directly, from an interview he gave to a Belgian television network a month ago, stating flatly that Hamas political secretary Khaled Meshaal had accepted both those conditions. The article appears in English translation on the Ynetnew.com website in a truncated version with the paragraph on Hamas peace concessions excised. Here’s what the original Hebrew version says:

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Bibi and Abu Mazen Kiss

By Gal Beckerman

courtesy of unhate foundation

One can always dream, right?

This photo(shopped) image has been making the rounds and it’s hard to tear your eyes away from that pucker. It’s one of a series from a new ad campaign from Benetton that harkens back to the days when they were regularly producing wonderfully subversive ads that demanded a double take (I’ll never forget seeing this one). The series includes Barack Obama smooching Hugo Chavez and the Pope making out with Ahmed Mohamed el-Tayeb, Imam of the Al-Azhar mosque in Cairo, and it is branded with the tagline “UNHATE,” which is also the name of a new foundation Benetton has started to combat intolerance.

According to Benetton “These are symbolic images of reconciliation — with a touch of ironic hope and constructive provocation — to stimulate reflection on how politics, faith and ideas, even when they are divergent and mutually opposed, must still lead to dialogue and mediation.”

I just think this is screaming out for a caption. Please help us. Offer your suggestions in the comments section and I’ll post the best one.

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