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.
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.
Ynet.co.il, the news site associated with Yediot Ahronot, has a profile of incoming Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon (known since his youth by the nickname “Boogy”). It’s important reading, so I’ve translated it below.
Here’s the background that’s not in the profile: Born Moshe Smilansky in 1950, raised in suburban Haifa, he was active in the Noar Oved ve-Lomed youth movement and was in a garin (settlement group) named Garin Yaalon (from which he took his name), which joined with a sister garin from American Habonim to rebuild Kibbutz Grofit near Eilat. He returned to the army after the Yom Kippur War in 1973 and rose through the ranks. Commanded the elite Sayeret Matkal commando unit, became chief of Military Intelligence in 1995 and chief of Central Command, in charge of the West Bank, in 1998. During this period he underwent a famous conversion from left- to right-wing, claiming publicly that he now realized the Palestinians had no intention of making peace. In 2002 he became chief of staff, serving three years after Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz denied him the customary fourth-year extension due to his outspoken opposition to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s Gaza disengagement plan. It’s worth noting that of the 18 living ex-chiefs of the IDF, Mossad and Shin Bet, he is the only one who opposes a two-state solution. - JJG
Political Hawk and Loose Tongue
Moshe “Boogy” Yaalon called his General Staff colleagues “snakes” and the organizations on the left “a virus.” He believes that evacuating settlements is “perverse” and that the IDF can attack any nuclear installation in Iran. Over the years Yaalon’s statements have reflected a determined, activist security philosophy. In his gunsights: leftists, Turks and of course Ehud Barak.
By Roy Mandel, Ynet 3/18/13
In April 2012 Moshe “Boogy” Yaalon absorbed criticism at home when he dared to declare that he was Benjamin Netanyahu’s heir and would one day run for the leadership of the Likud and the country. The prime minister, as we learned from the negotiations with Yair Lapid, does not like politicians who openly declare that the house on Balfour Street is the object of their dreams. But ever so quietly, under the radar and almost without opposition, the former chief of staff has found himself in an excellent launching pad for the fulfillment of his vision, now that he has been named defense minister in Israel’s 33rd government. The man who declared on the day he was demobilized from the IDF that he was careful to keep his boots on at General Staff headquarters because of all the snakes will soon enter much taller shoes and march in them to his new office, which is located in the same General Staff compound, the Kiryah.
Moshe Yaalon, ID no. 2057989, is a kibbutznik who returned to active duty after the 1973 Yom Kippur War, a retired chief of staff, the commander of the IDF during the second half of the second intifada and a person who ended his military service in grating tones when his tenure was not extended on the eve of the Gaza disengagement. Now, after a term as minister for strategic affairs, he is returning to run the entire system.
The man who led a hawkish line at the General Staff and in the government, who believed that Yasser Arafat had never deviated from his goal of destroying the state of Israel, who insisted that the paradigm of two states for two peoples was unworkable—will now navigate the security establishment, effectively oversee millions of Palestinians and deal with Israel’s security and strategic challenges. Many on the dovish side of the political and military map fear that his line will drag Israel into diplomatic and security complications.
Zvi Barel, Haaretz’s impeccably cautious Middle East commentator, reports (might be paywall; here is the Hebrew original) that Hamas secretary general Khaled Meshaal has agreed to accept a two-state solution, with a Palestinian state alongside Israel based on the 1967 borders. This follows talks in Amman this week between Meshaal King Abdullah of Jordan. Barel cites a Saudi newspaper, A-Sharq, which in turn cited “Jordanian sources.”
He said Meshaal had authorized Abdullah to pass the new Hamas position along to President Obama.
The report continues:
The meeting is also said to have covered Palestinian reconciliation and relations with Jordan. So far neither Hamas nor Jordan has officially verified the Saudi report, but Meshal’s public statement after the meeting, in which he said, “Jordan is Jordan, and Palestine is Palestine, and any talks about relations between a Palestinian state and Jordan will only be held after the establishment of a Palestinian state,” more than hint at an essential change in Hamas’ position.
To date, Hamas has rejected the two-state solution, although it welcomed the Arab peace initiative whose core was the existence of two states based on the 1967 borders. In the past, however, Meshal has stressed that the 1967 borders are only a first step in the ultimate liberation of all of Palestine. This change in position is an extension of a previous shift in orientation in which Hamas, after fierce opposition, decided to support Mahmoud Abbas’ effort to gain international acceptance of Palestine as a non-member observer nation in the United Nations.
No official confirmation from Jordan or Hamas, but Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian Authority’s chief negotiator with Israel, seems to take the report very seriously:
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?
In certain circles, the very name, Human Rights Watch, has become a profanity. There are those convinced that this is an organization set on attacking Israel unmercifully and disproportionately. Among these people is even Bob Bernstein who founded the group in the 1970s and recently left in protest to start Advancing Human Rights, which he says is a corrective to an organization that has lost its moral compass.
I won’t go in to the few mistakes HRW has made to bring this criticism down on its own head (remember the Nazi memorabilia collector who was working in their Middle East division?), but suffice it to say they have sometimes not made the job of their defenders easy.
Still, it does surprise me how compartmentalized the minds of their critics can be, such that they find it impossible to commend or acknowledge HRW when they do something evenhanded or that upsets the caricature of them as blindly pro-Palestinian.
Today, for example, the group issued a strongly worded press release directed at Hamas and the Palestinian Authority calling on them to investigate attacks against two Palestinian human rights workers. Here’s a summary of the two cases as presented by HRW:
Is Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad on his way out? Jonathan Tobin certainly seems to think so. In a blog post for Commentary, where he is the editor, he posits that Fayyad’s approach to governance and to foreign affairs places him outside the Palestinian mainstream.
Citing Fayyad’s comments in an interview with the Jewish Chronicle of London, Tobin writes, “With this sort of a platform, he’d probably have an easier time getting elected to the Knesset than to the Palestinian parliament.”
Trouble is, Tobin offers no evidence of Fayyad’s unpopularity among his people and in fact, recent polling shows the opposite.
As we get closer to September 20 and the opening of the UN’s General Assembly, all the various voices of the American Jewish universe are beginning to state their opinion about whether the Palestinian push for UN recognition is a wise or foolish step. We’ve actually got an editorial, stating our own position, which will be on line shortly.
For the most part, there are few surprises. Most mainstream (read: center-right) Jewish organizations oppose the move. But I couldn’t really guess what card J Street was going to play. Well, according to a JTA report, they’ve also decided to take a stand against the Palestinian Authority and its September gamble. “We believe that everything J Street stands for and what we do needs to promote the two-state solution and not just two states,” said Jeremy Ben-Ami, the group’s director.
What they will not do, however, is support the efforts gaining steam to cut off funding to the Palestinian Authority as a result. Here’s Ben-Ami again: “What the Palestinians are doing is legal, even if we don’t agree with it, and we believe it is against Israel strategic interests and U.S. interests to cut funding to the Palestinians.”
This seems sensible. J Street does stand for negotiations, and so, despite their more sympathetic approach to the Palestinian side of the conflict, it would not be consistent for them to support unilateralism. The group wasn’t around in 2005, but I have a feeling that they might have also opposed the way that Ariel Sharon pulled out of Gaza without any attempt at negotiation.
On the other hand, they have the good sense to see what other American Jewish groups are apparently failing to see, that defunding the P.A. would be disastrous for everyone involved — Americans, Palestinians, and, yes, Israelis. It would probably undo Mohamed Abbas’s leadership and create further frustration and despair among the Palestinians. What would follow, we can’t know for sure, but it’s safe to assume it would not be good.
With political and social upheaval sweeping the Middle East, Israel is threatened by a tsunami of hand-wringing, angst-ridden warnings of impending doom. New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief Ethan Bronner summed up the situation in this news analysis over the weekend. Here is Reuters’ Crispian Balmer on the issues a week earlier, and here’s Haaretz’s Amir Oren the day before that.
There are basically four main worries: Bronner sums them up neatly:
As angry rallies by Egyptians outside the Israeli Embassy in Cairo this week have shown, Israel’s relationship with Egypt is fraying. A deadly exchange of rockets fired at southern Israel and Israeli airstrikes on Hamas-controlled Gaza this week showed the risk of escalation there. Damaged ties with Turkey are not improving. Cooperation with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank seems headed for trouble.
Possible solutions all carry their own down-sides. Turkey insists its ties with Israel won’t improve unless and until Israel apologizes for the deaths of the nine Turks killed in the storming of the Mavi Marmara last year, but Jerusalem doesn’t want to because it feels it has nothing to apologize for. Security cooperation with the Palestinian Authority depends on restoring diplomatic momentum toward a peace agreement, but the Palestinians are headed down a dangerous unilateral road via the U.N., and they say they won’t come back to the table unless Israel either halts settlement construction or agrees to base future borders on the pre-1967 armistice lines. Israel was committed to do both in the 2003 Road Map but the government finds both unpalatable.
And then there’s this: As Bronner reports,
Last weekend, officials were contemplating a major military assault on Gaza. But that plan was shelved by the crisis that emerged with Egypt, by the realization that Hamas itself was uninvolved in the terrorist attack and by the worry about how such an assault would affect other countries’ views during the United Nations debate of a Palestinian resolution in September.
It’s all very awkward. And complicated.
There are those who heard in Obama’s speech on the Middle East an attempt – as Mitt Romney elegantly put it – to throw Israel “under the bus” and those who thought it was just the same old steadfast support for Israeli positions that every American president expresses. Both sides, it’s clear, seem to only watch for and listen to the words and deeds most convenient for making their case. So even if you hear the president loud and clear and with shocked ears when he says, “the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines,” somehow the volume drops off a second later when he adds, “with mutually agreed swaps.”
One thing that got totally overlooked in all the hysterics was Obama’s opposition to any unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood in the United Nations come September. He said this as plainly as possible.
Today there’s some proof that he meant what he said. And it comes from the Palestinians themselves who seem to be slowly backing away from September.