Abbas cancels Rosh Hashanah party with Israeli politicians.


Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas

On Friday I wrote that Israeli Finance Minister and Yesh Atid party chairman Yair Lapid had forbidden his Members of Knesset from attending a holiday party scheduled for today with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas; Lapid was of the opinion that attending the event would undermine Israel’s negotiating position. I expressed some wonder at this decision, however, because just two weeks earlier, three Yesh Atid MKs had not only met with Palestinian officials in Budapest, they and the Palestinians had agreed that a future peace deal would look very much like the Geneva Accord, a draft agreement that includes two states based on the 1967 borders and a shared Jerusalem.

Well. It turns out that Lapid need not have worried: Abbas’s own people have put the kibosh on the party:

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas canceled a pre-Rosh Hashana toast with more than 30 ministers and Knesset members that was set for Tuesday because he came under pressure from the anti-normalization movement in Ramallah.

Abbas invited the Knesset’s Caucus on Ending the Israeli- Arab Conflict to his headquarters in Ramallah after a Palestinian delegation was greeted by 30 MKs and ministers and a Palestinian flag at the Knesset on July 31. That meeting emphasized the need to have a show of force in Ramallah to boost the nascent Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

But the anti-normalization movement, which is strong inside Abbas’s Fatah party, criticized him for meeting such a high-profile Israeli delegation so soon after the IDF killed Palestinians in recent incidents in Jenin and Kalandiya.

As an American-Israeli Jew, I can’t presume to tell Palestinian nationalists how to approach my people. Me and mine are in the position of power in this conflict, and those who struggle against military occupation have a limited number of tools at their disposal. And indeed: The Israeli military just killed Palestinians—if Palestinians had just killed Israelis, it’s a good bet that Israeli parliamentarians would not be going to Ramallah for a pre-holiday toast. (Moreover, as Peter Beinart so eloquently documented in the New York Review of Books yesterday, American Jews have their own anti-normalization movement—we just don’t call it that).

Furthermore, the gathering might not be permanently cancelled: According to Labor MK and caucus head Hilik Bar, the Palestinian officials behind the now-cancelled event have promised him that they’ll reschedule. “I told the Palestinians that if this is not the ideal time, we can do it after the holidays,” Bar said. “I want the President [Abbas] to feel comfortable and hold the meeting in the best environment possible.” It could be that just as Lapid didn’t raise a stink about the earlier, more quietly held meeting in Hungary, Abbas will be able to pull off a less high-profile event.

But I do despair a little bit more every time one side or the other refuses to so much as sit at a table with their opposite number (apparently the supply of despair is bottomless). These things do not—cannot possibly—replace a rigorous examination of the conflict, its perpetuation, and the possibility for resolution. They are not a substitute for the difficult and painful process of letting go of decades-old habits and fear in order to forge a path to mutual respect and self-determination for a people too long denied their rights.

Yet it also cannot be denied that no genuine peace will be born or survive without the million smaller moments in which two enemies learn to see each other as people. And the irony of Fatah’s anti-normalizationists being on the same side as Yair Lapid isn’t lost on me.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

Israeli politicians forbidden to attend Rosh Hashanah event with Abbas.

yair lapid 2

Yair Lapid

Now here’s a head-scratcher.

There’s a lot of talk about Yair Lapid believing that Israel’s position in peace negotiations will be weakened if members of his party attend a Rosh Hashanah event with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. As such, even though five Yesh Atid parliamentarians had already RSVP’ed “yes” to Abbas’s little do, Lapid has instructed them to make their apologies. A spokeswoman with Yesh Atid explained the Finance Minister’s decision thus:

When there are direct negotiations between the two sides, we don’t think it is right for coalition MKs to bypass the official talks. We should let the diplomatic process continue via acceptable procedures.

But here’s the thing: Three members of Yesh Atid actually met with Palestinian Authority officials just two weeks ago, and it wasn’t at a party. Indeed, Maarivreported on August 18 that MK Yifat Kariv and two other people from Yesh Atid met with PA officials in Budapest in order to (in Kariv’s words) “support the peace process”:

The sooner we arrive at a two-state solution, the better. These discussions with the Palestinians give me the sense that there’s someone to talk to and something to talk about, and as such, all declarations about construction in the territories or support for the idea of a single state between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River only do damage. The government must arrive at responsible, courageous decisions.

The Maariv report goes on to say that the Israeli and Palestinian participants agreed to prepare a joint declaration of parliamentary support for the peace process; to organize delegations of Israeli officials to Ramallah (the seat of the Palestinian government); and to put political pressure on the leaders of both sides to arrive at an agreement. Furthermore, reporter Arik Bender writes, both sides expressed their support for the draft accord known as the Geneva Accord (or Geneva Initiative), agreeing that the parameters of any future resolution are already well-known and enjoy the support of the majority of both peoples.

So, if I understand correctly, a meeting between Fatah officials, Palestinian legislators, and coalition MKs at which all agree on the outline of a future peace deal—a draft agreement known to be based on the 1967 lines and a shared Jerusalem—it’s not an end-run around official talks. Raising a toast at a holiday gathering, on the other hand? You betcha.

I’ve long wondered what some of the folks in Lapid’s party are doing there. Some of the most prominent members of Yesh Atid are unequivocal supporters of a two-state peace and all that such a peace will entail. Their boss, on the other hand, hasrejected the idea of cutting back on settlements, says things like “if the Palestinians realize they won’t have a state unless they give up on Jerusalem, they’ll back down from that demand,” and not long ago declared that Abbas (who has actively supported a two-state peace since 1977) is “still not psychologically ready for an agreement with Israel, either partial or full.”

I wonder if maybe the trip to Budapest was organized without Lapid’s knowledge, or if he later came to regret allowing it to happen. Because to be perfectly frank, he’s absolutely right that allowing his folks to go to Abbas’s holiday event will undermine the government’s position.

He’s right because, as MK Kariv demonstrates, when people reach out to each other, their relationship changes. When people get together in an atmosphere of conviviality, they’re likely to start working together. When enemies jointly struggle with tiny plates of hors d’oeuvres, they are less likely to see each other as enemies.

Yet the government in which Lapid serves appears tied to a notion of eternal enmity. To the extent that Prime Minister Netanyahu and his ministers (other than Justice Minister Tzipi Livni) are at all willing to go along with John Kerry’s negotiation efforts, all signs indicate that it’s because the process of talks serves Israel in the international arena. Actually achieving an end to the conflict, on the other hand (an outcome that will require something very like what the Geneva Initiative proposes), doesn’t seem to hold much appeal.

How do we know that an actual resolution doesn’t hold much appeal for the Netanyahu government? Because, among many other things, it recently announced plans for more than 3000 settlement housing units, and members of the coalition keep saying things like: “There are no two states west of the Jordan River, and there won’t be two states. Even if there are negotiations taking place—this is not on the agenda.”

Now, these folks may be telling themselves and their followers that the conflict can be ended without two states, but they’re either lying or fools (or both. One must never preclude the possibility of both).

I’m on record as thinking that Yair Lapid is a fool (or possibly the product of a sub-par education, or maybe just doesn’t read very much). I also think he’s an opportunist more interested in his own political fortunes than the needs of any Israelis he’s supposed to be serving.

However, given his government’s clear position of making conflict resolution near-impossible to achieve, Lapid is absolutely right. Getting together with the Palestinian president would be one of those tiny, million steps that might serve to bring peace just a little bit closer, thus undermining Israel’s negotiating position.

Dear WaPo: Abbas did not ‘reject’ Olmert’s offer.

This appeared last week at Open Zion, and I forgot to post it here! Imagine.

olmert abbas shakeYesterday my editor Ali Gharib took the Washington Post to task for its ill-conceived weekend editorial concerning John Kerry’s recent push to restart Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Let me start by saying that I agree with everything Ali wrote—except that he skipped something.

There’s a little moment, a single line, not even an entire sentence, buried deep in the editorial which serves as a kind of emblem of all that is wrong with so much of the discourse surrounding the conflict, including the contribution made by the very piece of writing in question.

“In 2008 Mr. Abbas rejected an offer from Mr. Netanyahu’s predecessor [Ehud Olmert],” the Post’s board writes, and then carries on its merry way to dismiss Kerry’s diplomatic efforts out-of-hand. The only problem being: It’s not true.

As Bernard Avishai reported in the New York Times in February 2011:

“We were very close,” Olmert told me, “more than ever in the past, to complete an agreement on principles that would have led to the end of the conflict between us and the Palestinians.” Abbas said the talks produced more “creative ideas” than any in the past. He took pains to assure me that he had been most flexible on Israel’s security demands. Olmert, in retrospect, agrees, saying that Abbas “had never said no.”

Was a deal struck during Olmert’s premiership? No, it was not. In that sense, then, I suppose it could be argued that Abbas “rejected” an offer from Olmert—but surely only in the same sense that Olmert “rejected” an offer from Abbas.

Thus, the Post did the very thing that a long list of Americans and Israelis have always done: Create an imaginary Palestinian, and then talk about that fictitious creature as if it were composed of flesh and blood rather than straw and propaganda.

Did Abbas reject Olmert’s offer? No. Is Abbas congenitally not-a-partner for peace?Nope. Did Yasser Arafat walk away from a “generous offer” at Camp David? No. Are the Palestinians likely to “back down” from a shared Jerusalem if Israelis don’t “blink”? Not likely. Is Palestinian culture to blame for the moribund state of the Palestinian economy? No (no, really: no). Are the Palestinians “an invented people”?No more than any other people. Are they, or were they ever, the equivalent of “cockroaches in a bottle”? Uhhh—no.

Some of the fictions hawked over nearly five decades of occupation skate near the truth—we can’t let Arafat entirely off the hook for Camp David any more than we can blame him exclusively—while others peddle in dehumanizing xenophobia, but all serve a narrative that few in positions of power care to question: That of the Israeli hero, standing against the odds and the barbarous hordes in the name of Democracy and Chicken Soup.

If, on the other hand, Olmert and Abbas were “very close” to an agreement; if Abbas has (in fact) been advocating for a two-state solution since 1977; if Ehud Barak and Bill Clinton share the blame for the failure of Camp David; if the Palestinians really mean it when they say that Jerusalem is their one and only capital; if Israel is the main force behind the shattered Palestinian economy; if, in fact, Israel shares the blame for all of its current troubles, from the waging of wars to the absence of peace, and Palestinians are as human as anyone else—then we may need to take them into consideration. We may need to give up our maximalist dreams (whether they be of a Greater Israel, or, in the case of America’s neocons, American global hegemony), and we may need to feel our way, however haltingly, toward mutually respectful accommodation.

But as Ali pointed out, mutually respectful accommodation is not now nor has it ever been on the Washington Post’s menu of options, so its editorial board needs to keep spinning a tale that doesn’t merely scoff at Kerry’s efforts to end decades of bloodshed (as in: actual people, actually dead), but (because it’s the Post) serves to effectively undermine those efforts.

It’s bad enough to casually print factual inaccuracies, but those who advocate for a continued state of managed-conflict in Israel/Palestine are arguing that millions of people should continue to pay the price of ideology in blood, bone, and grief. The folks at the Washington Post may not have skin in this game, but I do, and that’s a truth I can’t be quiet about.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

Abbas threatens to dismantle the PA. Again.,_Davos.jpgPalestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is threatening to “dismantle the Palestinian Authority” if there’s no movement toward a two-state peace after Israel’s upcoming elections.

“I will take the phone and call Netanyahu,” Abbas told Haaretz’s Barak Ravid on Thursday. “I’ll tell him, ‘my dear friend, Mr. Netanyahu, I am inviting you to the Muqata [the PA presidential headquarters]. Sit in the chair here instead of me, take the keys, and you will be responsible for the Palestinian Authority’.”

Which sounds pretty serious, and would be pretty serious, if it actually happened. But given the frequency with which the threat has been made, I have my doubts.

September 2008: “Abbas aide threatens to dismantle PA.” July 2008: “Abbas vows to dismantle PA if Israel frees Hamas prisoners for Shalit.” July 2011: “[Lead Palestinian negotiator Saeb] Erekat said that if the United States continued to stymie the Palestinian efforts to get a state recognized by the United Nations, the Palestinian Authority should be dismantled. ‘[Abbas] should throw the keys in their faces’.” September 2011: “Abbas is considering dismantling the PA.” October 2011: “UN envoy: Israel must take Abbas threats to dismantle PA seriously.” November 2011: “Israeli-Palestinian jolt? Why some want to dismantle PA.” December 2011: “Mahmoud Abbas Could Dismantle Palestinian Authority.” March 2012: “In rebuff to Obama, Abbas says he will send ultimatum to Israel.” In April, former Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister and peace negotiator Yossi Beilin urged Abbas to make good on the threat, and in September, Abbas was publicly kicking the idea around again.

And that’s just what I turned up in a couple of Google searches.

“Dismantling the Palestinian Authority” (see also: “throwing the keys in their faces”) boils down to code for “abrogating the Oslo Accords,” which is in turn code for “forcing direct control of Palestinians’ daily lives back into Israel’s hands,” a thing which Israel in no way actually wants (whatever Avigdor Lieberman might say).

On the contrary, Israel has been only too happy to benefit from the Authority’s cooperation on security issues, stage the occasional incursion for its own purposes, and leave the heavy lifting on things like health and education to the Palestinian leadership (even while withholding the PA’s tax revenues—crucial to financing such niceties as health and education—and/or urging the U.S. Congress to withhold aid). Behind what Beilin calls “the fig leaf” of the PA, successive Israeli governments have been able to convince the world that the Palestinian government is very nearly an equal player on the world stage, all the while crisscrossing Palestine with settlements, bypass roads, and a massive fence in an increasingly successful effort to destroy the possibility of an actual, viable Palestinian state.

So when Abbas threatens to hand the keys over to his dear friend Mr. Netanyahu, what he’s really threatening is to end the charade. He’s threatening to force the world to concede that what began with such high hopes in 1993 has led only to an entrenchment of the occupation, and beyond the recognition of the Palestinian right to statehood, all the money, time, political capital, and conference halls invested in the two-state dream have thus far achieved absolutely nothing. Less than nothing, really, possibly worse than nothing, because so far, two decades of Oslo have mostly served to let us all look the other way as Israel has actively made life worse for the people living under its military rule and tightened its grip on the land on which those people live.

I thus find myself agreeing (again) with Yossi Beilin’s call to his old negotiating partner, really hoping that Abbas means it this time. I cannot help but think that at this point, only a bone-rattling shock can save the two-state idea, and as I still believe that idea to be the only one that might yet provide security and dignity to both peoples, I find myself pulling for shocking developments.

Yet “hope” is not the same as “believe.” Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is himself a product of the process that is now so very, very moribund. If he throws his keys at Bibi, he’ll be abandoning legions of Palestinians dependent on their government jobs, undoing the only concession his people has ever wrested from their occupiers, and declaring his own political life a failed experiment. While that sort of thing is not entirely unprecedented in international politics, it certainly is rare.

No, I believe that, absent his own shocking development, Abbas will continue to do exactly what he’s long done: talk. And the United States and European Union will join him in that. They’ll all talk, they’ll all condemn this or call for that, and in the meantime, only one party will actually do anything: Israel.

And what Israel does will render everyone else’s words meaningless.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

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