September 26, 2018

What Trump Wants from the Palestinians

FILE PHOTO - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas waves in Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank May 1, 2018. Picture taken May 1, 2018. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman/File Photo

There is no agreement within the Trump government on the future of the Israeli-Palestinian arena. There is a dispute, and it is not yet clear how the president will decide whether and when a decision is made. Understanding the disagreement is necessary for understanding some of the president’s latest moves against the Palestinian leadership, including cutting aid funds and announcing the closure of the mission in Washington. Understanding the dispute is necessary to assess the likelihood that one day, if and when, similar American pressure will be exerted on Israel as well.

The dispute can be briefly explained as follows:

There are those in the Trump government who believe that the latest steps are a lever for exerting pressure on the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table. This is the official position of the administration, and also the position of some government officials. They want the Palestinians at the table, want to present a plan that will benefit, in their understanding, the people of Israel, the Palestinians and the Middle East. They want to crack the unceasing walnut and amaze the world with the deal of the century. In the eyes of these officials, the announcement of the closure of the Palestinian delegation is a tactical step. A reversible step. Come to the table, negotiate, accept the American proposal, and open the mission.

There are also those in the Trump administration who believe that the latest steps are a way to signal to the world the President’s real intention: a fundamental change in the discourse on the Israeli-Palestinian arena. In their opinion, closing the mission is not a tactical step of pressure, but a strategic step in keeping with the recognition of Jerusalem and the transfer of the American embassy to the capital of Israel. In fact, they say, the administration’s steps, including these last steps, should be seen as punitive measures, reflective of its overall position on the issue of Palestine.

There is a degree of consistency in the claim of those who expand: The transfer of the embassy, ​​as the president said, has brought the issue of Jerusalem off the table. UNRWA’s budget cut promises to reduce the problem of Palestinian refugees on the table. The closing of the mission in Washington foreshadows the removal of the Palestinian state from the table. Each step is well tuned to one of the core issues that prevent progress. Every step signals to the Palestinians that whatever happened, Jerusalem will be the capital of Israel, and the Palestinians cannot prevent this with endless refusal. The refugees, who are mainly descended from refugees, will not return anywhere. They will have to recognize reality and be absorbed somewhere. As for the Palestinian state, this, as a senior official has said in the past, depends on the question of “how to define a state.” It would certainly be nothing more than a state minus. And perhaps only autonomy plus. Or a component in the Kingdom of Jordan. Either way, this is an entity that does not have to have representation in Washington.

The gap between the tactical approach and the substantive approach is a deep one. According to his public statements, the president is in the tactical camp – he is applying pressure in order to renew negotiations. According to his actions, he may be a member of the substantive camp – he is taking measures that will only make the likelihood of negotiations more distant, and raise the conflict on a new path of consciousness. Of course, there is also a possibility that the president does not care. Either way, he’s doing something, and it’s the reverse of what was done by the previous president, which irritates those he likes to upset. And there is a possibility that the president is tempted to take substantial steps under the guise of tactical measures. If this is the case, the maneuver is only possible thanks to the dedicated cooperation of the Palestinian leadership, which refuses to examine the seriousness of Trump’s intentions and has declared them irrelevant.

The president has a little more than two years. It’s a long time, a lot can happen. For a short time, it is hard to see how it will suffice to change an ancient conflict. If the Palestinians are right in their assessment, the president will go, and in his place will come another president, perhaps a Democrat. An important article by Clare Malone on FiveThirtyEight published this week shows that Americans, Republicans and Democrats, are tired of candidates willing to compromise or soften. They are looking for political purity. This is convenient for Israel when a Republican president strikes at the Palestinian leadership. It will be much less convenient when a Democratic president recognizes that his voters’ desire is to strike Israel.

 

Egyptian peace plan looks to engage ‘most extreme elements in Israel’

Last year’s Egyptian television series for Ramadan “Harat al Yehud” (Jewish Quarter) displayed nuance and nostalgia toward Egypt’s mid-century “Israelites.”

This holiday season’s “Alqayasar” (The Kingpin) reveals a full-frontal hardening of attitudes toward the Muslim Brotherhood and the Palestinians of Gaza.

“Alqayasar” portrays the evil deeds and shady alliances of a terror cell leader who uses tunnels near Rafa to commute between his hideouts in the Nile Delta and the Gaza headquarters of Islamist groups, where he also meets up with Palestinian mafia dons and hatches a series of plots against the Egyptian homeland.

Much of the action takes place in the North Sinai, where Egyptian forces are in the third phase of a struggle against the local branch of ISIS, dubbed Operation Martyr’s Right by the army chiefs in Cairo. 

Both the Ramadan holiday and the “Alqayasar” series have several more weeks to go, but it’s a foregone conclusion that the show’s virtuous and now digitally savvy Egyptian army will ensnare the fictional kingpin by the time the country celebrates Eid al-Fitr, marking the end of the month of fasting.

Less certain, however, is the outcome of efforts by real-life Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, commonly known as Sisi, to quell a Sinai insurgency and motivate the Israelis to conclude a statehood deal with the Palestinians.

Both items are linked in Egyptian strategic thinking. 

One year ago, Sisi told a visiting delegation from the American Jewish Committee that resolving the Israeli-Palestinian dispute “will eliminate one of the most important reasons relied upon by terrorists to attract people to join their cause.”

Last month, the Egyptian president said his country is willing to exert all possible efforts to make a final peace deal work between Israel and the Palestinians.

Sisi made a direct appeal on Israeli TV channels pledging that, once an agreement is reached, both peoples will be able to overcome the layers of animosity currently separating them, “just as the Egyptians and Israelis have.”

While Cairo and Jerusalem now enjoy unprecedented levels of security cooperation, neither the Egyptian military nor its diplomats have ever reconciled themselves with Israel’s 2004 unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. 

At the time, the army expressed fears of the consolidation of a Hamas-controlled entity on the edge of the Sinai and fretted over the possibility that an Islamist Gaza would militarize the Muslim Brotherhood.

The political echelon saw the move as a deviation from the Bush roadmap, which in part reflected the 2002 Saudi Arab Peace initiative. 

As far as Cairo is concerned, events since the withdrawal have proven these pessimistic forecasts accurate. 

Saeed Okasha, in-house Israeli affairs analyst for the quasi-governmental Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, said Sisi’s new initiative is connected to the rise of ISIS militancy — the radical Islamist group claimed responsibility for the October explosion of a Russian passenger jet over the Sinai and is believed by many Egyptians to be the likely culprit behind the downing of the EgyptAir flight from Paris in May — and, as importantly, the emergent threats posed by Iran to the Sunni Arab states.

“The IS presence in the Sinai, the provision of weapons to the Muslim Brotherhood from Gaza and the lack of a breakthrough on Palestinian statehood are related problems for us,” Okasha said in an interview with the Journal. 

“But now we are facing [a] new reality where both the Arabs and Israelis don’t trust the Americans to coordinate a peace effort, and the Saudis have joined us in an effort find to a solution that frees us to confront Iran.”

A poll released by the by the Institute for Policy and Strategy at the IDC Herzliya on the eve of its annual conference seems to demonstrate that public opinion in Egypt and the Gulf is aligned with Sisi and Saudi King Salman.  

More Saudis (41.6 percent) and Egyptians (32.1 percent) think the next U.S. president should get behind a regional agreement, rather than force direct Israeli-Palestinian talks, which garnered only 18.9 percent approval in the Saudi kingdom and 25.5 percent from Egyptians. 

Both Egypt’s and Jordan’s ambassadors to Israel participated in this year’s Herzliya conference.

“It’s time to activate the Arab Peace Initiative,” said Egypt’s ambassador, Hazem Khairat, referring to the regional framework conceived by the Saudis under the rubric of all Arab states fully recognizing Israel, in return for an independent Palestinian territory resembling something close to the 1967 borders.

“The two-state solution is the only way to end this conflict. There is not much time left, and there is no other alternative,” Khairat said.

Eran Lerman, a senior research associate at Bar-Ilan University’s Begin-Sadat Center, thinks regional realities in 2016 have generated positive changes in the Israeli-Egyptian relationship. 

“Both face the same threats to their security — Iran, Islamic State and the Muslim Brotherhood — even if the Egyptian order of priorities is the reverse of the Israeli.”

The Al-Ahram Center’s Okasha says Egypt won’t even let Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s appointment of Avigdor Lieberman as Israel’s Defense Minister deter efforts to broker a deal. 

“We think Israeli public opinion will be more convinced by an agreement backed by someone like Lieberman. If you want real peace, you have to do it with the most extreme elements in Israel,” Okasha said.

“And that is what [Anwar] Sadat achieved with Menachem Begin.” 

Kerry urges Israel to ‘look hard’ at Arab peace initiative

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry urged Israel on Thursday to consider carefully a 2002 Arab League peace initiative that it rejected in the past.

“Israel needs to look hard at this initiative, which promises Israel peace with 22 Arab nations and 35 Muslim nations – a total of 57 nations that are standing and waiting for the possibility of making peace with Israel,” he said in Amman, where he met officials from Arab League member countries.

The plan, put forward by Saudi Arabia at an Arab League summit in Beirut in 2002, offered full recognition of Israel but only if it gave up all land seized in the 1967 Middle East war and agreed to a “just solution” for Palestinian refugees. Softening the plan three months ago, a top Qatari official raised the possibility of land swaps in setting future Israeli-Palestinian borders.

Writing by Jeffrey Heller, Editing by Dan Williams

Kerry: Obama won’t push a peace plan on Israel visit

President Obama wants to “listen” on his visit to Israel, not push a particular peace plan, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said.

“We're not going to go and sort of plunk a plan down and tell everybody what they have to do,” Kerry said Tuesday in Germany, Reuters reported. “I want to consult and the president wants to listen.”

Kerry is on his first foreign trip as secretary of state. He is scheduled to arrive in Israel with Obama on March 20.

In an apparent reference to recent violence in the West Bank following the death of a Palestinian prisoner in an Israeli jail, Biden called on Israelis and Palestinians to keep open-minded about a peace agreement.

“We really hope everybody will step back a little and try to find a way to proceed very calmly and very thoughtfully in these next days, leave the opportunities for peaceful resolution open,” Kerry said.

Kerry said that Obama would decide how to proceed with peace efforts after his return from the region, which includes a stop in Jordan. The new secretary of state met last week with Palestinian officials to discuss Obama's visit, as well as a possible continuation of the peace process.

Iran backs Annan’s Syria peace plan

Iran backs a U.N.-sponsored peace plan for Syria that calls for the withdrawal of troops that are crushing an uprising but does not demand the removal of Tehran ally President Bashar al-Assad, its foreign minister said on Wednesday.

Iran backed popular uprisings that removed leaders in Egypt, Libya and Yemen but has steadfastly supported Syria, a rare ally in the Arab world which is largely suspicious of Tehran’s ambitions for greater regional influence.

“Syria issue should be dealt with patiently,” the official news agency IRNA quoted Salehi as saying, warning that “any hasty approach to the Syrian issue and the creation of a power vacuum in that country could have very damaging consequences for the region.”

He added that Annan would travel to Iran on Monday or Tuesday next week.

Salehi was talking on the sidelines of a meeting with visiting Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan who has called for Assad to step down.

Turkey hosted a conference of Syrian dissidents on Tuesday and will host a “Friends of Syria” meeting of mostly Western and Arab countries on Sunday.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has praised the Syrian leadership’s handling of the year-long uprising in which thousands have died, saying Tehran would do everything it could to support its closest Arab ally.

Tehran has tempered its rhetoric since anti-government demonstrations began in March last year, from wholeheartedly supporting Assad to encouraging him to pursue social and political reforms to take account of popular grievances.

Ahmadinejad accused the West of plotting with Arab countries to overthrow the Syrian leadership and bolster the status of Israel in the region.

Editing by Robin Pomeroy

Peres: Israel needs to formulate its own Mideast peace plan

Israel needs to draft its own Mideast peace initiative if it wants to avoid international pressure over a reported U.S peace plan, President Shimon Peres said on Friday, following a report claiming Washington was working on a plan to restart stalled peace talks.

Peres’ comments came in the wake of a New York Times report claiming that the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama was drafting a new peace plan which included a Palestinian state within 1967 borders and which rejected Palestinian refugees’ right of return.

Speaking during a visit to southern Israel, the president referred to reported U.S. plans to present a new outline for Mideast peace, accusing those reports as being “all speculation.”

Read more at Haaretz.com.

Gaza Withdrawal a Risk for Sharon

In announcing a plan to evacuate nearly all of the Jewish communities in the Gaza Strip, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is signaling that he’s serious about creating large blocs of Palestinian territory free of Israelis — and that he is willing to gamble with his political future.

Sharon hopes to convince the United States that his plan for unilateral disengagement from the Palestinians not only is consistent with the internationally approved "road map" peace plan, but that he has every chance of taking it forward.

However, as soon as Sharon made his dramatic announcement Monday about a Gaza withdrawal, a chorus of angry right wingers in his coalition, including some in his own Likud Party, threatened to topple his government — with some accusing the prime minister of conjuring up grandiose schemes to deflect attention from corruption investigations swirling around him and his sons.

A few days earlier, Sharon had given instructions to Giora Eiland, his newly appointed national security adviser, to prepare a detailed disengagement plan regarding the West Bank security fence that would give the Palestinians maximum freedom and give Israel maximum security.

A close Sharon aide told JTA that the need to get international support for the disengagement plan, and the desire to cause the Palestinians as few humanitarian problems as possible, could lead to the fence being rerouted closer to the pre-1967 boundary, known as the Green Line.

"The more consensus there is over the route and the fewer humanitarian problems it creates, the more likely is it to be accepted as a positive stage in the road map," the aide said.

Indeed, if the plan is to fly, American support will be crucial. Sharon will take a detailed draft of Eiland’s proposal when he goes to Washington later this month to meet President Bush. Before that, American envoys are expected in Jerusalem to discuss it.

So far, the American response has been encouraging. Until recently, the official U.S. position had been that the road map, though stalled, was the only game in town. After a late January visit to Washington, however, Sharon’s bureau chief, Dov Weisglass, reported that the administration was ready to listen to other ideas. For Sharon, that was the signal to proceed.

Skeptics point out that Sharon did not give any deadline for the planned evacuations. But his deputy, Ehud Olmert, the Likud Cabinet minister most supportive of the disengagement policy, says a pullback will begin around June or July.

That is, if Sharon is still in power by then. The right-wing National Union bloc and the National Religious Party both have made clear that they will quit Sharon’s government if a single settlement is touched.

If they do, however, Sharon may well be able to form an alternative government with the Labor Party. Labor’s temporary leader, Shimon Peres reportedly told party colleagues Tuesday that he would support the Gaza evacuation — possibly clearing the way for another national unity government.

On the face of it, a coalition with Labor would give Sharon a strong coalition of 74 in the 120-member Knesset: 40 legislators from Likud, 19 from Labor and 15 from the centrist Shinui Party.

Paradoxically, however, that would leave him at the mercy of the right-wingers in his own Likud, since 15 Likudniks voting against the government would be enough to bring it down. A rival like former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could trigger a party rebellion that would topple Sharon and bring Netanyahu to power.

Sharon, though, is confident that public support for disengagement will deter his Likud rivals. A poll in Tuesday’s Yediot Achronot newspaper showed that 59 percent of the public support the Gaza evacuation plan — 34 percent oppose it — while 57 percent believe Sharon is acting for reasons of state and only 24 percent think he is motivated by the corruption investigation.

To build on that support, Sharon’s office has launched a campaign to convince the public that the plan is in Israel’s best interest. Sharon’s aide, for example, paints a rosy picture in which disengagement helps produce a Palestinian peace partner by improving the Palestinians’ quality of life.

The goal, he says, is to have Palestinian areas in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank with no Israeli soldiers, no Jewish settlers, no blockades and no roadblocks. The Palestinians would have absolute freedom of movement and would run their own affairs.

With help from the United States and the European Union, the Palestinians could rebuild their economy and provide jobs.

According to the official, Sharon hopes that once the Palestinians taste freedom and prosperity, their attraction to terrorism will decrease and a new, widely backed Palestinian leadership will emerge that is ready to talk peace based on the road map, with all issues — including final borders — on the table.

But there is another, far less upbeat scenario. Israeli officials acknowledge that the current situation on the Palestinian side is increasingly chaotic and that the Palestinian Authority is not in control.

Although they long have demanded an Israeli withdrawal, many Palestinian officials reportedly fear that a unilateral and uncoordinated one could lead to a complete breakdown of law and order — from which a strengthened Hamas could come to power, refusing to negotiate peace with Israel.

Hamas Returns to Terror in Gaza

In dying, Reem al-Reyashi dealt a double blow: to Israelis who hoped Hamas had decided to show restraint and to fellow Palestinians quietly earning a living in one of the few places where Israeli-Palestinian cooperation still thrives.

Reyashi, a 22-year-old mother of two and the first female suicide terrorist to be used by the leading Palestinian Islamist group, struck Wednesday at the Erez crossing into Israel, inside a terminal where Gazan laborers bound for work at a nearby joint industrial park undergo security checks.

Having set off metal detectors, Reyashi told Israeli guards she had a steel splint in her leg. As they gathered around, she warned other Palestinians in the building to flee and hit the detonator on her hidden bomb. Three soldiers and an Israeli civilian died with her; 12 people were injured.

Three of the four casualties were identified: Staff Sgt. Vladimir Trostinsky, 22, of Rehovot; Staff Sgt. Tzur Or, 20, of Rishon le-Zion, and Cpl. Andrei Kegles, of Nahariya.

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei declined to condemn the attack, saying that continued Israeli attacks and restrictions on the Palestinians are leading “to more escalation on both sides.”

The Erez attack was claimed jointly by Hamas and the Al-Aksa Brigade, the terrorist wing of P.A. President Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement.

Twelve hours earlier, Al-Aksa Brigade gunmen killed Ro’i Arbel, a 30-year-old father of five, in a roadside ambush in the West Bank.

With the internationally backed “road map” peace plan largely eclipsed by controversy over Israel’s West Bank security barrier, Jerusalem buzzed with speculation that self-destructive Palestinian violence may peak once more.

“This was another murderous expedition by Palestinian terrorists, which hits them in their very own bread basket,” said David Baker, of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s office, referring to some 3,000 Palestinians who work at the various factories in the Erez industrial park. The park was shuttered after the attack.

Hamas had seemed dormant for months, leading some analysts to speculate that it had made a strategic decision to halt attacks — at least in Israel proper.

That theory sat well with calls from some in the Palestinian Authority for a new, passive policy whereby they would focus less on fighting for an independent state and instead would threaten to seek Israeli citizenship, eventually turning the Jewish State into an Arab one through sheer demographic force.

But on Wednesday, Hamas made it clear that terrorist attacks had been limited only because of Israeli security precautions, including the fence, analysts said. So successful are Israeli security personnel these days at spotting suicide bombers that the Islamists have been forced to reverse their ideological opposition to allowing women to become “martyrs,” they said.

“For the first time [Hamas] used a female fighter and not a male fighter, and that was a new development in resistance against the enemy,” Hamas founder Sheik Ahmed Yassin told Reuters. “Resistance will escalate against this enemy.”

Four women suicide bombers have already struck on behalf of the Al-Aksa Brigade, and two for Islamic Jihad.

Unlike her predecessors, Reyashi was a mother. In her videotaped farewell, she appeared smiling and cradling a Kalashnikov rifle.

“I hope to knock on the doors of heaven with the skulls of Zionists,” Reyashi said in a final statement dedicated to her toddler children.

Her relatives in Gaza City did not immediately speak to reporters.

“It is Hamas and Islamic Jihad that should stand trial at The Hague for war crimes, not Israel,” Sharon spokesman Ra’anan Gissin told reporters, referring to hearings on Israel’s security fence to be held next month at the International Court of Justice. The hearings were scheduled at the Palestinians’ behest.

Settlers Struggle to Hold Biblical Israel

A battered shipping container was Itai Harel’s first home on this steep, windswept hilltop.

Now he lives in a trailer with running water and electricity, and land has been leveled for more permanent housing in this illegal settlement outpost. He and his fellow young settlers are gearing up to fight for their new hilltop home.

Migron, the largest and most established of the 100 or so illegal Jewish outposts set up across the West Bank, is on the front lines of a looming showdown between the settler movement and the Israeli government. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon recently pledged to dismantle such settlements in accordance with the U.S.-led “road map” peace plan.

On Dec. 28, Israel ordered the removal of four of the outposts. The settlers can now petition against the action through the courts.

But settler rabbis called upon supporters to physically prevent the settlements’ dismantlement, and called upon army officers not to order their soldiers to dismantle the settlements.

Harel expressed similar sentiments.

“We are staying here. It’s our home,” said Harel, 29, vowing to return if the government somehow manages to remove them.

“It is our right to be here; this is our national home,” he said, sweeping his hand toward the view of Arab villages and Jewish settlements on nearby hillsides.

However, the settlers’ position may have been undercut by the National Religious Party (NRP), the main settler political body.

The NRP’s chairman, Housing and Construction Minister Effi Eitam, said Dec. 29 that the NRP would support the removal of four unauthorized outposts if no way could be found to authorize them.

The NRP “is part of the government, part of the rule of law in the State of Israel. If, in the end, after every avenue has been pursued, these outposts cannot be authorized, then we will not be able to support anything that is not legal,” Eitam told Israel’s Army Radio.

Over the past two years, 42 families have moved to Migron. They are young, defiant and fiercely ideological. Casting themselves as part of a continuum of ancient and modern Jewish history, they view their unauthorized building of an outpost about 20 minutes drive north of Jerusalem as key to strengthening the Jewish claim to biblical Israel. They also see it as similar to efforts by early Zionists to create “facts on the ground” in what became Israel proper.

Critics and the U.S. government see the outposts, built hastily and without government approval, as yet another obstacle to peace efforts with the Palestinians.

Harel and his friends at Migron, which is named after a biblical-era settlement in the region, are hesitant to say exactly how they would resist soldiers should they attempt an evacuation.

Pinchas Wallerstein, who heads the local settlement region of the West Bank, called Binyamin, said he hopes the Israeli courts will help prevent an evacuation order.

If that fails, he said he foresees thousands of supporters coming to Migron to help thwart police and army forces.

“If we have 7,000 to 10,000 people here it will not be possible to evacuate us,” Wallerstein said, addressing a wedding party from Houston that had come to see Migron as part of a tour of West Bank Jewish settlements. “Why is it legitimate to evacuate Jewish settlements but we cannot withdraw [Arab villages?]” he asked, calling any evacuation a reward for terrorism.

Before climbing back on their bus, the visiting Americans posed for pictures with Wallerstein, who has temporarily moved the Binyamina headquarters to Migron to head the campaign against its possible removal.

In a show of solidarity, Israel’s well-organized settler movement has helped facilitate visits by thousands of people to Migron in recent weeks.

Jerry Silverman, one of the wedding party members, said he hoped the issue would be resolved through negotiations.

“The American government is not in charge of Israel,” he said.

Sharon, long a patron of the settler movement, is under intense pressure from the U.S. administration to fulfill Israel’s obligations under the road map, beginning with the dismantling of illegal outposts that have cropped up over the last several years. Many were established in the immediate aftermath of Arab terrorist attacks on local settlers.

In a speech earlier this month, Sharon said some settlements would have to be evacuated if Israel disengages physically from the Palestinians.

The first Israeli presence on the hill where Migron stands today were cell phone towers built by local phone companies four years ago. Young settlers followed about two years later.

The Israeli government said it expects to begin evacuating settlement outposts in the next few weeks. Officials hope settlers will leave without a fight.

“If the outposts are illegal, then they will be dealt with — hopefully with persuasion, but otherwise with force,” said Zalman Shoval, a foreign policy adviser to Sharon.

“Hopefully that won’t be necessary,” he added quickly.

The four outposts slated for quick removal reportedly are Ginot Aryeh, near Ofra; Hazon David, near Kiryat Arba; Bat Ayin Ma’arav, in Gush Etzion; and Havat Shaked, near Yitzhar.

Only one of the outposts — Ginot Aryeh — is inhabited, with about 10 families living there as well as a few single people.

Unlike most other outposts, Migron is more than a small collection of tents and trailers. There is a paved circular road and two buildings with stone facades, one that serves as a synagogue, the other a nursery school.

Still, amenities are basic.

Next to the community’s row of portable toilets is a large white plastic tent for meetings and celebrations. Trailers are clustered in muddy patches of land. A private security guard in a fleece jacket and armed with an Uzi machine gun mans the entrance. A fence topped with rings of barbed wire surrounds the outpost.

“It’s clear it is worth the price. We are here to live a quality life, to live an ideal,” Harel said.

Peace activists say that ideal is misguided and dangerous. It also does not represent the views of most Israelis, who according to polls, are willing to withdraw from most West Bank and Gaza Strip settlements in the event of an eventual peace deal with the Palestinians.

As long as settlement building continues, “we will be doomed to more and more international condemnation, economic recession and violence,” said Dror Etkes, who coordinates Peace Now’s Settlement Watch Project. “Another settlement is another rock in the occupation and oppression [of the Palestinians].”

Etkes said he saw Sharon’s recent policy speech as a potential turning point since the Israeli government has yet to dismantle any settlements of significant size.

“If the settlements are uprooted then the first inroads will be made,” he said. “Migron could be the first uprooted and this will be a historic event.”

Shlomo and Hagit Ha’Cohen, both 25, see Migron’s place in history differently.

They say they are living Jewish history in their decision to live and establish a family in Migron. Hagit, who teaches history and civics at a Jerusalem high school, is expecting the couple’s first child in January.

“We see this as our home forever, even if there are problems along the way,” said her husband, a yeshiva student who plans to study civil engineering. “With all due respect to the Americans, at the end of the day we are the ones who decide.”

Sitting in their bookshelf-lined three-room trailer, for which they pay $70 a month rent, Shlomo cites the story of Chanukah and the conflict between the ancient Greeks and the Israelites.

“Many imperial powers have told us what to do throughout history. They no longer exist. Israel is still here,” he said. “Our path is clear, we know where we want to go.”

Have the Lessons of Oslo Been Forgotten?

When the Oslo accords collapsed three years ago with the Palestinian Arabs’ launching of mass violence against Israel, numerous American Jewish leaders publicly admitted that they had been wrong all along about Oslo — wrong to believe the Palestinian Arabs wanted peace, wrong to ignore Palestinian Arab violations of the accords, such as anti-Jewish and anti-Israel incitement, and wrong to sit by silently as the U.S. pressured Israel to make more one-sided concessions.

Yet today, many American Jewish leaders are making that terrible mistake once again.

The words that disillusioned Jewish leaders wrote or spoke in late 2000 and early 2001 make for fascinating — and tragic — reading today.

The American Jewish Congress (AJCongress) took out a full-page ad in The New York Times (Nov. 12, 2000) headlined: “It takes a big organization to admit it was wrong.” The text read, in part: “We were persuaded that despite [Yasser Arafat’s] history of terrorism, he had chosen the path to peace. Perhaps we wanted to be persuaded.”

Rabbi Eric Yoffie, then-president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC), said in his keynote address to the UAHC convention on June 1, 2001: “I have been wrong, and I believe our Reform movement has been wrong about a number of things. We misjudged Palestinian intentions and misread Palestinian society…. We did not pay nearly enough attention to the culture of hatred created and nourished by Palestinian leaders … the growing use of anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi language in the Palestinian media.”

Rabbi Martin Weiner, president of the Central Conference of American (Reform) Rabbis, put it this way: “Many of us who have supported the Oslo process for the last decade must admit to ourselves that the Palestinians really do not want peace…” (Jerusalem Post, March 7, 2002). His colleague, Rabbi Amiel Hirsch, director of the Association of Reform Zionists of America, was blunt: “I think there is reason to re-evaluate the underlying thesis of Oslo” (Forward, Oct. 13, 2000).

Leonard Cole, chairman of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, said that in order for there to be peace, there would have to be “a demonstrated effort by the Palestinians by way of what they teach their children, by way of the textbooks, the maps that are shown, that shows that they, too, are partners [for peace].” (Jerusalem Post, Oct. 27, 2000).

Yet, incredibly, many Jewish leaders are now making the exact same mistake about Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas that they made about Arafat. And now it’s even worse — because while Arafat publicly made commitments but did not fulfill them, Abbas says openly, “I have no intention to dismantle Hamas and Islamic Jihad” and declares that the PA police “will not go house to house in search of weapons.”

Perhaps in another year or two, a major Jewish organization will take out yet another ad headlined, “It takes a big organization to admit it was wrong.” But how many more Israelis will die in the meantime? How many more one-sided concessions will be squeezed out of Israel? How many more terrorists will Israel be pressured into setting free?

In 1993, Arafat insisted that he wanted to live in peace with Israel. Just like Abbas says today. When he signed the Oslo accords, Arafat pledged to stop all violence against Israel and, for a time, there was, indeed, a reduction in terrorist attacks, just as Abbas did for seven weeks before a bus exploded in Jerusalem on Tuesday, killing 20 and wounding about 100.

Arafat’s words were pleasant sounding, like Abbas.’ People “wanted to be persuaded,” as the AJCongress newspaper ad put it. Today, too, people want to be persuaded. But to avoid repeating the mistakes of the Oslo years, we need to compare Abbas’ words to Abbas’ deeds.

Just like Arafat, Abbas is required to stop the vicious anti-Jewish and anti-Israel incitement that appears every day in the official P.A. media, school books, speeches and religious sermons. And just like Arafat, he refuses to stop it.

Just like Arafat, Abbas is required to treat Hamas and Islamic Jihad as terrorists, as enemies. And just like Arafat, he treats them as brothers and comrades, shelters them from Israeli arrest, demands that Israel free their imprisoned members, calls them “heroes” and “martyrs” and names streets and summer camps after them.

Ironically, while Jewish leaders and the Bush administration are championing Abbas as the “moderate” alternative to Arafat, Abbas makes it clear that he is as loyal to Arafat as ever.

Abbas co-founded the Fatah terrorist movement and was Arafat’s second in command for 40 years. He has said he makes no decisions without Arafat’s approval.

Abbas does not represent a “new” Palestinian Arab leadership, “not compromised by terror” — the condition that President Bush set in his June 2002 speech but subsequently ignored. Abbas is a terrorist who is temporarily using diplomacy to gain territory, Western funding and, perhaps, even a sovereign state.

The only difference between Abbas and Arafat is the suit and the shave.


Morton A. Klein is the national president of the Zionist Organization of America.