November 20, 2018

First PLO delegation since 2007 war heads to Gaza for Palestinian unity talks

The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) sent a delegation to Gaza on Tuesday to negotiate unity with militant group Hamas for the first time since their 2007 conflict, potentially boosting Fatah leader and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's position.

Few Palestinians expect a breakthrough in the deadlock that has paralyzed Palestinian politics, and many have low expectations of any resolution to the seemingly endless duel.

A deal could restore a measure of sovereignty to Abbas in Gaza and boost his negotiating power with Israel in any future peace talks, although such a partnership could also provoke a backlash from Israel against the PLO in the West Bank.

The reconciliation mission coincided with a meeting between Abbas's Fatah-led group and Israeli peace negotiators in Jerusalem to try to extend talks beyond an April 29 deadline.

Hamas and Fatah have failed since 2011 to implement an Egyptian-brokered unity deal because of disputes over power-sharing and the handling of conflict with Israel.

Azzam Al-Ahmed, a senior Fatah official, denied that the attempt to negotiate a deal with Hamas was designed merely to strengthen Abbas's hand in peace talks with Israel.

“We want to end the division whether there is negotiation (with Israel) or there isn't. We want to build Gaza and the West Bank and end the (Israeli) occupation,” Al-Ahmed told official Palestinian news agency WAFA.

If Palestinian unity talks end with a deal, paving the way to hold elections and plan a national strategy towards Israel, not only might Abbas gain negotiating power, but Hamas, hemmed in by an Israeli-Egyptian blockade, might become less isolated.

The two sides disagree on policy toward Israel. Islamist Hamas refuses to renounce using force against the Jewish state and secular Western-backed Fatah wants a deal with Israel to set up a Palestinian state in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Both Hamas and Fatah also persistently trade blame over their arrests of rival members. Dozens of prisoners have been held by each side since Hamas took control of Gaza and Fatah remained the predominant party in the West Bank following Hamas's surprising win in 2006 parliamentary polls.

“If Fatah possesses the political will to implement the agreement, we would be going forward on the right direction to please our people,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters.

“My feeling is closer to pessimism than optimism,” Palestinian Gaza political analyst Talal Okal said.

Editing by Louise Ireland

Israel approves 184 new settlement homes

Israel's Jerusalem municipality approved building plans on Wednesday for 184 new homes in two Jewish settlements in the West Bank, drawing anger from Palestinians engaged in faltering statehood talks.

A municipality spokeswoman said the local planning committee had approved requests by private contractors who purchased the land years ago for the construction of 144 homes in Har Homa and 40 dwellings in Pisgat Zeev.

Hanan Ashrawi, a senior member of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), accused Israel of trying to derail U.S.-sponsored peace talks in which the future of settlements on land that Palestinians want for a state is a major issue.

“It is has become evident that Israel has done everything possible to destroy the ongoing negotiations and to provoke violence and extremism throughout the region,” Ashrawi said in a statement.

Israel says Palestinian refusal to recognize it as a Jewish state – a step Palestinian leaders say was already taken in interim peace deals – is the main stumbling block.

Har Homa and Pisgat Zeev settlements are in a part of the West Bank that Israel annexed to Jerusalem after capturing the territory in the 1967 Middle East war. The annexation was not recognized internationally.

Palestinians are seeking a state in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. They say Israeli settlements, regarded as illegal by most countries, could deny them a viable, contiguous country.

Israel regards Pisgat Zeev and Har Homa as neighborhoods of Jerusalem that it would keep under any future peace deal with the Palestinians.

The two sides resumed U.S.-brokered peace talks in July, but the negotiations appear to be going nowhere. Washington is struggling to formulate agreed principles that would extend the talks beyond an original April target date for a final deal.

More than 500,000 Israelis have settled in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, areas that are home to about 2.8 million Palestinians.

Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Robin Pomeroy

Is a two-state solution still possible?

This story originally appeared on themedialine.org.

A trumpeter playing sorrowful songs outside of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art seemed to symbolize the melancholy many of the proponents of the two-state solution of an independent Palestinian state next to Israel feel these days.

Former Israeli Intelligence Chief Yuval Diskin was speaking at a conference on the roadmap for a two-state solution called the Geneva Accord. He told an overflow crowd at the museum, that dividing the land is still feasible.

“I know that the risks are great and that our success is not guaranteed. It is a deep seated issue, and much blood has been spilled,” Diskin said. “There are economic, mental and cultural gaps between the two sides. There are many, many years of disappointment. But I still believe that a true leadership, with a true vision and path can push this forward so that we can provide hope for a new momentum in the Palestinian and the Israeli streets.”

The Geneva Accord, which calls for a Palestinian state in virtually all of the land that Israel acquired in 1967, was crafted in the midst of the second intifada, or Palestinian uprising from 2000 to 2005. Palestinians killed 1000 Israelis, mostly civilians, and Israeli soldiers killed 3000 Palestinians during violent clashes.

The Accord, released ten years ago, was meant to flesh out many of the longstanding issues between the Israelis and Palestinians in order to create an agreement independent of the political process.

Secretary of the State John Kerry is in the Middle East for the eighth time since August trying to push Israelis and Palestinians toward a deal. This time, he has brought a security plan to boost Israeli confidence after a potential withdrawal from much of the West Bank.

Some international observers believe time is running out for a two-state solution.

“This is an opportunity to capitalize on the promise of regaining peace,” said Robert Serry, the UN’s Special Coordinator for the Middle East peace process. “I also feel that the international community is becoming increasingly impatient. That is why we stand to lose much if the talks fail again. We cannot afford to remain complacent.”

Diskin said Israel is making a mistake by focusing on Iran, rather than on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“I am here because I believe that the consequence of this conflict left unresolved is much more existential than the Iranian nuclear threat,” Yuval Diskin said to a thunderous round of applause. “I know that this is not popular to say, especially these days, but I believe it with all of my heart. I believe that we must reach a resolution now before we go beyond a point to reach an agreement.”

Some of the biggest roadblocks to a two-state solution continue to be the same issues that have been sticking points for the past 20 years –the future of Jerusalem, the right of return for Palestinian refugees, and recognizing Israel as a Jewish state.

“These are very heavy decisions to make. These are decisions that touch upon the essence of both Judaism and Palestinian identity. For Israel to have Jerusalem, this is our Zionist ideal,” Professor Shmuel Sandler, a professor of political science and a researcher at the Begin-Sadat Institute at Bar Ilan University (BESA) told The Media Line.

Israeli and Palestinian officials each blame the other for the lack of progress toward a two-state solution.

“If the right position is taken, of course it is feasible. But the situation on the ground shows that the Israelis do not want there to be an agreement,” Xavier Abu Eid, an advisor to the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) told The Media Line. “The culture of impunity that Israel has continued allows it to violate international law without paying any price for its actions.”

The ongoing split between Fatah, which controls the West Bank, and the Islamist movement which controls Gaza, is also an obstacle.

“The drift away from the two-state solution politics in Israel and Palestine is one of the problems,” Ghassan al-Khatib, a former spokesman for the Palestinian Authority told The Media Line. “Every new election in Israel is bringing more right-wing politics into power. Public opinion is moving away from the two-state solution in Israel. The political reality within Palestine is no less of a problem. The split between Fatah and Hamas and the fact that the last election was won by Hamas is a problem.”

The current round of negotiations began in July after a five-year freeze. Secretary Kerry has made it clear that he is going to push both sides hard for a deal.

“I think Secretary Kerry has been very adamant and has been trying his best in order to reach peace between Israel and Palestine. And we definitely do appreciate his commitment for peace,” Abu Eid said. “I think that our side is very serious with him. We have gone along with everything we have committed to with Secretary Kerry. The other side has continued to undermine everything that Secretary Kerry has said.”

Recent polls have also shown that while both populations want a resolution to the conflict, neither side believes that the revived negotiations will end successfully.

“To recognize the right of Israel to exist, that’s the main obstacle. They have to cross a Rubicon,” professor emeritus Avraham Diskin (no relation to Yuval Diskin) of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem told The Media Line. “Israel is not a legitimate entity for most of the Arab world, most of the Muslim world. So to sign an agreement recognizing Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state (is difficult).”

Yet many on both sides say there is no alternative to a two-state solution, and the question is not if it will be implemented, but only when.

Palestinian investigators: Israel only suspect in Arafat ‘killing’

Palestinian investigators named Israel the “only suspect” in the death of Yasser Arafat after laboratory tests suggested the Palestinian leader died of poisoning.

“We say that Israel is the prime and only suspect in the case of Yasser Arafat’s assassination, and we will continue to carry out a thorough investigation to find out and confirm all the details and all elements of the case,” Tawfiq Tirawi told a news conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah, the French news agency AFP reported Friday.

Tirawi, who is leading the Palestinian inquiry, said the investigation had studied the findings of Swiss scientists, released on Wednesday, which “moderately” supported the notion that Arafat had been poisoned with polonium, a radioactive substance.

Palestinian officials on Thursday demanded an international inquiry into Arafat’s “killing.”

Wasel Abu Yusef, a senior Palestine Liberation Organization official, said polonium ”is owned by states, not people, meaning that the crime was committed by a state.”

Speaking to reporters in Lausanne Thursday, the Swiss team said the test results neither confirmed nor counted out that polonium was the actual cause of death, although they provided “moderate” backing for the idea Arafat was poisoned.

The team said the quantity of the deadly substance found on Arafat’s remains pointed to the involvement of a third party.

“We can’t say that polonium was the source of his death … nor can we rule it out,” said Professor Francois Bochud of the Lausanne Institute of Applied Radiophysics.

Arafat died in France on Nov. 11, 2004 at the age of 75 after falling sick a month earlier. Doctors were unable to specify the cause of death. His remains were exhumed last year.

Russian official rules out Arafat polonium poisoning

The head of a Russian forensics agency said on Tuesday that samples from the body of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat had revealed no traces of radioactive polonium, a Russian news agency reported.

However, the government scientific body later denied that it had made any official statement about the research, saying only that it had handed its results to the Russian Foreign Ministry.

If confirmed, the findings would deal a blow to Palestinian suspicions that Arafat was assassinated by Israel – a theory fuelled by a Swiss lab report last year which found unusual amounts of the deadly isotope polonium on his clothes.

A Palestinian medical team took samples from Arafat's corpse in the West Bank last year and gave them to Swiss, French and Russian forensic teams in an attempt to determine whether he was murdered with the hard-to-trace radioactive poison.

“He could not have been poisoned with polonium. The research conducted by Russian experts found no traces of this substance,” the Russian news agency Interfax quoted Vladimir Uiba, who heads the Federal Medico-Biological Agency (FMBA), as saying.

Uiba said experts from the FMBA had conducted a detailed study of Arafat's remains.

The agency later sought to distance itself from the comments. “The FMBA of Russia has made no official statement about the results of research on the remains of Yasser Arafat,” the FMBA's press service said.

It added that it had completed its tests and given the results to the authorities.

The Russian Foreign Ministry declined immediate comment, but state-run news agency RIA cited a source in the ministry as saying it was up to the Palestinian authorities to release any information about the tests.

Arafat died aged 75 of an unexplained ailment he developed while confined to his Ramallah headquarters by Israeli tanks at the height of an armed Palestinian uprising in 2004.

Palestinians saw the veteran guerrilla as a hero of their national cause. Israel regarded him as a terrorist, though it denied responsibility for his death.

A negative result from the samples may not totally preclude a poisoning, as experts warned last year that his partial exhumation might have occurred too late to detect polonium.

The Lausanne-based hospital which first found the isotope on Arafat's clothing said that eight years would be the limit to detecting it on his remains and questioned whether such a late examination would provide conclusive results.

A spokesman for the hospital said at the time of the exhumation that findings might be reached by early this year.

No explanation has been given for the lengthy delay in presenting the results.

Reporting by Steve Gutterman in Moscow; Writing by Noah Browning in Ramallah; Editing by Crispian Balmer and Robin Pomeroy

20 years later, the Oslo Accord

Marking the 20-year anniversary of the 1993 Oslo Accord between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), a local gathering of pro-Israel journalists, writers, and academics seemed to agree on one thing: It was a failure.

“One of the mistakes of Oslo was to imagine that peace was somehow in the hands of Israel to give, either by relinquishing settlements or withdrawing from territory,” said Bret Stephens, a Wall Street Journal editor and columnist who spoke to attendees from New York via Skype.

Hosted by the American Freedom Alliance (AFA), the “Oslo @ Twenty” daylong conference was held Sept. 29 at the Olympic Collection conference center in West Los Angeles and was attended by 170 people, according to organizers. 

Speakers at various panels included Stephens; Daniel Pipes, political commentator and president of the Middle East Forum; Martin Sherman, a contributor for the Jerusalem Post; Walid Shoebat, a self-described former PLO terrorist, and David Suissa, president of TRIBE Media Corp., parent company of the Jewish Journal. 

The Oslo Accord, which led to Israeli withdrawal from many areas of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and established the PLO as the official representative of Palestinians, has been divisive in Israel and abroad. It also called for the establishment of the Palestinian Authority (PA) to govern the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The agreement was signed at the White House in 1993 by former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and former PLO chairman Yasser Arafat, both of whom received the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts the following year.

But as Stephens and the other speakers said, the Oslo Accord could not result in peace because the Palestinians were not and are not interested in accepting the existence of a Jewish state in the Middle East.

“Peace will only come when there is a fundamental and radical transformation in the political culture and the ambitions of the Arab and Muslim world,” Stephens said.

Sherman argued during the conference’s first panel that one lesson Israeli leaders should learn from Oslo is that giving land to the PA will only result in Palestinians using it to launch attacks against Israel. (In Israel, the Oslo accords are widely seen as resulting in an increase in terrorist attacks against Israelis.)

Just as the Palestinians used Oslo as a means to attack Israel, Sherman argued, they will use any future deals — including land transfers in the West Bank — to attack Israel from the highlands of the West Bank that overlook heavily populated Israeli land adjacent to the Mediterranean Sea. 

“The infrastructure for waging war will be set up in Judea and Samaria,” Sherman said. “You have a line of sight from inside of Palestine,” he warned.

He showed images of potential Israeli targets, such as Ben Gurion Airport, that would be seen “through the binoculars of a Palestinian intelligence officer” able to freely move throughout the eastern part of the West Bank.

Walid Shoebat, a Palestinian-American who converted from Islam to Christianity, said that a Palestinian treaty with Israel would be used against Israelis.

“In the Quran, the word ‘peace’ is used as a strategy to gain the upper hand,” Shoebat said. “You can change the Palestinian charter, the Hamas charter; it will not work because the real charter is the Quran.”

Pipes said that Israel’s agreement at Oslo would have been like the Allies signing a peace treaty with Germany in 1942, while the Nazis were still waging war.

“You first have to defeat your enemy, and then you make peace with him,” Pipes said. “You can only make peace with your former enemy.”

Rabin’s desire to “end the conflict whether or not the other side was going to,” Pipes continued, is what ultimately led to Oslo.

The week before the Oslo @ Twenty conference, a similar analysis of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was presented by Abraham Sion during a Sept. 24 speech at the Sherman Oaks Woman’s Club hosted by Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors.

Sion, a law professor at Ariel University, located in the Ariel settlement in the West Bank, said that if the Palestinians “were ever interested in a state, they would have had that state years ago.

“We have made six or seven treaties or agreements with the Palestinians,” Sion said. “None of them were carried out.”

History and the war in Syria

While the bloody civil war in Syria rages on, Israel keeps a watchful eye on the Israeli-Syrian border, making sure the fighting between the rebels and Assad’s forces doesn’t spill over into the Golan Heights.

One of the rebel groups calls itself the Martyrs of the Yarmouk Brigades. Yarmouk, it should be noted, is a very loaded word in this region’s ethos. It was on the Yarmouk River, a major tributary of the Jordan River, south of the Golan Heights, where, in August 636 C.E., the Arab forces of the Rashidun Caliphate defeated the Christian forces of the Byzantine Empire, opening the way to a series of Muslim victories over Christianity.

It was surprising, therefore, to hear a spokesman of the group — which is suspected of having links to al-Qaeda — talk over the phone to correspondents of the Times of Israel, promising that “[t]he Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade has no international aspirations; we are only in conflict with the Assad regime.” The spokesman, Laeth Horan, even went a step further: “There is nothing between us and Israel. We only have demands of Assad, even after the war.”

Only time will tell if this is true, but in the meantime, Yarmouk has more to remind us, this time in the Palestinian context.

In the summer of 1970, Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) Chairman Yasser Arafat, in one of his most reckless gambles, challenged the Jordanian regime by trying to establish a “mini Palestine” in northern Jordan. In “Black September” of that year, King Hussein’s loyal Bedouins crushed the Palestinian uprising and kicked Arafat and his followers to Lebanon.

Refusing to learn the lesson, Arafat repeated the same mistake in Lebanon, shattering the already fragile equilibrium between the various religious communities of the country. In 1976, his Yarmouk Brigade was fighting Christian forces in the Tal-al-Zaatar Battle. Robert Fisk of the Independent told the L.A. Weekly in 2002 that the Palestinian troops “were given permission to surrender with a cease-fire. But at the last moment, Arafat told his men to open fire on the Christian forces who were coming to accept the surrender. I think Arafat wanted more Palestinian ‘martyrs’ in order to publicize the Palestinian position in the war.”

All this came to an end in 1982, when Israel had enough of the Palestinian harassment coming from Lebanon. In the First Lebanon War, the Israel Defense Forces defeated the Syrian and Palestinian forces (including the same Yarmouk Brigade) and kicked the PLO leadership out of the country.

Our next stop in the Yarmouk tour is Baghdad. When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1991, Arafat rushed to congratulate him in his palace in Al-Yarmouk neighborhood. This turned out to be the most expensive kiss in history, because when Kuwait was freed, it retaliated by expelling 400,000 Palestinians who had worked and lived there (need we mention that some lived in Al-Yarmouk neighborhood in Kuwait City?).

We can go on forever with this historical “Yarmouking,” except that in the meantime there is a human tragedy going on near Damascus and, more precisely, at the Yarmouk camp, the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Syria. According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which since 1949 has been trying to alleviate the living conditions of the Palestinian refugees, 130,000 Palestinian refugees have fled their homes in Yarmouk since December 2012, and the remaining 20,000 are being crushed between the forces fighting each other in Syria.

I don’t envy Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. What hope can he offer his brothers and sisters in Yarmouk, or in the other refugee camps in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, the West Bank and Gaza? That they would some day return to the homes they left in 1948, in Jaffa and Haifa? Like his predecessor, Arafat, he knows perfectly well that this is impossible.

Abbas, however, is more sincere than his predecessor (which is not saying much); while Arafat was always talking about the refugee issue from both sides of his mouth, Abbas, who had fled his hometown of Safed (in northern Israel) in 1948, told Israeli Channel Two Television in November 2012 that he wanted to visit Safed: “It’s my right to see it,” he said. But then he added the highly significant words: “but not to live there.”

Then he went on to outline his vision: “Palestine now for me is the ’67 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital. This is now and forever ‭. ‬. . . ‭ ‬This is Palestine for me. I am [a] refugee, but I am living in Ramallah. I believe that [the] West Bank and Gaza is Palestine and the other parts [are] Israel.”

This is where we can see a ray of hope. Let Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agree on a Palestinian state with the ’67 borders, with a fair land swap to compensate the Palestinians for the Israeli settlements that will remain in Israel’s territory. Then a new, ambitious Marshall Plan to settle the Palestinian refugees can be launched. When Syria calms down, the refugees in Yarmouk, supported by generous funds, can decide whether they want to stay in Syria, move to the Palestinian state or regroup in another country. This is not a humanitarian move only; it is in the best interests of Israel: When the kids in Yarmouk refugee camp have a future, my grandchildren will be safer.

Yarmouk can then stand for other things, not for bloodshed and misery only — for example, a soccer game between Maccabi Haifa and the Kuwaiti Al-Yarmouk club; a discussion of the Arab League Peace initiative in Al-Yarmouk district in Riyadh; a cooperation agreement between the Technion and Yarmouk University in Irbid, Jordan; and more. Insh’Allah!


Uri Dromi blogs at

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PLO leader: U.S. envoy has not participated in peace talks

American negotiators have not participated in the renewed peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, a Palestinian leader said.

“The Americans did not participate in any negotiating session so far in spite of assurances that they will play a direct role,” Yasser Abed Rabbo, secretary of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said Thursday. Rabbo made his statements to the Voice of Palestine radio, the WAFA Palestinian news agency reported.

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have met twice in the past two weeks in Jerusalem. The negotiations have been under a near-total news blackout at the request of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

U.S. Mideast peace envoy Martin Indyk, who was appointed to the post by Kerry last month, was in Jerusalem this week during the talks but reportedly did not attend the sessions.

Rabbo blamed Israel for the absence of Indyk, saying “this is one sign of how and where the talks are heading if the U.S. is not able now to assert itself in the peace process.”

Rabbo also said that Israel’s continued construction in the settlements could damage the peace process, echoing remarks made the previous day by PLO official Hanan Ashrawi during a tour with reporters of eastern Jerusalem.

Palestinians don’t expect much from Obama visit

Palestinian officials hope the upcoming visit by President Barack Obama will end the current deadlock in the peace process, but are skeptical that the visit will change the situation on the ground.

Speaking to reporters before a PLO Executive Committee meeting at his Ramallah compound, The Muqata, on Tuesday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas welcomed the Obama visit this week but said that resuming negotiations with Israel requires that it freeze its building in the West Bank and east Jerusalem; and release Palestinian prisoners detained before the 1993 Oslo Accords.

Abbas also called for an international probe into the death on Saturday of a security prisoner detained by Israel; and improved conditions for other incarcerated Palestinians. He said that the Palestinian leadership doesn't want to see an escalation of the recent violence between Palestinians and Israeli security forces that has raged since the weekend, but rather seeks to reach a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Ahead of the Obama visit, a Palestinian official told The Media Line that the American president will not be presenting a proposal to the parties. Echoing pre-visit statements coming from Washington, the official, who spoke anonymously said, “We know that Obama will be open to listening to the proposals provided by both sides but he doesn't have any to offer.”

[Related: Rocket explodes in Israel, first attack from Gaza since November truce]

Some Palestinians feel the US administration should focus more on the larger picture. PLO Executive Committee member Bassam Salhhi told The Media Line that the American administration “wants to go into details instead of the whole picture of ending the Israeli occupation. They want the two sides to discuss small matters leading to a belief that the two sides are back to negotiations,” Salhi said, hinting that the US will focus on confidence-building measures rather than on ways to end Israeli control of lands it acquired in the 1967 war. One source said he expects American pressure on Israel to call a halt to post-1967 building as such a measure, indicating it could be effective.

Another senior Palestinian official told The Media Line that Obama is considering a European initiative as the foundation for future peace talks. The British-French plan is rumored to be a revised version of the Arab Initiative, which calls for ending the conflict by normalizing relations between the entire Arab region and Israel, in exchange for Israel’s complete withdrawal from the post-1967 lands and a “just settlement” of the Palestinian refugee issue. However, others argue that new US Secretary of State John Kerry is not keen on the European move as much as his predecessor Hillary Clinton was.

Two Palestinian envoys were in Washington last week where they briefed the US administration regarding the Palestinian stance on resuming negotiations with Israel.

Abd Al Majid Swailem, a political science instructor at Al Quds University, told The Media Line that Washington is interested in maintaining the two-state solution but not final status talks. He argued that, “The US doesn't want to see a failure but wants to delay a possible solution until the end of Obama's term which will allow the Democratic party to say during its election campaign that they reached a breakthrough.”

Swailem believes the Americans are disappointed with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's policies, but just can't talk about it.

Belief among Palestinians is that President Obama does not yet have a set agenda, but that Kerry is being counted upon for to set one. Kerry was originally supposed to visit Israel and the Palestinians during the first week of March, but deferred because of the President’s plans.

Meanwhile, in the streets of Ramallah, the news that President Obama is coming to visit was received coolly. “What will the Americans do to us? Part of the reason we are in this bad situation is because of America,” Bassima Hani, 50, told The Media Line.

The planned visit also comes as tension continues to rise amid mutterings about the possibility of a third “Intifada,” albeit without the violence that typified the previous two.

Dozens have been injured in clashes with Israeli forces in West Bank cities, triggered first by a hunger strike by prisoners being held by Israel and on Saturday, the unrelated death of a detainee in another prison.

Abbas told PLO Executive Committee meeting that Israel was taking harsher steps against Palestinians, especially regarding the conditions of Palestinian detainees. He condemned the death of prisoner Arafat Jaradat, who was buried with full military honors, and called for an international probe into its circumstances.

Abbas also rejected Israeli demands that the PA take control of the protests. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has demanded that Palestinian security forces maintain order and prevent violence.The PA announced they have no intention of any violent demonstrations and do not want a third Intifada but support non-violent resistance. “The Israeli army uses live ammunition [against our people] and asks the Palestinian police to prevent clashes. The demonstrations are a response to the Israeli attacks. If there isn't a continuation of detention, there won't be demonstrations,” Abbas said in a statement. He said the Palestinian leadership doesn't want to see an escalation but rather to reach a solution to the conflict.

As a gesture to reduce tensions, Israel this week announced the release of money it collects for the Palestinians and under the terms of the Oslo Accords is supposed to transfer to Ramallah monthly. The tax and tariff revenue is used to pay the salaries of government employees.

By contrast, Israeli officials sounded more upbeat about the upcoming Obama visit. “The visit by the president here in Israel is a special occasion and a chance to demonstrate the special relationship between Washington and Jerusalem; to talk about the excellent bilateral relationship and see whether it's possible to improve that relationship,” Mark Regev, Prime Minister Netanyahu's spokesman, told The Media Line.

In synch with statements from Washington, Regev demonstrated that the Palestinians are not wrong in ruing that their issue will not be primary focus of President Obama’s 48-hours – 43 in Israel and 5 in Ramallah. “The number one issue on the agenda is the Iranian issue and the need to prevent Iran from obtaining an enriched capability. The clock is ticking. The prime minister will also speak about the situation in Syria and the possibility that if Syria fragments, its large arsenal of nonconventional weapons could fall into the hands of Hizbullah or other groups.” But, according to Regev, “We will also discuss our desire to restart negotiations with the Palestinians and to move forward.”

Jewish groups stake out opposing positions on penalizing Palestinians

Two major Jewish groups are at odds over the prospect of penalties for the Palestinians in the wake of their enhanced U.N. status.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee in recent weeks has backed two congressional bids to at least shut down the Palestine Liberation Organization office in Washington in the wake of the Nov. 29 United Nations General Assembly’s overwhelming vote that granted Palestinians non-member observer state status.

Conversely, the Reform movement has emphatically urged President Obama not to retaliate against the Palestinians, JTA has learned. The Reform movement also has resolved to oppose the shuttering of the PLO office.

The lines dividing the two organizations are not necessarily set in stone. The Reform movement has suggested it might back penalties should the Palestinians use their new status to charge Israel in international courts. An AIPAC official suggested to JTA that the organization would wait and see whether the Palestinians go to international courts before it decides its next legislative moves.

Still, the markedly different tone in AIPAC’s call to its activists to back the proposed congressional penalties and the Reform movement’s plea to the president to ignore such calls could portend a split within the pro-Israel community’s center.

An AIPAC official, speaking on condition of anonymity, would not directly address differences with the Reform movement. But the official noted that the congressional letter to Obama that AIPAC backed this month urges a resumption of peace talks in addition to calling for the closing of the PLO office and a suspension of funding to U.N. affiliates that similarly enhance the Palestinians’ status.

“Everyone in the pro-Israel community should be pleased that a solid bipartisan majority signed a pro-peace talks letter in support of direct talks and opposed to attempts to delegitimize Israel,” said the official.

Israel has made clear that the Palestinian’ U.N. moves should have consequences. It has announced a flurry of new building projects in eastern Jerusalem and the West Bank, and diverted millions of dollars in taxes earmarked for the Palestinian Authority to Israeli utilities providers that have been dunning the Palestinians for payment.

Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador to Washington, was asked in an interview with Jewish media during the Chanukah holiday his view on congressional proposals to penalize the Palestinians. His answer suggested pique not just at the Palestinians’ enhanced U.N. status but also at the speech by P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas that preceded the vote.

“We think that the Palestinians when they violate agreements, when they declare that Israel is a war criminal or when they describe Israel as a war criminal for defending itself against thousands of terrorist rockets without ever condemning those rockets, we think they should be held to task for that,” he said. “We do not think they should be given a free pass.”

But the leaders of the largest American Jewish denomination have called for restraint from the U.S. in responding to the Palestinians' U.N. bid.

In a Dec. 14 letter to Obama, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, and the CEO of the Reform movement’s Central Conference of American Rabbis, Rabbi Steve Fox, noted a Dec. 3 resolution jointly approved by the boards of a number of Reform organizations.

The statement, the rabbis note in the letter, condemns the Palestinians for moving ahead with the advanced status but also “urges Congress to eschew any action that would serve as an impediment” to resuming Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

The letter from the Reform leaders to Obama attaches the Dec. 3 resolution, which opposes funding cuts to the Palestinians, to the United Nations and “any reduction in the currently recognized Palestinian diplomatic presence.”

The resolution also “opposes” Israel’s retaliatory plans to build Jewish homes in eastern Jerusalem and the West Bank, and supports “appropriate measures if the Palestinians use their new status at the U.N. to initiate formal action against Israel via the International Criminal Court or other agency.”

The Reform movement made public the Dec. 3 resolution, but the Dec. 14 letter to Obama was released by mistake to a JTA reporter. A spokesman for the group said the failure to publicize the letter to the president was an oversight, noting that it was sent when the nation was preoccupied with the massacre of first-graders the same day in Newtown, Conn.

Some dovish Jewish groups also have made clear their opposition to penalties for the Palestinians, among them J Street and Americans for Peace Now.

In a fundraising letter, J Street’s president, Jeremy Ben-Ami, counted the 239 signatures on the AIPAC-backed congressional letter sent Dec. 21 as a victory for his movement, noting particularly that only 67 Democrats signed.

“We're seeing the impact in Congress where two-thirds of the Democratic Caucus refused to sign AIPAC’s latest letter calling for closing the PLO’s diplomatic mission in Washington,” Ben-Ami said in the letter. “Such letters used to be signed by 4 out of every 5 Members of Congress. Not any more.”

A slate of recent AIPAC-backed letters indeed have scored signatures in the mid-300s, but letters scoring in the mid-200s are not exceptional, and the new letter was still signed by a majority of the U.S. House of Representatives.

The AIPAC official acknowledged that the organization had hoped for more signatures but added that the letter was circulated toward the end of a congressional session — one that was preoccupied with a compromise on spending and taxes.

“There’s a confidence that Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Howard Berman would have gotten more signatures had there been time,” the official said, referring respectively to the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Republican chairwoman and Democratic ranking member who together initiated the letter. Both are leaving their top committee posts, Berman after having lost an intraparty reelection battle in his home district and Ros-Lehtinen as a result of Republican caucus rules limiting the tenures of committee heads.

On its website, AIPAC touted the congressional letter as a key element of its legislative agenda.

“The Palestinians must face consequences,” AIPAC said. “The United States should continue to press the Palestinians to refrain from such harmful actions and outline repercussions if they move ahead, such as closing the PLO office in Washington.”

The letter proposes the immediate closing of the office “to send the message that such actions are not cost-free and that, at a minimum, they result in setbacks to U.S.-Palestinian relations.”

AIPAC is also backing a Senate amendment that would shut the PLO office and, if the Palestinians proceed to the International Criminal Court, cut P.A. funding.

AIPAC’s professional leadership circulated a letter to senators urging its passage.

“The amendment does two things,” said the letter, signed by Howard Kohr, AIPAC’s executive director, and Marvin Feuer and Brad Gordon, its joint directors of policy and government affairs. “1) It would cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority should it successfully pursue anti-Israel efforts at the International Criminal Court and 2) it would close down all PLO offices in the United States unless the Palestinians reenter meaningful peace negotiations with Israel.”

AIPAC, however, has not alerted its activists to the Senate amendment.

The amendment, proposed by Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) on the same day as the U.N. vote, never made it to the Senate floor; it's not clear why.

Also not clear is why the House letter did not include a recommendation to Obama to cut funding to the Palestinians, although it has been the centerpiece of warnings over the last year to Palestinians should they press ahead with efforts to upgrade their status at the United Nations. The offices of Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican, and Berman, a California Democrat, did not return requests for comment.

Israel in the past has quietly opposed cutting off funding to the Palestinians, and even after the U.N. vote, with the exception of the diversion of some $180 million in taxes earmarked for the Palestinian Authority to Israel’s electricity provider, it has refrained from imposing its own penalties.

Despite diplomatic tensions, Israeli and Palestinian Authority security forces continue to cooperate to keep the West Bank quiet, and Israeli security officials in the past have been vocal in their opposition to funding cuts for the Palestinians.

Yasser Arafat planned the second intifada, his widow says

Yasser Arafat planned the second intifada, his widow said in a television interview.

Suha Arafat said the late PLO leader told her about his plans in Paris immediately following the failed summit at Camp David in 2000 featuring Arafat, President Bill Clinton and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak.

“(H)e said to me, ‘You should remain in Paris.’ I asked him why, and he said, ‘Because I am going to start an intifada,' ” Suha Arafat recalled earlier this month during an interview with Dubai TV, according to a translation released this week by the Middle East Media Research Institute. ” 'They want me to betray the Palestinian cause. They want me to give up on our principles, and I will not do so.’ ”

He also spoke of leaving his legacy to his daughter, Zahwa.

“ ‘I do not want Zahwa’s friends in the future to say that Yasser Arafat abandoned the Palestinian cause and principles,” Suha Arafat quoted her husband as saying. ” 'I might be martyred, but I shall bequeath our historical heritage to Zahwa and to the children of Palestine.' ”

The international community blamed the start of the second intifada on a September 2000 visit to the Temple Mount by Ariel Sharon, then the prime minister of Israel.

At the request of his wife, Yasser Arafat's body was exhumed last month to test for radioactive poisoning after traces of the radioactive isotope polonium were found on his clothing, which has been in storage since his death in a Paris military hospital in 2004.

Congressional letter urges Obama to shut PLO office

Incoming and outgoing leaders of the House Foreign Affairs Committee are circulating a letter calling on President Obama to close the Washington office of the PLO.

Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Howard Berman (D-Calif.), Edward Royce (R-Calif.) and Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.)  are circulating the letter that says the lawmakers are “deeply disappointed and upset that the Palestinian leadership rebuffed the entreaties of your Administration and the Congress” by requesting non-member observer state status at the United Nations. The U.N. General Assembly approved the status elevation last month.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee is backing the letter, while J Street opposes it.

Arguing that Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Mahmoud Abbas broke a pledge not to take any unilateral action, “we believe the United States must respond strongly,” the letter says.

“One important way of expressing U.S. disapproval would be to send the message that such actions are not cost-free and that, at a minimum, they result in setbacks to U.S.-Palestinian relations. We can do this by closing the PLO office in Washington, D.C. We can also call our Consul-General in Jerusalem home for consultations. We urge you to take these steps.”

Ros-Lehtinen is the outgoing chairwoman of the committee and Royce is her replacement; Berman, the committee’s ranking Democrat, is leaving office and Engel is taking his slot on the committee.

The note circulating with the letter says it is backed by AIPAC, which an official of the lobby confirmed. J Street, which calls for an enhanced U.S. role in the peace process and for pressure on Israel to end settlement expansion, launched an effort Monday to discourage House of Representatives members from signing it.

“At a time when the United States should be looking for ways to encourage and deepen diplomacy, talk of ejecting one of the parties from the country defies logic,” J Street said in its action alert.

A Senate amendment proposed last month that would have shut down the PLO office for the same reason never made it to the voting stage.

After U.N. vote, question is whether Palestinians will use it as a stick or an olive leaf

How the United States treats the Palestinians’ new status as a non-member state at the United Nations depends on how Palestinians plan to use it — as cudgel or outstretched hand.

Beneath the outcries of disappointment at the lopsided U.N. vote, both the United States and Israel showed signs of acquiescence to its inevitability. There were the grim warnings of financial consequence for both the Palestinians and the United Nations, but there was also a willingness to take at face value Palestinian claims that the vote is an avenue to return to talks — something Israel and the United States have been demanding for two years.

The public statements by U.S. and Israeli officials, however, focused on the negative.

“It places further obstacles in the path to peace,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said at a Foreign Policy Group address after the vote on Thursday. “We have been clear that only through direct negotiations between the parties can the Palestinians and Israelis achieve the peace that both deserve: two states for two peoples, with a sovereign, viable, independent Palestine living side by side in peace and security with a Jewish and democratic Israel.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement after the vote that the Palestinian initiative “violated the agreements with Israel” and that he would “act accordingly.”

That apparently presaged leaks to media outlets on Friday that he planned to build 3,000 new homes in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem, including in the corridor separating Maaleh Adumim, a large Jewish settlement in the West Bank, from Jerusalem.

A broad array of Jewish groups condemned the vote, which passed by a margin of 138-9, with 41 abstentions. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, in one of its rare public statements, predicted blunt and dire consequences for the Palestinians and the organization representing them in Washington and New York, the Palestine Liberation Organization.

“Congress has frequently warned the PLO that there would be consequences for its relationship with the United States if the PLO refuses to demonstrate its commitment to peace with Israel,” AIPAC said. “Congress has specifically linked continued aid and the operation of the PLO office in Washington to the Palestinians not seeking statehood status at the United Nations. AIPAC applauds this congressional leadership and urges a full review of America’s relations with the PLO, including closure of the PLO’s office in Washington.”

Yet the sequence of congressional amendments introduced this week that would penalize the Palestinians for seeking statehood seemed, if anything, to retreat from punitive to wait-and-see.

Earlier this week, a slate of Republican senators led by Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wy.) introduced amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act that would cut assistance to the Palestinians immediately and shut down the PLO office in Washington. The NDAA does not otherwise address the Palestinians, but the act is the most immediate vehicle for passage of legislation, as both Houses of Congress are frantically trying to pass major budget bills to head off the so-called fiscal cliff.

By Thursday morning, however, just hours before the U.N. vote, Barrasso had joined a separate Palestinian spending initiative, and one likelier to pass, spearheaded by Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). That amendment to the NDAA would cut assistance to the Palestinians only if they use their new U.N. status to bring charges against Israel. The new amendment would shut down the PLO office in Washington only in the case that the Palestinians have not entered into “meaningful negotiations” with Israel.

A lawmaker on the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee told JTA that the House was likely to initiate a similar wait-and-see bill. The lawmaker characterized it as a bid to see if the Palestinians would make good on suggestions that they were not in a hurry to bring charges at the International Criminal Court, and that a successful show at the United Nations could create the conditions necessary to bring the Palestinians back to talks.

In an interview earlier this month, Maen Areikat, the PLO envoy to Washington, told JTA that the U.N. vote would mitigate the factor that has kept the Palestinians from talks until now: Israel’s continued settlement expansion. The vote, recognizing “Palestine” as within the pre-1967 lines, would grant the Palestinians assurances that lands they claim have international recognition, even if Israel continues to build Jewish settlements there.

“After we get recognition within 1967 borders, we are willing to engage Israelis,” Areikat said.

Areikat, like other Palestinian officials, would not count out using U.N. bodies like the International Criminal Court to seek redress for what they say are illegal Israeli actions. But he also noted that even with the enhanced status of non-member state, the road to such actions was fraught with bureaucracy and unlikely to happen anytime soon.

On Thursday, two influential think-tankers otherwise known for their hawkish views testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on the state of Israeli-Palestinian relations in the wake of November’s mini-war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Thursday’s vote.

The two men — Robert Satloff, who heads the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and Elliott Abrams, the deputy national security adviser to President George W. Bush who is now at the Council on Foreign Relations — answered questions from lawmakers on whether the U.N. vote should trigger U.S. penalties on the Palestinians.

Satloff said that Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president and PLO leader, needed to show the Palestinian people that there was an alternative to Hamas’ preferred course: terrorism.

“We have to encourage him to choose the diplomatic path,” Satloff said of the Palestinian leader. “It really comes down to invigorating an alternative.”

Another witness, Danielle Pletka, the vice president of the American Enterprise Institute, shook her head in disagreement, saying the Palestinians needed disincentives to prevent uncooperative behavior.

Back in New York, the lopsided vote at the United Nations, and the presence of so many American allies in the “yes” and “abstention” columns, suggested a frustration with the Middle Eastern stalemate and a hope that the vote could bring about a breakthrough.

“I would like this recognition to be used in a positive way by the Israelis and Palestinians to relaunch a sincere peace process,” Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister, said in a statement after his country voted for the enhanced status for Palestine.

“Everything which might jeopardize potential progress towards a negotiated solution must be avoided on both sides,” Fabius said. “The obligation is still to resume dialogue and negotiation without preconditions, with a view to establishing a lasting peace guaranteeing Israel’s security and an actual, viable state for the Palestinians.”

AIPAC calls for review of U.S.-Palestinian ties

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee called for a “full review” of the U.S. relationship with the Palestine Liberation Organization, including shutting its Washington office, in the wake of its obtaining non-member state status at the United Nations.

“In requesting this action, PLO Chairman Mahmoud Abbas is effectively turning his back on  talks with Israel and destroying his credibility as someone genuinely interested in a serious peace process,” AIPAC said in a statement after the U.N. General Assembly overwhelmingly approved non-member state status for the PLO ion Thursday evening, 138 to 9 with 41 abstentions.

“Congress has specifically linked continued aid and the operation of the PLO office in Washington to the Palestinians not seeking statehood status at the United Nation,” it said. “AIPAC applauds this congressional leadership and urges a full review of America’s relations with the PLO, including closure of the PLO’s office in Washington.”

In fact, laws passed by Congress to date impose penalties for full U.N. membership, not the non-member status obtained Thursday.

A number of proposed laws now under consideration would, however, extend those penalties to the Palestinian Authority and to the United Nations for obtaining non-member statehood recognition.

The likeliest to pass, proposed Thursday by Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and John Barrasso (R-Wy.), is conditional: It would cut foreign assistance to the Palestinians in the event they used their new U.N. status to press charges against Israel in the U.N. court system, and would shut the Washington office only if the Palestinian do not return to meaningful talks with Israel.

Meshaal: Palestinian unity will lead to mass protests

Palestinian unity will spur mass popular protests against Israel, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal said.

“Now we have a common ground that we can work on—the popular resistance, which presents the power of people,” Meshaal said Thursday in an interview with the Associated Press in Cairo, where Hamas and Fatah agreed this week on the terms for Hamas joining the Palestine Liberation Organization, a precursor to unity.

Meshaal likened such protests to those characterizing the so-called Arab Spring, which has so far toppled leaderships in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya; has spurred mass uprisings in Syria, Yemen and Bahrain; and has spurred reforms in other countries. 

There have been few such Palestinian protests, aside from a few early spurts separately targeting Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas.

Meshaal said that Hamas could agree to a Palestinian state that exists within 1967 lines, but that it would not describe this as a permanent solution. Nor would he renounce violence against Israel.

Israel has said that it would cut off the Palestinian Authority in the event of its formal unification with Hamas. The Fatah-dominated P.A. currently controls the West Bank, while Hamas controls Gaza.

Hamas to join PLO in unity bid

Hamas will join the Palestine Liberation Organization, a further step toward Palestinian unity.

The deal to admit Hamas was struck Thursday in Cairo during meetings of rival Palestinian factions working to unify the Palestinian leadership, the Associated Press reported.

Under the agreement, Hamas leader in exile Khaled Mashaal has become a member, along with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, of a committee planning for PLO parliamentary elections. It will be the first PLO popular election in 50 years, the AP reported.

The deal is seen as an important step toward reconciliation between Abbas’ Fatah and Mashaal’s Hamas.

Meanwhile, Israeli leaders condemned Abbas for meeting Wednesday with a Palestinian woman earlier this week in the second phase of the Shalit prisoner swap.

Abbas met with Amna Muna and ten other released prisoners in Turkey. Muna used the internet to lure an Israeli teen to a tryst in the West Bank, where he was murdered by other Palestinian terrorists.

Israel says Palestine upgrade at U.N. would be mistake

Upgrading the Palestinians’ U.N. status would be a “strategic mistake by the world”, a senior Israeli official said on Wednesday, cautioning that Israel had prepared a slew of punitive and diplomatic responses.

Outlining government strategy ahead of next month’s showdown at the United Nations, the official said long-stalled peace talks would sag further should the Palestinians sidestep Israel in staking out statehood.

“It’s clear to all that no foreseeable Israeli government could give the Palestinians what they get from the U.N.,” the official said, referring to proposed recognition of their claim on all of the Israeli-occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

“It will create an unbridgeable rift. It could set negotiations back by years,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “It is going to be a strategic mistake by the world.”

The United States has said it would veto any such resolution at the Security Council, but Israel is troubled by the Palestinian fallback option of seeking upgraded “non-member state” capacity at a supportive General Assembly.

Such an upgrade could speed Palestinian recourse to international agencies through which to pressure Israel over its West Bank settlements, East Jerusalem annexation, Gaza Strip blockade and military crackdowns.

The Palestinians have vowed to seek full U.N. membership for a Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

President Mahmoud Abbas has said he would deliver the application to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon during the General Assembly session, which begins the week of Sept. 19.

The Israeli official played down the prospect of the U.N. campaign deepening Israel’s isolation—something the Palestinians deny seeking—or triggering new fighting after years of relative West Bank quiet.

While Israeli forces were preparing to respond to flareups in the Palestinian territories and on volatile border regions if necessary, the official described this as a worst-case scenario and among many contingency plans being prepared.

OPTIONS

He said others ranged from slap-on-the-wrist sanctions like revoking the travel permits of Palestinian notables to, at the far end of the spectrum, unspecified diplomatic “declarations”.

With the exact ramifications of the Palestinians’ U.N. move still unclear, Israel “has not made a decision about any of the arrows in the quiver”, the official said.

Israeli media have speculated that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could annex swathes of settlements built on territory captured in a 1967 war.

At least one of Netanyahu’s cabinet ministers has proposed cutting off the Palestinian Authority, whose mandate was truncated to the West Bank after it lost Gaza to rival Hamas Islamists in 2007 and whose security services and economy rely heavily on cooperation with Israel.

While the official said the Netanyahu government wanted to resume talks with the Palestinians rather than see them pursue the U.N. route, he ruled out meeting their conditions such as a renewed moratorium on West Bank settlement construction.

Asked whether Israel might itself recognize Palestine, casting the standoff as a turf dispute between sovereign states rather than an unequal military occupation, the official said this option had been examined but was unlikely.

Israel would, he said, try to turn the tables on the Palestinians at the United Nations by exploiting drawbacks to their upgraded status.

“If they’re a non-member state, then there’s no place for the PLO in the U.N.,” he said, referring to the umbrella Palestine Liberation Organization, whose purview includes the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza Strip as well as war refugees who demand the right to return to homes and lands lost to Israel.

Some jurists have argued that a U.N. move formalizing statehood in the Palestinian territories would dovetail with Israel’s insistence that refugees be resettled there—another core sticking point in two decades of stop-start negotiations.

“It’s clear to all what the ramifications will be regarding the refugees,” the Israeli official said.

Writing by Dan Williams

Abbas tells Palestinians: Step up Arab Spring-style protests against Israel

President Mahmoud Abbas urged Palestinians on Wednesday to step up peaceful protests against Israel, urging “popular resistance” inspired by the Arab Spring to back a diplomatic offensive at the United Nations.

Abbas, addressing a Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) meeting, reiterated his decision to seek full UN membership for Palestinian state alongside Israel, saying it was a diplomatic move resulting from paralysis in the U.S.-backed peace process.

“In this coming period, we want mass action, organized and coordinated in every place,” Abbas said. “This is a chance to raise our voices in front of the world and say that we want our rights.”

Though the United States is expected to block their quest for a full seat, the Palestinians expect to secure at least an upgrade in their UN status during September’s General Assembly meeting in New York.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

New approach is needed on talks, PLO official says

The PLO representative to Washington called for a new approach to solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying the two sides are far from resolution.

“We are not close to ending this conflict,” the representative, Maen Rashid Areikat, said Wednesday at a kosher luncheon organized by New York University’s Taub Center for Israel Studies and the Berman Jewish Policy Archive at NYU’s Wagner School of Public Service.

“We cannot continue to pursue the same failed policies we’ve followed for 20 years,” he said. “We should abandon the management crisis efforts and get to the real work of conflict resolution here.”

Areikat said the current Israeli government is “not serious” about peace, telling the mostly Jewish audience that “You cannot continue to support Israel blindly, even when they make mistakes.”

The remark came a day after President Obama reportedly told a group of about 50 Jewish organizational representatives at the White House that they should speak to their friends and colleagues in Israel and to “search your souls” over Israel’s seriousness about making peace.

Areikat rejected the notion of resuming direct negotiations with Israel while Israel continues Jewish settlement construction in the West Bank, saying it’s an issue of “credibility.”

The Palestinian Authority broke off direct talks with Israel after Israel’s self-imposed 10-month moratorium on new settlement construction expired last September, just weeks after the Palestinians had returning to the negotiating table.

Areikat also said that the Palestinians cannot return to the negotiating table until the endgame is clear on such issues as borders, the right of return for Palestinian refugees and a timeline for Palestinian statehood.

Areikat called his speech Wednesday part of the PLO’s “continued effort to open dialogue with the Jewish community.”

PLO mission raises flag in D.C.

The PLO office in Washington raised a flag for the first time.

“It’s about time that this flag that symbolizes the struggle of the Palestinian people for self-determination and statehood is raised in the United States,” said Palestine Liberation Organization envoy Maen Areikat in a brief ceremony Tuesday outside its Dupont Circle offices. “We hope that this will help in the international efforts to provide recognition for the Palestinian state.”

The Obama administration granted the delegation, which does not have embassy status, permission to raise the flag last July.

Palestinian Authority officials last year launched an effort to broaden international recognition of a state of Palestine within the 1967 borders of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The officials targeted Europe and Latin America, the two areas of the world where nations resisted the last such push, in the late 1980s.

Seven South American nations have signed on to the effort, and senior Israeli officials have said they fear European governments may join them.

On Tuesday, Russia’s government reaffirmed the 1988 recognition accorded Palestine by its Soviet predecessor.

Areikat has said that such recognition is not tantamount to statehood, but ratchets up pressure on Israel to freeze settlement building.

The Palestinian Authority abandoned direct talks in September because Israel’s government refused to extend a partial building freeze.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), the chairwoman of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, condemned the flag raising.

“Raising this flag in D.C. is part of the Palestinian leadership’s scheme to manipulate international acceptance and diplomatic recognition of a yet-to-be-created Palestinian state while refusing to directly negotiate with Israel or accept the existence of Israel as a democratic, Jewish state,” she said.

Ros-Lehtinen reiterated a call on the Obama administration to shut down the office as long as the Palestinians refuse to return to direct talks.

Meanwhile, a bipartisan slate of U.S. senators wrote to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton urging her to quash a resolution circulating at the U.N. Security Council which it suggests dictates terms for a settlement.

“A resolution of this nature would work against our country’s consistent position, which has been that this and other issues linked to the Middle East peace process can only be resolved by the two parties negotiating directly with each other,” says the letter, signed by 17 senators and initiated by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).

JTA has obtained a draft of the resolution, reportedly initiated by the Palestinian delegation to the United Nations; it does not urge the imposition of terms, and instead calls for a freeze in settlement building and a return to direct talks.

U.S. officials have said they do not want the settlements issue brought before the Security Council but have stopped short of saying they would veto such a resolution.

Judge upholds $116 million lawsuit against PLO

A U.S. judge will not rescind his decision ordering the PLO to pay $116 million to the family of victims of a terrorist attack.

Ronald Lagueux, a federal judge in Providence, R.I., said Wednesday that the Palestine Liberation Organization was liable because of its refusal during the trial early in this decade to mount a defense; PLO leader Yasser Arafat refused to recognize U.S. sovereignty in the matter.

Yaron Ungar, a U.S. citizen, and his wife Efrat were shot dead as they traveled with their infant son near Beit Shemesh, a town near Jerusalem that also adjoins the West Bank.

In recent filings, the PLO blamed Hamas for the attack, saying it sought to sabotage Palestinian-Israeli peace talks. The lawsuit targeted Hamas and the PLO, saying that the PLO was responsible as well because it gave the terrorists safe harbor. Hamas has never contested the suit.

It was not clear if the PLO planned an appeal.

VIDEO: Jewish voters targeted in ‘push polling’ — RJC fesses up

Joelna Marcus tells JTA she was the target of a push poll because she is Jewish. A caller, pretending to be a pollster, tried to insinuate Barack Obama is pro-Palestinian.



The Republican Jewish Coalition has admitted it sponsored a negative poll about Barack Obama.

Politico.com reported Tuesday evening that the RJC took responsibility for the phone poll in swing states, which asked voters their response to negative statements about Obama. Those statements included reported praise for him from a leader of the Palestinian terror group Hamas and a friendship early in his career with a pro-Palestinian university professor.

RJC executive director Matt Brooks told the publication that his organization conducted the poll to “understand why Barack Obama continues to have a problem among Jewish voters.”

Brooks denied that the poll was a “push poll” meant to influence Jewish voters, and said it was a traditional survey meant to gauge the opinions of Jewish voters.

A top Jewish Obama supporter slammed the RJC. “Peddling lies and hateful distortions to scare Jewish voters is reprehensible and deeply disrespectful to Jewish Americans,” said Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.).

 

Books: Nusseibeh ‘Once Upon a Country’ memoir ends in disillusionment

“Once Upon a Country: A Palestinian Life” by Sari Nusseibeh with Anthony David (Farrar Straus and Giroux, $27.50).

Sari Nusseibeh’s political memoir is a monumental achievement both in breadth and boldness. There is little like it on the Palestinian side, certainly nothing from Columbia University Palestinian academic Edward Said, now deceased, who found only the holes in Zionism but never the heart. Nusseibeh reminds me most of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine’s spokesman and novelist, Ghassan Kanafani, who before a Mossad car bomb obliterated him in Beirut in 1972 wrote seminally honest short stories and novels, such as the symbolic “Men in the Sun,” whose Palestinian protagonists die in a water carrier in route from The West Bank to Basra, lacking help from their Arab brothers.

Nusseibeh never obfuscates, grandstands or justifies Palestinian excess. In a way no Palestinian has ever risked in print, he castigates the corruption of Yasser Arafat’s leadership in the territories:

“Politically, the center shifted suddenly from the intifada activists on the ‘inside’ to returning PLO functionaries, and geographically from East Jerusalem to Gaza and the West Bank, where the ‘outsiders’ now lived. Needless to say, the bulk of the ministers were ‘outsiders,’ whereas their undersecretaries were, by and large competent local people, many of whom had worked in the technical committees and hence had two years of preparatory work behind them…. Unfortunately, they faced the reality of working with the returning apparatchiks. The new ministers, dazzled by the trappings of power — the cars, the adulation — had little inclination to study reports or listen to local underlings. Ignoring the multiple volumes already on their desks, our potentates preferred commissioning new reports, which is after all what ministers do. One favorite pastime of many ministers was to gather around Arafat’s desk in Gaza, watching him conduct business and wanting to get their instructions directly from the Old Man. Some ministers, who behaved like demigods to the people under them, journeyed to Arafat’s desk in Gaza, to get his permission to hire an office secretary.”

Nusseibeh details the financial fraud of the ring around Arafat with painful precision — automobiles bought abroad with public funds then sold to the local populace the profit pocketed, collusion with unscrupulous local Jews in smuggling in gasoline. He argues persuasively that Arafat gained no personal financial benefit and was not squirreling away millions as has been charged. However Arafat read every report, knew everything and turned a blind eye to the corruption. Nusseibeh characterizes Arafat as someone “playing the trapeze act, carefully balancing himself between moderates and militants, unwilling and perhaps unable to come down firmly on either side.” Like many of us, his greatest strength was simultaneous his destructive weakness.

Painful for a Zionist like myself to read are the depictions of life in the West Bank and Gaza, something I frequently witnessed myself prior to the first intifada: roadblocks with yellow license plated settlers cars waved through while blue-plated Palestinians cars were stopped in a seemingly endless line at checkpoints; the squalor of the Dehasisha Camp near Bethlehem, where children were chased by soldiers for hurling a Palestinian flag in the electrical wires; the endless dusty dirt roads through the Gaza refugee camps in sight of the high chain-link fences of the settlements with sprinklers rotating over lush green grass. Failure to find sympathy for the Palestinians’ human suffering is as impenetrable a roadblock to peace as any.

The scion of an aristocratic Jerusalem family, Nusseibeh traces his roots back 1,300 years to one of the tribal leaders who joined Mohammad on his seventh century pilgrimage to Jerusalem. A family member still shares jurisdiction over the entrance key to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and twists the lock on those doors open each morning.

The idea for this memoir sprang from his reading Amos Oz’s memoir, “A Tale of Love and Darkness,” as Nusseibeh discovered that they had grown up 100 yards apart in Jerusalem separated by the uncrossable “no man’s land” that partitioned the city from 1948 to 1967.

Oxford educated, a philosopher by training, happiest teaching and in metaphysical reverie, Nusseibeh is repeatedly forced into the political fray by its concrete existence around him. A good man in a turbulent sea, he is relentlessly tossed around, beaten by radical Palestinians for his moderate stance and jailed by the Israelis in Ramle Prison, charged with being an Iraqi spy who guided undirectable Scud missile launchings while in reality he hid under his kitchen table with his wife and children as the errant rockets regularly fell short and landed in Arab territory. To the Israeli right wing he was far more dangerous than an Iraqi spy; he is a thoughtful, passionate and fair-minded moderate.

Probably the most tragic segments of the book detail the Camp David accords and how the dual egotism of Ehud Barak and Arafat prevented an accord “by a whisker.” Nusseibeh’s political trajectory moved from support of a binational state to a two-state solution to a sadly disillusioned stance. He no longer finds the erection of a Palestinian state preeminent and now focuses on the achievement of freedom and human dignity. The politician has returned to philosophy but I suspect only the politicians can ultimately bring the freedom and human dignity he and his people seek.

Howard Kaplan is the author of three novels on the Middle East.

Is a delay of justice a denial of justice?

It is not every day that a former regional president of the Anti-Defamation League rides to the rescue of alleged Palestinian terrorists. Yet that is precisely what happened on
Jan. 30, when Los Angeles immigration judge Bruce J. Einhorn, in a stinging rebuke to the federal government, terminated deportation proceedings against two men who were arrested more than 20 years ago because of their alleged ties to a Palestinian terrorist organization.

Unless appealed, Einhorn’s decision will finally bring an end to the government’s decades-long campaign to deport Khader M. Hamide and Michel I. Shehadeh — two men who have been lawful, permanent residents of the United States for more than 30 years and whose children are U.S. citizens. Their case has reached every level of federal court, including the U.S. Supreme Court.

The government has been seeking to deport Hamide and Shehadeh since January 1987, based on their alleged support for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a radical offshoot of the Palestine Liberation Organization that has taken credit for airline hijackings and car bombings in the Middle East. The two men, along with six others who became known as the L.A. 8, have all denied membership in the PFLP, while steadfastly maintaining that they were being persecuted for lawful political activities — distributing newspapers, participating in demonstrations, assisting Palestinians with human rights and medical needs and raising money for hospitals, youth clubs and day-care centers.

Such activities would clearly be constitutionally protected if undertaken by U.S. citizens. The government has never alleged that any of the L.A. 8 were connected to the PFLP’s terrorist activities.

Of the other six members of the group, one became a citizen, three obtained permanent residency status, one is seeking permanent residency status and the sixth returned to Bethlehem.

Since the outset of its case, the government has argued that lawful, permanent residents such as Hamide and Shehadeh were not entitled to the same constitutional free speech rights as those of U.S. citizens. In doing so, the government initially invoked the now-repealed McCarran-Walter Act that had been used during the McCarthy era to deport immigrants who embraced communism.

The government also asserted that providing humanitarian aid to an organization that both sides agreed had “engaged in terrorist activities” from 1984 to 1986 was the kind of “material support” that warranted deportation. Finally, government lawyers twice persuaded Congress to change federal laws and to apply them retroactively in order to allow for the deportation of those whose activities were lawful at the time they occurred.

Prior to Einhorn’s decision last month, the immigrants had won a number of important rulings, including a 1998 federal appeals court opinion that the Constitution does not permit “guilt by association” and that their deportation could not proceed unless the government demonstrated that the men intended to support the “illegal group goals of the PFLP.”

Einhorn’s January ruling terminating these deportation proceedings arose from the government’s persistent refusal to disclose “any potentially exculpatory evidence” in its possession — a violation of the judge’s June 2005 pretrial order.

In his 11-page opinion, Einhorn wrote: “The repeated actions of the government in not complying with the court’s orders have prevented respondents [Hamide and Shehadeh] from obtaining fair hearings and closure in their cases. The attenuation of these proceedings is a festering wound on the body of these respondents and an embarrassment to the rule of law.”

Unless such a “gross failure” has consequences, Einhorn colorfully observed that “an immigration judge is reduced to the status of a Blanche DuBois, who must rely on the kindness of strangers. Such status would gut the statutory and regulatory scheme of deportation proceedings.”

Einhorn, who previously served for more than a decade in the Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations, where he worked to identify and prosecute Nazi war criminals who resided illegally in the United States, was obviously perplexed by the government’s misconduct.

“A reasonable argument could be made,” he wrote, “that if Hamide and Shehadeh have engaged in terrorist activity, particularly in the context of today’s world, then the government would be prepared to move heaven and earth — not to mention some mounds of paper — to complete the trial and deportation of these respondents.”

Einhorn concluded that the government’s “protracted failure” constituted a violation of the immigrants’ constitutional due process rights.
The only immigration matter in all of U.S. history that has lasted longer than the L.A. 8 case was the deportation proceedings against Carlos Marcello, a reputed New Orleans crime boss, which started in 1953 and lasted 30 years.

Marcello was briefly deported but died a free man in Louisiana in 1993. It remains possible that the case against Hamide and Shehadeh could drag on still further.

Einhorn’s decision to terminate these deportation proceedings is undoubtedly correct — both legally and morally — and should not be appealed. It is long past time for the federal government to abandon its decades-long persecution of these immigrants and its concurrent legislative and judicial efforts to exempt lawful U.S. residents from the protection of the Constitution. As Einhorn himself observed, the rule of law is tested not by its ability to protect “those we love” but by whether it protects “those we loathe.”

Douglas Mirell, a Los Angeles attorney, is a founder and first vice president of the Progressive Jewish Alliance, www.pjalliance.org.

Iconic Italian journalist, Oriana Fallaci, 77

The crusading Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci spent the last years of her life issuing fiery warnings against a Muslim world that she saw poised to overrun the West.
 
Critics accused Fallaci of sowing racial and religious hatred, but she became a heroine to many Jews and Israelis for her vocal defense of Israel and denunciations of new forms of anti-Semitism.
 
“She was the most loved and most hated woman in Italy,” said Clemente Mimun, the Jewish director of Italian television’s main news program.
 
Fallaci, who divided her later years between New York and her native Florence, died last Friday in Florence after a long battle with cancer. She was 77.A glamorous woman always seen with long hair and thick eye-liner and a cigarette poised in her fingers, Fallaci was a war correspondent in Vietnam and fought as a child in the anti-fascist resistance during World War II.

She never married but had a passionate affair with the Greek left-wing activist Alekos Panagulis in the mid-1970s. After his death in an automobile accident, she wrote a book based on his life, “A Man,” that sold 3.5 million copies.Fallaci became a celebrity icon in the 1960s and 1970s with incisive, baring interviews of global VIPs including Henry Kissinger, PLO leader Yasser Arafat, Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir and Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. She also wrote a series of novels and other books.
 
The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, marked a watershed.
 
Fallaci’s “The Rage and the Pride,” a vehement defense of the United States published soon after the attacks, became a best seller and provoked a storm of controversy with its strong language and uncompromising positions.
 
She followed with further books and articles that lambasted the West for weakness in the face of Islam and minced no words in her criticism of Muslims in general.
 
Islam, she wrote in her last book, “The Force of Reason,” “sows hatred in place of love and slavery in place of freedom.”
 
One of her most famous essays was a blistering attack on anti-Semitism published in April 2002 that read like a manifesto.
 
Repeating over and over the assertion “I find it shameful,” Fallaci unleashed a brutal indictment of Italy, Italians, the Catholic church, the left wing, the media, politically correct pacifists and Europeans in general for abandoning Israel and fomenting a new wave of anti-Semitism linked to the Mideast crisis.In the essay, Fallaci, who long had held pro-Palestinian views, declared herself “disgusted with the anti-Semitism of many Italians, of many Europeans” and “ashamed of this shame that dishonors my country and Europe.”
 
“I find it shameful,” she wrote,” and I see in all this the resurgence of a new fascism, a new Nazism.”
 
She recalled that in the past “I fought often, and bitterly, with the Israelis, and I defended the Palestinians a lot — maybe more than they deserved.
 
“Nonetheless, I stand with Israel, I stand with the Jews,” she wrote. “I defend their right to exist, to defend themselves, and not to allow themselves to be exterminated a second time.”
 

Optimistic? Yep.

The most remarkable aspect of the war Israel is fighting now in Lebanon is not who Israel’s enemy is, but who its friends are.

The terrorist group Hezbollahcrossed Israel’s border, killed eight soldiers and captured two others, and followed that attack with volleys of rockets and missiles against Israeli civilians. Israel reacted by bombing Hezbollah armaments and strongholds as well as Lebanese infrastructure that could aid the terrorists in hiding the captured soldiers or sustaining their assaults.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s decision to prosecute a decisive war against Hezbollah has widespread support within his country. Polls show him and Defense Minister Amir Peretz at 78 percent popularity, with 81 percent of the public behind their actions.

“I know it’s strange,” said a friend of mine from Tel Aviv, “but people are actually in a good mood. They’re pulling together. There’s a feeling we’re actually doing something about these sons of bitches.”

It’s not unusual that most Americans and President George W. Bush feel the same way — although the president would probably use even saltier language to express it. What has been unusual has been the support Israel’s received outside its borders and beyond Washington.

I’m not even talking about the July 17 Los Angeles Times lead editorial. “Make no mistake about it,” the editorial began, “responsibility for the escalating carnage in Lebanon and northern Israel lies with one side, and one side only. And that is Hezbollah, the Islamist militant party, along with its Syrian and Iranian backers. Reasonable minds can differ on the strategic wisdom of the Israeli response, but there can be no doubt about the blame for the mounting death toll on both sides of the border.”

That was enough to spin the heads of the pro-Israel community, which has long seen the L.A. Times as overly critical.

The bigger shock came from overseas. Arab governments, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan, also blamed Hezbollah. The Saudis made clear that Hezbollah “adventuring” hurt the people of Palestine and Lebanon and was a naked attempt by Hezbollah’s string-pullers in Iran and Syria to assert their power in the Mideast.

And the Arab press and the street agreed with the rulers. “The response on the Arab street has been so disappointing for Hizbullah,” The Jerusalem Post reported, ” that its leaders are now openly talking about an Arab ‘conspiracy’ to liquidate the Shiite organization.”

In the English-language Arab Times, a 30,000-circulation Kuwaiti daily, editor-in-chief Ahmed Jarallah took a position that could only be called L.A. Times-ian: “Unfortunately we must admit that in such a war the only way to get rid of [Hezbollah and Hamas] is what Israel is doing,” he wrote. “The operations of Israel in Gaza and Lebanon are in the interest of people of Arab countries and the international community.”

If you have a minute, it wouldn’t hurt to send a letter to that editor to register your agreement. He’s at ahmedjarallah@hotmail.com.The last bit of good news came from St. Petersburg, where leaders at the G8 Summit issued a statement on the conflict that was far more balanced and fair toward Israel.

“It was the most pro-Israel statement the Europeans have ever issued in the midst of an Arab-Israeli war,” UCLA political scientist Steven L. Spiegel told me.

Spiegel cautioned that none of this support amounts to a blank check. Things could still go south — so to speak — for Israel. It needs to be mindful of civilian casualties. It can’t prosecute a war indefinitely once the major actors like the United States commit to a solution. And though the Saudis have offered to fund the rebuilding of Lebanon, the civilian death toll and images of destruction will linger in the public eye.

“You don’t destroy a country as Israel has done to Lebanon and totally get away with it,” Spiegel said.

Still, there is in the midst of this war — I write this on Tuesday — room for something like optimism.

Optimism?

Well, sort of.

On the one hand, Hezbollah, an outgrowth of radical Shia Islam, has a hatred of Israel that cannot be negotiated. To understand the Palestinians, read the modern history of Israel. To understand Hezbollah, read Christoph Reuter’s “My Life Is a Weapon: A Modern History of Suicide Bombing” (Princeton, 2002). Reuter quotes the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, speaking after the Lebanon War at a time when he served as Defense Minister:

“I believe that among the many surprises that came out of the war in Lebanon, the most dangerous is that the war let the Shiites come out of the bottle. In 20 years of PLO terrorism, no one PLO terrorist ever made himself into a live bomb. In my opinion, the Shiites have the potential for a kind of terrorism we have not yet experienced.”

The prophetic Rabin could not conceive how Israel would fight a foe that would accept its own destruction if that meant Israel’s as well.

But Rabin led Israel through wars against pan-Arab secularists who at the time also seemed intractable and unbeatable.

Now — thanks to this war — Israel is undoing six years of strategic mistakes it committed by allowing a buildup of Hezbollah weapons and personnel in Southern Lebanon. It won’t make that mistake again, or at least any time soon. Any international agreement that follows the fighting will have to interfere with Hezbollah abilities to arm and threaten Israel from the north. And the international community will be even harsher toward Iran’s nuclear ambitions, well aware of how this conflict would have progressed had its chief instigator had nuclear warheads.

Hezbollah itself must be reeling from its isolation in the Arab world, and from the display of unity and fortitude within Israel. The organization might, as its leader said, have more surprises in store for Israel, but so far the biggest weapon in this war has been Israel’s resilience and determination to fight. As Spiegel said — optimistically –“You never wake up a sleeping democratic giant.”

Accord Was to Ensure Jewish Majority

The Oslo agreement was the first agreement ever signed between the Israeli government and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), intended to put an end to the national struggle that is the heart of the larger Arab-Israeli conflict.

The Olso agreement was the natural continuation of the framework agreements signed at the 1978 Camp David summit between Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, which also provided the basis for the 1991 Madrid Conference.

But, the talks that I initiated in Oslo contained two unique elements: For the first time, the Palestinian partner was clearly identified as the PLO, and the idea was proposed to transfer to Palestinian control most of the Gaza Strip and the Jericho area, even before elections were held for the Palestinian Authority’s legislative council and leadership.

The Oslo process was intended to save the Zionist enterprise before Israel would control an area where the majority of residents would be Palestinian. Anyone who believes that Israel must be a Jewish and democratic state must support the establishment of a border between Israel and the Palestinian side — preferably by consent rather than by unilateral measures.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin understood this and gave his support to the Oslo process. He faced opposition from a right-wing camp that presented itself as nationalist but did not propose any solution that would guarantee a Jewish and democratic future for Israel.

The interim measures did not accomplish their goal — that is, a final peace agreement — because of efforts by elements on both sides.

On the Palestinian side, the extremist religious organizations understood that Israeli-Palestinian peace would be the end of the road for them, and they acted to undermine the process through violence. The more difficult the conditions became in the areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority, the more public support these organizations gained.

On the Israeli side, it was the right wing — in particular, extremist settlers — who did whatever they could to foil a final status settlement that would divide the Land of Israel.

Attempts to attribute the past three years of violence to the Oslo agreement are characteristic of people who did not believe in the agreement in the first place and who believe that any agreement with the enemy is a surrender that ultimately will engender more violence.

I am not saying that the Oslo agreement was free of flaws. But those flaws were not the result of an innocent belief that the five-year interim period would build such confidence and esteem between Israelis and Palestinians that it would be easy to reach a final status settlement.

In my opinion, there were two flaws in the Oslo Agreement and its implementation:

First, the fact that no reference was made to the freezing of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip — the Palestinians accepted Rabin’s personal commitment to halt the construction of new settlements — created an opening that a subsequent right-wing government used to build new settlements, though it clearly was not the original intent of the agreement.

Second, Israel did not give sufficient importance to incitement in the Palestinian media, thinking it was a trend that would pass when the final status agreement was signed. This incitement played a significant role in the Palestinians’ return to violence in 2000.

Both sides blame the other for the process’ failure, though the Palestinians’ choice of violence means they have the greater share of blame.

But our future does not lie in reciprocal blaming. If we want to secure the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, we must do it before there is a Palestinian majority under Israeli control.

If the Palestinians want a state with a secular and pragmatic leadership, they must do it before Hamas and Islamic Jihad conquer the hearts of the people.

We have no time. The only effective way to do this is to complete the Oslo process and reach the final status agreement as quickly as possible.


Yossi Bellin was minister of justice in Ehud Barak’s government and one of the architects of the Oslo agreement.

At the United Nations

Dr. Dore Goldis an American who grew up in Connecticut and as an adult madealiyah. From 1987 through 1996, he served as director of the U.S.Foreign and Defense Policy Project at the Jaffe Center for StrategicStudies, Tel Aviv University. When Binyamin Netanyahu was electedprime minister, he took Gold along with him, first as Foreign PolicyAdvisor and, more recently, as Israel’s Permanent Representative tothe United Nations. Below is a speech written and delivered by him tothe members of the U.N. last week. It spells out quite clearly thegovernment’s position on the peace process and on its negotiationswith the PLO.

United Nations, New York

In the last four years the people of Israel witnessed twocontrasting realities in their pursuit of peace with thePalestinians. True, there had been a stunning series of diplomaticbreakthroughs between Israel and the PLO, that was followed by apeace treaty with Jordan and a web of new relationships with a halfdozen Arab states. Israelis were filled with hope that at long lasttheir state of siege had ended and they could look forward to an eraof normalcy and safety.

Yet, the people of Israel witnessed another reality as well. Fromthe 1993 signing of the Declaration of Principles between Israel andthe PLO, until the May 1996 election of the current Israeligovernment, nearly 250 Israelis died in an unprecedented wave ofPalestinian terrorism aimed at the heart of Israel’s cities and intheir vicinity: in Afula, Hadera, Beit-Lid, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.Indeed more Israelis died in these three years from such attacks thenin the previous decade. During 1997, while the frequency of theseattacks was reduced, the bombings continued nonetheless in the MahaneYehuda market and the Ben Yehuda pedestrian mall in Jerusalem.

Israel had known terrorism before, but these cases reflected acompletely different situation. These were not occasional knifings orindividual drive-by shootings, but highly-lethal suicide bombingsbacked by a vast and expanding organizational infrastructure. Itrecruited and trained personnel, manufactured and stockpiled weaponsmaterials, commanded and financed elaborate operations.Military-grade explosives, that had not been used in such attacks inmore than 10 years, were suddenly available in large quantities withdevastating results. But whether belonging to the Izz-al Din alQassam units of the Hamas or to the Islamic Jihad, thisorganizational infrastructure was growing in the very sameterritories that had been given over to the jurisdiction of thePalestinian Authority of Chairman Yasser Arafat.

Today, there is a common misconception that the peace process wasin an idyllic state until last year and has only just latelydeteriorated. This is completely false. It is as false in thePalestinian negotiating track as it is in the Syrian track, whereIsrael went through two mini-wars in Lebanon and absorbed more than200 Katyusha rocket strikes from Syrian-controlled territory inLebanon. The fact is that the present government of Israel inheriteda peace process that was in a shambles because the core bargain ofthe Oslo agreements had been repeatedly violated: that Israel wouldaddress Palestinian aspirations by creating areas of Palestinianself-government and the Palestinian Authority would assumeresponsibility for security in those very same areas. This bargainhas not been kept. As a result innocent Israelis have paid for thiswith their lives in brutal suicide bombing after suicide bombing inthe heart of our cities.

Netanyahu’s Options

The government of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had manyoptions to contend with this mounting terror. Israel could have letdespair and cynicism overtake diplomacy and declare that the peaceprocess had failed. The Israeli government rejected this option. Thegovernment could have ignored the truth behind these assaults in ourcities and blame only distant adversaries like Iran. This would havefailed to address the fact that the wave of terror attacks in Israelwas emanating from areas under the military control of ournegotiating partners. Only by insisting on their accountability couldwe save the lives of our people. Therefore we chose the option ofmaking an impaired peace process work by adding principles ofpeacemaking that previously had been lacking.

A Code of Conduct

This September, Israel’s Foreign Minister David Levy stood beforethe U.N. General Assembly and suggested a code of conduct forstrengthening negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Thefirst principle of the code of conduct states that violence istotally incompatible with peace and reconciliation. Removing violencefrom the negotiations means that the Palestinian fight againstterrorism be made constant and not be made contingent upon the extentof Israeli concessions, as explicitly demanded by Colonel JabrilRajub. Removing violence from negotiations means that Palestiniansecurity services quell street rioting in Bethlehem and Hebroninstead of inciting it. Removing violence means that Chairman Arafatgives no “green lights” to Hamas to attack Israel, as occurred onMarch 9, 1997. Removing violence means that the masterminds of the1996 Dizingoff Center bombing in Tel Aviv be prosecuted andimprisoned rather than be set free to organize new cells forattacking Israel, as is occurring today.

To make negotiations work, the code of conduct suggested moreover,that the continuity of contacts between Israelis and Palestinians beprotected and not disrupted for short-term gain. Normalizationbetween Israel and the wider region, it was suggested, should not behalted, but increased. And our differences should be resolved inbilateral negotiations and not in international fora. Beyond the codeof conduct, Israel has insisted that the Oslo process be based on theprinciple of reciprocity. On Jan. 15, 1997, both Prime MinisterBinyamin Netanyahu and Chairman Yasser Arafat specifically committedthemselves to implement their mutual obligations on the basis ofreciprocity in the “Note for the Record” that was signed by the U.S.Peace Coordinator, Dennis Ross. To this day, while parts of theinternational community want to place ever-mounting pressure onIsrael to move on with the peace process, not a single Palestiniancommitment that appears in that document, has been implemented:

* the revision of the Palestinian Covenant calling for Israel’sdestruction remains incomplete

* illegal firearms have not been collected

* the language of incitement continues

* not a single terrorist has been extradited

* and most importantly the organizational infrastructure ofterrorism remains intact within the areas of the PalestinianAuthority. And this is only a partial list.

What is Israel supposed to do under such circumstances? MustIsrael continue to pull back without getting anything in return?Israel re-deployed in Hebron, freed prisoners, and offered last Marcha first stage of further re-deployment that would have tripled the”A” area of full Palestinian control from 2.8 percent of the WestBank, which was turned over by Israel’s previous government, to 10.1percent. These are all tangible acts and not just atmospherics.Israel is now proposing a second further re-deployment; it is onlyseeking that the infrastructure of terrorism be finally dismantledand not just spillover automatically into any new areas that arehanded over to Palestinian control. Israel has re-engaged innegotiations on the airport, seaport and safe passage; Israel liftedclosure, more than doubling the number of Palestinian workers earningtheir living from the Israeli economy. Israel has complied with itscommitments to the Interim Agreement; the Palestinian Authority hasnot.

What stands behind the misconception, nonetheless, that Israel hasnot complied? Palestinian spokesmen point to settlement activity,knowing full well that settlement growth is no more a violation ofthe Oslo Agreements than the natural growth of Palestinian towns andvillages. Palestinian spokesmen point to our offer of furtherre-deployment as inadequate, yetthey know full well that accordingto Oslo, further re-deployment is unilaterally decided and executedby Israel. Indeed, Palestinian negotiators in January 1997, like AbuMazen and Saeb Erekat, termed further re-deployment in the Note forthe Record as an “issue for implementation” by Israel and not as”issue for negotiation” between the parties.

Chairman Arafat signed the Oslo II Interim Agreement in Washingtonon Sept. 28, 1995, knowing full well that his negotiators failed intheir attempts to achieve a one sided construction freeze on Israelibuilding. Indeed, our late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin confirmedthis fact when he stated one week later, as Oslo II was ratified bythe Knesset: ” … We made a commitment to the Knesset not to uprootany settlement in the framework of the Interim Agreement nor tofreeze construction and natural growth.” Chairman Arafat signed theInterim Agreement knowing that it left up to Israel alone, to decidethe size of a credible further re-deployment. What is happening todayis that Israel is being asked to make new concessions that go beyondthe Oslo Agreements in order to win Palestinian compliance withsecurity responsibilities that are within the Oslo Agreements. Ratherthan facing sanction for its adoption of violence, the PalestinianAuthority is expecting to be rewarded.

Adjusting Expectations

Despite all the difficulties and despite all the risks involved,the government of Israel is determined to make this peace processwork. Rather than become mired in the nuances of the InterimAgreement, Israel has recommended that the parties quickly enter andaccelerate their negotiations over permanent status. To achievesuccess in these negotiations, both Israelis and Palestinians willhave to adjust their expectations. Israel has began to adjust itsexpectations in accordance with Palestinian aspirations; thePalestinian’s need to adjust their expectations in accordance withIsraeli interests and concerns.

For diplomacy must take into account the true context of Israel’ssituation. Fifty years ago, the U.N. General Assembly adopted themajority report of the U.N. Special Commission on Palestine (UNSCOP)and passed a resolution calling for partition and the creation of aJewish State. Within a half a year, the State of Israel was declared– but was promptly invaded by armies of five Arab states whorejected out of hand the resolution of the General Assembly. Fromthat time onward, no one could talk about the Israel-Palestinianconflict in isolation of this broader context; Israelis andPalestinians were not located on an island in the Indian Ocean. As aresult, any solution to the Israeli- Palestinian conflict must notrob Israel of its capacity for self-defense in the wider Arab-Israelconflict.

That imperative became clear again when Israel faced a broadcoalition of armies that had massed their forces on our armisticelines during the months of May and early June 1967. In the Six DayWar that ensued, Israel came into control of the West Bank and becamedetermined never to

An Officer and a Peacenik

Retired Maj. Gen. Oren Shachor

Retired Maj. Gen. Oren Shachor, former Israel Defense Forces chiefintelligence officer, held a field briefing for his subordinateofficers and field operatives last week at Cava restaurant on westThird Street.

Actually, it was just an interview with a Jewish journalist.

But Shachor, just retired after 30 years in the IDF’s highcommand, hasn’t quite gotten the hang of the interview yet. Taking aseat before a cup of black coffee, he directs his wife, Leah, tobring him his briefing book. She returns with a yellow legal pad,which he crisply flips open, announcing, “I am beginning with pointone.”

Ten points down the legal pad later, Shachor has made a compellingcase for why the Oslo peace process is in such grave danger, why itmust continue, and what would happen to Israel and the Mideast shouldit to fail.

Shachor knows because, as much as any person in the IDF, he wasmidwife to the accords. He negotiated the first interim agreementwith PLO officials, he negotiated the development of the DahaniaAirport in Gaza, and he was point man for the civilian securityarrangement in Hebron. Four years ago, Shachor looked on asthen-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin signed these agreements on theWhite House lawn. “As an intelligence officer, my target was Arafat,”said Shachor. “Then he became my partner.”

Despite some terrorist activities, the result, said Shachor, wasan increase in peace, prosperity and security for the Palestiniansand the Israelis. “If Mr. Rabin were alive today,” said the general,”we would be near the end of the interim agreement and nearing afinal agreement with more and more security.”

Instead, he said, the government of Prime Minister BinyaminNetanyahu has crippled the peace process. “We have no efficient teamof negotiators, no grand plan, no directives,” he said. “They holdonly cosmetic meetings, and there is no trust between thePalestinians and the Israelis. The peace process will collapse.”

Last September, before the wave of suicide bombings that left manyIsraelis dead, Shachor wrote a memo to Netanyahu, outlining hisconcerns. “I told him that if there were no constructive dialogue,there would be violent activities,” he said. “Unfortunately, hedidn’t pay attention.”

Shachor, who left the military last May, came to Los Angeles as aspeaker for Shalom Achshav, or Peace Now. An active member of theLabor Party, he believes, with a general’s determination, in PeaceNow’s longtime shibboleth that Israel can never have security withoutpeace, or vice versa. If you want security, said Shachor, you muststrengthen the hand of the peace movement.

Immediate steps toward reviving the peace process, according topoints No. 9 and No. 10 of the general’s briefing: The United Statesmust become more deeply involved in bringing the parties together,and Israel must do more to strengthen Arafat economically. As Arafatweakens, warned Shachor, he will be tempted to summarily declare aPalestinian state and, if need be, defend it with a messy guerrillawar. Why would Arafat do such a thing? “He knows it worked forBen-Gurion,” said Shachor.

Briefing over; journalist dismissed.

For more information on Americans for Peace Now, call (310)858-3002.