Wednesday, August 31, 2011

"A Time of Turmoil"

Arlene Kushner

Well, Kaitana Savta (Grandma Camp), which was great, is over. I am back to normal -- whatever that means -- and prepared to resume more frequent postings. The questions then are where to begin and what to focus on during this upside-down time.


Of primary importance is terrorism, attempted terrorism, and the threat of even more terrorism.

Late Sunday, Israel received concrete intelligence regarding Islamic Jihad plans for a second attack involving infiltration from Gaza into southern Israel via the Sinai; the plans reportedly are for the attack to be executed (once more!) along one of the roads running near the border with Sinai and to involve abduction of Israelis. More than 10 terrorists were said to be already in Sinai, preparing.

Several actions were then taken:

Chief of Staff Benny Gantz ordered a sizeable deployment of infantry forces to the area. Two major roads near the border (#10 and #12) were closed, while Israelis with high security clearance were forbidden to drive on roads in the area.

Two large Israeli Navy corvettes (war ships) were docked in Eilat.

And the possibility of the attack was made public.


On orders from General Gantz, the Egyptians were informed of IDF plans to deploy along the Sinai border. Because of the tenuous relationship with the Egyptian military, it was decided that there would be no IDF incursion into the Sinai in pursuit of the terrorists.

The Egyptians, for their part -- fearing an upswing in violence at the end of Ramadan (Aid el-Fitr), which was yesterday -- are in process of a military operation to hunt down jihadi groups in the northern Sinai. Launched on Monday with Israeli approval, the operation involves some 1,500 soldiers and police, utilizing tanks and armored vehicles, who have been operating in Al-Arish, Sheikh Zuwayed, and Rafah, near the Gaza border.


There is considerable sentiment inside of Egypt for a re-writing of the peace treaty with Israel, in particular with regard to the demilitarization of the Sinai.

Last week, in the course of Egyptian demonstrations outside the Israeli Embassy in Cairo, the Israeli flag was torn down from the roof of the building.

While the flog has been re-instated (this time in a safer locale on a balcony) on instructions from Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, the man who tore down that flag has become something of a national hero.


I add here that while Defense Minister Barak was gung-ho to permit large scale Egyptian troops into the Sinai (well beyond what has been approved for the specific operation mentioned above), three days ago Prime Minister Netanyahu expressed quite a different opinion. This is "not something that we have to rush into," he said at a meeting with Likud ministers. Furthermore, he indicated that a Cabinet vote would be required for a change in the treaty with Egypt.

Additionally, MK Shaul Mofaz (Kadima), Chair of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, was making noise about the need for his committee to pass on this as well.


On Monday, a terrorist, thought to be acting alone, entered Israel illegally from Nablus with intention of striking at a Tel Aviv nightclub filled with young people enjoying an end-of-summer party. Earlier in the evening, the police had made a decision to bolster their presence outside major venues in the city, and thus it was that an attack was adverted. He ran his vehicle into a police roadblock, injuring some officers and yelling "Allahu Akbar."


That Palestinian Arab state and the UN:

I think it's reasonably clear at this point, in spite of occasional media reports to the contrary, that nothing will change on the ground for Israel after the PA goes to the UN in September -- something Mahmoud Abbas continues to insist he will do unless Israel caves on his major demands.

What he is seeking to do is secure his state without committing to end of conflict. He, in fact, made it clear just recently that he would still push for "right of return" even after the founding of a Palestinian state (although he may run into difficulty on this -- see below).

Israeli concerns about outcome focus on a possible increase in violence by the Palestinian Arabs -- perhaps with large numbers at the borders attempting to enter Israel -- and greater international legitimacy for the PA. This might give it leverage with regard to bringing charges against Israelis in the International Criminal Court and against Israel in the International Court of Justice.


On Sunday night, here in Jerusalem, I attended the first part of a conference on "The Palestinian Statehood Initiative," jointly sponsored by the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel, and Hadar Israel (a grassroots civic organization).

Michla Pomerance, Professor of International Law, Hebrew University, spoke about the enormous confusion with regard to the whole issue of "UN law," which is very problematic. Traditional international law is not imposed by a central authority but is rooted in reciprocity -- it derives from the consent of states.

The Security Council is not an enforcer of international law, and may not order transfer of/or concessions on territory. It has no power to abrogate sovereignty.

The General Assembly does not have authority to recognize states. Its authority is only with regard to admitting and suspending members, pending SC approval.

Only states already in existence can be admitted to the UN. They are required to be peace-loving, and able and willing to carry out their obligations under the UN charter. There is no admission of a state granted with the intention of eliminating another state.

Within international law, there is no universal right of self-determination recognized.

With regard to a Palestinian state, self-determination would require a defined population. But as there is a question of boundaries, there is no defined population.


Dr. Tal Becker, International Associate, Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a former Israeli negotiator, believes that Abbas is proceeding as he is because of the "Arab Spring" -- fear that street anger will be channeled against his government if he doesn't act; expectations that have been created by Obama and Fayyad; and a desire to secure his legacy.

He cautions that if the PA does go to the UN, it is likely a committee will be created to begin a slow process: there will not be speedy results.


General (Res.) Yossie Kuperwasser, Director General, Ministry of Strategic Affairs, addressed security concerns.

The PA, he says, cannot accept Israel as a Jewish state because of the issue of the refugees; because of the Arab population inside of Israel (which would be utilized for demands for a "state of all its citizens" in the second stage of their plans); and because it would require adjusting the narrative.

The bottom line is that the PA goal is to destroy Israel. It is essential that it accept Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. But the Arabs are seeking to end historical claims.

Absent PA acknowledgement that Israel is the Jewish state, Israel may have to begin to think in terms of managing the conflict rather than resolving it.

There are security dangers for the PA, as well. The entire process will be an embarrassment for the PA, and Hamas may end up the winner -- with escalation of violence against the PA.


For other takes on the PA initiative:

Israeli Ambassador to the US, Michael Oren, in an exclusive interview, said yesterday that if the PA proceeds with its plans, all agreements between the PA and Israel might become null and void:

"We have a lot of agreements with the Palestinian Authority, we have no agreements with a ‘Government of Palestine,' It's just a fact, we have no agreements with a ‘Government of Palestine.' It puts us in a different realm."

Oren was referring, he said, to agreements that cover such matters as import-export, water sharing, and Israel-Palestinian security forces cooperation.

"It's not just our agreements with the Palestinian Authority, it's America's agreements with the Palestinian Authority (that are at risk)," he further explained. "America is a cosignatory to the Oslo Accord and this would seriously undermine it.... Unilateral steps would have legal, economic, and political ramifications for us and for America as a cosignatory."

Jordan has just urged the PA to reconsider its move to pursue bid for UN recognition King Abdullah considers the move dangerous because it may compromise the "right of return.",7340,L-4115922,00.html

Jordan, of course, worries that without a "return" of refugees to Israel, there might be a push to make Jordan the Palestinian state officially (while it is now de facto, with a majority Palestinian population).


Last week similar discouragement with regard to the PA bid in the UN came from the Arab League:

Said Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby, "The unilateral appeal to the U.N. Security Council and U.N. General Assembly could be a very dangerous move for the Palestinians during this period and I propose that Abbas reconsider the handling of the matter."

Elaraby is concerned because the PA is not in control in Gaza.


The PA team -- headed by Saeb Erekat -- that is preparing the UN initiative has received an independent legal opinion -- from by Guy Goodwin-Gill, a professor of public international law at Oxford University who has long advised the PA on legal matters -- that the initiative could jeopardize the rights of the Palestinian people.

Since 1975, the PLO has been recognized as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, and in fact has observer status at the UN. The PA is seeking to replace PLO representation at the UN with a state sitting in the UN. But then there would no longer be an agency that "can represent the inalienable rights of the entire Palestinian people." Palestinians "outside the homeland" would no longer have representation and would be disenfranchised with regard to such matters as "right of return."

This comes from the PLO news agency, Ma'an.


Elliott Abrams, Senor Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, asks "Whose Brilliant Idea Was That UN Vote?" He looks in greater depth at the Goodwin-Gill concerns, and at additional legal/diplomatic issues as well.


And we're worried about the UN initiative? I wonder how much sleep Mahmoud Abbas is getting these days.


© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by Arlene Kushner, functioning as an independent journalist. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.

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