Friday, July 02, 2010

"Listen with Care"

Arlene Kushner

In my last posting, I referred to PA president Mahmoud Abbas wearing his "moderate" suit. Well, he's still wearing it. Abbas, reaching out to the Israeli public, is currently engaged in what Herb Keinon of the JPost refers to as a "charm offensive."

I caution you to be on your guard with regard to the sincerity of his words. They are no more than politically expedient surface, devoid of depth that will translate into action. In a briefing for Hebrew media given in Ramallah on Tuesday night, Abbas said he thinks of Netanyahu as a partner for negotiations: "My first and last partner is the Israeli government, that is the government that was elected and the one we will work with."

Asked about his (Holocaust-denying) doctoral thesis, "The Secret Connection Between the Nazis and the Leaders of the Zionist Movement," he responded, "You say that six million were killed, I don't deny it."


At the press briefing, Abbas declared himself ready for face to face negotiations when Netanyahu provides "answers" with regard to borders and security. Explaining his position, he said, "Answers like these are necessary to see if we are speaking the same language, and then it will be possible to continue. It is preferable that direct talks will not explode after 10 minutes, and then who knows when we will be able to renew negotiations again...Is there an agreement to discuss the border and security issues? We don't know."

This may provide a semblance of reasonableness, but on examination it is not reasonable at all. He is not insisting that he needs to know if Israel will discuss borders and security should the two parties come face to face. He, rather, wants to know if Israel will, up front, agree to his preconditions.

He has made it clear that the PA call is for a Palestinian state along the '67 border (sic). So "discussing" this means drawing the exact line, with alternations in the line based on a one to one ratio. That is, for every square kilometer of land Israel kept past the Green Line the PA would get an equivalent area inside Green Line Israel. That is what would need to be discussed.

Similarly with the issue of security: Netanyahu has spoken about the need to station Israeli troops on the eastern border of a future Palestinian state. Abbas says nothing doing -- this is not what's up for discussion. Rather, what could be discussed is which international party, such as UNIFIL (try to control your laughter), might be stationed there to provide Israel with security.

Abbas further said he would not compromise on the issue of Jerusalem, i.e., eastern Jerusalem as their capital.


It should be noted that in broad terms what Abbas is demanding is an agreement by Netanyahu to go back to the place where negotiations with Olmert left off. Netanyahu made it clear from the beginning that he would not do this. As nothing was signed, we have no obligation to do so. Not only is Netanyahu, for all his faults, not Olmert (praise Heaven), the current government would not sit still for this, nor would the populace of this nation.

Netanyahu -- with his eye undoubtedly on the upcoming visit with Obama -- is expressing great eagerness for face to face talks. But without preconditions.

Stay tuned.


Khaled Abu Toameh is a journalist whom I cite often, because I rely on the solidness of his research and his professional integrity. An Israeli citizen, he is an Arabic-speaking Muslim who identifies as Palestinian -- he can go places I cannot and secure information directly that I cannot.

Here I would like to share with you what he has to say about the peace talks and questions Washington should be asking:

"Even if Israel and the Palestinian Authority were to reach a peace agreement sometime in the near future, it is certain that the Palestinian Authority would not be able to implement it or sell it to a majority of Palestinians...

"Frankly, there is no way that Palestinian Premier Mahmoud Abbas could accept anything less than what his predecessor, Yasser Arafat, rejected at the botched Camp David summit in the summer of 2000. Back then, Arafat refused to sign a document pledging to 'end the conflict' with Israel unless he got 100% of his demands.

"In addition, there are serious doubts as to whether Abbas would be able to persuade a majority of Palestinians living in refugee camps in the Arab world to accept any peace agreement with Israel that did not include the 'right of return' to their original villages in pre-1948 Israel.

"...Further, Abbas could not sign any deal that excluded the Gaza Strip; he would then be accused of 'solidifying' the split between the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

"Moreover, although the Palestinian Authority has said it would consider land swap, apparently many Palestinians are opposed to it.

"...Washington needs to ask...Do Abbas and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad have enough credibility and support among Palestinians to be able to sell to a majority of them a peace deal with Israel?

"Abbas and the Palestinian Authority cannot go to the Gaza strip; they have limited control over the West Bank, and are still lacking in credibility, at least as far as many Palestinians are concerned.

"...Just recently Hamas declared that Abbas would not be allowed to enter the Gaza Strip unless he receives permission from its government. This means that when and if Abbas strikes a deal with Israel, he would not even be able to travel to the Gaza Strip to implement it or try to sell it to the Palestinians living there.

"Even though Abbas lives and works in the West Bank, many Palestinians have long been questioning whether he really has full control over the area. Moreover, it remains to be seen whether he and Fayyad, enjoy the support of a majority of Palestinians in the West Bank.

"...So what is the point in launching 'proximity talks' between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority while ignoring the fact that the partner in Ramallah would not be able to deliver his side of an agreement?

"Also, why do the Americans and the Europeans continue to turn a blind eye to the fact that the Palestinians already have two states – one in the Gaza Strip under Hamas and the second in the West Bank under Fatah?

"...The only way to move forward with any peace process is by insisting that the Palestinians first get their act together and end the infighting between the two Palestinian states..."

"Proximity Talks: Questions for Washington"


This, my friends, should be sent to every elected representative in Congress. Ask them why the government is investing time and prestige in a process that is doomed to fail?

For your Congresspersons:

For your Senators:


Back in the winter, at the Jerusalem Conference, Netanyahu advisor Ron Dermer spoke; I then shared a line of thinking he had advanced that I thought had considerable validity: Many progressives or centrist-left people in the US, he said, ardently support the Palestinian Authority, while ignoring, or remaining oblivious to, the fact that the Palestinian Arab culture embraces values that are the antithesis of what they -- the progressives, etc. -- support: women's rights, rights for homosexuals, etc.

What is required, he suggested, is a PR campaign that exposes the values of the Palestinian Arab culture, and promotes the liberal approach of Israel with regard to these issues. This, he thought, would turn around at least some progressives, etc. with regard to their attitudes towards Israel.

Now it turns out that Wall Street Journal foreign affairs columnist (and former editor of the JPost) Bret Stephens is thinking along the same lines. I share here a video in which he explains the approach he uses when speaking to groups that tend to be supportive of the Palestinians.

The advantage of Stephen's approach is that it can be activated by individuals and does not depend on a major PR campaign. Many of us may find that his technique is useful and that it yields positive results. We need every approach that is available to us in these difficult times:

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