Thursday, September 16, 2010

"Putting on a Happy Face"

Arlene Kushner

That's what Secretary of State Clinton is doing while in Jerusalem for negotiations. She met today with President Shimon Peres, and afterward said, "They are getting down to business. They have begun to grapple with the core issues that can only be resolved through face to face negotiations." Aaron Lerner was especially astute in paying attention to what Clinton said:

"The status quo," she declared, is unsustainable." That's her standard line, which we've heard more times than we care to count. But this time she added something;

"Now that doesn't mean that it can't be sustained for a year or a decade or two or three [but...]."

Opines Lerner, If we can hold on the way we're going until 2040, "there is certainly more than enough time available for Israel's leaders to come up with solutions that don't involve the creation of a potentially life threatening Palestinian state in Israel's very heart."


If my tone is slightly irreverent here, it's because a touch of humor helps us all to cope. And because the situation merits no better.

Analyst Martin Sherman also takes a deeply irreverent view of the current situation, but he's not laughing:

"In a different universe the recent events regarding the rekindling of the 'peace process' could well be the stuff of a macabre comedy, couched and conveyed in deliberately overstated caricature.

"But sadly in this universe they portend tragedy.

"It has been an almost inconceivable spectacle, beginning with the Israeli prime minister traveling to Washington to express his resolve and commitment to implement a policy that he has repeatedly repudiated – and ridiculed - for over a decade and a half...

"Yet the absurdity does not end here. In the Alice-in-Wonderland world of Middle East politics things get 'curiouser and curiouser.'

"No less astounding than Netanyahu's acquiescence to discuss the implementation of the very policy he correctly predicted would fail, is the identity of the 'partner' with whom he assented to do so. The Palestinian negotiation team is led by Mahmoud Abbas, someone who has neither the formal legality (since his terms of office has expired) nor the political legitimacy (since his authority in not recognized by a sizeable segment of the electorate) to do so...

"But perhaps the most macabre aspect of this preposterous tragic-comic spectacle is that it the only conceivable reason for Israel to participate in it at all, is to mollify a floundering US Administration desperate for some indication – any indication - of success to boost its flagging popularity.",7340,L-3953028,00.html

Yesterday I referred to the fact that PA leaders involved in the discussions at Sharm el-Sheikh were talking. Today Al-Hayat (London) reports (via the Arabs) that the Israelis said yesterday that there would be no continuation of the moratorium. The fact that Al-Hayat says so does not make it so. There may be grandstanding here, or an attempt to influence the situation. For this information was followed by a quote from negotiator Nabil Shaath, who said the PA delegation would walk if the moratorium was not extended.

He then reportedly added: "No one asked the Palestinian side to change its mind on the construction in settlements."


On the face of it, I would not believe this. For it's clear that there has to be pressure from the US on Abbas to accept less than a full freeze without walking -- even if no statements are made publicly about this by the Americans, the way statements are made "suggesting" we must continue the freeze.

And sure enough, Khaled Abu Toameh wrote about this in today's JPost :

"In recent days, for all the rhetoric, there have been signs that Palestinian Authority leaders seem to realize that construction in the settlements and Jerusalem will resume in one way or another.

"According to informed sources in Ramallah, the PA leadership has no choice but to accept a partial freeze -- one where Israel would continue to build quietly while the PA turns a blind eye."

Abu Toameh reminds us that this situation, with regard to PA intransigence on building, is likely the result of Obama's policies, for in the beginning he was insisting that all building had to stop. The Palestinians then picked up on this because they could not allow the president to be "more Palestinian than the Palestinians." When Obama moderated his stand on this issue, they were left holding the bag, so to speak.


But now, there will be a price for the Palestinians if they back down: Abbas has been telling his people that he will walk if the freeze is not extended. If he doesn't walk, his already weak credibility in the street will be further damaged. Abu Toameh doesn't say so explicitly now, but the corollary is that, should Abbas come to some agreement with Israel, he would not have the capacity to sell it to his people. What is more, Hamas -- which will charge the PA leaders with having sold out -- will have been strengthened.

This is a point of more than passing importance. Attention must be paid to the dynamics of the society that is being dealt with. The Americans, however, are frequently "tone deaf" with regard to repercussions as they attempt to orchestrate a situation in the Middle East. I've seen it time and again.


Another, and perhaps related, point needs to be made here. The talks are being referred to as "direct" or "face to face," but in many ways the Americans are all too present and each side is actually talking to/negotiating with them instead.

This sort of meddling is ultimately not successful. Unless the two parties are ready and able to sit down together and come to mutual conclusions, all of the hand-holding and prodding by the US will come to naught. The conflict here cannot be "fixed" by a third outside party.


I am fascinated, I confess, by the fact that I picked up information yesterday about a possible trip to the US by Netanyahu right after Yom Kippur, but that today it is not being discussed or even alluded to in the news or by analysts. It's as if this information was released into the outer atmosphere.

We have yet to see if this really happens. Is the silence an indication that this is not being taken seriously? Or what?

We know next to nothing -- not whether he was summoned or asked to go. Actually, we don't even know whether this involves the direct negotiations (the first intuitive assumption -- and the one I made yesterday) or something else such as Iran.


You have read here previously about a law being introduced -- it now has been approved by the Knesset Law Committee and has passed its first reading -- that would require transparency of international funding sources for Israeli NGOs. It was drafted because of concern that European governments or government agencies were funding specific NGOs -- ostensibly "human rights" NGOs -- that have an agenda that works against Israel's best interests.

I spoke above about American meddling. But here we have a different, less overt, sort coming out of Europe. So egregious is this meddling that NGOs that are funded "discreetly" by foreign governments sometimes petition the High Court on issues. We're talking, of course, about pro-Arab NGOs that petition the court, for example, to stop specific building in Judea and Samaria. But what we decide to do or not do in this regard should not be influenced by foreign interests. As well, and perhaps even more significantly, European support goes to NGOs -- such as BTselem and Adalah-- that participate actively in the delegitimization of Israel.

Note: "human rights" organizations has become a code word for those organizations eager to charge Israel in international forums with every human rights violation possible. The problem is that they have international credibility because they identify as standing for the rights of individuals.

While the original version of the bill was considered by some to be too "stringent," I thought it was great. At any rate, it was watered down during negotiations within the Knesset and is now proceeding through the legal process.


Seems to me that what we do in this respect is purely our business. But that's not what the European Parliament thought. This past week, incredibly, they actually held a plenary debate about this bill (although they erroneously debated with regard to the original, more stringent version).

This, of course, is a clear indication of how important this bill is.

According to Asher Fredman, who is Knesset liaison at NGO Monitor, writing in the JPost :

"About two-thirds of the MEPs who participated in the debate adopted a paternalistic attitude, arguing...that the Israeli political and legal system is unable or unwilling to uphold democracy and human rights. In their view, only careful EU oversight and intervention can ensure that Israel remains on the proper course."

Cute, no?

Yesterday, Gerald Steinberg, who heads NGO Monitor, told the JPost that the session "was led by a small group of MEPs who work closely with the NGOs involved in the demonization of Israel."

What was encouraging, he said, was that there were also MEPs "who spoke out against this bias and highlighted the real problem -- the EU's violation of its own transparency norms in funding radical NGO advocacy under the false banners of 'partners for peace' and promoting democracy."

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