Monday, September 26, 2011

"And So?"

Arlene Kushner

On Friday, Mahmoud Abbas, putative president of the PA, spoke at the UN General Assembly.

I won't belabor his words unduly. They were pretty much as we might have expected -- a justification of his intention to unilaterally pursue membership in the UN for a Palestinian state.

"We aspire for and seek a greater and more effective role for the United Nations in working to achieve a just and comprehensive peace in our region that ensures the inalienable, legitimate national rights of the Palestinian people...

"The support of the countries of the world for our endeavor is a victory for truth, freedom, justice, law and international legitimacy, and it provides tremendous support for the peace option and enhances the chances of success of the negotiations...

And so forth... Of course, there was a great deal with regard to Israel's obstinacy and the fact that Israeli policies represent the true obstacle to peace.

"...we did not give up and did not cease our efforts for initiatives and contacts. Over the past year we did not leave a door to be knocked or channel to be tested or path to be taken and we did not ignore any formal or informal party of influence and stature to be addressed...But all of these sincere efforts and endeavors undertaken by international parties were repeatedly wrecked by the positions
of the Israeli government...

"The core issue here is that the Israeli government refuses to commit to terms of reference for the negotiations that are based on international law and United Nations resolutions, and that it frantically continues to intensify building of settlements on the territory of the State of Palestine.

"Settlement activities embody the core of the policy of colonial military occupation of the land of the Palestinian people and all of the brutality of aggression and racial discrimination against our people that this policy entails. This policy, which constitutes a breach of international humanitarian law and United Nations resolutions, is the primary cause for the failure of the peace process...and the burial of the great hopes that arose from the signing of the Declaration of Principles in 1993..."
If you would like to see the full text of Abbas's remarks, they are here:


Just in case there might be someone reading this who ascribes validity to these statements by Abbas, I will state once again that they constitute unmitigated nonsense. Israel is not conducting herself in defiance of international law in any regard whatsoever. Israel does not maintain an "occupation" in Judea and Samaria (never mind a "colonial" occupation, which implies that Israelis are interlopers). Key UN resolutions never forbid settlements and neither did the Oslo Accords.

This talk is replete with lies and misrepresentations. Allow me here to share one misrepresentation that is particularly nauseating and reprehensible:

"When we adopted this program [a 'peace plan' in 1988], we were taking a painful and very difficult step for all of us, especially those including myself who were forced to leave their homes and their towns and villages, carrying only some of our belongings and our grief and our memories and the keys of our homes to the camps of exile and the Diaspora in the 1948 Nakba -- one of the worst operations of uprooting, destruction and removal of a vibrant and cohesive society that had been contributing in a pioneering and leading way [to] the cultural, educational and economic renaissance of the Arab Middle East."

Wow! Sort of takes the breath away, doesn't it? With its absolute audacity, that is.

This is the Palestinian Arab narrative of the "right of return," here painted in neon vivid colors.

He speaks about being one of those who was forced to flee -- he likes to represent himself as a "refugee." But the fact of the matter is that he has written about how he and his family left Sfat voluntarily.

This narrative, at its core, is about the Palestinian Arab claim to all of the land between the river and the sea. That's why he's talking about 1948 and not 1967. The "peace plan" was painful because it would have given the Palestinian Arabs less than the everything they claim they are entitled to.


Herb Keinon, writing in the JPost today, made an observation that is on the mark. Abbas in his speech, says Keinon, was not addressing Israel, trying to convince Israel to negotiate with the PA. He was speaking to Gabon, Nigeria and Bosnia-Herzegovina -- attempting to convince them to vote "yes" in the Security Council on the issue of the state, rather than abstaining.


Following Abba's talk, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu spoke.

I had been looking forward to this speech, which had been promoted as one that was going to tell the truth about Israel's situation, and I accessed it eagerly after Shabbat.

It wasn't a bad speech, in fact it was a good one in many ways and made significant points -- but I think it could have been even better.


Netanyahu had courage. In the halls of the UN, he identified that institution for what it is:

"It's the theater of the absurd. It doesn't only cast Israel as the villain; it often casts real villains in leading roles: Gaddafi's Libya chaired the UN Commission on Human Rights; Saddam's Iraq headed the UN Committee on Disarmament. You might say: That's the past. Well, here's what's happening now -- right now, today, Hezbollah-controlled Lebanon now presides over the UN Security Council. This means, in effect, that a terror organization presides over the body entrusted with guaranteeing the world's security.

"You couldn't make this up.

"So here in the UN, automatic majorities can decide anything. They can decide that the sun rises in the west. But they can also decide -- they have decided -- that the Western Wall in Jerusalem, Judaism's holiest place, is occupied Palestinian territory.

He spoke of the bias with which Israel is treated:

"It's here, year after year, that Israel is unjustly singled out for condemnation. It's singled out for condemnation more often than all the nations of the world combined. Twenty-one out of the 27 General Assembly resolutions condemn Israel -- the one true democracy in the Middle East."


But, he said, "if only for a few minutes, in a hall that for too long has been a place of darkness for my country," he wanted to shine the light of truth:

"The truth is that Israel wants peace. The truth is that I want peace. The truth is that in the Middle East at all times, but especially during these turbulent days, peace must be anchored in security. The truth is that we cannot achieve peace through UN resolutions, but only through direct negotiations between the parties. The truth is that so far the Palestinians have refused to negotiate. The truth is that Israel wants peace with a Palestinian state, but the Palestinians want a state without peace. And the truth is that you shouldn't let that happen."


Saying, " the prime minister of Israel I cannot risk the future of the Jewish state on wishful thinking," Netanyahu went on to catalogue the concessions and offers Israel has made only to be rebuffed. And he described the risks to Israel that are entailed in the additional concessions people would like Israel to make now.

"People say to me constantly: Just make a sweeping offer, and every thing will work out. You there's only one problem with that theory. We've tried it and it hasn't worked."

"Thousands of missiles have already rained down on our cities [from Gaza, which Israel left]. So you might understand that, given all this, Israelis rightly ask: What's to prevent this from happening in the West Bank?...

"...Would any of you bring danger so closer to your cities, to your families? Would you act so recklessly with the lives of your citizens?

"...These critics continue to press Israel to make far-reaching concessions without first assuring Israel's security...

"So in the face of the labels and the libels, Israel must heed better advice. Better a bad press than a good eulogy, and better still would be a fair press whose sense of history extends beyond breakfast, and which recognizes Israel's legitimate security concerns."


He then proceeded to examine what SC Resolution 242 says regarding secure borders, and to outline Israel's legitimate needs, such as stationing of forces in the Jordan Valley long term, protecting Israeli airspace, and more.

Good stuff, legitimate stuff told straight, as far as it goes. The message here is that we are not going to cave in the name of peace and the world had best consider itself forewarned in this regard.


My problem is that only security issues were dealt with for the bulk of this talk. I kept on waiting for a truthful discussion of Israel's legitimate rights in the land, and that was a long time in coming.

Then finally, he spoke about the implications of Abbas's absolute refusal to recognize Israel as the Jewish state. And from this point segued into a discussion of our ancient heritage in the land:

"I often hear them accuse Israel of 'Judaizing' Jerusalem. That's like accusing American of Americanizing Washington or the British of Anglicizing London. You know why we're called Jews? Because we come from Judea."

He described a signet ring he has in his office, with an ancient seal from a Jewish official of 2,700 years ago, found next to the Western Wall. The name on the ring is Netanyahu.

"...That's my last name. My first name, Benjamin dates back 1,000 years earlier to Benjamin --Binyamin -- the son of Jacob, who was also known as Israel. Jacob and his 12 sons roamed these same hills of Judea and Samaria 4,000 years ago, and there's been a continuous Jewish presence in the land ever since.

"...As the prime minister of Israel, I speak for a hundred generations of Jews who were dispersed throughout the lands, who suffered every evil under the sun, but who never gave up hope of restoring their national life in the one and only Jewish state."


All right then!

But then Netanyahu launched into what is apparently perceived as de rigueur: a heartfelt plea to Abbas to come negotiate peace.

"In the last few weeks American officials have put forward ideas to restart peace talks...

"...with all my reservations, I was willing to move forward...

"President Abbas, why don't you join me?"

And then:

"President Abbas, you've dedicated your life to advancing the Palestinian cause. Must this conflict continue for generations, or will be we speak in years from now about how we found a way to end it?"

"...even though my door has always been open to you...If you wish, I'll come to Ramallah. Actually, I have a better suggestion. We've both us flown thousands of miles to New York...So let's meet here in the United Nations today. Who's there to stop us?"


By this point I wanted to tell my prime minister to pack it in. For he had reverted from truth telling to political posturing. He knows full well Abbas won't meet with him. And these pleas from the UN podium are designed to do no more than show the world what a great player Israel is.

He did tell it like it is for one moment again at the end of his speech, when he cited the old Arab saying that you cannot applaud with one hand, and then drew the parallel of being unable to make peace alone. That should have been it. The final statement should have circled back to the beginning. "Ladies and gentlemen. This, then, is my final truth from this podium. There is no evidence that the PA has good will with regard to a true peace. Not only will Israeli concessions not make the difference, it would be suicidal for us to pursue a process with an adversary bent on destroying us."

But that would have been more truth than anyone was prepared to handle. And so, instead, we had:

"President Abbas, I extend my hand -- the hand of Israel -- in peace. I hope that you will grasp that hand. We are both the sons of Abraham."


You can see the text of the full speech by Netanyahu (plus some commentary by Aaron Lerner) here:

And his address on video here:


On Friday, Abbas did deliver a letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, who then passed it on to the Security Council.

The Council declared, as had been expected, that it would take it under advisement, which could take months. The PA then indicated that it "expected" an answer within two weeks. And if not?


I have seen no public indication of the precise wording of that letter or exactly what the PA was requesting. And here is the quandary, the reason why everyone has been so vague with regard to how this will play it.

Legal experts have declared time and again that the UN has never declared a state into existence and is not empowered to do so. The SC only considers requests for membership from states that already exist.

And yet, even though there has been no official announcement of statehood by Abbas, he asks for membership in the UN. It's as Netanyahu said: UN majorities can decide anything. So, we'll have to sit tight as we await the results on this.


The other news with regard to this situation came from the Quartet -- the UN, the US, the EU and Russia -- on Friday.

After a meeting held at the UN by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon; US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton; EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton; and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, a statement was released. It appealed to the parties to overcome the current obstacles and resume direct bilateral Israeli-Palestinian negotiations without delay or preconditions. To help this process along, it put forth a time-line:

Within a month there would be a preparatory meeting between the parties to agree an agenda and method of proceeding in the negotiation.

At that meeting there would be a commitment by both sides that the objective of any negotiation would be to reach an agreement by the end of 2012. The parties would be expected to come forward with comprehensive proposals within three months on territory and security, and to have made substantial progress within six months.

To assist in moving matter along, the Quartet would convene an international conference in Moscow, in consultation with the parties, at the appropriate time.

There would also be a Donors Conference at which the international community would give "full and sustained support to the Palestinian Authority state-building actions developed by Prime Minister Fayyad under the
leadership of President Abbas."


Shades of Sarkozy -- who suggested a timeline the other day. This plan with a limit of 15 months maximum for Israel and the PA to come to terms on all issues is nonsense. A joke.

As might be expected, Abbas has indicated to reporters that any proposal that didn't spell out a priori that the '67 line would be the basis for negotiations and that all settlement construction had to stop would not be dealt with. In the words of PA Foreign Minister Riad Malki, it would be an "incomplete" proposal, you see.

PA officials have hedged to the degree of saying that they'll consider the proposal in coming days, but their final response is expected to be negative.


Netanyahu and other members of the Israeli government, however, have tentatively responded in a positive way. The prime minister said he wants to bring it to the Cabinet ministers before arriving at a final answer.

Can't say this is exactly a thrilling state of affairs. We have to assume, once again, that Netanyahu is betting on the negative response from Abbas. This is his MO -- negotiating that slippery slope. Dangerous stuff.

There is no question in my mind but that Netanyahu is ready to consider agreeing to this precisely because there are no a priori stipulations. Agreeing doesn't tie Israel into any particular negotiating parameters. Except for that nonsense about the timeline. But if Israel held tight in negotiations, even as spelled out in Netanyahu's UN speech, they would go nowhere. That's the final key here: Real red lines that the prime minister would hold tight to.

Given his pronouncements about being ready to start talks any place and any time, as long as there were no conditions, refusing this proposal becomes difficult for him.

It is very likely this will come to nothing. But we're back to waiting to see.

© 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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