Parsing the Latest Peace Process “Breakthrough”

From today’s New York Times:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has agreed to push his cabinet to freeze most construction on settlements in the West Bank for 90 days to break an impasse in peace negotiations with the Palestinians, an official briefed on talks between the United States and Israel said Saturday evening.

In return, the Obama administration has offered Israel a package of security incentives and fighter jets worth $3 billion that would be contingent on the signing of a peace agreement, the official said. The United States would also block any moves in the United Nations Security Council that would try to shape a final peace agreement.

The quid pro quo was hashed out by Mr. Netanyahu and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in seven and a half hours of talks in New York on Thursday.

Let’s parse this now:

According to Peace Now’s most recent research, in six short weeks, Israel has all but made up for the construction it lost during the ten month freeze. So that means we’re back to square one. And since this new ninety day freeze is “nonrenewable,” this latest breakthrough is essentially meaningless (except perhaps as a face-saving maneuver on for the Obama administration).

We’re also told that this new freeze would not include East Jerusalem, which was likewise never a part of the last freeze – when home demolitions, evictions of Palestinians, and plans for new Jewish construction continued apace.

(I personally find American Jewry’s deafening silence over what is going on in East Jerusalem to be beyond egregious. Can’t find it in your heart to address the humanitarian implications? Fine. But if you are at all a proponent of the two state solution, you should at least be concerned that Israel’s actions have now made the prospects for a shared capital in Jerusalem all but impossible).

By any other name, this latest diplomatic “breakthrough” is nothing but a fig leaf.  Does anyone really believe that anything substantive will be accomplished during a ninety day settlement (non) freeze? When will our community find the courage to name these dangerously empty gestures for what they really and truly are?


14 Comments on “Parsing the Latest Peace Process “Breakthrough””

  1. Cindy Sigal says:

    I agree completely! It is a relief to hear a Rabbi take your position.

    ~Cindy Sigal

  2. Beth Harris says:

    I totally agree!

  3. Ken Bob says:

    Two quick comments:

    I certainly agree that not enough Jewish organzations have spoken out on the issue of Jerusalem. However, ” deafening silence”is not true since there are organizations like Ameinu who regularly speak out on Jerusalem.In addition, Ameinu has actually raised much needed funds for Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity. It would be great if you used your blog and networkto help these activists on the ground.
    Secondly, I would suggest a little more of a “wait and see” attitude. The past suggests that all of your pessimism and cynicism is warranted, but IF (and it is a big if) the next three months are used to establish future borders, that would be a huge breakthrough on the road to a two-state solution. Instead of immediately attacking the Obama adminstration and the Israeli government, I would urge all of us to focus on the importance of these next three months, if indeed negotiations resume.

  4. Mike Okrent says:

    I personally find it amazing that anyone could call this a breakthrough or view it as a step forward. It is almost like celebrating when a thief has finished robbing one neighborhood and then moves onto another – do we reward and celebrate that he won’t be back to the first neighborhood for a few months.

    I cannot read the minds of President Obama and Secretary Clinton, but could they really believe this narreshkeit. How can they sleep at night?

  5. Richard Kahn says:

    Do you want peace talks to happen? If so, why do you feel it necessary to convince people that Netanyahu’s offer isn’t sufficient to make them happen? It really bothers me that someone associated with “Jewish Voices for Peace,” “Peace Now,” “a pro-Israel, pro-peace lobby” is not really for peace. If you want peace now, you should want Abbas to sit down with no preconditions. Talking is better than not talking.

    Also, you are very conveniently ignoring the political situation in Israel. Bibi is not in the best place, especially after his first ten-month settlement freeze was ignored by Abbas until the last day. In order to convince his ministers to approve another one, these conditions may be necessary.

    Bibi doesn’t view East Jerusalem as a settlement. (Only the most radical leftists refer to Ramot residents as settlers. And many leftists live in Ramot, or Gilo, or Har Homa, or any of the neighborhoods that the BBC refers to as “settlements.”) You think that not agreeing to give up Jerusalem renders peace talks useless. I think that not agreeing to give up the Palestinian right of return renders peace talks useless. But talking is better than not talking. Peace now.

    “When will our community find the courage to name these dangerously empty gestures for what they really and truly are?”
    Did you every stop to consider that “our community” isn’t cowardly, but that they just disagree with you?

    • Talking is not always better than not talking. The most obvious proof of that is the fact that peace talks have been occurring since 1991 and things have only gotten worse during that time. Israel’s settlement regime in the West Bank has more than doubled, Palestinian lands have been expropriated and carved up into cantons, 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza are living under siege, and the prospects for a viable, contiguous Palestinian state are now more remote than ever.

      Talking is only of use if it occurs under fair and equitable circumstances – and this has never been the case during the so-called “peace process.” What we have here is an occupier “talking” to the occupied, while the party ostensibly charged with brokering these talks forges a “special relationship” with the occupier.

      Central to this relationship is the US’s willingness to offer massive amounts of unconditional aid to Israel – and to look the other way when Israel behaves in ways which our government believes are counter to the cause of peace (i.e. it’s unchecked settlement of the territories that are ostensibly supposed to be part of negotiations.)

      When peace talks of this sort are allowed to go on, they are worse than merely ineffectual – they are actually counter to the cause of peace because they create the illusion of progress while facts on the ground are allowed to deteriorate with impunity.

      To conduct talks, as you say, “without preconditions,” only compounds the problem. This kind of approach assumes talks between two relatively equal parties. But when the power dynamic is so radically unbalanced as they are here, there will need to be some effort made to level the playing field for the talks to succeed.

      The most obvious example of this, of course, is a total settlement freeze of all disputed territory in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. And yes, this includes places such as Ramot, Gilo and Har Homa. This is how to negotiate seriously and in good faith. The political persuasion of those who live in these neighborhoods is not germane to the issue.

      I’m struck that you speak of these “neighborhoods” so blithely as if they are already ipso facto part of Israel. But let’s take Har Homa, for instance. Before the peace talks commenced, in fact, Har Homa was nothing but empty land. No Israelis lived there and it was entirely contiguous with Palestinian areas. Anybody drawing a logical border would have placed this area on the Palestinian side.

      Today of course, Har Homa is considered part of Greater Jerusalem and part of an area that “everybody knows” will be part of the Jewish state in a final settlement. This has been Israel’s consistent approach during the peace process: keep “talking,” while continuing to create facts in disputed territories. Again, this does not constitute good faith negotiations.

      Of course the more insidious aspect of Israel’s policies in East Jerusalem involve the evictions and home demolitions it carries out in Palestinian neighborhoods themselves. Here it uses legal loopholes to literally drive residents from their own homes (or destroy them entirely) for no other reason than they are not Jewish.

      I believe these actions represent serious, egregious violations of human rights and yes, I do grieve that more in our community are not speaking out against them. I realize that there are those who might “disagree” with me – but I’ve yet to hear any defense of these actions other than “these people don’t have permits” (the Jerusalem municipality makes it virtually impossible for Arab residents to get permits) or “Jerusalem is the undivided capital of the Jewish state.”

      If anyone in our community has no problem with what Israel is doing in the Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, I’m eager to hear their reasoning.

      • Richard Kahn says:

        I just reread your original post and now understand what you meant when you started ranting about East Jerusalem, as the silence (overstated, in my opinion) of the American Jewish community with regards to home eviction in East Jerusalem was addressed in the op. Sorry about that. I suspect that those community members who are not willing to come out against house evictions in Sheikh Jarrah are either misinformed about the situation or are just wary about criticizing Israel so as to be consistent. I guess you could call that cowardice, although you could just as easily call it good public policy. However, with regards to Bibi, I think you’re too eager to assume that people have no good reason for disagreeing with you.

  6. Another interesting piece of this, as long as we are parsing, is that the $3 billion in arms sales for these weapons of death we are selling Israel will come back to the U.S. — this is a sale, remember. So we continue to feather the nest of our military contractors (aka the folks the U.S. Congress works for) as part of this abominable charade of a “peace process.” It’s a war process. It’s complicity with the continuing construction of Apartheid in our time. Way to go, Hillary. Kudos, Barack. So much for the Executive branch running foreign policy. It’s the Masters of War, same as it ever was.

  7. Y. Ben-David says:

    I have no problem with what Israeli is doing in east Jerusalem. I interpret Obama’s supposed willingness to leave Jerusalem outside the freeze as an indication that the Americans have now joined people like Yossi Beilin, Aaron David Miller and others from “peace-processes mafia” in realizing that the Palestinians are not capable of signing a peace agreement with Israel and so now the shift is towards a “long-term interim” agreement (or a “Palestinian state with temporary borders”). This would mean a partial Israeli withdrawal from areas in the West Bank and the creation of a supposedly “independent Palestinian state” in the evacuated areas, but not including Jerusalem. I have read that those whom I mentioned as supporting this feel that there are two major roadblocks to a final peace agreement. There are Jerusalem and the refugees.
    Regarding Jerusalem, the official line of all the “Leftist” parties in Israel (Labor, Kadima, MERETZ) is that Jerusalem must be divided. Not only would the Arab areas be given up, as indicated in the “Clinton Parameters”, but Olmert also offered to give up the Temple Mount, Western Wall, Mount of Olives and Jewish Quarter of the Old City. Yes, it would not be given directly to the Palestinians, there would be a nominal “neutral” multi-national body that would be in charge, but in effect, it would be under Palestinian rule. The Palestinains would control Jewish access to these areas.
    What would this division of the city mean? It would mean the destruction of the city,even if the euphemism of “sharing the city” instead of “dividing the city” is employed. The seam lines between the Jewish and Arab areas would become a shooting gallery. Anti-sniper walls, barbed wire and possibly mine fields would be put back, just like the situation before 1967. Jews attempting to visit the Western Wall and other holy places would come under attack. Sure, the agreement setting up this situation would “guarantee” Jewish access, but this was the case with the 1949 Jordanian-Israeli Armistice…it also “guaranteed” Jewish access but this was never honored (“what, you really mean to go to war for something minor like this”?). The multi-national body would have to meet and agree about what to do to protect the Jews. Since among the members of this body are the Palestinians and Saudis, I seriously doubt they woud do much to solve this problem.
    The Arabs had their chance to run the city. They blew it. Both halves of divided Jerusalem were filthy, decaying, dying enclaves that most people of both countries didn’t want to live in. Today, in spite of the problems, it is a thriving city and the Arabs share in it. (Yes, more can be done to improve conditions in the eastern part of the city, but since the Arabs refuse to exercise their right to vote for representation on the city council, they are voluntarily giving up their voice in the city).
    If the city is redivided, radical Islamic groups would point out that if the Jews are willing to give up their holiest places, then Israel is in a terminal, downward spiral, and more and more pressure should be applied to get the Jews, first out of west Jerusalem, and ultimately out of Tel Aviv. Just as the Israeli flight from southern Lebanon brought on the strengthening of HIZBULLAH and the massive suicide bombing terror war in Israel, and the flight from Gush Katif and the Gaza Strip brought HAMAS to power and two more wars within two years (Lebanon II and “Cast Lead”), an Israeli abandonment of its holiest city would embolden radical Islamic forces around the world. The Christian churches in Jerusalem would come under pressure as well. The fact is the Arabs of east Jerusalem do not want to live under Palestinian rule (“progressive” Meron Benveniste confirms this) so if Israeli pulled out of east Jerusalem, Arabs from there would flee to west Jerusalem (they have the right to do this since they have Israeli residency status) and Jews would end up fleeing the city entirely.

    I believe the Israeli Left (Labor-Kadima-MERETZ) now understand this and now realize the city can not be divided, no matter what their official position is.
    As I said, the Arabs had their chance to run the city. They blew it and no one in Israel wants a return to the pre-67 situation. If the Arabs of east Jerusalem have to live as a minority, well, that’s the way it is. They are better off than the rest of the Palestinians (and much of the rest of the non-oil producing Arab world) and they know it.
    I know this is hard for some progressive Jews to understand, but Jerusalem means at LOT to most Jews and most Israelis. If you don’t understand this, read the TANACH (Bible), read the Siddur (daily prayer book). These Jews will not volunatarily agree to give up the city.

    A final note-regarding Sheikh Jarrah…….I have no problem with the supposed “asymmetry” of Jews being able to reacquire Jewish property that was forcibly abandoned due to Arab-initiated violence in the pre-state period and Arab refugees not being able to get their property abandoned in the 1948 war. THEY started the war and announced that in the event of their victory, there would be a genocide of the Jewish population. Thank G-d it didn’t happen. The Sheikh Jarrah people were offered the right to remain in the houses and just pay rent, but they refused. If they are out on the street, that was their decision.

    • Muhannad says:

      How could anybody refuse to pay rent to stay in own home. What in the world is wrong with the” Arabs”?
      Another sad post by you, YBD, I really pray for you my brother.

  8. Seth Morrison says:

    I fully agree with Brant that this is no breakthrough. Rather than repeat what he has said so well I want to point out is that all Bibi agreed to was to “push his cabinet…”. A cabinet with a Foreign Minister who says that peace is 10 years away and who supports loyalty oaths and other discriminatory programs. Then there is the Israeli version of the Religious Right who only care about enriching themselves and protecting their version of a theocracy.

    If Bibi was truly serious about negotiations he would dissolve his current government and form a national unity government with Tsipi Livni as Foreign Minister.

  9. Y. Ben-David says:

    Seth-
    Why on earth do you think things would be different if Tzippi was Foreign Minister, or even if she was Prime Minister? If you would just recall a little while back, there was a Left-wing gov’t under Kadima and Labor, Olmert offered the Palestinians the Western Wall, Jewish Quarter of the Old City and all the other Jewish holy places over the pre-67 lines, but Abbas TURNED THE OFFER DOWN. Why do you assume a Left wing gov’t today would be any more able to make “peace” than the current “right-wing” gov’t which instituted a unilateral settlement freeze, something no “peace gov’t” had ever done before? Oh, I forgot, the previous Leftist, “peace gov’t” did bring about two bloody wars, though.

  10. Seth Morrison says:

    Frankly I am not sure that things will be different with a unity government, but I am not convinced that Netanyahu and Lieberman are sincere in their actions. Let’s not forget that Netanyahu has still not dismantled the “outposts”, has ignored frequent violations of the so called freeze and still persists in serious limitations on essential items for Gaza.

    Sure, we can all look back trying to demonize the Palestinians or the Israelis. From my perspective neither has done enough for peace.

  11. Y. Ben-David says:

    Seth-
    All the defects you attribute to Netanyahu’s gov’t – including blockading Gaza, and not removing the supposedly “illegal” outposts, in addition to carrying out building in the settlements and east Jerusalem apply to the previous “peace-oriented” Labor-Kadima gov’t as well. So I am still waiting to know why it will be better for the ‘peace-camp’ if they are in power again.


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