Facade of unity shatters on rock of two states
The Ha’aretz report of the revealing Knesset committee meeting 1) is followed by kindly commentary from UPI, United Press International, a leading US press agency, that it is the turmoil in neighbouring states that makes Netanyahu reluctant to negotiate 2); although the agency, 3) also reports Kerry’s reproof when the Israeli government approves four new illegal outposts.
Tzipi Livni, Minister of Justice and Hatnua party leader, April, 2013; attacked this week by Jewish Home who say ‘two states for two people’ is not the government’s position. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
While Minister Livni said at the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that the government’s goal is to restart negotiations, other coalition members insisted a two-state solution was never an official government position.
By Barak Ravid, Ha’aretz
May 21, 2013
A discussion at the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Tuesday regarding the peace process with the Palestinians uncovered just how deep the divisions are on this issue in the government and within the ruling coalition.
While Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who is in charge of talks with the Palestinians, explained why a Palestinian state is in Israel’s interest, Habayit Hayehudi MKs attacked her, saying her statements do not represent the government’s position.
The lengthy discussion, which lasted more than two hours, only underscored the question marks over the Israeli government’s real position vis-a-vis the peace process and the commitment of its members to the principle of two states for two peoples.
The divisive issue came up during the first five minutes of the discussion, when former Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin (Likud) interrupted Livni: “Does the government already have a uniform position regarding Secretary of State John Kerry’s initiative?” he asked. “It seems there are substantial divides inside the government.”
Livni did not avoid the question, saying that “the government’s shared goal is to restart negotiations with the Palestinians. It is no secret that there are differences among government members over the Palestinian issue and what an agreement with them should look like, but the policy is negotiations based on two national states which will bring an end to the conflict.”
MK Orit Strock from Habayit Hayehdi cut Livni off. “Two states for two peoples is not the government’s official position,” she said. “It is not part of the government’s guiding principles, and for good reason. This is perhaps Netanyahu’s position and your position, but it has not been accepted as the government’s position.”
In response, MK Benjamin Ben-Eliezer (Labor) asked Livni during the question period: “I wish you a lot of psychological strength and a lot of faith, but I am very pessimistic … What is worrying me is not a Palestinian state but the existence of the Jewish state. I am in doubt. Time is not on our side,” said Ben-Eliezer.
MK Ronen Hoffman (Yesh Atid) also made a point of responding to Struck. Despite the alliance between the head of Yesh Atid Yair Lapid and Habayit Hayehudi’s Naftali Bennett, Hoffman did not hesitate to attack Habayit Hayehudi. “How is it possible to expect the Palestinians to enter negotiations when part of our government opposes a Palestinian state?” he asked.
Speaking after Hoffman, MK Yoni Chetboun (Habayit Hayehudi) agreed with him: “The government has not even decided that it supports two nations for two peoples,” Chetboun told Livni.
MK Moti Yogev (Habayit Hayehudi) continued the thought, saying, “Two nations for two peoples is disconnected from reality.”
Watching the exchanges as if somewhat amused, MK Omer Bar-Lev (Labor) asked Livni: “Are you a lone wolf in this cabinet or a fig leaf for the government’s true policy on the Palestinian issue?”
Another Labor colleague, MK Nachman Shai, then joined in. “Does the government’s decision to legalize illegal outposts help your efforts or hurt them?” he asked.
Livni answered him quickly, saying, “The political environment where I am now is the result of the decision of your party not to join the coalition,” Livni told Shai.
The cabinet does not have a unified position on freezing construction in the settlements, even if it were to be done as a confidence-building measure toward the Palestinians, Livni told the committee. Despite this, Livni said she believes that construction should be halted in isolated settlements outside the large settlement blocs.
“Construction in the isolated settlements in the West Bank is intended to prevent an agreement with the Palestinians,” she said. “Non-construction in those places has no strategic significance, and I think there are prices we can pay,” she added.
Livni warned the committee that if the negotiations with the Palestinians are not renewed, the Palestinians will return to their unilateral moves in the United Nations and European countries will push diplomatic initiatives of their own and then try to force them on Israel.
“There is no vacuum,” said committee chairman and former Foreign Minister MK Avigdor Lieberman (Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu). “If we do not initiate there will be others who will put plans on the table. Therefore, also those who want only conflict management such as you, need to support restarting the negotiations.”
As time passes, the conditions are becoming worse for Israel, said Livni. “If we reach a dead end and do not succeed in renewing the negotiations there will be serious consequences for us,” she said near the end of the session. “Not reaching an agreement with the Palestinians will lead to the end of Zionism,” said Livni.
Struck, who attacked Livni throughout the entire discussion and interrupted her several times, made the end of the session sound more like a demonstration than a committee meeting.
“This is our land, this is our land,” she said.
Livni, who had already gotten up to leave the room, turned and answered: “This is our land, but the question is if this state will remain ours or not.”
Surrounded by crises in all its Arab neighbors, Israeli leaders are not about to facilitate the birth of a Palestinian state.
By Arnaud de Borchgrave, UPI editor-at-large
May 22, 2013
WASHINGTON — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, on his fourth visit to the Middle East in two months, is chasing the brass ring of an Israeli-Palestinian agreement for the creation of an independent Palestinian state.
Kerry’s single most important foreign policy goal is solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that dates to the 1967 Six Day War, when Israel conquered the West Bank from Jordan and Gaza from Egypt.
The issue, says Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren, is whether “we are going to be able to get the Palestinians back to the table.”
All wish it were that simple.
The issue is whether Israel is willing to give up many of its settlements in the West Bank and allow the emergence of an independent Palestinian state on its eastern border that would be governed — no, ruled — by the hard-line Palestinian Hamas faction that runs Gaza.
Fatah moderates keep losing ground to Hamas all over the West Bank.
A Hamas regime in the West Bank would have the Mediterranean as its next border, or the gradual erosion of the Jewish state.
So rather than give up the West Bank to a Palestinian state, Israel is making sure it becomes ungovernable by Palestinians.
A few days before Kerry’s most recent visit to Israel, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu violated his government’s de facto moratorium on the expansion of Jewish settlements. He legalized retroactively four housing settlements already built without official authorization.
More than half a million Israelis live in 120 illegal settlements, interconnected by a modern road network banned to Palestinians.
Working against Kerry’s self-imposed deadline of the end of U.S. President Barack Obama’s second term is the unfolding geopolitical drama in the rest of the Middle East.
Sharing a border with Israel on the Golan Heights is Syria, now entering its third year of civil war with the death toll climbing rapidly to 90,000. Israel has already bombed a shipment of Iranian arms in Syria as it was making its way to Lebanon’s Hezbollah, on Israel’s northern border.
One-third of Syria’s 22 million people are in dire need of humanitarian assistance; 1.4 million have fled their homes.
Fueling all manner of geopolitical speculation, a Russian naval armada of 11 warships, from the Pacific, Black Sea, Northern and Baltic fleets converged in the eastern Mediterranean. It was Moscow’s first global naval deployment since the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s.
Moscow has long maintained a small naval facility at Tartus in Syria. And its naval deployment is probably designed as a warning not to interfere with Russian arms shipments to Syria and to strengthen Russia’s hand for a Syrian peace conference endorsed by both Moscow and Washington.
Following the U.S. fiasco in Iraq, where al-Qaida guerrillas are based for operations against the Syrian regime, and the grim outlook in Afghanistan, the Obama administration is anxious to stay out of Syria.
Sequestration and the shrinking U.S. defense budget drives are a factor. But equally important, Obama, Kerry and U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel are as one not to get involved on the same side as al-Qaida against the Assad regime.
There was no such restraint on Qatar, now the world’s wealthiest nation with a per capita income of $88,000 for a native population of 300,000. There are more than 1 million foreign workers in the Qatari peninsula, along with a regional U.S. command and the longest airstrip in the Gulf region.
Qatari ruler Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani poured on dollars and weapons to defeat Libya’s late dictator Moammar Gadhafi. He is now bankrolling weapons supplies to defeat Assad.
On Israel’s eastern border sits the only Arab country that is friendly and with normal diplomatic relations, but Jordan, a small desert nation of 6 million, is already overwhelmed by some 530,000 Syrian refugees.
Jordanians blame Syrians for a proliferation of brothels. In a hastily built U.N. refugee camp for 100,000, food vouchers donated by the oil-rich Persian Gulf countries are the envy of nearby poor Jordanians.
Some better-educated Syrians have already taken jobs from Jordanians. With gulf food packages, they opened stores, undercutting local prices.
Even in normal times, Jordan survives only with Saudi and U.S. aid. The majority of the population is Palestinian and the pro-Western monarchy under King Abdullah II is increasingly unpopular. He works hard to mask his English-accented Arabic.
Palestinian-born Queen Rania, criticized for expensive shopping trips to Paris and London, has recast her image with more modest attire.
Israel’s southern border is no cause for reassurance about the future either. Al-Qaida wannabes are roaming around the Sinai and Egypt is under the Muslim Brotherhood’s ultra-religious Islamist management.
Egypt’s peace treaty and diplomatic relations with Israel are shaky, but holding.
Egypt’s economy is shrinking fast and international lending institutions are making loans contingent on major reforms. Further belt-tightening would trigger major unrest, which in the new fundamentalist Egypt are invariably bloody.
Deteriorating conditions in all Israel’s Arab neighbors have convinced Netanyahu this is no time to be negotiating the end of its occupation of the West Bank.
May 21, 2013
JERUSALEM — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry lodged a protest over Israel’s decision to legalize four West Bank outposts, officials said.
In a telephone call to Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren, Kerry demanded an explanation and issued a protest, Haaretz reported Tuesday.
An unnamed senior Israeli official told the newspaper that Kerry said the move would undermine efforts to jump-start peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. He asked the Israeli government to delay the move or rethink its decision.
President Obama introduces Secretary of State John Kerry to Israel’s President Shimon Peres during a bilateral meeting in Jerusalem, March 20, 2013. Photo by Jason Reed/Reuters
Kerry will make his fourth visit to Israel at the end of the week and is to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem Thursday and with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah Friday.
United Press International reported the government’s plans to legalize the outposts last Thursday. A High Court of Justice document revealed plans to legalize four West Bank outposts in response to a petition filed by Peace Now.
The group, which monitors settlement activity in the West Bank, demanded the government demolish six illegal outposts. The document said the four outposts the government hopes to authorize were on state land or land purchased from Palestinians.
The Israeli Defense Ministry must approve the settlements.
The four outposts are Givat Asaf near Beit El, Mitzpe Lachish in the southern Hebron Hills, Ma’aleh Rehavam in Gush Etzion and Givat Haroeh near the settlement of Eli.