Finding the fault lines
Israelis holding pictures of their loved ones, killed by Palestinians, protest against the release of 104 prisoners. The release was a precondition for the talks. Photo by AFP/Getty
The too common style of ‘evenhandedly’ blaming both sides is casuistry and should be labelled as such
Editorial, The Guardian
January 01, 2014
The secret of perpetual motion eludes scientists but sometimes seems close to being grasped by those involved in the so-called Israeli-Palestinian peace process. That process has too often been about avoiding peace rather than about achieving it. Movement with no other purpose except to suggest something useful is being done mocks the Palestinians, who have been waiting for more than a generation for a measure of justice.
It is important that the responsibility for this failure is assigned correctly, with the greatest part belonging to Israel, the next largest share to the United States and only the smallest portion to the Palestinians. They have been difficult and sometimes slippery negotiators, and they may – it is arguable – have missed some serious opportunities in the past. But there are two points that must always be borne in mind with the Palestinians: they are the aggrieved party; and they are by far the weakest party.
The too common style of “evenhandedly” blaming both sides is casuistry and should be labelled as such. John Kerry, the US secretary of state, clearly set out to change things after he took over. He has been industrious. His visit to Jerusalem this week is his 10th in a year and his third in a month. There is talk of a “framework agreement” that could come soon. A 160-strong US team headed by a marine general has been working on the security requirements of Israel and Palestine.
The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, has spoken of taking any proposals to the Arab League, perhaps a sign he thinks there may be some, and knows that if there are, he would need international support. The Israeli right, meanwhile, vents its anger by such moves as voting for the annexation of land along the border of the West Bank with Israel. Maybe they, too, think that something is going on.
Yet pessimism must remain the default position. Mr Kerry has made a new start but he has made it with advisers like Martin Indyk, who lean toward the Israeli view and have been associated with failure in the past.
He has made it at a time when the Israeli and the Palestinian publics are disillusioned and uninterested, with Israelis, in particular, feeling even more isolated in a region racked by war and political upheaval than they normally do. And he has made it at a time when the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, no enthusiast for a Palestinian settlement anyway, both remains reluctant and has some fresh leverage over his American allies.
The Israelis have created such a ruckus over the tentative American rapprochement with Iran that they may have convinced the Americans that they should consult Israeli interests with special care on other matters. Not that they don’t do that in any case.
January 06, 2014
I would like to take issue with your editorial (2 January) about the Israel/Palestine peace process. It is untrue to say either that the Palestinians are the aggrieved party or that Israel bears the major responsibility for making peace.
The truth is that the Palestinians could have had their own state at any time in the past 67 years. They were offered one in 1947 and refused, preferring to make war on Israel. Indeed, one of their key arguments in this rejection (apart of course from their refusal to countenance any autonomous Jewish presence in Palestine) was their rejection of the very concept of Palestinian peoplehood, arguing that this notion was merely a Zionist plot to divide the Arab peoples.
When they did finally (for opportunistic reasons) decide in the 1960s that there was indeed a Palestinian people, they adopted a rejectionist, annihilationist policy, which demanded the destruction of Israel as an independent country.
In recent years they have turned down generous offers of statehood (in 2002 and 2008).
The heart of the conflict is Palestinian refusal to recognise the legitimacy of Israel, and to persist in using any means at their disposal (war, terrorism or political) to demonise and destroy it.
When the Palestinians finally recognise the legitimacy of Israel alongside their own, peace will follow. Until then, Israeli concessions will merely encourage the Palestinian intransigence.
• It is hard to understand how you conclude that Israel will be the party most to blame should the peace process fail. Israel has released well over a hundred Palestinian prisoners – many guilty of the murder or attempted murder of Israeli civilians – as part of an agreement to simply bring the Palestinians to the negotiating table. This was not easy for Israel to do and will have cost Israeli leaders much political capital at home. What steps have the Palestinians taken in return? I can’t think of any apart from reluctantly turning up at the negotiations.
In the meantime, almost daily attacks on Israeli civilians occur, released murderers are hailed by Palestinian leaders as heroes, and hatred against Jews is still taught in schools. Would it be too much to expect Mr Abbas to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state?
For a peace process to exist – never mind succeed – both parties must be willing to show that they are serious in pursuit of peace. I see only the Israelis showing any willing at all.
• Peace negotiations between Arabs and Israelis have always been extremely difficult and delicate. Often they failed, but there were also instances of success in the past. The latest round of Palestinian-Israeli peace talks has not achieved success so far; but neither did it fail. Yet the Guardian is already concerned with apportioning blame, specifically with blaming Israel for a failure that has yet to happen. And what if the negotiations succeed, despite the Guardian’s pessimism? Will the newspaper then bestow all the credit on the Jewish state?
• ”Awaiting justice” could summarise your excellent editorial squarely laying responsibility for failure at Israeli and American doors. For all the Palestinian leadership’s shortcomings, the onus is without doubt on the occupier, not the occupied. Israelis cannot be blind to the cause of their growing isolation given the extent of Israel’s disrespect, sadly condoned by the US, for international law.
As Kerry arrives in the Middle East, an Israeli ministerial committee approves a Knesset bill allowing Israel to annex the Jordan Valley and, going by history, Israel will announce this week or next plans to proceed with about 1,400 new housing units on Palestinian land. Unless the US, with the UN and EU, promptly enforces the illegality of the occupation, there is no chance of a just and durable peace.
Equity & Peace
• Jonathan Freedland (Ariel Sharon’s final mission might well have been peace, 3 January) appears to overlook Sharon’s real intentions, by implying that Sharon’s policy of so-called disengagement from Gaza, in 2005, might have been his desire for peace. The real intents of that so-called withdrawal are clearly outlined in the statement by his chief adviser, Dov Weisglass, who explained the real intentions of Sharon in an interview in Haaretz in October 2004, reported as follows by the New York Times: “Weisglass assures us that given the conditions Sharon attached to a theoretical resumption of a peace process, ‘Palestinians would have to turn into Finns’ before this could happen. ‘Effectively, this whole package called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed indefinitely from our agenda,’ he said … he explains that the proposed Gaza disengagement ‘is actually formaldehyde. It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so there will not be a political process with the Palestinians’.”
Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
• I have yet to read Ari Shavit’s My Promised Land, praised by Jonathan Freedland, but, as one of the Bentwich clan (Shavit is the son of one of my surviving first cousins) might I comment that he is not the first prominent “WASP” (White Ashkenazi Supporter of Peace) in our family. He is preceded by the oldest son of Herbert Bentwich. Norman Bentwich, like his father a lawyer, was attorney general in Mandatory Palestine, a founder of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and professor of international relations there. He was a radically minded Zionist who in mandatory times advocated a binational solution for Palestine and, post-1948, was a strong critic of Israel’s discriminatory and hawkish policies towards the Palestinians. As one contemporary with Israel’s “founding fathers”, he was one of the very few who witnessed the wrongs and fearlessly acknowledged the truth.
Palestinian protesters hold placards showing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry during a demonstration against renewed peace talks with Israel, October 2013.Roughly half of Palestinians living in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip believe the Palestinian Authority erred in resuming peace negotiations with Israel, a public opinion poll revealed. From Ha’aretz, 28th November,2013. Photo uncredited.
Israel, Palestine and two-state settlements
January 09, 2014
Harry Goldstein’s assertion (Letters, 7 January) that the Palestinians were “offered [a state] in 1947 and refused, preferring to make war on Israel”, must be challenged. The Palestinians were told that 56% of their existing state of Palestine was to be taken away and made into a Jewish state, even though half of the population of the “Jewish” area was Arab. Since the Jews made it clear they wanted even more than the 56% and would take it by force, the Arab armies, far smaller in number and less well-armed than the Jews, moved up to the border of the Jewish state, in an attempt to protect the remaining territory they had been allocated, and stop Israel taking those areas by force. They failed either to stop the Jewish armies or to prevent them expelling Palestinian Arabs from a land in which they had once formed 90% of the population.
Author of Palestine: A Personal History
• Peaceful co-existence between the Jewish and Palestinian people was never on the agenda of Israel’s early leaders: Ben-Gurion in 1948 was an advocate of what he euphemistically called “compulsory transfer” of Palestinians from their homeland. Little seems to have changed under the current leadership: as if the ethnic cleansing of the 40s and 50s was not sufficient, the separation wall now snakes its way through the occupied territories, severing Palestinian communities from their places of work and their land. It is difficult to imagine how a peace process can survive the insidious effect of continued land confiscation, bypass roads linking settlements, checkpoints, house demolitions. How ironic seem to us today the key words of “co-ordination” and “co-operation” which echo through the Oslo accords of 1993 and 1995.
• The Palestine National Council formally accepted a two-state settlement in 1988, and in 1993 the PLO recognised “the right of the state of Israel to exist in peace and security” within its pre-1967 borders.