And now the end is here – we face the final curtain
Articles from Haaretz, Guardian, Tablet Magazine and Times of Israel (which has some choice comments from Avigdor Lieberman)
Now what am I doing here?
With the departure of the American babysitter, both the Israelis and Palestinians will have to deal with the bleak reality on their own.
By Barak Ravid, Haaretz
April 26, 2014
On Friday, U.S. President Barack Obama started bringing down the curtain on the American peace initiative spearheaded by his secretary of state, John Kerry, since last March. Obama did not formally wave the white flag, but his statements to the press make it clear that he thinks that currently, both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas are not partners for peace.
Obama’s statements were neither planned nor orchestrated in advance. He was asked a question, and he answered honestly and directly that despite a year of supreme efforts by the American administration, both Netanyahu and Abbas were unwilling to show leadership. In Obama’s opinion, both figures, motivated by political survival, don’t want to make decisions which will begin to untie the Gordian knot called the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The American president termed the new American policy toward the peace process as a “pause.” John Kerry called it a “transition to a holding period.” In simple English, the two gave the signal over the weekend for the American retreat from the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Various officials in Washington are pressing Obama and Kerry to enter the “pause” only after the administration tables its principles for the solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict’s core issues, including the issues of refugees and of Jerusalem. Kerry is toying with the idea, but Obama has no appetite for another adventure which will surely run into the brick wall of Netanyahu, Abbas and Co.
The American withdrawal will not happen in one day. Administration spokespeople will continue to stress at every opportunity that they are not giving up and not forsaking the Israelis and the Palestinians. But in reality, over the next six months the U.S. will “turn down the volume” vis-à-vis any attempt to renew negotiations.
No one will be surprised if sooner or later U.S. envoy Martin Indyk – who has become even more frustrated than his predecessor, George Mitchell – announces his resignation and returns to his previous job at the Brookings Institute in Washington. A veteran diplomat, Indyk was called to duty once more to promote a peace process, not to engage in maintenance aimed solely at preventing an escalation and violent flare-up between Israel and the Palestinians.
If Obama does indeed put his statement from Friday into practice and begins a U.S. withdrawal from the peace process – it would be a welcome move. Without the appearance of a peace process and with the departure of the American babysitter, both the Israelis and Palestinians will have to deal themselves with the bleak reality.
For the Palestinians, the implications will be a steep deterioration in economy and security. For the Israelis, the repercussions will include a worsening international isolation, increased calls for boycotts and even sanctions by the European Union and other bodies against the settlement enterprise. Tragically, it seems both sides need a crisis in order to get truly motivated to move forward.
In the coming days, Netanyahu will most likely continue his propaganda assault on Abbas and the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation agreement. He has already taken over the Sunday television shows on American networks, and he probably won’t stop there. In two weeks, Netanyahu will embark on a five-day trip to Japan. The 12-hour flight, the idyllic scenery and the imperial hospitality will surely allow him to forget about the everyday trials. But Netanyahu would be wise to visit the quiet Shinto shrine in Tokyo, have a cup of sake and start thinking seriously about plan B.
Despite confusion over whether Netanyahu or security cabinet took decision, announcement appears to end US-led initiative
By Ian Black, Peter Beaumont in Jerusalem, and Dan Roberts in Washington, Guardian
April 24, 2014
Israel has hit back hard following an agreement on Palestinian unity by suspending already faltering peace negotiations just days before the expiry of a deadline for the US-brokered process.
The Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, accused the western-backed Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, of forming an alliance with Hamas, which he called “a terrorist organisation that calls for the destruction of Israel” – and hinted at further retaliatory measures.
Netanyahu’s comments followed Wednesday’s announcement of a unity agreement between Abbas’ Fatah movement – the dominant group in the PLO and which governs parts of the West Bank – and Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip. The US and EU also classify Hamas – whose name means the Islamic Resistance Movement – as a terrorist group, but may review their policies in the light of the unity deal.
“What has happened is a great reverse for peace, because we had hoped the Palestinian Authority [PA] president Abbas would embrace the Jewish state, the idea of two nation states, Palestinian one and a Jewish one,” Netanyahu told NBC. “But instead, he took a giant leap backward.”
But there was confusion about whether the decision to suspend talks was taken by Netanyahu or the Israeli security cabinet.
According to a senior Israeli official, the meeting of senior ministers ended without a clear decision to suspend talks until the Hamas-backed unity government was formed. But some ministers were surprised by Netanyahu’s announcement.
A source close to his office, while refusing to discuss details of the meeting, was clear that peace talks had been suspended by Netanyahu, but added that day-to -day contacts on issues like security would continue.
Palestinian officials said they would now be considering “all options”.
On the face of it, the decision to suspend talks is a blow to the US secretary of state, John Kerry, who has spent almost nine months trying to coax Israelis and Palestinians into an agreement about the conflict’s most contentious issues. In recent weeks, however, the two sides had moved further apart over prisoner releases, PA moves to join UN bodies and Israeli settlement expansion.
The US has rejected criticism that it helped provide Israel with an exit route from ailing Palestinian peace talks, insisting there is still a slim chance of bringing the two sides back to negotiations.
Kerry phoned Abbas to express US “disappointment” in his alliance with Hamas.
The peace negotiations had been scheduled to expire next Tuesday, with scant hope of an extension. “The idea that the Palestinian unity deal sets anything back on the peace process is not credible because nothing was happening and it was clear to everyone that nothing was going to,” said Daniel Levy of the European Council on Foreign Relations thinktank. “Let’s not lie to ourselves that things would have changed if the talks had continued.”
Israeli anger at the Fatah-Hamas deal was predictable. But some observers suggested the situation suited Israel’s prime minister. “With the deal, Netanyahu had a perfect alibi,” wrote Noam Sheizaf. “After all, if Abbas is back to doing business with an organisation that refuses to recognise Israel and believes in armed resistance, one cannot blame the Israeli government for abandoning the peace process.”
If it holds – three previous attempts have not – the unity deal will end a debilitating seven-year split in Palestinian ranks that has played into Israel’s hands and cut off Gaza and its 1.7 million people from the West Bank and from negotiating efforts.
But important differences still separate the two sides: the PLO/PA has recognised Israel and seeks a two-state solution to the conflict. It co-operates on security with Israel – arresting Hamas activists. Hamas refuses to recognise Israel though it is prepared for a long-term truce. It has observed a ceasefire in Gaza. It is hostile to the idea of a two-state solution though sometimes ambiguous about it.
The reconciliation has grown out of the failure of the peace talks. It has advantages for Abbas, who faces a crisis of legitimacy and has nothing to show for his moderation – enemies call it “collaboration” –except more Israeli settlements. Moves toward unity and the promise of elections within six months will be popular. Hamas, the weaker party, has suffered from stagnation in Gaza and the loss of support from Egypt after the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood. “Hamas,” said a veteran observer of the Palestinian scene, “has got nowhere else to go, nothing better to do.”
Abbas, who succeeded Yasser Arafat as PLO leader but has none of his charisma, has insisted that any reconciliation with Hamas will be on his terms and that he will remain in charge of negotiations policy. Western diplomats insist that it will have to be so if the US and EU, which bankroll the PA and fear the consequences of its collapse, are to continue paying.
The EU said it welcomed the Palestinian unity agreement but said the priority remains peace talks with Israel. The US state department said: “Any Palestinian government must unambiguously and explicitly commit to nonviolence, recognition of the state of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations between the parties. If a new Palestinian government is formed, we will assess it based on its adherence to the stipulations above, its policies and actions, and will determine any implications for our assistance based on US law.”
What it all means for the peace process
By Yair Rosenberg,Tablet magazine
April 24, 2014
In response to the unity deal between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, the Israeli Cabinet has just voted to freeze peace talks. The vote was unanimous and included moderate Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid and chief negotiator Tzipi Livni. The move comes after the Fatah-Hamas pact came under criticism from the United States and reflects a broad consensus in Israel that by joining forces with Hamas—which is labeled a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union and whose charter advocates the destruction of Israel and murder of Jews—PA President Mahmoud Abbas has jeopardized chances of reaching a two-state agreement.
What this augers for the long-term prospects of the peace process remains to be seen. Yesterday, the State Department emphasized that in order to participate in negotiations, Hamas must recognize Israel’s right to exist, accept prior diplomatic agreements like the Road Map, and renounce violence. “It’s hard to see how Israel can be expected to sit down and negotiate with a group that denies its right to exist,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters. These conditions are also backed by the Middle East Quartet of the U.S., E.U., Russia, and the United Nations. It seems unlikely, however, that Hamas will acquiesce to these stipulations. Other analysts like the Center for American Progress’ Matt Duss have suggested that while such capitulations by Hamas may not be realistic, the group should be brought into the peace process if it agrees to place all armed forces under the control of the Palestinian Authority. Thus far, no such accord has been reached.
Prior to the Hamas-Fatah pact, Israeli-Palestinian talks were set to expire at the end of April. U.S. officials have been working to broker an extension, an effort now further complicated by Hamas’ involvement. Of course, several previous attempts at Palestinian unity collapsed rather quickly, so that complication may yet resolve itself. Crucial to any sustainable Hamas-Fatah reconciliation would be unified Palestinian elections, which have not been held in nearly a decade. The next development to watch for: if an actual election date is set, rather than pushed off into the distant future.
Israel suspends peace talks over Palestinian unity deal
Government says it won’t negotiate with PA government that includes Hamas; PM: ‘Whoever chooses Hamas’s terror does not want peace’
Bv Raphael Ahren, Times of Israel
April 24, 2014
Israel on Thursday afternoon announced the suspension of peace negotiations with the Palestinian Authority in the wake of Wednesday’s announcement of a unity agreement between rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas.
The top-level inner cabinet of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ministers “decided unanimously that it will not negotiate with a Palestinian government that incorporates Hamas, a terrorist organization that seeks the destruction of Israel,” a statement said after an emergency meeting that lasted throughout Thursday afternoon. Israel also said it plans to introduce economic sanctions against the PA, which will reportedly include withholding tax revenues collected by Israel on behalf of the Palestinians.
Israeli officials said the government decision had been carefully worded so as not to rule out a possible resumption of peace talks if, in the next five weeks, PA President Mahmoud Abbas fails to agree with Hamas on the composition of a unity government as scheduled. At the same time, the wording was also designed to make plain that Israel will not negotiate with any Palestinian government that rests on Hamas support even if there are actually no Hamas ministers sitting around the cabinet table. Palestinian sources have said that Abbas intends to form a government of technocrats that might feature no Hamas or Fatah ministers.
A Palestinian Authority official said the PA would consider “all options” in response to Israel’s decision.
Israel had already called off a scheduled session of negotiations on Wednesday evening, soon after the unity pact was announced in Gaza.
“Instead of choosing peace, Abu Mazen [Abbas] made a deal with a murderous terror organization that calls for the destruction of Israel,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said after Thursday’s meeting.
Hamas appeals to Muslims to kill Jews, has fired over 10,000 rockets at Israel, and “has not ceased for a moment from its terror activities against Israel,” Netanyahu added. “Whoever chooses Hamas’s terror does not want peace.”
The prime minister also denounced the timing of the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation, which occurred “at a time when Israel was making efforts to advance the negotiations.”
The announcement of the Palestinian unity deal is a “direct continuation of the Palestinian refusal to advance the talks,” Netanyahu said, citing what he said was the Palestinian rejection last month of a US framework agreement to extend negotiations, the refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, and Abbas’s appeal to UN agencies.
Netanyahu later said in US television interviews that the Israeli government “will be there, I’ll be there,” if there was a genuine partner for peace. But the unity pact showed that Israel had no such partner at present.
American Special Envoy Martin Indyk met in Ramallah on Thursday afternoon with Abbas and reportedly told him of US displeasure over the unity deal, which the State Department on Wednesday described as “disappointing.”
Israeli officials were quoted on Channel 2 later Thursday saying Jerusalem believes the US has been too soft on Abbas to date, as he has evaded substantive progress in the negotiations, and that the PA president would not have dared enter the unity pact with Hamas if the Obama administration had been firmer.
Earlier Thursday, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said there was no chance for Israeli-Palestinian peace as long as Abbas’s Fatah faction stuck with the reconciliation deal it signed with Hamas. He said the deal meant Israel “has no partner” to negotiate with and signified a move toward Hamas gaining greater influence in the West Bank.
Liberman said Israel wasn’t surprised by the Fatah-Hamas pact, as Abbas had tried several times to blow up the Israeli-Palestinian talks during the last few months. He also said that he expected international pressure on Israel to continue engaging in the current US-brokered peace talks, but asserted that Washington understood Jerusalem’s position. “It is clear that as soon as Abbas chose to unite with Hamas, it is impossible to make peace with Israel,” the foreign minister told Israel Radio.
On Wednesday afternoon, Hamas and Fatah announced a reconciliation deal which would see the formation of a technocratic unity government within five weeks, and new elections six months later, after years of bitter rivalry. Similar agreements have been announced several times in recent years, but not implemented.
State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki described the news as “disappointing in terms of the content as well as the timing.” Speaking shortly after Israel canceled a scheduled Wednesday evening session of talks, Psaki said that the State Department understood why Israel found it difficult to continue negotiating following the announcement. “It’s hard to see how Israel can be expected to sit down and negotiate with a group that denies its right to exist,” Psaki told reporters. She said that the State Department believes that a Hamas-Fatah reconciliation would “certainly complicate the process.”
“As long as there is a deal with Hamas and Abbas goes into the direction of an agreement with Hamas, the agreement with Israel is impossible,” Liberman said. His Yisrael Beytenu party, he said, “will not accept a [Palestinian] government that openly receives its authority from Hamas, an organization that clearly speaks about violence, terror and doesn’t recognize our right to exist and doesn’t recognize our previous agreements.”
Asked whether a unified Palestinian government wouldn’t make it easier to reach an agreement, he said that “it’s not that he [Abbas] rules over Gaza. Rather, Gaza rules over Judea and Samaria,” he said, referring to the PA-controlled West Bank.
The unity deal will lead to Hamas not only maintaining its control over the coastal strip “but also over Ramallah, Nablus and Hebron,” Liberman said.
“It is clear to everyone who can analyze the reality on the ground and knows the facts that, unfortunately, the direction is not toward peace, but toward escalation and confrontation with Israel.”
If elections were held in the Palestinian territories, as agreed by the Hamas and Fatah, Hamas would clearly win, both in Gaza and the West Bank, Liberman forecast. “There is a clear trend toward confrontation,” he said. “Hamas deals with classical terrorism; Abbas does diplomatic terror.”
There was “no doubt” that the international community will criticize Jerusalem if the peace talks collapse following the Palestinian reconciliation, and will exert pressure on Israel to continue the talks, Liberman predicted. Israel’s challenge will be to withstand these pressures, he said. “Israel will not change its positions, this I can guarantee. As long as Abbas prefers an agreement with Hamas over an agreement with Israel, we have no partner.”
The Moldovan-born foreign minister said Abbas was following the “no war, no peace… strategy of [Leon] Trotsky,” which he said the PA leader “learned at the Patrice Lumumba University in Moscow” along with the heads of other “freedom-fighter” movements in the 1970s. He said Abbas would never sign a treaty with Israel, never fight, and never resign. While “Hamas engages in ‘classical terror,” said Liberman, Abbas “engages in political terror, political extortion.”