Tag Archives: Peace Process

Nothing New in Israeli Politics

The Palestinian question cannot be shunned by Israel’s political class and by its Jewish electorate since it is part and parcel of Israel’s essence. No “new” coalition can change this fundamental fact.

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Although almost two months have passed since Israeli citizens have cast their vote to elect the 19th Knesset, a government is yet to be formed.

In the meantime, there are three considerations to be made. The first one regards Netanyahu’s claim that the main issue on which his government will focus will be “socioeconomic”. In the summer of 2011 tens of thousands of Israelis protested against austerity measures and the rising price of housing. The opposition seized the opportunity and accused the Netanyahu government of mismanaging the economy and finance of the country. Therefore Netanyahu pledged to make it his priority to see to it that no Israeli will ever again have to suffer financial angst.

There are two hidden aspects to the “socioeconomic” agenda. Firstly, Netanyahu believes that by focusing on it he will be able to focus solely on “domestic” issues. That is, he will be able to cast aside, at least for a while, anything which is “foreign”. By “foreign” Netanyahu means one thing and one thing only: the stagnation of the peace process with the Palestinians due to settlement construction in the occupied West Bank. Thus it is not a sincere desire to ease Israeli citizens’ lives that drives the Netanyahu to focus on the “domestic socioeconomic” issue but rather a desire to to postpone the creation of a Palestinian state.

The second hidden aspect is the fact that the “socioeconomic” situation which needs to be ameliorated pertains to Jewish Israeli citizens and not to all Israeli citizens. Indeed, the “socioeconomic” status of the Arab population has been neglected up to the point of asking whether Israel is a democracy at all. No wonder less than half of the Arab population was expected to vote.

The second consideration concerns the fact that any “new” coalition will not be that new after all since it will either be constituted by political parties which are not sincere about peace or by political parties which, while professing to be part of the “peace camp,” have not won enough seats to make a real difference.

The two possible heavyweight candidates to join Netanyahu are Habayit Hayehudi (The Jewish Home), led by Naftali Bennet, a software tycoon, who has made explicit his intent of expanding settlement construction and to annex Area C of the West Bank, equivalent to 61% of the territory (indeed, Netanyahu himself pledged not to dismantle any settlements); and Yesh Atid, a centrist political party founded by Yair Lapid, a former journalist and TV presenter, who has delivered his main electoral speech at the University of Ariel, arguably the biggest and most controversial settlement in the West Bank. Mr. Lapid has also stated that Jerusalem must remain undivided (read: Israeli).

The political parties which seem genuinely interested in the peace process are Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah which won a mere 5% of the votes; Meretz also at 5% and Kadima at 2%. The three Arab-Israeli parties combined did not even make it to 10%.

Since settlement construction is deemed illegal under international law, it can be safely stated that the “new” government will be composed of criminal elements. The international community should condemn ferociously the policies of these political parties and make it clear that Netanyahu’s alliance with them is frowned upon. Alas, the only reaction seen so far was the usual hand tapping by the British Foreign secretary William Hague.

The previous two brief reflections lead me to the third and final one which perhaps is the most important: governments are not formed ex nihilo, they are elected by the people. Two things follow from this. Firstly, the policies which are implemented or which the elected parties pledge to implement reflect the values of the people voting for those same parties. Therefore the underlying problem is not so much that there are a few racist individuals in Israel’s political arena but that a great part, if not a majority, of the Israeli public shares these racist values and wishes for them to be implemented.

Secondly, and following the above remark, the Israeli public shares the responsibility for racist policies being implemented against the native Arab population. We are accustomed to aim criticisms at governments and other political institutions for injustices perpetrated by nations. The fact of the matter is, though, that in Israel people do elect governments and therefore share responsibility. Change will not come by putting pressure on the political establishment but only once the Israeli institutions will be reformed in such a way as to create a radical shift in the Jewish Israeli public’s values.

The Palestinian question cannot be shunned by Israel’s political class and by its Jewish electorate since it is part and parcel of Israel’s essence. No “new” coalition can change this fundamental fact.

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Photo Credit: Lilachd

Peace Process In Colombia – A Glimmer Of Hope

The new peace process that was launched between the Colombian government and the FARC insurgency is under good conditions to finally end the long term struggle, as concrete issues will be discussed on neutral soil in Cuba. So far, both sides have been signaling willingness to find a way to resolve the conflict. However, previous attempts to find peace have failed and to this point the conflict is so complex that any resolutions will be hard to put into practice.

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Colombia has been in the state of armed conflict for 48 years. So far, several attempts to end this conflict through talks or military means have failed. But now, after long time of preparation and a preliminary meeting in August this year, a promising new peace process finally began on November 19th. The delegations from the government, as well as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the insurgency who violently fought the government, met in La Habana, Cuba to start the talks. They were accompanied by representatives from Norway and Cuba as guarantors and hosts as well as from Venezuela and Chile as accompanying delegations. The first phase of the negotiations concerned land reform, the issue for which the FARC was initially founded in 1964. In the second phase, which started on December 5th, questions of social and political inclusion are discussed. So far, the talks have been described as cordial, but also cold.

This new peace process sparks hope that the conflict will finally come to an end, as it has been initiated during a stalemate. On one hand, the FARC was severely hit in recent years and its numbers have been decimated, but the group could not be defeated and continues to launch deadly attacks. The Colombian military, on the other hand, had to realize that military attacks and even the death of the FARC’s leader didn’t lead to the desired results and the insurgency continues to have some support from the Colombian (rural) population.

Thus, there are some indicators that the time seems ripe to reach an agreement. First, the conditions of this peace process are different than they were before, apart from the military situation of the conflict. This time the talks have been systematically prepared, both delegations sent important negotiators and they take place on neutral soil. Second, the ‘end of the conflict’ is the explicit goal of the talks. Before, only demobilization or partial conclusions of the conflict had been discussed.

Furthermore, this time there are five concrete points on the negotiation agenda, meaning that issues such as land distribution, which initially led to the conflict, are discussed in detail. However, the procedure of the peace process requires agreement on all matters, before a peace deal will be signed.

Yet, third, under current President Santos the armed forces have been closer to the civilian leadership and were included into the peace talks, reducing the “risk of the coordination failures between political and military agendas that have marred previous peace attempts”. Fourth, the FARC has declared an unilateral ceasefire during the first phase to talks, leading some to believe in their good intentions and willingness to reach an agreement.

However, the reactions in Colombia to the ceasefire show how little trust there is between the government and the guerillas. Some, mainly from the camp of the Colombian armed forces, have denounced the declaration as a “public-relations exercise” or a strategic move in order to gain time to regroup and lower the pressure from the military’s attacks.

The general distrust between the two factions is deeply rooted in the armed conflict, as on one hand the FARC used the provision of a demilitarized zone in 1998 to enlarge and strengthen their group. On the other hand, when the FARC tried to enter the legal political process through the Unión Patriótica in 1985, almost all party members were subsequently killed by state-sponsored paramilitary groups. Thus, in order to reach a peace agreement, this distrust needs to be overcome.

Moreover, the Colombian conflict has become so intricate that finding a solution of all the issues connected to the conflict seems more unlikely each year.  The negotiating parties need to find a way to demobilize the guerillas and offer them a way to enter the legal political process and an alternative future, without at the same time offending the victims of the insurgents, who are expecting justice and compensation. Furthermore, the FARC leadership needs to prove that it can successfully order its members to demobilize. For those fronts that have descended to participating in the drug trade a lucrative source of income needs to be given up.  However, due to the creation of the International Criminal Court a simple ‘demobilization for amnesty’ agreement, common in many Latin American conflicts, can’t be reached any more as the court could intervene.

Additionally, the question in any peace deal will remain if the ELN, the other still active insurgent group, and the former paramilitaries will be awarded the same conditions of (possible) exoneration as the FARC, further complicating finding a practical solution.

Therefore, ending such an intricate conflict and reaching an agreement between parties that have been at war for 48 years will be very difficult and many obstacles need to be overcome. Furthermore, reassurances are needed that agreed measures will also be implemented. Yet, there is hope that momentum has been reached and this well laid out process can finally bring peace to Colombia. And even though the country will be dealing with its consequences for some time to come in one way or the other, a formal peace deal between the government and the insurgency would constitute a critical juncture towards a post-conflict Colombia.

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Photo Credit: EquinoXio

Recognizing A Palestinian State Would Be Disastrous

A hoorah enthusiasm to accept Palestinian statehood at the United Nations no matter what – and with no regard for Israel’s say in the matter – would be catastrophic. We must be patient.

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A view of Jerusalem

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This is a response to  ‘Blocking Palestine: America’s Big Mistake

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Many groups have seen hope for a solution to the Middle East conflict in the Palestinian bid for statehood at the UN, the thinking being that international pressure will exert  pressure on Israel. Following this logic, American opposition to the move is regarded as a diplomatic mistake given a growing consent among the UN member states for the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) request for statehood. Americans, the argument goes, are opposed to it out of concerns that the Palestinian state could then file a lawsuit at the International Criminal Court (ICC) against Israel for illegal occupation of its territories. This stance takes root in its loyalty to a close ally despite the fact that such policy goes against its principles and values and undermines its influence across the Arab World. American behavior with regards to the PA is even more perplexing when one takes a look at its efforts to support democratic changes in North Africa.

I would like to counter that argument. Accepting a Palestinian bid for statehood would be a dangerous development, not only for the US and Israel, but first and foremost for Palestinians and the wider region. Americans oppose Palestinian statehood out of security concerns rather than a morally dubious attachment to its ally. At this moment in history Palestine is by no means ready to become a state, and the blatant international disregard for the Israeli input in the matter could have dire consequences, including an all-out conflict across the region.

The first and most important risk originates in the fact that the PA does not exercise full control over its territories, even in Zone A, and cannot guarantee the rule of law over all of its lands and stability at its borders – the Gaza Strip and Hamas, for example. Let’s imagine the PA finally gets the statehood it wanted – how is it supposed to oust Hamas from Gaza and reinstate itself as the ruling power? What do Abbas’s assertions on peaceful cooperation with Israel mean if once Palestine becomes independent Hamas will continue to dictate its own policies, fire missiles at Israel and recruit Bedouins to attack from Sinai? Palestine can only become a state if it has all the features of a state – territory and population are not enough.

Let us imagine the newly independent Palestine files a lawsuit against Israel at the ICC, the ICC finds Israel guilty and demands its withdrawal from the Occupied Territories. Then what? No state in history will voluntarily abandon strategic positions without being fully confident that its withdrawal will not be instantaneously used against it. Palestinian state apparatus and security forces are too weak to deal with rioting and protests, let alone successfully fight domestic terrorist groups. Can Abbas really guarantee that no missiles will be launched on Ben Gurion Airport from the West Bank hills? That he will make sure nobody smuggles firearms from Jordan into Ramallah? That Hezbollah operatives would not enter Palestine to train and recruit new terrorists?

The risk is just too big to take, especially now with sectarian conflicts raging all over the region. The PA does not wield enough power – state institutions are weak and security forces are ill-trained and corrupt. Israel contains the terrorist threat coming from the Occupied Territories at the disgraceful costs of humanitarian abuse and violence, but its tactics and strategy are successful. Can Israelis gamble put their safety and security in the hands of weak and semi-failed institutions out of a moral imperative? It would be against common sense to claim they should.

The first condition for the PA is to exercise the full rule of law, both in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, when it will be able to contain terrorism on its own territory before it hits Israel. Secondly, Israel cannot be forced into an internationally orchestrated Palestinian statehood. Israelis would not yield to such pressure, whereas encouraged Palestinians would interpret such move as a green light for staging a Third Intifada. The consequences would be more bloodshed, more violence and a greater Israeli military presence in the Occupied Territories. Such a move would delay any chance for a comprehensive solution for another couple of decades.

The peace process must be negotiated with the involvement of the great powers. The counter-argument is irrelevant as all the parameters for a peace solution have been set and defined as far back as Taba Summit in 2001. The problem lies in the lack of good will between the two sides; if the solution was mutually desired, Palestine could become an independent state over one night. Any international solution without the Israelis on board would deteriorate the situation, enhance the risk of violence, and fuel hawkish moods both in Israel and in Palestine.

Lastly, statehood would be disastrous for the PLO and its legitimacy. If the PLO could not gain any substantial improvement in the Palestinian situation following recognition, Palestinian society would question the PA’s ability to deliver, thus further undermining its already weak support. It is not hard to imagine a wave of social protests bolstering radicals’ support base, who could build their popularity on harsh critique of the PLO’s inertia and passiveness, calling for the people to forcefully take what has been promised by the UN itself. If another intifada were to break out, the PLO would have no chance of controlling the uprising, nor would it be able to compete with the militant and populist Hamas in rallying the support of the society to lead the fight. If Arafat could not control the Second Intifada, it is beyond the realms of possibility that someone as uncharismatic as Abbas will do better.

I do not intend to defend Israeli policies; I am no fan of Bibi and his politics. But a hoorah enthusiasm to accept Palestinian statehood at the UN no matter what – and with no regard for Israel’s say in the matter – would be catastrophic. We must be patient and appreciate the current situation, as irrespective of what we think, Israeli-Palestinian relations, both on official and social levels, haven’t been as peaceful as they are now for some time.

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Photo credit: Adam Biggs / theriskyshift.com

American Aid To Israel Is A Good Thing

If you want a peace process, you want American aid to Israel.

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[dropcap]D[/dropcap]aniel Vanello’s piece on the Obama administration’s foreign policy in the Middle East threw up a point worthy of further discussion: why, given Netanyahu’s poor track record of seeking a settlement with the Palestinians, does the US continue to provide Israel with such copious quantities of military aid?

For Israel is undoubtedly the foremost military power in the region. She possesses the latest military technology – courtesy of our cousins across the pond – weapons that the rest of the region would do far more than kill to get their hands on. Her secret service, Mossad, an organisation world-renowned for its ruthlessness and efficacy, is employed regularly to remove threats to Israeli security on an ‘under the radar’ basis, thus negating the need to resort to more conventional methods of debilitating enemies. And of course, should the worst come to the worst, the Jewish-majority state is the only Middle Eastern country to possess nuclear weapons, an option that has been considered in the past – 1973 Yom Kippur War. Surely therefore, continued American military aid to Israel is not only unnecessary – she is more than capable of defending herself – but, given the current economic climate and popular world opinion being racked up against the ‘only democratic state in the Middle East’, concurrently politically inadvisable?

Ron Paul, the septuagenarian libertarian currently running for the Republican presidential nomination, has had his remarks on the matter turned into something of a political hailstorm. His opinion follows that of above: firstly, that US aid to Israel is illogical given the tremors rocking the American economy, and secondly, that Israel no longer needs the hardware that America is able to provide – Israel would profit far greater from intelligence sharing and a curtailment of arms sales to neighbouring states. So why exactly does this father/spoilt-daughter relationship continue?

The $3 billion worth of military aid provided annually to the Jewish-majority state was brought about following the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Our starting point, however, lies with the 6 Day War of 1967. The war (annihilation may be a more accurate description) saw Israel wrest control of the Sinai peninsula from Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser’s troops, proceeding to take up positions just east of the Suez Canal. Nasser thankfully/unfortunately (delete as appropriate) died in 1970 and was replaced by Anwar Sadat, an unassuming man that most – initially – had little time for. He was regarded as a toothless tiger: the military leadership were considered to be the main movers in the Egyptian establishment. However Sadat proved to be quite the strategist. Within two years of assuming power he had attempted to bring about some form of settlement with Israel, his objective being to regain control of the Sinai. Golda Meir (the feisty then Prime Minister of Israel) refused to partake in diplomacy with the Egyptian, her supposition being that no Arab leader could or should be trusted. Having had his overtures rejected, Sadat, along with his Syrian allies, invaded Israel in order to bring Meir to the negotiating table (the esteemed Ahron Bregman argues that Sadat had been encouraged by Henry Kissinger, the Machiavellian US National Security Advisor of the time, to initiate the war).

Whilst the 1973 war is quite possibly the most exciting and enthralling (and bloodiest) of all the Arab-Israeli sparring contests, I should probably get back on topic. Thus, to summarise ’73 in one sentence: initial Arab successes were countered by Israel, and following the implementation of a ceasefire the positions that had been initially held by both sides at the Suez Canal were retaken. The ’73 war was an Arab political victory and did much to shake the Israeli military command – they had been taken completely unaware. This provided the foundations for an initial peace settlement, for the Disengagement Treaties of 1974 were the start of the peace process, not the Camp David Accords of 1978 as is often asserted. The Disengagement Treaties mark the point at which American military aid to Israel was engaged. Should Israel arrive at a settlement with Egypt, and thus return control of the Sinai, she would be afforded the following:

1. $3 billion per annum of military aid;
2. an affirmation that no US peace plan would be put forth to international opinion without prior Israeli approval;
3. a promise that the United States would protect the Jewish-majority state against the USSR (having been threatened in the 1967 war), and;
4. a commitment that the US would ensure that the military aid supplied would maintain Israeli military superiority in the region.

Needless to say the deal was accepted and thus the peace process was born. 1974 marked the point at which America changed her tack when dealing with Israel: instead of trying to pressure the country into doing something she would rather not do, the US would shower her with gifts.

So, to conclude, next time you read about how stupid it is that America gives Israel so much money when it appears that Israel is doing nothing to warrant receiving such generous donations, remember that without such American overtures the Middle East would most probably be a far more unstable region that it is today. Of course, I might be completely wrong, maybe the peace process is a bad thing?

Why The Two-State ‘Solution’ Is A Farce & Not, A Solution

The two-state ‘solution’ is a farce and the ‘peace process’ an Israeli concept.

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[dropcap]I[/dropcap]f you’ve ever had a discussion with a liberal, and by liberal I mean the Robert Frost definition of liberal, someone who is too broadminded to take his own side in a quarrel, or the Theodore White definition, someone who believes that water can be made to run uphill. And the conservative as someone who believes everybody should pay for the water. I well am neither, I believe water should be free, and that water flows downhill – and in fact bottled water and insurance is the biggest shams to date (however I won’t be getting into that today).

First of all the ‘peace process’ is an Israeli concept. It is an Israeli ideology based on Zionist supremacy of ‘we will have peace in return that you be quiet and live under our rule, our policies and our boots and agree to our demands – which includes your inevitable exile’. That essentially is what the peace process stands for, and I’m certain there is nothing anyone could produce, including a Knesset member to prove otherwise. And to talk about a genuine peace process, the one understood to be settling the ‘conflict‘ as a liberal would describe, is like kicking a dead horse rather than acknowledging that its dead. And that its not a horse, it’s a unicorn. Doesn’t exist.

Today, the number of Israelis and Palestinians living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea is approximately about 5 million each. But most demographers agree that in less than a decade, Palestinians will greatly outnumber Israelis. That means that Israel will no longer be a Jewish majority state (unless some demographic miracle happens, like say a massacre). This is quite frightening for the state of Israel who already implements extreme ‘security measures’ which come in the form of 500 watchtowers, 100 fixed checkpoints, 130 settlements (with several more settlement plans being approved every few months), 500,000 aggressive settlers, night raids, violent repression of Friday protests, Gaza’s F-16 war planes and drones, denial of medical access, administrative detentions, demolition notices, bulldozers at 6am, high velocity tear gas, skunk water, and it goes on.

The peace process – the two-state solution, is farce because, yes Israel doesn’t want two states. Israel has never in the course of history supported two states. When the current Likud party in power happens to be founded by the terrorist Menachem Begin in 1973 who was part of the Irgun terrorist group responsible for the King David Hotel bombing (of British Forces) as well as Dier Yassin Massacre, and miraculously becomes prime minister and then awarded the noble peace prize jointly with Anwar Sadat, there was never the intention of a two-state solution. Israel was founded based on one principle and one principle only. An established homeland for the Jews. And to this day, they still dream of the ‘Great Land of (all) Israel’. They believe they made the ‘desert bloom’, because Palestine was ‘a land without a people, for people without a land’. There is no West Bank, it is ‘Judea and Samaria’. There are no ‘Palestinians’, they are only Arabs and Arabs have 23 states.

Now when a country emerges and builds upon the history of another history written by peoples of different creed and colour in harmony, and declares it sacred for themselves, when a country emerges based on the ideology that they are superior to every other human being based not on a race, but scriptural belief, when a country establishes its existence on stolen geography, stolen history and undrying blood, the word peace is as invalid as US being in Afghanistan for a feminist cause. It is just beyond absurd.

Once we understand that Israel has never been a supporter of co-existing and sharing what they had came to claim for themselves and themselves only, it becomes clear as day that obviously the Palestinians do not want a two state solution. The Palestinians do not want a two state solution, just as you wouldn’t if you had your home ransacked by a foreign group, settling in your fields, in your houses, treated you like a 4th class citizen, shot your mother and cut her stomach open to kill your unborn sister leaving her skirt hoisted by her waist, dragged your father by the head to execute him with your brother against a wall, shot your grandmother in the chest, made you beg for your life, forced you to escape into a neighbouring land after half of your population was exiled and killed, and now you remain ousted for the remaining of your existence, because they have forbidden your return, whilst your people still inhabiting parts of the land undergo daily humiliation and degradation, imprisoning the men, beating the women, kidnapping the children, bombing sleeping families, uprooting your trees, building their homes, erasing your history, rebuilding your geography, swallowing your culture. You too, would not want two states. You would want it all – back.

Of course, whenever I engage in a discussion with a liberal of some kind, or someone who isn’t entirely informed on the issue but is an apologist, but do happen to accept the points made above they ask, “well realistically, the only solution is to have two states. You can’t drive the Jews into the sea or push the Arabs off the land, so it wouldn’t it make sense to have two states?”

The answer is yes, it would make sense.

It would make sense to have two states (if we’re talking about realistic terms), no settlements, no checkpoints, no military presence in Palestine, the right of return for Palestinians in exile, a formal apology by the state (just for the sake of it), Israel’s apartheid laws abolished, the physical and economic siege on Gaza lifted, the apartheid wall and settlements demolished, freeing of all prisoners, giving back land to uphold the UN partition, basically the terminating the concept of Zionism. But how is that possible when the entire existence of Israel is solely based on Zionism? To expect a Palestinian-Israeli confederation wherein the two peoples share joint political and economic institutions while maintaining a sense of semi-autonomy and preserving their cultural and religious distinctions based on the peace process, on Israeli terms, is far-fetched. The two state solution becomes a floating paradox. It is here where the dead horse or unicorn, becomes a cloud of dust.

However I must insert here, Palestine isn’t based on the 1947 partition plan issued by the UN (they were useless even then). Palestine is Haifa, Palestine is Yaffa, Palestine is Jerusalem. So I will want it all back. And if you were Hanifa al-Najjar that lost her husband after a settler that cracked open his skull, and an Israeli soldier paralysed her 5 year old daughter, and indefinitely imprisoned her brother, I believe you would too.