Pundits Ponder Peace Process
The speeches by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to the UN General Assembly, just hours apart, left the pundits ruminating this week about where to place blame for the moribund peace process. While some singled out one party, others were more helpful and provided a more complete picture of the diplomatic landscape.
In a series for Ynet, Ron Ben-Yishai lists a few myths that he says the Israeli government uses to put off negotiations. They include: the Arab Spring makes the region unstable, Abbas is a worthless leader, Palestinians won’t launch a third intifada, the economic situation in the West Bank has never been better and the Fatah-Hamas division makes an agreement impossible.
He agrees that Abbas is in a precarious domestic political situation and has “no real incentive to make the bold decisions that are needed in order to formulate a permanent agreement based on comprise.” However he writes, “Abbas has a clear interest in moving forward with the negotiations. The problem is that he does not trust Netanyahu and is afraid he will fall prey to the rage of the masses in the event that he makes even the smallest concession without receiving anything in return from the Israeli premier.”
In a column focused on Syria, Jeffery Goldberg briefly shares his thoughts on Obama’s mismanagement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Specifically, he points to the president drawing “a line in the sand over settlements.” When Netanyahu only “partially and temporarily complied” with a settlement freeze in 2010, Obama did nothing to follow up. Goldberg suggests that Israelis keep “embarrassing and undercutting” the president because he will not do anything about it. In turn, he says Arab governments have lost faith in Obama since he did not follow through on the matter. Because of this, “he managed to freeze the peace process.”
Peter Beinart responds to Goldberg in his Open Zion forum at the Daily Beast. He writes that Obama did not freeze the peace process and instead the problem was the election of Benjamin Netanyahu. Beinart admits that Obama’s settlement freeze strategy was ill-advised but says the death knell for negotiations came when Netanyahu came into power and did not continue with the talks that his predecessor Ehud Olmert says were “four to six months” away from reaching a deal. Instead Netanyahu only endorsed the notion of a Palestinian state after U.S. pressure and several conditions. Beinart says, “Netanyahu's late father, Benzion, explained that his son only ‘supports it [a Palestinian state] under conditions that they will never accept.’”
In his conclusion, Beinart does concede that Abbas and Obama are responsible for some of the failures. He writes, “None of this is to suggest that the Palestinians and the Obama administration bear no blame for the failures of the last three plus years. Even if Abbas were willing to sign a deal (and that remains a big if), he'd still have to contend with Hamas. For his part, Obama has proven less able to nudge Netanyahu because he's failed to establish a rapport with Israel's people.”
Other writers had ideas for what must be done to get the parties at the table and several issued dire warnings against attempting to sustain the status quo.
In the second part of his analysis for Ynet, Ron Ben-Yishai writes “lack of trust can be resolved with intense mediation efforts supported by Washington.” Goodwill gestures, such as releasing a group of 160 pre-Oslo era Palestinian prisoners could show the Israeli government is a trustworthy partner. He writes that one benefit of entering into negotiations is that it could help remove “the Jewish state from its isolation in the international arena and help it garner support for the campaign against a nuclear Iran.”
In his summary of the UN General Assembly speeches, J Street’s Jeremy Ben-Ami writes, “The next US President will have only a brief window for meaningful diplomacy in the months following the election.” To ensure the president takes advantage of that brief window, “It’ll be our job to press for leadership and action from the White House. If we don’t succeed, I’m afraid we’re in for many more sessions at the United Nations filled with harsh rhetoric, simplistic imagery, and little hope of peaceful resolution to the difficult challenges ahead.”
Alon Ben-Meir takes a similar position and wrote a piece for the Huffington Post this week titled “Only the U.S. Can End the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.” He advises whoever is in power after the inauguration to immediately start working on resolving the conflict. He begins, “The Israeli-Palestinian conflict cannot be resolved without the direct and active involvement of the United States, using both inducements and coercive diplomacy to bring about a peaceful solution. If the conflict remains unresolved over the next couple of years it will most likely precipitate a massive violent conflagration to the detriment of the Israelis and Palestinians, and will also severely damage the U.S.' security, economic interests and its credibility in the region."
He suggests that the president visit Israel and the Palestinian Territories after taking office, construct a framework based on prior agreements, appoint a high-profile envoy with a presidential mandate to work on an agreement and involve other Arab nations in the process. Ben-Meir warns that while the world focuses on Iran and delays talking about the peace process, “the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is quietly simmering underneath the surface and is becoming ever more perilous. Israel continues to expand existing settlements and legalize others while the Palestinians remain hopelessly factionalized and aimless, unable to present a unified front to be taken seriously, and thus, leaving the festering conflict in the hands of radicals on both sides.”
Suspected extremist Israelis vandalized a Franciscan monastery in Jerusalem on October, scrawling “price tag” and an anti-Christian statement on the gate. The Saint Francis monastery is located on Mount Zion, where tradition says Jesus held the Last Supper. Israeli President Shimon Peres condemned the attacks, releasing a statement that said, “Price tag actions are contrary to the Jewish religion and causes great harm to Israel…Holy sites must not be harmed.”
This is the second attack on a Christian site in less than a month. In September, a West Bank monastery in Latrun was vandalized and the doors were set on fire. There have been several other cases in the past year of Muslim and Christian sites being defaced. Palestinian officials and human rights groups have criticized Israeli authorities for not doing enough to investigate price tag attacks. According to Reuters, “A police spokesman said a number of people had been charged in connection with several of the incidents, but gave no details.”
The Orthodox Israelis behind the settlement movement in the West bank are also focusing their attention inward by moving into Arab neighborhoods of mixed Israeli cities to expand the Jewish presence. The newcomers to the towns threaten to disrupt a fragile status quo in cities that have Israeli Arab and Jewish residents.
Thousands of Christian Zionists from around the world marched down the streets of Jerusalem in support of Israel. The International Christian Embassy of Jerusalem hosted the event that brought 5,000 people from almost 90 countries, including 25 parliamentarians from various nations. This article explains some of the dynamics between these Christians supporters of Israel and Israelis who are troubled by parts of their theology and fear proselytizing. The Jerusalem Post provides more information about the gathering.
Residents of the village Battir, south of Jerusalem in the West Bank are hoping to stop Israel from building a portion of its separation wall through it. The barrier would cut them off from one-third of their farmland and cause harm to the historical landscape and local wildlife. The Israeli Nature and Parks Authority helped the residents’ cause by withdrawing its support in a letter to the Israeli Defense Ministry after considering the environmental impact. A UNESCO official also denounced the wall because the village possesses all of the criteria to be a World Heritage site should the PA submit an application.
Formed in 1984, Churches for Middle East Peace is a coalition of 24 national Church denominations and organizations, including Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant traditions. It works to encourage U.S. government policies that actively promote a just, lasting and comprehensive resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, ensuring security, human rights and religious freedom for all people of the region.