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KERRY TACKLES ISRAELI - PALESTINIAN LOGJAM

US Secretary of State John Kerry (photo credit: Marc Müller)

 What happens if the Kerry mission is unable to break the Israeli-Palestinian logjam by the April 29th deadline? So far the Secretary of State's diplomatic marathon has barely made a dent in the impasse. Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas are sticking to their guns. It hasn't come as any big surprise, what was apparent at the outset has prevailed: the maximum that either side is ready to offer is less than the minimum that the other side will accept. So rather than cobble a peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians, the US Secretary of State is now trying just to keep the ball rolling on an agreed framework of principles. Even that is an uphill struggle. 

Netanyahu has declared he is ready to recognize a Palestinian state, and he expects Abbas to reciprocate by recognizing the 'Jewish state' of Israel.

Netanyahu has declared he is ready to recognize a Palestinian state, and he expects Abbas to reciprocate by recognizing the 'Jewish state' of Israel. Abbas retorts, ‘No way! The Jews do not deserve a state because Judaism is a religion and not a national entity, and religions are not entitled to a state. Ergo, there is no such thing as a Jewish state!’ All he is ready to concede is a state where Jews and Arabs both live, in other words, a bi- national state. The fact the Jewish people can trace their links back over three thousand years to the land of Israel cuts no ice with Abbas and his colleagues. According to the pre-eminent Orientalist, Prof. Bernard Lewis, the Israelis are one of the very few peoples today who speak and write the language of their ancient ancestors, while practicing the same religion. Is it not a unique quirk of history that if an Israeli born Sabra were swept back by a time machine to Biblical times, he could speak with his ancestors. the Biblical Israelites, and go to pray with them in a synagogue or the Temple in Jerusalem? How many nations at the UN can claim such a compelling link to their homelands? Certainly the Palestinians cannot. Consider this: it is a fact that the Palestine Partition Plan of November 29, 1947 refers to a 'Jewish state' and an 'Arab state' with no reference at all to a Palestinian state.

 

President Mahmoud Abbas

 On the other hand, even Yasser Arafat himself personally declared that he recognized a Jewish state back in 1988. 25 years later Abbas argues that if he were to recognize a Jewish state it would be a betrayal of his 'Palestinian principles'. (Does that mean that he believes the refugees must be allowed to return to Israel as part of a peace agreement?) He intimates that the President of Palestine will also serve as the protector of the Palestinians living in Israel today, and the millions of refugees, who were never resettled in Arab countries except for Jordan. UNWRA estimated that 726,000 Palestinians fled during the war of 1948 after the Palestinians rejected the Partition Plan and they have now burgeoned to over 4-million, living in camps all over the Middle East. They have been inculcated with the idea that one day they will return to Acre, Haifa, Jaffa, and Lod, etc. If there is to be a lasting peace between Palestine and Israel, Abbas must be ready to re-educate them that they will not be returning to Israeli territory, but to their own newly founded state. All the signs are that he has no intention of doing so, on the contrary. 

 
Palestinian Chief Negotiator with Israel, Saeb Erekat (photo credit: Al Jazeera)
"Never in a thousand years will we recognize a Jewish state!"

Abbas is not alone - the mainstream Fetah leadership supports his stance. One of his top aides, Dr. Saeb Erekat, has contended there is no juridical or moral basis for a Jewish state, vowing: "Never in a thousand years will we recognize a Jewish state!" So it's not just a bargaining chip to be exchanged for something in return. It is a reflection of a deep and fundamental mindset that rejects the very idea of the Jewish state of Israel. What are the implications? Two of Israel's Right wing prime ministers, Arik Sharon and now Bibi Netanyahu, have at least said they were ready for a two state solution: one Jewish, the other Palestinian. In the past, Labor's Golda Meir postulated that there was no such thing as a 'Palestinian people', and the UN actually concurred with her. So Israel has come a long way in recognizing the Palestinian people, but the Palestinians still refuse to budge on recognizing the Jewish state of Israel. On the other hand, most Arab countries and Iran have drafted constitutions describing themselves as Islamic states. No doubt the Palestinians will as well, if they come to their senses and agree to accept statehood for the Jewish people as well. 

 
But the unvarnished truth is that until the Palestinian leadership and Arab world agree to recognize Israel as the homeland of the Jews, the file will still be left open.

 There is a serious political ramification. When Egypt's President Anwar Sadat and Jordan's King Hussein decided to make peace with Israel, they both told their peoples: "No more wars with Israel!" The borders were demarcated for once and all and there were no outstanding claims. In other words, both Egypt and Jordan made a full peace agreeing that Israel should also have secure and recognized borders. Nor did Hussein, with his significant number of Palestinian refugees, insist they return to their former homes inside the Jewish state. But if the Palestinians persist in denying the very juridical and historical legitimacy of the Jewish state, this signals that they may wish to leave the door open for future claims after Israel has withdrawn from most of the West Bank. Some Israelis contend: "Who cares? We don't need their recognition!" Moreover, the final peace agreement would include a clause stipulating 'the finality of all outstanding claims' which would nullify any Palestinian ideas about seeking to annex heavily occupied Arab areas of Israel such as Galilee or parts of the Negev. But the unvarnished truth is that until the Palestinian leadership and Arab world agree to recognize Israel as the homeland of the Jews, the file will still be left open. Ring any bells such as Russia's recent annexation of the Crimean Peninsula? 

 
Abbas is insisting...the next prisoner release, but without any guarantee he will continue to parlay with Kerry. Moreover, Abbas has the temerity to demand the release of Israeli Arab terrorists, with blood on their hands.

As for the Kerry mission, his objective is to find some sort of constructive ambiguity to keep his peace contacts alive. Despite his miniscule progress to date, the Secretary has not disclosed any sign of wanting to pack it in. Obviously, neither Netanyahu nor Abbas want to take responsibility and the blame for sabotaging Kerry's marathon effort, so there may be a last minute to resuscitate what appears to be a hopeless case. One bargaining chip is Israel's commitment to release a fourth batch of Palestinians terrorists. At the outset, Netanyahu agreed to free Palestinians 'with blood on their hands' in return for the Palestinians' readiness to return to the table. The Israeli leader could have opted for another settlement freeze rather than letting convicted killers out of Israeli jails but this was vetoed by Right wingers in his own Likud party and the coalition. At present, Abbas is insisting that Netanyahu honor the next prisoner release but without any guarantee he will continue to parlay with Kerry. Moreover, Abbas has the temerity to demand the release of Israeli Arab terrorists, with blood on their hands. Just think about it; it would portray Abbas as a representative of Israeli Arabs. As far as the freeing of Israeli Arab killers this is not likely to happen because the prevailing mood in Israel will not abide it unless the Palestinians give something substantial in return. Nobody is holding their breath. 

 
If and when the Kerry mission collapses...the Palestinian leader will head back to the UN to resume his diplomatic intifada. He can bank on the backing of an automatic majority and eventually seek an imposed solution that will be slanted against Israel.

Question: If the possibility of a Palestinian state could now be so near, why is Abbas playing so fast and loose? The answer is that he has a 'Plan B' that he is waiting to put into action, if and when the Kerry mission collapses. The Palestinian leader will head back to the UN to resume his diplomatic intifada. He can bank on the backing of an automatic majority and eventually seek an imposed solution that will be slanted against Israel. So at the very least, Netanyahu will try to go the extra mile with Kerry. But this begs the question: does Israel have a 'Plan B' of its own to cope with Abbas? No, according to General (ret) Amos Yadlin, the former commander of the IDF Intelligence Branch and one of Israel's most listened to strategists. Yadlin has criticized the government's decision to release Palestinian terrorists rather than imposing a settlement freeze would be reversible while the prisoner release is not. In any case, Israel should not carry out another prisoner release in April, if the Palestinians do not commit to continuing the negotiations. In Yadlin's view, it is vital for the Israeli government to start formulating its own Plan B. He has a point- the Israeli government should initiate and not just react to Palestinian tactics designed to skirt direct negotiations. 

 

An Israeli Plan B?

 
Israeli Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin
Yadlin said he has no second thoughts about the Gaza pullback, which was not a strategic necessity...He obviously envisages an Israeli pullback from the more densely populated Palestinian areas, but this would not include the Jordan Valley Basin...

Yadlin postulates that Israel should take a public stand as to just where it sees it is necessary for Israel to seek permanent borders on the West Bank; and more, Israel should consider a unilateral withdrawal to those lines, if it proves impossible to negotiate with the Palestinians. But this raises the issue of Arik Sharon's unilateral pullout from the Gaza Strip in 2005 that resulted in Gaza launching over 11,000 rockets and missiles at Israeli communities. Yadlin said he has no second thoughts about the Gaza pullback, which was not a strategic necessity. First of all, it relieved Israel of caring for over 1.5 million Palestinians, and he asked rhetorically if any serious Israelis really want to reoccupy Gaza? In his view, an Israel pullback on the West Bank would also guarantee Israel's future as a democratic and Jewish state. He obviously envisages an Israeli pullback from the more densely populated Palestinian areas. But this would not include the Jordan Valley Basin, where the IDF should remain deployed to prevent an influx of weapons from Iran, Hezbollah, Libya, and Sudan to the Palestinian terrorists. In addition, the fact that Israel would retain some West Bank territory would serve as a bargaining chip if the Palestinians ever decide to get serious about negotiating a permanent peace agreement. Yadlin also raises another consideration - the Palestinians believe they now have Israel over a barrel and they can just sit tight and wait. If Israel remains in all of the West Bank and there is no peace accord treaty, Israel will eventually lose its majority between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. In other words, Israel will be finished off as a Jewish state. But, by initiating his Plan B on the West Bank, Israel would show the Palestinians that they're wrong. Incidentally, former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert planned on carrying out such a unilateral disengagement before his financial chicanery eventually got him kicked out of office, and most likely headed for a prison cell. 

 

 

David Essing

 

 

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