Commentary

Abbas and Livni Talk Tough

Middle East In Focus

Middle East Policy Council

A very public exchange between Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas and Israel’s chief negotiator, Ms. Tzipi Livni, risks derailing the current peace talks. Each side accuses the other of endangering the ongoing negotiations by drawing red lines and using threatening language. Recent statements credited to Mr. Abbas indicate that the Palestinians are not willing to cede on the issue of East Jerusalem and the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. For her part, Ms. Livni has warned that the Palestinian president “will pay a heavy price” for his intransigence. Meanwhile, within Israel a diplomatic spat between some EU ambassadors and Israeli officials has ignited further debate on the threat of international boycott and divestment against Israeli interests.

This deterioration of atmosphere surrounding the negotiations comes despite the decision on the part of the Israeli government to “allow storm recovery materials into Gaza: ‘Israeli media reported on Sunday that Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon had approved plans to allow construction material into the Gaza Strip in order to help repair buildings destroyed in December's severe winter storm....The Gaza Strip has been under a severe economic blockade imposed by Israel since 2006. The blockade has severely limited the imports and exports of the Gaza Strip and has led to frequent humanitarian crises and hardship for Gazans. The blockade has also limited recovery operations, as a lack of fuel and electricity have stymied officials' efforts to clean city streets and dry flooded areas.’”

But,
: “Presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh criticized Sunday statements by Israel's chief negotiator Tzipi Livni against President Mahmoud Abbas, describing them as unacceptable. Livni said that Abbas will pay a heavy price for not accepting the Israeli conditions for a settlement. He said 'what Livni is asking for does not agree in any way with the bases of the negotiations as well as international rules and references on which the negotiations were launched.'”

The public back-and-forth has caused some observers in the region to speak out on the main questions surrounding the controversy: the issue of Jerusalem and the nature of the state of Israel. For example, in a recent op-ed for the Palestinian daily Maan News, Daoud Kuttab urges Abbas to stand strong and not give in on issue of Jerusalem: “While the April 2014 deadline for the talks to conclude is fast approaching, Kerry will certainly continue pushing for a framework agreement that would allow for an extension of the negotiations. The Palestinians, however, are determined to go to the International Court of Justice and other international agencies to address the decades old illegal Israeli occupation. When it comes to the sensitive issue of Jerusalem and recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, Arab leaders have proved, over and over, that they will not budge under American pressure, and Abbas knows this well.”

Writing for the pan-Arab daily Asharq Alawsat, Bakir Oweida asserts that the question of Jerusalem is being used as a way to corner the Palestinians and draw a reaction from them, which means that the Palestinian leadership is playing into Netanyahu’s hands: “Once again, Israel has played a crafty trick by asking the Palestinian Authority to recognize it as a Jewish state, in a bid to spark reactions in Palestine and across the Arab world, as well as among other Muslims who support the Palestinian cause. This, of course, would play into Israel’s hands, since it is not serious about achieving true peace.... By giving in to Israeli demands for its recognition as a Jewish state, Palestine would prove that it is just another entry in the Israeli record that began when the founders of Israel claimed to have established a secular state.”

Against the background of ongoing peace negotiations, the Israelis have also begun recognizing that the divestment movement has been gathering steam recently, with some fearing that unless something is done soon, Israel might find itself isolated from the world. Yedioth Ahronoth’s Eitan Haber cautions that “Israel [is] failing to heed warning signs”, adding that “The real problem hiding behind the economic boycott and possible diplomatic boycott…is that after it or at the same time a wave of de-legitimization of the State of Israel may sweep over the world. In a world of which quite a large part is really anti-Semitic, that is serious trouble and a recipe for tough times. The State of Israel will find it very difficult to run its life then.”

Not everyone agrees, of course, and with news of Israeli economic and business leaders making their way to Davos, Globes’ (Israel) Stella Korin-Lieber skeptically asks: “Who are the 100 ‘leaders of the economy’ who are so worried that they have packed their bags and flown en masse to the Swiss ski resort of Davos to talk about a peace agreement with the Palestinians?... ‘Breaking the Impasse at Davos’ stated the press release on Sunday, which related how ‘a special delegation of 100 top Israeli businesspeople will go to Davos to promote a diplomatic settlement and the two states solution.’ Eleven names were mentioned. An unoriginal Israeli salad: women, academics, military men, right, left, Ashkenazi, Mizrahi, high tech, low tech… Were they only to bother to break the stagnation in the Israeli economy — what wonderful force that could be.’”

In an op-ed for Arutz Sheva (Israel), Michael Wolfowicz expresses frustration with even the possibility that Israel might have to give even one inch of what he considers the Jewish National Home: “Israel’s Basic Law-Israel Lands reads: The ownership of Israel lands, being the lands in Israel of the State, the Development Authority, or the KKL, shall not be transferred either by sale or in any other manner....Could it be that based on this rendition it is actually illegal vis-ŕ-vis Israeli law for anyone to try and transfer any parts of the Jewish National Home to any other entity?  Have all governments since 1967 that have negotiated parts of the Jewish National Home been acting in contravention to Israeli law? After all, what is actually being negotiated at the moment?  Our sovereignty.”

But even though its advice and caution might not be welcome by the Israeli government, in a recent editorial, the Khaleej Times staff suggest the best bet for the Israelis would do well to avoid becoming isolated by alienating some of its erstwhile allies: “This new expansionist policy has come irrespective of the fact that the United States had been persuading Israel to put a halt to settlements in order to woo the Palestinians to a sustainable dialogue. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who has been frequently visiting the region in the last one year, is widely unwelcome in Israel for his unconditional support to the two-state solution in the region. Israel by trying to coerce the European states is doing no service to itself but harming its congeniality with the continent. By terming the EU as pro-Palestinian, Israel has mirrored its bias.”


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