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February 11, 2014
Events in Israel and the Palestinian Territories are once again at the center of the region’s attention this week. The latest furor was caused by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s comments last week in a speech at the Munich Security Conference, where he raised the specter of the boycott and divestment movement (BDM) — an international attempt to use economic and cultural isolation to force Israel to implement a two-state solution. Much of the ensuing discussion reflects the angst surrounding the ongoing negotiations mediated by Kerry. As the contours of the proposed framework agreement take shape, there is also much jockeying taking place from each side to make sure they get the upper hand in the event of any eventual agreement.
In an effort to minimize the fallout in Israel following Mr. Kerry’s comments in Munich, the Israeli ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, came out in support of Mr. Kerry, suggesting, according to an article by Yedioth Ahronoth’s Yitzhak Benhorin, that the “American secretary did not intend to press Israel in his Munich speech, where he warned of the worsening of boycotts against Israel in case the talks with the Palestinians flounder....Dermer's remarks are especially noteworthy, given his extremely close ties to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Dermer served as Netanyahu's senior advisor for many years, and even prior to his appointment as ambassador he handled the direct Israeli contact with the American administration....Kerry's remarks raised harsh criticism from Israeli ministers Naftali Bennett and Yuval Steinitz, while Prime Minister Netanyahu himself did not directly slam Secretary Kerry.”
Mr. Kerry’s statement aside, many Israelis have expressed a clear dislike for Washington’s proposed peace framework. For example, Maurice Ostroff, in an op-ed for the Jerusalem Post, wonders whether Kerry’s framework honored the legacy of former Israeli PM Rabin: “As countries like Iran, Mauritania, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are recognized as Islamic states, there can be no logical reason to refuse to recognize as a Jewish state the only state in the area in which all religious and ethnic minorities have full rights. The obstinate refusal by Palestinians to do so is all the more unjust since Israel’s future neighbor intends to be an Arab-only state, as Abbas declared in Cairo last July: ‘In a final resolution, we would not see the presence of a single Israeli, civilian or soldier, on our lands.’”
Others, like Arutz Sheva’s Ronn Torossian, remain adamant that no part of the West Bank should be ceded from the state of Israel: “Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) belong to Israel. These areas are Jewish areas of the State of Israel. Period. While John Kerry and others pressure Israel to return these so-called disputed territories, the reality is that the conflict in the Middle East is about the fact that the Arabs cannot accept a Jewish state. (And even if Israel did return these territories, there wouldn’t be peace – for the Arabs want to use peace to destroy Israel piece by piece.) The world must understand that our people are called Jews because we come from Judea. The fact remains that these territories are an integral part of the State of Israel, and have always been connected to the Jewish people.”
In another commentary, this time from the daily Yedioth Ahronoth, Elyakim Haetzni asserts that, rather than picking up and leaving, the settlers should resists evacuation, thereby securing the territorial integrity of the state of Israel: “Those ruling out the thought of turning regions of the Land of Israel into a foreign state are finding it difficult to discuss the idea of leaving Jewish citizens there as a minority. Yet as a theoretic discussion, it is a challenging idea....On the practical level, the State will face a tough choice: Should it — according to the bad counsel of the radical Left — stand up and walk away, leaving the settlers to their fate; or take responsibility for its citizens and secure their life and their rights in any agreement signed?...For the information of those who still think in terms of resisting the ‘evacuation’ in one way or another: The rules of the game have changed. Staying on the ground is the answer, and that's what will prove that the partition of the land is no longer possible.”
The Palestinians, for their part, are proving equally resistant to some of Mr. Kerry’s proposals, though perhaps as part as a negotiating ploy. Khaled Abu Toameh points out, for example, that in a statement released by the Palestinian Authority on Monday, it reiterated “its refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. The announcement came in response to statements attributed to Justice Minister Tzipi Livni to the effect that the PA is ready to recognize Israel as a Jewish state....Erekat said that the direct peace talks have stopped. He added that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his team were now negotiating separately with the PA and the Israeli government. Erekat also denied that the PA leadership would agree to an extension of the peace talks beyond the nine-month timetable, which expires on April 29.”
And some see no other way to respond to Israeli demands, considering the continuing issuance of building permits for Israelis in the Occupied Territories, which according to a Saudi Gazette editorial, was “timed to perfection” to disrupt the ongoing negotiations: “It’s just a matter of time, a few weeks at most, before Israel goes ahead with its latest drive to consume Palestinian land. Issuing permits is one of the last stages before Israeli Jewish settlement construction begins, and the Israeli city council committee approved issuing the nefarious construction permits on Wednesday evening. The plans for the construction permits of more than 550 settlement units in East Jerusalem were supposedly approved years ago but their implementation now could not be more detrimental. Coming as they do amid peace negotiations, the plans are a deliberate attempt to drive Palestinians out of the talks and/or torpedo the negotiations all together.”
Still, the Palestinians seem to hold out hope that a negotiated agreement might take place, as indicated by a WAFA report citing Palestinian PM Rami Hamdallah, who, in a joint press conference with EU representatives, stated: “A peace agreement could be reached before the end of the period of the U.S.-sponsored negotiations set for nine months....Hamdallah praised the efforts of the EU towards boycotting the settlement products and considered it a message to the world that Israeli settlements built in the occupied Palestinian Territory are illegal. He said despite of the obstacles facing peace, there is still an opportunity to achieve it.”
But considering recent developments in the area, many remain skeptical of such upbeat predictions. In a sign of the difficulties and the fragility of the situation on the ground, Maan News (Palestine) notes the Palestinian Prime Minister canceled plans to visit Palestinian territories under Israeli occupation due to security concerns: “Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah cancelled a visit to a village east of Jerusalem scheduled for Monday after Israeli authorities threatened to prevent the visit from taking place, Hamdallah said....an official told Ma'an that Israeli ministries of defense and foreign affairs threatened to use force, if necessary, to stop the visit from taking place, without providing further details....Under the Oslo Accords, Area C was to be gradually transferred to Palestinian control within five years. But Israel has refused to withdraw its forces from the territory, citing security concerns and the absence of a final peace agreement.”
Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: http://mepc.org/articles-commentary/articles-hub. Comments and feedback are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.