It passes for “diplomatic” news of a sort, but consists in good part of unmitigated nonsense.
The World Economic Forum in Jordan has just ended; in attendance were Israeli President Shimon Peres, Secretary of State John Kerry and putative president of the PA Mahmoud Abbas — all of whom spoke.
And it was the words of President Peres that caused many here in Israel to want to tear their hair out. His statement included, first, this:
“…President Abbas, you are our partner and we are yours. You share our hopes and efforts for peace, and we share yours. We can and should make the breakthrough…”
And then, far worse:
“The ‘Arab Peace Initiative’ is a meaningful change and a strategic opportunity. It replaces the strategies of war with the wisdom of peace.”
It is essential that I correct Peres here. As I have already written, there has been no change. A delegation representing the Arab League in Washington conceded the “possibility” of a change, but the entire Arab League did
not sign off on it:
Arab League head Nabil Elaraby has stated clearly that there have been no amendments to the 2002 plan.
In any event, that change, had it been accepted, would have been miniscule, and would certainly not have represented a “strategic opportunity.” The reference was to “minor” land swaps, with the ’49 armistice line still considered the basis for negotiations (and eastern Jerusalem to be Arab), and with insistence upon retention of the “right of return.” It is nothing more than a plan for weakening Israel.
That Peres touted it the way he did is particularly disturbing, because the world has the impression that he officially speaks for Israel. He does not. His position is largely ceremonial, although that rarely stops him from making inappropriate statements.
(You can see the official description of his office here: http://imra.org.il/story.php3?id=61098)
Many government ministers were incensed by Peres’ statements. Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz (Likud) said, before yesterday’s Cabinet meeting:
“I didn’t know that Peres became the government spokesman. I think the government has its own spokespeople. The position of the president of Israel is respected, but the government makes policy decisions, and I think that every declaration of this sort, certainly on the eve of negotiations, does not help Israel’s stance.”
Well stated. But, “on the eve of negotiations”? Does he know something we do not?
Tourism Minister Uzi Landau (Yisrael Beitenu), for his part, alluded to the well-known observation by former foreign minister Abba Eban that the pre-67 lines were “Auschwitz borders.”
He observed that (emphasis added):
“What country would start talks that aim to break down its ability to defend itself? I hear people talking about a Palestinian state that must be established. There’s a long list of Arab states that are falling apart — Syria, Libya, Yemen. The Palestinian Authority, with which we once signed an agreement, split into Judea and Samaria, and Gaza. Why would we work to create a state with unclear chances of survival?” (See article below by Dore Gold for much more on this.)
“Whoever wants something serious should stay away from the idea of a Palestinian state.”
While Trade Minister Naftali Bennett (Habayit Hayehudi) said (emphasis added):
“…most of Israel opposes an agreement involving pre-’67 lines and understands that it will lead to Hamas terror reaching the coastal plain and the center of the country.
“The Israeli public, which experienced the results of Oslo — thousands of deaths — knows with its healthy judgment that the way to peace and security is through strength and not weakness and withdrawals.”
And Amen again.
Abbas, for his part, made requisite statements about peace and the readiness of the PA to work for it, but called for the same old freeze on building, release of prisoners, and eastern Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state. He also made clear that there would be no acceptance of temporary borders or an interim state (which proposals I’ve discussed recently).
And he added something else here — taking down the security fence, which he refers to as the “apartheid wall.”
As to Abbas as a “peace partner,” it’s instructive to see this Palestinian Media Watch release regarding a PA TV show that called for raising Palestinian flags “at the entrance to every village and town in Palestine to declare that this land is the land of Palestine.” By “Palestine,” they mean anywhere between the river and the sea. This is made obvious by the call for those flags in cities solidly within the Green Line, such as “Jaffa, Nazareth, Haifa, Acre, Lod, and Ramle.”
It’s important to keep tabs on such declarations, and to share them, so that there is no doubt about what Abbas stands for when he’s not double-talking for the West.
In fact, let’s look at one more indictment of the PA:
Remember Evyatar Borovsky, father of five small children, who was recently knifed to death by Salam Al-Zaghal. Three days after that horrendous terror attack, Sultan Abu Al-Einein praised it. Al-Einein? Formerly an advisor to Abbas, and currently Head of the Palestinian Council for NGO Affairs.
On PA TV, he said:
“We salute the heroic fighter…he went against the settler and killed him. Blessings to the breast that nursed Salam Al-Zaghal.”
You can see a video of his extended statement on this site.
The blood runs cold at this, and to suggest that Abbas is someone who “shares our hopes” is slightly (if not seriously) obscene.
And then there’s Kerry, who made his big announcement at the Forum: A $4 billion economic plan to “revitalize” the Palestinian Authority. That’s not pocket change. Tony Blair is to head this initiative, about which not much is yet known. While Kerry envisions enormous growth in the Palestinian Authority, my attitude is far more wait and see. I suspect he’s underestimating the degree of corruption in the PA, and the capacity of its leaders to avoid self-sufficiency. That’s only a start regarding the potential flaws in what he’s attempting.
To his credit, Kerry allowed that this economic plan is not a substitute for a “political process.” And he stated that the “political process” was his top priority.
You can see Kerry’s full remarks, plus some comments by IMRA’s Aaron Lerner, here:
Two rockets hit in Shiyah, a Shi’ite neighborhood of Beirut, yesterday in what is thought to be an attack on Hezbollah inside of Lebanon by Sunni rebel forces from Syria in retaliation for Hezbollah support of Assad. It is considered no accident that this happened after Hezbollah head Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah declared intention to keep fighting with Assad to the end. Lebanon is itself shaky and divided — with significant Sunni/Shi’ite tensions, and this may signal not only exacerbation of that situation, but the more direct involvement of Lebanon in the Syrian civil war.
It seems to me significant that the rockets were launched from inside Lebanon. Hezbollah fighting is fierce in the battle in Qusayr, which is not far from the Lebanese border.
Rumors regarding the status of the S-300 missiles Russia is supposed to deliver to Syria have not stopped. One story had it that Netanyahu, on his visit to Russia, convinced its leaders not to send the missiles.
Yesterday, the Times of Israel ran a story, citing a “senior Israeli official” who denied that this had happened. However, it was the assessment of this official that ultimately Russia would renege on the deal: “It’s likely that the Russians will try to stall for time and use this as a bargaining chip without following through on the deal.”
Two factors seem to play into this assessment. One is the sizeable Russian Jewish population in Israel. Russian officials do take into consideration the impact of their policies on this expatriate group. And Netanyahu, along with National Security advisor Ya’akov Amidror, had impressed upon the Russians the damage that these missiles would be able to do to planes landing and taking off at Ben Gurion Airport.
Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin, who attended the meeting in Russia as a translator, would say only that, “it would be wrong to classify the meeting as a failure.”
All of this is reassuring.
The official cited, however, said that the Russians expected that Israel would refrain from further attacks inside Israel on armaments bound for Hezbollah.
I find this Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA) briefing — “Is Egypt Heading toward a Military Regime” — by Col. (ret.) Dr. Jacques Neriah, to be of particular interest.
Months ago I was advised by one of my Arabic-speaking academic sources that the Egyptian army, which opted to remain quiet for the moment, still wielded some power and might move in due course. After I had reported on this, there was no apparent sign of this happening, until now…
“Today, Egypt is on the verge of chaos. Amid a sudden popular wave of affection and longing for the Mubarak days, there is renewed talk of the army retaking power. As Morsi’s government fails to achieve true democracy, respect human rights, restore security, or improve economic welfare, an increasing number of people are calling on the army to return to the political scene as Morsi’s only possible replacement. A recent poll found 82 percent supporting such a move.”
This is the best thing that could happen not only for Egypt, but for the sake of Israeli and Western interests as well. When Mubarak was thrown out, it was thought that movement would be towards a more “democratic” and less repressive regime. But this, of course, is not what happened.
The military would not only stabilize the situation, acting against radicals, it would introduce a more pro-Western tone.
Far more significant is an article by Dr. Dore Gold, president of the JCPA, who suggests that we are on the cusp of some radical shifts in the Middle East.
During World War I, “Sir Mark Sykes, representing Britain, and Charles Francois Georges-Picot, representing France, reached a secret understanding dividing the…territories of the Ottoman Empire into spheres of influence that would be dominated by [each country].” This is referred to as the Sykes-Picot Agreement. When the League of Nations assigned Mandates after the war, they reflected this agreement:..”the borders of at least five Middle Eastern states would eventually be determined by the original Sykes-Picot Agreement.” These states’ borders were “artificial” or arbitrarily drawn for political reasons.
Now, says, Gold, there are serious analysts talking about a breakdown of what had been established a century before, as a result of “the Arab tsunami and its aftershocks.”
The focus is particularly on the Syrian-Iraqi border and the possible break-up of Syria. There is also growing influence of Turkey to be considered — with Turkey aspiring to regain sovereignty over areas lost with WWI. As well. there is the increased strength of Kurdish groups in Syria, northern Iraq and Turkey — leading to the establishment in time of Kurdistan. Ultimately Iraqi could also disintegrate.
Gold anticipates the possibility of cross-border cooperation of Sunni Muslims. “If they are politically dominated by the same branch of al-Qaida, then the emergence of a new Afghanistan in the heart of the Arab world might be the result. If more moderate forces among the Iraqi Sunnis emerge, then it should not be ruled out that they might consider some federal ties with their western Sunni neighbor, Jordan, which would give them an outlet to the Red Sea.”
Writes Gold, “however the political systems in Syria and Iraq evolve, it is clear that the map of the Middle East is likely to be very different from the map that the colonial powers fixed during World War I…It is difficult to exaggerate the importance of this change should it transpire.” (Emphasis added)
Gold observes that:
“The only boundary in the Middle East that Western diplomats have become rigidly obsessed with, despite the far more profound changes that are occurring across the region, is not even formally an international border under international law, but only an armistice line from 1949 — what is inappropriately called the 1967 border. While a solution to this territorial dispute must be addressed, the final borders drawn between Israel and it’s neighbors will have to take into account the current dramatic strategic shifts.” (Emphasis added)
As Uzi Landau suggests, above, there is something exceedingly myopic about trying to establish a new Arab state just when other Arab states are falling apart. We might call it obtuse. Or dumb. Certainly a very important reason for not moving to negotiations now.