+972 Magazine » Noam Sheizaf http://972mag.com Independent commentary and news from Israel & Palestine Sun, 20 Apr 2014 13:06:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8 When the ‘Times’ calls for Kerry to move on, what does it ‘really’ mean? http://972mag.com/when-the-times-calls-for-kerry-to-move-on-what-does-it-really-mean/89753/ http://972mag.com/when-the-times-calls-for-kerry-to-move-on-what-does-it-really-mean/89753/#comments Wed, 16 Apr 2014 20:51:37 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=89753 If the Grey Lady is calling for Washington to reconsider its role as enabler of the occupation, then it is indeed a new approach — perhaps even a revolutionary one.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (Photo: State Dept.)

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (Photo: State Dept.)

A couple of days ago, a New York Times editorial called on the Obama administration to divert its attention away from the Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic process, which is failing to bring results, and onto other global issues. While congratulating Secretary Kerry and President Obama for the energy and time they have put into the process, the Times concludes that “after nine months, it is apparent that the two sides are still unwilling to move on the core issues of the borders of a Palestinian state, the future of Jerusalem, the fate of Palestinian refugees and guarantees for Israel’s security.”

There is a sort of disconnect in the article between the events it describes, which assigns much of the blame for the failure on the Israeli side, and the careful conclusion, which talks about the “two parties” and “both leaders” who are not ready to take the bold moves necessary for peace. This is part of the permanent framing of the Israeli/Palestinian story in the states, as if we are talking about two equal sides who are fighting or negotiating on an equal playing field. In reality there is one side that is deprived of rights and another that is the absolute sovereign over the entire territory, and more importantly, one side that experiences the conflict on a daily basis and one side that, almost every day of the year, is indifferent to it and well protected from its effects. If you fail to acknowledge that, you’ll never get the negotiations right.

Read +972′s full coverage of the peace process

But the interesting part is the Times‘s policy recommendation. There have been several reports recently describing differences of opinions between the White House and State Department on the way to approach the negotiations. The president, it is said, prefers to present the parties with the details of a two-state agreement – a step further than Bush’s endorsement of a Palestinians state and two steps from the Clinton Parameters – while Kerry actually wants to get the parties to commit. If these reports are correct, Obama, who wanted to limit his dealings with Netanyahu to a minimum, has been proven right. Even Kerry must now admit that getting concessions out of Bibi is a futile task. Now the Times is calling to go back to the White House’s original plan: put something on the table and kick the can to the next president, the next prime minister and the next leader of the PA, assuming it doesn’t collapse first.

But much like the “equal blame” framing, this idea is blind to the major role the U.S. plays in maintaining the occupation. The real question is not whether Kerry pulls out from the talks or how many more trips to the region special envoy Martin Indyk makes. The question is whether the U.S. will continue to veto United Nation Security Council resolutions on the settlements, as it has; continue to block the Palestinian path to international institutions; continue to finance and arm the forces – Palestinian and Israeli – that provide Israelis with its sense of security, thus allowing it not to feel any urgency in resolving the issue of the occupation.

The fact of the matter is that without the most direct American involvement and support, the occupation wouldn’t last another year. If the Times is calling for the U.S. to reconsider its role as enabler of the military control and colonization of the West Bank, this is indeed a new approach, perhaps even a revolutionary one. If the Times is calling on the administration to halt the diplomatic process but keep all of its other forms of support for the occupation in place, then the Grey Lady is simply supporting what Bibi has been asking for all along.

US Envoy: Congress will punish UN if it recognizes Palestine
The diplomatic process is not real until this government falls

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The diplomatic process is not real until this government falls http://972mag.com/the-diplomatic-process-is-not-real-until-this-government-falls/89677/ http://972mag.com/the-diplomatic-process-is-not-real-until-this-government-falls/89677/#comments Mon, 14 Apr 2014 11:13:06 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=89677 If Netanyahu was serious about talks, he would have used the first opportunity to rid the government of the settlers, before moving on to isolate the radicals in his own party. Until we see such a change, the peace process will remain mostly fake.

Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth’s released a poll on Passover evening examining the option that former Likud Minister Moshe Kahlon run on his own ticket in the coming elections. According to the poll results, Kahlon could win up to 10 seats, most of them from voters of Yesh Atid and Likud.

This is the second election poll published this week (the previous one had better numbers for Netanyahu), contributing to a feeling of a looming political crisis. The rift between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the leader of the right-wing Jewish Home party Naftali Bennett is becoming more apparent. Bennett is now threatening to leave the government if Israel goes forward with the fourth and final prisoner release, which includes 14 Palestinians citizens of Israel, as demanded by Mahmoud Abbas. Recently, there have been renewed suggestions that a deal on the prisoner release and the continuation of the negotiations will take place, with the U.S. releasing Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard as a gesture toward Netanyahu.

Bennett, to be sure, doesn’t want to leave the government; his top minister, Uri Ariel, who heads the Ministry of Construction and Housing, is even less inclined to do so. The Israeli government is based on a political arrangement that suits the settlers well – they support measures on civilian issues that benefit Yair Lapid’s secular voters, and in exchange they get an (almost) free hand in the West Bank. Uriel, a veteran politician, knows that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to create facts on the ground that would end, once and for all, all talk of evacuating West Bank settlements. Despite his radical views, he has welcomed the diplomatic process; while everybody was busy with the talks, he continued settling occupied land with Jews.

At the same time, the Jewish Home has a constituency to answer to, and the settler movement is split between the pragmatics and the radicals, the latter of which are not interested in such trade offs. This is the context with which we should view the recent threats: Bennett is probably betting that the Pollard–prisoners-negotiations deal won’t go through and that talks won’t be extended. Thus, he will be seen as the one who took a firm stance against capitulations without actually paying the price for it. This is indeed the most likely scenario.

Read +972′s full coverage of the peace process

The problem with the talks isn’t the prisoner issue, but rather the Israeli refusal to discuss the meaningful elements of a deal – borders, settlements and Jerusalem. Instead, Netanyahu has been throwing all kinds of hurdles, such as the recognition of a Israel as a “Jewish State,” as well as indefinite Israeli control over the eastern border of a future Palestinian entity, and so on. By now it is clear even to the Americans that accepting Netanyahu’s demand on one issue – such as the Jewish State – won’t deliver a breakthrough, but will simply lead to the next “core issue” that Bibi introduces.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu with Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein (photo: Koby Gidon / Government Press Office)

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu with Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein (photo: Koby Gidon / Government Press Office)

Netanyahu doesn’t want to change the government. An alternative coalition – for example, with Labor replacing the Jewish Home – will leave Netanyahu at the mercy of his rivals, and would probably lead to new elections in the near future. But things might get out of control, especially if outside pressure increases. The Israeli elites are clearly troubled by the EU’s response in case the talks collapse.

Should progress be made on the Palestinian issue, a political crisis in Israel is inevitable. This is the way it has always gone: Rabin lost part of his coalition – and then his life – following the signing of the Oslo Accords; Sharon had to leave Likud and form a new party; and Netanyahu’s first government collapsed over the Wye River Memorandum. Any change in the status quo, one that goes beyond empty gestures like the release of prisoners, is likely to energize what is already a powerful hard right. If Netanyahu was serious about the talks, he would have used the first opportunity to rid the government of Bennett and the settlers, before moving on to isolate the settlers in his own party. Until we see such a change, the process will remain mostly fake.

One last comment: When looking at the Israeli political system, the feeling is that there is no alternative to Bibi. However, one opposition MK I spoke to recently said that “Bibi is done. It’s over.” Wishful thinking? Perhaps. But he may not be that wrong. The current coalition is weak – much weaker than the previous one, and the only thing that holds it together is the fear that Yair Lapid and Tzipi Livni share from the possibility of holding elections. If Israel is faced with a real decision moment on the Palestinian issue – something Kerry has failed to deliver so far – major political developments will take place. Politicians who see themselves as an alternative to Bibi – from Kahlon to former Shin Bet head Yuval Diskin to Liberman – have become more vocal, as they too sense that this moment may be closer than one might think.

Oslo Accord architect Ron Pundak dies at 59
The rejectionist: Netanyahu and the peace talks

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On using ‘emergency measures’ against ‘price tag’ vandals http://972mag.com/on-using-emergency-measures-against-price-tag-vandals/89662/ http://972mag.com/on-using-emergency-measures-against-price-tag-vandals/89662/#comments Sun, 13 Apr 2014 19:01:42 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=89662 The Israeli defense minister has raised the idea of using administrative detention against violent settlers. But there are more interests at play than meets the eye.

As I wrote here last week, “price tag” – attacks by fringe settler groups perpetrated against (mostly) Palestinian property and civilians – finally hit the national news in Israel. The reason was the object of (one) of the latest attacks: a small IDF post near Yitzhar that settlers stormed, and the tires of the regional commander’s jeep, which were slashed when he visited the same settlement.

The honor of the general’s tires worked where the beating of a farmer with metal rods failed to get a response, and “mainstream” speakers, mostly from the Right, competed with each other in condemning the vandals. Today, Haaretz reported that Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon is considering using the country’s emergency laws against price tag suspects – namely administrative detention and other methods that bypass the rule of law and are usually reserved for Palestinians. Haaretz’s story said that in the IDF, security establishment and cabinet, there is growing support for using special measures against extreme right-wing activists.

But is it really necessary? Many price tag attacks are carried out in broad daylight, and some of them are even caught on video (recent examples: here, here, here, here, here). Israeli law already provides law enforcement with enough tools not only to catch the attackers, but also to convict them.

The real reason for the demand is twofold. Firstly, the Israeli government, like most governments, is using the current public outrage in order to seize for itself the ability and legitimacy to use measures that diverge from from norms of democratic rule of law (administrative detention allows jailing someone even when no crime has been committed – only on the basis of the “suspect’s” potential to commit a crime).

Second, and probably more importantly, is the image the very idea of those measures creates: as if “price tag” offenders are Al Capone-like criminals who are so difficult to track down that special measures are necessary in order to put them behind bars. In reality, the failure to protect the lives and property of Palestinians under Israeli rule is not a matter of resources or ability, but that of a policy – one which views the civilian population in the occupied territories through an ethnic prism, and which considers each and every Palestinian as part of the enemy and not much else.

Settler violence: It comes with the territory
A modest proposal for stopping settler violence

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Oslo Accord architect Ron Pundak dies at 59 http://972mag.com/oslo-accord-architect-ron-pundak-dies-at-59/89533/ http://972mag.com/oslo-accord-architect-ron-pundak-dies-at-59/89533/#comments Fri, 11 Apr 2014 10:18:00 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=89533 Ron Pundak, one of the architects of the Oslo Accord, died Friday at the age of 59.

In 1993, Pundak, an expert on Middle East history, was working under Yossi Beilin, who was then the Israeli deputy foreign minister. At the time, Israel was holding formal negotiations in Washington with a Palestinian team, but the talks were heading nowhere and the promise of the Rabin government seemed to be fading away.

Along with Yair Hirschfeld, Pundak initiated a secret back channel between Israeli and PLO officials (contact with PLO members was still illegal when Rabin took office), first in London and then in Oslo. When the sides began to make progress, he informed Beilin, and later, then-Foreign Minister Shimon Peres was brought in the loop. Peres eventually informed Rabin of the talks and the prime minister gave his blessing. The first Oslo Accord was signed on the White House lawn by Peres and then-chief Palestinian negotiator Mahmoud Abbas in late 1993.

In 1995, Pundak took part in negotiations that led to the Beilin-Abu Mazen paper (full document, PDF), which outlined a future Palestinian state on 1967 borders, with agreed-upon land swaps. Prime Minister Rabin was murdered several days after the completion of the paper and never got to endorse it. Peres and Barak later rejected it, missing the greatest opportunity to have an official Israeli commitment to the two-state solution.

Ron Pundak in 2011 (Photo by Yossi Gurvitz)

Ron Pundak in 2011 (Photo by Yossi Gurvitz)

In later years Pundak was a member of several peace forums and think tanks. He took part in the informal negotiations which led to the Geneva Initiative.

In an interview to “Just Vision” several years back, Pundak spoke about what went wrong in Oslo. His analysis is rather unique, putting an emphasis on political and strategic problems on the Israeli side that existed despite the Rabin-Peres government’s full commitment to the process. One can almost sense regret in the interview, especially when Pundak speaks of how stingy the Israeli side was during the later stages of the negotiations:

I think both sides entered into the implementation period not in good faith– both sides. Both because the trust was not built and because there was an effort to put things off until the second round of dialogue. But having said this, I don’t think this is enough to make the situation deteriorate as quickly and as terribly as it did. And here I think that we, the Israelis, committed too many mistakes on the way. I believe all the mistakes were rooted in the fact that the day after Oslo, meaning from the 14th of September 1993, Israel itself wasn’t clear where it wanted to go in its relations with the Palestinians; it wasn’t clear whether Israel was at all ready to commit itself to a real fair solution, based on the only ingredients a real, fair solution should contain: an independent, viable, Palestinian sovereign state, side by side with Israel, on equal footing, based more or less on the ’67 borders. I think that until the last days of negotiation in Camp David, still, Israel didn’t accept this formula.

I don’t say that Israel didn’t want peace; on the contrary, I think Israel wanted peace as much and probably more that the Palestinians– I’m speaking about the leadership. But I think the Palestinians were more ready for the compromised solution and were in full comprehension of what it takes to make it happen and we were not. Because of this, we allowed many terrible things to happen on the ground, such as enlarging and building more settlements, confiscating land, sending the wrong message to the Palestinians regarding what the final status would entail.

We were stingy on the issue of prisoners, the economy, and almost everything– not because we wanted to sabotage the process, but because from our point of view, all this might have led to a Palestinian state, which we did not dare to say out-loud– for example, partition of Jerusalem, which is a must for any agreement.24 If we continue to say during negotiations that Jerusalem will always be under Israeli control, we are pushing aside Palestinian legitimate activities and sending the wrong message in regards to what we want to have. So to sum it up in a nut-shell, I think we screwed it up.

All this without describing one inch of the legitimate criticism I have of the Palestinians: that they were slow, that they were terrible in not fighting terrorism seriously, that they were double talking and that Arafat is a terrible manager and doesn’t really care about his own people, etc. And that his methods of negotiations were childish. But I say in spite of all my criticism against the Palestinians, and I have kilometers of criticism, still in the big picture, I think we screwed it up.

What went wrong? Learning from the mistakes of Oslo
The Israeli negotiator who thinks the two-state solution is still possible
An agreement on indefinite occupation: Oslo celebrates 19 years
What would a ‘safe passage’ between W. Bank, Gaza look like?

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Settlers confront IDF soldiers, and ‘price tag’ finally makes news http://972mag.com/settlers-confront-idf-soldiers-and-price-tag-finally-makes-news/89437/ http://972mag.com/settlers-confront-idf-soldiers-and-price-tag-finally-makes-news/89437/#comments Tue, 08 Apr 2014 17:48:34 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=89437 Clashes between settlers and Israeli forces left several border policemen hospitalized Tuesday morning. While the mainstream media was quick to condemn the settlers’ behavior, it missed the bigger story.

We have been asking here for some time why the so-called “price tag” attacks don’t get the media attention they deserve. For those unfamiliar with the term, price tag attacks refer to attacks by radical settler groups – “hilltop youth” and others, mostly from the settlement outposts – on Palestinians and their property, including: beatings, arson, graffiti on mosques, and most frequently – the destruction of olive trees.

The name “price tag” represents the twisted logic behind these crimes, which are carried out as a form of retribution by radical settlers every time a few structures or an outpost is evacuated by the army (or any similar event that is not to their liking). There are dozens of such attacks each year. Last week, for example, a shepherd from Burka was attacked with iron rods by seven men who covered their faces with shirts. The shepherd’s skull was broken. Very few people heard of this event (Larry Derfner sought to understand the reasons behind Israeli indifference to price tag attacks, I strongly recommend reading his piece).

Today’s (Tuesday) events, however, were different. In the early hours of the morning, Israeli Border Police officers were confronted by dozens (some reports said hundreds) of settlers from the radical settlement Yitzhar, just south of Nablus, after demolishing several structures in the settlement. The policemen were attacked with sticks and stones, and an IDF posts was vandalized. Despite the fact that nobody was seriously hurt, the story dominated Israeli news sites with condemnations for the settlers’ behavior coming from both the usual suspects, as well some unusual ones – Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett, and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, among others. Peace Now wrote to the attorney general, demanding that the vandals be brought to justice.

This is all good and well, but such incidents should remind the Left that, first of all, attacks on defenseless Palestinian civilians are far worse than confrontations with soldiers. It is these incidents that should receive attention, both in the media and in terms of law enforcement. Secondly, price tag attacks are a side story of the occupation – at times even a distraction.

Vandalism is unpleasant, but the occupation is carried out by the state and the army, not the settlers. It is the IDF that places checkpoints, restricts Palestinians’ freedom of movement, arrests peopleincluding minors – without trial, and at times kills. It is easy to rally public opinion against the settlers – sometimes unfairly, as most of them oppose price tag attacks – but the truth is that the occupation is first and foremost an Israeli project. Opposing it means taking the (political) battle to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, not just Yitzhar and Hebron.

Read more:
Settler violence: It comes with the territory
A modest proposal for stopping settler violence

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The rejectionist: Netanyahu and the peace talks http://972mag.com/the-rejectionist-netanyahu-and-the-peace-talks/89379/ http://972mag.com/the-rejectionist-netanyahu-and-the-peace-talks/89379/#comments Sun, 06 Apr 2014 18:03:29 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=89379 The Palestinian leadership changed, the political circumstances shifted, administrations came and went, but every round of talks involving Netanyahu follows the same dynamic, and ends the same way.

When talks between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators resumed last summer, a couple of pollsters asked Israelis whether they think Prime Minister Netanyahu actually supports the two-state solution – which, at least in theory, was the agreed-upon goal of the process. The results didn’t receive enough attention at the time: one poll, published on Channel 2’s website, found that 50 percent of the public didn’t think Netanyahu genuinely adopted the two-state solution, as opposed to 23 percent who thought he did. Four days later, Haaretz came out with a poll that showed roughly the same results: 59 percent did not think that Bibi had committed to the two-state framework, while only 34 percent thought he had. It’s not surprising then that a clear majority in both polls didn’t think the talks would lead to an agreement (70 percent were skeptical in the Channel 2 poll, and 69 percent on Haaretz).

Polling on political image and perception can be tricky, so one should take them with a grain of salt. But Kerry’s team might have saved itself some time and trouble if it had taken those numbers into consideration. At the talks’ most optimistic moment, a clear majority of Israelis believed Bibi was bluffing.

As the negotiations moved forward – in time, not in substance – Netanyahu insisted on preparing the public for failure. If he made any concessions to the American team, they remain a tightly kept secret. Netanyahu rejected the idea of a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem, rejected Palestinian sovereignty over the Jordan Valley, rejected even symbolic recognition of the right of return (while placing a very central demand for symbolic recognition of Israel as “a Jewish State”).

More important, in his hostility toward the Palestinians, Netanyahu actually moved the public political barometer to the right during the negotiation period. By the time the talks broke down, if you were listening to the prime minister you would have thought that it was absolute madness to sign anything with Ramallah. Compare that to the language of “partners” that previous Israeli prime ministers used to describe their Palestinian counterparts, or their talk of “a common future.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds a joint press conference with US Secretary of State John Kerry following their meeting in Jerusalem, December 5, 2013. (Photo: Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds a joint press conference with US Secretary of State John Kerry following their meeting in Jerusalem, December 5, 2013. (Photo: Kobi Gideon/GPO)

So why did Bibi enter these talks? I think Netanyahu understands the real dynamic of the peace process, as opposed to what others make of it. The diplomatic process is centered on a trade-off of land for legitimacy. Israel is expected to pay with land it holds claims to – in other words, to free the Palestinians living on it from the military occupation – and in return, receives legitimacy from the Palestinians, then the Arab world and the rest of the international community.

Read +972′s full coverage of the peace process

However, there is an unequal dynamic at work. While Israel — and the Israeli leadership that negotiates — receives legitimacy as it enters into talks, the Palestinians are only supposed to win their share long after the process is over. A Palestinian leadership bleeds support from the moments talks are called; for Israelis, the tough moment is about the evacuation of land, which only comes years after the ceremony on the White House lawn. You could actually see this dynamic at work in the past eight months: Netanyahu got stronger (his numbers at home rose as the talks began) while the PA lost what was left of its credibility by suspending opposition to the occupation and agreeing to a process that has yet to bring any real achievements.

* * *

Even if talks succeed, Netanyahu has a history of not delivering his part of agreements. After he got into the Prime Minister’s Office in 1996, Netanyahu refused to carry out the third and final withdrawal that Israel committed to in the second Oslo Accord. The Clinton Administration had to lead another process – on the implementation of the previous agreement – resulting in the Wye River Memorandum in 1998. The memorandum also had three stages; Netanayhu carried out the first and stalled on the second two, airing his old claims of Palestinian incitement and unilateralism. A certain pattern has emerged.

A couple of years later, in a private conversation with settlers, Netanyahu – not knowing he was being taped – explained how he used loopholes in the Oslo Accords in order to derail it. He also boasted that dealing with the American administration didn’t pose a problem, because “the U.S. can be easily pushed.”

The task was easier this time because Netanyahu didn’t have a real process on his hands when he returned to the Prime Minister’s Office – only the emerging framework for a two-state solution that Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert built with the PA. Netanyahu demanded that he not be bound by previous offers and wanted to “talk about everything,” thus rejecting the 1967 borders, compromise on Jerusalem and even redefining what “settlement blocs” mean. This led to four months of futile talks between the two sides, until somewhere in December when the secretary of state started working on his own framework.

The talks with the Palestinians pretty much ended at this point. Netanyahu’s goal became reaching an understanding with the Obama administration that would relieve international pressure off Israel for a long period of time. (At some point, Tzipi Livni went as far as saying that an agreement with the Palestinians is impossible, but “we might be able to have one with the world.”) Netanyahu then made the most maximalist demand about legitimacy – recognizing Israel as a Jewish state – before he was even willing to discuss borders or settlements. Then, true to his old habits, he refrained from carrying out his part of the deal – releasing the fourth and final group of prisoners – without getting more in return: a comfortable extension of the talks, and perhaps even a rare political trophy such as the release of Jonathan Pollard. The U.S., after all, can be easily pushed.

The bottom line would remain the same: this is not a symmetric conflict. The negotiations are not equal, just as the battlefield is not equal. But even with this given inequality, Netanyahu presents a unique phenomenon: a leader who has devoted his entire career to derailing the process and preventing the formation of a viable Palestinian state. He is this process’s true rejectionist. I understand the Obama administration’s political need to assign equal blame to both parties now that everything is collapsing before our eyes. But I also hope that in their mind, and behind closed doors, they know better. After all, even Netanyahu’s own voters didn’t take his peacenik image too seriously.

The ‘outrageous hypocrisy’ of Tzipi Livni & Yair Lapid
A hard choice faces the Palestinians
The peace process is dead, long live the peace process

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Breaking the Silence founder detained in Hebron, banned from city for 14 days http://972mag.com/breaking-the-silence-founder-arrested-in-hebron-banned-from-city-for-14-days/89279/ http://972mag.com/breaking-the-silence-founder-arrested-in-hebron-banned-from-city-for-14-days/89279/#comments Thu, 03 Apr 2014 15:47:25 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=89279 The founder of IDF watchdog group Breaking the Silence (BTS), Yehuda Shaul, was detained in Hebron on Tuesday as he was leading a tour in the Jewish settlement located in the heart of the city.

According to the organization’s spokesperson, Avner Gvaryahu, Shaul was confronted by an IDF company commander, who prevented him from continuing on his way, despite the fact that the area is considered public space and that Jewish groups use those streets frequently. Shaul was detained after arguing with the officer.

Shaul, who was released from the Hebron police station later that night, was banned from the area for 14 days, which means he will not be able to lead tours in the city. Breaking the Silence is planning a tour for 250 people in the city on Friday.

Yahuda Shaul of Breaking the Silence leading a tour in Hebron (photo: Activestills.org)

Yahuda Shaul of Breaking the Silence leading a tour in Hebron (photo: Activestills.org)

Breaking the Silence, which holds frequent tours both in the city as well and in the south Hebron Hills, was formed by former IDF soldiers and officers who served in the occupied territories. The organization aims to shed light on the army’s operations in the West Bank, and especially on human rights violations.

Hebron is the only city in which a population of several hundred settlers live among an occupied population, surrounded by heavy army presence. Shaul himself served in Hebron and is considered an expert on issues regarding the military control of the city.

Recently, BTS workers have complained that both the authorities and settlers have joined forces in an attempt to prevent them from leading tours in Hebron. According to Gvaryahu, both the tours that were cancelled, as well as the orders banning BTS workers from entering the city, were issued “on strange and unfounded claims.”

“A month ago, the police prevented one of our tours from entering the city due to ‘special security alerts.’ At the same time, we saw convoys of settlers and their guests coming.”

Hebron is the largest Palestinian city in the West Bank. The presence of a large number of settlers and soldiers in the city has changed parts of it dramatically over the last 20 years. Some streets are only accessible to Jews, while Palestinians shops and apartments are abandoned and the old market remains closed.

“Breaking the Silence was started by 65 soldiers and officers that served for months in Hebron,” said Gvaryahu. “This is where it all began for us. The city is a microcosm of the occupation. It is where it manifests itself most clearly. You see the shops closed, the empty streets. You can’t stay indifferent to it, and this is why they [the authorities] want as few outsiders as possible exposed to these sights.”

The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit provided the following comment: “IDF does’t object to BTS tours or activities. Only a month ago, there was a tour to the city that included the entrance of several buses, which was done in coordination with the security forces in the area. Regarding the specific event described here, it was Yehuda Shaul who blocked the way of the commander’s jeep that led to his arrest.”

Former Israeli AG: We should have evicted Hebron settlers
Breaking the Silence: the occupation testimonies (part I)
In Hebron, terror begets a reign of terror

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Diplomatic process in crisis: Staying away is Kerry’s best move http://972mag.com/diplomatic-process-in-crisis-staying-away-is-kerrys-best-move/89221/ http://972mag.com/diplomatic-process-in-crisis-staying-away-is-kerrys-best-move/89221/#comments Wed, 02 Apr 2014 15:42:18 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=89221 Kerry’s team has been so sensitive to Netanyahu’s political needs that it kept handing the Israeli prime minister political achievements without getting anything in return. This dynamic has been put on hold now, and Kerry should probably thank Abbas for that.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (Photo: State Dept.)

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (Photo: State Dept.)

A sense of chaos has engulfed the diplomatic process after the Palestinians decided to submit a formal request to join 15 international treaties and conventions, among them the Fourth Geneva Convention. (See the full list below.)

When the talks resumed last summer, the Palestinians agreed to refrain from joining international institutions, and Israel was to release 104 prisoners who had already been jailed for more than 20 years. But Israel decided not to release the fourth and final group of prisoners unless the Palestinians agreed to prolong the negotiations at least until 2015. Earlier Tuesday, Israel also announced the construction of hundreds of new housing units in the annexed parts of Jerusalem, beyond the Green Line.

While officially the talks didn’t break, it is not clear whether they will be resumed, or under what conditions. Secretary of State John Kerry canceled his planned trip to the region – he was supposed to meet with Mahmoud Abbas today – and is slowly distancing himself from the peace process, repeating that progress “depends on the parties.” The pressure on the administration to do something will probably increase in the coming days, but there is also a growing reluctance, especially in the White House, to spend more political capital on a an effort that is not likely to go anywhere.

Read +972′s full coverage of the peace process

Staying away might actually be the best move Kerry takes. So far, his strategy was to negotiate something with the Israelis, then to pressure the Palestinians to accept what was agreed upon with Netanyahu. This is how he (reportedly) came up with a framework for a final status agreement that would include Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and a prolonged Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley, but not much about pre-1967 borders or the status of Jerusalem.

The same logic led to what was reported as an impending deal that would enable the talks to continue: Israel would release the prisoners as planned, later adding 400 “light offenders” and “humanitarian cases”; it was also supposed to refrain from new settlement construction in certain areas. In return, the talks would be extended until 2015, the pressure on Netanyahu would be relieved, and he would get a special bonus – the release of Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, who has served almost 30 years of a life sentence in U.S. federal prison.

But the idea of letting Pollard go just to save a meaningless process looked so desperate, that it led to wall-to-wall criticism of the Obama administration in Washington. In that sense, Abbas probably saved Kerry and Obama from a serious embarrassment at home. The American team was so sensitive to Netanyahu’s political needs throughout the process that it kept handing the Israeli prime minister political achievements without getting anything in return. This dynamic was put on hold, and Kerry should probably thank Abbas for that, too.

Now the ball is in Israel’s court. Netanyahu will need to decide whether he really wants these talks. He can withdraw and blame the Palestinians (in fact, he will keep blaming them for everything anyway) but there is a cost attached to such a decision – pressure on the more centrists elements in his coalition, and more punitive measures from the international community down the road. He could also turn to the administration for help in trying to save the talks, but there will be a cost to that, too, both internally and within the process. If Kerry and Obama stay away for a while, there might be a small moment of truth for Bibi – the kind of which he has been trying to avoid all along.


The full list of treaties and conventions to which Abbas sent letters of accession:

1. The Four Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949 and the First Additional Protocol

2. The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations

3. The Vienna Convention on Consular Relations

4. The Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in armed conflict

5. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women

6. The Hague Convention (IV) respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land and its annex: Regulations Concerning the Laws and Customs of War on Land

7. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

8. The Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties

9. The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination

10. The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

11. The United Nations Convention against Corruption

12. The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide

13. The International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid

14. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

15. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

The peace process is dead, long live the peace process
What ‘painful concessions’ are left for Palestinians to make?
Israel is reneging on its promise to release Palestinian prisoners

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Kerry-Abbas meeting canceled; effort to extend talks faces hurdles http://972mag.com/kerry-abbas-meeting-canceled-effort-to-extend-talks-faces-hurdles/89195/ http://972mag.com/kerry-abbas-meeting-canceled-effort-to-extend-talks-faces-hurdles/89195/#comments Tue, 01 Apr 2014 19:36:13 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=89195 The American-led peace process appears to be on the verge of collapse.

The American-led peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians may not be extended after all. Following Israel’s refusal to, or delay in releasing the remaining 26 Palestinian prisoners due to be freed during the negotiation period, PA President Mahmoud Abbas announced in a speech in Ramallah Tuesday that he would renew the Palestinian effort to join 15 international organizations and treaties.

Secretary of State Kerry, who was due to return to the region on Wednesday in order to finalize a deal to extend talks through the end of the year, will not meet Abbas tomorrow.

The talks, however, did not formally end.

Over the past 24 hours, the Israeli media was full of reports outlining an American proposal under which Abbas would refrain from going to the UN through 2015, during which time efforts to reach a framework for a final status agreement would continue.

In return, Israel would release the remaining prisoners and another 400 “light offenders,” whose prison terms were about to end. Israel was also supposed to decrease the rate of settlement construction in certain areas (which reached record numbers last year).

The United States, it was reported, was set to release long-imprisoned Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, an American citizen who is serving a life sentence in U.S federal prison.

Click here for more news and analysis on the Kerry-led process. 

Israeli-Palestinian negotiations on a final status agreement were renewed last summer, originally intended to end after nine months (a period that ends at the end of this month). However, no progress was made in the first months.

By the end of 2013, the American team — working under Secretary Kerry — took charge of the process. But even efforts to reach an accepted framework failed, and in the past couple of weeks Kerry and special envoy Martin Indyk tried to extend the talks.

Israel, for its part, announced that it will not free the fourth group of prisoners – an act to which it committed when the talks began.

Figures show: Peace talks and settlement construction go hand in hand
How they once more speak of ‘Palestinian rejectionism’

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Ari Shavit and the failure of the Kerry process http://972mag.com/ari-shavit-and-the-failure-of-the-kerry-process/88939/ http://972mag.com/ari-shavit-and-the-failure-of-the-kerry-process/88939/#comments Thu, 27 Mar 2014 13:36:05 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=88939 A public exchange has been taking place between Haaretz publisher Amos Schocken and the paper’s columnist Ari Shavit over Mahmoud Abbas’ refusal to recognize Israel as a “Jewish state.” According to Shavit’s latest piece, supporting peace means forcing the Palestinians to accept Israeli preconditions, otherwise there will be no agreement. This has always been the logic of the Israeli center – we will make up our mind over what to do with the Palestinians, and they will just have to accept our decision. Otherwise, the occupation will never end. Then, as always, comes the line about Israelis being the real victims of this unpleasant situation.

I would not have written this piece if I didn’t hear people refer to Shavit as a peacenik, or even as a “lefty” (twice!) in the past week. You just don’t hear that being said in Israel, mostly because Shavit is too busy attacking the left. However, that is the kind of language used to describe him in the United States.

Shavit needs to be congratulated for using the term “occupation” in an Israeli political climate that is all about denying reality, but this is where his activism ends. I cannot remember a serious political issue over the last decade in which Shavit didn’t parrot Netanyahu’s line, not to mention Ariel Sharon and Ehud Barak’s before him. Sure, Shavit can comment about the need to halt settlement construction and bring about a two-state solution, not to mention his repeated line regarding the inevitable “moment of choice” on Iran. But whenever there is a concrete issue at hand, something that requires taking a side, Shavit retreats into his comfort zone as the spokesperson for the Prime Minister’s Office.

By now it is clear to everyone in their right mind, both supporters of the diplomatic process or his critics from the left, that Bibi manipulated Kerry into the only outcome he could live with: forcing the Palestinians to abandon negotiations over an issue that Bibi’s central constituencies – the Jewish-Israeli public and the American Jewish establishment – view as consensus. (For more, read this interesting account by Yossi Beilin on Kerry’s mistakes in handling Netanyahu.)

In order for Bibi to achieve his goal, he simply cannot take on the issue of settlements, as a large part of the Jewish public on both sides of the Atlantic accepts the 1967 borders and sees the settlements as a historic mistake and a violation of international law. But the abstract demand that Palestinians endorse the Jewish narrative regarding their homeland is something very few Jews oppose. Some even support the idea while others simply don’t care, thinking that Abbas shouldn’t either.

As negotiations head toward their only possible outcome – the U.S. working with Israel to keep the Palestinians negotiating over nothing, rather than turning to the international community for recognition – it is time for some soul-searching among those who thought that without confronting the issue of Jerusalem, neither a just nor sustainable solution could be achieved.

But in certain circles, the idea that Israel doesn’t want to end the occupation, or that the current political elite is satisfied with the status quo, is simply not an option – not even in theory. Thus, we are bound to see many more discussions about the “complexity” of the problems that have brought about this failure, and even more references to the Shavits of the world as peaceniks.

Read More: My review of Ari Shavit’s book, ‘My Promised Land

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