Analysis News

Notes from Brussels: Israel, U.S. and the growing European involvement in the conflict

Attendants at a conference on the peace process in Brussels couldn’t believe their ears after what the representative of Israel’s settler party had to say.

The European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) and MP Marietje Schaake of the Netherlands hosted an event in the European Parliament in Brussels on the European Union’s role in the Israel/Palestine question. I participated in the first of two panels – below are some of my impressions from the day’s events:

This was the third discussion of this sort that I took part in within just three weeks. In that sense, I think that 2013 was indeed a transformative year, with Europe becoming, for the first time, a major stakeholder in the political debate, and not just the bankroller for whatever idea the U.S. promotes.

This understanding, which is shared by all parties, is a result of the publication of the guidelines regarding EU projects in Israel, the intention to label settlement products and the decision by private companies or corporations to reconsider investments in Israeli firms which are located or invested in the West Bank. And while the official line you often hear from the EU is that these are only bureaucratic procedures – a long overdue implementation of its own laws and regulations – one could also detect a certain satisfaction in Brussels from the ability to gain the respect of other players, not to mention winning Israel’s attention for the first time.

Although some of the European measures have been put on hold until the fate of the diplomatic process becomes clear, I do not think Brussels is going to let go, especially since European involvement is very different in its nature from the American kind. While the Israel/Palestine policy in the U.S. is defined and executed mostly by the political echelon – and is therefore prone to constant changes – the EU’s involvement has a lot to do with the bureaucracy, and thus tends to be more consistent. Bureaucrats have a legal framework to work with in the form of EU laws, regulations and trade agreements; and using them as a normative power (one that has the ability to enforce standards and norms on its member states and entities with which it has formal relations) is pretty much in line with what Europe always does. Again, this is very different from the U.S., where it is all about politics...

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Netanyahu’s incredible spin: How they once more speak of 'Palestinian rejectionism'

The ‘conflict of narratives’ hoax wins the day.

You’ve got to hand it to Bibi – he is the master of micro-politics. What he lacks in vision he makes up for with details. He is also becoming very good at setting the media’s agenda, something he wasn’t able to do in either his first term or the first couple of years of his second term.

The “Jewish State” demand has effectively cornered Abbas into a familiar position: the Palestinians will reject a generous Israeli offer, without actually being offered anything. This has turned out to be the most incredible turn of events. Netanyahu refused the 1967 borders, refused to accept a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem and even refused a settlement freeze; according to reports, Kerry didn’t get a single concession out of Bibi. But if you listen to the international media, you’ll hear that the talks are about to break down due to Palestinian refusal over the “the Jewish State” hurdle.

Almost everything has been written about Netanyahu’s demand: how, by taking what was an insignificant detail in previous rounds of negotiations and turning it into the heart of the process, he has managed to erase the Palestinian recognition in the State of Israel (which was the Rabin government’s greatest achievement); how he pushed the internal debate inside Israel even further into the ethnic-chauvinistic sphere, ignoring the fact that Israel is already a de-facto bi-national state with a Palestinian minority of more than 20 percent; how he further delegitimized the democratic idea of “a state for all its citizens”; and how he has given an excuse for the American Jewish community to turn its back on the Palestinians and turn a blind eye to the occupation.

The media is not asking the most basic questions: aside from uttering the words “Palestinian state” – a term that becomes more elusive and hollow with each passing day – what exactly has Netanyahu agreed to? What will this state look like? Where does he envision the borders? Ever since he returned to office in 2009, Netanyahu has refused to say anything about everything that matters – borders, settlements, Jerusalem, the Gaza corridor. And he gets away with it.

Following Netanyahu’s footsteps, journalists and officials are now coming out with more talk of a “clash of narratives,” (to quote The New York Times’ Jodi Rudoren) which supposedly lies at the heart of...

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The death of an Israeli war hero and Palestinian 'incitement'

Meir Har-Zion was a murderer, yet he was idolized this week by the Israeli media and the country’s highest officials.

The Hebrew media in Israel bid farewell this week to one of the IDF’s mythological heroes, Meir Har-Zion. Har-Zion was practically legendary when I grew up, the most celebrated warrior of the IDF’s Unit 101, which carried deadly “retribution” operations across Israel’s borders.

“Israel’s hero,” read the front page headline this morning on Israel Hayom, the widely read free daily. Similarly adoring coverage could be found on the pages of the Post, Times of Israel, and even the U.S.-based Tablet. “One of our greatest heroes—a bold warrior full of love for the land and its people,” said Prime Minister Netanyahu. “A legend,” President Peres called him.

The “retribution” raids by Unit 101 were in fact indiscriminate attacks on Arab police, military and civilians, carried out as acts of revenge for Israeli casualties in 1953. In the infamous Qibia raid alone, around 60 people, most of them women and children, were murdered. (Following international outrage, Ben-Gurion denied the IDF’s responsibility for the raid.) In fact, the methods of Unit 101 were controversial even for 1950s Israel, and the killers’ unit merged with the paratroops five months after it was formed.

In 1954, Har-Zion’s sister was murdered by members of a Bedouin-Palestinian tribe while hiking in the Judean Desert (also across the Israeli border at the time). Along with three other friends, Ben Zion went into Jordanian territory and murdered four members of the tribe. Har-Zion’s political patrons – and particularly Ben-Gurion – made the prosecution drop the charges against him, and he went back to commanding troops.

There was a lot of proper, military-style heroism by Har-Zion between all those corpses he left behind, and he ended up receiving the IDF’s highest decorations. But that didn’t change the fact that he was a murderer, pure and simple. Amos Elon, the celebrated Israeli author, wrote on Har-Zion: “Without much talk, he killed Arab soldiers, farmers and city-dwellers, with a rage deprived of hate, always cool and completely efficient, just doing a job and doing it well, three or four times a week, for months.”

Har-Zion is not Baruch Goldstein, the killer from Hebron, who is adored in the Israeli far-right. He is idolized by country’s elites – its media and the highest elected officials. Soon, there will be streets and squares...

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Racism, militarism and ultra-capitalism: The government's real vision

Three major laws were passed in the Knesset this week: One against the Palestinians parties, the second against the ultra-Orthodox, and the third against the prospect of peace. 

Netanyahu’s coalition mobilized this week to pass its centerpiece legislation: the draft reform, the governance law and the referendum law. It’s not a coincidence that those three laws are directly targeting those who are not represented in the government – the first takes aim at the ultra-Orthodox community, the second at the Arab citizens of Israel, and the third is meant to torpedo a future agreement with the Palestinians. The laws were passed together, as part of a political package deal between all coalition members and using rare legislation protocols against the opposition.

The governance law – a joint initiative of Yair Lapid and Avigdor Lieberman – is probably the biggest lie of them all, as it seeks to solve a problem that does not exist: political blackmail. Israelis prefer the word “extortion,” a term used by the elites against the attempt by minorities to organize politically and demand their share of the national wealth and resources. Somehow, those who complain about such maneuvers are always the richest, most powerful elements of society. Between their fifth apartment, the investment portfolio and the SUV, the most urgent need they have is to cut 20 shekel-a-month child welfare payments to the ultra-Orthodox community.

This specific law, however, will not even deal with the ultra-Orthodox, who are often referred to as the “parasites” of the Israeli electoral system. The new bill raises the Knesset threshold (the share of votes necessary to enter the parliament) to 3.25 percent, or roughly four seats. This, by coincidence, is the exact share usually won by the Palestinian parties – who never became part of any government and therefore were never in a position to “blackmail” anyone. Let’s be honest – Lapid and Lieberman always ranted about the Arab representatives in parliament, and now they are simply trying to throw them out of the Knesset.

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

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein. In order to pass the new bills, the coalition used unique protocols against the opposition. (photo: Koby Gidon / Government Press Office)

In an interview to...

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Knesset raises threshold to four seats, putting Arab parties at risk of not entering parliament

The new legislation will benefit medium-sized parties like the settlers’ Jewish Home and Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid, while increasing the influence of big money on politics.

The Knesset approved today (Tuesday) several changes in its elections and governance laws. Among other things, the changes will make it more difficult to challenge the government in a vote of non-confidence, and set the threshold for entering the Knesset at 3.25 percent, or roughly four Knesset seats.

The legislation is a joint initiative by Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party and Avigdor Liberman’s Israel Beitenu (which united with Netanyahu’s Likud party prior to the last elections). The final vote in the Knesset passed by a 67-0 majority, with the entire opposition boycotting the vote to protest the coalition’s implementation of special procedural measures earlier this week.

The new law will mostly affect the three Palestinian parties, which usually win between 3-4 seats each. Hadash, the joint Arab-Jewish party, currently has four seats; the same goes for the United Arab List (a unification of three parties, including the Islamic Ta’al party). The secular Balad party, which currently has three seats, would not have made it into the Knesset under the new law. Prior to the last elections, Knesset members banned Balad MK Hanin Zoabi from participating in the elections, a decision that was later overruled by the Supreme Court.

Kadima, an opposition party that has two seats in the current Knesset, would not have not made it in as well under the new legislation.

MK Hanin Zoabi addressing supporters in Kufar Manda, Israel, standing behind a Palestinian flag, January 2013 (photo: GS)

MK Hanin Zoabi addressing supporters in Kufar Manda, Israel. In the past, Knesset members banned Zoabi from participating in he elections, but their decision was overuled by the Supreme Court. (photo: GS)

The law might benefit medium-size parties like Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid, Shas and the settlers’ Jewish Home party, since they will not stand the risk of losing supporters to fringe parties, especially now that voters know that those factions are not likely to enter the Knesset. In the last elections, the settlers lost two seats because of an unsuccessful run by the far-right Otzma Le’Yisrael party, while Shas took a hit due to attempts by Rabbi Amsalem and Rabbi Amnon Yitzhak to run on...

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Figures show: Peace talks and settlement construction go hand in hand

Successive Israeli governments have argued for years that settlements are not an obstacle to peace. The data tells a different story.

Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics revealed earlier this week that 2013 was a record year in settlement construction, while 2014 has seen the beginning of construction of 2,534 housing projects - a rise of 123 percent from 2013.

Settlement construction took place all over the West Bank – in the so-called settlement blocs, which could be annexed to Israel in a two-state framework; in isolated settlements that are slated to be evacuated under such an agreement; on the western side of Israel’s separation barrier (which was built inside the West Bank, rather than on the internationally-recognized border), as well as on its eastern side.

Those numbers do not include, however, significant “unofficial” construction taking place in “illegal” outposts, or construction in annexed East Jerusalem, which is not measured separately by the CBS.

Construction of illegal settlement units at 'Elkana,' on the lands of the West Bank village of Masha, near Salfit, July 06, 2013. (Photo: Ahmad Al-Bazz/Activestills.org)

Construction of housing units in the settlement of ‘Elkana,’ on the lands of the West Bank village of Masha, near Salfit, July 06, 2013. (Photo: Ahmad Al-Bazz/Activestills.org)

When last year’s figures were published in Israel, there was a considerable pushback from the right, which claimed that the rise in construction projects for Jews in the occupied territories was meant to compensate for an unofficial settlement freeze in 2012. However, the rise in construction last year is just as high when compared to 2011 or 2010. In fact, 2013′s figure is the highest since the CBS started publishing this data in 2001.

Most of the construction (1,710 projects) is government-sponsored, a figure that says a lot the Netanyahu’s government’s effort at changing the reality on the ground.

The only other years in which the number of building projects surpassed 2,000 structures were 2003, 2005 and 2008. The interesting thing is that aside from 2003, these were all years in which there was so-called “progress” made between Israel and the Palestinian Authority vis-a-vis peace negotiations. For example, 2005 was the year of the disengagement, while 2008 saw direct negotiations between Mahmoud Abbas and Ehud Olmert (the Annapolis summit, which began the process, took place in November 2007).

And while there is no earlier...

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What Kerry whispered to Biden about Bibi meetings is more telling than any public statement

The diplomatic correspondent for IBA (Israeli public radio), Chico Menashe, stood next to Secretary of State John Kerry during the public part of the Obama-Netanyahu meeting at the White House on Monday. Check out his tweet:

Click here for +972 Magazine’s full coverage of the diplomatic process

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The diplomatic process: There might be no Kerry proposal

Trying to satisfy Netanyahu’s political needs might result in the Americans ‘missing the moment of opportunity,’ says a former Israeli official.

The diplomatic process between Israel and the Palestinian Authority is at a crossroads as the American team, led by Secretary of State John Kerry, is said to be preparing an outline for a final-status agreement. President Obama will meet Prime Minister Netanyahu and PA President Abbas in the coming weeks and later in the month, the American proposal will probably be made public. However, there is no official publication date and it is not clear what would such a paper might look like. Recent media reports suggest there might not even be a paper, since Kerry’s team is having such a hard time producing a document that both parties could adopt.

If the Kerry team fails to produce an agreed-upon paper, the secretary of state will be left with two alternatives: publishing a document that one or both parties might reject, or not publishing anything at all. In both cases, the negotiations might end.

The working assumption in certain Israeli political circles is that Netanyahu is already preparing for the third option – that Kerry’s team will not present a proposal at all. In such a case, the Israeli prime minister will try to blame the Palestinians for “missing an opportunity.” The Prime Minister’s Office’s line will be that the talks failed because Abbas refused to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, despite the fact that the U.S. and other countries now support this demand. There are indications that there is more support for Israel’s position on this matter than on other issues — certainly more than the settlements.

A couple of recent media reports suggest that Netanyahu envisions an impending breakdown in the talks. Pro-Netanyahu paper Israel Hayom writes that the Israeli prime minister will not break from his Likud Party (which is heavily populated by influential opponents of the two-state solution); an article in Maariv claims that Netanyahu made up his mind not to release the fourth and last group of prisoners set to be freed during the process if the Palestinians do not adopt the upcoming American proposal. The prisoner release is scheduled for the end of this month.

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How EU money enables the occupation, allows Israel to avoid its consequences

Has the seemingly permanent nature of Israeli control over the Palestinians rendered the legal term ‘occupation’ invalid?

European Union flags outside the European Commission building in Brussels. (Shutterstock.com)

European Union flags outside the European Commission building in Brussels. (Photo: Shutterstock.com)

Last week I attended a one-day symposium in the Netherlands on the EU’s role in Israel/Palestine, hosted by ‘A Different Jewish Voice,’ a local pro-peace group. You can read my notes from the event here. Below are comments delivered by Prof. Menachem Klein of Bar-Ilan University. Klein, who teaches political science, was a board member of the human rights organization B’Tselem and currently serves on the board of Ir Amin, an NGO monitoring Israeli policies in Jerusalem.

Prof. Klein tackled the common view in Israel about a European ‘bias’ in favor of the Palestinians, stating that to a certain extent, it is actually EU money that has allowed Israel to continue the occupation in the decades since the Oslo Accords. He concluded by making an interesting point: the legal term ‘occupation’, said Klein, has been stripped of its original meaning in the OPT and can no longer be used to describe the situation on the ground. I agree with his rational, but I also wonder whether declaring that we are now ‘beyond occupation’ might play into the hands of those in the Israeli and American right who outright deny the reality on the ground. In some venues even the term occupation is controversial, so should we be the ones abandoning it? I wonder what readers think.

* * *

Popular and official misperceptions of Europe

By Menachem Klein

“Europe today wants peace and quiet. … When it perceives, very wrongly, that Israeli politics are disturbing that quiet, it blames Israel,” stated Avi Pazner, former Israeli ambassador to Rome and Paris. “The Europeans don’t know Israel anymore. The tourists coming to Israel from Europe are mainly Jewish. The depth of ignorance in Europe is such that it creates misconceived ideas about Israel’s aims and policy. Israelis know Europe better as many vacation there. We are close to Europe with respect to culture, history, religion, trade, commerce and tourism. I think Israel has to invest every effort to try and change the European perception”[1].

Or as another person, Israeli-English university professor Dr. Emanuele Ottolenghi put it,...

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EU policy on Israel: 'More-for-more' or carrots and sticks?

Nothing is polarizing European politicians as much as Israel-Palestine, says a member of the EU Parliament. Notes from a symposium in the Netherlands.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton with PM Benjamin Netanyahu (Photo: GPO/Avi Ohayun)

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton with PM Benjamin Netanyahu (Photo: GPO/Avi Ohayun)

I took part in a one-day symposium on the EU’s policy toward Israel/Palestine last week in The Hague. The event, which took place at the Clingendael Institute, was hosted by “A Different Jewish Voice,” a local pro-peace group. Among the speakers were the EU’s former envoy to the region, the current EU director for Middle East policy and three Dutch politicians, all from the center-Left. There were some interesting comments made, which I would like to share with our readers.

The central issues discussed at the symposium were: should Europe develop its own policy, separate from the American-led Kerry process? What should such a policy look like? Is there room for initiating measures against the government in Jerusalem if it continues with its current settlement policies?

Some speakers expressed resentment that the EU doesn’t have a leading role in shaping the political arrangement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, but is nevertheless asked to finance them. The fact that EU foreign policy chief Cathrine Ashton is not briefed more frequently and more thoroughly on the process was brought up as an example of Europe’s lesser role.

The possibility of Europe taking steps against the occupation was a recurring theme, along with whether EU policy toward Israel should include more “sticks,” or simply keep with its “more-for-more” policy that rewards Israel only for progress toward a two-state solution. Former EU Mideast envoy Miguel Moratinos argued against sticks, saying they would simply result in Israel pushing the EU out the process. “It’s not going to work,” he said. However, Moratinos strongly argued for the EU to recognize Palestine, whether the process fails or succeed.

I found some comments by Marietje Schaake, a Dutch representative to the European Parliament, to be very interesting (the following are not quotes but a summary of my written notes): according to Schaake, there is no other foreign policy topic that polarizes the European Parliament like Israel/Palestine. It has reached the point where the EU trade delegation to the Palestinian side is no longer “on speaking terms” with the trade delegation to...

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When reality becomes hate speech: President of EU Parliament visits Israel

The facts of the occupation are indisputable – it is the words we use to describe those facts that are now being delegitimized.

File photo of EU Parliament President Martin Schulz (Photo by EU Parliament)

File photo of EU Parliament President Martin Schulz (Photo by EU Parliament)

An absurd incident took place in the Knesset Wednesday when members of the Jewish Home party walked out of the plenum during a speech by European Parliament President Martin Schulz of Germany.

During his visit to Israel, President Schulz did just about everything to ingratiate himself with his right-wing hosts, tirelessly reiterating his commitment to the country and promising that a boycott of Israel will never take place. Yet he did make the mistake of mentioning the occupation on the Knesset floor, referring to the fact that Palestinians in the West Bank don’t have the same access to water as Israelis. Schulz was immediately accused of expressing anti-Israeli bias, hate speech, anti-Semitism and just about every imaginable type of crime against the Jewish people. Prime Minister Netanyahu was slightly more nuanced than his coalition partners, stating, “the chairman, like many Europeans suffers from selective hearing.”

The Israeli right was quick to come up with talking points blaming Schulz for his faulty data – it turns out that the gap between Israeli and Palestinian water consumption is smaller than he stated – and the usual political drama followed, with the European official trying in vain to prove that he is pro-Israeli enough. Yet nobody actually denies that Palestinians get less water than Israelis (and less than what the World Health Organization recommends); that Israel is using the West Bank’s main water aquifer for its own needs; that illegal settlements are connected to the Israeli water grid while Palestinians who live nearby need to buy their water in tanks at much higher prices; and that Palestinians get arrested if they try to “illegally” connect to the Israeli grid. These issues are not argued about in the local political discourse; they are facts.

The problem for the Israeli government and its supporters abroad is that reality in the West Bank is biased, so the political war is now aimed at calling things out for what they are. It’s almost impossible to get official Israelis speakers to talk about reality these...

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Right-wing MK: Let Palestinians vote for Israeli parliament

Knesset Member Zvulun Kalfa, of the pro-settlement Jewish Home party, is calling for Israel to annex the West Bank and allow Palestinians to participate in Israeli general elections.

“Palestinians should get full citizenship rights, equality, investment in infrastructure [in their] communities and voting rights to the Knesset,” Kalfa told the Israel Hayom daily. According to Kalfa, this is the only way to dismiss for good the claim that Israel is discriminating against Palestinians or that it is an Apartheid state. “I am for a single state for everyone.”

Kalfa estimates that Jews will be able to remain a majority in the greater state. He is not, however, calling to annex Gaza.

Other members of the Jewish Home party reject the single state idea. Party chairman Naftali Bennett has previously called for Israel to annex Area C, leaving the majority of the Palestinian population in the West Bank without full rights.

However, Kalfa is not the first far-right public figure to call for a single-state solution. Four years ago I did a feature for Haaretz Magazine exploring support for the idea among right-wing ideologues and politicians – you can read it here. An interview I did with then-Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin in which he also endorses one state can be found here.

The Israeli Right’s one-state solution is different from the Left’s or the models explored by Palestinian and international scholars and activists. According to the Israeli Right’s idea, the state will absorb roughly 2 million Palestinians from the West Bank but remain the same in every other aspect.

At the time, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat hinted that Israelis are deluding themselves if they think that new demographic realities won’t result in fundamental changes in the character of the state. “I am not afraid from the talk about an Israeli ID,” he told me. “Give me one and we will see what happens.”

Related
[Opinion]: One state: Stop the hysteria and start thinking
The one-state reality vs. the two-state idea



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Channel 10: Obama refused to confront Netanyahu; Kerry proposal emptied of content

Israeli media reports that Kerry’s peace framework is being watered down. The White House pushes back.

In its Sunday evening news broadcast, Israel’s Channel 10 reported on one reason for the diminishing ambitiousness of an American final-status framework proposal, which Washington expects to present to Israel and the Palestinian Authority in the coming weeks.

According to senior reported Raviv Druker, President Obama decided not to let Kerry confront Jerusalem, thus forcing his secretary of state to present a vague paper that both parties can live with, and to even allow them to submit their reservations to the American proposal.

“The [Kerry] agreement was almost completely emptied of content,” Druker reported.

Right now, it seems that the goal of the American proposal will be only to allow negotiations to continue. Since Israel will not be required to make any concessions and the paper won’t include clear reference to the status of East Jerusalem as the future Palestinian capital, Druker estimates that, “a political drama in Israel will be avoided.” In other words, the settlers will be able to stay in Netanyahu’s government even after it endorses the American proposal.

This reports seems in line with the administration’s policy over the Palestinian issue since Obama’s 2010 confrontation with Netanyahu. I believe that the president estimates there isn’t much to be gained politically from the peace process, while there is a lot to be lost in another battle with Jerusalem and its supporters on Capitol Hill. So he is placing his political chips elsewhere (Iran, for example).

UPDATE: The White House is pushing back against the Channel 10 story. “Any notion that Secretary Kerry failed to obtain the President’s backing for his efforts is totally false,” White House spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said.

The diplomatic process has rescued Netanyahu from a touchy political bind – practically saving his coalition by allowing Tzipi Livni and Yair Lapid to stay in the government. Yet as I wrote yesterday, without a confrontation with Jerusalem and an ensuing political crisis in Israel, the current trends on the ground – occupation and colonization – will likely continue. What remains to be seen is how long will the Palestinians play along, and whether they’ll be blamed yet again “for missing an opportunity.”

Related:
The ever-shrinking Kerry peace process
The only two-state solution that might work
Two state vs. one state debate is...


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