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American-Israeli bluffs and the success of Palestinian unilateralism (UPDATED)

Mahmoud Abbas has told Newsweek he is disappointed with Obama, but the US President has actually done a nice job of revealing the American double-standards with regards to Israel. Meanwhile, Jerusalem’s hawks are suggesting that in response to a Palestinian declaration of independence, Israel should annex the West Bank. Not such a bad idea

UPDATE: See my comments on the Fatah-Hamas agreement at the end of the post

First Lady Michelle Obama, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas & President Barack Obama (photo: Lawrence Jackson/United States Government Work)

Newsweek has an interesting interview with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. It’s titled “The Wrath of Abbas,” and in it Abu-Mazen shares with Dan Ephron his frustration and disappointment over the US administration’s recent moves, and most notably, the attempt to block the Palestinian diplomatic effort at the UN.

The US has vetoed a Security Council resolution demanding Israel would stop all settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and in recent weeks the administration has stepped up his rhetoric against the attempt to get UN recognition for a Palestinian state. Instead, the US is demanding that the Palestinians return to direct negotiations with Israel.

The heart of the matter for Abbas is the way the US backed down from its demand to freeze construction in the settlement as a precondition to negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.

… He [Abbas] told me bluntly that Obama had led him on, and then let him down by failing to keep pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for a moratorium on settlement building in the West Bank last year. “It was Obama who suggested a full settlement freeze,” Abbas explained. “I said OK, I accept. We both went up the tree. After that, he came down with a ladder and he removed the ladder and said to me, jump. Three times he did it.”

Naturally, Abbas couldn’t agree to negotiate with Israel as construction in the settlements goes on – not after Washington itself put forward a demand to stop such activities. This is probably what John Kerry and other foreign policy veterans referred to when they claimed that the administration “has wasted 1.5 years.” But I am not so sure time was in fact wasted.

American administrations have been demanding Israel to stop building its settlements – and protesting when Jerusalem ignored them – for decades. All President Barack Obama did was try to actually uphold the stated policy – one that was shared by Democrats and Republicans alike. The result was a major crisis between Jerusalem and Washington, which hurt the President even in his own party.

In other words, the demand to freeze the settlements revealed that all previous demands and condemnations were no more than lip service, and that in fact over the years all administrations shared a support for unilateral Israeli activities in the West Bank and Gaza. This is why veterans of the peace process like Dennis Ross and John Kerry might claim it was a failed policy – because it called their bluff – even if that wasn’t what the President intended to do.

The problem was not Obama’s demands from Israel, but rather the fact that he backed down from them — “came down from the tree,” as Abbas put it — because of his political problems back home. Netanyahu was able to manipulate Washington in his favor, and the administration is now back to the old game: advocating direct negotiations and “monitoring” Israel’s actions on the ground, which is the code word for turning a blind eye.


All this is not enough for the hawks in Israel, who hate Obama with such a passion that they suspect he is behind the recent European moves and even the Palestinian unilateral effort. Ironically, a one-on-one with Israeli Benjamin Netanyahu would have probably resulted with the same headline as Newsweek’s interview with Abu-Mazen (except for the different name in the title, of course).

Meanwhile, the administration is floating the idea of publishing “Obama’s parameters” for a two state solution – ones that are likely to be rejected by both sides, as they are based on the 67′ borders (which Jerusalem doesn’t accept) and exempt Israel from its responsibility for the refugees problem, which is a non-starter for the Palestinians. Still, putting forward guidelines for a solution is not a bad idea, as long as the Americans don’t actually expect Netanyahu to negotiate on them in good faith.

There is zero chance that the Israeli Prime Minister will deliver any kind of solution. Netanyahu will not evacuate settlements; at best, he will create the false impression of agreeing to do it in a far away future, hoping that some turn of events will rescue him from the need to keep up his promises. It’s not just Netanyahu’s character and upbringing that pushes him to the right, but also the hawkish coalition he has built, the hard-line advisors he has surrounded himself with (the latest being the recently-appointed National Security Council Chairman Yaakov Amidror), the messages he is sending the Israeli public, his connection to the neo-cons in Washington, and the threat from Avigdor Lieberman in the coming elections. In short, all signs point in the same direction: Netanyahu is playing on time.

Recently, some Israeli hawks have come up with a new idea: Answering a Palestinian declaration of independence with annexing the West Bank and canceling the Oslo accords (didn’t we do the second part at least a dozen times in the past?). It is unfortunate that this idea has very little hope of materializing. As even the settlers know, the Palestinian Authority and the “disputed” status of the West Bank is this government’s greatest—and perhaps only—diplomatic asset. I don’t suppose the Knesset members who initiated this idea meant that Israel should make the Palestinians equal citizens — those rightwing fanatics want the land, not the people — but annexing the territories will be the first step on a one way road that leads to the one-state solution. And as I wrote in the past, this is an option that should stay on the table.

UPDATE: The Hamas-Fatah agreement seems like another victory for Abbas, whose legitimacy crisis might come to an end. It also shows that the Palestinians have decided to take the lead in the diplomatic process, and not let the US, or even Europe, dictate their path to independence.

Naturally, Jerusalem claims that the Palestinian unity proves that there is “no partner” on the other side, but it’s interesting to note that Washington didn’t shut the door completely on the new Palestinian government. Finally, Netanyahu has a new dilemma: after his comments tonight, could he still come to Washington and call for direct negotiations between the two parties, when Fatah shares power with Hamas?
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    1. max

      Noam, thanks for the interesting view – I share its 1st part.
      Note, however, that the few who talk about annexation (is it really worthwhile discussing such a marginal view?), are probably also those that aren’t afraid of providing full citizenship to the Palestinian living in the territories and have a different extrapolation of the demographic trend.
      As for Netanyahu: he’s done little, but more than Olmert – he was the 1st to freeze constructions, and as he clearly stated (with no reply), previous governments weren’t any closer to an agreement. You don’t like him, and his name alone gave Abbas a “reasons” not to sit down for talks, but that’s not a reason to ignore the facts.
      Finally: shouldn’t you also have expectations from Abbas, or you think that his demands and refusal to sit down are all reasonable, and he already delivered his solution?

      Reply to Comment
    2. How about we stop talking of a one-state solution altogether and start talking of a one-state reality. Israel is de facto one state. It controls all of British mandate Palestine. That’s the reality of the situation. And no one – inside or outside Israel, on the left or on the right, those who want a solution and those who don’t – truly believes that’s going to change anytime soon.

      So we have a reality of one-state. What we don’t have is a solution. Nor will we.

      So let’s scrap the word solution altogether (two-state, tri-state ,four-state w/e). I don’t see any true solution to the Arab-Zionist national conflict anyway. I only see moving/transforming the national/ethnic conflict into a judicial, parliamentary and democratic conflict.

      That last part is doable.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Arnon Shvanzinger has it pretty much right. There is a one-state today, apartheid in nature, non-democratic, and extremely lawless (I mean there is no protection for Palestinians against settler violence or their land-grabs). It is very, very close to “open season” on Palestinians, a “free fire zone” but only the settlers have guns. The IOF stays out of the way and does not do its duty as a protector of “protected persons” under the Fourth Geneva Convention. (But of course there would be no settlers, no settlements, and no wall if Israel complied with G-IV.)

      My guess is that those who advocate for annexation will also advocate for “transfer” or, more simply, make “transfer” a do-it-yourself project for settlers. The IOF can be expected to stand by and watch. Recall Deir Yassin and its purpose and effect.

      What the international community (leaving aside the odious Anglophone sub-community of pro-settler-colonialist nations) would do is anyone’s guess. It has been quite content to stand idly by while a great deal of illicit violence occurred at Israeli hands — Cast Lead, Mava Marmara, and the 44 year settlements project.

      Reply to Comment
    4. max

      Arnon, a short lookup will help you avoid silly mistakes: The Transjordan memorandum was a British memorandum passed by the Council of the League of Nations on September 16, 1922. The memorandum described how the British government planned to implement the article of the Mandate for Palestine which allowed exclusion of Transjordan from the provisions regarding Jewish settlement.
      The post-Ottoman Palestine included large parts of today’s Jordan and the Golan heights. An agreement between England & France transferred the Golan to Syria, and a 2nd agreement helped create Jordan, in fact creating an “exclusion of Transjordan from the provisions regarding Jewish settlement”.
      If one accepts the boundaries of Syria, Lebanon and Jordan…
      Your baseless – false – assertions aren’t conductive to an agreed solution

      Reply to Comment
    5. Adam Keller

      I don’t know of any Israeli right-winger seriously advoacting an annexation of the WHOLE West Bank. The advocate answering a Palestinian declaration with annexing the settlements and leaving the Palestinians under military rule.

      Reply to Comment
    6. directrob

      “all of the British mandate of Palestine” can hardly be called a silly mistake. If the Golan heights are one day returned it is the same as the 1946 map of the Britsh Mandate.

      Reply to Comment
    7. max

      directrob, I’m glad to realize that you do look up the maps 🙂 But why pick the one from 1946, after the dilution, and not the original one, which first set down the rules of the game? You wouldn’t start with Israel’s borders of post June 1967, would you?
      Here’s an excerpt from Wikipedia: “Effectively, this [the removal of Transjordan from the Palestine mandate] removed about 78% of the original territory of Palestine and left about 22% where the application of the Balfour Declaration calling for a “Jewish” national home could be applied”.
      The fact is (I assume you know it), that the whole area was carved into states by the powers of that time, which was a common practice; the fact is that Jordan was given to, and now ruled by the tribes chased away from Arabia by the Saudi tribes.
      All this in my opinion is close to irrelevant today, until someone comes up with falsifications to explain why his/her view is not only moral (with other moral – sometimes conflicting – considerations) but the absolute “right” and “just”

      Reply to Comment
    8. Max,
      If it really bothers you, I would gladly go further back than 1946. All the way back to 1917 and the modest Balfour Declaration you mentioned. You should read it.

      I would gladly work with anyone who wishes to see the Balfour Declaration fulfilled to the letter (!!) so long as it provides democracy to ALL the people living in my country.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Ben Israel

      I am not surprised by the HAMAS-FATAH understandings. At the big FATAH meeting some months ago, a speaker pointed out that there is no difference between the two regarding the goals of each movement and the FATAH never “recognized” Israel. It seems to be within the spirit of the times within the Arab world. After Abbas’ denunciations of Obama and the American it seemed to be the logical step….Abbas’ is clearly not worried that the US is going to cut aid to them no matter what he says or does.

      Reply to Comment
    10. max

      Arnon, 4 lines and no info: could you please clarifies what you want to say? Specific answers to my specific points? Thanks

      Reply to Comment
    11. directrob

      Arnon is quite clear. The Balfour declaration is only one sentence. There is one part of the sentence often ignored:
      “… it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, …”
      It must be clear to you that that part has never been implemented.

      Reply to Comment
    12. Ben Israel

      What you say about that sentence “never being implemented” is debateable. But what about the part about the Palestinians implementing the part in Balfour about recognizing a “Jewish national home”?

      Reply to Comment
    13. max

      Declarations are vague by design. This one defined neither the borders (changed twice after the declaration by “the powers”), nor the “rights” or context. Are we talking about rights as those afforded in most of the ME, still today? Of the cantonal rights in Switzerland? Are you referring to the Arabs in Israel “proper” or the territories? Do you imply that these rights include the active actions to destroy the state?
      In short: if we’re to discuss (actually, speculate) beyond “the spirit of the declaration at its time”, we should be more specific. We may possibly find that our differences (which are irrelevant to the Palestinians, we have to admit) are marginal.

      Reply to Comment
    14. Arguments that ask why we reference 1946 maps instead of the Blafour declaration and then turn around to inform us that “declarations are vague by design”, are vague by design.

      Or perhaps they’re specific – specifically designed to insert vagueness into a discussion where clarity is sought.

      Either way there’s a word for such arguments – fraudulent.

      Reply to Comment
    15. max

      Arnon, this site seems to provide a platform for debate and discussion.
      It also provides space for those seeking Stalinist clarity and for people who write much while saying nothing.
      If my arguments and questions do not fit your mood, you’re welcome to ignore them.

      Reply to Comment
    16. directrob

      For lovers of a reasonable 1946 investigation of the situation and history just before the real mess started (great place Avalon):
      To remain on topic 🙂
      Even then the one state solution was on the table.

      Reply to Comment
    17. max

      directrob, “even then” is decades after the original setting, i.e. another step in the dilution of the original declaration and proposal.
      In effect, it’s a one-sided negotiation process, reminiscent of the Blackmailer paradox used by Prof. Aumann
      Why would YOU (forget about “references”) look at the later discussions as more valid than the original ones, when considering the development of the issue? And if you do, why 1946 and not 1968?

      Reply to Comment
    18. directrob

      The moral discussion is very simple. Say sorry and get out of all the occupied territories and fully compensate the people with ROR or learn to live with each other and give equal rights to all people within the current borders and stop meddling in other states affairs.

      Reply to Comment
    19. Michael W.


      Aren’t you meddling in other states affairs?

      Reply to Comment
    20. What dilution, Max?
      I already said I’m with you if you wish to see the Balfour Declaration fulfilled literally. I’d fight for that!
      What do you stand for?

      It seems that you are the one not conductive to a solution. You’re the one with the agenda of vagueness and dilution.

      ps. I know I’m assuming a lot here, and I’ve been wrong in assessing people’s positions before. Surprise me.

      Reply to Comment
    21. max

      Arnon, you need to read more carefully… you wrote “It [Israel] controls all of British mandate Palestine” and I pointed out that your statement is false as far as the declaration is concerned.

      Reply to Comment
    22. yes, you did.
      Very specific Max. Just as you demand of others.
      Don’t let anyone catch you actually taking a stand or stating an opinion. Just seed doubt and obfuscation. That’s very conductive to solutions too.
      You’re not a hack at all.

      Reply to Comment
    23. max

      Arnon, my “stand” isn’t very relevant to the topic of the article. It’s also very common: I’m in favor of a 2-state solution.
      Like – I believe – most (all?) commentators here, I’m not familiar with the details and secrets of the negotiation, so I can’t tell who’s to be blamed for what; rumors are a dime a dozen.
      Like most on this platform, I’m also familiar – in the context of the negotiations, not the daily actions – with rather the Israeli side giving and not with what the Palestinian side is willing to give in return. In fact, I haven’t read about a single point on which they compromised in the past 10 years.
      Aumann’s Blackmailer’s Paradox.
      Hence my very first comment above, and why defining the baseline is so important.

      Reply to Comment
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