Saturday, October 30, 2010

A Peace Proposal

The last time anything happened in the Israel-Palestinian peace talks was two years ago when then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered the Palestinians a comprehensive peace settlement.

Olmert’s offer included the West Bank and Gaza with a corridor connecting them, a chunk of Israeli territory in exchange for land occupied by Israeli settlements, international control over the holy sites in Jerusalem, and so forth – everything good-hearted people believe the Palestinians can possibly want.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas rejected the Israeli offer out of hand. And he made no counter offer.
Now the Israelis and Palestinians are negotiating about whether to resume negotiations. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu (whom the media describes as a hard-liner) is all for talking peace, with no preconditions.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (whom the media calls a moderate) says he’ll concede to talk peace only if the Israelis will again freeze construction within Jewish neighbourhoods in east Jerusalem and settlements in the West Bank.
People pretend to take this demand seriously even though Abbas allowed the previous ten-month freeze to run out without agreeing to talk peace – though admittedly in the final month of the last freeze he sat down with the Israelis to try to extract a new freeze.

Netanyahu has countered with the offer that if the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state, he’ll extend the hold-up on any new construction. This was a good move, as it gets close to the heart of the conflict.

Currently, the Palestinians recognize Israel in much the same way as they recognize the world. The difference is they’re okay with the world’s existence. As for Israel, they’re not willing to concede that the Jews have any right to their own state.

This is a problem, because as long as the Palestinians continue to declare Israel illegitimate, there won’t be peace. Even if the leaders eventually sign an agreement, peace won’t follow. “Idealistic” Palestinians will continue to strap on bombs and try to make things right by destroying the Zionist entity.

To no one’s surprise, the Palestinians rejected Netanyahu’s offer. Israel has long recognized the Palestinian’s right to a state, but the Palestinians will not reciprocate. To do so would undermine their identity, which is built largely of grievance.

There’s another reason Palestinians refuse to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Today, roughly 4 million children and grandchildren of the Palestinians displaced by the Arab wars against Israel live in the West Bank, Gaza and elsewhere in the Arab world.

The Palestinians insist that these descendents of the displaced should be settled in Israel, thereby transforming Israel into a Palestinian state – not a Jewish one. There is no chance Israel will ever agree to this, but nonetheless it remains a key reason the Palestinians keep rejecting Israel’s peace proposals.

I suggest Netanyahu offer another deal: Israel will extend the building moratorium if the Palestinians will agree to renounce terrorism.

In September, when the Palestinian Authority grudgingly negotiated with Israel for a couple weeks, Hamas tried to upset the talks by murdering four Israeli civilians. Abbas denounced the attack – but only as an ill-timed military operation.

If Abbas would like another building moratorium, let him denounce that attack as a crime – as terrorism, as murder.

In addition, let Abbas declare that PA will no longer honour terrorists – will no longer name schools, summer camps or soccer teams after murderers, as has been their custom. For example, 10 months ago, the PA named a public square in Ramallah in honour of Dalal Mughrabi.

Mughrabi was the leader of a terrorist squad that murdered an American photojournalist, then hijacked a bus, commandeered another, and went on a murderous rampage that left 37 Israeli civilians dead, 13 of them children.

The Palestinians have also named two high schools, two summer camps, a computer center, a soccer championship and a high school graduation ceremony in Mughrabi’s honour, all within the past two years.

Let Abbas declare – in Arabic, on PA television and in all their newspapers – that Mughrabi isn’t a hero but a murderer and that henceforth murderers are not to be honored. Perhaps the Palestinian Authority could rename the square in Ramallah, call it the Galit Ankwa Square, in honour of Mughrabi’s youngest victim, a little girl, two years old.

I’d love it if Abbas were to renounce terrorism in this way, because it would suggest he’s serious about peace. Unfortunately, there is no chance at all of Abbas calling terrorism and murder by their proper names.

But his refusal to do so – even in exchange for a settlement freeze – will at least show what the conflict is all about.


Photo: Mural at Deheishe refugee camp of Ayat al-Akhras, a suicide bomber who blew herself up at a Jerusalem supermarket, murdering two Israelis. Photo credit: Rhonda Spivak, Winnipeg Jewish Review.

I previously published this piece in the Oct 28, 2010, Jewish Tribune in Canada, on Harry's Place blog in Britain, and in the Nov 3, 2010 Winnipeg Jewish Review.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

In August, I published a piece in the National Post suggesting a referendum be held among the Arabs of east Jerusalem, asking if they preferred to remain part of Israel or if they wanted to be incorporated into a Palestinian state (see here).
My piece was picked up by the Daily Alert and went to the Alert’s many thousands of subscribers around the world.
Now Palestinian journalist Khaled Abu Toameh, who regularly writes about Palestinian affairs for the Jerusalem Post, has also proposed a referendum ...

Ask the Arabs of east Jerusalem: Should Jerusalem be divided?
Khaled Abu Toameh

The future status of Jerusalem is back on the negotiating table between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and Israel. It is being described as one of the "core issues" in the US-sponsored direct talks that were launched in early September.

Both Israeli and Palestinian negotiators need to take into account that it's completely unrealistic to talk about restoring the pre-1967 situation where Jerusalem was divided into two cities.

The division was bad for Jews and Arabs back then and it will be worse if it happens once again.

Jerusalem is a very small city where Jews and Arabs live across the street from each other and on top of each other. Since 1967, Israel has built many new neighborhoods in the eastern part of the city, rendering it impossible to imagine a reality where Jerusalem would exist as a divided city.

Redividing Jerusalem will turn the lives of both Jews and Arabs into a nightmare, especially with regards to traffic arrangements. Every day, tens of thousands of Jews and Arabs commute between the two parts of the city freely.

Redividing Jerusalem will result in the establishment of checkpoints and border crossings inside many parts of the city. Jews and Arabs will find themselves confined to their homes and neighborhoods, which will be surrounded by security barriers and checkpoints.

In addition, the negotiators must concede the possibility of asking the Arab residents of the city about their preferences. There is no reason why more than 200,000 Arabs in Jerusalem should be denied the right to voice their opinion on a matter that has a direct affect on their lives and future.

This can be done through a referendum where the Arab residents would be asked if they would like to live in a divided city under the rule of the Palestinian Authority or Hamas. Most likely, a majority of the Arab residents would say that they prefer the status quo to the other options.

Most Arabs in the city prefer to live under Israeli rule for a number of reasons. First, because as holders of Israeli ID cards they are entitled to many rights and privileges that Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip don't enjoy. They include freedom of movement and social, economic, health and education services that Israeli citizens are entitled to.

Redividing Jerusalem means bringing either the Palestinian Authority of Hamas into the city. The Arab residents of Jerusalem have seen what happened in the West Bank and Gaza Strip over the past 16 years and are not keen to live under a corrupt authority or a radical Islamist entity.

Over the past few years, many Arab residents of the city who used to live in the West Bank have abandoned their homes and returned to Jerusalem. They did so mainly out of fear of losing their rights and privileges as holders of Israeli ID cards.

But many of them also ran away from the West Bank because they did not want to live in territories controlled by militiamen, armed gangs and corrupt leaders and institutions. ... more