April 04, 2011 Edition 9 Palestinian-Israeli Crossfire
Six months to September
The wages of Palestinian ambiguity  - Yossi Alpher
The Palestinian leadership is accepting a partial settlement, restricted to territory, to bypass its own impossible preconditions.

Returning to our references  - Ghassan Khatib
It was the international community, after all, that initiated this peace process.

And what happens then?  - Ephraim Sneh
Apparently, nothing good. There are two basic scenarios for the events that will follow.

A double-edged sword  - an interview with Salah Bardawil
It will be a moral achievement, but a trick.

To subscribe, simply click on the link : subscribe. The following articles may be republished with proper citation given to the author and

At our website,, you will also find past editions, an extensive documents file and information about us, along with relevant subscription information.

The wages of Palestinian ambiguity
 Yossi Alpher
"I'll speak in vague sentences," stated Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas last week at a meeting in Ramallah when asked to discuss Palestinian plans for the period beginning September 2011. That is when the United Nations General Assembly reconvenes, with a request to recognize a Palestinian state probably high on its agenda.

Of course, politicians frequently speak in vague sentences to avoid becoming trapped by their own words. But they never acknowledge the fact. Abbas (Abu Mazen) does, apparently because the Palestinian strategy for September derives much of its strength from ambiguity.

The Palestinian leadership avows that it remains dedicated to the concept of bilateral final status negotiations with Israel. If serious negotiations begin prior to September, stated Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riad Malki two weeks ago, the Palestinians will delay the UN recognition request. On the other hand, note both Malki and Abbas, it is not the Palestinians who will compose and introduce the UN resolution but the international community, and not the Palestinians who will decide whether to approach the Security Council or the General Assembly or both.

Thus we are asked to believe that the world is threatening to impose a state on the bewildered Palestinians without consulting them. That is hardly the case. Rather, a clear strategy of ambiguity (pardon the oxymoron) is at work here.

By now, the Palestinian leaders have presumably analyzed the political and ideological constraints Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has wrapped himself in. They understand that the likelihood of an Israeli readiness for serious negotiations before September is very low.

Abbas explained once again last week how, last September at the prime minister's official residence in Jerusalem, Netanyahu had refused to discuss borders until the Palestinians agreed to his concept of security: an Israeli armed presence in the Jordan Valley for the next 40 years. Netanyahu refused to reaffirm the security concept for final status formulated by American General James Jones during the pre-Netanyahu era and ratified by all concerned parties, which is based on a NATO rather than an Israeli presence on the ground in the Palestinian state. And he refused to extend the settlement freeze.

While this explanation can be seen to justify the current Palestinian refusal to renew negotiations, one has to question whether there remains any sincere Palestinian desire to do so. After all, for nine months there was something called a "settlement freeze", yet the Palestinians did not negotiate. At the time, the opportunity beckoned to "call Netanyahu's bluff" regarding territory and Jerusalem--two issues on which the Israeli prime minister clearly rejects the international consensus regarding the 1967 lines and the location of a Palestinian state capital.

Abbas presumably fears once again getting tied down in negotiations that he apparently knows cannot succeed even under the best of circumstances. As his talks with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert during 2008 demonstrated, there remain significant gaps between the most moderate Palestinian and Israeli positions regarding the settlement blocs, the refugees and the holy places in Jerusalem. Abbas continues to represent the most moderate Palestinian position; Netanyahu rejects Olmert's far-reaching concessions as too liberal, after they were rejected by Abbas as not liberal enough.

So why bother? Why not capitalize on growing international recognition of a Palestinian state and have one declared at the UN rather than once again failing to negotiate?

Yet Palestinian ambiguity does not end here. Implicit in the successful Palestinian drive for a UN decision to recognize a state within the 1967 borders, is a degree of sober acknowledgement on the part of the PLO leadership that it has tied itself in knots and irrationally delayed the emergence of a state by linking any agreement over territorial final status, which is relatively achievable, to the "existential" issues of the right of return and the "ownership" of the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, over which the Palestinian and Israeli narratives are irrevocably at odds.

By asking the UN to dictate a solution to the territorial issue--a state within the 1967 lines with its capital in Jerusalem--the Palestinian leadership is in effect accepting a partial settlement, restricted to territory, in order to bypass its own impossible preconditions for a comprehensive settlement. Yet a UN resolution rejected by Israel could merely exacerbate the conflict.

This could be good news for both Israel and the United States, if only they would open their eyes. The next six months should logically be devoted to leveraging the Palestinian strategy into a win-win situation for the Palestinians and Israel, with international backing. The Palestinians can get statehood, with the borders and capital they want. Israel and the US and additional fair-minded countries can insist, as a condition for their acquiescence, that the UN recognition resolution also reconfirm Israel as a Jewish state and provide for negotiated land swaps, agreed security arrangements and adequate time for negotiations and dealing with settlement issues. The UN can also call upon the Arab League to begin making good on the normalization and regional security arrangements that the Arab Peace Initiative offers to reward Israel. An intractable conflict between a state and a diaspora-centered liberation movement can be turned into a manageable one between two neighboring states.

A lot of good can come out of this Palestinian ambiguity.-Published 4/4/2011 ©

Yossi Alpher is coeditor of the family of internet publications. He is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University.

Returning to our references
 Ghassan Khatib
Palestinians look at the approaching September deadline as a very critical and decisive crossroads. It is the end of the one-year time-frame for the bilateral negotiations that started upon the initiative of the United States last September. It is also the end of the two-year plan of the Palestinian government for achieving national readiness for statehood.

This perception of this deadline is not only Palestinian. US President Barack Obama expressed in his speech in front of the United Nations General Assembly last year that he wished to see Palestinians as a full member of the United Nations by September.

But there are also much deeper reasons for this deadline that are appearing in the very vital and serious public debates happening within Palestinian society. Not least among these are initiatives from young activists that are getting more involved in Palestinian politics and discussing and presenting ideas on the way forward for the Palestinian people and how to end the occupation and achieve freedom and independence.

Palestinians have been negotiating bilaterally with Israel since the Madrid conference in 1991, 20 years ago. Since then, Israel has always pushed for bilateral negotiations and made sure to prevent any form or level of third-party involvement. Palestinians, on the other hand, have unsuccessfully tried to avoid being isolated with Israel in negotiations and sought to encourage different forms of international engagement.

It was the international community, after all, that initiated this peace process on the basis of international legality. The invitation for the peace process was issued jointly by the United States and the Soviet Union and the conference that launched Madrid included representatives of the most influential members of the international community. Among them were the European Union, China, Japan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.

After 20 years, Palestinians do not see themselves nearer to achieving their legitimate objective of ending the occupation--nor do they see the conflict nearing a settlement. Therefore, there seems to be a consensus that Palestinians need to return to the international community to report on the failure of this peace process and to discuss fresh ideas and approaches that might be more effective, based on our experiences.

One conclusion that Palestinians have drawn is that the absence of international community involvement has allowed Israel to apply the balance of power that exists on the ground (military, economic and so on) to the negotiations, thus exploiting Palestinian weaknesses and blackmailing them and their leadership. It has also allowed Israel to escape the applicability of the relevant stipulations of the United Nations, including Security Council resolutions and international law in general.

Accordingly, Palestinians want in September a more serious and direct role of the international community based on international law, possibly through the United Nations, in contributing to solving this problem. We ask for no less than the same standards the international community is using in handling other conflicts.

This is not an elementary exercise. The problem for Palestinians is that not only has this peace process that our leadership has gambled on failed to achieve our objectives, but continuous Israeli violations of Palestinian rights and the consolidation of the occupation through settlement expansion have contributed to undermining the same Palestinian leadership. We find ourselves in a completely unsustainable situation.

The Palestinian leadership cannot allow the current distorted transitional scenario to be transformed into a defacto permanent solution, the Israeli strategy at the moment. Israel has unilaterally separated the occupied West Bank from the Gaza Strip, continued to control all borders and three-quarters of the West Bank, confiscated property and built a wall mostly on Palestinian land in order to create a defacto situation that is "comfortable" for its citizens, while completely unacceptable and unsustainable for Palestinians.

Allowing the deadline of September to pass without significant change will simply consolidate these unilateral and illegal Israeli steps.-Published 4/4/2011

Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications and director of the Government Media Center. This article represents his personal views.

And what happens then?
 Ephraim Sneh
One day this September, the United Nations General Assembly will convene in New York and decide to recognize a Palestinian state "within the 1967 borders". This will be a near unanimous decision, including an American "yes" vote; only Israel will vote "no". This outcome is inevitable, because the government of Israel lacks the political will to take any step, mainly regarding settlements, that would enable the resumption of negotiations that could render a UN decision unnecessary.

But what will happen next? Apparently, nothing good. There are two basic scenarios for the events that will follow.

The first scenario is violent. Palestinian public euphoria and the perception of international support will send tens of thousands into the streets of the West Bank. Demonstrations of support will take place in the refugee camps of Lebanon and Jordan as well. In the West Bank, support will turn into protest, which will deteriorate into a third, violent intifada.

Experience teaches us that the concept of non-violence exists only in the intentions of the organizers, who are either very naive or very cynical. Wherever the number of demonstrators, even if they brandish neither sticks nor stones, exceeds the number of police or soldiers confronting them, it is inevitable that the latter will open fire. A soldier surrounded by hundreds of angry demonstrators does not know how the event will end. He fears being lynched unless he preempts. Ultimately he opens fire; ultimately someone is killed. Tempers flare and there are additional casualties. The next day there are funerals. Inevitably, they are more violent than the previous day's demonstrations. We are moving into the next violent spiral.

Under this scenario, the Palestinians have a lot to lose. The present government in Ramallah is the most accountable and transparent in the Arab world--something that demonstrators across the Middle East can only dream about. The level of law-enforcement in the West Bank is also at a standard unknown to the rest of the region. A well-trained and properly-armed security force serves this government. The conditions for establishing a viable Palestinian state, if and when occupation is ended, are better than ever.

A third intifada will precipitate the collapse of everything President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad have built so assiduously in the face of both opposition from Hamas and the cold shoulder and stinginess of the Arab world. A Palestinian-Israeli agreement will again be beyond reach.

The second scenario also leads nowhere new. After a few days of ceremonies, celebrations and euphoria on the Palestinian street, it will emerge that the reality remains the same. The Palestinian case as presented yet again with fervor on the international stage will now be better supported in terms of international law. But real sovereignty will still be missing.

The UN decision will force the Israeli public to look in the mirror, where it will see clearly documented and very unpleasant international isolation. We will be completely alone. But I'm not at all certain that the atmosphere of isolation won't strengthen Israeli extremists--those for whom the image of a fortress under siege is really the fulfillment of a dream.

There will be no Israeli-Palestinian agreement unless a majority votes for it in the Knesset. Israel is a democratic country in which the parliament decides. The late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin implemented his historic peace decisions with a Knesset majority of 61 to 59. He did not need more than that.

A Knesset majority in favor of an agreement will be created only if Israeli parliamentary elections are held over a clear choice: one state (bi-national, not democratic, not Jewish) or two states. Since 1996, the people of Israel have not been asked to make such a clear decision. If the people know that the meaning of a decision in favor of a two-state solution is really the end of the conflict, it will deliver a majority in favor of an agreement.-Published 4/4/2011 ©

Ephraim Sneh, a retired IDF general, served in Israeli governments as minister of health, minister of transportation and deputy minister of defense. He is currently chairman of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Strategic Dialogue at the Netanya Academic College.

A double-edged sword
an interview with Salah Bardawil
bitterlemons: The Palestinian leadership in Ramallah is planning to take the issue of the Palestinian state to the United Nations in September. What is Hamas' position on this action?

Bardawil: I don't see in the horizon of September any guaranteed achievements. The Palestinian Authority, which has failed in managing the negotiations file and the Palestinian cause, today is trying to evade its national commitments by creating new means [to fight] for the Palestinian cause.

The Palestinian Authority has failed in solving any of Palestinians' problems. In addition, there is no guarantee that any party will give the Palestinians an independent state on the 1967 borders as long as Israel does not agree to it. The international community, both the European Union and the United States, set a condition for that, which is via negotiations with Israel.

Moreover, what will the Palestinian Authority do if, in the United Nations [Security] Council the US again uses its veto? Alongside EU silence towards these vetoes? This will lead Palestinians to more disappointment.

I believe the Palestinian Authority should have come back to its people to reunify them. Also, [it should have] tried to reform the national reference of the Palestinians, the PLO. In time, the Palestinian and Arab position will be strong, especially after the changes in the Arab regimes. Then we can start a new battle with Israel in all fields.

bitterlemons: There seems to be an escalation underway between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. Some have said that this is Hamas' response to calls for reconciliation between Fateh and Hamas--that Hamas doesn't want reconciliation now and so has begun firing rockets at Israel as a diversion. Why has Hamas started firing rockets now?

Bardawil: The question should not be this way because the one who began the escalation was Israel. Hamas always sought to maintain the calm and had reached a national consensus supporting it. But it seems the Israeli enemy doesn't like to see this calm because it wants to achieve two goals from this escalation.

The first one is testing Palestinian power as it reacts to this escalation and ruining all of the efforts exerted.

The second one is sending a message to the Egyptian revolution that it cannot do anything for Palestinians if Palestinians are depending on Egypt to help them in the future. Israel tells them and us, "Look! I am doing whatever I want and no one can aid Palestinians."

bitterlemons: Why didn't Hamas respond quickly to President Mahmoud Abbas' initiative for reconciliation? Aren't Palestinians stronger when they are unified?

Bardawil: Hamas was the one who invited Abu Mazen to visit Gaza because Hamas knows that the Palestinian cause is a complicated one and requires a lot of dialogue. Abu Mazen dealt with the invitation from a constitutional perspective, as if he is the president and the government in Gaza is illegitimate and he is coming to Gaza to form a new government. He may have forgotten that Gaza means Hamas and Abu Mazen means Fateh. He also forgot that the Gaza government is the legal and legitimate one, elected by the Palestinians through fair elections.

Abu Mazen's reply to Hamas' invitation was vague and didn't address the invitation itself. Hamas has affirmed in its immediate welcome for the visit that it should mean that Abu Mazen has accepted comprehensive dialogue. We are still contacting Fateh to confirm this dimension.

bitterlemons: What do you predict will happen on the Palestinian scene between now and September? How would the acceptance of the Palestinian state in the United Nations change things from Hamas' perspective?

Bardawil: The Palestinian state they are talking about is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it will be a moral achievement for Palestinians, but on the other hand, it will be a trick. Its borders, sovereignty, army and resources will be in the hands of the Israelis.

We don't want to repeat the 1988 Palestinian state declaration where [independence] was declared but there was nothing on the ground. Then, the PLO tied itself to long-term negotiations without a clear vision and commitment from the Israelis. We need a clear position from the international community that exerts real pressure on Israel to withdraw from the 1967 occupied lands with complete sovereignty for Palestinians and Jerusalem as their capital.

bitterlemons: Is Hamas planning any of its own initiatives in the coming months, especially given the changes in the region and in Egypt?

Bardawil: Hamas' main interest in the coming period is to reunify the Palestinians and form a strong Palestinian front on a resistance platform, one that includes all political shades that will continue the struggle. We believe that to reach our goals, there must be military and political struggle.-Published 4/4/2011 ©

Salah Bardawil is a top Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip.