August 22, 2011 Edition 25 Palestinian-Israeli Crossfire
Palestinian and Israeli preparations for September
Don't believe the hype  - Ghassan Khatib
Israel has been trying to shift the debate.

September can still produce something useful  - Yossi Alpher
By now it should be clear that the Oslo negotiating framework has exhausted its usefulness.

Rallying for freedom  - Abdullah Abu Rahme
This is a first step to freedom, and very important at this stage.

After September comes October  - Efraim Inbar
The UN cannot deliver a state.

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Don't believe the hype
 Ghassan Khatib
Israeli politicians and its media and PR machine have filled the news in the last two weeks with exaggerated and sometimes fabricated news and analysis about practical preparations on the ground for the upcoming Palestinian bid to the United Nations. Israel, which has two major difficulties with the Palestinian plan to ask the UN to discuss the stalled peace process, is having trouble fighting this move politically and diplomatically. Instead, it is resorting to its comparative advantage in public relations to try to reduce growing international support for this move.

The first problem Israel has with this discussion at the UN is that its political strategy in dealing with Palestinians is based on power politics and evasion of the international consensus. Any discussion in the United Nations about the conflict will expose Israel's illegal positions and behavior to international criticism, embarrassing it and its ally the United States, which has been ignoring Israel's role in stalling bilateral negotiations and carrying out violations of international law.

The second, albeit related, problem Israel faces is that this discussion will inevitably expose the real reason for the failure of the peace process and bilateral negotiations: illegal Israeli settlement expansion in the occupied Palestinian territories. This policy has been rejected by every single country in the world. Any discussion in the United Nations will bring attention to this main obstacle standing in the way of the peace process and negotiations that the international community has blessed as the correct approach. Consequently, Israel will face international pressure to stop its policies and resume the bilateral negotiations process.

To avoid such censure, Israel has been trying to shift the debate from the need for collective international action on the crisis facing the peace process toward fabricated news about Palestinians preparing for confrontations during the debate in the UN. And, in order to give this PR campaign some genuineness, Israel has reported on its own preparations to counter the purported Palestinian violent activities.

Fortunately, this attempt has so far not succeeded in diverting attention away from the core issues that Palestinians seek to address at the United Nations. These are, first, to invite the international community to play a more direct and effective role in ending Israel's illegal occupation and allowing the establishment of a Palestinian state on the borders of 1967 on the basis of the international vision of peace. Second, Palestinians seek to shore up recognition for Palestine as an independent state on the borders of 1967. Finally, Palestinians are asking for a collective contribution to the resumption of a meaningful peace process that has clear terms of reference compatible with international law and the roadmap, with more direct and effective mediation in talks, as determined by the UN.

Otherwise, Palestinians have no plans for anything beyond peaceful public activities aimed at expressing support for the leadership's United Nations initiative. In parallel, Palestinians are undertaking a diplomatic campaign of contacting various countries to explain their legitimate intentions and to encourage a positive and constructive engagement at the UN. This is in light of the Palestinian government's success at developing and reforming its institutions, thereby attracting commendations from the World Bank and the UN. Any reports about anything more are simply part of a disinformation campaign that seeks to distort the legal and peaceful Palestinian approach.-Published 22/8/2011 ©

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

September can still produce something useful
 Yossi Alpher
September 20 is the day the PLO has targeted for submitting to the United Nations its request for state recognition. It is still not clear how that request will be worded and whether it will be submitted first to the Security Council or directly to the General Assembly. But despite this lack of clarity, or perhaps because of it, both Palestinians and Israelis are actively preparing on three fronts for some sort of confrontation.

One front is diplomatic: the West Bank-based Palestinian diplomatic establishment is busily signing up prospective supporters in the UN, while Israeli diplomacy is focused on recruiting a bloc that will oppose the Palestinians in the international forum.

A second front is on the ground. There are reports of Palestinian preparations to celebrate a UN decision with mass marches that, given the lay of the land in the West Bank, could deliberately or inadvertently target settlers, settlements, the security fence and crossings into Jerusalem. Israel has countered with accelerated training and deployment for managing mass demonstrations in the hope of containing Palestinian protests while sustaining minimal international diplomatic damage.

A third front appears to have opened last Thursday with the attack by Palestinian terrorists on Israeli civilians near the Egyptian border with southern Israel. The attack and Israel's response snowballed into a crisis between Israel and Egypt and a new mini-war in and around the Gaza Strip. Both distract attention from the September UN campaign and could still, in a worst-case development, derail it. This could be precisely one of the objectives of the most extreme Gaza- and Damascus-based Islamist organizations and their state sponsors that catalyzed the crisis and that have little sympathy for the PLO's UN effort.

It is impossible to predict how the escalation of and interaction among these three fronts will develop in the course of the coming month. Are we headed for a general deterioration of Israeli-Palestinian relations against a backdrop of Palestinian triumph, or for a series of non-events that fizzle and lead nowhere?

The latter outcome would be a pity, because Ramallah's UN move could actually produce something useful, despite Israeli and American mismanagement of the Palestinian challenge. Neither Washington nor Jerusalem appears to recognize that, in taking his case for statehood to the UN, Abbas is effectively agreeing to a partial settlement of his final status claims that could be highly advantageous for the cause of a stable two-state solution. Abbas is asking the UN for a territorial solution: a Palestinian state based on the 1967 lines with its capital in Jerusalem. He is not asking the UN to rule on the right of return or the "ownership" of the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif in Jerusalem--the real "deal breakers" when the two parties sit down to direct negotiations.

When Abbas returns to the negotiating table as president of a newly-recognized state of Palestine, he will be representing in the best case the Arab residents of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza. He will no longer be speaking to Israel on behalf of a liberation organization that represents primarily the Palestinian diaspora. The border issues mandated by recognition of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 lines will be far easier to negotiate on a state-to-state basis than they are now when they are linked to the more intractable final status issues championed by the PLO. Indeed, all outstanding issues will be easier to negotiate between two states.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu presumably ignores these advantages of the current Palestinian approach to the UN because he cannot acquiesce in either the 1967 borders or a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem. He is not a partner for substantive negotiations either before or after the UN in September. As for Washington, internal electoral considerations will apparently continue to shunt aside any serious initiative regarding the Palestinian issue for at least 15 more months.

So we are not talking about near-term negotiations. But once serious talks are again enjoined, the Palestinian UN initiative could have the effect of altering the parameters of those negotiations for the better. By now, it should be clear that the Oslo negotiating framework has exhausted its usefulness. Two serious attempts to negotiate final status issues, in 2000 and 2008, failed because the parties came face-to-face with the unbridgeable narrative gaps dividing them on the refugee and holy places issues. Hence any new attempt involving the PLO to resolve all final status issues together under Oslo, now or in 18 months, dooms all the issues to failure.

Better to leverage the Palestinian UN initiative into a win-win resolution that gives the Palestinians a state based on the 1967 borders and balances it with recognition of legitimate Israeli needs and interests. Only in this way can UN recognition of a Palestinian state produce a positive and useful alternative framework for future negotiations.-Published 22/8/2011 ©

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.

Rallying for freedom
 Abdullah Abu Rahme
We in the West Bank village of Bilin are just one part of a coordinated plan for September, when Palestinians will seek statehood from the United Nations. I have been named coordinator of activities for the Palestinian Campaign for the 140th State. This means I will be coordinating between all the governorates and the various committees that have been established to rally around this cause. There is also a committee that is trying to raise the funds that are needed for the media effort, and a committee that coordinates between the governorates and is in contact with the Palestine Liberation Organization's Central Committee.

We have one program: to carry out marches and activities in September, and to hold one major demonstration on September 21, the opening of the United Nations session in New York.

These steps are intended to show that the public stands with the PLO in its United Nations bid, and that we as a people support complete recognition of Palestine at the UN. It is true that after September 21 and the UN session, we are not going to see the state of Palestine magically appear. But this is a first step to freedom, and very important at this stage. This is what will allow us to reach independence and freedom in the future and rid ourselves of all aspects of Israel's occupation.

We hope that there is no veto of the resolution when it is put before the Security Council, and instead, countries are willing to stand up and say that we also have rights to statehood. We are asking the international community to rid us of this occupation, perhaps through the wielding of sanctions, preventing investment or boycotting the occupation.

If there is a veto, however, we will not abandon everything. We will seek to become an observer country. This will give us access to numerous organizations, such as the International Criminal Court at The Hague, UNESCO and others. This way we can fight the occupation and its settlements in court. Either way, this step has positive outcomes for the Palestinian people.

Our experience in Bilin taught us the great force of people power. In Bilin, Israel was building a Wall on our land, and we needed to stop that construction. We in Bilin went out to face the occupation, but we also held non-violent demonstrations in the village itself.

This coming popular movement is being directed at the UN. Israel is trying to box Palestinians into the use of force and impose clashes in order to transform the "battleground" and the balance of power. It wants to say that there is insecurity in the region and that Palestinians are not ready for a state.

Because of this, the decision was made to have demonstrations in the center of the cities, like in the Arab countries--in Tahrir Square and in Tunis--rather than to face the occupation. If the occupation doesn't allow this and enters the center of the cities, then the demonstrations will continue, without a doubt. But even if the Israeli military enters Palestinian cities, we will remain peaceful. We will not use armed confrontations. There will be all kinds of people there: religious leaders, the elderly, youth, and students. This will be a peaceful public expression and there will be no place for arms.

Still, we don't know what the occupation is planning--it could come to us, it could use violence, it could use terrorism, as it did by shelling Gaza repeatedly last week, to turn attention from the initiative at the UN. We are ready for this and in the coming days, our focus will be on peaceful action.-Published 22/8/2011 ©

Abdullah Abu Rahme is an activist from the West Bank village of Bilin.

After September comes October
 Efraim Inbar
Earlier this year, Chairman Mahmoud Abbas made the decision to cut off the Palestine Liberation Organization's negotiations with Israel and go to the United Nations in September to bid for state recognition. There, an American veto at the Security Council is expected, while at the General Assembly a large majority of members are likely to endorse a motion recognizing a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. Such a resolution is not binding in accordance with international law, but its prospects have elicited negative reactions from Israel, the United States and part of the international community that deplore the Palestinian unilateral approach and fear the consequences of a UN resolution. Israel's defense minister, Ehud Barak, even warned of an impending "diplomatic tsunami".

Those fears are greatly exaggerated. First, the UN lacks legitimacy. It is a morally bankrupt institution, giving an equal voice to the worst aggressors and human rights offenders on the globe. It is unclear how a resolution at the UN, a powerless institution, could possibly make a dent in a century-old ethnic conflict in the Holy Land. What can it do to implement the General Assembly recommendations? The only consequence is negative, reinforcing Palestinian intransigence.

Unfortunately, General Assembly resolutions cannot fix a Palestinian national movement that is hopelessly fractured and dysfunctional. The UN cannot turn the Palestinian factions into one political entity. Can the UN bring Gaza and the West Bank together to present reasonable interlocutors for Israeli negotiators? Can the UN mellow Hamas' lust to kill Jews and to eradicate Israel? Can it eradicate the "shaheed" death culture?

Is the UN in a position to infuse pragmatism into Palestinian political culture? The Palestinians still insist on the invented "right of return" for Palestinian refugees, which most of the world sees as an unrealistic demand and an obstacle to peace. The Palestinians are trying to rewrite the past by denying Jewish history in Jerusalem. They are still not ready to concede that they lost the struggle over Jerusalem, a united capital city that the Jews will adamantly defend. Israel is unquestionably stronger and time is on its side. Nevertheless, the Palestinians remain "bad losers", not willing to make a pragmatic deal in order to achieve statehood.

The UN cannot deliver a state. It can change neither the facts on the ground nor Palestinian behavior. The Palestinians had two historic opportunities to build a state, in 1948 and in 1993, but both were squandered by terrible leadership. Recently, we have observed somewhat more successful efforts at state-building by Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. While he is arguably the best thing that has happened to the Palestinians in their short history, his popularity among his people is quite low, indicating the dysfunctional character of Palestinian politics. The image of a booming Ramallah, the fruit of Fayyad's efforts, is somewhat misleading.

Can the PA survive without begging for international support every few months? Can it survive cutting down its bloated and corrupt bureaucracy to enable it to build a healthy economy? The much lauded US-trained Palestinian troops have yet to meet the real test in the main mission of state-building: monopoly over the use of force. Illegal weapons abound, posing an extraordinary domestic security challenge for a nascent state. Can these troops be trusted to fight a serious challenge from Hamas, or will we see them collapse just as an earlier version of US-trained Palestinian troops did in Gaza?

Actually, it is regular Israeli military incursions against the Hamas infrastructure in the West Bank that keep the PA safe. Were Israel to take a decision to deny access to its labor market and cease money transfers and many services, the result could be lethal.

The PLO leadership realizes that its options against Israel are limited and that another terrorist campaign would turn out to be extremely destructive to the Palestinians. The power differential between a democratic, prosperous and militarily strong Israel and corrupt, autocratic and fragmented Palestinian entities is only growing. Israel managed to win the first two intifadas and can do so again. Nowadays, it is preparing for Palestinian non-violent actions that could affect its image abroad and at home. Adequate planning and training might minimize the inevitable damage resulting from clashes between soldiers and civilians.

The main challenge to Israel is, however, not on the diplomatic front where it is doing better than its critics think. The Arab world, in the throes of a socio-political crisis, is hardly able to do anything but pay lip-service in support of a Palestinian state. Israel's diplomats managed to prevent an international flotilla from breaking the Gaza naval siege. Israel has also been successful in procuring international understanding for its demand to be recognized by the Palestinians as a Jewish state. Furthermore, Washington is solidly behind Jerusalem on most issues, while the strategic relationship is hardly affected by differences on peace negotiations.

What is at stake, however, is Israel's cohesion. A united Israel behind a government perceived as doing enough for securing peace can sustain protracted conflict. Netanyahu's stable government meets these requirements. A huge number of Israelis strongly believe that the Palestinians, at this stage, are not ready to make the necessary concessions for peace. A UN resolution is unlikely to change public opinion in Israel, which regards this body as incompetent and hostile. Finally, the upheaval in the Arab world indicates that there is greater need for caution and for insistence on defensible borders.

Unless we see the emergence of a more pragmatic Palestinian leadership, the conflict will continue. In all probability, September 2011 will be followed by October and many more months without a Palestinian state in the offing.-Published 22/8/2011

Efraim Inbar is professor of political studies and director of the Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University.