Blogger face-off: As leaders come for talks, can Obama forge Mideast peace?

The Hill invites two established bloggers from either side of the ideological spectrum to sound off on a designated topic in original commentary each Saturday. In the run-up to next week's Mideast peace talks in Washington, Israeli and Palestinian bloggers were asked whether the Obama administration is capable of forging a peace agreement, and what the best steps were for the White House's Mideast policy.


The parameters are clear, and Obama needs to push them

by Laila El-Haddad

Can the Obama administration forge a peace agreement, and what steps should it be taking in Mideast policy?

I’ll be honest. From my vantage point here in Gaza, where I’ve been for the past two months, it’s really, really difficult to approach this question seriously. Besieged and prevented from developing or prospering, with no exports and few people being allowed out and minimal raw materials being allowed in, Palestinians here are wondering what exactly we are negotiating over and who exactly Mahmoud Abbas is representing. (As one astute observer on Twitter noted, “himself, of course, who else”.) A peace agreement with no broad representation, head by a president with no legal authority or credibility, generally speaking, is not a good way to kick things off.

This is leaving aside the question of what exactly these direct talks will be about.

Palestinians have tired of piecemeal agreement with empty promises, a showcase of handshakes and ceremonies. They have become desensitized to the word “negotiations” -- offended, even, by the mere notion of negotiations and their implications in their current context. For them, negotiations have meant nothing but concessions, emboldening Israeli security, and further strangulation.  

Take the last much-publicized “back on track” attempt: Annapolis. Then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert reportedly went so far as to promise not to build new settlements or expropriate land! Well, by that measure (which, needless to say, didn’t pan out according to promise), we’ve gone backwards, granting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu his wish of “talks without preconditions” (we’ve gone backwards in any case, but you get my drift). Palestinians don’t want more handouts; we don’t want the opportunity to artificially prosper economically without sovereignty, freedom, or security of our own. Malls and cafes do not a state make, no matter what you call it (see: Netanyahu-Fayyad economic peace). 

Even if there was a commitment to freeze settlements, there will inevitably be a way around it. More Palestinian land will be expropriated and current settlements expanded to account for their "natural growth", until they resemble towns, not colonies, and have them legitimized by a U.S. administration looking for some way to save face. And then there will be promises to raze outposts.

Oslo has been around for 17 years now. Almost two decades. It’s really mind-boggling when I say it out loud like that. Simply because if you take a good, hard look at the reality on the ground for Palestinians and what has happened in those 17 years, you would be hard-pressed to believe that any new negotiations will bear any fruit without a fundamental shift in the underlying process. 

During that period, Israel's illegal settlement enterprise doubled while Palestinian poverty and unemployment rates reached historic heights, due in no small part to Israel’s closure regime and policy of de-development. More than 300,000 illegal Jewish settlers now live on 42 percent of the West Bank land where the Palestinians want to establish their future country, according to a July report by the Israeli  human rights group BTselem. Meanwhile, the prospect of a viable, contiguous Palestinian state has been rendered next to impossible, leading many Palestinians to consider new options.

There is increasingly talk amongst Palestinians now of a desire for a strategic shift of their own vis-a-vis their political aspirations: from a two-state solution toward a call for one democratic country, with equal rights for all. This is the only sustainable, viable, and just option for both peoples.

The contradictions underlying U.S. policy and its relationship with Israel must also change.

As one high-ranking aid official explained to me in Gaza City last week, “The U.S. government is choking Gaza with one hand, and paying millions of dollars of taxpayers' money in aid as a direct consequence with the other to keep Gaza afloat, when really all that’s needed is to end the siege.”

Gaza has been cast aside for the moment, but in thought and in words. Yet if any new negotiations stand any chance of succeeding, they must include Gaza -- and its government -- in the debate. Never mind talk of dedication to Israel’s destruction. The charter of Netanyahu’s Likud Party flatly rejects the establishment of a Palestinian state. Yet miraculously, America not only negotiates with Israel but allows Israel to push it around, by many an Israeli prime minister’s own admission.

The United States cannot be a fair and honest broker while simultaneously turning a blind eye to Israeli aggressions and be Israel’s biggest provider of arms and unconditional aid dollars. Likewise, these latest iteration of talks cannot be taken seriously if the Hamas government as well as political representatives from across the Palestinian spectrum (both inside and out) are not included.

As one prominent Palestinian-American tweeter put it Thursday night, “Now that Israel got its wish of talks 'without preconditions' I expect [Hamas leader] Khaled Meshal will soon get his invitation to Washington.”

If the Obama administration is indeed serious about peace, the parameters are clear, and have been for decades. The Israeli government must explicitly endorse a viable, contiguous, sovereign Palestinian state, something they have not yet done. Israel must suffer consequences for non-compliance.

Journalist and media activist Laila El-Haddad blogs as Gaza Mom.


Time for a paradigm shift in the peace process

by Ted Belman

One cannot answer this question without regard to the religious, historical and legal context for the conflict. The conflict has continued for over 100 years and for good reason.

More than 3,000 years ago God promised these lands to the Jewish people. King Solomon built the Temple in Jerusalem 2,900 years ago. The Temple was destroyed 400 years later, only to be rebuilt less than 100 years thereafter. In 70 AD the Romans destroyed the Second Temple, massacred over one million Jews and sent much of the rest into exile. Thus Jewish sovereignty over the land lasted for 1,000 years with a couple of short interruptions. The Promised Land and Jerusalem are as central to Judaism as Jesus is to Christianity.

For 2,000 years Jews prayed for a return to Jerusalem. The Ottoman Empire was defeated in World War I. By international law, the victorious powers have the right to redraw borders, which they did at San Remo in 1920. They awarded Palestine, a province of the Ottoman Empire, to the Jews as their homeland. This decision was reaffirmed in the Palestine Mandate two years later. According to Jacques Gauthier, an expert on international law, who wrote his doctoral thesis on the matter, Jerusalem belongs to the Jews. It was res judicata.

In the seventh century AD, Mohammed founded a new religion called Islam, submission, and wrote the Koran. It mandated on all Muslims, the duty of Jihad, struggle. They must struggle to conquer all the land for Allah and keep it. Thus, the Province of Palestine, which included the Land Of Israel, having been in the past conquered for Allah, must be recovered.

Jerusalem is mentioned 823 times in the Bible (669 times in Old Testament; 154 in New Testament). Jerusalem is not mentioned in the Koran, even once

The Arabs don’t want a 23rd Arab state. They want to destroy the Jewish state of Israel. They want to recover the land for Allah. That is why they have been fighting the Jews for the last 100 years, why they make no concessions and why they don’t want to negotiate. This will never change.

The Jews compromised 63 years ago when they accepted the Partition Plan, which gave them a state on part only of the land awarded to them at San Remo. They are still willing to compromise for peace but demand the Arabs also compromise and sign an end-of-conflict agreement. This the Arabs will not do.

Neither party will make the concessions the other demands. It is for this reason the Arabs have threatened to declare a state unilaterally, President Obama has mooted the idea of imposing a solution and Israel has mooted the idea of annexing Judea and Samaria (The West Bank).

What is needed is a paradigm shift. The U.S. should no longer push the peace process. Instead, she should back Israel and strengthen her to prevent the expansion of Iranian hegemony. With America withdrawing from Iraq, she needs a strong Israel all the more.

Ted Belman is a retired lawyer and editor of Israpundit. He made aliyah from Canada in 2009 and now lives in Jerusalem.