There is certainly nothing static about the current political situation, and an update seems in order.
Actually, some of what is happening is good – better than might be expected.
For those feeling unease that we might give away our country because of what Netanyahu and Lieberman said the other day, I start with these items:
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (Habayit Hayehudi), while on a tour of the Binyamin region of the Shomron Tuesday, said (emphasis added here and below):
“I will say the obvious: As long as we are in the government, there will be no Palestinian state, there will be no settlement evacuations and we will not give any land to our enemies.”
Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who heads Habayit Hayehudi, added:
“everyone who is opposed to dividing Jerusalem and building a Palestinian state… don’t worry: we’re here.”
Earlier, another member of Habayit Hayehudi, Shuli Mualem, in responding to Lieberman’s statement after he was sworn in, observed:
“At this point I still do not see a reason to be concerned by these kinds of declarations…
“…[Lieberman] wants to appease the international community with meaningless declarations during the government’s transition.
“We’ll be keeping an eye on him to make sure that no such process gains traction.”
Credit: Miriam Aster
The day after he was sworn in, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman had his first meeting with military general staff at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv.
He said a number of things in his statement to the military that day, but there was one thing that caught my eye, and which I believe has real significance (emphasis added):
“In a democratic society, matters of war and peace must express the will of the people and enjoy the support of the majority. We don’t have the option to fight an unnecessary war. As Israeli society, we can only engage in necessary wars, and in those, we must win…We don’t have the luxury of conducting drawn-out wars of attrition.”
As you may have noticed, we’ve been conducting a drawn-out war of attrition with Hamas for years. And two years ago when we were in battle in Gaza, then Defense Minister Ya’alon did not fight to win, but settled for a period of temporary quiet with the knowledge that it would inevitably be followed by another round of fighting.
It appears that Ya’alon’s successor may play it another way the next time around. And judging from the last time – when the public expressed frustration with what was seen as a premature end to the war – Lieberman will indeed have the support of the people if he fights to win.
(Ya’alon, by the way, has graciously offered to brief Lieberman on the job of Defense Minister.)
Speaking of the will of the people: According to a poll conducted by the Midgam polling firm, 78% of Israeli Jews, both to the left and the right, are in favor of extending Israeli sovereignty to Ma’aleh Adumim, which is just outside Jerusalem to the east. And 70% say that Israel should do this regardless of the consequences. This is a powerful statement.
The Land of Israel Lobby in the Knesset – which has 20 members and is co-chaired by Yoav Kish (Likud) and Bezalel Smotrich (Habayit Heyehudi) – has announced that in response to this, they will introduce a bill in the Knesset this summer calling for Israeli sovereignty to be applied to Ma’aleh Adumim.
I do not imagine that there is much chance of this legislation passing (unless the prime minister decides to stand tall), but this is a statement of no small significance. It is a response to those who demand that we return behind the 1949 armistice line for the sake of “peace.”
I do wonder how the highly contested E1 will be handled in the proposed legislation. This is an area between Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim on which Israel has had plans to build for some time – those plans have repeatedly been put on hold because of Arab protests that building there would interfere with the contiguity of the “Palestinian state.” On a regular basis, Arabs squatters put up temporary buildings, or even tents, there, which are quickly taken down.
The Land of Israel Lobby declared in their statement on this issue that, “The consensus view in the public is that Ma’aleh Adumim is an inseparable part of Israel…”
This is undoubtedly true. But it is likely true of other areas as well. I think first of Gush Etzion, which is a bloc immediately adjacent to Jerusalem to the south, which serves as the southern entry point into Jerusalem.
Gush Etzion encompasses 20 dynamic Jewish communities with a population of 20,000 collectively. (See here: http://www.gush-etzion.org.il/communities.asp )
Some of those communities (notably Kfar Etzion) pre-dated the founding of modern Israel, but were destroyed in 1948. Israelis – including in some instances the children of the earlier inhabitants – have returned to the area since 1967, to re-build those original communities and establish others.
It seems very likely to me that there would be a public consensus that these communities are part of Israel.
And how about this:
North of Jerusalem in the Shomron (Samaria) is the city of Ariel, with a population of 20,000, it is the forth largest community in Judea-Samaria; it is home to a university.
President Ruby Rivlin recently said:
“It’s obvious to everyone that Ariel would be an inseparable part of Israel in any future accord.”
I want to return, just briefly, to look at some of the issues surrounding the declarations regarding receptivity to a revised Saudi peace plan, made by Netanyahu and Lieberman at the time of Lieberman’s swearing in, on Monday evening.
What was mentioned specifically was appreciation for the recent efforts of Egypt’s president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, to promote negotiations. And so I have gone back to find al-Sisi’s words.
If Reuters provided a proper translation of his words, he “promised Israel…warmer ties if it accepts efforts to resume peace talks with the Palestinians.”
Now that’s a bit vague, but what I note is that it does not say ties with Israel will be warmer if a peace agreement is achieved. And so – this is my not altogether unfounded speculation – Netanyahu might reason (or hope) that showing readiness will improve ties with Egypt and other Arab nations, even if in the end the PA is obstructionist and nothing concrete happens.
The proviso here is that Israel absolutely must not demonstrate a readiness that entails such things as freezing building (which is minimal as it is), or dismantling any communities.
Saudi Arabia, at this point, has been cool to the Netanyahu-Lieberman declaration.
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said that:
“It’s a little early for one to assess the seriousness of the Israeli side to begin talks based on the Arab peace initiative.
“When the Israeli prime minister spoke about it, he spoke about some clauses that he considers positive, not about accepting the initiative as the basis of talks.”
This is absolutely true. Netanyahu made it clear that there would need to be “adjustments” in the plan. And they would have to be major adjustments.
There were exceedingly solid reasons why this plan was rejected by Israel when it was first introduced by the Saudis in 2002 and then re-introduced by the Arab League in 2007. It called for: “normalizing relations between the Arab region and Israel, in exchange for a complete withdrawal by Israel from the occupied territories (including East Jerusalem) and a ‘just settlement’ of the Palestinian refugee problem based on UN Resolution 194.”
In their dreams.
Of course, the political situation now is different from what it was even nine years ago – with regard to Iran and more. The Arab League just might be a bit more flexible. A bit.
As to the Palestinian Arabs…
Saeb Erekat, who is now secretary general of the PLO, at first dismissed the statement by Netanyahu as “public relations.” He said if Netanyahu is serious, then Israel must demonstrate this:
“…first and foremost by ending the manufacture of facts on the ground, the cessation of settlement, ending the Judaization of Jerusalem, stopping extrajudicial executions, halting all demolition of homes, releasing the detention of bodies, lifting the siege, recognition of the 1967 borders…”
This merely demonstrates the point that nothing is going to happen because the maximalist demands of the Palestinian Arabs are a total non-starter. Always, my favorite, when I read a list like this is the “Judaization of Jerusalem.”
Says Erekat, the realization of the two-state solution requires an explicit and clear recognition of the 1967 borders (sic) by Israel. I’ve already covered that subject above.
What we face now is the French-initiated conference in Paris, called to begin today. Israel has been in intensive communication with the US government – seen to be the primary player here – on how the conference will proceed.
I will be tracking this in forthcoming posts. This, and a great deal more.
Aaron David Miller, writing in the Wall Street Journal about this conference, says:
“After 20-plus years of planning mostly failed Middle East peace conferences for Republican and Democratic administrations, I know a fatally flawed one when I see it.”
He offers five reasons why the French initiative “can’t deliver a serious and sustained negotiating process, let alone a breakthrough.” Among these reasons (emphasis added):
 “We are in a period of political maneuver, not serious decision-making.” That a new American administration is just months away is relevant here.
 “Peace conferences and summits are usually good for one of two things: launching a credible negotiating process or reaching an agreement to finalize one. The French approach is not poised to do either. Neither of the parties to the conflict will be at Friday’s gathering. As with the Geneva process to end Syria’s civil war, there are limits on what outside parties can do to ameliorate or end regional conflict.
 Israel has already rejected the French plan. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is unwilling to accept Palestinian terms for a settlement and sees little reason to participate in an international forum that might pressure him to do so…The prime minister and defense minister have a stake in sounding reasonable. Both are making positive statements about two states and the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative. But once details are discussed, the yawning gaps between the Israelis, Arabs, and Palestinians will become apparent.
I end with a good news piece:
An anti-BDS conference – called the “Building Bridges Not Boycotts, International Summit – was held in the UN General Assembly hall in New York on Tuesday. Over 2,000 people, students, activists and legal professionals, were in attendance; Christians joined with Jews in participating. The event focused on fighting BDS on college campuses, in courts of law, and in the UN itself.
Speaking at the event, Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon, who served as the event’s host, said;
“BDS has already infected the UN.
“Can you imagine, 70 years after the Holocaust, the UN [Human Rights Council] is creating lists to encourage the boycott of Jewish companies?
“This is exactly the kind of hatred which the UN was founded to eradicate. When the UN is opening the door to BDS we have to respond. When Jewish students are afraid to visibly support Israel on a college campus, we have to take a stand.
“The truth is the best weapon in the battle against the lies and distortions of BDS. BDS is modern-day anti-Semitism and we must unite to reveal its true face and put an end to an ideology of hatred and lies…we are here to win.”
Danny Danon has become quite the fighter at the UN, and to him I say Kol Hakavod – with all honor due you.
Credit: Kobi Kalmanovitz
The event was co-sponsored by the Israeli Mission to the UN and a number of American Jewish organizations, World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder also spoke. The goal of the event was to lift morale, so Jewish students could know they were not alone, and to teach practical methods for combatting BDS.
André Rieu, “When you walk through a storm.”
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by Arlene Kushner, functioning as an independent journalist. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.
If it is reproduced and emphasis is added, the fact that it has been added must be noted.