Viser arkivet for stikkord abbas

Uri Avnery: Netanyahu´s divide and rule-policy

Uri Avnery
August 8, 2015

BINYAMIN NETANYAHU is not known as a classical scholar, but even so he has adopted the Roman maxim Divide et Impera, divide and rule.

The main (and perhaps only) goal of his policy is to extend the rule of Israel, as the “Nation-State of the Jewish People”, over all of Eretz Israel, the historical land of Palestine. This means ruling all of the West Bank and covering it with Jewish settlements, while denying any civil rights to its 2.5 million plus Arab inhabitants.

East Jerusalem, with its 300,000 Arab inhabitants, has already been formally annexed to Israel, without granting them Israeli citizenship or the right to take part in Knesset elections.

That leaves the Gaza Strip, a tiny enclave with 1.8 million plus Arab inhabitants, most of them descendents of refugees from Israel. The last thing in the world Netanyahu wants is to include these, too, in the Israeli imperium.

There is a historical precedent. After the 1956 Sinai War, when President Eisenhower demanded that Israel immediately return all the Egyptian territory it had conquered, many voices in Israel called for the annexation of the Gaza Strip to Israel. David Ben-Gurion adamantly refused. He did not want hundreds of thousands more Arabs in Israel. So he gave the strip too back to Egypt.

The annexation of Gaza, while keeping the West Bank, would create an Arab majority in the Jewish State. True, a small majority, but a rapidly growing one.

THE INHABITANTS of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip belong to the same Palestinian people. They are closely connected by national identity and family ties. But they are now separate entities, geographically divided by Israeli territory, which at its narrowest point is about 30 miles broad.

Both territories were occupied by Israel in the 1967 Six-day War. But for many years, Palestinians could move freely from one to the other. Palestinians from Gaza could study in the university of Bir Zeit in the West Bank, a woman from Ramallah in the West Bank could marry a man from Beth Hanun in the Gaza strip.

Ironically, this freedom of movement came to an end with the 1994 Oslo “peace” agreement, in which Israel explicitly recognized the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as one single territory, and undertook to open four “free passages” between them. Not a single one was ever opened.

The West Bank is now nominally administered by the Palestinian Authority, also created by the Oslo agreement, which is recognized by the UN and the majority of the world’s nations as the State of Palestine under Israeli military occupation. Its leader, Mahmoud Abbas, a close colleague of the late Yasser Arafat, is committed to the Arab Peace plan, initiated by Saudi Arabia, which recognizes the State of Israel in its pre-1967 borders. No one doubts that he desires peace, based on the Two-State Solution.

IN 1996, GENERAL elections in both territories were won by Hamas (Arab initials of “Movement of Islamic Resistance”). Under Israeli pressure, the results were annulled. Whereupon Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip. That’s where we are now: two separate Palestinian entities, whose rulers hate each other.

Superficial logic would dictate that the Israeli government support Mahmoud Abbas, who is committed to peace, and help him against Hamas, which at least officially is committed to the destruction of Israel. Well, it ain’t necessarily so.

True, Israel has fought several wars against the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, but it has made no effort to occupy it again, after withdrawing from it in 2005. Netanyahu, like Ben-Gurion before him, does not want to have all those Arabs. He contents himself with a blockade that turns it into “the world’s largest open-air prison”.

Yet, a year after the last Israel-Gaza war, the region is rife with rumors about indirect negotiations going on in secret between Israel and Gaza about a long-range armistice (’hudna" in Arabic), even bordering on unofficial peace.

How come? Peace with the radical enemy regime in Gaza, while opposing the peace-oriented Palestinian Authority in the West Bank?

Sounds crazy, but actually isn’t. For Netanyahu, Mahmoud Abbas is the greater enemy. He attracts international sympathy, the UN and most of the world’s governments recognize his State of Palestine, he may well be on the way to establish a real independent Palestinian state, including Gaza.

No such danger emanates from the Hamas mini-state in Gaza. It is detested throughout the world, even by most of the Arab states, as a “terrorist” mini-state.

SIMPLE PRAGMATIC logic would push Israel towards Hamas. The tiny enclave does not present a real danger to the mighty Israeli military machine, at most a small irritation that can be dealt with by a small military operation every few years, as happened during the last few years.

It would be logical for Netanyahu to make unofficial peace with the regime in Gaza and continue the fight against the regime in Ramallah. Why maintain the naval blockade on the Gaza strip? Why not do the opposite? Let the Gazans build a deep-sea harbor, and rebuild their beautiful international airport (which was destroyed by Israel)? It would be easy to put in place an inspection regime to prevent the smuggling in of arms.

Once there was talk of Gaza turning into an Arab Singapore. That is a wild exaggeration, but the Gaza Strip may well become a rich oasis of trade, a harbor of entry for the West Bank, Jordan and beyond.

This would dwarf the PLO regime in the West Bank, deprive it of its international standing and avert the danger of peace. The annexation of the West Bank – now called “Judea and Samaria” even by Israeli leftists – could proceed step by step, first unofficially, then officially. Jewish settlements would cover the land more and more, and in the end nothing else would remain there except some small Palestinian enclaves. Palestinians would be encouraged to leave.

FORTUNATELY (for the Palestinians) such logical thinking is alien to Netanyahu and his cohorts. Faced with two alternatives to choose from, he chooses neither.

While seeking an unofficial hudna with Hamas in Gaza, he keeps up the total blockade of the Gaza Strip. At the same time, he tightens the oppression in the West Bank, where the occupation army now routinely kills some six Palestinians per week.

Behind this non-logic there lurks a dream: the dream that in the end all the Arabs would leave Palestine and just leave us alone.

Was this the hidden hope of Zionism from the beginning? Judging from its literature, the answer is no. In his futuristic novel, “Altneuland”, Theodor Herzl describes a Jewish commonwealth in which Arabs live happily as equal citizens. The young Ben-Gurion tried to prove that the Palestinian Arabs are really Jews who at some time had no choice but to adopt Islam. Vladimir Jabotinsky, the most extremist Zionist and forefather of today’s Likud, wrote a poem in which he foresaw a Jewish state where “The son of Arabia, the son of Nazareth and my son / will flourish together in abundance and happiness”.

Yet many people believe that these were empty words, attuned to the realities of their time, but that underneath it all was the basic will to turn all of Palestine into an exclusively Jewish state. This desire, they believe, has unconsciously directed all Zionist action from then to now.

However, this situation did not result from any diabolical Israeli plan. Israelis don’t plan things, they just push them along.

By splitting into two mutually hating entities, the Palestinian people actually collaborate with this Zionist dream. Instead of uniting against a vastly superior occupier, they undermine each other. In both mini-capitals, Ramallah and Gaza, there rules now a local ruling class, which has a vested interest in sabotaging national unity.

Instead of uniting against Israel, they hate and fight each other. Cutting the small Palestinian nation into two even smaller, mutually hostile entities, both helpless against Israel, is an act of political suicide.

ON THE face of it, the right-wing Israeli dream has won. The Palestinian people, torn apart and rent by mutual hatreds, are far removed from an effectual struggle for freedom and independence. But this is a temporary situation.

In the end, this situation will explode. The Palestine population, growing day by day (or night by night) will come together again and restart the struggle for liberation. Like every other people on earth, they will fight for their freedom.

Therefore, the “divide et impera” principle can turn into a catastrophe. The real long-term interest of Israel is to make peace with the entire Palestinian people, living peacefully in a state of their own, in close cooperation with Israel.

Uri Avnery on the war on Gaza

Son of Death
23/08/14

THE WAR was over. Families returned to their kibbutzim near Gaza. Kindergartens opened up again. A ceasefire was in force and extended again and again. Obviously, both sides were exhausted.

And then, suddenly, the war came back.
What happened? Well, Hamas launched rockets against Beersheba in the middle of the ceasefire.
Why? No why. You know how the terrorists are. Bloodthirsty. They can’t help it. Just like scorpions.
But it is not so simple.
THE CAIRO talks were near success, or so it seemed. But Binyamin Netanyahu was in trouble. He hid the Egyptian draft agreement for a long ceasefire even from his cabinet colleagues. They learned about it only from the media, which disclosed it from Palestinian sources.
Apparently, the draft said that the blockade would be greatly relaxed, if not officially ended. Talks about the building of a port and airport were to start within a month.
What? What did Israel get out of this? After all the shooting and killing, with 64 Israeli soldiers dead, after all the grandiose speeches about our resounding victory, was that all? No wonder Netanyahu tried to hide the document.
The Israeli delegation was called home without signing. The exasperated Egyptian mediators got another 24 hour extension of the ceasefire. It was to expire at midnight on Tuesday, but everybody on both sides expected it to be extended again and again. And then it happened.
At about 16.00 hours, three rockets were fired at Beersheba and fell into open spaces. No warning sirens. Curiously enough, Hamas denied having launched them, and no other Palestinian organization took responsibility. This was strange. After every previous launching from Gaza, some Palestinian organization has always proudly claimed credit.
As usual, Israeli airplanes promptly started to retaliate and bombed buildings in the Gaza Strip. As usual, rockets rained down on Israel. (I heard the interceptions in Tel Aviv).
BUSINESS AS usual? Not quite.
First it became known that an hour before the rockets came in, the Israeli population near Gaza was warned by the army to prepare their shelters and “safe spaces”.
Then it appeared that the first Gaza building hit belonged to the family of a Hamas military commander. Three people were killed, among them a baby and his mother.
And then the news spread: It was the family of Mohammed Deif, the commander of the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas. (Qassam was a Palestinian hero, the first rebel against British rule in Palestine in the 1930s. He was hunted down and killed by the British.) Among those killed this Tuesday were Deif’s wife and baby son. But it seems that Deif himself was not there.
That in itself is no wonder. Deif has survived at least four attempts to assassinate him. He has lost an eye and several limbs, but always came out alive.
All around him, his successive commanders, political and military peers and subordinates, dozens of them, have been assassinated throughout the years. But he has led a charmed life.
Now he heads the Israeli hit list, the most wanted and hunted Palestinian activist. He is the No. 1 “Son of Death”, a rather biblical appellation used in Israel for those marked for assassination.
Like most inhabitants of the Gaza Strip, Deif is a child of refugees from Israel. His family comes from the village Kawkaba, now in Israel, not far from Gaza. I passed through it in the 1948 war, before it was razed to the ground.
For the Israeli Security Service, he is a prize for which it is well worth breaking the ceasefire and reigniting the war.
FOR MANY security agencies around the world, including the American and the Russian, assassination is a sport and an art.
Israel claims to hold the gold medal.
An assassination is a complicated operation. It requires a lot of time, expertise, patience and luck. The operators have to recruit informers near the victim, install electronic devices, obtain precise information about his every movement, execute their design within minutes once the opportunity presents itself.
Because of this, there is no time for confirmation from above. Perhaps the Security Service (usually called Shin Bet) got permission from Netanyahu, its sole political chief, perhaps not.
They obviously were informed that Deif was visiting his family. That was a golden opportunity. For months, indeed for years, Deif has been living underground, in the literal sense – somewhere in the maze of tunnels his men had dug beneath the Strip. He was never sighted.
Since the beginning of this war, all the other prominent Hamas leaders have also been living under the ground. From Ismail Haniyeh down, not one of them has been seen. The unlimited command of the air by Israeli planes and drones makes this advisable. Hamas has no anti-air weapons.
It seems to me highly unlikely that Deif would risk his life by visiting his family. But Shin Bet obviously got a lead and believed it. The three strange rockets fired on Beersheba provided the pretext for breaking the ceasefire, and so the war started again.
Real aficionados of the art of assassination are not very interested in the political or military consequences of their actions. “Art for art’s sake”.
A propos, the last Gaza war, two years ago, started the same way. The Israeli army assassinated the de-facto al-Qassam leader, Ahmed Jaabari. The ensuing war with its many hundreds of dead was just collateral damage.
Jaabari was at the time filling in for Deif, who was convalescing in Cairo.
ALL THIS is, of course, much too complicated for American and European diplomats. They like simple stories.
The White House immediately reacted to the resumption of hostilities by condemning the Hamas launching of rockets and reaffirming that “Israel has a right to defend itself”. The Western media parroted this line.
For Netanyahu, whether he knew in advance of the assassination attempt or not, it was a way out of a dilemma. He was in the unfortunate position of many leaders in history who start a war and do not know how to get out of it.
In a war, a leader makes grandiloquent speeches, promises victory and bountiful achievements. These promises seldom come true. (If they do, like in Versailles 1919, that may be even worse.)
Netanyahu is a gifted marketing man, if nothing else. He promised a lot, and the people believed him and gave him a 77% rating. The Egyptian draft proposal for a permanent ceasefire, though markedly pro-Israel, fell far short of a victory for Israel. It only confirmed that the war ended in a draw. Netanyahu’s own cabinet was rebellious, public opinion was souring perceptibly. The resumption of the war got him out of this hole.
But what now?
BOMBING THE Gaza population draws more and more criticism from world public opinion. It also has lost its appeal in Israel. The maxim “Let’s bomb them until they stop hating us” obviously does not work.
The alternative is to enter the Gaza Strip and occupy it completely, so that even Deif and his men have to come up to the surface to be assassinated. But that is a dangerous proposition.
When I was a soldier in the 1948 war, we were taught never to get into a situation which leaves the enemy no way out. In such a case, he will fight to the end, causing many casualties.
There is no way out of the Gaza Strip. If the Israeli army is sent to conquer the entire Strip, the fighting will be ferocious, causing hundreds of Israeli and thousands of Palestinian dead and injured, and untold destruction. The Prime Minister will be one of the political victims.
Netanyahu is fully aware of that. He doesn’t want it. But what else can he do? One can almost pity the man.
He can of course, order the army to occupy only parts of the Strip, a village here, a town there. But that will also spread death and destruction, to no manifest gain. In the end, public discontent will be the same.
Hamas threatened this week to open “the gates of hell” for us. This hardly affects the inhabitants of Tel Aviv, but for the villages and towns near Gaza this is really hell. Casualties are few, but fear is devastating. Families with children leave en masse. When calm returns, they try to go home, but then the next rockets drive them away again.
Their plight evokes a very strong emotional response throughout the country. No politician can ignore it. Least of all the Prime Minister. He needs to end the war. He also needs a clear image of victory. But how to achieve this?
The Egyptian dictator tries to help. So does Barack Obama, though he is furious with Netanyahu and hates his guts. So does Mahmoud Abbas, who is afraid of a Hamas victory.
But as of now, the man who has the final decision is the Son of Death, Mohammed Deif, if he is alive and kicking. If not, his successor.
If he is alive, the assassination of his wife and baby son may not have made him gentler and more peaceable.

Published here with permission from the author.

-Quartet must stop demanding Hamas to recognise Hamas

Nabil Shaath, an aide to the Western-backed Palestinian president said today that international mediators of the Quartet (USA, EU, Russia and UN) should drop their demand that Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers recognise Israel.

Nabil Shaath spoke just hours before Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ West Bank Fatah government is to sign a reconciliation deal with Hamas, ending a four-year rift. An interim unity government is to follow.

You’ll find the story in todays Haaretz

Labour party secretary Raymond Johansen: "Does Israel Feel The Need To Contribute?"

In the article, the Labour party secretary Raymond Johansen asks if the present Israeli government really want to achieve peace and a two state solution, supporting the question raised by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas:

Palestinian President Abbas rightly asks whether Netanyahu is capable of contributing to, or even if he is seeking progress in the peace process. With the announcement that the US has given up the demand to stop further building of settlements, his queries must be even stronger.

If the government of Israel is unwilling or unable to give a credible answer to the challenge from Abbas, Johansen sees international support for the Palestinians dwindle. The consequence would have to be that Israel must bear a greater responsibility for upholding security and public services in the Palestinian territories. This would be a great burden for Israel to shoulder, according to Johansen:

Since the Oslo Accords in 1994, Norway has contributed USD 3 billion to the peace process. The total sum of contributions from US, European and Arab partners have been enormous. Norwegian and other contributions are often presented as support to Palestinian state building efforts. This is not the complete picture. Our contributions are equally important for Israel, because by supporting the peace process and Palestinian state building efforts, we help build Israel’s security.

You’ll find the full text of Johansen’s article in Huffington Post and an invitation to comment, here.

You may also comment on the article in this blog.

-The settlement freeze is just a bluff

Uri Avnery
28.11.09

“…And A Little Child Shall Lead Them”

THOMAS FRIEDMAN, the New York Times columnist, has an idea. That happens to him quite often. One might almost say – too often.

It goes like this: The US will turn its back on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The entire world will follow. Everybody is fed up with this conflict. Let the Israelis and the Palestinians sort out their problems by themselves.

Sounds sensible. Why must the world be bothered with these two unruly children? Let them kick each other as much as they like. The adults should not interfere.

But in reality this is an outrageous suggestion. Because these two children are not of equal strength. When an adult sees a 14-year old mercilessly mistreating a 6-year old, can he just look on?

Israel is materially a hundredfold, indeed a thousandfold, stronger than the Palestinians. The fourth strongest army in the world (by its own estimate) dominates the life of a helpless people. The Israeli economy, with some of the most advanced technologies in the world, dominates a people whose resources are next to nil. A 42-year old occupation dominates every single corner of occupied Palestine.

This did not come about by a miracle. The huge gap between the strength of the two peoples has also been created by the support of the US for Israel. Israel would not be where it is today without this political, economic and military underpinning. Billions of dollars in annual aid, access to the most advanced weaponry in the world, the political immunity assured by the US veto in the Security Council and all the other forms of assistance have helped successive Israeli governments to maintain and intensify the occupation.

Friedman does not propose ending this support, which itself is a massive intervention in this conflict, and is given to the stronger side. When he suggests that the US withdraw from the conflict, he is actually saying: let the Israeli government do what it is doing – continue the occupation, set up new settlements, withdraw the land from under the feet of the Palestinian people, go on with the murderous blockade that denies the 1.5 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip – men, women and children –almost all the necessities of life.

This is a monstrous suggestion.

True, the prophet Isaiah (11:6) describes a situation where the wolf shall dwell with the lamb. (Israeli humor comments: No problem, provided a new lamb is brought in every day.) Now the prophet Thomas proposes to let the wolf and the lamb sort out their relationship between themselves.

BINYAMIN NETANYAHU could not wish for more in his wildest dreams. In the meantime he is satisfied with something less: President Obama’s acceptance of his latest trick.

And thus Netanyahu confronted the nation with a tortured face and told us about his inhumanly difficult decision: to suspend the building activities in the settlements.

The entire world applauded. How wonderful of Netanyahu to sacrifice his most sacred principles on the altar of peace. He has taken a stupendous step. Now it’s up to the Palestinians in their turn to respond with a grand gesture.

But something is wrong in this picture and needs explaining.

To return to the great Sherlock Holmes, who spoke about the curious incident of the dog in the night-time: “But the dog did nothing in the night-time!” he was told. “That was the curious incident,” the detective answered.

It could have been assumed that after such a dramatic announcement by the Likud leader, the settlers would let out a deafening roar. Riots in the streets of all the towns. Blocking of all roads in the occupied territories. A rebellion of the settlers in the cabinet and the Knesset.

But the dog did not bark. Not even a growl, just a token yelp. Culture Minister Limor Livnat opened her big mouth and declared that the Obama administration was “terrible”. That’s more or less all. The settler-minister Avigdor Lieberman even voted for the decision in the cabinet, and so did the ultra-extreme Likud minister Benny Begin, son of the late Prime Minister.

Begin even explained his curious behavior on TV: he had no reason to vote against. After all, it was only a gesture to appease Obama. It has no real content. Building “public structures” will go on (about 300 new ones were approved just this week). Building will be continued in housing projects whose foundations have already been laid (at least 3000 apartments in the West Bank). And, most importantly: there will be absolutely no limitation to Jewish building activity in East Jerusalem, where building continues frantically in half a dozen locations in the heart of the Arab part of the city. And, besides, the suspension will last only for 10 months. Then, Begin promised, construction will be resumed in full swing.

That would not have appeased the settlers, if they did not know what every Israeli knows: that it is all phony. Building will continue everywhere, with the officials cooperating on the quiet and the army closing its eyes. It will be claimed that building permits had already been issued, that the foundations had already been laid. (In many places extra foundations have indeed been laid, just in case.) That’s the way it was in the past, under the governments of Labor and Kadima, and that’s the way it will continue now. This week it became known that in the whole of the West Bank, just 14 (fourteen!) government inspectors are supervising all building activity.

In the same TV program, Yossi Beilin was sitting next to Begin. It might have been expected that he at least would expose the fraud, but no. Beilin lauded Netanyahu for his brave act and saw in it a promising new beginning. This way he rendered important assistance in winning over world public opinion and setting the mind of Israeli innocents at rest. It would be difficult to imagine a sadder example of the collapse of the “Zionist Left”. The Geneva Initiative has turned into the Jerusalem Deception.

The largest opposition party, too, joined the chorus. Tzipi Livni, who bears the impressive official title of “Leader of the Opposition”, mumbled something unintelligible and went back to sleep.

AND OBAMA? He capitulated again. After giving up his original demand for a total freeze of building in the settlements, he had no choice but to give in again. He reacted to Netanyahu’s shabby performance as if it were high drama.

Obama is in need of an achievement. It is being said that he has not achieved a single objective in the international arena. So here is an achievement. Netanyahu is freezing – sorry, restraining – sorry, suspending – settlement activity.

My father taught me in my youth that one must never give in to a blackmailer. After giving in once, one is condemned to giving in again and again, while the demands of the blackmailer grow and grow. After giving in to the pro-Israel lobby once, Obama will have to give in again and again.

One could almost pity him and his assistants. Such an impressive, such a tough, such an experienced group – and they are returning from Jerusalem like Napoleon’s army from Moscow.

We saw poor George Mitchell. The man who brokered peace between the murderous factions in Ireland came to Jerusalem. Came again and again and again. Came as the representative of the world’s one remaining superpower to tell Israelis and Palestinians what they have to do. He was tough. He dictated terms.

Israeli officials laughed at him behind his back. They are used to the likes of him. They have eaten them for breakfast. Remember William Rogers, Nixon’s Secretary of State and his peace plan? And the great Henry Kissinger? And even James Baker, who tried to impose economic sanctions on us? And Bill Clinton’s “Guidelines”? And the “vision” of George Bush? The political graveyard is full of American politicians who tried to impose limits on Israel, without being able or willing to use the necessary force. Welcome, George. Nice to see you, Hillary.

What is so pathetic is that Netanyahu is not even deceiving Obama. The American president knows full well that this is all play acting. He is very intelligent. He is not very courageous. For the mess of pottage of a pretended achievement he has sold his political birthright. Even George Bush managed to extract from Ariel Sharon an undertaking to dismantle all settlements set up after March 2001 (needless to say, not a single one was dismantled).

This is a great victory for Netanyahu, his second over Obama. Not yet the decisive victory, but a victory that bodes ill for the chances of peace in the near future.

NETANYAHU DID NOT even try to deceive the Palestinians either. He knew that this is impossible.

Every Palestinian understands Netanyahu’s announcement only too well. He has only to look out of his window to see what is happening. After all, Israel would not invest billions in new building if it had any intention of dismantling the settlements for peace within a year or two.

There is hardly a place in the West Bank where one cannot see a settlement on a hilltop, near or far. In some places, one can see two or three. If one approaches closer, one can see the building activity in full swing, the overt and the covert, the “legal” and the “illegal”.

And, most importantly: there is no Palestinian leader who could possibly agree to the continued building in East Jerusalem. The construction of Jewish housing projects goes on while Palestinian homes are being destroyed, “archeological” digs continue as well as all the other activities designed to “judaize” Jerusalem. To put it more bluntly: making Jerusalem “Arab-free”.

When Obama capitulates to Netanyahu, there is nothing Mahmoud Abbas can do. When the Americans demand that the Palestinians answer Netanyahu’s “important” step with an important step of their own, it is nothing but a sad joke. The Americans help Netanyahu to put the ball into the Palestinian court, and with a pious rolling of their eyes ask why, after such a momentous Israeli gesture, the Palestinian do not agree to resuming the “peace process”.

But Abbas cannot start negotiations without a total freeze of the settlements, especially in Jerusalem. The only dialog between Israelis and Palestinians that is taking place now is with Hamas. The prisoner exchange deal is nearing the point of decision. The main remaining bone of contention is the freeing of the Fatah leader, Marwan Barghouti, who was sentenced to five life terms.

If the deal is clinched and Barghouti freed, it will be another humiliation for Abbas: it will be said that Hamas, not he, has achieved the liberation of the Fatah leader. The freed Barghouti will act to mend the split between Fatah and Hamas and will be a credible candidate for the presidency of the Palestinian Authority. Then, a new chapter of the conflict will begin.

IT IS worth reading the full text of Isaiah’s prophecy: “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.”

The role of the little child, so it seems, falls to Obama. If he accepts, God forbid, Friedman’s advice and leaves the picture, the vision will turn into a nightmare. The Israeli government will increase the oppression, the Palestinians will turn to unbridled terrorism, the entire world will be dragged into bloody chaos.

Some advice.

Jeff Halper: The mounting despair in Palestine

OK, so the Palestinian Authority will not unilaterally declare an independent Palestinian state. In fact, the whole issue seems a misunderstanding. Concerned that the US has backtracked on a two state solution based on the 1967 borders and that Israel was getting the world used to the “fact” that the settlements and the Wall, rather than ’67 borders, now defined the parameters of a future Palestinian state (on only 15% of historic Palestine), the PA simply wanted the Security Council to reaffirm that principle. “What should we do while the Israeli government is busy with fait accompli actions,” asked Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, “but to turn to the Security Council to preserve the option of two states? We want the Security Council to declare that the two-state solution is the only option and that it would recognize the state of Palestine on the ’67 borders and to live side by side with the State of Israel.” The PA hoped, perhaps even expected, that the US would go along. Through an escalation of rhetoric this simple clarification became the basis of speculation, against the background of President Mahmoud Abbas’s threatened resignation, that the Palestinians would attempt to force the hand of the international community and announce the establishment of their state.

But what if it did happen? What if Abbas would actually announce the establishment of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, ask the nations of the world to recognize it and then apply for admission to the UN?

The Palestinians are caught between a rock and a hard place. The rock is the steadily tightening noose that is the Israeli occupation. Israel’s concentration of settlers in strategic blocs in East Jerusalem and the West Bank destroy any Palestinian territorial contiguity, and do so even if Israel removes the dozens of tiny settlements within the densely populated Palestinian “cantons.” Those settlement blocs have already been incorporated into Israel proper through the construction of some twenty-nine major Israeli highways, meaning that Israel has expanded organically from the 1967 Green Line to the border with Jordan. Even if the Separation Barrier is dismantled, the entire country has been fundamentally reconfigured; there is simply no more room for a coherent, viable, sovereign Palestinian state. And the suffering grows progressively worse. Hostile, callous Israeli soldiers continue to man hundreds of checkpoints throughout the Occupied Territories – checkpoints that, when incorporated into the Wall, take the form of massive terminals in which tens of thousands of men, women and children are subjected to long hours of waiting and humiliating treatment. The pace of house demolitions increases daily; 24,000 Palestinian homes have been demolished by Israel in the Occupied Territories since 1967, while Israeli courts have forced at least another 10,000 homeowners to demolish their own homes under threats of unbearable fines. The Palestinian presence in Jerusalem, the heart of Palestinian religious, cultural, political and economic life, is rapidly disappearing under a concentrated policy of settlement, expulsion of Palestinian residents from their homes and land expropriation intended, as Israel declares explicitly, to “judaize” the city. Without a meaningful Palestinian presence in Jerusalem there is no possibility of peace; indeed, no possibility to reconciliation between the West, which is seen as enabling Israeli expansion, and the entire Muslim world.

The hard place is the unlikelihood that negotiations with Israel, supported by the US and a compliant Europe, will go anywhere. The Oslo Process, which lasted seven years (1993-2000), saw Israel’s settlement population double to 400,000, while Palestinians found themselves imprisoned in Areas A and B – some 70 islands on but 40% of the West Bank – and that largest prison of all, Gaza. Oslo was followed by the Road Map which was followed by the Annapolis Process,” all leading to the present impasse in which the Obama Administration has announced it has no plan. “Peace process” or not, negotiations or not, stalemate or not, Israel has never been prohibited from continuing to establish “facts on the ground” intended to foreclose a truly sovereign Palestinian state.

For the most part the Palestinian people have resisted. Two intifadas (four if you include the 1936-39 revolt against British immigration policies and the inability of the Palestinian majority to make its voice heard, and the 1948 war), plus ongoing armed struggle and thousands of non-violent actions from rebuilding demolished homes to the Beit Sahour tax strike. Occasionally the Palestinian leadership took a bold initiative, as when it succeeded in bringing Israel’s construction of the Separation Barrier before the International Court of Justice and, subsequently, the UN General Assembly, where it was condemned by both bodies. The current campaign of boycott, divestment and sanction (BDS) against key Israeli pillars of the Occupation and companies profiting from it represents yet another pro-active initiative of Palestinian civil society.

And then there’s the idea of unilaterally declaring a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, which the Palestinian Authority has floated, intentionally or not, over the past few weeks. It’s not a new idea. The PLO declared Palestinian independence back in 1988, but without reference to borders such a move had little effect. During Oslo, a frustrated Arafat again threatened to unilaterally declare Palestinian sovereignty, but was dissuaded by Israel and the US. What would make another attempt more significant? Several things:

Rather than a general declaration of independence, the Palestinian Authority would declare a Palestinian state within specified borders, those of 1967 (the 1949 armistice line), which have already been recognized de facto over the years, from UN resolution 242 to the Road Map. Specifying the borders is what would differentiate this initiative from previous declarations based on principle of independence but without territorial claims, the latter supported even by Israel since it relieves it of pressures to end the Occupation by giving the Palestinians symbolic sovereignty.

The reasoning behind such an initiative is clear: to reverse both the balance of power and the dynamics of the negotiations. Because it occupies Palestinian territory, Israel is able to negotiate from a position of strength, while the Palestinians, with no leverage whatsoever, have no way to pressure Israel to meaningfully withdraw. Appeals to international law, which would have leveled the playing field, were nullified after the US, de facto supporting Israel’s claim that there is no occupation, classified the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza as disputed territories. Instead of requiring Israel to relinquish its illegal settlements and other forms of control, this policy forces the Palestinians to negotiate every settlement, road and centimeter of land, unable in the end to compel Israel to make any concessions it does not want to make. By seeking international recognition of the Palestinian state within recognized borders, including membership in the UN, the Palestinians seek, finally, to end the Occupation while transforming Israel’s presence from that of an occupying power to one of an invader whose unilateral military and settlement activities, as well as its extension of its legal and planning systems into Palestine, constitute nothing less than an intolerable violation of Palestinian national sovereignty.

If the Palestinians’ declared their state within the boundaries accepted by the international community since 1967, it would be doing so not unilaterally but by agreement with the member states of the UN. The hope would be to secure American agreement, despite frantic Israeli attempts to head off such an initiative, after which the European countries would fall into place. The vast majority of countries in the rest of the world would at any rate recognize the Palestinian state.

Predictably, the US has rejected the rumoured (or floated) initiative. The State Department lost no time issuing a statement that “It is our strong belief and conviction that the best means to achieve the common goal of a contiguous and viable Palestine is through negotiations between the parties.” Two senators who happened to be in Israel, Kaufman and Lieberman, let it be known that the US would veto any such resolution in the Security Council. The EU immediately fell into lock-step, with the Swedish Foreign Minister, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, declaring that “conditions are not yet ripe” for such a move. Still, the Palestinians could decide to abandon – or at least balance – their long-standing American-centric approach to achieving self-determination by turning to the broader international community. Abbas is exploring such an option among the Arab, Muslim, Latin American, African and Asian blocs of nations. If the Security Council is unwilling to entertain such an initiative, the Palestinians, with broad-based international support, could turn to the UN General Assembly, which is empowered by a two-thirds majority to call a special emergency session and pass a resolution of approving the move, thus by-passing the US veto.

The Security Council cannot be by-passed completely; its approval is necessary before a state can become a member of the UN. But even a symbolic call from the majority of members in the General Assembly to recognize a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders and its urging the members of the Security Council to admit such a state into the UN would send a strong message to the Americans and their European clients. Unfortunately, the Palestinians’ declaration of statehood, in conformity to international agreements though it may be, conflicts with the concerns of other Security Council members regarding restive peoples in their own countries. Russia, which opposed the unilateral declaration of independence of Kosovo, faces similar actions in Chechnya, South Ossetia and elsewhere. China has a similar problem with the Uigars; France with Corsica; Britain (perhaps) with Wales and Scotland; Turkey with the Kurds; and so on. The US, which did support the Kosovars unilateral action and thus has no grounds to deny the Palestinians, nevertheless faces the perpetual challenge of Puerto Rican independence, not to mention the struggles of insurgents throughout the world. And yet, having the issue of Palestinian statehood come up before the Security Council – potential sponsors from among the rotating members might be Libya, Burkina Faso or Uganda – would spur a useful debate and help focus on the responsibility of Israel, the US and Europe for disappearing Palestinian rights. And, again and again, the Palestinians have to drive home forcibly and repeatedly that their declaration of statehood stands in complete conformity to the internationally agreed upon end-game of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. It is defiant only in the sense of their asserting their right to self-determination after years of being let down by the international community and having nowhere else to go.

Most important, such a Palestinian initiative would force a solution to their conflict with the Israelis. If it were to be accepted, years of drawn-out pseudo-negotiations and the deaths of thousands of Palestinians and Israelis could be avoided. It would also go a long way towards redeeming Obama’s Cairo address and, as is likely, would facilitate better relations with the Muslim world which would open new possibilities in regards to withdrawing militarily and achieving accommodation and stability. If the US agreed, of course, Europe, and perhaps Russia and China, would fall into place.

It should be remembered that in a two-state solution represented by the Palestinian declaration, Israel would remain on 78% of historic Palestine, despite the Jews becoming a minority population with the return of even some of the refugees – a pretty generous Palestinian compromise. Hamas rejected Abbas’s initiative by stating: If you want to declare a state, do so from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River. Yet, if a Palestinian state would actually emerge on all the Occupied Territories, it is likely that Hamas could not stand in the way of popular support for it – including in the refugee camps. The state that then arises would have sovereignty over its borders with Egypt and Jordan and the ability to enter into foreign alliances. It would possess a coherent territory, control of its natural resources (including water, its airspace and the communications sphere), a viable economy (especially given the inclusion of the Old City of Jerusalem and Bethlehem as tourist venues) and East Jerusalem as its political, religious and cultural capital and the ability to repatriate refugees. None of these things will the Palestinians get in negotiations with Israel. Given an agreed upon quid pro quo such as a shared Jerusalem, an extra-territorial passage between the West Bank and Gaza and a qualitative exchange of territory, the Palestinians may cede to Israel certain symbolic sites: a special status in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City and the historic core of the Etzion Bloc, making such a settlement more palatable to them. While the remaining settlements would become part of Palestine, though the Palestinians would earn points if they invited the settlers to stay and live in integrated communities.

A unilateral declaration, if refused by the US with no prospect of genuine negotiations aimed at a Palestinian state in all the occupied territory within a strict time-line, would signal the definitive end of the two-state solution. At that point the Palestinians could unite on a program of a one-state solution, be it a democratic state of equal citizens or, more workable, a bi-national state. Crucial to this shift would be a vigorous Palestinian campaign showing that it was Israel that created a bi-national situation through its settlement project and Israel that eliminated the two-state solution, which the PLO had accepted way back in 1988. If Israel implements the steps it has threatened in response to a Palestinian declaration of independence – in particular the annexation of Area C, some 60% of the West Bank containing the settlements – the apartheid situation that emerges is clear and unacceptable even to the US and Europe. Israel has thereby torn the veil from the de facto apartheid that already exists and which Israel seeks to perpetuate. By its own hand Israel has reconfirmed the bi-national reality of Palestine/Israel and driven the stake into the heart of the two-state solution.

For all the risks it involves, a declaration of Palestinian statehood within the 1967 borders – which would garner recognition from the vast majority of states in the world – would seem a win-win proposition. At least it would break the vessels of an impotent, ineffective and less than honest American-led “peace process” that is going nowhere – indeed, can’t go anywhere because it requires a level of assertiveness on Israel, perhaps even the imposition of a solution, that is completely lacking in either the American or European governments. It would also galvanize the civil society forces abroad, initiating a kind of ultimate BDS (boycotts, divestment, sanctions) campaign. Given the failure of the Palestinian Authority to effectively communicate its case, a unilateral declaration would thrust the underlying issues of the conflict – and Israel’s responsibility in particular – into the limelight, generating the sort of discussion in the media and elsewhere that is sorely needed.

All this, of course, is a highly unlikely scenario, though given Abbas’s anger and frustration at the American’s failure to stop Israeli settlement building (as I write this the Israeli government has just announced the construction of 900 housing units in the East Jerusalem settlement of Gilo), it is not altogether inconceivable. Although indicative of mounting Palestinian desperation, not all Palestinians support such a move. Hamas has rejected it, saying the Occupation must end before a state is declared. Palestinian policy-makers fear that the declaration, if it is seen as merely symbolic, could lock the Palestinians into a position where Israel could claim they now have self-determination but without the ability to actually claim their borders – a limbo reminiscent of the “state without borders” formulation of stage 2 of the Road Map, seen as a mortal danger by Palestinians. And supporters of the one-state solution, primarily in the Palestinian Diaspora but increasingly in the camps and the Occupied Territories themselves, have already moved on. But something must be done, and given the failure of the international community to either protect the Palestinians or reign in Israel, I, for one, am at a loss to suggest alternatives that address the urgency of a way out of Israel’s growingly genocidal occupation.

(Jeff Halper is the Director of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD). He can be reached at <jeff@icahd.org>.)

The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions is based in Jerusalem and has chapters in the United Kingdom and the United States.

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www.icahd.org
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Uri Avnery: -Betrayed by Obama

MAHMOUD ABBAS is fed up. The day before yesterday he withdrew his candidacy for the coming presidential election in the Palestinian Authority.

I understand him.

He feels betrayed. And the traitor is Barack Obama.

A YEAR ago, when Obama was elected, he aroused high hopes in the Muslim world, among the Palestinian people as well as in the Israeli peace camp.

At long last an American president who understood that he had to put an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, not only for the sake of the two peoples, but mainly for the US national interests. This conflict is largely responsible for the tidal waves of anti-American hatred that sweep the Muslim masses from ocean to ocean.

Everybody believed that a new era had begun. Instead of the Clash of Civilizations, the Axis of Evil and all the other idiotic but fateful slogans of the Bush era, a new approach of understanding and reconciliation, mutual respect and practical solutions.

Nobody expected Obama to exchange the unconditional pro-Israeli line for a one-sided pro-Palestinian attitude. But everybody thought that the US would henceforth adopt a more even-handed approach and push the two sides towards the Two-State Solution. And, no less important, that the continuous stream of hypocritical and sanctimonious blabbering would be displaced by a determined, vigorous, non-provocative but purposeful policy.

As high as the hopes were then, so deep is the disappointment now. Nothing of all these has come about. Worse: the Obama administration has shown by its actions and omissions that it is not really different from the administration of George W. Bush.

FROM THE first moment it was clear that the decisive test would come in the battle of the settlements.

It may seem that this is a marginal matter. If peace is to be achieved within two years, as Obama’s people assure us, why worry about another few houses in the settlements that will be dismantled anyway? So there will be a few thousand settlers more to resettle. Big deal.

But the freezing of the settlements has an importance far beyond its practical effect. To return to the metaphor of the Palestinian lawyer: “We are negotiating the division of a pizza, and in the meantime, Israel is eating the pizza.”

The American insistence on freezing the settlements in the entire West Bank and East Jerusalem was the flag of Obama’s new policy. As in a Western movie, Obama drew a line in the sand and declared: up to here and no further! A real cowboy cannot withdraw from such a line without being seen as yellow.

That is precisely what has now happened. Obama has erased the line he himself drew in the sand. He has given up the clear demand for a total freeze. Binyamin Netanyahu and his people announced proudly – and loudly – that a compromise had been reached, not, God forbid, with the Palestinians (who are they?) but with the Americans. They have allowed Netanyahu to build here and build there, for the sake of “Normal Life”, “Natural Increase”, “Completing Unfinished Projects” and other transparent pretexts of this kind. There will not be, of course, any restrictions in Jerusalem, the Undivided Eternal Capital of Israel. In short, the settlement activity will continue in full swing.

To add insult to injury, Hillary Clinton troubled herself to come to Jerusalem in person in order to shower Netanyahu with unctuous flattery. There is no precedent to the sacrifices he is making for peace, she fawned.

That was too much even for Abbas, whose patience and self-restraint are legendary. He has drawn the consequences.

“TO UNDERSTAND all is to forgive all,” the French say. But in this case, some things are hard to forgive.

Certainly, one can understand Obama. He is engaged in a fight for his political life on the social front, the battle for health insurance. Unemployment continues to rise. The news from Iraq is bad, Afghanistan is quickly turning into a second Vietnam. Even before the award ceremony, the Nobel Peace Prize looks like a joke.

Perhaps he feels that the time is not ripe for provoking the almighty pro-Israel lobby. He is a politician, and politics is the art of the possible. It would be possible to forgive him for this, if he admitted frankly that he is unable to realize his good intentions in this area for the time being.

But it is impossible to forgive what is actually happening. Not the scandalous American treatment of the Goldstone report. Not the loathsome behavior of Hillary in Jerusalem. Not the mendacious talk about the “restraint” of the settlement activities. The more so as all this goes on with total disregard of the Palestinians, as if they were merely extras in a musical.

Not only has Obama given up his claim to a complete change in US policy, but he is actually continuing the policy of Bush. And since Obama pretends to be the opposite of Bush, this is double treachery.

Abbas reacted with the only weapon he has at his command: the announcement that he will leave public life.

THE AMERICAN policy in the “Wider Middle East” can be compared to a recipe in a cookbook: “Take five eggs, mix with flour and sugar…

In real life: Take a local notable, give him the paraphernalia of government, conduct “free elections”, train his security forces, turn him into a subcontractor.

This is not an original recipe. Many colonial and occupation regimes have used it in the past. What is so special about its use by the Americans is the “democratic” props for the play. Even if a cynical world does not believe a word of it, there is the audience back home to think about.

That is how it was done in the past in Vietnam. How Hamid Karzai was chosen in Afghanistan and Nouri Maliki in Iraq. How Fouad Siniora has been kept in Lebanon. How Muhammad Dahlan was to be installed in the Gaza Strip (but was at the decisive moment forestalled by Hamas.) In most of the Arab countries, there is no need for this recipe, since the established regimes already satisfy the requirements.

Abbas was supposed to fill this role. He bears the title of President, he was elected fairly, an American general is training his security forces. True, in the following parliamentary elections his party was soundly beaten, but the Americans just ignored the results and the Israelis imprisoned the undesirable Parliamentarians. The show must go on.

BUT ABBAS is not satisfied with being the egg in the American recipe.

I first met him 26 years ago. After the first Lebanon War, when we (Matti Peled, Ya’acov Arnon and I) went to Tunis to meet Yasser Arafat, we saw Abbas first. That was the case every time we came to Tunis after that. Peace with Israel was the “desk” of Abbas.

Conversations with him were always to the point. We did not become friends, as with Arafat. The two were of very different temperament. Arafat was an extrovert, a warm person who liked personal gestures and physical contact with the people he talked with. Abbas is a self-contained introvert who prefers to keep people at a distance.

From the political point of view, there is no real difference. Abbas is continuing the line laid down by Arafat in 1974: a Palestinian state within the pre-1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital. The difference is in the method. Arafat believed in his ability to influence Israeli public opinion. Abbas limits himself to dealings with rulers. Arafat believed that he had to keep in his arsenal all possible means of struggle: negotiations, diplomatic activity, armed struggle, public relations, devious maneuvers. Abbas puts everything in one basket: peace negotiations.

Abbas does not want to become a Palestinian Marshal Petain. He does not want to head a local Vichy regime. He knows that he is on a slippery slope and has decided to stop before it is too late.

I think, therefore, that his intention to leave the stage is serious. I believe his assertion that it is not just a bargaining ploy. He may change his decision, but only if he is convinced that the rules of the game have changed.

OBAMA WAS completely surprised. That has never happened before: an American client, totally dependent on Washington, suddenly rebels and poses conditions. That is exactly what Abbas has done now, when he recognized that Obama is unwilling to fulfill the most basic condition: to freeze the settlements.

From the American point of view, there is no replacement. There are certainly some capable people in the Palestinian leadership, as well as corrupt ones and collaborators. But there is no one who is capable of rallying around him all the West Bank population. The first name that comes up is always Marwan Barghouti, but he is in prison and the Israeli government has already announced that he will not be released even if elected. Also, it is not clear whether he is willing to play that role in the present conditions. Without Abbas, the entire American recipe comes apart.

Netanyahu, too, was utterly surprised. He wants phony negotiations, devoid of substance, as a camouflage for the deepening of the occupation and enlarging of the settlements. A “Peace process” as a substitute for peace. Without a recognized Palestinian leader, with whom can he “negotiate”?

In Jerusalem, there is still hope that Abbas’ announcement is merely a ploy, that it would be enough to throw him some crumbs in order to change his mind. It seems that they do not really know the man. His self-respect will not allow him to go back, unless Obama awards him a serious political achievement.

From Abbas’ point of view, the announcement of his retirement is the doomsday weapon.

7.11.09 – Uri Avnery

Uri Avnery on the power struggle in the Middle East

Uri Avnery
12.9.09

EVEN THE Romans never saw a game like this in their arena: three gladiators fighting against each other, while at the same time each of them has to defend himself against attackers from behind.

All three of them – Barack Obama, Binyamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas – are fighting for their political life. The three battles are quite different from each other, yet interconnected.

OBAMA IS in big trouble. Big? Huge! The most important struggle concerns health insurance.

This has no connection with Israel. Moreover, for an Israeli it is difficult even to understand it.

For us it is hard – indeed impossible – to grasp how a modern, progressive country can function without health insurance for all. Our health system came into being long before the foundation of the State of Israel. Sick funds covered practically the whole Jewish population in Palestine. After the foundation of Israel, this became law for all citizens. Every Israeli is insured by one of four officially recognized sick funds. All of these are financed to a large extent by the government, which also decides what services they are obliged to provide.

In a progressive society, a person has a right to basic medical care, including hospital care, operations and medicines. So it seems very odd that in the richest nation in the world there are tens of millions of people who lack this essential protection. Especially in a country where medical expenditure – as a percentage of the gross national product – is far higher then in ours.

Along comes Obama and proposes a plan that offers these people an option of governmental medical insurance. What could be more natural? But in the US, powerful forces are out to prevent it, on behalf of Free Enterprise, the Market, the Right to Privacy and such high-sounding pretexts. They portray Obama as a Second Hitler or a Second Stalin, if not both, and his popularity is sinking dramatically.

Odd? Mad? Perhaps. But we have to take it seriously. It concerns us directly.

BECAUSE OBAMA is a central actor in our own play.

When he came to power, he understood that he must change the situation in the extended Middle East. Most Muslims in the world, including most Arabs, hate the United States. Even an imperial power cannot function effectively in an atmosphere of general hatred. The main reason for the hatred is the unlimited US support for the government of Israel, which oppresses the Palestinians.

For eight years, President Bill Clinton acted as an agent of the Jewish lobby for Israel. After that, for another eight years, President George W. Bush acted as an agent of the Christian fundamentalist lobby for Israel. President Obama understands that basic US interests demand an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that is poisoning the entire region.

The war in Afghanistan makes it even worse. Obama got stuck in this quagmire by mistake: in the heat of the election campaign he announced that he would withdraw from Iraq. But in order not to be accused of defeatism, he added that he would intensify the American intervention in Afghanistan.

That was a rash promise. Afghanistan is far worse than even Iraq. It is a different war, in a different environment, against a different enemy. The US has no chance of “winning” this war, which has no clear aim and no clear enemy, against a population that since antiquity has been honing its expertise in expelling foreign invaders.

It is easy to walk into a swamp, difficult to get out of it. Obama has no exit strategy from Afghanistan. That, too, will endanger his popularity in the near future.

THIS IS the situation in which he enters the struggle with Binyamin Netanyahu.

There no question anymore that the only recipe for healing the Israeli-Palestinian wound is the termination of the occupation and the establishment of peace between the State of Israel and the new State of Palestine beside it. This demands meaningful and intense negotiations, within a fixed time span. That is impossible if at the same time settlements continue to expand. As the Palestinian lawyer Michael Tarasi aptly put it: “We are negotiating about the division of a pizza and in the meantime Israel is eating the pizza.”

That’s why Obama has presented the Israeli government with an unequivocal demand: an immediate stop to all building in the settlements, including East Jerusalem. A clear and logical demand. But while pressuring Netanyahu, he himself is exposed to heavy pressure at home over the health insurance system and the Afghan war.

NETANYAHU’S SITUATION is no less complex.

His government is based on a coalition of five different parties. The settlers and their supporters constitute a majority. The “leftist” in this coalition, Ehud Barak, has been responsible for setting up more settlements than Netanyahu himself ever has.

Netanyahu is dancing on a thin tightrope at the Israeli fair, high above the heads of the audience, without a safety net. He must avoid a head on clash with Obama, while satisfying the nationalists in his own party and his coalition.

How to do this? One has to convince Obama to allow a small amount of building in the settlements, just another tiny bit, in order to appease the settlers. One has to convince the settlers that the promise to freeze building is just window dressing, and that in reality building will continue at full speed.

The Americans recognize, of course, that our government is trying to deceive them. If they allow the building of just another 500 houses in the settlement blocks, and the completion of just another 2500 houses whose construction has already begun, and just a few more in East Jerusalem, in practice the building will go on unchecked.

The settlers know perfectly well that their whole enterprise has been based on deceit and trickery, house after house and neighborhood after neighborhood, and they are happy to allow Netanyahu to continue with this method. For the time being, they do not cry out, they are not worried, the more so as no large Israeli public movement has yet arisen in support of Obama’s peace efforts.

Obama’s troubles concerning the health issue look to Netanyahu like the answer to a prayer. Perhaps he is not satisfied with divine help alone, and the pro-Israel lobby is quietly helping the enemies of reform. If Obama’s people decide that the time is not ripe for a confrontation with Netanyahu and that it is worth giving in about small matters – some houses here, some houses there – that would be a huge victory for Netanyahu. Every Israeli will see it this way: Netanyahu stood up like a man, Obama blinked first. But thereafter, in the second and third battle, when Obama insists and does not give in, neither in word nor in deed, Netanyahu will be in trouble.

MAHMOUD ABBAS is the weakest of the three gladiators. His situation is the most precarious.

He is on a slippery slope and has to rely on support from Obama, who himself stands atop a tower that may collapse. He has already learned that Netanyahu does not intend to conduct real negotiations with him. And Hamas accuses him of collaboration with the occupation.

West Bank public opinion polls seem to show that the popularity of Fatah there is on the rise and that Hamas is losing. But polls in Palestine can almost be counted on to be wrong (as on the eve of the last elections, when they forecast a huge Fatah victory). More than a thousand Hamas militants are in the prisons of the Palestinian Authority. The Authority’s security services, which are being trained by the American general Keith Dayton, are working in close cooperation with the occupation forces and serve, quite openly, as their sub-contractors. What does the ordinary Palestinian in the street think about that?

Life in the occupied West Bank is built on an illusion. Commentators praise the success of the PA’s Prime Minister, Salaam Fayad, in reconstructing the Palestinian economy. Ramallah is flowering. New businesses are being opened. Netanyahu’s “economic peace” is becoming a reality. But that is, of course, a delicate bubble: the Israeli army can eradicate all this in half an hour, as it did in the 2002 “Defensive Shield” operation.

If Abbas does not succeed in achieving impressive progress towards peace within a few months, the whole structure may come crashing down. General Dayton has already warned that if peace is not achieved “within two years”, the forces now being trained by him may rise up against the Israeli occupation (and against Abbas, of course). Hamas is breathing heavily down their necks.

IN A FEW days, the three – Obama, Netanyahu and Abbas – are supposed to hold a summit conference in New York and to launch the Ship of Peace.

It will be an interesting meeting – if it takes place – because each of the three will be sitting on a wobbly stool, with unequal legs. While talking with his two colleagues, each will be preoccupied with his enemies at home.

That is not, of course, an unusual situation. Henry Kissinger once said that Israel has no foreign policy, only a domestic policy. But that is more or less true for every country. The United States, Israel and Palestine are not unique in this respect.

Commentators in ivory towers, who are used to handling out gratuitous advice to political leaders and telling them what to do, frequently miss this dimension. A person who has never experienced the heat of an election campaign cannot come near to understanding the full depths of a politician’s motives. In the words of Otto von Bismarck, a politician through and through: “Politics is the art of the possible”.

How to move the peace efforts back from the realm of the impossible? In this campaign, the Israeli peace camp has a double task: first, to expose the policy of evasion and deceit of our government; and, second, to strengthen Obama’s hand in his endeavor to bring peace to this region. It is important that a strong and authentic Israeli camp express support for his efforts. Our friends in the US, in Europe and throughout the entire world have a similar task.

This three-sided struggle is not taking place in a Roman arena, and we are not just spectators looking on from the terraces. At stake in this game is nothing less than our lives.