To return to the new Peace Now website click here.

August 31, 2009- Vol. 10, Issue 46

Settlement Freeze is a Means to Peace; How to Freeze Settlement; Standing with Peace Now; Calling Uncle Sam; Israeli Coalition Crisis Brewing Over Outposts; Fayyad's Positive Thinking

Settlement Freeze is a Means to Peace: "Stopping the momentum of construction and settlement expansion in the West Bank is not an Israeli concession to the Americans or the Palestinians," argued a Haaretz editorial last week. "Rather, it is in Israel's own interest. The time has come to put an end to the huge wastes of the settlement project, which only damages Israel diplomatically and security-wise, deepening the conflict and threatening to cause the two-state solution to fail."

"If, in exchange for the freezing of construction in the settlements, Netanyahu manages to obtain a renewal of ties with the Gulf states that were severed during the intifada and Operation Cast Lead, it would be an Israeli tactical and diplomatic achievement," the editorial added. "However, the cessation of construction must not be conditioned on the renewal of such ties. More importantly, Israel must not try once again to pull any fast ones in the form of of pretexts, and new terminology for continued development beyond the Green Line and provocative settlements in East Jerusalem. Israel must freeze construction without circumventions and provocations."

"A construction freeze is not the goal, but the means to helping reach the essence: an Israeli-Palestinian agreement to end hostilities and the realization of the two-state solution, which even the prime minister now supports," the newspaper editorialized. (Haaretz, 8/24/09)

How to Freeze Settlements: Following last week's meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Senator George Mitchell, the director of Peace Now's Settlement Watch program proposed a set of minimum criteria in order for any settlement freeze to enable negotiations.

Writing for the Huffington Post, Hagit Ofran called for a freeze to contain "no loopholes" that might allow settlers to do more than simply finish work on a "certain number of units already under construction." Ofran also said that "transparency" was a must in order to verify that Israel is abiding by its agreement. In addition, Ofran noted that America must not condone current and future settlement projects.

Finally, Ofran wrote that a meaningful freeze "must include stopping all new plans for construction in settlements - no new plans submitted, approved, considered, etc... Otherwise planning is a constant sword hanging over the freeze and over the political process a freeze is supposed to launch."

Standing with Peace Now: "It is important to clarify that the Left is not a virus," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyhau said last night in a rare joint interview with Israel Radio and Israel Army Radio.

Netanyahu was responding to a statement made earlier this month by Vice Premier Moshe Ya'alon, who told Likud Party activists that "we must deal with the issue of the virus that is Peace Now and, if you will, the elites. Their damage is very great."

Netanyahu earlier said that Ya'alon's comments were "unacceptable, not in their content and not in their style."  Defense Minister Ehud Barak responded to the comments by saying: "Peace Now is an important part of the peace camp and an integral part of the democratic dialogue in Israeli society."

Ya'alon was also skewered in the press for his attack on Peace Now. Haaretz columnist Yossi Verter asked "What dybbuk has suddenly taken possession of Moshe Ya'alon?" Yedioth Ahronoth columnist Nahum Barnea called Ya'alon "angry" and "bitter." Ofer Shelah in Ma'ariv accused Ya'alon of pandering to the audience. (Jerusalem Post, 8/31/09; Haaretz, 8/19/09; JTA, 8/20/09; Yedioth Ahronoth, 8/21/09; Ma'ariv, 8/20/09)

Calling Uncle Sam: Both Israelis and Palestinians want the United States to play a more active role in efforts to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict, according to a recent poll of Israelis and Palestinians conducted jointly by the Truman Institute at Hebrew University and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research.

49% of Israelis and 61% of Palestinians said that they want the United States to play a more active role. About a third from both sides said they do not want the U.S. to intervene. Only 30% of Israelis and 26% of Palestinians think that greater U.S. involvement would be a failure.

The poll also found a rise in support for the Arab Peace Initiative among both publics. 64% of Palestinians now say they support the plan, up from 57% in June. Among Israelis, 40% now support the initiative, up from 36% in June. (PSR, 8/20/09)

Israeli Coalition Crisis Brewing Over Outposts: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could face a coalition crisis if 23 West bank settlement outposts are not removed by the time the Knesset reconvenes on October 12, according to Labor whip Daniel Ben-Simon.

Ben-Simon joined other Knesset members to tour a number of these outposts Tuesday with the Peace Now movement. During his visit, he told reporters that Defense Minister and Labor Party leader Ehud Barak had committed to taking down the outposts by that date.

"If the outposts are not taken down, I will tell Barak that we aren't expressing the will of the voters and [that] I demand that the party's institutions meet to reconsider remaining in the coalition," Ben-Simon added in an interview with the Jerusalem Post.

"We joined a very right-wing coalition on the condition of the peace process advancing," Ben-Simon said. "If it doesn't, I must be in sync with my conscience, and that of the 15,000 Labor members who elected me in the party primary. I want to see more than just talk. The 23 outposts are the test for this government."

Responding to the pressure from Peace Now and from within his party, Barak's office issued a statement reiterating that the "defense minister has declared a number of times that the evacuation of illegal outposts is our obligation as a democratic state. This is a process which will be implemented in weeks, not years." (Jerusalem Post, 8/27/09; Haaretz, 8/25 & 8/26/09)

Fayyad's Positive Thinking: Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad last week unveiled a plan to establish a de-facto Palestinian state within two years, regardless of progress in peace negotiations with Israel.

The blueprint, released in English and Arabic at a press conference in Ramallah, is a plan to "end the occupation, despite the occupation," Fayyad told reporters.

The former World Bank official, who also holds the Finance and Foreign portfolios in the Palestinian cabinet, said: "We have decided to be proactive, to expedite the end of the occupation by working very hard to build positive facts on the ground, consistent with having our state emerge as a fact that cannot be ignored. This is our agenda, and we want to pursue it doggedly."

The detailed plan - the English version is 38 pages - envisions a peace-seeking, independent democratic state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, along the 1967 borders, with Jerusalem as its capital, boasting strong institutions, a market economy, "independent judiciary and professional security services." It envisions a state that "will shine as a beacon of humanitarian values and religious tolerance across the world."

The lofty vision is complemented by a detailed list of goals for the government as a whole and for each of its ministries. Those include the establishment of an international airport in the Jordan Valley, measures to end the Palestinian economy's dependence on Israel and to wean it from international aid, as well as suggested steps to streamline the public sector and strengthen the private sector. The blueprint includes a plan to establish a special ministry to address issues pertaining to Israel's separation barrier and to Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

Fayyad depicted the plan as a challenge for his fellow Palestinians to roll up their sleeves and work together for a common cause. The formation of a de-facto Palestinian state "can and must happen within two years," Fayyad wrote. "We must confront the whole world with the reality that Palestinians are united and steadfast in their determination to remain on their homeland, end the occupation and achieve their freedom and independence."

Fayyad made clear, however, that his plan is also a challenge for Israel. The plan, he told the New York Times, is not "in lieu of the political process, but to reinforce it." It comes as Palestinians witness prospects for a two-state solution diminishing in the face of Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank. The Palestinians therefore have an interest in pulling Israel to the negotiating table, he argued.

Palestinian opposition factions dismissed Fayyad's plan. Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said that the plan only deepens "the reality of [Palestinian] division and the presence of the Israeli occupation." He added: "We have one path for our Palestinian state to be established. The only way to do so is through resistance." Islamic Jihad leader Nafez Azzam also said that he sees "resistance" as the only path to a Palestinian state. Right-wing Israeli leaders also dismissed the plan. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman warned against "unilateral initiatives," and threatened to "respond" if Fayyad acts to advance his plan. Minister of Finance Yuval Steinitz said: "There is no place for either unilateral actions or threats." (London Times, 8/25/09; Palestine Media Center [www.palestine-pmc.com], 8/25/09; New York Times, 8/26/09; Ma'an, 8/26/09; Haaretz, Israel Radio, 8/31/09)

Not Your Father's Fatah Party: Former Palestinian Authority minister Ashraf al-Ajrami wrote in the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth yesterday about the impact of the Fatah conference held earlier this month. And he lamented that Israelis have failed to understand its impact.

The party conference had two significant outcomes, he wrote: "the first is the adoption of a more realistic and moderate diplomatic plan.  The new plan speaks explicitly about a solution of 'two states for two peoples,' about East Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian state and about an agreed-upon solution to the refugee issue.  It accepts the Arab peace initiative, and is very close to the Geneva initiative."

"The second important outcome of the conference is the election of a new leadership, which is composed of supporters of the diplomatic process," Ajrmani wrote adding that "no one can accuse the new Central Committee of extremism or opposing peace."

Ajrami lamented that many in Israel concentrate only on the sentence the conference adopted about the right to resist the occupation. "The Israelis need to understand that the Palestinians cannot waive the right to oppose the occupation... but it does not mean that the Palestinians are willing or wish to use arms against the Israelis.  There are many kinds of popular resistance, passive and non-violent, and there are negotiations, as an important arena of struggle."

"Attention should be paid to what President [Mahmoud] Abbas said in his important speech after the conclusion of the conference, when he emphasized that the path of negotiations and the diplomatic process were the only path of the Palestinian people to achieve its rights," he pointed out to his Israeli audience.

Ajrami's article echoed the opinion of Colette Avital, a former Knesset Member and a retired Israeli diplomat. Writing in the Jerusalem Post, Avital reminds Israelis that Abbas' position on terrorism was clear: "We must not stain our legitimate struggle with terror," Abbas said.

Avital also observes that the platform Fatah adopted makes no mention of armed struggle. Nor does it call for the return of refugees to Israel.  "When reading a political document, as some of us have been taught, it is important to read every word in its context, but also to consider what has been left out," she wrote.  (Yedioth Ahronoth, 8/30/09; Jerusalem Post, 8/19/09)

Americans Back Direct Talks with Iran: A clear majority of Americans do not want the United States to reduce its efforts to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons and support direct negotiations with Iran, according to a poll released Friday by the Israel Project.

When asked whether America should "reduce our efforts" or "continue to work hard" to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons, 84% of registered voters said that U.S. efforts should continue.

The poll also revealed that Americans are willing to support a broad range of actions on this issue. 76% support initiating "direct talks between the U.S. and Iran." 81% approve of expanding UN sanctions. The poll revealed that the most popular action would be American backing for Iranian groups working to promote democracy and human rights. 86% support this tactic.

The poll did not probe support for military action. New York Jewish Week writer James Besser thought leaving this question out was "probably a good idea, since the numbers could be radically different."  (The Israel Project, 8/28/09; New York Jewish Week, 8/31/09)