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Israel, March 2010: Vignettes and Voices

By Letty Cottin Pogrebin

Writer, lecturer, and social justice activist, Pogrebin is the author of ten books, a founding editor of Ms. magazine, and past president of Americans for Peace Now. 

"Who'd you see?" my wonky political husband asks when I return from a week of intense meetings in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Ramallah. ("Intense" seems redundant in that part of the world.)  Naming the Israelis and Palestinians who had met with our six-member delegation from Americans for Peace Now, I realized the astounding range of opinions we had digested in seven days.

Besides friends and colleagues at Peace Now (APN's Israeli counterpart), we heard from the security expert, Yossi Alpher, formerly of the Mossad and the Jaffee Center, now co-editor of bitterlemons.org, the on-line political journal that focuses on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; Danny Ayalon, the Deputy Foreign Minister who created such a flap when he boycotted the visit of five U.S. Congress members; Akiva Eldar, columnist for Haaretz;  Mordecai Kremnitzer, Professor of Criminal and Constitutional Law at Hebrew University; Tzipi Livni, former Israeli Foreign Minister, now leader of the opposition Kadima party; MK Haim Oron (Meretz) and MK Shlomo Mula (Kadima), who also speaks for the Ethiopian community;  Raffi Smith, an Israeli pollster; Matti Steinberg, former senior advisor to Israel's General Security Service; and Eldad Yaniv, a lawyer with a vision for rejuvenating the Israeli left.  

The Palestinians we met with were Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, architect of the Palestinian Authority's state-building project; three former ministers of the PA -- Ghassan al-Khatib, Sufian abu Zeidah, and Kadurah Feres -- and the respected public opinion pollster and political analyst, Khalil Shikaki.  

On my own, both for pleasure and in order to better understand what's going on, I visited with Colette Avital, former Consul-General in New York and former Labor Member of Knesset; Alice Shalvi, founder of The Israel Women's Network and recipient of the Israel Prize (that country's Nobel);  Moshe Shalvi, editor of The International Women's Encyclopedia; Sarah Kreimer from Ir Amim, a nonprofit organization working to advance Israeli-Palestinian coexistence in Jerusalem; Marilyn Safir, Professor Emerita of Women's Studies, at the University of Haifa; Anat Hoffman, Executive Director of Israel's Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism, and spokesperson for Women of the Wall, a group that has been petitioning to pray without harassment at the Western Wall; and my cousins who have lived on a moshav for nearly forty years -- Wendy Bar-Yakov, who works at Yad Vashem, and her husband David, a computer specialist.
 
"So what'd they say, asks my husband.   I give him the short answer: "Things don't look good."   For the long answer, I open my notebook.

Four Favorable Auguries   
 "Shalom Alechem," a song of peace, is playing on the radio Friday afternoon when I hop a cab from the airport to Tel Aviv.  Here I am, about to join a fact-finding tour in search of peace, and already my movie has a soundtrack. 

That evening, I take a sheroot (group taxi) to Jerusalem to join old friends for Sabbath dinner. Filled up, our van contains ten passengers, four Arabs, six Jews. (My ethnic profiling technique is pretty simple: The Arabs speak Arabic. The Jews speak Hebrew and include an Ethiopian in a yarmulke and an IDF soldier in uniform.) Since rosary beads hang from the driver's rear view mirror I profile him as a Christian. During the hour-long trip, I'm struck by how polite everyone is to each other. People move to accommodate those who want to sit together, pass one another's shekels up front to the driver, assist an Arab who had a dysfunctional overhead light, a Jew with a snarled seat belt.  Like the song, my sheroot's little microcosm of amity seems to augur well. 

Driving along, a picture on the back of a truck catches my attention --a photo of a strongman lifting weights has been doctored so the face is Barack Obama's.  The Hebrew tag line asks,   "Who said only Obama can make change?"  It's an ad for a personal trainer but I take it as a third omen. Since political elites can't seem to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from the top down, maybe change will come from the bottom up, from non-governmental groups like Peace Now.  

On the outskirts of Jerusalem, the driver comes to a stop and tells me I have to take a cab the rest of the way to my destination. "Go," he says, pointing to an empty vehicle parked across the road at a taxi stand. "He'll be done soon."  

What "he?"  No one's in sight. Bewildered, I round the empty vehicle and there "he" is, kneeling on a prayer rug, butt in the air, forehead to the ground.  When he finishes praising Allah, my taxi driver rolls up his little carpet and delivers me to my friends' door in Beit HaKerem.  Maybe I'm nuts but the symbolism seems obvious: it took a Christian and a Muslim to get this Jew to her Sabbath dinner in a city that is holy to three faiths. 

Table Talk
One of the people I most look forward to meeting on APN's upcoming schedule is Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian Prime Minister, whom Shimon Peres has likened to David Ben Gurion, Israel's George Washington.  So I'm intrigued when the conversation at my friends' table turns to the recent Herzliya conference of Israeli security leaders at which Fayyad gave a speech that has reverberated widely. 

After stating his government's objective - two states living side by side in peace and security - Fayyad, an American-educated economist, had set forth his blueprint for the unilateral creation of a viable Palestinian state within, and in spite of, the Israeli occupation.  With assistance from former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and U.S. General Keith Dayton, Fayyad had already completed more than a thousand community development projects, formed the nucleus of a Central Bank, invested millions in improving infrastructure, schools, roads, clinics, electricity and water systems. Most impressively (to Israelis, at least) the Palestinian security forces had been retrained and law and order had improved so dramatically that Israel had removed many of its roadblocks and checkpoints which, in turn, had benefited Palestinian trade and tourism, created jobs, stimulated consumer spending, and yielded a seven percent increase in economic growth.

Less uplifting are my friends' comments on the state of Israeli society -- corruption at the highest levels of government, failing schools, an alarming disregard for the decisions of the Supreme Court, a spike in domestic violence, a coarsening of the public discourse, deepening rifts between Orthodox and secular, Arabs and Jews, right and left.  One dinner guest, an American who keeps an apartment in Jerusalem and hopes to eventually retire there, mordantly comments that she's so fed up with Israeli divisiveness she's ready to buy a bumper sticker that says, "Extremists Should Be Shot." 

Reality Check
The first "official" event of APN's schedule is an update from our Peace Now colleagues about the current political climate. They say a daunting uphill battle has faced Israeli peace activists since the Labor party joined Netanyahu's government, Meretz (the party of civil rights and peace) was reduced to three members in the Knesset, and Kadima, the opposition party, keeps talking about a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but does nothing to advance its prospects. 
Rabid insults that used to be traded on the floor of the Knesset between opposing parties are now being directed at NGOs and private individuals. Right wing attacks have become more virulent. Human rights, peace, and pro-democracy organizations, notably the New Israel Fund, have been excoriated as "self-hating Jews" or demonized as traitors and anti-Semites. J Street, the new American pro-Israel, pro-peace PAC was persona non grata at Israel's foreign ministry.  
The upsurge in hostility has triggered our colleagues' memories of the terrifying incident seventeen months ago, when a pipe bomb exploded at the home of Professor Ze'ev Sternhell, an Israel Prize laureate and Haaretz columnist. Not only did his injuries send him to the hospital, flyers found at the scene offered a million shekels reward to anyone who succeeds in murdering a member of Peace Now. 
We all remember when the peace camp was viewed as the loyal opposition, an extra-parliamentary cadre whose views were twinned with those of liberal, progressive Members of Knesset. Today, absent a critical mass of pro-peace MKs, and an apathy born of frustration, it's up to non-governmental organizations to become the opposition. 

In September, Netanyahu will have to decide whether to extend the ten-month freeze or resume construction in the West Bank. His choice is stark: he can side with the pro-freeze United States and risk losing his coalition, or side with the extremist settlers and risking losing the possibility of a two-state solution and peace with the Palestinians.  Israelis must press him to do the former, says Peace Now's director-general, Yariv Oppenheimer.   

The previous evening, Saturday, March 6th, more than three thousand people had turned out for a demonstration in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah to protest Jewish settlers' systematic take-over of Palestinian homes. It was the largest such demonstration in years but the media response skewed the story. Though many Israeli Jews and international supporters were in the crowd, the images on TV and in the papers were of women in head coverings, Arab faces, Palestinian flags and Communist banners. This visual misrepresentation of the constituency for peace and justice makes it less likely for Israeli moderates and people who've become discouraged to show up at the next demonstration. 

Nevertheless, since we've come to assess if there's any life left in the Israeli left, I'm sensing the answer is yes.  As our colleagues describe Peace Now's campaign to activate Israeli youth and others who've been demoralized by the status quo, I hear a new fervor and urgency in their voices:  

"Sheikh Jarrah is not just about helping five dispossessed Palestinian families, it's about stopping the Israeli government from taking disastrous steps that will make a two-state solution impossible to effect on the ground."

 "We need to remind people that the alternative to two states is one state with an Arab majority."

"There's no such thing as a one state solution; the alternative to two states is intifada after intifada, and growing anti-Semitism around the world."  

"We do this work because we love our country. We represent the real patriots, the real Zionists."  
 
"Sheikh Jarrah is emblematic of the struggle to save the Palestinian people. By taking away their land, we're taking away the possibility of a negotiated solution to the conflict." 

"It's five minutes to midnight. Either it's already too late for two-states or this is our last chance."  

Akiva Eldar 
We meet with the pre-eminent Haaretz columnist at a fish restaurant in Tel Aviv.  He looks much older than when I last saw him four years ago; it's as though the corrosive political environment has rusted his sheen, but his energy is palpable. 

"Despite our siege of Gaza, the collective punishment, the blockade, Hamas is still in control there.  Our strategy has benefited only the smuggler-gangster economy.  Jobs have disappeared, private businesses have been destroyed. The only people earning money in Gaza are employees of Hamas or the Palestinian Authority.  It's not reasonable for us to link the fate of 1.5 million people to the fate of Gilad Shalit." (The Israeli soldier captured in by Hamas in June 2006 who has been the subject of prisoner exchange negotiations.) 
 
"We're standing on a cliff in a complete fog. Obama owes us a report. What does he mean when he says two states?  Does he mean anything close to the Clinton parameters?  The common wisdom is that Bibi's a good guy because he uses the words 'two states' but we need to put him to the test, make him tell us what two states will mean to Palestinians and Israelis. We need to get rid of the old narrative that we have no Palestinian partner. Obama has to stick his neck out and say it's Bibi who's not a partner.  Bibi has to say the two states must be based on the '67 borders with a six percent land swap.  He has to reread the Wye Agreement. His signature is on it.

"We need a judge, a mediator.  We need someone to report to.  Bibi will make the right decision only if the price to do something is worse than the price not to. 
He works on fear, not hope. As long as Israelis are anxious about Iran and the bomb, he doesn't have to worry about the Palestinians. His deal with Obama has been, 'Okay, we'll behave on Iran, you leave us alone on the Palestinians.' Obama has to stop giving him the benefit of the doubt.  Obama has to say, 'Here's my number. Call me when you're ready.'"

"The right wing believes things will get so bad the Palestinians will leave.  Since most Israelis feel physically and financially safe, Bibi can keep turning a blind eye to illegal Jewish settlements and keep approving construction of new Jewish housing units in East Jerusalem.  Meanwhile the government ignores judicial decisions. It was ordered to build 234 schools. Not one has been started. The Ministry of Defense was ordered to move the security fence. They didn't.  And there's been no penalty for this behavior."

Matti Steinberg
The former senior advisor to the head of the General Security Service tells us he was opposed to Israel signing the 1993 Oslo Accords because he knew "we would find excuses not to honor it."  The only thing that can work, he says, is a final status agreement that settles everything at once, not incrementally.  Steinberg supports a two-state solution because "one-state would be the end of the Arab Initiative and pave the way to the hegemony of Hamas and Iran in the region."

A good negotiating trade-off, he says, might be Palestinian control of the Temple Mount in return for limited right of return for Palestinian refugees. "In order for the Palestinians to have a viable and meaningful state in the Muslim world, they must have possession of the Temple Mount. It's the third most sacred site in Islam, and Arabs around the world have to know that it belongs to them.  Without the Temple Mount, the state of Palestine would be a Neverland, a territorial island, encircled, subservient, dependent." 
 
"We think we're safe because there have been no terrorist attacks. But the conditions are there now for another intifada. It just needs a match to set it off. In 1987, the match was an accident near Ashdot.  In 2000, Ehuk Barak gave Sharon the match on the Temple Mount.  In 2002, Defensive Shield's overkill weakened the Palestinian Authority. Today in the West Bank, Hamas could duplicate its Gaza victory because there's no feasible alternative to them."
 
About negotiating with Hamas for the return of Gilad Shalit, Steinberg declares, "It's morally outrageous that we're playing around with the life of Shalit." Netanyahu should exchange him for Palestinian prisoners but, so as not to strengthen Hamas, Bibi should first release Marwan Barghouti to Abu Mazen.
 
Barghouti, the Fatah official who is serving five life sentences in an Israeli prison for terror attacks that killed and wounded Israelis during the second intifada, is considered a Palestinian national hero and a possible successor to Abu Mazen.  Steinberg says Barghouti supported the two-state solution for years and personally prevented Palestinians from committing violent acts until he was finally compelled to order suicide missions in the wake of Israel's provocation, the targeted assassination of the Palestinian Tanzim leader, Raed Karmi.  "I warned the GSS this was going to happen.  I'm not against targeting ticking bombs, I'm against targeted killings to settle accounts from the past.  We have to consider the consequences, not just the immediate results."   
 
East Jerusalem
For more than four hours, Hagit Ofran, director of Peace Now's Settlement Watch, schleps us around East Jerusalem to see Palestinian properties that have been expropriated by the Israeli government or Jewish settlers. 

All the world now knows that Interior Minister Eli Yishai announced the approval, during Vice President Biden's visit, of 1600 new housing units to be built for Jews in Ramat Shlomo. But Ramat Shlomo is just the tip of an iceberg that expands by the day as ultra-Orthodox and radical right-wing settlers work overtime to Judaize Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem.  

When Israel unilaterally annexed the area in 1967, creating a metropolis three times the size of Jerusalem's pre-war borders, its 70,000 Arab residents were given residency status, not full citizenship. Today there are 250,000 Palestinians in the city, a third of its population.  They pay taxes and receive social security and health benefits, but can't hold passports.  They have voting rights in the municipality;  theoretically, they could win a third of the seats in the Jerusalem City Council, but they don't exercise their vote as a statement of opposition to Israeli control. 

Despite the annexation of East Jerusalem, which has never been recognized by the international community, the city has for years remained two separate entities. Arabs didn't wander about in Jewish neighborhoods and Jews rarely ventured into the Arab section.  Then the settlers started planting themselves here, there, and everywhere, to advance their "undivided Jerusalem" agenda, and with their presence to make all Israelis feel the whole city belongs to them. Like settlers in the West Bank, those in East Jerusalem are busy creating "facts on the ground" tp interrupt Palestinian contiguity between East Jerusalem and the West Bank, and prevent the Palestinian Authority from claiming the Arab part of the city as their capitol (a quid pro quo for any permanent agreement).

As the settlers take over one Arab house and hilltop after another, they demand security protection for themselves and their large families, further draining Israel's strained budget. According to Hagit Ofran, Peace Now's settlement watchdog, for every settler house, the government has to fund three round-the-clock guards, private police who perform like an escort service.  In the Old City, Ofran has seen two little boys running down the street with two big guards with guns running after them to protect them.  Protecting settlers costs Israeli taxpayers 54 four million shekels a year.  

Since 1967, the Jerusalem municipality has issued five times as many housing permits for Jews than for Palestinians.  Lately, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat has been condemning as "illegal" Palestinian homes that no Israel government paid attention to before. Because East Jerusalem never had zoning laws or urban planning oversight, Palestinians simply jerry-built their houses to accommodate their growing families.  Suddenly, the authorities are closing in.
 
On past trips to the Territories, I've toured the large settlements initiated by the government on land confiscated beyond the Green Line to create a ring around the city and isolate it from West Bank.  Today, with Hagit Ofran, we're looking at Jewish enclaves stuck smack in the middle of Arab neighborhoods expressly to Judaize East Jerusalem and make it difficult for any government to negotiate a shared city.  Chutzpah is too tame a word for this behavior. My mother would have called it a shonde (disgrace). 

Case Histories

* Nof Zion.  The new Jewish neighborhood in the Palestinian village of Jabel Mukaber looks like a gated community in Arizona.  A sign advertises "3, 4, and 5-room luxury apartments." The development overlooks a Palestinian village and has a view of the Temple Mount.  One hundred twenty units have been built, only thirty sold. Recently, a wealthy Jew bought the unsold units and lowered the price for each unit to 1.5 million shekels. (About $400,000) 

* Abu Dis. A large house stands atop a bare hill near the abandoned Palestinian parliament building. Built in the '90s when the town was to become the capitol of the new state, the Parliament was never occupied because the Oslo Accords were never fulfilled. The present residents of the house on the hill are settlers from a group dedicated to establishing Jewish residences in Palestinian neighborhoods, mainly in the Muslim quarter of the Old City -- Ateret Cohanim, whose supporters advocate destroying the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aksa mosque, two sites sacred to Islam, and replacing them with Israel's Third Temple. Ateret Cohanim has filed plans to build eight hundred housing units in Abu Dis.
* Beit Yonatan.  You can't miss the six-story building towering over its Silwan neighbors. Draped with an enormous Israeli flag, and named for Jonathan Pollard, the American convicted of spying for Israel, Beit Yonatan was built by Jewish settlers without a permit. After years of litigation, the structure was finally declared illegal. The Supreme Court ordered it sealed, the inhabitants evicted, the building demolished, yet settlers continue to live there, guarded by Israeli security. Somehow, when Jews want to build a park or a parking lot, the Jerusalem Municipality manages to declare Palestinian homes illegal and confiscates or destroys them.  But the occupants of Beit Yonatan have dug in their heels and the building still stands because Nir Barkat, Mayor of Jerusalem, and Eli Yishai, Minister of the Interior (who embarrassed Netanyahu when Biden was there) have thrown up obstacles to the court order every step of the way. 
* The King's Garden. Mayor Barkat has announced plans to demolish eighty-eight Palestinian homes to make way for King Solomon's garden, an archeological park in the Bustan neighborhood of Silwan, the biblical site of the City of David. Though the mayor said the park would be created "for the benefit of the world and for the benefit of tourists and for the beauty of the city of Jerusalem," on March 2nd, Prime Minister Netanyahu asked him to postpone the demolition because of the "distorted picture" the king's garden might present to "parties interested in sowing discord." 
* The Elad Association. Just south of the Temple Mount, lie the remains of the wall that enclosed Jerusalem before the Old City existed. A remnant of the ancient wall is set deep in the earth at the base of large hill that workers are excavating with huge, ear-splitting machinery. Hagit Ofran says the government has assigned control of this and other archeological sites to the Elad Association, a powerful organization dedicated to the Judaization of the area. Elad paid the Israel Antiquities Authority for the license to dig, but much of its excavation has been carried out illicitly or in secret and extended beyond the area licensed. An Israeli flag flies at the excavation site.  To establish it as a tourist attraction, Elad appropriated public land and put pressure on Palestinians to sell their houses or property. Some Palestinians sold because their houses were "illegal," or they needed the money, or the settlers came up with legal documents and the Palestinians couldn't prove their ownership.
   
A Palestinian house purchased by the Jewish National Fund for Elad to use as a visitor center proved too small, so the Association blasted into the hill to carve out more space. In the process, they found caves and structures that predate King David's reign -- exciting, but not enough to justify aggressive, dangerous, illegal excavations. A year before our visit, one of their tunnels collapsed.  

I notice a group of tourists on a porch high above us listening to a guide.  "Elad clearly understands the potential of archeological sites to connect Jews with their history and cement their feelings of attachment to East Jerusalem," says Ophran. "The Palestinians also have a history here but they can't sell it to tourists or tell their story."  As we leave the site, we notice a barrier across a road.  Turns out it's the road to a mosque and it was closed because Elad found something here from Herod's era.  "They take the public domain and make it their own."   

* Mount of Olives.  The graveyard's Visitors Center stands on illegal ground in the most sensitive area of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. "Elad encourages Jews to come and pray on the graves of their ancestors and the great rabbis," says Ophran. We're looking at a house in the middle of the cemetery with settlers living in it.  Thus far, the government has given the cemetery ninety-five million shekels.
 
* Ras el-Amud. The former police station in this East Jerusalem neighborhood was bought by the Shalem Foundation, a subsidiary of Elad, in partnership with an association of Bukharan Jews. They filed a plan to demolish the building and replace it with 104 housing units but the planning procedure for such a large compound can take years. So in the meantime, they've applied for a permit to build fourteen units in the vacated building, a less onerous proposition since, by law, owners who make use of an existing structure don't have to file a building plan. 

* Beit Orot. This compound on the Mount of Olives was bought by the right wing American millionaire Irving Moskowiz back when Teddy Kolleck was Mayor of Jerusalem in a deal that required Jews to build a Palestinian school if they wanted to build a yeshiva.  The yeshiva exists.  The Palestinian school is still on paper 

*The Wholesale Market.  Locally known as Al-Hisbe, the market that overlooks the Mount of Olives and the Kidron Valley is slated to become a shopping mall, hotel, and parking lot, the construction of which requires the demolition of a Palestinian kindergarten. 

* The Glassman Campus was financed by a Canadian couple who say they're committed to establishing Jewish hegemony from Highway #1 through Sheik Jarrah to Mount Scopus. Their next plan is to develop a four million shekel Biblical Park to strengthen the area's "national and religious elements."

* Sheikh Jarrah.  We stop at the tomb of Shimon Hatzadik, a sage from the time of the Second Temple, whose name will be given to a 200-unit development in Sheikh Jarrah if the radical settler organization which has already evicted several families succeeds in demolishing an entire Palestinian neighborhood. This is the enterprise that sparked an international protest and brought 3000 people out to demonstrate last Saturday night.

Danny Ayalon
I take twelve pages of notes during our meeting at the Foreign Ministry with Deputy Foreign Minister Ayalon. Our conversation lasts more than an hour.  Unfortunately, half-way through, Ayalon suddenly declares all his remarks off the record.  Nothing stops me, however, from reporting what we ask him: How do you view the Saudi initiative? What exactly does Israel mean by "temporary freeze?"  Would your government enter direct talks on final national borders right now if the Palestinians were ready to engage? Would Israel be willing to involve Palestinian leaders in discussions of Jerusalem's borders in order to empower them (as opposed to Hamas)?  Does it make sense for the government to simultaneously build trust and act provocative?  How do you feel about Israel's current image in the world?  What's the real story behind your decision to blow off five Members of Congress (William Delahunt (MA), Bob Filner and Lois Capps (CA), Mary Jo Kilroy (OH) and Donald Payne (NJ)) when they visited Israel with a J Street delegation in February? 

Some of Ayalon's replies are surprising. Pity I can't share them. If you write to him at the Foreign Ministry, maybe you can get his answers. 

Sarah Kreimer 
The metaphor Kreimer uses to describe the Israeli-Palestinian struggle over Jerusalem is that of "a miserably unhappy married couple trying to facilitate an amicable divorce and disentangle two households while creating shared custody of the sewage system and the holy sites."
  
In Jerusalem, I break away from our group for a cup of coffee in an outdoor cafĂ© with this devoted activist whose organization, Ir Amim, has, in the past five years  given tours of Jerusalem to twenty thousand Israelis, American Jews, foreign diplomats, and business people.  Not touristy tours but informational survey trips, that, like Hagit Ofran's, are intended to expose the malicious creep of right-wing Jewish development in East Jerusalem, and to highlight the suffering caused the Palestinians by the separation barrier that has dissected their metropolitan area into disjointed pieces.  

In addition to its tours, Ir Amim (which Kreimer translates as "city for all peoples") works to prepare the ground for a cooperative final status relationship between Jewish and Palestinian inhabitants of Jerusalem. Five areas of cooperation are operational or envisioned: a network of health clinics; a tourism cluster, an urban planning group, environmental projects (self-taxed sanitation services and enforcement of construction dumping laws), and community schools.   

Mordecai Kremnitzer
I rejoin my colleagues for dinner in the upstairs room of a restaurant where we're meeting Kremnitzer, a Professor of Criminal and Constitutional Law at Hebrew University.  Like many intellectuals, lawyers, and concerned citizens, he decries the fact that Israel has no Constitution or Bill of Rights but only something called the Basic Law, which does not specifically guarantee freedom of speech, religion, or human dignity.

Kremnitzer's illustration of a legal affront to human dignity is the law that prohibits a Palestinian from the Galilee and a Palestinian from Nablus from living together as a married couple in Israel.  The Supreme Court has upheld the legislation.  

Kremnitzer says Israelis have a strong instinct to protect the nation's image, which explains why the New Israel Fund (which helps support projects that advance democracy, human rights, and co-existence), has been viciously attacked as traitorous, nd its director Naomi Chazan, a former Member of Knesset, has been portrayed on billboards and in full-page ads, as a devil with horns. "NIF's work is perceived to cast a too-critical eye on the State," says Kremnitzer.  

"People like you read liberalism and humanism into the word 'Jewish,' but for many Israelis 'Jewish' means particularistic and chauvinistic," he says.  "Ask Israelis if they want IDF war crimes exposed, they'll say no. That's why they were so upset about the Goldstone Report, and the soldiers of Breaking the Silence, who spoke out about IDF atrocities they'd seen in the Gaza War.  When I was a military prosecutor, soldiers resisted what they called 'snitching.' They felt they had a superior duty to close ranks." 

"A new law would give total amnesty to the settler violence that happened around the Gaza withdrawal.  Already, a trial was stopped, the record wiped out.  Israeli police use strong arm tactics against peace demonstrators, whom they consider 'unpatriotic' but a different treatment for 'patriotic' offenders.  A left-wing soldier who won't serve in the territories goes to prison.  A right-wing soldier who wouldn't participate in the Gaza evacuation was allowed alternative service.  Every morning I wake up to see what to express my rage about."     

Yossi Alpher 
He spent twelve years in the Mossad, ran the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, produced "The Alpher Plan," a detailed blueprint for territorial compromise, and now co-edits the on-line political journal, bitterlemons.org, with a Palestinian colleague, Ghassan Khatib.  About the upcoming "proximity talks" --indirect negotiations between Netanyahu and Abu Mazen to be managed by George Mitchell shuttling between Jerusalem and Ramallah - Alpher has this to say:
 
"They're bound to fail because the gap between the leaders is too great and both of them are operating under great political constraints.  Abu Mazen doesn't speak for Gaza, and in any case, rockets give Hamas veto power over any agreement. Abu Mazen has the hard-line wing of Fatah to deal with, plus the constraints of his own ideology. He rejected Olmert's September 2008 offer - 94 percent of the territories with six percent swaps, a corridor between the West Bank and Gaza, a few thousand refugees allowed into Israel, recognition of the Palestinian right of return, and control of the Holy Basin by an international consortium with an Arab majority. I can't imagine Netanyahu offering as much as Olmert did, yet Abu Mazen turned it down because he was holding out for a full right of return and Palestinian control of the Holy Basin, terms no Israeli Prime Minister can accept.  

"Netanyahu hasn't persuaded us he believes in the demographic argument for negotiating a two-state solution [fear of an Arab majority], which is the route Livni, Olmert, and Meridor traveled.  He says he supports two-states but it's not reflected in the shape of his government. The fact that he rejected a coalition with Kadima tells you where he stands - firmly on the side of his own political survival.  Every single Israeli government has collapsed over the Palestinian issue except Olmert's, which fell because of corruption charges.  

"The real questions to ask about the proximity talks are, If we're sure negotiations are doomed is it better to have them or not have them?  What is the impact of failure?  At the moment, I see three potential avenues of progress: 

1) Salam Fayyad's state-building program.  "Since Oslo, huge sums have been wasted by the Palestinian Authority but Fayyad is now delivering on all fronts --security, economic development, a judicial system, prisons, even a bar code system, and he's wrapping it in a comprehensive program.  

"If there is no movement in the peace process, Fayyad, who's both Finance Minister and Prime Minister, has threatened to go straight to the U.N. and ask for recognition of the Palestinian State.  The problem is, he represents the Palestinian Authority, not the P.L.O, which is the entity with whom we negotiate.  If the PA issues a unilateral declaration of independence, it will be seen as canceling the Oslo Accords (which prohibit unilateral action).  So what should happen now? I think Mitchell should tell Israel how to help Fayyad.

"For example, Netanyahu could turn over more territory - Area C could become Area B, which should have been done ten years ago anyway - and remove more outposts. In return Fayyad could make more security guarantees and create even more economic solidity."

2) Gaza.  "All our strategies there have failed, our economic warfare in particular. Olmert used to proudly boast he counted the calories of Palestinians.  Deprivation was supposed to bring Hamas to its knees, or to the negotiating table, or make the people throw off the government.  Instead economic warfare has enriched the tunnel diggers, disempowered the middle class, and impoverished the agrarian sector. Yet for all their suffering, the Palestinians in Gaza, feel more secure than Palestinians in the West Bank according to the polls, because in the West Bank Israeli soldiers can still barge into people's houses and pull them out of bed.

"Military warfare did create a deterrence and restrain some extremists. But it's a temporary deterrence and we've paid an awful price for it in terms of our international standing -- what you might call the Goldstone effect. The point is, Hamas is still there, stronger than ever, yet no one in Israel is sitting down to assess our failed strategies. 

"If neither the Egyptians nor the Germans could get Gilad Shalit out, then maybe we need to talk to Hamas.  Yes, we have to be careful not to legitimate them, but Abu Mazen is talking to them, Egypt is talking to them. In 1967, Nasser's intentions toward us were as bad as Iran's intentions are today. Still, we always said we would talk to him, to anyone in return for peace.  It was smart public diplomacy to be willing to talk to anyone.  We've lost that.  We should just say we're ready and put our image right."    

3) Syria. "I fault Netanyahu and Obama for being focused on the Palestinian issue to the exclusion of the Syrian track.  Bashar Assad has been petitioning for talks for five or six years. The entire Israeli security establishment has been saying we should talk to Syria.  Moderate Palestinians want us to talk to Syria because it will weaken Hamas.  The Arab Peace Initiative says Israel has to make peace with Palestine, Lebanon, and Syria.  Unlike in the '90s when we would have had to give up the Golan for a cold peace, today there are immediate strategic benefits to a treaty with Syria.  Hizbollah is armed by Syria, has headquarters in Syria, and relations with Iran. If Syria can control Hizbollah and provide peace and security in Southern Lebanon, it's worth giving up the Golan. We need to petition Netanyahu and Obama to initiate diplomacy on the Syrian front, not instead of the Palestinian front but with it."

About the role of the settlers in any future peace plan, Alpher says, "The only way to reach agreement with the Palestinians might be to ignore the settlers.  There's increasing talk of not removing them, just leave them where they are, and let them live under Palestinian rule. Fayyad said it's not impossible. It's certainly tempting and there may be no alternative.  We have Palestinians living inside Israel, after all.  But I sense that most settlers will refuse to be subject to Palestinian law and police, and the level of settler violence would be such that our government would have to go back in and remove them by force. Then the conflict wouldn't just be between the IDF and the settlers but between the Israeli and Palestinian security forces." 

Khalil Shikaki
He has a Ph.D. in political science from Columbia University and as director of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research he's the pre-eminent pollster of Palestinin public opinon.  Just days before our visit ( March 4-6, 2010) his organization conducted surveys whose results strike me as counter-intuitive. Though both Israelis and Palestinians have little confidence in diplomacy, a majority on both sides expressed a "willingness to compromise." Close to 60 percent supported a two-state solution. That percentage increased when survey questions specified various words to satisfy each side's concerns, such as "security" for Israelis and "self-determination" for Palestinians.  

On the issue of self-determination, when the text said the Palestinian state would "limit armaments" and Israel would be allowed an early warning system, 65 percent of the Palestinians agreed. But when the text posited a Palestinian state with "no army," the majority favoring that same hypothetical peace agreement evaporated.  No air force and no tanks were okay; but not "no army."

Seventy-five percent of the Palestinians polled supported a peace plan based on the 1967 borders. That support plummeted to less than half when the question posited a land swap of two to three percent of the Occupied Territories to accommodate facts on the ground, (i.e. Jewish settlements).  Since Israel's best past offer included a swap of six percent, this does not bode well, says Shikaki, who faults the Palestinian leadership for not actively "promoting the idea of swap."   

Fifty-eight percent of Palestinians (including 46 percent of Hamas supporters!) said they would make peace with Israel if Palestinian refugees have the right to return to their homeland, and if the Palestinian state accepts all refugees willing to live in it, and if the Jewish state takes in a maximum of 150,000 Palestinian refugees as part of a family reunification program, and remunerates the rest. 

Asked what are the chances of their having such a State in the next five years, more than 70 percent of Palestinians said they were "zero to slim."

The deal breakers were clear. Most Palestinians won't accept an agreement that: does not provide Palestinian sovereignty over the holy places; omits language about the right of return; uses the words "no army;" or calls for more than three percent territorial swaps.  And most Israelis won't accept an agreement unless it requires a Palestinian state to be demilitarized; grants Israel sovereignty over Jewish holy sites; denies Palestinians an unrestricted right of return; and explicitly declares this is the end of the conflict.  

About two-thirds of both populations believe the other side won't accept a peace package. 

Eldad Yaniv
A specialist in law and media, Yaniv is the co-author of a published paper (not yet translated into English) that is the talk of political circles. We're told it's a hard-nosed analysis of the failures of the Israeli left and what it must do to successfully rebrand itself if it wants to realize its goal of ending the occupation.    

Yaniv gives our combined group - both Israel and U.S. members of Peace Now -- a taste of the message he's been bringing to communities around the country. As a result of his paper, he says he's been traveling four nights a week to teach Israelis all over the country how to use the media and rally support for a transformed left by modeling themselves after Yitzhak Rabin who was able to take big risks for peace because his patriotism was never in doubt.  The centerpiece of Yaniv's advice is, "Be patriotic, act patriotic, reclaim the flag."  

"You're the problem, not the people," he tells us. "Most Israelis believe as Peace Now does. In fact, polls show 53 percent even believe Israel should talk to Hamas.  But you can't make a national movement with just the North of Tel Aviv.  You have to win towns like Petach Tikvah and Bat Yam. And don't waste your time going to the settlements. You won't convince Bibi's voters."

When we ask him for his website or specific details of his groups' plan, Yaniv says,  "Just go on Facebook and find us. Buy our paper for one shekel.  You have three years to make a movement."  

Can he name a few potential leaders, whether up-and-comers or familiar faces?   "Just make a movement," he says. "You'll find your leaders."  

 Rafi Smith
I confess to getting lost in the thicket of Smith's statistics, though his summary statement is clear: Support for the ideals of the center left is much higher than the vote count for the parties of the center left because the left appeals to reason not emotion, Israelis have become comfortable with the status quo now that they're more secure, and "Nablus feels far away."  

Ghassan Khatib
A veteran of Palestinian negotiating teams in Madrid and in Washington, Khatib is a Fatah leader, a lecturer at Bir Zeit University, former member of the  Palestinian Authority cabinet, and now the co-editor with Yossi Alpher (see above) of bitterlemons.org.  

He says the so-called proximity talks are "just going to waste another year or two. Talking without progress gives the impression that something's happening but while we're talking, Netanyahu makes new facts on the ground. When Israel announces another settlement activity, everyone makes statements - Ban Ki-moon, Biden - but nothing happens. No wonder Israelis feel there's no price to pay for what their actions. That's why we need the freeze. It makes no sense to negotiate an end to the occupation while the occupation is being expanded."

"Usually an Israeli leader who crosses the U.S. gets weaker. Netanyahu is getting stronger. His is the worst government yet in terms of what it's doing in East Jerusalem.  Until the last year or two, no Israeli government ever touched Sheik Jarrah. What he's doing makes two states impossible." 

"The Palestinian Authority has made progress in improving security and public order, and insuring the safety of Israelis. We're making economic improvements. But Israel's settlement expansion affects our internal politics; it weakens and embarrasses the Palestinian leadership, and any loss of credibility in our camp adds to the credibility of Hamas."

"Israel has reduced the number of checkpoints by maybe a half to two-thirds.  This has had a good effect on our lives.  But other restrictions remain a problem.  Outside of Area A, anything we want to do - water projects, schools, roads - requires an Israeli permit.  Unpredictable delays and some refusals by Israel have made it a problem for our government to deliver services to our people.  Israeli military incursions are also a problem, the fact that they override Palestinian security control.  And now the Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem just announced he's opening an office in East Jerusalem to better serve the Jewish population." 

Kadurah Feres
Feres is a former Minister in the PA, their representative in Geneva, and head of the Palestinian detainees' society, but we are primarily interested in what he might tell us about Marwan Barghouti.  Feres has been a close aide and advisor to Barghouti the imprisoned Palestinian leader who is widely acknowledged to be a possible successor to Abu Mazen.  In a government board room in Ramallah, we get a strong dose of Feres' pessimism.

"There are now more than twenty-four Islamic satellite stations educating young Arabs.  I'm sure my eight-year-old son will become an extreme Muslim.  He says there will never be peace.  The Palestinian national movement, as opposed to Islam, has no media, no message, no vision.  Our TV channel shows people singing and dancing.  I just got back from an academic conference in Lebanon. I was the only one who spoke about a two-state solution.  The rest of them said it may take fifty or sixty years but Israel will end.  I think we have maybe two years left to save the principle of two states."

Feres says the political situation is bad on both sides. "In 1992, Labor had forty-four seats, Meretz had twelve. Now both Israeli parties together have fourteen seats.  They lost forty-two seats in the Knesset in seventeen years."

"Israelis don't recognize us as their neighbors.  Abu Mazen was elected with 62 percent of the vote in a democratic election and five people at the top of his government support a two-state solution, but Israel ignored them. In five years and two months as president, Abu Mazen has had no major achievements. When there's a power vacuum, the only thing to fill it will be Islam.  That will be a catastrophe.  One state won't work for Israel.  There will be a religious war between Jews and Muslims."

"How necessary is Abraham's cave to the survival of Israel, really?" he asks, referring to Netanyahu's having claimed the Cave of the Patriarchs in Israel's National Heritage Plan. "Why provoke violence?  When everything explodes, our security won't solve the problem.  Ninety percent of our police will use their arms against Israel. Hamas and Islamic Jihad will become more dominant.  It's possible to be a violent Muslim or a moderate Muslim; it depends on which page you take from the Koran." (Same can be said of the Torah, of course.) 

"I met with Khaled Mashal (the Hamas leader in Damascus) the same day Prime Minister Fayyad spoke with Netanyahu.  I told Mashal if I were President of Palestine I would sign the Geneva Agreement even if I got shot the next day.  Marwan Barghouti said Geneva plus Clinton plus UN 242 and 338.  Hamas says they would accept a public referendum on two states, but they need political cover.  Marwan is important to Palestinians because our national movement has no leader.  Fatah intellectuals and Christians have no leader.  We need someone to bring our forces together.  Marwan can get Hamas to be our political opposition and not to use weapons. 

"Israel no longer permits me to visit Marwan in jail. They allowed me to visit him when they wanted me to convince him not to run for President from prison.  Now only his wife and lawyer can visit." 

"It's time to finish the negotiations for Shalit.  Hamas had ten conditions for the prisoner exchange.  Israel had seven.  I think the U.S. pressured Israel not to make the deal because it would inspire more terror groups.

"Salam Fayyad's message is good and his vision for creating a Palestinian state is good but it won't work if Israel won't allow him to do anything in Area C - not even to put up street signs or agricultural buildings.  If the state fails, eventually the only alternative will be the extreme religious groups in Israel and Palestine - two groups who are in a hurry to be in paradise."    


Sufian Abu Zaidah
A charismatic senior member of the Fatah Revolutionary Council who escaped Gaza when Hamas took over, Abu Zaidah is an expert on Israel, a long-time opponent of Palestinian armed struggle, and a Ph.D in political science. Over strong Turkish coffee, he delights in describing what he teaches his students at Bir Zeit University about Zionism and Israel.  

"Most of them believe the Israeli army decides everything in Israel.  I tell them about the Israeli media, how our media is not as free as theirs.  I tell them one reason the Jews have a state and we don't is that they had Ben Gurion and we had Arafat.  Ben Gurion accepted Resolution 181. The Arabs opposed it because of Jerusalem.  Ben Gurion told his opposition, 'Our generation can only achieve statehood.  Don't ask us for more.'  He ordered the attack on the Altalina to keep his opposition in line, and in '67, Israel won everything anyway.  Arafat was a symbol, the father of a people but not a leader. He wanted to stay a fighter not a statesman.  For me, that was a mistake.  In 2000, I said publicly that I'm against bus explosions and violence.  Now, finally, some believe in nonviolent struggle.  In my opinion, we Palestinians committed a lot of mistakes with violent tactics, though Israel committed a lot of crimes, too." 


One of us asked Abu Zaidah his reaction to the upcoming ceremony to name a square in Ramallah after Dalal Mughrabi, the Palestinian woman who, in 1978, directed the "coastal road massacre" that killed thirty-eight civilians, thirteen of them children.  "Naming the square doesn't mean we support what Dalal did on the beach. It means we recognize that she sacrificed her life for the cause of Palestinian freedom.  Yitzhak Shamir and Menachim Begin were terrorists. They killed a lot of civilians. Many streets in Israel are named for people who killed Palestinians and others."

"Fayyad is doing a great job building our state, but if Israel decides to, they can destroy all that he built.  If they do, of course, the one state solution will rise as the answer to the conflict. More and more Palestinians are talking about one state.  After twenty or thirty years, the world won't care what Israel wants. There will be seven million Arabs. A Jewish minority will be controlling an Arab majority and that won't be acceptable to anyone."

"Now is America's last chance to bring peace to the region, but Obama can't even convince the Chinese to support sanctions against Iran.  Netanyahu can't make peace unless he changes his government. It won't happen with Shas and Lieberman in the coalition.  Palestinians accept the principle of swaps, but we can't swap away Ariel (a Jewish settlement of about seventeen thousand people in the center of the West Bank).  We have to absorb a million refugees. Where are we going to put them?  It's easier to talk about Ariel than Jerusalem."       

Haim Oron
The white haired lion of Meretz, Oron, the Member of Knesset whom everyone calls Jumis, meets us in a sunny conference room at his party's headquarters. His opinions on the conflict echo the Palestinians':  

"We're back to where we were at the Madrid conference twenty years ago.  Israelis think the current abnormal situation can exist as a normal situation.  People in Tel Aviv talk about the Palestinians as if they're talking about a tribe in Africa.  But if we don't have a two-state solution to our conflict with them, it will be the end of the Jewish democratic state.  We'll have apartheid.  It will be like the atomic bomb fell on us. The Zionist project will end. What we need now is a shock, either a third intifada or international pressure on Israel.  

"I think Salam Fayyad is a champion partner for negotiations but some think he's an alternative to negotiations.  At the Herzliya security conference, he gave a strong speech for two-states."

"Kadima behaves like our partner only when it's safe.  As for Labor, it's like they aren't in the Knesset at all. Their views are missing from Israeli public opinion.  They take up space but in a vacuum."

Tzipi Livni
A lawyer, former IDF lieutenant, Mossad officer, and Foreign Minister (the first woman to hold that office since Golda Meir), Livni is the head of the Kadima party formed by Ariel Sharon as a break-away from Likud.  Though Kadima won the most votes in the 2009 elections, Livni was unable to form a coalition, and Benjamin Netanyahu was, which is why he's Prime Minister and she's not.  We meet her in a coffee house in a shopping center before she goes off to confer with Vice President Biden.  She blows into the room like smoke, blond hair, tight purple dress, hem above the knees, tousled hair, diamond stud earrings. 

(After our meeting, everyone in our group, including me, will comment on her appearance. We didn't comment on the other politicians' looks. Then again, none of the other politicians was a woman, and women in public life are held to a higher physical standard than men. Livni is a sexy female who wields considerable power, two attributes that seldom fit together.  I'd like to think I commented on her looks because, as the leader of the opposition, she represents a credible challenge to Netanyahu, and I don't want her to be diminished or discredited by something as trivial as a short purple dress.) 

"Two weeks here is like eternity elsewhere," she begins. "Our region is divided between extremists and so-called moderates.  National conflicts are solvable; religious conflicts are not.  The fact that Iran is a threat to Israel is good news in the sense that it puts us in the same camp as the Gulf States, Egypt, Jordan, and the U.S.  The problem is we have to deal with a divided Palestinian entity so we must have a dual strategy-- face Hamas with force while reaching out to sign a treaty with the PA, a legitimate government.   It's not enough to act on one side of the equation.  Hamas can deliver peace but doesn't want to so we can't enter dialogue with them. That's why we conducted Operation Cast Lead in Gaza last year. 

"The Goldstone report on the Gaza action delegitimated our right to self-defense.  I can't accept the comparison between Israeli soldiers fighting terror and Palestinian terrorists looking for children to kill.  The pain of Israeli and Palestinian mothers is the same but no one can equate a murderer with someone who kills a person in a car accident."

"The difference between Kadima and Likud is that we act against terror and simultaneously enter dialogue to end the Israel-Palestinian conflic while Likud talks about the threat of Iran and terror without making an effort to end the conflict.  I'm determined to make peace because it's in Israel's interest to do so.  It's the only way to keep our state Jewish and democratic.  We need a Jewish majority to create the Jewishness of the state, not religiously but by nationality, and to keep Jews secure in the land of Israel. "

"Every day that passes, the situation becomes more complicated and our ability to physically divide the land becomes more difficult.  Most Israelis understand the price we have to pay for peace but don't understand the urgency, or the price of not having an agreement. The price is relations with the United States among other things.  And this week a poll of Jewish Israeli youth showed they don't think Arabs shouldn't have equal rights, or be allowed to vote, or run for the Knesset.  It's urgent we reach an agreement with the Palestinians before parts of our society become radical, anti-government, and anti-democratic."

I ask Livni if her gender has ever been an impediment, or whether her opponents have ever charged that a woman can't be tough enough to wage war or negotiate from strength.  "Some of the old guys have a problem with me on security.  I know I can make war --unfortunately." (As Foreign Minister she was a strong proponent of Operation Cast Lead in Gaza.) "But I also know I can make peace."        
  
Shlomo Mulla
His back-story is worthy of a movie directed by James Cameron or Clint Eastwood.  Mulla came to Israel in 1984 after escaping from Ethiopia and walking across the Sudan with no map, only a destination - "Jerusalem, the honey and milky country."  In a refugee camp, he met an IDF soldier who put him on one of the military transports that flew 440 Ethiopian Jewish teenagers to Israel.

"I never knew there were white Jews; I thought we were the last remaining vestige since the Second Temple.  In Ethiopia, we had no TV, no internet. I had no English, no Hebrew, no education. In the absorption center, they sent us to an elevator to go upstairs. All of us stood for 45 minutes in the elevator. We thought it was a very small room.  They finally had to come get us out."  

Once in Israel, Mulla's trajectory was astonishing - from Youth Aliya to Bar Ilan University, a law degree, and election to the Knesset on the Kadima list.  "Many Israelis didn't accept me because of my color; it's the same for Israeli Arabs, but they have no opportunity for equal military service.  My position is there can be no peace without dividing Jerusalem and giving back the Golan.  I think our biggest problems today are the Labor party, Ehud Barack, and Avigdor Lieberman, who has to defend himself publicly in court. Also the controversy about converts and civil marriage.  And we have the right wing of our party to worry about." 

"What's going to happen in the fall at the end of the freeze? There will never be enough money in the budget to meet Israelis' needs if we keep siphoning millions of shekels to the settlements even though there's no future in the occupation." 

When Mulla leaves, we still have many unanswered questions. Netanyahu just got a two year extension on his budget which will provides stability to his government; shouldn't Mulla's party be forging alliances on domestic issues, for instance the fact that money was cut from the municipalities and added to the settlements?  Given the split in Kadima --   Likud is picking off Kadima renegades to the right of Livni.  Shaul Mofaz had already abandoned ship -- can Meretz and Kadima work together more closely?  Shouldn't Livni be more aggressive? 

I take time between meetings to check my Blackberry. Here's a bulletin from an Israeli news service: the 2009 population statistics are in. The settler population has risen nearly five percent in the last year, three times faster than the rest of the country. The West Bank is now home to 301,200 Jews.  It happens I was in Israel in 2005 during the Gaza disengagement when nine thousand Jews were evacuated from twenty-one small settlements.  The process was emotional, violent, and divisive.  What would it be like to evacuate settlers from the West Bank in return for peace with the Palestinians. Experts have estimated that a minimum of eighty thousand Jews would have to be transferred out of disputed areas to satisfy the land swaps that will be necessary.  Still, the settlers continue to bulk up their population.
 
Salam Fayyad
I'd read something about the Prime Minister's speech in Herzliya that had stuck in my mind.  At the security conference, he said that when the Palestinian state becomes an undeniable, fully-functioning reality, international recognition and an end to the occupation would be "irresistible. That last word, the stuff of romantic ballads, had cheered me.

Fayyad, whom James Bennet of the New York Times, calls "a radical bean counter," entered an ornate board room of the Palestinian Authority with an authority all his own.  Impeccably groomed, blue tie, gray hair, serious demeanor, he shook the hand of each of us then immediately launched into the political implications of his much-discussed state-building project: 

"Since we're not waiting for negotiations but moving ahead to establish Palestinian institutions, some have inferred that we're not waiting for the political process because we don't want it to proceed.  In fact, we're relying on it to end the occupation but if we're going to have a stable, secure state, we have to build it.  The act of getting ready for statehood is not in lieu of the political process, it's a reinforcement of it. We consider this constructive unilateralism, or as Senator Joe Lieberman put it, 'healthy unilateralism.' This wouldn't have been possible three or four years ago because there was complete lawlessness in the Palestinian territories.  But now that we've gotten control of security, it is."

"The U.S. can provide financial resources as we enhance our self-reliance and move toward statehood.  Israel can enable us in various ways to become self-sufficient. We need them to not put up physical barriers that impede our movement. We need to build schools in Area C.  Officials, individuals, farmers, all need roads.  We need physical space to be able to operate. Manufacturers need more inventory. The businessman or woman needs clear rules and predictable behavior from Israelis, and no restrictions on commerce. We need to be able to insure our customers on-time delivery, a free-flow of goods like in the U.S. where you have interstate commerce rules and good highways.  

"We need to grow to become competitive and we can grow substantially. The Palestinian economy is only three percent of Israel's.  There is huge potential for development, for business-to-business relationships with Israel.  But what we're able to export right now is very limited. We can't export our dairy products.  Recently I toured a factory in Hebron.  Israel won't import what that little factory produces. So the manager put Hebrew labels on the product as if the plant was in Israel.  I saw some labels in English, some in Arabic. 

"Next week, we're going to break ground on an industrial zone. We're combining government spending with donor support but we don't want to be reliant on donor aid forever.  We need the Israeli occupation to be rolled back, and for them to help validate our improved security by stopping their military incursions, into Jenin for example.  They should not send the IDF into Area A.  We need to show our people we can have a good security doctrine based on nonviolence. 

The police presence in our towns and villages helps us assert our authority.  Some Palestinians have never seen a uniformed Palestinian officer.  Imagine the psychological impact of that sight.  Our police are not heavy-handed like a sheriff in the Old West. We spend a lot of time on police training.  Our officers help old people cross the street.  They gave women roses on Valentine's Day.

"Suppose Israel could be convinced to stop raids into the West Bank and let us handle our own security?  Little by little it would help people adjust to something they can see and talk about at their dinner tables. Ours is a gradual, evolutionary way to statehood.  Most Israelis are in favor of a Palestinian state but just 'not yet.' We want to win them over with institutions that are managed responsibly.  A Palestinian state is not going to be theoretical or academic forever.  People need to see that it's really happening."

 "The 1600 housing units Israel authorized in Ramat Shlomo made international headlines. When I met with Biden, I told him we have to deal with this kind of thing every day. There are material consequences of Israel acting this way.  But if we talk too much about settlements, the issue becomes trivialized.  I just talk about a kindergarten.  How bad could it be for us to build a little kindergarten?"

Young Activists
This is the adrenalin blast we needed - a meeting with sixteen young Israelis, age 18 to 29, who talk to us about their commitment to peace-making, their concern for their country, and their enthusiasm for Peace Now's activist projects. 

Strikingly articulate and clearly independent-minded, the young people speak in variously-accented but fully comprehensible English and defend their views with passion. Not all of them take the same approach to each issue, not all favor the same strategies or tactics, but all agree that "there is an awakening on the left," and "people want to bring change."  One young woman laments that her grandparents have become so pessimistic. She herself is putting her hopes on Tzipi Livni to "do something strong and be a leader of the left, since Ehud Barack isn't."  Others put more trust in citizen action than in party politics or elected officials. 

Eldad Yaniv's paper about creating a new left movement on the basis of reclaiming patriotism, (see p. 16 above) arouses strong opinions about the meaning of modern Zionism and the use of national symbols.  "The right wing has taken over Zionism and the flag," says a 26-year-old man. "There's a perception that they care about Israel and we only care about the Palestinians.  But you don't have to build settlements in East Jerusalem to be a Zionist."

The group becomes especially animated when someone mentions the Peace Now activist whose flag was forcibly taken away from her at last Saturday night's demonstration in Sheikh Jarrah. Some of the young activists feel it was important to show the Israeli flag to establish that Israelis were on the scene supporting the Palestinians. Others feel it's understandable that, at this point, the flag "projects the occupation," and is equated with the settlers; that, to Palestinians who've been evicted from their homes by Jews, the Israeli flag is like a red flag to a bull. 

One young man, an 18-year-old IDF soldier,  insists that fighting for Jews' right to define themselves is as much his goal as fighting for the Palestinians' right to define themselves.  A young woman counters, "Fighting about the flag and Hatikva is a lose/lose proposition.  If we don't own our nation's symbols, we'll lose the Israeli center; if we put the symbols out there, we'll lose the Palestinians.  I think symbols are secondary; the larger dilemma is the values that guide you."

"I'm upset by this discussion" says a young woman.  "I want Israel's flag to represent peace. I don't feel it represents occupation. It's my flag.  If it's held by people who want peace then it represents peace.  Same with Hatikva. If it's sung by people who want peace, it's a peace song. Still, I don't think we should have carried the flag in Sheikh Jarrah."  She says, even though a Peace Now logo was prominent on the Jewish star it was too provocative in that charged atmosphere. 

"Ours is a Zionist movement," insists a thin young man.  "We should fight for those symbols.  We should show everyone that there's no paradox, that the flag of Israel represents the values of peace, not war, and that we represent the majority of the left.  Everyone who believes in two-states belongs in Peace Now.  We can take other leftists under our banner. Unfortunately, the extremists are the loudest and they have trouble with our symbols. Nevertheless, we shouldn't let the right steal Israel's flag or national anthem."

A woman who heads a student organization says, "It's the victory of the settlers that the flag has come to belong to them. Now I feel uncomfortable holding one. But I'm not upset to see one.  Our job should be reclaiming Zionism.  We have to protect peace people who hold the flag."

"Because we don't sympathize with current defenders of Zionism doesn't mean we're anti-Zionists or deserve to be called traitors," says the young soldier. "The word 'smol' (left) is becoming illegitimate in itself.  It's like we're undermining Zionism. We must fight to be part of the consensus."

A 26-year-old man says, "Traditionally, Peace Now has chosen not to hold Israeli flags beyond the Green Line. In the past, the Zionist left and the nonZionist left have held separate demonstrations. But if the Israeli flag were raised along with the Palestinian flag it would be a good illustration of coexistence. It's important to say that to the Israeli people."

"I feel embarrassed raising Israel's flag as long as the occupation continues," declares a young woman.  "I can't ignore twenty percent of this population." 

The 18-year-old soldier says, "When I take off my uniform, I go protest." Turning to our group, he adds, "I think this is the most important meeting you've had this week. It wasn't with not Livni or Fayyad, it's with us."
#

 



Predictions
The last night of our trip, March 11, 2020, I ask my colleagues to join me in predicting the political situation one year from today. For the record, here are the prognostications of six members of Americans for Peace Now. 
1.  Will the same coalition be in power in Israel in March 2011?   No - 6..
2. Will Israelis and Palestinians still be negotiating? Yes- 3. No-3.   
3. Will the temporary settlement freeze have been extended?  Yes - 6.
4. Will Netanyahu still be prime minister?  Yes - 5. No- 1. 
5. Will Tsipi Livni still head the opposition?  No - 5. Yes - 1
6. Will there be a signed agreement between Israel and the PA? No - 6.
7. Will there be a third intifada?  No - 6.
8. Will Fatah and Hamas have formed a unity government? No - 6.
9. Will the siege of Gaza be over?  Yes - 5. No - 1. 
10. Will the Democrats control both houses of Congress?  No - 6. .
11. Will ground have been broken for any of the 1600 units in Ramat Shlomo that were announced during Biden's visit?  No - 5. Yes - 1. 
12. Will Beit Yonatan have been evacuated?  No - 5.  Yes - 1.