Exploring the Geneva Initiative

I have had a bit of time to explore some of the detailed Annexes to the long-running, Swiss-funded peace-visioning project called the Geneva Initiative. You can access them through this portal page. It’s probably good to start with the first PDF file there (“Summary”), and then go to the others for more details as you want them.
These Annexes, which were released last month, build on the general framework for a two-state outcome that was established in the 2003 Geneva Accord. The whole process is a non-governmental one between Israelis and Palestinians. However, the lead Palestinians involved in it have always been people very close to– or actually members of– the Ramallah interim PA government. Most Israeli participants are close to the dovish wing of the Labour Party, or other left parties. So they are considerably further from being able to influence any real current centers of power in Israel than are their Palestinian counterparts.
(On the other hand, for the Palestinians, if the only center of “power” that they are able to influence is the heavily Israel- and US-dependent Ramallah PA, then what real power are we talking about, anyway?)
There are many other power imbalances between the participants from the two sides, too. Primarily, the fact that on one side the participants are citizens of a wealthy independent country and on the other, the participants are citizens of a country under extreme stress and under complete military occupation by the first country. This imbalance underlies everything about the Initiative– including, for example, the fact that all the people who play named functions in it seem to be Israelis. And not just any Israelis, either, but Jewish Israelis. For some reason, it appears that no Israeli citizens of Palestinian ethnicity are included in the Israeli team– despite the fact that these Palestinian Israelis constitute around 20% of the national population; and if they supported a project such as this one they could probably make a particularly helpful contribution.
There are, however, many items of interest in the latest Annexes. Page 17 of the Summary gives you the broad map of the proposed national borders. The Initiative’s approach to borders is that they should be based on the June 4, 1967 line but with mutually agreed land swaps on a 1:1 basis. This map shows you that the land swaps would involve Israel hanging onto most of the big settlements in and around occupied East Jerusalem, and to some others near the Green Line in the Northern West Bank and the Latrun salient. The land the Palestinians would get in return would be in the (less developed and more arid) south– both a thickening of the Gaza Strip to the south-east and a little land west of Hebron.
The connector between the West Bank and Gaza that the Initiative envisages would not be counted in the land swap as it would remain under Israeli sovereignty (but have Palestinian administration.)
The border line becomes particularly convoluted as it approaches Jerusalem (see p.53 of the Summary.) On pp.55 and 56 you can see how the planners tried to design ways for Israelis and Palestinians to achieve a reasonable degree of contiguity across some of those salients.
Some of the most interesting parts of the Jerusalem border are where it goes through the Old City, which they propose dividing in the only way that seems reasonable, if there is to be a two-state solution, that is, by giving the Jewish Quarter to the Israeli city of Yerushalayim and the other three quarters to the Palestinian city of Al-Quds (though they would also give Yerushalayim a chunk that i think was part of the historic Armenian Quarter.)
The 13 Annexes include no fewer than three that concern only Jerusalem. One deals with an Inter-Religious Council for the city, another with “The Multinational Presence in Al-Haram al-Sharif / Temple Mount Compound” (see its very complicated organization chart on p.77)… and then there is the mapping/town-planning one.
The Water annex– which I am happy to say was negotiated in part at a session hosted by the Annapolis Friends Meeting, in Maryland– does base its approach on the need for “a just and rightful re-division of water resources” between the two countries. However, sadly, when it comes to spelling (p.92) exactly how much water “will become available to the Palestinians” under the agreement, none of the figures have yet been agreed.
Also, I have a concern that spelling it out in that way makes it seem that it would still be Israel that, over all, would control the water resources, doling them out to the Palestinians, rather than the two sides having equal control over shared aquifers.
… If there is to be a two-state outcome, the work in all these annexes will be extremely useful to the negotiators. Two authoritative negotiating teams negotiating in good faith could probably take this set of templates and nail down a final agreement within 2-3 months.
But will that ever happen?
There are problems in generating an “authoritative negotiating team negotiating in good faith” on both sides of the line. But the problems on the Israeli side are far, far greater at this point than those on the Palestinian side since Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has shown no signs whatever that he is prepared to negotiate in good faith. Indeed, his government is continuing to take very widescale actions deep inside the occupied territories that daily make it much harder for him or any subsequent Israeli government to undertake the withdrawal of settlers that would be needed by any two-state agreement.
On the Palestinian side, though many disagreements continue between Fateh and Hamas, the Hamas leadership has stated very clearly for several years now that it is quite prepared to let the Fateh leadership and its allies go ahead and negotiate a two-state peace agreement– provided that any agreement that results is then submitted to a Palestinian-wide referendum. (So yes, the referendum provision does hamper the freedom of the negotiators to give away just any concession they want to to the Israelis. But if they did make more concessions than a subsequent referendum could support, then the agreement would not prove viable over the long run, anyway.)
Similarly, the concessions the Israeli side must make must also be supported in subsequent Israeli elections– and possibly also, specifically, in a referendum.
These political facts, on either side of the line, mean that peace-minded leaders need to be spelling out very explicitly for their people to hear, their compelling vision of the many benefits that peace will bring. Plus, the whole of the international community needs to tell both peoples that there will be tough consequences for not supporting a fairly negotiated agreement.
The Geneva Initiative folks have made an earnest– but, I have to say, not terribly persuasive– attempt to start spelling out their version of the benefits (as well as the nuts-and bolts) of the two-state peace they envision.
Their efforts at “selling the peace” are sometimes quite maladroit. For example, on the Geneva Initiative website, they republish an excerpt from an article by the Nasser Lahham, the chief editor of the Ma’an News Agency, titled “US President Obama Expresses Interest in the Geneva Initiative”…. Which sounds quite upbeat and positive, right?
But if you go to the original article from which these few paragraphs were taken, you’ll see that in that broader context the reference to the Geneva Initiative was a decidedly negative one, from the Palestinian point of view.
The original article, which was published a couple of weeks ago, was titled, “A Palestinian mini-state linked to Iran strike”. The lead was this:

    Israel has been holding secret meetings with Arab leaders over the past several months with the aim of establishing a miniaturized Palestinian state and in hopes of gaining Arab acquiescence in a first strike on Iran.
    According to Ma’an’s well-placed sources, Israeli President Shimon Peres has been the “godfather” of these meetings. Their aim is to “resolve” the Palestinian issue which has dogged Israel for decades and clear the agenda for an attack on Iran.

Now, it is very possible indeed that for the Israeli staff members who seem to control what goes onto the GI website, the idea that their pursuit of the GI could help pave the way for an attack on Iran would be seen as a positive. I know that is absolutely not the case for most Palestinians– and that probably includes most of the ones who work on the GI…
Ah well, I’m not going to tell the people who run the Geneva Initiative how to run their public outreach effort.
I think they’ve done just about everything a non-governmental effort can do to spell out how a two-state solution could be achieved– if indeed it still can be achieved. Which daily looks more and more unlikely.
What’s the game-changer here? My hopes that it might come from Washington have sunk very low in recent weeks. Now, maybe we’ll have to go back to the only remaining game-changer that’s left after Washington disappoints: the UN Security Council.
Of course, the Israeli-Palestinian issue is so important to world peace that it should never have been taken away from the Security Council. It was Henry Kissinger who smurfed it away, really, after the 1973 war and under the guise of the Two-superpower condominium that hosted the 1973 Arab-Israeli Peace Conference in– Geneva. But then he brilliantly out-manipulated Moscow; 16 years later the Soviet Union collapsed; and by then many people around the world thought it was just somehow “natural” that the US should be the party that leads Arab-Israeli peace efforts.
But it’s not “natural” at all. It is most un-natural that a distant government that provides rock-solid partisan support to one side in a dispute should be the main arbiter and leader of all peace efforts involving that side and its opponent. It’s also most un-natural that this arbiter should keep proposing and pursuing actions that are quite contrary to international law– but then be able to enroll the UN itself as a junior partner in the peacemaking…

IPS piece on Abbas’s waning popularity

Oops, I forgot to mention this when it came out, on Friday. But anyway, the piece is here, and also archived here.
The conclusion there:

    there is increasing talk amongst both Palestinians and many Israelis of the possibility of a new intifada. If this does occur, it is most likely to be sparked by the massive wave of colonisation and linked activities the Israeli authorities have been undertaking in East Jerusalem.
    Senior diplomats from neighbouring Arab states have warned that, given Jerusalem’s intense significance for Arabs and Muslims everywhere, the effects of a new, Jerusalem-focused intifada could be felt far beyond Palestine.

Nonsense from Blair

Mondoweiss today gives us a Youtube clip of Tony Blair dodging a tough question from a University of Buffalo student about the Goldstone report.
The student, Nick Kabat, asked Blair why the US and Israel should be allowed to get away with blocking the Goldstone Report, how (as the “Quartet”‘s peace envoy) he could explain that proceeding with Goldstone’s recommendations might harm the peace process, and whether he didn’t think that the blocade on Gaza also harmed the peace process.
You could see Blair ducking and weaving. (The questions had all been pre-screened by the university; but Kabat submitted a bland dummy question then asked this one instead.)
Blair said he’d been to Gaza “twice– in the recent period” and that the situation there is difficult… But you also “have to understand” that Israel has received a lot of rockets from there since it withdrew in 2005 and still has its young soldier Gilad Shalit held there as a prisoner…
No mention from Blair that there have been almost no rockets coming out of Gaza since Hamas announced the currently-operant ceasefire there on January 18– but despite that lack of rocketings, the Israeli siege is harsher even than it was prior to last winter’s war.
No mention of the roughly 11,000 Palestinian political prisoners and detainees being held in Israeli jails. They include more than two dozen elected Palestinian MPs and thousands of others elected for purely political reasons. Shalit, by contrast, was on active military service and thereby knowingly ran the risk of being taken as a prisoner-of-war.
What a dishonest schmuck Blair is. (Nothing new there.)
Then he said that this “situation” could only be resolved through a meaningful peace process that involves action from the top down “and from the bottom up”. This “bottom up” approach is, of course, where he concurs to a large degree with Netanyahu. It involves some elements of Netanyahu’s fallaciously announced “economic peace”, along with a colonial-style approach/argument that the Palestinians somehow “aren’t yet ready for independence”… And thus it will take many more years to painstakingly build Palestinian institutions “from the bottom up” before Tony Blair can even think of “allowing” them to have independence.
So in the meantime, his argument clearly implied, it is really quite alright for the Israelis to continue maintaining their quite inhumane tight siege on Gaza.
He also later said that his best indicator of the “good news from Israel and Palestine” is that he can now travel around the West Bank to cities that previously he was unable to travel to.
Quite unself-consciously! It was just all, quite unabashedly, about him and his freedom to travel.
(And Gaza’s 1.5 million besieged people are supposed to take what kind of comfort from that?)
Memo to the UN Security Council: This guy’s attitudes and policies are actively harmful to the Palestinian people and to world peace. Take him off the job immediately.
Actually, what the Security Council needs to do most urgently is mount its own struggle for independence from US colonialism, as embodied in the whole concept of the UN being subordinate to US leadership in this grotesque body, the so-called “Quartet”, and to leave the Quartet immediately.
Well, either that or reconfigure it to be under the control of the UN, not Washington.

Goldstone’s careful documentation & argument

I’ve had the chance to be reading more of the report of the Goldstone Commission Report (PDF). It’s 425 pages long, so not an easy or light read!
But I’ve been very impressed with the thoroughness of both the documentation and the argumentation in the report. Goldstone and his team are very professional and careful investigators of atrocities. He, of course, got his first experience of doing such work when he was investigating allegations of serious wrongdoing by the security forces in his native South Africa in 1989-90. There, too, his investigation was hampered by serious non-cooperation from the state authorities and he was subjected to some fairly vile slurs mobilized by the state’s propaganda apparatus… But he persisted; and his report opened a chink of understanding among many White South Africans who until then had preferred to turn a blind eye, into the actions the Apartheid-era security forces took against their non-White compatriots, allegedly on their behalf…
His latest report shows the same thoroughness he brought to his work there, and later to the indictments he drew up against leading perpetrators of atrocities in former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.
For example, the Report has pulled together an excellent chronology of all the military incidents that occurred during the six-month ceasefire that started June 19, 2008. This account makes clear– as many official Israeli sources already have– how few in number were the incidents of firing any kind of ordnance from Gaza into Israel during the whole period until November 4– the day on which Israel itself undertook a major and deliberate violation of the ceasefire. But it goes beyond the official Israeli sources in noting that those rockets and missiles that were fired from Gaza prior to November 4 were not attributable to Hamas. many were attributed to– or even claimed by– the Fateh-affiliated Al-Aqsa Brigades. Others, to Islamic Jihad.
So this picture of an “unstoppably violent” Hamas that Israelis like to portray to the world is quite simply untrue. Yes, Hamas uses violence for political ends. (Like Israel.) But it does not do so irrationally or uncontrollably; and indeed, it turns out that Hamas– like Israel– is deterrable.
The report has a lengthy consideration of the Israeli forces’ firing, on January 6, of four mortars against Al-Fakhoura Street, near to an UNRWA school being used as a shelter for civilians who had fled other zones of fire. The mortars apparently killed more than 31 people. In the course of many, heavily-footnoted pages the report considers all the evidence available to it concerning what actually happened. It noted that the Israelis’ official version of what had happened changed over time.
It finds, para. 690, that:

    the attack may have been in response to a mortar attack from an armed Palestinian group but considers the credibility of Israel’s [argument to this effect] damaged by the series
    of inconsistencies and factual inaccuracies.

It then does some very thoughtful legal analysis of the Israelis’ decision to use mortars in this quite evidently heavily populated area, and concludes thus:

    696. [T]he Mission finds the following:

      (a) The military advantage to be gained was to stop the alleged firing of mortars that posed a risk to the lives of Israeli armed forces;
      (b) Even if there were people firing mortars near al-Fakhura Street, the calculation of the military advantage had to be assessed bearing in mind the chances of success in killing the targets as against the risk of firing into a street full of civilians and very near a shelter with 1,368 civilians and of which the Israeli authorities had been informed.

    697. The Mission recognizes that for all armies proportionality decisions will present very genuine dilemmas in certain cases. The Mission does not consider this to be such a case.

I note that one of the other three members of Goldstone’s fact-finding team was Colonel Desmond Travers, a former officer in the Irish Armed Forces and member of the Board of Directors of the Institute for International Criminal Investigations (IICI).
One of the real strengths of the report is that it provides, for the world public, real details about the terrible way in which named people were hurt during the fighting. It also provides a record of evident and systematic disinformation about the nature of the Israeli actions.
In discussions here and elsewhere in the week since the report came out, supporters of the government of Israel have ranted and raved against the report, against Judge Goldstone himself, and against the UN. They have not, however, presented any factual evidence that refutes any of the report’s findings.
And most of them have given no indication whatsoever that they have even read the report. They should. So should everyone concerned about the prospects for peace in the Middle East. And so should all US citizens who are concerned about how Israel uses all the financial and military aid our government gives to it.

Abu Mazen’s legitimacy plunging

Just two months ago, Abu Mazen’s western backers (and bank-rollers) were lauding the non-trivial achievement he racked up by being able to convene a selected list of invitees to the Fateh General Conference. In the weeks since then, his political standing in the Palestinian street has taken four nosedives:

    1. Two weeks ago he was forced by his US funders to go and make nice at the “three-way” with Obama and Netanyahu at the General Assembly– despite Netanyahu having blithely continued with his construction of Jews-only settlements on Palestinian land in East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank.
    2. Obama, on whom Abu Mazen had pinned so many hopes, has apparently caved on continuing to do anything serious to hold Israel to account for its settlement construction– and he has taken no concrete actions on the peace diplomacy, either.
    3. The concerted campaign by the Israeli government, the rightwing Jerusalem municipality, and quasi-non-governmental settler groups to Judaize Jerusalem while ruthlessly suppressing the rights of the city’s rightful Palestinian residents, has continued; and finally
    4. In “the war over the war over Gaza”, Abu Mazen made a massive concession to the Israelis by having his person at the UN Human Rights Council ask to “defer” any further action on the Goldstone Report until March. For many Palestinians around the world, Abu Mazen’s betrayal of the Goldstone/UN push to hold the Israeli government somewhat accountable for the death and destruction it inflicted on Gaza last winter has been a turning point.

In this post Sunday, Long knives in Ramallah over Goldstone?, I quoted an Al-Quds al-Arabi report alleging it had been Salam Fayyad who made the decision to kill the Goldstone Report (at least, for now.) But now, a lot of other accounts are coming out tracing the decision to Mahmoud Abbas himself, Abu Mazen.
Al-Jazeera English quoted the head of the human rights department in Qatar’s foreign ministry as very directly attributing the decision to Abu Mazen.
Some accounts (e.g. Al-Jazeera Arabic) have him doing it because he was blackmailed. Some, e.g. Maan, have him doing it because he got diplomatically snookered.
Both those latter accounts, by the way, rely on Israeli sources of unknown veracity, so who knows what his real motivation was? (Another account I’ve seen said the decision was linked to Israeli blackmail over control of the electromagnetic spectrum, and their release of some bandwidth that would have benefited a telecoms venture in which one of his sons is involved.)
Anyway, all four of the factors listed above are, together, responsible for Abu Mazen’s rapidly plunging political fortune.
For him– and for all of us who hoped for a saner US peace diplomacy after the departure of Pres. G.W. Bush from power– Obama’s intervention has been a big disappointment. Actually, for Abu Mazen, it’s far worse than a disappointment. It’s a political catastrophe.
And for the long-suffering people of Palestine? A catastrophe, too. But they will probably see this as the latest in a long series of the catastrophes they’ve suffered, and one that no doubt– at the cost of much, quite avoidable, continued suffering– they will somehow find a way to weather. Their fate is not, after all, totally tethered to the political fortunes of Abu Mazen.

Long knives in Ramallah over Goldstone?

Mahmoud Abbas, who wears the three hats as head of Fateh, president of the interim PA, and head of the PLO, has now “ordered an enquiry” into how it was that the PLO’s rep in Geneva agreed to defer the UN system’s further consideration of the Goldstone report.
So who authorized the decision?
Al-Quds al-Arabi said it was Salam Fayyad, who’s the US-appointed prime minister of the interim PA and in that position has been given an ex-officio seat on the PLO Executive Committee.
As I noted yesterday, Palestinian society– including many of Abbas’s allies– have been in an uproar over the decision. Ramallah PA economy minister Bassem Khoury even reportedly threatened to resign over it.
Anyway, this does seem like another example of Abbas-Fayyad– or perhaps more precisely Fateh-Fayyad– tensions becoming very much more serious in Ramallah.

Palestinian society supports Goldstone, criticizes Abbas

A glance at the Maan News website today shows Palestinian society rising up to urge strong endorsement of the Goldstone Report’s recommendations, and criticizing Mahmoud Abbas and the PLO for blocking/delaying that action.
The most searing report comes from Gaza:

    Families of Gaza war victims voiced their disappointment with the Palestinian request to postpone discussion of the Goldstone report at the UN Human Rights Council.
    “This is not a political issue,” families said countering US demands leading to the quashing of the resolution that the report “be discussed in a constructive and non-divisive manner.” “This is a purely humanitarian issue,” families insisted, “if Israeli leaders are not held accountable this could happen again.”
    Gathering in the Al-Salam neighborhood east of Jabaliya, families who lost everything protested. The Samounis, the Balousha’s the Subbehs the As-Silawis, the Rayyan’s and the Abed Rabbos stood in Gaza and demanded the requests of the Goldstone report, to take Israel to the International Criminal Court for its actions, be put into action.
    “No one has the right to give up on our rights,” one member of the Samouni family said. He had been with the over 50 Samouni men, women and children trapped in one home, who lost 26 members including 10 children and seven women over the course of just over a day on 3 January.
    A member of the Rayyan family, whose patriarch Nizar Rayyan was a Hamas leader, lost Nizar’s four wives and ten children, Hayam Timraz, Nawal Kahlout, Eyman Kassab, Sherin Udwan, and ten of his children, Ghassan, Abdul-Qadir, Ayah, Maryam, Zaynab, Abdul-Rahman, Aysha, Halima, Osama and Reem who were between four and 17-years-old. All fourteen were killed, along with Nizar in the first days of January.
    One of Nizar’s surviving children said she had been looking forward to seeing the Israeli leaders who ordered the strike on her family home put on trial for their crime.

Then, we have this appeal from the Palestinian human rights organizations that the UN General Assembly take urgent action to follow up on the report.
They write,

    In particular we call for the following:
    · That the General Assembly recommends to member states of the UN, and to the Security Council, that the basis of any negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians must be grounded in international law.
    · That UN member states adopt a principled and determined stance, using the powers granted to the General Assembly under Resolution 377 A (V): ‘Uniting for Peace’ to: (1) recommend that Israel be subjected to the full weight of collective measures until its occupation of the OPT is ended and the rights of the Palestinian people are achieved; and (2) ensure that the recommendations of the Goldstone Report are followed in full in order to ensure that there is full accountability for the crimes committed in Gaza.

The participating organizations are:

    Al-Mezan Centre for Human Rights
    Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Centre
    ADDAMEER Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association
    AL-DAMEER Association for Human Rights – Gaza
    Defence for Children International – Palestine Section
    Women’s Centre for Legal Aid and Counselling
    ENSAN Association for Democracy and Human Rights
    Ramallah Centre for Human Rights Studies

Many of these groups also participated in a parallel, and even broader initiative, reported here that explicitly critizes the decision by Abbas and the PLO (which runs the Palestinans’ international diplomacy) to bow to US/Israel pressures to delay the Human Rights Council’s action on the Goldstone Report.
This petition says,

    This deferral denies the Palestinian peoples’ right to an effective judicial remedy and the equal protection of the law. It represents the triumph of politics over human rights. It is an insult to all victims and a rejection of their rights…
    The justifications given by the Palestinian leadership regarding the decision to defer are inappropriate. Consensus is not required, the United Nations system works on a majority basis. Since the beginning of the UN, and over the course of the Israeli occupation begun in 1967, consensus has rarely been acquired. The UN was established to represent the will of the nations of the world; it is inevitable that there will be dissent and disagreement. Decisions must rest on the will of the majority.
    As human rights organizations we strongly condemn the Palestinian leaderships’ decision to defer the proposal endorsing all the recommendations of the Fact Finding Mission, and the pressure exerted by certain members of the international community. Such pressure is in conflict with States international obligations, and is an insult to the Palestinian people.
    As human rights and civil society organizations concerned with rights and justice, we declare that we will double our efforts to seek justice for the victims of the violations of human rights and international law in Palestine without delay.
    The groups signing the statement included:
    Adalah * Addameer * Aldameer * Al Haq * Al Mezan * Arab Association for Human Rights * Badil * Civic Coalition for Jerusalem * DCI-Palestine * ENSAN Centre * ITTJIAH * Independent Commission for Human Rights * Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Centre * Palestinian Centre for Human Rights * Ramallah Centre for Human Rights Studies * Women’s Centre for Legal Aid and Counselling *

Criticism has also, understandably mounted to the level of politics.
In Gaza, five Palestinian factions, convened by Islamic Jihad, issued an explicit condemnation of the role played by the Abbas/PLO leadership.
That Maan report says this:

    the factions, including Hamas, the DFLP, the PFLP and the PPP, collectively expressed their condemnation of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) decision to have debate over the report quashed at the UN Human Rights Committee on Friday.

(Interesting that Hamas allowed Islamic Jihad to take the lead on organizing that petition. Also, the signatories for Hamas were relatively low level. I guess the natinal-level leadership is still hoping the reconciliation deal with Fateh will work out in the near future.*)
But it’s not only the Gaza branches of these factions that are criticizing Abbas and the PLO leadership. Criticism has also come from the Ramallah-based Minister of Social Affairs, Majida al-Masri, a member of the DFLP’s politburo.
That Maan report says that Masri,

    called the stance of the Palestinian ambassador to the UN “contradictory to Palestinian national consensus,” and a move that “angered friends and allies of the Palestinian people.”
    The DFLP leader also accused the PLO, of which Hamas is not a member, of making a decision that “deepened Palestinian rivalry and posed questions about the motives for such a stance and the decision makers who gave directives.”
    She called in the Palestinian leadership to “reconsider what happened and learn the lesson to avoid repetition of such situations in future.”

No word yet on whether she will resign her PIA post in protest…

Palestinian political update

The first stage in the Israeli-Palestinian prisoner exchange deal related to long-held Israeli POW Gilad Shalit took place today, with the exchange of 19 Palestinian women prisoners for a two-minute video of Shalit, that showed him apparently well, and well treated.
This exchange is a ‘first payment’ by each side on a deal that is expected to eventually involve Shalit’s return to his family in Israel and Israel’s return to their families of some 1,000 of the 11,000 or so Palestinian political prisoners it currently holds, the vast majority of them noncombatants, most of whom have never had anything even resembling a fair trial.
Ma’an reports that Mahmoud Abbas, the time-expired president of the Palestinian Interim Authority, vowed today “to continue efforts toward releasing every prisoner who has spent decades in Israeli jails.”
This is fairly pathetic. Everyone in Palestine (and elsewhere) knows that Abbas played no role whatever in the negotiations, which have been conducted between the elected Hamas leadership in Gaza and the Israeli government, using Egypt and Germany as intermediaries.
Maan reported from Gaza that the elected PIA prime minister Ismail Haniyeh

    said the swap was ‘a victory for the resistance and the Palestinian will,’ adding that it ‘opened the door for a respectable deal.’
    … Haniyeh also praised Egypt and Germany for their collective role in wrapping up the deal…
    The Gaza leader said the Islamic movement had handled the exchange in a way that put national interests first, by demanding that women and girls affiliated with various factions be released rather than just Hamas.

Two things occur to me. First, that Germany’s fairly recent involvement in the prisoner exchange negotiations seems to have added some good momentum to the effort. Egypt had been doing the mediating all alone ever since Shalit was captured in June 2006, and hadn’t achieved anything. Germany has long experience of the many small steps involved in such negotiations– dating back to when German mediators orchestrated complex swaps of spies from both sides during the Cold War in Europe.
More recently, German mediators organized the several big swaps of live prisoners and human remains carried out between Israel and Hizbullah over recent years.
I imagine that the Egyptian authorities could have been as successful as the German if they’d really wanted to. But they never really did. So it was interesting that in the end the Israelis agreed to involve the Germans as well.
The second thought that occurs to me is that the Shalit-related prisoner-swap process should, hopefully, proceed through at least one further step, and may involve more than one further step. Some reports, for example, speak of a step whereby Shalit gets released to the egyptians and a further one when he gets sent home to Israel.
But anyway, throughout this whole period, the Hamas negotiators will be getting a lot of attention in the region and beyond; and among Palestinians and other Arabs the vast preponderance of that attention will almost certainly be favorable… And all that Abbas can do, meanwhile, is stand on the sidelines.
Not good for his political standing.
Several other things have been denting his standing badly recently, as well. Including the humiliating decision he took to participate in the three-way with Netanyahu last week (even though Israel’s settlement construction continues apace)– and equally humiliating decision his people made yesterday to drop its request that the UN Human Rights Council refer the Goldstone Report to the Security Council.

Good start on Goldstone, Michael Posner

Michael Posner, who’s the US’s Assistant secretary of State for Human Rights, Democratization, etc, spoke about the Goldstone Report at the UN Human Rights Council today. He called on Israel, as well as Hamas, to,

    utilize appropriate domestic [judicial] review and meaningful accountability mechanisms to investigate and follow-up on credible allegations…”
    “If undertaken properly and fairly, these reviews can serve as important confidence-building measures that will support the larger essential objective which is a shared quest for justice and lasting peace,” he said.
    … Posner reiterated Washington’s view that the Council paid “grossly disproportionate attention” to Israel, but said that the U.S. delegation was ready to engage in balanced debate.

But is the US also ready to withhold all its economic, political, and military support from either of these accused parties that fail to carry out thorough investigations into the facts alleged by Goldstone, I wonder?
Before Posner was appointed to his present position in February he was the president of an excellent organization called Human Rights First– formerly, the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights. So he must know Judge Goldstone pretty well from the work both of them did in the 1990s.
Also, HRF has done some great work on various Middle East-related issues, including Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and Israel-Palestine. I imagine it would have been hard for Posner to stay in his present job if he’d been forced simply to throw the Goldstone Report into the trash-can.
Goldstone did, it is true, call firstly on the relevant state authorities on both sides to carry out credible and rigorous investigations into the war crimes and crimes against humanity that he alleged. But he also requested the international community– in the form of the UN Human Rights Council and the Security Council– to remain seized of the matter and to ensure that those investigations take place.
So let’s wait and see.
As I wrote here a couple of weeks ago, it’s right to recognize that there’s some tension between the future-oriented demands of peacemaking in any situation of ongoing conflict and the backward-looking demands of the whole quest for “accountability”.
I think Posner has done a good job in arguing how the carrying out of credible investigations by the two national authorities can itself be a step that builds confidence. (Much better than the attempt Susan Rice made, to argue that the demands of accountability should simply be jettisoned altogether.)
However, my expectation that this government in Israel will want to ‘build confidence” in the way Posner suggests– or indeed, in any of the other ways it’s been requested to do so by the Obama administration– is very low, asymptotic to zero.
And meanwhile, as I noted in that earlier post, Israel as occupying power continues, day after day after day, to impose on Gaza’s people living conditions that are extremely inhumane and continue to constitute, as Goldstone argued, a quite illegal pursuit of collective punishment on all 1.5 million of them.
So set aside questions about “the past” and “the future” for a moment.
What is Washington doing to end that illegal behavior, which is being carried out on a continuing basis in the present by that state that is so heavily dependent on our generosity, Israel?
I guess to me, as a US citizen, that’s the most burning issue. At this point, I’m not sure how much it’s worth for Pres. Obama to try to get either the Israelis or the Palestinians (or other Arabs) to undertake “confidence-building steps” toward the other.
But what I do know is that it’s the US itself that now needs to build the confidence of the vast majority of the people in the world in the integrity and fair-mindedness of our government, which continues to cling onto its long-held role as the dominant mediator in this conflict.
That’s why we need to see the US both doing effective follow-up on Goldstone and– even more urgently– taking concrete actions to lift Israel’s inhumane siege of Gaza.

Palestinian independence, borders, and Jerusalem

I’ve been thinking, based on many conversations over past years, about what constitutes the heart of the “independence” that Palestinian supporters of a two-state solution judge it is, that their independent state has to have.
Very evidently, no independent Palestinian state that emerges from anything like the current diplomatic arrangements or the current balance of forces with Israel, will be able to conduct anything like an independent military policy. Indeed, the Palestinian state will be substantially disarmed, and if it’s born at all will be born under a very stringent and long-lasting demilitarization regime.
There will be similar constraints on the ability of the Palestinian state to conduct an independent foreign policy.
To see why, you have only to look at the heavy constraints that the peace treaties that Egypt and Jordan have concluded with Israel place on those two countries’ ability to conduct an independent military or foreign policy. And those are significant, pre-existing states! So there is no way that the Palestinians, from their current position of intense dependency and vulnerability, can win anything like even the pared-down, constrained militaries that those earlier treaties allotted to their Arab parties.
So if national “independence” is to have any meaning for Palestinians at all, it has surely to lie in two other key dimensions of the sovereignty of states: control over its own resources and borders, and freedom to conduct its own economic relations directly with the rest of the world economy.
Absent those two dimensions of sovereignty, the Palestinian state would have no independence that, I think, most Palestinians would consider worth having.
A Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza that is economically independent, and that has a free-flowing and internationally assured linkage between its two halves, can play many important– and potentially very profitable–roles in the regional and world economies. Interim PM Salam Fayyad is quite right to be concentrating on planning and building the infrastructure of this economically independent state: the airports, ports, and other nodes through which it can interact with its Egyptian and Jordanian neighbors, with other Mediterranean countries, and as an important entrepot for the region.
However, to protect its own economic space and its freedom of international economic action, this state would have to have firm and agreed borders with Israel, (which would presumably also want to preserve the independence of international economic links.) The two economies would almost certainly grow for a number of years in rather different economic directions and at different rates, since they start from such different base-points and have such very different international linkages, as well.
The Palestinian economy, once freed from the stifling constraints of Israel’s current total domination, could grow remarkably rapidly. The Palestinian people are very well educated. Diaspora Palestinians have lots of capital they could invest in a country whose independence and inviolability from foreign aggression could truly be assured. And the location of the country is strategic, indeed.
(Of course, if the Palestinian state is demilitarized, it would have to have iron-clad guarantees of its security from the UN Security Council or elsewhere. But the Palestinians should turn such demilitarization from a necessity into an economic virtue, like Costa Rica. Maintaining a heavy military is, after all, incredibly expensive and burdensome!)
Over the 42 years during which Israel has maintained its occupation over the West Bank and Gaza, there have been two major models for the economic relations between Israel and the OPT Palestinians. The first was one in which Israel forcibly imposed dependency on the OPT Palestinians. The occupation authorities intentionally suppressed the indigenous productive and economic capacities of the OPTs. The OPT Palestinians were thereby forced to work as very low-wage workers in the Israeli labor market; and to become a captive market for the products of Israel’s factories.
The First Intifada put an end to that. Afterwards, Israelis replaced the low-wage and few-rights Palestinian laborers with low-wage and few-rights migrant laborers imported from distant spots around the world, especially East Asia.
And in that second stage we had Oslo, and the PA, and all the fol-de-rol about Shimon Peres’s “New Middle East”, and Israel’s pursuit of an economic model in which– the needs of Palestinians were still completely subsumed to those of Israelis. The West Bank and Gaza are still captive markets for Israeli companies. But Israel’s power-that-be no longer want to have any Palestinian laborers crossing into Israel. So they have left Palestinians of working age simply to rot inside the large open-air prisons known as the OPTs…. And every so often (as with Netanyahu now), they throw them a few economic crumbs in the hope that Palestinians will be so busy rushing after the crumbs– and fighting each other to get them– that they’ll stop worrying about politics and the fight for national independence.
You have to admit, in Ramallah, some of those “crumbs” look pretty ostentatious and glitzy. But they still don’t represent anything like a functioning economy– let alone a functioning and independent Palestinian national economy.
So that is what is going to have to change, if there is to be any kind of a meaningful national independence for Palestinians. To put it plainly, Israel’s boot has to be lifted completely off the Palestinian economy.
Which means there will have to be a real border between Israel and Palestine. And not just the kind of fuzzy, one-way permeable, one-side dominated line we have seen until now (and which is still advocated over the long term by many Israeli proponents of the “New Middle East.”)
This question of the need for a real border impacts very directly on the question of Jerusalem.
I take as a given that if there is to be a viable, independent Palestinian state, alongside Israel, then the Palestinians will have to gain/regain control over a substantial portion of currently occupied East Jerusalem. Yes, including three-fourths of the Old City.
So it occurs to me there would be two formulas for how this need for Palestinian economic independence (and thus a real border) could be reconciled with the political-geographic needs of reaching a politically viable settlement over Jerusalem.
Either the city would need to be once again physically divided between the two states, with a meaningful (and internationally monitored) barrier going through it. Or, the whole city should be designated as some kind of special, internationally invigilated “condominium” between Israel and Palestine, with real borders erected between this condominium and each of the two “parent” states.
Otherwise, how do you keep the two states and their economies separate? How would you prevent massive smuggling between them, through Jerusalem?
Neither of these formulas is ideal. But for the vast majority of those– Israelis and Palestinians– who have a direct stake in bringing peace and hope to Palestine/Israel, either of these formulas would be a whole lot preferable to the current situation.
All Palestinians, both those 250,000 people nowadays hanging on “by a thread” in their East Jerusalem homes and that vast majority of Palestinians who have been completely banned from visiting their nation’s capital city for many years now, are currently living with the deep wound of the separation of East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank.
There already are walls going through East Jerusalem: the Israeli government has been building those atrocious barriers for the past five years now.
There is no “peace” or “unification” in Jerusalem, as Israeli propaganda would have us believe. And there is a non-trivial number of Jewish Israelis who have already said they are ready to make concessions to the Palestinians over Jerusalem…
But can the international negotiators get their head around these ideas, I wonder?
Have they even started to think through what it would mean for the State of Palestine to have real economic independence and its own direct economic links with the rest of the world?
Have they thought through how this impacts on borders and the question of Jerusalem?
I hope so. Because if they take bold action and go after far-reaching and fair-minded ideas like the ones discussed above, then they might still have just a tiny glimmer of a hope of securing the two-state-based peace agreement.
But if they don’t– if they plan on (once again) fudging the idea of Palestinian economic independence, and fudging the question of securing access for all the peoples of the region to their holy places in Jerusalem, and fudging the whole issue of clear and accountable lines of governance in Jerusalem– then the two-state formula doesn’t stand a chance.
Regardless of all the fine words that Pres. Obama might say about his commitment to it…