Sunday, August 25, 2013

Lord Sacks on Optimism

Britain's Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks is retiring after twenty years in the job. In his mid sixties some would say he was young to quit. He will be much missed. After a shaky start he became hugely respected in his symbolic role as spokesperson for Britain's entire Jewish community (in addition to his official role as Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations).

He has been speaking this morning on the Sunday program on BBC Radio 4. At one point he was talking about the Middle East Peace Process, in which context he said: "I have long laboured to make a distinction between optimism and hope. Optimism is the belief that things are going to get better. Hope is the belief that if we work hard enough together we can make things better. It needs no courage, only a certain naïveté  to be an optimist. It needs a great deal of courage to hope . . . When it comes to peace between Israel and its neighbours, we will never lose hope.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Reflections on Peace

'The releases will take place in four tranches over a period of nine months, depending on progress in the talks.' - BBC News, 15/08/2013

An interesting indicator for the beginning of what would have been hoped to be the 'final' chapter in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Israel has made it clear that the carrot, the limited release of Palestinian prisoners, they have offered can, and will, be removed if the peace process falters. The stick however remains ever present, with Israel announcing plans for 3,100 new settlements to be built in the occupied West Bank territory. 

This is far from the promising start that had been hoped for, and the main mediator of the current process, the United States in the form of Secretary of State John Kerry, has picked up on this. Kerry has warned the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, that if the peace process does indeed fail then Israel could face a campaign of aggressive isolation. This in itself is a surprisingly bold statement from a US diplomat, yet whether this campaign would occur is doubtful. US-Israel relations have remained strong despite previous events, and it is unlikely that any US government would actively isolate and alienate a strategic ally. 

Unfortunately, Kerry has received support from the European Union in the form of new guidelines restricting research funding for Israeli businesses in Israeli occupied territories on the wrong side of the 1967's agreed border. This somewhat aggressive action from the EU may have opened Netanyahu's eyes to the possibility of international isolation, but it may have antagonised the conservatives in Israel who will see themselves as victims of European and Arab aggression.  

One of the main issues Kerry will have to bridge to give the peace process a chance, is the issue in any mediation in an asymmetric conflict. Netanyahu, quite simply, has the upper hand over President Mahmoud Abbas, thus leading to the increased importance of the role of the mediator. Kerry needs find a way to empower the Palestinians so that they can negotiate on an equal footing with the Israeli government. Whether this can be achieved is debatable, and whether the US can truly find the courage to be firm with Israel remains to be seen. 

Finally, we have the simple issue of a bilateral negotiation. The Israeli-Palestinian peace process has excluded regional powers from the talks, regional powers who could have acted as guarantors of the agreed treaty, if terms are eventually agreed. Moreover, Israel is not occupying only the West Bank and Gaza; the Syrian territory of Golan Heights and the Lebanese territory of Shebaa farms are both currently occupied. Understandably the current Syrian regime is perhaps too preoccupied with its own troubles to participate, but the inclusion of other Arab states as a third party may have led to a lasting comprehensive peace agreement. 

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Settlements plus peace?

This came in today from Lior Amihai of the Peace Now group - +972-50-864-1433

Israeli Government Declares 91 settlements As National Priority Areas:
89 of them East of the Built Separation Barrier.

Today, the Government of Israel approved the National Priority Area list. National Priority Areas are intended to “encourage development and the advancement of areas or communities that the government has decided are a national priority.” The 2013 National Priority Areas list includes 91 settlements: 75 located east of the built separation barrier, 14 within the planned route of the barrier, and two (Eshkolot, Sansana) inside the built barrier.

Since the last National Priority Area list was released, nine settlements have been added, while three were removed (Efrat, Beitar Illit, Kedar). The new additions include the settlements of Eshkolot, Bruchin, Geva Binyamin/Adam, Hebron, Ma’ale Mechmash, Negohot, Nofim, Sansana and Rehalim. Until recently, Bruchin, Sansana and Rehalim were illegal outposts, however they were retroactively legalized as new ‘neighborhoods’ during the previous Netanyahu  government.