The Peace Process Is Dead: Thanks, Obama

As the curtain drops on 2017, it drops too on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process as we have known it. At the age of 24, that process has finally died, with none other than President Donald Trump

Shimon Peres, John Kerry and Mahmoud Abbas at the World Economic Forum in May 2013

pulling the plug. But let’s not give him too much credit or blame for that. The killing blow was struck by his predecessor, Barack Obama.

There was much to like in Obama’s presidency, especially given the mess he was handed in 2009 and the unprecedented obstructionism of the Republican Party during his tenure. But he also had abject failures that were due to his own shortcomings, and the sharp degeneration in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict under his watch is at the top of the list. Read more at LobeLog

Image of Hate

The photo you see to the left was found by Jewish Voice for Peace on the Facebook page (since removed) of a group that named itself

"Hating Arabs Isn't revenge--it's values." Hashtag reads Israel Demands Revenge!"

“Hating Arabs Isn’t revenge–it’s values.” Hashtag reads Israel Demands Revenge!”

“Am Yisrael Doreshet Nekama,” in English, “The People of Israel Demand Revenge.” The hashtag on the sign is similar, though with an important difference–the word “Am” is removed and it is “Israel Demands Revenge.”

The photo has since gone viral, though not as its creators may have hoped. It has become a Twitter and Facebook symbol for Israeli racism. For me, personally, it is important that the hashtag removes the word “Am” because “Am Yisrael” commonly means the Jewish People, while “Israel” alone more commonly refers to the country.

But what’s really important that people understand in the image is the driving force behind Israeli policy. Yes, these girls or young women may not yet even be old enough to vote or to serve in the IDF. But it doesn’t take a very hard look to understand that they are not fanatical settlers. These are not orthodox young women, and just judging by their appearance and dress (which, it should be noted, is not conclusive), they are probably quite secular, mainstream Israelis, very much of the Tel Aviv culture.  Continue reading

Mideast Peace Talks Get New Lease on Life

Six months of United States diplomatic efforts have finally restarted talks between Israelis and Palestinians, yet pessimism about their potential for success persists.

On Monday, negotiators from both sides met in Washington for the first time since talks broke off three years ago, amid Israel’s refusal to concede to the Palestinian demand that construction in Israeli settlements, illegal under international law, be suspended during the talks.

The latest round of resuscitated talks was finalised when Israel agreed to release 104 Palestinian prisoners who have been in Israeli prisons for decades. The first group of those prisoners is expected to be released next week, while further releases will occur periodically, depending on the progress of negotiations.

”The talks will serve as an opportunity to develop a procedural work plan for how the parties can proceed with the negotiations in the coming months,” a State Department statement said.

The negotiations are expected to last some nine months, at the end of which the U.S. hopes to have an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians on all “final status” issues, including borders, settlements, Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees and other contentious points.

To manage the process, the United States has appointed its former ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk, as lead negotiator. While early indications are that Indyk is an acceptable choice to both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, his appointment has also been controversial on all sides.

Hardline supporters of Israeli policy consider Indyk too soft on the Palestinians. When word first leaked of Indyk’s pending appointment a week ago, Israeli Deputy Minister of Defence Danny Danon, a leading opponent of peace with the Palestinians, wrote a letter to Netanyahu opposing Indyk and asking the Prime Minister to “…ask the American administration for an honest broker for these negotiations.”

He bases his opposition to Indyk’s support of the New Israel Fund, a moderate, liberal international Jewish group which has been the focus of a smear campaign, including unsubstantiated accusations of funding “anti-Zionist” programmes in Israel.

Pro-Palestinian forces have also questioned Indyk’s appointment, claiming that his background with the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), and his years as the first head of the AIPAC-backed Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), show a strong pro-Israel bias.

Finally, many other observers question the wisdom of appointing a figure who was so central to the failed negotiations of the past, particularly in the 1990s, including the disastrous Camp David II summit of 2000, which preceded the start of the second intifada.

With the framework for the talks shrouded in secrecy by US Secretary of State John Kerry, the appointment of Indyk is one of the few indicators for the direction the talks are being steered in, and therefore the main focal point of analysis. Groups which strongly support the continuation of the Oslo process and a strong and immediate push for a two-state solution have come out strongly in support of Indyk.

Debra DeLee, president and CEO of Americans for Peace Now, said, “Ambassador Indyk is an experienced diplomat and a brilliant analyst. He has the skills, the depth of knowledge, and the force of personality to serve Secretary Kerry as an excellent envoy.”

“He knows the issues, he knows the leaders and the negotiators, and he has a proven record of commitment to peace and to a progressive Israel that lives up to its founding fathers’ vision of a state that is both Jewish and a democracy.”

DeLee’s view was echoed by Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of the “pro-Israel, pro-peace” lobbying group, J Street.

“The negotiations ahead promise to be tough and will require active, determined and creative US leadership and diplomacy if they are to succeed. Ambassador Indyk can bring all these attributes to the task. Secretary of State John Kerry could not have chosen a more qualified envoy.”

But Stephen Walt, professor of International Affairs at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, is dubious about Indyk’s role.

“There are obvious reasons to be concerned by Indyk’s appointment,” Walt told IPS. “He is passionately devoted to Israel, and began his career in the United States working for AIPAC, the most prominent organisation in the Israel lobby.

“He was among the team of U.S. diplomats who bungled the Oslo peace process during the Clinton administration (1993-2001). He was also a vocal supporter of the invasion of Iraq, which casts serious doubt on his strategic judgment or knowledge of the region. There is no reason for the Palestinians to see him as a true ‘honest broker’.”

Yet while Indyk’s past association with the U.S. pro-Israel lobby has raised eyebrows, few doubt that he is currently much less connected to it than his predecessor as the leading interlocutor with Israel and the Palestinians, Dennis Ross. Ross, who played a central role in U.S. Middle East diplomacy in the administrations of both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, is currently a counselor at WINEP.

Walt acknowledges the possibility that Indyk’s position might be different now than it was when he last engaged directly in Israel-Palestine peacemaking.

“Indyk’s views seem to have evolved over time,” Walt said. “He may understand that this is his last chance to make a genuine contribution to Israeli-Palestinian peace. It is also the last chance for a genuine two-state solution, which remains the best of the various alternatives.

“Americans, Israelis, and Palestinians should all hope that he surprises us, and that the elder Indyk behaves in ways that the younger Indyk would have strenuously opposed.”

Obama’s Middle Eastern Opportunities

In this week’s piece at Souciant, I start taking a look at what Barack Obama’s second term may look like in terms of Middle East policy now that Mitt Romney has bungled himself into a position where he will need an unprecedented comeback to defeat the incumbent. Yet, while I see serious trouble for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has actively worked for Obama’s defeat, I don’t see a lot of fundamental change in Washington’s attitude in the region for the next four years. At least, not at the instigation of the White House; change will come from the region itself, if it comes at all.