Monday, February 14, 2011

Stern Stuff

Sol Stern is an old friend. It was Sol who introduced me to Arthur Koestler's Promise and Fulfillment in the early 1970s, and then to Hillel Kook, from whom I learned the phrase "Hebrew Republic." I have spent many warm hours with him and Ruthie and I treasure them.

Sol, alas, is offended by my article in the New York Times Magazine: not original, he says, and not even true. My argument boils down to blaming Israel.

I find Sol's attack saddening, for all the obvious reasons. I never claimed that my piece in the Times was the first to reveal major components of Olmert's offer; I blogged about the things Olmert had informally revealed to various reporters (myself included) long before this new piece. It was precisely because I had heard much about the deal from him on in our casual meetings that I suggested we eventually do a definitive interview, which this was (in conjunction with Olmert's publisher, Yediot Aharonot), and then get Abbas's response.

Anyway, it is the package that seemed to me worth doing: juxtaposing the retrospecitve responses of both leaders, today, and exploring whether the gaps between them suggest a bridgeable deal America could yet propose, irrespective of who did what to whom, when. It is doubly sad to think that Sol, standing in for tens of thousands of American Jewish reflexes, is so anxious that Israel's 40+ year occupation will not be seen empathetically that he refuses to judge the fairness of the deal itself; that he rushes to the conclusion that Palestinians will never accept anything less than Israel's destruction; that, therefore, any talk of a deal in which Israel relents on settlements can only come from people seeking to show Israel in a bad light.

We need to get past these reflexes. And just for the record, Abbas was never given a map, though he never had any trouble reproducing it. All of this is trivial stuff.


Y. Ben-David said...

Bernie, why didn't you pose my three questions to Olmert and Abbas?
Why, why, why, why didn't the two of them contact Obama when he came into office and tell him the deal was ready and all he had to do was "split the differences?

Again, the three questions:

(1) If they were so close to an agreement, why didn't Olmert hold off the war with HAMAS? He could have told his cabinet that was pushing for military action that they were on the verge of an historic peace agreement and a war would put it on ice. Why, I ask?

(2) If they were so close to an agreement, why didn't Abbas, Olmert and Livni call a press conference during the election campaign and tell the voters that an historic agreement was within reach and the people of Israel should vote for KADIMA which was a vote for peace. Why?

(3) If they were so close to an agreement, why wasn't Obama informed and then encouraged to make the final, minimal steps needed for the agreement and then impose it on Israel, telling the people of Israel that peace was here? Instead, Obama wasted his time, energy and political capital on the settlement freeze, something that was TOTALLY SUPERFLUOUS since Avishai, Olmert and Abbas tells us that the settlements, except for Ariel were not an issue any more since they were either going to be plowed under or accepted by the Palestinians. Why, why, why?
If we receive no answer to these questions, the only conclusion I can come to is that someone here is deceiving the public.

Potter said...

Stern: Now the Times has made up for the lack by letting Abbas lay the blame on Israel's present government, thus tacitly endorsing the paper's own spin on the peace process.

It does seem that that is where the blame belongs right now.

BA: All of this is trivial stuff

Yes, file it in the folder "Excuses" or "Excuses under which there are those emotional issues.. so... Not Open to Rational Thinking". I also find Stern's article somewhat vicious. Does he feel attacked by any suggestion that this conflict is resolvable and plain-to-see evidence of where the blockage/s is/are. In other words is the REAL ENEMY a peace agreement?

And I suppose now the New York Times will have proved yet again to be anti-Israel to some who already know it is.

But let's say for the sake of argument that the article is not news. It is true that the NYTimes venue will catch attention ( it did Sol Stern's). Shouldn't the talks and points of agreement be out there- not buried, not subject to ill-willed interpretations and propaganda ( such as Abbas being the one not conceding, not responding, not willing)?

BA re SStern: he rushes to the conclusion that Palestinians will never accept anything less than Israel's destruction;

It's the same mind-set exemplified in certain opinions here and elsewhere in media, academia, government and commenters, those, otherwise intelligent, who somehow don't know they are prescribing a bleak future, endless war.

The premise: That people never change, the principals in this conflict and their children and their children's children never ever conceding, never ever saying "enough!". Well some don't. They keep doing, thinking, saying, the same things over and over and teaching it to their kids.

What a hell!

David Grossman, in his book,"Death as a Way of Life", had it so right: this conflict is divided into only two camps- those that want peace, and those that want war... and I say maybe a third: those not interested anymore.

Anecdotal evidence. I was just talking to my son and his wife (in their early forties) pointing to BA front page magazine article in the Sunday paper. Heads shook. "Tell me when there is something really happening". Not interested.They have completely tuned out. But the Egyptian revolution sparked them... and us.

Potter said...

A settlement freeze is far less "superfluous" than Israel's demand that it be recognized as a Jewish State, something that Palestinians have already informally done in the past and did again indirectly through the Abbas-Olmert talks.

Continuing settlements do not show good faith, they are a poke in the eye, bones in the throats of Palestinians and they generate deep resentments and bad feelings. The settlements are on stolen and captured land to begin with- illegal according to international law, illegal according to the UN and the rest of the world including the USA.

It is the UN, most importantly, that recognizes the state of Israel, confers legitimacy. Long ago Israel sought received and celebrated membership in the UN whose charter Israel has signed, to whose resolutions Israel is bound.... ie the international community-- you know.

Additionally settlements, especially as they continue growing, make it harder and harder for Israel to execute and thus agree to concessions which it must.

Freezing settlements is minimal for an Israel serious about a peace deal, but also for Israel's own survival. Settlements must stop.

Acuumyst said...

No wonder the Israelis and Palestinian can't come to agreement. Just look at this blog. We are repeating and rehashing our own point of views from one blog to other. Nothing new or news breaking, just repeat after repeat the same old story. Wake up guys the world is moving forward!!! It will leave you behind!!!

Y. Ben-David said...

Here is an article explaining the Palestinian refusal to recognize the historical connection of the Jewish people to Jerusalem. So given that Olmert was going to hand over the Jewish holy places to a "neutral international body" with a majority of Arab members, (according to Avishia's article), it must be INEVITABLE that division of the city would lead to the Arabs driving the Jews away from the Western Wall and the other Jewish holy places. I am amazed that Olmert would agree to such a thing.

Potter said...

There are deniers and resisters on BOTH sides. Those are not the ones making peace. They are the ones to be dragged kicking and screaming with their self-serving "histories". (Tell me there are no Jews denying Palestinian connections to the land and it's sites.)

Regarding Jerusalem, the Holy Basin, which both sides had not agreed to the definition of precisely, (Olmert wanting more included): the NYTimes article talks about "creative ideas" not settled principles, and Olmert says that the exact lines could easily be agreed upon.

The world has changed since this proposal. The point is there were important concessions and there was an attempt at a solution that would be fair in it's representation of the three Abrahamic faiths in the Holy Basin not neutrality. Obviously some sites within are more important to one faith than another- or exclusively important to one faith.

I assume the U.S. being the larger country ( a "super-power", and pro-Israel historically, balances out the smaller Arab countries. BUT these were only proposals, not set.

Olmert said this broke his heart. That means he was actually giving up something, as opposed to feigning it.

It's possible if not probable ( I assume this as it makes sense) that the "status quo" governance of specific sites within the Holy Basin would somehow remain while the overall sovereignty would be international..

Y. Ben-David said...

Did you read the article? It was Arafat, Erekat and other OFFICIAL representatives of the Palestinians that denied the Jewish conntection with Jerusalem.

Potter said...

Yes I did- that's history Ben-David.

Arafat knew how to get goat. Since Palestinians do not have the military power over Israel, one thing they have had is denial of legitimacy... similar to what Jews do when they say there are no Palestinians and they have no rights. Arafat is no longer around if you have not noticed. And he was impotent as far as making peace goes.

I said there will ALWAYS be those who deny. And I might add that these atitudes change over time when people get educated. But what matters most is what they are agreeing to. If Palestinians, their negotiators and in a referendum, agree to a deal, then this does mean that they ACCEPT the Jewish connection to Jerusalem. Everyone connected to real history, the international community, knows the solidity of the Jewish connection as well as the Palestinian and Christian connections.

Such persistent negativity! It's like you are groping for all the reasons why there should be no peace deal...

Emanuel Goldman said...

I hope you might be interested in a letter to the editor of the NY Times that I sent in response to the article you published.

Subject: Proposed solution for Israeli settlements in West Bank

Dear Editor:

Regarding the article "A Plan for Peace That Still Could Be" by Bernard Avishai in the Feb. 13, 2011 Sunday Magazine, the author describes one of the remaining sticking points as to how to resolve those Israeli settlements in the West Bank that are not adjacent to pre-1967 Israel (and would therefore not be included within Israel's redrawn borders in a peace settlement).

Here's a solution: leave them where they are, and let them become part of the new Palestinian state. To be sure, as part of the settlement, Israel could offer generous subsidies to induce the settlers to return to Israel, but for those who choose not to leave, do not have the army force them out. A great many Arabs live in Israel. Why not have a few Jews live in Palestine? Jews have lived in Arab states for most of recorded history, and there is no intrinsic reason why they could not stay there. The peace agreement would need to include affirmation that the Palestinian government would protect those Jews remaining there, as they would any citizen of their new state. The Jewish settlers would pay taxes and be subject to the laws of the new state, like any other citizen.

Perhaps when confronted with this reality, the settlers would opt to take the subsidies and return to Israel, and this proposal could be construed as a means to "call their bluff". Nevertheless, there is no reason that the new state of Palestine would have to be "Judenrein" (other than intolerance by the Arabs), and this proposal might just be what's needed to break through one of the remaining sticking points to achieve a peace agreement.

Potter said...

I believe Abbas has already welcomed them. This idea has been floating around. It's a good one and minds interested in peace come to this naturally. Once again it proves that there are solutions.

from an Haaretz article on the Palestine Papers:

They [Palestinians] were willing to absorb tens of thousands of Israeli settlers who would remain in their homes - but not one Israeli soldier.

The proposal that the settlers could be a Jewish minority in Palestine is perhaps the most surprising of all the revelations this week. Indeed, the leaked documents say the Palestinians were not insisting on the evacuation of every last settler, but sought only sovereignty over the area to be transferred to them. Livni rejected this out of hand, but Netanyahu is looking for creative solutions that will spare the need for future evacuation. Here, then, is an opening for an interesting deal.

Potter said...

I think the US, the Obama Administration now, is part of the reason why there is no movement since we continue to protect the continuing of settlements- this time formally vetoing the UN Resolution which asks for such activity to stop. Unless Obama does something else- which I doubt he will do.

How can we say we object to continued settlement activity and then veto this resolution??? Confounds me. We have little to no credibility as a neutral party.

"In explaining her veto, US Ambassador Susan E. Rice said the vote should not be misunderstood as support for settlement activity."

Literally unbelievable Susan.

“On the contrary, we reject in the strongest terms the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity,” she declared. “Continued settlement activity violates Israel’s international commitments, devastates trust between the parties, and threatens the prospects for peace…

“Every potential action must be measured against one overriding standard: will it move the parties closer to negotiations and an agreement? Unfortunately, this draft resolution risks hardening the positions of both sides. It could encourage the parties to stay out of negotiations and, if and when they did resume, to return to the Security Council whenever they reach an impasse.”

The Israeli Ambassador calls for direct talks without such "pre-conditions" even though Palestinians have essentially stopped violent protest-- a past Israeli pre-condition.

Y. Ben-David said...

Regrarding the veto of the UN Security Council resolution condenming the settlements, the question I think that needs to be asked was why the Palestinians felt that they had to press the issue now, of all times. At the moment they have the most pro-Palestinian President in the White House of all times. He is under great pressure due to the turmoil in the Middle East, agonizing over whether to continue to support unpopular pro-American leaders. He is also coming off a devastating defeat in the mid-term elections. So why did he need this headache thrust on him at this very time?
The answer, I believe, comes from the fact that the Palestinian Authority now feels they have no choice but to finally end the charade of the Oslo "peace process". The whole thing was based on the idea that, eventually, a compromise peace would emerge from negotiations with Israel. I emphasize the word "compromise". The problem was that such a peace would never be acceptable to the Palestinians, because the Palestinians are not interested in simply receiving an "independent Palestinian state living side-by-side with Israel in peace and prosperity", nor is their goal merely "self-determination". Their goal, is a they see it, as JUSTICE. This means rolling back 1948. Thus, the Palestinian has now evolved from what people (i.e. Israelis and Americans) thought was a "compromise peace" to what the Palestinian terms aways really were, as enunciated publicly innumerable times by Arafat and Abbas, by both FATAH and HAMAS as being:
(1) Complete withdrawal to the pre-67 lines.
(2) Unlimited and unrestricted right of return of Palestinian Refugees
(3) No "end of conflict" but rather a limited cease-fire.
These demands would be met by irresistable international pressure on Israel which would come as the culmination of a long-period of an international campaign against Israel's very legitimacy conducted in various forums around the world. In other words, the world would finally come around to the position that, not only were settlements criminal, and the "occupation" unacceptable, but that the Palestinian refugees MUST be allowed to return and the creation of Israel in 1948 must be defined as a criminal act that must be reversed. A "compromise" peace is light-years away from bringing about the justice the Palestinians are seeking.

While it is true that in the secret negotiations between the sides in 2000-2001 and 2008 the Palestinians did refer to some sort of minor territorial compromises which were never agreed upon and ambiguous statements that the Palestinians could "understand" that Israel couldn't accept an unlimited "right of return" of Palestinian refugees , we can see from the howls of outrage from the Palestinian street and from Jews who support the Palestinian cause, following the Al-Jazeera leaks that any sort of compromise on the three demands I listed above was unacceptable and actually treasonous.
Abbas, faced with the turmoil in the Arab world and the embarrassment of the Al-Jazeera leaks, added to the pressure from HAMAS, finally concluded that he had no choice but to break out of the "Oslo" straitjacket he was in. It must be remembered that he is taking a risk in doing this, because the Palestinian Authority is dependent on American handouts, but it seems he felt he could take the chance.
However, it seems that finally, all the lies and deceit of the Oslo "process" have been exposed and the Palestinians now feel they have to express their true aims.

Potter said...

The Palestinians are tired of waiting- Abbas is tired. The question REALLY is why this process in going nowhere with Palestinian leadership so compliant. I am afraid the answer is that the Israeli’s will not budge. At the moment we can see that we DO NOT have the most pro-Palestinian president in the WH as far as ACTIONS go. And as far as the turmoil in the Middle East, the Administration says the right words after much hesitation BUT STILL has it’s finger up to see which way the wind is blowing. The mid-term elections were a defeat of sorts, and NOT UNUSUAL and NOT DEVASTATING. Obama has his office and a Democratic Senate. But you are right, Ben-David, about the peace process being a charade, though you place all the blame, despite the evidence to the contrary, on the Palestinians.

Their goal IS definitely JUSTICE ( which they are DUE)- but that does not mean what you say it means because, again, there is evidence to the contrary.

Re: Your #1: correct.. it’s a STARTING position.

Re: Your#2: Not correct regarding “unlimited” or “unrestricted” (your words) right of return. They have ALREADY SAID this would be interpreted respecting Israel’s need to have a Jewish majority. Ben –David, I hate this LIE the most that you perpetuate. It’s DISHONEST.

Re: Your #3: You give the HAMAS position…where, tell me, do you get this from Abbas?

Go ahead an MINIMIZE the compromises, and OMIT the howls from the Israeli side, but you cannot erase them. They are there.

The turmoil in the Arab world may be just the TAILWIND wind that Palestinians will ride behind.

Just you wait, because no action at all will bring that international campaign on that Israel should fear more than the pumped up fear of Iranian nukes.

Potter said...

Y. Ben-David: WHY is it not okay for Abbas to give Obama a headache now at the UN when it's apparently been okay for Netanyahu to HUMILIATE Obama and give him headaches for the past two years for his efforts on behalf of the peace process, INCLUDING that AMAZING offer that Netanyahu refused because he was UNABLE or DID NOT WANT TO freeze settlements?

Why, why, why Ben-David?

And why wouldn't any sane reaction on the part of the Palestinians be that the process was going nowhere and some other route was necessary??? Why?

Short Quiz: Would avoiding giving Obama a headache ( as you put it) be more or important or less important than finding another peaceful route ( international pressure) or avoiding an eruption of violence at home?

Anonymous said...

The 9/11 truth is out on the internet.
This is the truth - The WTC was destroyed by 3 thermo-nuclear explosions.

Potter said...

M.J. Rosenberg featured on Al Jazeera English:

Is the West Bank Next?

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