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MKs: New peace initiative to rely on international law

Knesset members — one a Druze — in Englewood

Two Israeli parliamentarians and a political activist told some 35 people last week at a gathering in Englewood of their concerns about attempts to delegitimize Israel.

Ayoob Kara, deputy minister for development of the Negev and Galilee and deputy minister for regional cooperation, is a Druze member of the Knesset for the Likud Party. (The Druze, an Arabic-speaking religious community, serve in the Israel Defense Forces.)

Rabbi Nissim Ze’ev is a member of the Knesset from the Shas Party, which he cofounded in 1984. He spoke to the attendees in Hebrew; his address was summarized in English by Karen Pichkhadze, executive director of the National Organization for Political Action, which sponsored the event at a private home.

The MKs were with Shoshana Bekerman, director of the Jerusalem-based Knesset Caucus for Judaism and Global Ethics. They plan to present the Jerusalem Initiative for Peace in the Middle East to Congress and the United Nations. The brainchild of Ze’ev, who chairs the caucus and who worked on it in cooperation with Kara, it seeks to combat the delegitimzation of Israel.

Speaking at the home of Irene and Robert Gottesman, Bekerman said that the delegitimization campaign started in Europe and has spread to the United States. The fight against it, she said, “is a tougher battle that any of the wars we have had to face.”

For Orthodox Jews, she said, the right of all Jews to Israel is based on the Torah, but today “you have to talk the language of international law, as our claims have to be based on international law,” which has given Jews legal instruments throughout history to make their case.

Some of those documents are from the 1937 Peel Commission, which suggested the partition of Palestine, and the 1923 British Mandate for Palestine, which favored the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people” there.

The latest document is the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Bekerman said, which was adopted by the United Nations in 2007 after 20 years of formulations. One hundred and forty-four countries voted for it and four against it, including the United States. Israel did not participate in the formulations.

The declaration purposely did not define the term indigenous, she said, but the United Nations does have a “working definition” of it.

According to that definition, indigenous people have a connection to the land through religion, history, language, culture, and economics.

“We definitely fit that description,” said Bekerman.

However, she added, Palestinians have been claiming their rights as indigenous people but Jews have not made use of the declaration because they lacked knowledge about it.

That lack, she said, was also evident among the politicians the MKs and Bekerman visited in Washington during their trip, Reps. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.) and Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), who told them they had never heard about the document before.

Calling Israel an “occupying power” is a misuse of the term and manipulation by groups that have received money from leftist and Muslim organizations, Bekerman said, and also historically, morally, and legally wrong.

The Jerusalem Initiative, on the other hand, bills itself as “an innovative proposal presented within the framework of the two-state solution announced by Prime Minister Netanyahu and is intended to bridge the gap between the Israeli government, the Quartet, and the Saudi Initiative.”

It urges the Quartet to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital based on the indigenous right of Jews to the city and calls for maintaining the status quo regarding its population. It also accepts that an eventual Palestinian state may have its parliament in the Arab sector of the city.

The document asks the Quartet to recognize the rights of Jewish settlements, which should not be uprooted without the consent of the “indigenous Jewish inhabitants of the settlement.”

According to the project, the issue of refugees from the Middle East must be resolved in a way that includes recognition of the rights of those displaced from Arab countries, including Jews, Christians, and other groups.

Kara, the Druze MK, was critical of several of Israel’s past policies and said the Oslo accords “gave the criminal Palestinian leadership that was in Lebanon and Tunisia the legitimacy to be leaders in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza.”

Peace in the region is far off, he said, as Israel has not found a partner or someone to lead an eventual Palestinian state.

Ze’ev said that his ancestors came to Israel from 10 different Middle Eastern countries, “leaving behind everything they had, leaving empires behind to come naked to our country, where we didn’t demand everything.”

But now, Ze’ev said, “we are fighting against people who are coming to the country demanding everything they can possible get for something they did not work for.”

According to Ze’ev, Israel needs members of Congress to understand the position it is in and the fact that “you can’t negotiate with enemies; it is impossible to do so with someone who believes you should not exist.”

Asked about the Jerusalem Initiative, Ben Choauke, NORPAC’s president, said, “You need every tool available to increase the standing of Israel before world opinion and the United Nations itself.”

The Initiative was presented in Paris in July and will be presented at the European Union Parliament in the near future.

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From left are Knesset members Ayoob Kara and Rabbi Nissim Ze’ev, and NORPAC President Ben Choauke. The MKs spoke at a NORPAC gathering in Englewood last week. Daniel Santacruz
 
 

Will talks be about appearance or substance?

WASHINGTON – It’s a peace conference where nothing is off the table — or on it, for that matter.

The Obama administration’s invitation to Palestinian and Israeli leaders to launch direct talks on Sept. 2 attempts to reconcile Israeli demands for no preconditions with Palestinian demands that the talks address all the core issues: final borders, the fate of Jerusalem, and the fate of Palestinian refugees.

News Analysis

The administration does this by calling on the sides to “resolve final-status issues” without saying when and how these issues should come up, if at all.

The vagueness of the invitation issued last Friday underscored the distance between the two sides, as well as the immediate political and regional pressures that have lit a fire under U.S. efforts to restart the peace process. Whether or not the peace talks will be able to move from vague outlines to concrete resolutions remains to be seen. For now, merely having direct talks is an achievement, particularly for the United States and Israel.

For the United States, having the talks gives Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a reason to continue a partial settlement moratorium, thereby sustaining Arab support for U.S. policies. This support is seen as important as Washington attempts to juggle emerging crises in the region, including Iraq’s vexed attempts to set up a government and Iran’s accelerating nuclear ambitions. President Obama also wants a process under way before November, when his Democratic Party is likely to face a tough battle at the ballot boxes during midterm congressional elections.

For Netanyahu, the talks are a way to demonstrate that his government is interested in pursuing peace with the Palestinians.

Among the Palestinian leadership, however, there are deep concerns that Washington and Jerusalem are more interested in the appearance of talks than in getting down to the nitty-gritty of the final-status issues. Israel has resisted Palestinian demands to discuss final-status issues and opposes any deadline for a resolution.

The discrepancies between the two sides were evident in the delicate way U.S. officials tried to treat the issue of preconditions to the talks.

“Only the parties can determine terms of reference and basis for negotiations, and they will do so when they meet and discuss these matters,” George Mitchell, the top U.S. envoy to the region, said in the news conference announcing the invitations. “As you know, both we and the Quartet have previously said that the negotiations should be without preconditions.” The Quartet is the grouping that guides the Middle East peace process: the United States, Russia, the European Union, and the United Nations.

Yet in launching the news conference, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton seemed to say that both of the elements Israel is resisting indeed would be on the table: Final-status issues and a deadline.

“On behalf of the United States government, I’ve invited Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Abbas to meet on Sept. 2 in Washington, D.C. to re-launch direct negotiations to resolve all final-status issues, which we believe can be completed within one year,” Clinton said.

Was that a deadline, a reporter asked Mitchell? Not quite, he said, adding. “We believe it can be done within a year and that is our objective.”

Then there is the matter of U.S. involvement. Mitchell insisted that the talks would be bilateral, ostensibly diminishing the U.S. role. He said the United States was ready to offer “bridging proposals” — the formulations that negotiating sides request from a moderator when talks hit a snag. But the way he put it suggested that the United States might offer such proposals even if the sides do not request them.

“This is a direct bilateral negotiation with the active and sustained support of the United States,” he said. “And we will make bridging proposals at such time as we deem necessary and appropriate.” The determined, active voice he used was not unintentional: Mitchell later repeated the phrase.

The Palestinians have been pressing for a more active U.S. role, saying that it would help balance Israel’s stronger hand as an established state with a powerful military. Israel would rather deal directly with the Palestinians, preferring not to countenance an active U.S. role that conceivably could exacerbate already delicate Israeli relations with the United States.

Not surprisingly, then, the statement from Netanyahu’s office welcoming the renewed talks — which came immediately after the announcement — did not mention final-status issues, deadlines, or U.S. intervention.

“The prime minister has been calling for direct negotiations for the past year and a half,” the statement said. “He was pleased with the American clarification that the talks would be without preconditions.”

The Palestinian Authority’s response to the announcement of the talks was less than enthusiastic. It took till the end of last Friday for them to welcome the invitation to talks, and Palestinian leaders later warned that if Israel’s 10-month settlement freeze is allowed to expire in late September, the talks are off.

Netanyahu’s statement did not say what he intends to do about the freeze. Israeli officials reportedly have told their U.S. counterparts that Netanyahu would not be able to sustain the moratorium on settlement-building without the cover of peace talks. Similarly, the Arab League, which this summer provided much needed cover to Mahmoud Abbas in approving the peace talks, needs the negotiations as cover to maintain its support of the United States.

Both Mitchell and the Quartet made it clear that they expected the settlement moratorium to be extended.

“Our position on settlements is well-known and remains unchanged,” Mitchell said. “We’ve always made clear that the parties should promote an environment that is conducive to negotiations.”

JTA

 
 
 
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