Subscribe to The Jewish Standard free weekly newsletter

 
Blogs
 

entries tagged with: Hussein Ibish

 

Will the freeze freeze a peace deal?

image
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is flanked by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in Jerusalem on Sept. 15. Kobi Gideon/Flash 90

WASHINGTON – When the fat lady sings on Sept. 26, it may only be an intermission.

That’s the word from an array of Mideast experts across the political spectrum. They are predicting that the seeming intractability between Israel and the Palestinians over whether Israel extends a settlement moratorium beyond its end date will not scuttle the peace talks.

News Analysis

Instead, the observers say, the sides are likely employing the brinksmanship that has come to characterize Middle East peacemaking.

“Is this is a last-minute minuet before a compromise on both sides?” asked Steve Rosen, the former director of foreign policy at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. “I don’t see the kind of anxiety you would associate with a collapse. They seem to be acting with something up their sleeve.”

Hussein Ibish, a senior fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine, also saw compromise in the offing.

“Neither party can afford to be seen as scuttling the talks,” he said.

Israelis and Palestinians both are speaking — off the record, at least — in terms of an imminent threat of rupture, just weeks after direct negotiations restarted. Such talk begs the question of why the Obama administration relaunched the talks with much fanfare if the sides were not ready to go.

“It’s almost inconceivable that the administration would have gone down this road with all the hype without push and pull for both sides” on the settlement issue, said Aaron David Miller, a longtime negotiator in Democratic and Republican administrations, and now a fellow at The Woodrow Wilson Center.

Miller noted the praise lavished by Obama on the negotiators and the inclusion of the Egyptian and Jordanian leaders in the launch of the talks.

If the deadline scuttles the talks, he said, “it will go down as being one of the more boneheaded plays in the history of negotiations.”

Miller said he believes that the sides were bluffing when they hinted — or outright said — no compromise was possible. (See page 32.)

Each side has sent out mixed signals. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said last week that there was “no choice” but to go ahead with talks, before meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. At the same time, his aides were leaking to the media that continuing the talks depended on an extension of the moratorium on Israeli construction in the settlements.

Israeli officials have suggested that they are preparing some kind of extension by telling American Jewish groups that they will need their backing when the Israeli settlement movement reacts adversely to a building freeze beyond Sept. 26.

On the other hand, in a conference call Monday with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not mention the possibility of a compromise. And his top aide, Ron Dermer, made it sound as if Israeli officials were bracing for a period of tensions over the settlement issue.

“We might have to agree to disagree for the next few months,” Dermer said on the issue of settlements. The carrot for the Palestinians, he said, was a final-status agreement that would put both sides past the settlement issue.

The question is how to get past the looming Sept. 26 date — or at least Sept. 30, when Israel’s Sukkot holidays end and the construction industry returns to work.

Ibish predicted that Abbas and his negotiators could live with Israel moving ahead with the building starts that have been put on hold for 10 months, when Netanyahu imposed the moratorium — as many as 2,000, according to an Americans for Peace Now analysis — but only if the Netanyahu government did not launch major new projects.

“Whatever the Israelis say, no one is going to believe it because of the grandfathering built in” to the moratorium, Ibish said. “What’s important that the Israelis don’t do anything further to radically alter the landscape.”

That would include holding back on major starts outside the “consensus areas,” settlement blocks adjacent to Israel that are likely to be incorporated in a final deal in exchange for land swaps. According to this view, it would also mean no building in a corridor between Jerusalem and the west bank settlement of Maaleh Adumim that would choke off the main north-south route; no land appropriations; and no building in eastern Jerusalem Arab neighborhoods.

Rosen, who directs the Middle East Forum’s Washington project, said an out may be Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, the Labor Party leader who is visiting Washington and New York to meet with U.S. and United Nations officials.

As defense minister, Barak has veto over new initiatives: He could nix them while the Palestinians look the other way regarding settlement projects already in the pipeline. At the same time, Barak’s reputation as a go-it-alone dove could give Netanyahu cover with settlers. The prime minister could tell hawks that Barak is slightly out of control.

Meantime, each side is trying to extract as much as it can or concede as little as possible before talks continue, said Scott Lasensky, an analyst with the congressionally funded U.S. Institute of Peace who tracks the region.

“Brinksmanship is a hallmark of Arab-Israeli negotiation. There’s no doubt the question will go to the last minute with uncertainty,” he said. “There’s been some good will, there’s been a warming of ties, everyone has an interest in making sure that this is renewed.”

Brinksmanship, on the other hand, often develops a momentum of its own, and there’s a chance it could scuttle the talks by the deadline, said David Makovsky, a senior analyst with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a pro-Israel think tank.

The risk now, Makovsky said, was that with the talks still in their early stages, the sides were more beholden to hard-line constituencies than they were to a breakthrough.

“They don’t know if a deal is reachable, so why alienate your constituencies if a deal isn’t reachable yet,” he said.

Stephen P. Cohen, another longtime Middle East watcher and backer of an Israeli-Palestinian deal who has consulted with members of the Obama foreign policy team, said the administration’s leverage was the imminence of a permanent-status deal.

“I think Bibi [Netanyahu] wants to make a substantive agreement that would convince Abu Mazen [Abbas] that it’s worth staying even though he hasn’t renewed the settlement freeze because the substantive agreement allows Abu Mazen to stay,” said Cohen, the president of the Institute for Middle East Peace and Development.

JTA

 
 

The Israel Project pitches peace as well as Israel

image
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and The Israel Project president Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi are pictured at a Sept. 21 dinner in New York hosted by Mizrahi’s group. David Neff

WASHINGTON – Two months ago the Israel Project was wondering, in a Capitol Hill briefing, “Is the Palestinian Authority preparing its people for peace?”

The answer was a pretty unequivocal “no.”

Delivering the briefing was Itamar Marcus, a founder of Palestinian Media Watch who has posited that anti-Semitism is not just endemic to Palestinian nationalism but central to it.

Last month, the same Israel Project said it was “honored” to host a dinner for Jewish groups in New York with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad — and was even more willing to be charmed by him.

“Prime Minister Fayyad’s spirit of hope was extremely welcome,” said Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, the founder and president of The Israel Project. “We know that some people will criticize us for falling for a Palestinian ‘charm offensive.’ However, there is nothing offensive about charm. More Jews and Muslims, Israelis and Palestinians, should sit together over dinner and exchange ideas — especially when it can help lead to security and peace.”

Contradiction?

Not at all, Mizrahi told JTA in an interview: Both events stem from The Israel Project’s mandate to accurately represent Israel’s policies. In this case, Mizrahi said, she got her hechsher for Fayyad from Benjamin Netanyahu.

“The prime minister of Israel said that this is his partner for peace,” Mizrahi said. “If the supposedly right-wing prime minister of Israel says this is partner for peace, it is.”

Insiders say that The Israel Project’s recent aggressive outreach — to Palestinians in particular and Arabs and Muslims generally — is a signal of Netanyahu’s seriousness in his direct talks with Palestinian leaders, which were renewed recently at the behest of the Obama administration. Netanyahu is giving a green light to American pro-Israel groups to take the talks seriously.

“You’ve got to welcome anyone who reaches out,” said Hadar Susskind, director of policy for J Street, the self-described pro-peace, pro-Israel organization, which was not present at the meeting. “It can only help for people to understand each other and for all parties to end the conflict.”

Past peace negotiations have been hindered to a degree by vigorous opposition by some American Jewish groups. In 1995, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee played a critical role in getting a U.S. law passed that recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital over the private objections of then-President Clinton and then-Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who did not want the issue hampering negotiations.

Mizrahi, 46, was an heir to a cosmetics dynasty who entered the political sphere through Democratic politics — she had an unsuccessful run for Congress in her home state of North Carolina. She cuts a figure that is at once imposing and disarming: Mizrahi is tall, always impeccably and brightly dressed, and exudes deference and charm as soon as she enters a room, remembering every face and details about her interlocutors.

She was among three women who co-founded the Israel Project in 2002, appalled by the image-battering Israel was taking during the second intifada. Their strategy was to help make Israel’s case through friendly outreach and assistance to the media.

The Israel Project has expanded to a team of 44 and two offices in Washington and Jerusalem. Its annual budget has surpassed $7 million.

Mizrahi, as president, occasionally has been caught in the trap of not testing ideas that may seem normative in Israel but sound a jarring note in the wider world. For instance last year, an internal document suggested referring to the removal of settlements as “ethnic cleansing.” She had the reference removed.

Hussein Ibish, a senior fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine, which helped arrange the recent evening with Fayyad, said his organization sees engaging with the mainstream of the American Jewish community as critical to making negotiations work.

“We have to have the best possible relations with the widest swath of Jewish American groups,” Ibish said. “We want to talk with any organization that is interested in a two-state solution.”

The American Task Force on Palestine also has ties with AIPAC and the American Jewish Committee, he said.

Ibish, however, questioned The Israel Project’s ties with Marcus and other figures who over the years have depicted the whole of Islam as implacably radical.

Mizrahi said her relationship with Marcus and Palestinian Media Watch, which tracks Palestinian incitement and has been criticized by left-wing groups for ignoring a diminution of that incitement in recent years, was tactical and not ideological. Exposing and tamping down incitement create the conditions for peace, she said.

“When you end the incitement, you can create space for Palestinian leaders to say ‘yes,’ “ said Mizrahi, recalling talking to a U.S. negotiator during the 1990s who said that Yasser Arafat never fully embraced peacemaking because he feared for his life.

“I believe that work is incredibly good for both sides, whatever its motivation,” Mizrahi said of Palestinian Media Watch.

That thinking also was behind a new initiative to replicate The Israel Project’s success with U.S. and European media by providing information for the Arab and Muslim media. A staff of four has cultivated relations with 2,000 Arab reporters in the region, Mizrahi said.

U.S. Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), a board member of Mizrahi’s organization, said it was a natural next step.

“If you had to pick an area where we had to get the pro-peace-with-Israel message out, it’s in the Arabic language,” he told JTA.

After polling by The Israel Project showed increased support for a two-state solution in the Palestinian areas but steadfast opposition in Arab countries, Mizrahi said she saw an opening for outreach to Arab media.

The Israel Project emphasizes positive outreach and offers of assistance to media rather than the blandishments and chastisements that characterize many pro-Israel groups.

“We’re booking and doing interviews on Al Jazeera,” Mizrahi said, sounding slightly amazed at it herself.

JTA

 
 
 
Page 1 of 1 pages
 
 
S M T W T F S
1
2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30 31