September 22, 2014 – Negotiations with Iran and Gaza; An Intifada in East Jerusalem, Another Likud Resignation.


This week, Alpher discusses the prospects of nuclear negotiations with Iran and Gaza negotiations in Cairo; whether a new intifada has erupted in East Jerusalem; is the resignation of a senior Likud minister who was conflicted with Netanyahu, leaving the party second in size to Yesh Atid in the Knesset, the beginning of the end for the current government;

Q. Nuclear negotiations with Iran have resumed in New York. On Tuesday, Gaza negotiations resume in Cairo. Both sets of talks potentially affect Israel's security. What are the prospects?

A. The P5 + 1 negotiations with Iran officially have until late November to find an agreed formula, so no finite outcome should be expected now. The latest wrinkle in these talks to worry Washington's closest friends in the Middle East--Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the emirates--is the possibility that US-Iranian collaboration regarding the battle against the Islamic State in Iraq will generate a softer American position regarding Iran's nuclear project. On September 19, US Secretary of State John Kerry stated with regard to the anti-IS (in US parlance, anti-ISIL) coalition, "There is a role for nearly every country in the world to play, including Iran."

In forming an anti-IS coalition, the US is seemingly hoping to present its Middle East partners with a priority that overrides both tensions between Sunni and Shiite Muslims and the perception of an Iranian threat to Israel and its Sunni Arab neighbors. The latter, in contrast, are far less concerned than Washington over the collapse of the Iraqi state and far more concerned over Iran's overbearing influence among Iraq's majority Shiites and its exploitation of this position to ensure geostrategic access to Syria and to Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. They also fear that the nuclear deal taking shape in New York, perhaps softened by Washington's need to collaborate with Iran in Iraq, will not provide sufficient guarantees and safeguards against an Iranian nuclear breakout. Herein lies one area of potential complication in selling an agreement with Iran to the region.

Apropos, the latest news from Yemen, where the Shiite-affiliated Houthi group from the north of the country has taken over the capital, Sanaa, and forced its way into the national government, has merely added to Saudi and other Sunni Arab concerns about Iran, which has reportedly armed and supported the Houthis. Note that both Yemen and Iraq border directly on Saudi Arabia.

It's easier to address the Cairo talks because they so clearly appear headed for deadlock. In the month that has elapsed since a ceasefire was reached in the third Gaza war, Israel has reached temporary working arrangements with Hamas via the United Nations to enable construction material to flow into Gaza in order to commence reconstruction efforts. In contrast, the agenda of the Cairo talks centers on Israeli and Hamas strategic demands: the former wants to demilitarize the Strip, the latter, to open the Strip to independent links with the outside world through construction of a harbor and an airport.

Under current circumstances, there is little likelihood the parties will register agreement on these issues. Israel has good reason to fear that Hamas air and sea ports would be used to smuggle in weaponry. Hamas, from its standpoint, believes it imperative to maintain a significant military capability for use against Israel.

But this strategic agenda was precisely the ultimate condition for achieving the ceasefire a month ago. Hence the question arises: if and when the Cairo talks fail, will the Gaza fighting resume? Official Israeli security sources are optimistic that quiet will be maintained. I am not. Last week witnessed the first instance of Gazan rocket fire into Israel since the ceasefire began. Inevitably, Hamas claimed the perpetrators were renegade Islamists. But the pattern is familiar.

Hamas has nothing to show for its latest war. The Palestinian unity government that was supposed to materialize out of the war and supervise the Gaza crossings is thus far a non-starter, with Ramallah-based PLO/PA leader Mahmoud Abbas alleging that Hamas tried to launch a West Bank intifada to undermine his leadership. Thus the Cairo talks will commence on Monday with an initial attempt by Fateh and Hamas to resolve their own internal Palestinian differences even before talks with Israel begin.

Apropos a UN role, talk of a Security Council resolution to project a long-term plan for Gaza has run into Hamas skepticism and Netanyahu government fears lest the resolution mandate the 1967 lines as the basis for a two-state solution. Meanwhile, the UN is talking about introducing several hundred monitors to ensure that building materials are neither abused nor redirected by Hamas toward constructing fortifications. Israel approves; Hamas has yet to state its position.

Then there are the international donors who are supposed to finance Gaza reconstruction. In the absence of Palestinian unity and of an assured Fateh monitoring presence on the ground in Gaza, will the donors again agree to give--for the third time in six years--at a conference in mid-October in Cairo? The Palestinian Authority government estimates the reconstruction cost at $4 billion.

Given these sorry circumstances, renewed Hamas attacks on Israel seem inevitable. They will likely encounter the same Netanyahu government that fought this summer's prolonged and bizarre war without a coherent strategy for anything: not for winning, not for doing something rational about Gaza, and not for dealing with the overall Palestinian issue.


Q. That brings us back to the West Bank. Has a new intifada erupted in East Jerusalem?

A. If intifada can be defined as prolonged and violent Palestinian unrest directed against the Israeli occupation, then there apparently is a mini-intifada in East Jerusalem. It may be said to have commenced with the wanton killing last spring by Israelis of a Palestinian youth in East Jerusalem in revenge for the Hamas murder of three yeshiva students--events that constituted one factor in the tensions that erupted into warfare in early July. The unrest picked up momentum during the Gaza war and has intensified since, with Palestinian teenagers leading stone-throwing attacks against Jewish targets in and around Arab East Jerusalem. Over the past two months, the Jerusalem Police have arrested more than 250 Palestinian children under the age of 18.

One major target of the stones--and in several cases, arson--has been the Jerusalem light rail system that links Jewish and Arab neighborhoods in northeast Jerusalem with the Jewish city center. This first line of the system was built specifically to help "unite" the Arab and Jewish parts of the city. While its cars feature shatter-proof glass, Arab attacks have radically reduced light-rail service.

The first intifada, which erupted throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip in late 1987, ultimately ushered in the Oslo accords. The second, which began in September 2000 and was far more violent, led to prolonged Israeli-Palestinian fighting but ultimately produced the unilateral Gaza withdrawal and the emergence of the anti-violence leadership of Mahmoud Abbas. Is anyone now getting the message of this new mini-intifada: that Arab East Jerusalem was never really integrated with Jewish West Jerusalem and that ultimately it will have to be linked with a Palestinian state in the West Bank and function as its capital?

Not in this Israeli government. It is far more likely to opt to augment the provocative Jewish settler presence in East Jerusalem as a "suitable Zionist response" to the Arab unrest. Here, for example, is veteran settler leader Yisrael Harel, writing in Haaretz in settler Newspeak that "If it weren't for the few footholds Jews have purchased in the Old City and a few other neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, only Arabs would go there."

This year, Yom Kippur and the Muslim feast of Id Al-Adha fall on the same day, October 4. Here lies the potential for more unrest in mixed Arab-Jewish areas like Jerusalem.


Q. Last week, yet another senior Likud minister who was conflicted with Netanyahu resigned from politics, leaving the party second in size to Yesh Atid in the Knesset. Is this the beginning of the end for the current government?

A. That question is the focus of considerable speculation today. With the decision by Interior Minister Gideon Saar to take temporary leave from politics and his replacement in the Knesset by a Yisrael Beitenu politician (Likud and Yisrael Beitenu ran in the January 2013 elections on a joint list, but have since fragmented back into two separate parties that remain coalition partners), Likud now has 18 members of Knesset, compared with the 19 of Finance Minister Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid party.

Saar is by far not the first senior Likud minister to leave politics in recent years. He was preceded by the likes of Benny Begin, Dan Meridor and others. One recent Likud deserter, the popular Moshe Kachlon, is setting up an opposing party; Saar vows to remain a Likudnik. The overall impression is that it is increasingly difficult for a Likudnik to maintain leadership potential or status in the shadow of Binyamin Netanyahu, who is now the second longest-serving prime minister after David Ben-Gurion, but that Netanyahu is increasingly isolated within his own party. Much of the remaining Likud faction in the Knesset tends to adopt positions to Netanyahu's right on issues of war (the recent Gaza war) and "peace" (the slightest hesitation to set up new settlements or readiness to talk about a two-state solution). And unlike Ben-Gurion (or, for a more recent example, Ariel Sharon), Netanyahu does not have the courage or the conviction to adopt political positions unacceptable to his party.

Saar's major falling-out with Netanyahu came a few months ago when he successfully backed Reuven Rivlin for the presidency, against Netanyahu's will. He knows there will be no forgiveness for this transgression. One immediate outcome of the shrinking of Likud has been to strengthen Lapid's hand in negotiations for the 2015 budget; in Israel, coalitions have fallen because of disagreements regarding the budget. But Lapid is not interested in new elections, and Netanyahu's detractors within his own party have no bright ideas regarding a replacement for the prime minister and party leader. Because of rising security costs generated by the Gaza war and the growing regional Islamist threat, Netanyahu and Lapid seem set to lead Israel into an economic slowdown without paying a political price. As matters stand, only another war with Hamas or some other militant Islamist neighbor in which Netanyahu again displays a distinct lack of strategic thinking could conceivably cost him his premiership.

Book Review: Seeking Palestine by Penny Johnson and Raja Shehadeh

This is another in a series of reviews of new books on Middle Eastern affairs. We asked Dr. Gail Weigl, an APN volunteer and a professor of art history, to review the book Seeking Palestine, edited by Penny Johnson and Raja Shehadeh.

Penny Johnson and Raja Shehadeh, Seeking Palestine: New Palestinian
Writing on Exile and Home (Northampton, Massachusetts: Olive Branch seeking-palestine
Press, 2013), 202 pages. $16.00.

What does it mean to be an exile from Palestine? Is it defined merely by physical dislocation, or is it less tied to a place than to an idea, to a Palestine that once or perhaps never existed, to a pervasive sense of being displaced, even from a land that was not the land of one’s birth? The essays that compose Seeking Palestine: New Palestinian Writing on Exile and Home examine notions of exile, of Palestine, of Palestinian identity in diaspora from the perspectives of poets, academics, novelists, artists and independent writers living as outcasts from a country that never existed as a nation-state, the idea of which calls forth irrepressible longing for a way of life known only through memories, many of those not memories of their own. These writers ask themselves what it means to cling to an identity, a way of life, a set of grievances across generations, and whether the persistence of an idea and an identity can persuade the world at large to seriously address the Palestinian longing to return to their homeland.

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Peace Now: So How Many Settlers Are There?

As published today by AP, Settlers claim that the number of Israelis living in the West Bank is 382,031 (excluding those who live in East Jerusalem). This number shows a rapid growth in setters' population, of 2% in six months, double the growth rate in Israel itself.

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Earlier this year the Jerusalem Municipality approved two construction permits requested by the right wing Elad association in Jerusalem's Hashalom Forest located on the seam zone between East and West Jerusalem. One permit was for legalizing structures built by Elad as part of an ideological tourist center they established on lands given to them by the JNF (KKL), and the other was for the construction of a new camping site meant to accommodate large groups.

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This week, Alpher discusses whether Egypt's reported proposal to help solve the Palestinian issue by allowing the Gaza Strip to expand into Egyptian territory in northeast Sinai in realistic; is it a breakthrough that for the very first time a senior Hamas official stated that there is no religious prohibition on negotiating directly with Israel; is it a watershed event that Friday 43 reservists from the IDF's elite listening unit 8200 published a declaration refusing to serve, in protest at the abuse of intelligence data to perpetuate the occupation; why the Sunni Arab world is seemingly so reluctant to sign up for President Obama's military campaign against ISIL.


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Michael Walzer - A Call for Truth and Peace - Rosh Hashanah 2014/5775

Michael Walzer: Time for Israel and her supporters to do cheshbon nefesh -- an accounting of the soul


August 2014


Dear Friend,


I write this letter as a blessed cease fire is just going into effect, — not the first cease fire, and I don’t know if this one will hold. But it may be, so we all hope, that the Gaza war is over. If not now, then very soon negotiations for a lasting cease fire or even for something that might look like peace will begin. I have no sense of how these negotiations will go, but all of us at Americans for Peace Now believe that this is an opportunity for Israel to act boldly to strengthen the Palestine Authority (PA) and its new unity government and, with its help, to prevent or strongly curtail the rearmament of Hamas and to open the way for reconstruction and economic development in Gaza. But Gaza is not alone. There can’t be a legitimate PA in Gaza unless Israel is ready to work with the PA in Ramallah for the two-state solution that we have been defending for so long. When you read this, you will know whether Israel and Palestine have moved closer, or farther away, from this necessary goal.

Meanwhile, we have to think about what is happening inside Israel itself. Before the war began, we followed with horror the news of the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli boys and then of the murder of a Palestinian boy. Gilad Shaer, Naftali Fraenkel, Eyal Yifrah, and Muhammad Hussein Abu Khdeir: in our hearts, these are all “our boys,” who died deaths that no child should.

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APN Board Members Meet with President Rivlin in Jerusalem

Jerusalem, Israel – A delegation representing American for Peace Now (APN) met yesterday with Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin at the President’s residence in Jerusalem.

Rivlin_Klutznick_500The delegation, headed by APN’s Chair of the Board James Klutznick (pictured with the President), congratulated Rivlin for his recent election to be Israel’s tenth president.

Rivlin expressed appreciation for APN’s support of the state of Israel and for caring about its future as a Jewish state and a democracy.

Klutznick pointed out that unlike APN and its Israeli sister organization, Shalom Achshav (Peace Now), President Rivlin does not support the two-state solution. President Rivlin replied that if the Israeli Knesset adopts a two-state solution he will not oppose it. “We should live here with open borders, whether in one state or in two states,” he said.

Asked how he planned to use the office of the President to advance efforts for peace between Israelis and Palestinians, Rivlin replied that in his opinion, peace ought to start with improving relations between Israel’s Jewish majority and its Arab minority. He said that he hopes to use the office of the President to turn conflicts into constructive debates. 

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Everything Elliot Abrams & Uri Sadot Want You to Believe about Settlements Is Wrong

Last week, Elliot Abrams and Uri Sadot co-authored yet another defense of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s settlement policy.  At the heart of their case is this assertion:

 Israel's actual settlement construction pace has reached a historical low.  Only 507 housing units were approved for construction by Netanyahu’s government in the first six months of 2014, a 71.9 percent decrease from the same period in 2013… 

What does the data actually say? 

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Peace Now: High Court advises sending Nahla land case back to appeals panel


The High Court of Justice issued yesterday (7/9/14) a detailed pre-ruling decision on a petition by landowners from the village of Nahla, located northeast of Efrat, contesting the declaration of 1,341 dunams as state lands. In its decision, the court rejected most of the petitioners' arguments, but suggested referring the case back to the appeals committee in order to discuss the question of whether it is possible to declare a parcel of land as state land if only part of it is being cultivated.

The state must announce by September 30, 2014 whether it accepts the court's proposal.

Download the court's ruling (in Hebrew) here


In August 2004, the Israeli Civil Administration declared 1,341 dunams of land adjacent to the Nahla village and Efrat settlement as state lands. The designated territory, referred to by the settlers as "Givat Eitam," is earmarked for the expansion of the Efrat settlement. Under a Ministry of Housing plan that is still awaiting approval, some 2,500 housing units are slated to be built. This would have a far-reaching impact on the chance of reaching a two-state solution. (See details here.)

The landowners appealed the declaration to the military appeals committee, and after their appeal was rejected, they submitted a petition to the High Court of Justice via Attorney Sani Khoury.


High Court test on the method of 'declaring state lands'

About a week ago, some 4,000 dunams in the Bethlehem area were declared state lands. The declaration elicited harsh criticism of the government's policies and the system of "declaring state lands" as a way of gaining control of lands for settlement purposes. The declaration is based on Israel's interpretation of Ottoman land law, according to which the state can expropriate land that has remained uncultivated for ten years. In its decision, the High Court affirms the system in principle, but seeks to examine the question of declaration vis-à-vis a parcel of land that is only partly cultivated.


And this is how the High Court justifies the system:

The petitioners' argument – the declaration is actually expropriation. It turns private land into state land; and since it is prohibited to expropriate private lands in occupied territory for settlement purposes, the declaration is illegal.

The High Court's decision – the declaration is not expropriation. It does not change the status of the land; it only declares its status from a substantive perspective. The president of the Supreme Court, Asher Grunis, explains in the decision that according to Ottoman law, land can be privately owned only if the owner holds a deed to the property or proves that the land has been cultivated for ten consecutive years. Therefore, in the case of uncultivated land, there is no private ownership and its declaration as state land does not change the status of the land – it merely resolves the land's status.


The petitioners' argument – discrimination on an ethnic basis: declaration for Palestinians only. The area includes an uncultivated parcel of land that according to the state's system ("the substantive law") should also be declared state land. However, it remained outside the bounds of the declaration. The lands coordinator of the Efrat settlement testified in the appeal that it was purchased by Jews and therefore was not included in the declaration.

The High Court's decision – the petitioners did not explain which land they were referring to. It should be noted that in the discussion at the High Court, the justices asked to see the map on which the lands coordinator marked the parcel acquired by Jews. But the appeal file from the appeals committee disappeared inexplicably.


The petitioners' argument – the aim of the declaration is to expand the Efrat settlement. Throughout the discussions of the petition, the state did not deny that it intends to allocate the land for expansion of the Efrat settlement. According to the petitioners, this is a discriminatory outcome because the land will be given to settlers and not to Palestinian residents of the area.

The High Court's decision – the land was not yet allocated to the settlement, so it cannot be argued that the declaration in itself engenders discrimination. It should be noted that although there was apparently no agreement allocating the land to the settlement, the land has already been attached to Efrat's area of jurisdiction.


The petitioners' argument – the settlers prevented us from cultivating the land. Throughout the discussions, the petitioners argued that the lands coordinator of the Efrat settlement served as a land inspector in cooperation with the Civil Administration, and that he prevented the landowners from working the land.

The High Court's decision – we do not intervene in a factual determination by the appeals committee. The appeals committee heard the testimonies and decided that even if there was some interference by the lands coordinator, it is nonetheless true that the land was uncultivated during the years that preceded this. 


The petitioners' argument – we have a deed to the property.

The High Court's decision – we do not intervene in a factual determination by the appeals committee. The appeals committee determined that the petitioners did not succeed in proving that the deed they have refers to the relevant land, because the boundaries of the Ottoman deed are imprecise and are not based on a land survey.


The question that remains for discussion:

The land includes parcels which were only partly cultivated. The state divided these parcels and declared the uncultivated part to be state land. In other cases, where less than 50% of the parcel was cultivated, the whole parcel was declared as state land. The petitioners argued that there are no grounds for dividing the parcels, and that as long as a section of the parcel is cultivated – the parcel cannot be declared state land.

The court suggested that the state agree to send this question back to the appeals committee for discussion, and ordered the state to announce whether it agrees to this by September 30, 2014. If the state agrees, the case will return to the appeals committee and it might take another year or even 2-3 years to complete the discussions and approve the declaration. The state may refuse to agree to return the case to the appeals committee and try to persuade the court that it was not necessary, and then the court may either give its own decision on the matter or rule that the case will return to the appeals committee without the state's consent.    


The area of "E2"- the planned settlement in Nahla

September 8, 2014 - Islamic State; Status of Israel-Gaza Ceasefire



Q. The Obama administration appears to be engaging in limited military cooperation with Iran against the Islamic State. How does this sit with Israel?

A. This development leaves the Israeli security establishment very uneasy.

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