Hard Questions, Tough Answers

Yossi Alpher is an independent security analyst. He is the former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, a former senior official with the Mossad, and a former IDF intelligence officer. Views and positions expressed here are those of the writer, and do not necessarily represent APN's views and policy positions.

December 22, 2014 - UNSC Palestinian statehood votes; is there Israeli consensus on UN intervention? and more




This week, Alpher discusses Jordan's draft resolution to the UN Security Council regarding Palestinian statehood; last week's request from Tzipi Livni to Secretary Kerry to delay the UNSC vote and thereby keep the Palestinian statehood issue off Israel's election agenda lest this generate more votes for the Israeli political right and whether this makes sense; whether there is still an Israeli consensus against UN intervention in the conflict; and why last week's firing of a rocket from the Gaza Strip at an Israeli community on the Gaza periphery was cited by a number of Israeli security commentators and authorities as a step toward renewed escalation of fighting between Israel and Hamas.

Q. Jordan has submitted a draft resolution to the UN Security Council regarding Palestinian statehood. The US threatens to use its veto to block it. What is notable about this resolution?

A. The resolution caps a dynamic period of several months during which a number of European countries, and the European Parliament, passed resolutions supportive of Palestinian statehood. It also seemingly preempts a European effort, led by France, to draft a more moderate version, though France was apparently consulted in the drafting of this Arab version (which calls for an international conference to launch negotiations--a recent French proposal). All this is seen by the Netanyahu government in Jerusalem as part of a broad Palestinian-led effort to isolate and castigate Israel internationally.

Notably, the resolution's Palestinian drafters (Jordan, as the current Arab member of the Security Council, was the natural choice for submitting the document) emphasized that they will allow time to consider it, thereby hinting that changes could be made. On Sunday, Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki stated, "The draft resolution is open to amendments to be submitted by any member state. We will try now to strengthen the draft resolution by adding some texts which are clear language-wise and do not have any ambiguities. The more you review the resolution, the more you feel you can improve or strengthen the text in some aspects in regard to those issues." Maliki, having just acknowledged that the draft resolution is still a work in progress and is not fully "cooked", even expressed the hope the US would not veto an amended resolution.

There are a few areas where the draft resolution seems to reflect Palestinian recognition of the need for a more flexible approach to accommodate well-established Israeli needs. But in many other aspects, rigidity and a doctrinaire approach prevail.

Thus, on the positive side, the resolution calls for borders based on the 1967 lines "with mutually agreed, limited, equivalent land swaps", thereby recognizing that the land swap idea has been embraced by the Palestinians as well as by earlier Israeli governments. It mentions the need to ensure Israel's security as well as that of Palestine, and recognizes that security arrangements "shall be placed at the center of negotiations". It calls for eventual "full implementation of the Arab Peace Initiative", meaning full Arab relations with Israel following a Palestinian settlement. And while it demands implementation of UNGAR 194 from 1949 regarding Palestinian refugees, it does not specifically mention the so-called "right of return" of all refugees to Israel, which is the way the Palestinians usually interpret 194.

But on the negative side, the resolution defines a vision of "two democratic states, Israel and Palestine", living side by side and reaffirms "the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination". By glaring omission, the Jewish people are not granted that right and Israel's Jewish, or Zionist, nature is not recognized. Then, too, Palestine as currently constituted can hardly qualify as a democratic state.

Similarly, the "Gaza Strip constitutes an integral part of the Palestinian territory" yet the absence of Palestinian Authority or PLO rule over that territory is not addressed. Nor is the fact that Gaza is ruled by Hamas, a radical Islamist movement. By the same token, the resolution recalls that in 2012 the World Bank and IMF recognized "progress in Palestinian state-building efforts", but ignores the worrisome deterioration since then in the areas of economy and human rights in the West Bank, particularly since Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas dismissed PM Salam Fayyad, Palestine's most successful "state-builder".

The resolution imposes rigid timetables--one key reason for US objections--of a mere 12 months for the conclusion of negotiations and another two years, until the end of 2017, for ending the occupation. The latter deadline ignores the current chaotic situation throughout most of the Arab Middle East and its potential effect on Israeli security. Israelis can take little comfort in the resolution's call for a third-party presence as part of the resolution's over-hasty security arrangements: note that Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas reportedly agreed to a five-year security deadline in recent negotiations led by US Secretary of State John Kerry.

Then there are the worrisome lacunae. Not only is sovereign responsibility in Gaza ignored. Holy places are not mentioned--merely the need to protect freedom of worship in a shared capital, Jerusalem. This omission, which can be found in so many efforts to formulate a two-state solution, conveniently ignores the fact that "ownership" of the Temple Mount and the Holy Basin in Jerusalem is probably the most intractable issue in final status negotiations. The omission is particularly worrisome in view of recent tension over the Mount and repeated assertions by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas that "there never was a temple on the Mount".

To sum up: were this resolution to be enacted by the Security Council--indeed, even if rejected--it might provide a morale boost for the world's pro-Palestinian camp and continue to fuel the Palestinian internationalization campaign. But it would not really further the cause of a just two-state solution. Indeed, like the poorly formulated Kerry initiative that ended last March, it might actually make matters worse.

Q. Apropos the US veto, last week Secretary Kerry reportedly cited a request from Tzipi Livni to delay the UNSC vote and thereby keep the Palestinian statehood issue off Israel's election agenda lest this generate more votes for the Israeli political right. Does this make sense?

A. Kerry reportedly told European Union diplomats that a UN vote in favor of the Palestinian resolution would, at this stage, only strengthen Israel’s hard-line politicians, like Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett. Kerry allegedly spoke about being warned by former justice minister Tzipi Livni (Hatnua) and former president Shimon Peres that a favorable UN vote “imposed by the international community would reinforce Netanyahu and the hardliners in Israel”. Needless to say, those same hardliners have already taken Livni (now running in a joint list with Labor) to task for "political sabotage" by seeking to manipulate the UN vote in ways that interfere with Israel's elections, while Livni has responded that she did all Israelis a favor by explaining the issues to Kerry.

But would UN passage of a Palestinian state resolution favor the Israeli ultra-nationalist right wing? I doubt it. Of course, right-wing parties would exploit the event to argue that the world is against us, they're all anti-Semites, they've forgotten the Holocaust, etc. The left and center would counter that it is right-wing intransigence and settler expansion that brought us to this impasse, generated a crisis in US-Israel relations, and isolated us internationally. Whom would Israel's large centrist bloc of swing voters listen to? Livni and Peres, in their request to Kerry, appear to be suggesting that they would listen to the angry isolationist right. I'm not sure.

Q. Is there still an Israeli consensus against UN intervention in the conflict?

A. Interestingly, more and more two-state solution advocates on the left and center appear to be coming around to the conclusion that UN intervention in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in the form of a far more balanced Security Council resolution that deals with the needs of both sides, could actually be helpful. The variety of ideas and formulae voiced in recent months and days by experts like Shaul Arieli and Oded Eran appears to reflect the sad conclusion that, on their own or even with the involvement and encouragement of a mediator like the United States, Israel and the PLO are incapable of reaching a two-state solution and that a new Security Council resolution that in effect augments 242 from 1967 might help. Some mainstream analysts add that determination by the Security Council of at least some of the parameters of final status, such as "1967 lands plus land swaps" and "Jerusalem as capital of two states" might compel the next round of negotiations to begin not from scratch, as has been the case until now, but from a set of predetermined UN positions that free both sides' political establishments from having to agonize over them.

UNSCR 242, we recall, generated the "territories for peace" formula that formed the basis for Israel's peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan. But it never even mentioned the Palestinians. Back in November 1967, the Palestinian issue was not on the international agenda. An updated 242, if carefully drafted for balance, makes sense.

Q. Last week, a rocket was fired from the Gaza Strip at an Israeli community on the Gaza periphery. A number of Israeli security commentators and authorities cited the incident as a step toward renewed escalation of fighting between Israel and Hamas. Why?

A. This was actually the third rocket fired into Israel since Operation Protective Edge of July-August 2014 ended. Hamas, as usual, alleged that the perpetrators were more extreme Islamists and promised to discipline them. Several Hamas spokesmen reiterated that Hamas is committed to rebuilding Gaza and therefore currently rejects conflict.

So much for verbal reassurances. The problem is the pattern, the accompanying deterioration in Israel's apparent capacity to deter attacks, and the rate of Hamas rearmament.

First, the pattern: it always starts with firing by more radical Islamists that Hamas can plausibly deny. Yet in doing so, Hamas ostensibly suggests that it does not fully control the Strip, an argument belied by its capacity to enforce a blanket ceasefire whenever it chooses to honor its pledges. A more realistic understanding suggests that rockets fired by "Islamic Jihad" (last time) or "Global Jihad" (this incident) are "deniable" probes to explore Israel's response.

Second, the status of Israel's deterrence: The first rocket fired from Hamas after last summer's Protective Edge came only 21 days after the ceasefire was declared by both sides. In earlier conflagrations, "Pillar of Cloud" that ended in November 2012 and "Cast Lead" that ended in January 2009, it took 97 days and 225 days respectively before a first rocket was again fired against Israel. This, despite the greater extent of damage inflicted this time by Israel and the fact that Israel's tough approach to Gaza is now mirrored by that of Egypt. The inevitable conclusion is that Israeli (and Egyptian) deterrence is not working against Hamas.

Third, Hamas is rearming rapidly. The existence of a new factory for manufacturing concrete tunnel components (conspicuously bombed by Israel in retaliation for the latest rocket attack) is one indication. Rapidly improving relations between Hamas and Iran, Gaza's principal source of ordnance and weapons know-how, is another. Lately, Hamas has reportedly test-fired rockets into the Mediterranean every few days.

Finally, the economic and political situation in the Gaza Strip remains disastrous. Very little of the billions of dollars in financial aid promised by the Arab world and international community has been delivered. (A Qatar-Egypt rapprochement last week engineered by the Saudis could conceivably soon result in the arrival of massive Qatari civilian aid.) The rate of attempts by Gazan civilians to breach the fence and enter Israel to look for work has risen radically. The Palestinian unity government between Hamas and Fateh, which was intended to provide legitimacy for delivering aid to the Strip, remains a non-starter.

Under these circumstances, the clock is ticking faster and faster on a Hamas decision to escalate the situation and provoke yet another Gaza war. PM Netanyahu has to hope that this can be delayed at least until after Israel's March 17 Knesset elections, lest the fighting be laid at the Likud's electoral doorstep.

December 15, 2014 - Israeli Elections - small signs of hope; and security and violence




This week, Alpher discusses how the momentum for recognition of a Palestinian state is building up in Europe and at the United Nations and how this affects Israel, particularly at election time; emerging political dynamics as regards Israel's elections; the role of violence in Israeli and American security tactics; whether Palestinian Authority threats to sever security coordination with Israel over the Abu Ein incident are credible.

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December 8, 2014 - The Israeli elections issue




Israeli elections

This week, Alpher discusses why the new Knesset elections have been set so soon; who Netanyahu's rivals on the right are; whether the left-center is incapable of mounting a challenge; what is happening with Yesh Atid; what will happen to the Arab parties, with a new threshold law that requires a party to gain a minimum of four mandates; and whether the bombings of Damascus airport and a second site at Dimas near Damascus that Syria accused Israel of on Sunday have any connection to Israel's elections.

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December 1, 2014 - The "peace plans" of Bennett and Lieberman; Egypt and the Arab Spring


This week, Alpher discusses the "peace plans" for the Palestinian conflict of the right-wing stalwarts in Netanyahu's coalition, Bennett and Lieberman; where does this leave us in terms of Israeli politics and the peace process; the Egyptian President Sisi's peace plan; and what does the acquittal of deposed president Mubarak of all charges and Sisi's announcement that he will not pursue further prosecution say about the "Arab Spring" that began in 2011.

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November 24, 2014 - the ramifications of last week's attack: political, security, and more


This week, Alpher discusses the strategic ramifications of last Tuesday's murderous attack on men praying in a synagogue in the Har Nof neighborhood of Jerusalem - in the Israeli-Palestinian arena, the security sphere, the political arena, and whether here are any additional levels.

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November 17, 2014 - Jerusalem, Gaza and the Shin Bet, new elections? -and more


This week, Alpher discusses the meeting last week between Secretary of State John Kerry, King Abdullah II and PM Netanyahu, and whether that meeting signals a new departure in Israeli-Palestinian and Israel-Arab relations regarding Jerusalem; the talk of new elections in Israel brought on by the government's lack of cohesiveness; how the current borders of the "united" Jerusalem come about and what the rationale was, and whether it is still valid; and why the Shin Bet, an internal security service, is still responsible for intelligence regarding Gaza, from which Israel withdrew in 2005.

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This week, Alpher discusses whether the unrest in Arab East Jerusalem is just a Palestinian-Israeli issue or is it also an internal issue involving the Arab citizens of Israel; whether the unrest accomplished anything for the Palestinian cause; how committed is the Arab-Israeli to the anti-Jewish demonstrations that broke out on Saturday; how does all this affect the broader Palestinian issue, and particularly the Fateh-Hamas/West Bank-Gaza reconciliation process; the Netanyahu government's apparent fraying;


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November 3, 2014 - the Temple Mount, more Jerusalem tension, is Netanyahu cowardly?


This week, Alpher discusses whether last week's shooting of Israeli Temple Mount activist Yehuda Glick and the subsequent, nearly unprecedented closing of the Mount for a day indicates that we are on the brink of a holy war or new intifada; where the potential is for further geographical expansion of the Jerusalem tension; whether Netanyahu is cowardly in his decision-making; and if the Netanyahu-Obama relationship "stands to get considerably worse after the November midterm elections."

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This week, Alpher discusses the differences between Washington’s approach to combating IS and that of Israel; why was Yaalon (reportedly) shunned by most of the Obama administration, in a rare display of dissatisfaction; Why Egypt just closed its border with Gaza and postponed convening Israel-Hamas ceasefire talks by a month, and what this means for a stable ceasefire; and whether there are emerging parallels between Israeli-Jordanian and Israeli-Egyptian security cooperation.

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October 20, 2014 - Fighting IS and an escalation of tensions in Jerusalem


This week, Alpher discusses the mosaic of radically conflicting interests among countries and peoples ostensibly fighting for the same cause - fighting ISIS and the growing escalation of tensions between Jews and Muslims on and around the Temple Mount and in Jerusalem in general.

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