Please note: Opinions expressed in the following articles do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns.
There will be no other Notes in August; we will resume weekly issues in September.
- The July 13 and July 20 CMEP Bulletins focus on the Israeli Levy Report, which rejects the Occupation Narrative and reality and also the illegality of the settlements and outposts; and on Christian churches discussing divestment, investment and boycotts. The Obama administration’s recent involvement in the Israeli Palestinian peace process, and the fact that Israel is emerging as a contentious issue this year in this year’s U.S. elections is also covered.
- U.S Jews write to Netanyahu: Ha’aretz reports that 40 U.S. Jewish leaders have sent a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressing concerns about the findings of an Israeli government committee that said West Bank settlements are legal. Reactions to the Levy Report in Ha’aretz, The Times of Jerusalem, and The Jerusalem Post are also recorded.
- Israel’s new politics and the fate of Palestine: Akiva Eldar, chief political correspondent for Ha’aretz, wrote this analysis in the July-August issue of The National Interest on the failure of the peace process aimed at creating a Palestinian state and of the shift in Israeli political opinion to the right in support of continued settlement and domination of the occupied territories, notwithstanding the clear threat this poses to Israel’s traditional commitment to democracy.
- Israel creates a settler “Samaria” university: James Wall writes of a “Samaria” University in the Occupied Territories as a settler body voted in late July to grant university status to Israel’s only West Bank settlement college, overruling objections by Israel’s Council on Higher Education and potentially stirring a new round of international condemnation against Israeli policies in the West Bank.
- Abbas: Israel’s man in Ramallah: Larry Derfner writes in +972 that “since his bid for statehood ended at the UN last September, Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, has become strictly an enforcer of the occupation.”
- Signs of a transitional moment in the Israeli-Palestinian dynamic: Noam Sheizaf, also in +972, writes that the fragility of the Palestinian Authority and growing support within Israel for direct control over the West Bank are reshaping the political dynamic, and that there are growing signs that the occupation/Palestinian issue is undergoing one of its transitional moments, after which new forces will be at play.
- Chemi Shalev in Ha’aretz comments on a recent editorial in the New York Times which writes that Israel’s democratic nature and liberal values “are in danger of being lost” and which describes Prime Minister Netanyahu as a “disappointing, risk averse leader.”
1) CMEP Bulletins July 13 and July 20, 2012
Israeli report rejects occupation and outpost illegality: On [July 9] a panel commissioned by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released its final report on the status of settlements in the West Bank. The group decided that Israel’s presence in the West Bank does not constitute an “occupation” and therefore settlement activity does not violate international law. The results are only recommendations at this stage, but nevertheless, they received harsh criticism from Israeli peace groups and much of the international community.
The committee, headed by former Supreme Court Justice Edmund Levy, concluded that the “classical laws of ‘occupation’ as set out in the relevant international conventions cannot be considered applicable” given the unique circumstance of Israel’s presence in the West Bank. Additionally, it found “the provisions of the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention, regarding the transfer of populations, cannot be considered applicable and were never intended to apply to the type of settlement activity” that is carried out in the West Bank. This means “the establishment of settlements cannot, in and of itself, be considered illegal.”
There are several recommendations in the report based on these conclusions. Levy and his colleagues believe that since the government provided encouragement and tacit approval for outposts, they should be legalized. In cases where settlers built outposts on private Palestinian land, the report suggests that Israel should create a separate judicial tribunal to investigate claims to the land. This could make the process harder for Palestinians to pursue claims by establishing a “fixed time period” for the owner to take legal action.
The committee convened in January this year after settlers in Netanyahu’s coalition pressured him to resolve the illegal outpost issue … In 2005, Talia Sasson issued a report at the behest of then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that revealed the Israeli government funded the building of settlements and outposts in the West Bank that were illegal under Israeli law. While the government voted to accept the report’s recommendations, there was no set timetable for evacuations and construction continued at a faster rate, often at odds with Israeli courts…
It is important to remember that the Levy Report’s conclusions are mere suggestions for the Netanyahu government. Israeli Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein must examine the findings and approve them before Netanyahu and his cabinet can entertain the idea of legalizing all settlements.
Levy Report fall out: A press release from Americans for Peace Now quoted president and CEO Debra DeLee saying, "If the Levy Report’s recommendations become official policy, the Netanyahu government will be taking the country that we love and support one step closer to becoming an international pariah - a country whose government declares openly that it prefers land to peace and ideology over law and justice."
Legal advisor to [human rights organization] Yesh Din, Michael Sfard, released a statement which said, “The Levy Committee was conceived in sin to legalize a crime, and it has fully accomplished its mission. Its report is not a legal report but an ideological report that ignores the basic principles of the rule of law.”
If Weinstein does accept the findings, Jerusalem Post writer Jonathan Rosen cautions Netanyahufrom making the recommendations law. He writes, “To endorse the Levy report is to unmask the ongoing fraud by the Israeli government; it is to admit openly that the government has lent its tacit support to the establishment of the outposts and, as such, to the ongoing settlement of the West Bank, despite promises to the contrary. In short, to do so would be politically suicidal for Netanyahu.”…
The United States government says it has not changed its position on the issue of settlements. A State Department spokesman told reporters, “Obviously, we’ve seen the reports that an Israeli government appointed panel has recommended legalizing dozens of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, but we do not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity, and we oppose any effort to legalize settlement outposts.”…
Churches discuss divestment, investment and boycotts: The issue of boycott and divestment has come to prominence on the national church level in recent years, leading many churches to discuss actions relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at their national conventions. In the past two weeks, the Presbyterian Church (USA) and Episcopal Church have dealt with divestment and boycotts, with mixed results.
Last week the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) … voted on two motions relating to divestment from firms “profiting from non-peaceful pursuits” supporting the occupation and boycott of settlement products from the West Bank. The call for divestment passed out of the Middle East Committee by a vote of 36-11 but was defeated by two votes in the General Assembly. Instead the body agreed to begin a fund for positive investment in the West Bank. The following day, the church voted in favor of second motion to boycott products made in Israeli settlements. Despite the passionate feelings on all sides of the issue, Chairman of the Committee on Middle East Peacemaking Issues, Reverend Jack Baca emphasized that it will not distract the church from its goal. “We have disagreed on strategy and tactics,” he said. “We have not disagreed on our goal… of Middle East peace.”
The Episcopal Church…overwhelmingly rejected boycotts and divestment on Wednesday, but instead encouraged positive investment in the Palestinian Territories…
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton went on a [in July] to talk with Israeli and Palestinian leaders about reviving the peace process. Secretary Clinton participated in “a 14-hour marathon of meetings” around Jerusalem with Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, President Shimon Peres, Palestinian Authority Prime Mister Salam Fayyad, Quartet Representative Tony Blair, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
that although United States will help “support an environment for talks…it’s up to the parties to do the hard work for peace.” She continued saying, “peace won’t wait and the responsibility falls on all of us to keep pressing forward.”
Some analysts saw the trip as a way for President Barack Obama to score points that he will need to win a second term. ... Eytan Gilboa said to The New York Times about Secretary Clinton’s visit, “Why now? The answer is elections. Hillary Clinton is very popular in Israel. There were talks about Obama coming here — I think he did very well to avoid a visit by himself. It was a great idea to send her to do some politicking for him.”
When Obama took office in 2009, there were high hopes that he would revamp the American role in the peace. While Obama’s historic was intended to signal a new approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the greater Arab world, Obama told a group of Jewish leaders in June 2012 that his policies are not “evenhanded.” He reportedly told the assembled group, “We are being decidedly more attentive to Israel’s security needs.”
What went wrong? With six months left in Obama’s term and the peace process as stagnate as ever, there are many different fingers pointing in many difference directions when it comes to answering that question. The Washington Post published an that goes behind the scenes in the Obama administration and tries to explain where the efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict went wrong. Journalist Scott Wilson reveals interpersonal conflicts and domestic politics on all sides that hampered the peace process, creating the stagnate situation seen today.
According to Wilson, the relationship between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faced an uphill battle from the beginning. On the campaign trail, Obama told supporters, “I think there is a strain within the pro-Israel community that says unless you adopt an unwavering pro-Likud approach to Israel that you’re anti-Israel…that can’t be a measure of our friendship.” Less than three months after Obama took office, Netanyahu, from the Likud party, became prime minister of Israel.
Other obstacles included a rivalry between Middle East envoy George Mitchell and National Security Council adviser Denis Ross over influence and responsibilities, and the Fatah-Hamas division facing Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Signs now indicate that Obama will not spend any additional political capital in an election year on the politically perilous peace process issue. Aaron David Miller writes, “For now…the peace process will be . Washington wants no quarrel before November elections.”
Support for Israel is emerging as a contentious issue this year. says his plan, if elected president, will “differ sharply from President Obama’s” because Obama is “pressuring Israel without extracting any price from the Palestinians.” Romney’s upcoming visit will serve to bolster his foreign policy credentials and help him court Jewish and evangelical voters. Although Gallup found to be at around 74 percent in 2008, their recent polls indicate that number has dropped by 10 points…
It remains to be seen if a second term will bring renewed efforts. In an interview on Sunday with an ABC affiliate, Obama told the reporter that , saying, “It’s something we focused on very early. But the truth of the matter is, that the parties, they’ve got to want it as well.” Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser echoed that sentiment, telling The Washington Post that, “The president’s view now is that this is about the Israelis and the Palestinians…These really are their choices to make.”…
More than 40 American Jewish leaders and philanthropists have sent a letter to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu expressing their concern about on the legality of settlements in the territories and urging him to make sure that the government does not adopt it.
“Securing Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state requires diplomatic and political leadership, not legal maneuverings,” the letter says. The report submitted last week by retired Supreme Court Justice Edmond Levy - which found that Israel is not legally “occupying” the territories and that settlements are therefore legal - will “add fuel to those who seek to delegitimize Israel’s right to exist,” the letter states.
One of the more prominent and perhaps surprising signatures on the letter is that of Rabbi Daniel Gordis, President of the conservative-leaning Shalem Center in Jerusalem. Other prominent signatories include … former AIPAC head Tom Dine, Hebrew Union College president David Ellenson, renowned Holocaust scholar Professor Deborah Lipstadt …
Akiva Eldar, chief political correspondent for Ha'aretz, has written a superb analysis the failure of the peace process aimed at creating a Palestinian state. It explains as the reason for this, the shift in Israeli political opinion to the right in support of continued settlement and domination of the occupied territories, notwithstanding the clear threat this poses to Israel’s traditional commitment to democracy.
(Because of the articles length, the first section is reproduced below. Please follow the link below to continue reading the full article online.)
In my vision of peace, there are two free peoples living side by side in this small land, with good neighborly relations and mutual respect, each with its flag, anthem and government. . . . If we get a guarantee of demilitarization, and if the Palestinians recognize Israel as the Jewish state, we are ready to agree to a real peace agreement, a demilitarized Palestinian state side by side with the Jewish state.
—Benjamin Netanyahu, June 14, 2009
Seemingly, it was a historic moment. The prime minister of Israel and leader of the Likud Party publicly embraced the two-state solution. A short while into his second term in office, 10 days after the newly inaugurated president of the United States promised in Cairo to “personally pursue this outcome,” Netanyahu declared an about-face, shifting from the traditional course he and his political camp had once pursued.
Thus, more than 90 years after the Balfour Declaration of November 1917, it appeared the successors of the founders of Zionism were moving toward a historic compromise to resolve the conflict embedded in that intentionally vague statement. It is the conflict between “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people” and “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.”…
…But almost immediately, other voices emerged questioning whether this solution—dividing the land into two independent, coexisting states—was still feasible; whether the “window of opportunity” that might have been available in the past had already closed for good; whether the Israeli settlement enterprise in the West Bank had reached a point of no return, creating a new situation that did not allow for any partition; and whether the division of political powers within Israeli society had changed, making the dramatic move impossible…
This article focuses on the Israeli side of this equation in part because the Palestinian leadership, as far back as 1988, made a strategic decision favoring the two-state solution, presented in the Algiers declaration of the Palestinian National Council… But Israel, which signed the Oslo accords nearly two decades ago, has been moving in a different direction. And Netanyahu’s stirring words of June 2009 now ring hollow…
James M. Wall, July 19, 2012
Few developments shout stability and permanence quite as loudly as the establishment of a university. There is something about those green-covered campus lawns growing in a water-starved desert land interspersed with eager young students hurrying to class, that stirs pride in the hearts of citizens of an expanding city. That pride was turned up another notch [in mid-July] after ABC news reported an Associated Press story which began:
A settler body voted Tuesday to grant university status to Israel’s only West Bank settlement college, overruling objections by Israel’s Council on Higher Education and potentially stirring a new round of international condemnation against Israeli policies in the West Bank. Upgrading the college in the Ariel settlement has touched off a debate inside Israel, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has been driving a string of pro-settler measures — including a state panel’s recent conclusion that Israeli settlement of the West Bank is legal. Let the international condemnations rain down. And pay no heed to that debate inside Israel.
What matters to Ariel and the politically potent settler movement, is that Israel has firmly planted its first “Samaria” University on Palestinian soil. The New York Times treated the story with great caution, offering this brief explanation of what happened:
Most of the world views the areas that Israel conquered from Jordan in the 1967 war, and where the Palestinians want to establish a future state, as occupied territory, and the Israeli settlements there as a violation of international law.
To those who do not ascribe to the Zionist narrative as the only true version of history, “the areas that Israel conquered from Jordan” is, in fact, not the biblical land of Samaria. It is called the Palestinian West Bank of the River Jordan. The Times, reluctant to acknowledge that a distorted biblical interpretation is being used by the modern state of Israel, shifts its reportorial focus to politics, international and academic:
Critics denounced the decision as a political move aimed at bolstering the settlement project. The presidents of Israel’s seven other universities and other state bodies opposed the upgrade, saying that the competition for limited budgets and resources was already severe.
Reuters was more specific on the funding and political dimensions of Ariel’s elevation:
The Ariel University of Samaria’s new status will entitle it to more state funding, and some see the move as designed to strengthen Israel’s stake in the West Bank, territory it captured along with the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem in 1967.
“This decision is not a decision to promote the education system in Israel,” said Yariv Oppenheimer, head of the Israeli anti-settlement organisation Peace Now. “(It is intended) to gain the support of the settlers.”
The university can use the government funding. Founded in 1982, the school now has 13,000 students. Currently, around 311,000 Israeli settlers and 2.5 million Palestinians live in the West Bank.
Speaking for domestic consumption, the modern state of Israel has long referred to the West Bank and Gaza as Judea and Samaria, employing a biblical literalism to justify a modern colonial military invasion of Palestine.
Using biblical literalism to describe modern state borders is a neat linguistic trick that appeals to Israel’s right-wing expansionists and land developers. In this reading of the scriptures, Yahweh becomes a property manager who dispenses land titles. Changing indigenous names is a long-established strategy employed by invading powers …
Since his bid for statehood ended at the UN last September, Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, has become strictly an enforcer of the occupation.
If Mahmoud Abbas had resigned as president of the Palestinian Authority last September, after the U.S. did Israel’s work and blocked the Palestinians’ UN bid for statehood, he would have accomplished something important. He would have inspired the Palestinians (like he did in his ), left them with an example of integrity and shamed the West for allowing Israel to get away with the abomination it perpetrates in the West Bank and Gaza. If the PA had dissolved itself after the encounter at the UN, Israel would have suddenly had 2.5 million West Bankers on its hands with no Palestinian troops to keep them in line and no Palestinian bureaucracy to keep the economy from imploding. Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad have threatened to quit several times, and the threat of and handing the job back to Israel has been raised continually, but never fulfilled.
Now there are new threats, new plans to go back to the UN this September and seek recognition of Palestine not from the Security Council, where the U.S. can always veto it, but from the General Assembly, where the Palestinians can’t get anything binding but can get a large majority of votes for a symbolic victory. Unfortunately, it’s too late, and my guess is that Abbas, Fayyad and the others know it. When they decided to swallow the U.S./Israeli refusal to recognize the Palestinians’ right to independence, they lost all respect from anybody. They’re no longer advancing the Palestinian cause, they’re advancing the Israeli occupation – that’s their image now not only among Palestinians, but among everyone….
I write this as somebody who, until this year, saw Abbas and Fayyad as the long-awaited answer to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as the Palestinian leadership Israel always claimed to be dreaming of one that demonstrably and thereby proved the sincerity of its peaceful intentions. Abbas has done this for eight years. His troops have been working with, or shall we say under, the IDF and Shin Bet, they’ve arrested thousands of Hamasniks (and tortured many of them), they’ve physically prevented mass “people power” demonstrations against the IDF, the wall and the settlements….
For all his strength within Fatah, Abbas owed his rise to power to George W. Bush and Condoleezza Rice, who picked him to be the moderate alternative to Arafat while the latter was living out his days in the Muqata. Abbas won the Bush administration’s patronage because he spoke out from the beginning against the extreme violence of the second intifada and Arafat’s orchestration of it. Even Moshe “Bugi” Ya’alon, the right-wing Likudnik who was then IDF chief of staff, credited Abbas as a consistent force for peace. What more could Israel want? As for Fayyad, he, too, was a favorite of the Bush administration, he’d refused to serve in a national unity government with Hamas - he’s a University of Texas-trained economist who spent his career at the U.S. Federal Reserve, World Bank and International Monetary Fund…He’s a Western-oriented Palestinian technocrat…the only job available to them is that of occupation enforcer. And at some point after last September, they decided to accept it. …
The fragility of the Palestinian Authority and growing support within Israel for direct control over the West Bank are reshaping the political dynamic.
There are growing signs that the occupation/Palestinian issue is undergoing one of its transitional moments, after which new forces will be at play. On the surface, things are as static as they could be: Inside Israeli society, there is a total denial of the occupation – the being just one aspect of it. No major political forces are offering any new idea that could end the occupation. In fact, even the old ideas – a Palestinian state, for example – are no longer discussed. I heard President Shimon Peres say at the Presidential Conference that we should wait, and things will happen in the longer run. The guy is 89, what long run is he talking about?
The same goes for the international community and the American administration. There is a widespread understanding that the peace process has ended, but no serious alternative has emerged. Diplomats see their mission today as “not making things worse.” In part, they are playing into Israeli hands, since it’s Israel that has an interest in maintaining the status quo….
But the Israeli right’s years in power are bearing fruits, and expansionist forces are trying to change the paradigm under which Israeli sovereignty in the West Bank operates. (Netanyahu himself is moving in both directions.) After more than four decades of military occupation and two decades of control by proxy, mainstream forces within the Israeli bureaucracy and political system are flirting with the idea of full sovereignty in the occupied territory. The center and the left oppose this trend, so a strange paradox emerges: The “soft” left, which was the traditional force of change in Israel, is engaged in a rearguard battle to maintain the current model of occupation, while the mainstream right, and not just the settlers, is becoming a force of change.
I think progressive Israelis should give more thought to this dynamic.
It also seems that several forms of Palestinian opposition to the occupation are reaching their expiration date. The small unarmed protests in the villages that had many internationals and several Israelis participating were focused mainly on the effect of the fence of rural communities, but now the separation barrier is almost completed and international focus is shifting to other places in the region. (It’s hard to use civil rights tactics to highlight the plight of the Palestinians against the occupation when Syrians are slaughtered in the hundreds nearby. The issues are not related, but this is how the international debate works.) It’s also clear that as long as the Palestinian Authority continues to prevent the unarmed protests from spreading to the cities, the demonstrations, important as they may be for local communities, won’t have much of an effect on the fate of the occupation.
It was reported this week that Israel . (According to Israeli law one cannot visit the West Bank for more than 48 hours without a permit; the same unit that deports African refugees has received legal authority to deal from now on with the activists.) It is a move that should shed more light on the effective blockade of the West Bank; the Palestinians are indeed Israel’s prisoners, prevented from traveling or receiving visitors without special permits from the army. Yet the activists were also a stabilizing force, causing the army “to behave” and strengthening the model of nonviolent resistance. Without them, resistance could look very different (In this aspect, it’s worth checking out the voices demanding that Israeli supporters don’t come to the protests, or .)
Ultimately, everything comes down to the fate of the Palestinian Authority. The one piece that holds the entire structure together is also its most fragile one. Just like Netanyahu, both Hamas and Fatah have an interest in maintaining the status quo, for fear of losing ground to the rival party. But the PA is also dependent on its credibility with the Palestinian public, and recent arrests of journalists and violent repression of protests suggest that President Abbas doesn’t have much credit left, especially after his diplomatic strategy collapsed. Now that the UN bid is frozen and the statehood project is looking like a bad joke, more and more people are seriously asking what role is left for the Palestinian Authority.
How central is the PA for the occupation? It’s enough to point to the fact that it was , which wasn’t able to pay last month’s salaries in full. The request was denied, (oh, the irony!). Security chiefs in Israel have voiced warning regarding the “inflammable” situation in the West Bank, and even Netanyahu is more careful than ever not to push Abbas into a corner. The Israeli prime minister even offered and give more guns to the PA in exchange to a meeting with the Palestinian president.
Israel will have real problems going back to the model of direct control over the Palestinians; in fact, the one and only bargaining position Abbas has over Netanyahu is his weakness. My guess is that the West and the Arab regimes, which are looking for stability at all costs these days, will not let the PA collapse for now, but even if this crisis passes it’s clear that the PA has reached a dead end – it cannot sustain itself, and it’s not going to become independent. It seems that the Palestinian Authority will either disappear or deteriorate to direct and constant oppression of its own people….
Chemi Shalev, Ha’aretz, July 22, 2012
In a Sunday editorial entitled “Israel’s Embattled Democracy” appearing in the prestigious Review section, the Times, which has had a testy relationship with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, describes him as a “disappointing, risk-averse leader” whose “dependence on hardline parties has manifested itself in aggressive settlement building and resistance to serious peace talks with the Palestinians.”
Lamenting the breakup of Israel’s national unity government over the issue of army enlistment of the ultra-Orthodox, the paper expresses regret for the loss of Kadima’s “moderating force.”
It cites demographic changes and quotes experts who claim, “that an influx of Jews from the former Soviet Union and a high birthrate in the ultra-Orthodox community mean that many Israelis have a cultural mistrust of the democratic values on which the state was founded.“
Finally, the newspaper reports on “other worrisome developments” and quotes a report by the Israeli Association of Civil Rights in Israel that describes the introduction of 25 recent Knesset bills on funding of NGO’s, limiting freedom of speech and trampling minority rights as “intensifying infringements on democratic freedoms.”
“One of Israel’s greatest strengths is its origins as a democratic state committed to liberal values and human rights. Those basic truths are in danger of being lost,” the newspaper says.
Considered by many to be the most important newspaper in the United States – if not the world – the Times has garnered increasing criticism in recent years from what its detractors describe as an anti-Israeli slant. This editorial, no doubt, will only fan the flames of the anger that the Times elicits among conservative and right-wing Jews…