Americans for Peace Now: Middle East Peace Report

REAP THE WHIRLWIND:

Commenting on the Hamas victory in the Palestinian elections, Avi Temkin wrote, in part, “…To tell the truth, Hamas’ majority says a lot not only about Palestinian society, but also about Israeli society, concerning both the past and the future. As to the past, those who insisted on wrecking Palestinian Authority institutions and making an indelibly negative impression on the Palestinians should now ask themselves what they actually achieved.

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As for the future, those who claim there is no chance of a political settlement will very quickly learn that reality is stronger than any slogan. Economics might actually become an important factor in future contact between the two sides. It can be hoped that Hamas was not elected by a majority of Palestinians to send suicide bombers into Israeli cities, but to manage the affairs of the residents of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank more efficiently and less corruptly. More efficient management means providing services, creating jobs and livelihoods, and carrying out normal administration of towns and villages. It is hard to see how this can be accomplished without regular contact with Israel.

“Turning this movement into a significant power in Palestinian politics will necessarily cause Palestinian politics to ask tough questions about the ties that have existed until now with Israel. What will happen to Palestinian tax transfers, international aid, and agricultural exports? Initially, Israel will probably transfer tax receipts, but it will later have to decide whether to continue supporting a regime that supports terrorism. Nor can Israel evade such questions. Declaring no negotiations with a government in which terrorists sit sounds reasonable, until it becomes necessary to put the declaration to the test in day-to-day reality. With whom does one talk to settle questions about fruit deliveries, and how does one deal with the needs of the people? It is possible, of course, to assert that there is no connection between these possible contacts and diplomatic negotiations, but on the other hand, it is possible to say, ‘Now that we’ve agreed on the principle, the rest is a question of price.'” (Globes, 1/26/06)

MATTI’S MUSINGS:

Dr. Matti Steinberg was adviser on Palestinian affairs to the two previous chiefs of the Shin Bet, Ami Ayalon and Avi Dichter. He’d been warning about a Hamas victory in the Palestinian elections for some time, but no one listened to him. In an extensive interview with Akiva Eldar in Ha’aretz, he offered his analysis on Hamas’ win and where the Israeli government should go from here. Regarding Hamas, he said, “Hamas’ main effort will be to consolidate its achievements. That is what it did before the elections, and the moment it will get responsibility, it will see its main weight as being in the political sphere. At the same time, Hamas will not forgo [its goals] but will suspend the resistance [the violent struggle]. It will mothball its weapons, not hand them over. The resistance is a means which is sometimes utilized and sometimes shelved until the right time.

“The main danger does not lie in Hamas’ military threat, but on the political plane, in the empowerment process, what they call tamkim, through which Islam rises to power in the Arab world. Before our eyes, a state of the Muslim Brotherhood is taking on flesh and bone. It is happening right next to Israel and in the neighborhood of Jordan and Egypt, two countries in which the Muslim Brotherhood has a certain weight. In those countries, the government limited the Islamists to a third of the parliament. The Egyptian government operated against them with great force when they threatened to become a swing group. This is far more dangerous when the battle line is that of the Israeli-Arab conflict. Our arena has special significance in both strategic and theological-Islamic terms.

“Hamas is observing the conflict from a religious angle, and its viewpoints are derived from Islamic religious law. For the first time in history, we are witnessing a transition from a conflict which is innately political-national, in which the territorial dimension is of great import, to a religious conflict whose territorial dimension is derived from the theological campaign. Therefore, fundamentally, no compromise is possible which accords legitimacy to the other side. The opening sentence in Hamas’ election platform, which was distributed in hundreds of thousands of copies, calls for a free, independent and sovereign Palestinian state on all the soil of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and Jerusalem. And, in addition, ‘Not one inch of the historic soil of Palestine will be ceded’–referring to Tel Aviv and Haifa.”

And what would Dr. Steinberg advise Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to do in response to the new situation? “I would stop declaring and hinting at unilateral measures,” he said. “I would invite Abu Mazen in order to create the political tie that will connect his supreme powers with broad public support. Already today, before Abu Mazen starts to think about resigning, we must present to him a permanent agreement on the basis of the Clinton blueprint and discard the Road Map, which is a recipe for deadlock. It is important to do this so that Fatah will not be tempted into forming a unity government with Hamas, as that will mean total surrender and the erasure of the separation between two worldviews. I would give him a few assets to show that pragmatism pays.

“If we do that, there is a chance that Hamas will become captive to Palestinian public opinion. Its hard core is no more than 15 to 20 percent. Two-thirds of those who voted Hamas do not support its theological worldview. They went to Hamas because of their disappointment in the failure of the political path. They are a reversible mass. This large public will support the political path provided it is concrete. Therefore, our main target audience is the 80 percent of the Palestinian public who support a permanent settlement involving two states. In that context, which would be limited to the three years remaining in Abu Mazen’s presidency, he can reach an agreement in which the right of return will not be dominant.” (Ha’aretz, 1/27/06)

AS THE WORLD TURNS:

The Israeli opinion polls taken before the Palestinian elections showed a slight recovery for Labor, another dip for Likud, and the Russians falling away from Kadima. According to the Dialog/Ha’aretz/Channel 10 survey, if elections were held today for the 120-seat Knesset (with changes from last week in parentheses), Kadima would win 44 seats (+3), Labor 21 (+2), and Likud 14 (-3). Meretz-Yahad was once again hovering around the 2% threshold point at 3 seats, Shinui was still dead, and Green Leaf was close to entering the Knesset with 2 seats. Support for the other parties didn’t change significantly. This survey also found 22 “floating seats,” with 12% of respondents saying they had yet to decide how they will vote and 7% saying they will not go to the polls on March 28th.

In the Smith/Globes survey, Kadima would win 40-41 seats (-1), Labor 16-17 (-1), and Likud 15-16. Shinui was still unable to rise to above the threshold, while the National Religious Party (NRP) and Meretz-Yahad fell slightly and could join Shinui outside the Knesset. The biggest change from last week was the standing of Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. 40% of respondents said he was unsuited to be prime minister, compared with 35% the week before. This poll also found that 52% of Israeli Jews consider themselves centrist, 17% said they were on the left, and 31% on the right.

Today’s Ma’ariv survey found that Kadima would get 42 seats (+1), Labor 19 (-3), Likud 15 (+2), Shas 10, the Arab parties 8, Meretz-Yahad 5 (-1), National Union 5 (-1), United Torah Judaism (UTJ) 6 (+1), Yisrael Beiteinu 6 (+1), NRP 3 (-1), and Shinui 0. A separate survey from the Mutagim Institute found that Kadima’s concerns about the Russian vote are well founded. There’s been a drop of 40% in the number of Russian voters who support the party since Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was hospitalized. Only 22% of the Russian street, worth about 4.5 seats, responded that they would support the party, compared with 30% in January, which would have been worth 8 seats. In contrast, the Likud doubled its strength, from 5% to 10%, which is almost 2.5 seats from the Russians. Yisrael Beiteinu also maintained its strength at 22%, which is about 5.5 seats. “After the Sharon option disappeared, Lieberman is now the prime minister of the Russians, but it is not impossible that the revolution will be complete, and that Netanyahu will be prime minister for the Russians,” said Dr. Eliezer Feldman, director of the Mutagim Institute.

Friday’s Dahaf/Yedioth Ahronoth survey found that Kadima would win 44 seats, Labor 21, Likud 13, Shas 9, the Arab parties 8, UTJ 6, Meretz-Yahad 6, Yisrael Beiteinu 5, National Union 5, NRP 3, and Shinui 0. Finally, the Maagar Mochot/Makor Rishon survey gave Kadima 40 seats, Labor 19, Likud 17, Shinui 0, Shas 11, the Arab parties 8, Meretz-Yahad 4, National Union 6, Yisrael Beiteinu 7, UTJ 5, and NRP 3.

Today’s Ma’ariv poll also asked whether Hamas’ victory in the Palestinian elections increased or reduced the possibility that respondents would support another unilateral withdrawal in the West Bank. 50.4% said it would reduce their support, 32.6% said it would increase it, and 17% didn’t know or wouldn’t answer. In light of Hamas’s win, 52.7% of respondents said Israel should not carry out disengagement nor negotiate, 21.3% called for continuing disengagement without negotiations, and 17.6% want to conduct negotiations on a permanent peace deal with the Palestinian Authority. (Ha’aretz, 1/26/06; Globes, 1/26/06; Yedioth Ahronoth, 1/27/06; IMRA, 1/27/06; & Ma’ariv, 1/25 & 30/06)

COURT REFUTES LAND GRAB:

The Tel Aviv District Court issued a groundbreaking ruling last week stating that the Absentee Property Law could not be applied to West Bank lands abandoned by Palestinians during the Six Day War. The ruling joins Attorney General Menachem Mazuz’s February 2005 ruling that rescinded a government decision to apply the law to property in East Jerusalem that is owned by Palestinians who live elsewhere in the West Bank. The court determined that the state could not declare Palestinian land which had been abandoned following the 1967 War as “land under Israel’s effective sovereignty.” The ruling states that declaring lands owned by West Bank Palestinians as “absentee property” was illegal and no longer in effect. The 1950 Absentee Property Law was passed in the Knesset following the 1948 War of Independence, and allowed Israel to appropriate lands that were abandoned by Arabs following the war. Last week’s decision is a directive ruling for other district courts, but is not binding like a High Court of Justice ruling. (Ha’aretz, 1/24/06)

ZIONISTS HAVE FORGOTTEN JERUSALEM:

Jerusalem opposition leader Nir Barkat told the Herzliya Conference last week that Jerusalem is fast losing its Jewish majority, and has already lost its Zionist majority. He said that 46% of the city’s residents are Zionist, another 20% are haredi, and the remaining 34% are Arab residents. Barkat, a self-made millionaire who was recently appointed to head Kadima’s Jerusalem election campaign, noted that the government had already adjusted its long-stated goal to maintain a 70% Jewish majority in the city, with the government now accepting a 60% Jewish majority in the capital by 2020. Two-thirds of Jerusalem’s 700,000 residents are Jewish, and the remaining 34% are Arab.

A recent study from Hebrew University demographer Professor Sergio Della Pergola predicts that if the situation–and the city’s borders–do not change, only 60% of Jerusalem’s residents will be Jewish by 2020, with the remaining 40% Arab, while another survey found that the number of Jews and Arabs living in the city will reach parity in a quarter century. Redrawing the city’s borders either though annexing West Bank territory or ceding Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem could be a major force to reverse such a trend. Jewish residents are leaving the city in record number for quality of life reasons, especially better job opportunities and more affordable housing. (Jerusalem Post, 1/23/06)

OLMERT ALTERS FENCE ROUTE:

Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert ordered faster construction on the West Bank security fence, while recommending rerouting the barrier in order to enclose the northern Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramot inside the city limits while placing the nearby village of Beit Ichsa on the Palestinian side. Israeli police and the Shin Bet recommended the move regarding Beit Ichsa, which is located between Mevasseret Zion and Ramot, near the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway. The original plan to include the village on the Israeli side was due to its close proximity to Jerusalem. Security officials recommended modifying the fence route to separate Beit Ichsa from Ramot. If the village is on the Israeli side and classified as “Area B,” under Palestinian Authority civilian control, it will attract illegal residents seeking jobs in Jerusalem and create a security problem near Jerusalem and the main highway.

Olmert also accepted a proposal from Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz to split the fence route near Ariel. The original route went around Ariel, Kedumim, Karnei Shomron, and Emmanuel, and included a great deal of land, free of settlements, where several thousand Palestinians currently live. Mofaz proposed splitting the route so that Ariel would join the fence’s main southern route, while the other three settlements would be linked to Alfei Menasheh. Such a change would place several thousand dunams of land on the Palestinian side of the fence. (Ha’aretz, 1/25/06)

MAPPING OUT THE OLIVE OFFENSIVE:

A map that was recently submitted to Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz caused him to decide to evacuate the illegal outpost of Skali’s Farm near the settlement of Elon Moreh. (The Civil Administration issued final eviction orders last week for both Skali’s Farm and the illegal outpost of Arusi’s Farm, near Yitzhar). On the map, IDF officials spotted areas in which settlers have plotted against Palestinians and uprooted hundreds of olive trees from the orchards of the nearby Palestinian village of Salem. The map shows that most of the incidents took place between Elon Moreh and Skali’s Farm and the land of Salem. In the document, the IDF holds the settlers responsible for chopping down 780 olive trees within half a year. The accusing finger is pointed at Skali’s Farm, which was established at the end of the 1990s by Yitzhak Skali, a prominent leader of the hilltop youth. Five families live on the hill, together with several single people.

The first incident mentioned is “a march by the inhabitants of Elon Moreh toward Itamar during which brush near an olive orchard was set on fire.” In another incident, “two masked men from Elon Moreh beat an elderly Palestinian.” The document says that last June, settlers blocked the water supply to the village of Dir el-Hattab by closing the pipe with plastic bags. In July, 300 olive trees belonging to Palestinians were burned. In October, settlers from Elon Moreh tried three times to keep Palestinians away from an olive orchard near the outpost. In one incident, the Palestinians even reported gunfire, but no evidence was found at the site. The IDF also mentions an incident in which a Palestinian complained that a settler stole all his olives. And in the latest incident, 300 olive trees were cut down, and the IDF reported that evidence on the ground led to Skali’s Farm. The settlement’s representatives denied all the charges. (Yedioth Ahronoth & Ha’aretz, 1/26/06)

THE SONG REMAINS THE SAME:

Commenting on the demographic threat to Israel after disengagement, Professor Arnon Sofer, Chair of the Geo-Strategy Department at Haifa University, wrote, “Before the pullout from Gaza over the summer, Israel ruled over 5.1 million Palestinians, or 51% of the total population between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. By leaving Gaza we shed responsibility for 1.4 million Palestinians. In doing so, we brought the number of Arabs under Israeli jurisdiction down to about 40%. According to natural growth stats projected for the next 15 years, Arabs–including Israel’s Arab citizens–are expected to be a majority in the areas currently controlled by Israel by the year 2020.

“In this situation, Israel cannot continue to be a Jewish democracy. Therefore, anyone who wants to live in a Jewish, democratic country must conclude that Israel must part with additional territory that is home to [an] overcrowded Palestinian population. The route of the West Bank security fence was planned to leave crowded Palestinian areas on the east side of the fence and large settlement blocs on the west side. For instance: Jewish neighborhoods in eastern Jerusalem, Gush Etzion, and the city of Ariel contain more than 80% of the Jewish population in Judea and Samaria–about 180,000 Jews in eastern Jerusalem and another 170,000 in the settlement blocs.

“Sooner or later, Jewish communities left on the east side of the fence–about 70,000 people, or 20% of the Jewish population in Judea and Samaria–will have to go. If this happens, Israel can get to a point at which the Palestinian population under its jurisdiction is approximately 20% of the total population. If we add East Jerusalem and its 300,000 Palestinians to the equation by annexing the ‘holy basin’ to Israel, the Palestinian percentage of Israel’s population drops to about 17% (14% Muslim, 3% Christian and Druze). At that point, it will be possible to say the demographic threat to a Jewish, democratic state has been removed, on condition the wall is effective and prevents Palestinian migration back into Israel.

“When we separate ourselves from most of Judea and Samaria, which for 40 years have been ‘drawing’ a significant part of the country’s resources and energies, we can draw our attention and resources to other problems burning in Israel proper. We can set about ensuring a Jewish-Zionist majority in crumbling Jerusalem; we can settle the northern Negev and the Galilee, both of which are losing their Jewish majorities and thus improve the quality of life in many areas, such as law enforcement and environmental issues that have taken a plunge in recent years.

“Do our politicians, across the political spectrum, understand the situation? The answer is clear: Yes, they understand. Let’s look at the party platforms from left-to-right. The Meretz-Yahad and Labor parties have put the issue of territorial withdrawal at the top of their party platforms. Over in the Kadima Party, Sharon, Olmert, Livni and friends have taken the issue as the basis of their policies. It’s enough to quote one line of a letter Olmert sent to me: The time has come to stop thinking in theoretical terms and to take ethical decisions and provide real answers to ensure Israel continues to have a clear, overwhelming Jewish majority. And what about the new Likud, headed by Netanyahu? He, too, knows the numbers, and even quoted them as prime minister and finance minister…

“Even the National Religious Party knows the numbers, and I believe it is prepared to join a coalition that plans to carry out more disengagements. On the far right, in all its stripes, I can testify that they, too, are well attuned to the demographic situation, but they put forth hallucinatory solutions–such as transferring the Palestinians to Egypt or Jordan, or bringing millions of Jews from the ten ‘lost tribes’ to Israel–because of their unbending commitment to the total Land of Israel. Any coalition to be headed by Kadima–be it Labor, Likud, or the National Religious Party–will move, sooner or later, to Disengagement II. The settlers would do well to come to terms with it, and save themselves–and us–a lot of heartache.” (Ynet, 1/24/06)

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