Thursday, 7 April 2011

Israeli Peace Initiative (IPI)

I thought I closed this blog officially on 31 December 2010. [The book based on it: "One Year in the History of Israel and Palestine" was published on 1 June 2011]. However, the announcement of Wednesday, 6 April 2011 of the Israeli Peace Initiative was too significant a development to allow to pass unremarked. Accordingly, I exceptionally posted this additional piece.  Since then I have been adding an occasional article as matters of particular interest have caught my attention.

What is the IPI?
• The Israeli Peace Initiative is a peace proposal launched by a group of public figures in Israel, including former generals and others.
• It presents itself as an Israeli response to the Arab Peace Initiative promoted by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and endorsed by the Arab League in 2002.
• It outlines the terms for final status agreements between Israel and the Palestinians, Syria, Lebanon, and the normalisation of relations between Israel and the rest of the Arab world.

The principles for peace in the document include:
> A Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank based on 1967 borders with 1:1 land swaps not exceeding 7% of the West Bank.

> Jerusalem shared as the capital of two states with special arrangements for shared sovereignty in the Old City.

> Refugees to receive financial compensation from the international community and Israel with the right of return only to a Palestinian state but with ‘with mutually agreed-upon symbolic exceptions.'

> Peace with Syria to be based on a staged Israeli withdrawal from the Golan and agreed security arrangements.

> Peace with Lebanon based on existing borders and Lebanon exercising ‘full sovereignty over its territory through the Lebanese army.'

> Regional security arrangements and economic cooperation based on the creation of a ‘Middle East Economic Development Bloc'.

> The gradual normalisation of relations between Israel and Arab and Islamic states that would commence at the start of negotiations.

Who is behind it?
The initiative was launched by a group of public figures in Israel, who perceive the current deadlock in the peace process to be damaging for Israel. They include:

* Yaakov Peri - Former Shin Bet (Israeli internal security) chief

* Amram Mitzna - Retired IDF general and former leader of Israeli Labour party

* Danny Yatom - Former head of Mossad, Israel's intelligence service

* Amnon Lipkin Shahak - Former IDF Chief of Staff and former Knesset member

* Yuval and Dalia Rabin - Children of assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin

* Adina Bar Shalom - Daughter of Shas Rabbi and spiritual leader Ovadia Yosef

* Professor Aliza Shenhar - President of Emek Yezreel College

* Idan Ofer - Israeli business mogul

Here is the Israeli Peace Initiative in full:

The Israeli Peace Initiative (IPI)
in response to the Arab Peace Initiative (API)

Proposal - April 6, 2011

The State of Israel,
*Reaffirming that Israel's strategic objective is to reach a historic compromise and permanent status agreements that shall determine the finality of all claims and the end of the Israeli Arab conflict, in order to achieve permanent and lasting peace, lasting and guaranteed security, regional economic prosperity and normal ties with all Arab and Islamic states,

*Recognizing the suffering of the Palestinian refugees since the 1948 war as well as of the Jewish refugees from the Arab countries, and realizing the need to resolve the Palestinian refugees problem through realistic and mutually agreed-upon solutions,

*Realizing that wide-scale multilateral economic cooperation is essential in order to ensure the prosperity of the Middle East, its environmental sustainability and the future of its peoples,

*Recognizing the Arab Peace Initiative of March 2002 (API) as a historic effort made by the Arab states to reach a breakthrough and achieve progress on a regional basis, and sharing the API statement that a military solution to the conflict will not achieve peace or provide security for the parties,

Therefore Israel accepts the API as a framework for regional peace negotiations and presents the IPI as an integrated response to the API, and as a vision of the regional final-status agreements to be negotiated and signed between the Arab states, the Palestinians and Israel, based on the following proposed principles:

The key principle of all regional peace agreements shall be Israeli withdrawals, guaranteed security, normal relations and end of all conflicts, while recognizing the security needs of all parties, the water resources challenges, the demographic realities on the ground, and the interests and needs of the followers of the three monotheistic faiths;

Furthermore, the Israeli Palestinian conflict shall be resolved on the principle of two states for two nations: Palestine as a nation state for the Palestinians and Israel as a nation state for the Jews (in which the Arab minority will have equal and full civil rights as articulated in Israel's Declaration of Independence). On this basis, the following parameters are proposed:

1a) Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Resolution Parameters
1. Statehood and Security
A sovereign independent Palestinian state shall be formed in the West Bank and Gaza Strip on territories from which Israel withdrew. The state shall be demilitarized, exercising full authority over its internal security forces. The International community shall play an active role in providing border security and curbing terrorist threats.

2. Borders
The borders shall be based on the June 4, 1967, lines, with agreed modifications subject to the following principles: the creation of territorial contiguity between the Palestinian territories; land swaps (not to exceed 7% of the West Bank) based on a 1:1 ratio, including the provision of a safe corridor between the West Bank and Gaza, under de facto Palestinian control.

3. Jerusalem
The greater Jerusalem area shall include the two capitals of the two states. The line shall be drawn so that: Jewish neighborhoods shall be under Israeli sovereignty; the Arab neighborhoods shall be under Palestinian sovereignty; special arrangements shall be implemented in the Old City, ensuring that the Jewish Quarter and the Western Wall shall be under Israeli sovereignty; the Temple Mount shall remain under a special no-sovereignty regime ("God Sovereignty"), with special agreed-upon arrangements, ensuring that Islamic holy places shall be administered by the Moslem Waqf, and Jewish holy sites and interests shall be administered by Israel. The implementation of these arrangements will be supervised by an Israeli-International committee.

4. Refugees
The solutions for the Palestinian refugees shall be agreed upon between Israel, the Palestinians and all regional parties in accordance with the following principles: Financial compensation shall be offered to the refugees and the host countries by the international community and Israel; the Palestinian refugees wishing to return (as mentioned in UNGAR 194*) may do so only to the Palestinian state, with mutually agreed-upon symbolic exceptions.

1b) Israeli-Syrian Conflict Resolution Parameters
1. Borders
Israel shall withdraw from the Golan to a border-line to be designed based on the June 4, 1967 status, with agreed minor modifications and land swaps based on a 1:1 ratio, reflecting the 1923 international border. The agreement shall be mutually implemented in stages, based on the Sinai model, over a period not to exceed 5 years.

2. Security Arrangements
A comprehensive security package shall be mutually agreed, defining, inter alia, the scope of demilitarized zones on both sides of the border and the deployment of peace keeping international forces.

1c) Israeli-Lebanese Conflict Resolution Parameters
1. Borders Israel and Lebanon shall establish permanent peace based on UNSCR 1701**, subject to which Israel concluded its withdrawal to the international border.

2. Lebanese Sovereignty
In addition to the full implementation of UNSCR 1701, Lebanon shall exercise full sovereignty over its territory through the Lebanese army.

1d) State of Peace
In each of the Israeli-Palestinian, Israeli-Syrian and the Israeli-Lebanese peace agreements the respective parties agree to apply between them the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations and the principles of international law governing relations among states in time of peace; to settle all disputes between them by peaceful means; to develop good neighborly relations of co-operation between them to ensure lasting security; to refrain from the threat or use of force against each other and from forming any coalition, organization or alliance with a third party, the objectives or activities of which include launching aggression or hostility against the other party.

1. The parties will create regional security mechanisms, addressing shared threats and risks arising from states, terrorist organizations, marine pirate groups, and guerrilla organizations. to ensure the safety and security of the peoples of the region.

2. The parties shall build regional frameworks to jointly fight against crime and environmental threats.

Based on significant economic support by the international community, the parties shall implement wide-scale regional cooperation projects in order to ensure the stabilization, viability and prosperity of the region, and to achieve optimal utilization of energy and water resources for the benefit of all parties. Such projects will improve transportation infrastructure, agriculture, industry and regional tourism, thus addressing the rising danger of unemployment in the region. In the future, the parties shall create the "Middle East Economic Development Bloc"(inviting all Middle Eastern countries to join), aiming at reaching a special status in the EU, the US and the International Community.

Israel, the Arab States and the Islamic States commit to implement gradual steps towards establishing normal relations between them, in the spirit of the Arab Peace Initiative, which shall commence upon the launching of peace negotiations and shall be gradually upgraded to full normal relations (including diplomatic relations, open borders and economic ties) upon the signing of the permanent status agreements and throughout their implementation.

* United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194
was passed on December 11, 1948. It consists of 15 articles, the most quoted of which are:
Article 7: protection and free access to the Holy Places
Article 8: demilitarization and UN control over Jerusalem
Article 9: free access to Jerusalem
Article 11: the return of refugees

**United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701
was a resolution intended to resolve the 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict. Approved by both the Lebanese and the Israeli Cabinets, the ceasefire came into effect on Monday, 14 August 2006.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

One Year in the History of Israel and Palestine

"A Mid-East Journal" closes

I began this blog early in January 2010, and I wrote the last piece on 30 December. My intention from the start was to follow the ins and outs, the ups and downs, of the peace process during a period that I thought might prove a turning point in the history of both Israel and Palestine – and then to produce a book about the events that I had lived through and described.

As 2010 dawned, it seemed to me possible that the year might prove seminal in the long-drawn-out process of finding an accommodation between Israel and the Palestinians. Although many of the negative factors that had frustrated past efforts were still present, the signs that meaningful negotiations might be resumed and brought, eventually, to some sort of favourable outcome seemed more hopeful than for many years.

Within its first days in office, the new US administration had clearly marked the Middle East as a priority for its attention. It was on 22 January 2009, in a special ceremony in the White House, that newly-elected President Barack Obama named George Mitchell his "special envoy to the Middle East". The event, attended also by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, was widely interpreted as a determination on Obama's part to involve himself and his new administration in working for, and in finally achieving, a settlement to the long-running Arab-Israel dispute.

At the ceremony Mitchell said that, along with Obama and Clinton, he believed the objective of a Jewish state and a Palestinian state living side by side was possible, and that the conflict, old as it was, could be resolved

Obama charged his Middle East envoy to return to the Middle East, and to seek a "comprehensive peace". By that, Mitchell soon made clear, he meant not only a settlement of the Israel-Palestine impasse, but also peace between Israel and Syria, and between Israel and Lebanon, and a normalisation of relations between Israel and the Arab world as a whole – ambitious objectives indeed, and certainly not susceptible of achievement in the space of one short twelvemonth. Some sort of breakthrough in the long-lasting Israel-Palestine dispute did, however, seem a possibility.

It was in March 2009 that the Obama administration explicitly incorporated into US policy the 2002 Arab League peace plan, originally mooted by Saudi Arabia, under which the Arab world undertook formally to recognise Israel and enter into normal relations with her, in exchange for Israel's withdrawing from territories captured in the 1967 war. Three months later President Obama, in an unprecedented move, reached out to the Muslim world in a speech in Cairo.

In what must still be regarded as an historic address, Obama said the "cycle of suspicion and discord" between the United States and the Muslim world must end. He called for a "new beginning"; both sides needed to make a "sustained effort... to respect one another and seek common ground". The US bond with Israel was unbreakable, he said, but the Palestinians' plight was "intolerable".

Fortunately or unfortunately, whichever way one chooses to regard the matter, water continued to flow under the bridge. Events overtook aspirations. For example, it quickly became apparent that all the overtures in the world counted for nothing against the reality of Iran's nuclear ambitions.

As regards the position of the Palestinians, the West Bank, administered by the Palestinian Authority, had been enjoying unprecedented economic growth – something between 5% and 7% was the World Bank's estimate for 2009. Meanwhile the Islamist terrorist organisation Hamas, having seized control of the Gaza Strip in a bloody internecine coup d'état, remained virtually at war with Fatah, its rivals within the Palestinian Authority, and deeply opposed to any accommodation with, or even recognition of, Israel.

Considering itself at war with Israel, Hamas had pursued a consistent policy of firing rockets from Gaza, indiscriminately hitting anything within range. Supplied with ever more sophisticated weaponry from Iran and Syria, Hamas's attacks started reaching deeper and deeper into Israel. Finally, in December 2008 – after Barack Obama had won the Presidential election, but before his inauguration – Israel launched its short, sharp and devastating Operation Cast Lead against the Hamas regime.

The legacies of that conflict were a virtual cessation of the rocket incursions, accusations that Israel's attack had taken too little account of the impact on the civilian population, and a continuing blockade of the Gaza Strip by both Israel and Egypt – Egypt being as keen as Israel to prevent Hamas boosting its military capabilities. Israel's blockade, which allowed a regular though restricted flow of humanitarian aid through the main land crossings, extended also to a naval blockade aimed at preventing the import of weaponry and related materials by sea.

A possible additional legacy of the conflict – though this is difficult to assess – was that Hamas had agreed to Egypt acting as a mediator in talks aimed at the release of the Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, captured in June 2006 by Hamas in a cross-border raid and held prisoner in the Gaza Strip ever since.

In Israel the intensive peace talks with PA President Mahmoud Abbas, that had occupied the then prime minister, Ehud Olmert, during the final months of 2008, came to a sudden end with Israel's strike against Hamas in the December. In any case, Olmert was already acting in a caretaker capacity, following his resignation after charges of corruption, and Israel was awaiting new elections. These produced a change of government, and Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu finally headed his new – and rather fragile – coalition in March 2009.

The following months saw Israel's right-wing prime minister, and America's new Democrat president, attempting to bring apparently irreconcilable political perspectives on the Middle East into some sort of congruence. On the face of it they succeeded. Against the odds, before the end of 2009 Netanyahu had formally accepted the two-state solution as the desired outcome of any future peace deal, and had, moreover, instituted a ten-month moratorium on building in the settlements of the West Bank.

This was the overall position at the start of 2010 – sufficiently encouraging, it seemed to me, to give hope of some sort of breakthrough during the course of the year. And so I decided that for twelve months, starting on 1 January 2010, I would follow the ups and downs in what could scarcely at the time be called a "peace process". How much, if anything, would be achieved during the year? Would my initial feeling that we were on the brink of a breakthrough be realised? These were the questions that my articles would eventually reveal.

So I created the blog “A Mid-East Journal”, and posted the pieces as I wrote them. Taken together, they trace the tortuous progress of the early efforts to bring Israelis and Palestinians to the negotiating table, recording the occasional gleams of hope and the predictable setbacks, and then, when the principals were finally brought face-to-face, both the depressing cynicism of many about the prospects of success, and the uplifting determination of a few to maintain the process, whatever the setbacks – and there were many. The articles record also events in the region that impacted on the peace process – the Gaza flotilla episode, the “Mossad assassination” in Dubai, the Lebanon border incident, the rocket attacks on Israel.

Of course the breakthrough that seemed so enticing a possibility in January – and virtually within grasp in September, when Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu sat down at the same table with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for their first direct face-to-face talks in nearly two years – had by December apparently turned to dust and ashes.

The peace process had certainly stalled. Yet it had not foundered. President Obama had invested so much in his Middle East policy that he could not – indeed he simply refused – to acknowledge defeat. As the year ended, behind-the-scenes diplomatic activity led by the US administration was fast and furious, while in front of the curtain US special Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, had virtually reopened the initial, pre-breakdown, "proximity talks" phase – a version of shuttle diplomacy aimed at keeping dialogue between the principal parties open.

At the same time a new factor in the complex equation had emerged – moves by the Palestinians towards a form of "unilateral declaration of statehood", initially by seeking recognition from international bodies and friendly states for a sovereign Palestine within the boundaries that existed just prior to the Six Day War in 1967. Practical considerations of many sorts probably militate against success in this enterprise on its own, but as a psychological means of exerting pressure on the right-wing within Israel's coalition government, it may prove effective.

Whatever the outcome of this, and of the many other initiatives afoot at the end of the year aimed at trying to break the Israeli-Palestinian log-jam, it is clear that when eventually the first history of the sovereign state of Palestine, and the next history of the sovereign state of Israel, come to be written, the events of 2010 will prove of major significance in both stories – and I hope my book, “One Year in the History of Israel and Palestine” will provide those future historians not only with the facts that underlay the events of 2010, but also background to and commentary on the facts.

Details of “One Year in the History of Israel and Palestine” can be found at: