Archive for November, 2009

Report: Huge – and widening – socioeconomic gap between Jews and Arabs in Israel

Noam Sheizaf - Diplomacy has caught most of my attention lately, and I haven’t
written in a while about Israel’s Palestinian citizens. Unlike the
Palestinians in West Bank and Gaza, the situation of the non-Jewish
minority in Israel is not receiving enough of the world’s attention, so
in a sense it’s even more important to follow it closely.

About a week ago, Sikkuy,
The Association for the Advancement of Civic Equality in Israel,
published its annual report. The report is an Index measuring the
socioeconomic gap between Arab and Jews in Israel; from what I gather,
it uses a similar statistical method to the one the National Urban League uses to measure the gap between Blacks and Whites in the US. All the data Sikkuy uses comes from official government sources.

There is  widespread agreement in Israel that the gap between
Arab and Jews is a critical issue that should be addressed as soon as
possible (the Government-appointed Or commission wrote so explicitly). Yet there was little interest in Sikkuy’s
findings this week. Only a few journalists came to the press conference
in Tel Aviv I attended, and in the following day’s papers, their
reports were hard to find. Many media organizations in Israel don’t
even have a reporter covering the Arab population, even though they make
up 20 percent of the poulation.

In short, the situation is not good – and it’s getting worse. Out of the five elements the 2008 Sikkuy report
checks, in four – housing, health services, welfare services and
employment – the gap between Arab and Jews has widened. In education
there has been a slight improvement, but it was more due to a decline
in the Jews’ achievements.

The socioeconomic gap is not the result of a lack of effort on
behalf of the Arab population, like some people like to think, but of
government policy, dating back decades. Evan today, the money invested
by the state for social services for each Jew is 1.5 times the sum
invested in an Arab citizens – even though the Arabs are the poorest
people in Israel.

More Arabs go to university than ever – but they can’t find jobs,
neither in the private sector nor in state agencies (the number of
Arabs employed by the state is much lower than their proportion in the
population). Arab unemployment is much higher than the Jewish rate,
especially unemployment among university graduates. And these figures
are just the tip of the iceberg.

The 2008 Sikkuy index will soon be uploaded to the association’s English site.
The reports from 2006 and 2007 can be found there as well. It should be
noted that preliminary data from 2009 is even worse. It shows, among
other disturbing figures, an unusually sharp drop in the number of
Arabs entitled for a high school diploma.


There is another important point to make here. The previous
government didn’t do enough to promote equal opportunities, but this
was still part of its declared policy, and Ehud Olmert himself said
several times that he is committed to fighting discrimination against

In that sense, the difference from Netanyahu’s government is
striking. It’s the first time in many years that promoting equal
opportunities for none Jews is not part of the official agenda for the
coalition. Furthermore, some cabinet ministers are doing their best to
harm the Arab minority, to limit its rights and to insight against it.
If once Israelis used to take pride in the rights Palestinian citizens
enjoy here – as opposed to other countries – these rights are seen by
many today as a burden. As I claimed on the first post of this blog, and repeatedly since,
racism is the best currency in Israeli politics right now, one which is
likely to bring a politician immediate publicity and support.

Just to give an impression of the dangerous slop we are on, here are
a few proposals and declarations made by cabinet ministers in the few
months the Netanyahu government has been in power:

● The minister of transportation, Israel Katz (Likud), is promoting an initiative according to which all Arab names on road signs will be replaced with Jewish ones.

● The minister for Tourism, Stas Misezhnikov (Israel Beytenu), demanded that the pope cancel meeting with the Arab mayor of Sakhnin on his visit to Israel.

● The Housing Minister Ariel Atias (Shas) called
to stop Arab “spreading” in Wadi Ara, a region densely populated by
Israeli-Arabs. he is currently pushing a plan for a city for orthodox
Jews in the area.

● The Education Minister Gidon Saar (Likud) ordered that Arabs won’t be allowed to teach the term Nakba, referring to their national disaster of 1948.

● The minister of the Police, Yitzhak Aharonowitz, has told
an undercover agent he “looks dirty like a real Arabush” (a Hebrew
slang word that carries a cultural meaning very similar, or even worse,
than “nigger” in the US).

● The Finance Minister, Yuval Shtainitz, declared that one of Israel’s problems is that Arab women “don’t want to work”.

● and finally, Israel’s Foreign Minister, Avigdor Liberman – a man
who disgraces not only the state, but the entire Jewish people -
promotes plans for striping Palestinians of their Israeli citizenship
or from the rights is gives them.

By its actions, the Israeli government is currently doing more than
any of Israel’s enemies to bring life to the claim that Zionism
inevitably leads to racism.


Is there a nice way to say ‘an imposed solution’?

Gershon Baskin - Resolution of the Arab-Israel conflict is
a US and international strategic interest, which means that the old
formula stating that “the parties have to want it more than us” is no
longer true. The parties no longer have the right to veto peace and to
allow the conflict to continue to endanger the security of the region
and the whole world.”


The peace process has once again entered a dead end. Senator George
Mitchell has fallen into the trap of negotiating about negotiations.
There is little chance that bilateral negotiations at this time will be
capable of producing agreements on either the Israeli-Palestinian or
Israel-Syria track. The US mediator has been focusing on “process”
rather than “substance”. The Middle East is not Northern Ireland. Here
we all have a pretty good idea of what the end game looks like (on both
tracks) and we also have 18 years experience of failed process.

The parameters of agreement are more or less known. The needs,
interests, threat perceptions and means to answer them are known on
both tracks by experts but have not yet been detailed and no
international commitments have been made to provide for them. The
possible agreed outcomes of negotiations are light years away if left
to the standard classical negotiating process. Yes, the parties must be
brought back to the table and there must be a process where they can
relate to the substantive issues. But we don’t need to wait for them to
produce the substance in a bilateral process.

Resolution of the Arab-Israel conflict is a US and international
strategic interest, which means that the old formula stating that “the
parties have to want it more than us” is no longer true. The parties no
longer have the right to veto peace and to allow the conflict to
continue to endanger the security of the region and the whole world.
The United States and the Quartet must not be held hostage by domestic
politics in the US, Israel or the Palestinian Authority (in Syria, this
is less relevant).

There are several possible alternatives to bilateral negotiations.
The following is what I propose for the Israeli-Palestinian track:

The Quartet requests from the parties to provide answers to the following questions within three months:

  • What are the difficulties and obstacles that you would face in
    implementing a “two-states for two peoples” solution to the
    Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
  • What are the primary concerns that you would face (including but
    not limited to domestic concerns) in implementing this solution?
  • What are the primary threats that you would face as a result of implementing the solution?
  • What mechanism/means would you propose to monitor, verify and
    ensure compliance with obligations undertaken by the other side in
    accordance with a peace agreement?


The objective of this exercise is for the parties to detail the
specific difficulties they would face within the parameters of the well
known solutions to the conflict without them having an opportunity to
put their maximalist positions on the table. After receiving the
answers, the Quartet (led by the US) would spend the following months
developing detailed responses to the threats and difficulties spelled
out by the parties. A major emphasis within the Quartet plans would
have to be on the role of credible third parties and third party
multi-national forces (military, police and civilian–led by the US but
without necessarily having US soldiers on the ground) and not solely
reliance on the parties themselves to deal with those threats
unilaterally or even bilaterally, which they have proven over the years
incapable of doing.

The Quartet’s responses would entail expansion of its “diplomatic
tool box” to comprise a large quantity of “carrots and sticks”. The
“carrots” are specific ways to deal with as many as possible of the
threats and obstacles detailed by the parties. The Quartet must be
willing to include its own commitments for meeting the real needs of
both parties. All threats must be treated with the utmost sincerity and
the answers provided must be based on real commitments. Likewise, the
diplomatic toolbox must contain “sticks”–those consequences backed by
commitments that the Quartet is willing to use if the parties fail to

Once the Quartet has designed the package providing responses and
solutions to the obstacles, difficulties and threat perceptions
presented by the parties, including the mechanisms they propose to
confront issues of monitoring, verification and enforcement of
implementation of treaty obligations, the Quartet would place on the
table for the parties the draft of a full peace agreement (in the
format of a declaration of principles) including all permanent status
issues. The DOP would state that the agreement relates to all the
relevant territory including Gaza that will be included in the
implementation of the treaty once the political situation there enables

There are additional non-bilateral possibilities. One is to
encourage the “Fayyad plan” for building the institutions of the
Palestinian state from the bottom up. Another could be Israeli
transfers of parcels of land in area “C” to the Palestinian Authority
for development of large infrastructure projects. Israel could also
turn over the four settlements in the northern West Bank that were
vacated in the 2005 disengagement. The US president could present the
“Obama parameters”–a revision of the Clinton parameters adding the
regional dimension made possible by the Arab Peace Initiative–and call
on the parties to negotiate on the basis of those parameters. Finally,
a new UN Security Council resolution could preserve the viability of
the two-state solution by including the basic parameters of peace
(borders, Jerusalem, refugees, etc.) within the text.

Originally published on Bitter Lemons.

Settlement Freeze Scam: Hillary Thinks, "Fool Me Once…."

Prime Minister Netanyahu today announced a partial 10-month settlement freeze. And, understanding that Netanyahu’s freeze is meaningless, the far right is backing him 100%.

According to the New York Times, “A statement from Mr. Netanyahu’s office said the moratorium would be in Judea and Samaria, the biblical names of the West Bank, meaning it would not include Jerusalem, and would not apply to new residential building, so existing construction would continue and public structures like schools and community centers would be unaffected.” (And, I’d guess, also parks, hospitals, day care centers, bakery cooperatives, Weight Watchers centers, synagogues, more synagogues, Arthur Murray’s dance studios, aviaries, fine restaurants, zoos, etc).

The freeze’s inapplicability to Jerusalem renders the offer almost meaningless.

Jerusalem, according to Israeli law, is not only the historic city but also towns and villages extending well into the West Bank which were never considered to be part of Jerusalem. Israel expanded the city’s borders in 1967 precisely so it could hold on to these areas by claiming them as part of Israel’s capital, which they aren’t.

By ruling out a settlement freeze in all of expanded Jerusalem, Israel will continue to grow in precisely the area where it is most determined to expand. It is also the area of most significance to the Palestinians who hold, quite legitimately, that a Palestinian state without any part of Jerusalem as its capital is like a French state without access to Paris. It’s ridiculous.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did not go out on any limb in support of Bibi this time. Apparently, she knows the old adage: fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.

She merely acknowledged his move as a possible step toward negotiations to “reconcile the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state based on the 1967 lines, with agreed swaps, and the Israeli goal of a Jewish state with secure and recognized borders that reflect subsequent developments and meet Israeli security requirements.” The reference to the ’67 borders was a nice shot over Bibi’s bow.

Special Envoy George Mitchell said Bibi’s gambit “falls short of a full settlement freeze, but it is more than any Israeli government has done before….” I am not sure that it is true and, in any case, Mitchell’s praise is very faint praise indeed. Surely Mitchell understands that even this measly offer is unlikely to be implemented which means it is nothing but air.

AIPAC is, of course, pleased with Netanyahu which reveals the deep significance of this peace move. In a statement, the lobby said, “Israel is taking meaningful steps and tangible risks for peace. Now it is time – well past time – for the Palestinians and Arabs States to match Israel’s commitment to peace with actions of their own.”

That’s right, Palestinians. The ball is in your court now! You’ve got a quasi-freeze. well sort of a quasi-freeze anyway. Now what are you going to give up?

I am delighted Hillary has come to her senses on Netanyahu. Maybe she asked Bill about him and he told her the very thing he once told me about a man he loathes. “Bibi? You don’t know the half of it, my friend.”

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Aspects of a conflict: the prisoner exchange


Daoud Kuttab - If there were a case that could illustrate the disagreement between Israel and the
Palestinians, the Shalit prisoner exchange deal could be the one.

Various aspects of any such exchange, and the way different issues are being
spun politically, are illustrative.

Legally, Israel
refuses to recognize the over 10,000 prisoners it is holding as being prisoners
of war. Nor does it accept that these prisoners deserve the title of “protected
individuals”, to which the Geneva Convention applies. The convention regulates
how an occupying power is supposed to deal with civilians under its occupation.
does not accept that it is an occupying power.

The Fourth Geneva Convention, which was drawn up after the Nazi occupation of
much of Europe, was agreed upon specifically
to regulate the actions of a prolonged occupying power. Most international
legal experts believe it to be the most appropriate and applicable
international legal framework.

One stark violation of this agreement is in the area of the rights of
Palestinian prisoners in Israel,
who are routinely denied basic rights, including the right of family
visitations because of the inaccessibility of Israeli prisons to over 90 per
cent of Palestinians living in the occupied territories.

Only those with family members living in East Jerusalem (which was
unilaterally annexed by Israel),
or those fortunate enough to get a once in a while permit by way of the Red
Cross to visit their loved ones.

By refusing to accept the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians as
being war, Israel refuses to apply the definition of either “prisoners of war”
or “revolutionaries” to those it holds in its prisons, as the first protocol of
the Geneva convention, which was signed in 1977, would require. Legal experts
insist that Article 43 of this convention considers some Palestinian detainees
“prisoners of war”.

While Palestinians consider their prisoners to be political prisoners or
liberation fighters, Israel
considers them terrorists who do not deserve the same rights and treatment it
gives to civilian inmates.

Israel and its
propagandists blast Hamas for not allowing the International Red Cross to visit
its prisoners; they also decry the fact that Israel is trading hundreds of
Palestinians for one Israeli. Palestinians say that Israel regularly arrests as many
Palestinians as it wants every day, holding many without trial or charge. They
also point out the lopsided number of Palestinians killed in Gaza (over 1,000), compared to the about 10
Israelis that were killed (some from friendly fire) in that conflict.

If press reports about the refusal of Israel
to release prisoners from East Jerusalem are correct, this will reflect one
more area in which the Israelis expect the world to respect their unilateral
decision to consider East Jerusalem part of
the occupied territory.

Furthermore, and according to international law, once occupation ends, the
occupying power is obliged to release prisoners because it is illegal to
transfer prisoners (Article 76) from the occupied areas to the occupying

refused to do that after the signing of the Oslo Accords, when it withdrew from
all major Palestinian cities; neither did it do so after the Israeli army left
Gaza Strip. In both cases, Israel
illegally transferred prisoners held in the occupied territories to prisons
inside Israel.

Ironically, when the Israeli army regrouped its military forces on the
international borders with Gaza, the Israeli government asked the world to
consider the occupation of Gaza ended, without agreeing to release Gazan
prisoners, keeping them, instead, in Israeli jails.

Politically, a prisoner exchange leaves many questions unanswered. Both Israel and Hamas refuse to recognize each other,
yet they have both found it convenient to negotiate via a third party (Germany and Egypt).

Therefore, the prisoner exchange reflects the absurdity of Israel’s policy
which will reward Hamas while the latter refused to honor the commitments of
the roadmap, which call, among other things, to a freeze of settlement
activities in the occupied territories (which are also in violation of the same
Geneva Conventions).

Palestinians complain that Israel
rewards Hamas while denying the moderates the same treatment. They point out that
repeated requests from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to end settlement
activities in areas earmarked for the internationally accepted lands for a
Palestinian state are rejected.

Also denied has been the repeated Abbas request for the release Marwan
Barghouthi, a well-known, rather moderate, Fateh leader.

Palestinians are looking for the day when all prisoners are released, not in
an exchange that is forced on Israel
but rather as a result of making the wrong right, ending the occupation and
allowing for an independent Palestinians state alongside a safe and secure Israel.



Netanyahu’s stubbornness on settlements produces American call for 1967 borders


Daniel Levy and Amjad Atallah - Israeli PM Netanyahu announced today his cabinet’s
decision, “To suspend new construction in Judea and Samaria.” (Yes,
they still call it Judea and Samaria). The Obama Administration
responded within hours with a statement released by Secretary Clinton followed by a press briefing from Special Envoy George Mitchell.

the face of it, this was a step forward by the Israeli government,
acknowledged and welcomed (though not blessed) by the US government,
and a move that one hopes will facilitate Palestinian agreement to
resume negotiations.  But if one digs just a little bit
deeper, it becomes very evident that it was nothing of the sort.
Rather, today’s events closed the first chapter in a game of dare being
played out between the new leaderships in Washington and Jerusalem.

statements appeared to be part of an elaborate and ongoing dance of
suspicion between the two supposed allies. During his first term as
prime minister in the late 90′s, Benjamin Netanyahu made an enemy of
then US President Clinton and played the Republican congress against
the Democrat president. This directly led to the collapse of
Netanyahu’s government and his fall from office. Judging by today,
Netanyahu is keen for a repeat performance albeit under circumstances
even less propitious for him politically. The response of the Obama
team might be an interesting pointer as to where things might be headed
on the peace front.

Obama administration has been calling on Israel to make good on a
settlement freeze commitment dating to the 2003 Bush-era Road Map (and,
questionably to the 1993 Oslo DoP).  Netanyahu has been
unwilling to do anything of the sort. He sought to codify a set of
exemptions to a settlement freeze or in plainer English, guidelines for
ongoing settlement expansion, and to have those blessed by Washington.
The Obama team refused to become the first ever American government to
formally authorize settlement expansion. That is the situation we have
reached with today’s announcement.

cabinet clarified its so-called “settlement restraint” policy with
today’s decision (some have called it a “moratorium” or a “freeze” but
as you will see shortly, it is nothing of the sort, and those words are
an inappropriate description).

The only apparent restraint in the Israeli cabinet decision was
to suspend issuing of new permits or beginning new construction in the
West Bank for ten months. The less restrained side of the equation is
this: 3000 units already under construction will continue; all public
buildings and security infrastructure will continue to be built; no
restrictions would apply to occupied East Jerusalem; and construction
would resume after ten months.

also repeated the totally (meaningless)commitment of no new settlements
or land confiscations (meaningless because since 1993, the official
policy is no new settlements yet via expansion, new neighborhoods and
outposts, the West Bank settler population has grown from 111,000 then
to over 300,000 today, and because although the built-up area of
settlements constitutes only 2% of West Bank land, double that amount
is slated for growth, and a total of 40% comes under the Settlement
Regional Councils, therefore land confiscation issue is a red herring).

While it is
technically true that this “restraint” is a new Israeli commitment, its
practical relevance is of very limited significance – building 3000
units in ten months neatly dovetails the regular annual settlement
construction rates. Moreover, Netanyahu made sure to assertively
mention all these caveats in today’s announcement - in effect, poking the Obama administration, the international community, and the Palestinians in the eye.

some claim this was a politically courageous act by Netanyahu, the real
litmus test is easy to apply: Has this led to any shakiness, any
crisis, any resignations in the most right wing coalition ever in
Israel’s history? The answer: absolutely not, and resignations in
Israeli politics are about as rare as Turkeys on Thanksgiving.
Netanyahu’s so-called “restraint package” was so minimalist that it
kept his coalition happy while doing nothing to advance a genuine peace
effort (Yes, there is some criticism from the far-right, and
Netanyahu’s supporters will point to it as proof of his bravery, but as
I say, the real test is in his coalition – and there: not so much as a

interesting development today, indeed the unprecedented development,
was in the US response. Yes, Senator Mitchell did pro-forma explain why
this is new, why this was progress from the Israeli government. But the
real American response came elsewhere, in Secretary Clinton and Envoy
Mitchell’s statements. They did not bless the Israeli non-freeze,
explaining it fell short and that they expected more, and that “America
does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements”.
(Admittedly they could have explicitly said that after ten months and
the 3000 units, their expectation was for not a single new home to be
built, they didn’t).

But the new language
came in Secretary Clinton’s description of what American expects the
outcome of negotiations to be – for an “independent and viable
[Palestinian] state based on the 1967 lines”. Senator Mitchell quoted
Clinton in repeating the call for a Palestinian state “based on the 67

conflict and every situation has its own lingua franca. In the
Israeli-Palestinian context, a state based on the 67 lines is the
dog-whistle for what constitutes a real, no-B.S. two-state outcome. It
is also language that the US has conspicuously avoided using – avoided
that is until today.

administrations would speak of UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and
338 (but those are interpreted differently by the Israelis and
Palestinians); the Clinton Parameters of December 2000 suggested
percentages on territory, but never mentioned the 67 lines; in June
2002, President Bush used the phrase, ending the “occupation that began
in 1967.” That language was adopted in the 2003 Road Map and used
verbatim by President Obama in his September United Nations General
Assembly speech. It is language very much open to interpretation. The
“1967 lines” language add a far greater degree of clarity – and, as
such,  is an anathema to the Greater Land of Israel, anti-peace forces (many of whom are represented in today’s Israeli government).

Secretary Clinton had begun to play with this language during her
recent Middle East trip but had never been so explicit – until today.
It is true that this adoption of new language comes late (perhaps too
late) in the process and will need to be backed up by more concrete
steps. It is though progress.

the subtext of what went on today – the Obama administration is
beginning to up the ante, at least declaratively, in the signals it is
sending in response to Netanyahu’s stubbornness on settlements, and in
setting the table for the next phase of its peace efforts.

question of course is – what next? Senator Mitchell gave some hints
about that also. He suggested that the US was still pursuing a
comprehensive peace effort and notably discussed Syria at some length.
He briefly mentioned the option of resuming regional multilateral talks
with Israel and various Arab states on issues such as water and energy
at an appropriate time. Most interesting perhaps, Senator Mitchell
explained that negations, “will proceed on a variety of tracks,” and
while he continued to push for the resumption of direct
Israeli-Palestinian talks, he also spoke of parallel talks that the US
would conduct with each of the parties.

combination of back-to-back negotiations – US-Israel and
US-Palestinians – combined with the reference to the 1967 lines may
signpost the way out of the peace impasse. The US will need to
elaborate and put flesh on the bones of its “based on the 1967 lines”
parameter and then pursue a conversation, mostly with the Israeli side,
on how to implement that, and if necessary go public with a plan and  tie incentives/disincentives to its acceptance/rejection.

Cross-posted from Prospects for Peace.