Al-Ahram Weekly -,Annoyed by peace,,Israel responds with derision to Arab League acceptance of the notion of land swaps as an element of any future peace deal,
Al-Ahram Weekly - 08-05-2013 Issue 1147
Annoyed by peace
Israel responds with derision to Arab League acceptance of the notion of land swaps as an element of any future peace deal, writes
US Secretary of State Kerry concurs with Arab foreign ministers
While four occupation soldiers sweated profusely as they guarded the site, a group of Jewish settlers secured a mobile home in place on one of the hills south of Nablus in the north of the West Bank, to start a new settlement on land belonging to Palestinians living in the nearby village of Borein. This group of settlers came from the close-by settlement of Yitzhar.
The new outpost is the third of its kind set up by settlers in the area under the protection of the Israeli army, although they do not have a permit to be there. Rabbi Avi Jonski, a reserve general who previously served as senior rabbi of the Israeli army and lives at the settlement, argued there are no good reasons for settlers to stop building more settlements in the area since this is “part of Israel’s land which we returned to after 2,000 years of diaspora”.
Settlement activities continue across the West Bank against the backdrop of a tense debate inside Israel about what the Israeli press has coined “unprecedented Arab concessions”. It refers to the Arab League’s acceptance of land swaps whereby Israel annexes Jewish settlements in the West Bank and the Palestinian state annexes parts of Israel.
With the exception of the Zionist left, which has negligible political impact, most Israeli parties and political groups are either ignoring the new Arab position or reject and are suspicious of it. The position of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was especially noteworthy; he quickly sent special adviser Yitzhak Molkho to Washington to dissuade US Secretary of State John Kerry from adopting the newly amended Arab initiative.
Deputy Israeli Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin, an influential leader in the Likud Party, was more pronounced in expressing Tel Aviv’s rejection of the new Arab stance. In interview with Israel Radio Friday morning, Elkin said Israel’s peace map in the West Bank “is much broader than settlement communities. Israel can never concede the rest of the West Bank as the Arabs are demanding.” He added Israel would strongly object to any Palestinian preconditions, in a reference to demands by the Palestinian Authority (PA) to halt settlements and end the Judaisation of Jerusalem.
Some Israeli politicians cautiously welcomed the new Arab postures, and took advantage of this Arab flexibility to incite the Palestinian public opinion against the Arab League. Israeli Minister Uzi Landau from the right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu Party welcomed the Arab position if the initiative meant exchanging settlement compounds in the “triangle” zone, for towns and cities inhabited by Arab Israelis. Speaking at a party meeting, Landau said if Arabs accept this, Israel would achieve two main goals: annexing Jewish settlements and getting rid of the burden of Palestinian demographics inside Israel.
Complicating matters further for the Arab League, Likud MPs are drafting a law obligating the Israeli government to hold a public referendum before taking any political decisions to end the conflict with Palestinians, which limits the flexibility of decision makers. Ironically, as discussions heat up in the Arab world and Israel about recent Arab flexibility, the new Israeli Minister of Housing Uri Ariel said the budget in 2014 would include more funds for supporting Jewish settlements across the West Bank and Jerusalem.
Ariel, member of the Jewish Home Party who previously served as chairman of the Settlements Council in the West Bank, told Israeli television Sunday morning that any proposal to resolve the conflict cannot lead to a slowing down of the construction of settlements in the West Bank. “More Jews are choosing to live in settlements and there are new families growing there,” he said. “We must always keep in mind the natural growth rate in settler numbers.”
Minister of Industry, Trade and Labour Naftali Bennett unveiled plans to build more industrial zones in the heart of Jewish settlements to provide thousands of new jobs to attract more Jews to move there. “It is important that we show the world how serious we are about upholding our national and religious rights on the land of Israel through developing this land and making it prosper,” Bennett said in an address last week to students at the Maale Adumim settlement in north east occupied Jerusalem. “The world must know we are serious, not only about staying on this land but also through strengthening our existence here forever.”
Official Israeli reactions to Arab flexibility angered Israeli intellectual Eyal Majeed who denounced the day when Arabs “come begging” for peace and Israelis turn them down. In an article published in Haaretz newspaper Friday, Majeed said Israel is trying to impose preconditions on Palestinians and Arabs because it is not serious about reaching a political settlement of the conflict. He added that every time Arabs agree to an Israeli condition, Tel Aviv demands more conditions.
Majeed noted that Israeli leaders tell Arabs offering concessions, “leave us alone, don’t bother us with talk about peace; peace is not in our interest. It is not necessary for us at all and has nothing to do with our lives. We don’t have time to be interested in desperate Arabs extending their hands and begging.”
Hamas adamantly rejected what it called a series of Arab concessions and blamed the PA for encouraging Arabs to make concessions to Israel. Ismail Haniyeh, prime minister of the Gaza government and deputy director of Hamas’s politburo, said his group rejects the notion of exchanging land with the occupation. “It presents great risks for the Palestinian people,” Haniyeh told reporters Sunday morning. “Arab concessions are always met with [Israeli] intransigence and hardline positions.”
In 2002, Sharon responded to the Arab peace initiative by saying “it is not worth the paper it is written on.”
Haniyeh also blamed the PA for this “Arab concession” since it was the first to negotiate and talk about land swaps with the occupation. “We refuse to concede an inch of Palestine or recognise occupation on our land,” he said, adding that Palestine “is not real estate for sale or exchange”.
Fatah, meanwhile, accused Hamas of “fishing for trouble” by blaming Fatah and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for agreeing to land exchange. Fatah spokesman Osama Al-Qawasma admitted that despite the controversy over the issue, Abbas has already agreed to a land swap and amending borders, but no more than one per cent of the West Bank, as long as the exchanged land is the same size, quality and quantity.
Al-Qawasma accused Hamas of inciting against Abbas’s position by misleading Palestinian public opinion. “The leadership will hold a public referendum on any agreement with Israel,” he said, adding that the main Palestinian precondition is for Israel to recognise the state of Palestine within the 1967 borders.
He added that Abbas “cannot agree to any solution that violates the unity of the Palestinian state or its regional connectivity. Anyone who closely follows the Palestinian leadership, is familiar with its policies, declarations and positions knows the president issued several statements confirming a deal would not be sealed with the Israeli occupation without a referendum by the Palestinian people, wherever they are.”
There is no doubt that despite the clamour that accompanied the Arab League’s approval to amend the Arab peace initiative, the political and party reality in Israel prevents any serious response to Arab flexibility. As Majeed noted, Israel’s leaders do not want anyone to “annoy” them by talking about peace.