The Future of the Middle East is in the Grip of Israeli Extremism

“Lieberman and his group are not satisfied with the theft of Palestinian geography; they also insist on stealing its history, demanding that Palestinians read the history of their own country through Israeli eyes…”

It seems that we have come to the moment of truth in the Palestinian conflict, where all the signs indicate that Avigdor Lieberman now determines the future of the issue, and the entire region, a far-right racist in Israel, in league with other extremists and fanatics in the Knesset.

Some may say that Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is the most powerful man in the arena. After all, he’s the one who has humiliated the Palestinians, insulted all the Arabs and challenged President Obama personally, beating them all in the process. This is true because it depicts the reality as recorded by the headlines. But it does not convey the whole message; it makes no mention of the forces, which drive and guide Netanyahu.

According to Larry Derfner, a prominent commentator in the Jerusalem Post, some neutral observers are perplexed when trying to discover the approach pursued by the Israeli Prime Minister. However, the question was resolved in the middle of October, when he supported the loyalty law, which requires those who wish to obtain citizenship to swear allegiance to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. He also endorsed the law which provides for a referendum on any possible peace deal, after calling on Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state in exchange for a settlement freeze for another two months. It is now clear that Netanyahu, by any realistic estimate, is no less than a policy clone of the notorious Avigdor Lieberman, his own Foreign Minister. Why, it has been asked, do people still believe that Netanyahu keeps Lieberman in his government against the Prime Minister’s will, and that he is obliged to put up with him due to political realities of the support for the Coalition Government by right-wing parties?

Netanyahu himself, in fact, created Lieberman, no one outside right-wing circles had heard of him until 1996, when Netanyahu appointed him Director General of the Prime Minister’s Office during his first term at the helm. The Russian immigrant then became Netanyahu’s right-hand man. It is fair to say that Netanyahu was not serious about reaching a peace agreement involving the establishment of a Palestinian state on the ground. He was only prepared to throw one or two bones to the Palestinians, and nothing more, because all the evidence indicates that Netanyahu has an ideological alliance with Lieberman and the rest of the settlers and extreme right. And these are riding high at the moment, pushing through more anti-Arab laws with little concern for the position of the Israeli Labour party or Kadima, or even Jews in the Diaspora, Washington or the media. And they no longer care about Palestinian and Arab reactions.

Lieberman and his group are not satisfied with the theft of Palestinian geography; they also insist on stealing its history, demanding that Palestinians read the history of their own country through Israeli eyes. This is illustrated by the bizarre story of the recent Buraq Wall article: the Undersecretary of the Palestinian Ministry of Information, Mutawakkil Taha, wrote an article about the Wall, which is the western wall of the Noble Sanctuary (which contains Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock Mosque); the Israelis claim ownership of this and call it the Western, or Wailing Wall. Taha repeated what is fixed in history books, that the wall is an integral part of Al-Aqsa Sanctuary, which is an Islamic Waqf (endowment) of the Moroccan Muslim family of Boumediene. When Taha’s article was published on the official website of the Ministry of Information, the Israelis and their supporters were outraged; their reactions were monitored by Bilal Al-Hassan, “Middle East -2/12” as follows:

  • Mark Regev, the spokesman for the Israeli prime minister, called for the article to be removed from the website, saying that the article emphasizes the Islamic nature of the Western Wall. He asked President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to hold the writer accountable for “inciting violence”. Regev went on to say, “The article raises questions about the Palestinian government’s commitment to the peace process”, in that it calls into question the relationship between the Jews and Jerusalem and the land of Israel.
  • A few hours later, a spokesman for the US State Department held a press conference in which he said, “We strongly condemn these statements and reject them fully as they are wrong from the perspective of facts, they do not take into account the feelings of others, and are very provocative.” He added, “We have repeatedly discussed with the Palestinian Authority the need to combat all forms of de-legitimization of Israel, including the historic Jewish connection to the land.”
  • US reaction included a contribution from Howard Berman, the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the House of Representatives. He said that he condemns this article and that President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad know the spiritual significance of the Western Wall to the Jews in the world.

What is surprising is the fuss being made over the wall has roots going back to 1929, when Palestinians were enraged that Jewish immigrants claimed its ownership, followed by what is known as “Al-Buraq Uprising” in which many were killed and wounded. The issue so worried the British Mandate authorities that they formed an international committee which reported in 1930, and was supported by Britain and the League of Nations:

  • “To the Moslems [sic] belongs the sole ownership of, and the sole proprietary right to, the Western Wall, seeing that it forms an integral part of the Haram Esh-Sharif [Noble Sanctuary] area, which is a Waqf property.”
  • “To the Moslems [sic] also belongs the ownership of the pavement in front of the Wall and of the adjacent so-called Moghrabi (Moroccan) Quarter opposite the Wall, inasmuch as the last-mentioned property was made Waqf under Moslem Sharia Law, it being dedicated to charitable purposes.” The Israeli army demolished the Moroccan Quarter as soon as Israel occupied Jerusalem in 1967.
  • “The Jews have the right to place near the Wall the Cabinet of Ark containing the Scroll or Scrolls of the Law and the Table on which the Ark stands and the Table on which the Scroll is laid when being read, but only on certain specified occasions.”
  • Importantly, the report pointed out that regardless of objects which the Jews were allowed to place near the Wall during their worship, “Such appurtenances of worship and/or such other objects as the Jews may be entitled to place near the Wall in conformity with the provisions of the present verdict shall under no circumstances be considered as, or have the effect of, establishing for them any sort of proprietary right to the adjacent Pavement.”

The main accomplishment of the Netanyahu–Lieberman team has been their success in imposing their position on the US administration and deflecting its demand that Israel has another freeze on settlement construction as a condition for the resumption of direct negotiations with the Palestinians. This move is now regarded to be an American declaration for the full adoption of Netanyahu’s plan concerning a political agreement with the Palestinians, in which the Prime Minister had announced at the start of the “talks about talks” that he does not want to have pre-conditions for the negotiations. Netanyahu’s definition of pre-conditions included the terms of agreements made between previous Israeli governments and the Palestinians; he would not talk about borders, settlements or anything else. That was a prelude to the basic plan which he wants to reach with the Palestinians and the Arabs based on an agreement of principles or an interim framework for a Palestinian state and related issues to be implemented over ten years.

This position was endorsed by the United States when the spokesman of the Israeli Foreign Ministry announced that Washington had decided that a settlement freeze will not provide solid ground for the resumption of meaningful direct negotiations. The focus, it felt, is better placed on trying to reach “a framework agreement” on the “permanent status” issues (e.g. borders, Jerusalem and the status of Palestinian refugees).

It looks as if Egypt supports the plan; Ahmed Aboul Gheit, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, spoke in a press statement about the idea of a Framework Agreement, which shows the boundaries of a Palestinian state and status of East Jerusalem and ensures the security of Israel. He said that the Convention can be formulated by the Americans or the international quartet or a group of experts, who would determine a timetable for the agreement.

Israel’s position was announced in a news conference by General Shaul Mofaz, Chief of Foreign Affairs and Security in the Knesset, in which he said that the proposed plan has two phases; in the first instance, an interim agreement will be announced about the establishment of a Palestinian state on 66% of the territory of the West Bank in addition to Gaza. This state will not have formal borders and there won’t be any evacuation of the settlements; it will have to recognize the authority of the State of Israel on the settlement blocs staying in the West Bank, and there will be a 14km “security” zone for Israel on the eastern border. In the second stage, which is supposed to address the core issues, Jerusalem will remain under Israeli sovereignty with a search for a “creative solution” to regulate the conduct of life therein. As for refugees, they will not be allowed to return to their home towns in what is now Israel, but their problem is to be resolved through an international system of settlement elsewhere.

Hence, what has been placed on the table right now by Netanyahu and Lieberman is a project that was rejected by everyone at the beginning; a provisional Palestinian state, demilitarised and weak, on just 66% of the occupied West Bank, with no capital in Jerusalem and no return for the refugees. This begs the question, what happens next?

Surprisingly, the impasse in the peace process produced no reaction in the Arab world, apart from an invitation for a meeting of the Arab Monitoring Committee. This inaction is an incentive for Israel to cling to its position and actually increase the audacity of its proposals; it can be reassured that the Arabs have no more power or ability to move and that regimes in the region are counting on the Americans. This is even more obvious now that they are preoccupied with the so-called Iranian threat, at the cost of their concern for the ongoing Israeli occupation of Palestine.

As for the Palestinian Authority, President Mahmoud Abbas has been talking about seven options:

1. Negotiations following the cessation of settlement activity.

2. Asking the US to recognize a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders.

3. If the US refuses to do that, going to the UN Security Council and call on Washington not to use its veto.

4. If Washington uses the veto, resorting to the UN General Assembly.

5. Calling for the United Nations to put Palestine under international trusteeship.

6. Stopping the application of agreements signed with Israel.

7. Dissolving the Palestinian Authority and forcing Israel to face its responsibilities as an occupying power.

It is apparent that the Arabs are not serious in the face of the Israeli challenge and arrogance, and that the Palestinian Authority does not have the courage to insist on any of the options that Abu Mazen has mentioned.
When the Israelis realise that their “chutzpah” is mirrored by such weakness, it would be surprising for them to respond to anything that the Palestinians and Arabs suggest. Nobody in any Arab capital has spoken of strengthening their people to face the Israeli threat; nor has the PA talked of asking the people of Palestine for their opinion. More seriously, nobody has dared to utter the word “resistance” as a means of managing the conflict and bringing an end to the illegal Israeli occupation.

Fahmi Howeidi

Middle East Monitor

December 19, 2010


One response to this post.

  1. There is option 8, taking the 7th option further in dissolving the Palestinian “reservations” by demanding full and equal civil rights as citizens of a single (arab majority) nation, including of course for all the displaced persons, as well as the right to return to and live in whatever community in Palestian-Israel they choose. This I think would be far more threatening to the present formulation of Israel, on a social, political, and international level, than any of the other options cited.


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