Thursday, November 09, 2006

Talk to Haniyeh first, not Assad

This year, so far, hundreds of Palestinians, including 96 children, have died as a result of Israeli attacks and counter attacks on Gaza. By contrast, the number of Israeli civillian casualties from Palestinian attacks over the same period has dwindled to a handful.

Israeli army shelling of Beit Hannoun in Gaza two days ago has resulted in the death of 20 civillians, including women and 7 children, who were sleeping in their own homes. A leading Israeli human rights organisation, B'tselem, believes this action is a war crime. What are we, ordinary human bystanders, to think and believe?

The artillery officers who fired the deadly shells may not have intended to kill innocent women and children. However, since they cannot identify, arrest or directly hit the men whom they accuse of firing rockets into Israeli settlements, any shelling of civillian homes is, by definition, indiscriminate and intended to cause real harm and deter others.

But that is not the whole story. It would be naiive to think that the operations of the Israeli military and their political masters are driven solely by a sense of revenge or insecurity. The scale, nature, patterns and timing of the operations this year suggest more sinister motives. It seems highly likely that the real purpose of these attacks is to destabilise the Hamas-led Palestinian Administration and trigger a predictable Jihadi response from Palestinian "militants". Israel is still not ready for peace with the Palestinians because ultimately that implies re-drawing border lines and withdrawing from occupied territories in the West Bank including East Jerusalem. Most Israeli politicians prefer to see no progress towards a lasting two-state solution. The status quo allows them to continue to create facts on the ground, i.e. turn illegal settlements in the West Bank into larger and more permanent population centres. A jihadi response from the Palestinians serves their purpose as long as it can be contained.

We can all privately shed tears for the dead children. But they will be crocodile tears if we allow Israeli "militants" to continue to set strategic traps for Palestinian "militants". Both Palestinian and Israeli children end up paying with their lives or, at best, their future for the obstinacy and cynicism of their elders. The solution to this tragic 60-year conflict is still in the hearts and minds of the Israeli and Palestinian public, not in Washington, Damascus or Tel Aviv.

We can now hear some Israeli voices in favour of a deal with Syria over the Golan Heights. They probably think that if Syria is pacified, Hizbullah in Lebanon and Islamic Jihad in the Palestinian Territories will be too. This is wishful thinking. The Palestinian cause has now been embraced by the entire Islamic world. There is no escape from a fair deal with the Palestinians. A peace treaty with Syria could not withstand the test of time without a genuine and permanent deal with the Palestinians first. Israeli politicians must understand this but prefer to bury their heads in the sand. While some Israeli politicians and the Syrian regime are calling for peace talks, both camps appear less than convinced that such calls would lead anywhere. The Syrian regime scores public relations points whether Israel responds to its peace calls or not but Tel Aviv cannot buy peace and security from Damascus alone.

The Road Map is dead and burried but the sooner Israeli politicians sit down with the Hamas government to talk a lasting settlement, the better for everyone. Israel demands that Hamas recognise her right to exist and cease supporting militants. In principle that is a fair demand but which Israel is Hamas supposed to recognise? The 1948 one? the 1967 one, or present day's? Shouldn't Israel too, in principle and as a starting point, recognise the right of the Palestinian people to a dignified existence on lands captured after the 1948 and 1967 wars? Compromises are necessary on both sides from the 1948 starting point but the real problem is that Israel has actively sought, over five decades, to erase from the world's memory where her borders started and would not say exactly where they will end. The separation wall is "work in progress". With Bush and the Republicans losing power in the US, Israel may well be persuaded to reconsider her unilateral and absurd attempt at forcing the world to accept the unfinished wall as her unfolding border line.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has always been complicated by Middle Eastern oil. Both the Israelis and Palestinians should have learned to compromise decades ago away from the gaze of regional and superpowers. Now that the Islamic fundamentalist genie is out of the bottle, the best thing Israel can do to secure her future in the midst of an increasingly militant Islamic region is to start talking to the Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. Dr Haniyeh is more reasonable and probably more enlightened than any future leader who might emerge from the wreckage of Beit Hannoun. Time is not on Israel's side.


Omar said...

excellent post.

I'm afraid many people refuse to understand that a long lasting solution to the mid east violence is through a fair peace deal with the Palestinians.

The Israeli government will always make excuses for not making peace. When Arafat was alive, their excuse was that he supported terrorism. Now that Hamas is in power, their excuse is that Hamas is a terrorist organization which doesn't recognize their existence.

I think it's a matter of time before the demographic "time bomb" detonates and there's no choice but to settle the messy situation.

Anonymous said...


I completely Agree with you.

However, I don't believe it is so simple. the U.S. and Europe (who've always called on both sides to negotiate) support Israel's position that a precondition to a negotiation is recognition by Hamas that Israel has a right to exist.

Lacking this basic understanding the best that could be achieved is a fragile cease fire that will break as soon as as an extremist (on either side) commits another atrocity.

The Problem is that there has never been a Palestinian leadership who would truly accept Israel's existance - And strong enough to act on this. This is unlike Egypt, Jordan, and Israel itself whose leaders managed to create stable peace agreements and, more importantly, Implement them!

Until such a palestinian leader will rise, I see no way that a negotiated settlement can happen.

For the moment, Israel has no choice but to take Hamas's words and actions at face value - A declaration of war.


Anonymous said...

I'd like to share with you a personal observation, as An Israeli:

Some time after the peace agreement between Jordan and Israel was signed, a terrible thing happened: A group of Israeli school kids wondered by mistake to closed area. a Jordanian soldier shot and killed several of the kids (see

Jordanian authorities arrested the soldier and placed him on trial but is not the point.

The interesting thing is what King Hussein did. He PERSONALLY visited the families of the children to apologize.

This is how you build peace.


Anonymous said...

The following link better expresses my point:

عشتار said...

Dear Philip
Thanks for this great post , what happened in beit hannoun was a predictable chronicle.
As one of the israely analysts said , the IDF computer got confused with the names that israel calls its operations in Gaza , we are observing the same repeating scenario every now and again , new israely operation , new name , same actions and the same end :civilian casualties , children killed in their beds , israel appologize for its "undeliberate hit" and so on...
Anonymous (from israel) - lets not confuse roles , israel is the occupying force here why would you expect the palestenians to recognize israel's right to exist if you are denying them from their basic rights , did israel give them any sign of recognition of their rights?
Abu Mazen gave his regognition in israel existance within the 1967 borders , did israel treat him as a partner or as a useless impotent tool?
to a very high extent Israel prepared the ground for Hamas to take over , and when that happned Israel made every effort to kill any chance for any talks with Hamas , persecuting and kidnapping its representitives , putting Gaza under seige , starving its people and this continuas killing ,you have turned Gaza into a pressure pot that is about to explode any minute , how can you get recognition here?
As Philip said you only trigger more violence and give justification for fundamentals to grow...

Anonymous said...


Forgive me If my words seem harsh here. Beit-Hanun IS a mistake, though a regrettable one. The reason is simple logic: If Israel was looking to kill Palestinian civilians for the sake of killing civilians, the casualty rate could easy be far higher, given the balance of power. Just by way of example, Russia "WON" its war on terror in Chechnya: over 300,000 people died in the process.

However, Israel has nothing to gain by such acts (indeed, each time something like this happens Israel loses). However, in trying to fight militants hiding among the civilians, some civilians will get killed.

As for the issue of recognition, I must remind you that this isn't Algiers. The Algerians in the 1950's did not claim that paris is occupied territory. Hamas, however, claims openly that Tel Aviv and Haifa are occupied territory, and that its aim is to eliminate The Jewish state.

Besides convincing Israelis that there's no point in negotiating (How do you negotiate with someone who denies your very existence ?) - it bodes ill for the future since it breaks the mostt basic premise of the Oslo agreement - the concept of 2 independent state.

Tell me, How can you negotiate with someone who's known NOT to keep to his past agreements?


abu kareem said...


The Algerians did not claim Paris as occupied territory because they never lived in Paris. Many Palestinians, on the other hand, did live in Tel Aviv and Haifa.

I am not negating the existense of Israel but the Israelis have to come to terms with what happened in 1948. You cannot undo what happened but a little gesture similar to that of King Hussein would go a long way.

عشتار said...

Anonymous (from israel)
No this not Algeria and Jerusalem is not Paris , you have given the most unsuitable example , you are ignoring and denying the whole palestenian history before 1948
The IDF certainly knows Gaza better than me and knows that its one of the most crowded places in the world , wherever you are going to hit you will definatly kill civilians.
you are claiming that the civilian casualties is not high ? do we need 300,000 casualties like chechneya to get your sympathy? or to call for this offensive to stop?
are you suggesting that the hundreds who were killed in Gaza since the last seige is not a high number? whould you have said the same if those were israelies? why you israelies always take it for granted that a palestinian life is so cheap?
I declare it very loud that i am against Hamas , but Haneya was elected by the palestenian people and israel carry big part of the responsibility on bringing Hamas to power
Haneya who was born in the Shati refugee camp in the most unhumane conditions came with more positive approach , he is very connected to the misery of his people and more than any other Hamas leader he would have surrendered to their appeal for peace , however he was never given the chance he was rejected and condemned by everynone since the election results were announced , instead of helping him and trying to embrace him , he was put under seige , not only israel but the whole world had thrown him into the arms of Syria and Iran.
How do you get recognition?
well , so far you have only gained more hostility and triggerd more violence , i dont know how much time we need to overcome the hatred that israel has planted deep inside every palestinian , but one thing i know for sure , missiles wont get you recognetion.

Anonymous said...

First I'd like to remind all that it was the Palestinians who declined the UN partition plan in '47, choosing to fight instead. So the Palestinians also should face up to their responsibilities as well.

Regarding Gestures: Israel has made Many Gestures for peace - many of them painful. For instance: As a part of the Oslo Agreements, Israel Allowed the PA to be created and evacuated most Palestinian population centers.

The result: More people died as a result of Gaza/West Bank basedterrorist attacks EVERY YEAR, than the preceeding 40 years COMBINED.

What has the PA done to encourage Israelis to continue negotiating?

What All the posters here missed I think, is this: Israel, for many reasons, has a strong interest in peace. Its Export based economy, and basic western value system require it. Its Very Declaration of Independence, offers peace to its arab neighbors.

The problem, as I see it, is as follows: The Israelis, other than a small minority, no longer see Gaza (or Nablus, or Jenin) as part of their country. The results of the March '06 elections clearly demonstrate this. All that Israel needs today is a way out of these places - one which will prevent any further agression.

In view of the above, The Palestinians can EASILY gain an independent state based on the '67 borders by simply becoming non-violent (think Mahatma Gandhi's non violent resistance campaign). Such a deal was already on the table in 2000. However,many in the palestinian side will not settle for this (as posters here clearly demonstrated). The only possible way for the Palestinian to improve their position beyond '67 is through continued warefare. Therefore the Violence will continue until a palestinian leadership will rise that will clearly put Gaza ahead over Haifa - and demonstrate this in its actions (again: Gestures).

From Israel.

Anonymous said...

عشتار ,

Please understand that I deeply respect your personal opinion. I also Abhor the deaths on both sides.

However, History teaches us that cessation of the present violence can come in two ways: Negotiations (which seem remote atpresent, though I hope a new Government in Ramallah will allow the process to begin), or: The utter defeat of one side or the other - as happened in Chechnya, at a tremendous cost of human lives - which was why I gave that example: Its Horrifingly relevant


I don't understand your position: You recognise Israel's right to exist, but not in Tel-Aviv and Haifa. Where then?

Finally, A question to all:

Israel, as the occupying force is asked to make concessions. What Concessions are the palestinians willing to make?


abu kareem said...


You misunderstood what I said -or maybe I was not clear. What I was saying that at one time Palestinians lived in what is now Israel. Those Palestinians cannot be asked to pretend that their history only goes back to 1967.

We cannot undo what happened in 1948, but by the same token Israel cannot continue to pretend that the 800,000 Palestinian refugees left of their own free will and that this is the end of the story. A gesture on the part of Israel towards the Palestinians of 1948 would go a long way.

I would be hard pressed to call evacuation of illegal settlements on occupied territories as a painful concession. If the Israelis were not after territorial gains in 1967 why build settlements in occupied territories? Surely the people moving into those settlements never expected to leave.

As for the post Oslo violence, there is plenty of blame to go all around.

Yes, a non-violent response would have been wonderful but so would have been a territorial concession by Israel that allowed for an economically viable Palestinian state.

As for your final question, here is how I see things: The Israelis have the Palestinians in a virtual chokehold. They control everything over and under the Palestinians: the land, the air, the water and the sea. So yes, Israel as the occupier will have to make the biggest concession (ie: loosening that chokehold).

Anonymous, I abhor violence and do not want to see another Palestinian or Israeli die in this conflict. I also think that the indiscriminate violent approach of some Palestinians is self-destructive. However, I also think that the Israelis should realize that the collective punishment of all Palestinians and the dehumanizing conditions in Gaza and the West Bank are counterproductive. The Palestinian need a viable state: one in which they can live independently and with dignity just like the Israelis.

The solution, objectively, is pretty staightforward. Israel has to go back to the 1967 lines: no ifs ands or buts. This means no selltements with Israeli-only bypass roads, no wall carving out Palestinian villages and towns, no & equitable access to water resources.

Anonymous said...


Lets assume Israel proposed the following:

1. Full withdrawal to the 1967 borders incl. some mutually agreed corrections based on a land-exchange scheme.

2.The uprooting of all Settlements in the territories withdrawn from.

3. A token Number of '48 refugees will be allowed to Return to Israel.

I'd like to hear your opinion on the following:

1. Would you consider such an offer acceptable to the Palestinians?

2. What would the Palestinians be willing to do in order to make such an Agreement work?


abu kareem said...


In response to your two questions:

1. I am not a Palestinian but I think most Palestinians would probably accept such an offer.

2. Again I am not going to speak on behalf of the Palestinians, but a real offer should be followed by real committment in which BOTH sides should be held accountable.

It seems like many Israelis have reached the smug conclusion that Palestinians are congenitally prone to violence and therefore there is no way to deal with them and therefore they deserve all of what they get from the IDF. This is the easy -not to mention racist- way out since Israelis can sit back without having to make the difficult decisions. This attitude may work in the short run but will ultimately only serve to further harden the Palestinian side. Similarly, some Palestinians have also decided that Israelis are congenitally prone to violence.

My friend, this vicious cycle needs to be broken by BOTH sides. Israel has the upper hand and is capable of making a more substantial offer. The Palestinians will respond in kind to a real offer. The Israelis have to know that the vast majority of Palestinians just want peace with dignity just like anyone else. Hardened attitudes can change in days under the proper circumstances. I still remember the euphoric early days after the Oslo agreement when there was a sense that real peace was finally on its way. It can happen again. Peace.

Anonymous said...

Abu Kareem,

It is interesting that you believe Palestinians should accept the proposal I wrote earlier:

It is EXACTLY what was offered by Israel in Camp-David in the summer of 2000.

Mr. Arafat, at the time, rejected the offer - and this led to the present cycle of violence - Over 6 years now and counting.

My main point is that unless The Palestinian people take charge of their own lives by placing their own interests above the interests of "the struggle" Nothing Israel will do, or offer, will satisfy them.

If the Palestinians declared a unilateral "cease fire" and challenge Israel to do the same - the situation will change immediately - I don't see any way or motivation for Israel to continue the violence.Remember, israel tried this last year, with disastrous results.

Hopefully, the new palestinian govenment will see this too.



Anonymous said...

The following link is a fair analysis of the camp david negotiations.

The Taba summit - a last ditch effort to save Oslo, is described here:

Philip I said...


Thank you for your views and the useful links. Do you agree with the following extract from the Wikipedia article?

"What most Western commentators fail to add is that talks continued at the Taba Summit in Egypt in January 2001. At these talks both sides came the nearest to agreement than at any time in the entire history of the occupation. However the Israeli Prime Minister Barak pulled out of the peace talks to begin campaigning for the Israeli elections. Yasser Arafat sensing that Taba may have been his last chance to negotiate a peace deal, called for Barak to come back to the table. This was unheeded and Barak went on to lose the Israeli election to the Likud leader Ariel Sharon."

If this account is correct, it seems that both Arafat and Barak share some of the blame for not taking the plunge before the elections. However, as the article suggests, it was also clear to both sides that any agreement would not be binding on the new government. So from Arafat's perspective, he would have had to sign away 27% of the West Bank immediately, "with the rest fractured into multiple pieces", in return for a non-binding promise "that in 10 to 25 years Israel would eventually give 90% of the West Bank to the Palestinian authority".

I am not passing judgement on Arafat or Barak but it is at least clear that there was enough goodwill on both sides at that time. My perception and recollection is that Sharon, representing the hardliners, torpidoed the whole thing, which was fairly predictable and perhaps Arafat and to some extent also Barak should have foreseen this.

I cannot ignore the fact that Barak got cold feet in his negotiations with Assad over the Golan at the last minute. Is it possible that he was trying to see how far he could push the compromise boundary with the Israeli electorate and discovered that he could not possibly deliver on any promises he might have made to either Arafat or Assad? We will probably never know.

The point is that hardliners on both sides will always try to undermine any serious peace initiative that involved a significant land for peace exchange. the biggest challange therefore is to keep the dialogue between the two parties going both in public and in private and resist turning limited clashes into full blown intifadas and savage collective punishments. No one ever wins when hardliners take control of the situation.

Anonymous said...


Word of caution here: I voted for PM Ehud Barak - twice.

I never thought of it in those terms, but I guess there is something there. Israeli Politics have a long tradition of NOT making major policy decisions during an election campaign: It is considered unethical - for a good reason. Mr Barak, I'm sure, knew he was about to lose.

I did think at the time, and I still do today, that by the time of the Taba negotiations, the Oslo process was dead - and therefore the negotiations were doomed. Remember that Violence between the PA and Israel broke out in October 2000 - 3 months before Taba. This was PRECISELY the reason Mr. Barak lost the elections.

I strongly disagree with one point. The assumption that a new government would have walked away from an agreement is Grossly mistaken. No Nation in the world today would do this lightly (unlike Germany in 1917, and in 1941). Just one relevant example would do: Mr. Netanyahu was a strong opponent of the Oslo agreements. However, when elected PM in 1996, he stated that signed agreements must be kept, and went on to sign the Hebron and Wye River accords.

The main criticism of of Mr. Haniyeh's administration (and not just by Israel) is exactly that he does not recognise past agreements - which is one reason why I believe it would be pointless to negotiate with him.

Anonymous said...


One more thing: Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't believe it was Mr. Barak who got cold feet on peace with Syria.

As I recall, President Clinton flew to Geneva Specifically to meet president Assad (The elder) - and get him to agree to the proposals. Mr Assad said no, and THAT is were 7 years of negotiations ended.

Philip I said...


Please see this blog post:

for an explanation of why Barak apparently got cold feet over the Golan.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for the link. I'll need to study it, as it raises several interesting issues I was not aware of.

You should be aware that I believe Israel's priority should be The palestinian front, not the Syrian one.

In the mean time, You may wish to look up Dennis Ross's book: "The missing peace". He's been involved with The Peace process since the mid-80's and was present at Camp-David (


Nobody said...

Dr Haniyeh is more reasonable and probably more enlightened than any future leader who might emerge from the wreckage of Beit Hannoun.


I agree that dr. haniyeh is the most reasonable and enlightened thing that the arab world could produce until now with a small correction that he appeared long before Beit Hannun..

given the incrediable rate at which the Arab world is churning out their enlightened and reasonable leaders time is definately on your side...

Nobody said...

By the way I agree that the conflict is much complicated by the Middle Eastern oil .. that's why i was thinking that you ll be just happy to learn about some of oil substituting technologies we ve been developing recently .. but at the second thought i decided to wait with this until later lest i ll be misunderstood

Philip I said...


Ehud Olmert is at last talking to the Palestinians and they are trying to form a broader-based government.

Let's just give peace a chance irrespective of what we think of individuals. And, yes, oil is a curse. I wish Middle Easterners only had their brains to rely on for a living. We would've all been better off.

Nobody said...

Let's just give peace a chance irrespective of what we think of individuals. And, yes, oil is a curse. I wish Middle Easterners only had their brains to rely on for a living. We would've all been better off.


not all middle easterners have oil ... and in those cases it was convincingly demonstrataed that they have very little to rely upon..

Anonymous said...

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Fares said...

Down with Assad

Nobody said...

by the way, your majesty

you sure do not remember but i once disputed on your blog the idea that for israelis their nationality is judaism and even promised to write a post about it

here it is: Who is a Jew ? Who is Israeli ?

i should say that some people may find it polemical but it sure represent the views of a large section, maybe even majority , of the israeli society ... and even those Israelis who don't subscribe to the view of the post, admitted that the post does capture the general trend which is only bound to become more pronounced in the future

Anonymous said...


Just discovered your blog ! I like the tone of it on Palestine / Israel as it seeks a true peace and seems to recognise rights and wrongs of both sides.

However i am a bit dismayed that you have linked to PeacePalestine - "The Cutter". Even in anti-zionist circles this blog is regarded as anti-semitic as opposed to anti-zionist. Take a look at some of the comments that have been left.

Philip I said...


Thank you for your comment. I certainly do not condone anti Semitism or racism. I thought the cutter was Jewish (most probably a secular one) but extremely critical of Zionism to the point of being deliberately provocative and outrageous (hence the large number of comments). Some of the comments are indeed objectionable but there are so many on either side of her arguments that in the end they provide a wide spectrum of views.

Nevertheless, I have deleted the link to ensure that this blog remains conciliatory both in purpose and tone.