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“Olmert’s like a woman who is dying to get married, but is afraid of becoming pregnant”

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For decades, but particularly during Arafat’s last years, the Palestinians’ position regarding Jerusalem and the Temple Mount in particular was that there was no Jewish connection at all. This appears first in the PLO’s charter where any Jewish connection, historical or religious, to “Palestine” is denied and then emerges in supposedly serious settings such as the peace talks in 2000 where the Arab-Israeli conflict, or at least the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is supposed to come to an end. Even within that context, Arafat and his associates denied a Jewish connection to the Temple Mount and embellished a relatively recent Arab addition to the history of the Western Wall to indicate that the structure – treated like dirt by Muslims for centuries – actually had some religious meaning for them. Apparently they forgot having placed the outhouses of the Mughrabi neighborhood just a few feet away from the Wall.

Arafat is gone and replaced by two differing streams of Jewish history deniers: Hamas and Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas, for those who don’t know, is a Holocaust denier. His doctoral dissertation, “The Other Side: The Secret Relations Between Nazism and the Leadership of the Zionist Movement” openly suggests that 6 million is a made up number and the “real” number of Jews murdered – and not by gas chambers, because he denies those existed – was less than a million. According to Abbas, a man who served as Arafat’s second in command for decades, the Holocaust is a hoax made up to support Zionism.

Fast forward to February, 2008. It could be that “the Jerusalem affairs adviser to Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salaam Fayad,” Hatem Abdel Qader, is just blowing smoke when he says that negotiations about Jerusalem are happening between Israel and the Palestinians. It could be that he’s telling the truth. That’s what the Jerusalem Post is reporting. That’s what the sides are supposed to be doing anyway – negotiating. Without talks, you can’t get anything done and at the very least, Israel has obliged itself with Bush and the Europeans that it would pursue a deal with Abbas, Fayad and Qader’s boss.

Let’s ignore all of the problems with having talks now: Gaza is in Hamas’ hands but the Palestinians want Gaza to be part of any deal; rockets keep getting fired by Palestinians into Israel; Israel demanding that the attacks from Gaza stop before any deal is concluded; Abbas’s government appearing to be weak and ineffective, and perhaps just a push and shove away from being knocked out by Hamas in the West Bank. Let’s just assume, as do the negotiators in these apparent and secret negotiations, that all of those problems will somehow magically vanish. Instead, let’s take a look at what Qader cockily says in this interview.

…The Israeli government knows that there will be no solution without solving the problem of Jerusalem.”

Abdel Qader dismissed the idea that Israel would retain control of some parts of east Jerusalem. “Our position is, ‘Take it all or leave it,'” he said. “We have also made it clear to the Israelis that we won’t accept any partial solutions for Jerusalem. As far as we are concerned, Jerusalem must be one geographic, political and religious unit.”

In other words, the spokesperson for the Holocaust-denying, Jewish-connection-to-the-Land-of-Israel-negating PA leadership is dictating that Israel can either give up all of east Jerusalem which includes the Old City and the Western Wall, or they can “leave it.”

Now, at this point in the discussion, I’d leave it.

Walk away.

Until the Palestinians accept Jewish history and a Jewish presence in the Old City and especially at the Temple Mount, there is nothing to discuss. They can have all their propaganda and bullshit textbooks, false speeches by leaders and continued attempts to rewrite history, but there is no reason for any Israeli politician to play along. When Qader tells Israel to “take it or leave it,” he’s telling them to accept a Palestinian rewrite of Jewish history, not to mention of Arab history. Israeli politicians should be sure to “leave it” under those terms.

Oh, and if this is an “opening position” for the negotiations, we’re still in a “leave it” position because the opening position is too distant from where things need to go. If the Israelis were to say that the Temple Mount is Jewish and that there was absolutely no Muslim connection to the place and there won’t be one after the deal either, I suspect the Palestinians would also “leave it.”

Qader had more to assert:

He said the parties were still trying to reach an agreement over which Jerusalem they were talking about – the city that’s mentioned in United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181 in 1947, the one that was occupied in 1967 or the one that was expanded by Israel afterward. “On this issue, there hasn’t been any progress yet,” he said.

You will notice the reporter, Khaled Abu Toameh, is buying Qader’s presentation on this information since the options listed are either the Jerusalem of 1947 or the Jerusalem “occupied” by Israel in 1967. Jerusalem wasn’t “occupied” and it isn’t occupied. According to Israeli law, and as supported by Israel’s Supreme Court, Jerusalem has been annexed to Israel and is part of Israel. It was won from an occupying power, Jordan, that gained control of the city in 1948 from another occupier, the British. They, in turn, won Jerusalem from the Ottomans who had controlled it for some centuries. In other words, to claim that Israel is an “occupier” is convenient fiction. Everybody is an occupier of Jerusalem. It is in the hard-fought and hard-won control of Israel – a Jewish nation that is returning to its millenia-old capital – at this time and Muslims and Christians enjoy the kind of religious freedom Jews could only have dreamed of for the past couple of millenia.

There is more about Jerusalem that pertains to this discussion. Populations of the city shifted over the centuries but there was a Jewish majority in the mid-1800s which began to shrink as west Jerusalem became developed. Prior to that, there was no west or east Jerusalem, there was just the Old City. However, it was the expulsion of all the Jews from the city by the Jordanians in 1948 and their subsequent intentional destruction of all Jewish buildings, graves and other emblems of Jewish residence in the city that created this de facto separation between east Jerusalem and west Jerusalem. And it is on the basis of those short 19 years between 1948 and 1967 under Jordanian control that the Palestinians would like to change history and call east Jerusalem “Arab east Jerusalem” while excluding the Jews from any control of any part of the Old City including the Temple Mount or the Western Wall.

Now, obviously, the Israelis know all of this and they aren’t stupid. We can guess the sides haven’t decided “which” Jerusalem is under negotiation precisely because they aren’t biting. But the Israelis should also ask themselves why they should bother to talk at all if the Palestinians won’t recognize the Israelis’ historical and religious connections to this place? This isn’t some Hamas TV program for children. These are adult negotiators speaking on the behalf of their respective governments. If the Palestinians continue to deny Jewish history and play childish games with real world implications, they should be treated with similar disrespect and ignored until they come to the peace table as true partners.

Oh, and Qader’s statement about Olmert’s weakness being like that of a fickle woman may not sound like an insult to some, but I suspect that in Arab culture Qader had just delivered a withering attack. “Olmert’s position is very weak and we have sensed this in the current negotiations.” I guess that means the Israelis didn’t say “fuck you” when told by Qader and his colleagues to discount Jewish history and religion in their talks and he, knowing that he had just insulted their very essence as a people – their connection to the heart of Jerusalem – perceived the Israelis’ polite, diplomatic acceptance of his sordid position as weakness. Which it is.

9 Comments

  1. ck

    2/13/2008 at 2:06 am

    I am actually too pissed to respond to this. Good post though. Oy.

  2. Tom Morrissey

    2/13/2008 at 2:47 pm

    Middle would hold Israeli policy hostage to the risable public comments of Palestinian negotiators, comments that may or may not have anything to do with what’s happening behind closed doors. In fact, Israel should negotiate over Jerusalem based on a single criterion: whether it’s in Israel’s interests to do so. If it is in Israel’s interests, public rhetoric shouldn’t matter.

    The Palestinians aren’t alone in taking extreme, intractable positions before, or in tandem with, negotiations. Israel, for example, publiclyejects the right of return, which we all know Israel will acknowledge in any final peace deal, if only in the context of buying it out with US taxpayer dollars.

    I think this post inadvertently illustrates why, pace Woodrow Wilson, diplomacy is a private, not a public, matter. Partisan lay folks are all too inclined to scream, ‘let’s pick up our marbles and go home.’ Again, the test is Israel’s interests and nothing more.

    It’s really rather dismal, too, Middle, to catalogue all the reasons why this moment is inapposite for talks: Olmert’s weakness, Abbas’s PhD thesis, etc. This is the worst time for talks– except for all the others. Do you think all the hindrances will “vanish”, “magically” or otherwise? We’re to wait around until all the region’s problems vanish– including the ones it will take negotiations to resolve?

    Isn’t it the easy way out to enumerate all the reasons why negotiations won’t work– before they even begin, as you appear to suggest?

    Here’s what this gentile American and foreign affairs junkie perceives: Olmert, his right-wing predecessor, and a substantial portion of the Israeli public believe the status quo is untenable. Whatever else might be said about the situation, whatever disagreements exist over terms, there seems a broad constituency for change. Surely, it’s worth exploring. But if, like Middle, Israel accepts the status quo, understand that it includes Hamas rockets and Hezbollah massing at the border and swelling Iranian influence in the region. Can these be resolved through talks? Maybe not, but running in place will do nothing to resolve them.

    Sorry, Middle, but this seems like the easy way out.

  3. themiddle

    2/13/2008 at 3:07 pm

    Ah Tom, you seem to forget a good couple of years of discussing this topic with me. Have I ever stood opposed to peace, to a two state deal or to talks? Have I ever said the timing was wrong or the negative circumstances made a deal impossible? None of the above. I’ve always encouraged talks and even subscribe to what the final deal will look like – very much like the Israelis’ Taba offer.

    This post was about something different, however, and it relates to the Swampland article by Rubin. I think it is a grievous mistake – so grievous it undermines the chance for peace – to continue to allow the Palestinians to play a two-faced game. If they want peace and negotiations, then enough with the extremist, maximalist, anti-Jewish and anti-Israel talk. I’m not talking about the Palestinian on the street here but about their leadership – who rank among their brightest and best educated.

    The maximalist position on east Jerusalem is not the fruit of a Palestinian negotiating position even if it seems that way when talks are ongoing. It is the product of a mind-set that denies Jewish history and religion. This is evident in the charters of the PLO and Hamas, in the statements of their religious and political leaders and now in the position staked out by Qader. The only way you can entirely exclude Jews from east Jerusalem is if you do not believe they have a connection to their holiest site.

    By contrast, in 2000 Israel offered a symbolic “right of return” to real refugees – i.e. first generation refugees – and within the same percentage of Palestinians to broader population as has been accepted by other Western countries. And at no point ever has any Israeli government sought to shut off access to the Al Aqsa Mosque or Haram al Sharif to the Palestinians. On the contrary, within hours of conquering east Jerusalem from Jordan in 1967, Dayan gave the Waqf control over that site once more.

    What I am saying is that when Israel allows the Palestinians to “negotiate” for “peace” while spitting in the face of collective Jewish history and faith, then they are showing weakness and garnering deep disrespect from the other side. That’s how Qader feels that it’s fine to call Olmert a woman, and not just a woman, but one who wants to get fucked but not to get pregnant.

    EDIT: Oh, and I should add that the talk is one component of it but if I look at actions as well, then the continued desire to cause harm to Israelis and to Israel even as “peace talks” evolve is yet another sign of the bad faith of the Palestinians and their disrespect for the Israelis. This is not a small matter because if you sign a deal, it has to be kept and if you have bad faith when you’re negotiating and merely see this as a tactic, then ultimately the deal will be worthless and will end up costing many lives.

  4. themiddle

    2/13/2008 at 3:20 pm

    I am reminded of a story Barak told once and recounted by Benny Morris in his response to Malley and Agha’s Camp David critique. Pay attention to the mindset here. Tell me whether you get the sense that the Arab leadership takes the Israeli leadership seriously:

    Barak gives an example: back in October 2000, shortly after the start of the current Intifada, he met with then Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Arafat in the residence of the US ambassador in Paris. Albright was trying to broker a cease-fire. Arafat had agreed to call a number of his police commanders in the West Bank and Gaza, including Tawfik Tirawi, to implement a truce. Barak said:

    I interjected: “But these are not the people organizing the violence. If you are serious [in seeking a cease-fire], then call Marwan Bargouti and Hussein al-Sheikh” [the West Bank heads of the Fatah, Arafat’s own political party, who were orchestrating the violence. Bargouti has since been arrested by Israeli troops and is currently awaiting trial for launching dozens of terrorist attacks].

    Arafat looked at me, with an expression of blank innocence, as if I had mentioned the names of two polar bears, and said: “Who? Who?” So I repeated the names, this time with a pronounced, clear Arabic inflection—”Mar-wan Bar-gou-ti” and “Hsein a Sheikh”—and Arafat again said, “Who? Who?” At this, some of his aides couldn’t stop themselves and burst out laughing. And Arafat, forced to drop the pretense, agreed to call them later. [Of course, nothing happened and the shooting continued.]

    Now, Barak has his flaws but stupidity isn’t one of them so this is just a show of disrespect, consistent with what we see now.

  5. Tom Morrissey

    2/13/2008 at 3:42 pm

    Well, it seems to me you’re consigning control over Israel’s national interests to Palestinians. History is replete with evidence of successful talks with rejectionist adversaries. Maybe this was before your time, but how did you view US diplomacy with the Soviet Union? How did Nixon’s opening to China work out?

    At the end of the day– who cares whether Palestinian leadership holds Olmert in contempt? It is really so easy to gauge the mindset behind the remarks you quote? These are people, after all, whom Israel defeated and marginalized again and again and again. Perhaps their only recourse is to bragadoccio. We know from ordinary experience that the latter is often a sign of weakness and insecurity, not the opposite.

    Let’s say you’re right, and Israel needs (for what purpose? to what end?) to get Arabs to “take it seriously”, in your phrase. Many of the options have latterly been tried, and found wanting. Targeted assassinations, Gaza border closings, air strikes in Gaza and elsewhere, the Lebanon campaign, arrests of terrorists…. I’m not taking issue with any of these. But tested against your goal of getting the Abdel Qaders of the world to shut up, they’ve been an abject failure.

    I’ve always found the US Jewish/Israeli focus on Arab attitudes perplexing. Partly because Israel’s national interests, rooted in facts on the ground, are all that count. And partly because– well, even if you posit a Platonic ideal of a Palestinian negotiating partner- Abbas re-fashioned as a genuine democrat and man of peace- a substantial number of Palestinians and other Arabs will hate Jews and Israelis and wish for their destruction. If a peace deal emerged tomorrow, one fully satisfactory to Israel– isn’t it obvious that Palestinian irridentism would live on for many years to come?

    The hatred of Israel isn’t going away, right? Not even– or especially– if a peace deal is made…. So now what do we do?

  6. themiddle

    2/13/2008 at 6:40 pm

    Tom, you’re cranky today. I’m sure somebody will be sending you a card or a gift tomorrow, so relax…

    Go back to my last post with Arafat dissing Barak. The problem isn’t that this is weakness and insecurity by the Palestinians emerging as some false bravado, and it isn’t that the Israeli response is or should be targeted killings to “earn respect.”

    The problem is that as long as the enemy refuses to concede your basic elemental humanity, then they do not mean to cut a real deal. They are pulling your chain, wasting your time and, as in this specific case, using the swampland sales routine to advance their cause at your expense. Ultimately, Arafat didn’t just say “no” to Barak, he launched a pre-planned war. The Israelis are still having to fight that war today.

    To contrast with Israel, you will recall that Golda Meir once said that there is no Palestinian people. Her intention wasn’t to belittle them – she thought she was describing modern history – but this showed how far Israel had to come in its frame of mind in order to be able to offer what it did in Oslo and especially at Camp David and in the initial talks at Taba. In order for Israel to offer something tangible and meaningful, they had to come to terms with the pain the Palestinians went through in 1948, the real demands they were making in order to achieve a sense of justice, and their need to have political self-determination.

    To get there, Israelis watched their own Left-wing historians and politicians rewrite early Israeli history, their own left wing groups assert what justice and peace really entail, and slowly but surely the public perceptions and the mainstream politicians followed.

    On the Palestinian side, you not only do not see a similar evolution, but you see a stiffening of their positions. Qader’s statements are a symptom of a much deeper problem regarding how they view Israel and the Israelis. This is what kills the deal every time.

    The Israelis have brushed this away and let it go for too long. When they demand that Palestinian incitement stop, they should really fight to have it stop. If they don’t, they will end up with a Palestinian population that doesn’t seek or believe in a peace deal because the enemy is painted so disparagingly. Again, this rhetoric comes from the senior Palestinian circles and so it is definitely possible to make it stop. By dismissing it or permitting it because they should have the right to express their anger/frustration/loss, Israel allows them to undermine the most basic prospects for peace.

    One more item to consider is that Arafat didn’t agree to a peace deal because he thought time was on the Palestinians’ side. As you read Qader’s remarks, doesn’t his cockiness and lack of concern indicate to you that he also believes he has the upper hand? That’s what it tells me.

    What should the Israelis do? The Israelis should let Hamas grow stronger in the West Bank until Abbas begins to really worry. They should move rapidly to close the security barrier so that the Palestinians start to feel cut off. They should postpone talks for two week periods until the Palestinians agree to substantive talks for mutual benefit. Those moves will help Abbas decide to quickly cut a deal and do so respectfully.

    If you want a peace deal, as I do, you’ll see the importance of having a real partner across the table. The guy sitting there making outlandish claims and jokes about your PM has no plans to cut a deal with you, he’s just showboating.

  7. Tom Morrissey

    2/13/2008 at 8:40 pm

    Suppose Qadar and the rest of the West Bank ruling elite embraced Israel’s historic claims to its territory, as well as democratic reform and demilitarization– would you trust that?

    I’ll venture a guess that Palestinians, like Israelis, are not monolithic in their views. Arab rejectionism has a bright future, a brighter one if agreement is reached. At least Qadar’s candid in not pretending to be a nice guy. One can argue that it’s precisely characters like him who will have to be brought along, kicking and screaming, for peace to happen. That bromide about making peace with your enemies makes some sense.

    Letting Hamas grow stronger in the West Bank? Really?

    You advocate putting economic and military pressure on Abbas. If it were only this easy. Is the problem, historically, that Israel has shrunk from the use of force? There’s been all manner of that, most recently in Gaza. Take that as a test case. If Israel can’t erase those pathetic rocket-launchers, we’re to believe that further pressure on Abbas will work?

    If you support Israel, wish it well, you can only be deeply concerned about its recent egregious failures in the use of force, in Lebanon and most recently in Gaza.

    Qadar’s all about weakness, not strength. It’s the cult of victimhood in its macho manifestation of theatrical defiance. I emphatically do not think it shows he has the “upper hand.” But this sense of victimhood, in all its aspects (e.g., suicide bombing) is a potent force, for which Israel appears to have no answer.

  8. themiddle

    2/13/2008 at 9:47 pm

    “Letting Hamas grow stronger in the West Bank? Really?”

    Well, just enough to scare the hell out of Abbas.

    Although, to be honest, I kind of prefer dealing with them because at least they state their intentions openly.

    I would like to see the Palestinian ruling elite begin to show an openness to Israel and its history, not to mention its right to exist and to share Jerusalem. That might filter down just as effectively as the current hate against all things Israel is filtering down. It would also enable people like Qader to climb down from the lofty clouds and engage in realistic peace talks. When he makes public statements such as these, his public not only believes them but expects them to happen. This puts him in an untenable position in any negotiations and that has nothing to do with what Israel is or isn’t doing. It’s just that as long as Israel lets him do it (as it has been), they help him undermine himself and their peace prospects.

    Dishonesty is bad here, because it’s not as if one of the sides is playing clever games with words that could be construed to mean two different things and thus satisfy everybody. That side is being so explicit that there isn’t any room for anything.

    By the way, Israel has no answer for this Palestinian “victimhood” because to a certain extent it has bought the narrative that it is to blame not only for ’67 but also for ’48. The occupation has done this to Israelis, in my opinion, just as much as Benny Morris and his history books. Israel is also, justifiably, concerned about the Palestinians’ trump card: demographics. This limits its options and is part of what gives the Palestinians their confidence which you perceive as weakness mixed with bravado.

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