(JTA) — Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United States seem intent on striking a trilateral deal that includes normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia, Saudi civil nuclear power monitored by the international community, and an American-Saudi defense treaty. So why is it taking so long? Well, a fourth party — the Palestinians — are not part of the negotiations, yet their well-being seems to loom over the negotiations.
I’ve been in the room when Israel negotiated high-stakes questions about its relationships and its future, as the secretary for the Israeli delegation of the Camp David negotiations from 1999 to 2001. So I understand the diplomatic legacies shaping the positions at play today — and the broad implications and deep freight of the issues reportedly on the table.
September can be celebrated as the “Middle East Peace Month,” marking 45 years since the 1978 Camp David Accords (on Sept. 17); 30 years since the first Oslo Accord (on Sept. 13); and three years since the Abraham Accords (on Sept. 15, 2020). These events — and others — create a legacy that is now shaping the coming major milestone: an Israeli-Saudi normalization agreement.
The Israeli-Arab peace and normalization process formally began in 1978 with the Israel-Egypt Camp David Accords that included a Framework for Peace in the Middle East. The next major contractual milestone was the Declaration of Principles (also known as “Oslo A”) which was signed between Israel and the PLO in 1993. The declaration provided for the establishment of the Palestinian Authority as an interim self-government, as well as for further negotiations on the “outstanding issues” toward “final status.” Thereafter, dozens of agreements were signed among Israel, Jordan and the PLO, mostly until 1999, as well as with Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Morocco since 2020.
In spite of episodes of conflict and bloodshed and long intermissions, these milestones add up to a 45-year continuum of Israeli-Arab peacemaking, which has been bound by an overarching logic and diplomatic principles that have been reiterated for decades. One example is U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 that establishes that Israel will withdraw from the whole (French version) or parts (English version) of the West Bank. It appears in all major agreements signed since 1978.
For Israel and the United States — and particularly for Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Joe Biden — there is another unlikely benchmark. It is the so-called Trump Plan, which was negotiated between Israel and the U.S. and presented in January 2020 without Palestinians contribution or participation. The Trump Plan clearly favors long-standing Israeli positions such as that all Jewish settlements will remain under Israeli sovereignty, which is why Netanyahu called it “the deal of the century.” Nonetheless, the plan is premised on the principle of two states for two peoples, namely envisioning a Palestinian state alongside Israel, and acknowledging that the West Bank is “disputed territory” whose future must be agreed upon between Israel and the PLO. Furthermore, while the Palestinian state is envisioned to be of “limited sovereignty,” its area will be equivalent to 86% of the West Bank and all of Gaza and its capital, al-Quds, will be in the “area of Jerusalem” immediately adjacent to the current municipal borders.
The unspoken challenge of the current negotiations over the Saudi deal is that Netanyahu is no longer willing to give Biden as much as he gave Trump. Meanwhile, Biden is bound by the legacies of Clinton, Bush, Obama and Trump — all of whom were explicit about having a Palestinian state in permanent status in the vast majority of Gaza and the West Bank. These legacies put pressure on Biden to do more for the two-state solution than his predecessors, Trump included.
The Saudis, eager to secure their status in the Arab world, must be “triangulating” three other reference points: The first is the 1978 Israel-Egypt Framework for Peace in the Middle East, where President Anwar Sadat established U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 as the founding principle for future territorial arrangements and provided the framework for the Oslo Process that led to the creation of the Palestinian Authority. The second is the Saudi peace plan, which shaped the peace initiative of the Arab League in Beirut in 2002 and then in Riyadh in 2007, which upheld the June 1967 Lines as reference point for future territorial arrangements. And the third is the success of the UAE in thwarting Netanyahu’s plans to annex parts of the West Bank in 2020 in exchange for the Abraham Accords.
In other words, how can Saudi Arabia walk back from its own plan or do less for the Palestinians than Egypt and the UAE?
These legacies create a four-point agenda for the currently unfolding negotiations:
First, regarding the P.A.: The United States and Saudi Arabia are likely to want to reaffirm the existing Oslo Accords, to which Israel is a signatory. These agreements establish the P.A. as the interim self-government in the West Bank and Gaza ahead of permanent status. In this context, negotiators are probably discussing how to prevent the expansion of settlements across the West Bank, particularly in areas that will circumvent the contiguity of a future Palestinian state, as well as how to bolster the P.A.’s economic wellbeing and capacities of governance and security capabilities.
Second, regarding future negotiations: The United States and Saudi Arabia are probably striving to reinstate the principle of “two states for two peoples,” which means that the future of the West Bank will be negotiated between Israel and the PLO and that the P.A. will eventually become a state albeit with limited powers. As mentioned, all U.S. presidents since Clinton and all Israeli prime ministers since Barak, including Netanyahu in his past tenures. reaffirmed that principle.
The likely third point is territory. Americans and Saudis must be pressing for reiterating 242 as the baseline for future territorial arrangements. How can they demand anything less? Furthermore, it has been leaked that the parties are discussing some concrete territorial steps in the West Bank such as recategorizing lands under full Israeli control (“Area C”) as lands under Palestinian civil control (“Area B”), or placing Area B under full control of the P.A. (“Area A”). Any such change implies an Israeli recognition that the current sovereign arrangements the West Bank will be negotiated with the PLO.
Finally, there is Jerusalem, and particularly the Temple Mount and the location of Saudi’s embassy to Israel. The Temple Mount — where the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque stand on a platform that covers the historic site of Judaism’s holy temples — is the most contentious issue between Israel and the Palestinians. All past agreements established that its fate will be determined in negotiations. Even the Trump Plan, with Netanyahu’s endorsement, suggests that the Temple Mount will be subject to a special arrangement where the Waqf of Jordan (a Muslim religious society) will play a significant role.
When Sadat visited Israel in 1977, he insisted on praying at Al Aqsa, as did the ambassador of the UAE. This week, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey expressed a similar expectation ahead of his visit to Israel. While Israel maintains that “a unified and undivided Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Israel,” the Israeli-Arab peace process has been founded on the principle that Jerusalem’s final status will be determined in negotiations. As Saudi Arabia sees itself as a guardian of Muslim holy sites, Al Aqsa must be on its mind.
Ahead of their normalization agreement, Israel and Saudi Arabia are likely also discussing the location of their future embassies. On this point, the Saudi side can have its embassy to Israel in Tel Aviv, like all other embassies of Arab and Muslim countries, and its diplomatic mission to the P.A. in Ramallah, thereby signaling that the final status of Jerusalem is yet to be determined. But they may be considering a much bolder, more-for-more deal of establishing the Saudi embassy to Israel in Israeli west Jerusalem, thereby recognizing it as Israel’s capital, in exchange for having the Saudi embassy to the P.A. in Arab east Jerusalem. After all, seven European countries including the United Kingdom and France, in addition to the Vatican and Turkey, have their diplomatic missions to the P.A. within the municipal borders of Jerusalem.
Clearly, any such Saudi deal would shake the current Israeli coalition, whose founding agreements call for applying Israel’s sovereignty over the West Bank “when circumstances are right.” Such aspiration means canceling the Oslo Accords and dismantling the P.A. In other words, the Saudi-Israel-U.S. deal is as much about their relations as it is about the future of the two-state solution and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
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How ‘decolonization’ became the latest flashpoint in the discourse over Israel
(JTA) — Attend or watch footage of a campus pro-Palestinian demonstration these days and you are likely to see someone carrying a sign reading “Decolonization is not a metaphor.” Almost immediately after the Hamas attack on Israel on Oct. 7, George Washington University Students for Justice in Palestine put out a statement praising the terrorists, declaring “Decolonization is NOT a metaphor.”
As a political slogan, it may not pack the same punch as “Free Palestine” or “From the river to the sea.” But to activists on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide, the charge that Israel is a “settler colonial” state and calls to “decolonize” Palestine are becoming an increasingly potent part of the toxic, perhaps unbridgeable, discourse.
Two nearly simultaneous events inspired me to take a dive into the meaning of the slogan. The first was a news release from the American Jewish Committee announcing that, in light of the “terrifying increase” of antisemitism since Hamas’ Oc7. 7 attack against Israel, it was adding new terms to its online “Translate Hate” glossary of antisemitic terms. Among those terms, alongside “from the river to the sea,” is “settler colonialist.” “Those who oppose the State of Israel as a Jewish state,” writes AJC, use the term the charge that Israel “engages in ethnic cleansing by displacing and dispossessing a native or pre-existing population.” It goes on to explain why the term is “categorically false.”
More on that in a moment. The second event was a webinar in memory of Hayim Katsman, 32, the Israeli ethnographer and peace activist killed when Hamas infiltrated his kibbutz. The webinar was the launch of a new book of scholarly essays, “Settler Indigeneity in the West Bank,” that features an essay by Katsman. Like many of the other Jewish and Israeli contributors to the book, Katsman appears to have been quite comfortable applying “colonialist” to describe Israel’s national enterprise, in whole or in part.
In the book’s introduction, its editors, Rachel Z. Feldman and Ian McGonigle, explain why. They acknowledge the argument — put forth by AJC and others — that unlike the Europeans who colonized Africa, the Americas and Asia, Jews had a longstanding connection to and presence in the Land of Israel, and that the “early Zionist settlers did not have a home empire.” (Or, as AJC puts it, “unlike European settler colonialists who settled colonies to enrich their motherlands, and who maintained a connection to their home countries to which they could return if they so wished, Jews who came to Mandatory Palestine had no motherland in Europe to enrich.”)
However, write Feldman and McGonigle, aspects of political Zionism certainly resemble colonialism. “If we read Hertzl, if we read Jabotinsky, they’re speaking about a colonizing project,” Feldman said at the book launch, referring to two of political Zionism’s founding fathers. “And, unfortunately, they were subject to the modalities of European thought that … looked at Palestinians as primitive people who could not possibly have a sovereign imagination of their own.”
But “colonialism” doesn’t tell the whole story of Israel, Feldman, assistant professor of religion at Dartmouth, told me on Friday. “I think that’s where things can slide into antisemitism, when this just sort of blanket equation is made between Zionism and all European colonial projects. It would be missing the fact that Israel is the historic ancestral homeland of the Jews,” she said. “But that doesn’t mean that Jews haven’t acted in ways that are settler colonial.”
Ignoring those power dynamics — or, as many Palestinains and their supporters tend to do, denying any Jewish connection to the land — “will never get us closer to peace and reconciliation,” Feldman continued. “This debate about who is more native is a fundamentally flawed debate and it leads to dehumanization of either Israelis or Palestinians. Both people are in this land together, and that is the absolute basis of any future kind of reconciliation.”
“Reconciliation” is barely on the minds of those who quote “Decolonization is not a metaphor,” the 2012 paper by American academics Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang that poularized the phrase. The two argued that “decolonization” means exactly what it says: “repatriating land to sovereign Native tribes and nations, abolition of slavery in its contemporary forms, and the dismantling of the imperial metropole” – that is, the colonizing “homeland.” It is not a handy bit of jargon for improving our societies and schools or fighting racism or “easing” an occupation, they write.
The paper only mentions “Palestine” once, in a roll call of colonialist malefactors that includes Australia, the United States and apartheid South Africa, but it became a touchstone for radical movements that felt the widespread rhetoric of anti-colonialism had lost its bite.
George Washington University Students for Justice in Palestine, since suspended by the administration, takes the phrase to its logical, violent extreme, calling the Hamas attack a “tangible, material event in which the colonized rise up against the colonizer and regain control of their lives.”
Another pro-Palestiniang group, Decolonize This Place, calls for “direct action and [is] driven by the belief that all colonized and oppressed people have the right to take back their land, to realize self-determination, and to win their liberation by any means necessary.” The day after the Hamas attack , it said on Instagram: “[T]he heroic Palestinian resistance and the people’s steadfastness continue, while settler colonial Israel, the US, and the ‘international community’ ignore that Israel is the violence.”
“Softer” versions of decolonization call for divesting from countries and institutions that support colonialism. Corinna Mullin, who teaches international relations at the University of Tunis in Tunisia and recently at CUNY’s John Jay College, used the “not a metaphor” phrase during a Nov. 17 Labor for Palestine teach-in in support of the boycott of organizations with “links to Zionism.” “We need to materially decolonize these institutions so that they no longer are serving the causes of oppression and exploitation, but instead are in the service of liberation,” she said.
Those who wave the “not a metaphor” sign at rallies may embrace all or none of these interpretations. AJC insists that the “settler colonialist” label is, however it is used, a slur. And when it is “used to say Jews do not have the right to national self-determination or to deny Israel’s right to exist,” it explains in the glossary, “that is antisemitism.” The historian Simon Sebag Montefiore writes that the “decolonizing narrative is much worse than a study in double standards; it dehumanizes an entire nation and excuses, even celebrates, the murder of innocent civilians.”
In his chapter for the “Settler Indigeneity” volume, about religious Jews living in the Negev, Katsman appears to agree with scholars who describe Israel’s efforts to “‘Judaize’ Palestinian space” as colonialism in effect, if not intent. But he doesn’t reject Israel, only those Jewish ideologues who want to erase the Green Line separating pre-1967 Israel from the West Bank. He bewails “the growing acceptance [among Jews] of a one-state reality between the river and the sea.”
That seems of a piece with the scholarship and activism for which he was known. His mother, the American-born Orthodox feminist activist Hannah Katsman, told Haaretz that he came to Kibbutz Holit after the army to help revive the desert outpost. Although he studied in the United States, he was determined to return home. Among other things, he took part in solidarity shifts to protect Palestinian communities harassed by Jewish settlers in the West Bank.
His dissertation, about political trends in Religious Zionism, was dedicated to “all life forms that exist between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.”
“He was determined to understand the political rise to power of Israel’s religious right wing, which he viewed as a serious obstacle to the establishment of a just and lasting peace,” Feldman said in her opening remarks at the book launch. She also quoted Katsman, whom she got to know over the years, saying that he worked to create a world where “Israelis and Palestinians both are able to live full lives as equals under the law.”
Since his death at the hands of Hamas, Katsman has been held up as a counterpoint to the zero-sum nihilism represented by his murderers. Perhaps he should also be seen as a symbol of the possibility of two peoples sharing a land without either one trying to expel, dominate or colonize the other.
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Treasure Trove: How some sheet music in the Theresienstadt Ghetto became a symbol of hope
In 1941, the Nazis established the Theresienstadt Ghetto outside Prague. By the war’s end, 33,000 people died there and another 88,000 stayed there for months or years before being deported to extermination camps. Despite the tremendous overcrowding and very difficult conditions, the prisoners in Theresienstadt maintained a rich cultural life with lectures and performances. The […]
The post Treasure Trove: How some sheet music in the Theresienstadt Ghetto became a symbol of hope appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.
Protester Sets Self on Fire Outside Israeli Consulate in Atlanta
i24 News – A protester was in critical condition on Friday after setting themself on fire outside the Israeli consulate in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. authorities said. A security guard who tried to intervene was also wounded.
A Palestinian flag found at the scene was part of the protest, Atlanta Police Chief Darin Schierbaum said at a news conference. He added that investigators did not believe there was any connection to terrorism and none of the consular staff was ever in danger.
JUST IN: A pro-Palestine protester is in critical condition after they set themselves on fire in “political protest” outside of the Israeli Consulate office in Atlanta.
The protester was reportedly draped in a Palestine flag.
The protester has severe burns and unfortunately, a… pic.twitter.com/B8nUQAj2nU
— Collin Rugg (@CollinRugg) December 1, 2023
“We do not see any threat here,” he said. “We believe it was an act of extreme political protest that occurred.” Everyone inside the consulate building was said to be safe.
Anat Sultan-Dadon, Consul General of Israel to the southeastern U.S., said: “We are saddened to learn of the self-immolation at the entrance to the office building. It is tragic to see the hate and incitement toward Israel expressed in such a horrific way.”
“The sanctity of life is our highest value. Our prayers are with the security officer who was injured while trying to prevent this tragic act. We are grateful to the city of Atlanta’s law enforcement and first responders for all they do to ensure safety.”
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