debates Israel

As Israel debates West Bank annexation, here’s what two former peace envoys think – NBC News

Almost 27 years ago, two officials — a Palestinian and an Israeli — thought their respective sides had found a path to peace. Now, as Israel debates plans to annex land the Palestinians envisage for a future state, their hopes for a shared future, with two states co-existing side by side, seem to be slipping further away.

Nabil Shaath clearly remembers the day the Oslo Accord was sealed with a handshake on the White House lawn in 1993, raising hopes that Palestinians would soon have a state alongside Israel.

“I felt that it was absolutely possible that within 20, 25 years there would be a totally different Middle East with prosperity and peace and stability,” said Shaath, who is Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ adviser on foreign affairs and international relations.

“But what do I predict today? Chaos,” said Shaath, who helped lead Palestinian efforts to implement the 1993 accord in further peace negotiations with Israel.

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres signs the initial Oslo Accord as Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, U.S. President Bill Clinton and Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat look on at the White House on Sept. 13, 1993.J. David Ake / AFP – Getty Images file

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said Cabinet discussions would begin as early as July 1 on his plan to extend Israeli sovereignty to territory in the West Bank that Palestinians seek for a future state. Annexation was one of his major campaign pledges to right-wing voters before the election in March.

The exact land Netanyahu plans to annex remains unclear, but he has indicated that it will fit within the Trump administration’s plan for peace in the region, which was announced in January. The United States’ so-called deal of the century would allow Israel to annex about a third of the West Bank, including major settlement blocs, as well as the strategic and fertile Jordan Valley, the region’s breadbasket, on the border with Jordan.

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However, the Palestinians, who were not involved in developing the Trump plan, have rejected it and annexation, which would leave them with scattered territorial enclaves. The proposal would also impose conditions for statehood, including law enforcement control, free and fair elections and demilitarization.

The other official, the Israeli, is Yossi Beilin, who as Israel’s deputy minister of foreign affairs was one of the chief architects of the historic 1993 Oslo peace process with the Palestinians. He has also warned against unilateral annexation, saying it could lead to a de facto one-state scenario rather than two independent states.

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Yossi Beilin, then a member of the Israeli Parliament, speaks to the media after meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah in 2007. Loay Abu Haykel / Reuters file

In that situation, it would become difficult to deny Palestinians Israeli citizenship without Israel’s being accused of creating an apartheid state and jeopardizing the Jewish majority in Israel.

“The world will move from the support of the two-state solution to one-person, one-vote,” Beilin said. “If on the 1st of July there is annexation, the threat against the Jewish state is huge.”

By contrast, Shaath said the Palestinians would accept a democratic, secular state for Jews, Christians and Muslims.

Annexation would violate international law, peace agreements and the Oslo Accord, said Shaath, who negotiated with Beilin, directly and indirectly, for years.

“It will make what remains of Palestine totally incapable of developing an economy and developing a unified society, building the institution of the state,” he said.

Over the years the pair became good friends, and Beilin even attended Shaath’s wedding.

Together, they have watched as the prospect of peace has slowly faded.

Nabil Shaath, then the Palestinian foreign minister, is mobbed by journalists in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, in June 2003. Nicholas Kamm / AFP file

Beilin, however, is optimistic that even if the government proceeds with annexing parts of the West Bank, it will not permanently spell the end of a two-state solution, because Israelis will ultimately reject a one-state solution.

What’s more, he added, while it would be difficult, it is not impossible for lawmakers to reverse a decision to extend Israeli sovereignty over land in the West Bank if 80 out of 120 agree in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset.

Israel captured the West Bank, a kidney-shaped territory dotted with olive trees, stone walls and biblical towns, from Jordan in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

Since then, the construction of Israeli settlements has ballooned, and the territory is now home to more than 425,000 Israelis, as well as almost 2.7 million Palestinians, according to figures collated by Peace Now, an Israeli organization that advocates for a two-state solution.

The settlements, which range from small outposts to cities with tens of thousands of people, are considered illegal by most of the international community. However, last year the U.S. reversed its decadeslong position that they violated international law.

Israeli soldiers sit at a watchtower in the Jewish settlement of Otniel in the occupied West Bank on June 3, 2020. Menahem Kahana / AFP – Getty Images

The extension of Israeli sovereignty to those settlements, however, is a final step toward Israel’s being able to keep the land.

Last week, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh warned that if Israel proceeds with annexation, the Palestinian Authority will declare a Palestinian state based on the armistice lines before the 1967 war, with East Jerusalem as its capital, according to the Palestinian newspaper Al Quds.

It remains unclear whether the U.S. will greenlight the annexation if there is no sign of Israeli negotiations with the Palestinians. Israel’s agreeing to negotiations was one of the conditions for the U.S. to recognize Israeli sovereignty over parts of the West Bank, a senior administration official told NBC News this year.

Netanyahu has faced increasing international pressure to call off the annexation, including urgings from the European Union, the Arab League and Norway, which helped broker the 1993 and 1995 Oslo accords. The king of Jordan, which Israel has a peace agreement with, has warned Israel of a “massive conflict” if it proceeds.

Shaath hopes the outcry and warnings of the international community will persuade Israel not to proceed — the hope being, he said, that if the Palestinians can survive five or 10 more years of the status quo, leadership in the U.S. and Israel will have changed and the prospects of a peaceful settlement will have been revived.

“The period 1994 to 1999, this was paradise,” he said wistfully. “There was a real possibility of peace then. Today, I don’t see it.”

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Annexation Israel

As Israel Vows Annexation, Palestinian Leaders Embark On Risky Form Of Protest – NPR

Palestinians demonstrate against Israel’s annexation plans in Rafah, Gaza, on June 11. Palestinian leaders have begun refusing to coordinate with Israel on matters of daily Palestinian life, from tax collection to policing to medical treatments — a move some Palestinians see as self-defeating.

Anadolu Agency/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

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Anadolu Agency/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Palestinians demonstrate against Israel’s annexation plans in Rafah, Gaza, on June 11. Palestinian leaders have begun refusing to coordinate with Israel on matters of daily Palestinian life, from tax collection to policing to medical treatments — a move some Palestinians see as self-defeating.

Anadolu Agency/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vows to annex parts of the occupied West Bank next month, with support from the U.S., Palestinians find themselves with no recourse to stop Israel from grabbing the land they seek for a state. So Palestinian leaders are embracing a risky method of protest.

They declared last month they’re no longer bound by the 1990s-era peace accords that govern Israeli-Palestinian relations, and have begun refusing to coordinate with Israel on matters of daily Palestinian life, from tax collection to policing to cancer treatments — arrangements they’ve found humiliating.

As Palestinian leaders see it, Israel — by moving to annex territory instead of negotiating its fate — is not holding up its side of the peace agreements. So the Palestinians will stop holding up theirs.

“This is an issue in which we cannot be silent on,” Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said in a June 9 briefing with reporters. “Annexation is an existential threat for our future.”

Shtayyeh said the threat of annexation requires Palestinians to make sacrifices, but vowed not to resort to violence.

By disrupting the status quo, Palestinian leaders want to seize the world’s attention and scare Israel into abandoning annexation plans. But international donors have criticized the Palestinians for shirking their commitment to the peace accords, and ordinary Palestinians are paying the price for the disruptions in funds, policing and medical care.

“We put our finger in our mouth, bit ourselves, and are waiting for the Israelis to scream,” a Palestinian security official says, speaking on condition of anonymity to criticize government policy.

Hospital visits blocked

Palestinians who received transplants in Israeli hospitals say they now cannot get post-operative care because Palestinian bureaucrats refuse to arrange their travel permits to Israel or guarantee they’ll pay for the treatment. Palestinian authorities also refuse to coordinate with Israel to allow Palestinian patients to travel outside the impoverished Gaza Strip for life-saving treatments, according to Physicians for Human Rights-Israel.

Souad Abdel Hadi, 49, was diagnosed last month with leukemia but is unable to travel from Gaza to a West Bank hospital for a bone marrow transplant.

“This is a human situation. This is a medical situation. We are sick people who need treatment and should not be hostages to this political situation,” she tells NPR by telephone.

The Palestinian Authority called on the International Committee of the Red Cross to serve as an intermediary with Israel for medical and security matters now that the Palestinians are suspending their ties with Israel, but the organization said it does not have the resources to administer medical referrals.

“We got calls from families of patients, but basically, we had to sort of clarify that we are not in a position to take that on right now,” says Dan Waites, a spokesperson with the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Breakdown in taxes and policing

Palestinian officials are now refusing to accept any of the tax revenues Israel collects on their behalf, leaving tens of thousands of Palestinian civil servants unlikely to get full paychecks this month. The $145 million a month Israel transfers to the Palestinians is estimated to make up about 60% of the Palestinian Authority’s budget.

Officials have also stopped updating Israel when they’ve renewed a Palestinian’s car registration or driver’s license, so Israeli police have erroneously issued some drivers heavy fines on West Bank highways, the Palestinian security official says.

Palestinian security officers usually coordinate their movements with Israel, a joint security mechanism to keep the West Bank calm, but officers have been ordered not to speak to their Israeli counterparts.

Security officials claim the suspension of security coordination with Israel has prevented Palestinian police from intervening in deadly cases of domestic violence. In one case though, there are allegations police used that as an excuse for its failure to prevent a killing.

On May 31, three Palestinians were killed in a family dispute, apparently concerning gold rumored to be stored in a relative’s home. Ordinarily, Palestinian police would have needed to ask Israel’s permission to pass through Israeli-controlled areas to intervene in the village. Palestinian police claimed it was unable to dispatch officers to defuse the dispute, due to suspended security ties with Israel, and that officers living in the area unsuccessfully tried to intervene. A relative of the family, who spoke to NPR on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of discussing a killing in his family, disputed the police account, saying a police officer detained suspects but later freed them, leading to the shooting.

“We’re living annexation anyway”

Over the years, Palestinians have fought uprisings against Israel, and they’ve signed peace accords — but none of it has won them independence, and years of international condemnation have not stopped Israeli settlements from growing in the West Bank.

Some Palestinians are calling for a whole new approach — not to fight to preserve the possibility of an independent Palestinian state, but to acknowledge its impossibility.

“It’s a waste of time if we keep using the same tools and repeating the same statements and relying on the international community to put pressure on Israel,” says Dalal Iriqat, a professor of conflict resolution at the Arab American University in the West Bank. “The number of settlements, expansion, it left no space, geographically speaking, for our Palestinian state … we’re living annexation anyway, de facto. So why don’t we sit back, watch it happen, and have Netanyahu declare the end of the two-state solution?”

The growing consensus among Palestinian intellectuals is that Jewish settlement growth in the West Bank has left no room left for a viable Palestinian state, and that the only option is one state for Israelis and Palestinians, with equal rights for all. That would mean ending the idea of a Jewish state. Though Israel would oppose it, Iriqat is confident that in the distant future, it will prove to be the only realistic option for two peoples inextricably linked in the same small land.

“Universal values, universal human rights and civil rights will definitely prevail,” says Iriqat. “Even if it takes time.”

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'strawberry' Israel

Rare ‘strawberry moon’ lights up sky in Israel and around world – The Times of Israel

Skies in Israel and around much of the globe were lit up Friday night with what is affectionately known as a “strawberry moon.”

The name for the penumbral lunar eclipse comes from the full moon’s reddish color that is a result of the earth coming between the sun and the moon, casting a shadow on the latter. The title was donned by Native Americans as it takes place during the short season for harvesting strawberries in the northeastern United States.

The eclipse was visible in the Middle East, eastern Africa, southern Asia and Australia, according to NASA, which said that other parts of the world will see the full moon, but not with a red hue.

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However, North America will be able to see the strawberry moon next month, NASA said.

People watch the “Strawberry Moon” rise over the ocean on Narrawallee Beach on the South Coast of New South Wales on June 6, 2020. (David Gray/AFP)

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Court Israel

Israel’s High Court Clears Way for Benjamin Netanyahu to Form Next Government – The Wall Street Journal

TEL AVIV—Israel’s top court ruled that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can form a government while under indictment, removing a final hurdle in the incumbent’s bid to remain in power as he goes on trial later this month on corruption charges.

The High Court this week reviewed eight separate petitions challenging a deal between Mr. Netanyahu and rival Benny Gantz to form a unity government after three inconclusive elections in a year. The two politicians said the coronavirus pandemic necessitated an end to continued political…

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