|Israel Resource Review
||20th October, 2006
Israel launches dialogue with the Saudis
Middle East News Line
[Israel Resource News Agency asked Min. Shetreet's spokesman about this, and asked if he knew that the Saudi initiative was also based on flooding Israel with arab refugees and their descendents. The spokesman said that he did not know that, and that the negotiations with the Saudis would not coming to anything . . . db]
ISRAEL, SAUDIS BEGIN DIALOGUE ON REGION
The government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has launched a dialogue with Saudi Arabia to ensure stability in the Middle East.
Western diplomatic sources said Olmert, with the help of Jordan's King
Abdullah, has met Saudi officials to discuss Riyad's vision of ending the
Arab-Israeli conflict and ensuring stability in the Middle East. The sources
said Riyad has offered its peace plan as a basis for Saudi-led Arab
cooperation with Israel.
"Olmert has accepted the principle that the Saudis have become a key
player in any effort to stabilize the Middle East," a diplomat said. "The
Israelis and Saudis have joint interest in ensuring stability after the
expected U.S. withdrawal from Iraq."
Over the last month, Olmert's political ally, Justice Minister Meir
Sheetrit has endorsed the Saudi plan, first presented in 2002. The minister
said Israel should hold peace negotiations with the Arabs based on an
Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders.
In an interview published on Friday, Sheetrit said the Saudi proposal
should replace Olmert's plan for an Israeli unilateral withdrawal from the
West Bank. Olmert, as head of the new Kadima Party, touted his withdrawal
plan in his successful campaign to win the March 2006 parliamentary
"I propose that Olmert initiate a process in collaboration with the
Americans and talk to the Arabs about the Saudi initiative," Sheetrit said.
"I believe he realizes he must embark on a political process. I hope he will
work toward achieving permanent peace."
Sheetrit has called on Olmert to invite Saudi Arabia to discuss its
peace initiative. He also said he had urged Olmert's predecessor, Ariel
Sharon, to do the same.
Olmert has not publicly adopted Sheetrit's endorsement of the Saudi
initiative. The prime minister said he has shelved his unilateral withdrawal
plan in wake of the Israel-Hizbullah war in the summer of 2006.
"These are not the Israeli government's ideas," Israeli government
spokeswoman Miri Eisin said. "These are his [Sheetrit's] ideas."
But Western diplomats said Sheetrit was floating a trial balloon for the
Olmert government. They said the prime minister, who as Sharon's deputy in
2003 repeatedly called for a unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, has
received Saudi envoys and messages that urged him to endorse Riyad as a
partner in any Arab-Israeli peace process.
The Saudi peace plan, the diplomats said, could serve as a framework for
cooperation between Jerusalem and Riyad on strategic issues, particularly
the Iranian threat. They said Riyad has been alarmed by Iranian penetration
of such countries as Bahrain, Kuwait, Lebanon and Syria.
"The Iranian issue leads the Saudi agenda and King Abdullah has found
almost no Arab country ready to confront Teheran," a source familiar with
the Saudi contacts said. "This is where Israel comes in."
Over the last few weeks, prominent Arabs have endorsed Riyad's
initiative. They included Lebanese parliamentary speaker Nabil Berri, who
sought to stymie the proposal during the Arab League summit in 2003.
" This is clearly exceptional because we have not been used to hear such
words from Lebanese leaders," Mordechai Keidar, a professor at Israel's
Bar-Ilan University, said.
The diplomats said the Olmert government has quietly been laying the
groundwork for Israeli support of the Saudi initiative. They cited
increasing attention to the Saudi peace plan by Israel's state-owned media.
"The Saudis have been closely following Sheetrit's statements and regard
them as encouraging," a Western diplomatic source said. "This could be an
extremely important process."
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Aaron Lerner, director of IMRA, has put out his weekly commentary. He calls it "Wake up call: Dumbo crashes in Gaza." The message, people think elephants can fly, but guess what? They can't. As he says:
"It just doesn't work.
"Years of working papers, conferences, arrangements and photo ops have failed to obviate Israel's need to keep the Gaza Strip and West Bank within the Jewish State's security envelope. As developments in the Gaza Strip prove once again, third parties simply cannot be relied upon to take Israel's place in this critical matter."
But in spite of these developments, there are those who persist with their dreams:
"Dumbo crashed in Gaza but the rhetoric continues about a sovereign Palestinian state living side by side in peace with Israel."
" . . . Retreat and Palestinian sovereignty advocates tend to try to dismiss their detractors by challenging them to propose an alternative that would achieve "peace" but it is a hollow argument.
"The onus, however, is on the sovereignty advocates to demonstrate that their leaps of faith won't keep on slamming us into the pavement."
Actually, while Lerner's statement stands, there are those who are responding to the challenge to propose an alternative. In the May 2006 edition of Nekuda -- a settlement publication -- there was an article by Uzi Mintz outlining a plan that had been advanced by members of the Yesha Council (and my thanks go to Winkie Medad for calling this to my attention).
The plan is detailed; I present here its basic outline. It is predicated on some very basic principles: that the Jewish People has historical and legal rights to all of the Land of Israel, and that solving the problem of the Palestinians is a regional matter and not one that Israel alone must contend with.
The first step is a firm decision to confront terror, via the military and raised awareness.
Following this would be annexation of some 60% of Judea and Samaria -- including all settlements and all areas such as the Jordan Valley necessary for security. Those Arabs within these areas would be made fully Israeli citizens. Their numbers would not represent a demographic threat.
An independent authority with full transportation contiguity (via bridges and tunnels) would be established in the rest of Judea-Samaria. This authority would have responsibility for local services, such as education. Israel would retain security control and control of water sources. A similar authority would be established in Gaza.
Efforts would be made to pressure (or, I add, convince via promised benefits) Jordan into granting citizenship to the Palestinians in the autonomous area of Judea-Samaria. Jordan, which is 70% Palestinian now, is historically the Palestinian state (broken off from the original Mandate for Palestine that was promised to the Jews). Finally, these Arabs would be citizens of Jordan, residents of Israel, living under independent administration.
As to Gaza, Egypt would be called upon to allocate contiguous areas of the northern Sinai (almost empty of residents now) for the population to spread out. An arrangement would be made regarding independent local administration in Gaza and connection to Egypt. (There is no suggestion that a Palestinian state, which would not be viable at all, be established just in Gaza.)
As to the "refugees," international assistance would be required to assist them in relocating -- to the northern Sinai, to Jordan, or to other Arab states. Relocation would be voluntary.
Is this plan perfect? Perhaps not. But it beats by a thousand-fold current popular -- and totally ridiculous -- notions about a two-state solution within the Land of Israel. As I've said before, alternative thinking on the matter is welcome and necessary -- there must be a shift in the paradigm of international thinking on the subject.
PM Olmert has returned from Russia. On the way back he made a statement to the press saying that the moment of truth is fast approaching for Abbas to "take action" to put his house in order, or all hope will be lost. Guess Olmert hasn't read Aaron Lerner's commentary. This is a Dumbo statement if ever there was one.
Late yesterday Abbas met with the Fatah Central Committee in his Ramallah office. He is talking (again? still?) about the possibility of new general elections with a transitional government established in the interim, or a referendum. Hamas continues to indicate that any of these moves would be viewed as a coup against the government. Abbas is giving Hamas until next week to turn itself around. Either Abbas will back down again or there will be a huge eruption of violence.
Olmert also said that he had the feeling that the Russians are committed to acting on the matter of Iran "in a significant manner," and that the Russian position was similar to that of the Americans. Russia, Olmert explained, views itself as a superpower and does not feel the need to take a position that is opposed to the American one.
As well as being (regrettably) diplomatically correct, he was likely responding to a critique offered by MK Natan Sharansky earlier in the week.
Sharansky, who, we can safely say, has a clear picture of the Russian mindset, gave an interview in which he said that Putin, in his efforts to become a global superpower, was playing a dangerous game of thwarting American efforts to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.
"They have a very dangerous idea that by not cooperating with America in the case of Iran, it can show America why they have to take them seriously. That's the game of the Russians. We have come to the moment where [countries must decide] whether they want to play a serious role in the future of the free world. [The policies of Russia] are definitely not constructive."
Since Tuesday, IDF forces have uncovered 13 tunnels under the Philadelphi Route used to smuggle weapons into Gaza . The tunnels were all discovered under a 300 meter stretch of the border route; most of them are operational. Lt. Colonel Yossi Drory of the Givati infantry brigade said "the tunnels are often dug from within homes or agricultural areas. When we asked the owners of the homes, they denied there are any tunnels present, but a search of the homes revealed the tunnel shafts."
Former OC Southern Command Maj.-Gen. (res.) Doron Almog believes that a single military incursion will not suffice here: "There is a need for a permanent IDF presence in the area . . . In order to meaningfully reduce the smuggling, we cannot rely solely on one operation or even a string of operations - we need a physical presence there."
Defense Minister Peretz is saying we will not reoccupy Gaza. And I want to know why not? We relinquished it voluntarily, not as a part of any formal arrangement. It was a grievous and dangerous mistake. The mistake must be rectified.
Israel has learned that Iran paid Hamas leadership $50 million dollars to torpedo the deal to release Gilad Shalit.
It's all within the tradition of always putting the onus on Israel. Israel is concerned because Hezbollah is in the process of being re-armed, via equipment coming from Syria. Israel is thus maintaining plane forays over Lebanon in the area of the border with Syria. And, as sure as day follows night, has come the protest that Israel is seriously breaking the terms of the ceasefire. However, Hezbollah, came a statement from the UN, is NOT breaking the terms in any serious way. Never mind that Hezbollah has not relinquished arms or refrained from moving back to the border with Israel -- we're the bad guys.
The other day came a report that the head of UNIFIL, Maj.-Gen. Alain Pellegrini, said that the international forces might open fire on the Israeli planes. This is the UNIFIL that declines to take any action to disarm Hezbollah or stop re-armament. Now a spokesman for Kofi Annan says no decision has been made to fire on Israeli planes.
Briefly regarding Israeli politics.
The plan advanced by Lieberman of Yisrael Beitenu regarding electoral reform (he proposes a switch from a parliamentary to a presidential system) is going nowhere. This is pretty much what he expected, as he intends this proposal to serve other political purposes. That some electoral reform is called for here is almost universally acknowledged. But critics are saying of Lieberman's efforts -- and I totally concur -- that this is something that requires serious analysis and careful planning first. Too precipitous and radical a change might make things only worse.
The jockeying for the position of president has gotten intense. Shimon Peres is vying for the position, which he lost to Katsav the last time around. Hopefully, he will lose again. Olmert -- in an effort to circumvent politics -- has come up with some far-out suggestions, such as Elie Wiesel (who would have to become an Israeli citizen) and former Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau. But right now the frontrunner seems to be former Knesset speaker Reuven (Ruby) Rivlin (Likud), a political person if ever there was one. He's my kind of man, having had the integrity to vociferously oppose the "disengagement" when many preferred to remain silent even though they knew better. Rivlin has been quietly campaigning for this position for some time and has allies in many places. His election would signal a defeat for Olmert, also a plus.
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