TIME Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Netanyahu Slams Hamas, Palestinian Leadership After Jerusalem Synagogue Attack

Four rabbis were killed early Tuesday

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the Palestinian Authority and militant group Hamas for spreading “hatred and incitement” against Jews in a news conference Tuesday, hours after assailants burst into a Jerusalem synagogue and killed four people.

Authorities said two Palestinian men armed with a gun, knives and axes entered a synagogue in West Jerusalem early on Tuesday and committed the most serious attack yet after weeks of clashes around the Temple Mount, also known as the Noble Sanctuary. The four victims were Rabbis; three were dual U.S. citizens and the fourth was British. Eight others were wounded.

Netanyahu singled out Hamas for blame, accusing the group’s leaders of inflaming tensions by libeling Israel “every hour, constantly, through the schools, in the media, in the mosques.”

He also condemned Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who had earlier spoken out against Tuesday’s attack, for proceeding to “connect it to all sorts of imaginary events that ostensibly Israel performs at the Temple Mount which does not take place.” The perpetrators’ homes, Netanyahu vowed, would be demolished.

MORE: Fears of Religious Conflict After Synagogue Killings

TIME Israel

Chaos and Mourning in Jerusalem After Synagogue Attack

Two Palestinian assailants kill 4 at a synagogue

Two Palestinians from East Jerusalem burst into a West Jerusalem synagogue Tuesday morning, killing four people and wounding several others. Three American-Israeli dual-citizens were identified among the victims. This latest attack is being viewed by both sides as a potential turning point in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

TIME Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Car Rams Into Jerusalem Crowd in Attack

(JERUSALEM) — Israeli police say a man has rammed a car into a crowded train platform in east Jerusalem in an “intentional attack.”

The police then shot and killed the attacker.

Police officials say the car hit the train platform, then rammed into cars after which the driver jumped out and tried to run away. The officials say he then attacked a group of policemen with a crowbar before he was shot and killed.

Wednesday’s attack came just over a week after a similar attack by a Palestinian motorist that drove into a train platform and killed a baby girl.

Palestinian protesters and Israeli police have clashed almost daily in east Jerusalem in recent months.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

Israeli police on Wednesday dispersed dozens of masked Palestinians who threw rocks and firecrackers at the officers near a contested holy site in Jerusalem’s Old City, angered by a planned visit to the area by Israeli supporters of a right-wing activist.

The Israelis had planned to visit the site to commemorate a week since a Palestinian shot and wounded American-Israeli activist Yehuda Glick who has campaigned for more Jewish access to the location. Palestinians view such visits as a provocation and often respond violently.

Several police officers were hurt in the clashes, said police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld, adding that the police used stun grenades to disperse the Palestinians. Quiet was soon restored, he said.

There was no immediate comment from Palestinian officials on Wednesday’s incident.

Palestinian protesters and Israeli police have clashed almost daily in east Jerusalem in recent months, with much of the unrest focused around a sacred compound revered by both Jews and Muslims. It’s the holiest site for Jews, who call it the Temple Mount because of the revered Jewish Temples that stood there in biblical times. Muslims refer to it as the Noble Sanctuary, and it is their third holiest site, after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.

Israel captured east Jerusalem — with its sites sacred to Jews, Muslims and Christians — from Jordan in the 1967 war. Palestinians demand the territory for their future capital. The fate of the area is an emotional issue for Jews and Muslims and its future lies at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Glick, a leading voice in a campaign to expand Jewish prayer rights on the hilltop complex, was wounded a week ago when a Palestinian gunman on a motorcycle opened fire at him as he left a conference in Jerusalem.

Muslim worshippers view Jewish prayer at the site as a provocation, and Israeli authorities place tough restrictions on it. Everyone visiting the area from the Israeli side has to be screened by police.

East Jerusalem has experienced unrest since the summer, with Palestinian youths throwing stones and firebombs at motorists and clashing frequently with Israeli police. The violence gained steam last month, when a Palestinian motorist rammed his car into a crowded train station, killing a 3-month-old Israeli-American girl and a woman from Ecuador.

TIME Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Infant’s Killing in Jerusalem Reignites Talk of a New Intifada

Mideast Israel Palestinians
A masked Palestinian kicks a burning tire during clashes with Israeli security forces a day after 14-year-old Palestinian-American, Orwah Hammad was killed by Israeli troops during clashes, in the village of Silwad, near the West Bank city of Ramallah on Oct. 25, 2014. Majdi Mohammed—AP

Incidents of violence in the city and the West Bank increase tension between Israelis and Palestinians

Gill Schechter has lived in the Armon HaNatziv neighborhood of East Jerusalem for over 30 years, during which time he has always felt safe — until recently. His street abuts a Palestinian neighborhood, from which rocks and cement chunks have been lobbed at the Jewish homes and cars here with increased intensity.

He doesn’t remember ever before worrying, as he does now, about driving in and out of his neighborhood or letting his kids walk home from school.

“I don’t think it’s heading in the direction of an Intifada — I think it’s here already,” says Schechter, a 41-year-old Israeli electrical engineer and father of four, referring to the Arabic word for uprising “People don’t want to walk in the streets, people’s houses are being trashed and we see very little being done, as the police have their hands tied behind their backs.”

Tensions increased in the city, including in Schechter’s neighborhood, on Oct. 22 when a 21-year-old Palestinian resident of Jerusalem named Abdel-Rahman Shaloudi drove into a line of people waiting for a tram in the center of the city. Shaloudi’s car hit Haya Zissel Braun, a three-month-old Israeli baby, throwing her into the air. She landed on her head and later died. Police shot Shaloudi as he tried to flee the scene on foot. He later died of his wounds.

Schechter is a member of the security committee for Armon HaNatziv, which sits in the southern part of the city and borders two Arab villages that are part of Jerusalem — Jabel Mukaber and Sur Baher. Armon HaNatziv is over the Green Line, which marks Israel’s pre-1967 borders, and therefore is considered by Palestinians as an illegal settlement. Many Israelis consider Armon HaNatziv simply as a neighborhood of the capital.

“I’m not a war-monger, but there is a limit to what the authorities should allow when you’re in charge of a city,” Schechter tells TIME. “We have young guys across the road throwing huge chunks of concrete at us. Were it to hit someone in the head, it could easily kill a person.”

Across town, to the north, Saedi Shrateh is a 22-year-old construction worker and student at Al-Quds University in the West Bank city of Ramallah, north of Jerusalem. He lives near the Qalandia checkpoint, which separates Jerusalem from the southern outskirts of Ramallah. Although he has an Israeli-issued Jerusalem resident’s ID, which allows him to go anywhere in the city, he stays away from West Jerusalem more and more following a spate of attacks on Arabs by Israeli ultranationalists. Everyone, he says, tries to avoid walking alone.

“As witnessed in the past week or so, the vibe in the streets is for a third Intifada. But not all Palestinians are willing to participate,” says Shrateh, who wears a black T-shirt that reads “Gaza is under fire,” a reminder of the recent seven-week-long war between Israel and the militant group Hamas, which controls Gaza. “I think we need another Intifada to achieve our goals, but I’m afraid too many people will sit at home. Nowadays, people are more concerned about making it in life and advancing their economic situation.”

There is almost no corner of this city that isn’t abuzz with talk of a third Intifada. (The first Palestinian uprising started in 1987, and the second in 2000.) Fears grew over the summer after the murder in June of a Palestinian youth named Mohammed Abu Khdeir. The teenager was abducted in Jerusalem and then murdered. Police have charged three Israelis with the murder, including two minors, saying the three were upset by the news that three Israeli teenagers had been kidnapped in the West Bank — Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaer and Eyal Yifrah — and shot dead by Hamas operatives.

Although the clashes simmered down following an Israel-Hamas cease-fire in late August, the rage among many Palestinians has yet to abate. In recent weeks, several events seemed close to reigniting the conflict. One has been the arrival in Silwan, a Palestinian neighborhood near the Old City of Jerusalem, of several dozen Jewish settlers who have moved into two buildings they had bought. Palestinians see these moves as a provocation. To them, any time a group of Israeli Jews moves into the neighborhood, it not only causes friction but potentially marks it is as territory Israel would retain control of in a peace deal. Israeli Jewish groups who move their activists to these neighborhoods say they’re reclaiming ancestral land and acknowledge that part of their goal is to prevent Jerusalem from being redivided, as it was between 1948 and 1967. The Jerusalem municipality says it cannot stop anyone from moving to another neighborhood of Jerusalem if the property is purchased legally.

Also in recent weeks, Jewish groups seeking to hold holiday prayers at the Temple Mount — known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, housing both the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock — have led to concerns that a dangerous showdown is brewing over Jerusalem’s holiest site. And each time things get tense Israeli police keep young Muslim worshippers out, only allowing access to people over 50. Earlier this week, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told activists from his Fatah party that Palestinians should be present on the site at all times to stop “the fierce onslaught on Al-Aqsa Mosque, Jerusalem and the Holy Sepulchre Church.”

When news broke Wednesday night that a Palestinian from Silwan had driven his car into pedestrians waiting for a tram, killing the three-month-old, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately blamed the attack on Abbas and said his “incitement” was responsible. In response, Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said Netanyahu’s accusations represented a “dangerous new low” in Israeli-Palestinians relations.

The two sides have only seemed to exacerbate tensions, likely setting the stage for more violence.

The tensions are not limited to Jerusalem, but are also spreading to the West Bank. During riots on Friday, Israeli forces shot and killed a 14-year-old Palestinian-American youth named Orwah Hammad. The shooting took place in the village of Silwad, north of Ramallah.

Government ministers in Netanyahu’s cabinet and Jerusalem’s mayor, Nir Barkat, have argued for taking a tougher line in East Jerusalem, arguing that this is the only way to stop Palestinian rioters. Barkat also announced he was deploying more police throughout the city, installing cameras in neighborhoods like Schechter’s, and launching a surveillance balloon over East Jerusalem to collect information about riots as they are forming.

Schechter — and many others Israelis in Jerusalem — seemed pleased with the response. But Palestinians say it will only bring further trouble.

“I certainly don’t see this moving in the direction of calming down,” Adnan Husseini, who holds the Jerusalem portfolio for the Palestinian Authority, tells TIME. “The Israeli government is doing everything to accelerate tensions and make things more difficult. We have a confrontation in almost every area of Jerusalem, on every street. It may not have been announced, but is seems there is a small Intifada already.”

Read next: Palestinian Killed in Clash With Israeli Military

TIME Palestine

Watch: Paramedics in Gaza Face Incoming Fire to Save Lives

Paramedics work 24-hour shifts under heavy shelling

Paramedics are often among those first to a horrific scene. But in the latest flare-up between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza, the AFP reports, they are also coming under fire or witnessing the deaths of children and colleagues.

“The ambulance worker is the one who arrives first so he sees with his own eyes what has happened, what the injuries look like, what the situation is, what the truth is,” Adel al-Azbut, 30, a paramedic, told AFP.

The International Committee of the Red Cross on Monday condemned the shelling of the Al Aqsa hospital in Deir El Balah that left at least five people dead and added to a growing fear that few safe havens are left in the enclave.

Paramedics had to bury a colleague who was killed this week when his ambulance was hit by an Israeli rocket. “The situation is very hard. We’re in a war that is affecting everyone—the citizens, the paramedics themselves,” said Jihad Selim, a paramedic shift supervisor. “They don’t go home. They’re only able to check on their families by phone—it’s tense.”

At least 632 Palestinians had been killed as of Wednesday, a figure that UNICEF reported includes at least 121 children under the age of 18. Almost 30 Israelis have died in the offensive, nearly all of them soldiers.

TIME

What a Muslim American Learned from Zionists

During a visit to an institute in Israel, I gained a new perspective on a belief that I once saw as toxic.

How probable is it to get ardent Zionists and pro-Palestinians to not just talk to one another, but love and respect one another? Not likely. That’s why the Shalom Hartman Institute launched a controversial but groundbreaking program to bring American Muslim thought and civic leaders to Jerusalem for a year-long fellowship. For many, the program was a hard sell given sensitivities and loyalties on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

I hesitated joining because Hartman is an unapologetically Zionist institution and, like all the participants, I have been committed to the Palestinian cause throughout my life. Other than posing an ethical dilemma, it also required putting our credibility with the Muslim community on the line and opening dialogue with Zionists, a thought once an anathema to our sensibilities.

Zionism is a toxic word in the pro-Palestinian community; it stands for an opportunistic land-grab in the wake of the Holocaust from people who had nothing to do with that tragedy. To us, it stands for the nakba, a catastrophe, for the Palestinian people. It stands for an ethnic cleansing, a brutal occupation, militarized neighborhoods, checkpoints, political prisoners, daily humiliation, blockades, collective punishment, stolen resources. I have always been proudly anti-Zionist.

Through the fellowship I learned that Zionism means something very different for Jews. The Jewish people’s longing of thousands of years for a homeland, a return from exile, a sanctuary from being a hated minority in the diaspora, an opportunity to establish Jewish values and honor God, a Biblical promise, a chance for redemption. As someone with years of interfaith experience I should have known all this, but I didn’t. For this, I blame both the exhaustive use (and some Israelis say abuse) of the Holocaust narrative from Zionists to win over Western populations, and also because in the U.S., interfaith work means talking about everything except Zionism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It shows the deep flaws in current interfaith models when the most burning issue remains unspoken.

But it did not remain unspoken in our program. As we learned and gained appreciation for the Biblical connection of the Holy Land to the Israeli people, the Palestinians remained at the forefront of our consciousness. In every session, dozens of times daily, we have pushed on the Palestinian issue. While we were challenged on our understanding of Zionism and the history of Jews and Israel, we challenged our professors from legal, historic, faith, human rights and national security perspectives to justify the treatment of Palestinians.

It was a frustrating cycle in which the conversation often ended at a version of one thought: “Most Israelis want to end the occupation but are afraid to.” Initially, this perpetual fear seemed like either an excuse or a deep collective pathology divorced from reality. It wasn’t until I met numerous Palestinians that I realized the fear many Israeli Jews have is not a figment of the imagination.

The despair and anger of a burgeoning population of young, unemployed, restricted, dislocated population which carries with it the pain of generations and assumes an apocalyptic end is real. We personally witnessed hundreds of Muslim men denied access to the Al-Aqsa mosque for Friday prayers, and their quiet rage, and even tears, at the young Israeli security personnel who blocked the entrances and themselves seemed scared and unsure. This pressure cooker cannot hold indefinitely.

Despite living on the front lives of this conflict, many Jewish friends at Hartman said it took the relationships built through the program for our Jewish friends to fully absorb the Palestinian narrative.

After a year we built the trust necessary for a needed exchange of admissions. The Muslim fellows understood Jewish fear and the Jews’ deep desire for a homeland after thousands of years of being a mistrusted minority. And Israeli Jews affirmed to us the daily devastation of the occupation and the shattering of Palestinians through which Israel was born. These exchanges between Zionists and pro-Palestinians were monumental.

They are also an affirmation that there is still hope for dialogue and relationships that can actually make a difference. Until now, both parties have been speaking inside their own bubbles, safe in dialogue with people that agree with them. The walls have been built so high that breaching them to reach out to the other side is tantamount to treason. Hartman and the participants both took huge risks in being part of this program with hopes to forge a new way forward. This fellowship proves that building relationships between people who fundamentally disagree can uncover empathy and mutual recognition that despite differences, everyone deserves dignity, security, prosperity and self-determination.

Rabia Chaudry is a fellow of the Truman National Security Project and the New America Foundation.

TIME Israel

New iPhone App Turns Back The Clock on Israel

A smartphone placed on an Israeli map in Jerusalem, displaying the new iNakba application that allows users to find the remains of Palestinian villages that now lie inside modern-day Israel, May 5, 2014.
A smartphone placed on an Israeli map in Jerusalem, displaying the new iNakba application that allows users to find the remains of Palestinian villages that now lie inside modern-day Israel, May 5, 2014. Thomas Coex—AFP/Getty Images

What Israel calls Independence Day, Palestinians know as "Nakba," The Catastrophe. Now an iNakba app maps villages erased after 1948, tracking a changing landscape. A spokesperson for the app's developer Zochrot said, "maps are a political tool"

Tuesday was Independence Day in Israel, and Israelis marked 66 years of statehood with barbecues, flyovers, and fireworks. Supporters of the Palestinians used the occasion to unveil a new app that looks at the holiday from the perspective of the side that lost the 1948 war and has been locked in conflict with Israel ever since: iNakba

In Arabic, “nakba” means “catastrophe,” and the iPhone application maps some 500 Palestinian villages that once stood on the land controlled by Israel since 1948. The app was developed by Zochrot, an Israeli nongovernmental organization that exists to remind Israel’s Jewish majority of that history. “The application provides coordinates and maps of Palestinian localities that were completely demolished and obliterated after their capture, partially demolished, or remained standing although their residents were expelled,” Zochrot says on its website.

This appears, on an iPhone screen, as a forest of ochre-colored Google Map pins laid over the familiar map of modern Israel. Tap on any one pin and the Arabic name of the village comes up: Umm al-Zinat, for instance, in the north near Haifa. Tap again, and a page opens showing a photo—some feature handsome stone buildings, this one just rubble—and a few lines of data: There is the name of the Jewish communities that went up after 1948 (Elyakim), the date and the Israeli military unit that occupied it, and the Palestinian population in 1948 (1,710) and after 1948 (None).

A menu allows viewers to upload photos of their own, and offers driving directions, using Google Maps, Apple Maps or Waze—the crowd-sourcing navigation app developed by Israelis and purchased by Google for $1.15 billion.

“The idea of the app is like changing the landscape, because we in Zochrot believe that maps are a political tool, and from ‘48 till today, Israel on its maps just erased Palestine and its localities and our heritage,” Raneen Jeries, a spokesperson for Zochrot, tells TIME. “So we put Palestine back on the map.”

The app has its practical uses. Of the 3,000 downloads in the first 24 hours, some may have been by descendants of the 750,000 people who fled or were forced out in 1948 and now come to Israel looking for the site of their ancestral home in a landscape of freeways, factories and subdivisions. Bound volumes like All That Remains can help, but as Jeries says, “It’s not easy to find the destroyed places.”

But the app also represents a new frontier—clean, bright, helpful—in the competition between historical narratives. Israelis and Palestinians have different experiences of the last century, and each wants the world at large to see history from their perspective. The differences between them extend even as far as dates: Israel changes the date of Independence Day every year, marking the occasion according to the lunar-based Jewish calendar. Palestinians use May 15, the day after Israel signed its declaration of independence on the Gregorian calendar in 1948.

The iNakba effort is unlikely to change many minds among Jewish Israelis, says Dahlia Scheindlin, a political consultant and pollster who blogs on the leftist +972 site. “Up until now, Zochrot has taken very radical positions,” she tells TIME. By supporting the right of return for Palestinians—allowing descendants of the 1948 exodus to live in Israel—the group has placed itself in line with a segment of the Jewish Israeli population that, Scheindlin says, is too tiny to register in public opinion surveys. Nakba is so unpopular a notion that until the Knesset legal advisor barred its introduction in 2012, Israeli lawmakers championed a bill barring its commemoration inside Israel, even though 20 percent of the population is Arab, many descended from the Palestinians who were allowed to remain after 1948.

Still, Scheindlin says, Zochrot has displayed a talent for framing a volatile issue in new ways. “They’re making an effort to get noticed in Israeli society,” she says, “and at least talk in way that will get people thinking.”

TIME foreign affairs

With Status Quo On Its Side, Israel Happily Rejects Peace

PALESTINIAN-PEACE-US-GAZA-FATEH-HAMAS
Hamas prime minister in the Gaza Strip Ismail Haniya (R) holds up the signed reconciliation agreement as he speaks during a press conference with Palestinian Fatah delegation chief Azzam al-Ahmed in Gaza on April 23, 2014. Rival Palestinian leaders from the West Bank and Gaza Strip agreed to form a unity government within five weeks as peace talks with Israel face collapse. SAID KHATIB—AFP/Getty Images

Palestinian reconciliation and Hamas are just more excuses in a long line of them to suspend negotiations.

During nine months of negotiations, Israeli officials have constantly questioned our ability to make peace. World leaders visiting Tel Aviv have been faced with rhetorical questions like “Shall we make peace with Gaza or the West Bank?” or statements like “Mahmoud Abbas does not represent all Palestinians.” Last week, after we announced our national reconciliation agreement, Israel contradicted its own argument: suddenly peace was impossible due to Palestinian unity.

During the early 1980s, Israel’s excuse was the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s refusal to recognize Israel. In 1988, we recognized Israel on 78% of historical Palestine, a deeply difficult and historic concession. Twenty-six years later, the number of Israeli settlers within the remaining 22% has tripled. Next, Israel’s excuse was lack of Arab recognition. In 2002, the Arab League introduced the Arab Peace Initiative, offering recognition from 57 Arab- and Muslim-majority countries in exchange for Israel’s respect for UN resolutions. Israel’s response? More settlements. Most recently, the Israeli government came up with a further qualification–that we should recognize Israel as a Jewish state, safe in the knowledge that this could not be accepted. Rather than being afraid of not being recognized, it seems Israel is afraid of recognition.

Today, Netanyahu and those representing him, including Lapid, Ya’alon, Lieberman, Bennett and Ariel, are creating a new excuse to avoid the necessary decisions for peace. This Israeli government, which continues its settlement activities all over Palestine, is trying to blame national reconciliation for its own failure to choose peace over apartheid.

MORE: Yair Lapid: Why I Voted in Favor of Suspending Peace Negotiations With the Palestinians

First and foremost, reconciliation is an internal affair. Not a single party in Netanyahu’s government has recognized Palestine. Nor have we asked them to. Political parties do not recognize states. Governments do.

Secondly, reconciliation and negotiations are not mutually exclusive. Reconciliation is a mandatory step in order to reach a just and lasting peace. The agreement ratifies the PLO’s legitimacy to negotiate with Israel, honors all Palestinian commitments and obligations towards international law and previous agreements and calls for the formation of a national consensus government comprising independent professionals. This government is not going to negotiate with Israel: its sole mandate will be to prepare for elections, provide services and build institutions.

Palestinian reconciliation can be rejected only by those who aim to perpetuate the status quo. This is precisely what the government of Israel has been doing during nine months of negotiations: killing 61 Palestinians, advancing more than 13,000 units in Israeli settlements, conducting almost 4,500 military operations on Palestinian land, demolishing 196 Palestinian homes and allowing more than 660 settler terror attacks against Palestinians.

Being consistent with its policies on the ground, Netanyahu’s government has refused to recognize the 1967 border or even put a map on the table proposing Israel’s idea of its final borders. Netanyahu has ensured that he is unable to do this by surrounding himself with the most extremist sectors in Israel, including the settler movement, from which he selected his foreign minister, housing minister and the Knesset speaker. In fact, 28 out of 68 members of his government reject the two-state solution entirely, while others “accept it with reservations,” meaning something very different to two states as stipulated under international law. Israel’s claim that negotiations have been halted due to Palestinian reconciliation is completely disingenuous.

Frankly, it is difficult to understand how anyone could expect us to negotiate with such a government. And yet we have, in good faith, offering concession after concession for the sake of peace. Once again, we have held up our end of the bargain. Once again, the Israeli government has not. The truth is simple: Israel refuses to negotiate sincerely because, as long as the status quo is so beneficial to it, Israel has no interest in a solution. Without firm signals from the international community, Netanyahu’s occupation and colonization policies are incentivized.

With Palestine’s new international status, we will continue shaping our country as a peace-loving nation that respects human rights and international law, a commitment already assumed during the announcement of national reconciliation. This includes our right to make use of international forums in order to end Israeli violations and achieve the fulfillment of our long overdue rights.

Meanwhile, the ruling coalition of Israel should stop wasting its energy on excuses and start realizing that apartheid is not a sustainable option. Israel’s rejection of Palestinian national unity has little to do with Hamas and a lot to do with its own unwillingness to do what is needed for a just and lasting peace.

Dr. Saeb Erekat is a member of the Palestinian Liberation Organization Executive Committee and Head of the Palestinian Negotiations Team.

TIME

Why I Voted in Favor of Suspending Peace Negotiations With the Palestinians

Tzipi Livni, Saeb Erekat, Yitzhak Molcho, Mohammed Shtayyeh, John Kerry
Secretary of State John Kerry, left, sits across from Israel's Justice Minister and chief negotiator Tzipi Livni, third right, Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat, second right, Yitzhak Molcho, an adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, fourth right, and Mohammed Shtayyeh, aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, right, at an Iftar dinner at the State Department in Washington, July 29, 2013. Charles Dharapak—AP

Here are 48 hours from life in the Middle East.

Tuesday night: Meeting of the Palestinian and Israeli negotiating teams along with the American mediators. For the first time in a long time, the atmosphere was excellent. New solutions were proposed for old problems and the word “breakthrough” was mentioned more than once. The goal was a clear and mutual one — to reach an agreement that would extend the negotiations and move them to an even more senior level.

Wednesday morning: Shock, disappointment. Without warning, President of the Palestinian Authority Abu Mazen declares that he is signing an agreement for a unity government with Hamas. Just two days prior, during the Passover holiday, Hamas fired Qassam rockets into southern Israel. Rockets landed not far from a synagogue in the town of Sderot and miraculously no one was hurt.

Thursday evening: After an unusually long meeting of the Israeli government’s security cabinet, of which I am a member, it was decided to suspend peace talks until it becomes clear whether or not the new Palestinian government is formed. The decision, to which I was party, passed unanimously.

This was by no means a trivial decision for me. When the current Israeli government was formed, I told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that while I would not stand by with a stopwatch, I had no intention of remaining in a government for the long term that would not undertake negotiations aimed at separating from the Palestinians.

My views have not changed. I believe that we must not yield one inch when it comes to Israel’s vital security needs, but we must stop building settlements outside the so-called “blocs” and achieve a separation with the Palestinians in the context of which a large portion of the settlements will be dismantled and Israel will withdraw from much of the West Bank.

An arrangement along these lines would be no easy feat, since the Palestinians already refused twice — in 2000 and in 2008 — to sign an agreement that would have granted them more than 90 % of their territorial demands. Israel is still ready to go great lengths to reach an agreement, however Abu Mazen has time and time again avoided at the last minute signing an agreement.

Despite all this, I have not given up. Nothing is easy in the Middle East, but we must continue to work towards an agreement with all our might and despite all the obstacles, because the alternative option is eternal conflict and the loss of Israel’s Jewish identity. My party and I remain committed, within reason, to continuing the peace process and will continue to support it.

And yet, I cast my vote for suspending the negotiations. Why?

Because Hamas is a not the legitimate representative of the Palestinians, but rather a Jihadist terror organization whose express purpose is to kill and maim Jews simply because they’re Jews.

I voted the way I did because I cannot understand how anyone could expect us to negotiate with a government, half of which claims to want to reach an agreement with us while the other half claims it is not bound by that same agreement. One half claims to want peace and the other half — simultaneously — shoots thousands of rockets and mortar shells on innocent civilians and rules over Gaza in a reign of Islamic terror that has resulted in the murder of hundreds of Christians just because they are Christians, the oppression of women, and the public hanging of homosexuals from electricity poles.

One half speaks English and tells the world what it wants to hear, and the other half is an Islamist organization that denies the very existence of the Holocaust, was outlawed in the U.S. and in most European countries and has claimed, in an official statement of the Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh (and as of this week, the new partner of Abu Mazen): “Osama bin Laden was a Muslim freedom fighter” and condemned his execution.

As mentioned previously, I am willing to sacrifice a lot to reach an agreement. This is also why the cabinet decision was worded so carefully and so precisely. Whoever reads the actual text of the decision will discover that we did not call for the cessation of the talks, but rather for their suspension. Abu Mazen declared that the Fatah-Hamas government would be formed in five weeks’ time. Despite this flagrant breach of trust, we have not closed the door. When the new government is formed, we can decide — in consultation with the U.S. — where to go from here. Our goal was and remains to continue talks until an agreement is reached. But before that, we must know something very basic: With whom exactly are we talking?

Yair Lapid is Israel’s minister of finance and the head of Yesh Atid party.

TIME Foreign Policy

Decision Time: Will Obama Make a Last-Ditch Middle East Peace Push?

President Barack Obama walks from the Oval Office to the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, April 1, 2014.
President Obama walks to the Rose Garden of the White House on April 1, 2014 Manuel Balce Ceneta—AP

President Obama and John Kerry met on Tuesday to discuss the risks and benefits of performing CPR on Israeli-Palestinian communication

The mood could not have been cheery when Barack Obama met with his Secretary of State at the White House on Tuesday afternoon. When John Kerry arrived at Foggy Bottom in February 2013, he persuaded Obama to sign off on a new U.S. effort to restart the long-dormant Middle East peace process. Obama was skeptical: he’d waded into those jellyfish-infested waters in his first term and had come out badly stung. But Obama allowed Kerry to proceed, bucking him up with strong pro-peace rhetoric.

Kerry coaxed the Israelis and Palestinians to the bargaining table in June. On Tuesday, three weeks before the original deadline for a deal, he returned to Obama empty-handed. Last week both sides took actions that the other called a sabotage of the talks (although Kerry pointed a stern finger at the Israelis). When Kerry appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday morning, Republican Senator John McCain declared the peace talks “finished.”

Not so, Kerry retorted. “The Israelis and the Palestinians don’t declare it dead. They want to continue to negotiate.” That’s technically true: Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have continued to talk, including in a Monday night meeting brokered by the U.S.

The question now is whether this is just pantomime. Are the two sides still meeting for purely public relations purposes — to demonstrate a faux good faith to the world? Or are they still capable of cutting a deal?

It wouldn’t be surprising to see Obama conclude that the process is hopeless, at least for now. Many others in Washington have. Last week’s effort by Kerry to secure Israeli concessions through the release of Jonathan Pollard, convicted of spying for Israel, had carried a whiff of desperation that suggested Washington wants a deal more than the Israelis do.

But it’s also possible that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas are engaging in brinkmanship to maximize their leverage. A former Obama State Department official notes that it’s not unusual for high-stakes negotiations to near collapse just before a final deal rises forth from the flames. Think of the 11th-hour game of chicken in Washington’s debt-limit crisis in October.

If Obama thinks that might be the case, one foreign government official who closely monitors the talks says the U.S. should remove itself from haggling over process issues like prisoner releases and simply lay a framework peace deal on the table. Kerry would require the two sides to accept or reject it in principle. They could haggle over details later. The basic principles of such a plan — including limited right of Palestinian refugee return, a divided capital in Jerusalem, some medium-term Israeli security presence in the Jordan River Valley — wouldn’t surprise anyone.

But another push would be risky. Obama and Kerry are already dodging charges of naiveté and impotence in the region. Committing publicly to a plan that fails would compound a moment of perceived American weakness.

That said, there’s also a risk in letting the talks die: possible new boycotts and isolation of Israel, a potential collapse of the Palestinian Authority and maybe even new violence. “The alternative to getting back to the talks is the potential of chaos,” Kerry warned in November. “Does Israel want a third intifadeh?”

To be sure, the consequences may not be so dire. The prospect of violence in particular could be overblown, thanks to improved Israeli security and a higher standard of living for West Bank Palestinians, says one Arab government official.

But there’s also worry that this is the last, best hope for a peace deal. “We may not get another chance,” Kerry warned as this round of talks kicked off last summer.

Of course, when Obama began his first stab at a peace deal in September 2010, he spoke of a “moment of opportunity that may not soon come again.”

Another moment did come, however. And its demise may not be the end of the story. “We’ve had lots of diplomatic breakdowns between Israel and the Palestinians,” says one person close to Israeli officials who thinks this round is likely finished. “The peace process will rise again.”

If Obama truly disagrees, he’ll have to decide whether it’s worth making a dramatic — and risky — gesture to salvage it.

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