First Published: 2011-02-23


Israel’s Road to a Warm Peace with Egypt


The pro-democracy activists who flooded Tahrir Square, as well as their counterparts elsewhere on the Arab 'street', won’t countenance for long the condition of the Palestinian people living under occupation, notes Michael Felsen.


Middle East Online

Boston, Massachusetts - As echoes of the ouster of Israel’s “cold peace” partner, Hosni Mubarak, reverberate throughout the Middle East and beyond, the people of Israel are now faced with various permutations of what are effectively two choices: they can hunker down, assume the worst and hope to maintain some semblance of the status-quo for the indefinite future. Or, with American encouragement, they can meet the new Egypt – the people of Egypt – with an outstretched hand, offering them support as they march toward freedom and democracy, seeking the warm peace of neighbours determined to share cooperatively their corner of the globe.

Needless to say, an essential way station on Israel’s road to a warm peace with Egypt – and the entire Arab world – is the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

For while the cause of Palestinian self-determination was not their rallying cry, the pro-democracy activists who flooded Tahrir Square these past weeks, as well as their counterparts elsewhere on the Arab “street”, won’t countenance for long the condition of the Palestinian people living under occupation.

The movement towards Palestinian statehood, already gaining steam in the international community, has now picked up an additional engine of undeniable force. Israel’s coalition government under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu needs to look long and hard at whether it will stand in the way, or help this movement reach its destination. As Israel’s primary ally, the same can be said for the United States.

We’ve learned in recent weeks that Israel and the Palestinian people came remarkably close to reaching that long-elusive peace. First the Palestine Papers, leaked to Al Jazeera, revealed that the Palestinian Authority (PA) was prepared to make significant concessions for a negotiated peace. And now we learn, from interviews conducted by author and business professor Bernard Avishai and reported in The New York Times, that then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and PA President Mahmoud Abbas came within feet of the goal-line during their talks in 2008.

Avishai reports that “the issues that were supposed to be intractable – demilitarization of the Palestinian state, the status of Jerusalem and the right of return of Palestinian refugees – proved susceptible to creative thinking.” Indeed on security issues, according to Abbas, the Palestinian state would be non-militarised.

On borders, the pre-1967 war Green Line formed the predicate, with small land exchanges, and negotiations ultimately centred on whether a few settlements would be ceded to the Palestinian state. Most problematic of these was Ariel, a large settlement that juts far into the West Bank; its retention as part of Israel would seriously compromise the Palestinian state’s territorial contiguity.

On Jerusalem, the Jewish neighborhoods would remain under Israeli sovereignty, and the Arab neighborhoods would revert to Palestinian sovereignty. The “Holy Basin” – the Old City and holy places – would be administered by an international force, with guaranteed access for all religions. The only stumbling block was a few neighbourhoods that Abbas claimed as part of the Palestinian state and that Olmert sought to characterise as part of the Basin.

On the “right of return”, both leaders agreed that a certain number of Palestinians should return, but with the as yet undetermined number limited so as to preserve “Israel’s distinction as a state with a Jewish majority.”

Bottom line: the deal was not sealed and, facing corruption charges, Olmert stepped down. But the two sides were undeniably very close and were counting on the United States to bridge the gaps that Avishai said “appear so pitifully small.”

Which brings us, finally, back home. Last week, the United States vetoed a draft UN resolution condemning Israeli settlement building, an activity which the United States openly decries. Explaining the controversial vote, US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice asserted that every action in this arena must be judged on whether it moves the parties closer to an agreement.

Applying this test, the United States must step up. Having applauded the Egyptian protesters for bending the arc of history towards justice, the mantle now falls upon US President Barack Obama.

Using the Olmert-Abbas points of agreement as a foundation – and such other well-known frameworks for resolving the conflict as the Clinton parameters and the Geneva Accords – the President needs firmly to propose the Obama blueprint. The world is waiting for reconciliation in that troubled region. Getting close just isn’t good enough. It’s time for Obama to bridge the gaps – and take on the obligation to bend the arc of history towards Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Michael Felsen is an attorney and President of the Boston Workmen’s Circle, a 110-year old communal organisation dedicated to secular Jewish education and culture and social justice. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).


Qatar says Gulf crisis hindering fight against IS

Khamenei vows to 'shred' nuclear deal if US pulls out

Baghdad says mission accomplished in Kurd operation

Bahrain accuses Iran of harbouring 160 'terrorists'

Jobless Tunisians seek new migration routes to Europe

Italy busts Libyan diesel smugglers

Fate of IS fighters in Raqa uncertain

Turkish Red Crescent concerned by Idlib humanitarian ‘drama’

US firm to build solar plants in Gaza

Ghost city Raqa scanned for survivors, bombs

Qatar emir calls for talks on visit to Indonesia

Iraq calls on BP to help develop Kirkuk oil

Israeli forces raid Palestinian media offices linked to Hamas

French parliament is set to pass new anti-terror law

Israel says no to Palestine talks until Hamas disarms

IS territory down to almost 10% of 2014 ‘caliphate’

Over 3000 civilians flee Raqa under deal with jihadists

Ideology and objectives clash at Deir Ezzor

Erdogan gets Polish backing on Turkey's EU bid

Iranian guards commander killed in Syria

Fitch Ratings says threat to Qatar liquidity fading

Iran warns EU against new nuclear deal conditions

Turkey activists face trial next week under terror charges

Netanyahu presses Russian defence minister on Iran

US-backed forces announce Raqa recapture

Hollande slams Trump's hardline stance on Iran nuclear deal

Iraq takes control of two key Kirkuk oil fields

US-backed forces retake Raqa state hospital

Divided Iraq tests limited US influence

New UN envoy in Rabat to restart talks on WSahara

Iraqi forces seize Kirkuk governor's office

Iraqi forces seize airport, oil field from Kurds

Saudi Arabia sets conditions to role in Syria reconstruction

In tougher approach, US offers multimillion-dollar reward for Hezbollah operatives

EU ministers join forces in support of Iran deal

Batteries, tape to thank for defeating jihadists in Raqa

Palestinian Authority top official visits Gaza

Israel strikes Syrian anti-aircraft battery in response to shots

Qatar starts to feel pinch from sanctions

Last days of Raqa battles ‘toughest fighting yet’

Omani role has helped Iran but may not do much in crisis with US

Head of IS in Southeast Asia dead

Mogadishu twin bomb death toll at 276

Gazans hope Palestinian reconciliation ends their woes

US-backed forces announce ‘final phase’ of Raqa recapture