Monday, September 28, 2009

Israeli concessions vs. Palestinian concessions

Finally, but unsurprisingly to anyone endowed with rational thinking, Obama has backpedaled on his demand that Israel stop building settlements in the West Bank. The Israelis are, naturally, exultant:

Israeli officials, for their part, expressed satisfaction that Mr. Obama was letting up the pressure on settlements. “The administration recognizes that Israel has made major concessions in the absence of any substantive concessions on the part of the Arabs,” said Michael B. Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States.

I take exception to Mr. Oren's explanation. I think the Israel lobby has been a little more instrumental in the decision than any analysis by Obama's administration on the relative merits of both parties' cases.

But his contention does merit some inspection. Are Israel's concessions major? Do Palestinian ones lack any substance? While Hasbara peddlers have made of such claims a cornerstone of their apologizing, the reality is exactly the opposite: the Palestinian concessions have been extensive, while Israel has hardly conceded anything.

But what about the Lebanon withdrawal? What about the Gaza disengagement? What about authority in area A of the West Bank?

See, those were not concessions. Concessions are when you do things that are not in your interest to please the party you're negotiating with. But:

  • Israel withdrew from Lebanon because it was losing too many soldiers;
  • Israel evacuated Gaza (not disengaged from it; more on this momentarily) because it imposed a heavy burden on its budget, while not being a piece of land it wanted to retain;
  • Israel gave the Palestinians full control over less than 18% of the West Bank (the large cities and towns) so that it wouldn't have to pay for the education, health and other services provided to the Arab population concentrated there.

Note that any true concession would have required a relinquishing of the power Israel exerts over those territories, as well as of the advantages of its domination. In the notable case of Gaza, Israel did not "disengage" from its role as collector of customs duties, a major source of revenue for the Strip's government. In fact, Israel has used such role as a major punishing weapon, by withholding for months on end the transfer of customs duties in the order of the hundreds of millions of dollars. Israel's apologists have the chutzpah to claim that Gazans didn't take the opportunity to build their nation, when they were denied the most basic power a government needs to function: the power to collect its taxes. (In a telling example of how reality can be twisted by propaganda, Zionists sometimes even claim, in some cases actually believing it, that those transfers are money Israel is donating to Gaza; a recent Ynet story was titled "Israel's financial aid to Gaza unnecessary?").

But what have the Palestinian concessions been?

Our previous example also applies here. By accepting that its customs duties be collected by Israel, the Palestinians surrendered a major freedom and even gave Israel the power to meddle in Palestinian internal affairs through the inequitable distribution of the funds. See:

Israel transferred millions of dollars worth of tax funds to the new Palestinian government, allowing it to pay its workers in full for the first time in a year _ while skipping the ones who work for the Islamic Hamas in Gaza.

Also, the Palestinians acknowledged, under interim agreements, Israel's sovereignty over the West Bank while it is not transferred back to the Palestinian Authority. Thus, Israel enjoys not only the practical but also the juridical right to do as it pleases in the West Bank, with the sole restrictions imposed by the Road Map and other documents that are not as definitive and binding as a bilateral agreement.

With regard to violence, while Gaza continues to cause trouble, the Palestinian authority in the West Bank has cracked down on militants, largely through its American-trained police body. Next to no terror attacks have been inflicted on Israel from the West Bank lately. This, at a time when fundamentalist Jews have been stealing land like crazy to build outposts, when building in existing settlements has been stepped up dramatically, and when a new settlement is even being constructed from scratch in Maskiot, far removed from the Green Line.

But the Palestinians' most important concession is in, potentially, the most critical point of dispute between both sides: water rights. Water is the single most valuable natural resource Israel extracts from the West Bank. And the Palestinians signed with Israel what is probably the most generous agreement between water-thirsty parties in the world -- so much so that the World Bank has called for a renegotiation that will be less unfair to the Palestinians:

The water-supply regime used by Israel and the Palestinians must be changed, according to a World Bank report that is to be published today.

The report notes that an average Israeli gets four times as much water as the average Palestinian, and warns that the Palestinian Authority water system is "nearing catastrophe."

It concludes by recommending that the current water-distribution arrangement, mandated as part of the Oslo II accords, be changed to improve the Palestinian system.

So that contrary to Ambassador Oren's unsupported assertions, the Palestinians have made really big concessions in exchange for, in essence, nothing. They are already delivering peace in the West Bank before the "land" part of the "land for peace" equation is even begun to be negotiated. Israel enjoys the right to disproportionately use the West Bank aquifers without a single illegal settler having been removed from an outpost.

If and when an Israeli government truly committed to peace arises (admittedly, an unlikely development for the time being) it will acknowledge these Palestinian goodwill gestures and try and build on them, instead of denying them.


Anonymous said...

Zero comments hahaha. Just ranting in the mirror as usual, Ibrahim!

Ok here's your first: Israel does not want any "concessions" from the Palestinians but concessions -- in the form of peace gestures -- from the belligerent Arab states. The idea here is to trade a Palestinian state for regional security. Read Debkafiles and you'll learn something:

Gert said...


So the PA having withdrawn its support for a U.N. Human Rights Council resolution on alleged war crimes in Gaza is not a concession?

Normalisation of relations with 'belligerent Arab states' should come after some peace process has been gotten under way: these Arab states pose no threat to Israel, yet they're being asked to throw away the last bargaining chip they hold...

But Israel wants her cake and eat it too: more settlements (and not through 'natural growth' either AND normalisation too.

If I'm to assume you [Anon] are an average Israeli, then I can see where all that comes from...

Tip: it's really childish to point out the number of comments on a given post; it really doesn't mean much at all...

William Burns said...

Debka files? Stop it anonymous, you're killing me! The Debka files are a joke, an Israeli operation for particularly stupid Zionists. Maybe next you can advise us to watch Exodus to get the true story of the founding of Israel.

As for trading a Palestinian state for regional security, that was tried. It was called the "Saudi peace plan" and it failed because Israel doesn't want peace with the surrounding Arab states as much as it wants Palestinian land and water.

andrew r said...

Yeah, and if we said, "nice post Ibrahim" you'd snap at us for backpatting. He knows who reads this blog.

Anonymous said...

Ass kissing, Andrew -- that's what the Ibrahim cheerleading team consisting of you, Gert, and Will Burns does in this echo chamber isn't it.

William Burns said...

Good god, anonymous is onto us! We're only posting here because of Ibrahim's enormous power! My own career is entirely based on flattering bloggers in their comments sections! If it weren't for the Hasbara Buster, I might have to sell my second yacht!

Tarig Musa said...


you have absolutely no basis for what you are saying and you know it. not only did you completely disregard anything that Ibrahim wrote, you bring up a nullified point talking about peace with arab states (which even Iran has taken steps to ensure, which you would know if you read), as William said, it was called the Saudi peace plan, which all arab nations plus Iran agreed to, but Israel rejected outright for no reason other than preference to maintain their racist regime; but hey, its governments actions will eventually lead to its down fall, history has proven that!

on top of that, you then resort to insults and mockery as a means to get your point across, very childish and in all actuality proof that you know you are wrong as these are the actions of a person who is merely trying to deflect attention from the actual points discussed in the post, how very mature of you!!

Anonymous said...

Pulling out of Gaza was a massive concession. If you don't want to consider it enough to make peace, that's one thing, but if you think it was not a concession, you're a moron. A concession is giving somebody what they want. Whether you want it or not actually does not matter so much. And believe me, there were people who wanted that land. Many had to be dragged off of it by force.

If you and the Muslim world cannot see any good in the Israelis, there will be no peace no matter what Israel does.

Gert said...


If a thief gives back his loot, would you consider that to be a 'concession'?

The Gaza 'unilateral disengagement' is in any case historically more complicated than that.

Go back in time a bit when Sharon was developing his 'unilateral disengagement' plan and look at the reactions it got worldwide, including reactions from inside Israel and from the Palestinians. Most people were very concerned about this 'plan' (which remains to this day largely undisclosed) because no one knew where Sharon would draw these borders. For all we know it could have meant withdrawal from Gaza, followed by minimalistic withdrawal from the WB (i.e. 'illegal' outposts only). The Israeli Right was then really still full of people dreaming of a Greater Israel (although they weren't really acting on it).

Sharon was of course never known as a 'concessionist': he had earlier forced Barak to abandon Taba by claiming he [Sharon] would never make concessions of the kind Barak and his team were willing to make [at Taba].

So there was enormous and genuine concern all around as to what 'unilateral withdrawal' was to actually mean in terms of facts on the ground.

We still don't know what he intended but we know for sure that the withdrawal from Gaza came with no strings attached for Hamas: it wasn't the result of any negotiations or agreement between the parties. My own interpretation was that the Gaza withdrawal was basically a cost-cutting exercise: protecting less than 10,000 Israeli settlers in this sea of 1.5 million Palestinians must have been very expensive. Also, Gaza has no strategic ('protective') value for Israel: Israel has a lasting and durable peace agreement with Egypt. Plans to hand the whole thing over to Egypt have been floated many times.

The explanation 'we gave them Gaza and all we got in return is rockets' is therefore highly simplistic and the root of the new popular slogan 'no land for peace' or 'land for peace doesn't work'. It's a popular perception that ignores the realities on the ground back then and Sharon's largely unknown intentions. Such perceptions are durable but also reductionist. Hamas' fight was always with the Occupation, not just with the Occupation of Gaza. In that sense I could just as well accuse Sharon of being responsible for the rocket fire: by not at least obtaining minimal guarantees from Hamas.

Tarig Musa said...

Just to add to your point Gert:

“The significance of the disengagement plan is the freezing of the peace process,” said Sharon’s closest adviser, Dov Weissblas. “When you freeze that process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state and you prevent a discussion on the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem. Disengagement supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so there will not be a political process with the Palestinians”.

So from the horses mouth, it is clear that Gaza was never about giving the Palestinians what they want, merely about postponing what Israel doesn't want!

Also, to consider Gaza and the West Bank two seperate entities is ignorant; they both constitute Palestinian land and therefore just because occupiers have been removed from one doesn't mean that the people of Gaza should give up and live happily ever after, (which by the way isn't really possible when you live in the largest open air prison in the history of our world, kind of makes concentration camps seem humane!)

Gert said...

Thanks Tarig!

Anonymous said...

if you look at what israel wants, it has made huge concessions. but if you look at it in regards to internation law, israel has made precisely zero concessions. if it wasn't for the concessions by the palestinians, there wouldn't even be a peace process.
personly i think the average palestinian has come to the conclusion that no matter what is offered they are dealing with someone who seems to want it all.

Gert said...

Anonymous II:

It's well understood that whatever the Palestinians have undertaken as a model of resistance (peaceful or forceful) nothing has really worked.

Someone who "seems to want it all"? That's the inescapable conclusion if you look at the settlement issue over the last forty years.

It's very significant that over at more reasonable Zionists blogs and fora, they do everything they can to dodge the settlement issue whenever I try to bring it up: they know it's the one argument they can't win...

Without serious outside pressure Israel will not give up anything...

Anonymous said...

it doesn't matter who is in power, ie. labour or lukid, the one thing they all agree on is expanding the settlements. only the method is different,ie labour does it in discreet stages as not to upset the international community and lukid has a more honest approach and does it openly.
we still haven't heard from labour or likud seperately, let alone any coaltion of the two , a definitive statement of what they meant by peace. in the end, it was what they did, as much as what they said, that showed what they ultimately wanted.


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