Editorial: Ban’s challenges

Recent peace proposals all based on principle that Israel would retain major settlement blocs.

Clinton, Barak, Arafat at Camp David 311 (photo credit: REUTERS/Win McNamee)
Clinton, Barak, Arafat at Camp David 311
(photo credit: REUTERS/Win McNamee)
Encouraging Israelis and Palestinians to “re-engage” in order to move the peace process forward is one of the professed goals of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as he visits the region this week.
But since low-level talks began between the sides in Amman last month, a number of major obstacles have resurfaced, threatening to turn yet another round of peace talks into a dead-end. If he is to succeed in his mission, it is important for the UN chief to understand that despite two decades of negotiations, huge gaps still need to be bridged.
The concept of settlement blocs is a good example. For Israelis, for US administrations at least since the Clinton era, and for several European countries, including Germany and France, the notion that Israel must retreat to the 1949 Armistice lines and that Judea and Samaria – the cradle of Jewish history – must be made free of Israelis – is an unacceptable proposition.
The 2000 Clinton parameters, former US president George W. Bush’s 2004 letter (endorsed in both houses of Congress), and negotiations conducted by then-prime minister Ehud Olmert in 2008 were all based on the principle that Israel would retain major settlement blocs in any future two-state solution.
A wide range of Israeli politicians, from Yossi Sarid and Yossi Beilin on the Left to Ariel Sharon and Olmert in the center, have said in the past that blocs such as Ma’aleh Adumim would be part of Israel in any future agreement.
For Palestinians, however, settlement blocs are by no means a “given.” This was apparent from documents leaked to Al Jazeera in January of last year that came to be known as “Palileaks.” These documents revealed the content of negotiations that went on in 2008 between high-ranking Israeli and Palestinian Authority officials. They make clear that the concept of Israel’s retaining settlement blocs – which even appeared in the Geneva Accords – was rejected outright by the Palestinians – although they were willing to recognize some Jewish neighborhoods in east Jerusalem.
Last week, Palestinians reiterated their stance against settlement blocs. One Palestinian official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The New York Times that Israel’s demand to keep settlement blocs “effectively abandons international law and the framework we have been focused on for the past 20 years.”
Ban should also understand the centrality of security arrangements. In the wake of the Arab Spring, Israel is concerned more than ever that a Palestinian state on the West Bank could be taken over by Hamas, which is affiliated with the resurgent Muslim Brotherhood. This would be similar to what happened in Gaza after Israel, in a painful move to end its “occupation,” unilaterally withdrew its forces there, removed all settlers and dismantled all its settlements.
A strong IDF presence in the Jordan Valley and the demilitarization of the future Palestinian state are essential, from an Israeli perspective. Unfortunately, PA President Mahmoud Abbas has said repeatedly he would not let any Israeli soldier remain in a future Palestinian state, though he has not ruled out an international peacekeeping force.
However, international peacekeeping forces are notoriously ineffectual and unreliable. UNIFIL’s failure to stop the rearmament of the Hezbollah after the 2006 Second Lebanon War in accordance with UN Resolution 1701 is just one example.
Another obstacle to peace that Ban should confront is the PA’s unabashed glorification of villainous terrorists who murder innocent Israeli civilians.
The most recent – and shocking – example, as reported by Palestinian Media Watch, was a show on PA television that praised as “heroes” the murderers of Udi and Ruth Fogel and three of their children – 11-year-old Yoav, four-year-old Elad, and Hadas, a four-month-old baby. And just a few weeks ago, Mohammed Hussein, the PA’s mufti in Jerusalem, publicly quoted an Islamic text calling for the murder of Jews.
Meanwhile, Fatah is in the process of forming a unity government with Hamas, an anti-Semitic terrorist group that calls for the destruction of Israel.
Ban faces many challenges in launching his bid to “reengage” Israelis and Palestinians – and we did not even mention the dispute over the Palestinian refugee problem.While we welcome the UN chief and his efforts and wish him luck, we cannot help but be pessimistic when considering his prospects for success.