Bibi Controls The Summit; Can He Control Israeli Women Smugglers?


by James M. Wall

The latest round of peace talks between Israeli and Palestine leaders begins Wednesday night with a White House dinner. President Obama will be the host, but Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu will be in control.

In addition to Obama and Netanyahu, also at the dinner and the peace summit that follows will be Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and Jordan’s King Abdullah III. three important Arab allies in the US Middle East empire.

In preparation for the summit meeting, which will not include Hamas, the White House arranged an off the record  conference call during which White House Middle East advisor Dennis Ross (pictured below) assured American Jewish leaders, “the White House will pressure the Israelis and Palestinians to sign off on a peace agreement within a year.”

Furthermore, Ross said, Obama is prepared to “wade shoulders deep into the conflict” — starting with this week’s summit and followed by a visit to the Middle East sometime in the next year. And that’s not all:

Once the framework of a deal is worked out, further details will be added over the years after regular meetings that Obama wants between Netanyahu and Abbas. The plan is to be fully implemented within 10 years

To hammer out the deal, Israeli and Palestinian peace teams would meet in secret locations for the next year. The deal would focus on settlements, the future of Jerusalem and the borders

The Mondoweiss site found the news of the Ross briefing in the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth. The article, which was in Hebrew, was translated by Didi Remez on his blog Coteret.

The Jewish newspaper Forward reported on the “off the record” call:

The Jewish leaders pressed for details: Is there a deadline? Will there be preconditions? In response, according to people on the call, they got little more than the vague back-and-forth that had characterized the announcement of the talks earlier in the day by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

How often would the lead parties to the talks, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, meet, one participant asked – and how often would the teams meet?

“Periodically,” Dennis Ross, Obama’s top Iran policy official said, referring to the leaders. “Regularly,” he said of the negotiating teams.

Dan Shapiro, the top National Security Council staffer handling Israel and its neighbors, broke in to add that the talks would be “intensive.”

Ross is back in his familiar role as Israel’s most powerful friend in the White House. He is currently Obama’s s top National Security Council Middle East strategist.

Palestinian activist and author Daoud Kuttab, writing for Huffington Post in January, 2009, when Ross was appointed as a key aide to Obama, recalls that after the failure of the Clinton-Arafat summit in 2000, in which Ross played a major role:

It was Ross who led the chorus of Israeli apologists placing all the blame for the failure of the talks on the Palestinian leader. Ironically, Ross, himself, was the person who convinced Arafat to go to Camp David after solemnly promising him that neither side will be publicly blamed if the talks fail.

Palestinian president Arafat had told Ross that the time was not ripe for a summit but Ross, in connivance with [Israeli Prime Minister] Barack, attempted to railroad a bad deal down Arafat’s throat. Arafat, who felt that the deal was very bad for Palestinians, asked his US hosts if they can get the support of Arab leaders, they were unable to.

Andrew Sullivan, in his Atlantic blog, March 28, 2010, commented on an earlier Laura Rozen Politico article:

No big surprise in Laura Rozen’s new piece that Dennis Ross, a central figure in the pro-Israel lobby, a protege of Paul Wolfwitz, the co-founder of the AIPAC-founded, Washington Institute For Near East Policy, and a fervent believer in Israel’s eternal control of all of Jerusalem (meaning a two-state solution will never happen), is the main pro-Netanyahu voice in the Obama administration

Ross was in Tel Aviv this past week ‘to resolve the settlement freeze triangle,’” an Israeli source told Politico, a reference to whether or not Israel would agree to extend a freeze on Israeli settlement building currently due to expire Sept. 26.

Ross met with Netanyahu and his Israeli negotiator Yitzhak Molcho. He did not meet with any Palestinian officials.

That second-level meeting was left to David Hale, the deputy to the Middle East peace envoy George Mitchell and the NSC’s Dan Shapiro. The State Department told Politico that Hale and Shapiro met with both Israeli and Palestinian officials to prepare for the direct talks in Washington. The State Department had no comment on Ross.

With all pretense now dropped that the US is an “honest broker” for the Palestinians and Israelis, a claim that President Clinton used to drag Arafat to the failed Camp David talks in 2000, what should we expect from the 2010 round of Washington peace talks?

That is an easy one. We may expect that the outcome of Washington 2010, will be what Bibi wants and has agreed to in advance.

We must therefore look elsewhere for any indication that Netanyahu will use his control of the talks to do any favors for Abbas.

Netanyahu has less control over his own public than he does over the White House and Israel’s supporters in the US.  And the Israeli leader may now be thinking of his legacy. Does he want to be just another Israeli power figure, or can he bring some semblance of peace to the region before he retires?

Aluf Benn posed that question in a provocative column he wrote for Ha’aretz:

The opening of the direct talks with the Palestinians again raises the question: Who is Benjamin Netanyahu?

Is he our Gorbachev, a great reformer who will end Israeli rule in the territories? A “Nixon who went to China” – a right-winger who disavowed his former approach and changed the balance of power with a brilliant diplomatic stroke?

Or is he the “old Bibi” depicted by his rivals, the illusionist who is afraid of daddy Benzion and wife Sara, the uptight leader who flinches from making decisions and passes time by dribbling the ball?

Netanyahu might choose to pay attention to that small but vocal segment of Israeli citizens who know the Occupation is wrong and dangerous to Israel’s future. These peace activists and humanitarians in Israel are largely ignored in the US Main Stream Media, but they are able to attract attention in the rest of the world with bold actions that highlight Palestinian suffering.

People like the Israeli women described by Nazareth-based journalist Jonathan Cook:

Nearly 600 Israelis have signed up for a campaign of civil disobedience, vowing to risk jail to smuggle Palestinian women and children into Israel for a brief taste of life outside the occupied West Bank

The Israelis say they have been inspired by the example of Ilana Hammerman, a writer who is threatened with prosecution after publishing an article in which she admitted breaking the law to bring three Palestinian teenagers into Israel for a day out.

Ms Hammerman said she wanted to give the young women, who had never left the West Bank, “some fun” and a chance to see the Mediterranean for the first time.

Her story has shocked many Israelis and led to a police investigation after right-wing groups called for her to be tried for security offenses

It is illegal to transport Palestinians through checkpoints into Israel without a permit, which few can obtain. If tried and found guilty, Ms Hammerman could be fined and face up to two years in jail.

But Israelis joining the campaign say they will not be put off by threats of imprisonment.

Last month, a group of 11 Israeli women joined Ms Hammerman in repeating her act of civil disobedience, driving a dozen Palestinian women and four children, including a baby, through a checkpoint into Israel.

The Israeli women say they are planning mass “smugglings” of Palestinians into Israel over the coming weeks.

These women have broken free from the historic Jewish sense of persecution which Uri Avnery describes in his most recent Gush Shalom column.

As the jolly song of the 70s goes: “The whole world is against us / That’s not so terrible, we shall overcome. / For we, too, don’t give a damn / For them. // … We have learned this song / From our forefathers / And we shall also sing it / To our sons. / And the grandchildren of our grandchildren will sing it / Here, in the Land of Israel, / And everybody who is against us / Can go to hell.”

The writer of this song, Yoram Taharlev (“pure of heart”) has succeeded in expressing a basic Jewish belief, crystallized during the centuries of persecution in Christian Europe which reached its climax in the Holocaust. Every Jewish child learns in school that when six million Jews were murdered, the entire world looked on and didn’t lift a finger to save them.

This is not quite true. Many tens of thousands of non-Jews risked their lives and the lives of their families in order to save Jews – in Poland, Denmark, France, Holland and other countries, even in Germany itself. We all know about people who were saved this way – like former Supreme Court President Aharon Barak, who as a child was smuggled out of the ghetto by a Polish farmer, and Minister Yossi Peled, who was hidden for years by a Catholic Belgian family.

These Israeli women smugglers think for themselves. They do not allow their tribal history to dictate to them those things which are “not quite true.”

These are women who are willing to risk Israeli prison sentences to show the world the moral side of their nation by introducing Palestinian women (above) and children to the beaches of Israel (at top), beaches that are close, in meters, to the West Bank, and yet so far from their Palestinian prison of  Occupation.

The Washington peace summit will not bring Netanyahu to his senses. He is only attending to make a few cosmetic compromises to burnish his image as a “peace maker”.

To force Bibi to face the reality of Israel’s future, we must rely heavily on women like the 600 Israeli smugglers.

The picture at top was taken at a Hof Dor beach on Israel’s Mediterranean coast between Haifa and Tel Aviv. I have no idea if this is a beach to which the women smugglers will take their guests. And even if I did know, I would not tell you. You can find other beaches like the one at Hof Dor on the internet. They are important to the Israeli tourist business. (The picture of the three women above is from the website “Israel:The Only Democracy in the Middle East?”.)

About wallwritings

James M. Wall is currently a Contributing Editor of The Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, Illinois. From 1972 through 1999, he was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine. Jim launched this new personal blog April 24, 2008. If you would like to receive Wall Writings alerts when new postings are added to this site, send a note, saying, Please Add Me, to jameswall8@gmail.com Biography: Journalism was Jim's undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. He is an ordained United Methodist clergy person. He served for two years in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF reserve. While serving on active duty with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years.
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7 Responses to Bibi Controls The Summit; Can He Control Israeli Women Smugglers?

  1. Noushin Framke says:

    The fact that growing numbers of Israelis are willing to risk their own sense of belonging to show Palestinians “a day at the beach” or to let them “breathe again” for a day speaks volumes. As Tony Judt said, referring to the idea of a Jewish state, “Israel is an anachronism.” In this pluralistic world, a state that privileges a specific ethnicity or religion belongs to another century. This land WILL be shared, the question is, what will it be called… If it is to be called Israel, those in power had better think fast; they are losing the battle with their own citizens, beginning with these courageous women.

  2. Awad Paul Sifri says:

    Jim,
    Thanks for this great article.
    The action of these 600 brave Israeli women brings a breath of fresh air to the oppressed prisoners – the entire population – of the West Bank, Jerusalem, and Gaza.
    Thanks for bringing this rare silver lining to the attention of your readers, including myself.
    As far as the “peace” talks, I only see them as part of Netanyahu’s “dribbling” tactics ( I like your use of this analogy) and the US buying time for Israel to create more colonial realities on the ground, and to get the Arabs looking the other way, while the “US/Israel entity” pulverizes Iran.

    Thanks for shedding more light on a very dark situation.

  3. The Rev. Daphne Grimes says:

    I, too, have very little hope that Netanyahu will seriously do anything to bring about a peaceful solution, to truly stop settlement building and commit to just borders that might insure a two state solution. The only way any change can come about is if the US is willing to put the kind of (monetary) pressure only it can do, and if our media will realize that for that to happen, unbiased reporting on the true situation there take place. I firmly believe that a continuation of our present attitudes spells eventual destruction for the Israelis themselves, an end I do not want to see happen, or else a blow up in the Middle East that will be a disaster for everyone.

  4. In his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” a scalding critique of American Christianity addressed to his “Dear Fellow Clergymen” Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote:

    “There are two types of laws: just and unjust… I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law. Everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was legal and it was illegal to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany…

    “Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever and if repressed emotions are not released in nonviolent ways, they will seek expression through violence; this is not a threat but a fact of history.

    “Few members of the oppressor race can understand the deep groans and passionate yearnings of the oppressed race, and still fewer have the vision to see that injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent and determined action. Too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained glass windows…

    “If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twenty-first century.”

  5. Harris W. Fawell says:

    Thanks for the update insofar as the latest rounds of peace talks between the Israeli and Palestine leaders and our American advisors. The report does not sound too hopeful if you are correct in assuming Netanyahu will be in control of negotiations. I certainly hope not. Perhaps the best news is the report that nearly 600 Israelis have signed up for a campaign of nonviolent civil disobedience. That may have a chance of success. I note that New York Times columnist Nicolist Kristof recently wrote an article entitled “Waiting for Gandhi”. He suggested that if 1000 women sat down peacefully on a road to block access to an illegal Jewish settlement built on Palestinian farm land that this Gandhian tactic could be effective. Frankly, I have no confidence in Mr. Natenyahu or the present government of Israel. I don’t know what to think about President Obama. My confidence in him is fading fast. I guess we can only hope that he has enough courage to be fair. Harris

  6. Bill Gepford says:

    Thank you again, Jim, for keeping us informed!
    I must also confess that I am skeptical of any real change taking place. But I believe that a true believer in God must keep hope alive. I am almost to the point where I believe that today’s church has lost all its integrity. Forty years ago I met a woman in Colorado, a member of the Christian Church in Holland, who had hid Jews in her home. As a result she had both her kness broken to the point where walking was almost impossible. I will never forget her stories. She paid a price then for Jews. We need to pay whatever price is necessary today to support Palestinians. Thank God for the women Israeli smugglers.
    Bill

  7. Robert Hannum says:

    Ho-hum! Here we go again. I think the real Bibi has stood up and he will not give an inch (well, maybe an inch!) to Abbas and the Palestinians. Keep talking and continue to build illegal settlements, confiscate homes in Sheik Jerah and destroy them in Silwan, keep building that separation wall and the checkposts which harrass Palestinians daily, while smiling and “talking.” That’s it, “talk.” That’s what Americans love to hear. “See – they’re talking.” Blah, blah, blah, etc. However, if the talking means Israel declaring its borders, stating that Palestinians shall have E. Jerusalem as their capital, and 22 percent of the land mass – West Bank and Gaza, without interference (a real bargain afterall!) – then it is worthwhile. Will that happen, Bibi?

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