Abbas and Obama Should Not Expect a Helping Hand From Netanyahu

The Israeli prime minister is the only one who can boost the electoral chances of both Barack Obama and Mahmoud Abbas. Don't hold your breath.

After the uproar over the Palestinian Authority's admission to UNESCO some three months ago, President Mahmoud Abbas ordered a freeze on PA requests for admission to other UN organizations. It seems that Abbas promised Barack Obama that until the presidential elections he would spare the U.S. president from having to choose between a vote that would annoy Jewish voters and one that would upset the Palestinian voters and their sympathizers. The problem is that Obama needs complete calm on the diplomatic front until his election, while Abbas needs a genuine political achievement before his own elections.

Benjamin Netanyahu is the only person who can supply the goods to both of them. But he is not showing any interest in doing so. The millions his friend American Jewish casino magnate Sheldon Adelson is lavishing on Obama's rivals may indicate that Bibi will not shed a tear if Obama has to leave the White House. Netanyahu's refusal to release all the veteran Fatah prisoners as agreed upon in the 1999 Sharm el-Sheikh Memorandum may influence the Palestinian elections. But Netanyahu appears unconcerned that his intransigence may enable Hamas to portray Abbas' Fatah camp as an empty vessel in campaign ads for the leadership of the PA and the PLO.

Netanyahu, Abbas, Obama

Perhaps this is what Bibi wants, because in his view there can be no talks with the PA and a terrorist organization. Or else he does not know that Hamas is building its strength on settlement construction. Why does he need to know everything? After all, he is just the prime minister. Just yesterday (during a special Knesset committee meeting on violence in the Arab sector ) he told the Knesset that he does not know how serious the situation in Umm al-Fahm is. How should he know what the situation on the other side of the Green Line, in Jenin, is?

Cramping the Quartet

Netanyahu's refusal to enter into serious negotiations on the basis of the 1967 borders in effect stymied the Quartet's September initiative, which was meant to freeze the Palestinian approach to the UN. The Palestinians were enraged by the position presented by the Israeli emissary, attorney Isaac Molho, at the recent talks in Jordan, according to which the West Bank is "disputed territory" and not "occupied territory." Foreign diplomats who saw the Israeli document had a hard time concealing their embarrassment. The failure of the Quartet initiative did not leave Abbas with a response to advisers who pressured him to put the hot potato back in the UN's hands. Barring any surprises, Obama will be confronted with a difficult choice before the November elections: Either he recognizes the Fatah-Hamas government and has the Republicans accusing him of negotiating with terrorists, or the Nobel Peace laureate abandons his peace-making efforts and flees from our swamp.

A distinguished group of UN members, mainly from emerging Latin America, as well as South Africa, Norway and Switzerland, which are not members of the European Union, are fed up with the Quartet (made up of the U.S., Russia, the United Nations and the European Union ). Their leaders complain that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is being strung along by the Americans and not bothering to clarify their position. They decided to work to enlarge the Quartet into a quintet and open a direct channel to Israeli and Palestinian peace organizations. Argentina's president, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, took the first step and invited representatives of the forum of peace organizations to Buenos Aires. During their meeting with her over the weekend they were informed that a delegation of foreign ministers from the area is planning to visit here in the coming days. If salvation does not come from North America, it is hard to imagine it coming from South America.

Who benefits from West Bank quarries?

One of the last rulings by Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch determined that the State of Israel may not only build houses on occupied land, but can also use the products of the land to build houses in Israel and in settlements. In response to a petition filed by the human rights organization Yesh Din, Beinisch wrote that halting operation of the quarries may damage existing infrastructure and the quarry industry, which earns the Israeli operators tens of millions of shekels each year. She accepted the state's argument that the quarries provide a livelihood to hundreds of Palestinians and the royalties paid to the Civil Administration are used to fund projects benefiting the residents. Beinisch noted that a substantial part of the quarry output is sold to Palestinians and Israeli residents.

Attorney Michael Sfard and Attorney Shlomi Zecharia, who are representing Yesh Din, argue that the new High Court of Justice ruling in essence permits the plundering of the natural resources in the occupied territory. Given the significance of the ruling, they decided to request another hearing before a larger panel. The request came with an unusual opinion prepared on a voluntary basis by several of the most important international law experts in academia: Dr. Guy Harpaz, Prof. Yuval Shani, Prof. Eyal Benvenisti, Dr. Amichai Cohen, Dr. Yael Ronen, Prof. Barak Medina and Prof. Orna Ben-Naftali.

The seven legal experts argue that the High Court of Justice misinterpreted the directives of the laws of the occupation relevant to the occupier's authority to manage public property in the occupied area. They say the ruling not only contradicts the basic principles of international law, but also goes against the established and entrenched laws of the occupation over the last 30 years. They stress that the occupier's jurisdiction demands special care to ensure that the military ruler's decisions stem solely from security considerations and from the need to protect the public property of the occupied populations. Most certainly the ongoing nature of the occupation - a claim on which the High Court based its decision on the matter - cannot justify profit-making at the expense of the occupied people for the benefit of citizens of the occupying state.

It will be interesting to monitor the decision of the new Supreme Court President, Asher Gronis, in this important case in principle.

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