Author Archives: Ziv Hellman

About Ziv Hellman

Ziv Hellman is a Jerusalem-based writer and mathematician. A former editor at the Jerusalem Post, Ziv was a founding member of Peace Watch--the watchdog group reporting on the implementation of the Oslo Agreements. He also led the Israeli elections observer team evaluating the Palestinian Authority elections.

Why the Oslo Accords Failed

[The Oslo Accords, which were signed in 1993, were designed as confidence-building measures to create trust between Israelis and Palestinians and bring peace to the region. Yet less than a decade after those accords were signed, the region was already mired in war. Following the outbreak of the Second Intifada, a former member of Peace Watch, a watch-dog group that monitored the implementations of the Oslo Accords, analyzed what went wrong.

Since the writing of this article, Arafat‘s death in 2004 changed the leadership of the Palestinian Authority. Israel unilaterally pulled out of the Gaza Strip in 2005, leaving the Palestinian Authority to govern the area. Although the terrorist bombins have subsided, rockets continue to be fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel. The hopes of peace and security that the Oslo agreements offered have still not been realized.]
The failure of the Oslo agreements can be ascribed to the same reasons that are usually the cause of most agreement failures: both parties felt that Oslo had not delivered what they had expected from it.
Oslo was from the start meant to be an interim agreement as a prelude to the expected difficult negotiations toward a final agreement. An important component of it was that peace could be spread by goodwill on the part of the leaderships of both peoples.

The Expectations

Palestinian expectations were in the main twofold. The first expectation was that the Oslo process would bring to a halt the construction and expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.  Israeli withdrawals were to proceed according to a fixed schedule leading to Palestinian Authority control over more than 90 percent of the Gaza Strip and West Bank, setting the stage for final Israeli withdrawal all the way to the 1967 borders.
The second expectation centered around increased economic development in Palestinian society, lifting Palestinians out of crushing poverty and narrowing the gap in living standards between them and the Israelis that many Palestinians thought humiliating and enraging.

Mideast Peace: A Road Map

The year 2003 saw continued violence between Israelis and Palestinians, as well as new attempts at peace. The following article describes the most prominent of these peace efforts.

Among the momentous effects of Al-Qaeda’s violent strikes against the United States on September 11, 2001, was a re-orientation of American policy toward the Middle East. The new paradigm adopted in Washington viewed much of the world as being divided into opponents versus supporters of terrorism. Furthermore, the roots of terrorism were ascribed to Mideast regimes that caused social and economic failures while pursuing the interests of small groups of ruling elites.

road map to peacePalestinian Regime Change 

The Bush administration increasingly came to view the regime of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat as a hindrance rather than a partner. Widespread corruption in the Palestinian Authority and its lack of a stable judiciary were problematic, but the convoluted nature of the PA’s multiple security arms–along with mounting evidence that they were involved in or supported terror attacks against Israeli targets alongside militant groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad–persuaded influential officials in the White House that progress in the Middle East required a form of “regime change” in the Palestinian Authority. The administration advocated replacing Arafat with another Palestinian leader.

President Bush announced a new plan on June 24, 2002, in which Bush stated that the leadership of Yasser Arafat was unacceptable to the United States. The U.S. called for the election of new Palestinian leaders not compromised by terror and for the creation of a truly democratic Palestinian entity. This was balanced by support for the creation of an independent Palestinian state–the first unequivocal and open expression of such support from an American administration. The U.S. also persuaded the so-called Quartet–a group consisting of the European Union, the United Nations Secretariat, Russia, and the United States–to endorse aims consistent with its policies a month later.

Avoiding Yesterday’s Mistakes in Israel-Palestine Peace

The Road Map, a 2003 diplomatic
initiative aimed at jumpstarting the peace process between Israeli and Palestinians,
consisted of three phases. Both sides–Israelis and Palestinians–got bogged down in Phase One. In the following article, the author analyzes the goals of the Road Map and offers his own opinion on why more progress was not made.

The Road Map may be viewed as the first serious Middle East peace initiative since the Oslo Accords of 1994. Oslo, as the agreement was known, collapsed in the ill-fated Camp David summit of July 2000, which precipitated the fighting of the Intifada. A careful reading of the Road Map indicates that its organizers attempted to learn from the experience of the Oslo framework efforts and shift emphases accordingly. 

Oslo’s Assumptions

The framers of the Oslo agreements based themselves on several assumptions that proved problematic. Foremost among them was the supposition that the step-by-step process itself would yield improvements in the lives of Palestinians and Israelis. Over time, the reasoning went, both sides would experience an upward spiral of confidence, enabling negotiators to proceed more readily at each stage to tackle more difficult and divisive issues. Oslo supporters also assumed that the very creation of a Palestinian Authority would bring about a Palestinian leadership with an interest in containing violent Islamic movements.

israel-palestineThe importance of the appearance of progress was so important to the creators of the Oslo agreement that they initially resisted suggestions that violations of the accords be categorized and publicized.

The Reality

The sad reality was a downward spiral. The Palestinian Authority founded by Yassir Arafat proved to be a corrupt entity that failed to establish the stable institutions a modern state requires while wasting immense sums of money donated by Western countries. The living standards of average Palestinians dropped in the years following the signing of the Oslo agreement. This, coupled with the fact that Israel continued to expand settlement activity at a rapid pace, caused many Palestinians to consider themselves swindled.

Israel’s Peace Map: An Outline

The following are the basic points of the Road Map for Peace, issued in the spring of 2003.

Phase I

Palestinian leadership issues an unequivocal statement reiterating Israel’s right to exist in peace and security and calling for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire to end armed activity. The leadership also undertakes visible efforts on the ground to arrest, disrupt, and restrain individuals and groups conducting and planning violent attacks on Israelis.

Immediate action is taken to devise a credible process to produce a draft constitution for Palestinian statehood based on the concept of a strong parliamentary democracy.

jerusalemThe Israeli leadership issues an unequivocal statement affirming its commitment to the two-state vision of an independent, viable, sovereign Palestinian state.

Israel freezes all settlement activity, including natural growth of existing settlements.

Phase II

Following Palestinian elections, an international conference is convened to create an independent Palestinian state with provisional borders through a process of Israeli-Palestinian engagement.

Phase III

A second conference is convened in order to begin the process of reaching conclusive agreements on outstanding permanent status issues, such as borders, Jerusalem, refugees, settlements.

Mideast Peace: Paving the Way

Before the Road Map–a diplomatic initiative to help break the stalemate between the Israelis and the Palestinian–several other diplomatic initiatives tried and failed to achieve that same goal. The following article looks at two of those plans.

The dynamics of the various diplomatic attempts to end the Intifada and resuscitate the peace process have all been influenced decisively by the views and actions of the United States.

The Background 

The so-called Al-Aqsa Intifada broke out in September 2000 in the waning days of the Clinton administration; many observers regard the failure of the Camp David summit convened by President Bill Clinton in July of that year as one of the triggers of the Palestinian uprising. Clinton and his staff–with the full agreement of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak–reacted by redoubling efforts to arrive at a speedy resolution of negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians.
mideast peaceDespite marathon sessions conducted by Israeli and Palestinian teams in Washington and at Taba on the Egyptian-Israeli border in December 2000 and January 2001, no breakthrough was achieved. Soon after Clinton was succeeded by George W. Bush, the Barak government was replaced by that of Ariel Sharon, from the right-wing Likud party.

The attitude of the new Bush administration to the Middle East peace process initially appeared to be the polar opposite of the Clinton administration. Where Clinton had invested a lot of time and energy into nearly every detail of the peace process, Bush projected aloofness from the subject, exhibiting a preference for concentrating on domestic US issues over matters overseas.

The Mitchell Plan

Given the central importance of U.S. foreign policy in the region, however, it was impossible for Washington to ignore the increasing violence of the Intifada. On April 30, 2001, a group of international diplomats called the “Sharem El-sheikh Fact Finding Committee” published a report subsequently termed the Mitchell Plan after the committee’s chairman, George Mitchell. The Mitchell plan, which was adopted by the Bush administration as a basis for diplomatic talks, called for ending the violence, rebuilding confidence between the two sides, and resuming negotiations. 

From Agriculture to High-Tech

As with many other aspects of modern Israel, understanding the history and roots of the Israeli economy requires a detour to ideas flourishing in the cradle of Zionism, central and eastern Europe in the late 19th century and the early years of the 20th century. There, budding Zionists planned for the economic future of a Jewish state. 

Disapproving the Status Quo

At the time, the economy of what was then called Palestine consisted nearly entirely of traditional Arab village farming alongside a tiny community of Jews who subsisted on charitable donations from abroad. This latter state of affairs was appalling to young European Jews joining the Zionist movement, many of whom were convinced that the status of Jews could improve only when they chose to undertake “honest labor,” especially agricultural work.

The Zionist leadership also included individuals who, under the influence of socialist and communist ideas in vogue in eastern Europe at the time, rebelled against the stereotype of Jews as urban merchants. For them, industrial and agricultural laborers were “working class heroes,” and they strove to create a new class of laboring Jews as part of the Zionist effort.

israel's economyThis background found expression in Zionist settlement activity in Israel in the early 1900s, which was characterized by an emphasis on establishing agricultural communities and on “communal equality”–the foundations of the famous kibbutz movement.

Beyond the ideology of “working the land” that underpinned this agricultural orientation was the belief that the nearly total lack of natural resources in the Land of Israel left few options in this regard. At the same time, the seeds were laid for the creation of a powerful labor-union umbrella organization that strove to represent all the workers at the national level, the Histadrut. The first leader of the Histadrut was none other than David Ben-Gurion, who would later found the state of Israel and steer it as its first prime minister–an indication of the centrality of socialist ideas within early Zionism.

Israel’s Economic Challenges

Most of the challenges facing the Israeli economy are not dissimilar to those that other industrialized countries are facing today.

What is done to resolve these challenges is often a matter of political viewpoint: To what extent ought privatization of state-owned companies be undertaken? What is the best mix of tax burden and public spending, especially with regard to social services and welfare? How can unemployment best be reduced? Can unskilled workers upgrade their educational levels to enable them to seek higher-paying skilled jobs? Can traditional pension and social security payment levels be maintained in the face of ever-increasing percentages of retirees? Should public policy give greater importance to reducing wealth inequalities or boosting wealth creation? What is the role of labor unions in post-industrial, knowledge-based economies?

Unique to Israel

There are, however, at least two challenges that are somewhat unique to Israel, which no serious analysis of the Israeli economy can ignore:

1)      Terrorism. During the Second Intifada, Israel was the target of a horrific wave of suicide-bombing terrorist attacks that claimed the lives of hundreds of people. These attacks had a direct impact on the economy in several ways. Tourism shrank to new lows. Fear of attacks in public places  curtailed entertainment and dining spending, and caused severe economic depression in once-crowded city centers. Spending on security services in nearly every public building soared, at the expense of other resources. The negative image the country suffered abroad hurt foreign exports and investments.

With the end of the Second Intifada and the beginnings of global economic recovery, Israel’s economy began to grow again.

2)      Work Force Participation. In 2010, workforce participation in Israel was 64% among the working-age population, significantly lower than the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development average of 71%. The significance of this figure is clear: The wealth of a nation is determined ultimately by the product of the healthy adults within its borders. The lower the level of workforce participation, the smaller the national product per capita, which translates directly into lower standards of living in general.

What Palestinians Think of Suicide Bombing

In defense of suicide bombing as a military tactic, some Palestinian movements have made various claims. For example, Palestinian armed groups have asserted that their targets are not really civilians because “all Israelis are reservists.” Supporters of Palestinian suicide bombings also have pointed to Israeli attacks that killed or injured Palestinian civilians as justification for the suicide bombings. 

The Pros and Cons

Palestinian attitudes, or at least those expressed in public, have tended to be supportive and even celebratory of suicide bombing attacks against Israelis. The polls have registered public support with figures ranging from percentages higher than 70 percent to below 50 percent. There have been some Palestinian voices raised against the practice, despite strong pressures brought to bear against any Palestinian who publicly criticizes official opinions.

The most prominent example of Palestinian criticism of suicide bombing was the June, 2002, full-page ad signed by more than 50 Palestinian public figures that ran in Al Quds, a leading Palestinian newspaper, a day after a suicide attack killed 19 people on a Jerusalem bus and hours before another such attack killed seven more Israelis at a bus stop. In the ad, the Palestinians urged the militant groups behind deadly assaults on Israeli civilians to “stop sending our young people to carry out such attacks. We see no results in such attacks, but a deepening of the hatred between both peoples and a deepening of the gap between us.”

The signatories included Hanan Ashrawi, a leading Palestinian spokeswoman and a legislator, and the Palestinians’ senior Jerusalem official, Sari Nusseibeh, along with other prominent figures. Although some Israeli observers complained that the ad seemed to imply that the suicide bombing actions were wrong only because of the damage they cause to the Palestinian international image and the prospects for Israeli-Palestinian dialogue, it should be noted that Dr. Nusseibeh has gone on record as opposing such acts due to their inherent immorality. In addition Abu Mazan, another prominent Palestinian leader, has publicly denounced the “militarization” of this most recent Palestinian uprising.

Suicide Bombings in Israel

Written by a political analyst and former member of the Peace Watch– a “watch-dog group” that monitored the implementation of the Oslo Accords–this article analyzes the phenomena of suicide bombing.

Perhaps the most frightening aspect of the suicide bomb attacks Israel has suffered, that reached their height during the Second Intifada is the banality and ease with which dozens of lives can be taken within seconds. The person committing the homicide can appear like any citizen–a 40 year old man, an 18 year old woman–sitting on a bus or about to enter a shopping mall. All the preparations needed on the part of the killer are strapping on an explosive belt, often packed with nails to make the injuries even more painful, underneath a shirt or trousers. A push of a button, and in a flash several pounds of explosives energy go off. For those in the vicinity, nothing will ever be the same.

The Lebanon Precedent

The use of suicide bombers in the Middle East actually began not as a Palestinian precedent but a Lebanese one, and indeed there are some observers who see its spread to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a part of a general shift of “tactics” learned from Lebanese experiences southward.

The most spectacular usage of a suicide bomb attack in Lebanon was the attack on the U.S. Marines barracks on October 23, 1983, masterminded by Imad Mughnia of the Hezbollah, a pioneer in the development of suicide bombs. The blast killed 241 Marines and led directly to the U.S. decision to withdraw its forces from Lebanon.

Rescue workers help after a suicide bomber destroyed a bus in Megido, Israel. Photo: Israel Sun

The fact that the U.S. forces could be forced to pull up stakes from an Arab country due to an attack by a local militia made a great impression in the Arab world. Despite this, however, the idea of using suicide bombers in Middle East conflicts seemed to go into remission up to the early 1990s, when the Palestinian Islamic Jihad organization began viewing suicide-bombing missions as a central weapon in its arsenal.

The Second Intifada Continues

This article, the second in a two-part series, examines the roots of the second Intifada and the implications for Palestinians and Israelis as of 2003 when the article was written. Click here for the first part of the series.

As the second Intifada progressed, it resembled the first Intifada less and less, taking on the characteristics of armed guerilla fighting, similar in some ways to the tactics adopted by Hezbollah in Lebanon during its fighting against Israeli forces. Some analysts believe that this was not a coincidence. 

The Lebanon Precedent

The Israel Defense Forces unilaterally withdrew from its positions in Lebanon in May 2000 after suffering years of bloody guerilla blows from Hezbollah. Some scholars have suggested that this was interpreted in most of the Arab world as a new precedent, the first time that the Israeli army was forced to concede defeat in the face of Arab military tenacity, and as proof that Israeli society was weakening in its resolve to accept casualties. Hezbollah fighters were considered heroes in Arab homes, and Palestinian militias invited Hezbollah experts to provide them with training in proven tactics against the Israel Defense Forces.

palestinian uprisingIn numerous interviews with journalists, Palestinian leaders have indicated that the Lebanon precedent sparked a hope among them that similar armed pressure on Israelis in the West Bank and Gaza Strip would lead to a demoralized Israeli withdrawal and dismantling of settlements, enabling the Palestinians to achieve more than they might in negotiations. For example, Marwan Barghouti–a high-ranking Fatah (Palestine Liberation Organization) official in the West Bank prior to his arrest by Israeli armed forces in April 2002–frequently told reporters that the Palestinians ought to continue the Intifada even if Palestinian-Israeli negotiations were to resume, stating that the only way to end the Intifada is for Israel to withdraw from the West Bank, just as it had from Lebanon.

Islamic Fundamentalism and September 11th

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