Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Einat Wilf on the Impasse

Einat Wilf is a native-born Israeli who was a former MK, a member of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Chair of the Education, Sports and Culture Committee and Chair of the Knesset Committee on Israel and the Jewish.people. She has a BA from Harvard in Government and Fine Arts and a PhD from Cambridge University in political science. She is the author of three books on politics and society in Israel. She is currently a Senior Fellow with the Jewish People Policy Institute in Jerusalem. She is a very articulate speaker and spoke at Netanya AACI on the topic "How to break the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse."

She spoke eloquently about the Israel-Palestinian conflict. She said that she used to believe that the conflict is about the fair division of land and other resources and therefore could be resolved through rational negotiations for the partition of these resources. But the reality of the second intifada caused her and many other Israelis to realize that the conflict was existential - that is, not about the size of Israel, but rather about it's very existence. If the Palestinians wanted to build a state, as the Zionists did, accepting anything that was offered to them, more than preventing the Jewish people from having their own state, then there might be a chance for peace. But until then it is a vain hope (1)

I would categorize her as "a conservative who was a liberal who has been mugged by reality." She realized that the Palestinians cannot acknowledge the equal legitimacy of the Jewish State and that until they can overcome this denial, no solution can be found. Although she continues to support the idea of partition of the land as a basis for resolution of the conflict, she is deeply skeptical that at this time in history this would bring about peace (2).

Einat does not expect that the current negotiations will end in any kind of useful agreement, but reiterated that even if the likelihood of peace in the near future is very low there is a responsibility of decision makers to try to make a future agreement easier rather than harder. In this context, she pointed out that UNRWA - the UN Relief and Works Agency, perpetuates the conflict by automatically defining all descendants of Palestinian refugees as refugees themselves, a situation without parallel in other conflicts. This exaggerates the problem from only a few tens of thousand of still surviving actual refugees to five million, thus preventing a solution. It is this UNRWA figure, that includes up to a fifth generation, that most of the world accepts, whereas in reality a refugee is one who has left his/her country either voluntarily or under duress, NOT including their descendants. Thus the so-called "refugee problem" could easily be resolved by Israel accepting the remaining true refugees, but not their descendants. This is a bureaucratic decision by UNRWA of automatically defining descendants of refugees as refugees themselves and has no proper parallel in other conflicts and refugee situations. It could be easily overturned, if there was enough pressure to do so, such as by the US Congress, since the US supplies 25% of UNRWA's one billion $ funding (3).

Also, Palestinians who live in the West Bank and Gaza and even in Jordan are still inside historic Palestine and therefore cannot be defined as refugees, and Palestinians who live in Jordan were given Jordanian citizenship and therefore also cannot qualify as refugees. Further, the middle class Palestinians who live in villas in Ramallah and other PA cities are still supplied services by UNRWA as if they were starving in refugee camps. This is all a tremendous shell game, an intricate facade to trick the world into believing that the Palestinian refugees constitute a terrible international humanitarian problem (3).

Einat was attending a conference in London recently with other speakers, including former British Foreign Secty Jack Straw. She prepared her remarks to counter what she expected would be the most extreme anti-Israel views from the Palestinian spokesman, but in fact Jack Straw drew the most attention for his controversial remarks. He denounced Israel for its intransigence over the settlements, he stated that Jewish organizations and AIPAC in the US enjoy "unlimited funds" that divert US Government policy to prevent pressure on Israel and the Germans were preventing the EU from formulating one policy to pressure Israel due to its "obsession" with Israel. When it was later pointed out to him that these remarks drew on classic anti-Semitic prejudices, Jack Straw dismissed the charges (4).

Einat affirmed that western critics of Israel fail to have a truly coherent policy when it comes to promoting the solution of two states for two peoples. They pressure Israel on settlements but do nothing on the matter of the inflation of the number of refugees. They refuse to move embassies to West Jerusalem based on the 1947 partition recommendation, but treat east Jerusalem as belonging to Palestinians based on the post-1967 situation (5). She also said that when it comes to the West Bank and occupation, there is a case to be made that Israel has serious claims to at least part of it (6).

Einat discussed the matter of Israel's war of ideas and the importance of words and terms used in this war. She explained that this is the reason she highlights the true nature of those called "refugees." She noted that for several decades Israel has neglected the war of ideas and she called for putting substantial financial and human resources into winning this war (7).
(1) Al-Monitor http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2013/08/palestinians-accept-existence-jewish-state.html
(2) "For the Palestinians Sake" http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Op-Ed-Contributors/For-the-Palestinians-sake
(3) "UNRWA as an obstacle to peace" http://www.fathomjournal.org/policy-politics/the-united-nations-relief-and-works-agency-an-obstacle-to-peace/
(4) Read her response to his remarks on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/einat.wilf/posts/425292810906014
(5) On the matter of Jerusalem see http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-debate/bairds-visit-to-east-jerusalem-was-no-provocation-it-was-brave/article11259812/
(6) Daniel Reisner interview, http://m.nrg.co.il/online/1/ART2/517/496.html?hp=1&cat=404&loc=10
(7) http://www.wilf.org/English/2013/10/17/reporting-front-einat-wilf-self-appointed-ambassador-israel/


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