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Facts and Logic About
the Middle East
P.O. Box 590359
San Francisco, CA 94159
(415) 356-7801


May 25, 2010

What's likely to come of the latest U.S.-brokered "proximity talks" between Israel and the Palestinians? (Not much.)

Dear Friend of FLAME:

Before I jump into the disaster that is the current Israeli-Palestinian-U.S. peace talk engagement, let's take a moment to celebrate a major victory for Israel.

Last week the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) admitted the Jewish state to this exclusive club of 31 developed nations.  Despite Israel's superiority as an economic power and despite at least 20 years of lobbying for membership, we have watched lesser economic forces, such as Turkey and the Czech Republic, gain eager acceptance.

While membership in the OECD will bring few concrete benefits to Israel, the symbolism of the move is huge.  As commentator Sever Plocker wrote in, "The confirmation of Israel's membership in OECD indicates that the developed world recognizes the fact that we are an industrial, advanced country; a democratic and competitive state that shares the basic values of the wealthy west. . . This isn't about economics, it's about history."

On the other hand, the ill-fated, U.S.-brokered "proximity talks" between Israel and the Palestinians have begun under George Mitchell's watchful eye. It is commentary enough on President Obama's lackluster results in the Middle East that after decades of face-to-face negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, these peace talks have devolved into the U.S. shuttling proposals between parties camped in separate locations.

Some might wonder why the U.S.---to say nothing of Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas---have committed to a format so unlikely to advance Middle East peace.  This week's FLAME Hotline, by Yossi Alpher, lays out the answers succinctly.

In short, don't get high hopes for substantive progress during these talks.  Nonetheless, Israel certainly has much to gain from participating---even if nothing more than time to assuage the U.S. and Western Europe.  Let's hope Netanyahu is successful in buying it cheaply, while at the same time losing no figurative or actual ground due to pressure from an increasingly impatient Barack Obama.


Jim Sinkinson
Director, FLAME


As you'll read below, the Palestinians will likely continue futilely insisting on the so-called "right of return" of ancestors of Arabs who left Israel after Israel's 1948 war of independence.  Never, however, do the Arabs acknowledge the plight of, let alone responsibility for, an equal number of Jews who were driven from Arab nations.  FLAME's most recent hasbarah (clarifying message) on this subject balances the scales: "The Forgotten Refugees: Why does nobody care about the Jewish refugees from Arab lands?" This piece is now being published in newspapers and magazines with more than 5 million circulation, including college campus newspapers. I hope you'll review this message and pass it on to friends. If you agree that FLAME's outspoken brand of public relations on Israel's behalf is critical, I urge you to support us. I hope you'll consider giving a donation now, as you're able---with $500, $250, $100, or even $18. (Remember, your donation to FLAME is tax deductible.) To donate online, just go to Now more than ever we need your support to ensure that Israel gets the support it needs---from the U.S. Congress, from President Obama, and from the American people.

Proximity talks: Just plain lucky
What Israel, the Palestinians and the U.S. can expect from the latest round of negotiations
by Yossi Alpher, May 11, 2010,

  • The Israeli-Palestinian proximity talks beginning now will almost certainly end in failure. There is little room for optimism regarding these talks or any other form of peace process that brings together the political camps of PM Binyamin Netanyahu and President Mahmoud Abbas. The gap between the core beliefs of Netanyahu and Abbas is simply too wide. The former wants to hold on to "united Jerusalem" and the Jordan Valley and is bound by his right-wing coalition to an even more demanding territorial concept, if not to effective neutralization of the two-state concept. His settler allies are sure to look for opportunities to sabotage the talks. Netanyahu himself is building up an "incitement" file with which to batter the Palestinians, even as Israel's own problem of incitement against Palestinians grows under a reactionary government.
  • For his part, Abbas insists on the right of return and exclusive Arab control over the Temple Mount in Jerusalem--both inevitably deal-breakers. And between his own Fateh hawks and Hamas, Abbas is constrained even further.
  • To his credit, Netanyahu prefers direct negotiations. It is Abbas who appears to fear face-to-face meetings that might, when they fail, compromise his standing in the eyes of his extremists, and who has linked even his agreement to a mere four months of proximity talks to Arab League approval. Here we have not one but three steps backward for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process: indirect rather than direct talks, an Arab veto and a short time limit.
  • Netanyahu needs these negotiations more than Abbas, and he needs them to last as long as possible. Israel now confronts an active school of thought within the American military that blames the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate for US military difficulties in Iraq and Afghanistan and for Iranian and Hizballah propaganda successes in the Arab world. To the extent Israel is held to blame for the stalemate--Abbas, who should be sharing the blame, seemingly gets a pass from his fellow Muslims--it is sustaining serious damage to its image in the halls of power in Washington. The new peace process, however problematic and partial, helps mitigate that damage by enabling US generals in the field to point to at least a temporary US success in cultivating Arab- Israel peace.
  • In the Netanyahu government, only Defense Minister Ehud Barak appears to understand the gravity of this new linkage equation. Netanyahu thinks everything is fine with America because American Jews still support Israel. Hence he is just plain lucky to have these proximity talks. Under these circumstances, he is not likely to recognize the urgent need to reorganize his coalition and replace right-wingers with centrists.
  • The advent of proximity talks follows some 15 months of mediation mistakes by the US. Yet the only mitigating factors in this otherwise bleak picture appear to be President Barack Obama's commitment and the determination of his peace emissary, George Mitchell. If Obama is indeed readying his own final status proposal and/or an international peace conference for the day the failure of these talks can no longer be denied, he should direct his attention away from the looming Netanyahu- Abbas failure --a wise mediator will not step into that huge gap with "bridging" proposals--and toward the only success story in town: the Palestinian Authority's bottom- up state-building program in the West Bank.
  • American efforts should focus not only on the hapless task of squeezing success out of doomed proximity talks, but on the inevitable political endgame suggested by the Palestinians' successful state-building effort: international recognition of their state followed by a concerted effort to focus Israeli-Palestinian negotiations on the issues of inter-state borders and security, including in Jerusalem.

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