New Israeli initiative calls for a
referendum on the two-state solution
On Sept. 5, 2016, Shalom Achshav (Peace Now), in cooperation with other Israeli civil society organizations, launched an initiative demanding a referendum on the future of Israel’s rule over the West Bank and on peacewith the Palestinians. Called Decision at 50, the project coincides with the approach of the 50th anniversary of the 1967 war.
The referendum petition will collect signatures of Israeli citizens to demand a voice in deciding on the future of the Occupied Territories. Organizers say that until now this decision has been dictated by the settlers and their allies through a settlement enterprise aimed at making the occupation permanent. This enterprise has an immense impact on Israel’s national security and well being.
The Decision at 50 initiative was spearheaded by a coalition of organizations and individuals, including Peace Now, Blue and White Future, former security officials, former politicians, cultural figures, academics and social activists.
As part of the launch, movement leaders sent a letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu, in which they urged the referendum and requested a meeting with him.
The letter to Netanyahu notes that, in the five decades since Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, Israeli governments have established expansive and expensive facts on the ground in the West Bank and East Jerusalem in the form of settlements and related infrastructure that has siphoned off billions of taxpayer shekels.
This de-facto settlement agenda, as well as other practices expanding and deepening the occupation, were taken without any clear policy decision on the future of the Occupied Territories – neither annexation nor separation. “After fifty years, the time has come for us to make a decision in this matter and to clarify, to ourselves and to the world, where Israel is heading and what character we want it to have in the coming years,” the letter says.
Activists also hung signs outside of the homes of the Prime Minister and all party leaders. In addition, the movement has launched a media campaign calling on Israeli citizens to visit the Decision at 50 website, Facebook and Twitter accounts and sign the referendum petition.
Questions and Answers
The Decision at 50 English language website provides information on the referendum idea through a series of questions and answers. The following is a sampling. For the full list, and more information, visit LINK
Q. Why hold a referendum now?
A. Israel is at a crossroads. Fifty years of occupation have created rifts within Israeli society and tension between Israel and its allies. Our leadership’s indecisiveness is leading us to the point of no return. Fifty years is a symbolic date and should be used to muster public opinion to call for a referendum now in order to end the situation of non-decision and non-action.
Q. What is the question to be posed in the referendum?
A. Formulation of the question will be part of the public discussion during the campaign for the referendum, but, before that, the demand for a referendum must be adopted by the Knesset. We invite you to join our demand to hold a referendum in order to put pressure on Israeli decision-makers. We will then work jointly to formulate the question that will determine whether Israel’s vision includes one state between the river and the sea or a two state solution.
Q. The Knesset elections are the real referendum, and the Knesset is sovereign, so why by-pass it?
A. The Knesset is indeed the sovereign body in Israeli democracy. The public accords to it the power to make decisions, big and small, which determine the lives of all citizens and the future of the state. However, no Israeli government, and no Knesset, has had the courage to make the monumental decision regarding the Occupied Territories. A referendum will allow the public to declare its view on this most critical matter, and becomes the vehicle which forces government action.
Q. Why hold a referendum on this question specifically?
A. There has never been an issue in the history of Israel which so dramatically affects all aspects of life in the way that the Israeli rule over the Territories has had for the past 50 years. This issue is essential for the future of Israel in terms of security, economics, Israel’s position in the world, and morality.
Peace Now speaks out against new
land grab mechanism
Hebron’s central bus station in the 1980s
Peace Now has exposed plans by the Israeli government to allow construction of 28 new housing units for settlers in the heart of the predominantly Palestinian city of Hebron. The settler units would go on land seized in the 1980s by the Israeli military for stated security reasons and has been used as an army base since then. Israeli law prohibits civilian settlement of land expropriated for military needs. However, the government has found a way around this by changing the military status of part of the land – the part designated for settler housing. This, says Peace Now, is a clear example of the government bending the law to favour settlers.
The U.S. State Department has expressed “deep concern” over the plan. Spokesman Mark Toner said: “We strongly oppose all settlement activity, which is corrosive to the cause of peace. And we’ve said repeatedly that such moves are not consistent with Israel’s stated desire to achieve a two-state solution.”
The area as it looks today
Prior to the military seizure order, the land in question had been leased to the Hebron municipality under a protected lease agreement. It had been the site of Hebron’s old central bus station. Peace Now says that if the property is no longer required for security purposes the protected lease with Hebron must be honoured. A legal opinion from 2007 by one of the government’s own legal advisers says essentially the same.
Peace Now argues that the new settler housing is highly provocative in a city “where the daily reality of the occupation is the harshest and most disgraceful.” It calls on the government to cease this initiative and to “stop letting the most extreme settlers risk Israel’s future.”
The city of Hebron has a long history of tension between Arabs and Jews. That history includes the pogrom against Jewish residents of 1929, the contentious establishment of the Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba, disputes over rights to the Cave of the Patriarchs and Baruch Goldstein’s massacre of Palestinian worshippers at that site.
New settlement would add to encirclement of Bethlehem
The Israeli government has taken steps to establish a new settlement south of Bethlehem that would contribute to cutting off this Arab town from the rest of the West Bank. The site of the proposed new settlement, called Givat Eitam, is close to Efrat and would in effect become an expansion of this large, well-established settler enclave. Givat Eitam would initially be built on land owned by Himanuta, a subsidiary of the Jewish National Fund. The Ministry of Housing is preparing a plan for 800 housing units on this land. To make this project more feasible, the government is conducting surveys to appropriate land for a road that would connect Givat Eitam with Efrat.
Peace Now has publicized these plans and has petitioned the Israeli High Court to ensure more transparency and exposure of the project. The organization argues that the expansion of Jewish settlement south of Bethlehem would block the city’s development in almost the only direction that has not yet been blocked by other Israeli settlements or highways. It could also cut Bethlehem off from the southern West Bank. This would be a serious blow to the possibility of a two-state solution and the establishment of a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel.
“The government’s efforts to appropriate lands and connect Givat Eitam with the settlement of Efrat are another step on the way to a one-state reality.”Peace Now says. “It is unfortunate that the JNF, through its subsidiary Himanuta which purchases lands in the West Bank, is lending a hand to the hindering of Israel’s future.”
Two must-reads from The Forward
We recommend two excellent recent articles from The Forward (and there’s lots more great reading there besides.).
The first, dated Aug. 25, 2016, is by J.J. Goldberg, our speaker at upcoming events in Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa (see reminder notice). The title:Israelis and Palestinians Could Make Peace Tomorrow If Not for This Misperception. It’s an analysis of the latest public opinion polls of Israelis and Palestinian that ask about support for a two state solution. Read Here
The second, dated August 24, 2016, is by Jay Michaelson: If Israel’s Occupation is Permanent, Why Isn’t It the Same as Apartheid? This piece delves into the similarities and differences between the current state of affairs on the West Bank and the erstwhile apartheid regime in South Africa, drawing some troubling conclusions. Read Here
Peace Now speaks out against new
land grab mechanism
The Israeli government may create a new legal mechanism for maintaining outlawed settler outposts in the West Bank. Though designed to deal with one outpost, Amona, in the northern West Bank, the proposal could set a troubling precedent. Amona has been ruled illegal under Israeli law and slated for evacuation by the end of this year. A government committee has recommended that it be moved to adjacent private land, whose Palestinian owners reside outside the West Bank. Israeli law does not permit the confiscation or sale of such property. But the committee proposes leasing the land to the settlers for renewable three-year terms. The supposed temporary arrangement avoids the problem of the illegal sale of absentee property. Supposedly too, rental payments for the land would go into a fund the Palestinian absentee landowners would receive if they could prove ownership.
Peace Now in Israel is vehemently opposed to the proposed mechanism and warns it crosses a red line by violating private property rights in the Occupied Territories.
According to Peace Now such a move would “have dire consequences on a future peace agreement as it could lead to the establishment of dozens of new settlements and to the multiplying of the land taken up by settlements in the West Bank.”
“The Israeli government cannot justify the stealing of private lands of absentees only to please the demands of settlers who themselves stole private lands,” Peace Now states.
A Ha’aretz report says the Amona outpost was erected in 1997 on private land next to the settlement of Ofra. In 2006, evacuation of nine buildings led to a violent confrontation between security forces and settlers. The outpost has been at the heart of a legal struggle for the last eight years, after some of the Palestinian landowners went to court over their rights. In late 2014, the Supreme Court ordered Amona evacuated within two years.
Israel’s attorney general is currently considering the legal issues of the proposed Amona move. Peace Now has sent him a letter urging him not to accept the committee’s recommendations.
The bluff behind land takeovers as military necessity revealed
A document obtained by Peace Now reveals the big bluff behind the pretext of “military necessity” used since 1967 to seize Palestinian land, on which about one-third of the settlements were established. This method was used throughout the 1970s until it was banned by the Elon Moreh ruling in 1979. The uncovered summary from the Ministry of Defense discussion about the establishment of Kiryat Arba settlement reveals that when the system was invented, it was clear to the government and all concerned that this was a lie and deception, and that military necessity was only an excuse to take over land.
After the Elon Moreh verdict the “security needs” bluff was replaced by that of “declaration of state lands” used by subsequent Israeli governments to seize nearly a million dunam in the West Bank. But the aftermath of seizure for the so-called purpose of military necessity continues today in some settlements.
More Jewish housing in East Jerusalem on the way
Peace Now has protested the government issuance of 323 tenders for housing units in East Jerusalem. The organization says that the publication of these tenders, a day after demolitions of homes in Palestinian neighbourhoods is indicative of government policy.
“On the one hand the government does not allow for Palestinian construction, and on the other hand it promotes massive construction for Israelis. Since 1967 the Israeli government initiated and planned the construction of 55,000 units for Israelis in East Jerusalem, and at the same time planned and initiated only 700 units for Palestinians. The Netanyahu government decided to repudiate the Quartet report and to prove, yet again, that it has no intention to promote a peace agreement based on a two state solution.”
Meanwhile, according to Ha’aretz, Jerusalem’s City Hall is backing a plan, advanced by private developers to build thousands of new housing units in the East Jerusalem neigbourhood of Gilo.
The plan, currently in its initial stages, includes the construction of some 2,500 housing units in the area east of Gilo, near Rout 60, located at the southern part of the capital.
The plan, first reported by the Israeli outlet Walla News, covers an area of some 200 dunam (50 acres). Most of the designated land is under private ownership, and some 30 percent belongs to Palestinians who fled Israel in 1948.
REMINDER: J.J. GOLDBERG SEPTEMBER 13-15, 2016
Eminent journalist J.J. Goldberg will be speaking in Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa in mid-September.His topic:
Israel’s March to the Right (and why so many Israeli generals and spymasters morph into leftists)
Tour details: MORE INFORMATION TO FOLLOW
Toronto: Tuesday, September 13, 7:30pm
Holy Blossom Temple 1950 Bathurst St.
Montreal: Wednesday, September 14, 7:30pm
Temple Emanu-El-Beth Sholom, 4100 Sherbrooke St. W.
Ottawa: Thursday, September 15, 7:30 pm
Soloway Jewish Community Centre, 21 Nadolny Sachs Pr.
Hold the Date – J.J. Goldberg in mid-September
Seasoned journalist J.J. Goldberg will speak about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in three Canadian cities this September as guest of Canadian Friends of Peace Now. The dates are: September 13 in Toronto; September 14 in Montreal and September 15 in Ottawa. Precise topic to be announced.
Jonathan Jeremy “J.J.” Goldberg is one of the foremost American journalists covering Israel and the U.S. Jewish community today. He has had a long association with the prominent Jewish newspaper, The Forward, serving as Editor-in-chief from 2000-2007 and, currently, as Editor-at-large.
His journalistic career also includes serving as U.S. bureau chief of the Israeli news magazine Jerusalem Report, managing editor of The Jewish Week of New York, as a nationally syndicated columnist in Jewish weeklies, and as editor in chief of the Labor Zionist monthly Jewish Frontier.
He is the author of Jewish Power: Inside the American Jewish Establishment (1996), Builders and Dreamers (1993) and The Jewish Americans (1992).
An American born in New York City, Goldberg studied at McGill University, earning a B.A. in Jewish studies and Islamic studies, and at Columbia U., earning an M.A. in journalism. Before entering journalism, Goldberg lived and worked in Israel through much of the 1970s. He served as an education specialist at the World Zionist Organization and was a member of the founding Gar’in (settlement group) of Kibbutz Gezer, near Tel Aviv, where he served a term as the kibbutz secretary-general.
Settlement growth will not boost security
Canadian Friends of Peace Now deplores the recent deadly terrorist attacks in the West Bank, but calls on the Government of Israel to refrain from wrong-headed retaliations that only pour fuel on the fire.
On June 30, a Palestinian man stabbed to death a 13-year-old girl as she lay sleeping in her bed in the settlement of Kiryat Arba. The next day, a father of 10 from the settlement of Otniel was killed in a shooting attack near Hebron. Both killings come on the heels of a terrorist assault in early June on a Tel Aviv cafe in which four victims died and many others were injured.
There is no excuse for such brutal violence nor for those who incite it.
However, we must acknowledge that it is fed by the continued occupation, settlement expansion and the stalemate in Israeli-Palestinian relations. Rather than seek ways to further a two-state solution – ultimately the only real solution to the conflict – the Netanyahu government just promises more settlement growth. In the wake of the recent attacks, Prime Minister Netanyahu said: ” We will make a special effort to strengthen the communities (meaning West Bank settler communities).”
Apparently, as part of this promise, the government intends to re-open a tender for 42 housing units in Kiryat Arba, even though surveys show the number of residents in this provocative settlement near Hebron is decreasing. Also, Netanyahu and his Defense Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, have approved some 800 new housing units in the settlement town of Ma’ale Adumim and in Jewish neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem. (Under pressure from the Jerusalem District Court, Netanyahu and Lieberman also announced approval for 600 Arab units for the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Beit Safafa. This move was strongly criticized by other right-wing members of the Israeli cabinet.)
This is not the first time Netanyahu has used Palestinian violence as an excuse to bolster the settlement movement. Such actions only lead Israel deeper into a one-state reality in which friction between Israelis and Palestinians becomes ever more acute and bloody.
Quartet report slams settlements, Palestinian incitement
Both Israeli and Palestinian leaders came under criticism from a long-awaited report by the Middle East diplomatic quartet. The quartet, made up of the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations, was formed to push for progress in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The report said that settlements, demolition of Palestinian homes and Israeli confiscation of land were “steadily eroding the viability of the two-state solution…. This raises legitimate questions about Israel’s long-term intentions, which are compounded by the statements of some Israeli ministers that there should never be a Palestinian state.”
The report also called on Palestinian leaders to “consistently and clearly” condemn terrorist attacks and said the build-up and militant activities in Gaza must stop. The quartet said urgent affirmative steps needed to be taken to “prevent entrenching a one-state reality of perpetual occupation and conflict.”
New Knesset law “an attempt to silence us,” Peace Now says
Vows to fight the law in court
On July 11, despite strong criticism from both inside and outside the country, Israel’s parliament passed a controversial law that increases regulation of certain non-governmental organizations. The legislation requires NGOs that receive more than half their funding from foreign governments to state this in all their communications with public officials and with the media and on billboards and online. Representatives of these groups must also declare they depend on foreign contributions when dealing with parliamentary committees.
Defenders of the law say it is required to provide “transparency.” Critics point out that the law will primarily affect liberal-leaning organizations and is intended to stigmatize them in the public eye. There are only 27 organizations in Israel that get more than half their funding from foreign governments. Of these, 25 are human rights or peace organizations identified with the left. They are already required to report their foreign funding, but the new legislation imposes extra levels of bureaucracy and publicity.
In contrast, the law does not apply to NGOs receiving funds from private individuals or entities from abroad, which is how pro-settler and other hard right groups in Israel tend to get their money. They can accept millions from foreign magnates, Christian evangelicals and others, with little public accounting.
Right wing politicians had wanted the law to be even harsher than it is. Previous versions would have labelled the NGOs in question as foreign agents and would have heavily taxed their donations from foreign governments. A particularly contentious provision would have had representatives of these groups wear “badges of shame” — special identification tags during meetings with government or Knesset officials. After a deluge of protest, these provisions were killed in committee.
Nevertheless, many observers – and the groups affected – are calling the current law a violation of freedom of expression and a blow to democracy.
“Tailored specifically to target only peace and human rights organizations, its true intention is to divert the Israeli public discourse away from the occupation and to silence opposition to the government’s policies,” Peace Now said in a statement.
The organization vows to challenge the law’s validity before the Israeli Supreme Court.
Opposition Knesset members have compared the measure to authoritarian policies in Russia and Saudi Arabia. Many European parliamentarians have voiced grave concern over the law, and warned that it could undermine cooperation between Israel and Europe. The US State Department also expressed concern. State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters:
“We are deeply concerned that this law can have a chilling effect on the activities these worthwhile organizations are trying to do.”
Peace Now refuses to be silenced. Canadian Friends of Peace Now stands in solidarity with our sister organization in opposing this discriminatory law. Help us support Peace Now by donating today.*
* CFPN donations fund educational activities in Canada and in Israel.
Avi Buskila Named New Director of Israel’s Peace Now
On April 3, 2016, Israel’s Peace Now movement announced the hiring of Avi Buskila, a seasoned social activist and an advertising and public affairs professional, as Peace Now‘s new Director General. He is replacing Yariv Oppenheimer, who has been the leader of Peace Now and the most recognizable public face of Israel’s peace camp in the past 14 years.
In its statement Peace Now wrote:
“After 14 years of acting as General Director, Yariv Oppenheimer has decided to step down from his position in order to pursue new challenges. Yariv, one of the bravest, sharpest and most talented individuals in the Israeli peace camp, will soon be joining Peace Now‘s Board of Directors, and we are happy to have him continue to contribute to our important cause.
We are also happy and excited to welcome Avi Buskila, who will enter the General Director‘s position in the coming weeks.
In recent years, Avi has worked in advertising and was the CEO of the advertising agency Migzarim. He is an IDF reserves lieutenant, a leading social activist and one of the initiators of the struggle against discrimination of LGBT individuals in the Israeli army.
We would like to take this opportunity to wish, from the bottom of our hearts, the best of luck to both Yariv and Avi in their new paths. We look forward to continuing our important struggle together for two states and for the future of Israel.”
A recent Ha’aretz article notes that Buskila first came to public attention in January 1997 when, as a lieutenant in the IDF, he stopped a soldier from shooting indiscriminately at Palestinians in a Hebron marketplace. Benjamin Netanyahu, then serving his first term as prime minister of Israel, praised Buskila’s action. The handshake between them made the cover of the NewYork Times.
Though he was once a Netanyahu supporter, Buskila became disillusioned over the past two decades. In a Facebook post that went viral last December, he sharply criticized the prime minister for seeking “to solidify one-man rule” and for “permitting incitement and baseless hatred.”
Commenting on his Peace Now appointment on April 3, 2016, Buskila wrote:
“when I’m asked why I choose to take action instead of giving in, my reply is that I have no other country.”