Drafted by Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed, Department of International Relations, University of Sussex
For immediate release 28 july 006
The Omega Institute (OI), which works closely with the Institute for Policy Research for Development (IPRD), has learned from Israeli and Palestinian sources that just prior to the current crisis, senior Hamas leaders were in active dialogue with Israeli religious leaders in a round of bilateral peace negotiations. Israeli negotiators included Rabbi Menachem Froman, former deputy leader and co-founder of the Israeli Settler movement Gush Khatif; Rabbi David Bigman, head of the liberal religious Kibbutz movement Yeshiva at Ma’ale Gilboa; and Yitzhak Frankenthal, founder of the Arik Institute. Ongoing negotiations had resulted in a breakthrough peace "understanding", which was to be announced at a press conference in Jerusalem to mark the launching of an extraordinary peace initiative. Israeli Prime Minister Olmert had been briefed extensively about the initiative by Frankenthal. Also due to attend the conference were Khaled Abu Arafa, the Palestinian Cabinet Minister for Jerusalem, Sheikh Muhamed Abu Tir, senior Hamas Member of the Palestinian Parliament, and other senior Palestinian delegates.
The meeting was to announce a joint Israeli-Palestinian call for the release of Corporal Gilad Shalit who had been abducted by Hamas in Gaza, along with proposals for the beginning of the release of all Palestinian prisoners. These measures were to precipitate unprecedented new peace negotiations on a framework peace agreement, drawn on the 1967 borders. The presence of Palestinian Cabinet Officers and senior Israeli religious leaders in contact with the Prime Minster was to underline the seriousness of this peace proposal on both sides.
Just hours before the meeting was due to start, the Israeli Shin Bet internal Security Service arrested Abu Tir and Abu Arafa and warned them not to attend the meeting, under threats of detention. The meeting, which offered a major opportunity to obtain Shalit’s release and launch a new framework for peace, was thrown into disarray. The next day, the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) invaded Gaza, and the day after both Abu Tir and Abu Arafa were abducted by Israeli forces, along with a third of the Palestinian Cabinet, provoking a predictable escalation of violence.
Israel simultaneously began conducting covert incursions on to Lebanese territory, provoking Hizbollah’s capture of two IDF soldiers. Credible sources confirm that the soldiers were not abducted on Israeli territory, but inside Lebanon. Like the scuppered peace negotiations, Western officials have ignored this, and misinformed the media. However, some reports corroborate the sources. Israeli officials, for instance, informed Forbes (12.7.06) that "Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers during clashes Wednesday across the border in southern Lebanon, prompting a swift reaction from Israel."
"The revelations show that Palestinian and Lebanese actors were not principally responsible for the escalation of the current conflict", said OI Director Graham Ennis. "Contrary to the misinformation disseminated by the Whitehouse and Whitehall, Israel vetoed unprecedented peace proposals that would have initiated a promising new framework for serious negotiations, and went on to provoke Palestinian and Lebanese groups into retaliations, that now threaten to escalate into a dangerous regional conflict."
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Notes for Editors:
Full details and background information are annexed below in a memorandum by Graham Ennis, Director of the Omega Institute in Brighton, UK. It includes some relevant contacts for further verification. This memo was originally forwarded to Donald Macintyre at The Independent.
1: Rabbi Menachem Froman is the former deputy leader, and co-founder, of the extremist Messianic Israeli Settler movement " Gush Khatif", but he left the movement after the massacre in Hebron of Palestinians by the Israeli terrorist Baruch Goldstein. He now lives in the West Bank Samarian settlement of Tekoa, where he works as a Rabbi, and has been long engaged in Muslim-Jewish dialogue activities. Froman himself has a typical Israeli political background. His Uncle was murdered in the 1930's by Ezzedine Al Qassam, a militant Cleric whose name was used by Hama’s for it’s armed wing. Froman has a track record. He was a principal negotiator in the release from prison of the Hama’s spiritual leader, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. As a result of discussions with Froman, Yassin subsequently offered a ease-fire, which Yassin withdrew, after the offer was spurned by the israeli Government. He now works closely with Rabbi David Bigman, head of the Liberal religious Kibbutz movement’s Yeshiva at Ma’ale Gilboa. They in turn are connected to Yitzhak Frankenthal, founder of the Arik Institute, who is also involved in religious and political dialog with Palestinians. Frankanthal has an unusual background. His son Arik was murdered by Hama’s operatives whilst hitch-hiking in July 1994. Instead of sinking into bitterness, Frankanthal has become a major force in Israel in the peace movement.
The significance of all this is that Frankanthal has developed deep contacts with Palestinians. He was rapidly able to confirm, after Corporal Gilad Shalit was abducted in Gaza by Hama’s, that he was only lightly wounded and still alive, as a Hama’s prisoner. Frankenthal became concerned that the abduction would destroy the opportunity that had arisen, after the agreement between Fatah and Hama’s prisoners in Israeli jails, to negotiate peace with Israel, which was then underway. Hama’s had made public its agreement to negotiations. After Shalit’s abduction, and the Israeli incursion into Gaza, this peace process has collapsed.
What is not publicly known, however, is that these bi-lateral peace negotiations between Jewish and Palestinian religious activists had gone further than is believed. After Shalit’s abduction, Frankanthal and the other Israeli peace workers had kept up a close and continuous dialog with senior Hama’s leaders. On at least one occasion, Frankanthal had given a detailed briefing to an aide of the Israeli Prime Minister Olmert, who was demanding Shalit’s return.
All these negotiations had resulted in a remarkable secret "understanding", as a result of which, the day before the Israeli incursion into Gaza, there was to have been a major press conference in Jerusalem. At the press meeting, there would have been an extraordinary peace initiative launched. Attending the conference would have been not only Israeli’s like Frankanthal, Froman, Bigman, etc, but, more remarkably, The Palestinian Cabinet Minister for Jerusalem Khaled Abu Arafa, and the senior Hama’s Member of the Palestinian Parliament, Sheikh Muhamed Abu Tir. The meeting was also supported by Sheikh Ibrahim Sarsour, Chairman of the Islamic Movement in the occupied territories.
The meeting would have issued a joint call for the release of Shalit, implicitly backed by the Palestinian Cabinet, due to the authorized presence of the Cabinet Officer, Abu Arafa. Also, this would have formed part of a call for this to be the beginning of the release of all Palestinian prisoners, as part of an immediate start to peace negotiations on a framework peace agreement, based on the joint agreement of the Hama’s/Fatah prisoners, drawn on the 1967 borders. The presence of Palestinian Cabinet Officers would have underlined the seriousness of this peace proposal.
However, what actually happened was that just hours before the meeting was due to start, the Israeli Shin Bet internal Security Service arrested Abu Tir and Abu Arafa and warned them not to attend the meeting, under threats of detention. This threw the meeting, which would have been a major opportunity to obtain Shalit’s release, into complete disorder. The organizers were forced to franticly contact other Rabbis, already on the road to Jerusalem, and tell them not to appear.
The next day, the Israeli Army invaded Gaza. The day after that, Abu Tir and Abu Arafa were kidnapped by Israeli forces, along with a third of he Palestinian Cabinet. Israel revoked the two men’s citizenship, making them stateless, and also removed their residency rights in Jerusalem. The subsequent escalation of violence, which also spread to Lebanon, resulted, in part, from the failure of the peace agreement that had been about to be announced, together with calls for the release of Shalit, which had been strongly "Signalled" by the Palestinians. The intervention of Shin Bet almost certainly aborted a planned release of Shalit, and a powerful appeal for peace negotiations to start. The role, in all this, of Palestinian leader Abbas, which has been extensive, will one day be revealed, and written up, by Historians of this huge calamity. That is, if there is still a history, and historians, and a future, as the whole Middle East faces something that Robert Fisk memorably denounced as "Not Dunkirk, but Munich." Or is it once again, 92 years after that fateful European Summer, time for another, terrible, "Guns of August".
NB: Useful contacts:
* Arthur Neslan, Tel Aviv. (significant Israeli writer, and journalist, writes also in English.)
* Palestinian leader Mahmoud Al-Zahar.
* Ted Belman, Israel National Radio.