Archive for July, 2007

Gershon Baskin: neo-Zionist or paleo-leftist?

Tuesday, July 31st, 2007

Neo-Zionist Gershon BaskinGershon Baskin calls himself a neo-Zionist. But what he writes shows that he is an old fashioned leftist who hasn’t learned anything from recent history. His essay is full of false dichotomies, missed points, blurred distinctions, fuzzy generalizations, straw men, and has a generally patronizing tone that I find repugnant.

He writes,

The debate will come down to a divide between those who’s [sic] minds are focused on the past, roots and traditions versus those who are searching for a new future which uses the past, roots and traditions as a link to the future but not as shackles to it…

There is no other way. As a neo-Zionist I am more concerned with the Jewish future than the Jewish past, and as such I recognize that we must come forth from the passages of Torah into the reality of the 21st century Middle East, and make the necessary concessions now so that our neighbors can live with the same collective and national dignity that we demand for ourselves.

In the Jewish fight over the Land of Israel it is the battle for Jewish survival between the so-called Zionists – the settlers and their supporters and those like me, the neo-Zionist, the majority of Israelis who are not blinded by a messianic dream and believe that in the ultimate balance of values, peace with our neighbors outweighs peace with our past…

When the peace process gets underway and we will once again be forced to deal with the territorial issue, we will have to choose between settlements and peace. The only decision, for those of us more concerned with our future than our past will be for peace.

Settlements or peace. Either you are for peace with our neighbors, or you are against it, blinded by a “messianic dream”. It’s a battle between bearded, Torah-waving fanatics and clear-headed secular Neo-Zionists.

There’s no room for anything in between. In particular, there’s no room for anyone who thinks that perhaps our neighbors would not grant us peace in return for a withdrawal to the Green Line. Baskin ignores that the fact that the Palestinians responded to partition plans in 1938, 1948 and 2000-1 by making war, and that they greeted Israeli withdrawals from South Lebanon and Gaza with rocket attacks.

Those among us who continue to advocate the Jewish settlement of the Land of Israel beyond the Green Line are in fact guilty of leading the Zionist enterprise toward its end. The settlement project in the West Bank is nothing less than an act of national suicide. The most significant and dangerous obstacle in our ability to reconcile peace with our neighbors is the continuation of the adherence to the archaic modes of our yearnings for Zion expressed by settling the hilltops surrounding Palestinian towns, villages and cities that turn the lives of the Palestinians into a daily hell.

Funny, it would seem to me that the “most significant and dangerous obstacle[s]” to peace today are called Hamas and Hezbollah. After all, they want to kill Israelis and destroy the state. And where is a “daily hell” to be found if not in Sderot?

Baskin denounces the “settlement project”, but he doesn’t explain what a settlement is and why the Green Line (more or less the 1948 cease-fire line) is so important. Are settlements in Gush Etzion, which was in Jewish hands before the war of independence, part of it? What about the parts of Jerusalem which were ethnically cleansed of Jews by the Jordanians in 1948? Should Israel return to a border that was 9 miles wide at one point?

His ability for delusional interpretation of history is remarkable:

Even Ehud Barak who went further than any Israeli leader before him in negotiations with the Palestinians, destroyed the very process that he wanted to conclude by his misguided continuation of an accelerated settlement program.

Ehud Barak destroyed the process? Had Arafat accepted Barak’s final proposal, something like 97% of the West Bank would have been in Palestinian hands. But Arafat didn’t accept it, just like the Arabs in 1938 and 1948 didn’t accept partition.

Baskin’s arrogance and supercilious tone, especially toward religious Jews, is incredible:

Neo-Zionism concerns itself with the people of Israel inside the State of Israel. When settlers come home we must concern ourselves with ensuring that they feel at home, that they have a place within society. The secular Left in Israel feels detached, to a large extent from the Jewishness of Israel which is perhaps why it is so difficult for them to feel empathy toward the suffering of the settlers who left Gaza. [my emphasis]

Gershon Baskin, unfortunately, is not the only one who speaks and writes like this. If the rest of us have learned anything in the past 20 years or so, it’s that the problem is not that Israel isn’t prepared to pay a significant price for peace.

The problem is that the Arab world (and it’s impossible to talk about the Palestinians by themselves) are not offering it — at any price.

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Camel dung and Arab media

Tuesday, July 31st, 2007

One of the most effective propaganda techniques around is to keep repeating the most extreme exaggerations and outrageous falsehoods imaginable about your enemy; the reader applies a reasonable discount and assumes that maybe 25% of what you say is true. Of course, the real percentage is close to zero.

This works especially well if your enemy is more or less truthful. Then the reader is inclined to split the difference, and believes 50% of your rubbish.

Ami Isseroff has written a colorful description of much of the Arab media, with examples:

I am tired of being inundated with the flood of intellectual effluvia that spews forth from the sewers of official Arab world publications. These concoctions often have what can be politely described as “authentic Middle Eastern flavor.” Middle Eastern food is famously redolent of savory flavors and exquisite odors: mint and sesame, hel and kusbarah, garlic and onion, the smoke of open fires, and occasionally, though less discussed in polite company, camel and donkey excrement and similar odors…

The flavor and aroma of Middle Eastern journalism, too often tends in the direction of the camel dung, bad sanitation, rotten eggs and spoiled meat of racism and xenophobia, rather than the kusbarah and hel and fresh ground Turkish coffee of original and imaginative thought.

Read the article and note the examples. We can laugh at the crazy rantings that pass for ‘news’ and ‘analysis’ in the Arab world, but the fact is that it is highly effective, especially with people who read only Arabic (or who are illiterate and learn their facts from TV and radio). In that case, the believability factor is not 25% or 50% but approaches 100%.

It can be argued that this phenomenon — much more than differences in the concrete interests of the parties — is a major motivator of terrorism, and perhaps even the single most important factor preventing real peace settlements between Israel, the Palestinians, and the Arab nations.

If you want to know who desires peace and who doesn’t, just ask “who sponsors the incitement”?

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The Los Angeles Times and its Naivete of Bias

Monday, July 30th, 2007

The truly execrable Los Angeles Times is at it again. Contributor Barry Rubin responds to a recent editorial.

By Barry Rubin

Editorial in the Los Angeles Times, July 27:

History is continually being revised. Although written first by the victors, over time the voices of the defeated and disregarded demand inclusion. China and Korea insist that Japan acknowledge wartime atrocities; Native Americans, that their 4,000-year history become a part of this country’s founding narrative; and women, that their deeds get equal scrutiny with those of men.

Whether most Palestinians fled their homes voluntarily or through coercion and force, and whether they have a right to return, will likely be argued until the end of time. But that thousands did flee and have spent subsequent decades living in refugee camps — the United Nations says that descendants have swelled the number of refugees to 4 million today — is not at issue. Why not teach that truth?

By amending history textbooks for Arab children, Israel has acknowledged the validity of the Nakba. And if it’s valid for Arabs, it should be valid for Jews as well.

What is really amazing about something like this is that those writing it don’t have the least consciousness of the fact that in Arab and Palestinian media, books, politics, etc., nothing that Israelis and Jews say, feel, or have experienced is acknowledged in any way. In other words, they and others demand that Israel be completely balanced — and criticize anything that appears not to be — while not demanding anything of the other side. I might add that I am not opposed to a passage being put in Israeli textbooks saying that the Arabs consider the creation of Israel a disaster for themselves.

But for the Los Angeles Times, one might expect some minimal attempt at balance, even if only to protect those writing it from well-grounded accusations of bias or stupidity. Something along the lines of: And Palestinian textbooks and media should also be revised. Yet in this seven-paragraph-long editorial there is no mention of how the Arab world deals with Israel or Jews. And if one points out how ridiculously imbalanced what they are doing is, those parts of the media and Western intellectuals who say such things would either be startled or dismissive.

Let’s assume that Israel’s coverage of the Arab/Palestinian world view is just barely passing. That would make the score 80 for Israel and 0 for its enemies.

But there is still more ignorance here. First, every Israeli knows about how the Palestinians view the situation. Palestinians, both leaders, and average people, are constantly quoted. The observance of Nakba Day, a recently created Palestinian commemoration mourning Israel’s creation, is widely covered in the Israeli media. When a long series on Israeli history was televised about two years ago this point was included.

But the opposite does not apply. Any survey of the Palestinian media–and that includes the television and newspapers controlled by the Palestinian Authority–will rarely if ever find any examples of empathy or even honesty about Israel, its people, or its history. MEMRI, Palestinian Media Watch, and the U.S. government’s Foreign Broadcast Information Service, can and have supplied huge numbers of examples of this situation.

While there is some debate over exactly what current Palestinian textbooks contain–whether they reject Israel’s existence altogether–there is certainly nothing that says, for example, “The Zionists felt a strong connection with their ancient land and argued that reestablishing a state there was necessary for their people’s survival and well-being.” The book could then go on to explain why Palestinians rejected this idea. Palestinians and Arabs in general are taught by every source — sermons, government statements, textbooks, etc. — that Israel is evil and illegitimate. The great majority of the time, the few statements that contradict these claims are discouraged, censored, or punished.

In general in the Arab world, Israel and Israelis are presented as monstrous murderers. In the Israeli media — tv, radio, and the four main daily newspapers–the presentation of the Palestinians is not that much different from what appears in the American media. There is considerable sympathy for their plight coupled with exposure and scathing criticism of any action that Israel’s government or army commits that is deemed illegal or immoral. Soldiers who kill or injure civilians are punished or put on trial. On the Palestinian side, no one has ever been punished for terrorist acts against Israeli civilians (at most, they are convicted of staging attacks at the wrong time, and even these people are quickly and quietly released).

How then can such nonsense appear in elite American newspapers, so totally one-sided, demanding perfection from Israel and nothing from the other side? Clearly this must be an example of a philosophical standpoint which is distorting the truth and greatly damaging — I am tempted to write the words, “possibly helping to destroy” — the cause of truth-seeking, democracy, and freedom in the world. The roots and effects of that world view, which applies nowadays to far more than Israel, need to be explored and combated.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, Interdisciplinary Center (IDC), editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs, and author of the recently published The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan).

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Why won’t the US sell Israel the F-22?

Sunday, July 29th, 2007

Israeli officials were recently upset to learn that the US plans to sell laser-guided JDAM devices (to convert ordinary munitions into ‘smart bombs’) to Saudi Arabia. In addition to the risk of the Saudi air force joining in a regional war against Israel, there is no way to prevent the transfer of these kits to other nations. The US, of course, will go ahead with the sale despite Israeli opposition.

But something else mentioned in the same article was, to me, more worrisome:

Last month, Defense Ministry Diplomatic-Military Bureau head Amos Gilad and Maj.-Gen. Ido Nehushtan, head of the IDF Planning Directorate, met with senior Pentagon officials in Washington to discuss the proposed deal and to see if it could be changed in Israel’s favor.

According to senior officials, the Israeli delegation walked away from the talks disappointed and dissatisfied. An Israeli request to acquire the F-22 [Raptor] stealth bomber – a plane that can avoid radar detection – in order to retain its qualitative edge was also turned down, the officials said.

“We were told that the plane’s sale was currently off the table,” another official said. “It does not look like that will change under this administration.” (my emphasis)

F-22 RaptorsThe US has always promised — and continues to promise — that it will maintain Israel’s qualitative military superiority in the region. And especially with Iran receiving advanced weapons and aircraft from Russia, this is more important than ever.

So why does the US not wish to sell F-22’s to Israel? Surely it must be hard to turn down orders for a plane that may cost from $100-$300 million each.

The official reason is that the US considers the possible benefits (political, military, financial) of selling weapons using advanced technology against the various negatives, especially including the possibility that the technology may find its way into the hands of enemies (the Pentagon worries a lot about future conflict with China and perhaps Russia):

Applied to the F-22, this framework yields insights regarding its exportability. First, it indicates that a limited F-22 export to America’s closest allies— Australia, Great Britain, and Canada—is reasonable. Second, an expanded export to other close allies may also be within the realm of possibility, but will ultimately depend on the level of technology protection built into the export variant. — Matthew H. Molloy, Lt Col, USAF: U.S. Military Aircraft for Sale: Crafting an F-22 Export Policy (my emphasis)

By ‘technology protection’, they mean in part limitations on access to internal software or firmware; so the buyer can fly the aircraft and use its systems, but he can’t (theoretically) determine how it works or duplicate it.

But there are also political factors in play. And this is what bothers me. The range and stealth capabilities of the F-22 make it exactly what Israel would need in the event of a conflict with Iran — or indeed any regional conflict.

It’s not outrageous to speculate that some entities with which the US has a close relationship would prefer a weaker Israel. Saudi Arabia, for example, has a great deal of influence on the administration.

How about entities with which the US does not have a close relationship, but wishes to influence concerning Iraq? Even Iran has leverage in this context. And finally, we can’t forget the circles within the US government (e.g. the State Department) which want a more pliant Israel – which means one with less deterrent capability.

Anti-Israel voices make a big deal about not trusting Israel to keep the technology safe (“might as well fly it to China”, says one), but these aircraft are built in export versions precisely to provide ‘technology protection’.

I’m afraid that the reason is political, not technical.

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Jews blamed for Darfur; refugees crossing into Israel

Sunday, July 29th, 2007

With really remarkable chutzpah, the racist and antisemitic government of Sudan is claiming that the Jews are responsible for Sudan’s genocidal activities in Darfur:

Sudan’s defense minister, Abdel Rahim Mohamed Hussein, has accused “24 Jewish organizations” of “fueling the conflict in Darfur” last week in an interview with a Saudi newspaper…

A journalist from Saudi Arabia’s Okaz newspaper asked Hussein: “Some people are talking about the penetration of Jewish organizations in Darfur and that there is no conflict there?”

“The Darfur issue is being fuelled by 24 Jewish organizations, who are making the largest amount of noise over the issue, and using the Holocaust in their campaigning,” the Sudanese defense minister replied…

“…they provide political and material support through their control over the media and across American and British circles,” Hussein said, adding that Jewish groups were using “all means to fuel these conflicts.” — YNet

Meanwhile, thousands of refugees from Darfur have made the difficult journey across Egypt, and into Israel, where they are finding refuge.

Stephen Kramer writes,

More than 2,000 African refugees, about half from Sudan, are provoking strong reactions in Israel. Some of these desperate people are Christians from Darfur [in Sudan], while many are Muslim. None are Jewish. Opinions are divided between those who want to open Israel to refugees, remembering how borders were closed to Jews fleeing the Nazis, and those who want to deport the refugees who are already here and prevent others from crossing our borders, fearful of adding more non-Jews to our population…

“As Jews, who have the memory of the Shoah embedded within us, we cannot stand by as refugees from genocide in Darfur are knocking on our doors. The memory of the past, and the Jewish values that underpin our existence, command us to [perform] humanitarian solidarity with the persecuted.” This was what Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev told a small group of Sudanese refugees who were touring the museum that commemorates the struggle of Jews in the Nazi period. Many Jews, both in Israel and the Diaspora, feel that solidarity with the refugees from Sudan means absorbing a large number into Israel.

And this is undoubtedly what will happen, despite the fact that Israel has only a limited capability to absorb such refugees.

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The JNF and the Reform Movement

Saturday, July 28th, 2007

On July 8, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, head of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) wrote about the perceived tension between Zionism and democracy:

Zionism’s purpose was to create a society that is “normal” socially and politically, but not ethically or religiously. More specifically, the Zionist founders were always clear that the Jewish state exists to promote the religion, civilization, and culture of the Jewish people and its dominant Jewish majority.

Does this mean that Israel’s Arab citizens must suffer certain disabilities? It does. They are a minority, and there is a price to be paid for minority status. Jews have paid that price for the last 2000 years, and nearly half of the Jewish people continue to pay it today….

But – and this is critical – Jews as a minority have always demanded that their host countries grant them full civil and political rights. The Jewish state, therefore, must do no less for its minority citizens. Yes, Israel’s majority culture should be aggressively Jewish, but there is no excuse for discrimination against individual Arab citizens in housing, employment, or education, and neither can discrimination in public funding for Arab municipalities be tolerated. — Eric Yoffie, Reform Reflections

Yoffie agrees with me in supporting the Jewish character of the state — the Jewish majority, its symbols, and — I presume — the Zionist goal of settling the Land (although he would probably qualify this by saying that this refers to the pre-1967 Land, perhaps with some minor adjustments).

Importantly, he does seem to be clear about the difference between civil rights and national aspirations. Arabs who live in Israel have the first, but must understand, as the Jews did for 2000 years, that they must look elsewhere for the second.

But he seems to be taking an antithetical position today:

America’s largest Jewish denomination is issuing calls for the Israeli Knesset to reverse course on a controversial piece of legislation declaring that Jewish National Fund lands can be leased only to Jews.

The legislation, introduced by three Israeli Knesset members, passed last week in a vote of 64-16 in its first reading. In order for the bill, which would bar JNF lands from falling into Arab hands, to officially become law, it needs to come before the Knesset two more times.

This week, the Reform Movement joined a growing chorus of calls from left-wing Jewish groups roundly condemning the bill as racist and undemocratic.

“It’s very hard to imagine any circumstance where a Jewish minority in any Diaspora country would accept with equanimity a bill that would forbid Jews from purchasing land,” said Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism. “Therefore it is essential that when the Jewish majority in Israel exercises power, it extend to others the rights it always demanded for itself when we were in the minority.” — Forward

On the face of it, this sounds highly undemocratic. How can you deny someone the right to purchase land on the grounds of ethnicity? Doesn’t this fall under the heading of civil rights?

Not exactly.

The JNF was founded in 1901 long before the state of Israel. Its function was to purchase land in Ottoman-controlled Palestine that would eventually become part of a Jewish state. The resolution passed in the Fifth Zionist Congress establishing the fund said that “the fund shall be the property of the Jewish people as a whole”.

Jews around the world contributed to the JNF. My grandmother maintained a tin box in our kitchen, a pushke, into which extra change (and there wasn’t much in the 1940’s) was put — “for the Jews”, she said.

So the contents of this fund doesn’t belong to the state of Israel; it belongs to the Jewish people worldwide, who contributed to it on the grounds that it would help create a Jewish state, by making it possible for Jews to acquire land.

In 1962, however, the JNF made an agreement to allow the Israel Lands Administration (ILA) — part of the government of Israel — to manage JNF lands. And this led to demands that they be made available to any citizen of Israel, Jewish or not. And the bill that Rabbi Yoffie, et al, oppose is an attempt to prevent the abrogation of the understanding between the JNF and the generations of Zionists, like my grandmother, who gave money with the understanding that it would be used to create and develop a Jewish National Home.

The Reform leadership is not unaware of this history (they had grandmothers too). But here’s what Rabbi Andrew Davids, executive director of the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA) is reported as saying (if anyone can provide a more complete reference, I would be grateful):

“This is not the time for Israel to be looking at policies that differentiate between different cohorts of its citizenry.”

Though the JNF was entrusted with bringing a Jewish state into being, some institutions need to be “reevaluated,” said Davids.

“What we are seeing is the maturation of an Israeli democratic society, and some institutions need to be reevaluated with regards to the current demographics. Israel will never be a state exclusively for Jews,” he said.

I find this profoundly troubling, especially as it comes from a ‘Zionist’. Davids simply ‘reevaluates’ out of existence the very essence of the JNF, as it has historically been defined, and deliberately blurs the distinction between “a Jewish state”, which the proposed law supports, and “a state exclusively for Jews”, which the law does not in any way promote.

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Harry Potter and the prisoner of political correctness

Saturday, July 28th, 2007

By Barry Rubin

News item: The Iranian establishment daily Kayhan, July 26, 2007, criticized officials there for allowing the sale of the new Harry Potter book, claiming the series is a Zionist project in order to disrupt the minds of young people. — MEMRI

From the text:

“The main thing is to try and convince as many people as possible that You-Know-Who came back, Harry….[Minister of Magic Cornelius Fudge] is absolutely refusing to believe it’s happened.”

“But why?” said Harry desperately. “Why’s he being so stupid?”…

“Because accepting that Voldemort’s back would mean trouble….”

“It’s hard to convince people he’s back, especially as they really don’t want to believe it in the first place.”

–Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, pp. 93-94.

Harry Potter was angry. He had been used to all the abuse and criticism, the danger and adventure, the fear that Lord Voldemort would return and turn the world into a living hell for wizard and Muggle alike. But why were people who should have defended their civilization pretending that nothing was happening or even becoming apologists for the other side.

There it was, the lead story in the Daily Prophet newspaper:

“Minister Fudge Urges Engagement; Accuses Harry Potter of Voldemortphobia”

“What’s going on here,” Harry said angrily. “I personally saw Voldemort gathering his followers but when I read the Daily Prophet it would seem there is no real threat. And now they want to negotiate with Voldemort?”

“That’s not all,” Hermione explained. “The newspaper is trying to make you sound deluded for exposing the truth.”

“Yes,” Ron added, ”and there are a lot of people now who favor giving aid to Voldemort in order—they claim–to moderate him.”

Certainly, the MSMM (Mainstream Magical Media), had long been blind to the return of Voldemort and his Death Eater movement. The Order of the Phoenix, the group formed to fight Voldemort, had a lot of blogs but the followers of You-Know-Who seemed to control all too many of the biggest institutions. Even on the Internet, Draco Malfoy had even developed one of the most popular blogs of all, “The Daily Draco” and some of the blander naïf’s from one of Hogwarts’ houses had created the “Hufflepuff Post.”

Harry just didn’t understand. How could anyone not see the terrible things going on around the world: the suicide bombing attacks; the organized incitement of hatred, the attempt by an extremist movement to take over and enslave millions of people? Why were they constantly attacking the victims and ridiculing those trying to expose these dangers, distorting their words and slandering their characters?

Even Hogwarts could no longer be counted on to fight the threat. The school had been taken over by teachers who brainwashed students into thinking that the Voldemort movement was all the fault of Dumbledore and others trying to fight it. The Death Eaters’ deeds were simply being exaggerated, said the professors. They had grievances, after all, and if only these were addressed and understood, there wouldn’t be any conflict. And hadn’t all wizards committed crimes in the past? Let him who was without sin cast the first spell. This was certainly the line taken by the Magical Events Studies Association, the organization of those who held such views, producing studies like, “Dementors: Legitimate Resistance As A Response to Oppression.”

Nothing could be taken for granted. No matter what the other side did there was always some excuse made to rationalize it. With Voldemort working to develop extreme new magical weapons and threatening to wipe the Muggles off the face of the earth, there were those who explained that his statements were being taken out of context. He was merely expressing the hope that they would come to see the error of their ways and peacefully commit suicide.

Moreover, despite Dumbledore’s efforts to block aid or negotiations with Voldemort, delegations were constantly traveling to his headquarters, posing with him in photo opportunities. He was really quite nice in person, visitors explained. And he really does want peace. After all, he said so and why would Lord Voldemort tell a lie?

But of course, as popular as the Harry Potter series has been it is still just a set of novels about a fantasy situation. Thank goodness nothing like this could happen in the real world.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, Interdisciplinary Center (IDC), editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs, and author of the recently published The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan).


Bolstering proceeds apace

Friday, July 27th, 2007

YNet reports:

Three Jordanian trucks loaded with Kalashnikov rifles arrived Friday afternoon at the Muqataa compound in Ramallah, a Palestinian security source told Ynet…

On Thursday, Ynet reported that four Jordanian trucks had arrived at the Palestinian Authority [PA], containing more than 3,000 rifles. According to the security source, six additional trucks were expected to arrive in the coming days.

An Israeli military source on Thursday confirmed the report on the arrival of trucks carrying rifles to the PA, saying that the weapons were part of the plan to bolster the Palestinian security organizations

The source could not say where the funding for the equipment came from, but mentioned that nine more trucks were expected to arrive in Jericho over the next few days carrying bullet proof vests and additional equipment.

An enormous quantity of arms has flowed into the hands of the PA since the Oslo agreement. It has not improved Israel’s security, since the PA has never seriously tried to arrest and hold terrorists. And of course in many cases, PA security personnel have turned out to hold second (or first) jobs as members of a terrorist militia.

The best that can be hoped is that the ‘security forces’ will use their weapons to arrest some Hamas operatives that are directly challenging them (Tuesday they used them to shoot Hamas-aligned students at an-Najah University, one of whom died today from his wounds). However, it is very doubtful that they will take any action against terrorism directed at Israelis.

It’s not clear who is paying for this, but I presume it represents the implementation of US General Keith Dayton’s project to build up a Fatah army to confront Hamas.

What is impossible for me to believe is that these ‘security’ forces are not already armed to the hilt. Why do they need thousands of rifles?

Abu Abir, a spokesman for the Popular Resistance Committees, warned that the arms arriving in the West Bank will find their way to the hands of Palestinian resistance organization, just like they did in the past.

Oh, I get it. Why didn’t I think of that?

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The real logic of America’s Israel policy

Friday, July 27th, 2007

Hint: it’s not determined by the “Jewish lobby”.

American policy toward Israel may seem schizophrenic. One the one hand, we provide enormous amounts of military and other aid; on the other, we often put great pressure on Israel to take actions that are not in her interest.

Ami Isseroff argues that there is, however, a consistent logic to American behavior:

The US adopted [In 1967] a two fold approach to regaining its standing in the Middle East. The first part was to make Israel dependent upon it for arms and diplomatic backing, while at the same time working for a permanent peace settlement and Israeli withdrawal. The “peace settlement” part would be satisfactory to the pro-Israel faction that was generally in charge in the White House, while the Israeli withdrawal part would satisfy the rank and file career diplomats of the State Department, who never had excessive love for Israel or people of the Jewish persuasion.

This policy could be marketed to supporters of Israel as a pro-Israel policy that sought peace, and would, as Kissinger noted even to the Iraqis, oppose the destruction of Israel, while it could be marketed to Arab states and their supporters as US opposition to annexation of Arab territory, and reduction of Israel’s size.

Isseroff has always been a member of the Israeli ‘peace camp’ (and still is). But he adds,

Peace in return for Israeli withdrawal would be a fair bargain, if it is really peace. Unfortunately, we should be well aware that the United States does not possess either the will or the means to guarantee continued peace after Israeli withdrawal, and on the other hand, pressures in the United States are growing to get any kind of settlement and call it “peace.” Anti-Zionists have managed to blame the Iraq war on Israel, and as the Iraq war sours, pressure for the US to divest itself of its obligations to Israel, and its association with the occupation, has grown.

The aftermath of 9-11 and the miscarriage of the Oslo process poses a dilemma for the United States, especially as domestic pressure mounts for a gracious exit from Iraq. The conviction has grown in the US that somehow an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement will help to remedy US failures in Iraq, but such an agreement does not appear to be practicable. In the wake of 9-11, the US clearly cannot indulge Islamist extremism. The people in charge in a large part of Palestine as of 2007 are Islamist extremists. But where there is a will there is a way, and if it is deemed necessary to US policy commitments — a euphemism for the flow of oil from the Gulf states — Israel may find itself forced to withdraw in return for a token peace treaty.

And, worse yet:

Acute analysts will note that if Israel ever does return all of the conquered territories, then Israel would be of no further use in American attempts to ingratiate itself with the Arabs. At the same time, America would have very little leverage with the Arabs unless it pressed Israel for further concessions. Without doubt, there are those in the US diplomatic corps who would not be averse to exerting such pressure.

Israeli politicians therefore have to think ahead to what American policy might be two days after the peace treaty is signed, when some Arab states, or Muslim groups, inevitably, nonetheless declare their objections to the presence of Israel in the Middle East. From the Israeli point [of view], we will have no more territory to concede, but that may not necessarily be the American view. After all, in the early 50s, the US was behind a plan to get Israel to make concessions to Egypt in the Negev. [my emphasis]

Americans concerned with our Mideast policy, particularly now as we are thinking about possible presidential candidates, must read Isseroff’s entire article, “Territorial Integrity: American Middle East policy and what it means for Israel“.

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The swing state of the Mideast

Thursday, July 26th, 2007

One can call Turkey the swing state of the Mideast. A nation of Muslims, it is nevertheless a secular, democratic state, a member of NATO, and an applicant for membership in the EU. It’s led by a “moderate Islamist” party (whatever that is), which has just won a smashing electoral victory.

Prof. Barry Rubin is the director of Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center in Herzliya, Israel. His latest book is The Truth about Syria, published by Palgrave-Macmillan in May 2007. We’re very pleased to have his permission to publish this article. More of Rubin’s columns can be read online here.

In Turkey, no one knows what will happen

By Barry Rubin

Istanbul

Answer A: In political terms, the Justice and Development (AK) party which won 47 percent of the votes in Turkey’s July 22 elections and will have almost two-thirds of the parliament seats is a pragmatic, conservative, business-oriented moderate party despite its roots as an Islamic-oriented one.

Answer B: In societal terms, the Justice and Development (AK) party is probably transforming Turkey from a secular into a more Islamic society, with a big effect on the status of women, the situation of minorities, and Turkey’s foreign policy.

Both statements are true. And this is the point many observers are missing in the great change signaled by the election results.

(more…)

Talking to terrorists

Thursday, July 26th, 2007

Honest Reporting has a piece today about “the recent spate of Hamas op-eds in mainstream newspapers, including the Washington Post, New York Times and LA Times”. This time the Washington Post has published an article by Hezbollah’s Sheik Muhammed Hussein Fadlallah, in which he claims that the concept of Jihad in Islam is “no different than any human and civilized concept of self-defense”. In reality, Hezbollah has used the flimsiest of pretexts to disguise its aggression against Israel as self-defense.

The question which comes to my mind at this point is “why are Hamas and Hezbollah suddenly so popular in our media?” And the answer is that they have press agents that they are paying to make them popular.

There seems to be an ongoing attempt in the US to make these groups appear as moderate potential partners for negotiation. So-called ‘realists’ argue that the conflicts — both the narrow Israeli-Palestinian one and the broader confrontation between the West and radical Islam can’t be solved without talking to the Islamist organizations.

Nobody respectable has suggested (yet) that the US should talk to al-Qaeda. Most Americans would react to the idea with profound revulsion, understanding that there cannot be enough common ground to support negotiation with people whose goal is to kill many of us and create enough chaos to cause our society and nation to collapse.

Hezbollah and Hamas are perceived here as primarily enemies of Israel (although Hezbollah has certainly killed enough Americans), so many Americans ask “why not talk to them — it never hurts to talk”.

The problem with talking is twofold. First, negotiating confers legitimacy and status, regardless of whether there is anything to negotiate. Hamas and Hezbollah leaders should be treated as outlaws, not statesmen or diplomats. It’s almost as if the more murderous they are, the more respectable they are seen to be.

Second, negotiation is not talking about the weather. It’s a process of give and take, in which each side promises to make a concession in return for the other side’s giving something. This can only work if there is an intersection between both sides’ minimal acceptable outcomes. But there’s no intersection between “Israel exists” and “Israel doesn’t exist”. So a negotiation process cannot end the conflict.

Historically, US-mediated negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians (for example) have resulted in US pressure on Israel to make concessions, and mostly — but not in every case — Israeli compliance. The Palestinians, on the other hand, generally did not comply. So when the negotiations broke down Israel was in a far worse position than before, not to mention the damage done by propaganda painting her as at fault.

There is plenty of reason, therefore, to not talk to organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas, with whom there can be no intersection of interests. Unfortunately, the solution to the problems they pose must be a military one. The more concessions that they extract by diplomatic means, the more difficult will be the ultimate confrontation — which will come about regardless of diplomacy, negotiations, mediation, or whatever.

Hamas’ Abu Marzouk, Hezbollah’s Fadlallah and others may sound reasonable to those who do not know the history of the conflict or the true nature of the groups they represent. The NY Times, Washington Post, LA Times, etc. are not serving the cause of peace by giving them a platform from which to speak.

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Say goodbye to the Inquisition

Wednesday, July 25th, 2007

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin has described the problem and the solution with great clarity:

To paraphrase Charles Dickens in the beginning of his Tale of Two Cities: These are the best of times, and the worst of times. On the one hand, after almost 2,000 years of exile and persecution, culminating in the Holocaust, we have returned to our homeland, to Jewish sovereignty in Jerusalem, to a Jewish army and a Jewish police force, and to the miracle of the ingathering of exiles, from the Ethiopian Beta Yisrael to the Indian Bnei Menashe.

But, on the other hand, we face the existential threat of Iran’s Ahmadinejad soon to be in control of atomic weaponry; we are threatened by Hamas in the South, and by Hizbullah in the North. Moreover, our staunchest ally, the United States of America, is being neutralized by what appears to be a hopeless imbroglio in Iraq. Europe is quickly becoming transformed into a pro-Muslim bastion, and Islam itself seems poised for world domination following a line of jihad-inspired Wahhabi fanaticism.

Yes, I truly have faith that to be alone with God is to be with a majority of One; but from a practical perspective, how can roughly 5.5 million Israelis plus another seven million Jews world-wide stand up to more than a billion Muslims?

Now it seems that thankfully God had provided the cure even before we diagnosed the disease. For the first time since the advent of Christianity, mainstream Christian leaders – Catholic, Evangelical and Protestant – have extended a hand to us Jews in friendship, a friendship with far-reaching theological and political ramifications.

And there are more than a billion Christians in the world. What is now happening on the worldwide geopolitical scene is much more than “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

In this case, the enemy (Christianity) of my enemy (radical Islam) is my cousin, if not my brother. After all, Christianity emerged from the matrix of Judaism, and the founder of Christianity was a Jewish teacher who – it would certainly appear from the Gospels – lived a Jewish life-style, replete with the Sabbath, festivals and kashrut. Hence there is every logical, historical and religious reason for there to be a rapprochement between us. — R. Shlomo Riskin, “In praise of Christian-Jewish interfaith dialogue” (the entire article is recommended).

It’s time to put the Inquisition behind us. There is simply no alternative.

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