Archive for November, 2007

You have it backwards, Ms. Rice

Friday, November 30th, 2007

Rice and Mahmoud AbbasCondoleezza Rice ‘understands’ everybody’s pain:

“I know what its like to hear that you can’t use a certain road or pass through a checkpoint because you are a Palestinian. I know what it is like to feel discriminated against and powerless,” Rice told a closed meeting of Arab and Israeli representatives, according to the Dutch representative at the summit, Franz Timmermans.

“Like Israelis, I understand what it’s like to go to sleep not knowing if you will be hurt in an explosion, the feeling of terror walking around your own neighborhood, or walking to your house of prayer,” Timmermans quoted Rice as saying, the Washington Post reported. — Jerusalem Post [my emphasis]

Dear Ms. Rice,

Your implied analogy between Palestinians and black Americans in the segregated South is so bad that I cringe.

Can you honestly compare institutions segregated because of groundless racial prejudice with checkpoints at which terrorists carrying bombs are stopped on a regular basis?

Can you honestly compare a fence to keep terrorists out with restrictions on where blacks are permitted to live?

Can you honestly compare the fate of a Hamas rocket squad hit by the IAF with that of the civil rights workers who were beaten with chains and shot to death in Mississippi in 1961?

Can you honestly compare the great Dr. King with the abominable Yasser Arafat?

How can you insult the massive numbers of nonviolent blacks who protested and demonstrated against segregation, exposing themselves to beatings, jailing and even possible murder at the hands of the Klan and racist local police (often one and the same) by comparing them to Palestinians, who either directly carry out terrorist acts of murder and mayhem or, in large majority, applaud those who do?

The Palestinian Arabs, with the military, diplomatic and financial backing of Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia, refuse to agree that Israel has a right to exist as a Jewish state, refuse to stop terrorism against it, and insist that Israel accept almost 5 million hostile Arabs. How is this in any way parallel to the struggle of American blacks to end segregation and discrimination?

There is no parallel, Ms. Rice, except in the doubletalk of the Arabs and their friends, and the media fakery that creates massacres and murders where there aren’t any. And then these non-massacres and non-murders are used as incitement to lynch — you are familiar with this concept? — innocent Israelis.

You have it backwards, Ms. Rice.

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Everything you need to know about Arab rejectionists

Thursday, November 29th, 2007

Everything you need to know about Hamas:

Hamas on Thursday called on the UN to rescind the 1947 decision to partition Palestine into two states, one for Jews and one for Arabs.

The group said in a statement, released on the 60th anniversary of the UN vote, that “Palestine is Arab Islamic land, from the river to the sea, including Jerusalem… there is no room in it for the Jews.” — Jerusalem Post

Everything you need to know about Fatah:

  • Salam Fayad, Palestinian Authority “prime minister”: “Israel can define itself as it likes, but the Palestinians will not recognize it as a Jewish state.”
  • Yasser Abed Rabbo, secretary general of the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s executive committee: “This issue [recognition as a Jewish state] is not on the table; it is raised for internal [Israeli] consumption.”
  • Ahmad Qurei, chief Palestinian negotiator: “This [demand] is absolutely refused.”
  • Saeb Erekat, head of the PLO Negotiations Department: “The Palestinians will never acknowledge Israel’s Jewish identity. … There is no country in the world where religious and national identities are intertwined.” — Daniel Pipes

Everything you need to know about Arab citizens of Israel:

In a unanimous vote on Saturday, the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee decided to reject an Israeli request that the Palestinian Authority recognize Israel as a “Jewish state.” — Arutz Sheva

A large majority of Israel’s Arabs object to Israeli-Palestinian negotiations over territory swaps (73 percent), a survey conducted by Mada al-Carmel – the Arab Center for Applied Social Research in Haifa – finds. Most Arabs also object to recognizing Israel as a Jewish state (65 percent) and renouncing the Right of Return (79 percent). Israeli Arabs also believe that the Palestinians cannot back down on Jerusalem-related issues, according to the poll. — Ha’aretz [my emphasis]

Israel has agreed that there is a Palestinian people and that it is entitled to self-determination in its own state. One can argue long and hard about what makes a ‘people’, but there is no doubt that the Jewish people have it in at least as great a measure — and more — than the Palestinians.

And yet nothing seems to evoke rejection quite so violent as the Israeli demand to be recognized as a Jewish state — the state of the Jewish people. This applies not only to the Palestinians, but to most Arab nations, for example, the Saudis:

Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States rejected recognizing Israel as a Jewish state.

“There are 1.5 million civilians in Israel who do not define themselves as Jewish,” [referring to Arabs, Christians and others] Adel al-Jubeir told reporters at the U.S.-convened Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in Annapolis, Md. “We do not believe states should define themselves according to religion or ethnicity.” [!] — JTA

Leaving aside the hypocrisy — coming from the country that Jews are not allowed to enter, where Christian Bibles are prohibited, and where only Muslims can be citizens — the majority of states in the world are defined as the homeland of an ethnic group with a religious identity more or less intertwined, and the fact that they have citizens belonging to minority groups does not delegitimize them. But only Israel is denied this self-definition.

There is one simple explanation, and it is that the Arabs do not agree that there should be a Jewish Israel. They are prepared to accept a state called ‘Israel’ as long as it can be an Arab state, in which case they will quickly change the name anyway. The insistence on “right of return“, which would instantly change Israel from a Jewish to an Arab state, is proof of it.

Hamas, as always, does the best job of straightforwardly articulating the basic principle that they espouse — and share even with the ‘moderates’ of Fatah — which is that they will accept nothing less than the reversal of the creation of Israel and the outcome of the 1948 war. The pragmatic West and the optimistic Israeli Left never fathomed this, imagining the bellicose talk of the Arabs to be mere rhetoric. I would like to think that at least a few are finally beginning to understand.

Some commentators have recently started talking about how the US needs to apply “tough love” to Israel about such issues as settlements, roadblocks, prisoners, etc. But it’s the Arabs who need it, who need — for once and for all — to be forced to understand that there will be no going back to 1947. There is only one kind of peace to be had, and that is peace with Israel as a Jewish state.

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Seven reasons why the Palestinian ‘refugees’ cannot ‘return’

Wednesday, November 28th, 2007

Cardinal Renato MartinoSo simple:

Cardinal Renato Martino, who heads the Vatican’s office for migrants, said an agreement to restart peace talks, reached Tuesday in Annapolis, Maryland, was encouraging and that he hoped by this time next year concrete measures would be under way.

“It is my hope that all the parts of the problem are taken into consideration such as that of the Palestinian refugees, who like all other refugees, have the right to return to their homeland,” Martino said. — Jerusalem Post

Here are seven reasons why it is not so simple, and indeed why the Palestinian demand is outrageous and unjust:

  1. The war which created the refugees was started by the Palestinian Arabs and their allies and was the culmination of a campaign of terrorism and pogroms against Jews in Palestine since at least the 1920’s.
  2. There were at most 700,000 Arab refugees (probably less). The Palestinians are demanding that almost 5 million descendants of these ‘return’ to Israel 60 years after the war (the Jewish population of Israel is about 5 million).
  3. During and after the War of Independence, about 850,000 Jews were expelled from or fled their homes in Arab countries, in most cases leaving all of their property behind. These Jews were absorbed by other countries, most of them going to Israel. Do not their descendants have a claim on the Arab world?
  4. The Arab nations hosting the Palestinian refugees refused to absorb them, and a special UN agency (UNRWA) was created just for them. The normal UN refugee agencies were not used, because they are concerned with finding homes for refugees. UNRWA’s job has been to keep them in camps and on welfare in order to nurture a hostile population to be used as a source of anti-Israel soldiers and ultimately as a demographic weapon. Some UNRWA personnel belong to terrorist organizations, such as Hamas.
  5. When Jordan occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem in 1948, the areas were ethnically cleansed of Jews, who fled or were murdered. The Palestinians are demanding that all Jewish settlements be removed from what is to be their state. Yet they expect Israel to absorb an additional 5 million Arabs!
  6. If Israel were to agree to this, it would immediately have an Arab majority and would cease to be a state of the Jewish people. But the Palestinians insist that they must have a state because they have a right to self-determination. Apparently, they do not think that the Jewish people has this right as well.
  7. Practically speaking, the influx would result in immediate civil war, which would make similar wars in Lebanon and Yugoslavia look like ping-pong tournaments.

Cardinal Martino, ironically, is President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace!

He is also President of the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant Peoples. One would think that he might have some understanding of the prototypical “Itinerant People”, who have finally returned home after thousands of years.

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Why the Arabs should accept Israel as a Jewish state

Tuesday, November 27th, 2007

Balad is an Israeli political party with an Arab nationalist point of view.

Yes, that’s correct. Since Israel is a democracy, Arab citizens of Israel can vote for an Arab nationalist party (Jews can, too, for that matter).

Balad thinks there should be a Palestinian state alongside Israel. They also believe that the position of Arab citizens within the Jewish state is inherently oppressive, and that only by changing Israel from a Jewish state to a ‘state of its citizens’, can the rights of Israeli Arabs be ensured. So their point of view towards the Israeli demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state is not surprising:

The Balad council decided to urge the Palestinian negotiating team in Annapolis not to make concessions that could harm the rights of the Palestinian people, and especially not to give in to the Israeli demand to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. The Balad council also sent messages to the Israeli delegation to Annapolis to help the Palestinians.

“Recognizing Israel as a Jewish state and not a state for all its citizens is a step toward transferring Israeli Arabs,” MK Wasal Taha said. “We endorsed the summit, but as Palestinians, we are suspicious that it can fail like past conferences and lead to a new cycle of bloodshed. We warned them that they have to maintain the rights of the Palestinian people.” — Jerusalem Post [my emphasis]

I have pointed out before that there is a difference between protection of minority rights, in such areas as of public services, education, housing, employment, etc., and providing for the fulfillment of national aspirations of minorities, and that a democratic state is only required to provide the former. Israel’s very reason for being is as a homeland for the Jewish people, with the special character that this implies.

Certainly the Palestinian state that Balad wishes to see established in the territories will be a state of the Palestinian people, with appropriate symbols and character. If these things are not important to the Palestinians, why do they want a state? Why won’t they be happy living in Israel, Jordan, etc.? They really can’t insist on self-determination for Palestinians while denying it to Jews.

We Jews can certainly sympathize with Balad, whose members apparently feel that they have some important needs which cannot be met when they live in a country whose national anthem is Hatikva. Jews, at least Zionist ones, understand why a people needs a state.

The thing is, this issue was settled in 1948. There is a Jewish state whose anthem is Hatikva. There could have been a Palestinian Arab state then, or in 2000, had they wanted it more than they want there to not be a Jewish state, but apparently this is not the case.

The conflict will not end until one of the following happens:

  1. The Palestinians, inside and outside of Israel accept that a state of the Jewish people was established in 1948, and decide to create a Palestinian Arab state outside of it instead of trying to reverse the outcome of the war.
  2. The Arab world succeeds in destroying the Jewish state, and the Palestinians establish their state on the wreckage.
  3. There is a war which includes the use of weapons of mass destruction. Tens of millions are killed, mostly on the Arab side. The entire region descends to a pre-civilized level. Because of the effect on the oil supply, the rest of the world also changes drastically.

The problem is that the Palestinian and Israeli Arab leadership and intelligentsia think that they do not have to take no. 1, because they can get no. 2. They are encouraged in this by Iran and Saudi Arabia, who are vying to be the ones to solve the Jewish problem.

But they cannot get no. 2. Trying too hard will only get them no. 3.

Maybe the rest of the world, which has an interest in avoiding no. 3, should explain this to them.

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Syria and Annapolis

Tuesday, November 27th, 2007

The Annapolis Conference which is taking place as I write this is presented as a start toward solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (it was originally intended to be more than just a start, but it quickly became evident that this was unrealistic).

I’ve argued that Israel and the Palestinians are now almost irrelevant to the conference, whose real purpose is to help the US get concessions from (primarily) Saudi Arabia and Syria regarding Iraq.

So the Israeli right wing opposes the conference because it fears that some of these concessions will be paid for with Israeli coin, and Hamas opposes it because they will weaken its patron, Iran, which is happy to see the US stuck in the Iraqi sand.

But it’s unlikely that this gambit is going to help the US, either. Here’s why.

Drilling a Hole in the Lifeboat
By Barry Rubin

What would you do if your foreign policy agenda had these priorities:

  • Get Arab and European support for solving the Iraq crisis.
  • Mobilize Arab and European forces against a threat led by Iran and its allies, Syria, Hamas, and Hizballah.
  • Get Iran to stop its campaign to get nuclear weapons.
  • Reestablish American credibility toward friends and deterrence toward enemies.
  • Reduce the level of Israel-Palestinian conflict.

That pretty much describes the U.S. framework for dealing with the Middle East nowadays. The Annapolis conference is not going to contribute to these goals. The most likely outcome is either failure or a non-event portrayed as a victory because it took place at all. No one is going to say: We are so grateful at the United States becoming more active on Arab-Israeli issues that we are going to back its policy on other issues.

On the contrary, the conference is more likely to show the inability of the United States to produce results, thus undermining belief in U.S. leverage in the region in general. It shines the spotlight on the most divisive issue, the great excuse for not doing more to help U.S. efforts, raising its prominence. What most of Washington simply fails to understand is that any real demand for Palestinian or Arab concessions will be fodder for radical groups and frighten Arab regimes, pushing the latter away from support for America rather than toward it. And any Israeli concessions obtained by this process will not satisfy their demands either.

Despite thousands of claims by lots of famous people, national leaders, and respected journals, solving the Arab-Israeli conflict will not make radical Islamism or terrorism go away. Would you like to know why? Because even if this issue could be solved — which isn’t about to happen for reasons requiring a different article — to do so would necessitate a compromise including an end to the conflict, acceptance of Israel, and compromises by the Arab side. These steps would inflame the extremists and make any Arab rulers who accepted it vulnerable to being called traitors. It would increase instability in the Arab world, also by removing the conflict as splendid excuse and basis for mobilizing support for the current rulers. Arab politicians understand this reality; most people in the West don’t.

Such considerations are accurate analytically but the conference will take place anyway. It has been reinterpreted by the U.S. government as the opening of a long-term process rather than its culmination. The analogy is to the Madrid meeting of 1991 — which started a nine-year-long failed peace process — rather than to the Camp David summit of 2000, which marked its breakdown.

Given the fact that the meeting is going to take place, and one would like to see as little damage result as possible, what is the worst mistake that could be made to ensure that an already difficult situation becomes worse? Answer: invite Syria.

Let’s remember a few things. The meeting was called to deal with the Palestinian issue. Bringing in the Syrian question is going to destroy that focus. Palestinian leaders know this to be true and no doubt are horrified by Damascus getting equal time.

But that’s just the start of the problem. Run your eye back up the page to the five points listed as priorities for U.S. policy.

Iraq? Syria is the main sponsor of the terrorist insurgency. It has a deep interest in ensuring that no moderate, stable, pro-Western regime takes root in Iraq.

The radical alliance? Syria is a leading factor in the problem, a partner with Iran for twenty years. Anyone who believes that Damascus can be split from Tehran understands nothing about the mutual benefits Syria gets from the alliance, far greater than anything the West could possibly give to its dictator President Bashar al-Asad.

Iranian nuclear weapons? When Iran gets atomic weapons it will be a great day for Syria, ensuring its strategic protection, damaging Western influence, and helping the radical Islamist cause that Syria backs.

American credibility? It undermines years of U.S. efforts to pressure Bashar away from radical adventurism. Syria can now show that it can kill Americans soldiers in Iraq, murder democratic Lebanese politicians, foment Hamas’s takeover of the Gaza Strip, and sponsor Hizballah’s effort to seize power in Lebanon without incurring any serious risk or cost.

On the contrary, Syria is now making demands on the United States for concessions in order to entice it to show up. This is happening at the very moment when plans for an international trial of Syrian leaders for political assassinations in Lebanon is gathering momentum, as Syria’s campaign to install a puppet government in Beirut has just been foiled.

Is the conference’s purpose, however ill-conceived, to make progress on Arab-Israeli peace and strengthen the Palestinian Authority? Having Syria present lets in the main Arab sponsor of Hamas, a state working tirelessly to throw out the current Palestinian leadership and raise the level of Arab-Israeli violence.

. . .

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA). His latest books are The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan) and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley).

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Another hostage situation

Monday, November 26th, 2007

NAIROBI, Kenya, Nov. 26 — The Sudanese police arrested a British schoolteacher and accused her of insulting Islam after she allowed her 7-year-old pupils to name a class teddy bear Muhammad, Sudanese officials said today…

Ms. [Gillian] Gibbons is in jail, pending further investigation, [Government spokesman Dr. Rabie A. Atti] said. “If she is innocent, she will be set free,” said Dr. Rabie. If she is guilty, Dr. Rabie said, she will face punishment, possibly including lashes…

According to BBC, Ms. Gibbons, 54, asked a seven-year-old girl to bring in a teddy bear and for her classmates to pick a name for it…

When it came time to vote, 20 out of 23 children choose Muhammad, one of the most common names in the Muslim word.

The students then took turns bringing the bear home on weekends, and wrote a diary about what they did with it. According to the BBC, the children’s entries were bound together in a book with a picture of the bear on the cover and a message that read, “My name is Muhammad.” — NY Times

I’m prepared to bet that it will turn out that the unfortunate teacher will be released upon payment of a large ‘fine’, like the Bulgarian nurses and Palestinian doctor held for 8 years in Libya (see The Barbary Pirates at the Security Council).

The fact that ‘respect for Islam’ is used as an excuse for political intimidation and sometimes outright extortion does not tend to make us non-Muslims feel a high regard towards Islam.

I would be pleased if some of my Muslim readers would take time off from trying to hack this site and would comment on this.

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The Annapolis quid pro quo explained

Sunday, November 25th, 2007

The US State Department and others in the Bush Administration aren’t stupid. Yet, they supposedly believe that the Annapolis conference will bring peace. Efraim Inbar lists five false premises on which this initiative is based:

The first is that Palestinian society can be reformed by outsiders. Middle Eastern societies have already proven their resistance to attempts by Western powers to change their old ways of doing business. It is naïve to believe that political and social dynamics rooted in centuries-old traditions can be easily manipulated by well-intentioned, but presumptuous Westerners. President George W. Bush should have learned this lesson from his experience in Iraq…

…second… that economic assistance to the Palestinians can alleviate political problems. Since the Oslo Accords in September 1993, the Palestinian Authority has received the most economic aid per capita in the world. Yet billions of euros transferred to the PA have been squandered or misused. Like some other Third World actors, the PA has been ingenious in siphoning a not insignificant amount of the aid it gets to those least in need of outside support…

…third… that Mahmoud Abbas can become the agent for change and therefore he deserves the support of the West… The Hamas takeover of Gaza is an obvious indication of his weakness.

…fourth… that Palestinian society can be quickly transformed into a good neighbor of Israel and that a stable settlement is within reach. Since the Oslo Accords, the PA’s education system, media, and dramatic militarization process has done great damage to the collective Palestinian psyche… Numerous facets of Palestinian society have been radicalized and the widespread influence and popularity of Hamas is a clear indication of such a process… What they expect to get from Israel is totally unrealistic… Palestinian demands for bringing refugees from 60 years ago and their descendents into Israel and for control over parts of old Jerusalem are simply not acceptable in today’s Israel.

…fifth… that Hamas control of Gaza can be uprooted by intra-Palestinian politics. While Hamas’s takeover of Gaza is correctly identified by the US as a victory for the Islamist forces in the Middle East and inimical to Israeli-Palestinian rapprochement, a Fatah led by Abbas cannot bring Hamas back under the PA umbrella.

OK, so it won’t fly. But as I said, they are not stupid. So why are they trying to launch it?

One word: Iraq. There is nothing more important to the US than a non-disastrous exit from Iraq, and two of the major players in the upcoming conference (they are not Israel and the Palestinians) hold what appear to be the keys. I’m talking about Saudi Arabia and Syria, of course.

Recently, there has been a phenomenon of Iraqi Sunni support for US operations against foreign Sunni insurgents associated with al-Qaeda. This is being called the first sign of real progress for the US in Iraq. As the major Sunni power in the region, Saudi Arabia can certainly influence the Iraqi tribal leaders; and they can reduce the infiltration of foreign insurgents (most of whom are Saudis). Recent improvements in the situation in Iraq indicate that perhaps they have already begun to exert their influence.

In return, the Saudis want their vision of the future of the former Palestine Mandate — the Saudi/Arab League initiative — to be imposed on Israel. In this way they, not Iran, will be the ones to finally put the Jews in their place, and they will take their rightful position as the leader of the Arab world. And President Bush’s recent speech indicates that the US views this plan positively.

Syria’s contribution is quite simple. They are the major suppliers of arms to the Sunni insurgents, and both fighters and supplies pass through their porous border. Former head of the Coalition Provisional authority L. Paul Bremer accused Bashar Assad of inciting Shiite factions to wage jihad against US and British forces. What Washington wants of them today is, in Bush’s immortal words, to “Stop doing this shit!”

And what Syria wants is also simple: the Golan Heights, without having to give Israel anything in return; and a free hand to exploit Lebanon.

The Arabists in the State Department that are pushing this plan are doing their best to convince others in the Administration that it will not seriously damage Israel’s security, and that it will enable the US to get out of Iraq without leaving a violent civil war in its wake. Inbar and others have argued persuasively that the first proposition is false.

Regarding the second, we need merely ask: what incentive will Syria, Saudi Arabia and Iran have to behave themselves once US forces have gone?

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What does Arab incitement tell us about their intentions?

Saturday, November 24th, 2007

The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs has published a document called “Israel, the Conflict and Peace: Answers to frequently asked questions“. It’s a remarkably straightforward and well-written exposition of the present government’s strategy of seeking peace with the Palestinians in the framework of a two-state solution.

Whatever you think of the prospects for success of this approach, it is based on the views expressed by President Bush in his speech of June 2002, and on the so-called ‘Roadmap‘ derived from that — although the Bush Administration may have moved further toward the Arab point of view since then (a recent Bush speech mentioned the Saudi/Arab League Peace Initiative approvingly).

The paper is very readable and interesting, building on the idea of the two-state solution while making clear what Israel expects from its partners in the upcoming negotiations. However, one section in particular — about incitement — struck me as being emblematic of the reason why the whole enterprise has such a small chance of success.

When you read this section, which is specifically directed to incitement against Israel by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, keep in mind that similar remarks could be made about almost any Arab country, including (especially) Egypt, with whom Israel is allegedly at ‘peace’.

How does incitement harm peace?

There is a direct connection between anti-Israeli or antisemitic incitement and terrorism. The extreme anti-Israeli indoctrination that is so pervasive in Palestinian society nurtures a culture of hatred that, in turn, leads to terrorism.

(more…)

How to best describe the Annapolis conference

Friday, November 23rd, 2007

Choose one of the following:

  1. The Annapolis conference is likely to make it possible for Israelis and Palestinians to start a process of overcoming differences, which will ultimately lead to a two-state solution. Both sides actually want this; they only need to be prepared to make compromises and find creative solutions.
  2. The Annapolis conference will be just another exercise in futility, with lots of photo-ops and posturing, but no change in the situation, because the sides are too far apart.
  3. The Annapolis conference will be a venue at which the US, influenced by Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations by means of threats and promises about Iraq and oil, will force Israel to concede control of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and possibly even accept some form of responsibility for the Arab refugees. The Palestinians and their backers have no interest in a two-state solution other than as a step on the path to replacing the Jewish state with an Arab one.

It’s clear that your attitude toward this meeting will depend on which you choose. Defense Minister Ehud Barak apparently likes no. 1:

Barak said he planned to do everything in his power to ensure that the summit would be successful. He has met in recent months several times with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salaam Fayad and was a proponent of the decision to allow 500 armed Palestinian policemen to deploy in Nablus…

“There is a high chance that it [the summit] will succeed,” he said. “It will begin the process. The real test will be when we discuss the core issues when the talks begin after the summit.” — Jerusalem Post

There are others, however, who do not:

“There is no real partner for peace. The Palestinians have a very weak government,” [opposition leader MK Binyamin Netanyahu] told IDF Radio. The unilateral concessions being made by Israel “do not strengthen security but according to every security official opposed to these moves, they endanger the security of Israel’s citizens and soldiers. We have already paid a price for this process and we must stop it,” Netanyahu declared.

Minister for Strategic Matters Avigdor Lieberman told IBA Radio Wednesday that there were two possible outcomes to Annapolis: the first – a complete Israeli surrender to the PA’s demands, and the second – an impasse in the negotiations. He repeated that Israel must demand the PA’s acceptance of Israel as a Jewish state as a precondition for further negotiations. — Arutz Sheva

So which is it? Ami Isseroff seems to think that because the official position of the Israeli government and the point of view of the majority of Israelis is that a negotiated two-state solution is desirable, then anyone who does not support the Annapolis conference might as well join Hamas:

The ZOA and the the anti-peace propaganda of a minority of extremists serves to promote the narrow political views of those groups. In reality, it serves the interests of the enemies of Israel. This vicious and hysterical campaign [against Annapolis] does not represent the position of the government of the state of Israel, nor that of the majority of Israelis, Jewish and non-Jewish. It paints Israel as a pariah state that does not want peace. It paints Zionism as a reactionary movement that desires to use force to dominate the Middle East. It paints the “Israel lobby” as a collection of chauvinistic and xenophobic warmongers, uninterested in the strategic needs and goals of the United States, single-mindedly pursuing an unrealistic messianic vision for Israel. It does more for Arab and Muslim extremism then all the drivel of Mearsheimer and Walt, and all the ill-judged and ignorant diatribes of Jimmy Carter. — ZioNation, ‘The real Zionist position on Annapolis’

But there is a gaping hole in Isseroff’s argument: the unstated premise that the Annapolis conference will advance a peaceful two-state solution.

Most of the arguments of the ZOA which Isseroff targets in his piece are aimed exactly against this premise, and not against such a solution, if it could be achieved:

In November, a U.S.-sponsored conference involving Israel, the Palestinian Authority [PA] and possibly several Arab states will convene in Annapolis to frame yet another plan meant to end the Arab-Israeli war and create a Palestinian state. This conference is doomed to fail. The reason: The Palestinians’ ultimate goal is not statehood, but rather Israel’s destruction.

That fact has remained unchanged since Israel embarked on the disastrous Oslo process with Yasir Arafat in 1993, culminating in a terror war after then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered a Palestinian state on nearly all of the disputed territories, which was rejected.

Despite this, the Bush administration, with international approval, is proceeding on the fiction that Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah party, which he co-founded with Arafat and which controls the PA, want peace and accept Israel’s existence as a Jewish state.

If only it were true. The PA is required under signed commitments in the Oslo agreements and also in the 2003 road map peace plan to arrest terrorists, confiscate their weaponry and end the incitement to hatred and murder, including against America, in PA-controlled media, mosques, schools and youth camps. It has failed to do so. — Morton Klein, ZOA President [my emphasis]

Klein makes it quite clear that he simply does not believe that the PA and its Arab sponsors have peaceful intentions, and that is why he opposes the Annapolis conference. There is also the issue of Hamas, which is poised to step in and take advantage of any Israeli concessions. It is slander to say that opponents to Annapolis are “opponents of peace”, when they are actually opponents of a pseudo-peace that, like Oslo, will ultimately result in war — a war that will be fought at a strategic disadvantage.

What about option 2, that Annapolis will turn out to be exactly nothing? This is probably the best that we can hope for, but there are rumblings that suggest that we may not be that lucky. Saudi Arabia (in the person of Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisa) has announced that it will attend, as will Syria. It seems to me that the only inducement strong enough to bring them would be a promise from the US that there will be substantive Israeli concessions.

We may find out which description of Annapolis was correct this coming week.

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The New York Times exposed

Wednesday, November 21st, 2007

I’ve previously written about some less-than-obvious forms of media bias (for example see my comments on NPR here and here).

Many people think that “media bias” consists primarily of simple falsehoods and omissions, lack of balance in selecting spokespeople, lack of context, etc. All this exists, but there are even more subtle techniques, which are highly effective because they come in “under the radar” of even a relatively skeptical reader or viewer, and because they are constantly repeated.

Such things as diction, passive or active voice, order of presentation, etc. combine with the more obvious techniques to produce ‘news’ stories with a powerful propaganda effect. Given the amount of psychological research undertaken to develop advertising that works, it’s not surprising that these methods find their way into political literature. It is somewhat disconcerting when one recognizes them in what is supposed to be ‘news’.

As in The New York Times, for example.

Honest Reporting has done a tremendous job of analyzing the NYT’s coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict over the past six months. Here is their summary of this analysis:

  • Balance: Despite an evenly balanced selection of stories on Israel and the Palestinians, the New York Times gave far more weight to Israeli military incidents in text location, headlines and photo selection than to Palestinian attacks. More than 60% of images sympathetic to one side or the other favored the Palestinians.
  • Consistency: Israeli and Palestinian actions were not treated consistently in choice of language. Israel or the Israel Defense Forces were the subject of strongly worded, direct headlines in 18 out of 20 cases (90%). However, in the 20 cases where the Palestinians were responsible for attacks, the language was mostly passive and the group responsible was only named in eight instances (40%).
  • Context and Accuracy: Inaccurate statements or important context that would give readers a fuller picture of news events was often omitted. Terms such as “militants”, “occupied territory,” and “illegal settlements” were used without providing a proper explanation.

The entire “New York Times 6 Month Study“, is fascinating reading. It puts the lie to the NYT’s pretense of objectivity and provides a classic example of how to do critical media analysis.

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We cannot ignore the Iranian nukes

Wednesday, November 21st, 2007

At the very least, the Iranian nuclear program represents a challenge to the economic and political hegemony of the US and Europe that has dominated most of the world since the fall of the Soviet Union. At most, it may presage a revolutionary change that will replace the Western rationalist politics that have been dominant since the Eighteenth Century with something totally different. The fact that such a revolution will have as a side effect the disappearance of the tiny Jewish state is only a small part of it.

Those of us who think that the values of the Enlightenment represent an improvement over what preceded them, therefore, must be concerned with this development. Unfortunately, most of the world does not have the means to do anything about it, some nations applaud it, and others — like Russia, perhaps — think it is in their short-term interest.

The US, despite being overextended and despite a desperate economic situation may still be able to take action that will prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear capability. There is no doubt that only military action will work, because the worldwide will for effective diplomatic action does not exist. But we need to understand what is at stake.

There is evidence that elements in the US government have decided that Iranian nukes are inevitable, and that we need to find a way to live in this new world.

Michael Freund, a former official in Benjamin Netanyahu’s Prime Ministership, lists five reasons that accepting this position would lead to disaster:

1. An Iranian nuclear arsenal would transform the strategic dynamic of the entire Middle East, shifting the balance of power squarely in the direction of radical Shi’ite fundamentalism.

An atomic Iran will be able to threaten the region and the world with nuclear blackmail and destruction, and they will use that leverage to further their fanatical and revolutionary aims.

Interestingly, the primary means that this will be carried out is by threats to the West’s oil supply. This form of economic warfare has already begun even before the nuclear weapons have been armed, as Iranian-fomented instability has pushed the price of oil up to almost $100/bbl. The cost of fuel in the US has shot up in the past year, adding to the inflationary pressures caused by war spending. There is talk of denominating the price of oil in Euros, which could trigger a massive currency devaluation.

2. A nuclear-armed Iran will pose an existential threat to Israel, and ultimately to the West too. Iranian leaders have repeatedly and explicitly promised to wipe Israel off the map and to strike at the United States.

Teheran has been backing up its words with actions by steadily improving its ballistic missile capability. The Shihab-3 missile, with a range of 1,200 km, can hit all of Israel as well as US military targets in the Middle East. Iran is busy developing the Shihab-4, with a range of 2,000 km, that will put parts of Europe within striking distance. Teheran is also striving to build even longer-range intercontinental missiles that can hit the US as well. All of these weapons have the ability to deliver atomic warheads.

3. If Iran goes nuclear, it will inevitably tilt the neighboring Arab states further in the direction of extremism, as they seek to mollify the nuclear-armed ayatollahs. Whatever limited chances there might be of drawing at least some Arab states into the moderate camp are likely to be stymied rather quickly.

4. Failure to take action against Teheran will trigger a region-wide nuclear arms race, as countries throughout the Middle East will seek to achieve strategic and military parity.

A number of states, such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, have already announced plans to build their own nuclear power plants, and others will undoubtedly do so as well out of fear of being left behind. Permitting Iran to go nuclear essentially paves the way to a Middle East that will be brimming with atomic weapons.

5. If Iran were to develop “the bomb,” what is to stop them from putting it into the hands of one of the myriad anti-Israel and anti-American terrorist groups that they support, such as Hizbullah or Islamic Jihad? Do we really want to take a chance that terrorists might at last be able to get their hands on nuclear weapons? This is not some “neocon nightmare scenario” or “warmonger wishful-thinking.”

The consequences of a nuclear Iran will be the destruction, not only of Israel, but of the United States. We will be weakened by economic warfare, further damaged by terrorist attacks against our financial, industrial, and perhaps even agricultural infrastructure, and ultimately reduced to third-rate power status. This does not even require that the Iranian weapons be actually used!

Enlightenment values in Europe are already under attack by the steady growth of Islam — and radical Islam. What will happen when it is in range of Iranian nuclear missiles?

It’s possibly not too late for US leaders to grapple with these problems and take action. They will have to put aside political and personal considerations and understand the fact that we are at a historical tipping point from which the future may go either way.

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The argument is about the Jewish state, not a Palestinian one

Tuesday, November 20th, 2007

Here’s how Paul Reynolds of the BBC sees the chances that Annapolis will have a positive result:

There are perhaps only two reasons for any hope.

The first is the fear of something worse.

Annapolis can be seen as a way of trying to support the moderates.

The strategy is to show Palestinians that talks can produce results and that the confrontation promoted by Hamas in Gaza is not the way forward.

The danger is that this strategy might fail and leave the Palestinians with nothing and the Israelis still in the state of “siege” described by the Irish and UN diplomat Conor Cruise O’Brien in 1986.

I would suggest that the real danger is that this strategy might succeed, Israel will get out of the West Bank, and then the ‘moderates’ will stop pretending to be moderate or be replaced by Hamas. But Reynolds’ real point is to come:

The second is a better understanding that the philosophy behind Oslo and the road map might be wrong. Both those agreements sought to establish an atmosphere of peace and security first, leading to a final agreement second.

There is nothing wrong with trying to create better conditions, something for example that the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has been trying to do on the economic front.

But without a final agreement, there can probably be no peace and security. Security will not lead to an agreement. It is an agreement that will lead to security.

In other words, unless Israel gives the Palestinians the agreement they want, there will not be peace and security. An ‘agreement’ sounds so civilized, but the word for concessions made to stop someone from trying to kill you is ‘appeasement’.

Is it too much to ask, as the roadmap and Oslo did, that the Palestinians stop terrorism before they get their state, especially since one would like to have some reason to think that they are capable of it before putting them in rocket range of Ben Gurion Airport? Apparently Reynolds thinks so.

It’s mind-boggling that the response to the failure of the Palestinians to meet their commitment to end terrorism, which was the primary reason for the collapse of Oslo and the Roadmap, should be to simply give up on the requirement and push Israel to hand over territory even while terrorism continues.

But there are other indications that Reynolds and the BBC see Israel, and not the Palestinians, as the main obstacle to peace:

There has been little sign that they are anywhere near agreement [on borders, Jerusalem, settlements, and ‘right of return’ for refugees].

Instead there has been a new argument – about an Israeli demand that Israel should be recognised as a “Jewish state”.

This is something fundamental for the Israelis but Palestinians see it as taking one of their cards – the refugees – off the table in advance.

First of all, this is not a ‘new’ argument. It is no more and no less than an insistence that the Palestinians (and the world) recognize that the Jews won the war of 1948, when a Jewish state was established in Mandatory Palestine. It is being articulated now because it is evident that the Arabs do not accept this.

The absolutely absurd, historically unprecedented, requirement that a hostile population of 4 to 5 million descendants of refugees from a war that their side lost 59 years ago ‘return’ — does not belong “on the table” at all, and it should be seen, along with the denial of Israel’s right to be a Jewish state, as a demand for the reversal of the outcome of the 1948 war. Far from a demand for self-determination for Palestinians, it is a refusal to grant this same right to Jews.

Reynolds and the BBC suggest that the issue is about such things as the size of the Palestinian state, how much of Jerusalem they will end up with, and the welfare of the refugee descendants.

What they don’t see, or (less charitably) pretend not to see is that this argument is not actually about the Palestinians and their state. More fundamentally, it’s about the Jews and theirs.

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