Archive for September, 2008

Is time running out?

Monday, September 29th, 2008

Time is running out on a peace deal, says Olmert:

Israel will have to give up virtually all of the West Bank and east Jerusalem if it wants peace with the Palestinians, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said in a farewell interview published Monday, saying Israel faced a stark choice and needed to make a decision soon…

Olmert said time was “so short that it is terribly distressing.” In its attempts to make peace with the Palestinians and Syria, he said the decision Israelis now had to make “was a decision that we have been refusing to look at open-eyed for 40 years.” — Jerusalem Post

Unless it’s not.

“Time is on my side, Yes it is!”
By Barry Rubin

September 28, 2008

So sang the Rolling Stones. But which side has time working in its favor? That’s one of the Middle East’s most intriguing and controversial questions.

Recently, Israeli leaders and well-wishers — sincere and hypocritical alike — have spoken in panicky terms that time isn’t on Israel side and it’s either peace in a few months or the Biblical flood.

Even U.S. government policy claims that agreement can and must be reached right away or else. Presidential candidate Barrack Obama has stated that Israel desperately needs peace and must make lots of concessions to get it real fast.

Well, it’s nonsense. But first let’s ask why has this idea become so big?

First, peace is good. Second, on the left, peace is considered both good and reachable if Israel gives up enough.

Somehow, no serious analysis is ever made on what the other side, the Palestinians and Syria, are, want, think, or do.

Given these beliefs, they sincerely believe that Israel should be scared, pushed, and subverted — for “its own good” — to give. In this context, no serious reevaluation is made of the well-intended but arguably disastrous peace process of the 1990s. Many of those on the moderate left and center have drawn proper conclusions from this experience.

Others in the center or even moderate right, however, who don’t accept the further left’s arguments, have come up with one of their own. They already accept, of course, that peace is good but how does one justify a high level of concessions? The answer is that those thinking this way must conclude that peace is both possible and urgently necessary.

And this brings us to former (oh, it feels so good to use that word) Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and apparently, though possibly not, for acting Prime Minister Tzipi Livni.

For them, the argument that time is against Israel is the critical argument.

The response should be: on what is this claim based? After all, not only is it not true but progress toward peace — as welcome as that would be — can worsen many of the factors they consider. Moreover, if too many concessions are made or a bad agreement is concluded than time really would be against Israel.

Perhaps the only specific point raised to show time is running out is the demographic one. Yet this is absurd. Egypt’s birthrate, following a common pattern seen throughout the world, has fallen. The outflow of Palestinians to Jordan and other places is obvious. Palestinian population has been overestimated.

Beyond this, however, it makes no difference how many Palestinians there are in the West Bank or Gaza Strip. Israel is not going to annex the land and make the Palestinians there voters. Numbers alone — as the conflict’s history shows — don’t count that much.

Whatever supposed factor pitting time against Israel — Europe’s Islamicization, declining Western support, radical Islamist takeovers of Arab states or the Palestinian movement — will not be neutralized by Israeli concessions or a Palestinian state’s creation. After all, once the situation changed against Israel, the issue would merely be reopened no matter what diplomatic agreement might have been reached earlier. The concept that immediate giveaways buy long-term immunity is absurd on its face.

Equally, underlying all this irrational analysis is a dogma beloved by foreign observers and journalists that quickly collapses on examination: Israel cannot continue with the status quo.

Why not? Israel faces far less pressure than in prior years. Security is far better than in the 1948-1990 period when Israel potentially faced full-scale war with the armies of surrounding Arab states every day. In the 1990s’ peace process period, when at times terrorism reached far higher levels than today.

As for rocket attacks time is on Israel’s side since it will have a defensive system within a few years. Completing the security fence will also enhance protection. Regarding Iranian nuclear weapons, an agreement with Fatah won’t deter Tehran’s — or Hizballah’s and Hamas’s — determination to sabotage it and passion for destroying Israel.

These radical forces would try to take over a Palestinian state and attack Israel from Gaza, Lebanon, and (West Bank) Palestine. Would the Palestinian government be able or even try to stop them? Might this bring Israeli military action and a new war? Once a Palestinian state was created would Israel’s Arab minority be happy or inspired to escalate demands?

What about the cost to Israel of occupation? Well, before 1994 Israel paid the entire budget for the territories and was 100 percent responsible for security control. Today, its involvement in the Gaza Strip is zero and in the West Bank perhaps one-fifth what is was. Olmert’s personal sleaziness takes a higher toll on Israeli morale than the remnants of occupation. Most Israelis don’t want more than a tiny portion of the West Bank and know any presence there is due to security needs, not Greater Israel ambitions.

Meanwhile, Israel prospers and progresses. This year saw record tourism, near record-low unemployment, and fast economic growth. Israel’s real problems are internal — improving education and social welfare — having nothing to do with the Palestinians.

Equally, Israel is doing well internationally. While a leftist and academic fringe has become completely hostile and popularity in public opinion polls has fallen in Europe (often not far below levels of anti-Americanism), the diplomatic picture is good. With friendly British, French, German, and Italian governments, the most hostile states in Europe are probably Belgium, Spain, and Sweden. Aside from the United States, Australia and Canada are extremely friendly; Israel has good relations with India and China, and okay relations with Russia.

Sadly, too, while it’s always been argued that pushing for peace, withdrawing troops, and making big concessions promotes the love of Israel, unquestionably the opposite happens.

While Israel progresses on hi-tech, medicine, and science, the Arab world lags behind. Palestinians pay a high price for stagnation but choose intransigence any way. In fact, time is on Israel’s side; it grows in strength while the other side has become more divided and, in most cases, increasingly unwilling to wage the conflict.

Some of the attitude of time-as-enemy arises from a general Western malaise of self-hatred and defeatism. In addition, Israel kept winning wars without gaining strategic serenity, neither total victory nor total peace. Yet a combination of military triumphs, diplomatic efforts, and redeployment from the territories has brought Israel’s security to what is, in relative terms, a near all-time high. It may be far below what other nations are used to having, yet it is Israeli standards that count here.

The reality is that the Palestinians — albeit living off large-scale, though poorly spent, global subsidies — for whom time is an enemy. They face bad conditions; Fatah’s decline continues; the chance to have their own state slips away because their leadership pushes it away. Arab regimes face Islamist challenges that may be defeated but waste resources and stunt their progress. The chance for democracy, moderation, and stability has been lost for another generation.

Peace is preferable but much of what makes it so is that it must be a good peace, one that makes things better and is sustainable. Peace is possible only when the other side wants it. Today’s peace process mania is like a cartoon character whose legs windmill in a blur but which never advances.

But Israel is in the stronger position and can, like the Rolling Stones, say to Palestinians and others that if they want to make things better for themselves:

“You’re searching for good times, wait and see,
“You’ll come running back to me.”

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley). To read and subscribe to MERIA and other GLORIA Center publications or to order books, visit

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Frustration and rage

Sunday, September 28th, 2008

Prof. Ze'ev SternhellRecently someone placed a small pipe bomb outside the home of Ze’ev Sternhell, a professor of Political Science at the Hebrew University. He was slightly injured when it exploded. The police think that the perpetrators were right-wing extremists, angry at Sternhell for his widely-quoted remarks, as follows:

In the end we will have to use force against the settlers in Ofra or Elon Moreh. Only he who is willing to storm Ofra with tanks will be able to block the fascist danger threatening to drown Israeli democracy. — 1998

There is no doubt about the legitimacy of [Palestinian] armed resistance in the territories themselves. If the Palestinians had a little sense, they would concentrate their struggle against the settlements… and refrain from planting bombs west of the Green Line. — 2001

This small bomb’s echo was heard across the country, Yariv Oppenheimer of Peace Now said:

On Thursday night, my feelings of personal safety — as well as those of my friends — were shattered the moment we received news that an explosive device had detonated outside Prof. Ze’ev Sternhell’s home.

One would expect that his ‘feelings of personal safety” would have been far more affected by Hezbollah’s and Syria’s thousands of missiles aimed at Israel or by Iranian threats, but never mind.

It is wrong to blow up left-wing Jews who say stupid things. Do I need to repeat that? It is no better than the actions of Hamas (who blow up both left and right-wing Jews).

Having said that, let’s follow the lead of those who try to understand the forces that have produced Arab and Muslim terrorism. Not approve of, just understand, mind you. Let’s try to understand the frustration that gives rise to right-wing rage.

Here’s a quick summary of some of the political causes for frustration, from an article by Evelyn Gordon:

In 1993, the Knesset approved the Oslo Accords, even though Yitzhak Rabin won election promising no negotiations with the PLO. But the ensuing surge in terror disillusioned many Oslo supporters, thus rightists saw a real chance of defeating Oslo 2 in 1995. So they did exactly what good democrats are supposed to do: They lobbied Shas and Labor MKs, and succeeded in garnering enough votes for victory – until Rabin, thumbing his nose at the rules, openly bought two MKs elected on a far-right slate, thereby securing a 61-59 majority…

Fast forward to the 2003 election, when Labor championed a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza and the Likud’s Ariel Sharon campaigned against this idea. Again, rightists did what good democrats are supposed to do: They threw themselves into electing Sharon. And they succeeded: The Likud won by a landslide. Yet 11 months later, Sharon U-turned and adopted Labor’s platform.

Nevertheless, he offered a democratic escape route: an internal party referendum. So rightists again did what good democrats are supposed to do: They canvassed door-to-door among Likud members. And they won again: Though polls predicted an easy victory for Sharon, his plan lost by a 60-40 margin.

But Sharon ignored his party’s verdict, despite having pledged to honor it. He also refused to submit his plan to any broader democratic test — new elections or a national referendum…

And then Sharon had his stroke, and Olmert continued his program with disastrous results. Now the desire of the present coalition partners to retain their comfortable chairs in the Knesset has almost guaranteed that the present policy of withdrawal and concessions will continue at least until 2010, when general elections are scheduled.

But if the extreme Right is a minority in Israel, so is the extreme Left of the Sternhells and Oppenheimers. So why is Israel following this policy, so thoroughly discredited by the failure of Oslo, the second intifada, and the establishment of Hamastan in Gaza?

The reason is that the policy is not made in Israel, but rather in Washington and Brussels. It is a policy based on the demonstrably false view that Arabs and Muslims will be nicer to the US and Europe — perhaps they will pump more and drive the price of oil down (or they will not pump less and drive it up) — if the West will weaken and shrink Israel.

Some of the promoters of this policy think that Israel has a right to exist, that a peace-loving Palestinian state is a possibility, and that forcing Israel to pre-1967 borders would end Arab demands. Others realize that this is too much to hope for, but believe that a shrunken Israel could still maintain military superiority over the terrorist proxies surrounding it. Finally, some understand that the demands will never stop until Israel is no longer viable, but either don’t care or will be pleased to see the end of the “shitty little country“.

Now nothing frustrates and enrages someone as much as the feeling that he is powerless and not in control.  In particular, many feel that their democratic government is a sham, and someone else is calling the shots, forcing their country to follow a policy that will end in destruction. And there’s nothing they can do about it.

But apparently it feels good to scare fools like Sternhell and Oppenheimer.

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Peace is better than war, and brains are better than mush

Friday, September 26th, 2008

Rabbi Lynn GottleibRecently I wrote about the contradiction between the peaceful ideals of Mennonite (and some other) Christians, and their hosting a dinner for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad when he visited the UN this week.

Apparently I missed one of the other guests at the dinner. Also breaking bread with the man who has called Israel a”stinking, rotten corpse” and predicted that it would be “wiped off the face of the earth” — and who is well on the way, with the acquiesence of the West, to obtaining nuclear bombs — was Rabbi Lynn Gottleib, who also spoke at the dinner.

Rabbi Gottleib was in the news this May when — shocked by Sen. Hillary Clinton’s remark that if Iran were to attack Israel, the US would retaliate against Iran and could “totally obliterate them” — decided to travel to Iran as co-leader of an ‘interfaith peace delegation’, where she wrote a poem, ending thus:

O Iran
Revelation bursts forth from your soil
draped in ten thousand shades
of  illumination.
You returned my people to Jerusalem
restored the Temple
provided my relatives with a Persian home for thirty centuries
and I did not know.
Now I jump over fires on Norouz
go to the garden of roses
the first Sabbath after Passover
recite poetry
at Hafez’s tomb
touch my forehead to the clay earth of Jamkaran
where the Mahdi is hidden
but everywhere present.

Lovely, isn’t it?  I thought it would be instructive to contrast it with some prose by the honored guest at the dinner, spoken earlier that day at the UN General Assembly:

The dignity, integrity and rights of the American and European people are being played with by a small but deceitful number of people called Zionists. Although they are a miniscule [sic] minority, they have been dominating an important portion of the financial and monetary centers as well as the political decision-making centers of some European countries and the US in a deceitful, complex and furtive manner. It is deeply disastrous to witness that some presidential or premiere [sic] nominees in some big countries have to visit these people, take part in their gatherings, swear their allegiance and commitment to their interests in order to attain financial or media support.

Gottleib’s explanation, when asked why she attended a dinner honoring such a man, said “peace is better than war”.

Um, OK.

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AP presents distorted view of ‘peace process’

Friday, September 26th, 2008

Last week, we found the AP doing a relatively decent job of reporting Israel’s internal politics. But every time they write about relations between Israel and the Palestinians, the same old bias appears.

AP Blames Israel For Making Palestinians Want to Destroy It
By Barry Rubin

In an article of September 20, Ali Daraghmeh, “Army says troops kill Palestinian with firebomb,” there is a long discussion of the current state of the peace process.

Let’s be clear: virtually nobody in Israel who is not speaking as an official government spokesman believes that there is any chance that there will be a peace soon with the Palestinians. The great majority of them place most or all the blame on the Palestinians. In addition, most people in political life who would say publicly that there is a chance for peace have the opposite view in private conversations.

These two points, which hold true across the political spectrum except for the far left — doubts about the process and blame on the Palestinians — never appear in coverage. Never, ever. Yet these are the two most important facts about the most over-covered issue in the world. Articles lately will say that the deadline will probably not be met, but present that as sort of an accident or due to Israel’s fault — the fall of the government.

This article, like so many others, gives a lot of space to Palestinian viewpoints and none to Israeli viewpoints. In this case:

“Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, meanwhile, warned that time for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is quickly running out.” It then quotes a Mahmoud Abbas op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal blaming, “Israel’s continued settlement expansion and land confiscation in the West Bank makes physical separation of our two peoples increasingly impossible.” Actually both settlement growth and land confiscation (pretty much exclusively for the separation fence and often reversed by Israeli courts) is pretty limited.

Another really long article is dedicated to proving that Israel is destroying any chance for peace, basically serving as a Palestinian propaganda statement. This article, Steven Gutkin, “Palestinians despairing of independence effort“, September 20, 2008, basically says that the nice Palestinians really want peace but Israel won’t give it to them. As a result, the frustrated Palestinians may have to resort to violence. Well who could blame them under these conditions, right?

Here’s the lead:

Prominent Palestinians are lighting a fire under Israel’s feet by proposing a peace in which there would be no separate Palestine and Israel, but a single state with equal rights for all.

So let’s ask some questions. The Palestinians use the phrase about lighting fires as a code word for terrorist violence, though the American reader will understand it here as sort of, urging Israel to move forward. Is a Palestinian demand for Israel to disappear and millions of Palestinians to be allowed to live there a peace proposal? And does anyone take seriously the idea of equal rights for all, a phrase taken from the U.S. Supreme Court building?

In the next paragraph though we are told that it is not just a single state with equal rights for all but a “binational” state, which is sort of like creating the perfect conditions for daily violence and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. Maybe, the article continues, this is “little more than a Palestinian pressure tactic fed by frustration over the failure of talks on a two-state solution, but it has set Israeli leaders on edge.”

My, my. Now why would it set them on edge, it seems so harmless, sort of like how things work in America? Oh, right, it is a binational state that would include radical Islamists and radical nationalists who have been murdering Israelis for decades.

Such a merger of Israel with the West Bank and Gaza Strip would quickly result in the Jews being outnumbered by the faster-growing Arab population. For most Israelis it would result in a nightmare choice: Give the Arabs full voting rights and lose Israel’s Jewish character, or deny them equality and be branded an apartheid state.

You think?

But even in the above paragraph which pretends to explain Israel’s point of view a key point is left out: Palestinians have never abandoned their goal of replacing Israel with a Palestinian Arab Muslim state. It isn’t something new. And the idea of using a “binational” state as an interim step in that direction has been around for 35 years.

Instead, we are told that this “idea is gathering important Palestinian adherents,” as if up until now they have been in favor of an end to the conflict, permanent peaceful coexistence, and the resettlement of Palestinians in a Palestinian state. Note that their refusal to accept such things was critical in the collapse of the “peace process” in 2000 at and after Camp David and has been the continued cause of inability to achieve a diplomatic solution since.

The rest of this extremely long article repeats the false themes of Palestinians just yearning for peace but being forced, unwillingly, to demand Israel cease to exist.

On another front, the AP finds room for a very long article by George Jahn, “Diplomats: Syria passes 1st test of nuclear probe,” September 20. The article uses a dozen paragraphs to clear Syria of any guilt for having been engaged in an effort to build a nuclear facility to produce materials for gaining atomic weapons. Note that this is a leak, not an official report, and even then proves nothing. It was immediately pointed out, for example, that the Syrians had been working on the site and might well have removed or buried the evidence.

Now, however, hundreds of thousands of readers will say: Ah, so that attack on Syria was about nothing, then, and the Syrians were victims.

Just like the Palestinians.

And, it would be far more true to say, just like the people who read these stories.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley). To read and subscribe to MERIA and other GLORIA Center publications or to order books, visit

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Jews against the Jewish people

Thursday, September 25th, 2008

On dark days I ask myself whether the Jewish people and its state — which sustains and protects it — will survive.

On really dark days I ask whether we are the primary agents of our own destruction. Here are just a few random examples that I’ve  come across recently.

Example no. 1: From the Website of J Street, an organization that wishes to replace AIPAC as the political voice of American Jewry:

We Won! Palin Not Speaking at Iran Rally

We collected over 20,000 signatures in 24 hours asking Iran Unity rally organizer Malcolm Hoenlein to take Sarah Palin off the schedule for Monday’s rally, and he caved to our pressure on Thursday afternoon citing the fact that the rally had become too partisan.

I am not a Sarah Palin fan, but she is the biggest show on the current political scene. And she wanted to make a speech (you can read it here) in which she said in part,

This is an issue that should unite all Americans. Iran should not be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons. Period. And in a single voice, we must be loud enough for the whole world to hear: Stop Iran!

Why did some American Jews prefer that this message not be heard?

Example no. 2: Some Orthodox Jews believe that only God may create a Jewish State. Most of them, however, do not embrace Israel’s enemies. But Neturei Karta does.

Neturei Karta member in friendly discussion with Hitler successor

Neturei Karta member in friendly discussion with Hitler successor in New York

Neturei Karta is a highly visible presence at anti-Israel demonstrations, and even sent a delegation to Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denial conference.  They have received funding from Iran and, in 2002, from Yasser Arafat.

Example no. 3: From Ha’aretz:

It appears that the Jewish left is bolstering its position in the U.S. – after the introduction of the new J Street lobby, aimed at countering the powerful Jewish lobby AIPAC, B’Tselem, a left-wing human rights organization based in Israel, has sent two official staffers to Washington and New York for the first time…

The B’Tselem staffers intend to inform the policy makers, American public and the American Jewish community about human rights conditions in the Palestinian territories.

B’Tselem is a ‘human rights’ organization that is interested only in the human rights of Palestinians, not Israelis. Even given this, its reports are highly distorted and biased against Israel (read CAMERA’s report on B’Tselem here). B’Tselem’s funding comes from various sources — mostly European, but including the New Israel Fund, which I have previously discussed (see: A Jewish Charity that Helps Delegitimize Israel).

What makes these groups particularly effective of course is that they are comprised of Jews. Neturei Karta’s condemnations of Zionism as a form of anti-Semitism appear alongside quotations from Hitler on neo-Nazi websites, while Palestinians point to B’Tselem — after all, an Israeli organization — as proof of their brutal treatment at the hands of the Zionists.

These Jewish groups — and all the others, like Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, Jewish Voice for Peace, etc. — have different points of view. But although they will talk for as long as you will listen about their ideologies, and although we can speculate forever about their psychological motivations, the fact is that their actions abet those, like Ahmadinejad and Hamas, who simply want to murder Jews.

They are Jews against the Jewish people.

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