Archive for October, 2008

Israel, Palestine, and “Israel-Palestine”

Thursday, October 30th, 2008

The way things are expressed is important. Language and thought are interdependent; some philosophers think that reasoning is language. Politicians understand this well. For example, Republicans like to annoy their opponents by referring to them as the ‘Democrat’ Party instead of  the ‘Democratic’ Party, which is its correct name (there’s an interesting discussion of this usage, which may go back to the 1920’s, here).

Recently I’ve noticed the usage “Israel-Palestine” to refer to the area between the Jordan and the Mediterranean. I began to see it first in pro-Palestinian and left-wing commentary, but now it seems to have leaked into the mainstream. For example, here is a quotation from Thomas L. Friedman, writing in the NY Times:

That [low oil prices] is a good thing because Iran also funds Hezbollah, Hamas, Syria and the anti-U.S. Shiites in Iraq. If America wants to get out of Iraq and leave behind a decent outcome, plus break the deadlocks in Lebanon and Israel-Palestine, it needs to end the cold war with Iran. Possible? I don’t know, but the collapse of oil prices should give us a shot.

What’s wrong with this locution? First of all, there is — as yet — no such political entity as ‘Palestine’ and certainly not ‘Israel-Palestine’. There was a geographical region called ‘Palestine’, named by the Romans and successively controlled by the Byzantines, various Muslim dynasties, Crusaders, Ottoman Turks and finally the British. In 1921, the British lopped a big chunk off  the eastern part of the Palestine Mandate and created Transjordan (today called Jordan). And in 1948 the state of Israel came into being in the western part.  What’s left, of course, is politically undefined, partly controlled by Israel, Hamas, and the Palestinian Authority.

The left-wing usage implies that they are talking about a single political as well as geographic entity, a ‘state of its citizens’ which they would like to see created in place of the Jewish state and the territories (such a state would last only as long as the resulting civil war).

Friedman, as far as I know, supports a two-state solution, so why doesn’t he say “Israel and the Palestinians”?

Some day, when the Palestinian Arabs — after all, there is no reason why Israelis are not also geographical Palestinians, Palestinian Jews — are prepared to accept the fact that there is and will continue to be a Jewish state in the Middle East, there could also be a Palestinian Arab state. They can call it فلسطين, Filastin, and then it will be correct to say “Israel and Palestine”. But there will never be anything called “Israel-Palestine”.

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Wednesday, October 29th, 2008

News item:

[Israel Beiteinu chairman] Avigdor Lieberman was speaking at a Knesset memorial session marking the seventh anniversary of former Minister Rehavam Ze’evi’s murder by Palestinian terrorists.

“The state of Israel is Jewish by definition. Whoever is not willing to accept this definition has no place in this house or for that matter in any other house, from Metula to Eilat,” he said. “[Ze’evi] would never agree to the self effacing attitude of Israel vis-à-vis Egypt. Time after time we went to see Mubarak in Egypt – he never agreed to come here in an official capacity as president.”

“Every self-respecting [Israeli] leader,” Lieberman said, would expect a reciprocal visit when making one on his own. “He wants to talk with us? Let him come here; he doesn’t want to talk with us – let him go to hell,” Lieberman said.

President Shimon Peres immediately got down on all fours to respond:

A statement released by the president’s office read, “The state of Israel has great respect for President Mubarak and for his country for their important role in promoting peace in the area, as well as for their brave efforts and unrelenting efforts in this issue. Israeli-Egyptian relations are composed of many matters… and are based on mutual respect and a single declaration will not implicate this deep relationship.

Am I too harsh? Everyone knows that Arab leaders cannot appear to be anything other than anti-Zionist, indeed, can’t allow themselves to express anything other than contempt and even hatred for the State of Israel, regardless of Israeli policy.  Otherwise they run the risk of angering the ‘street’, possibly getting assassinated like Anwar Sadat. Shouldn’t we understand this and give Mubarak a break?

Well, actually, I don’t think so.

First of all, whose fault is it that in Egypt Israelis and Jews are considered the spawn of the devil? Whose official newspapers, Mr. Mubarak, constantly run vile anti-Semitic articles and cartoons? Why are lies about Israel murdering Egyptian prisoners of war treated as fact by Egyptian agencies? Whose official TV stations present programs based on the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion”? When the government exercises tight control over what is published, why is Mein Kampf a runaway best seller in Egypt?

The fact is that apparently everyone — Arabs, Europeans, left-wing American academics, former US Presidents — feel that they are entirely justified in expressing their vicious hatred of Israel, with little attention to facts or history, and even less to civility. And there is a reason for this.

Nations have self-respect, like individuals and groups.  When the Muslim world felt insulted by the Danish cartoons, they wasted no time in expressing themselves. I am not suggesting that Israel should respond to insults with murder the way Muslims did, but a group or nation needs to maintain a vigorous display of  self-respect if it expects to receive respect in return.

President Peres’ response displays respect for Mubarak, who after all is a brutal dictator who has refrained from fighting with Israel only because he is paid about $3 billion a year by the US to do so, and who has done his best to prevent the ‘peace’ between Israel and Egypt from developing into anything more than an extended cease-fire. But Peres does not demand respect for Israel in return.

Recently, Peres showed his lack of self-respect as President of Israel when he spoke approvingly of the Saudi (or Arab League) ‘peace’ initiative:

A long-stalled Arab peace initiative could bring peace to the Middle East — still riven by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — the Israeli President Shimon Peres said Thursday, making his first endorsement of the proposal in an Arab country…

“In tandem with the bilateral negotiations with the Palestinians, we need to promote the Arab peace initiative,” Peres told reporters after his meeting with Mubarak at the Red Sea resort of Sharm El Sheik.

Peres, a Nobel peace prize winner whose presidency is largely ceremonial, said the Saudi plan “needs to be negotiated” further, but that it was “correct,” in spirit. — AP

What Peres is incapable of seeing is that the ‘spirit’ of the Saudi plan is exactly this: Israel is entirely responsible for the conflict and must fully pay the price — by returning to the pre-67 lines, including giving up East Jerusalem, and by allowing almost 5 million refugee descendants into Israel — before the Arab world will grant ‘normal relations’, whatever they are (see my article, “The Arab Initiative, as it stands, is a document of surrender” for a full analysis).

Self-respect — for himself and for the nation — would demand that Peres reject the assumption of Israeli guilt and stand up for historical truth, which is that the conflict, the terrorism, and the situation of the refugee descendants are primarily the products of the Arab refusal to permit the existence of a Jewish state in the Mideast.

Israel should be, and is, prepared to compromise on issues like borders, etc. But Israel should also insist upon unambiguous recognition of her full legitimacy as a Jewish state — that is, her self-respect — as a sine qua non for any agreements, and indeed for all of her relationships with other nations.

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Meretricious Shas brings new elections to Israel

Monday, October 27th, 2008

So Tzipi Livni was unable to come up with enough baksheesh to get Shas on board, and now Israel will have new elections, possibly as soon as in 90 days. “Shas cannot be bought!” said party leader Eli Yishai, in a statement that ranks with “I am not a crook” (Richard Nixon) for sheer counterfactuality and brings to mind the ancient joke:

Man: Would you go to bed with me for $10 million?
Woman: Yes, probably I would.
M: How about $40?
W: How dare you! What do you think I am?
M : We’ve already determined that; now we’re haggling over the price.

One positive consequence of this will be that the situation in which the composition of the Knesset is to the left of the position of the electorate will be rectified. And one expects the people to want to punish those it feels are responsible for the debacles in Gaza and Lebanon.

This implies that Kadima and Labor should decline and the Likud should gain. While the Likud has definitely moved up, surprisingly Kadima leads the Likud in polls by a slight margin, probably because of Livni’s personal popularity — and because most Israelis see the disgraced Olmert as the real villain. Labor looks to be the biggest loser. If so, the coalition that will be formed will probably include the Likud and Kadima, with one or more small parties. At least it means that the possibility of a left-wing coalition including Kadima, Labor and Meretz is ruled out.

So what does this mean for the direction that Israel will go in its relation to the Arab world and the Palestinians? Shimon Peres is ever the optimist:

The president then asked parties to consider their role in the Israeli-Arab conflict, insisting that the 2002 Saudi Peace Initiative was a huge step in distancing the Arab world from a concrete policy of rejecting Israel’s existence. Peres said that most of the Arab leaders he has met with were “unwilling to fall in line with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s imperialist approach to Islam,” and added that Egyptian President Hossni Mubarak had made it clear that “a peace deal with the Palestinians will inevitably lead to a larger peace agreement in the Middle East.” Peres insisted, “We have never been as close to peace as we are now.”  — Jerusalem Post

Peres, who still thinks that the Oslo agreement was a great achievment rather than a disaster that lead to thousands of deaths,  also thinks that the Saudi initiative represented some kind of concession by the Arabs. But a promise to establish ‘normal relations’ with Israel after a pre-67 sized Israel has been submerged by 5 million hostile Arab ‘refugees’ does not represent a real improvement over the “three No’s“. Peres reminds me of the guy who is happy when his girlfriend promises to marry him when Hell freezes over, because that means he has a chance.

Peres is correct that the Sunni Arab nations are very uncomfortable with Iranian plans to project revolutionary Shiite Islamism throughout the Mideast. While this might cause them to ignore Israeli actions against Iran or her proxies — as happened in the 2006 Lebanon war when Arab reaction was mostly verbal — it cannot change the ideological principles and domestic considerations that underlie the rejection of Israel. It cannot be a foundation for a lasting peace.

If the Likud’s Bibi Netanyahu is taken at his word, he will push to keep the Golan Heights, much of the West Bank, and an “undivided Jerusalem”. He has also said that he sees nothing wrong with continued construction of housing within Jewish neighborhoods outside of the 1967 lines, a red flag for Palestinians, the EU and the US State Department.

Even if Livni heads the government, she will be constrained to some extent by her partner. So I expect that the chances for serious concessions to the Palestinians or Syria in return for some kind of paper ‘peace’ agreement are much less likely. This, in my opinion, is a good thing. Meanwhile, especially if Barack Obama wins the election here in the US, we can expect more pressure on Israel to make such concessions.

Finally,  in all the excitement one forgets that Ehud Olmert will continue to be Prime Minister for at least another three months.

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Why is the Daily Kos surprised?

Friday, October 24th, 2008

Daily Kos headline:

No one could’ve ever predicted that Jewish voters would support Obama…

Why not? They have traditionally voted Democratic. Even when Ronald Reagan got his huge landslide in 1980, he only got 35% — Jimmy Carter got 45% and independent John Anderson 14. In 1972, 65% of Jews voted for McGovern when he was massively trounced by Nixon.

In fact, since 1916 (the earliest election listed in the source linked above), the only times the Democratic candidate got less than a majority of the Jewish vote were in 1980 and in 1920, when it was split between the Democrat, James M. Cox (ever heard of him?) and Socialist Eugene V. Debs!

So why is Markos surprised?

The great majority of Jews in the US are secular or at least non-Orthodox. Many Orthodox Jews, interestingly, do support McCain, but they comprise only a small percentage of all American Jews. Non-Orthodox Jews are overwhelmingly liberal, and most of their political opinions closely align with those of Obama. The only issue about which one might expect there to be a divergence is — Israel.

It is very, very difficult to predict what a candidate’s policy will be in office. Especially about hot-button issues, they are all very careful to say all of the right things to avoid alienating important constituencies, and for Obama the Jews — with large populations in Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania and other important states — are such a constituency.

But you can make guesses based on the advisors a candidate chooses (even when he sometimes fires them), his associations and his supporters. In terms of his likely Israel policy, Obama does not look especially good in this respect. And Kos and others recognize this.

So he is surprised that Jews are apparently ignoring this issue. He shouldn’t be. The bad news is that most liberal American Jews have long since lost any special feeling for Israel. For most, it is “just another country“.

Unfortunately for those of us who do care about Israel, there’s little reason to believe that the Republican policy — if it is anything like the Bush Administration’s — will be any better. See my previous post (“expensive futility“) for why. And there are plenty of other good reasons not to return the Republican party to office.

Now I’ve irritated everyone.

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Expensive futility

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2008

News item:

The United States signed an agreement on Wednesday to give 150 million dollars to Palestinian Authority [PA] President Mahmoud Abbas’s West Bank government, Agence France Presse reported.

The funds are the first installment of 555 million dollars pledged by Western countries at a donors’ conference in Paris late last year intended to strengthen the Palestinian Authority and underpin recently revived peace talks.

The money will go directly to the government’s budget to help fill a massive fiscal shortfall left in the wake of a seven-year uprising and will contribute to a plan by Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salaam Fayad in his plans to reform the failing Palestinian economy…

A statement from the US Consulate in Jerusalem stated that American aid to the Palestinians in 2008 now totals over $700 million and exceeds the amount the US pledged at a donors conference in December 2007.

I see the US and Israel stuck between a rock and a hard place here.

If we do not support the Abbas/Fayad PA — and if the IDF doesn’t fight on its behalf — Hamas will replace it as the power in control of the West Bank and will be the de facto ‘government’ of the Palestinians. On the other hand, this closeness to the US and Israel makes it impossible for the PA to get real support from the Palestinian ‘street’, which tends to prefer the leadership that best displays its militant credentials.

In this connection, the Fatah party of Abbas and Fayad finds it necessary to keep up militant appearances by not disarming its al-Aqsa brigade terrorists. And no Palestinian leadership can even think about giving up on the demand for a right of return to Israel for all the 4-5 million people now claiming refugee status. So even this very marginal PA can’t agree to two-state peace deal with Israel.

And yet, the Bush administration, both US presidential candidates and the Israeli government seem to believe that this is the best hope — or the only hope — of ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Here is what they are trying to do

  • Pump money and arms into the PA so that it doesn’t collapse
  • Somehow solve the insoluble problem of ‘right of return’  — and the slightly less difficult problems of borders, Jerusalem and security — so there can be a two-state agreement between Israel and the PA along the lines of the ‘Clinton ideas’ of 2000
  • Somehow keep Hamas from taking over once there is such an agreement and the IDF is out of the West Bank
  • Somehow deal with the political and economic upheaval in Israel caused by uprooting tens of thousands of West Bank residents outside the final border
  • Somehow find the money to pay for the creation of a Palestinian economy and the compensation or resettlement of ‘refugees’ — both Palestinians, and West-bank Israelis
  • Figure out what to do about Hamas and Gaza in the long term

Difficult? Impossible, in my view. And the Iranian threat, which is embodied in Hezbollah, Syrian missiles and soon nuclear weapons, will not make it easier. This approach is in essence an attempt to do Camp David over again and get it right, but history has moved on and the opportunity was missed. What might have worked in the ’90’s or even 2000 is not practical today since the rise of Hamas and the massive military buildups of the Iranian proxies.

As long as Israel is under the joint threats of Hamas, Hezbollah and Syria, the Palestinians can maintain their maximal demands, feeling time on their side. And as long as Hamas is in the equation, no peace deal of any kind could be expected to stick.

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