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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BBC lacks context about Hebron

Tuesday, October 21st, 2008

Criticizing the BBC for lack of context is as easy as the proverbial shooting fish in a barrel (which in reality would probably be not so easy and somewhat dangerous).

For example, here is a long article on the BBC website called “Mixed emotions on Hebron tour” by Heather Sharp. It describes a tour sponsored by the Hebron Jewish community of the historic city where today about 700 Jews and 150,000 Arabs live.

The tour has recently been promoted as a way to create support for the community, which has been demonized in most of the Israeli media. Note that as is common in BBC articles, Ms. Sharp includes a gratuitous remark about “international law”:

Adverts proclaiming “Judea and Samaria [the Jewish name for the West Bank] – the story of every Jew” have recently appeared on billboards, buses and the websites of Israel’s left-leaning newspapers.

Some were immediately defaced with left-wing graffiti, reflecting the strong differences among Israelis over the settlements, which are considered illegal under international law — although Israel disputes this.

And she adds that

The tour explains little of the misery caused by the Israeli restrictions, or the brutal treatment that human rights groups say Palestinians suffer at the hands of some settlers and Israeli troops.

The most important site, of course, is ma’arat hamachpela, the tomb of the Patriarchs, where Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca and Leah are said to be buried (Rachel’s tomb is near Bethlehem). The writer seems to be put off by the sight of Jews praying, but she toughs it out in order to remind us of Baruch Goldstein:

Entering the Tomb of the Patriarchs as hundreds of religious Jews rock back and forth in prayer, too, is a mixed experience for the secular visitors.

Access to the site is controlled by the Israeli military. The complex is divided into two parts, Muslim and Jewish, with separate entrances. Jews can enter the Muslim side for 10 days a year, and vice versa.

But for the most part, the two sides have been sealed off from each other, a legacy of the massacre by a Jewish extremist [Goldstein] of 29 Palestinians there in 1994.

The overall impression one gets is that the Jews of Hebron are simply perverse, living where they are not wanted, and that they get their jollies by brutally oppressing Palestinians.

The article does not mention any of the following:

There was a thriving Jewish community in Hebron from biblical times until 1929 when local Arabs, incited by the Arab leadership including the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, mounted a pogrom against them, killing at least 65, raping and maiming many others, making Hebron 100% Jew-free. Some returned but were forced out by more Arab violence in 1936. Since Hebron was in the territory occupied — against “international law” for whatever that is worth — by Jordan in 1948, Jews were not permitted to live there until 1967.

In Hebron in 2001 a Palestinian sniper shot and killed 10-month old Shalhevet Pas in her father’s arms. The atrocity was barely noticed by the international media, unlike the non-murder of Muhammad al-Dura.


Col. Dror WeinbergNov 15, 2002 – Col. Dror Weinberg, 38, of Jerusalem’s Kiryat Moshe neighborhood, was one of 12 people killed — nine soldiers and three civilians from the Kiryat Arba emergency response team — and 15 wounded in Hebron when Palestinian terrorists opened fire and threw grenades at a group of Jewish worshipers and their guards as they were walking home from Sabbath Eve prayers at the Cave of the Patriarchs…

Col. Dror Weinberg was buried in the Kfar Sava Military Cemetery. He is survived by his pregnant wife, Hadassah, and five children: a son Yoav, 14, daughter Yael, 11, and sons Eitan, eight, Yishai, five, and Uri, three. Hadassah gave birth to a baby boy in April: “This is the special gift Dror has left me,” she said. — Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs

A personal note — I had the honor of meeting Col. Weinberg in 1999 at a ceremony marking the completion of training for my son’s  group in the maglan [special paratroop] unit, which Weinberg commanded. He said something about my coming all the way from America to watch him stick a pin on my son’s shirt (which was not properly tucked in); it was the least I could do, I said, considering what the young men were facing.

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Middle East Studies: a surreal weekend

Saturday, October 18th, 2008

I attended the California State University Fresno [CSUF] “Conference on Middle East Studies” this weekend. I can only hit some high and low spots. Where to begin?

With the good parts: One of the first papers presented was by Neda Maghbouleh, a Ph.D student at UC Santa Barbara, about the effect of Iranian popular music of the  ’70’s and ’80’s on first and second generation Iranian-Americans. It was like discovering a parallel universe, inhabited by Googoosh, among others. Ms. Maghbouleh obviously enjoyed her research a great deal and showed it.

There were a few other bright spots, like when Mary Husain, who was pilloried here (“Scholarship or Rubbish?“) for publishing a striking example of postmodernist academic boondoggling at its worst, actually mentioned this site as an example of “The post-9/11 Assault on Higher Education and Academic Freedom”! “I don’t even know who these people are”, she wailed.

Ms. Husain, please know that 1) I chose to focus “Scholarship or Rubbish?” on you rather than your co-author because you are a member of the CSUF Middle East Studies Program [MESP] and he is not, and not because of your Muslim-sounding name; 2) I chose to write about you rather than a non-Muslim member of your department because of the availability and staggering badness of your published article; and 3) I fail to see how my critique limits academic freedom. I am however, guilty as charged of “stealing” your photo from the CSUF academic website.

From here on, though, things went rapidly downhill. My original fear that the MESP would become a platform for anti-Israel political agitation because the initiators, Dr. Vida Samiian and Dr. Sasan Fayazmanesh have expressed extreme anti-Israel positions in the past, appears to have been justified.

Dr. Lawrence Davidson of West Chester University (Pennsylvania) presented two papers. The first, on “forced migration” of Palestinians was a 20-minute polemical recitation of charges against Israel, including “purposeful impovershment” of the Palestinians, “equivalent to genocide” by such means as the “apartheid wall” because “Israel covets Palestinian land”. The Palestinians live in constant insecurity, Davidson said, from incursions, air attacks, etc. Israel claims that this is in self-defense, but in fact “over the past 60 years Israeli policy has been motivated by racism”, a desire to have all the land “Palestinian-rien”.

Davidson presented ‘facts’ and figures more rapidly than I could write, but I would be interested in knowing how he documents such highly dubious statements as “Israel expropriated 50% of the land in the West Bank” and “40% of Israelis favor ‘transfer’ of Palestinians”. This was anything but a scholarly paper; it was at best a political speech, and at worst — incitement of hatred.

Davidson gave an interesting answer when asked how he could discuss all of the above without even mentioning Palestinian terrorism, or decisions such as the rejection of partition, etc.  Israel is the dominant power, he said, and therefore controls everything that happens. The Palestinians are by definition powerless, so their ‘resistance’ is simply a reaction to Israeli oppression. Hence, surprisingly enough, violent actions on both sides are Israel’s fault. This argument needs no further refutation!

He was also asked how he could leave out of the equation the historical backing of extremists by the Arab nations, and, recently, the Iranian proxy war against Israel being prosecuted by Hamas and Hezbollah.  He responded that Israel was offensively powerful enough to counter any imaginable military threat — ignoring tiny Israel’s unique home-front vulnerability. He further suggested that Israel should simply ‘take a chance’ and agree to the Saudi initiative — which I think I have shown is equivalent to national suicide for the Jewish state.

Davidson presented a second paper, this one on teaching about the Middle East. He believes that students arrive with an anti-Muslim and pro-Israel orientation which is created by overwhelming bias in the American media. I suppose he has had students who only watch Fox News, but I hardly think that NPR, CNN, the NY Times, Reuters, the AP, Pacifica Radio, etc. can be called pro-Zionist!

Nevertheless, he faces the problem of how to break down the students’ ‘emotional’ cleavage to Zionism and get them to understand the Palestinian viewpoint.  One of his most effective techniques is to have the students read various sources, including pro-Palestinian material written by Israelis — he even mentioned renegade Israeli academic Ilan Pappé as a good choice! He also likes the early Benny Morris — with its doctored quotations from Ben-Gurion and other Zionists.

The class then takes the form of a discussion, in which he presents his own position, all the while reassuring the students that disagreement will not affect their grades. Some students have difficulty overwhelming their ‘emotional’ attachment to Zionism, and those, he admits, often drop his class. The possibility that there might be a student who — though employing logical thinking and careful research — might nevertheless fail to agree with him was not mentioned.

Davidson was less a scholar than a polemicist and less a teacher than an indoctrinator. I can’t imagine that such a person could have held an academic position when I was in school, but I suppose that was a long time ago.

One of the sessions that I most looked forward to was one on “What the future has in store?” This was to be, unfortunately, my last, as you will see.

Dr. Eric Hooglund blamed Israel and settlements for everything. Why bother to repeat it yet again? He also did not mention terrorism or Hamas, but he claimed that the failure of Camp David, the Roadmap and the Annapolis negotiations to lead to peace were all because of Israel insistence on expanding settlements and building new ones.

He also said that friends and former students of his in the US State Department felt that US policy would change significantly — I understood him to mean in the direction of the Palestinians — if Barack Obama is elected.

Dr. Sasan Fayazmanesh spoke about American policy toward Iran, as determined by the power relationships between various groups in the US administration (and the administration to come). At one point I actually began to empathize with him. After all, he thinks that American policy is to wage war against his homeland — if not by armies, then by economics; and I think that American policy may lead to the destruction of Israel by its enemies. We both see little difference between the parties in this respect.

However, all good things come to an end. In this case someone asked a question about Ahmadinejad’s famous remark that is often translated “Israel will be wiped off the face of the earth”.  Fayazmanesh said that the translation was incorrect — a not unreasonable point, although it is quite clear from Ahmadinejad’s support of Hezbollah and Hamas, his financing of the Syrian missile buildup, etc., that he is at least aiming for what might be called ‘regime change’ in Israel, from Jews to Arabs.

“You see, he said, Ahmadinejad is not anti-Semitic.” And he displayed a Powerpoint presentation entitled “Ahmadinijad: is he an anti-Semite?”

The first slide showed the Iranian President sitting down at a table — perhaps at the notorious Holocaust denial conference of 2006 — with representatives of a radical Neturei Karta faction, a tiny sect — possibly less than one hundred members — of the favorite Jews of every anti-Semite, previously paid to perform by Yasser Arafat and now most likely by Ahmadinejad.

“You see,” said Fayazmanesh, “he cannot be an anti-Semite. These are Jews. They are his friends.”

All of us have character weaknesses and one of mine is that the level of crap that sets me off is not all that high. I stood up, and said quite loudly, and maybe without making enough sense: what about the Holocaust denial conference? What about the Holocaust denial conference? Then either I walked out, was asked to leave, or both. Really, it was the cumulative effect of some of the other speakers — particularly, but not exclusively, Davidson — with the surrealism provided by Neturei Karta taken seriously that did me in.

Several times an Israeli participant in the conference asked something like “Look, this is supposed to be an academic meeting, why is only one point of view presented?” The response from one moderator was that constant discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was — his word — “tedious”.  Apparently anti-Israel rants by Lawrence Davidson, Eric Hooglund and others were not “tedious” — only attempts to respond from the audience were.

Update [23 Oct. 1509 PDT]: Upon rereading my notes, I realize that I had wrongly attributed the statement about the State Department sources saying that Obama would lead to ‘big changes’ to Sasan Fayazmanesh. It was actually made by Eric Hooglund.

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The Fashla of 1993

Thursday, October 16th, 2008

The fashla

The Fashla [great failure or mistake] of 1993

Some commentators have argued that the worst single policy mistake that Israel has made since the founding of the state was the 1993 decision to recognize Yasser Arafat’s PLO as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people and to bring Arafat back from Tunisian exile to head the newly formed Palestinian Authority.

The result was that any moderate forces that existed among the Palestinians were marginalized, driven out, or killed, and a system of indoctrination was developed including schools, mosques, media, children’s camps, etc. designed to do one thing: teach Palestinians — especially young ones — that the goal of destroying Israel and replacing it with an Arab state was achievable and worthy of the ultimate sacrifice.

Meanwhile, while Israel began a program of ‘educating for peace’ to try to get suspicious Israelis to accept the new ‘reality’ that the conflict with the Palestinians — and perhaps even the whole of the Arab world — was coming to an end, that a ‘new Middle East’ was in the offing, Arafat ramped up terrorism, using arms and money supplied by the West in order to ‘fight terrorism’ (as someone said, this was like paying Kellogg’s to fight cornflakes) to create a private army.

It all blew up (pun intended) in 2000, when Arafat rejected the Camp David/Taba offers of a state and chose war instead.

Caroline Glick has written an absolutely masterful paper (“Israel and the Palestinians: Ending the Stalemate“) in which she argues that what happened in 1993 was a “paradigm shift” in the understanding of the conflict by the US and Israel:

Prior to 1993, both Israeli and U.S. policies were based on the view that the root of the conflict was the Arab world’s rejection of Israel’s right to exist. That view was codified in United Nations Security Council Resolution 242, which asserted that two principles were to form the basis of any “just and lasting peace in the Middle East.” The first was an Israeli withdrawal from some of the territory taken over by the Israel Defense Forces during the June 1967 Six-Day War. The second was that the Arab states must accept Israel’s right to exist…

Since Israel has consistently demonstrated its readiness to make territorial compromises for a lasting peace with its neighbors, it was this second condition that formed the foundation of both U.S. and Israeli policies towards the Palestinians specifically, and the Arab world generally, from the end of the Six-Day War until the onset of Israel’s peace process with the PLO in 1993.

After 1993, however, both the US and Israel adopted the point of view common to the Arabs, the EU, the UN and Russia [Glick says "Soviet Union", but of course after 1991 there was no USSR] that the root of the conflict was not Arab rejectionism but Israeli occupation of the territories captured in 1967:

…they argued that the Arab world generally, and the Palestinian Arabs specifically, could not be expected to accept Israel’s right to exist until the military outcome of the Six-Day War was entirely reversed. In this latter view, it was Israel, not the Arabs, which bore responsibility for the intractable nature of the conflict. And it was Israel, not the Arabs, which would have to amend its policies if peace were to be achieved.

By accepting the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian Arabs in 1993, both Israel and the U.S. essentially adopted this latter view of the nature of the conflict. A terrorist organization founded in 1964 with the goal of eliminating Israel altogether, the PLO represented the most extreme assertion of Israeli responsibility for the Arab world’s refusal to accept its existence. Indeed, eternalizing that refusal was its raison d’être.

Since then the US has moved farther and farther in this direction. Glick points out that the Bush Administration in 2002 was the first American administration to call for the creation of a Palestinian state as a goal of the ‘peace process’. At that time President Bush linked the creation of the state to an end to terrorism, and the road map of 2003 made this part of the first stage, before the establishment of a state. Glick writes,

In November 2007, however, the Bush administration broke with that view. Its new policy is founded on the belief that Israel and the Palestinian Authority must sign an agreement spelling out the borders and sovereign rights of the sought-for State of Palestine even before the Palestinian Authority fights—let alone defeats—the terror forces operating within its territory in Judea, Samaria and the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made this point clearly in a press briefing on November 4, 2007. In her words: “The real breakthrough, it was actually a few months ago now, is that for a long time, if you remember, the argument was you couldn’t talk about the Palestinian state or core issues, which was in phase three [of the road map], until you had completed phase one [requiring the Palestinian Authority to fight terrorism], which got us into an extended kind of circular problem for a long time about phase one. Well… now we’ve broken through and they are, indeed, talking about… what’s in phase three, which is the establishment of a Palestinian state.”

In other words, “Damn the [terrorism], full speed ahead [to a state]“.

But, as Glick goes on to show, the Palestinians — of course Hamas, but also the ‘moderate’ Fatah — which is after all the Fatah of Yasser Arafat — have never wanted statehood alongside Israel. The goal has always been to “end the occupation” — the Jewish occupation of the land that began in 1948, and indeed, long before that:

This view was evident in Arafat’s rejection of Barak’s offer at Camp David in 2000. While Arafat never made a counteroffer, he gave three justifications for walking away from an offer that would enable the establishment of a Palestinian state. First, Arafat rejected Barak’s argument that the establishment of a Palestinian state in Judea, Samaria, Gaza and Jerusalem would end the Palestinian conflict with Israel.

Second, Arafat rejected the Israeli position that the immigration to Israel of Palestinian Arabs who left Israel during the 1948-49 war and their descendants would be limited to family reunification. In Arafat’s words, “the right of return [of the former Arab residents and their descendants to Israel] is sacred and its sanctity is not less than that [assigned to] the holy places [in Jerusalem].”

By couching Palestinian rejection of the Israeli offer in such terms, Arafat made clear that the Palestinian demands on Israel are not limited, and so amenable to compromise and conciliation. Rather they are unlimited, and impossible to appease. Here it should be noted that there are no Palestinian leaders who are willing to compromise on the demand that millions of foreign-born Arabs be allowed unfettered immigration to Israel. Moreover, the Palestinians are fully cognizant of the fact that such a move will destroy Israel by overwhelming its Jewish majority. Indeed, Fatah is no different from Hamas or Islamic Jihad—or Iran, for that matter—in its refusal to accept Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.

Finally, Arafat explained that he refused Israel’s offer of statehood because the Palestinian conflict with Israel is not simply a nationalist quest for Palestinian statehood, but an Islamic religious struggle

This last was a new and somewhat hypocritical maneuver for Arafat, who had always been a secular communist-style radical. But ever skilled at determining wind direction, he realized that the growing power of Islamism (and the loss of a communist sponsor in the Soviet Union) would have to be taken into account. But one thing has never changed from the days of the Nazi Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini through Arafat and now Abbas:

Since the issuance of the Balfour Declaration in 1917, far clearer than the Palestinian Arab desire for statehood has been the Palestinian Arab rejection of Jewish statehood. Championing Palestinian Arab statehood has never been the explicit policy of either the Palestinians or the rest of the Arab world. Rather, rejecting the right of the Jewish nation to sovereignty in the land of Israel has been the consistent policy of the Palestinian Arab leadership as well as the general Arab leadership since 1917, and most pronouncedly since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.

Glick thinks, as do I, that the US and Israel took a seriously wrong turn in 1993, a turn based on a misunderstanding of Palestinian goals and intentions, wishful thinking, and projection of Western ideas on Arab peoples who do not share them. And possibly there is more to it than just misunderstandings. In the US there is an alignment of pro-Arab forces in the State Department with oil interests and Saudi Arabia who would be happy to see Israel replaced with a Palestinian Arab state. And in Israel there are those whose ideology has driven them to take positions that are counter to their own continued existence.

Glick provides a detailed prescription for the changes needed to undo the fashla [great failure or mistake] of 1993. I suggest that in the US, we can begin by understanding that the problem is not that there is no Palestinian state — but rather that the Arabs, including the Palestinians, do not want there to be a Jewish state.

Both American presidential candidates have pledged to work for a “two-state solution”. This is putting the cart several miles ahead of the horse. Our policy should make any Israeli withdrawals contingent — as UN resolution 242 states — on real recognition of Israel’s right to exist, expressed in part by an end to the support of terrorism by Arab nations, Iran and the Palestinian Authority alike.

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Why I still can’t make up my mind

Sunday, October 12th, 2008

Unlike most of the forty-seven gazillion people who write blogs on political subjects, I have not expressed an opinion on the US presidential race. This is partly because I wanted my blog to be different, partisan in its support for Israel while neutral about American politics. And it is partly because I haven’t completely made up my mind.

Unfortunately “a plague on both your houses” is not constructive when one lives in the country that the houses in question want to control, and when one cares strongly about another country whose fate is almost entirely dependent upon the actions of the first.

I am not going to endorse a candidate today (I can hear campaign managers sighing in relief), but I want to mention a couple of things that will weigh heavily on my decision.

The first is John McCain’s shockingly irresponsible decision to choose  Sarah Palin as his running mate. I understand the calculations that led to the choice, whether they were made by the candidate or by his advisors. But this is not a game that will be over on November 4. It is just not conscionable to choose as deputy someone so totally unqualified, someone so far from qualified that if she should become President the best that we could hope for would be that her actions would actually be determined by shadowy hands in the background, and that these hands would be competent and benign.

Now to Barack Obama. My main problem is his policy regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. When Obama visited Israel in July, he said that he would work hard to bring about a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians “starting from the minute I’m sworn into office”.

David Horovitz of the Jerusalem Post interviewed Obama at that time; you should read the whole ineterview, but here are a few things he said:

Horovitz: You’ve said on this trip that you want to work for an Israeli-Palestinian accommodation from the minute you’re sworn in, so let me ask you about the thesis that there is no prospect of Palestinian moderation prevailing and enabling a peace process to really move forward until Iran’s nuclear drive has been thwarted – that so long as the Teheran-backed extremists of Hamas and so on feel that they are in the ascendant, the moderates can’t prevail and that the whole region is now in this kind of holding mode.

Obama: I think there is no doubt that there is a connection between Iran’s strengthening over the last couple of years, partly because some strategic errors have been made on the part of the West. And [the same goes for] the increasing boldness of Hizbullah and Hamas. But I don’t think that’s the only factor and criterion in the lack of progress.

Hamas’s victory in the [Pal