Archive for February, 2009

AP misrepresents Netanyahu’s position

Friday, February 13th, 2009

Here’s the lead paragraph in the latest AP story on the Israeli elections, by Mark Lavie, which appeared in our local newspaper today:

JERUSALEM The Kadima Party of moderate Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni kept its slight lead over Benjamin Netanyahu’s hawkish Likud in final election results announced Thursday, but the hard-line bloc in Israel’s new parliament will have the power to stymie Mideast peace efforts.

Writer Lavie is by no means anti-Israel like some AP staffers, but this paragraph illustrates why people in this part of the world have little understanding of what’s going on in the Mideast.

One gets the idea from it that there are ‘peace efforts’ that are on the verge of success, as long as some nasty hawkish hard-liners don’t come along and screw it up.

Actually, there has been no progress in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) since the Annapolis conference despite a very strong desire on the part of current Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his Foreign Minister, Kadima leader Tzipi Livni, to reach an agreement.

The problem has not been right-wing sabotage, but simply that the PA’s demands have exceeded anything that even Olmert and Livni can agree to — and they are far ahead of the average Israeli in what they will accept.

Anyway, even if Netanyahu forms a narrow ‘right-wing’ coalition without Kadima, the Likud and the major parties that would join it all favor a two-state solution. It’s unlikely that the smaller parties would be able to exercise a veto power over negotiations with the PA. And Netanyahu himself has said that he would continue negotiations if elected.

Lavie continues,

But the hawkish makeup of the new parliament — and Netanyahu’s own opposition to peace treaty talks with the Palestinians — could stall efforts to negotiate an accord. That could put the new government into conflict with the U.S., where President Barack Obama has pledged to put Mideast peacemaking high on his agenda.

The only sense that I can make of this is that Lavie is conflating the negotiations with the PA, which are intended to lead to a peace treaty and which Netanyahu would continue, with the indirect talks with Hamas over a cease-fire. Netanyahu did express his opinion that the war should not have been stopped short of overthrowing Hamas. But then he adds this:

Last month Obama sent a special Mideast envoy, George Mitchell, on his first tour of the region. Mitchell is on record as favoring talks on a peace treaty and opposing expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Netanyahu disagrees on both issues.

Thursday evening, Palestinian [PA] President Mahmoud Abbas urged Israel’s incoming leaders to press ahead with peace efforts. He told a Christian gathering in Ramallah that Israel must stop settlement expansion and construction of the security barrier dividing Israel from the West Bank.

Israel should “accept the two-state solution — Palestine and Israel living side by side in security and peace,” Abbas said.

So he is after all talking about negotiations with the PA and is simply wrong about Netanyahu’s position. No wonder Americans don’t understand!

Lavie quotes Abbas’ usual red herring that what is preventing agreement is “settlement expansion” and the security barrier, instead of the real reason, which is that the PA’s own weakness in confronting hardline elements prevents it from taking reasonable positions on borders, Jerusalem and refugees. Abbas’ Fatah party is contending for dominance with Hamas and other extreme factions, and its flexibility is highly limited. No Israeli government led by a Zionist party, even Labor or Meretz, can possibly agree to anything that Abbas will be allowed to accept — or vice versa.

So in a sense Lavie is getting things exactly backwards. The problem isn’t hard-line Israelis, it’s hard-line Palestinians, particularly Hamas. But that would be disturbing to the conventional wisdom, which says that everything is Israel’s fault.

Oh yes. Nowhere in the article does the word ‘Hamas’ appear. Not once.

Technorati Tags: , , ,

Are the octuplets Palestinian refugees?

Thursday, February 12th, 2009

There’s been a lot of discussion about who will pay the bills (estimated to be in the millions of dollars) for the octuplets born to Nadya Suleman, who — as everyone knows — already has six children.

One solution to the problem that may be open to them will be to apply for Palestinian refugee status and let UNRWA foot the bill. Here’s the official definition:

Under UNRWA’s operational definition, Palestine refugees are persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948, who lost both their homes and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict. UNRWA’s services are available to all those living in its area of operations who meet this definition, who are registered with the Agency and who need assistance. UNRWA’s definition of a refugee also covers the descendants through the male line of persons who became refugees in 1948. The number of registered Palestine refugees has subsequently grown from 914,000 in 1950 to more than 4.6 million in 2008, and continues to rise due to natural population growth. — UNRWA

Nadya’s father, Ed Suleman, is reported to be “a Palestinian immigrant who hails from Jerusalem”. If it can be shown that he counts as a refugee, then so does Nadya.

However, UNRWA does not grant refugee  status to the children of Palestinian women married to non-Palestinians — although a Palestinian father conveys such status even if the mother is non-Palestinian (making it possible for there to be someone who is legitimately both Jewish and a Palestinian refugee). Feminist KPFA-listeners please take note.

I don’t know what the UNRWA policy is for children of unmarried Palestinian women when the father is unknown (Suleman’s sperm donor has not been identified).

But keeping in mind UNRWA’s generosity, which has allowed the original 550,000 -700,000 refugees to grow to 4.6 million,  and the generally-accepted need to keep families together, I’m sure something could be worked out. What’s another 15 when you already have 4.6 million?

Technorati Tags: , , ,

Our friends the media

Thursday, February 12th, 2009

A couple of things.

On Sunday the Fresno Bee published an op-ed on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by Thomas L. Friedman  (“Don’t try this at home“). It wasn’t the best thing Friedman ever wrote and it wasn’t the worst. But here is the illustration that went with it, by Mike Miner of the Chicago Tribune:

Tribune-McClatchy illustration from the Fresno Bee, Sunday February 8, 2009

Tribune-McClatchy illustration from the Fresno Bee, Sunday February 8, 2009

Illustrations tell a story, so what story does this one tell? That Israel imprisons Palestinians? That the occupied territories, or Gaza, are like concentration camps? Friedman’s article didn’t say anything like that. So what does this illustration illustrate except the prejudices of the editor that chose it? I asked Bee Editorial page editor Jim Boren, but he didn’t reply.


Honest Reporting has come out with their annual “Dishonest Reporting Awards” for 2008. And look who took home the gold for “Dishonest Reporter of the Year”, my favorite ‘activist’, Tony Blair’s sister-in-law Lauren Booth.

Lauren Booth shops in concentration-camp-like Gaza

Lauren Booth shops in concentration-camp-like Gaza

Technorati Tags: , ,

Why the Israeli-Arab conflict will never end

Monday, February 9th, 2009

Consider this:

  • The IDF fought brilliantly during Operation Cast Lead, defeating Hamas troops whenever it met them and doing great damage to the Hamas infrastructure with minimal IDF and — despite enemy propaganda — civilian casualties.
  • The IDF Spokesperson did a good job of responding to false claims and in showing how Hamas stored weapons in schools and mosques, used human shields, etc. Although the overall Israeli information effort could have been improved, it was much better than in the past.

Nevertheless, the operation was terminated without putting an end to Hamas weapons smuggling, without stopping the rockets landing in Israeli towns, without weakening Hamas’ hold on Gaza and without freeing Gilad Schalit. Indeed, negotiations for a huge ‘prisoner exchange’ to get Schalit back are continuing.

Although Israel’s objectives were stated in a deliberately vague way, we can say that the operation did not meet any reasonable set of goals.  In addition, the anti-Israel propaganda assault spearheaded by Aljazeerah and many other media worldwide was highly effective in creating a false image of Israel and the IDF as brutal war criminals. The damage done to Israel’s future diplomatic efforts was huge, as was the effect on policy in countries that support Israel to some extent, such as the US. For example, anti-Israel groups in the US are presently mounting a campaign to reduce military assistance to Israel.

This means that not only did the operation not meet its military goals but that the net effect was negative. 

Although it’s impossible to prove, it’s fair to assume that the operation was terminated early due to international (particularly US) pressure. Why else would the decision have been made to stop when achievable goals had not yet been achieved?

This leads to the pessimistic conclusion that no matter how well the IDF performs and how disreputable its enemy — in this case Hamas, clearly an outlaw terrorist entity — Israel will simply not be allowed a definitive victory over Arabs.

This is not the first time this has happened.  Possibly one of the most fateful occasions was the end of the first Lebanon war in 1982, when Yasser Arafat was given safe passage out of Beirut.

As I’ve argued before, the root of the conflict is not refugees, borders, the occupation of 1967, but the Arab (and now Iranian) rejection of any Jewish state in the Mideast.  As long as they believe that Israel can be destroyed, they will continue to try to do so. And the world keeps their hopes alive.

This guarantees that the conflict will never end. It’s ironic that the governments that speak the loudest about the need for peace in the Mideast are the ones that work the hardest to restrain Israel.

Technorati Tags: ,

Israel’s policy determined by situation, not ideology

Sunday, February 8th, 2009

On Tuesday, Israelis will go to the polls to elect a new Knesset and therefore a new Prime Minister and government. Most likely the Likud party of Binyamin Netanyahu will ‘win’, although since it is impossible for any party to get a majority of Knesset seats, it will be forced to form a coalition government of some kind.

I expect that there will be an immediate outcry from the usual suspects that now the ‘hardliners’ have taken over, and chances for ‘peace’ are diminished. This is wrong. Policy is far more determined by the situation Israel finds itself in than by ideology. And peace is far away, unfortunately, for reasons having nothing to do with Israeli policy.

The following article is presented in order to immunize you against the nonsense about to be written by those like Thomas L. Friedman, whose understanding of the Middle East is inferior to that of the average Tel Aviv cabdriver. 

Israel’s election in international perspective

By Barry Rubin

Many people don’t understand what’s happening now in Israeli politics, so here’s a brief, and non-partisan, appreciation. Compared to the past, there’s far less difference between the three main parties. This is largely due to the objective situation, which is rather inflexible.

It is easy to characterize some as rabid right-wingers who throw away chances for peace and others as rabid left-wingers who are ready to make too many concessions. Neither argument is correct except for the fringes, which are not going to shape Israeli policy. I am tempted to add that abroad, the left thinks we’re evil, while the right thinks we’re stupid. All of this has little to do with reality.

The dominant theme in international media coverage is to say Israelis are moving toward the right. Yet this is both misleading and misinterpreted. On the first aspect, the real Israeli move has been toward the center, which is represented not only by Kadima and Likud but also by Labor. The great majority of Israelis are about to vote for parties close to centrist positions than at any time in history.

The left-wing mantra is peace, though how we can reach peace with Iran, Syria, Hamas, and Hizballah is rather hard to see. With the PA the situation is a more complex but, briefly, it doesn’t control Gaza, is still full of radical elements, and has weak leadership. The PA is nowhere near being able to make peace on a realistic basis. Everyone in the PA and in Israel’s leadership knows this; few in the Western media and academia seem close to comprehending it. A lot of governments understand the situation privately but talk quite differently in public.

The right-wing mantra is victory, though how Israel is going to replace the Iranian and Syrian governments, or destroy Hamas and Hizballah is equally hard to see. Israel has minimal to no international support for these goals and lacks great alternatives to what exists at present.

What have Israelis learned over the last decade that shapes their thinking?

  • We discovered that Palestinians and Syrians are unwilling and unable to make peace.
  • We saw that Fatah is still full of extremism and its leadership is too weak and too hardline itself to make a comprehensive peace agreement.
  • We viewed the rise of Hamas as a group dedicated to permanent war with Israel and its seizure of one-half of the Palestinian-ruled territories, using land from which Israel withdrew as a base for attacks.
  • We experienced the continuing hatred of the Arab world and Muslim world toward Israel, largely undiminished by Israeli concessions.
  • We observed Iran’s rise as a power, potentially nuclear armed, whose regime explicitly seeks Israel’s extinction.
  • We noted the world didn’t reward Israel for making concessions and taking risks. Indeed, the more Israel gave, the higher the degree of slander and hostility rose in many sectors.

As a result of this, there has arisen in Israel a national consensus around the following points:

  • Israel wants peace and will make real concessions for true lasting, stable peace and a two-state solution
  • Few think the Palestinian leadership — PA, Fatah — is willing or able to make such an agreement for decades. The same applies to Syria. As a result, any real changes on Jerusalem, the Golan Heights or West Bank settlements are far off.
  • No deal can be made with Hamas. But Hamas isn’t going to disappear either. The same applies to Hizballah. The key point is to defend Israel and its citizens so they pursue their normal lives.
  • Iran is a real danger and when it appears about to get nuclear weapons, a big decision will have to be made on attacking these facilities.

As a result of this national consensus — accepted by Labor, Likud, and Kadima, along with many others — the next government can be a national unity government. Whoever becomes prime minister would do well to bring in one or both of the other two main parties.    What is Israel’s consensus policy for the next government?

  • To stress that we want peace, are ready for a Palestinian state, aren’t responsible for the conflict and violence continuing.
  • To maintain deterrence and defend ourselves.
  • To preserve the best possible relations with the United States, Europe, and other countries as long as it does not involve risks to Israeli national interests and citizens.
  • Security cooperation with the PA to prevent terrorist attacks on Israel in exchange for helping them economically and against Hamas to ensure that it doesn’t take over the West Bank. Without illusions regarding Fatah and the PA, this effort seems to be working.
  • To decide when to strike back at Hamas — and potentially Hizballah — based on any attacks on us. Precise response depends on timing, opportunity, and their behavior.
  • To work for the isolation of Iran, Hizballah and Hamas.

Where are the main differences among the leading parties?  They are more atmospherics than real: offering small concessions; making small demands. If much of the election revolves around personalities that is because strategy and policy are not hugely different among them. Bibi isn’t going to embark on a settlement-building campaign; Tzipi isn’t going to give away east Jerusalem.

And that’s a good thing for whatever faults they have, this trio is basically making appropriate responses to the situation.

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

Technorati Tags: , , , ,