Archive for June, 2009

US to Israel: No part of Jerusalem belongs to you

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

A few weeks ago, I wrote (“US State Department agrees with Hamas“) about the continuing refusal of the US to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. I explained that this has nothing to do with territory occupied in 1967,  because West Jerusalem, where the seat of Israel’s government is located, became part of Israel in 1948. I said,

West Jerusalem was not included as part of the Jewish state in the partition resolution of 1947 — all of Jerusalem was supposed to be under UN control. But when the armistice agreements were signed in April 1949, Jerusalem was divided between the new state of Israel and Jordan, and the UN zone had evaporated. Nevertheless, in December 1949, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution [303] calling for Jerusalem to be a corpus separatum administered by the UN as in the original resolution, despite opposition from Israel, Jordan and the US.

The Arabists of the State Department, however, seeing a chance to stick it to Israel, maintained for years that only the UN can dispose of Jerusalem. Here is a 1962 statement of the position:

…the status of Jerusalem is a matter of United Nations concern and no member of the United Nations should take any action to prejudice the United Nations interest in this question. Our objective has been to keep the Jerusalem question an open one and to prevent its being settled solely through the processes of attrition and fait accompli to the exclusion of international interest and an eventual final expression thereof presumably through the United Nations.

After the Oslo agreement, the State Department switched to saying “the final status of Jerusalem must be determined by negotiation between the parties [Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA)]”. But note that all of Jerusalem is still in play according to them, and therefore they refuse to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

As far as I can tell, this situation is unprecedented. It’s unimaginable that Israel would give West Jerusalem to the Arabs in a final settlement, and even the PA doesn’t claim West Jerusalem (at least not in public).

But it’s not just a question of the US Embassy. As Yisrael Medad points out, the State Department refuses to admit that someone born in any part of Jerusalem was born in Israel:

As American citizens are aware, their children, if born in Jerusalem, whether west Jerusalem or east, I emphasize, are not recognized by the US State Department as being born in Israel. Their birth certificates and subsequently, their passports, will list the “place of birth” as simply “Jerusalem”, a seemingly stateless location.

This rule is recorded in the US Department of State Foreign Affairs Manual Volume 7 – Consular Affairs 7 FAM 1300 Appendix D which notes:

For a person born in Jerusalem, write JERUSALEM as the place of birth in the passport. Do not write Israel, Jordan or West Bank for a person born within the current municipal borders of Jerusalem…For persons born after May 14, 1948 in a location that was outside Jerusalem’s municipal limits and later was annexed by the city, it is acceptable to enter the name of the location (area/city) as it was known prior to annexation.

Simply, the US does not admit that Israel has sovereignty in Jerusalem. Note that this treatment does not extend to other places which were not part of the Jewish state in the original UN partition plan of 1947, such as Ashkelon and Nahariya. Only Jerusalem merits this treatment, I presume by virtue of being a corpus separatum as called for in UN resolution 303 (December 1949).

Now the US continuing to pay homage to a 1949 resolution that it voted against, that the parties involved strongly opposed, that the UN itself never seriously tried to implement, and that has been de facto inoperative for sixty years is ridiculous. And it isn’t surprising that at some point the State Department decided to ignore it.

But the replacement policy — that the fate of all of Jerusalem will be settled by negotiation between ‘the parties’ — is more than ridiculous, it’s outrageous.

Imagine if suddenly various countries decided that Washington DC did not belong to the US, but would need to be disposed of by negotiations between it and the Conoy Indian tribe (which I’m sure was not properly compensated when the capital was built).

At a time when the US is demanding a great deal from Israel in pursuit of its own interests in the Arab world, it would not be out of line for Israel to demand something as simple as recognition of its capital in return.

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Obama going hands-on with Israel

Monday, June 29th, 2009

Some of the worst disasters in American foreign policy have been caused by attempts to intervene in the politics of other nations, about which US policymakers almost invariably have zero understanding.

For example, in 2003 the US military crushed Saddam’s forces almost as fast as our vehicles could drive — and then handed the country over to an ‘authority’ which had no clue about the basic ethnic politics of Iraq, had few Arabic speakers, and based its decisions on imaginative wishful thinking. The ensuing chaos could have been predicted.

Sometimes the meddling takes a slightly more benign form than an actual invasion, with clandestine attempts to promote favored policies, to help or hurt particular factions or even to install leaders favorable to American interests. It’s been suggested that in Israel the US worked (unsuccessfully) for Peres against Netanyahu in 1996, and supported Olmert in 2006.

The primary goal of Obama Administration policy toward Israel and the Palestinians seems to be to get Israel out of most or all of the West Bank. For some reason, probably relations with — or even secret commitments to — some Arab states, this is a high priority for the US despite the huge difficulties.

This implies several intermediate objectives:

  • Start Israel-PA negotiations. The PA has insisted upon preconditions, namely a settlement freeze and agreement to a “two-state solution”, and the administration has accepted them. Therefore, Israel must be persuaded to go along.
  • Solve the Hamas problem. No agreement without Hamas will stand as long as it is the most popular Palestinian party and directly controls 40% of the territory. Although the best solution would have been for Israel to be allowed to finish off the organization in the recent war, this did not happen — probably because of a combination of Israeli timidity and US pressure. So the administration’s solution is to ‘moderate’ Hamas, either by getting them to agree to some form of the Quartet’s conditions (recognize Israel, renounce violence, accept prior agreements) or by weakening the conditions and accepting a long-term truce instead.

As I’ve written before, a successful agreement under present conditions is unattainable. The ‘two-state solution’ that Israel will accept includes a demilitarized Palestinian state which recognizes Israel as the state of the Jewish people. The PA will not accept either condition, nor will it give up ‘right of return’. Hamas will not agree to any form of the Quartet conditions, and even if it pretends to, it’s unimaginable that Israel would enter into an agreement with a PA that includes Hamas — except perhaps under extreme pressure.

But the Obama Administration is set on its goal, and seems to see the obstacles as mostly caused by Israeli stubbornness. It does not wish to leave anything to chance, especially where the notoriously unpredictable politics of Israel is concerned, and so it is taking unprecedented steps to control Israel’s behavior. Caroline Glick described the method a few weeks ago:

Unlike previous presidential envoys who have come to Israel every few weeks and then disappeared when reality proved stronger than their peace fantasies, Obama has ordered Mitchell to cast reality to the seven winds and set up a permanent forward command post in Jerusalem directly subordinate to the White House.

To fulfill his writ, Mitchell has appointed four deputies – all known for their open sympathy for the Palestinians and their hostility to the Netanyahu government. They are Mara Rudman, of the George Soros-financed Center for American Progress; Lt.-Gen. Keith Dayton, who is now building a Fatah army in Jordan which he recently acknowledged will turn its American-financed guns on Israel within a few short years if Israel refuses to establish a Jew-free Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria; Fred Hoff, one of the greatest champions of a US-Syrian rapprochement and of an Israeli surrender of the Golan Heights; and David Hale, the architect of the current US policy of rebuilding the Hizbullah-infested Lebanese army. Hale will be permanently stationed in Jerusalem in a large office suite that will house Mitchell’s operation.

…the administration is building an apparatus designed to prevent Israel from exercising independent judgments about its tactical and strategic challenges and deny it the ability to secure its interests without US involvement and consent.

The apparatus reportedly includes members of every US security, foreign policy and intelligence body. These officers will be stationed in Israel and will report to Mitchell, who in turn will report to [National Security Advisor Gen. James] Jones and Obama. Each officer will be assigned to coordinate with Israeli counterparts in mirror organizations, including the IDF, the Shin Beit, the Mossad, the police and every other relevant Israeli body…

The administration is building its supreme headquarters in Jerusalem to enable Mitchell to act like a colonial governor and confront the unruly Jewish natives – not to cut a deal with us.

This is augmented by the American-operated x-band radar installation in the Negev, which can keep close tabs on “anything that flies” in and around Israeli airspace, including small objects like drones. This radar unit with its 120 operators and security personnel marks the first time US troops have been permanently stationed in Israel.

I suggest that Israel should worry if the US is establishing a significant diplomatic and military presence there. It would be an exaggeration to say “think Saigon or Baghdad” at this point, but given the combination of ignorance and hostility toward Israel that characterizes many in the administration, it’s an unfortunate trend.

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The Czechs weren’t invited to Munich, either

Friday, June 26th, 2009

News item:

Foreign ministers of Group of Eight countries urged Israel to halt all settlement construction in the West Bank Friday, during a meeting in Italy largely focusing on recent events in Iran. They also called on Israelis and Palestinians to renew direct negotiations over all disputed issues.

Also meeting Friday on the sidelines of the summit is the Mideast Quartet – the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations – to try to help move the Israeli-Palestinian peace process forward…

A range of Arab League nations will join in a follow-on session Friday afternoon. Israel was not invited; the Italian Foreign Ministry said that decision was taken by the Quartet, not Italy.

The BBC reports that the Quartet has also asked for Israel “to stop all West Bank settlement building activity and to open its border crossings.”  Palestinians have demanded this as a precondition for resuming negotiations.

It’s almost too easy to point out that in 1938 the Czechs were not invited to the Munich conference either. Of course this meeting will not produce a document with such immediate impact on Israel as the Munich diktat had for Czechoslovakia, but the sense of powerful nations deciding the fate of a small one in consultation with its enemies remains.

If a Martian asked me why the ‘Quartet’ — the UN, EU, US and Russia — is particularly suited to bring about a just peace between Israel and the Palestinians, I would not be able to answer. The UN is dominated by Muslim and third-world countries and has been particularly hostile to Israel for decades. The EU’s member nations have important economic relationships with Arab oil producers, and also have political and psychological reasons for tilting toward the Palestinians. The EU quietly funds many NGOs whose output is significantly biased against Israel. Russia, a traditionally antisemitic nation, has economic ties with Iran and also feels threatened by Israel’s nuclear capability.

This leaves the US as the sole member of the Quartet that might be expected to support Israel, but it is becoming increasingly clear that the Obama Administration has few — if any — power centers opposed to the anti-Israel forces in the State Department, the CIA and the Pentagon (which has undergone significant changes since the early part of the previous administration). Add to this the fact that President Obama himself seems to be taking a tack designed to improve relations between the US and the Muslim world, and one wonders who will represent Israel’s interests in this group.

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Understanding Palestinians and Zionists

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

I once had a teacher of French who tried to motivate his students to read literature in the original. He liked to say, “there are three kinds of translators: those who do not know French, those who do not know English, and those who know neither English nor French.”

Similarly, I think that with a few exceptions there are three kinds of  Western Middle East experts:

  • Those who do not understand Arabs
  • Those who do not understand Jews
  • Those who understand neither Arabs nor Jews

Martin Indyk, who was Ambassador to Israel twice and a Mideast specialist on the National Security Council in the Clinton Administration, who writes and lectures on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is certainly considered an expert. But in a recent interview, I think he displays a poor understanding of Palestinians and Zionists (if not Arabs and Jews in general).

Q: Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak responded to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s speech at Bar-Ilan’s Begin-Sadat Center by saying that demanding of any Arab leader to recognize Israel as a Jewish state aborts the peace process. Given your diplomatic dealings with Mubarak, what do you think about that statement?

MI: It’s a pity that this issue has been raised in this way, because of course Israel is the state for the Jewish people. I mean, if it’s not that, what is it? In a two-state solution, with one of those states for the Palestinians, what is the other one for?

What indeed? If it were as self-evident as Indyk seems to think, then why do the Palestinians furiously deny it? Because, like everything about the Middle East, the idea of a two-state solution is ambiguous. Israelis see it as a compromise — a very painful one, because of the importance of the land to Jewish history and the need to evacuate Jewish residents. They see it in the traditional formulation as relinquishing land for peace, and the land that Israel gives up will belong to the Arabs.

The Palestinians see it as a compromise too, but an entirely different one: they are willing to permit Jews to live in part — but only part — of their land. They will not give up title to it, something which they would perceive as a massive humiliation. Here’s a comment made by Omar al-Ghul, an advisor to Palestinian Authority PM Salam Fayyad, which makes this crystal clear:

“No Palestinian leader can ever accept this demand [for recognition as a Jewish state] even if the whole world recognizes Israel as a Jewish state,” he stressed. “The state of Israel belongs to all its citizens, the Palestinians [sic] owners of the land and the Jews living there.”

Indyk continues,

So, while Israelis are trying to get a clear understanding of what exactly the Arabs are recognizing, the Arabs – whose narrative enables them to accept Israel as a state in general – do not accept the Zionist narrative. They therefore find it very hard to accept that kind of add-on to the requirement that they recognize Israel. They don’t accept that Israel was created, on the backs of the Palestinians, as an answer to the problem of the Holocaust – the very narrative that Obama talked about in his speech…

What they do not accept is Jewish sovereignty over any of the land between the river and the sea, although they might compromise on some Jewish occupancy. As is so often the case, Western wishful thinking has led many to attribute a position to the Palestinians that is far more advanced than anything they have actually contemplated agreeing to. Here is how I imagine the thinking of the ‘moderate’ wing of Fatah about the two-state solution:

Although the Zionist position that they have legitimate title to any of Palestine is false, for practical reasons we will agree to allow Jews to live in a strictly limited part of Palestine. But we think that any limitation on where Palestinians (including refugees) can live in Palestine is absurd. Therefore we will accept two states in the area, one which will be Palestine and where only Palestinians can live, and one which will be Israel, where Jews as well may live. 

This formulation explains the PA negotiators’ demands to not recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people, to insist on right of return and to expel every last Jewish resident from the Palestinian state.


There are practical matters that need immediate attention, particularly the need to resolve the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. In this context, it’s much more important to get the Palestinians to give up the right of return than to say that they accept Israel as a Jewish state.

What he misses is that these demands are inextricably linked in the ‘moderate’ Palestinian conception of the two-state solution, in which all of Palestine belongs to Palestinians, even if Jews live in part of it. In this scheme, refugees can ‘return’ to Israel because Israel is simply the part of Palestine where Jews are entitled to live.

It’s certain that they also think that the ultimate outcome of  such a two-state solution would be the absorption of Israel into Palestine.

And it’s also obvious that Indyk does not understand the Palestinian point of view.

What about Zionists? I am not sure exactly what Indyk thinks constitutes the “Zionist narrative”, but what he says

…that Israel was created, on the backs of the Palestinians, as an answer to the problem of the Holocaust – the very narrative that Obama talked about in his speech…

is far from being part of it. Israel may be the answer to the Holocaust in the sense that, for Zionists, a Jewish state is the ultimate insurance against future holocausts. But the idea that this constitutes the justification for the creation of the state of Israel as Obama suggested, is a profoundly non-Zionist concept.  If this is what Martin Indyk thinks Zionists think, then he does not understand them any better than he does Palestinians.

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Who controls the Temple Mount?

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

During the 19-year Jordanian occupation, Jews were not allowed to visit Judaism’s holy places in the West Bank and, in particular, in East Jerusalem.

Since the Palestinian Authority (PA) insists that East Jerusalem and especially the area of the Temple Mount must become part of ‘Palestine’ if there is a peace agreement, there is naturally some concern that an agreement would bring a return of these restrictions. Given that the PA insists that while Arabs may reside in Israel, all Jews must be evacuated from the Palestinian state, it’s not wholly paranoia to worry about this.

More evidence is that even today the Islamic Waqf, which controls the Temple Mount despite the fact that it is theoretically under Israeli sovereignty, attempts to control access by Jews (at least those from political parties that it dislikes):

Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch on Tuesday made a rare visit to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, drawing condemnations from the Islamic Waqf, who charged that the tour was a “provocation.”

Waqf Director Azzam el-Ahmed told the Palestinian Ma’an news agency that the visit had not been coordinated in advance and that he did not know the reason for the tour.

The visit is “a dangerous, pathetic provocation,” said MK Taleb A-Sanaa (United Arab List). “Aharonovitch is unwelcome at the Al-Aqsa Mosque and his purpose was to incense the Muslims and try to show them who’s in charge.”

A-Sanaa asserted that the tour was only intended to “inflame the area” and warned that the minister would “suffer the consequences of the visit.” — Jerusalem Post

A spokesperson for Aharonovitch said the visit had been coordinated and was for the purpose of discussing security arrangements with police officials that accompanied him. Aharonovitch belongs to Avigdor Lieberman’s Israel Beitenu party and has been accused of using a defamatory term for Arabs.

Without getting into a discussion of whether Aharonovitch respects Arabs or of Israel Beitenu’s policies, it seems that the issue was raised exactly for the reason given by MK A-Sanaa, although from the opposite point of view: the Waqf wished to show Israel “who was in charge”.

In 1967 the decision was made that although Israel would keep political sovereignty over the Temple Mount area, day-to-day control would be given to Islamic religious authorities, the Waqf.  Many commentators, including myself,  think that the decision was a bad one. At the time, it was  argued that it was necessary to allay Arab fears that Israel would raze the Al-Aqsa Mosque and rebuild the Temple, etc. It was expected that this would gain Israel the respect and appreciation of Muslims — and forestall violent Arab reactions.

It turns out that it had quite the opposite effect. Arabs do not grant respect in return for concessions. Arab propaganda continued (and continues today) to accuse Israel of planning to destroy the mosque. Possibly if the area were under direct Israeli control and Arabs were nevertheless allowed to visit, it would be more — rather than less — evident to them that this is not Israel’s intention. As far as violent reactions are concerned, this was much less likely in 1967 when Arab armies had  just been soundly defeated than it is today.

Since 1967, the Waqf has done its best to wipe out evidence of Jewish history on the Temple Mount, and Israel — in fear of Arab violence — has done little to prevent it.

It’s very hard to believe that a ‘peace’ agreement that removes the last vestige of Israeli sovereignty from the Temple Mount will improve the situation, and it doesn’t seem unreasonable to expect a return to the conditions of the Jordanian occupation there.

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Why Israelis are worried about Obama

Sunday, June 21st, 2009

News item:

The Obama Administration insistently reiterated its support for Israel this weekend after a Jerusalem Post poll found that only 6 percent of Jewish Israelis now consider Barack Obama’s presidency to be pro-Israel…

Fifty percent of those sampled consider the policies of Obama’s administration more pro-Palestinian than pro-Israeli, and 36% said the policies were neutral. The remaining 8% did not express an opinion.

What worries Israelis about Obama?

Iran. It seems that the administration has already decided that Iran will be a nuclear power. Israelis see this as an existential threat.

Linkage. No Israeli in his or her right mind, right-wing or left-wing, believes that “solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” will help deal with Iran, or reduce the threat of Islamic fundamentalism in general. This is seen as an excuse to pressure Israel so as to curry favor with the Arabs.

Settlements. Most Israelis, except for the extreme Left, think that any practical agreement with the Palestinians would include Israel keeping the large settlement blocks and parts of East Jerusalem. Most believe that Israel should evacuate illegal outposts. Obama’s saying “it’s time for these settlements to stop” doesn’t inspire confidence that he knows the difference.

Unilateral concessions. The US is now pressing Israel to open crossings and allow strategic materials into Gaza, but rejecting Israeli demands that this be linked to the release of Gilad Shalit. Huh? The administration seems to be prepared to pressure Israel but not the murderous Hamas.

Acceptance of Arab narrative. Obama compared the Palestinian ‘plight’ with the Holocaust, and suggested that Israel’s legitimacy was based on historical persecution of Jews, especially the Holocaust. This is seen as accepting the Palestinian point of view that the Jews are illegitimately punishing the Palestinians for what Europeans did to them, and in a similar way.

Jerusalem. As I’ve written before, there is  no legitimate excuse for not moving the US embassy to West Jerusalem. The fact that Obama has chosen to continue to support the anti-Israel State Department in this doesn’t inspire confidence. Although even the pro-Israel President Bush was unable or unwilling to do this, it would have been a welcome declaration of independence on the part of this administration.

What he doesn’t say. Israelis would be happy to hear Obama agree with PM Netanyahu that Palestinians should recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people and that the Palestinian refugee problem will need to be solved outside Israel’s borders. These are only reasonable requests of someone who insists over and over that he supports Israel and is committed to her security.

Polls have shown that most American Jews continue to support Obama. But most American Jews are not very connected to Israel and are not thinking very deeply about the issues. Those who are concerned should ask themselves whether they ought to simply accept blanket statements about support for Israel or pay attention to more specific policies.

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Once upon the same old rejectionism

Friday, June 19th, 2009

I’ve lately been reading Sari Nusseibeh’s “Once upon a Country”, his political autobiography. It’s interesting to see what the world looks like from the other side, and it’s not terribly encouraging. It always seemed to me that a guy like Nusseibeh would be a candidate for a ‘moderate Palestinian leader’ — unlike Mahmoud Abbas, who is basically Arafat without the military posturing — and if, through some miracle the people would follow him instead of always preferring the most militant option available, things could be different.

Well, not really. Even leaving aside his repetition of the same false Ben-Gurion quotations, his admiration for Yasser Arafat — whom he sees as a flawed leader who nevertheless built the clan-oriented Palestinians into a ‘people’ — and his selective memory for Palestinian violence, he is still not prepared to give an inch from the usual Palestinian fantasy regarding the root of the conflict. For example, he writes,

It doesn’t matter whether you set out premeditatedely set out to cause the Palestinian refugee tragedy, I told them, the  tragedy did occur, even as an indirect consequence of your actions. In our tradition, you have to own up to this. You have to come and offer an apology. Only this way will Palestinians feel that their dignity has been recognized, and be able to forgive. But by denying all responsibility, besides being historically absurd to the point of craziness, you will guarantee eternal antagonism — a never-ending search for revenge. [p. 167]

I do not deny that some traditional Zionist accounts of the 1948 war are unbalanced. Certainly some Arabs were expelled, and not all of them for reasons of military necessity. On the other hand, most fled for the same reason refugees always flee violence. And the violence occurred as a direct — not indirect — result of the actions of the Palestinian Arabs, who refused to coexist with the Zionists almost from the beginning.

So if there is to be a sulha as Nusseibeh asks, it needs to involve an admission from the Palestinian side that their tragedy is in great measure a result of their rejection of a Jewish presence in the land, not to mention Jewish sovereignty over any of it.

And the continuation of the refugee tragedy — the unprecedented persistence and growth of the refugee population, and their treatment by the Arab nations — is almost entirely the direct result of the actions of the Palestinian and other Arab leadership.

You know, we have things to apologize for, and I doubt that even ‘hardline’ (this adjective has become stuck to his name in the media) Prime Minister Netanyahu would deny this.

But where is even the beginning of an admission that they, too are responsible, from the Palestinians? We often hear criticism from Palestinians that their leaders are corrupt or that they pursue policies (terrorism) that are “not constructive”. But never that perhaps there is some moral responsibility on their side.

The Palestinians would need to do only one thing to start a process of reconciliation: in the words of PM Netanyahu, they must make “a public, binding and unequivocal Palestinian recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.”

That’ll be the day.

Update [25 Jun 2009 1949 PDT]:

It’s only fair for me to add, now that I’ve finished Nusseibeh’s book, that he does call for Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. The contrast between him and, for example, Mahmoud Abbas, is striking in this regard. But I stand by everything I’ve said about his failure to understand the degree of Palestinian responsibility — in the sense of moral responsibility — for the beginning, the middle and what looks to be the bloody end of the conflict.

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The power of peaceful negotiations

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

News item:

An Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement could be reached “within the year,” but only if all sides agree to peaceful negotiations, Quartet Middle East envoy Tony Blair said in an interview to be broadcast Friday.

Nothing to it, Tony. Just a few minor technical issues to clear up:

  • The Palestinians will not agree unless Israel allows enough hostile Arab ‘refugees’ to settle within its borders to outnumber Jews. Would you accept this if you were an Israeli Jew?
  • The Palestinians will not agree unless Israel removes every last one of the approximately 270,000 Jews from the area that was occupied by Jordan from 1948-1967. But the removal of about 8,000 Jews from Gaza almost caused a civil war.
  • ‘Palestine’ will be the state of the Palestinian Arab people, and Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu insists that they, similarly, accept Israel as the state of the Jewish people. But they won’t, and they call Netanyahu a “liar and swindler” for suggesting this.
  • Israel is prepared to compromise on Jerusalem so that both nations can have their capitals there. But the Palestinians demand every inch of East Jerusalem, where Judaism’s holy sites are located.
  • No Palestinian government can be representative of Palestinians unless Hamas is included in it. But Hamas’ reason for being is to bring about the destruction of Israel and the murder of Jews.
  • Israel will not agree unless ‘Palestine’ is demilitarized. But militarization is the whole point for the Palestinians.

All of the above issues have been talked about without real progress since Oslo. Israel offered shockingly sacrificial compromises in 2000 and 2008, which the Palestinians rejected.

No problem is too great, though, for people who want to sit down and “peacefully negotiate”, right?

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Sneaky wordplay by presidents and diplomats

Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

The Obama administration has developed an entirely new way of using the English language.

In his Cairo speech, he said “It is time for these settlements to stop”. On Monday he called for a “cessation of settlements” and opposed a “continuation of settlements”. And today Hillary Clinton said “We want to see a stop to the settlements”.

For those of you (unlike Obama and Clinton) for whom English is not your native tongue, I’ll explain that ‘stop’ or ‘cessation’ refers to an action, not an object. For example, I could say “stop smiling at me that way” or “when will we see a cessation of this violence?”, but it would be ungrammatical (albeit threatening) to say “We want to see a stop to your face.”

This deliberate solecism apparently permits Obama to say either “it is time for this settlement activity to stop” or “it is time for these settlements to cease to exist“, while keeping us in the dark about which one he means!

A friend has suggested that this phrase was put this way so it could be translated into Arabic with the latter meaning. I’ve been unable to verify this.

Sneaky? Sure, and there’s more. Look at what Hillary said today about the understandings supposedly made between Israel and the Bush administration which accepted natural growth within some established settlements:

Looking at the history of the Bush administration, there were no informal or oral enforceable agreements [my emphasis, of course]

Get it? If there were oral agreements, they weren’t enforceable. Gotcha!

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Why is Kfar Etzion illegal?

Tuesday, June 16th, 2009

News item:

US President Barack Obama, while saying for a second time on Monday that there was “positive movement” in Netanyahu’s speech, called once again at a press conference in the White House, alongside visiting Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, for a “cessation of settlements.”

“And there is a tendency to try to parse exactly what this means,” Obama said, “but I think the parties on the ground understand that if you have a continuation of settlements that, in past agreements, have been categorized as illegal, that’s going to be an impediment to progress.”

Leave aside for now the famously accomplished speaker Barack Obama’s sudden inability to distinguish between nouns and verbs, first apparent in his Cairo speech where he said that “It is time for these settlements to stop” — stop doing what? — and yet again when he calls for a “cessation of settlements” and opposes a “continuation” of them.

Let’s go from the abstract to the concrete and talk about settlements.

Kfar Etzion is a ‘settlement': it is east of the 1949 armistice line which is also called the ‘Green Line’. Here is an excerpt from something I wrote about it last December (“No room for Jews“):

One of the places that the Palestinians do not wish to compromise on is Kibbutz Kfar Etzion, south of Jerusalem. Part of the Palestine Mandate from 1917 to 1948, and the Ottoman empire before that, it was purchased from local Arabs and settled by Yemenite Jews in 1927.  They lived there on and off (they were driven out several times by Arab riots) until 1948 when the invading Jordanian army overran it and executed all but four of its defenders. All of the West Bank and East Jerusalem were made Jew-free by the Jordanians, who illegally occupied the area until 1967, when the kibbutz was reestablished.

So what I am asking Obama to explain is exactly how is Kibbutz Kfar Etzion illegal?

And consider another ‘settlement’, the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. Jews had lived there from biblical times, but here is how it became free of Jews in 1948:

In 1948 during the Arab-Israeli War, its population of about 2,000 Jews was besieged, and forced to leave en masse. Colonel Abdullah el-Tal, local commander of the Jordanian Arab Legion, with whom Mordechai Weingarten negotiated the surrender terms, described the destruction of the Jewish Quarter, in his Memoirs (Cairo, 1959):

 “… The operations of calculated destruction were set in motion…. I knew that the Jewish Quarter was densely populated with Jews who caused their fighters a good deal of interference and difficulty…. I embarked, therefore, on the shelling of the Quarter with mortars, creating harassment and destruction…. Only four days after our entry into Jerusalem the Jewish Quarter had become their graveyard. Death and destruction reigned over it…. As the dawn of Friday, May 28, 1948, was about to break, the Jewish Quarter emerged convulsed in a black cloud – a cloud of death and agony.”

How can it be that it is — in Obama’s view — illegal for Jews to live in the ancient Jewish Quarter of the old city of Jerusalem?

In general, how is it that the 19-year Jordanian and Egyptian occupation managed to transform parts of Mandatory Palestine into places like Saudi Arabia, where Jews are forbidden to live? 

Explain this, Mr. Obama. And while you’re at it, explain the significance — since it is obviously not an accident — of your strange and ungrammatical way of talking about settlements.

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A Mideast learning experience for Obama

Monday, June 15th, 2009

Israeli PM Netanyahu’s speech on Sunday didn’t contain much that was new, although it may be the first time Mr. Netanyahu said in so many words that he would accept the creation of a sovereign Palestinian state (albeit a demilitarized one).

President Obama responded that there was a “positive movement” in Mr. Netanyahu’s statements which implied the possibility to restart serious negotiations.

But representatives of Israel’s ‘moderate peace partners’ of the Palestinian Authority (PA) disagreed, and were absolutely livid, suggesting that Netanyahu had destroyed all possibility of agreement and threatening — as always — violence:

“Netanyahu’s speech is a blow to Obama before it’s a blow to the Palestinians and Arabs,” an Abbas aide said. “It’s obvious, in the aftermath of this speech, that we are headed toward another round of violence and bloodshed.”

Abbas’s office issued a terse statement in which it accused Netanyahu of destroying efforts to achieve peace in the region.

“The speech has destroyed all initiatives and expectations,” the statement said. “It has also placed restrictions on all efforts to achieve peace and constitutes a clear challenge to the Palestinian, Arab and American positions…”

Yasser Abed Rabbo, a senior PLO official closely associated with Abbas, launched a scathing attack on Netanyahu, calling him a “swindler and liar.”

PA negotiator Saeb Erekat said “Netanyahu will have to wait 1,000 years for someone to agree to talk to him.”

The parts that particularly infuriated them were Netanyahu’s insistence that a Palestinian state be demilitarized, his demand for “a public, binding and unequivocal Palestinian recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people”, and that “the Palestinian refugee problem be solved outside Israel’s borders”.

There are two interesting questions:

  • Why these issues?
  • Why are they risking exposure as being — shudder — ‘anti-peace’ and rejecting an offer of statehood out of hand?

The answers shed light on the true intentions of the ‘moderate peace partners’ and show how far we really are from meeting the aspirations of all groups in the region, as President Obama described it.

One might well ask why — if we are talking about a Palestinian state — they care so much about the nature of the Jewish one.  Why do they continue to argue that there is no Jewish provenance in the Land of Israel, and indeed that there is no Jewish people, if they simply want a state alongside Israel?

Of course the answer is that they don’t, which is why they demand to resettle hostile ‘refugees’ in Israel, to demographically overwhelm the Jews and destabilize the Israeli government — at which point, the presence of a Palestinian army in a non-demilitarized state next door will become highly relevant to the outcome.

In 1974 the PLO’s Palestinian National Council, of which Mahmoud Abbas was a member, adopted a program that has been called the “Phased Plan”.  It can be summarized as follows:

  1. Through the “armed struggle” (i.e., terrorism), to establish an “independent combatant national authority” over any territory that is “liberated” from Israeli rule. (Article 2)
  2. To continue the struggle against Israel, using the territory of the national authority as a base of operations. (Article 4)
  3. To provoke an all-out war in which Israel’s Arab neighbors destroy it entirely (“liberate all Palestinian territory”). (Article 8)

Shortly thereafter (1977), Abbas became one of the first PLO officials to call for a “two-state solution”.

His present behavior is explained well by the hypothesis that for Abbas, the “two-state solution” is the Phased Plan.

To answer the second question — why are they so out front about their anger — I think that they believed that Obama is handing Israel to them on a silver platter. I think they are (or were) convinced that he, too understands and accepts the ‘Phased Plan’ — why else, in their mind, would he be pressuring Israel so hard? So they think that there is nothing to lose by showing their hands.

In this I think they are mistaken. Immersed as they are in Mideast politics, it never crossed their mind that an American president would be so naive. Although I’m sure that some Obama advisors understand quite well what the consequences will be of forcing the creation of a Palestinian state under conditions acceptable to Abbas, I believe that Mr. Obama himself actually thinks that he can find a way to end the conflict peacefully and satisfy the aspirations of both sides.

Unfortunately he is mistaken. Possibly this affair will be a window into the minds of the  Palestinians — the kind of learning experience that Bill Clinton had to wait eight years to get.

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The point of the spear

Monday, June 15th, 2009

I’ve written about this before, but it’s time to repeat it.

One of the problems in talking to people about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is that some of us start with very different premises, and end up arguing past each other. It is not helpful to dispute whether Qassam rockets are better or worse than the security barrier.

Here are two ways to look at the conflict, which produce entirely different ideas about how to solve it:

One side presents it as a human rights issue, in which a powerful nation oppresses a minority. In this view, the conflict is between Israel and Palestinians, and the Palestinians are at a great disadvantage because Israel has a strong army and actually controls the land where they live. The implication is that Palestinian terrorism is a response to ‘oppression’ and would end if it did.

The other sees it as part of a much larger struggle between Israel and the Arab world — and also non-Arab Iran — an extended war which has been going on since before the founding of the state of Israel, in which the Arabs and their allies tried to prevent the establishment of the Jewish state and now are trying to destroy it. This is what I think.

In my view, the Palestinians represent only a small part of the forces arrayed against Israel — the point of the spear, so to speak.  If we look at it this way, Israel is at a disadvantage because of the disparity in numbers, the huge oil wealth of her enemies, and the strategic vulnerability of her small size.

And of course, the implication for solutions is that making concessions to the Palestinians, rather than reducing terrorism, would increase it. The only real solution can come from persuading the Arab world to give up trying to eliminate Israel.

Which side is correct? I offer the following evidence, based on recent events, that my view is the true one:

In 2005 Israel withdrew its soldiers and settlers and even exhumed its dead from the Gaza strip.  The Palestinian authority, then in control, received subsides and donations to help create jobs, to start building the infrastructure for a state. The response to the withdrawal was to destroy donated equipment and buildings, to shell border crossings, to launch missiles into Israel, to dig tunnels under the border to plant explosives or capture soldiers, and to bring in huge quantities of weapons via other tunnels from Egypt.

The Hamas organization which was most responsible for the above receives major support from Iran — as does Hezbollah, which provoked a war in 2006 and fired thousands of missiles into northern Israel.

Israeli attempts to stop various forms of terrorism emanating from the Gaza Strip, from limiting the range of Palestinian fishing boats to placing an embargo on steel reinforcing bars (used by Hamas to construct fortifications) and pipe (used for rockets) have been interpreted as  ‘oppression’. But the fact is that these measures were imposed after and as a result of the use of these materials for military purposes.

If the problem was ‘oppression’, one would expect that the total withdrawal from Gaza would have produced a concomitant lessening of tension. Instead, the opposite happened. 

Similar arguments can be made about Hezbollah in Lebanon.

In the words of PM Netanyahu,

…the simple truth is that the root of the conflict was, and remains, the refusal to recognize the right of the Jewish people to a state of their own, in their historic homeland.

In 1947, when the United Nations proposed the partition plan of a Jewish state and an Arab state, the entire Arab world rejected the resolution. The Jewish community, by contrast, welcomed it by dancing and rejoicing.  The Arabs rejected any Jewish state, in any borders.

Those who think that the continued enmity toward Israel is a product of our presence in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, is [sic] confusing cause and consequence.

The attacks against us began in the 1920s, escalated into a comprehensive attack in 1948 with the declaration of Israel’s independence, continued with the fedayeen attacks in the 1950s, and climaxed in 1967, on the eve of the Six Day War, in an attempt to tighten a noose around the neck of the State of Israel.

All this occurred during the 50 years before a single Israeli soldier ever set foot in Judea and Samaria…

Many good people have told us that withdrawal from territories is the key to peace with the Palestinians. Well, we withdrew. But the fact is that every withdrawal was met with massive waves of terror, by suicide bombers and thousands of missiles.

We tried to withdraw with an agreement and without an agreement. We tried a partial withdrawal and a full withdrawal. In 2000 and again last year, Israel proposed an almost total withdrawal in exchange for an end to the conflict, and twice our offers were rejected.

We evacuated every last inch of the Gaza strip, we uprooted dozens of settlements and evicted thousands of Israelis from their homes, and in response, we received a hail of missiles on our cities, towns and children…

Territorial withdrawals have not lessened the hatred, and to our regret, Palestinian moderates are not yet ready to say the simple words: Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people, and it will stay that way.

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