Archive for June, 2009

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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