Archive for June, 2009

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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Reform Rabbis support Obama call to “stop settlements”

Sunday, June 14th, 2009

Recently the Central conference of American Rabbis [CCAR], the Reform Movement’s rabbinical association, issued a statement containing the following:

The CCAR has also long seen settlements in the West Bank as potential obstacles to peace. Repeatedly, we have called for freezing settlement activity. Establishing new settlements or “outposts,” or continuing to expand existing settlements, even by “natural growth,” does not serve the cause of Israel or of peace…

Most recently, President Barack Obama has insisted that Israel freeze all settlement activity in occupied territory. His call echoes those of the last two administrations, though admittedly with a new level of intensity. We believe the President’s position and outspokenness on this issue to be in the best interest of the United States, of the State of Israel, and of peace.

Apparently US Reform Jews didn’t object:

[Rabbi Ellen Weinberg] Dreyfus [CCAR co-chair], who was in Israel for the wedding of a relative, told The Jerusalem Post Sunday that the CCAR statement was a reaction to US President Barack Obama’s Cairo address at the beginning of the month, in which he said the US did not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements and added, “It is time for these settlements to stop…”

Dreyfus added that while the CCAR statement had not been preceded by a vote among members, she felt it represented mainstream opinion among Reform Jews in America. “Of a dozen or so e-mails, only one was critical[,] because our message was not strong enough,” said Dreyfus. — Jerusalem Post

Somehow I let this one go by, so here is the email I sent tonight to Rabbi Dreyfus:

Dear Rabbi Dreyfus,

I admit that I have been derelict in my duty as a member of a Reform Jewish congregation in that I failed to protest the CCAR decision to uncritically support President Obamas’s demand that all “settlement activity” in “occupied territory” be frozen.

In my opinion, this demand both violates Israel’s sovereignty and is unjust:

1) Some of the ‘settlements in occupied territory’ are neighborhoods in East Jerusalem or towns in Gush Etzion where Jews lived prior to 1948, when Jordanian troops invaded Judea and Samaria. They murdered and forced Jewish residents out of their homes, and Jews were not permitted to return until the 19-year illegal Jordanian occupation was ended in 1967. Is it just that Jews are now to be forbidden — by yet another foreign power — to build within these neighborhoods and settlements?

2) The Obama decree applies to all settlements equally, those which would certainly be part of Israel in any two-state agreement, and “illegal outposts” which do not have the sanction of the Israeli government. Is this just or reasonable?

3) The previous administration made agreements with Israel that the Roadmap restrictions on “settlement activity” would not include “natural growth” within certain settlements. Now the US is reneging on these commitments, and it appears that it is also backing out of more general ones made in the 2004 letter to PM Sharon from President George Bush. Does the CCAR condone the US going back on its word?

These are a few of the pertinent questions that can be asked about what appears to be a decision based on partisan political considerations, and which weakens the ability of the government of Israel to resist the pressure from the Obama administration to make dangerous concessions, concessions which are likely to lead to a hostile Hamas state in the West Bank rather than peace.

I’ll be happy to publish your answers in

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Obama moving closer to Arabs, away from Israel

Saturday, June 13th, 2009

The Jerusalem Post’s Khaled Abu Toameh has published a really shocking piece today about Palestinian — both Fatah and Hamas — understanding of Obama administration policy.

If Palestinian interpretations of US policy — in the case of Hamas, gleaned from Egyptian intermediaries, and for Fatah, directly from envoy George Mitchell — are close to correct, then the Obama administration has moved even further from Israel and closer to the Arabs than we had thought.

Immediately after Obama’s Cairo speech, Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal was cautious:

Of course I listened to the speech. The words are different from those used by Bush. The speech was cleverly written in the way it addressed the Muslim world– using phrases from the Holy Kor’an, and referring to some historical events. And also, in the way it showed respect to the Muslim heritage. But I think it’s not enough!

What’s needed are deeds, actions on the ground, and a change of policies. — Khaled Mashaal quoted in Foreign Policy

Mashaal went on to say that the US  had to accept Hamas as part of the Palestinian Authority (PA), force Israel to open crossings, end settlement activity, remove checkpoints, change policies on Jerusalem and “right of return”, etc.

But Abu Toameh reports that since then his attitude toward Obama has grown more favorable:

“Obama is talking in a new language, one that is different from the voice we used to hear from the previous US administration,” Mashaal said in an interview with the Palestinian daily Al-Kuds. “Obama avoided branding our resistance operations terrorism, but he made a mistake when he compared the situation of the Palestinians to that of blacks in America…”

According to sources close to Hamas, the Egyptians this week told Mashaal that the Obama administration would exert pressure on Israel to lift the blockade and launch indirect talks with Hamas, if the Islamic movement agreed to a long-term cease-fire, and ended its power struggle with the rival Fatah faction.

Mashaal, the sources added, was told by the Egyptians that calm in the Gaza Strip would make it easier for the Obama administration to put pressure on the government of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to make far-reaching concessions. Mashaal is reported to have expressed his movement’s readiness to pursue reconciliation talks with Fatah and maintain the relative calm in Gaza.

If this means that the US is thinking about Hamas participation in the PA without accepting the “Quartet conditions” (recognition of Israel, ending terrorism and accepting prior Israel-PA agreements), then this is a very significant movement.

Of course, the US has already backtracked on several commitments made to Israel. The issue of allowing natural growth in Jewish communities located across the Green Line is just one of them. In 2004, President Bush wrote to then-PM Ariel Sharon and said

In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949…

It seems clear that an agreed, just, fair and realistic framework for a solution to the Palestinian refugee issue, as part of any final status agreement, will need to be found through the establishment of a Palestinian state and the settling of Palestinian refugees there, rather than Israel…

This was intended to help persuade Sharon to withdraw from Gaza, and apparently it succeeded, to our great sorrow. The State Department started wriggling out of it as soon as the last Jew was gone from Gaza, and now it is only a fond memory.

The Palestinians are as happy as pigs in mud, concludes Abu Toameh:

Hamas is desperate to end the state of isolation it has been in since the movement came to power in 2006. It feels there is a good chance that the Obama administration, through its conciliatory approach toward radical Muslims and Arabs, would assist it in winning recognition and legitimacy in the international arena. So far, the messages that Hamas has been receiving from Washington – through the Egyptians, Saudis and Qataris – are, as far as Mashaal and Haniyeh are concerned, very positive and encouraging.

Similarly, the PA leadership in the West Bank has every reason to be satisfied with the apparent shift in US policy on the Middle East. Some PA officials emerged from this week’s talks with Mitchell with big smiles on their faces. The Obama administration, one of them boasted, has almost entirely endorsed the Palestinian stance on major issues like settlements, the two-state solution and Jerusalem. [my emphasis]

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Max Blumenthal goes to Israel, talks to drunks

Thursday, June 11th, 2009

Anyone who shames his fellow in public, is as if he sheds blood — Bava Metzia 58b.

Max Blumenthal specializes in this kind of bloodshed.  And in cheap shots — the cheaper the better.

Blumenthal, having grown tired of ambushing Evangelical Christians — and maybe also since they have become wise to his tricks — has found a much easier target:

Ignorant, drunken American students in a Jerusalem bar.

Even the Huffington Post found it a bit…sophomoric:

Within a few hours, I received an email from a Huffington Post administrator informing me he had scrubbed my video from the site. “I don’t see that it has any real news value,” the administrator told me. “For me it only proves that one can find drunk people willing to say just about anything.  Especially drunk, moronic people.” For the first time, the premier clearinghouse for online news and opinions had suppressed one of my posts.

As one of his subjects might say, “well, duh, dude.” But Blumenthal thinks his stunt is actually journalism:

…alcohol is a crude form of truth serum that lubricates the release of closely held opinions and encourages confessional talk.

The notion that the racist diatribes in my video emerged spontaneously from a beery void is a delusion, but for some, it is a necessary one. It allows them to erect a psychological barrier against acknowledging the painful consequences of prolonged Zionist indoctrination. And it enables them to dismiss the disturbing spectacle of young Jews behaving like fascist soccer hooligans in the heart of the capitol [sic] of Israel and the spiritual home of the Jewish people…

Many of these kids will move into white-collar jobs and use their influence to advance Israeli initiatives. Programs like Birthright Israel  — a few of those in my video were on Birthright tours — exist for the exclusive purpose of indoctrinating American Jews into unyielding, unthinking supporters of Israel. Thus the kids in my video represent at least one aspect of the Zionist project’s future base of political sustenance.

No, they represent what you get if you go into a bar anywhere in the world and encourage drunks to make a display of themselves.  You start with a non-representative set of people — students who get drunk in bars — and then sub-select the most vocal element among them, ending up with those who are most likely to say (for the camera) the most shocking thing they can come up with. And from this you generalize about the “Zionist project?” There’s no student hangout in America where you wouldn’t get exactly the same, or (probably) worse, about any random subject.

The interesting question isn’t what the drunks did, but what Blumenthal intends, which of course is to bash Israel and show how right-wing and racist it is. First he tries the scientific route:

A groundbreaking study of Israeli attitudes published in the wake of the Gaza war by the Tel Aviv University political psychologist Daniel Bar-Tal, who I recently interviewed, found that “Israeli Jews’ consciousness is characterized by a sense of victimization, a siege mentality, blind patriotism, belligerence, self-righteousness, dehumanization of the Palestinians and insensitivity to their suffering.”

I guess Blumenthal spent his time in college at the frat parties he claims to be familiar with, because an elementary course in scientific method in psychology or sociology would have made clear that characteristics like the above are not objective or measurable — they are constructs laden with political content. How for example, did Bar-Tal spot that “blind patriotism?” Although he writes about such things in a suggestive manner, it’s politics, not science. Rather than a “groundbreaking study,” it’s a report on how left-wing academics see Israeli society.

Next, Blumenthal brings his long personal experience into play, finding “paranoia” and “delusions”:

I have been in Israel for over a month; almost every day I hear expressions of paranoia about Arabs, historical delusions, and the constant refrain that “the world is against us.”

Let’s see:

  • It is verifiable that Hezbollah has at least 40,000 missiles aimed at Israel, Syria has more — some with chemical-biological warheads, Iran’s president says almost every other day that Israel will soon be destroyed, while Iran’s nuclear program continues with the flabbiest of international opposition.
  • The US president (remember him?) is indicating that he will force Israel to agree to a ‘two-state’ deal with the Palestinian authority — the PA that will be crushed by Hamas in days when the IDF pulls out of the West Bank. And how is Hamastan in Gaza working out?
  • Whenever they get a chance, Arabs drive construction machinery into traffic or shoot teenage students in yeshivas.

I could go on, but honestly, isn’t just a bit of, er, concern,  justified?

Here’s another “truth serum” anecdote:

While sitting at a bar with an elegant and otherwise charming young woman, she described to me while sipping a mixed drink how she arbitrarily shot at Arabs while serving in the army because “they want to come and steal my house.”

Max, as someone who served in the IDF, who has three kids who served in the IDF, I have to say this: although I can’t prove that this is nonsense, it is way more than likely that she was messing with your head. “Arbitrarily” shooting at Arabs would get her elegant, otherwise charming ass in a military prison for some time, even if she didn’t hit anybody.

Does repeating stories like this count as journalism…or something else?

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