Archive for July, 2009

Palestinian intransigence exposed

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

For everyone who thinks that Israeli settlements are the reason for the lack of progress toward a ‘two-state solution’, here is an article from the official Palestinian Authority news agency:

Jerusalem – Ma’an – Senior Hamas and Fatah officials stated their objections on Sunday to what they said were US suggestions that Palestinians accept a land swap with Israel and give up the right of return.

The officials said that the US is pushing for a final status agreement with Israel that does not include the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes, and maintains so-called Israeli settlement blocs in the West Bank.

In other words, they object to Jews living in the area that was occupied by Jordan from 1948-67 — even if an equivalent amount of land from Israel is ceded to the Palestinians in return — while insisting upon the right of millions of descendants of Arab refugees to move into Israel.

The article continues,

“The main challenge for this administration is to stop the settlements and land confiscation, particularly canceling the Israeli decision to confiscate 139,00 [sic] dunums of land along the Dead Sea shores and to stop the settlement plans in Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah neighborhoods in East Jerusalem.”

I discussed the Sheikh Jarrah apartment building yesterday. The Dead Sea land is area that has been exposed by the shrinkage of the sea and is not suitable for construction, and which in any event would be included in Palestinian areas in the event of an agreement. In the grand scheme of things, one could not find issues less significant or easier to settle if an actual peace deal were at hand.

But no, these are really the main obstacles, the Palestinians say. Oh yes, and a few other little things:

If the US takes these “basic steps,” it could lead to “real peace,” [Senior Fatah official Hatem Abdul Qader] said. He also said that Palestinians refugees cannot give up the right to return to their homes in what is now Israel, basing their claim on UN Resolution 194. “Going around [Resolution 194] will not lead to real peace between Palestinians and Israelis.”

Meanwhile Hamas senior official Salah Bardawil said that “the issue of land swap was proposed since the Camp David negotiations … President Yasser Arafat rejected this at the time then and paid his life as a price for this rejection.” [Here we encounter the myth that Arafat was murdered by Israel, although it is more likely that he died of AIDS. But this is a subject for another post — ed]

Bardawil also said “We cannot accept anything that is proposed by the Americans regarding this issue.” He said “all Palestinian factions” believe that a resolution to the conflict should be based on an Israeli withdrawal from the land it occupied in 1967 (the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem), the creation of a Palestinian state, and the realization of the right of return.

Indeed they do. But I think that they are jumping the gun, misreading both Israel’s instinct of self-preservation and the degree to which the US is tilting in the Arab direction.

It has always been part of the Israeli bottom line that there can be no ‘return’ of refugees. At least so far, even the Obama administration seems to agree.

Regarding the settlement blocs, another bottom line has been defensible borders, as called for by UN Resolution 242. That means that the pre-1967 lines are not sacrosanct and that there can and must be adjustments. Again, this has been the American position too.

Finally we have the question of Israel’s rights in East Jerusalem. Here the Americans are not so solidly on Israel’s side, but the vast majority of Israelis support PM Netanyahu’s position. Israel won’t budge here either.

The Arabs can be clever negotiators and good strategists, but this time I think they allowed their lust for blood to cloud their judgment, and have got themselves in a corner.

Unless of course the US takes a far more anti-Israel turn than I expect.

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US micro-management challenges Israeli sovereignty

Monday, July 20th, 2009

Shepherd Hotel, East Jerusalem

The Shepherd Hotel in East Jerusalem, at the center of the controversy

Last week the Israeli press reported that Ambassador to the US Michael Oren had been called in and told that Israel must not continue with plans to convert a Jewish-owned building in East Jerusalem into a 20-unit apartment complex — talk about micro-management!

Today the US has confirmed the report:

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley confirmed Monday that a new housing development in east Jerusalem had been a topic of conversation last week during a meeting between senior US diplomats and Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren. Crowley said US opposition to construction in east Jerusalem and settlements in the West Bank had not changed.

“We have made our views known to Israel,” he told reporters. “Our views are not new either: that this kind of construction is the type … of issue that should be subject to permanent-status negotiations.”

Crowley added that “we are concerned that unilateral actions taken by the Israelis or the Palestinians cannot prejudge the outcome of these negotiations.”

On Sunday, responding to the reports that Washington had asked Israel not to build 20 apartments in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in east Jerusalem, near Mount Scopus and the National Police headquarters, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s declared that Israel would not bar Jews from buying apartments in east Jerusalem.– Jerusalem Post

Apparently the Obama Administration has decided — whether the decision was initiated by the White House or the State Department — to draw its line in the sand with Israel here, in Jerusalem.

Any construction activity by Jews in areas occupied by Jordan in 1948-67, including East Jerusalem, is considered ‘settlement activity’ by the US, and is streng verboten.

Of course our peace partners in the Palestinian Authority (PA) gleefully jumped on the bandwagon and are refusing to talk about anything until all ‘settlement activity’ stops.

Some background on the even more outrageous US position that Israel does not have sovereignty in any part of Jerusalem can be found in my post “US to Israel: No part of Jerusalem belongs to you“.

Regardless of the supposed justification for this point of view, I am here to tell Mr. Obama and his Arabist State Department types that — unless the goal is to provoke a complete break with Israel — this is a stupid policy.

Israel is not going to give in on this one. There is no issue that is more likely to unite Israelis against the US than an attempt to limit sovereignty in Jerusalem. This is not going to split PM Netanyahu from the right wing, it is going to push them closer together.

In response to the demands Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the start of Sunday’s cabinet meeting, “Our sovereignty in Jerusalem is indisputable. We can’t agree to such a demand in east Jerusalem.”

“I wish to make this clear – the united Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish people in the State of Israel,” he added…

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman also commented on the demand, calling it “unthinkable”.

“There are many Arab families that build homes in the Neve Yaakov and French Hill neighborhoods. I have never heard any remarks on this matter, neither from the United States, nor from Europe,” he said.

“This is not an isolated distant Palestinian neighborhood. Should we of all people discriminate against Jews? This is unthinkable,” he added. — YNet

The irony here is as great as that of the Allies keeping Jewish former concentration camp inmates in “DP camps” in Germany after WWII. Jerusalem is the historical center of the Jewish world, and Jews lived in both East and West Jerusalem from biblical times until East Jerusalem was brutally ethnically cleansed by the Jordanians in 1948.

Israel gained control of East Jerusalem in 1967 and annexed it in 1980, declaring the “complete and united Jerusalem” to be the capital of Israel.

So which is it?

Did the Obama administration miscalculate, thinking it could score some easy points with the Arabs by forcing Israel to heel?

Or is the intention to score even more points by tearing a great rift between the US and Israel and explicitly moving closer to the Arab side?

Update [21 Jul 2009 0826 PDT]:

The following commentary is from  Daniel Pipes’ blog. The whole article is worth reading:

Abbas complained to the Americans that the construction of 20 apartments and an underground garage in the eastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Shimon Hatzadik, 1.4 kilometers north of the Old City, would shift Jerusalem’s demographic balance. The State Department promptly summoned Israel’s ambassador to Washington, Michael Oren on July 17 and instructed him to halt the building project.

Some background: Zionists founded the Shimon Hatzadik neighborhood in 1891 by purchasing the land from Arabs, then, due to Arab riots and Jordanian conquest, abandoned the area. Amin al-Husseini, Jerusalem’s pro-Nazi mufti, put up a building in the 1930s that later served as the Shepherd Hotel (not to be confused with the renowned Shepheard’s Hotel in Cairo). After 1967, the Israelis designated the land “absentee property.” Irving Moskowitz, an American businessman, bought the land in 1985 and rented the building to the border police until 2002. His company, C and M Properties, won final permission two weeks ago to renovate the hotel and build apartments on the land.

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Obama Mideast policy soon to fall apart

Sunday, July 19th, 2009

News item:

Top Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat on Sunday played down a recent meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki in Sharm el-Sheikh, wondering what all the fuss was about.

“We saw each other, it was just a regular meeting,” he said in a conversation with a reporter aired on Israel Radio, laughing off a suggestion that there was “normalization between Fatah and Iran…”

[But a senior Palestinian official], speaking on condition of anonymity, claimed that it was the first such meeting since the PA was established in 1994.

“They discussed the internal Palestinians situation and the need for successful negotiations between Hamas and Fatah,” he said.

The two also discussed “the need for a balance between Fatah and Hamas, the need for support of dialogue [between the two groups]… regional conditions and how to strike a balance in support between Hamas and Fatah,” he continued.

Fatah and Hamas have big differences. Fatah is nationalist and secular, while Hamas is Islamic fundamentalist. Hamas persecutes Christians and arrests women for ‘immodest’ dress, while the well-known Christian woman Hanan Ashrawi was at one point a member of Fatah. Hamas and Fatah fought brutally when Hamas took over the Gaza Strip in 2007, and today Fatah holds hundreds of Hamas men in its West Bank jails.

Fatah, the major faction in the PLO, controls the Palestinian Authority (PA). The US supports the PA as the legitimate Palestinian government, pays most of its bills and arms and trains its ‘security’ forces, although it is highly unpopular even on the West Bank. But the Obama Administration — like that of former President Bush — believes that Fatah is a ‘moderate’ force, which can be persuaded to be a partner with Israel in a peaceful two-state solution.

Unfortunately Fatah — the party of Yasser Arafat, which historically has killed more Israelis than Hamas — is moderate only in the minds of some wishfully thinking Western observers. Robert Fulford recently talked to Khaled Abu Toameh, the Jerusalem Post’s Arab Affairs correspondent:

Abu Toameh thinks neither [Fatah nor Hamas] could be called moderate by any sensible Arabic speaker. Fatah makes moderate sounds in English but in Arabic sounds as anti-Semitic and anti-American as Hamas. Abu Toameh sees no moderates on either side. Both factions suppress moderate opinion wherever it raises its head, which is apparently not often.

“This is not a power struggle between good guys and bad guys,” he said in a recent speech. “It is a struggle between bad guys and bad guys.” He wishes they were fighting over what would be best for Palestinians. “But they’re only fighting over money and power.” [my emphasis]

To a certain extent, this is a feature of Palestinian politics. Barry Rubin explains (see: “The peace recess“) that there simply is no percentage for a Palestinian leader in really being a moderate, as opposed to making some English statements designed to score propaganda points in the West. There is no popular support for moderation, and there are plenty of young men with guns — in Fatah as well as Hamas — who would quickly put an end to a moderate movement if there were one.

Present US policy seems to have two goals, one real and immediate and the other longer range and possibly more ‘for show’ than anything else.

The first is to win the approval of Muslim nations which claim to be alienated by our previous support of Israel, the war in Iraq, etc.  This is why the Administration has chosen to crudely bludgeon Israel over settlements and construction activity, and to agree with the PA that this is an obstacle to a peace settlement. The Arabs and Iran want to see the US ‘deliver’ Israel and that is the impression given by the settlement dispute.

The second goal is to gain popular support in the US and in Europe, by appearing to promote a peaceful two-state solution — although a peaceful end to the conflict is not possible without a moderate Palestinian partner, which doesn’t exist today. Even if some naive American officials believe that peace is possible in the short term, the important part is the process.

Unfortunately there is a real danger that — with the encouragement and support of Iran — the so-called ‘moderate’ Fatah and Hamas will soon paper over their differences and come together, something which would likely end up with the more vital Hamas gaining power over the PA. Hamas, while ideologically inflexible, acts in a pragmatic way, as is demonstrated by the radical Sunni organization’s alliance of convenience with Shiite Iran.

At this point, the Obama Administration will no longer be able to continue its charade of supporting the PA for the sake of peace, and the impending policy train wreck will occur — maybe along with another Israeli-Palestinian war.

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A failure to communicate

Saturday, July 18th, 2009

Bahraini Crown Prince Shaikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa has written an opinion piece in the Washington Post which at first appears to be a genuine attempt to be reasonable.  He says,

This crisis is not a zero-sum game. For one side to win, the other does not have to lose. The peace dividend for the entire Middle East is potentially immense. So why have we not gotten anywhere?

Why indeed? One reason is that when you look at precisely what Khalifa says you see that he — like other Arab leaders — is not really interested in “resolving the dilemma of justice for Palestine without injustice to Israel”, in his words. Khalifa’s statement seems to be worlds away from the Three ‘No’s, — no  peace, no recognition and no negotiations — but careful reading shows how little the Arab world has moved since 1967.

Khalifa writes,

We need fresh thinking if the Arab Peace Initiative is to have the impact it deserves on the crisis that needlessly impoverishes Palestinians and endangers Israel’s security.

I certainly agree. The Arab initiative represents the first time the Arab world has said that under any circumstances they would agree to normalize relations with Israel (although there is some ambiguity about what ‘normalize’ means), and that’s significant. But it needs a bit of rethinking. This always brings the following joke to mind:

Man (to girlfriend): “Will you marry me?”
GF: “When Hell freezes over!”
Man (to himself): “Progress! There are some circumstances under which she’ll marry me.”

The main problem with the Arab initiative (also called the Saudi initiative since an early version was proposed by the Saudi king and later taken up by the Arab League) is that it is written to lay the entire responsibility for the conflict upon Israel.

After Israel accepts the Arab narrative of the conflict and responsibility for it, and meets all the Arab demands on such things as borders and refugees — one doubts that what would be left could still be called a Jewish state — then and only then the Arabs will normalize relations with it.

Note that Israel goes first — the Arabs are required to do nothing until Israel has made all the concessions demanded (this is in contrast to the Road Map, in which both sides must share the burdens in each step).

In addition, it is always presented in a take-it-or-leave-it fashion. The only negotiations connected with it will deal with ‘implementation’ — that is, Israel giving up all the 1967 territories, the establishment of the Palestinian state, and the ‘solution’ of the refugee problem.

In essence we have this:

  • The three ‘no’s of 1967: We won’t give you anything
  • The Arab initiative of today: We’ll give you something, after you surrender everything

You can see why it makes me nervous every time the Obama administration says something positive about the Arab initiative (as Hillary Clinton did this week).

“Fresh thinking” is definitely needed or this proposal is a nonstarter. So what does the Crown Prince suggest?

Our biggest mistake has been to assume that you can simply switch peace on like a light bulb. The reality is that peace is a process, contingent on a good idea but also requiring a great deal of campaigning — patiently and repeatedly targeting all relevant parties. This is where we as Arabs have not done enough to communicate directly with the people of Israel.

An Israeli might be forgiven for thinking that every Muslim voice is raised in hatred, because that is usually the only one he hears. Just as an Arab might be forgiven for thinking every Israeli wants the destruction of every Palestinian [but he doesn’t hear this from Israel — ed].

Essentially, we have not done a good enough job demonstrating to Israelis how our initiative can form part of a peace between equals in a troubled land holy to three great faiths…

To be effective, we must acknowledge that, like people everywhere, the average Israeli’s primary window on the world is his or her local and national media. Our job, therefore, is to tell our story more directly to the Israeli people by getting the message out to their media, a message reflecting the hopes of the Arab mainstream that confirms peace as a strategic option and advocates the Arab Peace Initiative as a means to this end.

In other words, there is no need to rethink the Arab initiative, only to sell it to skeptical Israelis.

“What we’ve got here,” the Crown Prince in effect tells us, “is a failure to communicate.”

No, it’s a lot more than that.

Paul Newman as Cool Hand Luke

“A failure to communicate” — Paul Newman as Cool Hand Luke

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Max Blumenthal’s antisemitic hit

Friday, July 17th, 2009

Max Blumenthal has another Youtube hit. This time in addition to the drunks of his previous video, he gets some young Israelis — whose command of English is not all that great, and who live in a country where the taboos of political correctness are not so entrenched  — to say unattractive things, which he gleefully splices together.

He asked a few apparently inebriated young men about the ‘Iranian people’, getting one to say “I hate them.” It’s obvious that the victim was thinking about the Iranian regime, but when you are drunk and speak English on a 5-year-old level it’s hard to be precise.  Blumenthal  also falsely implied that a so-called “nakba law … [makes] it a crime to talk about destroyed Arab villages”.

Then he found some Israeli Arab students (with better English) who talked about how they are discriminated against, having their ID’s checked just because they were Arab.

The thing is, this is so easy — imagine what he could do in any American college town, or among the Palestinians. The reporter sometimes even puts words in people’s mouths, as if it’s necessary.

What has Blumenthal done? He’s put together bits and pieces of video showing Jews in as ugly a light as possible. Imagine if he’d done the same for African Americans or Muslims! There is a word for this — antisemitism — and it is not a defense to claim that you are Jewish.

There are other words, too, like cheap shots, lack of context, yellow journalism, propaganda and just plain dishonesty.

Blumenthal would undoubtedly say that is is only anti-Zionist. But his video speaks for itself.

Max Blumenthal, the son of former President Clinton’s aide Sidney Blumenthal, was born in 1977. I’m sure that he went to an excellent university here in the US, unlike my own son who was born in the same year and who spent the same part of his youth in the dust and flies of South Lebanon trying to avoid Hezbollah’s mortar shells.

Unlike the Israelis that he made fools of, Blumenthal lives in a big country which does not have 60,000 [update 2014: 170,000] missiles aimed at it (from Hamas, Lebanon and Syria), which can hit any part of it. He does not live a few miles from a seething nest of violent hatred which from time to time randomly vomits rockets into his town, as many Israelis do. He does not live in range of a country ruled by a fanatical despot that will soon have nuclear bombs and has threatened repeatedly to annihilate his nation.

Blumenthal exemplifies the uninformed, privileged American Jews who hate Israel. Maybe it will take the shit hitting the fan for Jews in the US — after all, history shows that at some point it happens in every diaspora culture — for them to understand.

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