Archive for August, 2009

Parallel universes for Jews and Arabs

Monday, August 31st, 2009

Recently Israel’s education ministry decided that the description of the founding of the Jewish state as a nakba — catastrophe — would be removed from textbooks in state-funded Arab schools.

“In the past five months since its formation, the government, along with the Education Ministry, has announced a number of dangerous decisions,” the head of the Follow-up Committee on Arab Education in Israel said at a press conference. “Such as a prohibition to commemorate the Nakba of the Arab people in schools, the changing of road signs, forcing the singing of the ‘Tikva’ national anthem at schools and setting the promotion of military service or national service as a criterion for rewarding schools and staff.”

“We reject these decisions outright,” Atef Moaddi said. “And we stress that if an attempt is made to carry them out in Arab schools – the response will be refusal and civil disobedience…”

Moaddi told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday that [Education Minister Gideon] Sa’ar’s decision was nothing less than a “political gimmick” aimed at denying the Israeli Arab community their identity.

“For Israeli Arabs, who consider themselves a part of the Palestinian people, the Nakba is not up for debate, it is a historical fact,” Moaddi said. “But if Sa’ar thinks that by taking this narrative out of the textbooks, he will somehow absolve himself – as both a representative of the State of Israel and as a human being – of responsibility for the Nakba, he is wrong…”

He also talked about discrimination against Arabs, more resources going to the Jewish school systems, etc. But those are fixable problems.

It is not fixable when one out of every five citizens of a state considers him or herself the citizen of a different nation, one co-extensive in space and time with the other, two parallel universes in which history is fundamentally different. Especially when the difference is that one group believes that everything the other has really belongs to them.

“Our position has always been that both narratives – the Jewish, Zionist narrative and the Arab, Palestinian narrative – should be taught in both Jewish and Arab classrooms,” he continued.

This is literally insane. Both narratives should be taught? Teach that the world is round and that it’s cubical? Teach that the Jews reestablished their nation in the land where — despite the fact that there was room for all — the Arabs tried again and again to kill them, and at the same time teach that the Jews dispossessed the Arabs and expelled them?

“But the Arab pupil is not stupid. He or she will learn about the Nakba from a variety of other sources, be it on the Internet or on the street. But our position is that we prefer for them to learn about it in the educational framework of the classroom.”

For example, they can learn their ‘narrative’ in the Baladna (Our Land) youth group, funded by money from Europe and the New Israel Fund.

The ‘narratives’ are incompatible and they make the people who believe them incompatible. Which, of course, is precisely why the Europeans and the New Israel Fund support the anti-Zionist narrative.

A novel idea would be that there is only one truth, and both Jews and Arabs should learn it.

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Ehud Olmert, the anti-Churchill

Sunday, August 30th, 2009

News item:

An indictment against former prime minister Ehud Olmert was served at the Jerusalem District Court on Sunday afternoon in three out of the four corruption-related cases standing against him: ‘Rishontours’, ‘Talansky’ and the ‘Investment Center’.

The indictment, filed by State Attorney Moshe Lador and Jerusalem District Attorney Eli Abarbanel, includes severe charges against Olmert, among them fraud, breach of trust, falsifying corporate documents and tax evasion. However, the former prime minister is not charged with bribery.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if this were the last we had to hear of this man: an ‘accidental’ Prime Minister who wasn’t up to the job and also turned out to be a common thief!

Although there was plenty of blame to go around for the débacle that  was the war against Hezbollah in 2006, Olmert deserves a lot of it. Unfortunately what was not done then will need to be done in the future, and another PM will face a much tougher challenge than Olmert did in 2006.

Olmert was also — at least nominally — PM during Operation Cast Lead. While the full story of its premature termination has not yet surfaced — what was Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told when she flew to Washington in mid-January immediately before Obama’s inauguration? — one wonders whether the outcome would have been different if someone else had been PM. This will also have to be done over again at greater cost.

Olmert was the anti-Churchill. In 2005, he expressed his wish that the disengagement from Gaza would lead to peace thus:

We are tired of fighting, we are tired of being courageous, we are tired of winning, we are tired of defeating our enemies, we want that we will be able to live in an entirely different environment of relations with our enemies. We want them to be our friends, our partners, our good neighbors, and I believe that this is not impossible… That it is within reach if we will be smart, if we will dare, if we will be prepared to take the risks, and if we will be able to convince our Palestinian partners to be able to do the same.

What an unprecedented combination of defeatist rhetoric, bad politics, and fundamentally wrong analysis!

By comparison, the US is a big country with huge resources and the capacity to survive a really rotten administration once in a while (although we don’t want to make a habit of it). But Israel is small, things happen fast, and her existence is much more precarious than many people think. One jerk in a high place can do a lot of damage.

Goodbye Mr. Olmert, good luck in court, and good riddance.

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Israeli Left: don’t confuse us with logic

Saturday, August 29th, 2009

When I first read the following story, I thought it might be satire. But who could make this up?

The Israeli Left reacted with dismay over the weekend to the results of a Jerusalem Post-sponsored Smith Research poll published on Friday that found only 4 percent of Jewish Israelis believe that US President Barack Obama’s policies are more pro-Israel than pro-Palestinian.

The survey, which was featured prominently on Fox News in the United States and picked up by media outlets around the world, reported that 51% of Jewish Israelis considered Obama’s administration more pro-Palestinian than pro-Israel, 35% called it neutral and 10% declined to express an opinion…

“It is terrific for Israel that there is an American president with vision, and it is a pity that most Israelis don’t realize that,” Meretz faction chairman MK Ilan Gilon said. “Israelis think that Christian evangelists who rubber-stamp everything Israel does are the only Americans who are pro-Israel. But what is really good for Israel is a solution to the conflict, and Obama is doing what it takes to bring it about.”

In other words, he thinks that Jewish Israelis don’t know what’s good for them — well, maybe 4% of them do — and need to be forced to accept a solution! Of course, that solution will meet the priorities of the Obama administration, not Israel.  And high on Obama’s priority list seems to be improving American relationships and image in the Muslim world.

One outspoken representative of Israel’s Left seems to agree with me, but still thinks it’s good for Israel:

Peace Now secretary-general Yariv Oppenheimer said what mattered more at this stage of the peace process was Obama’s reputation in the Arab world, and not in Israel. [my emphasis]

“Despite the results of the poll, the Israeli interest is that Obama will be popular in the Arab world, so he could bring about a peace agreement with Israel,” Oppenheimer said. “Bush was popular in Israel and hated around the world, and his policies did not help Israel end the Palestinian conflict or quell the Iranian threat. If he succeeds in his goals of advancing Middle East peace, I am sure he will become much more popular with Israelis.”

Earth to Gilon and Oppenheimer: An important goal for Arab regimes and Iran is to weaken Israel so as to hasten her demise. Really making peace would work against that, so there’s reason to be suspicious of policies that make them happy.

Regimes like those in Syria and Iran — as Barry Rubin has argued persuasively —  find the conflict with Israel very useful for their own internal goals, such as keeping a lid on reformers and justifying repression and economic exploitation of their population. They are not motivated to give it up. Remember, the interests of the people of Syria, for example, are not the same as the interests of Bashar al-Assad and his circle, but it’s the latter that makes policy.

Oppenheimer seems to be suggesting that Israel should make concessions to demands like the settlement freeze so that Arabs will like Obama, and thus be more disposed to make peace with Israel. Huh? Good for him that he never took my logic class.

The real explanation of what’s behind Obama Administration policy is not obvious to me yet. There are those who think that the Saudi tail is wagging the American dog, and others who think that the administration is simply naive. Yesterday I suggested that maybe they are getting bad advice. As I said to a commenter on the previous post: are they dumb, ill-advised, or evil?

Tune in again in a few weeks or months to find out.

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On experts

Friday, August 28th, 2009

The situation regarding the Obama administration in the Middle East today is something like putting a child who is still learning the rules up against the world’s greatest poker players. For the first six months of a new president that is an understandable problem but if it continues longer the feeble condition of this administration’s foreign policy starts to seem permanent. — Barry Rubin, “Obama Administration’s Arab-Israeli Policy Adjustment: Out of the Frying Pan Into the… Saucepan

I have a theory about this. It’s not that Obama and his immediate advisors are dumb, although Obama himself has very little experience with Mideast diplomacy (he should ask Bill Clinton, who learned the hard way). It’s that they trust ‘experts’ too much.

JFK had the same problem. He listened to experts and invaded the Bay of Pigs.

The thing about experts is that to a certain extent their reputations are made by holding novel or even extreme positions. It has little to do with being right more often than wrong. And in fact the personal consequences of being wrong in academia or the CIA (as in the Bay of Pigs case) are rarely serious.

So ‘experts’ like Scowcroft and Brzezinski can present bad ideas like the ‘linkage theory’ and be applauded in the really, really uniformed media and by those who understand that it’s nonsense but see it as a way to weaken Israel. Whereas if the President adopts this theory and then makes policy which results in a disaster, he’s blamed.

I recommend the Rubin article linked above.

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Max Blumenthal is a video terrorist

Friday, August 28th, 2009
Max Blumenthal -- Oops, no, its Josef Goebbels. I always mix them up!

Max Blumenthal -- Oops, no, it's Josef Goebbels. I always mix them up!

Max Blumenthal is a video terrorist. His target is the Jewish state and like many terrorists he is driven by hate — it oozes from his work — and he really doesn’t care what ethical principles (in this case, basic journalistic ones about truth and fairness) he needs to violate in order to kill his enemy. Blumenthal is a ‘journalist’ like Goebbels was a journalist.

He began his career by making fun of the Christian Right in the US, but he became really well-known for his intrepid interview with dangerous drunken American students in a Jerusalem bar.  His footage of scheming Zionist racists pronouncing the words “Fuck Obama!” before passing out is classic investigative journalism. In response to complaints that, after all, they were drunk, American, and to a certain extent idiots, he turned to tricking Israelis with poor English skills into saying embarrassingly right-wing things on camera.

His early work was quite amateurish but he apparently has professional help now, because his latest effort — a trailer for a documentary called “Israel’s terror inside” is slicker than snot and just as objective. His point — which I’m sure the full documentary will belabor effectively — is that Israel is not a democracy, it’s ruled by fascists who want only to to commit genocide against innocent indigenous Palestinians.

You know — this really isn’t all that funny. The trailer is 5 minutes 48 seconds of lies, false implications and slander. It is really well put together — he probably had generous funding from the usual suspects — and I presume the documentary is also. I absolutely guarantee that my friends at Peace Fresno will be showing it to everyone they can get to watch it, college teachers will show it to their classes, etc. Despite the fact that it will be unmitigated rubbish, people will be influenced by it.

Meanwhile, I want to address myself to Blumenthal himself:

You probably know that you are producing pure propaganda and claiming that it’s journalism. The slander in your work is compounded by the lie that what you are doing is honest work. Probably you think that’s justified, that the end of helping the oppressed Palestinians makes it OK to bend the truth a little. Maybe you ask, “what is truth, anyway?” or think about it in a postmodern way in which truth is relative to politics.

Or maybe you like the funding that you can get for doing the devil’s work [note: no, I don't believe in the devil. It's a figure of speech]. Maybe you like to see your name in print, and like seeing those fat numbers of views on YouTube. Maybe being famous helps you meet interesting women. Whatever.

Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency? — Joseph Welch, to Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy, June 9, 1954.

***

(Thanks to Dvar Dea for bringing this to my attention).

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Achieving peace depends on a Palestinian leadership wanting peace

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

Time to stop and ‘reset’, to use a concept favored by Barack Obama. The Oslo idea that peace can be made between Israelis and Palestinians by dealing with a leadership made from the PLO is clearly bankrupt. For proof, read Barry Rubin’s analysis of Fatah here.

There are two kinds of people who favor the ‘peace process’ with the Palestinian Authority/PLO/Fatah:

  • Those who think that the Jewish state should not exist and that the process is an effective way to weaken it; and
  • Those who don’t understand the Palestinians or their politics.

The US State Department is full of the former, while the latter are found among the media and President Obama’s advisors (not all of them — he has some from the first group too).

In 2002, President Bush said:

I call on the Palestinian people to elect new leaders, leaders not compromised by terror. I call upon them to build a practicing democracy, based on tolerance and liberty. If the Palestinian people actively pursue these goals, America and the world will actively support their efforts…

Today, Palestinian authorities are encouraging, not opposing, terrorism. This is unacceptable. And the United States will not support the establishment of a Palestinian state until its leaders engage in a sustained fight against the terrorists and dismantle their infrastructure…

He was right about the need for change, but that election didn’t work out. The Palestinians voted for Hamas. Now the Palestinian territories are split between Hamas and a Fatah run by  70-year old hardliners dreaming of the glorious airline hijackings and terror operations of the 1970’s and 80’s while their actual influence gets smaller each day.

Reset. Back to the idea that achieving peace depends on a Palestinian leadership wanting peace. That means a readiness to compromise on their basic demand that there be no state of Israel. That is one demand that can’t be met, no matter if they put it in terms of a ‘right of return’ or the Arab peace initiative or whatever.

Oslo opened a can of worms, and many evil things crawled out of it — like the reign of Yasser Arafat, the empowerment of Hamas, the thousands of dead on both sides in the war and terrorism that followed. They can’t be put back.

Barack Obama could do both Israelis and Palestinians a favor by not opening the much larger barrel of worms that would be an imposed settlement.

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Swedes, Palestinians use time-honored smear technique

Monday, August 24th, 2009
Texan chicken (see text for relevance)

Yes, it's relevant -- read the post.

Swedish Israel-haters are in good company. The Popular Front for Liberation of Palestine is a Marxist PLO faction which holds that Israel is illegitimate, does not accept the Oslo agreements, and demands a ‘right of return’ for all Palestinian refugees and their descendants. The PFLP was quite active in terrorism in the 1960’s and 1970’s, and again during the second intifada. Their leader, Ahmad Sa’adat, is presently serving a 30-year sentence for directing the assassination of Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Ze’evi in 2001.

It’s not a surprise that they support the Aftonbladet newspaper and slime journalist Donald Boström:

Gaza – Ma’an – International human rights organizations must carry out a serious and immediate investigation on media reports published by a Swedish newspaper alleging Israeli forces harvested organs from Palestinian youth, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine demanded Saturday.

The report in Aftonbladet quoted Palestinians claiming Israeli soldiers detained young men who died in custody, and alleged their bodies were returned with organs missing.

A PFLP statement said such reports, given the detailed names, dates and photographs included and the staunch support of the Swedish government of the reporter, must be taken seriously. The group said the story was similar to alleged violations carried out by soldiers in the 1980s in Gaza, where they were said to have stolen organs from children taken to Israeli hospitals.

It has always been normal  for Israeli hospitals to treat Palestinians, even wounded terrorists. They return the favor by sending suicide bombers to blow up hospitals, firing missiles at them and even shelling crossing points between Gaza and Israel while Palestinian patients are being transferred. And tell lies about organ stealing.

One of the interesting points about the organ stories is that Palestinians often talk about bodies of dead Arabs being taken. Of course, it is impossible to harvest organs from cadavers, which is why brain-dead accident victims are in demand as organ donors.

While admitting that there was no actual evidence — other than Palestinian accusations — the author of the Aftonbladet article continues to insist that an ‘investigation’ is called for:

…in an article published Friday, Arab media site Menassat interviewed Donald Boström, the Swedish journalist who wrote the original Aftonbladet story. Boström emphasized that there was “no conclusive evidence” that organ hartvesting was a systematic IDF practice, but rather a “collection of allegations and suspicious circumstances.”

“The point is that we know there is organ trafficking in Israel. And we also know that there are families claiming that their children’s organs have been harvested. These two facts together point to the need for further investigation,” Boström was quoted as saying. — Jerusalem Post

Here we have a time-honored smear technique. I call it the “Texas chickens” method, and it’s attributed to famous Texan Lyndon B. Johnson:

Johnson: Tell the press that our opponent has sex with chickens.
Aide: But we can’t possibly prove that!
Johnson: I know, but I want to see the son-of-a-bitch deny it on television.

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Swedish Jews don’t get it

Sunday, August 23rd, 2009

The Aftonbladet scandal — in which the Swedish government refused to condemn an antisemitic and Zionophobic newspaper article which accused the IDF of stealing organs from dead Palestinians, falsely claiming that to do so would violate the Swedish constitution — brings the difference between the attitudes of Jews in the Diaspora and the Jewish state into sharp focus.

Here is how Israeli officials responded:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, “We do not want the Swedish government to apologize, we want it to issue a condemnation.” Netanyahu called the accusations “outrageous” and equated them to blood libels.

Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz (Likud) also addressed the affair, saying “there is a crisis until Sweden offers a different response. The Jewish state cannot ignore such a manifestation of anti-Semitism. “Anyone who is unwilling to condemn such a blood libel could be considered unwanted in Israel,” Steinitz said. — YNet

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that the government’s position would not have been as sharp had Sweden not reprimanded its own envoy for condemning the inflammatory article. The foreign minister said there was a degree of hypocrisy in the Swedish position – claiming they don’t interfere in freedom of the press – when in 2006 the Swedish foreign minister sent a letter to a Yemenite leader apologizing for offensive caricatures of the prophet Mohammed…

Ambassador to Sweden Benny Dagan lashed out at a Swedish reporter Sunday who asked him whether Israel should investigate the claims. “You know what, I have a suggestion for you,” Dagan retorted. “Why won’t you investigate why the Mossad and the Jews were behind the bombing of the twin towers? Why won’t we investigate why Jews are spreading AIDS in the Arab countries? Why won’t we investigate why Jews killed [Christian children to bake Matzot on Pessah]?” — Jerusalem Post

But some Swedish Jews don’t see it this way. It was painful to read the following:

According to Lena Posner, head of the Jewish community in Stockholm and president of the Official Council of Jewish Communities in Sweden, “Israel caused all this mess.”

Posner told Ynet, “The article was published here on Monday, but no one paid any attention to it. It wasn’t a news report and was buried in the back pages of a tabloid. The writer is known to many of us as anti-Israel, and so it the entire paper. This is why no one took it seriously – until Israel got involved.”

It appears that the affair has turned the Aftonbladet reporter, Donald Boström, into the star of news broadcasts. How did he get the great “scoop” on the Palestinian organ theft?

“He met a Palestinian youth in 1992 and based an article on an interview with him, because he wanted 15 minutes of fame for himself,” said Posner. “Now he is extorting this whole thing to the very end. He is a no-good, and has now become a famous person appearing on prime-time TV and radio every day. If the Israeli elements had avoided responding like they did, no one would have noticed and it would have never become part of the agenda. This is why we are so agitated here.” — YNet

They should be agitated, but for a different reason.

They should be agitated because, just as happened in pre-war Germany, the heat is being turned up on the pot of hatred, and their government is close to complicit in it. Do they think that the vituperation poured out on Israel is ‘legitimate criticism of policy’ and doesn’t have anything to do with the fact that Israel is the state of the Jewish People?

Do they think that expressions like Boström’s article will simply go away if ignored? Do they think that because they are Swedish Jews they are not connected to accusations against Israeli Jews? Do they think that their ‘progressive’ government will protect them against Jew-hatred? If there is a pogrom in Stockholm next week, will the government claim that it is a legitimate expression of the antisemites’ right to free speech? Next year?

The precedent is not encouraging.

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Swedish PM ignorant of his own constitution

Saturday, August 22nd, 2009
Reinfeldt: proof that forehead size and intelligence are not correlated

Reinfeldt: proof that forehead size and intelligence are not correlated

News item:

The Israeli-Swedish ping-pong over an offensive article in the Swedish Aftonbladet daily continued over the weekend, with Jerusalem calling for a Swedish government condemnation of the article [accusing the IDF of stealing organs from dead Palestinians], and Stockholm pointedly refusing to do so…

…Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said on Saturday his government would not condemn the report.

No one can demand that the Swedish government violate its own constitution. Freedom of speech is an indispensable part of Swedish society,” Reinfeldt was quoted as telling the Swedish news agency TT. [my emphasis]

But it appears that the Swedish PM is not familiar with his constitution.

The Swedish Constitution says:

Chapter 1 Basic Principles
Article 3
The Instrument of Government, the Act of Succession and the Freedom of the Press Act are the fundamental laws of the Realm.

And the Freedom of the Press Act begins:

Chapter 1 On the Freedom of the Press
Article 1
(1) The freedom of the press means the right of every Swedish subject, without prior hindrance by a central administrative authority or other public body, to publish any written matter, and not to be prosecuted thereafter on grounds of the content of such matter other than before a court of law, or to be punished therefor in any case other than a case in which the content is in contravention of an express provision of law, enacted to preserve public order without suppressing information to the public.

The act is quite long, but I could find nothing that even suggested that the government is prohibited from expressing disapproval after the fact of anything published in a newspaper.

Interestingly, there are some things that cannot be published:

Chapter 7 On Offenses Against the Freedom of the Press
Article 4
With due regard to the purpose of a universal freedom of the press as set forth in Chapter 1, the following acts shall be regarded as offenses against the freedom of the press if they are committed by way of printed matter and if they are punishable under law:

11) persecution of a population group, whereby a person threatens or expresses contempt for a population group or other such group with allusion to its race, skin color, national or ethnic origin, or religious faith;

14) Libel, whereby a person alleges another is a criminal or is blameworthy in his way of life, or otherwise communicates information liable to expose the other to the contempt of others, and, if the person libelled is deceased, to cause offence to his survivors or which might otherwise be considered to violate the sanctity of the grave except, however, in cases in which it was justifiable having regard to the circumstances, or in order to provide information in the matter concerned and proof is presented that the information was correct or that there were reasonable grounds for it; and

15) affront, whereby a person insults another by means of offensive invective or allegations or by any other insulting behavior towards him.

It seems to me that a decent case could be made that Aftonbladet has violated all of the above.

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A warning from history

Saturday, August 22nd, 2009
The Nazis: A Warning from History

The Nazis: A Warning from History

My wife is away for a week and I’ve been taking the opportunity to watch videos that she wouldn’t enjoy. No, not what you are thinking! Rather, historical documentaries, war movies, Clint Eastwood films, etc.

Now I’m watching a BBC documentary called “The Nazis: A Warning from History”. It’s quite interesting, loaded with period footage that I’d never seen and including many interviews with former Nazis (they always are listed as becoming ‘former’ in 1945).

An early episode describes the persecution of the German Jews before the war, of which Kristallnacht was the culmination (and the beginning of the Final Solution). What is interesting — not that there is anything new in this — was the way in which the antisemitic predilections of ordinary Germans were nurtured for years, while at the same time the Jews were gradually excluded from every aspect of German society: the professions, the arts, political life, education, business, even the right to marry non-Jews (by the 1935 Nuremberg laws).

With every succeeding year, new indignities were heaped on the Jews which would have been unthinkable the year before. But like the proverbial frog placed in water which is slowly raised to the boiling point, the German people (even many Jews) didn’t perceive the horror of the situation until it was too late. The combination of the continuous antisemitic input from the German media and political establishment, the step by step promulgation of exclusionary laws and the gradually increasing paramilitary violence against individual Jews made the later recruitment of soldiers and police for einsatzgruppen [extermination squads] possible.

One of the former Nazis said something like this: “In 1933, who could have imagined what would be in 1945?  Only 12 years — but it was unimaginable beforehand.”

So why do I mention this?

Because a precisely parallel process is underway today. It is not aimed at individual Jews, but at the Jewish state. It is not limited to a single country, but is taking place worldwide. The anti-Israel rhetoric continues to reach new heights and every day things are said which would never have been said before. What was unimaginable last year — like the Aftonbladet accusations — becomes standard fare this year. Just like Nazi propagandists, there are writers and media that specialize in Israel-hatred. I can imagine Max Blumenthal (see here and here) looking in the mirror every morning and asking himself “how can I stick it to them today?”

The parallel is not exact, because unlike most German Jews the state of Israel is capable of defending herself. But the process of isolation — the product boycotts and divestments, the UN resolutions, the attempts to restrict Israeli participation in international sporting events, the academic boycotts, the anti-Israel conferences, and the escalating vilification in the media — are all intended to disconnect Israel from the world, to ensure that she will have no friends to stand by her when her enemies feel ready to challenge her directly.

The response has to be to not allow the temperature to be raised imperceptibly, to not get used to the anti-Israel rhetoric as, for example, “just what one expects from NPR, the Guardian, the LA Times, etc.,” but to push back vigorously against each attack, each lie, each fake ‘investigation’ and every ‘pro-Israel’ group that is actually the opposite.

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The implications of the settlement freeze

Friday, August 21st, 2009

Although the details are not public knowledge — or perhaps they have not been finalized — a ‘temporary’ freeze on new Jewish construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem is in effect. Israeli PM Netanyahu will be meeting with US envoy George Mitchell on Aug. 26 to discuss this, among other issues.

Despite the fact that the Israeli government is presenting this as an expedient ‘to get peace talks moving’, there are several implications that cannot be ignored. Keep in mind that this comes immediately after the Fatah congress, in which the Palestinian faction with whom Israel is expected to negotiate has shown itself to be committed to hardline policies which will keep such ‘peace talks’ from getting anywhere. So what does the freeze tell us?

  • It shows that Israel cannot or will not say no to the US. Netanyahu has no illusions about the possibility of fruitful talks, and he understands the domestic political difficulties of agreeing to freeze Jewish construction everywhere in the area occupied by Jordan from 1948-67, including East Jerusalem. And yet he agreed.
  • It weakens Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem. By agreeing to the demand, Israel compromises its position, expressed in the Basic Law–Jerusalem of 1980, that Jerusalem is an integral part of Israel.
  • It sets the stage for a further collision with the US when, in 2010 or whenever, the ‘temporary’ period is up and there still has not been substantive progress in negotiations.
  • It illustrates the asymmetry fundamental to the US conception of a ‘two-state solution’. Although Arab citizens of Israel increasingly consider themselves ‘Palestinians’, suggestions for a freeze on Arab construction within Israel, or — God forbid — Arabs being encouraged to move to the Palestinian state, are considered racist. But Palestinian demands that Jews evacuate the West Bank and East Jerusalem are tacitly approved by the US.
  • It encourages the Palestinians and their allies to press for more concessions as preconditions for talks. Obama has already asked for a minimal gesture from the Arabs as a quid-pro-quo for the settlement freeze and so far has gotten nothing.

One wonders if there have been other concessions — for example, regarding construction of the security barrier — that have not attracted attention yet.

Update [26 Aug 0925 PDT]: See “Will Israel not build barrier for Obama?” in today’s Jerusalem Post.

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Quotation of the day

Thursday, August 20th, 2009

One of my favorite bloggers, Elder of Ziyon said something yesterday that comfortable liberal American Jews really should take to heart (but probably won’t):

If there are to be any lessons for Jews from the past hundred years, it is that being slightly paranoid is probably a much more accurate posture than feeling overly secure, and that it may be a fatal mistake to believe otherwise.

If you have a strong stomach, read the post that this is taken from here.

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