Archive for March, 2010

It’s tough to be Russian

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

Rob Vincent has a unique, very focused view of things. I hope you’ll enjoy this guest post.

By Rob Vincent

What follows below is not in any way meant to make light of the horrible suffering recently inflicted on Russian civilians in Moscow earlier this week.

However, given the experience of at least one country near and dear to my heart that has suffered to a far greater degree from Islamist terrorism over the past several decades, a country that has had a great deal of time to consider this matter and which has received voluminous advice and counsel from abroad on this topic, I would offer the following modest proposal to our friends in Russia:

They need to give independence to Chechnya.

Not that there’s a lot of international pressure on them to do so. Where is the ‘Chechen Authority observers seat’ in the UN?  Where are all the college protests, the boycotts, the divestment campaigns over the brutal Russian occupation of Chechnya (and it really has been pretty brutal, incalculably worse than anything Israel has ever done)?  Where are all the UN resolutions condemning Russia?  Has the UN Secretary General made a tour of Chechnya lately?  I kind of doubt it.  Why isn’t the Obama administration threatening some kind of sanction or another against Russia, standing up to them, over the poor oppressed Chechnyans?

But why not? I mean, how about — dare I say it? — land for peace?

A perfectly reasonable request, I submit.  If it is good enough for tiny Israel, I’m sure Russia — which has more land to spare than anyone — could set the example.  After all, they are a member of the Quartet that presumes to tell the Israelis what they must do for peace, aren’t they?

It’s not as if independent Chechnya would be within mortar range of Moscow, or anything like that.  And I’d bet they’d even recognize Russia’s right to exist as a Russian state right off the bat — more than it looks like Israel will ever get from the Palestinian Authority.

But wait!  The Russians already tried this!
The Russians withdrew from Chechnya by the end of 1996, and by 1997, Chechnya had independence.

That wasn’t enough for them, I suppose.  Within a couple years, Islamic law was established; terrorism against targets inside Russia and invasions of neighboring territory followed.  There’s just no pleasing some people.  Russia wound up invading again to restore order, and, simply put, to protect themselves.  When they did this, you can bet a lot more civilians died than in Gaza in early 2009.

I imagine the Chechens would say that their aggression in the late 1990s was merely “revenge” for Russia’s past occupation.

Hmmm.  Wonder what lessons there could be for Israel in any of this?

A great irony here, of course, is that when one considers the extent to which it is now becoming accepted U.S. policy to beat up on Israel so as to appease Muslim sensibilities in the hope of garnering the support of ‘moderate Muslims’ in our war against Islamist extremism… well, one could not find a more anti-Israel member of the industrialized major powers than Russia.

Happily selling arms to all of Israel’s enemies, nuclear technology to Iran, the first of the non-Muslim countries to pounce on Israel every time in the UN, Russia’s policies towards Israel go well beyond Pat Buchanan’s wildest fantasies for the U.S. (but President Obama is doing his best).

Beating up ferociously on Israel, betraying her at every opportunity — that surely hasn’t bought Russia anything, has it?  You’d think Muslims would just love them, wouldn’t you?  At least, that is what the logic that appears to inform the foreign policy of the Obama administration seems to indicate, no?

So, where are the Muslim ‘moderates’, with whom Russia can cash in her Israel-bashing chits for help in fighting her Muslim ‘extremists’?

At the end of the day, though, this whole mess is the fault of those intransigent, stubborn Israelis, dontcha know.  Just ask President Obama.  If he could, I’m sure he’d find a way to blame the tragedy in Moscow on Israel’s latest plans to build apartments in Jerusalem.*

*To any who may be offended by what some may interpret as apparent ‘callousness’ on my part with respect to the Russians:

As a Jewish American who is openly supportive of Israel, my sentiments are regarded by many with callousness and worse as concerns the deadly situation faced by my brethren in Israel.

If I suggest that Israel is in the right against the murderous thugs who deny her very right to exist — which includes the gangsters with whom the world expects her to negotiate ‘peace’ – then I am “taking sides”, I’m a “Jew with a biased agenda”, I’m “putting our troops in danger”, I’ve got “dual loyalties”.

But in the case of Russia, nobody questions her position, and you can be sure the Russian reprisal — as always — will be blunt and brutal.  I somehow don’t think she’ll be condemned for this.

When Israel is similarly attacked by the very same types, and has the audacity to defend herself (with far greater restraint and precision in every instance), she is treated by the overwhelming majority of the Western media as though she were to blame.

Who could blame any Israeli or any Jew for being callous in the face of the suffering of the Russians today, given the repulsive evolution of public debate concerning Israel over the past couple of decades, and specifically given Russia’s treatment of Israel on the world stage?

And yet, it would not surprise me in the least if Israel offered her assistance to Russia in fighting these thugs all the same.

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Tom Friedman sings in the Obama Chorus

Monday, March 29th, 2010

I don’t know why I keep expecting better from Friedman.  But his recent op-ed in the NY Times puts him squarely on the Dark Side.

Sometimes the brightest guys can’t see their noses in front of their faces. I’m going to quote him at length. As you read this, ask yourself  a) what he is leaving out, and b) what he assumes about Israeli intentions and character.

The collapse of the Oslo peace process, combined with the unilateral Israeli pullouts from Lebanon and Gaza — which were followed not by peace but by rocket attacks by Hezbollah and Hamas on Israel — decimated Israel’s peace camp and the political parties aligned with it.

At the same time, Israel’s erecting of a wall around the West Bank to prevent Palestinian suicide bombers from entering Israel (there have been no successful attacks since 2006), along with the rise of the high-tech industry in Israel — which does a great deal of business digitally and over the Internet and is largely impervious to the day-to-day conflict — has meant that even without peace, Israel can enjoy a very peaceful existence and a rising standard of living.

To put it another way, the collapse of the peace process, combined with the rise of the wall, combined with the rise of the Web, has made peacemaking with Palestinians much less of a necessity for Israel and much more of a hobby. Consciously or unconsciously, a lot more Israelis seem to believe they really can have it all: a Jewish state, a democratic state and a state in all of the Land of Israel, including the West Bank — and peace.

Friedman is absolutely right that the collapse of the Oslo process and the violent Arab reaction to Israel’s unilateral withdrawals decimated the Israeli “peace camp.” But he somehow manages to ignore the causality involved. The peace camp lost influence because their prescription, when it was followed, led to war instead of peace.  The theory was tested, the Arabs’ bluff called, and the truth was revealed: it is the Palestinians and their supporters who “believe they really can have it all.” Why accept one of two states when you can have all of one?

So much for logic. Moving into the realm of interpretation, Friedman follows the line first put forward by Israel’s enemies and now by the Obama administration — today there’s little distinction — that Israel only pretends to want peace, but in truth prefers empire.

I would put things differently: I would say that Israelis have accepted the painful necessity of a continuous state of war, because they have no other option.  They know that there is no Palestinian leadership — not now and not on the horizon — that is prepared to offer any peace other than the peace of the grave.

As the father of a young man who has done his share  of fighting and who will be called upon yet again for the next war, and probably the one after that, I can absolutely guarantee to Friedman that Israelis, who either go to war themselves or send their children, do not choose to see peace as a ‘hobby’. The suggestion that they do is offensive.

But Friedman’s not finished:

The issue that should make peacemaking a necessity rather than a hobby for both the U.S. and Israel is confronting a nuclear Iran. Unfortunately, Israel sees the question of preventing Iran from going nuclear as overriding and separate from the Palestinian issue, while the U.S. sees them as integrated. At a time when the U.S. is trying to galvanize a global coalition to confront Iran, at a time when Iran uses the ongoing Palestinian-Israeli conflict to embarrass pro-U.S. Arabs and extend its influence across the Muslim world, peace would be a strategic asset for America and Israel.

This is a really stupid argument, but one that the Obama Administration and its echos keep repeating. The US doesn’t need to ‘galvanize’ the conservative Sunni regimes, because they are already scared to death of the Iranian nukes. And since it is impossible to solve the ongoing conflict with Israeli concessions — remember Oslo, Gaza and South Lebanon — the only way that we can read this is that the US expects to gain influence in the Muslim world by imposing more and more Israeli withdrawals and concessions. Unfortunately, as we’ve seen,  this leads to war rather than peace.

War, I’m sorry to note,  is a positive thing to many of Israel’s enemies. Even though Israel is militarily superior, the US and the international community can be counted on to stop a war before anything permanent is changed  — and when they don’t have time, as in 1967, they work assiduously afterward to reverse any changes. Every war chips away at Israel, socially, economically and diplomatically. The Palestinian and Arab leadership, as well as Iran, are prepared to make sacrifices if they will lead to ultimate victory (they are especially happy to sacrifice Palestinians; but that’s another article).

There has been a lot of — how to put this — crap in the media lately in support of the Obama Administration’s new policy turn against Israel. And it has the administration’s fingerprints all over it, even when it comes from supposedly independent journalists like Tom Friedman.

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Obama’s message

Saturday, March 27th, 2010

When Binyamin Netanyahu visited the White House last Tuesday, he was not treated like the Prime Minister of just any banana republic. He was treated like Manuel Noriega. No interviews, no photo-ops, no dinner, and a whole pile of demands. He and Defense Minister Ehud Barak were lucky not to have been locked in a room and forced to listen to heavy metal at top volume.

As a citizen of Israel and of the US, I was insulted and embarrassed in turn. As a Jew and a Zionist who believes that the survival of the Jewish people depends on the state of Israel I was horrified. Even Barry Rubin, who has been saying for the last couple of weeks that the crisis in US-Israeli relations has been blown out of proportion, admitted today that

…now it has become reasonable to ask whether the Obama White House is running amuck on Israel, whether it is pushing friction so far out of proportion that it is starting to seem a vendetta based on hostility and ideology.

Ehud Ya’ari, one of Israel’s most respected commentators, said,

… I think that the sense among the Israeli delegation coming back from D.C. right now is that they fell into a trap. The general sense in Israel right now is that the Prime Minister was [unintelligible] humiliated by President Obama. There is quite a degree of amazement at the way he was treated. I think it’s fair to say that neither the Prime Minister nor his Defense Minister Ehud Barak were aware [beforehand] of the kind of reception that they were greeted with at the White House …

I think it is the worst moment in U.S.-Israeli relations … going back to Eisenhower-Ben Gurion in ’56.

I won’t go into why the probable demands — see Rubin’s article linked above — made by Obama are so unfair: a complete and permanent end to construction in East Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria, and more prisoner releases and other concessions to a Palestinian Authority (PA) which has never responded to such gifts and which seizes on every US demand as another excuse to harden its position and refuse to engage in negotiations. But I do want to talk about the US strategy.

The Obama Administration’s argument that they are trying to get talks restarted won’t wash, for at least two reasons. First is the fact that pressure is only being applied to Israel, not the PA. The result is that the Palestinians are motivated to not negotiate, since that’s the best way to get concessions forced out of Israel while giving nothing in return. Second is that Netanyahu can’t give in on some of these issues (e.g., Jerusalem) even if he wanted to, because his government would not survive (and if it doesn’t, it will be replaced by one farther to the right).

I cannot imagine that Obama’s people don’t understand this. Therefore they must be trying to do something different. A clue to what it is can be gotten from the way the various demands were presented, in an atmosphere of humiliation and  contempt.

Obama is not sending a message to Israel, and apparently he doesn’t care what message he’s sending to the Palestinians. No, just as his infamous Cairo speech was broadcast to Muslim ears, his humiliation of Israel — his offensive treatment of two veterans of the sayeret matkal no less — was intended as music to those same ears.

I see this as another ‘gesture’ to the Arabs and Iranians. By spitting on Israel, our President shows them that after all, he’s on their side, and would they please help him out a little with Iraq and al-Qaeda.

It’s unlikely that this policy will work. Similar initiatives — like recent overtures to Syria, or to Saudi Arabia after Cairo — have failed, as Arab states simply continue to follow their interests while they pocket the gift presented to them. Iran, of course, continues to develop its nuclear bomb as its president threatens Israel anew every day.

Additionally, I am convinced that some, maybe more than a few, in the administration have an antipathy to Israel and get a certain amount of satisfaction from meting out this treatment apart from any rational policy gains.

Obama’s message is not lost on Hamas, Fatah’s al-Aqsa brigades, and other terrorist factions, which have stepped up their attacks. It is not lost on the Palestinians and left-wing Israeli and international ‘activists’ who carry on demonstrations in Jerusalem and at the security fence. It is not lost on the Islamic Movement and other extremists among Arab citizens of Israel who want to ‘de-Judaize’ the state.

Indeed, Obama’s message may have already killed several IDF soldiers who were ambushed by Hamas and/or Islamic Jihad in Gaza Friday night.

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Practical Zionism

Thursday, March 25th, 2010
Hashomer members, 1909

Hashomer members, 1909

In the early days of the Zionist enterprise,  a group of Jewish Palestinians — in those days, the word ‘Palestinian’ referred to Jews — organized a group called hashomer, ‘guardians’ who defended Jewish farms and towns against marauding Arab bandits. Not everyone who applied to join was accepted, including David Ben-Gurion.

Today, despite the existence of  a Jewish state with police, an army and numerous other security-related institutions, it’s become necessary to recreate this paramilitary organization.

In recent years, it has become harder and harder for Jewish farmers in the Galilee and Negev to survive, because they are assailed on a daily (or nightly) basis by Bedouins or Palestinian Arabs who steal everything that isn’t nailed down, destroy fences, set fire to crops,  build squatter dwellings on farmers’ land, slaughter their animals in their fields, and threaten, beat or even try to kill anyone who tries to prevent them.

These aren’t ‘settlements’, by the way (not that it matters), this is happening inside the Green Line.

Here is a video — unfortunately in Hebrew only, without subtitles — of a young man named Yoel Z. making a presentation at a Jerusalem meeting, explaining how he and his friends, veterans of elite army units, have created an organization called  hashomer hachadash (‘new guardians’) in order to do the job that the authorities will not or cannot do. He tells of farmers, individuals, kibbutzim and moshavim, simply abandoning thousands of acres of land because they don’t have the ability to defend it. He tells about roads — roads within the state of Israel — that are too dangerous to use because Bedouin bandits block them with boulders and old washing machines, etc., stop vehicles and beat and rob the occupants.

Hashomer hachadash now has 600 volunteers who donate between one and three weeks of their time — a new kind of  ‘reserve duty’, in addition to what they must give to the army, of course — to protect the agricultural resources of the state, which Yoel calls “the fortified walls of Jerusalem.”

In addition to admiring the courage, Zionism and generosity of these young people, we have to ask the obvious question:

Why are the police, army, border police, etc. powerless or uninterested? Yoel’s father, a farmer living on Moshav Tzipori in the Galilee, told him that he had made over 250 complaints to the police and nothing was done.

Bedouins have not been particularly political. But the Arabs have always understood that ‘criminal activity’ can also be an effective weapon of war. If Jewish farmers are driven off their land to be replaced by Arabs, the effect is the same as if it were accomplished by conventional warfare. Possibly the Bedouins have been incited to think that soon the land and property of the Jews will be theirs — or maybe they’ve decided this by themselves. “The Arabs are just waiting for someone to tell them whose land it is,” concludes Yoel.

Members of hashomer hachadash and high school students repair fence cut by theives at Kibbutz Ma'ayan  Baruch

Members of hashomer hachadash and high school students repair fence cut by theives at Kibbutz Ma'ayan Baruch

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The source of the daylight

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

Here is the quintessential news story about the ‘daylight’ appearing between the US and Israel. I wrote it myself, but it is based on what I hear on NPR and read in dispatches from wire services like AP. It has been appearing in the pages of my local newspaper in some form or other every day for a week.

The US sharply criticized Israel today for building housing for Jewish settlers in a part of Jerusalem that Palestinians want for the capital of their future state. Officials said that this action was interfering with the start of US-mediated ‘proximity talks’ between Israel and the Palestinians, who refuse to come to the table unless all such construction is stopped. “We are absolutely, firmly, unshakably, immovably committed to Israel’s security,” said a spokesperson, “but these actions expose daylight between the US and Israel which may be exploited by extremists who don’t want to see a solution of the conflict.”

There are variations, of course, depending on the source. The BBC, for example, will always add the phrase “which are illegal under international law” after every mention of ‘settlements’. Left-wing sources will say that Israel is building on ‘Palestinian land’. But the milder formulation is bad enough. It suggests that Israeli intransigence is preventing talks.

Some background: Israel did not take Judea and Samaria and Jerusalem from the Palestinians in 1967. They were occupied by Jordan. Indeed, the Jordanian occupation violated UN GA Resolution 181 of 1947 which said that Judea and Samaria would become part of a Palestinian Arab state and UN GA Resolution 303 of 1949, which called for Jerusalem to be independent, a corpus separatum under international control.

Later, UN SC Resolution 242 called for “secure and recognized” borders to be determined in the context of a peace settlement between Israel and the other belligerents of 1967 but definitely didn’t canonize the 1949 lines. Since then there have been other resolutions and understandings, up to UN SC Resolution 1515 of 2003, which reaffirms 242 and endorses the Road Map. The US position today reflects this: final borders will be determined by negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

Israel has been building in Jerusalem since 1967, and annexed all of Jerusalem in 1980. Nevertheless, various Israeli governments have indicated that they would consider ceding some Arab neighborhoods in the context of a peace settlement. But no Israeli leader has ever countenanced the re-division of Jerusalem by the 1949 lines, which would recreate the conditions of 1948 – 67 during which Jews did not have access to the holy places.

Borders will be determined if and when there is a peace agreement which includes “termination of all claims or states of belligerency” in the language of 242. Land that “the Palestinians want” is exactly that and has no special status. Palestinians claim that anything that was occupied by Jordan from 1948 – 67 is theirs, but in fact the Israeli occupation, which was a result of a war of aggression waged against Israel, is legitimate while the Jordanian one was not!

There is no  legal significance to the 1949 lines. Of course there are areas that are more and less likely to remain part of Israel in a two-state partition (there are also parts of Israel that could become part of  ‘Palestine’). The US — until recently, it seems — understood that the Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem near the Green Line would end up in Israel, and therefore did not object to building there.

The ‘daylight’ between Israel and the US has been introduced not by Israel, but by the US, which has apparently decided to accept the absurd Palestinian position that the illegal Jordanian occupation conferred legitimacy on the 1949 lines. And indeed, this ‘daylight’ has encouraged those who do not wish to negotiate — like Mahmoud Abbas!

Here is how PM Netanyahu put it in his remarks at the AIPAC convention yesterday:

Jerusalem is not a settlement. It is our capital.

In Jerusalem, my government has maintained the policies of all Israeli governments since 1967, including those led by Golda Meir, Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Rabin. Today, nearly a quarter of a million Jews, almost half the city’s Jewish population, live in neighborhoods that are just beyond the 1949 armistice lines. All these neighborhoods are within a five-minute drive from the Knesset. They are an integral and inextricable part of modern Jerusalem. Everyone knows that these neighborhoods will be part of Israel in any peace settlement. Therefore, building in them in no way precludes the possibility of a two-state solution.

Possibly US policymakers should ask themselves this: if the present situation is so bad for the Palestinians, why are they insisting on new preconditions which prevent negotiations?

More to the point, why does the US enable them?

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The bunker-buster story

Sunday, March 21st, 2010

British newspapers have been credibly reporting for about of week that the US has shipped 387 bunker-buster bombs to a US base on the British possession of Diego Garcia, an island in the Indian Ocean.

There are at least two possible interpretations. One is that the US is planning to attack Iran (some Brits are very upset about this possibility), or at least to make a strategic move designed to show the Iranians that they mean business. Some air attacks on Iraq and Afghanistan have originated on Diego Garcia. That’s the good interpretation.

The other one is that the bombs were intended to be sent to Israel, but were diverted to Diego Garcia to prevent Israel from using them against Iran, or, worse, to punish Israel for its insouciance in building apartments in Jerusalem:

In 2008, the United States approved an Israeli request for bunker-busters capable of destroying underground facilities, including Iranian nuclear weapons sites. Officials said delivery of the weapons was held up by the administration of President Barack Obama, Middle East Newsline reported.

Since taking office, Obama has refused to approve any major Israeli requests for U.S. weapons platforms or advanced systems. Officials said this included proposed Israeli procurement of AH-64D Apache attack helicopters, refueling systems, advanced munitions and data on a stealth variant of the F-15E.

“All signs indicate that this will continue in 2010,” a congressional source familiar with the Israeli military requests said. “This is really an embargo, but nobody talks about it publicly.”

Under the plan, the U.S. military was to have stored 195 BLU-110 and 192 BLU-117 munitions in unspecified air force bases in Israel. The U.S. military uses four Israeli bases for the storage of about $400 million worth of pre-positioned equipment meant for use by either Washington or Jerusalem in any regional war…

The decision to divert the BLU munitions was taken amid the crisis between Israel and the United States over planned construction of Jewish homes in Jerusalem. The administration, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, has warned that Washington could reduce military aid to Israel because of its construction policy. — World Tribune

If this is true, then the much-vaunted “absolute commitment to Israel’s security” is so much bullshit.  Keep in mind that these weapons would be used not only in an attack on Iran, but against Hizballah bunkers in the event of another war in the north — a war which most Israelis believe to be inevitable. The administration’s actions could translate directly into Israeli casualties.

I would love to believe that Obama has decided to get tough with Iran, but it would fly in the face of his behavior until now.

I really want to be wrong about this one.

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Why Obama’s dumping Israel

Friday, March 19th, 2010

President Obama says that he has an ‘unbreakable’ commitment to Israel’s security and that his goal is an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Here is how he is going about it, in the words of Caroline Glick:

Obama’s new demands follow the months of American pressure that eventually coerced Netanyahu into announcing both his support for a Palestinian state and a 10-month ban on Jewish construction in Judea and Samaria. No previous Israeli government had ever been asked to make the latter concession.

Netanyahu was led to believe that in return for these concessions Obama would begin behaving like the credible mediator his predecessors were. But instead of acting like his predecessors, Obama has behaved like the Palestinians. Rather than reward Netanyahu for taking a risk for peace, Obama has, in the model of Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas, pocketed Netanyahu’s concessions and escalated his demands. This is not the behavior of a mediator. This is the behavior of an adversary.

With the US president treating Israel like an enemy, the Palestinians have no reason to agree to sit down and negotiate. Indeed, they have no choice but to declare war.

And so, in the wake of Obama’s onslaught on Israel’s right to Jerusalem, Palestinian incitement against Israel and Jews has risen to levels not seen since the outbreak of the last terror war in September 2000. And just as night follows day, that incitement has led to violence. This week’s Arab riots from Jerusalem to Jaffa, and the renewed rocket offensive from Gaza are directly related to Obama’s malicious attacks on Israel.

The logic is simple and obvious. Why should the Palestinians negotiate or compromise when they have the US in their corner, extracting concession after concession from Israel, and asking nothing of them?

Obama’s actions are having an effect precisely opposite to his stated goals, and this could have been — and was — predicted in advance.

One interpretation is that the American move in escalating demands indicates that the administration continues to think, against all reason, that it is Israel’s refusal to meet Palestinian conditions that prevents a settlement. If so, the policymakers are remarkably ignorant or stupid — and I don’t think this is the case.

An alternative is that there is a policy objective that requires the US to distance itself from Israel. I am guessing that Iran, Syria or both have promised that they will keep a lid on violence in Iraq, from which Obama has promised he will withdraw,  in return for actions that will weaken Israel. Both of these countries have compelling reasons for their hostility: Iran understands that Israel is a danger to its nuclear program (which the US will not seriously challenge), and Syria, in addition to supporting its ally Iran, has interests in Lebanon which are threatened by Israel.

Most likely the next Mideastern war will be between Israel and Hizballah, proxy of Iran and supported directly by Syria. The proximate cause is yet to be determined, but the real reason will be Iran’s drive to get nuclear weapons.

If the latter explanation is true, then Glick is right and the US truly is behaving more like an enemy than an ally.

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Hurting our friends, helping our enemies

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

A friend called last night. He’d read my recent posts about the current unpleasantness between Israel and the US (here and here). He reminded me that he was very pro-Israel (he is) but wanted me to understand that the announcement of building in East Jerusalem was a misstep. “It was a big slap in the face, a huge insult. Netanyahu needs to control these guys.”

I told him that I thought the US was looking for an excuse for a spat with Israel and would have found one anyway. “OK,” he said, “but it was still a slap in the face.”

Not exactly. This morning in a fine example of l’esprit d’escalier, I came up with this analogy:

An acquaintance falls in love with my wife. One day he sees me kissing her. “How could you insult me like that?” he asks.

What is insulting here is the long-standing refusal of the US to recognize Israel’s rights in Jerusalem. That is the ongoing slap in the face, not Israel’s exercise of its rights. The relationship of Israel with Jerusalem is essential, and to borrow a phrase the Obama people like, it is an ‘unbreakable bond’. It is a consensus issue among almost all Israelis; a marriage is not a bad comparison.

What does it mean if Israel apologizes and accepts the US demands?

  • It means that Israel agrees that its rights to build in East Jerusalem — even in a Jewish neighborhood right next to the Green Line (it was part of “no man’s land” from 1948-67) — are limited, which implies that it is not fully sovereign there.
  • It means that Israel agrees that the US has a right to micromanage Israel’s affairs, down to the level of local planning decisions.
  • It means that Israel agrees that it, not the Palestinian Authority (PA),  is responsible for preventing peace talks from going forward, which implies that further concessions may be required.

It’s as if I agree to apologize to my acquaintance and to stop kissing my wife. And to understand that he has the right to ask her out to dinner.

“OK,” my friend said, “but the average person, who doesn’t understand the details will simply see this as an insult. Israel shouldn’t have done it.”

True, but keep in mind that the average person is barraged by administration-friendly press accounts and statements by people like presidential advisor David Axelrod about the horrible insult to the US. While it probably won’t have the same consequences as the sinking of the Lusitania or the Tonkin Gulf affair, the technique is the same: treat an incident as a provocation to do what you wanted to do anyway.

So why has the White House decided to precipitate a rupture with Israel over a Jerusalem policy that they have ignored since 1967?

Jeffery Goldberg of the Atlantic has talked to the White House and thinks he knows:

…Obama is not trying to destroy America’s relations with Israel; he’s trying to organize Tzipi Livni’s campaign for prime minister, or at least for her inclusion in a broad-based centrist government.  I’m not actually suggesting that the White House is directly meddling in internal Israeli politics, but it’s clear to everyone — at the White House, at the State Department, at Goldblog — that no progress will be made on any front if Avigdor Lieberman’s far-right party, Yisrael Beiteinu, and Eli Yishai’s fundamentalist Shas Party, remain in Netanyahu’s surpassingly fragile coalition.

So what is the goal? The goal is force a rupture in the governing coalition that will make it necessary for Netanyahu to take into his government Livni’s centrist Kadima Party (he has already tried to do this, but too much on his terms) and form a broad, 68-seat majority in Knesset that does not have to rely on gangsters, messianists and medievalists for votes.

Can you believe the chutzpah? Especially from a White House that is presently doing its best to get health-care bill votes from gangsters, messiansts and medievalists? (I can name names, but that would be off-topic.)

Even if it were possible to move Israel’s government to the left — and the result of bringing down Netanyahu would be the opposite — it would not advance Obama’s stated goal of an Israel-Palestinian peace treaty. This is because what prevents such an agreement are the maximalist demands of the Palestinians, demands for a strict Israeli retreat to 1949 lines including in Jerusalem, ‘refugees’ flooding Israel, and no recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. Tzipi Livni, as Prime Minister, would not agree to these demands, just as Ehud Olmert did not and just as Itzhak Rabin never would have. These are red lines for the Center and moderate Left no less than for Netanyahu’s coalition.

At the same time that the US pressures Israel and tries to foment regime change, it has never criticized the PA. Not for its extreme demands and preconditions for negotiation, not for its continued antisemitic and anti-Israel propaganda, not for deliberate incitement of violence. Where was the US criticism when official PA media claimed that the dedication of the rebuilt Hurva Synagogue was an attempt to destroy the al-Aqsa Mosque and build a Third Temple?

So what will be the consequences of this policy? Clearly to encourage the PA’s leaders to be more radical, to continue incitement,  to stiffen their demands, to refuse to enter negotiations. Why should they do otherwise when the Obama Administration sends them the message that they are OK as they are but that Israel needs to give up more? Why shouldn’t they just wait for Obama to squeeze more out of Israel and hand it to them?

Indeed, the Obama Administration is tough on Israel while it is soft on Syria, Libya, and — the original state of gangsters, messianists and medievalists — Iran. Barry Rubin has speculated in numerous articles that US policymakers think that if they grant the Arabs and Iranians concessions in advance, then they’ll be more helpful with US interests in Iraq, nuclear weapons, terrorism, etc. But of course this flies in the face of one the basic principles of negotiating, which is to not give your assets away for nothing.

Stupid or evil? I’ve asked this question before.

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Two dedications

Tuesday, March 16th, 2010
The newly rebuilt Hurva Synagogue in the Jewish Quarter of East Jerusalem

The newly rebuilt Hurva Synagogue in the Jewish Quarter of East Jerusalem

Yesterday, the newly rebuilt Hurva (which means ‘ruin’ in Hebrew) Synagogue, located in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, was rededicated.

The Hurva in 1920

The Hurva in 1920

Started in 1701, the Hurva was destroyed for the first time (by unpaid Arab creditors) in 1720. Rebuilt in 1864 by the Sultan’s architect with money from Montefiore, the Rothschilds and Jewish communities around the world, the synagogue was the tallest structure in the Jewish quarter — which is itself on a hill, making it reach higher than the al-Aqsa Mosque — it was a magnificent structure. Benjamin Balint writes,

It also was a forum for public assemblies. Here the city’s Jews held a memorial service for Queen Victoria; celebrated the coronation of King George V; thrilled to the orations of such Zionist leaders as Theodor Herzl and Zeev Jabotinsky; and, in 1942, conducted a mass prayer service for the victims of Hitler’s genocide.

The memorial arch

The memorial arch

Naturally, the jealous and racist Muslim world found the existence of such a Jewish structure unacceptable. In 1948, Jordanian troops overran the Jewish Quarter, expelled the Jews and blew up the Hurva. After 1967 plans were made to rebuild it, but in a gesture of misplaced generosity to Muslim sensibilities, only a memorial arch was built. After all, how could anything Jewish be allowed to overshadow the Muslim holy places?

Now it has yet again been rebuilt, in a form similar to the 18th century version. And — guess what — the Arabs are furious!

Jews have lived in the Old City since long before Muhammad was a gleam in his father’s eye, but Palestinians insist that any part of the city that was conquered and ethnically cleansed by the Jordanians in 1948 is “Arab East Jerusalem,” so they declared a “day of rage” today, complete with the usual stone- and firebomb-throwing.

In the town of El-Bireh, just south of Ramallah, Fatah also held a dedication ceremony.

A public square was dedicated to the memory of Dalal Mughrabi, the woman leader of a group of terrorists who, in 1978, perpetrated the deadliest single terrorist attack in the history of the state. Here’s how I described it in a 2008 post:

Landing on the beach near Kibbutz Maagen Michael in rubber boats launched from Lebanon, the terrorists met an American nature photographer named Gail Rubin and executed her for taking pictures of ‘Palestine’ without permission. Then they hijacked a bus carrying Egged (the bus cooperative) employees and their families on an outing; there was a shootout with security forces, the terrorists shot many of the passengers and firebombed the bus. 38 Israelis, 13 of them children, were murdered before the terrorists were killed. The event is usually called the “Coastal Road Massacre”; Israelis also call it the “Bus of Blood”.

Mughrabi is a national hero to the Palestinians. They have named girls’ schools, camps, sporting events, etc. after Mughrabi. Here is a picture of the accomplishment of this Palestinian hero:

The charred remains of the Bus of Blood

The charred remains of the Bus of Blood

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Time for some self-respect

Monday, March 15th, 2010

The US has ratcheted up the pressure on Israel after the initial flap about Jewish building in East Jerusalem. PM Netanyahu’s apologetic response did not defuse the crisis, showing that it is not about the ‘timing’ of Israel’s announcement, but rather represents a new turn in US policy.

Not only is it assumed that the Administration wants the Ramat Shlomo project canceled, but according to the Jerusalem Post today, the US is asking for further “confidence-building” concessions from Israel, like the release of more Palestinian prisoners.

I suspect that the Palestinians understand Obama’s people better than Netanyahu does. Israel has implemented a settlement freeze in Judea and Samaria (and taken harsh actions against violations), removed roadblocks and checkpoints, and said that it will talk to the Palestinians directly and without preconditions. The Palestinians, on the other hand, insist on preconditions even for indirect talks. And, importantly, they don’t budge.

Naturally the US approach is — since they can’t move the Palestinians — to try to move Israel. The issues on which Israel and the Palestinians are the farthest apart are refugees and Jerusalem; so perhaps the administration thinks that if it can break Israel on Jerusalem, the Palestinians will soften on refugees. Perhaps the Palestinians even led them to believe this.

The Palestinian strategy seems to be to keep telling the Americans that serious negotiations are just around the corner, if they will just force Israel to give up a little bit more. The Americans really, really want to believe them. This time the plan seems to have succeeded remarkably well, and they have gotten the administration to move its own position a notch closer to the Palestinian one.

Of course, this fell on fertile ground in the Obama White House. There’s no shortage of officials sympathetic to the Palestinian point of view.

As I wrote yesterday, this is a brand new policy. Although the US has never officially recognized Israel’s possession of Jerusalem — East or West — until now it has accepted Israel’s de facto sovereignty there and has not interfered with Israel’s activities. Now it is actively trying to force Israel to treat East Jerusalem — even a part that would absolutely be part of Israel in any reasonable division of Jerusalem — like ‘Palestinian land’.

But just in case you still think this is all about Biden being embarrassed, remember that last August Hillary Clinton anticipated this policy when she called the Supreme Court-approved eviction of Palestinian squatters from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood “deeply regrettable” and “provocative,”  giving US sanction to what has become yet another little intifadah of weekly demonstrations of Palestinians, Israeli extremists and international activists.

It’s been suggested that Israel needs to stay on the right side of the Obama Administration if it wants support in acting against the Iranian nuclear weapons project. This is nonsense: the US will do exactly what it thinks is in its interest with respect to Iran no matter what Israel does in Jerusalem.

The US is, lately, a country that has lost a great deal of its clout in the world. Owned by China, bogged down in Afghanistan, soon to see Iraq lost, serially manipulated and made a fool of by Syria and Iran, with no leverage against Russia, losing the confidence of its allies, its officials seem to find solace in the fact that they can make Israeli leaders tremble.

Time for some self-respect in the Jewish state:

  1. Israel should demand that the US and other foreign entities (for example, European governments) butt out of its internal affairs.
  2. Israel should announce that it will make no more concessions to the Palestinian Authority until it agrees to recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people and ends antisemitic incitement.

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US anger at Israel is misplaced, insulting

Sunday, March 14th, 2010

The American reaction to the announcement that Israel would continue to build in Jewish East Jerusalem puts several things in sharp focus. What does it tell us that Joe Biden ‘condemned’ it, Hillary Clinton found it ‘insulting’ and White House political advisor David Axelrod called it both an ‘affront’ and an ‘insult’?

Let’s look at both the substance and the tone of these remarks.

The substance: as many commentators have pointed out, Israel has been building in East Jerusalem since 1967, and negotiated with the Palestinian Authority for 15 years while building there. When Israel agreed to the Obama Administration’s demand for a settlement freeze in Judea and Samaria, it pointedly did not agree to include Jerusalem, which Israel has never considered a ‘settlement’. At that time, the US praised Israel for taking a positive step to resolve the conflict. Israel has indicated that it would cede some Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem as part of a peace agreement, but has never accepted any prior limitation of its sovereignty over all of Jerusalem.

Israel has credibly maintained that there was a verbal commitment by the Bush Administration that construction in areas beyond the 1949 lines which were expected to become part of Israel in a final agreement was not a problem for the US. The Obama Administration disavowed this understanding, with the cagey Hilary Clinton saying that there was no “enforceable” agreement.

The Ramat Shlomo neighborhood has about 20,000 Jewish residents today; it is close to the northern part of West Jerusalem and further construction there does not change the status quo or create ‘facts on the ground’ that would threaten a future settlement in which Arab areas become part of an Arab state.

As I wrote on Friday, the Palestinians are looking for excuses to not negotiate, because serious negotiations would expose the fact that it is their hardline positions — particularly on ‘refugees’ — that have prevented an agreement, not Israel.

Anger has been directed at Israel because it took a step that contradicted Palestinian demands that it never accepted as reasonable, and which the US suddenly appears to approve. Tomorrow Mahmoud Abbas might say that construction must stop in “Tel Arabiyya” (i.e., Tel Aviv, a city founded by Jews on sand dunes in 1909). Would that, too, need to be taken seriously?

The tone: it seems to that who has been ‘insulted’, ‘slapped down’, ‘affronted’, etc. was not the US Vice President, but rather Israel. Israel is a sovereign state, not an American colony.  Can you imagine language like this being applied to another US ally, like the UK or Canada, for example? Can you imagine the US officially speaking like this to Saudi Arabia? I can’t.

Much as I admire PM Netanyahu, I felt that his apologetic response, to say that he was unaware of the decision (which I’m sure is true) and to appoint a committee to prevent such a thing from happening again, was inappropriate. By doing this, no matter how carefully his statement is worded, he is implying that the US is right to be upset that Israel exercised sovereignty in Jerusalem. This is absolutely the wrong message to send.

Here is how Mr. Netanyahu should have responded to Mr. Biden and Ms. Clinton (court Jew Axelrod can be ignored):

With all due respect, in keeping with accepted diplomatic principles, stay out of Israel’s internal affairs.

Update [1014 PST]: Here’s an great explanation of why the media are jumping on this story from the opposite angle.

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What have we been fighting for?

Friday, March 12th, 2010

If ever there was an example of throwing the baby out with the bath water, the frantic desire of the ‘progressive’ camp to make an agreement — any agreement at any cost — with the Palestinians is it.

Look at what the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) is sending to its base as its “Ten Minutes of Torah” [!] offering today. It’s an article from a (where else?) San Francisco Jewish newsweekly called J. It begins with a false equivalence:

One would be hard pressed to find Jews who do not value the Torah and the Holy Land. Every square inch of biblical Israel is significant to the Jewish people. But many of those same biblical sites are just as important to Palestinians. And there’s the rub.

One could easily argue that in fact these sites are not as important to Islam as to Judaism, and that the Palestinians have just created another club to beat Israel with.  But why bother; making them “Jewish Heritage sites” does not assert that they are exclusively Jewish. Arab objections, on the other hand, imply — and in many cases explicitly assert — that they wholly belong to Islam.

The Palestinians have consistently denied Jewish claims to any holy sites, including and especially in Jerusalem. Yasser Arafat claimed — and today, Islamic Movement leader Raed Salah insists — that there never was a Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. Backing down on this issue lends credence to these absurd and insulting claims, just like backing down on the issue of building in East Jerusalem buttresses the Arab and American claim that Israel is not sovereign in Jerusalem.

We understand why Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently declared the Cave of the Patriarchs and Rachel’s Tomb as Jewish historical sites warranting new funding for upkeep. However, we question his timing. Because both sites are in the West Bank, the declaration deepened Palestinian suspicions that Israel is insincere about a peace deal that would transfer parts of the West Bank to a new Palestinian state.

Israel should be doing everything reasonable to bring the Palestinians to the table. This just gives them an easy excuse to say “no.”

They have no problem finding excuses to say “no.” They grabbed at the opportunity to say “no” after the Obama Administration raised the issue of the settlement freeze. They are saying “no” because they know that the Obama Administration has not yet gone far enough to agree with them that the Arab refugees may ‘return’ to Israel proper, and they are not prepared to compromise on this in negotiations.

The Palestinians are doing everything they can to do nothing while putting the blame on Israel, so that the US and the rest of the ‘international community’ will force more and more concessions out of Israel. Thus they jumped on the settlement  freeze, thus they jumped on construction of any kind in East Jerusalem, and thus they have chosen to make an issue of the holy places — what could be better, a religious issue, to inflame their constituency even more, and to score fervor-points against Hamas.

Israel has long understood that the bumpy road to peace has required painful sacrifices. Giving up the Sinai and the Gaza Strip, not to mention the release of hundreds of jailed Palestinian terrorists over the years, attest to that.

Thus it makes little sense to make this declaration now. Not because we dispute the historical significance of the Cave of the Patriarchs and Rachel’s Tomb. That is beyond measure. But such a declaration has real consequences on the ground. Israel would certainly renovate the sites, spurring tourism and perhaps prompting more Jewish settlement. Despite a government spokesman saying the declaration does not change the status quo, in fact it does.

Palestinian protests quickly erupted in Hebron, and they may spread. In the near term, this could cause Israel security headaches. Or worse.

Yes, Israel has given up a lot in the past, and the results have been zero or negative. One would think that this would be an argument that Israel should not give up anything further until it begins to get something in return. The writer, though, draws the opposite conclusion. He or she thinks that Israel should make almost any concession — even if the significance of what is demanded is “beyond measure” — because it would be a pity if all the previous sacrifices were shown to be in vain.

A very poor argument, which implies that one should always throw good money after bad.

And what determines when Israel should fold? Clearly not the ‘historical’ significance — note that the writer studiously avoids the words ‘religious’ or ‘spiritual’ — but only the reaction of the Palestinians! Although the significance of these places is “beyond measure,” the minute the rocks and firebombs start flying, we are expected to surrender.

Do we really want to enshrine as an axiom the principle that the Palestinians get to define what is important to us by their bad behavior?

In truth, this is the worst kind of issue to give in on. By doing so, Israel grants the Arabs possession of the historic and spiritual tradition of the land of Israel. It’s true that most Israelis are secular, and apparently it’s true that Reform Judaism — or at least the “Ten Minutes of Torah” editor — thinks that these sites are irrelevant to the claim of modern, high-tech Israel to exist. But then there’s no longer a reason for the Jewish state to be here, rather than, say, Uganda. And if the tomb of Rachel is really only the ‘Bilal Mosque’ then maybe there isn’t a Jewish people at all, and we can all go live in Los Angeles and Brooklyn.

What have we been fighting for for the past century?

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