Archive for September, 2011

Robot weapons are the answer to asymmetric warfare

Friday, September 30th, 2011
An unmanned Predator launches a Hellfire missile

An unmanned Predator launches a Hellfire missile

Unmanned weapons are big news today, as it’s reported that a drone-fired missile in Yemen has killed Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born jihadist who inspired the Ft. Hood killer, the Times Square bomber, the “underwear bomber” and more.

If there has been a single terrorist as threatening to the US as bin Laden, Awlaki was it. Through his website, videos, and online English-language magazine, “Inspire” (Google will not give me the URL, but you can see some of its content here), he — apparently effectively — inspires home-grown terrorism, the most difficult kind to interdict. Inspire‘s editor, Samir Khan, was also reportedly killed in the strike.

Everyone even slightly interested in military technology has known for some time that robotic weapons represent a major paradigm shift, like the phalanx, the  longbow, the machine gun, the military aircraft, etc. War will never be the same.

Unsurprisingly, many see this development as undesirable. Tom Engelhard writes,

The appeal is obvious: the cost (in U.S. lives) is low; in the case of the drones, nonexistent.  There is no need for large counterinsurgency armies of occupation of the sort that have bogged down on the mainland of the Greater Middle East these last years.

In an increasingly cash-strapped and anxious Washington, it must look like a literal godsend.  How could it go wrong?

Of course, that’s a thought you can only hang onto as long as you’re looking down on a planet filled with potential targets scurrying below you.  The minute you look up, the minute you leave your joystick and screen behind and begin to imagine yourself on the ground, it’s obvious how things could go so very, very wrong — how, in fact, in Pakistan, to take but one example, they are going so very, very wrong.

In a country now struggling simply to guarantee help to its own citizens struck by natural disasters, Washington is preparing distinctly unnatural disasters in the imperium.  In this way, both at home and abroad, the American dream is turning into the American scream.

So when we build those bases on that global field of screams, when we send our armadas of drones out to kill, don’t be surprised if the rest of the world doesn’t see us as the good guys or the heroes, but as terminators.  It’s not the best way to make friends and influence people, but once your mindset is permanent war, that’s no longer a priority.  It’s a scream, and there’s nothing funny about it.

Pakistan  has vehemently objected to the use of drones in its territory, claiming that innocent civilians are often killed by mistake. Of course, one might ask: would they prefer that we use bombers or artillery? The drones do a much more precise job of killing their targets with minimal collateral damage than almost any other way of doing it. And it isn’t immoral to want to reduce our own casualties. The Pakistanis simply don’t want us fighting there, period — a legitimate position for them to take, but the use of drones doesn’t strengthen their case, it weakens it.

Engelhardt argues that the cheapness of the weapons, the ability to use them without endangering our soldiers, and even the relative freedom from collateral damage, makes us more prone to use them, to fight in more places around the world. The checks and balances that result from the expense and danger of conventional war, he believes, will not work to prevent excesses on behalf of the ‘imperium’.

And now we can see where he’s coming from. According to Engelhardt, we are the evil empire:

As [our leaders] definitionally twitch and turn, we can just begin to glimpse — like an old-fashioned photo developing in a tray of chemicals — the outlines of a new form of American imperial war emerging before our eyes.  It involves guarding the empire on the cheap, as well as on the sly, via the CIA, which has, in recent years, developed into a full-scale, drone-heavy paramilitary outfit, via a growing secret army of special operations forces that has been incubating inside the military these last years, and of course via those missile- and bomb-armed robotic assassins of the sky.

There is, however, another way of looking at it.

Despite what Engelhardt thinks, we are not an invincible imperial power. In fact, the tide of history may have begun to turn in favor of those who hold the idea of democracy in contempt (yes, I know ours isn’t perfect), who believe in religiously-based hierarchical rule and the fundamental inferiority of women, who think that polytheists like Hindus must convert to their religion or die, that Christians and Jews must accept permanently inferior status, and that the US constitution should be replaced by the law of the Quran.

One of the reasons that they have the ability to challenge us is that they have adopted and improved techniques of asymmetric warfare, particularly terrorism, which leverage against us the complicated economic and technological structures on which our survival depends. Terrorism is used as part of an integrated military, psychological, economic and diplomatic attack which has been quite successful in pushing Western influence out of the Middle East, and in damaging us socially and economically.

Weapons like the Predator neutralize to some extent the advantage of asymmetric warfare by enabling precise targeting of terrorists in the midst of civilian populations. You simply can’t do this any other way, regardless of cost.

Traditional warfare is mostly fought by lowly soldiers, from the bottom up. But terrorist entities don’t fight with armies. We often don’t know who their ‘soldiers’ are. But they do have key men, and the way to fight them is to target the key men. Awlaki is a perfect example. Robotic weapons may be the answer to terrorism that we’ve sought for years.

Engelhardt tries to suggest that the technology is actually driving its own use, that the Predators (etc.) in effect have minds of their own, and imagines scary science-fiction scenarios in which they actually do have minds of their own. But this is nonsense. They are controlled by human beings, targets are selected by human beings, and human beings must authorize their use. They possibly give rise to a higher degree of accountability than an assault rifle in the hands of an ordinary soldier, who has to make split-second decisions based on very imperfect knowledge.

Although Englehardt would say that we have made our enemies what they are by our oppression and that they would leave us alone if we left them alone, I don’t buy it. There is an ideological imperative driving radical Islamic terrorism, and it is not one of live and let live. They have been empowered by the West’s money and technology and they are going to exploit it to their best advantage until they have conquered or destroyed us.

I would probably agree with Englehardt and his friends that we could become a far more just and humane society. I would agree that we have sometimes fought wars for the wrong reasons in the wrong places. I would even agree that there is a moral rot in some of our most important institutions, including government, that we will need to expunge if we are to survive.

But compared to our enemies, there is simply no comparison.

We have an acrimonious debate in our country about whether gays and lesbians should be allowed to marry — in Iran, they hang them. We worry about the pervasiveness of poverty in ethnic communities — in Sudan and Mauritania slavery is legal, and in Saudi Arabia it is still prevalent after officially being abolished in 1962. Last week, there was a great outcry here against the execution of  a possibly innocent man — in Syria, the regime is murdering hundreds of political opponents every week.

We have two choices. We can defend our society against the asymmetric assault mounted against it by radical Islamists, while we do our best to improve it where it falls short of our ideals, or we can accept the verdict of the Islamists that it is hopelessly corrupt and evil, and not fight back.

In my opinion the real motivation of those who attack the use of drones and similar weapons is that they are just too effective. I believe that on some level, people like Engelhardt want to see Western society humbled, even destroyed.

History gives numerous examples of more advanced civilizations being destroyed by barbarians. In our case, I don’t think it’s inevitable.

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Zionism — a short note

Wednesday, September 28th, 2011
May 1948: the Jewish state is declared

May 1948: the Jewish state is declared

Someone recently quoted an official of the New Israel Fund (NIF) as saying “NIF is not a Zionist organization.” One might respond “so what else is new?” Although the NIF’s statement of principles begins

The New Israel Fund is dedicated to the vision of the State of Israel as the sovereign expression of the right of self-determination of the Jewish people…

clearly it does not support the idea of Jewish sovereignty — rather, as we can see by examining the causes it supports, it views sovereignty as residing in the will of all of Israel’s citizens.  This is a time-honored position, if not appropriate for a Zionist group. I think the official quoted was being honest and I don’t think there would be much disagreement among them, if NIF leadership would speak openly.

I’m not attacking the NIF today, which I’ve done numerous times in the past. I just want to use this to illustrate a fundamental divide among Jews centering on Israel and Zionism.

Zionism asserts that there is a Jewish people — a nation — and that it ought to have a ‘sovereign expression’, that is, its own country, in its historical homeland.

Nationalism of any kind isn’t popular among those who identify as liberal or progressive. It’s a fundamental part of their official worldview that differences between national groups are inessential, ‘mere’ matters of culture, language, religion, ancestry, etc. As a result, they believe that it is immoral to base political structures on them. So much for any form of nationalism — including Zionism.

That is not to say that they don’t take note of cultural differences. These are the people who like to ‘celebrate diversity’. And they advocate corrective political action when they believe a group has been discriminated against, like affirmative action. But they would justify this only in order to redress an existing imbalance.

The logical extension of this is to post-colonialism, which asserts that existing worldwide political structures are massively unbalanced against ‘people of color’ (which doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with race), and that massive corrective political action, sometimes in the form of violent ‘resistance’ is justified.

This leads to absurd positions, such as the toleration of nationalism and even vicious racism, misogyny, homophobia, etc. on the part of ‘oppressed’ peoples. These behaviors are considered a result of their oppression — post-colonialists blame the ‘oppressor’, never the ‘oppressed’ — and are presumably expected to go away when the oppression is eliminated. Nationalistic aspirations by non-favored groups, like the Jewish people, are rejected. In the event that they conflict with the aspirations of an ‘oppressed’ group — well, I don’t have to draw you the picture.

This explains why the far Left is prepared to tolerate racism, terrorism and the rest when it is directed at Jews by Palestinian Arabs: a supposedly immoral nationalism is being challenged by an ‘oppressed’ group, with all of the special dispensations from normal moral rules that such groups are given.

In an imaginary ‘ideal’ world — one that is impossible given the basic drives of territoriality, tribalism, greed, etc. that characterize the human animal — it would perhaps be possible to give up nations, borders, conscription, security barriers, and many other things that apparently so irk the NIF leadership. But in the real world, the assumption of these ‘ideal’ values — even if they were not accompanied by the pernicious, deliberate tolerance of evil that is post-colonialism — is a form of unilateral disarmament.

Zionism, therefore, is not only an expression of the idea that Jewish culture is best preserved in a Jewish state and an effective response to antisemitism, it is also a response to the incoherent, fundamentally self-contradictory philosophy of post-colonialism.

Happy new year — לשנה טובה תכתבו — to all.

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Stop indulging Arab fantasies

Tuesday, September 27th, 2011

Everyone is disappointed with Israel again:

[EU Foreign Affairs chief Catherine] Ashton urged Israel to “reverse” its decision to build 1,100 new housing units in Gilo, saying that “settlement activity” threatens the viability of a two-state solution.

Both Ashton and UK Foreign Secretary William Hague slammed Israel for seemingly ignoring the Quartet of Middle East mediators, which called last week for a resumption of peace talks and for both Israelis and Palestinians to resist “provocative actions” …

This new housing plan, Hague said, was just the kind of “provocative” move to be avoided. “Settlement expansion is illegal under international law [false — ed.], corrodes trust and undermines the basic principle of land for peace,” Hague said, calling on Israel to “revoke this decision.”

Earlier, the United States said that Gilo plan was “counterproductive” and urged both Israel and the Palestinians not to take steps which could complicate resumption of direct peace talks.   “We are deeply disappointed by this morning’s announcement by the government of Israel,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.

And Mahmoud Abbas said this in his UN speech last week:

The occupation is racing against time to redraw the borders on our land according to what it wants and to impose a fait accompli on the ground that changes the realities and that is undermining the realistic potential for the existence of the State of Palestine.

So where is Gilo? Let’s see exactly how it is “provocative” and “redraws the borders”?

Map showing Gilo neighborhood, 100 yards from 1949 armistice line. (h/t: Lenny Ben-David)

Map showing Gilo neighborhood, 100 yards from 1949 armistice line. Click for larger version (h/t: Lenny Ben-David)

Yes folks, this is what all the fuss is about: a few more apartments in an existing Jewish neighborhood where 40,000 Jews already live, located 100 yards from the Green Line, adjoining other Jewish neighborhoods and empty space.

Is it not 100% certain that if Israel and the Palestinians were to reach an agreement to create a Palestinian state that Gilo would end up on the Israeli side of the border? Let me put it another way: what imaginable Israeli government would agree to a treaty that would not place Gilo in Israel?

Palestinian Arab fantasies that the UN or the US is going to declare that everything outside the 1949 armistice line belongs to them so that they can move forward with their plan to expel the Jews are just that — fantasies.

So why do the US and Europe indulge them?

There are so many simply fraudulent issues here. One is the significance of the armistice line. It was not accepted by anyone — not the Jews and definitely not the Arabs —  as a border in 1949, and UNSC resolutions 242 and 338 clearly implied that it was not to become one. Jews lived on both sides of it, in Judea, Samaria and eastern Jerusalem until the Jordanian army ethnically cleansed the area in 1948. The UNSC resolutions and the Oslo agreement clearly indicated that the border would be determined by negotiations between the parties.

The idea that the land east of the line is ‘Palestinian’ has no basis in international law or treaty and has simply been repeated enough times by the Arabs and their supporters that many — apparently even those who should know better, like Ashton and Hague — have come to believe it or pretend to.

Another false issue is expressed by the comment I  heard recently that Israel is “gobbling up” the territories in order, as Abbas says, to “redraw the map.”  But no new settlements have been established since Oslo (unless you count tiny unauthorized ‘outposts’ that are torn down by Israeli police, sometimes rather aggressively). The construction that is so vehemently opposed is all within the boundaries  of existing settlements.

In fact, most of the population growth in Judea and Samaria is due to people having children. Only a net of 4000 people moved to the territories in 2010. So much for “gobbling up!”

Finally, the requirement that Israel refrain from construction across the Green Line is a new one, adopted by the Palestinians in 2010, with the help of Barack Obama. Settlements did not prevent Israel from returning the Sinai to Egypt or (unfortunately) from evacuating Gaza.

The Palestinian strategy is simple: promise  serious negotiations if Israel will just [fill in the blank]. Then let the ‘international community’ pressure Israel. If Israel concedes, then there is suddenly another ‘roadblock to peace’. Israel is weakened, new starting points are set, and the process begins again. Of course there can never be truly serious negotiations, because the Palestinians will never agree to end the conflict while a Jewish state exists.

Now that the Security Council vote is hanging over Israel’s head (as Caroline Glick explained recently), there is yet another club to beat Israel with.

But there are real subjects that could be discussed, if there were interest in ending the conflict on both sides. They are, for example,

  1. Israel’s security needs
  2. Recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people
  3. Agreement on a solution to the refugee problem outside of Israel

Unfortunately, there will be no agreement on these because they negate the heart of today’s Palestinian position and the Palestinian cause itself.  Until there is a Palestinian leadership that can accept the idea that there will be a Jewish state, there’s no point in talking.

Israel should make this clear to the US President, EU officials, and everyone else. It should not participate in a phony ‘peace process’ based on fraudulent issues like construction outside of the Green Line, which will only gnaw away at Israel’s security without bringing peace any closer.

If this means taking unilateral steps like annexing parts of the territories and letting the chips in the UN fall where they may, so be it.

The Israeli Left is fond of saying “the status quo is not viable,” referring to the status quo in the territories. I would prefer to say “continuing the so-called ‘peace process’ is unsupportable.”

If there can’t be an honest conversation, let there be no conversation at all.

Update [1806 PDT]: Read more about Gilo and its history here.

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A tale of two Abbases

Monday, September 26th, 2011

I’ve called Abbas Zaki (عباس زكي), former PLO Ambassador to Lebanon and Fatah Central Committee member “my favorite Palestinian Arab” because he always honestly presents their point of view. Here he is explaining that the ultimate goal of the PLO is to destroy Israel, and not to create a state outside of the 1949 lines:

He also use a word that MEMRI (which employs qualified translators) renders as ‘scumbags’ to refer to Israeli PM Netanyahu, FM Lieberman and US President Obama (perhaps a reader who understands Arabic can pick out the word for me — it might come in handy the next time there is a local anti-Israel demonstration).

As Caroline Glick explains here, the unilateral action of the PLO marks the Palestinians’ official exit from the ‘peace process’ that began with the Oslo agreement in 1993.  Nevertheless, the ‘international community’ is likely to use this event as a reason to pressure Israel for more and more concessions in the name of the dead ‘peace process’, lest they allow the Security Council to pass a resolution that will admit ‘Palestine’ to the UN.

The letter that accompanies the application for admission to the UN (all the relevant documents are here) submitted by Palestinian ‘President’ Mahmoud Abbas reaffirms the Palestinian commitment to Oslo and the ‘peace process’, as well as UN resolutions 242 and 338, while at the same time contradicting them. The letter refers to multiple UN resolutions, including the partition resolution of 1947 that was never implemented — the Arabs rejected it and chose war — as well as the ‘rights’ of Arab ‘refugees’, etc. It is a mish-mash which makes little sense.

The formal application itself simply refers to the partition resolution (181-II) and the Palestinian “declaration of independence” of 1988, which did not specify the borders of Palestine. So whatever will be voted on in the Security Council will have to be more specific than this. It is impossible to admit a state of mind to the UN.

In truth, we know that the Palestinians do not expect a physical state to come out of this. What they do hope for is a legal platform to continue their diplomatic pressure on Israel — and I guarantee that they full well intend to continue their terrorism as well, although, as always, the Palestinian government will officially deny any connection to it and even, from time to time, condemn it.

If the Palestinians did want a physical state, they could have had one on numerous occasions. They could have one tomorrow, in the words of Melanie Phillips,

…all that is needed is for [Mahmoud] Abbas to say, in Arabic as well as English, that he accepts the right of Israel to exist as the nation state of the Jewish people, and that his own people will no longer wage war against it. If he were to say that, and to match those words by deeds to show he meant them – for example, by ending the incitement in the educational materials and media under his command to hatred and murder of Jews and Israelis – there would be peace and a state of Palestine.

This will not happen, because Mahmoud Abbas does not speak the truth about Palestinian aspirations. Abbas Zaki does.

Phillips refers to a “theater of the absurd” in which the media, Western governments, UN diplomats, etc. all pretend to believe  that both sides want peace, and it is only a question of finding the correct formula that will bring about a peaceful Palestinian state:

…the dominant assumption in the west, the assumption that underpins virtually every political utterance on the subject and every interview on the BBC and the reporting even in notionally pro-Israel papers such as the Times or Telegraph that a state of Palestine would end the Middle East conflict, is not only wholly mistaken but is to mis-state that conflict.

For peace to be achieved, the belligerent has to stop making war. The Arabs have made war on the Jews in their ancient homeland since Israel became a state and indeed for three decades before that. For a solution to be arrived at, it’s necessary correctly to state the problem. The problem is not the absence of a state of Palestine. The problem is that the Arabs want to get rid of Israel.

Just ask Abbas Zaki.

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Let’s give these people a state, part II

Sunday, September 25th, 2011
Asher Palmer and son Yonatan -- murdered by Arab terrorists

Asher Palmer and son Yonatan -- murdered by Arab terrorists

One year ago, I stood at this podium and I called for an independent Palestine.  I believed then, and I believe now, that the Palestinian people deserve a state of their own.Barack Obama, UN General Assembly, 21 September 2011

News item:

Israel Police Chief Yochanan Danino has confirmed that the victims of a tragic car crash Friday were murdered by terrorists, Channel 2 television reported Sunday afternoon. Previously, police stated that the crash was caused by driver error and was definitely not the result of an attack.

The dramatic change in approach followed a meeting Saturday night on autopsy findings in the deaths of the two victims, 25-year-old Asher Palmer and his infant son Yehonatan.

Arutz Sheva has obtained a document detailing findings from the scene of the crash. Among the evidence that at first failed, for unknown reasons, to convince police that terrorists may have been involved: a hole in the front windshield of the car, a massive rock found in the front seat with human blood on it, a tear in fabric of the steeling wheel cover and dust indicating a blow from the rock, and damage to Asher Palmer’s face suggesting an impact unrelated to the crash.

The autopsy and a CT scan of Asher Palmer’s face showed evidence of facial fractures caused by a rock.


Every single day, hundreds of rocks, blocks, stones, etc. are thrown at Jewish vehicles in Judea, Samaria, Jerusalem and Arab towns or neighborhoods inside the Green Line. Sometime photographers are informed in advance that there will be exciting opportunities to view the heroic resistance to occupation. Throwing ‘stones’ (sometimes as big as a person’s head) is what Palestinian Arab adolescents do for entertainment. Even the great Columbia University ‘scholar’ Edward Said symbolically threw a stone across the Lebanese border at Israeli soldiers.

Let’s give them a state!

Update [9 Oct 0804 PDT]: The murderers have been arrested.

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China, Israel and Iran

Saturday, September 24th, 2011

The writer is an old friend of mine. I received this recently and thought it was clever, thought-provoking, and deserving of a wider audience. For what it’s worth, I would not expect Israel to strike Iran except to preempt an imminent attack.

PaRDeS of Chinese Mideast expert Yin Gang’s statement to Yossi Melman of Ha’aretz

by ‘Altalena’

To underscore China’s unique diplomatic policy, Yin made the following surprising statement: “China is opposed to any military action against Iran that would damage regional stability and interfere with the flow of oil. But China will not stop Israel if it decides to attack Iran. For all these reasons, Israel and the Middle East need a country like China. Israel needs China’s power.”

— Ha’aretz: ‘China will not stop Israel if it decides to attack Iran

Interpreting Yin’s statement using rabbinic Judaism’s traditional “pardes” (Hebrew for “paradise”) method of Torah exegesis:
  • Peshat (פְּשָׁט) “simple” or direct meaning.
  • Remez (רֶמֶז) “hint” or deep meaning beyond the literal sense.
  • Derash (דְּרַשׁ) from darash: “inquire”— the comparative meaning, as given through similar occurrences.
  • Sod (סוֹד) “secret” or the mystical meaning, as given through inspiration or revelation.

The plain-truth peshat is that China needs a stable flow of Mideast oil . . . would take no action if Beijing were to learn that Israel was about to hit Iran . . . and should be regarded as a player by the countries of the Mideast.

The word-to-the-wise remez is that China could stop Israel from hitting Iran if it wanted to.

The subtext derash is that China is a great power whose needs Israel should take strongly into account when deciding what to do about Iran–not just, as may currently be the case, the views of the conventional big dogs, the US, the EU, Russia, and the Arab countries.

The eyes-only sod is that Beijing would be POSITIVELY THRILLED AND UTTERLY DELIGHTED if Israel were to kneecap Iran, which would result in a more stable supply of cheaper oil for China, as Iran with its limited reserves and high but dwindling population wants the highest possible price ASAP (in contrast to the Saudis, who want a moderate price over a very long term because their population is low and their reserves are huge) to serve the needs of those Iranians who are now alive and the few progeny who will survive them; aprés them le deluge.

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Palestinian program: to end the Jewish state

Saturday, September 24th, 2011
Mahmoud Abbas speaks at Fatah convention in 2009 in front of an image of his mentor, Yasser Arafat

Mahmoud Abbas speaks at Fatah convention in 2009 in front of an image of his mentor, Yasser Arafat

In my last post, I discussed President Obama’s speech at the UN. Today I want to quote a few snippets from the speech of Palestinian ‘president’ Mahmoud Abbas to the same body and elucidate the meaning therein:

I confirm, on behalf of the Palestine Liberation Organization, the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, which will remain so until the end of the conflict in all its aspects and until the resolution of all final status issues, the following:

Whatever the significance of the ‘reconciliation’ between Fatah and Hamas, Hamas is not a member of the PLO. Hence it is possible for the PLO to maintain its distance from a group which is generally recognized in the West as terrorist and racist, and with which Israel and many other nations will not negotiate. Although the PLO is also a terrorist and racist organization, it has officially denied this and its denials have been (foolishly) accepted by Israel and others.

1. The goal of the Palestinian people is the realization of their inalienable national rights in their independent State of Palestine, with East Jerusalem as its capital, on all the land of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, which Israel occupied in the June 1967 war, in conformity with the resolutions of international legitimacy and with the achievement of a just and agreed upon solution to the Palestine refugee issue in accordance with resolution 194, as stipulated in the Arab Peace Initiative which presented the consensus Arab vision to resolve the core the Arab-Israeli conflict and to achieve a just and comprehensive peace. To this we adhere and this is what we are working to achieve. Achieving this desired peace also requires the release of political prisoners and detainees in Israeli prisons without delay.

The Palestinians as well as all the Arab states have always interpreted resolution 194 as calling for the ‘return’ of all Arab refugees and their descendants to ‘their original homes’ in Israel. It is important to realize that this is an inseparable part of their demand for statehood. It is one of the primary reasons — if not the primary reason that previous Israeli offers of as much as 97% of Judea/Samaria and large parts of Jerusalem were not accepted in 2000, 2001 and 2008.

Abbas implies that everyone of Palestinian descent has ‘rights’ to live in Israel, even those who are presently living in Judea, Samaria or Gaza:

The time has come to end the suffering and the plight of millions of Palestine refugees in the homeland and the Diaspora, to end their displacement and to realize their rights, some of them forced to take refuge more than once in different places of the world. (my emphasis)

Other PLO officials have been even more specific, stating that ‘refugees’ in the Palestinian state will not get Palestinian citizenship. Statehood, they want to make 100% clear, will not terminate refugee status or allow for their resettlement anywhere other than Israel.

The ideas of hereditary refugee status, refusal of resettlement, and a ‘right of return’ have never been accepted before in the history of refugee situations since WWII. And yet, the Arabs take this as a given. Of course this demand is nothing more than a demand to dissolve the Jewish state.

The issue of the prisoners is very important and is always mentioned. Although some may legitimately be called ‘political prisoners,’ many are murderers or responsible for causing grievous bodily harm to Israelis. Although Abbas claims that

4. Our people will continue their popular peaceful resistance to the Israeli occupation and its settlement and apartheid policies and its construction of the racist annexation Wall,

these violent prisoners will be soldiers in the continued ‘resistance’ after the Palestinian state is declared. Of course, he fails to mention Gilad Shalit who is being held for ransom simply because he is an Israeli and whose conditions of imprisonment are far worse than those of the Arab murderers in Israeli jails.

3. We adhere to the option of negotiating a lasting solution to the conflict in accordance with resolutions of international legitimacy. Here, I declare that the Palestine Liberation Organization is ready to return immediately to the negotiating table on the basis of the adopted terms of reference based on international legitimacy and a complete cessation of settlement activities.

“Resolutions of international legitimacy” refers to the SC and GA resolutions that Abbas expects from the UN. With these in hand he is prepared to negotiate with Israel from a starting point of a ‘Palestine’ that includes all of Judea, Samaria and Gaza, with its capital in Jerusalem (“Al-Quds Al-Sharif”), and with a precondition that all “settlement activities” will end.

Consistent with his mention of the Arab Initiative, I understand this as the ‘implementation phase’ — the process of the evacuation of all Jewish residents of the territories, as well as the realization of the ‘rights’ of all ‘Palestinian refugees’ to settle in Israel or receive compensation. This is all he is prepared to ‘negotiate’!

None of this, he claims, violates the Oslo agreements:

2. The PLO and the Palestinian people adhere to the renouncement of violence and rejection and condemning of terrorism in all its forms, especially State terrorism, and adhere to all agreements signed between the Palestine Liberation Organization and Israel.

But the 1993 Declaration of Principles, the main part of the Oslo agreement, says that

It is understood that the interim arrangements are an integral part of the whole peace process and that the negotiations on the permanent status will lead to the implementation of Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973)…

It is understood that these [permanent status] negotiations shall cover remaining issues, including: Jerusalem, refugees, settlements, security arrangements, borders, relations and co-operation with other neighbours, and other issues of common interest.

In other words, following resolutions 242 and 338, Israel will get “secure and recognized boundaries.” And the actual borders (etc.) will be determined by the permanent status negotiations between Israel and the PA — not the UN. So in fact the Palestinians are not adhering to previous agreements.

Abbas concluded the main part of his speech with a remarkably offensive passage, beginning thus:

I come before you today from the Holy Land, the land of Palestine, the land of divine messages, ascension of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and the birthplace of Jesus Christ (peace be upon him), to speak on behalf of the Palestinian people in the homeland and in the the Diaspora, to say, after 63 years of suffering of the ongoing Nakba: Enough. It is time for the Palestinian people to gain their freedom and independence. (my emphasis)

For Abbas, there is no Jewish connection to the Holy Land. And his program is a program to end the “ongoing Nakba” of 63 years: Jewish control of any of it.

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Obama’s pro-Israel speech

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011
Mahmoud Abbas reacts to President Obama's UN speech. What could he have been expecting?

Mahmoud Abbas reacts to President Obama's UN speech. What could he have been expecting?

When I read the part of President Obama’s speech to the UN yesterday (May 21, 2011) that dealt with Israel and the Palestinians — which, by the way, was only a small part of it — I was surprised.

I had read Palestinian and Israeli reactions to it first, and judging from them, I would have thought it represented a major tilt toward Israel. But what I saw in the text was more or less a reiteration of prior positions. So why was Mahmoud Abbas covering his eyes, and why did Israeli PM Netanyahu thank Obama so effusively? Let’s look at what Obama said — and didn’t say.

One year ago, I stood at this podium and I called for an independent Palestine. I believed then, and I believe now, that the Palestinian people deserve a state of their own. But what I also said is that a genuine peace can only be realized between the Israelis and the Palestinians themselves. One year later, despite extensive efforts by America and others, the parties have not bridged their differences. Faced with this stalemate, I put forward a new basis for negotiations in May of this year. That basis is clear. It’s well known to all of us here. Israelis must know that any agreement provides assurances for their security. Palestinians deserve to know the territorial basis of their state.

Well, Abbas should have liked that. Obama emphasized his commitment to a Palestinian state and reaffirmed the plan that he put forward in May, pre-1967 lines plus swaps — and everything else in that plan, which I and many others felt represented a aharp pro-Palestinian shift in the US position.

Now, I know that many are frustrated by the lack of progress. I assure you, so am I. But the question isn’t the goal that we seek — the question is how do we reach that goal. And I am convinced that there is no short cut to the end of a conflict that has endured for decades. Peace is hard work. Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the United Nations — if it were that easy, it would have been accomplished by now. Ultimately, it is the Israelis and the Palestinians who must live side by side. Ultimately, it is the Israelis and the Palestinians — not us –- who must reach agreement on the issues that divide them: on borders and on security, on refugees and Jerusalem.

Abbas has known for months that the US opposed a unilateral declaration of statehood at the UN. There is nothing new here. Did Abbas harbor a secret hope that Obama would finally hand him Israel on a silver platter, with no compromises required? If so, where did he get that idea? Certainly not from the public statements of the President, which — no matter how pro-Palestinian they may have been — always called for an agreement between the parties.

We seek a future where Palestinians live in a sovereign state of their own, with no limit to what they can achieve. There’s no question that the Palestinians have seen that vision delayed for too long. It is precisely because we believe so strongly in the aspirations of the Palestinian people that America has invested so much time and so much effort in the building of a Palestinian state, and the negotiations that can deliver a Palestinian state.

But understand this as well: America’s commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable. Our friendship with Israel is deep and enduring. And so we believe that any lasting peace must acknowledge the very real security concerns that Israel faces every single day.

Again, this is precisely what he said in May. But what comes next is interesting — not because there is any substantive policy change, but because of the tone:

Let us be honest with ourselves: Israel is surrounded by neighbors that have waged repeated wars against it. Israel’s citizens have been killed by rockets fired at their houses and suicide bombs on their buses. Israel’s children come of age knowing that throughout the region, other children are taught to hate them. Israel, a small country of less than eight million people, look out at a world where leaders of much larger nations threaten to wipe it off of the map. The Jewish people carry the burden of centuries of exile and persecution, and fresh memories of knowing that six million people were killed simply because of who they are. Those are facts. They cannot be denied. (my emphasis)

Here Obama recognizes:

  1. The wider context of the conflict. It is not all about the Palestinians getting their ‘rights,’ an Israeli Goliath persecuting an Arab David. Israel is tiny, surrounded by hostile neighbors with large populations. It is in danger.
  2. The fact of hateful  incitement against Israel and Jews by both the Palestinians and Israel’s other neighbors.
  3. The part played by specifically Palestinian terrorism — the rockets and suicide bombers.
  4. The real threat of Iran.

This directly contradicts the line of the anti-Zionist Left in the US and Europe.  It must have infuriated Obama’s friend Rashid Khalidi. And it isn’t the sort of thing advisers like Samantha Power would be likely to agree with.

And now comes the real zinger:

The Jewish people have forged a successful state in their historic homeland. Israel deserves recognition. It deserves normal relations with its neighbors. And friends of the Palestinians do them no favors by ignoring this truth, just as friends of Israel must recognize the need to pursue a two-state solution with a secure Israel next to an independent Palestine.

Although it is again not new in US policy, this indicates an understanding of the Israeli demand that Israel must be recognized as the nation of the Jewish people. It is in direct contradiction to the Palestinian position that there is no Jewish people (only a religion), and that Israel in fact ‘belongs’ to the Palestinian Arabs who should have the right to ‘return’ to their ‘original homes’ in Israel (where probably less than 1% of today’s ‘Palestinians’ ever lived).

Of course, I would have preferred an unequivocal statement that the Palestinians must recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish People. Nevertheless, I see the statement that Israel is our historic homeland as very significant. This may have been the moment that Abbas put his hand over his eyes.

And what didn’t he say?

He did not mention settlements or construction therein. He did not blame Israel or PM Netanyahu for the failure of bilateral negotiations. He did not make any new demands on Israel.

From a diplomatic point of view there is absolutely nothing new. But in a rhetorical sense, it was a very pro-Israel speech.

So we’re left with this question:

Was this a true expression of heretofore hidden warmth toward the Jewish state and its leadership, a warmth which was definitely not present in Obama’s Cairo speech, his Arab Spring speech, or his treatment of Netanyahu on several occasions?

Or was it a cynical exercise to mollify pro-Israel American voters who have found his policy abhorrent, a carefully crafted way to give the impression of a changed policy without actually changing it?

You decide.

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How to end the refugee problem

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011
Palestinian refugees in a Lebanese camp

Palestinian refugees in a Lebanese camp

Yesterday I suggested that (among other things) there needs to be a major change in world policy toward ‘Palestinian refugees’. Today I want to elaborate on this.

In 1948, somewhere around 600,000 Arabs (serious estimates range from 550,000 750,000) left their homes as a result of the war. It is a fundamental part of Palestinian mythology, abetted by the remarkable dishonesty of the so-called ‘new historians’ (see Efraim Karsh’s books on the subject, here and here) that these refugees were all forced out of their homes at gunpoint, but in fact most of them fled simply to avoid the expected war. Lack of leadership helped — wealthy Arabs left first, some to summer homes in Beirut — and in many cases they were encouraged to do so by the local leadership and by propaganda from the Arab nations.

The Palestinian narrative is based on the idea that Israel’s creation was a nakba, or catastrophe for the ‘Palestinian people,’ that it was a deliberate crime against them, and that Israel must make it right by accepting a ‘right of return’ for the refugees and all of their 4.5 million descendants, whereby they could “return to their original homes” inside Israel or receive compensation.

There are several inconvenient facts that this narrative ignores, in addition to the fact that there was no attempt to expel Arabs en masse. For one thing, the Palestinian Arabs initiated hostilities against the Jewish population in 1947 (I am ignoring the various ‘riots’ and pogroms that they perpetrated from about 1920), and their allies invaded the area with the exit of the British in 1948. If it is possible to assign responsibility for the war and the nakba, it is not the Jews that bear that responsibility.

It is also important, if we are discussing compensation, to recall that about 800,000 Jews were in one way or another forced out of Arab countries before, during and after the 1948 war, usually bringing only the clothes on their backs. Countries that had flourishing communities of hundreds of thousands of Jews lost almost all of them. For example, the Jewish population of Iraq went from 150,000 to 100 between 1948 and 2003.

It is also important to compare the way Palestinian refugees have been treated by international institutions with the way other refugee problems have been solved. Most refugee situations — like that of the millions, especially Jews that were made homeless by WWII as well as the Jewish refugees from Arab countries — were resolved in a few years, primarily by resettlement.

In the case of the Arab refugees, a special agency, UNRWA was created just for them. Refugee status — for the first and only time in the history of the UN — was made hereditary. Host nations refused to grant the refugees and their descendents citizenship, kept them in UN-funded camps, and in many cases denied them opportunities for education or employment that were available to non-Palestinians. The condition of the refugees in Lebanon has been compared to South African apartheid!

When Israel took control of the Gaza strip in 1967, Israelis were horrified by the conditions of the refugees in the formerly Egyptian-controlled camps. Israel actually built new housing for them, but the PLO and UN prevented the refugees from occupying it.

While the refugees and their descendents are not permitted to be absorbed by their host countries, UNRWA continues to support them on the international dole, providing aid to families on the basis of size — thus creating an incentive for ‘refugee’ families to have many children. UNRWA’s budget is in excess of $1.2 billion per year, much of which, naturally, is paid by the USA.

The Palestinian Authority has indicated that if they are granted statehood there will be no change in the status of refugees, even those that live in the area that they expect to become part of their state. They will not get Palestinian citizenship, and the UN will continue to support them. The only solution for them that is acceptable to the Palestinians and the Arab states is their ‘return’ to their ‘original homes’ in Israel.

Everyone, from Barack Obama and Ban Ki-Moon on down (or up) knows that a ‘return’ of up to 4.5 million hostile Arabs to Israel would simply be the end of Israel. And yet, although they know this, and although at the same time they purport to be committed to Israel’s security, they do not call for change in the pernicious Arab refugee system!

Everyone also agrees that a solution to the Isareli-Arab conflict will require a solution to the refugee problem.  So here is a restatement of my simple proposal to solve this problem for once and for all:

  1. Palestinian refugee status will be given only to those Arabs who actually left their homes during Israel’s War of Independence. It will no longer be hereditary.
  2. The remaining refugees will receive services from UNHCR, which serves all other kinds of refugees.
  3. UNRWA will be abolished.
  4. Former refugees will be given all the rights and privileges of citizens of their host countries. The system of ethnic apartheid which exists in Lebanon, Syria, the PA, the Gaza strip and (to a lesser extent) Jordan will be dismantled.
  5. The UN may give humanitarian aid to the host countries in order to aid in the absorption of the former refugees, but will not directly maintain them. Aid will be carefully targeted, monitored and strictly limited in duration.

This will be a large undertaking, but it is absolutely necessary for there to be peace in the Middle East. Just as world Jewry collected funds to help the European Jewish refugees after WWII and the Jews from Arab lands after 1948, we can expect that the Arab countries will invest some of their petrodollars into helping their Palestinian brothers.

After all, they do care about the Palestinians — don’t they?

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A proposal for the civilized world

Tuesday, September 20th, 2011

It’s a reality-based proposal, for once:

WHEREAS the PLO has shown itself to be a racist organization whose ultimate goal is to destroy Israel, and whose proximate intent is to ethnically cleanse Jews from their historic homeland; and,

WHEREAS the Palestinian Authority (PA) now includes Hamas as well, a just-as-racist terrorist organization that right now this minute is engaged in terrorism against Israel; and,

WHEREAS nevertheless the Gaza strip is separately governed and in fact the ‘President’ of the PA is not able to set foot there; and,

WHEREAS the ‘President’ of the PA’s term expired months ago and the PA can’t hold elections because Hamas would win them; and,

WHEREAS the only thing keeping the PA from being entirely overwhelmed by Hamas is the IDF; and,

WHEREAS everyone knows that the PA has no economy, no real institutions, is entirely dependent on huge amounts of money from the UN, EU and US (the Arabs also make promises but don’t pay), and cannot possibly constitute a viable state; and,

WHEREAS the PA states that it will not grant citizenship to Arab refugees, even those within its borders; and,

WHEREAS  the only function of ‘statehood’ is to provide a platform for continued legal, diplomatic and terrorist warfare against Israel; and,

WHEREAS the plan to grant statehood to what is in essence a bunch of terrorist militias and corrupt functionaries is not conceived out of actual concern for the welfare of Palestinian Arabs, but rather from an irrational antisemitic hatred for the Jewish state;

THEREFORE the civilized world:

a) rejects the idea of statehood for the PA, and calls for an immediate end to aid to the PA other than temporary humanitarian aid to residents;

b) outlaws the PLO as a racist and terrorist organization and demands that its terrorist militias disarm;

c) declares that the status of ‘Palestinian refugee’ only applies to those Arabs who left their homes in 1948 and not their descendents, with said descendants being granted the status of ‘normal’ residents of their place of residence;

d) calls for the abolition of UNRWA, and placing the 1948 refugees under UNHCR, like all other refugees;

e) declares that the Hamas regime in Gaza is a terrorist, racist, aggressor entity which shall be quarantined until the rogue Hamas regime is replaced and its military forces disbanded and disarmed;

f) reaffirms UN resolutions 242 and 338 and calls for three-party negotiations between Israel, Jordan and representatives of the residents of Judea and Samaria to determine the status of the territories based on demographic considerations and the need for all states to have secure and recognized boundaries;

g) declares that the state of Israel has a legitimate right of self-defense against aggression from Hamas, Hizballah or anyone else, and affirms that it will stand behind Israel if she is attacked;

h) affirms that Israel is the state of the Jewish people with all that entails, and that while it is required to protect the civil rights of all of its inhabitants (suffrage, housing, education, economic opportunity), it is not required to provide for expression of the nationalistic aspirations of ethnic minorities, except insofar as they may be permitted to emigrate if they choose;

i) demands that the UN abolish its “Division for Palestinian rights” and end its annual “Day of solidarity with the Palestinian People,” since these are simply expressions of the Arabs’ racist project to expel the Jews from the Middle East.

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Tom Friedman joins “Israel Lobby” conspiracy theorists

Monday, September 19th, 2011

As we get closer and closer to the UN vote on Palestinian statehood, as relations between Israel and Turkey and Egypt deteriorate, the usual suspects are responding in the usual way — and even more so.

The NY Times’ Tom Friedman has gone over to “Israel lobby” conspiracy theories:

The crumbling of key pillars of Israel’s security — the peace with Egypt, the stability of Syria and the friendship of Turkey and Jordan — coupled with the most diplomatically inept and strategically incompetent [I would put ‘U.S.’ here — ed] government in Israel’s history have put Israel in a very dangerous situation.

This has also left the U.S. government fed up with Israel’s leadership but a hostage to its ineptitude, because the powerful pro-Israel lobby in an election season can force the administration to defend Israel at the U.N., even when it knows Israel is pursuing policies not in its own interest or America’s.

Oh, really? Please explain how the “powerful pro-Israel lobby” can swing a presidential election. The problem for President Obama here is that many Americans understand the Middle East too well. They get it that Israel is struggling against the combined forces of Islamism and Arab rejectionism. They get it that the US was attacked by Islamists, not Israelis, on 9/11 (while Palestinians cheered). And they get it that appeasement doesn’t work.

These Americans, 98% of whom are not Jewish and not members of Congress, are not influenced by “the Lobby.” Many of them are independents who will simply be morally outraged if the administration screws Israel.

Friedman says that it’s Netanyahu’s fault for not ‘responding’ to the challenges facing Israel:

Mr. Netanyahu has a strategy: Do nothing vis-à-vis the Palestinians or Turkey that will require him to go against his base, compromise his ideology or antagonize his key coalition partner, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, an extreme right-winger. Then, call on the U.S. to stop Iran’s nuclear program and help Israel out of every pickle, but make sure that President Obama can’t ask for anything in return — like halting Israeli settlements — by mobilizing Republicans in Congress to box in Obama and by encouraging Jewish leaders to suggest that Obama is hostile to Israel and is losing the Jewish vote. And meanwhile, get the Israel lobby to hammer anyone in the administration or Congress who says aloud that maybe Bibi has made some mistakes, not just Barack.

A few minor points:

First, Jews in the US are a small proportion — 1.7% in 2007 — and at least half of them will vote for Obama regardless of his position on Israel. Some of them are in swing states (Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania) but many are in states which are unlikely to go Republican, like California. The “Jewish vote” is not a big deal.

Second, could we leave the settlements alone? Israel is not building new settlements or expanding the boundaries of old ones. The most it is doing is allowing construction within existing settlements, and it tried a 10-month freeze on that without results. This issue never was a barrier to negotiations, until the “inept and strategically incompetent” Barack Obama made it so. The media have been exceptionally dishonest about this, always referring to “settlement construction,” which any reasonable person would understand as building new settlements.

Third, Israel offered to express regret for the deaths of several Turkish IHH terrorists, but would not agree that it was at fault when its soldiers defended themselves, and would not agree to open the gates to unlimited transit of weapons into Gaza by ending the blockade. Turkey would not accept less.

Fourth, the US has done little to stop Iran’s nuclear program. In fact, by not supplying Israel with refueling aircraft and “bunker buster” weapons, it reduced Israel’s power of deterrence, which encouraged Iran.

Fifth, is Friedman really blaming Bibi for “mobilizing Republicans?” Can’t they mobilize themselves? What else is it possible to blame him for?

And one major point: the failure of bilateral negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority is not due to Netanyahu’s concern for his ‘base’, but rather due to the Palestinians’ refusal to negotiate without preconditions that amount to giving up the store. To a great extent, this situation is Obama’s fault, for allowing the Palestinians to think that they could get more from American pressure than they could from negotiations.

Friedman must be getting tired if the best he can do is trot out the Israel Lobby, along with pathological Israel-haters Stephen WaltGlenn Greenwald and Philip Weiss.

Friedman’s suggestion for a solution is that Israel (preferably with a new, more pliant, government) should make a “peace overture that fair-minded people would recognize as serious, and thereby reduce its isolation.” So after Israel

  1. returned the Sinai to Egypt (and now the treaty is in question),
  2. allowed the murderous PLO to return from exile and set up a government,
  3. transferred weapons to the PA ‘police’,
  4. withdrew its troops from southern Lebanon (and got a war in return),
  5. evacuated all the Jews, living and dead, from Gaza (and got a war in return),
  6. adopted the idea of a Palestinian state in the territories,
  7. withdrew from much of Judea and Samaria,
  8. released Palestinian prisoners to strengthen Mahmoud Abbas,
  9. removed many checkpoints and roadblocks from Judea/Samaria,
  10. provided humanitarian aid to the Gaza strip while Hamas bombarded it with rockets,
  11. made offers of up to 97% of the disputed territories plus swaps and major concessions on Jerusalem in 2000 and 2008 —

after all of this, and while the PA still has not changed those parts of its charter calling for the destruction of Israel, still insists on a “right of return” for refugees, still broadcasts anti-Israel and antisemitic incitement in its media, mosques and educational system, and adamantly refuses to recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people — now Tom Friedman thinks Israel should make yet another ‘peace overture’!

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Revealing nonsense from Nabil Shaath

Sunday, September 18th, 2011

About six weeks ago I caught PLO official Nabil Shaath (former PM of the Palestinian Authority) explaining that the Palestinians do not, and will not, accept the idea of two states for two peoples.

Shaath gave an interview on Army Radio yesterday and made three notable statements:

1. Asked why the Palestinian leadership refuses to recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people, Shaath responded that the Jewish people, on their own, decided “that they have really built their state that is not only for the Jewish people because 22 percent of Israelis are not Jewish.”

Jewish tradition is clear about the need to treat the ‘stranger that resides in your midst’ justly. It is therefore possible to have a Jewish state, a homeland for the Jewish people, whose national symbols and national character are Jewish, which nevertheless has some non-Jewish inhabitants who are treated fairly. Indeed, it would not be a truly ‘Jewish’ state otherwise!

But Shaath cannot understand this, because his idea of a national state is one that will expel everyone who is not a Palestinian Arab.

2. Presented with statements attributed to the Palestinian Authority envoy to the United States last week that a Palestinian state would be without Jews, Shaath said that Maen Areikat “never said ‘Jewish free,'” but rather “that at the beginning of our peace, we want to separate.”

But Areikat did say, quite explicitly, that Jews would not be permitted to live in ‘Palestine’, in an interview in Tablet magazine last year. And he said it in the context of explaining a similar statement about ‘separation’. He was speaking in English on both occasions. He was not misquoted, quoted out of context or mistranslated.

3. Asked whether settlers would be allowed to live in a future Palestinian state, [Shaath] added, “If [settlers] decide to accept Palestinian citizenship and buy the territory that they have and live as individual citizens, then why not?”

Why not? Well, for one thing, because PA residents are forbidden by law — on pain of death — to sell land to Jews.

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