Archive for August, 2012

Moral behavior and Jewish rights

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

Recently I wrote about how important it was for Israel to insist on its legitimate rights under international law, rather than allowing its enemies to define the terms of the discussion. The recent Levy Commission report — perhaps many years late — tries to reestablish these rights:

“According to international law, Israelis have a legal right to settle all of Judea and Samaria, at the very least the lands that Israel controls under agreements with the Palestinian Authority,” Levy stated. “Therefore, the establishment of Jewish settlements [in Judea and Samaria] is, in itself, not illegal.” …

The committee issued its report on [July 10, 2012], which was subsequently handed over to Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein. In the report, Levy wrote that “upon completing the committee’s tasks, and considering the testimonies heard, the basic conclusion is that from an international law perspective, the laws of ‘occupation’ do not apply to the unique historic and legal circumstances surrounding Israel’s decades-long presence in Judea and Samaria.”

“Likewise,” the report said, “the Fourth Geneva Convention [relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War] on the transfer of populations does not apply, and wasn’t intended to apply to communities such as those established by Israel in Judea and Samaria.”

The government still has not adopted this report. Apparently it presents an “inconvenient truth” for those who believe, for whatever reason, that Israel needs to withdraw from all or most of Judea and Samaria.

It needn’t. The fact that Jews have as much right to live in these areas as Arabs (and even that Israel has a prima facie claim on these disputed territories stronger than the Palestinian Authority) does not prevent Israel from ceding some of its rights in the event that an Arab leadership capable of being a real peace partner were to appear.

Accepting the report is not tantamount to annexing Judea and Samaria, as the hysterical Left claims.

But what is the opposing view? That Jews do not have a right to live east of the 1949 boundaries and that the Israeli presence there is an illegitimate occupation of “Arab land.”

In the first case, Israel can theoretically negotiate a compromise with the Arabs in which it gives up land for an end to belligerency. There is a flavor of extortion here, but nevertheless Israel has a position from which to negotiate.

But if Israel begins negotiating from the position that it is occupying someone else’s land, then the only thing there is to negotiate is the timetable for withdrawal. This is precisely the Palestinian position, and it is also reflected in the Arab League Peace Initiative.

Oslo syndrome sufferers love this, because it supports their position that everything is the Jews’ fault, and that the solution is to make ourselves ‘better’ so that the antisemites will come to love us. Of course, this is precisely as insane as it sounds.

Israel should always try to act in accordance with moral principles. But it should behave morally not only towards Arabs, but toward its ‘stockholders’, the Jewish people. And that means not surrendering their right to self-determination in the land of Israel.

Here is an example of what has come of the Israeli government allowing its enemies to rewrite history and invent international law:

Since 2005, Israeli exporters to EU countries have had to list zip codes and place names from where goods were manufactured. Under the EU-Israel free trade agreement, Israeli products are allowed duty-free entry into the EU, but not goods made in the settlements. EU products coming into Israel also enjoy a duty-free status.

Israeli officials said that amid protests from various European NGOs and parliamentarians, who claimed that a number of goods were slipping through the cracks, the EU decided to publicize the list of locales and zip codes from which duties must be levied. The policy itself is not new, only the publication of the names.

Nevertheless, it elicited an angry reaction from the Foreign Ministry for two reasons: the move was carried out even though Israel and the EU have been in consultation about it for a number of weeks, and it included three zip codes – 71724, 71728 and 71799 – in Modi’in, Maccabim and Re’ut.

“For anyone who deals in reality, there is not the slightest doubt that the Modi’in, Maccabim and Re’ut localities are an integral part of Israel, and their future is not in question,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

So first the Foreign Ministry signed a free-trade agreement that in effect made borders out of the 1949 cease-fire lines, and now it is having humiliating arguments over what zip codes are included within these non-borders!

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Obama, not Israel, “outrageously cynical”

Tuesday, August 14th, 2012

I’ve been asked why I bother writing about anything in the NY Times. Don’t I know that they are predictably biased against Israel? Haven’t I seen David Gerstman’s analyses of Times op-eds (which last month came out 5 anti-Israel to 1 pro-Israel)?

Well, yes. But the Times is important because its positions are so closely correlated with those of the Obama Administration. At least on foreign affairs, the Times is Obama’s Pravda.

Right now the administration is being very, very careful about saying what it thinks about Israel, not wanting to upset the electoral applecart. But the Times isn’t afraid to let it all hang out, as it did in today’s editorial on Israel and Iran:

Israeli leaders are again talking about possible military action against Iran. This is, at best, mischievous and, at worst, irresponsible, especially when diplomacy has time to run.

Let’s see: recent intelligence reports are said to put Iran closer to the bomb than ever. Diplomacy has been ongoing with Iran for a decade, and Iran has made steady progress towards nuclear weapons. Sanctions — which “have not set back the Iranian program by one iota,” according to PM Netanyahuare best compared to Swiss cheese, with 20 nations, including all of Iran’s major trading partners, having received waivers, and rogue financial institutions facilitating their violation.

Time, and therefore continued diplomacy, is on Iran’s side. Considering that the attainment of nuclear weapons is seen as a top-priority national goal, and understanding that  unhappiness on the part of the Iranian middle class isn’t likely to deter a regime that is prepared to shoot down demonstrators (as it did in 2009), the Times’ contention that diplomacy and sanctions may yet stop Iran is what’s “irresponsible.”

Let’s not leave out estimates, well known to Israeli leaders, that Israel would suffer greatly from the consequences of attacking Iran — both casualties and major economic damage. They would not contemplate such action unless they believed that the alternative was far worse.

The editorial continues:

It is impossible to know what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is planning or why he has ignored American entreaties to give diplomacy a reasonable chance. There is, however, persistent speculation in Israel that Mr. Netanyahu wants to attack in the coming weeks in the belief that President Obama will be forced to support the decision because of his political needs in his re-election campaign. Such a move would be outrageously cynical.

Boy, do they have it backwards. Clearly the White House is applying maximum pressure (more than mere ‘entreaties’) to prevent Israel from doing anything upsetting before the election, regardless of Israel’s security imperatives. This is what is “outrageously cynical!” Unfortunately, Israel feels that it must strike in self-preservation before the hostile Obama has free rein to act on his demonstrated anti-Israel beliefs.

The editorial continues with some remarkably weak arguments against Israeli action. I won’t bother to quote any more; you can read it yourself. The important thing to keep in mind is that Israel would not undertake this, with all the possible negative consequences and dangers, foreseen and unforeseen, unless its leaders felt that there was no other alternative consistent with the continued survival of the Jewish state.

The Obama Administration has made the judgment that the danger to Israel is more than offset by the danger to the President’s reelection.

And its Pravda chimes in.

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The greatest misconception

Sunday, August 12th, 2012

The single greatest misconception about the conflict between Israel and its neighbors is that it’s about the Palestinians. A corollary to this is the idea that creating a Palestinian state would be a step toward peace.

Focusing on the relations between Israel and the Palestinians turns the conflict inside out. In fact it is driven by the absolute rejection of a Jewish state in the Middle East by all the Muslim nations in the region, which dates back to the beginning of Zionism, before the founding of the state of Israel, before the development of specifically Palestinian nationalism, and long before the 1967 war.

This rejection was founded on religious principles and ethnic hatred, and has been aggressively nurtured over the years by various parties — Muslim leaders, the Nazis, British colonialists and the Soviets — and has developed a mythical history whose consequence is that the honor of the Muslim nations and the purity of the land can only be regained by extirpating Jewish sovereignty.

A huge amount of anti-Israel propaganda and psychological warfare, much of which was guided by the Soviet KGB, amplified the conflict. In the Arab world, such things as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the idea that Israel or international Jewry perpetrated 9/11 (in order to blame it on Arabs), and numerous accusations that Westerners would call ‘crazy’, are accepted as non-controversial truths.

Since 1967, the international Left — especially including Jewish and Israeli leftists — has adopted the Palestinian cause and accepted the historical myth about Israel’s creation as ethnic cleansing of a Palestinian nation. While not as gullible as the Arabs, the Left is prepared to believe almost any accusation about Israeli mistreatment of Palestinians, including stories about massacres, murders of Palestinian children, etc.

Both Muslims and the Left have been sufficiently impacted by anti-Jewish and anti-Israel brainwashing to the point that they are not able to evaluate information inputs about the subject rationally. Israel, for them, is the Devil.

For those of us who still have open minds, the explanatory power of the idea that the basis of the conflict is the existence of a Jewish state and not the lack of a Palestinian one, is obvious.

The Arab states have been historically unfriendly to the Palestinian Arabs. During the War of Independence, they encouraged the flight of Arabs from Israeli-held territory. After the war they repressed Palestinian nationalism in their territories except insofar as guerrillas could be used against Israel. Egyptian rule in Gaza was particularly brutal and oppressive. Arab nations except Jordan never gave Palestinians citizenship, and in some cases (e.g., Lebanon and Saudi Arabia), placed restrictions on residence, employment and education that can only be called apartheid. Jordan and Lebanon fought mini-wars against the PLO, and Kuwait and Saudi Arabia expelled Palestinians after the Gulf War.

If the Arab nations had wanted a Palestinian state in the territories, they could have established one in 1948-67. But that was (almost) the last thing they wanted! Instead, they fought every initiative to integrate Palestinian refugees, so that they could be used as a weapon against Israel.

Even the Palestinian leadership itself famously turned down the possibility of sovereignty in 1938, 1947, 2000-1, and 2008. They tell us that the offers weren’t good enough — they lied about the content of the Camp David offer, according to US negotiator Dennis Ross — but one would think that a people thirsting for a state would take an offer, even if it was initially less than what they hoped for (the Jews did).

These facts are mystifying if you think that the conflict is based on the ‘need’ for a Palestinian state. But the mystery vanishes when you understand that it is all about the existence of a Jewish state.

No technocratic compromise which would create a Palestinian state while keeping a Jewish one has ever been acceptable to the Palestinians. Currently, they keep coming up with preconditions which prevent negotiations from taking place. Why? Because they know that Israel will not agree to commit suicide. Better to get what they can unilaterally from the UN.

Today the military forces poised against Israel come primarily from Iran and its proxy Hizballah, as well as a Syrian regime that is more and more propped up by Iran. Iranian propaganda, of course, pays lip service to the Palestinians, but is mainly focused on the idea that Zionism must be destroyed, and not that Palestine should be established. It goes without saying that if Iran launches its threatened missile war against Israel, Palestinian Arabs on both sides of the Green Line will be in harm’s way.

If a Palestinian state were created in the territories, neither the Arab nations and Iran or the Palestinians would be satisfied. Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority has said that in that case he would press further claims against Israel — for right of return, etc. — in the UN and international courts. Proponents of Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions (BDS) have also made it clear that only right of return and the de-Zionisation of Israel would be a reason to call off their actions. And Hizballah claims that Israel is still ‘occupying’ Lebanese territory even after the UN carefully delimited the border.

It is not about ‘Palestine’, it is about Israel.

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Time to let go of the two-state idea

Thursday, August 9th, 2012

Rabbi Eric Yoffie, formerly the head of the Union for Reform Judaism believes that “Israel is losing the battle for public opinion in America.”

But the point is that we are now seeing, even as the threat from Iran escalates, a broad spectrum of respectable, pro-Israel opinion that is emphatically suggesting the need, right now, for some movement by Israel on the Palestinian issue. And it is not idealistic dreaming; every one of these voices talks about the poisonous nature of Palestinian politics and makes clear that the failure to achieve peace cannot be placed primarily at Israel’s door.

Why are we hearing these voices at this moment? I am not entirely sure.

It has to do, I suspect, with the cumulative impact of a 45 year occupation; with the fundamental illogic of Israel’s government calling for a two-state solution and then building settlements in a way that makes such a solution far less likely; and with the sense that Israel’s moral standing is being gradually eroded and that this is a tragedy. But this too: They know that Israel must be seen at all times as aggressively pursuing peace, and fairly or otherwise, that is not the case now. (my emphasis)

Rabbi Yoffie, I think, greatly weakens his case by using as his “exhibit A” NY Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman, calling him “a centrist, a moderate, and, by the way, the most important foreign policy columnist in the world.” Friedman is none of the above, unless ‘important’ means that he is better paid than, for example, Barry Rubin, who differs from Friedman by basing his analysis on knowledge rather than prejudice and the ‘line’ pushed by his employer.

But let’s leave the hackish Friedman, who revealed himself when he said that the standing ovation Netanyahu received from a joint session of Congress in 2011 was “bought and paid for by the Israel lobby,” aside, and turn to Yoffie’s argument.

Rabbi Yoffie points to “an important group of public intellectuals” who take this position. There certainly are such people here in the US and among the academic-media-left complex in Israel who continue to call for Israeli concessions.

But — and this is my first point in response to Yoffie — they get absolutely no traction in Israel, which is assuredly where the rubber hits the road. The parties to the left of the Likud have almost no hope in coming elections, and the support they do have is almost entirely based on social or economic — not security — issues.

In other words, most ordinary Israelis don’t agree. One would think that Yoffie, who criticizes Dani Dayan of the Judea-Samaria council for supposedly not being concerned with democracy, would respect the democratically elected and popularly supported government of Israel.

My second point is that the idea that Israeli concessions on settlements in Judea/Samaria or eastern Jerusalem are good policy has been proven wrong in the 19 years since the Oslo agreements. The Camp David/Taba offers and the withdrawal from Gaza were met by violence. The continued anti-Israel and anti-Jewish incitement from the Palestinian Authority (PA), the insistence on a right of return, the refusal to accept Israel as the state of the Jewish people, the demands for the release of convicted murderers, the honor accorded by the leaders of the PA to terrorists like Dalal Mughrabi and Samir Kuntar, all indicate that the PA has not deviated from the ideology of Yasser Arafat or from the ‘phased plan’ to destroy the Jewish state.

Israel has made one withdrawal and concession after another, has supported the PA financially and protected it from Hamas, and it has never responded except by making more demands. There is no future in making unreciprocated concessions to the PA.

But it is not only the PA that is insatiable. One hears that “if only Israel would…” then the ‘international community’ would see that Israel is committed to peace and the ball would be in the Palestinian court. But this never happens. Israel agrees to a settlement freeze in Judea and Samaria, but the Palestinians won’t negotiate because it doesn’t include East Jerusalem; and suddenly Joe Biden is ‘deeply insulted’ because Israel announced plans to build apartments in a Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem.

My third point is that not only do concessions endanger security without bringing peace any closer, they damage Israel’s legitimate legal rights, both in Judea/Samaria and west of the Green Line. The implication of a freeze that applies to Jewish, but not Arab, construction is that the Jewish right to live there is questionable.

The legitimacy in international law of Jewish settlement in the area between the Mediterranean and the Jordan comes from the adoption of the League of Nations Mandate, which called for ‘close settlement’ of Jews on the land in order to create a “national home” for the Jewish people. This applies on both sides of the Green Line. If Jews are not permitted to build east of the line, what justifies building west of it?

The 1949 armistice lines have no significance as borders, and the claim that territory to the east of the line is “Palestinian land” is equivalent to saying that the Jordanian invasion, ethnic cleansing of Jews and occupation of 1949-1967 made it so. How could this be?

Pseudo-legal quibbles with no practical significance? I don’t think so. Once one abdicates principle, there is no justification for practice that depends on it. On the other hand, insisting upon one’s rights does not imply that at some later date — if there were a Palestinian leadership actually prepared to accept a Jewish state — it would be possible to cede territory. But you can’t begin a negotiation by surrendering your rights.

Israel has already given up much by accepting its opponents’ characterization of the Jewish presence in Judea/Samaria as a military occupation. Now the Levy commission has made it possible to redefine Israel’s relationship to the territories, and the government should adopt its report and firmly stand behind its legal rights.

Finally, where is the urgency that requires Israel to imperil itself today, when the Iranian threat is about to come to a head, when Syria is imploding, when Egypt has decided to ‘reevaluate’ its peace treaty, when the Sinai has become a jihadist playground and the Syrian Golan may be next, when Turkey has gone from an ally to a hostile power, when Hizballah has de facto control of Lebanon and may shortly get its hands on Syrian WMD — do I have to continue?

It is remarkable that Rabbi Yoffie finds it possible to bring up “the needs of the Palestinians” while suggesting a path that can only end in the expulsion of Jews from their homes and which, given the players, is positively guaranteed not to bring peace — and at a time when Israel’s security is under unprecedented threat.

I believe that there are alternatives that Yoffie and others have not considered that need not lead to a forced choice between a Jewish or democratic Israel. This piece is already too long, but the general idea is that a solution to the question of Israel’s eastern border must primarily take into consideration Israel’s security needs, its historical rights and existing Jewish and Arab populations. “The needs of the Palestinians” are not top priority (sorry, not after decades of terrorism).

“Israel’s moral standing” is not necessarily enhanced by failing to stand up for its legal rights and by, in effect, selling out the Jewish people by surrendering to pressure from an international community that is more interested in pleasing Arab oil producers than in the survival of the Jews (indeed, many are interested in the opposite). Moral standing comes not only from readiness to compromise — which Israel has demonstrated in spades — but in maintaining self-respect (and its practical counterpart, deterrence).

After 19 years I think it’s time to put the “two-state solution” aside. It may be the case that the continued existence of a Jewish state is simply incompatible with a hostile sovereign Palestinian state a few miles from its population centers.

If that’s so, then maybe, finally, the Palestinians will have to make difficult choices, too.

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Wednesday, August 8th, 2012

I’m beginning to think that if Mitt Romney were overheard ordering scrambled eggs for breakfast, it would be reported as a “gaffe.”

First, he said that the Brits weren’t properly prepared to host the Olympics. Well, a) as the head of the 2002 Winter Games committee, he should know, and b) ask any resident of London.

Next, his press secretary told an incredibly annoying reporter, who was shouting insulting questions at Romney at the Polish tomb of the unknown soldier, to “kiss my ass.” While this was not technically a Romney gaffe, it was called a ‘gaffe’ nevertheless. But watch the video and see if you wouldn’t have said the same thing, or worse.

Then he went on to commit the unpardonable sin of recognizing reality and calling Jerusalem the capital of Israel. While this has been the case since Israel’s declaration of independence in 1948, the Obama Administration insists that this is a matter for “final status negotiations,” in effect making Jerusalem’s status dependent on Palestinian Arab approval!

After that we had the unexceptionable claim that economic success is related to culture. Well, isn’t it? Especially when the comparison is between Israel and the Palestinians.

The argument seems to be that the US can’t afford to anger the Palestinians (they anger easily), or they won’t cooperate. But they are not cooperating now, and one of the reasons is that the US encourages them to continue living in a dream world in which they will have a right of return to Israel, that Israel is not the state of the Jewish people, that Israel will withdraw to the 1949 cease-fire lines, etc.

A more realistic position from the US may not make the Arabs more likely to compromise, but at least we can be spared the cognitive dissonance of watching administration spokespeople ducking and weaving (short video here) to avoid the simple truth.

Did I mention that he said that Israel could use “any and all measures” to defend itself against Iran? That is supposedly a gaffe, too. What’s the alternative, suicide?

Now Romney has said that

It’s individuals and their entrepreneurship which have driven America. What America is not is a collective where we all work in a kibbutz or we all in some little entity … Instead, it’s individuals pursuing their dreams and building successful enterprises which employ others and they become inspired as they see what has happened in the place they work and go off and start their own enterprises.

Is this supposed to be upsetting to Israelis? Apparently the LA Times reporter who wrote the story thinks so, adding that there might be a “flap” about the remark.

What’s to flap about? Keep in mind that Israel’s recent success as a high-tech powerhouse has come after the economy underwent a major shift from one in which major industries were socialized to a free-market model. This is not the only reason, but it’s certainly part of it.

For that matter, Israelis are not especially enamored with the classical kibbutz. Since the 1980’s, kibbutzim in Israel have moved away from socialist or communist principles. Today almost all of them are ‘privatized’, with members earning salaries according to their jobs, children living with their parents, etc.  Even in their heyday, no more than about 3.5% of Israel’s population were kibbutzniks. Much of the success of the kibbutzim came as a result of subsidies provided by successive Labor governments, and not every Israeli considered the kibbutz — with its enforced limitations on individual choice in many areas — as the model for an ideal community.

Could it be that the media are by and large unfair to Romney? No, impossible!

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