Archive for October, 2007

Some core issues

Wednesday, October 31st, 2007

As the Annapolis conference approaches, Israel and the Palestinians (Abbas faction) disagree about whether to try to decide ‘core issues’ (borders, refugees, Jerusalem) or, as Israel prefers, just to produce a general statement of principles.

Abbas is pushing hard for core issues, but the version of his bottom line that he has so far presented is unacceptable to Israel: full withdrawal to 1967 borders including all of East Jerusalem, return of refugees and their descendants to Israel, Palestinian sovereignty over the Temple Mount and Western Wall, etc.

Ami Isseroff thinks that Israel is making a mistake in trying to avoid discussing the core issues, but he thinks that Israel should be the one to lay down the bottom lines. Here are his ideas for an Israeli core proposal:

Liquidation of the refugee problem – This was deliberately created and is artificially maintained as a tool for destroying Israel. This was explicitly stated at a Fateh Web site until not long ago in so many words: “The refugee issue is the winning card that will mean the end of the state of Israel.” Everyone knows it is so, yet the UN, including the EU and the United States, continue to support the UNRWA, which perpetuates the refugee problem, and treats Arab refugees from Palestine differently from every other refugee population in the world. Termination of this situation is a key requirement for peace.

Recognition of the right of the Jewish people to self-determination and the right of Israel to exist as the state of the Jewish people – Until today, this right has never been recognized by any Arab country including those who made peace with Israel, and it was not recognized by the Palestinians either. The right of Israel to exist was recognized [this can be disputed — ed.], but this recognition was a cover for the plan to flood Israel with Arab “refugees.”

Recognition that the Jewish people and the State of Israel have historic rights in Jerusalem – The internationalization of Jerusalem must come off the international agenda. Jerusalem is holy to many religions, but in all history, except for the short-lived crusader state, Jerusalem was only the capital city of one nation – the Jewish nation. We cannot expect that the Palestinians will recognize any Jewish rights in East Jerusalem if the United States doesn’t recognize any Jewish rights in any part of Jerusalem.

A declaration that wanton murder of civilians is illegitimate – The Palestinians agreed to an end to violence in the Oslo accords, but did not keep their word.

The above conditions must be met if there is to be peace. They must be implemented by declarations in Arabic as well as in English for the benefit of foreigners, and more important, by sincere actions. These must include a total cessation of the systematic incitement and racism that is rife in Palestinian society and the Arab world. No more Nakba commemoration parades with posters reading “Haifa,” “Beisan,” “Birsaba,” “Yaffo.” No more maps that show all of Israel as Palestine. No more kiddie shows of children willing to blow themselves up to “liberate” Jerusalem. No more TV shows and newspaper articles about the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and Jews baking Matzot from the blood of Christian children. No more sermons about God destroying the Jewish sons of dogs and monkeys.

Israel in effect is saying “we are not an obstacle to peace; we are prepared to make an agreement on borders that will allow for a Palestinian state, but we will not accept, explicitly or implicitly (by allowing incitement) your definition of our state as illegitimate”.

These principles have to be Israel’s bottom line, but they obviously aren’t sufficient conditions for a deal. An agreement that won’t be kept is far worse than no agreement at all, just a prescription for war. Can we ask Israel to withdraw from territory that will be difficult or impossible to reoccupy in the event that the Palestinians don’t live up to a commitment to end violent attacks on Israel? How can this be guaranteed when Abbas doesn’t even control Fatah extremists, not to mention Hamas?

It’s hard to understand the logic of the Europeans and others who want Israel to sign on the dotted line on the assumption that that the Palestinians will act in good faith, given their track record until now.

So yes, here are the core principles. But I think an actual deal has to wait for the day that there is some stability on the other side, and a reason to believe that agreements will — or even can — be honored.

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The Fence

Tuesday, October 30th, 2007

After construction began on the security fence, the usual suspects started screaming bloody murder: Apartheid segregation wall! Ethnic cleansing! Bantustans! Land grab!

I realized the significance of this immediately. The fence, if effective, would take away the Palestinians’ best weapon, terrorism or the threat of terrorism. No wonder that Israel-haters like Noam Chomsky, Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, the International Solidarity Movement, etc. were livid!

And as a matter of fact, it was effective. During the Second Intifada, a close friend of mine served in a special unit of the security forces. Their primary task was to intercept terrorists infiltrating from the territories. They travelled all over the country, day and night. They never saw their families, but they stopped far more bombers than got through. Some days there were literally dozens of alerts.

And as the security fence was built, their job got easier. The suicide bombers and others could not cross where the fence was finished, so they had to go around it. It was easier to patrol the open areas than the whole border. But there still were some infiltrations from areas where the fence was not complete, and some of them were successful.

It would seem that finishing the fence is a no-brainer. No matter how good the Palestinians get at rocket science, it’s still easier, cheaper, and more accurate for the terrorist groups to send a dupe with an explosive belt than to hit something with a rocket. An unbroken fence might save dozens, or even hundreds of Israeli lives if it prevents a handful of suicide bombings.

So I was extremely disheartened to read the following:

Not a single kilometer of the West Bank security fence has been completed in the past four months…

This week, the Defense Ministry told three contractors with signed agreements worth NIS 100 million not to begin scheduled work on the fence in the South Hebron Hills – due to lack of funds…

Last year, the Defense Ministry completed 102 km. of the fence. Some 10 months into 2007, however, only an additional 48 km. – just 6 percent of the entire planned route of the fence – have been completed…

Earlier this year, the estimated target date for the project’s completion was moved from 2008 to 2010 – meaning it will take the government eight years to build the fence which was first approved by the cabinet in 2002. — Jerusalem Post

Is there actually a lack of funds? Of course the Defense Ministry has many expensive projects, such as developing anti-missile systems, countering new Russian weapons in the hands of Hezbollah, and rebuilding ground forces decimated by years of neglect. Like everything, it’s a question of priorities, and for some reason the government does not give this a high priority.

Could it be that the reason is political? Could it be that the campaign by the Palestinians and their friends to help them keep their best, cheapest, most accurate weapon have borne fruit, perhaps via the US State Department?

Maybe the Defense Ministry is simply tired of the hundreds of legal challenges to the route of the fence?

It’s too important for that. My suggestion is that the existing parts of the fence should be left where they are for the time being, to be revisited after the rest is complete. The Ministry should be flexible about the proposed route, but speed of construction needs to be a priority.

A leaky bucket is better than no bucket, but an intact one is better still.

Fence Statistics

(courtesy of Jewish Virtual Library)

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Physical and virtual war with Hamas are inevitible

Tuesday, October 30th, 2007

War noises from Gaza:

Hamas official Sheikh Ahmad Hamdan of Khan Yunis said Tuesday that he recently met with [Muhammed] Deif in the fugitive’s hiding place. According to Hamdan, Deif, leader of Hamas’s Izzadin a-Kassam armed wing, told him that in the next few weeks, his group would initiate an attack against the “Israeli occupation, and not remain on the defensive.”

The report of the Izzadin a-Kassam leader’s alleged plans comes after Brig.-Gen. Moshe (Chico) Tamir, head of the Gaza Division, said Monday that Hamas was trying to establish a bunker system as well as fortified rocket-launching and surveillance positions along the security fence with the Gaza Strip.

“They are trying to dig tunnels, build surveillance positions and mortar-fire stations along the fence,” Tamir told reporters during a briefing concerning the death of IDF reservist Ehud Efrati during clashes with Hamas gunmen early Monday morning. “They are trying to build this up and we are trying to stop them.”

Unless Israel strikes first:

“Every day that passes brings us closer to a broad operation in Gaza,” [Defense Minister Ehud] Barak told Army Radio.

“We are not happy to do it, we’re not rushing to do it, and we’ll be happy if circumstances succeed in preventing it,” he said. “But the time is approaching when we’ll have to undertake a broad operation in Gaza.” — Jerusalem Post

Although it is possible that someday Israel will find a modus vivendi with the majority of Palestinians and even her Arab neighbors, it will never, ever come to one with Hamas, whose reason for being is to destroy Israel. Since there is no reason to believe that Hamas will wither away by itself — it’s well nourished by Israel’s enemies — then war is a certainty.

The Israeli leadership needs to understand that in addition to the physical combat, there will be a media war that will be as important or more so. Although Israel will have military superiority, she will be fighting the information battles at a huge disadvantage — because of previous failures in this realm.

Hamas almost certainly will deploy battalions of media relations experts. They will spin every incident, invent massacres that didn’t happen, and “kill” hundreds of Mohammed al-Duras. Their propaganda commandos will perform audacious acts like recycling already-dead bodies from morgues and creating non-existent hospitals that they can accuse Israel of having bombed. All of these seeds will fall onto the fertile fields of reporters from the UK Guardian, AFP, NPR, the BBC, CNN, and so forth, where they will sprout into media disasters.

To coin a phrase, winning physically isn’t everything — the ultimate outcome will depend in great measure on the virtual war, its effect on opinion and ultimately the policies of the major players on the world stage.

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NPR in Gaza

Tuesday, October 30th, 2007

Some time ago, I took National Public Radio (NPR) to task for employing what I’ve come to call the Emotive Bias Technique in its reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This morning, reporter Eric Westervelt provided another perfect example (as if any more are needed).

Westervelt interviews an ‘ordinary Gazan’, Salahadin al-Sultan, owner of a grocery store in Beit Hanoun, one of the prime locations from which Qassam rockets are fired daily at southern Israel.

Sultan shows him that there is almost nothing in the store, and that he has even had to sell off much of his family’s possessions to survive. This is because Israel — after the Hamas takeover — has “tightened its crossing points into the territories” (Westervelt does not mention that Hamas often attacks the crossings with mortar fire), so that “only limited humanitarian food and medical supplies are getting in”. What is getting in since Hamas took over, of course, are explosives — 112 tons of them — but he leaves this out too.

Westervelt admits that rockets are continuing to be fired into Israel, and so “Israel has declared Gaza a hostile entity” and is “tightening the screws”. Then we go back to Sultan, whose customers are unemployed or “government workers” (most of whom were likely employed by the ‘security services’) who get only partial salaries. Most of Sultan’s furniture is gone, sold to pay for food and bills. Sultan’s wife’s gold jewelry has been sold and — you can hear the heartstrings twanging — also his wedding ring.

A child passes with a donkey cart, selling vegetables from “forlorn boxes”, carefully driving around a refilled crater produced by an Israeli bomb not far from the shop. The explosion smashed his windows. We don’t know what the rocket launchers which must have been there did to Sderot. At one point, so many rockets were launched from Beit Hanoun, that angry residents wanted the army to return random barrage for barrage. Of course, the army only targets launchers and their operators.

The Emotive Bias Technique depends on the human propensity to remember emotionally loaded experiences much more than the recitation of facts. So Sultan’s depressing situation, his lost wedding ring, the child skirting the crater with his miserable vegetables — these make an impression. The matter-of-fact statement that, yes, rockets are being fired from Beit Hanoun does not.

In addition to Emotive Bias, Westervelt leaves out important context. Hamas is spending huge sums of money smuggling explosives and weapons into the strip, building fortifications near the border, digging tunnels under the border to attack Israel, manufacturing rockets, etc. This money could be spent on ameliorating economic conditions in Gaza, if Hamas wished to do so. Israel’s “tightening the screws” is a direct result of the rocket and mortar fire, sniping, and attempts to kidnap Israelis that are occurring every day. If Hamas would stop them, the restrictions would stop too.

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Israel should stop shooting herself in the foot

Monday, October 29th, 2007

The Jerusalem Post reports:

Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz on Monday rejected for the time being the Defense Ministry’s intention of causing power shortages in the Gaza Strip as a punitive measure [my emphasis] for rocket attacks against Israeli communities, the Justice Ministry announced.

Mazuz gave the green light for various economic sanctions including cutting economic and commercial ties with the Gaza Strip. However, as far as the army and defense ministry’s intention of cutting power supplies to Gaza was concerned, Mazuz said more planning work had to be done before the decision could be carried out. This, “in order to look into the possibility of implementing the measure so that it would be in keeping with the government’s decision [of Sept. 19.] That decision restricted sanctions so that they would not cause humanitarian harm to the civilian population.”

According to an example provided by Channel 10 news, Mazuz instructed the army to determine how to warn Gaza hospitals of its intention to cut electricity in enough time so that the hospitals could turn on their own generators.

I wrote recently that Israel is not required to supply fuel and power to a hostile entity, which is at this very moment at war with her, firing rockets, attempting to breach her border, and engaging her soldiers in combat.

As has been pointed out elsewhere, rockets are being fired from Gaza directly at the power station in Ashkelon where the electricity used to make the rockets is generated!

Rather than simply stopping delivery of fuel and electricity, the policy seems to be to produce a calibrated amount of discomfort to force Hamas to change its behavior.

First of all, this won’t work. Hamas is indifferent to the discomfort of those that are not aligned with it, and will divert any available supplies to meet its own needs.

Second, it sets an unfortunate precedent. It seems as though Israel accepts the opinion of Ban Ki-moon, for example, that Israel is responsible for the welfare of Gazans.

Third, from a public relations standpoint it is idiotic. It both weakens Israel’s position and opens it to the charge of collective punishment — which of course is not limited to critics outside of Israel, but is now being taken up by the Attorney General!

Israel should stop shooting herself in the foot. Turn off the power and stop fuel deliveries. Let Hamas bring in fuel and power by way of the multitude of tunnels under the Egyptian border, through which have passed 112 tons of explosives since Israel withdrew from Gaza.

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