Archive for June, 2009

US to Israel: No part of Jerusalem belongs to you

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

By Vic Rosenthal

A few weeks ago, I wrote (“US State Department agrees with Hamas“) about the continuing refusal of the US to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. I explained that this has nothing to do with territory occupied in 1967,  because West Jerusalem, where the seat of Israel’s government is located, became part of Israel in 1948. I said,

West Jerusalem was not included as part of the Jewish state in the partition resolution of 1947 — all of Jerusalem was supposed to be under UN control. But when the armistice agreements were signed in April 1949, Jerusalem was divided between the new state of Israel and Jordan, and the UN zone had evaporated. Nevertheless, in December 1949, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution [303] calling for Jerusalem to be a corpus separatum administered by the UN as in the original resolution, despite opposition from Israel, Jordan and the US.

The Arabists of the State Department, however, seeing a chance to stick it to Israel, maintained for years that only the UN can dispose of Jerusalem. Here is a 1962 statement of the position:

…the status of Jerusalem is a matter of United Nations concern and no member of the United Nations should take any action to prejudice the United Nations interest in this question. Our objective has been to keep the Jerusalem question an open one and to prevent its being settled solely through the processes of attrition and fait accompli to the exclusion of international interest and an eventual final expression thereof presumably through the United Nations.

After the Oslo agreement, the State Department switched to saying “the final status of Jerusalem must be determined by negotiation between the parties [Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA)]”. But note that all of Jerusalem is still in play according to them, and therefore they refuse to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

As far as I can tell, this situation is unprecedented. It’s unimaginable that Israel would give West Jerusalem to the Arabs in a final settlement, and even the PA doesn’t claim West Jerusalem (at least not in public).

But it’s not just a question of the US Embassy. As Yisrael Medad points out, the State Department refuses to admit that someone born in any part of Jerusalem was born in Israel:

As American citizens are aware, their children, if born in Jerusalem, whether west Jerusalem or east, I emphasize, are not recognized by the US State Department as being born in Israel. Their birth certificates and subsequently, their passports, will list the “place of birth” as simply “Jerusalem”, a seemingly stateless location.

This rule is recorded in the US Department of State Foreign Affairs Manual Volume 7 – Consular Affairs 7 FAM 1300 Appendix D which notes:

For a person born in Jerusalem, write JERUSALEM as the place of birth in the passport. Do not write Israel, Jordan or West Bank for a person born within the current municipal borders of Jerusalem…For persons born after May 14, 1948 in a location that was outside Jerusalem’s municipal limits and later was annexed by the city, it is acceptable to enter the name of the location (area/city) as it was known prior to annexation.

Simply, the US does not admit that Israel has sovereignty in Jerusalem. Note that this treatment does not extend to other places which were not part of the Jewish state in the original UN partition plan of 1947, such as Ashkelon and Nahariya. Only Jerusalem merits this treatment, I presume by virtue of being a corpus separatum as called for in UN resolution 303 (December 1949).

Now the US continuing to pay homage to a 1949 resolution that it voted against, that the parties involved strongly opposed, that the UN itself never seriously tried to implement, and that has been de facto inoperative for sixty years is ridiculous. And it isn’t surprising that at some point the State Department decided to ignore it.

But the replacement policy — that the fate of all of Jerusalem will be settled by negotiation between ‘the parties’ — is more than ridiculous, it’s outrageous.

Imagine if suddenly various countries decided that Washington DC did not belong to the US, but would need to be disposed of by negotiations between it and the Conoy Indian tribe (which I’m sure was not properly compensated when the capital was built).

At a time when the US is demanding a great deal from Israel in pursuit of its own interests in the Arab world, it would not be out of line for Israel to demand something as simple as recognition of its capital in return.

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Obama going hands-on with Israel

Monday, June 29th, 2009

Some of the worst disasters in American foreign policy have been caused by attempts to intervene in the politics of other nations, about which US policymakers almost invariably have zero understanding.

For example, in 2003 the US military crushed Saddam’s forces almost as fast as our vehicles could drive — and then handed the country over to an ‘authority’ which had no clue about the basic ethnic politics of Iraq, had few Arabic speakers, and based its decisions on imaginative wishful thinking. The ensuing chaos could have been predicted.

Sometimes the meddling takes a slightly more benign form than an actual invasion, with clandestine attempts to promote favored policies, to help or hurt particular factions or even to install leaders favorable to American interests. It’s been suggested that in Israel the US worked (unsuccessfully) for Peres against Netanyahu in 1996, and supported Olmert in 2006.

The primary goal of Obama Administration policy toward Israel and the Palestinians seems to be to get Israel out of most or all of the West Bank. For some reason, probably relations with — or even secret commitments to — some Arab states, this is a high priority for the US despite the huge difficulties.

This implies several intermediate objectives:

  • Start Israel-PA negotiations. The PA has insisted upon preconditions, namely a settlement freeze and agreement to a “two-state solution”, and the administration has accepted them. Therefore, Israel must be persuaded to go along.
  • Solve the Hamas problem. No agreement without Hamas will stand as long as it is the most popular Palestinian party and directly controls 40% of the territory. Although the best solution would have been for Israel to be allowed to finish off the organization in the recent war, this did not happen — probably because of a combination of Israeli timidity and US pressure. So the administration’s solution is to ‘moderate’ Hamas, either by getting them to agree to some form of the Quartet’s conditions (recognize Israel, renounce violence, accept prior agreements) or by weakening the conditions and accepting a long-term truce instead.

As I’ve written before, a successful agreement under present conditions is unattainable. The ‘two-state solution’ that Israel will accept includes a demilitarized Palestinian state which recognizes Israel as the state of the Jewish people. The PA will not accept either condition, nor will it give up ‘right of return’. Hamas will not agree to any form of the Quartet conditions, and even if it pretends to, it’s unimaginable that Israel would enter into an agreement with a PA that includes Hamas — except perhaps under extreme pressure.

But the Obama Administration is set on its goal, and seems to see the obstacles as mostly caused by Israeli stubbornness. It does not wish to leave anything to chance, especially where the notoriously unpredictable politics of Israel is concerned, and so it is taking unprecedented steps to control Israel’s behavior. Caroline Glick described the method a few weeks ago:

Unlike previous presidential envoys who have come to Israel every few weeks and then disappeared when reality proved stronger than their peace fantasies, Obama has ordered Mitchell to cast reality to the seven winds and set up a permanent forward command post in Jerusalem directly subordinate to the White House.

To fulfill his writ, Mitchell has appointed four deputies – all known for their open sympathy for the Palestinians and their hostility to the Netanyahu government. They are Mara Rudman, of the George Soros-financed Center for American Progress; Lt.-Gen. Keith Dayton, who is now building a Fatah army in Jordan which he recently acknowledged will turn its American-financed guns on Israel within a few short years if Israel refuses to establish a Jew-free Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria; Fred Hoff, one of the greatest champions of a US-Syrian rapprochement and of an Israeli surrender of the Golan Heights; and David Hale, the architect of the current US policy of rebuilding the Hizbullah-infested Lebanese army. Hale will be permanently stationed in Jerusalem in a large office suite that will house Mitchell’s operation.

…the administration is building an apparatus designed to prevent Israel from exercising independent judgments about its tactical and strategic challenges and deny it the ability to secure its interests without US involvement and consent.

The apparatus reportedly includes members of every US security, foreign policy and intelligence body. These officers will be stationed in Israel and will report to Mitchell, who in turn will report to [National Security Advisor Gen. James] Jones and Obama. Each officer will be assigned to coordinate with Israeli counterparts in mirror organizations, including the IDF, the Shin Beit, the Mossad, the police and every other relevant Israeli body…

The administration is building its supreme headquarters in Jerusalem to enable Mitchell to act like a colonial governor and confront the unruly Jewish natives – not to cut a deal with us.

This is augmented by the American-operated x-band radar installation in the Negev, which can keep close tabs on “anything that flies” in and around Israeli airspace, including small objects like drones. This radar unit with its 120 operators and security personnel marks the first time US troops have been permanently stationed in Israel.

I suggest that Israel should worry if the US is establishing a significant diplomatic and military presence there. It would be an exaggeration to say “think Saigon or Baghdad” at this point, but given the combination of ignorance and hostility toward Israel that characterizes many in the administration, it’s an unfortunate trend.

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The Czechs weren’t invited to Munich, either

Friday, June 26th, 2009

News item:

Foreign ministers of Group of Eight countries urged Israel to halt all settlement construction in the West Bank Friday, during a meeting in Italy largely focusing on recent events in Iran. They also called on Israelis and Palestinians to renew direct negotiations over all disputed issues.

Also meeting Friday on the sidelines of the summit is the Mideast Quartet – the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations – to try to help move the Israeli-Palestinian peace process forward…

A range of Arab League nations will join in a follow-on session Friday afternoon. Israel was not invited; the Italian Foreign Ministry said that decision was taken by the Quartet, not Italy.

The BBC reports that the Quartet has also asked for Israel “to stop all West Bank settlement building activity and to open its border crossings.”  Palestinians have demanded this as a precondition for resuming negotiations.

It’s almost too easy to point out that in 1938 the Czechs were not invited to the Munich conference either. Of course this meeting will not produce a document with such immediate impact on Israel as the Munich diktat had for Czechoslovakia, but the sense of powerful nations deciding the fate of a small one in consultation with its enemies remains.

If a Martian asked me why the ‘Quartet’ — the UN, EU, US and Russia — is particularly suited to bring about a just peace between Israel and the Palestinians, I would not be able to answer. The UN is dominated by Muslim and third-world countries and has been particularly hostile to Israel for decades. The EU’s member nations have important economic relationships with Arab oil producers, and also have political and psychological reasons for tilting toward the Palestinians. The EU quietly funds many NGOs whose output is significantly biased against Israel. Russia, a traditionally antisemitic nation, has economic ties with Iran and also feels threatened by Israel’s nuclear capability.

This leaves the US as the sole member of the Quartet that might be expected to support Israel, but it is becoming increasingly clear that the Obama Administration has few — if any — power centers opposed to the anti-Israel forces in the State Department, the CIA and the Pentagon (which has undergone significant changes since the early part of the previous administration). Add to this the fact that President Obama himself seems to be taking a tack designed to improve relations between the US and the Muslim world, and one wonders who will represent Israel’s interests in this group.

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Understanding Palestinians and Zionists

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

I once had a teacher of French who tried to motivate his students to read literature in the original. He liked to say, “there are three kinds of translators: those who do not know French, those who do not know English, and those who know neither English nor French.”

Similarly, I think that with a few exceptions there are three kinds of  Western Middle East experts:

  • Those who do not understand Arabs
  • Those who do not understand Jews
  • Those who understand neither Arabs nor Jews

Martin Indyk, who was Ambassador to Israel twice and a Mideast specialist on the National Security Council in the Clinton Administration, who writes and lectures on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is certainly considered an expert. But in a recent interview, I think he displays a poor understanding of Palestinians and Zionists (if not Arabs and Jews in general).

Q: Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak responded to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s speech at Bar-Ilan’s Begin-Sadat Center by saying that demanding of any Arab leader to recognize Israel as a Jewish state aborts the peace process. Given your diplomatic dealings with Mubarak, what do you think about that statement?

MI: It’s a pity that this issue has been raised in this way, because of course Israel is the state for the Jewish people. I mean, if it’s not that, what is it? In a two-state solution, with one of those states for the Palestinians, what is the other one for?

What indeed? If it were as self-evident as Indyk seems to think, then why do the Palestinians furiously deny it? Because, like everything about the Middle East, the idea of a two-state solution is ambiguous. Israelis see it as a compromise — a very painful one, because of the importance of the land to Jewish history and the need to evacuate Jewish residents. They see it in the traditional formulation as relinquishing land for peace, and the land that Israel gives up will belong to the Arabs.

The Palestinians see it as a compromise too, but an entirely different one: they are willing to permit Jews to live in part — but only part — of their land. They will not give up title to it, something which they would perceive as a massive humiliation. Here’s a comment made by Omar al-Ghul, an advisor to Palestinian Authority PM Salam Fayyad, which makes this crystal clear:

“No Palestinian leader can ever accept this demand [for recognition as a Jewish state] even if the whole world recognizes Israel as a Jewish state,” he stressed. “The state of Israel belongs to all its citizens, the Palestinians [sic] owners of the land and the Jews living there.”

Indyk continues,

So, while Israelis are trying to get a clear understanding of what exactly the Arabs are recognizing, the Arabs – whose narrative enables them to accept Israel as a state in general – do not accept the Zionist narrative. They therefore find it very hard to accept that kind of add-on to the requirement that they recognize Israel. They don’t accept that Israel was created, on the backs of the Palestinians, as an answer to the problem of the Holocaust – the very narrative that Obama talked about in his speech…

What they do not accept is Jewish sovereignty over any of the land between the river and the sea, although they might compromise on some Jewish occupancy. As is so often the case, Western wishful thinking has led many to attribute a position to the Palestinians that is far more advanced than anything they have actually contemplated agreeing to. Here is how I imagine the thinking of the ‘moderate’ wing of Fatah about the two-state solution:

Although the Zionist position that they have legitimate title to any of Palestine is false, for practical reasons we will agree to allow Jews to live in a strictly limited part of Palestine. But we think that any limitation on where Palestinians (including refugees) can live in Palestine is absurd. Therefore we will accept two states in the area, one which will be Palestine and where only Palestinians can live, and one which will be Israel, where Jews as well may live. 

This formulation explains the PA negotiators’ demands to not recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people, to insist on right of return and to expel every last Jewish resident from the Palestinian state.


There are practical matters that need immediate attention, particularly the need to resolve the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. In this context, it’s much more important to get the Palestinians to give up the right of return than to say that they accept Israel as a Jewish state.

What he misses is that these demands are inextricably linked in the ‘moderate’ Palestinian conception of the two-state solution, in which all of Palestine belongs to Palestinians, even if Jews live in part of it. In this scheme, refugees can ‘return’ to Israel because Israel is simply the part of Palestine where Jews are entitled to live.

It’s certain that they also think that the ultimate outcome of  such a two-state solution would be the absorption of Israel into Palestine.

And it’s also obvious that Indyk does not understand the Palestinian point of view.

What about Zionists? I am not sure exactly what Indyk thinks constitutes the “Zionist narrative”, but what he says

…that Israel was created, on the backs of the Palestinians, as an answer to the problem of the Holocaust – the very narrative that Obama talked about in his speech…

is far from being part of it. Israel may be the answer to the Holocaust in the sense that, for Zionists, a Jewish state is the ultimate insurance against future holocausts. But the idea that this constitutes the justification for the creation of the state of Israel as Obama suggested, is a profoundly non-Zionist concept.  If this is what Martin Indyk thinks Zionists think, then he does not understand them any better than he does Palestinians.

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Who controls the Temple Mount?

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

During the 19-year Jordanian occupation, Jews were not allowed to visit Judaism’s holy places in the West Bank and, in particular, in East Jerusalem.

Since the Palestinian Authority (PA) insists that East Jerusalem and especially the area of the Temple Mount must become part of ‘Palestine’ if there is a peace agreement, there is naturally some concern that an agreement would bring a return of these restrictions. Given that the PA insists that while Arabs may reside in Israel, all Jews must be evacuated from the Palestinian state, it’s not wholly paranoia to worry about this.

More evidence is that even today the Islamic Waqf, which controls the Temple Mount despite the fact that it is theoretically under Israeli sovereignty, attempts to control access by Jews (at least those from political parties that it dislikes):

Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch on Tuesday made a rare visit to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, drawing condemnations from the Islamic Waqf, who charged that the tour was a “provocation.”

Waqf Director Azzam el-Ahmed told the Palestinian Ma’an news agency that the visit had not been coordinated in advance and that he did not know the reason for the tour.

The visit is “a dangerous, pathetic provocation,” said MK Taleb A-Sanaa (United Arab List). “Aharonovitch is unwelcome at the Al-Aqsa Mosque and his purpose was to incense the Muslims and try to show them who’s in charge.”

A-Sanaa asserted that the tour was only intended to “inflame the area” and warned that the minister would “suffer the consequences of the visit.” — Jerusalem Post

A spokesperson for Aharonovitch said the visit had been coordinated and was for the purpose of discussing security arrangements with police officials that accompanied him. Aharonovitch belongs to Avigdor Lieberman’s Israel Beitenu party and has been accused of using a defamatory term for Arabs.

Without getting into a discussion of whether Aharonovitch respects Arabs or of Israel Beitenu’s policies, it seems that the issue was raised exactly for the reason given by MK A-Sanaa, although from the opposite point of view: the Waqf wished to show Israel “who was in charge”.

In 1967 the decision was made that although Israel would keep political sovereignty over the Temple Mount area, day-to-day control would be given to Islamic religious authorities, the Waqf.  Many commentators, including myself,  think that the decision was a bad one. At the time, it was  argued that it was necessary to allay Arab fears that Israel would raze the Al-Aqsa Mosque and rebuild the Temple, etc. It was expected that this would gain Israel the respect and appreciation of Muslims — and forestall violent Arab reactions.

It turns out that it had quite the opposite effect. Arabs do not grant respect in return for concessions. Arab propaganda continued (and continues today) to accuse Israel of planning to destroy the mosque. Possibly if the area were under direct Israeli control and Arabs were nevertheless allowed to visit, it would be more — rather than less — evident to them that this is not Israel’s intention. As far as violent reactions are concerned, this was much less likely in 1967 when Arab armies had  just been soundly defeated than it is today.

Since 1967, the Waqf has done its best to wipe out evidence of Jewish history on the Temple Mount, and Israel — in fear of Arab violence — has done little to prevent it.

It’s very hard to believe that a ‘peace’ agreement that removes the last vestige of Israeli sovereignty from the Temple Mount will improve the situation, and it doesn’t seem unreasonable to expect a return to the conditions of the Jordanian occupation there.

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