Archive for March, 2014

Plenty of room at the inn

Friday, March 14th, 2014

How many times have you heard that early Zionists came to a land already populated, and found the inhabitants ‘invisible’ in their European arrogance? “A land without a people for a people without a land,” they supposedly said, and then proceeded to kick out the people that they hadn’t noticed, in order to get their land.

This is the basis of the Palestinian narrative, and we hear it from their apologists as well, who love to talk about the ‘indigenous’ Palestinians and the ‘European colonialist’ Jewish ‘settlers’ that ‘dispossessed’ them.

The hidden assumption here is that there was only enough land for one people. The conflict had to be a zero-sum affair: if the Jews came in, the Arabs would have to get out.

Nobody denies that there were more Arabs than Jews living in the land when the Zionists began their immigration. But what if there was plenty of land for both peoples? What if the conflict grew out of something other than a struggle over land?

Israeli-born sociologist Amitai Etzioni was disturbed by Ari Shavit’s apparent acceptance of the zero-sum thesis in his book, My Promised Land:

I knew that a fundamental aspect of Shavit’s thesis was deeply flawed, but I was reluctant to give voice to my criticisms, because they were based on personal observations. I then realized that there is strong statistical data to support my conclusions. But first, a brief account of what I saw and experienced in the days before Israel existed as a state.

I was born as a Jewish child in Germany in 1929. In 1935, as Nazi influence grew, my family escaped, joining four other families of the same background to form a new settlement in Palestine in 1936. They named it Kfar Shmaryahu (it’s next to Herzliya). The five families occupied 600 “dunams,” [a dunam is about 1/4 acre] cleared the rocks, drilled a water well, paved a road before erecting a bunch of modest homes and farming the land. All this was done on previously unoccupied land — land that was lying fallow next to an Arab village called Sidney Alley. …

The relationship between my parents’ village and Sidney Alley varied over the years, ranging from comfortable to tense. However, as far as I recall, no shots were fired, and most assuredly, no one was driven off land or out of a home. Those who lived unmolested in Sidney Alley until 1948 left at that point. We were told that they took with them keys to our homes that they somehow acquired, and had agreed among themselves who will get which of our homes after the seven Arab militaries that attacked the weak and newborn Israel defeated it. I never saw any evidence that supports this tale, but I know firsthand that no Israeli forces drove out the people of Sidney Alley.

Because it was personal and local I was reluctant to draw any conclusions from this experience, until I realized that there was clear evidence to show that there was plenty of room in Palestine for Jews and Arabs. Here is what the data show: At the end of 1946, just before the United Nations’ declaration that led to the foundation of Israel, there were 1,267,037 Arabs and 543,000 Jews in Palestine. By the end of 2012 there were 1,647,200 Arabs in Israel (and nearly 6 million Jews). That is, the numbers of Arabs increased by nearly 400,000. Since 1946 many more Jews and Arabs found a home in this blessed land.

Shavit makes it sounds [sic] like Palestine was a small home that was taken, that there was no room at the inn. Actually it was more like a motel that had plenty of empty rooms, although surely some were taken. True, some Arabs were driven out. And way too many Arabs and Jews died at each other’s hands. But the tragic reasons for these developments is not, the data unmistakably show, that there wasn’t enough room for both peoples.

I should add that in 1880 there were far, far fewer Arabs between the Jordan and the Mediterranean, maybe 500,000 at most, and many of those came to those vilayets (provinces) of the Ottoman Empire that would be called ‘Palestine’ in the 1830s with Muhammad Ali’s invasion from Egypt. Mark Twain’s 1869 Innocents Abroad describes the land as mostly barren and underpopulated, its Arab and Jewish residents living in terrible poverty and abysmal health conditions.

Zionist development of the land created economic opportunities for Arabs, and this — combined with political strife and droughts in Syria — brought more of them. Finally, the British imported Arab workers for various projects, including building railroads, etc.

And the Zionists didn’t dispossess the Arabs. Ami Isseroff tells us that

Zionist immigrants did not displace Palestinian Arabs in mandatory Palestine. Quite the opposite, the Arab population of Palestine grew at a tremendous rate between 1922 and 1948. In 1922, at the start of the British Mandate there were some 589,000 Muslim Arabs and  71,000 Christian Arabs in Palestine, a number that is probably an overestimate. By 1945, there were well over 1.2 million Arabs in Palestine and perhaps over 1.3 million by 1948. The Arab population of Palestine had about doubled during the years of the mandate. If the Zionists were plotting and planning to evict the Arabs of Palestine, the supposed Zionist policy would have to be judged a miserable failure.

At the same time, the Jewish population grew to over 600,000. The land that had held 753,000 people in 1922,  held about 1.9 million in 1948. The “full box” of Palestine turned out to have very elastic walls. As it has done elsewhere in the world, immigration to Palestine stimulated the economy and resulted in a higher standard of living for everyone. The immigration of Jews and the investment of Palestine were due directly to Zionism and its impact. …

So not only was there still room for both Jews and Arabs in 1946, but those Arabs that were there were not significantly more indigenous than the Jews. The difficulty then, as now, was that the Arab leadership would not countenance Jewish sovereignty for religious and cultural/ethnic reasons.

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US weakens stance on recognition of Jewish state

Sunday, March 9th, 2014
State Department spokesman Jen Psaki: "No one is talking about an obligation"

State Department spokesman Jen Psaki: “No one is talking about an obligation”

Watch carefully as the US tilts more and more in the PLO direction:

Barack Obama, March 3, 2013:

Meanwhile, Palestinians must recognize that Israel will be a Jewish state and that Israelis have the right to insist upon their security.

American Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro, February 21, 2014:

It’s too early to know what compromises and concessions both sides will make … But we do believe … that Israel deserves recognition as a Jewish state. That has always been US policy — that Israel is a Jewish state and should remain a Jewish state. That will be one of the elements of the framework we’re working on.

But here is State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki on March 7, 2014:

MS. PSAKI: … And if you look at the issue of a Jewish state and whether Israel will be called a Jewish state, that’s been our position, as you know, for a long time, but that doesn’t reflect what the parties will agree to, which I know you know, and of course there are many issues like that that are being discussed as part of the framework. …

QUESTION: Okay. My question to you is: Why the Palestinians are obligated to recognize Israel as a Jewish state when all the other states that have relations with Israel and have recognized Israel since day one did not do the same?

MS. PSAKI: No one is talking about an obligation. We’re talking about a discussion and what’s being compromised as part of a discussion on a framework for negotiations.

QUESTION: Right. Okay. So you don’t see this as a precondition, then?

MS. PSAKI: I think I’m done with your line of questioning.

Yeah, you can trust these guys, Mr. Netanyahu!

Let me add a word about why recognition by the Palestinians of Israel as the state of the Jewish people is important. We often hear the argument — even Abbas himself has made it — that Israel can define itself as whatever it wants and does not need the Palestinians to agree. Or, as the unnamed reporter above put it, why should the Palestinians be required to do more than other countries that have recognized the State of Israel?

The answer to the question “why does Israel think recognition as a Jewish state is necessary” lies in why Mahmoud Abbas refuses to grant it. And that is because after an agreement that gives Palestinians a state, it is his intention to press on for the remainder of their ‘rights’ — in particular, the admission of millions of descendents of Arab refugees into Israel.

The PLO position, expressed daily in its official media, is that Israel is an illegitimate colonial entity squatting on land that ‘belongs’ to a historic ‘Palestinian’ civilization. Abbas wrote in the NY Times in 2011 that if Palestine were admitted to the UN, he intended to continue to pursue its objectives in whatever forums were available:

Palestine’s admission to the United Nations would pave the way for the internationalization of the conflict as a legal matter, not only a political one. It would also pave the way for us to pursue claims against Israel at the United Nations, human rights treaty bodies and the International Court of Justice.

It would be no different after an agreement with Israel, unless that agreement specifically included the termination of such claims, particularly the so-called ‘right of return’ for the descendents of refugees. That ‘right’ is premised on the claim of Arab ‘ownership’ of the land of Israel — which is precisely what recognition of Israel as the state of the Jewish people (even an Israel truncated to pre-1967 size) would relinquish.

The reason that negotiations between Israel and the PLO-based leadership of the Palestinian Arabs have failed since Oslo is that the aims of the sides are entirely different. Israel would like to trade land for an agreement to end the conflict, while the Arabs would like to obtain land for a base from which to continue the conflict. These are mutually exclusive.

Keep in mind also that except for careful statements made in English such as Abbas’ op-ed, we have no reason to believe that the conflict would not continue in its violent aspect as well as its diplomatic one after an agreement was signed — and a great deal of evidence that it would.

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Iranian regime puts its people at risk

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014
The Klos-C, Iranian container ship intercepted by Israeli Navy carrying weapons bound for Gaza

The Klos-C, Iranian container ship intercepted by Israeli Navy carrying weapons bound for Gaza

Early this morning it was reported that Israel’s Navy intercepted a vessel, the Klos-C, on its way to Port Sudan with a cargo intended for terrorist organizations in Gaza — a cargo including M-302 missiles, some versions of which which have a range of up to 150 miles. This would allow Hamas (or whoever had control of them) to target virtually all of Israel. IDF spokesperson Peter Lerner, in a conference call this morning, said that “dozens” of M-302’s had already been found on the ship (along with other weapons), even before the IDF finished searching the ship.

According to the IDF, the missiles were manufactured in Syria, shipped by air from Damascus to Tehran, and then over land to Bandar Abbas where they were loaded on the ship. The ship stopped at an Iraqi port on the way to Sudan, and then was intercepted in international waters, almost 1000 miles from Israel. Now it is proceeding to Eilat, where the weapons will be removed.

I’m sure that the details of the operation — which involved the Navy and Air Force — the intelligence collection leading up to it (Lerner said it had been going on for “months”), the possible assistance of Egypt, etc. would be fascinating. But this is what I want to say about it:

The consequences of these missiles having reached their intended destination would have been catastrophic. Supplying this kind of weapon to terrorists with genocidal aims is a violation of international law of course, but morally speaking it is a seriously evil act. The Iranian regime is guilty of attempted mass murder, and in a just world its leaders would be tried, convicted and imprisoned.

We don’t live in that kind of world, so the Iranian president will continue to be described as ‘moderate’ and treated with respect at the UN. But where there isn’t official justice, sometimes it can be obtained by direct action. The Iranian revolutionary regime has been killing Jews all over the world since the 1980s — it destroyed the Asociación Mutual Israelita building in Argentina in 1994, armed Hizballah in Lebanon before and after the 2006 war, bombed a tour bus full of Israelis in Bulgaria in 2009, and now is developing nuclear weapons while its ‘Supreme Leader’ calls Israel a “rabid dog.” Would it be surprising if at some point Israel decided that the regime should pay for its past actions and be deterred from future ones?

Even the US State Department has called Iran the “most active state sponsor of terrorism” in the world. Ordinary Iranians, who by all accounts are mostly not fanatics, should understand the position that the regime has placed them in. If it succeeds in fielding a nuclear weapon or in some other way precipitating  a confrontation with Israel, it may be too late for a ‘surgical’ response, and the Iranian nation as a whole would suffer the consequences.

Update [2004 PST]: I had previously said the Klos-C was Iranian-owned. This is not the case. It is registered in the Marshall Islands, where documentation requirements are minimal.

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Israeli building as “aggressive” as Bakersfield

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014
Artist's conception of how the new Palestinian city of Rawabi will look when finished

Artist’s conception of how the new Palestinian city of Rawabi will look when finished

…we have seen more aggressive settlement construction over the last couple years than we’ve seen in a very long timeBarack Obama, interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, March 2014

US and European officials obsessively cite “settlement construction” as an “obstacle to peace.” PLO negotiators use it as an excuse to refuse to sit down with Israelis:

The chief negotiator for the Palestinian Authority, Saeb Erekat, on Friday called the construction plans “a slap to Mr. Kerry’s efforts and a clear message by Israel’s prime minister: ‘Don’t continue with your peace efforts.’ ”

“Israel Doubled West Bank Settlement Construction in 2013” screams the headline of a Time magazine article. “If Palestinians come to believe that the possibility of a contiguous sovereign Palestinian state is no longer within reach, then our ability to manage the international fallout is going to be limited,” warns (or threatens) Obama.

Two things. First, a point about language. President Obama and most of the journalists who use the expression “settlement construction” are native English speakers. Yet they persist in using this misleading expression, which anyone who didn’t know differently would think means “building (new) settlements.” But in fact, the construction they are referring to is construction of houses and apartments within the boundaries of existing communities.  The truth is that there have been virtually no new settlements established since the 1990s, except for unauthorized outposts which the government often demolishes by force.

Is there a deliberate intent to deceive? Certainly those who suggest that such construction “gobbles up land” are simply lying. The President carefully avoids saying this, referring only to his position that “settlements are illegitimate” (Europeans say “illegal”) and are “unhelpful” to the process, although he or other officials never explain exactly what “illegitimate” means or why the Palestinian claim on the land is justified.

Second, are new homes springing up like weeds? Based on the urgency expressed by the President, the Europeans and the Palestinians, one would think so. So how many new homes and apartments are being built? Time tells us:

Israel began work on 2,534 new housing units in the West Bank [Judea and Samaria] in 2013, according to the report — more than double the 1,133 units built in 2012.

This is an area with a Jewish population of more than 300,000, and a birthrate greater than 3 children per (Jewish) woman, in a country with a booming economy. For comparison, Bakersfield, California, with about the same population, a lower birthrate, and a somewhat depressed economy, built 2238 privately-owned dwelling units in 2013. I don’t see any aggression here, do you?

Keep in mind that Palestinians are also building “aggressively,” including a new “high-tech” city near Ramallah. There is also European-funded Arab construction throughout Area C, the part of the territories supposedly under complete Israeli control by the Oslo agreements. And there is continuous illegal building there as well.

You will recall that the Palestinians began insisting on freezing Jewish construction in Judea, Samaria and eastern Jerusalem in 2009, following the lead of none other than President Obama.

So not only is this a manufactured issue, but the biggest factory is in Washington, DC!

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Obama does it again

Sunday, March 2nd, 2014

Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu will be meeting with President Obama tomorrow. In a long interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, the President revealed — or at least presented the public face of — his thinking on the Palestinian question, Iran, Syria and other Mideast issues.

If what he told Goldberg truly reflects his thinking, it is profoundly depressing, because his remarks display both ignorance and prejudice. And the timing, when Bibi is already on his way, is ugly.


…with each successive year, the window is closing for a peace deal that both the Israelis can accept and the Palestinians can accept — in part because of changes in demographics; in part because of what’s been happening with settlements; in part because Abbas is getting older, and I think nobody would dispute that whatever disagreements you may have with him, he has proven himself to be somebody who has been committed to nonviolence and diplomatic efforts to resolve this issue. We do not know what a successor to Abbas will look like.

The “time is running out” theme is pervasive (Goldberg headlines the interview with it). But “changes in demographics,”  at least if you exclude Gaza, are definitely in favor of Israel. The Jewish birthrate is high, and the Palestinian one is declining. There are far fewer ‘Palestinians’ than official numbers would have it. “What’s happening with [Jewish] settlements” — a few additional homes within existing communities are planned — is irrelevant, and one can even argue that illegal European-sponsored Arab construction in Area C is more significant as a fact on the ground.

Most important is this: the fact that Abbas is relatively (stress that word) moderate compared to his likely successors has precisely the opposite implication than the one Obama suggests. What good would a deal reached with Abbas be if (when) he is replaced by an extremist who will tear it up?

[Netanyahu] has an opportunity also to take advantage of a potential realignment of interests in the region, as many of the Arab countries see a common threat in Iran. The only reason that that potential realignment is not, and potential cooperation is not, more explicit is because of the Palestinian issue.

So the Saudis and Kuwaitis who still hate Palestinians for their support of Saddam; the Lebanese who maintain an apartheid system in which Palestinians residing there cannot go to Lebanese schools, own property or work in numerous professions, and who fought a vicious mini-war against a Palestinian militia in one of the refugee camps several years ago; the Egyptians who are enthusiastically collapsing Hamas tunnels — these Arabs would jump at the chance to cooperate with Israel if only it were nicer to the Palestinians?

Yes, they are scared to death of the prospect of a nuclear Iran, but the idea that nations which have historically (long before ‘occupation’) made opposition to Jewish sovereignty an ideological pillar of their regimes would suddenly go public about any cooperation with Israel is ludicrous.

But here’s what I know from my visits to the region: That for all that we’ve seen over the last several decades, all the mistrust that’s been built up, the Palestinians would still prefer peace. They would still prefer a country of their own that allows them to find a job, send their kids to school, travel overseas, go back and forth to work without feeling as if they are restricted or constrained as a people. And they recognize that Israel is not going anywhere. So I actually think that the voices for peace within the Palestinian community will be stronger with a framework agreement and that Abu Mazen’s position will be strengthened with a framework for negotiations.

Maybe a few short visits weren’t enough. He seems to have missed the ideological indoctrination in the Palestinian media that calls for an unending struggle until there can be a complete victory, an ideology in which martyrdom for the Palestinian cause is the highest value, and in which Jews are compared to the Crusaders, who even after hundreds of years were expelled from ‘Arab land’.

And he has missed the surveys of Palestinian popular opinion that show that, for example, in 2011, “Only 7% agreed that ‘Israel has a permanent right to exist as a homeland for the Jewish people’ while 84% thought that ‘over time Palestinians must work to get back all the land for a Palestinian state'”. So much for the Palestinians recognizing that “Israel is not going anywhere!”


Do you resign yourself to what amounts to a permanent occupation of the West Bank? Is that the character of Israel as a state for a long period of time? Do you perpetuate, over the course of a decade or two decades, more and more restrictive policies in terms of Palestinian movement? Do you place restrictions on Arab-Israelis in ways that run counter to Israel’s traditions?

When I read this, I wonder what ‘Israel’ he’s talking about. The one I know has reduced restrictions on Palestinian movement in recent times, to the point of endangering security (and released murderers, if that counts). It also treats Israeli Arabs as well as any national minority is treated anywhere in the world.

So it is not realistic nor is it my desire or expectation that the core commitments we have with Israel change during the remainder of my administration or the next administration. But what I do believe is that if you see no peace deal and continued aggressive settlement construction — and we have seen more aggressive settlement construction over the last couple years than we’ve seen in a very long time — if Palestinians come to believe that the possibility of a contiguous sovereign Palestinian state is no longer within reach, then our ability to manage the international fallout is going to be limited.

Aggressive settlement construction? Nobody is building settlements, except perhaps Arabs in Area C. Why does he keep hitting this nonsensical issue? Only because it is a reason to blame Israel for the inability to reach an agreement, and to set the stage for the threats to follow. The man is a bully — except with Iran, which he is afraid of.

Here he becomes a pussycat. “Time is running out” to give the Palestinians a state that they certainly ought not to have, but

… the most important thing that I have said to Bibi and members of Congress on this whole issue is that it is profoundly in all of our interests to let this process play itself out. Let us test whether or not Iran can move far enough to give us assurances that their program is peaceful and that they do not have breakout capacity.

If, in fact, they can’t get there, the worst that will have happened is that we will have frozen their program for a six-month period. We’ll have much greater insight into their program. All the architecture of our sanctions will have still been enforced, in place. Their economy might have modestly improved during this six-month to one-year period. But I promise you that all we have to do is turn the dial back on and suddenly —

There are several paragraphs of rationalizations, but I’ll spare you. The sanctions regime is dead. It cannot be brought back to life. It was leaky before, and now it has a iceberg-sized gash in it and is listing 70 degrees. He’s given the Iranians the time they need to do precisely what they want, which is to get the “breakout capability” that will make it impossible to stop them. That is “the worst that will happen,” and it will happen for sure, unless someone bombs them.

Providing this interview on the eve of Netanyahu’s visit is reminiscent to his 2011 announcement calling for an agreement “based on pre-1967 lines” while Bibi was, like today, on his way to the White House. This tactic is an embarrassment. David Horovitz wrote,

The timing could not have been any more deliberate — an assault on the prime minister’s policies delivered precisely as Netanyahu was flying in to meet with him, and on the first day, too, of the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC’s annual tour de force conference across town.

At the very least, that might be considered bad manners, poor diplomatic protocol, a resounding preemptive slap in the face: I’ve just told the world you’re leading your country to wrack and ruin, Mr. Prime Minister. Now, what was it you wanted to talk to me about?

Did I say he was a bully?

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