Thursday, January 31, 2008
Ehud Barak won about 57 percent of the direct vote of Israelis in 1999 on Barak’s claim that he would finally end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But Barak ran up against a problem that few of us look at: Israel’s electoral system is dysfunctional.
We start with the fact that Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, is elected with an extreme form of proportional representation. There are no single constituency districts for seats in the Knesset; for the sake of elections, the entire country is one giant constituency with competing parties presenting electoral lists and how many of each party are elected depends upon how many votes a list gets in relation to these competing lists. It’s a mathematical exercise: lists that don’t get enough votes to elect two people do not pass the qualifying threshold. But this threshold, at about two percent, is very low relative to other countries with proportional representation. So many small parties are able to get into the Knesset and no single party has ever been able to win an outright majority of the vote. As a result, every government has always been a coalition that is blackmailed– in effect– forced to protect certain minority interests.
There was a short-term effort to reform this system that failed dismally: for three elections– 1996, ‘99 and 2001– the electorate cast one separate vote for prime minister, and another for a party list running for the Knesset. Actually, 2001 was only a vote for prime minister, something that would have been impossible under the previous system. Immediately after the 2001 election, the Knesset eliminated the separate ballot for prime minister and the old system was mostly restored. As a result of the most recent election in 2006, Members of the Knesset represent 11 separate lists and as many as 17 distinct political parties– some of these 11 lists include an alliance of two or three political parties which have agreed to run on a common list.
The reason that I’ve gotten into all this is that this proportional representation system makes Israeli governments weak and unstable. They are weak in that they often have to incorporate a large number of parties and different interests to achieve a majority in the Knesset; in a parliamentary form of government (unlike the separation of powers system we have in the US with a separately elected Congress and executive), a government cannot stay in office if it cannot command the support of a majority of the 120 Members of the Knesset.
The major political parties are weak and getting weaker. The current government of Ehud Olmert has a ruling party, Kadima, with only 29 seats. Olmert has cobbled together a coalition government in partnership with four or five other parties. The traditional major political parties have both plummeted in strength to historic lows: 19 seats for Labor and 12 for Likud.
Going back to Ehud Barak’s short-lived government in 1999-2000, his failures were partly due to the unstable coalition that he led. One of his coalition partners was the National Religious Party– an old Zionist party that has become quite right-wing in recent years because it is the most fervently supportive of the militant settler movement. Due to a combination of his sense of pragmatism and his bad judgment, Barak allowed this party to drive his policy on the settlements, and in fact during his short rein, even though he was the defacto liberal or left-wing prime minister, settlements were expanded.
As bold as Barak was in certain ways, he was not so bold as to break with precedent and have one or more Israeli-Arab parties in his coalition. This would have given him a more stable base than having right-wingers as part of his government. Since support from Israeli-Arab voters was critical in his decisive election victory, Israeli-Arabs felt insulted and grievously alienated from Israel because Barak failed to reward them politically. They were further alienated when 13 Arab citizens of Israel were killed by police in violent demonstrations in October 2000, after the intifada had started. It is widely agreed that the police used lethal force unnecessarily in this incident.
There were important ways that Barak failed his test as a political leader and a diplomat. But his unstable coalition forced him into a make-or-break desperate negotiation with Arafat at Camp David in the summer of 2000. This was after Barak had let a year go by without any effort at negotiation or agreement with the Palestinians (guaranteeing that he’d alienate the Palestinians).
Probably all who were involved made mistakes at Camp David. Barak was guilty of not taking, nor even seeking, advice and ad libbing his way in these negotiations. He proved that he had not made a successful transition from being a military officer and commanding general who gave orders to subordinates, rather than a political leader who needed to negotiate and compromise with other political leaders.
I wish that Arafat had responded positively to Barak’s take-it or leave-it style of negotiating, but he was disinclined to do so. It is possible that Arafat was never reliable as a partner for peace, but I don’t think it was because he was incapable of peace. I think rather that Arafat was always a schemer who was alert to keeping his options open; but if the peace process had been going well, I think he would not have opposed it. When it was failing, after the Camp David Summit, he was not inclined to go out of his way to save it. I don’t believe that he orchestrated the violence that became the second Intifada at the end of Sept. 2000, but he thought wrongly that some violence would help his negotiating position. He also thought that once started, he could control it to his advantage. He was entirely mistaken.
Instead, he destroyed Barak politically and caused the entire peace camp to be thrown out of power in the election of Feb. 2001, which overwhelmingly elected Ariel Sharon. Sharon himself had helped instigate the Intifada by insisting on marching on the Temple Mount, with the provocative escort of hundreds of Israeli security personnel; the Intifada broke out the very next day as Arab protestors started to pelt Jewish worshipers at the Western Wall with rocks. Israel responded with tear gas and lethal gunfire.
Even so, we can look back at Barak’s short stint as prime minister for not only his failure, but also for how close he came to success. In the time that he was not negotiating with the Palestinians, he came to literally within a few meters of a peace treaty with Syria; a few meters one way or the other is all that separated the parties. And in January of 2001, Israelis and Palestinians again met at Taba, Egypt, where they came very close to finishing a deal when time literally ran out, the elections took place and Ariel Sharon took office with a mandate NOT to negotiate. Click for Part 4.
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
His father was a politically active left-wing journalist, arrested by the Vichy French authorities and turned over to the Nazis who put him in a concentration camp. He survived largely because he was regarded as a political prisoner (sheltered by his Italian last name) rather than as a Jew.
It's a window on Tunisian-Jewish life, including the split between the older community of Arabic speakers and the more recent arrivals from Livorno, Italy who were French speakers. There are resonances and real-life confirmations of Robert Satloff's findings in his book, "Among the Righteous," on warm North African Muslim-Jewish relations during, before and after World War II.
The director is Ferid Boughedir, a Francophone of Tunisian-Arab background who spoke at the premiere. He made the movie as a favor to his friend, Serge Moati. Moati is a French-Tunisian-Jewish writer and filmmaker who wrote a novel of the same name, from this story of his actual journey to recount his parents' lives together. Apparently, Moati felt too close to the story to make the movie himself. Some of the actors are also of North African-Jewish background and French-language culture.
As with many Tunisian Jews, the father in the story was caught in the contradictions of their situation. He speaks French and hardly any Arabic, is dedicated to French culture but also looks forward to independence from French rule. He is not ashamed of his Jewishness but is an enthusiast of French Republican-style secularism. When his wife mentions upon his return from Europe that her brother has become a Zionist, he simply states that it’s too bad that his brother-in-law has given in to a "fantasy." Given the fate of North African Jewry, however, it’s Serge, the French-speaking Tunisian Jew, dedicated to a vision of life in an independent Arab country informed by the French Revolution’s "Declaration of the Rights of Man," who may have been unrealistic.
But there is nobility in his universalistic idealism. In a late scene in the film, Serge addresses his party comrades who rally to celebrate his safe return from European imprisonment; he mentions comrades with obvious Jewish names, arrested with him, who did not survive. They close the meeting by singing the socialist anthem, the Internationale.
As Mr. Boughedir, the filmmaker, indicated in his talk, Tunisia still has a viable Jewish community of a few thousand and has enjoyed a level of tolerance there that is uncommon in the Arab and Muslim worlds. But as he also admitted, this is left over from the much larger community of 200,000, most of which fled in the face of anti-Semitic riots following the Six Day War in 1967. According to Boughedir, the Tunisian government restored order and prosecuted many of the rioters, but the damage was done to the trust most Tunisian Jews had in their future in an Arab country. Still, according to the director, many Jews return to their former homeland each year as visitors.
Postscript: One offhand remark of Mr. Boughedir indicated to me how little non-Jews (even educated and sympathetic non-Jews) appreciate the tiny minority status of Jews in the world (perhaps 15 million today, as opposed to 18 million on the eve of the Holocaust). This is significant because it underscores how the vulnerability of Jews is little understood. When asked how many Tunisian Jews there had been, he said, "200,000– not even half a million." Now 200,000 is a relatively large community by Jewish standards; there were only about ten or so that were larger, but perhaps not realizing how few Jews there are in the world, he saw this number as small.
Sunday, January 27, 2008
The first seriously bad incident during the Oslo peace process occurred on Purim, in February 1994. Baruch Goldstein, a medical doctor and West Bank settler who lived in Kiryat Arba next door to Hebron, murdered 29 Palestinians at prayer in Hebron, spraying them with his machine gun, before he was overwhelmed and beaten to death in turn. Goldstein was a disciple of the right-wing extremist, Meir Kahane.
Most Israelis and most Jews around the world were mortified by what Goldstein had done, but other than issuing apologies, Israel did nothing. Yitzhak Rabin’s government debated a radical response that I believe might have made a difference and decisively improved the future outcome of events. They discussed forcibly evicting the extremist settler community in Hebron and possibly in Kiryat Arba as well. It would have been very difficult to do this in Kiryat Arba, a settlement with several thousand occupants, but easier in Hebron, where about 400 Jews were guarded by a couple of thousand soldiers.
We can’t know if evicting the settlers from at least one of these places would have been regarded by most Palestinians as an adequate response to Goldstein’s crime, but the argument could certainly have been made and something very concrete would have been done. When the History Channel ran a documentary on Palestinian terrorism a couple of years ago, it claimed that Yiyah Ayyash, known as "the engineer," the master bombmaker for Hamas, became a terrorist as a personal reaction to the Goldstein massacre in Hebron. Ayyash adapted the suicide belt for Palestinian use. He was responsible for the deaths and injuries of a hundred or more Israelis in ‘94 and ‘95.
Following Rabin’s assassination in Nov. 1995, Shimon Peres took over as prime minister. Early in January 1996, the Shin Bet, Israel’s General Security Service located Ayyash and Peres gave his okay to killing him with an exploding cell phone. Sadly, in the middle of the election campaign, Hamas and Islamic Jihad struck back with four or five terror attacks. Three were devastating — two on the same bus line in Jerusalem and one at a mall in Tel Aviv, killing numerous children in costume for Purim. All in all, about 60 Israeli civilians were murdered with many more injured. Peres immediately lost his 20 point lead in the polls over Bibi Netanyahu.
Peres was suddenly locked in an unexpectedly tight election race with Netanyahu, the much younger, photogenic and well-spoken Likud candidate. When Hezbollah started raining missiles on northern Israel in March or April ‘96, Peres felt the need to show strength in the Israeli response. Israel warned the entire population of a vast area of southern Lebanon to abandon their homes and began a massive bombardment by artillery and aircraft. This went on for days on end until about 100 Lebanese civilians seeking shelter at a UN position were killed by Israeli shells; this was a tragedy caused by Israel responding to rockets launched nearby by Hezbollah. Israel’s offensive was immediately halted but Israel was left explaining what went wrong. In the meantime, Israeli Arabs were outraged. Many would have been expected to vote for Peres in the election, but they stayed away from the polls in droves, guaranteeing Netanyahu a squeeker of a victory.
Peres had tried to prove himself as a strong, security-minded prime minister– first in killing a terrorist leader and then in Lebanon. Both of these moves, however, resulted in disaster. The key decision that led to disaster was the killing of Ayyash. I don’t have tears for the man, he deserved to die. But he was killed at a time that Hamas and the other terrorist factions were quiet. That very same month of January 1996, Israel made a large-scale turnover of authority to the Palestinians in most West Bank cities and towns. Then there were the first-ever Palestinian national elections. In the eyes of many Israelis, the terror attacks of February and March ‘96 proved that the Palestinians were unreliable as partners for peace. But more accurately, two terrorist factions were reacting to Israel’s killing of one of their leaders.
In the meantime, Netanyahu had campaigned as a moderate, not a complete foe of the Oslo process. In fact, the last two negotiated agreements Israel concluded with the Palestinians were made with Netanyahu in charge. One of them involved Israel withdrawing from 80 percent of the city of Hebron, the only major West Bank city where Jews live.
There was one serious shooting episode during the Netanyahu years– a raging gun battle that resulted from bad communications regarding the building of a tunnel entrance near the Temple Mount/Dome of the Rock holy site, without Palestinian approval. But once both sides got past that, the late ‘90s, from 1997 until the peace process collapsed late in 2000, were among the safest years Israel ever experienced. This was mainly due to cooperation between Israel and Palestinian Authority security forces.
Nevertheless, Netanyahu was not eager to conclude the Oslo process, which would have meant a final negotiated agreement regarding the core issues: borders, especially regarding Jerusalem, the future of the settlements, the nature of a Palestinian state, the status of the Arab refugee population from 1948. So, Israelis, including Israeli Arabs, voted a landslide victory for the Labor party candidate, Ehud Barak, over Netanyahu. Click for Part 3.
Friday, January 25, 2008
Thursday, January 24, 2008
At the same time, I believe it unfortunate that the Olmert government rejected a Hamas proposal for a truce a few weeks ago. Nevertheless, as we are reminded by Ami Isseroff in his posting of Jan. 23, "Gaza Gimmix," the severity of Israel’s siege of Gaza is a response to the almost constant attacks against southern Israel and other manifestations of the Hamas regime’s violent intent toward the people of Israel and its internationally-recognized borders. As Isseroff points out:
Hamas originally came to power in "democratic" but basically illegal Palestinian elections. The elections were illegal because under the Oslo accords that were the enabling document[s] for the elections, Hamas, which does not recognize the right of Israel to exist and insists on violence, should not have been allowed to participate in elections to a government that is supposed to negotiate peace with Israel.I recall Meretz party leader Yossi Beilin making the same observation, even though he very much wants a cease-fire arranged with Hamas. Still, I think that Isseroff is unnecessarily caustic and hard-hearted in referring to the Gaza "crisis" and "siege" in quotes, as if there is no humanitarian crisis there and no siege. This is all problematic, but unlike how the peace demonstrators see things, Isseroff and I are in agreement that Hamas is a large part of the problem.
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
Abba Eban– Israel’s world-renowned diplomat in the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s– famously said at one point that "the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity." I actually believe that this can be said of Israelis as well as Palestinians. It remains to be seen whether both peoples will again miss an opportunity for peace as represented by the renewal of an active peace process inaugurated ceremonially at Annapolis, Maryland in late November. I don’t have a crystal ball; I don’t want to make a prediction, but the odds are heavily for Abba Eban to again be sadly proven right, yet this is likely to be due to shortcomings among both Israelis and Palestinians.
Many of us surely know about the "three no’s" of Khartoum— the first post-Six Day War summit of the Arab League in Sept. ‘67, in which the proclamation went out of "No to negotiations, no to recognition, no to peace" with Israel. Before that point, Israel was open to trading away most of the territories won in June ‘67 in exchange for peace treaties. Israel had exceptions to this offer: it wanted to hold onto East Jerusalem, the Golan Heights and some parts of the West Bank it considered of strategic importance. But even much of this might have been subject to negotiation. So the missed opportunity at this point was that of the Arabs (the Palestinians were not yet a political factor).
In Sept. 1970, Yasir Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) attempted to overthrow King Hussein of Jordan and they were supported by Syria. Israel intervened with its air force against Syria. Covered by Israel, Hussein concentrated his army against the Palestinians and crushed them, driving Arafat into exile in Southern Lebanon. King Hussein suddenly owed his throne to Israel’s intervention.
From that point on, King Hussein became a friend and defacto ally of Israel. He established a personal relationship with Israel’s leaders. He is said to have toured Tel Aviv by night, in the company of Moshe Dayan. When, over 20 years later in 1994, the actual peace treaty was finally signed by King Hussein and Prime Minister Rabin, they bantered with each other about when they first met, 20 odd years before.
Around that time, probably in ‘71, King Hussein offered a peace treaty to Israel, then under the leadership of Prime Minister Golda Meir. Meir turned down the offer because Hussein wanted East Jerusalem back. Mind you, Hussein was allowing Israeli control or access to the Jewish Quarter and the Western (Wailing) Wall; he also offered some territorial concessions elsewhere in the West Bank– like the strategic Latrun Salient. But the Israelis felt that time was on their side and that they could wait for a better deal in which they’d retain all of Jerusalem. This missed opportunity was primarily Israel’s responsibility.
Golda Meir then dropped the ball and missed another opportunity when Anwar Sadat, president of Egypt, made peace overtures in ‘71 and/or ‘72. He demanded a return of all of the Sinai Peninsula but he promised an actual peace treaty with Israel. Some in Israel’s cabinet and government– including Abba Eban and Yitzhak Rabin– advised her to respond in a serious way.
I personally recall UN Ambassador Gideon Rafael stating publicly (in news broadcasts at the time) that the statements from Sadat were unprecedented from an Arab leader and as such sounded genuine. But Meir was under the influence of Moshe Dayan who famously declared, "Better Sharm al-Sheikh with no peace than peace without Sharm el-Sheikh." [Sharm el-Sheikh being the strategic chokepoint at the tip of the Sinai Peninsula where the Egyptians had blockaded Israel’s port of Eilat in 1967.] She dismissed Sadat’s statement as "nothing new."
This was the first time that I realized (as a young person just out of college) that there was something wrong with the prevailing political consensus in Israel. This viewpoint was know as "HaConceptsia"— the concept that Israel had time on its side because the Arabs had no military option. This concept was shattered by Egypt and Syria’s coordinated attack on Yom Kippur, 1973. After his peace overtures were rebuffed, Sadat had warned that a situation of no peace and no war was impossible and he proved this in October 1973.
I’d like to jump to 1988. In 1988, Shimon Peres– then foreign minister in the national unity government with Likud– negotiated something called the "London Agreement" with King Hussein. This provided a mechanism whereby Israel could negotiate with Palestinians included in a Jordanian delegation. It also hinted at the prospect of a Palestinian entity or state being created in a federation or confederation with Jordan. But before anything could be built on this possibility, the London Agreement was shot down by Prime Minister Shamir. Still, when the peace process actually started in 1991– under the strong leadership of the first Pres. Bush– with an international conference at Madrid, the Palestinians were allowed to participate under the fig leaf that they were part of the Jordanian delegation. Click for Part 2.
Sunday, January 20, 2008
Jewish agricultural colonies were set up in the northern Crimea in the 1920s by Lenin’s regime in the wake of the Russian civil war. Eugeny Tsymbal, the director indicated in the Q & A after (through a translator) that the Crimea was a last bastion of White Russian support (pro-Czar, anti-Communist forces) and that "93,000 people" were shot there. There was then room for Jews, known for their Red sympathies and made homeless by the civil war, to settle there. Over time, many Jews came from around the world– about 3,000 to the Crimea and to Birobidzhan– attracted by Soviet propaganda films and other efforts. But most were from other parts of the Soviet Union.
Some "tens of thousands" may have settled in the Crimea. The film focuses disproportionately but with impact upon a group of 100 kibbutzniks who resettled from Palestine. They set up a commune that was quite successful economically for a couple of years, based upon the voluntary principles of the kibbutz. But viewing these early happy scenes, including the picture of the leader of the ex-kibbutzniks who had come from Palestine, I knew that this guy would meet an unfortunate end. Within a couple of years, he, along with others of his group, were arrested for "counter-revolutionary" offences; he was executed in the Great Purge ten years later.
Stalin is said to have refocused Jewish settlement efforts from the Crimea to Birobidzhan when the local Crimean Tartars complained that their homeland was being gobbled up. In the Far East, the Jewish colonists were also to play a strategic role, settling a region along the border with Manchurea– then a Japanese puppet state and including White Russian exile elements– with loyal Communists as a base for the Soviet defense of Siberia. The Soviet organizations set up to encourage and organize Jewish settlements in the Crimea were shut down and the loyal Jewish Communists associated with them were soon swallowed up by the Gulag and worse. As for Birobidzhan, this remote and primitive area became home to some 30-odd thousand Jews. But at least they avoided the fate of the remaining thousands of Jews in the Crimea, who were not evacuated with the livestock when the Nazis invaded and were entirely annihilated.
The film includes scenes of Jews cultivating pigs as an activity with political as well as economic implications. In the Soviet Union, as well as in Palestine, there was an emphasis on Jewish identity as ethnic and cultural rather than religious. The anti-religious Soviet regime was trying to de-Judaize the Jews. I am sympathetic with separating out the religious from the cultural and ethnic aspects of Jewish identity, but what repulses me is the heavy-handed and top-down aspect of Communist ideology in this regard. This dovetails with how the ex-kibbutzniks’ voluntaristic mode of organization worked better economically and socially than the typically Soviet authoritarian approach, not to mention the cold-blooded and calculated manipulations of Stalinism.
Thursday, January 17, 2008
The other day, I caught a double-feature of documentaries, "Red Zion" and "Buenos Aires Pogrom," featuring discussions with the filmmakers after. The Argentinean film depicts filmmaker Herman Szwarcbart's investigation of this forgotten incident in 1919 when approximately 179 Jews in the Once neighborhood of Buenos Aires were murdered on the streets and in police stations by mobs organized and led by police authorities and powerful anti-Semitic and right-wing elements in society.
Szwarcbart uncovers the story from Yiddish sources (mostly dusty old books) written by victims of police arrests, beatings and tortures who survived to tell the tale. But next to nothing, if anything, was written in Spanish, accessible to a wide audience. Even the Jewish community soon forgot or buried this episode.
The pogrom was triggered by a bitter industrial labor strike. The immigrant Jewish community from Eastern Europe was heavily left-wing in its sympathies; the anti-Semitic authorities and the ruling elites at the time totally equated Jewishness with "Bolshevism." The newspapers engaged in a coverup.
The film itself is a little hard to follow for non-Spanish speakers, and not as artful as it might be, but it’s powerful and Herman Szwarcbart deserves credit for making it.
"Red Zion," narrated in Russian, is about the Soviet regime’s efforts to establish Jewish agricultural colonies in the Crimea in the 1920s, followed by their shift to Birobidzhan in the Far East, and their ultimate sad ending. Birobidzhan (the Jewish Autonomous Oblast) still exists in some sense, with Yiddish institutions and street signs and a tiny proportion of the local population being Jewish (about one percent), but it failed as a "Red Zion" alternative to Palestine/Israel.
The Crimea’s downfall was more dramatic and is less known. See Part 2...
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
It is possible that the following article is in part inspired by our recent private email exchange, in which I suggested that Ami write specifically about Jewish neighborhoods and communities that were lost to Arab attacks in the 1948 war. Characteristically, in the emails, he was finding things to argue with me about, even though we disagree on little. This pugnaciousness may come from the frustrations of decades of trying to get Jews, Arabs and others to embrace more reasonable and humane positions.
Is there an alternative to the two state solution?
Historically, several solutions have been proposed for resolving the Arab-Jewish conflict in the land of Israel (AKA Palestine). Each one has taken into account demographic considerations and no doubt each has been politically motivated: Zionist policy was to obtain a state that is primarily Jewish and democratic. A Jewish majority would be ensured by immigration of Jews from abroad. This entailed a partition of the land into Jewish and Arab states, or a Jewish state and areas controlled by Jordan and Egypt.
Following World War II, this became a necessity even without taking into account Arab nationalist claims, because the loss of six million Jews in the Holocaust meant that there could not be enough Jewish immigrants to maintain a decisive majority in all of the land West of the Jordan river. It soon became apparent as well, that explosive Arab population growth and perhaps significant immigration would eventually create an Arab majority between the (Jordan) river and the sea.
The Grand Mufti and the Arab states wanted to obtain a state in all of the land. That state would be Arab because all the Jews would be expelled or exterminated, or at least, Jewish immigration would be ended. To this end, the Mufti had apparently planned to build a death camp near Nablus.
The fact is, that not one Jew remained in the areas taken over by Arab armies in 1948. In Gush Etzion over 100 were massacred and the rest "permitted" to leave. In Hebron, no Jews remained. In the Jewish quarter of the old city of Jerusalem, Jews were ethnically cleansed by the Transjordan [Arab] Legion – conducted out of the Jewish Quarter by force.
Likewise, small Jewish communities around Jerusalem such as Atarot, Neve Yaakov and the Ophel (Silwan) had to be abandoned, as well as others like Kfar Darom in the south. Those who talk about "Arab" Jerusalem should remember that before 1948 substantial numbers of Jews lived in East Jerusalem. "Arab" Jerusalem existed for only 19 years and it was enforced by racist ethnic cleansing and racist immigration and land purchase policies.
The one state solution has never been abandoned by the Arab side. With the addition of millions of refugees who claim "right of return," they reckon that they would have a majority in this state very soon. Faced with the prospect of losing the West Bank, some extremist Jews (not all Zionist, perhaps) have also taken up the cause of the "one state solution". This would involve annexing the West Bank to Israel. ... Click here to read his entire piece online.
Sunday, January 13, 2008
First, thank you for your intervention. I wondered a lot about "explaining", and had decided, like so often in the past, to let things be, until I saw that you also were coming under criticism. So here:
1. This is not Memri's first "disinformation" publicity against me. Taking quotations out of context, or failing to present a full context to the reader/viewer, also marked their coverage of my anti-suicide stand as reported by al-jazeera three years ago. Briefly, Memri in that report presented me as someone consorting in the same room with Hamas's mash'al, expressing sympathy to the mother of a suicider in Gaza. What Memri failed to tell the viewers/audience at the time was that:
(a) I had just managed to get more than 50 well-known Palestinian activists to sign an unprecedented petition against suicides [suicide terrorism– ed.] in the local Arabic newspapers;
(b) this was the first anti-suicide public stand taken anywhere in the Arab/Moslem world;
(c) this happened at the height of the suicide-rage of the time and was therefore totally at odds with the prevalent "political fashion" or mood;
(d) this was therefore the reason why I had been asked (for the first time in my life) by al-Jazeera for an interview; and
(e) that instead of being the sole participant I found myself (without prior notification) included (though I was alone in a West Jerusalem studio) in an emotive, Mash'al-led pro-suicide program [Mash’al is the most hardline Hamas leader– ed.] having to defend views that were being portrayed as "treasonous". Nonetheless I did my best in that program to present our public anti-suicide petition as strongly and clearly as possible. Memri chose to ignore all of that, and instead focused on a statement I made effectively expressing respect to mothers of soldiers dying in battles, (which I made partly to fend off the scenes of a wailing mother whose son had just been killed by Israeli soldiers, and which the program producer decided to use just before I was to be exposed to al-Jazeera's viewers after Mash'al).
2. In the second case, i.e., that of the recent al-Jazeera interview, Memri once again chose to pursue a disinformation strategy. Let me explain:
i. The interviewer this time brought Tibi and me on the Palestinian side to comment on whether it made sense for Israel to ask Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish State. Tibi's view was that being Jewish is inconsistent with being democratic, and that this request should therefore be turned down. My view, which goes along with the Ayalon-Nusseibeh document, and which I explained in the interview, is that
(1) we already recognized Israel as a Jewish State by recognizing Un resolution 181; and,
(2) that whether Israel is Jewish (or Martian) is not/should not be an issue for us: what is and should be an issue (for us) is whether Arab minority rights (culturally and individually) would be safeguarded in the State which we are being asked formally to recognize.
ii. Tibi's bewailing of the disenfranchisement of Arabs in Israel -a condition which could only be exacerbated, he argued, if Israel were recognized as a Jewish State, prompted the question by the interviewer whether he wouldn't therefore find it preferable to become (and have Taybeh become) part of a Palestinian State (as part of a long-term settlement). Here of course Tibi objected vehemently, insisting that he is and must remain an Israeli citizen. My own intervention here was again unconventional (in terms of contemporary Palestinian parlance):
I suggested this matter could/should be discussed. What is wrong, from a nationalistic point of view, I asked, in attaching parts of what is now Israel (like Taybeh) to a future Palestinian State? Jokingly, the interviewer asked me, Why not Acco? And I said, in the same vein, that too, meaning that it should not be out of the question for the two sides to discuss any mutually acceptable arrangement for a two-State solution, including one which would cater for attaching Arab population areas which are now part of Israel in a future Palestinian State. (By the way, I could have further added that part of the "return" issue, especially as this affects refugees in Lebanon, could well be served by such a geographic redrawing of the map, given the original homes of those refugees).
iii. The whole debate of course was a cover for another underlying debate on the right of return. My position (again the interviewer reminded his viewers) was already expressed in the Ayalon-Nusseibeh document. He asked me to elaborate on it. I explained that, as part of a package deal, return on my view should be confined to the Palestinian State (in addition to compensation, etc.). I added however that the other side of the coin of my position (confining the return of Palestinians to within the borders of a future Palestinian State) was that Jews also will have no right to claim to "return" to within the borders of a Palestinian State, and will be confined in the exercise of this "right" to the State of Israel (meaning their claim as Jews to return and settle anywhere in "Judea, Samaria, etc." will not be substantiated).
I certainly did not mean by this statement to exclude Jews from being able to live in an Arab State, or vice versa.
At this point the issue of whether Palestinians can accept confining their return to within Palestine came up, and I said this had to be accepted if Palestinians truly wished to have a two-state solution. But in any case, I said, Palestinian leaders should express themselves honestly on this matter: demanding a two-state solution entails, from a practical point of view, confining the exercise of the right of return. Insisting on the pursuit of a full implementation of the right of return implies a pursuit of a one-state solution. I am personally indifferent to what we (Palestinians) should put up as a vision. Indeed, I said, I was the first to call for such a solution. However, I added, PLO strategy has been going in the other direction, and it is a direction whose implications we should own up to.
By the way, in conclusion, it is not hard for anyone interested in my views to to find out what they are from reading fully what I have written and said over the years. Indeed, I will not argue that Israel does not have many enemies in the Arab world. What I do say is that Israel has so many of them it certainly does not therefore need to create fictitious ones, unless of course a Palestinian who is truly committed to compromise is by virtue of this an enemy of the State of Israel!?
Thursday, January 10, 2008
Keep in mind that Nusseibeh has campaigned vigorously and courageously for a two-state solution, even in refugee camps, insisting that the Palestinians must give up on the "right of return" to what is now Israel. He's also been outspoken in opposing academic boycotts of Israel. If you just read the beginning of Isseroff’s piece (below), you might believe the attacks against him, so please go on to read both Isseroff and Hirsh in their entirety (including Nusseibeh's response):
As noted by Engage, the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) has called for a boycott of Al Quds University in East Jerusalem in response to alleged comments made recently by Sari Nusseibeh, the university's president and translated by MEMRI. In a television panel with Ahmed Tibi, Nusseibeh said:
The Israelis now living in the territories of the future Palestinian state should return to living within the borders of the state of Israel. No Jew in the world, now or in the future, as a result of this document, will have the right to return, to live, or to demand to live in Hebron, in East Jerusalem, or anywhere in the Palestinian state.A number of right-wing bloggers have characterized these words as antisemitic. According to the heavily cut interview clip, Nusseibeh also insisted that Jaffa, Acco and other Israeli cities could or should be annexed to annexed to a Palestinian state. Campus Watch, like ZOA, seems to support a boycott of Al-Quds University and Sari Nusseibeh.
This is not the first time that ZOA and similar organizations have painted Sari Nusseibeh as an enemy of the Jewish state. ... Link to Mideast Web for the rest and don’t forget David Hirsh at Engage.
Wednesday, January 09, 2008
I, for one, share some of M & W’s frustration with the shallow way that the Israel-Arab conflict is played in mainstream politics in this country. As Howard Dean learned in 2004, even to state that US policy should be more “even-handed” is seen by many American Jews as code for being anti-Israel. This is why it makes no political sense for the Presidential candidates to advocate such a stance.
It is after the election, especially if a Democrat wins the White House, that we can hope for a policy that is truly pro-Israel in working for a reasonable two-state solution. If a Republican wins, we are less likely to see such an important effort. It is especially difficult to imagine such a direction from a possible Giuliani administration, given his stated opposition to the very idea of a Palestinian state and his stable of neoconservative advisors, including Norman Podhoretz.
You may read this one article by M & W, with which I find a wide area of agreement, “Israel’s False Friends,” in the LA Times, Jan. 6, 2008.
Sunday, January 06, 2008
A few hours after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, I happened to see an interview with a group of Pakistani university students who were part of a stunned mass of grieving people on the streets of Karachi. They all looked and sounded secular, educated and western.
The reporter asked them about Bhutto's death, prospects for democracy in Pakistan, and what they thought about the United States. They had varying opinions, arguing among themselves and cutting each other off until one young woman brought up the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "Of course," she said, "we all feel such rage against the United States because of what is going on in Gaza. This is something all Pakistanis feel." The others nodded vigorously in agreement.
There it was. Take pretty much any group of Muslims—Arabs, Iranians, South or East Asians, whatever—and the one subject on which there is near universal agreement is the Israeli-Palestinian situation. Click here for Rosenberg's entire column online.
Friday, January 04, 2008
This week, I proudly took up the mantle of Executive Director of Meretz USA. I'd like to take a few moments to explain why I'm so excited to be a part of this organization.
If a stranger were to challenge me to explain Meretz USA in one short sentence, I would say, simply, that Meretz USA stands for a progressive Israel. All the rest, to paraphrase the legendary Rabbi Hillel, is just the details.
Of course, in order for Israel to be progressive, it first needs to maintain its existence. Meretz USA stands for an Israel whose existence is secure from external threat, and which coexists with its neighbors. Recognizing that peace, not territorial expansion, is the ultimate guarantor of security, Meretz USA supports a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Arab conflict in accordance with the principle of land-for-peace, and based on the pre-war 1967 lines, except where the parties to the conflict negotiate territorial exchanges.
But Meretz USA, like the Meretz party in Israel, understands that the issue of peace and security - though fundamental - is not Israel's only challenge. As Israel approaches its 60th "birthday" this May, we look forward to the implementation in practice of Israel's Megilat Ha'Atzma'ut, its Declaration of Independence, which promised, "complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex," and pledged "full and equal citizenship" for the country's Arab citizens.
Meretz USA longs for the day when the "freedom of religion" promised in the Megilat Ha'Atzma'ut is manifested in an Israel in which all streams of Judaism - Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, Secular, and not only Orthodox - are allowed, indeed encouraged, to blossom and thrive.
Meretz USA also understands that one of the ultimate challenges of the 21st century is to sustain planet Earth. That's why we note with admiration that it was the Meretz party that first introduced an environmental perspective to Israeli politics and applaud the party's recent commitment to a "Green Code of Conduct".
As an American Jew and as a citizen of the USA and Israel, I'm proud to be part of an organization that gives expression to the many progressive forces in Israel striving for peace, equal rights, social justice, religious pluralism and environmental sustainability. These are the causes that I believe in, they're the causes that Meretz USA supports, and I hope you support them as well. I look forward to your continued support as we work to spread our message in the weeks and months ahead, and I welcome your ideas and suggestions to help us make that happen.
Next week, I will be going to Israel on Meretz USA's annual mission, our "Israel Symposium". I will share my impressions with you upon my return.
Shabbat Shalom and Happy New Year,
Thursday, January 03, 2008
In this article of Dec. 29, 2007-- entitled "The Beilin Syndrom" [sic]-- Avnery wrongly claims that Beilin invented the term "Settlement Blocs," providing a left-Zionist "kosher certificate" on the great majority of West Bank settlements. He is correct that this concept formed a centerpiece of Beilin's informal framework agreement of 1995 with Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas), which came to naught because of Rabin's assassination, but it was actually invented by strategic analyst Yossi Alpher (now of BitterLemons.org) when he worked for the American Jewish Committee. Avnery is accurate that Israeli governments (with the exception of those of Rabin and Peres in the '90s) have built up the settlement blocs as if they had license to do so, but it was not Beilin who gave them this license. The settlement blocs hold promise as a basis for territorial exchange and compromise in negotiating with the Palestinians; as such, it is part of the Geneva Accord, but unilateral Israeli moves to thicken the settlements are definitely not in the spirit of Geneva and have always been opposed by Beilin.
Avnery even falsely associates the security barrier with Beilin, by alleging that his erstwhile dovish Labor party colleague Haim Ramon (now close to Olmert in the leadership of Kadima) pushed the barrier in order to annex this territory. Associating the barrier with Beilin via Ramon is unfair in the extreme.
Furthermore, Avnery draws huge significance in the fact that Beilin had a breakfast meeting with Avigdor Lieberman, shortly after the 2006 elections, stating that this particular "kosher certificate" allowed Olmert to include Lieberman's party in his government. But what we learned from Beilin is that Lieberman was offering an alliance of sorts with Meretz, on the basis that he (Lieberman) now supports a two-state solution and withdrawal from most of the West Bank. Beilin, in fact, has rejected working with Lieberman and even turned down a place in Olmert's coalition government because Lieberman was included.
Some in Meretz similarly found Beilin's breakfast with Lieberman hard to swallow, but Avnery is ridiculously wrong in claiming that Beilin's hospitality allowed Olmert to embrace Lieberman. What I heard at the time from one or two Meretz stalwarts was that maybe it would have been better for Beilin not to have breakfasted with Lieberman but to have decided instead to sit with him in the Olmert cabinet.
Be that as it may, Avnery can't resist referring to the "Zionist Left" with scorn. He even complains that Beilin uses "the terminology of the establishment"-- e.g., referring to the "Palestinian fighters in the Gaza strip" [sic] as "terrorists." Since these worthies insist on firing rockets and mortars at civilian targets across the border in Israel, what does he expect them to be called?
Still, Avnery may well be correct that Beilin made an error in pursuing the leadership of Meretz in 2004: "...there is a basic contradiction between being a party chairman and being the Prophet of Geneva. ...When the Initiator of Geneva became the leader of Meretz, he crippled the initiative by turning it into the platform of one small party. And, on the other hand, he turned Meretz into a one-issue party entirely devoted to the promotion of the initiative. Both the initiative and the party lost."
Tuesday, January 01, 2008
The year was 1997. The Oslo Accords were slowly being implemented. The Israel Army had been withdrawn [except for part of Hebron] from the six largest West Bank cities. ... These peaceful developments were ruined by Israel’s announcement that a new neighborhood of 6500 densely-packed housing units for 32,500 Jews would replace the Har Homa forest on the southern border of Jerusalem.
The forest was owned by Jews from Jerusalem in pre-State days and Arabs from the West Bank village of Beit Sahour which lay just across the border. Christian families from Beit Sahour would spend their Sundays picnicking under the shady trees of the Mountain of Jebel Abu Gheneim, the Arabic name for Har Homa.
The land was expropriated by the Israel Government. The Jewish owners have argued for many years over the amount to be paid them. The final settlement will be about $180,000 an acre. The Arab owners have refused to accept a single shekel.
As I wrote in my last column, the announcement of a new Jewish neighborhood, entirely surrounded by several Arab villages, caused an uproar, undermining the Oslo peace process.
In 1997, the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information (IPCRI), an Israeli-Palestinian peace organization, proposed that Har Homa become a Palestinian-Israeli Peace Forest. The only building would be a center in the heart of the forest where Arabs and Jews could meet.
"There isn’t a single piece of real estate in Jerusalem today which is shared," IPCRI pointed out in 1997. "Every building, institution or landmark is either Israeli or Palestinian. The Har Homa-Jebel Abu Gheneim Peace Center would be shared property." IPCRI’s suggestion was much too sensible to be implemented.
Ten years later we have the Annapolis Declaration and 4.000 Jews already living in Har Homa.
The Annapolis declaration calls for Israel and the PLO to negotiate seriously and continuosly to reach an agreement before the end of 2008. But the Olmert cabinet had a monkey-wrench ready to be thrown into the peace machinery. Like 1997, it was Har Homa.
Olmert’s housing minister announced a tender for the construction of another 370 housing units in Har Homa. The monkey-wrench served its purpose. The continuous discussion of the serious issues dividing Arabs and Jews–borders, refugees, security and Jerusalem–were halted in its tracks, to the relief of both sides.
Two meetings have been held so far. At both meetings, the Arabs talked about Har Homa ... while the Israelis complained about the rockets flying into Sderot from Gaza.
Was Olmert’s readiness to return to the future Palestine state some of the 28 Arab villages annexed to Jerusalem in 1967 discussed by the Arab and Jewish negotiators? I doubt it. Was the sovereignty of the Temple Mount, where no Jew is allowed to pray, mentioned? Certainly not.
The possibility that the Arab residents of Jerusalem, who vote in Palestinian elections, might be part of a Palestine state has excited the Conference of Presidents if Major Jewish Organizations. Under the skilful hands iof executive director Malcolm Hoenlein the Conference has adopted a resolution opposing the divisision of Jerusalem. Two former chairmen of the Conference, Seymour Reich and Eric Yoffe, blasted the resolution. ...