Friday, July 31, 2009
Instead, Israel has no civil marriage, a concession Ben-Gurion made to his Orthodox allies at a time when he thought it would have little bearing on the country. It is a cruel irony that a country mostly founded by militantly secular pioneers is so in thrall today to Orthodox nationalists and ultra-Orthodox extremists.
We reported last week on the problem of the Orthodox religious domination over how Jewish citizens marry and who they can wed in Israel. This more recent Ynet article provides but another outrageous example of over-zealous Rabbinical interference in the lives of Israeli Jews.
This is the summary at the top of this Ynet article (I've added the bracket):
"After producing all the necessary documents proving they are both Jewish, Rabbinate tells couple they cannot marry because husband-to-be is [allegedly] adopted and so his Jewishness cannot be verified. 'I know I'm Jewish and I know I'm not adopted,' says man."
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
In this post I have included two responses to this article: one, from J. Zel Lurie, and the other from Meretz USA Chair, Theo Bikel. First, here is J. Zel Lurie's letter to the editor:
Yes, President Obama should talk to the Israeli people. He should explain to them that seven years ago the government of Ariel Sharon accepted the Road Map to a Palestine State presented to them and to the Palestine Authority by the Quartet, the United states, Russia. the European Union and the United Nations.
In the First Phase of the Road Map the Palestinians agreed to combat terror and the Israelis agreed to a freeze of settlement activity and to eradicate the settlement outposts erected since 2001. The Palestinians have fulfilled their part. A new Palestinian security force trained in Jordan by the United States General Drayton and subsidized by the American taxpayer has taken over the Palestinian cities from the Israel Army.
It is now up to Israel to fulfill its part of the bargain. It must freeze the settlements and begin to eradicate the illegal outposts. It can no longer rely on the fiction "natural growth" under which the population of the settlements were increased by almost a third since the Road Map was agreed to seven long years ago.
And here is Theo Bikel's response:
Aluf Benn got at least one thing right: “If Israel is part of the problem, then Israel must be part of the solution.” (Op-Ed 7/28) However much may be required of the Palestinians in this process, the single most glaring obstacles on the Israeli side are the settlements. Freezing all building in the West Bank is only a first step but it is the sine qua non in any movement toward a resolution. In continuing the Clinton initiative Barack Obama is doing exactly what needs to be done. Clearly, the two state solution is still the only hope on the horizon, although it is becoming more elusive. It is in Israel’s self interest that this go forward, it is in the Palestinians’ self interest; and it is certainly in America’s. Palestinian extremists stand in the way, so do Israeli extremists; I have no sympathy for either or for those here at home who support them.
What upsets me when I hear fellow Jews speak disparagingly about Barack Obama is this: The presidency of the United States is an awesome task that involves decisions both domestic and foreign that have far reaching consequences for the lives of millions around the globe. Even if he were wrong (which I believe he is not) I am embarrassed when I hear members of my community speak of the President as though he were to be judged on one issue alone: Israel. Nothing else, no other element enters the conversation. While I assign no moral equivalence to the issues, the single-mindedness of those who see only Israel is not much different from those who judge the President on nothing else but abortion. He deserves better from us.
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
These Haredim live an insular parochial life style, but are not right-wing nationalists. They are not even considered Zionists. Their large families, however-- commonly including five, six, even ten children-- make up about half of the “natural growth” that Prime Minister Netanyahu is arguing over with Pres. Obama's administration. Beitar Illit is also directly along the pre-June '67 boundary; the Times reporters even spoke with inhabitants who were not aware that it is over the line in the West Bank.
Some residents expressed a willingness to move back to Israel proper if they were compensated for their property, but the article also makes the point that this town could easily be absorbed into Israel in a land swap with the Palestinians, of the sort long proposed by doves on both sides. There was also a reference to the notion that some Haredi residents provided documents which supported Palestinian claims in the Supreme Court ruling two years ago, which partially favored the inhabitants of nearby Bilin, struggling against the separation barrier.
Sunday, July 26, 2009
Now that I’ve written two posts comparing party politics in Israel with those in South Africa, I should clue everyone in that I know there are big differences between the two countries. Beyond the fact that whites (unlike Jews in Israel) are everywhere a minority in South Africa, they also arrived in South Africa with no previous historical claim to the land. But at least the Afrikaners—and many of the English-speakers as well—have, like the Israelis, developed a culture that is very different from that of their country(ies) of origin. It was in South Africa that the Afrikaners and the mixed-race "coloreds" developed Afrikaans as a language distinct from Dutch, just as the Israelis developed modern Hebrew.
The Afrikaners really had no country to return to—not the Netherlands, Germany or Belgium—and so most of those few who have left South Africa have gone elsewhere. It would be equally difficult for most Israeli Jews to return to their countries of origin in either Europe or North Africa or the Middle East.
Most of the legitimate (i.e., non-antisemitic) critics of Israel who talk about apartheid are referring to Israeli rule and settlement of the West Bank, not to Israel within its pre-June '67 borders. The West Bank is more comparable to Namibia, the former South West Africa (SWA), than it is to South Africa. SWA was a German colony that was conquered by South Africa in 1915, during World War I. It is thus somewhat akin to the Israeli conquest of the West Bank in 1967.
In the late 1960s the International Court of Justice and the UN revoked South Africa’s mandate over SWA because South Africa had applied apartheid to the territory, even though under the terms of the class C mandate it was entitled to administer the territory as if it were part of its own territory. For the next two decades the rest of Africa and the Third World demanded an end to the South African occupation of Namibia.
In 1981 the Reagan administration initiated the policy of “constructive engagement” toward South Africa. What this meant in practice was putting an end to the occupation of Namibia by taking account of South African security needs, and only secondarily dealing with the internal politics of South Africa. This is much like the Western approach toward Israel and the Palestinian territories. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Chester Croker took the lead in negotiating a timetable for Cuban withdrawal from Angola in parallel with a South African withdrawal from Namibia. It took him until December 1988 to negotiate the double withdrawal. The timing was mainly influenced by the fighting on the ground in Angola between the Cubans and the South Africans. An illusory “victory” by Cuba in the battle of Cuito Cuinavale, in the summer of 1988, allowed Fidel Castro to withdraw his forces without losing face. During this time, the sanctions campaign against South Africa broke out.
Croker has written of South Africa as a “free moral lunch” for both the Left and the Right in the U.S. The Right could attack the administration for betraying a strategic ally and not supporting it against the Communist enemy. The Left could attack the policy as racist. Sounds vaguely familiar doesn’t it? Croker was interested it doing what he thought the U.S. was capable of doing in improving its political standing in Africa by facilitating an end to the last colonial presence in Africa. Obama is essentially trying to do the same thing—or at least preserve the chance for someone else to do it in the future.
In September 1985, the administration passed a set of largely symbolic economic sanctions against Pretoria. These included the denial of landing rights for South African Airlines in the U.S., an end to the importation of Krugerrand gold coins, etc. A year later, Congress voted for stricter sanctions by a wide enough margin to override a presidential veto. Western Europe instituted a set of sanctions roughly comparable to the 1985 sanctions. Four years later Pretoria released Mandela from prison, unbanned the ANC and PAC liberation movements, and began to negotiate with black organizations for a future democratic solution. So all this came about because of sanctions and divestment, right?
Divestment actually did nothing to weaken apartheid—it merely changed the ownership of stock of companies invested in South Africa. A few Western companies withdrew by selling off their holdings to South African buyers at bargain prices. American and European economic sanctions only affected about two to three percent of South African trade and were easy to get around by sending goods on to Swaziland or Lesotho to sew in “made in ____ labels” to disguise their real origin.
What affected Pretoria severely was the refusal of European banks to rollover short-term loans when internal unrest made South Africa a bad credit risk. For purely financial reasons, banks caused Pretoria to default on its loans and receive a bad credit rating. It now had bad credit and problems receiving new capital needed to finance economic growth to deal with its growing black population. This is what caused F.W. de Klerk to begin negotiating with Mandela and the ANC in 1992. This is what led to majority rule.
European countries are now in the boycott stage of economic opposition to Israel—about where they were in 1985 in regard to South Africa. This might eventually lead to limited trade sanctions against Jerusalem. But it will be the attitude of private banks and the American government in Washington that will decide the future. Pretoria was also easier to pressure, because it had a single dominant party system with the National Party system making all the decisions. Israel has a very unstable coalition system that makes controversial decisions difficult to make.
Obama’s attitude towards Israel seems to be that of the Reagan administration towards Pretoria. And that is how it should be. Obama may force a freeze on new settlement construction but he will not mediate an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank anytime soon because the Palestinians appear unable or unwilling to meet Israel’s security needs. Once that changes, expect more pressure. But don’t expect instant sanctions leading to instant peace. It ain’t going to happen.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
Neoconservatives have lost no time beating the drums of war and insisting that the time for an Israeli attack on the Iranian nuclear program is now. “With no other timely option, the already compelling logic for an Israeli strike is nearly inexorable,” urged John Bolton. Ridiculing the administration’s willingness to attempt direct talks with Iran as a “theological commitment to negotiations”―a projection of Bolton’s own ideological opposition to them under any circumstances―Bolton asserts that there is no point to waiting for talks to play out with Iran.
“Unfortunately, the Obama administration has a ‘Plan B’,” he continues, “which would allow Iran to have a ‘peaceful’ civil nuclear power program while publicly ‘renouncing’ the objective of nuclear weapons. Obama would define such an outcome as ‘success,’ even though in reality it would hardly be different from what Iran is doing and saying now.” But the point of negotiations is to establish an intrusive inspections system not unlike the one that succeeded in preventing Saddam from re-developing weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, a fact that Bolton finds too inconvenient to acknowledge.
In April 2008, Benjamin Netanyahu, then leader of the opposition, said to Stephen Hadley, then President George W. Bush’s national security adviser: “Ahmadinejad is a modern Hitler and the mistakes that were made prior to the Second World War must not be repeated.” Soon after he became prime minister of Israel, Netanyahu repeatedly issued warnings about the threat of Iranian nuclear weapons: “These are not regular times,” he said. “The danger is hurtling toward us. The real danger [is] underestimating the threat. . . My job is first and foremost to ensure the future of the state of Israel…the leadership's job is to eliminate the danger. Who will eliminate it? It is us or no one.”
Such statements from Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders have stoked apocalyptic fears among the Israeli Jewish public, and much of the mainstream American Jewish leadership. A former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations has written that “If President Obama’s diplomatic efforts and subsequent tougher sanctions fail, then the president and the world should understand and support Israel's engagement in military action, if it so undertakes, to halt or delay Iran's capability of dropping a nuclear bomb on Tel Aviv. One Holocaust is enough for the Jewish people.”
The “mad mullahs” picture of a regime driven by a martyr complex―a nation of irrational, undeterrable suicide bombers―has become firmly rooted in the Israeli Jewish psyche. But a series of reports has cast doubt on this view of Israel’s situation―and on the entire incendiary complex of fears propelling us towards an Israeli attack on Iran. The Yediot Ahronot [newspaper] security correspondent Ronen Bergman reported that “Major General Aharon Zeevi Farkash, the former chief of military intelligence, described Israel's public perception of the Iranian nuclear threat as ‘distorted.’ His view―which is shared by many in Israel's security and intelligence services―is that Israel is not Iran's primary target,” nor its main motive for seeking a nuclear weapons capacity, and therefore, “Israel must not attack Iran unilaterally.”
Israel’s intelligence services recognize, continues Bergman, that “throughout its 30 years of existence, the Iranian regime has shown pragmatism and moderation whenever its survival was at stake. And the Iranians clearly understand that a nuclear attack against Israel would lead to a devastating Israeli counterstrike that, among other things, would mean the end of the revolutionary regime. Finally, the Mossad and military intelligence believe that the real reason the Iranians are intent on acquiring nuclear weapons … is to deter US intervention and efforts at regime change.”
It is widely understood among those who have closely studied the Iranian regime that it operates according to the principle of maslehat, “expediency,” taking a cost-benefit approach to decision-making. “Far from being a suicidally ideological regime,” observes Iran expert Mohsen M. Milani, “Tehran seeks to ensure the survival of the Islamic Republic while advancing the country’s interests through negotiations.” Internal repression and détente with the US both serve these ends, as they did for post-Tiananmen China and Soviet Russia.
According to Dr. Reuven Pedatzur, a military affairs scholar at Tel Aviv University, an exhaustive study by Abdullah Toukan and Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington concluded that “it is questionable whether Israel has the military capability to destroy Iran's nuclear program, or even to delay it for several years.” The odds of success from a military point of view are not great, the study's authors conclude. Second, Israel would only attack Iran's known nuclear sites. But it is likely that following such a strike―which would be unlikely to succeed even against the known sites―Iran would accelerate its uranium enrichment efforts in its secret sites, thus negating any possible benefits of a successful attack.
Third, Iran would certainly retaliate against Israeli targets with Shahab-3 missiles, as would Hezbollah and Hamas with many thousands of their own rockets, while also dispatching waves of suicide bombers into Israel. “Hezbollah now has some 40,000 rockets; Israel does not have a response to these rockets. The rocket defense systems now being developed (Iron Dome and Magic Wand) are still far from completion, and even after they become operational, it is doubtful they will prove effective against thousands of rockets launched at Israel.” The Israeli strike would also sow instability throughout the Middle East and potentially spur attacks against US forces and American allies in the region, while squelching Iran’s reformist movement.
The Pentagon’s top military and civilian leaders have long opposed an Israeli preemptive strike on Iran. Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, emphasized that military action “could have grave consequences and would be very destabilizing.” Mullen also suggested that President Barack Obama's diplomatic outreach to Iran holds promise. But the window for diplomacy to avert a dangerous Middle East nuclear arms race is closing, he warned.
Will Israel continue to huff and puff and threaten that it might hit Iran? Will it strike? Israel is unlikely to attack while the US is attempting to engage Iran; such action would jeopardize Israel’s good relations with the United States. But what if diplomacy, and sanctions, fail?
Political scientist Steven Cook has suggested that “all those indications portending an Israeli attack – the strike against Syria in September 2007, the large air exercises over the Mediterranean in the summer of 2008, and the recent countrywide drills that the IDF’s Home Command conducted [and Israel’s more recent naval maneuvers, coupled with the upcoming Arrow missile interceptor tests at a US missile range in the Pacific]―might actually indicate that Israel is trying to figure out how to deter Iran, rather than attack it.”
But security analyst Bergman has reached less sanguine conclusions from his conversations with Israeli government officials: “As Iran approaches nuclear weapons capability―some time in 2010, according to current Mossad estimates―an increasing number of people in Netanyahu's circle will adopt the view that Israel needs to take action and that the United States will be understanding of Israel's needs. And if the Obama administration is not so understanding? Israel may decide that the existential danger posed by a potential second Holocaust warrants risking even a serious rift with the United States. Ultimately, the fear of a nuclear-armed state whose leader talks openly of destroying Israel may outweigh the views of the country's intelligence experts.”
Gidon D. Remba is executive director of the Jewish Alliance for Change (www.jews4change.com), a nonprofit organization which supported Barack Obama’s presidential candidacy and advocates for a progressive domestic and foreign policy agenda. He also edits the group’s “Say No To War With Iran” site and blogs at Tough Dove Israel. He served as senior foreign press editor and translator in the Israeli Prime Minister's Office, 1977-1978, during the Egyptian-Israeli Camp David peace process.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Barack Obama was swept into the White House promising to reverse the Bush administration’s aversion to diplomatic engagement with new overtures to the Arab and Islamic worlds. While the Obama administration remains committed to direct talks with Iran in the wake of its fraudulent election and brutal suppression of peaceful protests, the message has been leavened with new signals. The administration will not yield to the demands of Republicans, Israeli government hardliners, AIPAC and others in the organized American Jewish community to enact “enhanced sanctions” now. It understands that doing so would quash any hope of Iranian openness to a deal preventing the development of highly-enriched weapons-grade uranium and nuclear arms through a new system of robust monitoring.
Obama now says that there is a September “time frame” for Iran to respond to offers to discuss its nuclear program. If by then Iran has not accepted the invitation to talk, the United States and “potentially a lot of other countries” are going to say “we need to take further steps.” The Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations is planning a “Washington Day” on Sept. 10 that “would bring together 300 to 500 leaders from across the United States to press for [new] sanctions legislation.” But the ongoing schism among clerical leaders within the Iranian regime may make it impossible for even secret talks with the US to begin within that short a time-line.
The administration will need to co-opt Congressional leaders to resist any action on new sanctions legislation, if it believes there is a chance for an arrangement with Iran. This will lead to new tensions between President Obama and much of the organized Jewish community, who will be calling even more vociferously for the administration to abandon diplomacy and ratchet up economic pressure on Iran.
On the other hand, if, after a fair trial, diplomacy fails, and the administration decides, in concert with other countries, to move ahead with new sanctions, those who pressed for a backup plan to engagement will demand a new Plan B in case enhanced sanctions prove unable to halt Iran’s march down the nuclear path. The Obama administration could develop a new policy based on nuclear deterrence and containment of Iran, as General John Abizaid, who headed the US Central Command, has suggested.
In short, the US, Israel and the Arab world would live with a nuclear Iran, one which might have the capability to develop nuclear weapons. Prying Syria from Iran’s orbit through an American-backed peace accord with Israel would reinforce this approach, weakening Iran strategically. Or Israel could, more insistently than before, demand US acquiescence or support for a preemptive strike against Iranian nuclear sites.
Alan Dershowitz opined in a Wall Street Journal op-ed titled “Has Obama Turned On Israel?”: “If the Obama administration were to shift toward learning to live with a nuclear Iran and attempt to deny Israel the painful option of attacking its nuclear targets as a last resort, that would…weaken the security of the Jewish state.”
But it’s far from clear that opposing an Israeli preemptive strike would harm Israel’s security. It may well be the converse: an attack on Iran may be the single most dangerous course, embroiling the US and Israel in a new, unwinnable, catastrophic region-wide war.
Vice President Joe Biden recently signaled a more forceful tone by reminding Iran that Israel has the sovereign right to pursue a military option after the diplomatic window closes. “We cannot dictate to another sovereign nation what they can and cannot do…if they make a determination that they're existentially threatened and their survival is threatened by another country.”
Both Biden and Obama made clear that the door remains open to engagement with Iran, but Biden suggested that if Iran wishes to avoid a host of negative consequences―“isolation” and the possibility of an Israeli preemptive strike―its leaders had better engage soon with the US on the nuclear issue. Alluding to the administration’s commitment to pursue negotiations with Iran despite Israeli objections, Biden stressed that “there is no pressure from any nation that’s going to alter our behavior as to how to proceed. What we believe is in the national interest of the United States…we, coincidentally, believe is also in the interest of Israel and the whole world.”
Would the US deny to Israeli aircraft over-flight rights in Iraq? The Vice President offered that “Israel has a right to determine what’s in its interests, and we have a right and we will determine what’s in our interests.” Translation: Iran should consider that even if the US were to deny over-flight rights to Israeli planes seeking to reach Iran via Iraq, Israel might still opt to strike Iran some other way, if Iran does not come to terms with the US.
In the very same news cycle, it was reported that an Israeli sub (which can be equipped with nuclear-armed cruise missiles) traversed the Suez Canal with Egypt's permission, putting it in closer range to Iran in case Israel opted to launch a preemptive strike or a second strike. At the same time, the Mossad chief reportedly assured Netanyahu that the Saudis had agreed to Israel overflying their territory in a mission that would serve their “common security interests”―a report immediately denied by the Saudis, as expected. Nevertheless, Iran was meant to get the hint.
President Obama wasted no time in clarifying that the US had “absolutely not” given Israel a green light for a possible attack on Iran's nuclear facilities. “We have said directly to the Israelis that it is important to try and resolve this in an international setting in a way that does not create major conflict in the Middle East," said the President.
Ynet reported on July 16 that two “Israeli missile-firing warships sailed through the Suez Canal to the Red Sea, ten days after a submarine capable of launching a nuclear missile strike [did the same. The Times of London quoted an Israeli official as saying, 'Israel is investing time in preparing itself for the complexity of an attack on Iran. These maneuvers are a message to Iran that Israel will follow up on its threats.’ The report described [the naval maneuvers] as ‘a clear signal that Israel was able to put its strike force within range of Iran at short notice'.”
Are such threats of Israeli military action simply bluster, a way of exerting pressure on Iran to reach agreement with the US? Or will Israel launch a preemptive assault on Iran? To be continued.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Over much of those same decades, I have been arguing that our government should establish diplomatic relations with the Iranian zealots and tyrants. ... It doesn’t mean that heads of state cannot defend political principles, but they also have other things to do. Right now, the most important task of the U.S. government with regard to Iran is not regime change. The most important task is to persuade or coerce the Iranian government to give up the effort to produce nuclear weapons. Doing that will require some mix of toughness and conciliation.... What Obama says must be guided by what he has to do.
The rest of us are much freer. We can distinguish between the Iranian presidential candidates, all of whom were approved by the religious leadership, and their followers, many of whom have dissident views that the religious leaders would not approve. The dissidents are the people we should be supporting, whose stories we should be telling. And we should be talking to them about the kind of support they want and need. They and we are aiming at, and have every right to aim at, regime change. Organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, though they can’t acknowledge it, aim at regime change whenever they condemn the practices of tyrannical regimes; and so should union members and democrats of every sort, and religious moderates committed to freedom, and faculty members and students who believe in the integrity of the university. Regime change (it used to be called revolution) is our business, and we should embrace it.
Michael Walzer is Professor Emeritus at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, and Dissent magazine’s co-editor. This is an abridged version of a posting, June 17, at the Dissent magazine Web site. Prof. Walzer is a member of Meretz USA’s advisory council.
Monday, July 20, 2009
Ms. Becher writes of this problem in Ynet, touching upon the politics in the following passage:
… In early July, the Knesset rejected a bill proposed by the Meretz faction to legalize civil marriage in Israel. Unlike the bill proposed by Yisrael Beiteinu, which is designed to serve the narrow needs of Avigdor Lieberman’s voters from the CIS republics and other immigrant communities that comprise “problematic” (meaning non-Jewish) couples, passage of the Meretz bill would have ended the state’s institutionalized discrimination on the basis of religion. Nothing short of the option of civil marriage for all citizens of the state will end Israel’s violation of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, which grants men and women of legal age the right to marry “without any limitation due to race, nationality, or religion,” and of its own Declaration of Independence, which promises equal rights “to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race, or sex.” …. Click here to read entire article online.
Thursday, July 16, 2009
“What has Obama accomplished in five months?” my Republican neighbor asked disdainfully. It will be six months from when this column sees the light of day. But whether five months or six months, it’s the wrong question.
The correct question is where would we be if John McCain had defeated Barack Obama? I shudder to contemplate the answer. …
Israeli public opinion has changed several times in the last twenty-six years. Maintaining the same goal for twenty-six years is not Israel’s way. Twenty-six years ago I was told by a Maariv editor that a Palestine state would be a causus belli. Israel would go to war to destroy it. Today the majority of Israelis favor a Palestine state as the best security for Israel.
George Mitchell, who has been charged by President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton, to seek out peace, has been working with Minister of Defense Ehud Barak to find a way for the Israel Government to obey Mitchell’s demand to freeze settlement building.
Meanwhile, Mitchell’s competent staff has been lobbying key ministers in Israel’s sprawling government. The results can be seen in Israeli government actions last week.
Mark Regev, government spokesman, called a conference of the foreign press. He said once again that Israel was ready to negotiate with the Palestine authority “without preconditions.” He then laid down three conditions:
1. The Palestinians must recognize Israel as a Jewish state: The Palestinian reply is “we will negotiate with the government of Israel. What Israel calls itself is its own business.” ...
2. To protect Israel’s security, the Palestine state must be demilitarized: This is the wrong way to protect Israel’s security. It substitutes demeaning words for useful actions.
The fact is that under the supervision of U.S. General Dayton, with a green light from the Israel Defense Forces, the Palestinians are building a large and efficient security force. More and more Palestinian youth are going to Jordan for training in this force, which has already taken over security from the Israel army in three Palestinian cities.
As it grows it will take over from the Israeli Army more and more of the West Bank. This is the security force that the Israel negotiators must deal with to secure a demilitarized state -- no warplanes or heavy tanks -- without raising the dander of the proud Palestinians.
3. Prosperity: Regev said quite rightly that a secure peace depends on a prosperous nation and Israel is taking steps to revive Palestine life.
These steps were announced on Wednesday July 8 in a government press release which said that that morning Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had “convened the Ministerial Committee on Improving the Economic Situation of the Palestinian Residents of Judea and Samaria.”
Minister Silvan Shalom briefed the committee on three long term projects funded by foreign governments, which are being revived after being frozen for years.
1. An industrial zone near Bethlehem for tourism and services, funded by France.
2. A major industrial zone in Islameh near Jenin, funded by Germany,
3. A zone in Jericho for the processing and export of agricultural products, funded by Japan.
Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon reported on the large-scale removal of checkpoints “due to the position of the international community and world opinion.” ...
And Israel listening to world opinion is a direct result of Barack Obama defeating John McCain.
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
The Israel Project's leadership recognizes that public opinion, even among Israel supporters, is ambiguous about the settlements. Despairing Israel advocates still embrace the delusional security argument, from which even retired general Moshe Ya'alon has distanced himself: They argue that the settlements are necessary for Israel's security and suggest telling audiences that the settlements were not created randomly. They were put on mountaintops and in militarily sensitive areas to create a security buffer between Israel and its Arab neighbors (Jordan?). If that does not do the job, remind the audience that the settlements constitute an effective early warning system (does this include their well-baby clinics?). And if that is still not enough, point to the Qassams as convincing proof of what happens when Israel evacuates settlements (kindergarten children in Gush Katif protected their friends in Sderot, or was it the soldiers who protected them?).
But the joker is undoubtedly the term "ethnic cleansing." A weak defense calls for an offensive. The guide for Israel warmly recommends that advocates complain bitterly about the idea that a given area will be cleared of Jews (did someone say Judenrein?). Why can Israel accommodate and even grant equal rights to its Arab minority (the Or Report is just a rumor?), whereas the Palestinian territories must be cleansed of Jews? Unfortunately, the guide does not suggest a response to anyone who heard and/or read the opinions of Palestinian Prime Minister Salaam Fayad, or of Ahmed Qureia, the head of the negotiating team, who invited the residents of Ariel and Ma'aleh Adumim to remain in their homes and live in peace and equality as a Jewish minority in Palestine. Qureia even said he broached this subject with former U.S. secretary of state Condoleezza Rice.
Monday, July 13, 2009
If the Likud is the equivalent of the verkrampte, or conservatives in the National Party, and Kadima is the equivalent of the verligte or “liberals” in that same party, what is the South African equivalent of the Labor Party? That would be the United Party.
This is for several reasons: First, the United Party and its predecessor, the South Africa Party, were the more moderate of the two mainstream parties in South Africa. Second, the two parties were the home of most of the former Boer War generals in politics after 1914. Third, the United Party after the mid-twentieth century faced a shrinking demographic base. And finally, the United Party in its final decades became a “me too” party offering a “kinder, gentler” form of apartheid rather than a real alternative. Labor in Israel suffers from all of these same problems.
The South Africa Party was originally formed as a union of three Afrikaner parties from the three Afrikaner-majority (among the whites) provinces: the Afrikaner Bund from the Cape Province, Het Volk ("the people" in Dutch) from the Transvaal, and Oranie Unie (Orange Union) from the Orange Free State. The party included at least four former Boer generals: the most prominent being Louis Botha, who became prime minister in 1910 until his death in 1919; Jan Smuts, who served as justice minister and minister of mines and then defense minister; and James B. M. Hertzog, who served as education minister. In 1913 Botha resigned and formed a new government in order to rid himself of Hertzog and the nationalists who objected to South Africa being a part of the British Empire. Hertzog formed the National Party, which soon became the main opposition party.
In addition there were two other parties: the Unionist Party, the party of the English-speaking whites; and the Labour Party, the party of white workers of both ethnic groups. In 1914 there was an Afrikaner Revolt on behalf of Germany, which resulted in one former general being accidentally killed and another banned from politics. In 1920, having failed to repair the breach in Afrikaner politics, Jan Smuts—who became prime minister in August 1919—proposed to the Unionists that they simply disband their part and join the South Africa Party, which shared virtually an identical platform, so as to ensure a majority against the Nationalists. The Unionists agreed and then there were only three parties.
From 1924 until 1929 a coalition government of the National Party (“Nats”) and Labourites ruled in South Africa. After that the former absorbed most of the supporters of the latter party and it became a much smaller party. In 1926 Britain granted dominion status or autonomy to the white-ruled territories in its empire. So in 1933 the Nats under Hertzog formed a coalition with the South Africa Party. A year later the two parties merged to become the United Party. At this point the Cape leader of the Nationalists took most of his provincial caucus and formed a rump National Party. This was the party that triumphed in 1948.
From 1933 to 1939 Jan Smuts, the former Boer general and prime minister, served as justice minister, under Prime Minister Hertzog, another former Boer general. This new party was at the expense of the Africans, who lost their qualified franchise in the Cape Province. This is similar to Israel’s own Arabs losing out when governments of national unity are formed. In September 1939, when Hertzog wanted to keep South Africa neutral at the beginning of World War II, Smuts won a parliamentary vote in favor of South Africa joining the Allied side. Smuts then became prime minister for the next nine years—much of which he spent abroad in London as a member of Churchill’s war cabinet. Hertzog went into the opposition and in 1940 resigned from politics before dying of exhaustion two years later.
The United Party won a sweeping majority in parliament in 1943. But five years later the National Party under Daniel Malan, a Calvinist minister by profession, campaigned under the slogan of apartheid or separation between the races. Although the United Party won more votes the Nats won more seats because rural seats had up to ten percent viewer voters than urban seats under an arrangement made in 1910. It was the equivalent of winning the popular vote and losing the electoral college vote. So from 1910 to 1943 the old South Africa Party/United Party had grown progressively larger. For the next 45 years it would shrink. Each subsequent election it received an absolute minority of votes and fewer votes each election. With the Labour Party gone by 1950 South Africa had a two-party system so that as the UP grew smaller the Nats grew larger. After 1943 the UP failed to attract new Afrikaner voters and was dependent on English-speakers and old Afrikaners who grew fewer with each election.
In 1959, as the National Party was beginning to implement its homeland or bantustan policy of assigning all Africans an ethnic homeland, the liberal parliamentary wing of the UP broke away to form the Progressive Party in opposition to apartheid. This was the equivalent of Mapam and Yossi Sarid leaving the Labor Alignment in 1984. In 1961 the Progressive Party (“Progs”) were reduced to a single Johannesburg MP, Helen Suzman. She remained the party’s sole MP for thirteen years. But by boldly challenging National Party policy in speeches and during question time she was more effective than the entire UP. In 1974 the Progs elected six MPs and the UP began to deteriorate more rapidly. It lost major splinters in 1975 and 1978, both times to the Progs, but also to the Nats at the latter occasion. By 1977 the New Republic Party—the UP had foolishly given up its name—was largely confined to South Africa’s smallest province, Natal, where English-speakers were a majority of whites. After the party lost half of its strength in defections in 1984-87 to the Nats, it was reduced to a single MP in the 1987 election. In 1988 the party finally folded.
Like the UP, Labor is dependent on a shrinking (Ashkenazi) base. Since 1973 an increasing amount of the mizrakhi electorate has been voting for the Likud and Shas. Both during the late 1980s and since 2000 Labor has become a “me too” party supporting a “kinder, gentler” settlement policy and occupation. Its generals are more interested in serving in government without principles, rather than in opposition with them. Labor is now about where the UP was in the early 1980s—no longer either capable of leading coalitions or of being a credible opposition party.
One of the differences between South Africa and Israel is that the liberal opposition Progs grew at the expense of the conservative UP, whereas in Israel, the liberal Meretz has been shrinking at an even faster rate. The only solution is real alternative policies and a merger to form a viable opposition party. It is time for the liberal opposition and the verligte to start talking about cooperation and principles for a future merger.
Thursday, July 09, 2009
But the government knows that it is obligated to the road map, which states quite explicitly it must "immediately dismantle settlement outposts erected since March 2001... and consistent with the Mitchell Report, freeze all settlement activity (including natural growth of settlements)." While it is true that the Sharon government issued 14 reservations to the road map, the US never accepted them, except for what appears to be an unwritten understanding between Sharon and president George W. Bush regarding growth in the settlement blocs and in Jerusalem. But the Bush administration was voted out of office and with it those unwritten understandings, as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has indicated so clearly.
WHAT'S ALL the fuss anyway? Who really cares about a few more houses and school classrooms in settlements? Well, the whole world. At the outset of Oslo, the world, including the Arab world (and also including the supporters of peace in Israel and in Palestine), actually believed that the peace process was about ending the occupation, peace between two states living side-by-side, building cross-boundary cooperation in every field possible, ending violence and ending the conflict.
During those optimistic days, several countries without diplomatic relations with Israel established them, and several Arab countries even allowed it to open commercial interests offices in their countries. Some Arab countries even opened their own representative offices in Israel. This was possible because they believed the Oslo peace process would bring an end to the occupation.
They had good reason to believe that. The Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement of September 1995 stated clearly: "The two sides agree that West Bank and Gaza Strip territory, except for issues that will be negotiated in the permanent status negotiations, will come under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Council in a phased manner, to be completed within 18 months from the date of the inauguration of the council." The agreement further stated: "Redeployments of Israeli military forces to specified military locations will commence after the inauguration of the council and will be gradually implemented."
The interpretation of these sections was that prior to the beginning of permanent status agreements Israel would have withdrawn from more than 90 percent of the West Bank. The US and the Palestinian calculated then that the land area connected to permanent status negotiations, meaning the settlements, accounted for 2%-5% of the West Bank (counting the built-up areas of the settlements with a radius of about 100 meters from the last home in each settlement). The "specified military locations" was estimated to account for about 2% of the West Bank.
WHEN BINYAMIN Netanyahu was first elected in 1996, a "conflict" of interpretation developed between the Prime Minister's Office and the Foreign Ministry. At that time I saw a document produced by the legal department of the Foreign Ministry explaining that the new interpretation of the Prime Minister's Office was incorrect. It stated the following: According to the Prime Minister's office, the settlement areas in question are based on the statutory planning maps of the civil administration and not on the built-up areas. Those zoning maps provide the settlements with about 40% of the West Bank.
Furthermore, the Prime Minister's office stated that instead of "specified military locations" the real intention was "security zones" - meaning that the entire Jordan Valley is a security zone, all of the areas around settlements are security zones, the bypass roads to settlements are security zones, and so are all of the lands adjacent to the Green Line. In other words, 60% of the West Bank would remain in Israeli hands, and in the negotiations with the Palestinians Israel would retain well above 10% of the West Bank, and if possible more.
This, according to the Palestinians and even the US, was a major breach of the agreement and it was one of the significant reasons for the failure of the entire process. ...
Ehud Barak understood that he would have a very tough negotiation on the territorial question. When I asked his chief of staff Gilead Sher why the prime minister was building even more settlements than Netanyahu, his answer was "the story of the goat" - meaning it would appear that Israel was making larger concessions than it really was. ...
Yet the entire international community, with the exception of Iran, Libya and perhaps Israel (look at the club of nations we have joined), believes that a Palestinian state must be established on the basis of the June 4, 1967 borders. ...
Netanyahu, Barak and other members of the government think that if they agree to a three-month settlement freeze, not including Jerusalem, the world will consent. The EU and the US in private meetings with Netanyahu and in public statements have insisted that Israel must focus on the settlement issue and not on tricks to avoid making the difficult decisions. All settlement building must stop. ...
Yes, Judea and Samaria are our historical, religious and national lands, and the argument is not about our right to be there, whether the world accept[s] that right or not. The reality is that there is no other way to achieve peace with our neighbors. ...
Gershon Baskin, Ph.D., is the co-CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information. This entire article can be read online at the Jerusalem Post Internet Edition.
Wednesday, July 08, 2009
Let's face it: When Barack Obama said in Cairo that "the only resolution" of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is two separate states, he was courageously insisting -- well, on what's become conventional wisdom.
But not the unanimous wisdom. The hardliners on each side aren't alone in questioning the two-state idea. On the street in Jerusalem, I've run into old friends, veterans of Israeli peace and human-rights activism who say we've passed the tipping point: There are too many settlements; Israeli withdrawal is impossible; negotiations on two states have repeatedly failed; the only solution is a single, shared Jewish-Palestinian state. I've heard Palestinian intellectuals, former supporters of a two-state solution, who say the same. Among writers outside the conflict zone, British Jewish historian Tony Judt may be best known for suggesting -- back in 2003 -- that as a nation-state, Israel is "an anachronism" and should be replaced by a binational state. Ironically, Obama himself may have given this idea a bit more traction among American progressives -- his election proving, perhaps, that multiculturalism within one polity can work, perhaps not just in America but elsewhere. So is he pursuing an obsolete strategy?
Actually, no. ... Difficult as reaching a two-state agreement is, it is still a more practical solution than a single state. It has more political support on both sides. And in a very basic way, more psychological than philosophical, most Israeli Jews and most Palestinians are nationalists: Their personal identity is rooted in a national community for which they want political independence.
Click here for entire article online.
Monday, July 06, 2009
So, without further ado, here is this “precise comparison” by Dr. Thomas Mitchell:
Is Bibi ‘n verlig ou ‘n verkramp?
In the late 1970s, the Afrikaner journalist Willem de Klerk, older brother of future state president F.W. de Klerk, coined the term verlig (plural verligte), literally "enlightened," for more pragmatic Afrikaner politicians and intellectuals within the National Party camp and the term verkramp (plural verkrampte) literally "narrow-minded" or “cramped” for the conservatives. The National Party was then going through a slow evolution that would result in the overthrow of President P.W. Botha as party leader a decade later and his replacement by De Klerk’s older brother Frederick Willem. The verligte believed in eliminating petty apartheid, maybe even eliminating grand apartheid—the homelands, and possibly doing a deal in Namibia. But they did not get their chance until P.W. Botha’s overthrow. Botha himself looked like a verlig when he brought in a new constitution with separate chambers in parliament for mixed-race “coloreds” and Indians, although whites still maintained overall control by determining which matters would be relegated to those chambers and which would be decided collectively where the whites had a majority.
The Israeli Revisionist right has been undergoing a similar evolution since the mid-2000s, when Ariel Sharon began to realize that the dream of greater Israel was not feasible as a reality. Instead of “Jordan is Palestine,” Sharon began to speak of ending the occupation and creating a Palestinian state, albeit only on about 42 percent of the territory of the West Bank—something that no Palestinian leader could agree to. At that time Benyamin Netanyahu decided to position himself to the right of Sharon, when he had previously been on Sharon’s left. The Likud rejected Sharon’s plan for a disengagement from Gaza, so in the end Sharon left the party he had midwifed 32 years before and created a new party, the third in his long political career. When Sharon founded Kadima, only months before his incapacitating stroke, he left the Likud with all the true-believer ideologues and career hacks and took the pragmatists and opportunists with him.
When Bibi speaks of a demilitarized Palestinian state now, we have to ask: Has he changed back again? Like Churchill who quit the Tories for the Liberals and then returned a decade later, has Bibi returned to the camp of the pragmatists? In the old South Africa with its two-party system, the verligte and the verkrampte were creatures not only restricted to Afrikaner politics but to internal National Party politics as well. No one ever accused liberal opposition leader Frederick van Zyl Slabbert of being a verlig. No, he was a real liberal. Willem de Klerk’s terms were reserved for differentiating the various shades of Afrikaner opinion in the only party likely to ever hold power for the next twenty or thirty years. With the collapse of the Labor Party some Israeli political journalist may have to invent Hebrew terms for the different shades of opinion within the Likud.
The Israeli verligte at present reside within Kadima and believe in negotiations with Fatah for a real Palestinian state. Their leader is Tzipi Livni, who is more of a real liberal than Labor leader Ehud Barak at present. The South African equivalent was Wynand Malan and Dennis Worrall who left the National Party in late 1986 to run as independents in the 1987 election along with an Afrikaner businesswoman. Malan, an incumbent MP, was the only one of the three to be elected. The two formed their own separate political parties and Malan was joined by defectors from the liberal Progressive Federal Party. Two years later the two parties (re)united with the PFP to form the Democratic Party, which won a record number of seats for a liberal party in South Africa in the election. This was the political background to F.W. de Klerk’s decision to legalize the ANC and PAC liberation movements and the Communist Party and release their leaders from prison.
It may be that Bibi is really like P.W. Botha, trapped between the verligte and the verkrampte and shunned by the outside world. If Bibi tries to maneuver between the Uzi Landaus, the Benni Begins, and the Avigdor Liebermans on one hand and the Tzipi Livnis on the other, he might end up like Botha. Netanyahu had already suffered from a party coup once already. Maybe Obama can save Bibi in the same way that American and European sanctions saved De Klerk. But, then again, De Klerk had a real negotiating partner in the ANC -- Nelson Mandela. Because of domestic political constraints, neither Olmert nor Abbas were free to negotiate so constructively.
Friday, July 03, 2009
Stephen Cohen, a national scholar of the Israel Policy Forum who recently met with Palestinian officials, said "this is a very active time" in terms of discussions about how to move the peace process forward.
He pointed out that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was not responsive to Ehud Olmert’s offer of more than 93 percent of Palestinian territories, in negotiations last year, in part because Fatah "hadn’t resolved internal problems" with Hamas. ...
Olmert had proposed placing Jerusalem’s Holy Basin — the areas containing the Old City and surrounding holy sites — under Divine sovereignty and having it administered by a consortium of Saudis, Jordanians, Americans, Israelis and Palestinians.
In addition, he proposed offering the Palestinians 93.5 to 93.7 percent of the Palestinian territories, along with a land swap of 5.8 percent and safe passage between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. And the Palestinian refugee issue would be resolved by permitting a small number of Palestinians into Israel as a "humanitarian gesture."
After Olmert revealed his offer last month, Livni said through a spokesman that she disapproved of the offer. ...
Wednesday, July 01, 2009
My review of Transforming America’s Israel Lobby: The Limits of Its Power and the Potential for Change by Dan Fleshler (Potomac Books, 2009, 267 pp., $24.95) was published last week at InTheseTimes.org. There were a few nuances that were lost in the ITT Web article, but readers should understand that I regard Dan's book as an important contribution to the “Israel Lobby” issue, not least being that there is more than one "lobby" concerning Israel. This post is about points on Mearsheimer and Walt's "Israel Lobby" writings that were edited out:
[J. J. Goldberg] ... published an unsigned Forward editorial (“In Dark Times, Blame the Jews,” March 24, 2006) associating the two professors’ work with classic anti-Semitic tropes. This probably went too far, but Professors Mearsheimer and Walt were remarkably insensitive in not understanding that as members of a historically oppressed and vulnerable minority group, many Jews would see hatred in the single-minded intensity of their arguments. (Yossi Beilin, then chair of Israel's dovish Meretz party, announced at a World Union of Meretz conference that even he saw “hate” in their initial article.)
Fleshler likes to quote Daniel Levy, an Israeli peacenik who helped draft the unofficial Geneva Accord of 2003 and now works on Middle East peace issues for think tanks in Washington, D.C. But he would have done well to also quote Levy’s Haaretz newspaper review of Mearsheimer and Walt’s book in 2007. Levy was scathing in criticizing much of the organized Jewish community for “outsourcing” foreign policy issues to the neocons; but he also criticized Mearsheimer and Walt for confusing cause and effect. Levy regarded support for the Iraq war by some Jewish organizations as a sales job for a decision that was already made by the Bush administration for its own reasons. ... Click here to read the piece posted at InTheseTimes.org.