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June 2008 Archives

June 30, 2008

MoJo Convo: Iran Panic? Talk About It With the Experts

Just a quick heads up...

I will be guest posting at MoJo Blog this week alongside Danny Postel, Yossi Melman, Jacqueline Shire, and Trita Parsi.  The topic of the blogalogue, whose first installment can be read here, is the prospect for a looming confrontation with Iran.  Given our diverse backgrounds/areas of expertise, this promises to be an engaging discussion about one of the most pressing concerns of the day.

June 26, 2008

Shaky Ceasefire and Live Webcast of New America Foundation Event

The Israel-Gaza ceasefire is off to a predictably shaky start as anticipated in this previous blog post.  In the weeks since the cease-fire went into effect, six rockets have been launched from Gaza in Israel (thankfully no fatalities), the limited opening of the crossing to allow supply into Gaza has been partially suspended, two Palestinians were killed in IDF operations in the West Bank, and one Palestinian farmer was injured by IDF fire into Gaza.  

What this looks like to me is that the various actors are testing the parameters of the new rules of the game.  The question is whether any escalation by either side will lead to the collapse of the cease-fire.  

The fact that the cease-fire is not extended to the West Bank will be a constant source of friction as Palestinian groups in particular will be under pressure to respond from Gaza to losses in the West Bank.  This seems to be what was happening when Palestinian Islamic Jihad fired the first cease-fire breaking rockets after two of their militants were killed in an IDF raid in Nablus.  Interestingly, the Fatah affiliated al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade carried out the other rocket attacks, which possibly was a predictable Fatah effort to embarrass Hamas.  

Hamas has not launched its own rockets, but according to the cease-fire it is Hamas’s responsibility to also prevent other groups from shooting.  Hamas is aware that if it cannot do this then it is less of an address for a deal than it has tried to establish itself as.  The Hamas position so far has been to avoid armed confrontation with the competing PIJ or Fatah militia (it is trying to avoid having the criticism that is directs against Fatah, namely that is has become an Israeli security sub-contractor, turned on its head and used against itself) but it has used the bully pulpit and declared that any rocket fire is now against the Palestinian national interest.  This is an interesting development in itself.

Israel’s response - suspending the easing of the closure - is also an act in testing how far one can push the envelope within the rules of this new game.  Israel TV Channel Two’s lead analyst Ehud Ya’ari referred to these incidents as being basically teething problems as all sides adjust themselves to the new realities and his impression at least is that both sides still intend to pursue the cease-fire.  

The voices in Israel who opposed this effort in the first place are now seizing on these infractions to push for an abandonment of the cease-fire in order to launch a major military operation.  Also notable is that the Palestinian PM Salam Fayyad was very outspoken in his support of the cease-fire and his support of the Palestinian unity talks during his speech at the Berlin Donor’s Conference this week.  While the Quartet, also meeting in Berlin, expressed its support for what it called “Egyptian efforts to restore calm to Gaza and Southern Israel and welcomed the period of calm that began on June 19th.” One thing is for sure – the residents of Gaza and southern Israel have been able to breath just a  little easier this past week
The prisoner exchange negotiations for the release of Gilad Shalit, who marks two years in captivity this week, also seemed to have been stepped up a gear.  

And now to Friday morning’s event.  

From 9:30 to 11:00 am the New American Foundation will be hosting a panel discussion, which my colleague Steve Clemons has decided to call “Making Sense of the Arab Israeli Nightmare”.  Joining myself on the panel will be Aaron Miller, former US negotiator and adviser to six Secretaries of State and author of the indispensable book The Much Too Promised Land: America's Elusive Search for Arab-Israeli Peace, and my NAF colleague Gaith Al-Omari, who is also at the America Task Force on Palestine and who was an adviser to President Abbas and a Palestinian negotiator.

June 24, 2008

At Israel's Parliament, a French Lesson in Leadership for Bush

 This piece also appears at TPMCafe

Barely a month after President Bush chose the venue of Israel's Knesset to scold his domestic critics (or was he scolding the Israeli leadership, as this NYT editorial suggests) with accusations of appeasement, French President Nicholas Sarkozy found himself at the same podium yesterday, but with dramatically different results.

Sarko gave his American counterpart something of a French lesson not only in how to behave at a foreign parliament, but also in what constitutes both friendship to an ally and leadership on an issue.

The full Sarkozy speech is here (in French, the English version is not yet available, but highlights can be read here)--and contrasting it to Bush's May 15th effort is nothing short of embarrassing.

Sarkozy is credited by Israel and by the French Jewish community with having immeasurably improved French-Israeli bilateral relations. He is considered a friend and trusted ally and was feted during his Israel visit--no less than his Washington equivalent.

Sarkozy's speech was warm, full of admiration for Israel's accomplishments and understanding for Israel's genuine security concerns--but it also contained the home truths that the Israeli's needed to hear and that a visiting friend was best placed to impart. It contained precisely the ingredient--honest friendly advice or leadership--that was so absent in Bush's gutless pander-fest. Take this as a useful corrective to David Brook's gushing op-ed today and a reminder that when in Jerusalem brave Bush becomes "le wimp".

Bush did refer to some of what is needed for a peace deal during his visit last month--but that was in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt three days later, not in the Knesset--really courageous of you, Mr. President.

Two Presidents, two speeches, one leader:

President Bush on the borders for a 2 state solution: ___________.

President Sarkozy: "It is not possible to have peace without a negotiated border based on the 1967 lines with an exchange of territories."

President Bush on settlements: ___________.

President Sarkozy: "Peace cannot be achieved without a total and immediate cessation of the settlements."

President Bush on Jerusalem's future status: ___________.

President Sarkozy: "Peace cannot be achieved without the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of two states and guaranteeing freedom of access to holy sites for all religions."

President Bush on the Palestinian refugee issue: ___________.

President Sarkozy: "Peace cannot be achieved without solving the problem of the Palestinian refugees, while respecting the identity and purpose of Israel."

President Bush on Israeli-Palestinian, Israeli-Syrian, or Israeli-Lebanese peace talks: _________.

President Sarkozy: "(France) is ready to organize on its soil all the talks that could lead to (peace), whether in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, the Syrian-Israeli dialogue, or the talks that will have to resume, one day soon I hope, between Israel and Lebanon."


Both stated their commitment to Israel's existence and security, and expressed their staunch opposition to anti-Semitism. And both of course discussed the threat of Iran.

Just how appalling was the use of the phrase "the false comfort of appeasement", by America's leader to describe negotiations is given a new clarity when one considers that "appeasement" (read: diplomacy) has been outsourced by the Bushies to the French and other Europeans.

So Sarko spoke of both "sanctions" and "openness" regarding Iran. The U.S. is backing the EU 3's talks with Iran--but then hurling abuse about it when in the Knesset or when it suits domestic politics.

This is all the more stunning when one considers that President Sarkozy has also improved US-France relations, is close to Bush, and is hardly a 'gauchiste'. But then this was not really about ideology--Bush probably agrees with Sarkozy on the substance of 2 states--it was about leadership, or the lack thereof.

Oh, and by the way, after the Sarkozy tough love speech there was appreciation, applause and respect from the Israeli's--and no sign of menu's offering "freedom fries" in the Knesset cafeteria.

June 17, 2008

Ten Comments on the Gaza Cease-Fire and What Next:

 This piece also appears at TPMCafe

Reports are emerging from the region that the long awaited truce effort mediated by Egypt between Israel and Hamas (representing all the Palestinian factions in Gaza) is reaching closure.  According to reports, the arrangement will come into effect at 0600 on Thursday, barring any negative developments.  It is still unclear whether this will be a formal ceasefire or a set of informal arrangements—though you can certainly forget any theatrical hand shaking ceremony with accompanying pyrotechnics (well not those kinds of fireworks, anyway).  Negotiations have been taking place for several weeks and if there is a cease-fire, or tahadiyeh, then it will be fragile, have implications for Israeli and Palestinian politics, for the peace process, for the region, and for the US.  So here are 10 quick and initial thoughts on where we are, what to expect, and what to look out for.

1. Will the Cease-Fire Actually Happen?

The next 24-48 hours will be crucial and tense, and will determine whether the cease-fire even begins let alone holds.  Both sides will want to go into any de-escalation from a position of perceived strength and as having the upper hand, especially for mutual domestic marketing purposes.  So both sides can be expected to try one last push, one last strike in the coming hours (the Israeli Air Force mission that killed 6 Army of Islam militants this morning can probably be seen in this context).  If there is a harsh PIJ or other Palestinian response, or more Israeli strikes and things escalate out of control before zero hour, then all bets are off.  Both sides probably have a sense of just how far the envelope can be pushed.  Expect this kind of mutual prodding, but nothing game- changing, and therefore yes, one can expect with caution the cease-fire to actually happen. 

2. What the Cease-Fire will include and setting realistic expectations

Any cease-fire will include a package that extends beyond the basic cessation of hostilities.  The package will include: (a) the easing of the closure on the Gaza Strip thus allowing not only essential supplies to enter Gaza but also materials that allow the Gazan economy to gradually return to some kind of normality; (b) greater efforts to prevent weapons from entering the Gaza Strip from Egypt for use against Israel; (c) progress on the prisoner exchange deal for the release of Gilad Shalit, the IDF soldier who next week will mark two years of being held in Gaza. 

Certainly both sides will be preparing themselves for a possible next round of fighting, so expect Israel to reinforce its defensive systems along the border area with Gaza and expect Hamas to do likewise on its side and to continue its efforts to enhance its rocket capacity.  Israel on its part will be fast-tracking the development of its missile interception systems.  Some see the truce as an inevitable prelude to a next and bloodier round of escalated conflict.  Neither side will eschew this option, but neither side necessarily welcomes it.  It is not inevitable but maintaining a fragile cease-fire will require progress on all the items in the cease-fire package as well as patience and the setting of realistic expectations.  

3. Potential Deal Breakers

I will discuss the internal rumblings on the Israeli side below and will focus here mainly on the potential spoilers coming from the direction of Palestinians and “friends”.  The most obvious deal breaker would be for a relatively minor infraction such as a rogue rocket attack or pinpoint Israeli mission to usher in a cycle of counter-response and therefore escalation. 

Particular things to look out for include: (a) can Hamas control the other factions.  In particular, whether Palestinian Islamic Jihad—very possibly with Iranian encouragement—will be too eager to push the envelope.  Small splinter groups such as the Army of Islam/Daghmush clan also fall into this category; (b) Fatah-affiliated militias inside Gaza may themselves seek to undermine the cease-fire in order to deny Hamas any victory and to stir up trouble for their domestic opponents.  Fatah groups could work with or influence renegade elements of the Popular Resistance Communities in such actions; (c) the problem of the West Bank—the cease-fire does not extend to the WB so both Israel and the Palestinian factions may want to make a point by continuing to carry out operations in and from the West Bank.  The IDF will continue its arrests and other military operations which could provoke a response from Gaza or an escalation that sucks in Gaza, Palestinian groups might launch attacks against Israel from the WB that have similar effects on the cease-fire prospects.

4. The Israeli Dilemma

There has been an intense debate inside Israel over the desirability and efficacy of a possible truce, including disagreements within both the Defense establishment and inside the cabinet.  The Defense Minister (Ehud Barak) and IDF Chief of Staff (Gabi Ashkenazi)  carried the day, having consistently advocated a preference for the cease-fire option over a military assault that would likely carry significant human and other costs and would be unlikely to significantly improve Israel’s even medium term security.  Ehud Barak has shown considerable leadership in pushing this through.  There are though weighty dissenting voices, including from the Shin Bet, and they may be looking for any opportunity to push back against the cease-fire, undermine it and pursue their preferred military path.  This tension will be ongoing and will be put to the test every time there is a glitch.  

Some claim that the Israeli intention is to declaratively support the cease-fire arrangement so that the afterwards the inevitable military operation will receive greater domestic and international understanding and support.  I would question this assumption—it may be a consideration for some but I think many are not convinced that there is any good military option and have learnt the lessons of 38 years of occupying Gaza and the toll that took.  But again, expect fragility.  Of course, the political uncertainty in Israel is also playing a role, with accusations that a discredited Israeli Prime Minister is ill-positioned to launch a major military operation—I would argue that this particular dynamic should not be exaggerated, it is a factor but a limited one.   

5. Where is President Abbas?

Let there be no doubt that this is an Egyptian mediated deal between Israel and Hamas.  If there is a successful cease-fire with an improvement in the Gaza situation then further standing and credit will accrue to Hamas among the Palestinian population.  The division in the Palestinian polity and the fact that President Abbas represents only one part of that equation, both politically and geographically, means that he could not be a significant party to any understandings regarding Gaza.  Elements in the Fatah may indeed try to undermine the cease-fire.

One of the next issues to deal with will be whether or not there is a serious effort at internal Palestinian reconciliation.  Abbas has recently called to renew a unity dialogue with Hamas and Hamas has consistently stated its willingness to participate in such a dialogue.  Three considerations probably led President Abbas to move in this direction:  (a) anticipating a possible cease-fire, Abbas wanted to initiate the move so that it would not be seen as a response to Hamas having gained additional leverage as a consequence of this tahadiyeh; (b) the flip side to the above, if the cease-fire fails and there is an ugly and bloody escalation—namely that Abbas would be seen as having reached out to his fellow Palestinians in Gaza  in earnest rather than having abandoned them; (c) given the political developments and complications in Israel, Abbas may now feel that the peace talks with Olmert are reaching a dead end and in this context he is returning to the option of a unity dialogue with Hamas.  I would suggest that it would be no bad thing to allow the Palestinians to engage on these issues themselves rather than to force through an Israeli-Palestinian agreement on paper in a situation where one side has basically lost legitimacy and the other is so deeply divided and perhaps also legitimacy-challenged.  It is not yet clear whether the Abbas call for unity talks is a serious one or that it will go anywhere.

6.  And Where is the US?

The Bush Administration was not a party to this mediation effort, and until recently displayed little enthusiasm for what Egypt was trying to help the parties achieve.  There are hints that that has changed—not the basic position regarding Hamas, but an appreciation of the necessity of de-escalating the conflict around Gaza as an end in itself and as something that could otherwise definitively topple the Abbas-Olmert peace talks. 

While the US has not yet welcomed the cease-fire, during her recent Middle East visit Secretary Rice did set out a position that at least did not contradict the parameters of the understanding being brokered by Egypt.  It is unclear whether Secretary Rice encouraged the truce effort during this last visit, although the close proximity of today’s announcement to that visit may provide a clue. 

This much is clear:  the US has been noticeably absent from all the major recent diplomatic developments in the region—the Qatari brokered Lebanon deal, the Turkish sponsored Israeli-Syrian proximity talks and now this Egyptian mediated cease-fire.  Secretary Rice was in Lebanon yesterday and did welcome the new developments within that country, perhaps suggesting that the State Department at least is taking a more realist approach and is happy to see others pursue diplomatic solutions that are opposed by conflicting elements within the US administration, but that can be welcomed by the Secretary of State after the fact as fait accomplis.

7. The Egyptian Role

Egyptian mediation will have been a significant factor should a cease-fire be established and locked in.  For both Israel and Hamas (and the Palestinians in general), the relationship with Egypt has strategic significance, and in this particular instance Egypt is more player than bystander—having a role to play in both prevention of weapons smuggling into Gaza and an agreed modality for opening the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt.  Neither side want to go too far out on a limb in embarrassing the Egyptians by precipitously undermining the cease-fire—a small but not insignificant factor in favor of this effort’s success.

Egypt of course has its own interests and is concerned about the repercussions of the ongoing deteriorating humanitarian, economic and social situation in Gaza which already once already spilled over into the Egyptian Sinai and is likely to do so again.  Egypt also has a complicated relationship with its own Muslim Brotherhood domestic movement and this impacts its considerations vis Hamas.  In the long term, an exclusive Egyptian mediation role with Hamas is not a good idea for anyone including the Egyptians themselves. 

8.  The Cease-Fire vs. the Peace Process

It is difficult not to see this cease-fire deal as more significant than anything that has been going on in the formal peace negotiations between the Israel government and the PLO/PA Ramallah.  Any effective truce will further enhance the sense of the futility of those negotiations even though an improved security environment will create a more promising backdrop to those talks.  The opposite is certainly true, that a significant deterioration and expensive Israeli military campaign in Gaza would have effectively put an end to or at least led to a suspension of the Abbas-Olmert talks.  Under normal circumstances, a cease-fire, far from undermining parallel peace talks, would actually enhance their prospects.  But these are not normal times, Olmert is unfortunately too politically handicapped and Abbas presides over too divided a Palestinian polity for either of them to cut a deal. 

9.  The Regional Equation

Any truce would not take place in a regional vacuum.  Part of the Israeli logic for exploring the cease-fire is to remove a possible card from the Iranian hand and decrease the possibilities of Gaza being used as an Iranian front against Israel.  A similar logic could be applied to Israel’s pursuit of renewed negotiations with Syria, and the Lebanon deal may also have similar consequences in narrowing Iran’s regional options.    This could be, but is not necessarily an indication of Israel’s intentions vis Iran. 

Also worth noting is that Hamas is anything but comfortable when it is excessively dependent on Iran, it is not a proxy, and is uncomfortable when Fatah accuses it of acting in Shia or Persian interests.  So in that respect, Hamas prefers to have an Egyptian or other option.

10.  The Cease-Fire Betting Index…

Well it doesn’t exist yet as a betting option on intrade (unlike the peace deal by year’s end, which trades at a 17% probability).   But the odds would not be good.  The cause for hope is that neither side really thinks it has a better option.  Israel cannot deal a definitive military blow to Hamas and the opposite equation is even more unlikely.  The residents of the Israeli communities in the south bordering Gaza, including Sderot and Ashkelon, will welcome a respite from the intolerable and unpredictable realities of life in the shadow of rocket fire.  The 1.4 million Gazans who are not expecting to spend next year in the US as Fulbright Scholars have been subject to the devastating humanitarian consequences of the collective punishment imposed on their small strip of territory.  Both of these communities will bear the ultimate price if the cease-fire does not hold. 

It is just possible that a cease-fire could take effect and create a self perpetuating dynamic of success.  But that is unlikely if the bigger picture issues continue to be neglected including—what happens on the West Bank, reducing tensions in the region, and creating a livable-with security equation for both Israelis and Palestinians. 

June 10, 2008

An Israeli Minister’s Dual Loyalty...to Iran?

Shaul Mofaz is Israel’s Minister of Transportation.  He formerly served as the IDF chief of staff and as Defense Minister.  He is hardly considered to have been one of the greats to occupy either post.  Another position he currently holds is as minister in charge of the strategic dialogue with the US.  The very existence of this position is emblematic of the dysfunctionality of Israel’s political system right now (ordinarily the role would be part of the mandate of the Defense or Foreign Minister, but was somehow attached to the transportation minister’s portfolio as a sinecure handed out by the Prime Minister to prevent the politically stroppy Mofaz from sulking off and causing coalition problems.)

Nevertheless in charge of strategic dialogue with the US he is, and so when in an interview with Israel’s largest circulation daily Yediot Ahronot, Mofaz said “attacking Iran, in order to stop its nuclear plans, will be unavoidable”, the world took notice.  The full interview was published on Sunday and Mofaz expanded on the theme:

If Iran continues its program to develop nuclear weapons, we will attack it. The window of opportunity has closed. The sanctions are not effective. There will be no alternative but to attack Iran in order to stop the Iranian nuclear program.

Crude oil prices rose to record heights last Friday at $139 per barrel, and American consumers faced yet another increase in gas prices, with the average gallon of gas exceeding 4 dollars at the pump.  The global aftershocks were not insignificant.  For instance, India saw a backlash against the government’s decision to restrict fuel subsidies with widespread protests in Hyderabad and Kolkata, and lorry drivers in some European countries went on strike. 

Were Mofaz’s threatening words the sole factor that drove up oil prices?  Probably not. 

Most news outlets were reporting that a combination of expectations for sustained rising prices throughout the summer, along with the concurrent trend of a weakening US dollar, were also important factors.  But was there a causality at work here between what Mofaz said and the spike in the cost of barrels of oil?  Almost certainly yes.  As leading Israeli economic analyst Sever Plotzker concluded:

Blathering away about how 'we'll attack and destroy you' does not deter the decision-makers in Tehran, but it does drive the oil markets crazy…”

There was clearly a domestic political context to the Israeli Minister’s comments in his newspaper interview.  Prime Minister Olmert is embroiled in corruption investigations and leadership elections for the governing Kadima party are likely to be held in the near future.  Shaul Mofaz will contest those elections for Kadima’s top slot, and by extension, for the premiership.  Like many others, Mofaz left the Likud party to join Kadima.  Part of the Mofaz appeal will be to the more Likudist trend within Kadima and the broader Israeli public, and so the chest-thumping General plays nicely into this theme, especially when his main rival is the current Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, considered to be more moderate and pragmatic.  Mofaz has also spoken of his opposition to Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights, and has even suggested that he and his family will move there (while still promising peace with Syria—go figure!), and is a rightist on Palestinian issues, too.  But as Yossi Verter—a leading political commentator for Haaretzwrote:

on one hand, that is impressive productivity; on the other, it is scary. What is he planning for us during the real campaign...A world war? A clash of Titans?

The Mofaz campaign has all the trappings of being very old-school—both in its message—military not political solutions—and in its methods—machine politics with a whiff of corruption—signing up workers in employment sectors close to the minister’s portfolio to the Kadima party (such as bus company workers and dockworkers, who are decisively effected by the minister’s decisions).  So in both these respects, message and method, Mofaz is indistinguishable from his alma mater the Likud party.

Mofaz’s statement in his interview was roundly criticized in Israel, including in official circles.  As Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai said, “Turning one of the most strategic security issues into a political game…is something that must not be done.” In general, Israel has tried to fashion itself as part of an international coalition on Iran, rather than a lone actor.

So what else happened as a consequence of Mofaz’s remark and the subsequent rise in oil prices?  Well, Iran can now expect another increase in windfall profits from oil revenues.  Karim Sadjadpour, a colleague who is an Iran expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, estimates that Iran may net a further 11 billion dollars +/- thanks to Mofaz (Sadjadpour is planning to write about this). 

And here’s an interesting biographical detail about Shaul Mofaz…he is actually Iranian by birth. 

Can it be?  Mofaz must have known that his comments would cause an oil price rise and that this would help Iran.  So is this an Israeli Minister acting with dual loyalty and serving the interest of Iran? 

Well no, I think not.  But Iran nonetheless benefited from his comments: financially—to the tune of almost 4 years worth of American military aid to Israel; and diplomatically, as Iran garnered international attention through a letter of protest to the UN Security Council). 

This and other episodes of saber-rattling have had the added impact of serving to strengthen the hard-liners in Tehran and rally the public around the flag—something that overshadows the failings of Ahmadinejad’s own economic policies.  In this respect, Mofaz’s statement was just one in a litany of warrior comments—unconstructive and self-defeating—that several Israeli and American politicians in particular have been serving up on a regular basis.

Ratcheting up the threatening rhetoric can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Military action against Iran would have appalling consequences across the region and beyond.  But expect a sticky next few months.  Responsible voices in the international community and from within the politics of the key protagonists will need to be permanently on guard and step up their game during this period.  If these months can be successfully navigated, then the more promising policy option of broad-ranging direct US diplomatic engagement with Iran, backed by smarter containment, might finally be tried. 

June 6, 2008

Let's not Get Talmudic about Dividing Jerusalem--Just Watch This

I still plan to comment on the Obama Israel speech at AIPAC—which contained some important affirmations on the change he offers on this issue too: prioritizing the peace process—from day one, supporting Israeli-Syria negotiations, understanding why Iraq was a disaster in a regional context, and hard-bargain diplomacy with Iran.  And the debate he ignited with that Jerusalem comment:  “And Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel and it must remain undivided.”  Since clarified:  “Well, obviously, it’s going to be up to the parties to negotiate a range of these issues. And Jerusalem will be part of those negotiations.”  Bottom line, words are also codes and the code of “undivided Jerusalem” can be re-interpreted to mean barbed wire—but it sends the wrong signal.

I won’t get into it more now.  Israel and Palestinian leaders are negotiating the division of Jerusalem anyway.  So, I will leave you with 3 references before we get to the fun stuff…

1)  This is what the Clinton parameters of Dec. 2000 have to say on the subject:

Jerusalem:  The general principle is that Arab areas are Palestinian and Jewish ones are Israeli. This would apply to the Old City as well. I urge the two sides to work on maps to create maximum contiguity for both sides.

2)  Here is Dennis Ross on the subject from his book The Missing Peace: The Inside Story of the Fight for Middle East Peace:  On page 774-5, Dennis calls it an Israeli myth

that all of Jerusalem, including the exclusively Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem, must remain Israeli lest the division of East Jerusalem rob Israel of its link to its Jewish heritage.

And in this NYT op-ed from January 2007, he says the following:  

The basic trade-offs require meeting Israeli needs on security and refugees on the one hand and Palestinian needs on territory and a capital in Arab East Jerusalem on the other

3)  And here is current Israeli Vice Prime Minister Haim Ramon speaking at the Israel Policy Forum last December:  

In 1967, after the Six Day War, Israel annexed twenty-eight villages that historically were part of the West Bank and defined them as Jerusalem.  They had never been Jerusalem.  Now, they are part of Jerusalem.  So the response to those who say, “You want to divide Jerusalem,” is to say that we are not diving anything…On Jerusalem, it’s clear and in the interest of both sides that east Jerusalem will be the capital of the Palestinian state and that its Arab neighborhoods will be under Palestinian sovereignty.

But hay, it’s almost shabbos, let’s not get Talmudic about dividing Jerusalem—far more enjoyable to watch is this splendid clip from Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show”…enjoy.

June 4, 2008

Pisgat Ze’ev: Beating up on Arabs and Building Settlements

The East Jerusalem neighborhood of Pisgat Ze’ev has been in the Israeli news twice in the last week, and not because anything good happened there.  Pisgat Ze’ev was built beyond the Green Line and is a settlement, even if it is not considered as such by Israel or Israelis, and even if it is in an area unilaterally annexed by Israel as part of the new boundaries of municipal Jerusalem (an annexation not recognized by anyone and contravening international law, and one that has been put on the table in the current official Israeli-Palestinian negotiations).  Pisgat Ze’ev witnessed what is in many ways and without exaggeration one of the ugliest scenes in Israel’s history last week. 

As reported by Haaretz, this is how it began: 

Dozens of teenage boys from Jerusalem received the same ICQ message: "We're putting an end to all the Arabs who hang out in 'Pisga' [Pisgat Ze'ev] and the mall…Anyone who is Jewish and wants to put an end to all that should be at Burger Ranch at 10 P.M., and we'll finally show them they can't hang in our area anymore. Anyone who is willing to do that and has Jewish blood should add his name to this message."

What followed later at a local mall—all caught on video—was a harrowing scene of violence that saw two Arab teenagers end up in the hospital as a result of the violence meted out by a mob of more than 80 Israeli youths:

The Jewish teens gathered outside the local shopping center armed with knives, sticks and bats and attacked two Arab teens, aged 16 and 18, from the nearby Shuafat refugee camp.  One of the Arab youths…was stabbed in the back, but managed to escape. His friend was described by one of the suspects during questioning as a "trampoline and a punching bag." The suspect recounted how "everyone jumped, kicked and stepped on him"

The attack was roundly condemned by Israeli leaders, and an investigation was launched.  But the events were the tip of the iceberg of an issue that has for so very long been swept under the carpet:  that of the relations between the Jewish and Arab populations within Israel, and the massive structural discrimination against the almost 20 % of Israeli citizens who are Palestinian.  For Israel’s sake, this is an issue that must not be ignored or allowed to fester. 

But then another thing happened involving Pisgat Ze’ev this week:  it got a reward for the beating of two Arabs, when the government announced the construction of 763 new homes in Pisgat Ze’ev (and another 121 in Har Homa).  I am convinced that if a two state solution is ever reached, then Pisgat Ze’ev will be part of Israel in its agreed, recognized, and legitimized new borders, and I have been part of Israeli negotiating teams—official and unofficial—that have argued this case. 

But until that agreement is reached, every housing unit added and marketed beyond the Green Line will continue to undermine that same two state solution and reduce the likelihood of it ever being reached as the belief on both sides in such an option is further eroded.  The US government and international community criticized this act of settlement expansion, but it goes on and on.  Pisgat Ze’ev needs to be going through a serious process of internal introspection right now.  The last thing anyone needs is the opposite—a process of external expansion.

Israeli Labor Leader Calls for Severing of Ties with Hagee/CUFI

 This piece also appears on TPMCafe

Israel’s former Consul General to New York, and now Labor Party parliamentarian, MK Colette Avital, has called on Israel’s leaders to cut ties with Hagee in an op-ed in today’s Haaretz.  Colette Avital is one of the most respected members of Labor’s parliamentary faction.  She was the party’s first woman candidate for President and has been a leader in fighting for the rights of holocaust survivors, women’s equality, and the well-being of the Bedouin in the Negev.

Today she began what will hopefully be a push from the other end of this equation, from Israel itself, to end the obscene relationship that has been embraced so enthusiastically by so many in the pro-Israel community with Hagee, his Christians United For Israel organization, and the dispensationalist wing of Evangelical Zionism.

As Colette Avital notes in her op-ed,

as someone familiar with the evangelicals' views and beliefs on the second coming of Jesus, there is nothing surprising to me about his statements. It only causes me to sigh in relief because the truth is coming out. This time it was not a slip of the tongue…do we still need to point out that Jesus can return only after Armageddon, and to this end it is best if Israel continues to be at war?
Hagee has somehow managed to operate below the radar screen in building one of the most powerful and largest lobbies—but no longer.  There now needs to be a drive to politically bury Hagee and what he represents, and that effort includes putting an end to the sick marriage of convenience between certain American Jewish leaders and organizations, and Hageeism.  We now know not only about Hagee’s bigotry regarding women, blacks, Catholics, and the gay community, but have also been treated to his views on how Jews are responsible for anti-Semitism, his views on Hitler being on a biblical mission, on Rabin’s assassination, and Max Blumenthal’s latest revelations on the anti-Christ being a fierce, gay Jew.  

But what is also interesting, and what Colette Avital tells us, is the following:

The support of American evangelicals does not receive the necessary attention in Israel. The outrageous statement by Reverend John Hagee…is an example of extremist views that are being ignored by those who laud the support Israel gets from evangelicals.  
This really is a non-story in Israel, but after the latest Hagee outrages, Avital pulls no punches in the demands she makes on Israel’s leaders:  

Is it not appropriate then to expect Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni to make an unequivocal announcement that they, too, are cutting ties with Hagee and his ilk? After all, the aims of this bear hug are clear.

While Senator McCain saw fit to reject Hagee’s endorsements, Joe Lieberman has yet to do the same, and is also slated to speak at next month’s CUFI Summit in Washington, D.C. (J Street is running a campaign of “Don’t go, Joe” on this issue);  New York Democrat Eliot Engel should also be called to task for agreeing to appear at the CUFI Summit (and he is still scheduled to do so); and unfortunately, AIPAC will feature prominently at CUFI, just as CUFI is doing at this week’s AIPAC conference, with speakers including Gary Bauer.  By the way, CUFI’s leaders also include the infamous Islamophobe Pastor Rod Parsley.  

Decent elected officials who reject Hagee’s brand of bigotry and Armageddonist, pro-Israelism should take their cue from Representative Betty McCollum (D-MN), who declined to speak at a CUFI sponsored so-called “Night to Honor Israel” because “well-publicized statements by Pastor Hagee demonstrate extremism, bigotry and intolerance that is repugnant.”

Just for reminders, here is Hagee on Iran:

*We are on a countdown to crisis. The coming nuclear showdown with Iran is a certainty...Israel and America must confront Iran's nuclear ability and willingness to destroy Israel with nuclear weapons...No prophetic scripture is more crystal clear than Ezekiel's vivid and specific description of the coming massive war that will sweep the world toward Armageddon...If Israel attacks [Iran], there doubtless will be a vast pan-Arabic Islamic army assembled to attack Israel and attempt to drive the Jews into the Dead Sea...we are standing on the brink of nuclear Armageddon...

 *This is a correction from the original Hagee quote which I took from this article, which Sarah Posner at TAP kindly pointed out to me was inaccurate.

June 3, 2008

McCain at AIPAC offers Americans and Israelis the Same Gloomy, Insecure, Hope-Free Future

 This piece appears on today's Huffington Post

 Senator McCain gave the keynote address at today’s opening of the annual AIPAC Conference and promised that the same vision of perpetual warfare served up by Bush, and offered as an option to Americans in November, would also be available to his Israeli friends were he to become the next occupant of the White House.  If I may speak for a moment from my Israeli perspective—I found the enthusiastic response to the unappetizing fare proffered by McCain, while not surprising, thoroughly distasteful.  The speech of the Republican presidential hopeful was so utterly devoid of anything positive for the future, that he even managed to find precious little to say about Israel’s achievements of the past 60 years (yes I am all too aware of Israel’s shortcomings, but given the occasion, one would have at least expected an uplifting take on the positive side of the Israel story—but then McCain does not do uplifting).  What was most remarkable though was how shallow and devoid of context McCain’s understanding of the region proved to be.  He is indeed positioning himself as the true inheritor of the neoconservative mantle. 

McCain’s speech ran to just under 3000 words.  Exactly half of that was devoted to Iran and Iraq.  If one removes the tops and tails—his flowery references to visiting Israel, the obligatory name check to his buddy Senator Lieberman, and reference to Henry “Scoop” Jackson (a none-too-subtle bow to the neocons), then just 725 words of that speech remained for such trivialities as Israel’s relations with its neighbors, al-Qaeda, the Gulf, etc.; not surprising then that these barely got a mention.  

In McCain’s world the Middle East is reduced to Iran, Iraq and some terrorists running around in Gaza and Lebanon.  Egypt and Jordan, the two neighbors with which Israel has formal peace treaties, and the anchors for Israel’s acceptance and peaceful existence in the region, did not merit a single mention.  Likewise Saudi Arabia, or any of the Gulf States with whom Israel is keen to formalize links, who were even present at the Annapolis conference and who have mobilized a platform for regional acceptance of Israel in the Saudi Initiative.  McCain ain’t interested.  On the Saudis and the Gulf—nada. 

Israel has just launched Turkish mediated proximity talks with Syria.  But in a display of McSameness, McCain refused to welcome or refer to these negotiations.  He quite simply snubbed the government of Israel and the leadership of its defense establishment, who are strongly behind these peace talks (by the way the Turks, who are brokering these talks, who now have a key regional role, also don’t exist in McCain’s Middle East). 

Peace and the peace-process were at best a footnote coexisting uneasily with the overarching themes of scare mongering, terror, and fear.  The best McCain could manage on the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks was this:

Yet while we encourage this process we must also insure that Israel's people can live in safety until there is a Palestinian leadership willing and able to deliver peace

The Israeli government views the current Palestinian leadership as a peace partner; McCain—not so much. 

Finally, in terms of omissions, McCain barely mentioned al-Qaeda—doing so only briefly in the Iraq context.  What this ignored is the reality whereby the Iraq War, McCain’s pet project, has brought al-Qaeda perilously close to Israel’s doorstep.  Since al-Qaeda was able to establish an operating base in American-occupied Iraq, it has carried out attacks in the Jordanian capital Amman, in the Egyptian Sinai, and apparently has a presence in the refugee camps in Lebanon and perhaps even in Gaza—all literally Israel’s doorstep.  No word though from McCain to AIPAC on how he might address this, except more of the same. 

So what of the subjects he did talk about—Iran and Iraq primarily?

On Iran, McCain parrots the positions of that wing of the Bush administration least troubled by reality.  He slammed the door shut on diplomacy:

We hear talk of a meeting with the Iranian leadership offered up as if it were some sudden  inspiration, a bold new idea that somehow nobody has ever thought of before…

and suggests more of the ramped-up sanctions and threats that have served to bolster the hardliners in Tehran and whatever nuclear ambitions they have.  In doing so, he even rejects the positions recently voiced by Defense Sectrary Robert Gates and General David Petraeus advocating that US policy create the conditions for constructive engagement with Iran.  That puts McCain way out of touch with US public opinion, 59% of which says that “the US President should meet with the President of Iran”.

In a snub to 60s music fans, McCain offered no rendition of his cover of the Beach Boy’s classic “Barbara Ann”, and notably did not sign up to the naval blockade of Iran recently suggested by some senior Israeli officials. 

Not to worry—the Arizona Senator did offer a chestnut when suggesting a possible dialogue with Iran would achieve nothing more than an “earful of anti-Semitic rants and a worldwide audience for a man who denies one Holocaust and who talks about starting…another”.  Then again, McCain hardly needs to travel to Tehran for that; he could simply resume his alliance with Pastor John Hagee, either directly or via Joe Lieberman, who has refused to sever his links with the Jew-baiting head of CUFI [for the latest on Hagee’s mad rantings, read Max Blumenthal in Huffington Post, which MJ Rosenberg follows up on here at TPM; and for the Lieberman-Hagee love-in, and petition against, see J Street here].

McCain’s Iraq shtick is all too well rehearsed to merit comment, suffice it to say that whatever encouragement certain friends of Israel in the US may have given the war, the consequences to date have been nothing short of disastrous to Israel’s strategic security interests. 

That most of the crowd loved the speech is a sad reflection on AIPAC, and that it is reaping what it has sown in moving so aggressively to the right in recent years.  According to reports in the Israeli Haaretz newspaper, and the Jewish Forward, AIPAC even had to send a note out to its members asking them not to misbehave at the conference; in effect shorthand for please don’t boo the Democrats—they might be important next year.  There was an interesting piece in today’s Jerusalem Post (“Is AIPAC showing some cracks?”) that reminds us that even in the early 1990s, Israeli PM Yitzhak Rabin was blasting AIPAC for “causing damage to Israel”. 

The enthusiastic AIPAC embrace of the neoconservative agenda during the Bush years was to be expected, but that still does not make it any less of a strategic blunder.  And this year’s AIPAC conference is unfortunately full of the same cast of characters that have spearheaded that dangerously misguided alliance.  To name but a very few:  from the Sheldon Adelson-funded Shalem Institute in Israel—Michael Oren, Natan Sharansky, and Martin Kramer; from the uber-righist policy world—AEI’s Danielle Pletka; Walid Phares and Tony Badran of the FDD; Ilan Berman from the Committee on the Present Danger; and Jonathan Shantzer, formerly of Campus Watch.

And of course, despite everything, AIPAC will still be giving a platform to CUFI, including Gary Bauer, and one that will be reciprocated at CUFI’s D.C. Summit next month. It should come as no surprise that the 2 House members who will speak at CUFI are among a handful of those speaking at AIPAC—Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) and Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN).   Courageous Congresswoman Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) made the call on CUFI and refused to cooperate with them long ago, AIPAC has still not learned the lesson.

Based on this speech, McCain is determined to continue his failed Bush policies in the Middle East, and then some.  As for AIPAC, it could still come to its senses and cut the umbilical cord to the right, the neocons, and the dispensationalist Evangelical Zionists.   On conference day 1, the signs are not good. 

Daniel Levy

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