Saturday, June 20, 2009

Vacation

I'll be "on the road" for the next few days but will try to post when I can.

Do stay tuned! I should be back in action at the start of next month, at the latest.

Netanyahu's Speech in Israeli Media, Part 1: Obama

Since last Sunday I've wanted to write a post on my thoughts on the Israeli media's reaction to Netanyahu's speech on that day.

A whole lot of ink has flowed from Israeli pens on the subject and so it's difficult to catch it all. It's interesting to note that the Israeli media seemed to dedicate what is probably the lions share of their writing on the speech not about the speech itself, but about what others are saying about the speech, most notably the US and Obama himself. I'll try to cover these reactions is a few separate posts because I think a single one could be too long.

Take for example this Jpost article which highlights Obama's opinion that Netanyahu's speech is a good place to start serious negotiations from. It also quotes Obama as making an interesting remark that it is to be expected that there would be a knee-jerk Arab rejection of whatever comes out of Israel. He also suggests that Israel would react the same way to anything that came from an Arab leader.

Ha'aretz also reports on Obama's reaction to Netanyahu's speech and makes an additional interesting note that Obama seemed to welcome the idea of the two states mentioned by Netanyahu but not the caveats that Netanyahu insists on. For example, Obama is opposed to any sort of activity in the settlements and criticizes Netanyahu for defending the "natural growth" issue. Obama also makes the important point of stating that Arabs must end their education system's incitement of hate towards Israel.


YNet covers the same story as the JPost with the same quotes but goes a bit further to report on Netanyahu's response to the reaction to his speech: disappointment. In particular, Netanyahu had hoped that the Arab response to his speech would have been better. He considers himself to have created an opportunity for a real peace that he was hoping would be grasped.

The significance of this attention on Obama is that it frames Netanyahu's speech as a reply to Obama's Cairo address in some sort of international conversation by speeches. I don't think this is the case. Netanyahu's speech is an overdue policy address. It's likely that he was waiting to hear Obama's position before he spoke, it's also true that there were some elements in the speech that referred to comments made by Obama--most notably Netanyahu's comments on the Holocaust which refute what many commented was Obama's linking of the Holocaust and the creation of Israel--but the speech as a whole was very distinctly Israeli. It was not part of a dialogue with Obama but rather an overdue explanation of the Israeli government's foreign policy. Indeed, the name "the United States" does not even appear once in Netanyahu's speech.

Stay tuned for further posts on the reaction of others in the US, the EU, the Arab world as seen by Israeli media and Israeli opinion and analysis.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Iranian Bombshell--No Real Fallout

wow!

"The whole Iranian nation are united... on (the) inalienable right of (having a) nuclear weapon," the [Iranian] envoy to the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency said.

This could really just be a case of slipping up in the use of language, everyone makes mistakes, but this is a hard one to ignore.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Thoughts on Netanyahu's Speech

Netanyahu has finally made his much anticipated foreign policy speech. I have reproduced the official translation of it in it's entirety below and added my own comments in bold.

"Honored guests, citizens of Israel.

Peace has always been our people's most ardent desire. Our prophets gave the world the vision of peace, we greet one another with wishes of peace, and our prayers conclude with the word peace.


We are gathered this evening in an institution named for two pioneers of peace, Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat, and we share in their vision.

Two and half months ago, I took the oath of office as the Prime Minister of Israel. I pledged to establish a national unity government - and I did. I believed and I still believe that unity was essential for us now more than ever as we face three immense challenges - the Iranian threat, the economic crisis, and the advancement of peace.

Netnyahu may have pledged to form a national unity government, but in Israel, this often means a government of all the parties, not the situation that exists now with Kadima, the party that won the single most votes sitting in opposition.

This paragraph is also significant as it lays out what Netanyahu sees as Israels three main priorities. They are really no surprise. Netanyahu, an economist, has always placed the economy high on not only his list of domestic priorities, but also international ones. He has spoken frequently of the need for economic peace with Palestinians. The threat from Iran is looming ever larger on the Israeli national agenda and it's a safe bet to say that no Israeli leader has ever omitted the advancement of peace from the top three of their agenda items.

The Iranian threat looms large before us, as was further demonstrated yesterday. The greatest danger confronting Israel, the Middle East, the entire world and human race, is the nexus between radical Islam and nuclear weapons. I discussed this issue with President Obama during my recent visit to Washington, and I will raise it again in my meetings next week with European leaders. For years, I have been working tirelessly to forge an international alliance to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

This is an issue Netanyahu has indeed been pushing very hard. It is a real Israeli fear that should nuclear weapons be developed in a place like Iran, that Iran, or perhaps even more likely, one of its clients, like Syria or proxies, Hizbollah or Hamas could be funnelled these weapons for use against Israel. An Iranian attack against Israel with nuclear weapons would probably result in Iran's destruction. An attack against Israel by Hamas or Hizbollah with a dirty bomb (as it is unlikely that they would be able to attack with a nuclear weapon) would present a situation that would be difficult for Israel to respond to. Therefore, on this point, Netanyahu is speaking to a real and legitimate fear held by Israelis.

Confronting a global economic crisis, the government acted swiftly to stabilize Israel's economy. We passed a two year budget in the government - and the Knesset will soon approve it.
And the third challenge, so exceedingly important, is the advancement of peace. I also spoke about this with President Obama, and I fully support the idea of a regional peace that he is leading.

So Netanyahu supports a drive for regional peace. This is significant as the most prominent regional peace plan is the so called "Arab peace plan" proposed by Saudi Arabia which calls for full normalization of relations between Israel and all Arab states in exchange for an Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders and a right of return for Palestinian refugees. Obama has endorsed a version of this and now it seems that Netanyahu accepts at least part of it. Like all peace proposals, it should be seen as a starting point, one that can be used as the basis for negotiation, but still, this is significant. A "right wing" Israeli leader may be seen to have endorsed a plan that will see Israel withdrawing from if not all, most of the occupied territories.

I share the President's desire to bring about a new era of reconciliation in our region. To this end, I met with President Mubarak in Egypt, and King Abdullah in Jordan, to elicit the support of these leaders in expanding the circle of peace in our region. I turn to all Arab leaders tonight and I say: "Let us meet. Let us speak of peace and let us make peace." I am ready to meet with you at any time. I am willing to go to Damascus, to Riyadh, to Beirut, to any place - including Jerusalem.

What's interesting here is the use of the term Arab leaders. One would have to assume that the words of this speech were chosen very carefully and that each of them has a precise meaning. Aren't the leaders of Hamas Arabs? Does this mean that Netanyahu would sit with the leader of Hamas? A major reason for Israel's desire to isolate Hamas is that they are a terrorist organization that has killed Israeli civilians and that denies Israel's right to exist. States like Lebanon, Syria and Saudi Arabia also deny Israel's right to exist and some of them have directly or indirectly supported terrorism. Could this really be what Netanyahu means? Hard to imagine, but again, this speech lays out positions not before publicly espoused by Netanyahu.

It's also significant that Netanyahu said "Arab" leaders, not leaders of Muslim states or some such variation. While the statement Arab leaders is not exhaustive--meaning he will probably be willing to talk to people other than Arabs--the term seems to exclude the possibility of talking to Iran, or Pakistan for that matter.

I call on the Arab countries to cooperate with the Palestinians and with us to advance an economic peace. An economic peace is not a substitute for a political peace, but an important element to achieving it. Together, we can undertake projects to overcome the scarcities of our region, like water desalination or to maximize its advantages, like developing solar energy, or laying gas and petroleum lines, and transportation links between Asia, Africa and Europe.

The economic success of the Gulf States has impressed us all and it has impressed me. I call on the talented entrepreneurs of the Arab world to come and invest here and to assist the Palestinians - and us - in spurring the economy. Together, we can develop industrial areas that will generate thousands of jobs and create tourist sites that will attract millions of visitors eager to walk in the footsteps of history - in Nazareth and in Bethlehem, around the walls of Jericho and the walls of Jerusalem, on the banks of the Sea of Galilee and the baptismal site of the Jordan. There is an enormous potential for archeological tourism, if we can only learn to cooperate and to develop it.

These two previous paragraphs are important. For one, they dispel any question that Netanyahu sees economic peace as some kind of substitute for a political peace with Palestinians. He makes this point explicitly. More than that, however, he proposes programmes that will ensure that it is in the mutual interests of Arabs and Israelis to not only be at peace with one another, but to work together. Arabs and Israelis making money for each other and from cooperation, mutually improving each other's lives and creating a symbiosis reduces the likelihood of one side raising a sword to the other.

It also has the more personal impact of Israelis and Arabs meeting and actually knowing and meeting each other, increasing the "density" of the relationship and decreasing the likelihood of conflict on an individual level.

I turn to you, our Palestinian neighbors, led by the Palestinian Authority, and I say: Let's begin negotiations immediately without preconditions.

Well, this could be an answer to the question about a willingness to talk to Hamas. Or maybe not. Netanyahu is willing to talk to the Palestinians, so long as the Palestinian Authority is leading these talks. Is this Netanyahu telling Palestinians that they must unite behind the PA or is he saying that he'll talk to Palestinians without preconditions, so long as they're the PA?

Israel is obligated by its international commitments and expects all parties to keep their commitments. We want to live with you in peace, as good neighbors. We want our children and your children to never again experience war: that parents, brothers and sisters will never again know the agony of losing loved ones in battle; that our children will be able to dream of a better future and realize that dream; and that together we will invest our energies in plowshares and pruning hooks, not swords and spears.

If Israeli is obligated by it's previous agreements, that also includes the "road map" to peace, ending in a Palestinian state. It's a statement different from what Lieberman, the foreign minister has said in the past: that the road map is dead. Netanyahu, however, is the Prime Minister. He speaks for the government with even greater authority than the foreign minister does. It seems that he's saying that all of Israel's previous obligations hold.

I know the face of war. I have experienced battle. I lost close friends, I lost a brother. I have seen the pain of bereaved families. I do not want war. No one in Israel wants war.

If we join hands and work together for peace, there is no limit to the development and prosperity we can achieve for our two peoples - in the economy, agriculture, trade, tourism and education - most importantly, in providing our youth a better world in which to live, a life full of tranquility, creativity, opportunity and hope.

If the advantages of peace are so evident, we must ask ourselves why peace remains so remote, even as our hand remains outstretched to peace? Why has this conflict continued for more than sixty years?

More than sixty years. Interesting in that the Analysis starts from the day of Israel's creation, not 1967 or any other date. It is therefore not just an analysis of the Israeli Palestinian conflict, but the Israeli Arab one.

In order to bring an end to the conflict, we must give an honest and forthright answer to the question: What is the root of the conflict?

In his speech to the first Zionist Conference in Basel, the founder of the Zionist movement, Theodore Herzl, said about the Jewish national home "This idea is so big that we must speak of it only in the simplest terms." Today, I will speak about the immense challenge of peace in the simplest words possible.

Even as we look toward the horizon, we must be firmly connected to reality, to the truth. And the simple truth is that the root of the conflict was, and remains, the refusal to recognize the right of the Jewish people to a state of their own, in their historic homeland.

Palestinian leadership has, even recently refused to recognize Israel as a Jewish homeland, dismissing the request with the comment that it was no business of the Palestinians what Israel called itself. It's certainly true that it's nobody's business what Israel calls itself. It is significant to recognize what Israel is. It's really not the business of the world that Saudi Arabia is a monarchy and that there is no separation of "church" and state in that country, but to deny that Saudi Arabia is a Muslim country would be to deny a reality. The Israeli reality is that the land where the State of Israel now exists was part of a Jewish kingdom that existed in a time even before Saudi Arabia ever did. Refusing to acknowledge this, strips Israel of one of it's raisons d'etre. It allows those who reject the fact of a continued historic Jewish presence in Israel to continually seek to regard Jewish presence in Israel as alien.

In 1947, when the United Nations proposed the partition plan of a Jewish state and an Arab state, the entire Arab world rejected the resolution. The Jewish community, by contrast, welcomed it by dancing and rejoicing. The Arabs rejected any Jewish state, in any borders.

Those who think that the continued enmity toward Israel is a product of our presence in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, is confusing cause and consequence. The attacks against us began in the 1920s, escalated into a comprehensive attack in 1948 with the declaration of Israel's independence, continued with the fedayeen attacks in the 1950s, and climaxed in 1967, on the eve of the Six-Day War, in an attempt to tighten a noose around the neck of the State of Israel. All this occurred during the fifty years before a single Israeli soldier ever set foot in Judea and Samaria.

This is true and a common argument in favour of continued settlement. It does not, however, change the fact that as the settlements grow an increasingly large population of Israeli citizens are beginning to establish themselves permanently in land will will likely become part of a Palestinian state. Their presence further complicates a simple transfer of "land for peace." Netanyahu, here, appears to be establishing a basis for an argument in favour of maintaining the settlements. He is likely also playing domestic politics and speaking to the many settlers who support him or his coalition allies within the Israeli government.

Fortunately, Egypt and Jordan left this circle of enmity. The signing of peace treaties have brought about an end to their claims against Israel, an end to the conflict. But to our regret, this is not the case with the Palestinians. The closer we get to an agreement with them, the further they retreat and raise demands that are inconsistent with a true desire to end the conflict.
Many good people have told us that withdrawal from territories is the key to peace with the Palestinians. Well, we withdrew. But the fact is that every withdrawal was met with massive waves of terror, by suicide bombers and thousands of missiles.

We tried to withdraw with an agreement and without an agreement. We tried a partial withdrawal and a full withdrawal. In 2000 and again last year, Israel proposed an almost total withdrawal in exchange for an end to the conflict, and twice our offers were rejected. We evacuated every last inch of the Gaza strip, we uprooted tens of settlements and evicted of Israelis from their homes, and in response, we received a hail of missiles on our cities, towns and children.

Here Netanyahu is speaking to the feelings of the overwhelming majority of Israelis and essentially, a reflection of fact. Israel was taking rocket fire from Gaza when it was in Gaza, and these rockets grew more frequent and bold even after a unilateral withdrawal from the strip. Netanyahu does, however, note that in the Egyptian and Jordanian cases land for peace has worked. His reversal of the onus to Palestinians to prove their serious about peace is interesting, however, because it's not all Palestinians that are firing rockets. Just Hamas. Things in the PA ruled West Bank have, thanks in part to the wall, been relatively calm. But this reverse onus is placed on Hamas, over whom the PA has no control. Essentially Netanyahu's position is leading towards, we want to negotiate for peace with Palestinians led by the PA, but Palestinians need to build our confidence in them by stopping the rockets fired by a group that the PA--the negotiating partner--has no control over. Essentially, Palestinian infighting shakes Israeli confidence. This is not surprising though. Netanyahu wants to avoid a situation where he makes concessions for peace with one party while the other disavows the agreements made and continues hostilities independently.

The claim that territorial withdrawals will bring peace with the Palestinians, or at least advance peace, has up till now not stood the test of reality. In addition to this, Hamas in the south, like Hizbullah in the north, repeatedly proclaims their commitment to "liberate" the Israeli cities of Ashkelon, Beersheba, Acre and Haifa.

Territorial withdrawals have not lessened the hatred, and to our regret, Palestinian moderates are not yet ready to say the simple words: Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people, and it will stay that way.

Achieving peace will require courage and candor from both sides, and not only from the Israeli side. The Palestinian leadership must arise and say: "Enough of this conflict. We recognize the right of the Jewish people to a state of their own in this land, and we are prepared to live beside you in true peace."

I am yearning for that moment, for when Palestinian leaders say those words to our people and to their people, then a path will be opened to resolving all the problems between our peoples, no matter how complex they may be. Therefore, a fundamental prerequisite for ending the conflict is a public, binding and unequivocal Palestinian recognition of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people. To vest this declaration with practical meaning, there must also be a clear understanding that the Palestinian refugee problem will be resolved outside Israel's borders. For it is clear that any demand for resettling Palestinian refugees within Israel undermines Israel's continued existence as the state of the Jewish people.

This is another key point and argument as to why Palestinians must recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Just as Palestinians would view Israeli settlers in Israel as a problem--and these setters merely argue "we are returning home"--many Israelis would view Palestinian refugees "returning home" as a challenge to the character of Israel. Many Israelis view the right of return with suspicion, suggesting that it's a way for Palestinians to create a state in all of Israel by weight of numbers and population. The idea is, move into Israel, become citizens, vote and then elect a government that will merge Israel with a newly created Palestine, therefore creating one Palestinian state and making the Jews a minority in the country they built.

Netanyahu in his comments about resolving the Palestinian refugee crisis is drawing a red line in the Israeli position. He acknowledges there is a "Palestinian refugee problem" and leaves the slate blank as to how is shall be resolved, except that it won't be resolved in Israel.

The Palestinian refugee problem must be solved, and it can be solved, as we ourselves proved in a similar situation. Tiny Israel successfully absorbed hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees who left their homes and belongings in Arab countries. Therefore, justice and logic demand that the Palestinian refugee problem be solved outside Israel's borders. On this point, there is a broad national consensus. I believe that with goodwill and international investment, this humanitarian problem can be permanently resolved.

"Goodwill and international investment" read: the US and EU and wealthy Arab nations will be expected to pay what could well be a hefty financial compensation package to be paid to Palestinian refugees in exchange for them dropping the demands to be physically resettled in Israel. A tiny Palestine will need to simply absorb these refugees as its citizens, just as "tiny" Israel did for Jewish refugees. The Palestinian right of return, will be the right of Palestinians to return to a new, independent Palestine from all corners of the world, and those refugees who may be able to make a claim to hanig originated in what is now Israel, will be compensated.

So far I have spoken about the need for Palestinians to recognize our rights. In am moment, I will speak openly about our need to recognize their rights. But let me first say that the connection between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel has lasted for more than 3500 years. Judea and Samaria, the places where Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, David and Solomon, and Isaiah and Jeremiah lived, are not alien to us. This is the land of our forefathers.

The right of the Jewish people to a state in the land of Israel does not derive from the catastrophes that have plagued our people. True, for 2000 years the Jewish people suffered expulsions, pogroms, blood libels, and massacres which culminated in a Holocaust - a suffering which has no parallel in human history. There are those who say that if the Holocaust had not occurred, the state of Israel would never have been established. But I say that if the state of Israel would have been established earlier, the Holocaust would not have occured.

I could not agree more. Jews are an indigenous people, and the ones who have moved to Israel, are indigenous people returning to their ancestral territory. The caveat is, Netanyahu refers here to Judea and Samaria being this ancestral homeland as well as the state of Israel. While the Jewish connection to the West Bank is no doubt stronger than it is to places like, Eilat, for example, which is not a significant religious or culturally Jewish site, Netanyahu walks a fine line between recognizing that Jews have a connection to the land in the West Bank, and the state of Israel having a right to that land.

As for his points on the Holocaust and persecution of Jews. Abosultley correct. Israel does not exist because of the Holocaust. It exists because Jews have built a country in the land of their ancestors.

This tragic history of powerlessness explains why the Jewish people need a sovereign power of self-defense. But our right to build our sovereign state here, in the land of Israel, arises from one simple fact: this is the homeland of the Jewish people, this is where our identity was forged.

As Israel's first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion proclaimed in Israel's Declaration of Independence: "The Jewish people arose in the land of Israel and it was here that its spiritual, religious and political character was shaped. Here they attained their sovereignty, and here they bequeathed to the world their national and cultural treasures, and the most eternal of books."

But we must also tell the truth in its entirety: within this homeland lives a large Palestinian community. We do not want to rule over them, we do not want to govern their lives, we do not want to impose either our flag or our culture on them.

In my vision of peace, in this small land of ours, two peoples live freely, side-by-side, in amity and mutual respect. Each will have its own flag, its own national anthem, its own government. Neither will threaten the security or survival of the other. These two realities - our connection to the land of Israel, and the Palestinian population living within it - have created deep divisions in Israeli society. But the truth is that we have much more that unites us than divides us.

This is an incredibly bold statement from the leader of an Israeli coalition government that includes those who would advocate for a one state solution and a "transfer" of Palestinians to anywhere else.

I have come tonight to give expression to that unity, and to the principles of peace and security on which there is broad agreement within Israeli society. These are the principles that guide our policy. This policy must take into account the international situation that has recently developed. We must recognize this reality and at the same time stand firmly on those principles essential for Israel.

What is Netanyahu talking about when he says the "international situation that has recently developped?" Two guesses: the first, is the election of Obama. His eagerness to re-engage in the middle east creates a new reality in the region and in the pursuit of peace as part of Israel's policy. Israel will need to consider the reality of a US president engaged in the middle east, personally commited to peace in the middle east and pushing for a regional solution, not a bilatteral one.

The second guess is a refernce to Iran's "re-election" of Ahmadinejad. A man who spares no vitriol in his tirades and efforts in opposing Israel's existence. This is the security aspect of the policy, and probably what Netanyahu is refering to when he says that a new international situation has developed.

I have already stressed the first principle - recognition. Palestinians must clearly and unambiguously recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people.

The second principle is: demilitarization. The territory under Palestinian control must be demilitarized with ironclad security provisions for Israel. Without these two conditions, there is a real danger that an armed Palestinian state would emerge that would become another terrorist base against the Jewish state, such as the one in Gaza. We don't want Kassam rockets on Petach Tikva, Grad rockets on Tel Aviv, or missiles on Ben-Gurion airport. We want peace.

This, significantly, is the first time is this speech that Netanyahu mentions a "Palestinian state."

In order to achieve peace, we must ensure that Palestinians will not be able to import missiles into their territory, to field an army, to close their airspace to us, or to make pacts with the likes of Hizbullah and Iran. On this point as well, there is wide consensus within Israel. It is impossible to expect us to agree in advance to the principle of a Palestinian state without assurances that this state will be demilitarized. On a matter so critical to the existence of Israel, we must first have our security needs addressed.

While this is not a new idea, and it has been suggested to Palestinians in the past, it easy to see why it's a bitter pill to swallow for a new state. All it means though, is that while Palestinians should have an armed force of some kind (probably a police force similar to what they have now) an independant Palestine should not have heavy weapons like tanks and artillery or an airforce. Really, though, what would they need it for? Palestine would be sandwiched between a friendly Jordan and Egypt and Israel, a country with whom it will have just made peace. An army in Palestine would serve little more than to fufill the image, or the trappings of full soverignty, it would otherwise, not really be needed. Also, if Jordan and Egypt, for example, were to become guarantors of Palestinian security, it's unlikley that Israel would dare try to retake territory if it knew that such adventurism would bring it into a broader conflict with its other neighbours.

Therefore, today we ask our friends in the international community, led by the United States, for what is critical to the security of Israel: Clear commitments that in a future peace agreement, the territory controlled by the Palestinians will be demilitarized: namely, without an army, without control of its airspace, and with effective security measures to prevent weapons smuggling into the territory - real monitoring, and not what occurs in Gaza today. And obviously, the Palestinians will not be able to forge military pacts. Without this, sooner or later, these territories will become another Hamastan. And that we cannot accept.

I told President Obama when I was in Washington that if we could agree on the substance, then the terminology would not pose a problem. And here is the substance that I now state clearly:
If we receive this guarantee regarding demilitirization and Israel's security needs, and if the Palestinians recognize Israel as the State of the Jewish people, then we will be ready in a future peace agreement to reach a solution where a demilitarized Palestinian state exists alongside the Jewish state.

A second, much clearer enunciation of Netanyahu's willingness to accept a Palestinian state under the conditions that it be demiliarized, and it recognize Israel as a Jewish state which means, renouncing the right to physically return to what is now Israel.

Regarding the remaining important issues that will be discussed as part of the final settlement, my positions are known: Israel needs defensible borders, and Jerusalem must remain the united capital of Israel with continued religious freedom for all faiths. The territorial question will be discussed as part of the final peace agreement. In the meantime, we have no intention of building new settlements or of expropriating additional land for existing settlements.

Before adressing the question of settlements, Netanyahu buries a refference to Jerusalem in this paragraph of other important issues. This is an important point. The Palestinians are as unwilling to budge on having their capital in Jerusalem as Israel is on maintaining Israel as its undivided capital. This is an important point where the parties are not near a solution and Netanyahu does not delve into it. There will need to be some compromise on this point which is, at it's core, essentially an emotional issue.

Just wondering out loud though: if some sort of sharing agreement could be worked out for the holy sites (basically the temple mount) would it satify Palestinian desires to have a capital in Jerusalem if a new suburb contiguous to Jerusalem were to be constructed with the express purpose of being the seat of a Palestinian government? It could be called Jerusalem, be seemlessly integrated into Jerusalem, only there would be a line politically dividing it from the rest of the city...Just an idea...

But there is a need to enable the residents to live normal lives, to allow mothers and fathers to raise their children like families elsewhere. The settlers are neither the enemies of the people nor the enemies of peace. Rather, they are an integral part of our people, a principled, pioneering and Zionist public.

This is not totally true. Many settlers are just people looking for cheap housing. Others however, are really extremists with a scary, religious, violent streak. They are not the people anyone would really want for neighbours. The fact is, the "settlers" are a disperate group, and saying "the settlers want/are" is like saying "Gazans want/are." These are substantial populations with a range of views amongst their membership. Some of these people, are quite distasteful.

Unity among us is essential and will help us achieve reconciliation with our neighbors. That reconciliation must already begin by altering existing realities. I believe that a strong Palestinian economy will strengthen peace. If the Palestinians turn toward peace - in fighting terror, in strengthening governance and the rule of law, in educating their children for peace and in stopping incitement against Israel - we will do our part in making every effort to facilitate freedom of movement and access, and to enable them to develop their economy. All of this will help us advance a peace treaty between us.

It's the first time he mentions it in this speech, but Netanyahu's point about how Palestinians educate their children has been made before by members of his government. Each time a class of students graduates having been raised up on texts and maps which do not indicate that Israel exists and are fed children's shows akin to the infamous Hamas ripoff of Mickey Mouse, replaced with an antisemetic character teaching children to hate Jews, there's no reason to think that these children will grow to want to accept Israel. Everyone selling an agenda knows, when you get them young, you have them for life.

Above all else, the Palestinians must decide between the path of peace and the path of Hamas. The Palestinian Authority will have to establish the rule of law in Gaza and overcome Hamas. Israel will not sit at the negotiating table with terrorists who seek their destruction. Hamas will not even allow the Red Cross to visit our kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit, who has spent three years in captivity, cut off from his parents, his family and his people. We are committed to bringing him home, healthy and safe.

This again is a very intersting point, where the onus is placed on Palestinians to make peace amongst themselves, and it's made on two levels. First, Palestinians, the people, are asked to reject Hamas in favour of peace. Netanyahu is tellnig the ordinary people, if you want peace, you cannot support Hamas and their ilk. On a second level, Netanyahu is tellnig the PA that they have to overcome Hamas. This last paragraph is actually somewhat of a reversal of comments he made earlier on in his speech, where he pledged to sit with Palestinians with no preconditions. Aparently, as noted earlier as well, this means that there are no preconditions, so long as you're the PA.

With a Palestinian leadership committed to peace, with the active participation of the Arab world, and the support of the United States and the international community, there is no reason why we cannot achieve a breakthrough to peace.

Our people have already proven that we can do the impossible. Over the past 61 years, while constantly defending our existence, we have performed wonders.

Our microchips are powering the world's computers. Our medicines are treating diseases once considered incurable. Our drip irrigation is bringing arid lands back to life across the globe. And Israeli scientists are expanding the boundaries of human knowledge. If only our neighbors would respond to our call - peace too will be in our reach.

I call on the leaders of the Arab world and on the Palestinian leadership, let us continue together on the path of Menahem Begin and Anwar Sadat, Yitzhak Rabin and King Hussein. Let us realize the vision of the prophet Isaiah, who in Jerusalem 2700 years ago said: "nations shall not lift up sword against nation, and they shall learn war no more."

With God's help, we will know no more war. We will know peace."

Amen.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Dreams of the UN

Many in Israel, politicians and the public alike, view the UN with a great deal of suspicion. This is truly a shame. The UN as an international organization can, and does in many ways have great moral influence and can be a leader in pursuing the causes of international peace, security, stability and in promoting the welfare of people around the world. The UN's worth is clear through, as examples, the work of agencies like UNICEF, through the provision of basic aid in the regions most in need and the like. The UN also gave us documents such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and is responsible for the further development and maintenance of international law through the international Court of Justice. Many consider UN resolutions to be sources of international law themselves. The UN is also the only place in the world where diplomats from all countries brush shoulders on a regular basis and have easy access to one another both bilaterally and multilaterally.

Israelis, however, have their reasons to mistrust the UN. The UN security council has 5 permanent members and the remainder of countries rotate and are appointed to the council for a 2 year term and are supposed to be appointed from regional groups of states (ie. the Americas, Asia, Africa, etc.) Israel, however, is the only state that--as things currently are--can never be appointed to the UN security council because even though it has been granted membership in one of the regional groupings (in 2004, and not in the group to which is actually geographically belongs) it has been accepted on condition that it not seek a seat on the Security Council. In other words, on even the must fundamental level of where Israel belongs in the world, it is singled out for discrimination.

This article approaches the issue from a more detailed angle. It notes the singling out of Israel as the worst human rights abuser in the world--meriting a permanent agenda item on the UN Human Rights Committee--while many more, and worse violations occur all over the world. Israelis perceive, and there is some merit to the argument, that they face disproportionate and discriminating criticism at the UN while far worse violations take place around the world with nary a peep.

The impression created by the mounds of paperwork, resolutions passed against Israel, which it is then chided for violating, sow the seeds of suspicion and so many Israelis barely express surprise at stories like this, that came out of Spain not to long ago. Apparently, Spanish peacekeepers in Lebanon, whose task it is to ensure that Hizbollah not take up a military presence in the south of the country, have been actively helping Lebanese officials find and arrest alleged Israeli spies in the country. If the reports alluding to this are accurate, then most Israelis would be correct to believe that these peacekeepers, representatives of the UN, have overstepped their mandate which speaks of establishing security in the region by assisting the Lebanese Army in taking control of the region, providing humanitarian aid and the like. Not in arresting spies.

This perception of bias and discrimination against Israel in the UN is not just a position taken by Israelis, but even the likes of Madeleine Albright has offered her perception that the UN is a place that is extremely unfriendly to Israel.

All sorts of ideas have been proposed to reform the UN. Everything from eliminating it altogether, to only allowing in democracies to all sorts of formulae to offer new members seats on the Security Council. These all Have their flaws, however. Should a country as powerful and as populous as China be kicked out of the UN for not being a democracy and violating human rights? If so, where is the voice of those over 1 billion Chinese? What is the venue for the whole world to speak to China and tell them that they don't stand for the human rights abuses? How can a country like China be ignored? The answer is, they can't. But something needs to change. How is it that some of the greatest violators of human rights can chair the UN agencies dedicated to upholding these rights? How is it, that Israel, a country that is certainly far from perfect, can be so repeatedly singled out when atrocities like Rwanda were all but ignored, just as Darfur is being all but ignored now?

It's time for the UN to restore it's moral authority and leadership on all matters. It's time for the UN to speak loudly and clearly about equal treatment of all members within the accepted practices of international behaviour, meaning, condemnation where it is due, praise where it is merited and the examination of all cases with equal scrutiny and fair mindedness. This is a dream. A politicized group with states interacting each with their own agendas will not offer a clear analysis, they will do it through the prism of their ideologies and national goals and interests. Still though, it's nice to dream.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Water Water Everywhere

I've been saving up a few articles on water in the middle east that I wanted to write about. There are four stories that are loosely related but that caught my attention and I think are worth highlighting.

The first is about a project in Israel to recycle "grey water." "Grey water"--as opposed to "black water," which is sewage--is water from showers, sinks and washing machines that goes through some degree of treatment to reduce the bacteria in it and can then be reused in toilets, for watering plants and lawns. The project is being championed by a group called Shomera, an Israeli environmental NGO. The idea is to test out the feasibility of installing grey water collection facilities in a "mikvah," a Jewish ritual bath, to see how well it works. If successful, the project can be expanded to other public buildings and then hopefully will become a standard in all new construction in Israel. According to a 2003 study, if grey water from just 20-30% of households were to be recycled, it could save enough water to supply a small community for a year.

This is an exciting prospect. There is no magic technological solution to the water shortage problems facing not only Israel and the rest of the region but much of the world. Nonetheless this is a common sense approach to saving water in one of the driest places on earth. It's a project, that if successful, should be promoted in other parts of the world (the technology being used is neither new nor novel.) There are, however, catches to this rosy picture. Grey water can still be dangerous and does need to be treated. It requires a facility that can be constantly monitored and maintained and needs to be done within the framework of an organized program. Grey water collection needs separate plumbing in buildings that recycle it. Pipes need to carry clean water in to a shower, then a separate pipe system needs to carry the water away for treatment and return it, grey, to toilets and garden hoses while another system carries away black toilet water to wherever it's disposed of. It's a tricky system and it means that most private homeowners may not wish to go to the trouble of implementing it. Still though, it seems to have great potential and is something that I think even a "water rich" country like Canada ought to consider.

The second article is about a report published by the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem which suggests that there is a major water crisis in the West Bank (as there is in the region as a whole) and that Palestinians are receiving far less water than they need. The site produces some upsetting statistics about the amounts of water available to Palestinians and to Israelis and shows some statistical inequalities that, the report claims, translates into real hardship for Palestinians. The blame, according to the article is in part to be laid upon the regional water shortage, but not entirely. Israeli policies such as requiring authorization for well drilling (which is actually also required in Israel proper) and unequal distribution of the mountain aquifer (the underground water source) is leading to this situation.

Despite searching, I was not able to find any sort of technical response or analysis of the B'Tselem report. That being said, there are some comments that can be made. Firstly, while it may be true that Israel uses disproportionately more water than Palestinians do, much of that may go do different uses. Israel, an industrialized developed country, is likely (as all developed countries are) to use more water than a developing area. Therefore, the per capita water uses in Israel may include industrial uses of water which simply don't exist in the West Bank and result in statistics showing much higher Israeli use than Palestinian use. Another point worth making is that when similar reports have appeared in the past, is that the Israeli response has always been that they are providing as much, or more water than they are required to under the Oslo agreements. They also point out Palestinian failure to build, maintain or properly manage the infrastructure for which they are responsible. Do these responses apply in the present instance? Maybe, maybe not. The point is that while there may be inequality and serious problems with regards to the supply of water to the West Bank, the statistics do not tell the whole story and the blame, cannot be laid at the feet of one party alone.

A third article relates to an Israeli waste-water facility that was being built on privately owned Palestinian land and intended to supply a settlement. The land is owned by two Palestinians who say that they did not authorize the use of their land for the construction of the facility. The court has ordered that construction on the site which was to provide clean water for both Israelis and Palestinians in the region was to stop and now the land owners--represented by the Israeli NGO Yesh Din--are seeking demolition of the plant.

Those in favour of the ongoing construction say that by demolishing the plant, now the water used by residents of the area will simply be left untreated and an environmental hazard. Obviously, this is a problem, but this is not the point. The construction took place on privately owned land without permission. Nobody living under a legal system where land may be privately owned should tolerate something like that. In most such legal systems, the state must follow a procedure and offer fair compensation if they wish to expropriate the land for a certain purpose, but authorities may not legally just show up one day with a construction crew and build away.

The last article I wanted to mention, in my mind ties the other three together. It's about a report prepared by the International Institute for Sustainable Development. This report (in full here) may be summarized as arguing that climate change, and especially the water shortages it can be expected to cause will lead to increased conflict in the Levant and will curb efforts for making peace. It lists a number of reasons for this, including migrations that will be caused and food shortages, and suggests amongst other things that Israel and the west do more to curb their greenhouse gas emissions so as to avoid creating bitterness in the Arab world.

The report is about 40 pages long and is not such a bad read. Some of the scientific data it provides seems pretty interesting and I do not have the knowledge to properly critique it. I do, however, take issue with the idea that water shortages will cause wars. On the contrary, the universal need for water will lead to further cooperation. One need not look further than example cited in the report in question where Israel and Jordan, even prior to their peace treaty, had moderated discussions over sharing and joint use of the Jordan river. The treaty itself has provisions to protect water resources and even when these resources were stressed, solutions were found. Water is a zero-sum resource. It is needed by all and so the risk of going to war to capture it and failing is too great. It is far less risky to cooperate and work together to ensure that the resources that do exist can last and be used with maximum efficiency.

All this being said, I can imagine circumstances where water could lead, not necessarily to a full out war, but to a raid or attack of some kind. If a state has water which it is currently sharing with another and that that first state takes measures to prevent the free flow of water into the region of the other (for example a dam, or a diversion project) it can easily be imagined that the state being disadvantaged would do what it could to try to stop such a project. This is only true, however, for states with no form of relations and where all diplomatic efforts have already failed.

More convincing is the argument that limited water resources may slow peacemaking. Take the Golan heights for example. These are important headwaters for much of Israel's water supply. Unless Israel can be assured that the water it would receive from the Golan heights would remain at sufficiently high levels, it's difficult to imagine the territory being returned to Syria. On the other hand, if Syria is demanding immediate concessions on the Golan as a precondition to detailed negotiations, then certainly, an impasse is imaginable.

These four articles are linked not only by water, but also because they can all be related to a broader peace process. Grey water can help alleviate a water shortage. This additional water can then be used to reduce the amount of water Israel takes from the Mountain Aquifer and in turn, reduce the need for the construction of plants such as the treatment plant causing such trouble in the West Bank. All this in turn can lead to further cooperation and good will, which in times of future water stress--as predicted by the final article discussed above--will go a long way towards encouraging a healthy peaceful resolution to the challenges faced.

Water can and will be a major key in bringing peace and cooperation to the middle east.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

More on Netanyahu's Speech

Nobody can be sure what Netanyahu will say in his upcoming foreign policy speech this coming Sunday. He's being sure to stay quite mum on the subject. That being said, there's a good amount of analysis, hypothesising and clues out there that a few possibilities are conceivable.

Netanyahu has quite a balancing act ahead of him with many constituencies to sate. He'll have to worry about protecting his coalition and his job, satisfying the US, sending a message to the rest of the world about what he wants for Israel and an Israeli populace who will all react to his speech differently. So, what will he say?

Some analysts argue that Netanyahu has no choice, he must cave in to the demands of the US. They argue that pressure from the US could be unbearable and that US political and financial support for Israel is not something that can be gambled with. As a result, Netanyahu will have no choice but to do as Obama asks: freeze the settlements and accept the idea of a Palestinian state. Others take the same position but nuance it slightly. This argument is that US pressure on Israel can be made unbearable and can include increased pressure from Europe and other parts of the world. If Netanyahu were to refuse to work with the US and Palestinians, it could find itself in a situation where it would be forced to accept terms that could endanger it. For example, the possibility of a hostile Palestinian state in the West Bank in a position to fire rockets at Ben Gurion Airport. This argument says that in order to head off the creation of a Palestinian state along lines that are not in Israeli interests, Netanyahu should perform an about face, recognize the Palestinian right to a state, but nuance it with the caveat that it must be de-militarized, and it must live alongside a secure, Jewish, Israel.

The opposite side of the coin takes the position that Netanyahu was voted in by a certain constituency and has no choice but to bend to their will and their will only. This is a rightist constituency which includes the settlers and those who simply do not wish to see or believe in the Palestinian right to their own state. This line of argumentation would conclude with Netanyahu making a speech that does not pander to the US or to opposition parties in Israel nor to its detractors anywhere else in the world. That Netanyahu should hold firm and speak according to his beliefs and the ideology of the Likud party.

Netanyahu faces some tough pressure from inside his own government to not accept the idea of "two states for two people." In consultations with members of his own Likud party, though Netanyahu would not divulge the content of his speech, he was urged by his fellow party and Knesset members not to "...found a Palestinian state at Bar-Ilan," the site of his speech. Instead, it was recommended to Netanyahu that he accept a Palestinian "entity:" something that can be defined and perhaps redefined as events warrant. At that same meeting, Netanyahu also said, significantly: "...we must act to ensure Israel's existence as a Jewish nation for generations upon generations to come. This is not only my responsibility but all of ours..." Some could argue that given the regional demographics, with Palestinians who claim refugee status soon to outnumber Israelis, the idea of Israel as a "Jewish nation" will soon be a demographic impossibility, short of a situation in which the minority rules over a majority of people with no vote: i.e. not the type of Israel its founders imagined. This may be code from Netanyahu to his fellow party members that they should prepare themselves for him to advocate a separate state for Palestinians, one where they could not politically, democratically and demographically threaten the Jewish character of Israel.

Some Likudniks, however, remain deeply suspicious of any kind of Palestinian state. Retorting that it's not two states the Palestinian's want, but rather two stages, one stage in which they achieve their own state, and a second in which they use that state as a base to attack Israel. The problem with this argument, however, presented by Likud Knesset member Begin, is that he provides no real alternative. His suggestions essentially amount to: 'Palestinians need to build institutions, educate their children not to hate, and combat terror.' While, yes, Palestinians must do all these things, it does not mean that most Palestinians will not accept their own, independent state and be content to finally have a sovereign homeland. Arguing in a similar vein, however, are Israeli Parliamentarians like Yaalon, who does not reject a two state solution, but also argues that first, Palestinians must begin building the 'infrastructure of peace.' Yaalon also worries that pulling out from the West Bank too swiftly would create fertile ground for the likes of Hamas to set up shop. All this reflects internal pressure on Netanyahu to not toe the US party line but rather, keep to his own.

According to some, however, the US has very low expectations for Netanyahu's speech. Officials who have met with him recently do not seem to be happy with what they heard. This could have a dual effect. For one, it strengthens the voices of those in Israel who would like to see Netanyahu not pander to the US but rather stick to his guns and on the other hand it could have the effect of shaming, or embarrassing Netanyahu, telling him in advance that his position is unacceptable and that he'd better shape up by game (speech) day or the US will get tough.

But wait! There's more to consider, many more factors that will be weighing upon Netanyahu.

Netanyahu could also be watching for signals from the Arab world, his neighbours, for clues as to what he could say that would allow them to work with Israel towards the goals outlined by Netanyahu--as opposed to being placed in a position where out of their natural loyalty to Palestinians, they must reject what Netanyahu proposes. It could be a strategically smart move for Netanyahu to speak in terms that his Arab neighbours can endorse thereby allowing them to nudge Palestinians towards the same goal.

For example, unconfirmed reports suggest that the Saudi King has asked the US to impose the Arab peace plan on Israel--a plan that, in a nutshell, offers Israel the recognition of all Arab states in exchange for a withdrawal to the 1967 borders and a right of return for Palestinians. What this report is really implying, however, is that Arab states are suggesting that if Israel does not want to offer some sort of counter proposal to the Arab peace plan, then the US should simply get tough on Israel and force it. This is yet another reason why, in order to encourage Arab buy-in to Netanyahu's leadership and to evade what could be enormous US pressure, Netanyahu should show some sort of willingness to at least enter into discussions along the lines of the Arab peace plan. This does not mean acceptance, this is not a "sell out." It's just an acknowledgement of this alternative and an open mind towards discussing how it would really work.

Netanyahu may now also be looking towards Jordan, a state that has recently made two statements (here and here) that its view is that only the two state solution can resolve the conflict in the region. Jordanian buy-in could be valuable to Netanyahu. As a state with its own large Palestinian population, a peace treaty with Israel and warm relations with the west, Jordan may be in a position to influence the Palestinians. Going further, they may be part of the solution, if for example, as a state bordering the West Bank they could offer certain trade, security or other incentives or assistance to a newly created Palestinian state. This is one more reason why Netanyahu may consider agreeing to a two state solution, deepening ties with Jordan.

An opposition member of the Israeli Knesset, Avi Dichter, makes a case for a regional approach to peace that would have more success than a bilateral one, one between just Israel and the Palestinians. He argues that the bilateral Oslo approach failed and in some cases achieved opposite results than those intended. The solution, he suggests, may be to work regionally and ensure that the whole neighbourhood helps in not only putting out the fire in the western part of the neighborhood, but also in keeping the Iranian bully in the east at bay. To do this, he says, the two state solution will have to be the answer, only, it will be achieved multilaterally.

One stumbling block from the Arab world, however, may be recent statements from Hamas that freezing settlements "...is not the price we are after ... Although it's an essential step." In other words, Hamas's stated goal is the elimination of Israel and the establishment of a Palestinian state not only in the West Bank and Gaza, but in Israel proper as well. Settlement freezing is a step along this road. This is language that is bound to make Israelis suspicious of calls to stop settlement activity and could feed into the type of argument espoused by Begin and those in his camp trying to influence Netanyahu. Israelis may also be right to be suspicious...how could what is good for my enemy, also be good for me, especially when my enemy sees our dispute as a zero-sum game? The answer is, it's not. An analysis of this situation though would lead to the conclusion that this is all the more reason to ensure that whatever Netanyahu says he keeps Jordan, Egypt, other Arab states and the US onside against Hamas. Their approach is clear, destroy Israel. Israel, however, will not destroy Hamas, at least not alone, and for sure not while Iran, Hamas's patron, remains unchecked.

The weight of indicators suggests that Netanyahu will support the creation of a Palestinian state in his speech, but to walk the tightrope that he must traverse, he will probably refuse a complete freeze on settlement activity as much out of a bid for his political life as for his ideology. The defense minister and Labour party head Barak has spoken of surprises from Netanyahu, and he's spoken in an optimistic tone, suggesting that perhaps Netanyhu has surprises that will make the large segment of the Israeli population that voted for Labour and Kadima happy that peace will be pursued by the man they suspected would scuttle it.

On the other hand, Netanyahu's office is suggesting that most of what people are saying about the upcoming speech is way off base. So, perhaps the only person who's correct is Barak: we will be surprised by Netanyahu.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Scumbag Attacks Innocent People

@#$%$#!

I have nothing more to add.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Two Steps Back and Two Steps Forward

Sometimes, the news from the Middle East requires a great deal of patience just to read. Sometimes, the things reported are so nonsensical that one really needs to believe in the general goodness of humanity so as to ignore the glaring stupidity of others.

Take this case for example. A synagogue in Israel was burned down by teenage Israeli-Arab rioters. The congregation wants to rebuild the synagogue (naturally) and a local Muslim man has offered a "generous" sum for that purpose. The Rabbi of the synagogue, however, feels that in Israel, a country with Jewish authorities, the government should pay to rebuild the synagogue and so he has rejected the generous offer of donation. Also, he doesn't want the synagogue to be rebuilt by an Arab.

The Jewish tradition identifies 8 levels of charity. The fourth level is to give to charity before being asked. That's clearly what this Arab philanthropist was doing. He recognized the universally sacrosanct nature of a place of worship and wished to help out. But he was rebuffed. According to this site, Judaism 101 (which also list the 8 levels of charity,) it is considered an averah, a sin to refuse charity and that it's akin to shedding ones own blood.

What an opportunity this would have been for two communities to come together. To improve coexistence, to mutual understanding. Imagine if a plaque were placed in the new synagogue thanking the Muslim benefactor and every day, when the pious came to pray they could see this reminder that their caring neighbours wanted them to have this holy place and wanted to make amends for the wrongs of other members of his community. Shame on the Rabbi Avner Hacham and kudos to Muhammad Abu-Matir.

Then, on the other side of the border, in Egypt comes this story of the Muslim Brotherhood freaking out because, Allah forbid, the Zionists (read an Israeli company) may have been given the rights to drill for oil in the Sinai. Israel and Egypt are countries at peace with one another, yet at the mere thought that Israelis may help to contribute to the Egyptian economy the opponents of peace are up in arms. Apparently, the Israeli company in question has no idea what the Muslim Brotherhood is talking about, neither does the Egyptian Oil Ministry. Apparently, it's also all just a domestic Egyptian political game. Why, though, is it so terrible to think that a country you're at peace with, may want to do business with you? Rather than deny that the "Zionists" may be drilling for oil, why not retort with a "They're not, but so what if they are? They're our friends and it would help our country!" Wouldn't that send a powerful message?

It's not all bad though. There are some glimmers of good news.

Take this one for example: A group of concerned citizens belonging to the NGO "One Voice" set out to take matters into their own hands and erase racist graffiti in Israel. Paintings of hateful slogans such as "death to the Arabs" are probably about as common in Israel as things like Swastikas are in Canada, in other words, not commonplace, but present. Nonetheless, it's wrong, it's racist and kudos to the people of One Voice for taking action to do the right thing. Erasing symbols and slogans of hatred is a small step in the right direction.

This is also good news. An (apparently) crappy joint Israeli-Palestinian youth soccer team was invited to play at the Youth European Cup soccer tournament. This blog has said in the past and maintains that ordinary people on both sides of a conflict need to just get to know one another and see each other as equals: ordinary people with the same aspirations. This is how it begins, peace and coexistence on the human, individual level. As the article says, hopefully just the fun and excitement of being together, on the same team at this big tournament will plant the seeds of cooperation in the minds of all the kids on that joint team. Hopefully also, the youngsters on the other teams will also be able to meet the players on this joint team and realise for themselves that the people of the middle east are capable of living together and that there are not two monolithic adversaries just slugging it out to the finish.

One hopes.

The Extreme Israeli Right

There's been a disturbing spate of right-wing extremist incidents in the past few weeks and something needs to be done about it.

On June 3, 2009, in the wake of the dismantling of an illegal settler outpost in the West Bank, settlers set fire to a Palestinian field and re-established their presence in the area of the settlement that had just been removed. All as part of the strategy of some extremist settler of creating a "price tag" for the dismantling of any settlements. The idea being that it will cost Israel far more to remove the settlers--in terms of violence against Palestinians, retaliatory violence from Palestinians, and resources to remove settlements both for the first time, and after the extremists rebuild what was dismantled--than it will to leave them alone and send the IDF to defend them.

The next day, it came to light that several high ranking IDF officers in the command responsible for the West Bank received letters from extremist settlers threatening the officers and their families and laced with comparisons to Nazis and racist slurs. Meanwhile, settlers from the dismantled outposts (which are usually just trailers on a hilltop) began pouring concrete to begin the construction of permanent homes on the recently evacuated sites.

This type of behaviour is unacceptable in any country. Certainly the settlers involved in the activities above do not represent the views of the majority of Israelis or even the majority of settlers and it's true that all countries have their fringe elements, racists and bigots. In most countries, however, these fringe elements are not in a position where they can spark major regional conflicts or attract the attention of superpowers. As one of the threatened officers said: the state needs to do more to ensure that army officers who are charged with the defense of the state need not feel threatened when they are carrying out the policies of the government, especially when they are sound.

Another reason this type of behaviour is unacceptable is the reference to Nazism. In the year 2009, when charges of Nazism or comparison to the Nazis are laid against Israel, against Palestinians, Iranians or anyone else, the response must always be the same: Nobody today come close to what the Nazis and Hitler were like and wanted to do. There are genocides ongoing as this text is being written, but even they, with all their horror and criminality, do not approach the scope of the industrialized Nazi project of genocide. There are terrible people out there. People who smile at mass murder and call for more, but these are not Nazis. These are terrorists and murderers and officers in the IDF are least like the Nazis of them all, especially for removing settlements in a policy which will ultimately benefit Israel. These Nazi comparisons need to stop. This fallacious comparison serves only to distort or diminish either the Holocaust, the incident being compared, or both.

This article, that appeared on YNet criticizes both the extremism of some anti-Zionist religious Jews in Jerusalem and the activities of some of the violent extremist settler youth in the West Bank. The basis for this criticism seems to be that this type of activity is antithetical to Jewish values. This is undoubtedly true. One is reminded of the Talmudic story: A man approaches (in the original telling) Rabbi Hillel and says I will convert to Judaism if you can recite the entire Torah for me while standing one one foot. Rabbi Hillel stands one one foot and replies "love thy neighbour as thyself. The rest are just details. Now go and study." How can the activities of these extremists be reconciled with the teachings of Hillel? They cannot. Truly loving thy neighbour means helping him and doing good for him when you can. It does not mean exacting a price tag from him when you are punished for breaking the law.

The YNet article does not make this point very eloquently, but does, and one hopes this is correct, identify that the average Israeli is beginning to become fed-up with the shenanigans of these settler extremists and will soon demand a firm, forceful crackdown.

Let's see it then, because it's extremely disquieting to think that anyone may think that these extremist settlers, that operate outside the law are tolerated by Israel.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Enter Netanyahu. It's About Time!

The time has come.

Next week, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu will deliver a foreign policy speech on how he hopes to achieve peace and security for Israelis. The speech will supposedly reflect consultations with members of his cabinet and certain notables from the general public. It will likely also be heavily based on security measures, because, as Netanyahu says: "My aspiration is to reach a stable peace that rests upon the foundation of security for the State of Israel and its citizens."

One purpose of the speech, according to those who are "in the know," is to prove to the world that Israel or perhaps even more specifically, Netanyahu, is not opposed to peace. On the other hand, there is uncertainty over how Netanyahu will frame the issues. For example, the two states for two people's formula is unlikely to be used. Netanyahu has resisted using it in the past.
The most comprehensive piece on this proposed speech is in the JPost. It raises two important points, the first is the venue of the speech. Netanyahu hopes to speak at the Begin-Sadat Centre at Bar Ilan University in Tel Aviv. The centre, known for its right leaning position on many issues is seen as a significant venue, foretelling Netanyahu's positions. Many are criticizing Netanyahu already for not just giving the speech in the Knesset.

The second interesting point raised in the JPost article is something called the "Andorra plan" for the Palestinians. Andorra, the tiny European country between Spain and France has what is questionable Independence and, because of its geographic position, necessarily relies on Spain and France for just about everything. Andorra has two co-Head's of State, the French President and a Spanish bishop, but its Prime Minister, the head of government is an elected Andorran. It has no army to speak of and relies on Spain and France for defence (ostensibly from one against the other.)

What would an "Andorran Palestine" look like? It would probably be a state with limited independence. The people would be allowed to elect their own representatives, who would probably legislate on matters of day to day life, but the heads of state would likely have final word on important matters of foreign policy. An Andorran Palestine would likely have no army other than a force to keep the peace, and be dependant on neighbours for defense. As well, as with the real Andorra, an Andorran Palestine would have an economy that could sustain it, but may be of limited complexity, lacking, for example, heavy industry and instead focusing on things like agriculture, and tourism.

So, an Andorran Palestine would be a state with some, but not all the trappings of sovereignty and would have some dependence on others for politics, security and its economy. The next question to ask would be, who will this dependence be on? Netanyahu has said repeatedly that he has no interest in governing the Palestinians. If Palestinian freedom to enter into certain treaties with third parties is limited, however, then there is still at least some control by Israel, though maybe not over day to day affairs.

As for security, would Jordan and Egypt play a role in defending a Palestine? Israel would almost certainly want to ensure that the strategic depth of the west bank was not diminished and that if need be, it could deploy its forces in the area to defend against an attack by Iran, for example, should an Iranian expeditionary force begin to arrive in the Levant. Israel does have lukewarm peace with both Jordan and Egypt, but likely questions their abilities or will to help shield Israel if push came to shove.

As for the Andorran Palestinian economy: this is probably where Palestinians will have the most freedom. Netanyahu believes in economic peace, and he will likely push for an arrangement that brings close ties between the Israeli and Palestinian economies, thereby making it foolish and economically dangerous for one to attack the other.

These three issues, economics, security and politics are not novel from Netanyahu. He said exactly these things in his inaugural speech as Prime Minister. What is new, is this concept of an Andorran Palestine. It's a solution that works quite well for Israel, but that the Palestinians will likely not be too pleased with as it comes close to, but falls just short of a fully sovereign state. Or, at least it does as described above. It's not clear what Netanyahu will actually propose.

Whatever Netanyahu proposes, it has to be something more specific. He needs to present his position, a starting point for moving forward. It's likely that many will see his speech as a response to Obama's Cairo speech. To a degree, it may be and the timing suggests it will be so. No doubt the White House will be listening very carefully and analyzing in great detail to see if Israel will adhere to the US vision for the region, or if Obama's admonitions will be rebuffed. Whatever he says, however, will be important because 1) it will be the Prime Minister's words, a man more seasoned and polished than his somewhat abrasive and much criticized foreign minister; and 2) it will reflect a starting point and set the tone for Israeli relations with the US and its neighbours. It will likely be the opening position in a somewhat public negotiation between states and is likely to be subject to change and negotiation in the months to come.

Whatever he says though, it's about time!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

June 6

June 6, 1944 was the Allied invasion of Nazi occupied Europe. The largest amphibious invasion in human history.

On an April 18 in the late 1980s or early 1990s when I was young, my parents bought my sister an elaborate birthday present, and to ensure that I wouldn't be jealous, bought me two books, both intended for young adults. The first was about Mark Twain and the second was about the D-day invasion, the 65th anniversary of which was this year. That second book was the beginning of my passion for history. From that day, I was obsessed not only with D-day, but with world war two in general (and especially D-day. Actually, I hate when people call June 6, 1944 D-day because D-day is the military term used for any military action. The invasion of Normandy is a better name for June 6, 1944.)

From that April 18, after reading the book, I would save every penny of allowance or that I earned to spend on history books. My parents used to get mad at me for blowing my money on expensive, hard-cover books on the war, but I had to read them. My father once asked me if I knew everything there was to know about D-day. I answered, how can I know what I don't know? That's why I keep buying the books.

That gift I received on April 18, lead me to a university degree in history, an interest in politics and international relations and ultimately towards law. It was formative for me, and I still have it.

On this, the 65th anniversary of the invasion, the "history channel" aired the Spielberg-Hanks movie "Saving Private Ryan." I have very mixed feelings about it.

For anyone unaware of the plot: after attacking the beach on June 6th, a unit of US soldiers are sent to find and safely bring home a US paratrooper whose three other brothers were also recently killed in combat.

The opening scene where the soldiers first hit the beach is riveting. Prior to seeing Saving Private Ryan, I'm not sure I had ever seen that amount of gore, brutality and graphic depiction of warfare in any other movie, especially any other war movie. The scene is hard to watch, and conveys extremely well what those first soldiers went through, how horrible it must have been, and how impossibly small they must have felt their chances of surviving were. The historical reality, however, is that on the beach depicted in the movie, "Omaha beach," the US soldiers barely advanced 300 yards in 24 hours. They were pinned down by German artillery and machine guns firing from perfectly placed and very well defended bunkers on cliffs overlooking the landing beach. The movie, however, makes it seem as though Tom Hanks leads his men to a breakthrough off of Omaha in 24 minutes.

My second complaint about the movie is that the rest of it is fiction. There was no real Private Ryan to be saved. There was no character like the one played by Tom Hanks, and the dramatic device used to frame the story in the movie borders on cliche. The movie would have been much more powerful had it tried to recreate the story of a soldier who landed on that beach and made his way through the next few days in Normandy. No matter how significant that soldier would be or not, it would have been more powerful than the historical fiction of Saving Private Ryan. The fiction aspect of the history, in my mind, turns the movie from a historical document (and great attention was payed to detail in uniforms, equipment, vehicles, etc.) into an excellent war movie.

For anyone with more than just a couple of hours to see Saving Private Ryan, I can give no stronger recommendation than to see the HBO series jointly produced by Hanks and Spielberg, "Band of Brothers." The series is based on a historical work by the US historian Stephen Ambrose by the same name (one of the books I got in a great deal of trouble for buying long before it ever became an HBO series.) The series spares no detail in following a core group of actual soldiers of Easy Company in the US 101 Airborne division from paratroop training, to Normandy and then through almost every major battle in which the US was engaged in Europe right until the end of the second world war. It's a series that's well done, well acted, entertaining, informative and above all, completely true. Again, I can not offer a stronger recommendation.

As I write this, it is now 65 years since D+1. Historically, even at this time, nearly 24 hours after the seaborne troops landed and over 24 hours since the first paratroopers hit the ground, the invasion of Europe was still not sure to succeed. We, living in free countries today, must never underestimate the importance of what happened 65 years ago today.

It would be appropriate for me to end with the powerful lines from the "act of remembrance:"

They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning
we will remember them.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Obama Israeli Opinion Aggregator Machine

A great deal has already been said about Obama's speech in Cairo yesterday, the full text of which is here.

Rather than add to the voices I thought it would be interesting to try something never before done on this blog, aggregating. The three major Israeli newspapers the JPost, Ynet and Haaretz have published a great deal on the Israeli reaction to Obama's speech in Cairo and paper by paper, I'll try to capture the message of each, here.

Haaretz's report on the speech itself focused on the venue of the speech, its references to Israel and Palestine as well as some comments on Obama's meeting with the Egyptian president. It did not cover Obama's outline of the reform Obama says is needed in the Muslim world.

It goes on to discuss Israel's official reaction to the speech. Officially, it was a positive optimistic reaction that the speech would usher in a new era in the middle east. The opposition Kadima, however, used the speech as an opportunity to suggest that the current Israeli government was on the wrong side of US policy.

Turning from Israel, Haaretz reports on initial reaction to the speech from the wider Middle East noting Hizbollah called the speech a "sermon" while Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president was more appreciative. Iraq was also more receptive to the speech while Iran said it was basically a hollow gesture.

In his column, Gideon Levy considered the speech a favour to Israel in that it challenged right wing perspectives and was a change from Bush. One that walked a fair, balanced line and would elicit change.

Finally, Haaretz publishes this analysis, elegant in its simplicity, that Netanyahu will have to choose between those firmly on the right in his coalition, a realignment of the coalition with the opposition Kadima or a rejection of Obama's vision of Israel's middle east obligations.

The JPost article about the content of the speech itself focused on issues that concern Israelis--peace and Iran--but also went further and did touch on the other issues raised by Obama, such as the spread of democracy and women's rights.

The JPost also notes that while the Palestinian Authority and Hamas both were pleased with the speech, they doubted that Israel would heed any of it. The article also noted a mixed reaction in the rest of the Arab world.

The JPost also noted the official Israeli reaction to the speech and pointed out that Israelis were briefed on its content before it went ahead, but otherwise, the article does not provide any novel information not in Haaretz.

This analysis published in the JPost by the head of NGO Watch suggests that because Israel is, for a number of reasons, more susceptible to pressure by the US than are Arab governments, the speech was unfair. He suggests that it naively ignored the incitement and hate directed against Israel in official, academic and clerical circles which fuel the conflict in the middle east. The article argues that fundamental Arab change is needed, not just nice speeches.

Caroline Glick, a notable right-leaning columnist in the JPost suggests that it's important to realize "that the White House is deeply hostile toward Israel." She suggests that the US may be indenting to create a political crisis in Israel that would overthrow the current government. She also argues that Obama was long on rhetoric, some of it unacceptable to her, and short on ideas for how to move some of this rhetoric forward.

This article indicates that the Israeli right is deeply "shocked" that Obama drew parallels between the Holocaust and the Nakbah. It lists many of the complaints of this side of the Israeli political spectrum and also points to an interesting survey in which the largest group of respondents (less than 50%) indicated that they believe that Obama favours Arab interests over Israeli ones.

Finally from the JPost, a scorecard of what was said that was good for Israel (that the US stands firmly with Israel and rejection of holocaust denial), what was bad (linking the Holocaust and the Naqba and leniency on Iran) and what not to worry about too much (that the speech was all about appeasement.)

Ynet's article on the speech itself also focused on issues relating to Israel but also touched on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but no other aspects of Obama's speech.

Ynet reports on the Israeli reaction to the speech and in addition to official lines from the government it reports on the comments of some key players, like Labour defense minister Barak and Israel Beytanu Foreign Minister Lieberman.

The Ynet article on Muslim reaction to the speech goes beyond Palestinians and the middle east and includes Pakistani reaction to the speech. It also has a great picture of Hamas men, armed, lounging around watching the speech.

This Ynet op-ed suggests that Obama now needs to follow his meaningful words with meaningful action and that Netanyahu needs to get his act together and fall in with the US or be ripped apart by the winds of change from the US.

This Ynet op-ed replicated the elegant analysis of Netanyahu's choices in the wake of Obama's speech that appears in Haaretz. It implies that the clock has really run out for Netanyahu and he has to choose where he stands, in favour of his job, or in favour of what will most benefit his country.

This latter point is continued here in Ynet by suggesting that Netanyahu has no clear policy on moving forward and that this leave Israel in the position of a ship adrift without a captain. It is yet another call for the Israeli Prime Minister to 'just do something!'

Finally, this last column in Ynet suggests that Obama's approach is naive. It focuses on what it sees as obsticals which really are not and suggests that Obama is turning his back on much bigger problems that he should be looking at first, before he turns to Israel.

Finally, on a personal "thought" note, I want to ask and answer a rhetorical, very politically incorrect question. Obama says in his speech "...that just as Israel's right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine's." The overwhelming majority of the world, I would suppose, would agree that Palestinians have a right to a state. My question is, why? There has never been a Palestinian state in all of history. Palestinian nationalism seems only to have really risen in response to Zionism (Jewish nationalism) and prior to the creation of Israel, Palestinians did not clamour for a state of their own from any of the countries that occupied that region, be it the Turks, the British, the Syrians, the Jordanians or the Egyptians. Similarly, many may argue that Palestinians missed multiple opportunities to establish their own state. The first chance would have been alongside Israel in 1948 and most recently to have made a counteroffer rather than flatly reject the attempts at brokering peace by Clinton. Why should a people that have never had a state, and who have passed on chances to have a state, be given the right to a state?

The question is rhetorical. The answer should be fairly clear. Palestinians are and consider themselves to be a culturally distinct people from other Arabs. They are a unique people with their own aspirations and at once reject Israeli sovereignty over them and are not accepted by any other Arab country. Perhaps rightly so, as they consider themselves to be different. People in such a situation should have their state. Something like the one that was available to them in 1948 and that takes into account all the history since then.

I suppose my purpose in raising this rhetorical question is that to my mind, part of what Obama is saying to Palestinians is: if you want a state, you're entitled to one, and I'll try to get you one, but you need to first act like you deserve it. Renounce violence. Build. Govern responsibly. Act like a state, and ye shall have one.