Sunday, December 26, 2010

YouTube censoring Palestinian Media Watch, a needless self-inflicted injury

YouTube censoring of Palestinian Media Watch channel was short lived; the channel had been restored, as well as some of its videos, but sadly not all of them. As long as this censorship persists, no matter how partial, this is a blow to the modern democratic civilization. An information age civilization, which YouTube, rightfully so, is its flagship.

As a whole that is greater than sum of all its parts, including the genuine hate speech clips, YouTube had created a global public square. A place, in which views are expressed, countered, challenged and criticized. This is a remarkable and commendable achievement.

A democratic community stands on two legs, debate and humor; cut one, and whatever you got, democratic it is not. And what is a debate without criticism? It is a very little debate. Criticism, inquiry, and challenging the claims made by opponents, is what make the debate rich, dynamic, productive, and non-superficial democratic. And PMW and MEMRI do all that in regards to Israeli Palestinian conflict and the Arab and Islamic worlds.

They are the ones who make the debate leg of the YouTube community, a strong vibrant leg. A leg to carry heavy loads on; such loads the Middle East is in never short of. Along with a rich verity of expressions of humor this leg puts YouTube ahead of all other video upload services. Censoring the debate may not cut the leg but it is a serious injury. It is an injury that other than spoil the good atmosphere of debate that is within the YouTube community does nothing good. It only damages YouTube’s standing and reputation.

Every sensible person understands that some censorship of profanities and hate speech is needed. But to censor those who confront and expose it is simply incomprehensible. Whatever the reason was for this counterproductive act, be it a lack of human review of the use of the flagging option by viewers, or a faulty decision at the level of the directors, we must all hope that YouTube do the right thing and heal this injury. It had continued for too long.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

War World One, the 92nd anniversary of the Armistice Day. What if they had nuclear weapons?

A few days ago the world commemorated the most senseless large-scale slaughter of human beings by mediocre politicians and heartless glory hungry generals. This was the First World War, which ended on "the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month" of the year 1918. A suitable baptizing of what was to become the bloodiest century in human history, the 20th century. It is a century that from a bloodshed point of view has not ended yet.

Now here is a suggestion for a thought experiment to stretch our brains with, and our nerves. What if the leading powers at each side to that conflict had nuclear weapons?

Would that have stopped the war, or annihilate Europe and its vicinity?

Would the leaders who had no scruples in deploying the first modern weapons of mass destruction develop a conscience when faced with the terror of such a weapon?

Or would they be captivated by the promises of strength these weapons contain?

Do you have a quick answer or do you need some time to think about it?

Before you do, lets look at the current regime in Iran. A regime that in the early days of the Iran-Iraq war, sent kids carrying Korans and Taiwanese made plastic keys to open the gates of heaven; to detonate minefields with their bodies.

The point of the exercise suggested here is to show that the likelihood of a Cold War like scenario repeating itself in the Middle East is far from certain. It certainly was not certain when the Cold War begun. What the First World War had taught us, the members of the general public, is the value of human life. To the politicians it taught the value of good judgment, a lesson that was largely practiced during the Cold War. The likelihood of this repeating itself in current and future regional standoffs depends on a range of factors. One of them is the nature of the regimes involved, and the Iranian regime has more in common with the European leadership of 1914, than with the American and soviet leaders of the Cold War.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The EDL and their like as a forest fire

The English Defense League

There is a wildfire going on right now. It is above and beneath the surface of a great forest and exquisite flora. It is called Jihadism, Islamism, or simply, Islamic religious fanaticism. And it is consuming vast tracks of the great Islamic and Arab civilization that guided the world in science, literature, and philosophy, centuries ago.

The English Defense League

Its flames of hatred scorch nearby forests and civilizations forcing them to take drastic measures to defend themselves. Like park rangers who burn a patch of land so the wildfire will have nothing to cling to, defenders of democracy find themselves limiting some of its rights and liberties. But like those controlled burns these measures must be strictly supervised or else it will turn into a wildfire in it’s own right. Devastating democracy and western civilization in a way no different than that aspired by Jihadism.

The English Defense League

But this uncontrolled forest fire is what the EDL, the English Defense League, and like-minded organizations and individuals desire. Whether they vandalize a mosque in protest against the peace process or burn the Koran in the name free speech. Hate is hate, and as it burns books and the ideas they contain it will burn the people who believe in those ideas. No matter what belief system the hate filled person subscribes to.

The English Defense League

In an EDL demonstration in England Rabbi Nahum Shifren of California, was a guest speaker. In his speech he attacks the Israeli consulate, the liberal media, and everything else he considers liberal and tolerant. According to him, he has no problem with Al Qaeda and those advocating Sharia law, “they’re just doing their job,” he shouts. And calls the EDL to do theirs. The very same job: attacking the values of the democratic world they live in.

The English Defense League

When two forest fires conjoin, a ten thousand-fold hell unleashes at a lightning speed, with no way of telling one fire from the other. Leaving behind nothing but smoke and ashes. For us caught in between the work is twice as difficult. But someone has got to take on the duties a park ranger, whether as law enforcement agent, an educator, or a mere spoken voice of sanity. Or else the ashes will be us.

The English Defense League

Saturday, October 9, 2010

US Israel relationship: The peace process’ beggar’s choice

Seventh in a series of seven
parts: 1  2  3  4  5  6  7

At some point during the Ramat Shlomo/ Dalal Mughrabi crisis, the Obama administration realized that what they were doing was counterproductive, and abruptly stopped their pressure. The administration went as far as blocking the supporting tailwind they got from their own media, another fact indicating there are no anti-Israel intentions behind this administration's policies, or else they would have continued their pressure. What brought this about has been the subject of countless unproven tales, guesses, and speculations. Many have an understandable need to know the full story, but until reliable first hand information comes out, this is futile, a waste of time.

What matters now is to move the peace process forwards. Idealistic as it may sound, peace is the moral and ethical obligation of the elected head of any state founded on the sanctity of life. In the Israeli Palestinian context this peaceful resolution is most likely to be the two states solution. Debate aside; as far as the author of this series is concerned this is the best solution. But more importantly for this discussion, this is the solution the international community publicly committed itself to. The question is how to get there? The answer is, not by haste, not by force, and not by storm, but by constructing workable agreements and understandings on the myriad of lesser issues separating the two peoples. Issues that are less controversial in each society, therefore an agreement is more likely to be reached regarding them. It is known as a peace process from the bottom up. When trust is at extremely low levels the bottom is the only place it can restart. And right now the level of trust is low also between the Israeli public and the current American administration for reason explained earlier in this series, though things may not be as bad as they were earlier this year, 2010.

While the trust of the Israeli public in the current American leadership will be extremely useful in order to gain their trust in the peace process, that is not in the books right now. But that is just a means to an end, the end being regaining the trust in the peace process. And that can be done gradually. If further Israeli concessions do not lead to another wave of violence, more can follow. The peace process will advance measured step by measured step. This is possible due to a point of agreement between Israelis and Americans. The main disagreement here is whether Israel has a peace partner. The Americans are saying yes, but the Israeli experience from the implementation of the Oslo peace process created a lot of skepticism regarding that answer. But the more recent experiences show a Palestinian Authority willing and able to provide security and engaged in economic development. This suggests that Israel at least has a partner for security and economic development and co-operation. This partner for something is the common ground between Israelis and Americans. Even if that something is different as far as each of them believes. Since both Israelis and Americans have the same interest, the two states solution, Israel will not object to use these security and development agreements as a platform for the final resolution of the conflict. All Israelis need is a reasonable amount of confidence nothing dreadful will follow further concessions. Constant success will balance the bad experience from the Oslo years and the skepticism it created. From the point of view of peacemaking this can be the equivalent of the truce Israel had with Egypt and Jordan before the peace agreements with them.

For these renewed process to be successful the settlements freeze must end. The reason for that is plain and obvious, since this moratorium was announced Mahmoud Abbas has entrenched himself so deep in a rejectionist position, in took the pressure of the entire world to get him out of it and into direct talks with the Israeli Prime Minister. And even that only when the moratorium was about to expire. This behavior is the exact opposite of what is expected from a peace partner when gestures are made towards him. One explanation is that he is indeed not a peace partner. True or not, this explanation is highly subjective, based on the highly traumatic Israeli experience. The negotiators should not belittle that experience; they should address it as part of the accountability of the process itself. But Israel on its part must not let the traumas override other concerns and other explanations. The other explanation here has to do with the governability of Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority, or what they might perceive as threats to it.

When it comes to the issue of concessions over the settlements, 17 years of negotiations and concessions taught us that there are two types of concessions, facilitating concessions, and final-resolution concessions. Facilitating concessions facilitate the establishment of an autonomous Palestinian entity, (currently the Palestinian Authority). They include the A regions handed over to the Palestinians at the beginning of the Oslo process. There the Palestinian Authority rules and no settlements activity can take place. And the promise made by the first Netanyahu government to the Clinton administration, not to build new settlements, a decision that prevents the settlements from blocking the territorial continuity of a future Palestinian state. The removal of roadblocks and other travel restrictions are also facilitating concessions. These are also security concessions, and as such contain security risks for Israel and for Israelis.

Final resolution concessions are those related to the core issues of the conflict. They are the issue of the refugees, the fate of Jerusalem, the final status of the settlements, and recognizing Israel's right to exist as the nation state of the Jewish people.

These issues are connected, if the Israeli premier makes a major concession on the settlements issue, an issue that divides the Israeli society and puts his administration on the line; the Palestinian leadership is expected to do the same. But they have constantly proven themselves unable to do so. When former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered most of the West Bank in 2000, former Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat launched a wave of violence that scarred both nations. When Ehud Olmert offered similar concessions to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in 2008, Abbas did not return his calls. And when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the settlements freeze – putting all the settlements and their future on the table, Mahmoud Abbas refused to engage in direct talks with him. This is a pattern that shows that the Palestinian leadership cannot take on its own challenging issues. Concessions on issues such as the "right" of return or Palestinian refugees could threaten their leadership and their ability to govern. Adding to the threat already posed by Hamas from the Gaza Strip and from within the West Bank.

The settlement freeze is therefore a threat to the governability of the Palestinian peace partner. But in the long run it is also a threat to the governability of the Israeli peace partner. The settlements freeze is difficult to enforce. Besides the use of means of law enforcement, it requires political and economic pressure on the leadership of the ideological settlers, and the co-operation of the general population of the settlers. And that can be achieved only with a time limit, or a major Palestinian reciprocal gesture, the kind Mahmoud Abbas is unwilling or unable to provide. This pressure in all its forms will finally erode. And the extremists will find a way to bypass these restrictions. They are numerous, they know the terrain better, and they have done it before. The outposts, illegal or not, are a successful method of bypassing the Israeli government’s decision not to built new settlements. And since the settlement freeze includes all the settlements, the longer it continues the more likely it is to push the moderates towards the extremists. Whatever form this resistance will take, the mere images of an unenforceable moratorium will undermine the governability of the Israeli peace partner. This will create two lame duck peace partners, sending to hell the credibility of the peace process, again!

The Israeli Palestinian conflict is a low intensity conflict; therefore it has greater room for mistakes then other trouble spots, but this too will end. It is important to remember that all rulers have their weakness, putting them in a position that enhances their weakness, and they will became lame ducks. And needless to say the peace process won’t work with two lame ducks peace partners.

While it is highly apparent that this stick, the settlement freeze, cannot be pulled out from between the wheels of the peace process without bruising every one involved. After that bruising everyone will have to return to the talks, if they want peace. The solution to the problem created by the settlement freeze is the same type as the solution to the conflict will be. It is a solution where no one is happy, the settlers won’t get the building spree they fantasized about, and those who insisted on a complete settlement freeze will have to stomach low level of construction.

Beside lack of trust, and threats to the governability of the peace partners, a successful peace process must address the opposing narratives each side holds. Right now both Israeli and Palestinian economies are growing. It is a major encouragement for optimism, but until each side tries to understand the other’s narrative, and bridge the two, this optimism is wishful thinking. The opposing narratives are the reason why the core issues are so difficult. They are deep held national consensuses for both sides. And for each political entity it is the source of legitimacy in the eyes of its population, a source of legitimacy for the very existence of that political entity.

The Israeli narrative is the more flexible one, changing somewhat along the political spectrum. However the Palestinian narrative is still refusing to acknowledge any legitimate Israeli claim. But the biggest problem coming from the Palestinian narrative has to do with the role violence. As a strategic weapon the Palestinians had abandoned violence because it had failed disastrously. But the legitimacy of it was not abandoned; on the contrary, it is cherished and preserved by various means. Stone throwing in “non-violent” demonstrations, enforcing violently a boycott of produce from the settlements by burning them rather then returning them and finding alternatives, and commemorating mass murderers like Dalal Mughrabi and Yahya Ayyash, the father of suicide bombings. These are all different expression of the preservation of the sanctity of violence. In each of those actions, there is a component of violence that is not necessary to achieve the declared goal it is used for. For example, like any nation the Palestinians have a right for their own national heroes. But the criterion for these heroes is the high number of unarmed Israeli civilians they killed, rather than individuals who faced overwhelming odds. Even if we accept a claim that says that this practice is not evidence that shows that Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah are not peace partners, we must not forget that the core value of peace is the sanctity of life. Therefore no peace process can stand on the sanctity of violence. This contradiction will either erode or explode any peace agreement.

This may lower the optimism expressed in the mainstream media in the early weeks of September, but how truly optimistic this optimism was? Think of the reasoning that said that this time it would work because both sides are extremely skeptic. This is the same rational as that of a person taking pride in ones own humility. This absurdity is therefore not a sign of hope but another mark of desperation.

In this peace process, all of us who want peace are beggars facing limited choices. We cannot take the choices we yearn for but do not have. It does not mean that we should give up on peace making. It does mean we should treat it like all duties of government, requiring good judgment, accountability, responsibility, realism, and credibility. Even if the actual chances for peace are worse then described here, at the end, all those who want to continue living on this land, Israelis and Palestinians, are beggars as well, facing no choice other then living together. This is another desperate argument, but beggars can’t be choosers. So, as US emissary George Mitchell had said, we need to keep trying. But trying for the sake of trying is not enough, something basic the public debate seems to have missed.

Related link:
Delusions of "peace:" Breaking the conspiracy of silence

Dvar Dea


US Israel relationships: the making of the Israeli exclamation mark, part 2; unbalancing outreach with go-between

Sixth in a series of seven
parts: 1  2  3  4  5  6  7

Given the state of relationships between the United States and the Muslim world during the Bush era, president Obama's outreach is understandable and logical from both the moral and strategic points of view. But as more gestures were made towards the Arab world the more shunned and alienated Israelis felt. It is not hard to understand why it happened; it is basic human psychology. When one is trying to win over one side that is engaged in a conflict, the other party to that conflict will be apprehensive. And the best oratory and charisma are more likely to magnify this rather then contain it. Contrary to the popular belief oratory and charisma have their limits. There are only two persons that are believed to be able to cross boundaries of conflict and mutual suspicion. They are Jesus and the anti Christ, and president Barack Obama is none of them.

In Cairo on June 4 2009, president Obama had the opportunity to put Israel’s case in front of the Muslim world as a part of his outreach. He used the same arguments George Bush Sr. used on September 23rd 1991, when he got the General Assembly of the United Nations to revoke its infamous resolution equating Zionism with racism. Both of them cited the entire Jewish history of persecutions including the holocaust, as a reason for Israel’s existence. George Bush Sr. was talking to the whole world and convinced most of it, except the Muslim world. Barack Obama was talking only to the Muslim world, the result was the same; no one from that part of the world was convinced.

As far as Israelis are concerned, Israel’s right to exist is not based on pity, but on the right of self-determination. But arguing for that right in front of the Muslim world is risking shaking it and destabilizing it, since many Arab and Muslim countries contain separatist movements within their borders. The office of the American presidency has its limits. So while the Cairo speech was an important effort it gained no political capital, not from the Muslim world and not from the Israeli public opinion.

George Bush Sr. Address to the 46th Session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York City:
UNGA Resolution 3379, the so-called "Zionism is racism" resolution, mocks this pledge and the principles upon which the United Nations was founded. And I call now for its repeal. Zionism is not a policy; it is the idea that led to the creation of a home for the Jewish people, to the State of Israel. And to equate Zionism with the intolerable sin of racism is to twist history and forget the terrible plight of Jews in World War II and, indeed, throughout history. To equate Zionism with racism is to reject Israel itself, a member of good standing of the United Nations

Barack Obama, Cairo speech, June 4th 2009:
America's strong bonds with Israel are well known. This bond is unbreakable. It is based upon cultural and historical ties, and the recognition that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied.

Around the world, the Jewish people were persecuted for centuries, and anti-Semitism in Europe culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust. Tomorrow, I will visit Buchenwald, which was part of a network of camps where Jews were enslaved, tortured, shot and gassed to death by the Third Reich. Six million Jews were killed -- more than the entire Jewish population of Israel today. Denying that fact is baseless, it is ignorant, and it is hateful. Threatening Israel with destruction -- or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews -- is deeply wrong, and only serves to evoke in the minds of Israelis this most painful of memories while preventing the peace that the people of this region deserve.
On this background came the Obama's administration new ideas for the peace process. They went as follows, Israel will make gestures to the Palestinians and the Arab countries will repay her by increasing normalization with her. This idea raised more then a few eyebrows in Israel. Why should Israel accept the normalization with other Arab countries in exchange for the concessions it is making to the Palestinians? Shouldn’t the Palestinians offer something in return?

On the Arab side it had a more concrete impact. Usually normalization is something that happens with little to no third party public encouragement. A handful of Arab countries initiate low-key normalization with Israel as a response to progress in the peace process and because of their economic interests. And countries like the United States, or some other European country, do what they can to help. It is always done behind the scenes or with low-key media exposure to avoid pressure from opposition groups and hardline Arab and Islamic countries. By making it a publicly declared US interest the market value of normalization increased. And the Arab states withdrew their product, the normalization that was already taking place, in order to get a better price for it, and the peace process took a step backwards. This forced the United States to invest time and energy in reestablishing the normalization between Israel and the moderate Arab world at the expense of the Israeli-Palestinian track.

Probably in order to put some substance in their overture towards the Muslim world the Americans made their opposition to Israel’s activities in East Jerusalem publicly known, and condemned every Israeli activity there. And they did so even if it meant attacking decisions made by Israel’s supreme court, which meant attacking Israel’s sovereignty. Right or wrong aside, they were introducing a new component to the peace process, micro commenting. They were loudly condemning minor events, the kind of which previous administrations had ignored or made non-confrontational protest against. And this new policy was definitely one sided, because other previously ignored events, such as Hamas motivated rioters throwing stones and bricks from Al Aqsa mosque on Jewish worshipers at the Western Wall, were still been ignored. When Israeli and Jewish representatives asked about this one-sidedness, criticism of the Arab side did come, but it was a part of another one-sided routine. A routine in which Israel was been lambasted publicly, in front of Israeli leaders and representatives and in front of Arab leaders, while the Arab side was been criticized only in front of Israelis or American Jews, with very little media attention. As a result Israelis naturally drifted farther away, but even at the Palestinian side the results were not constructive.

Ignored by the Obama administration.
Hamas motivated rioters throwing cinder blocks on Jewish worshipers at the Western Wall from the Al Aqsa Mosque.
 Source, Yediot Achronot, March 7th 2010, originally from AP & AFP

In the long history of Palestinian internal politics there has always been a competition as to who is the toughest guy against Israel. When both Hamas and Fatah have no military options the competition is mostly verbal. Now the Americans became a third competitor in that contest. And since the Palestinian Authority could not afford appearing less patriotic then the Americans, they took the only harder line position they could, and refused to sit in the same room with the Israelis. Thus the peace process went seven years backwards, as it was before the Aqaba summit, when the leaders of both sides where unable to sit together and talk because of Arafat’s brutal and unreliable policies. Fortunately this time it was only in the diplomatic level and without accompanying brutal violence on the ground.

Then came the Ramat Shlomo crisis. That crisis came to be because the American administration claimed Israel offended them when it announced the planning of 1600 new apartments in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood in East Jerusalem, at the same day Vice-President Joe Biden was visiting. The Americans objection to the Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem is well known. Been offended by a statement made by a zoning committee of the Jerusalem municipality, a low level of authority, is understandable, but to turn it into an international crisis? Over something that is virtual, since the construction is scheduled for two years after that announcement? Won’t such precedent hijack international relationships by statements made by any low-level functionary or politician?

What turned this puzzlement into a credibility gap was the fact that it did not happen in a vacuum. At that same day the Palestinians were naming a square in Ramallah after one of their heroes, a 19 year-old terroris by the name of Dalal Mugrabi. She was a member of a Palestinian commando unit responsible for the worst terrorist attack on Israeli civilians prior to the era of suicide bombings. In that attack her unit, which landed on the Israeli coast north of Tel Aviv, hijacked two buses, took their passengers hostage, fired at passing vehicles and killed 38 civilians, 11 of them children, ages 2 to 17. The first person they murdered, on the beach they landed on, was the American photographer Gail Rubin. The idea that the glorification of this crime, which took place 32 years to the date prior to Vice-President Biden’s visit, was less offensive then 1600 virtual apartments, is problematic. Why would the glorification of a brutal crime that had happen be less offensive then an announcement of a planned housing project that may or may not take place in the future? What happened to the American stand against terrorism?

terror victim
Gail Rubin

For this unreliable offense the Americans demanded concessions in the city itself. This demand was backed by another argument that was circulated in the international media and the Israeli media. It claimed that after 43 years the United States could not afford looking the other way on this issue. The problem is that this explanation has no legs to stand on. The reason the United States rarely engaged in a head-on confrontation with Israel over the settlements and East Jerusalem was because with Soviet-backed Arab and Palestinian rejectionism the Americans had no alternative to advance. With both the Cold War and the first Gulf War behind him, Secretary of State James Baker had good reason to believe he had such an alternative, and a confrontation between him and Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s hardline position did occur. This confrontation ended when Shamir lost the 1992 elections. Later, President Clinton and the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin implemented a similar alternative, the Oslo accords. When Arafat literally blow up the peace process that alternative vanished. While it is not clear if under Mahmoud Abbas this alternative had returned, the current security co-operation between Israeli and Palestinian forces makes that possibility probable. However it does not include East Jerusalem, since the Palestinian positions on Jerusalem were never clear. Not during the Oslo years and not now. And the Second Initifada erupted over their rejection of any compromise over the city.

Ramat Shlomo:
Small, and close to the Green Line, even when compared to other Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem.

With no indications that the current Palestinian leadership had changed its position over Jerusalem the Americans had no alternative to advance. Yet in the Ramat Shlomo/ Dalal Mughrabi crisis, they did just that, pushed for concessions without a corresponding alternative. Without an alternative to offer the only other alternative the general public in Israel could look at was the past. And that past is violent and traumatic. By forcing one-sided concessions in Jerusalem they have awakened the memories from the time Jerusalem was divided by an unstable border. This was a border that threatened the existence of Israel and Jerusalem was its political epicenter. By erasing that border the Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem represent a political and psychological rejection and prevention of that past, as well as an expression of a national consensus that sees the unification of the city as a fundamental national right.

The glorification of terrorists like Dalal Mughrarbi is a part of the incitement that creates terrorism, presenting a crime against humanity as an act of heroic patriotism. The Obama administration eventually did protest against that, but made no international crisis out of it. This discrepancy created the impression that this act of incitement is legit or tolerable in the eyes of the American administration. Thus opening the fresh wounds from the spate of suicide bombings produced by such incitement. Since Dalal Mughrabi and her crime is a part of this crisis, her era echoed as well, the era of Ma’alot, Savoy Hotel, Munich, and other Palestinian terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians during the 1970’s. This administration acted as if it has forgotten that the reason to oppose the settlements is to safeguard and maintain the possibility of a vibrant continuous Palestinian state, and not to reawaken Israel’s collective security traumas. Instead they’ve glued themselves to three of the worse of them.

The most probable reason for that misguided decision-making process is an ill-prepared attempt to combine outreach with the position of the go-between. It is possible that these two different goals can be combined; there is simply not enough information in the historical record to say either way. As far as this experiment goes, the result is a failure. The outreach gave no results, but the position of the go-between, essential to the facilitation of a peace process, was jeopardized. Now they are trying to fix that, though they won’t admit it. They are trying to manage the peace process as much as possible by the book of past experience, but there is no book on how to fix a mismanaged peace process.

Dvar Dea

US Israel relationships: the making of the Israeli exclamation mark, part 1, Obama’s triple inheritance

Fifth in a series of seven
parts: 1  2  3  4  5  6  7

Why Israelis don’t trust president Obama?
Why the most likely answer to the question, “Do you trust president Obama?” coming from Israel, especially during mid 2010, is not just ‘no,’ but ’no!’?
A part of the explanation is the role of the media and the Internet, explained here and here. The other part is the Palestinian component. Two other parts have to do with president Obama, and they are explained in this article and the following one.

The survey quoted by Katie Couric in the Benjamin Netanyahu interview on July 7 2010, said 71% of Israeli Jews don’t like president Obama. The word ‘like’ is a general term that does not disclose the causes of this emotion. Another survey made around that time by the 'Dahaf Institute', had found out that 24% of Israelis consider president Obama an anti-Semite. A finding that is considered unprecedented.

[The 'Dahaf Institute' is a leading Israeli marketing and research firm known for its political and social surveys. This survey was published in the current affairs program ‘Shovrim Kelim’ in the Knesset Channel, the cable channel of the Israeli parliament. This TV program is hosted by the head of the institute Dr. Mina Tzemach and Roni Milo, the former mayor of Tel – Aviv and former government minister.] 

Given the history of the Jewish people, there are always those who see all foreign heads of states as anti-Semites, so some percentage of suspicious people is always expected, but 24% is considered to be higher then usual. At the same time it hardly represents the entire 71%. What it is more likely is that this is an indicator of the general feelings at the time of the survey, June 2010. If the majority of Israeli Jews don’t trust president Obama, a greater percentage than usual is more likely to believe he is an anti Semite. Others will see him as pro-Palestinian, or point to the ideological differences between him and Prime Minister Netanyahu as the source of policies many couldn’t understand and could not trust. And the lack of it is what all these explanations have in common.

Those who are writing off the entire 71% as people that regard president Obama as an anti-Semite are making life easy for themselves. Just as they do when they put heavy weight on the president’s middle name, Hussein, as the cause of the Israelis’ apprehension. Hussein is a common name in the Middle East, and Israelis encounter it on many different occasions. On one side there was Saddam Hussein of Iraq, who promised to burn half of Israel, after his long war with Iran ended. On the other side there was the late king Hussein of Jordan. He is the second Arab head of state to sign a peace agreement with Israel, and a moderate ruler who survived most of his radical enemies. This achievement gave him the respect of many people including a lot of Israelis. When on March 13 1997 a Jordanian soldier murdered 7 Israeli schoolgirls in Naharayim on the Israeli Jordanian border, the king came to Israel with his royal entourage to visit the families of the victims, to express his condolences and to condemn the act. It was an act that showed determination, courage and leadership and left a strong impact on the Israeli public, even among those who hate Arabs.

So while this middle name did create some unease, it did not create the wave of panic the extreme right in Israel tried to make from it, and that the Israel-bashers claim exist. There were other more serious factors. As explained earlier in this series some of the causes are inherited from the previous administrations. The collapse of the Oslo accords during the tenure of Bill Clinton, and Hamas’ takeover of Gaza after the disengagement from Gaza, had demonstrated to the Israelis the limits of the power of the office of the American presidency. It cannot make the Palestinians want peace. Since eventually all peace processes boils down to the intentions of the adversaries.

But just as Barack Obama is the heir of George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, he is also the representative of the large camp of George W. Bush’s critics. And that large camp wasn’t made up just of the American Democratic Party and its supporters. As the protest against the Iraq War grew in the United States and across the world, the Democratic Party and most of the mainstream American left failed to distinguish between those who opposed the war because of reasons of legality and strategic wisdom, and those who opposed it simply because they hate America and oppose everything the United States does. An important characteristic of that last group is that they hate Israel as well, burning Israeli flags alongside American flags. But Israelis did notice this. They saw on television and on the Internet, George W. Bush subjected to vile spectacles of hatred, were his effigy was burned, lynched, and he himself was compared to Hitler. All that was done by people that hated Israel and its elected leaders in the same fashion. This naturally created sympathy for him and helped bolster his image as the only foreign had of state sticking up for Israel at a time Israelis were attacked at their streets and in their homes. But the inability of the mainstream American left to separate themselves from those expressions of hate created suspicion towards them. And since Barack Obama is the elected leader of the Democratic Party, he inherited that as well.

Bush bashing
Bush-hate fest, a small sample

And then there is Barack Obama’s personal inheritance, the only one discussed in the mainstream media. That  inheritance is his past association with the reverend Jeremiah Wright, a known Israel-basher, and former PLO adviser and major BDS campaigner professor Rashid Khalidi.

Jeremiah Wright and Rashid Khalidi
            Jeremiah Wright and Rashid Khalidi

Were president Obama and his advisers aware of these apprehensions?
The later? Most likely. The others? Unknown.

The desire to bridge this suspicion is probably part of the reason for the huge military and political investment in Israel’s security. This investment includes weaponry, joint training of the two countries armed forces, the acceptance of Israel to the OECD, the financing of Iron Dome, And the backing Israel’s policy of nuclear ambiguity. The most important support is the constant pressure on the international community regarding the Iranian threat. Part of the reason for all of this is to overcome the said mistrust. But the huge effort behind them shows a commitment to Israel’s security, because without it such an effort would not have been possible. Others may dispute this, but this dispute is largely due to ideological convictions, and as consequence of the turmoil that had taken place in March 2010. Turmoil that had taken place because commitment is not enough to win over a people’s trust, understanding them is needed in order to translate that commitment to tangible terms. This, the American administration failed to do. They understood that Iran is the biggest strategic threat to Israel, but sidelined the fact that most of the actual killing of Israelis was done by Iran’s Palestinians and Lebanese proxies.

Dvar Dea

US Israel relationships a seven parts series:
The public debate, correcting a favorable picture
The public debate, Israel and the war on terror
The Palestinian component
The right wing component
The Israeli exclamation mark, Obama's triple inheritance
The Israeli exclamation mark, unbalancing outreach w go-between
The peace process' beggars' choice

US Israel relationships: the right wing component

Forth in a series of seven
parts: 1  2  3  4  5  6  7

No discussion of the Palestinian component is complete without discussing the settlements component. As a part of the reality on the ground, the settlements and the outposts do have the ability to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state – yet the settlements are not an obstacle to peace. As Israel has proven twice in its history it can remove them if it believes it is of its interest to do so. And for settlement blocs that cannot be removed due to their size, both sides accepted the concept of territorial exchange as a substitute.

The problem is not the settlements per se. The settlements serve as a political symbol, representing right wing Israeli policies, and the power center of some of Israel’s right wing political forces. However, not all settlers are rightwing, or extremists. And not all the right-wingers in Israel who support the settlements project are settlers, and that includes extremists and even fringe elements. But to those fringe elements the West Bank is the main attraction for mischief, hooliganism, and as history shows, their own brand of brutal terrorism. This is a well-recognized obstacle to peace, but first and foremost it is an internal threat to Israel as a law-abiding state and a sovereign state.

This threat to peace is not the main challenge the advocacy of peace faces when engaging the Israeli right. The Israeli right is an integral part of Israeli society and politics. With power and influence in the Knesset, the Israeli street and within the current coalition government. It is an important and legitimate competitor in the contest to win over the Israeli public opinion, over a multitude of issues, among them the peace process. It has three main assets in that debate, the emotional attachment many Israelis have to the West Bank, known as Judea and Samaria, the security concerns, and its position in the government, which adds an aura of authority to their arguments.

When forming this government Benjamin Netanyahu knew he had to choose between the heart, a right wing coalition, and the brain, a centric coalition. A coalition with all the big parties in the new Israeli parliament, LikudKadima, Labor, Israel Beitenu, and the major religious party Shas. But the smart choice has its drawbacks: The personal animosity between Netanyahu and Tzipi Livni, the head of Kadima, the bad blood between the two parties since the split over the disengagement from Gaza, and the uncomfortable situation that would have taken place in such a coalition, where the largest member of the coalition, Kadima, is not the political party of the Prime Minister. These are understandable difficulties but ones that can be overcome if there is a will to do so by the two political parties and their leaders. Perhaps a greater will than the one that held together, barely, Israel’s national unity governments in the 1980’s. Then Shamir, Peres and Rabin had their share of deep personal and ideological differences. And between the Likud and the Labor party there was resentment and bitterness that went back five decades. But in spite of all of that, they held two governments together.

The choice Netanyahu did take was a compromise between the brain and the heart, dropping the most extreme right wing party, ‘Ichud Leumi,’ and taking in the Labor party. In this coalition the Labor party has two roles. The first is to provide a link with the international community, whic has a known disapproval of extremist governments. And the second is to balance the extremists that are in this coalition. In order to support this task he brought his own personal import into the Likud party: The seasoned politicians Dan Meridor and Beni Begin, and former chief of staff of the Israeli army Moshe Yaalon. These respected politicians could offer moderation or an ability to reason with the extremists and hardliners in the coalition and within the Likud party itself. But due to the Israelis disillusionment with the peace process, the Labor party, just like its natural ally Meretz, is at its weakest position ever, and the Likud itself radicalized. The result is an inability of the Israeli government to create political initiatives. This is a serious political handicap for Israel, which most of the time was overshadowed by Mahmoud Abbas's refusal to enter direct talks during the ten month settlement freeze. But when negotiations do take place, the extreme right in the Israeli government and in the coalition can act as an internal opposition, limiting the Prime-Minister's ability to maneuver. And when that happens the public debate over those issues, which never truly ends, goes into high gear.

In this debate the right wing emphasizes security concerns from a future Palestinian state. The leftovers of the hard-core Zionist left, emphasize demographic concerns. They fear that if the situation remains as it is Jews will be minority in their own state, undermining Israel’s democratic character and turning it into an apartheid state. The Israeli center, mainly the Kadima party, expresses security concerns emanating from the conduct of the Palestinian side, Hamas as well as the Palestinian Authority; and demographic concerns: The fear that an Arab majority will undermine Israel’s Jewish character and Jewish sovereignty.

It is a debate where the United States government's known position is an important argument in favor of the two-state solution, but not the only important argument. This puts the United States in a position where it has to work out how to take part in the debate without getting involved in internal politics. This is something that will be a lot easier for the Americans to do if Israel had its own imitative. But this is unlikely due to the nature of the current Israeli government.

The fact that the Israeli right wing, and the American administration, any American administration, doesn’t like each other very much is stating the obvious. Although the Israeli right has political and ideological allies in American political arena, their reach and influence over the shaping of the American foreign policy is limited. This known ideological dispute opens to interpretation what is considered involvement in Israel's internal politics. The right has a maximal interpretation and the left, minimal. These ulterior motives are common knowledge in the Israeli society; therefore neither claim is automatically accepted. This gives the American side the ability to ignore these charges when the Israeli right makes them, as long as the fundamental concerns of all Israelis are respected, such as security and national sovereignty. Ignoring them will only vindicate the right wing accusations. And the trust of Israelis in such an administration will be a ‘no,’ add a storm to that policy and the ‘no’ will have an exclamation mark.

Obstacle to peace?
Clockwise: evicting a settler, Gaza Strip 2005, the ruins of the settlement of Kfar Darom, evicting a settlement, Gaza Strip 2005, the eviction of Yamit, Sinai 1982.

Dvar Dea

Previous  Next

US Israel relationships a seven parts series:
The public debate, correcting a favorable picture
The public debate, Israel and the war on terror
The Palestinian component
The right wing component
The Israeli exclamation mark, Obama's triple inheritance
The Israeli exclamation mark, unbalancing outreach w go-between
The peace process' beggars' choice

US Israel relationships, the Palestinian component

Third in a series of seven
parts: 1  2  3  4  5  6  7

Why is the Israeli Palestinian peace process so difficult?
There are of course many reasons for that. One reason, which many veteran American diplomats and negotiators acknowledge with a sigh of desperation and exhaustion, is the tendency of both sides to bicker like children during the negotiations. This is not something that is easy to admit but it is apart of the problem.

Another reason, one that has no comical side to it, is the fact that in any such negotiations Israelis are asked to entrust their personal security in the hands of their enemies. This requires a huge leap of faith even under more promising conditions. Nowadays it means retaking security risks involving fears and anxieties no parent should relive. But these are Israel’s political realities, realities Israel must engage no matter how impossible they are. At the same time these realities don’t create trust out of thin air, and without trust the peace process cannot move forwards. This is where the negotiator, who is also a good friend and a close ally, comes in. As a participator in the negotiations, and co signatory with reputation on the line, the significant but not unlimited trust Israelis have in such a negotiator allay some of their concerns.

Camp-David 1979

This is why the famous picture from Camp David I, of the three heads of states had a reassuring effect. This is why President Bill Clinton's support for the Oslo accords helped maintain a large pro – peace vote in Israel in spite of three waves of Palestinian initiated violence. And that is why George W. Bush's support for the disengagement from Gaza helped get the support of a majority of already skeptic Israelis. Since the results of the disengagement from Gaza are what they are, if George Bush or Bill Clinton, as leaders of the United States, were to ask Israelis for something similar their chances of success would have been very small. For any other person in that high office less so, and for Barack Obama even less. This is evident from a June 2010 survey, quoted by CBS’ Katie Couric in her Benjamin Netanyahu interview. That survey found that 71% of Israelis dislike President Obama. This finding is an indicator of deep mistrust; since no US president had such low approval rating in Israel. This means that the most likely Israeli answer to the question whether they trust President Obama won't be just “No”; but rather “No!” A “No” with an exclamation mark, at least for the time of the survey.

There are three main phases building up to that “No!” The first is the public debate discussed in parts 1 and 2 of this series, which was more of an aggravating factor. The second is the Palestinian Authority discussed here below. The third is the Obama administration policies prior to Netanyahu’s visit to Washington in July 2010, discussed in the sixth article in this series.

Defenders of the Palestinian Authority have said that it is fulfilling its obligations under the Oslo Accords, fighting terrorism and governing the major cities in the West Bank where Israel allowed their police forces to redeploy. Even if this is true grave concerns remain:

1) The Palestinian Authority is doing NOW what it was supposed to do in the 1990s. If they are really fulfilling their commitments, they are doing it only after a wave of brutal violence they had initiated. What assurances does Israel have that if the Palestinians sign new agreements, let’s say about Jerusalem, they won’t implement them the same way, after another run of violence of their choice and making?

2) How do the Palestinians implement this alleged cooperation? With the help of a deep American involvement. There is a Palestinian American Prime Minister, with no constituency of his own other than the American and international support, and a security force commanded and established by an American general. If the Americans ease or cease their involvement will this continue or fade as if it never existed?

3) Why are they cooperating? At least a part of the answer, and not a small part, is because of fear of Hamas that is literally pointing a gun at their temple and kneecap. As solid as Hamas’ rule over Gaza currently appears, a successful missile strike into Israel or a successful terror attack against Israelis in the Sinai will lead to an Israeli military intervention that has a good chance of removing that regime, or contributing to its demise. Once that happens, and this motivation to cooperate is gone, what will encourage the Fatah/Palestinian Authority to continue their cooperation? Would the international fiscal support be enough or will they just take it and hide it, the way Yassar Arafat did?

4) There is always a cloud over the Palestinian Authority’s ability to govern. Can what happened in Gaza repeat itself in the West Bank in a similar way or a different one? Will Fatah hold itself together once Mahmoud Abbas is no longer in charge?

5) Incitement continues under the PA. As the history of the Oslo Process had shown, incitement is the engine of terrorism. Territorial concessions created opportunities for both peace and war. But the history of the Oslo process had demonstrated that incitement from both the PA sources and opposition sources contributed to the turning of territories handed over by Israel into launching pads of terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians.

6) The Palestinian Authority is Fatah; in recent history the Tanzim in Nablus, another part of Fatah, was on Hizbullah’s payroll and command. Along with the 'Karin A' affair this grounds in reality an Israeli concern that a corrupt Palestinian Authority will switch sides and starts working with the Iranians.

All of these suggest that the Palestinian leadership has a long way to go in order to prove itself an able and willing peace partner.

Salam Fayyad and Abu Mazen
Left to right, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and Palestinian president Mahmoud  Abbas

These concerns are not something Israel should hide behind when expected to deliver its part in the peace process, and help and encourage further Palestinian self-rule. At the same time this is not something the quartet should ignore, especially not the United – States. The lack of easy answers as to how they should go about this is the reason why the peace process is difficult.

Dvar Dea

Previous  Next

US Israel relationships a seven parts series:
The public debate, correcting a favorable picture
The public debate, Israel and the war on terror
The Palestinian component
The right wing component
The Israeli exclamation mark, Obama's triple inheritance
The Israeli exclamation mark, unbalancing outreach w go-between
The peace process' beggars' choice

US Israel relationships: The public debate, Israel and the war on terror

Second in a series of seven
parts: 1  2  3  4  5  6  7

During the Ramat Shlomo crisis, which was considered at the time the lowest point in the history of US Israel relationships, a problematic accusation circulated in the mainstream media. This was the accusation attributed to General Petraeus that claimed that Israeli policies are killing American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. As he himself had explained it to Philip Klein of the Spectator, it was taken out of context. And how often do public figures use the “taken out of context” defense when the media support their alleged views and not lash out at them? As he explained:

There’s a 56-page document that we submitted that has a statement in it that describes various factors that influence the strategic context in which we operate and among those we listed the Mideast peace process, ... We noted in there that there was a perception at times that America sides with Israel and so forth. And I mean, that is a perception. It is there. I don’t think that’s disputable. But I think people inferred from what that said and then repeated it a couple of times and bloggers picked it up and spun it. And I think that has been unhelpful, frankly.

One item out of a list long enough to fit 56 pages, not the single item, not THE item, one item out of many, everything else was the work of bloggers and probably spin doctors.

General Petraeus’ explanation is the reliable one for two reasons. First, it is his account of his own work. It is not the version of some self-appointed somebody who claims to have inside knowledge as if he or she wrote the general’s documents. Second, in the complex realities of every region, cause and effect are not that straightforward, whether it is South East Asia during the Vietnam War, or Western Europe during the Cold War. In the Middle East strategic planners must take into account stability of governments, economic disparity, religious and ethnic tension, illiteracy, gender discrimination, tribalism, and more. Just have a look at Yemen, where most of these problems exist. There we find a large presence of Al Qaeda, the Al Qaeda that sent Umar Farrouk Abdulmutallab to attack the United States during Christmas 2009. They were able to form a large presence there because the country suffers from all the above-mentioned weaknesses and because they were chased out of other countries. Israel was not a factor since Yemen always had a hardline position against Israel.

General Petraeus
General Petraeus

While there is no question that the Israeli – Palestinian conflict does interact with terrorism, history and reality do not accommodate those who claim Israeli policies are at fault. As history shows us, it can easily be seen as the other way around. That is, progress in the peace process brings about a rise in terrorist activity. The best example is the murder of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1981 as a direct result of the successful peace negotiations with Israel. Moreover, the spike in Al Qaeda attacks on American targets in the 1990s, from the first attack on the Twin Towers to the planning of the second attack, occurred when the Oslo peace process was on an upswing. And recently, the murder of 4 Israeli civilians, one of them a pregnant woman, by Hamas, on august the 31st, just before the talks were about to begin in Washington D. C.

It is quite possible that recruiters for terrorist organizations can use the Israeli Palestinian conflict as a means of persuasion and recruitment. However, it is equally possible for them to use a successful peace process. They can always argue that the Palestinians and the whole Arab/Muslim nation are being cheated. For all terrorist organizations the peace process itself is a threat. And any progress made will motivate them to do more harm, whether they are Jews, Palestinians or international Jihadists.

When it comes to the safety of American troops, history can argue the opposite as well, making the case that safety for American troops can result in casualties for Israel. In 1991 many Israelis agreed, reluctantly, not to respond against repeated Scud missile attacks by Saddam Hussein. That allowed President George Bush Sr. to maintain the American led multinational coalition needed to liberate Kuwait, another enemy of Israel, from Iraqi occupation. Fortunately the casualties among Israeli civilians were low. However, in 2001 and 2002 Israeli citizens were not so lucky.

Following the 9/11 attacks, the United States and its NATO allies were at war in Afghanistan. At the time Israel was in the midst of a horrific wave of suicide bombings and other mass murder attacks that had already killed more than 150 Israelis. Israel had every right to respond to those attacks, but international pressure kept her from responding effectively. There was more than one reason for that pressure, but the most effective pressure comes from the closest ally. After 9/11 this ally needed Israel to restrain itself in face of this brutal violence. This restraint was needed in order to help the United-States get the cooperation needed from major regional players, to launch an effective campaign against the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Israeli citizens suffered, horrifically, so that Americans will be safer on the mainland and on the battlefield. But when the monthly death toll in Israel peaked at 130 in March 2002, Israel could no longer afford agreeing to that pressure, and effectively began exercising its right to defend its citizens, in what was known as operation “Defensive Shield”. The United States and its NATO allies did not like the fact the Israeli army had returned to the West Bank and its major cities, but they did not pressure Israel to withdraw. With a NATO backed regime established in Afghanistan they did not need to restrain itself any more against the brutal provocation. Instead they began to establish a reliable Palestinian security force that will serve the purpose of the peace process.

Comparing death tolls, “how many Americans died for Israel?” or “how many Israelis died for America,” is the language of conflict; it is not the language of alliance. Allies help bring down each other’s death toll. The American administration is helping financing “Iron Dome” to protect Israeli population centers, and Israeli technologies are helping protect American soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq. And at the same time they work to bridge the different sets of priorities each of them has as separate sovereign nations. Cracks are surely to come, as they surely will be overcome. But in this context this inserted language of conflict has the affect of slander, creating bitterness and suspicion when cooperation and communication are needed. Bordering on cheap sensationalism it also creates a simplistic and unrepresentative picture of the peace process, unbecoming the gravity and complexity of the problems entangling it. Not to mention disrespectful of the dead. When the mainstream media adopt this form of conversation it becomes a tragedy primarily for those who seek to advance the peace process. While the mainstream media are not where negotiations take place, they do affect public opinion. Public opinion can support the peace process as happened in the days following Sadat’s historic visit to Jerusalem. It can, alternatively burden it when tension, suspicion and mistrust, the inevitable obstacles to peace, are amplified, amplified by misguided concepts and probably hostile disinformation campaigns. These are, to borrow a quote from General Petraeus, “unhelpful.”

Dvar Dea,

Previous  Next

US Israel relationships a seven parts series:
The public debate, correcting a favorable picture
The public debate, Israel and the war on terror
The Palestinian component
The right wing component
The Israeli exclamation mark, Obama's triple inheritance
The Israeli exclamation mark, unbalancing outreach w go-between
The peace process' beggars' choice