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by Mitchell Plitnick and Matt Duss

The Framework Agreement between the P5+1 and Iran announced on April 2[1] was an important step toward ending the long standoff over Iran’s nuclear program. Not surprisingly, it has already come under fierce attack by hawks in Washington and Iran.

On the U.S. side, opposition to the deal is rooted in a desire to see Iran’s complete capitulation, if need be at Kerry Zarifgunpoint. But negotiation requires compromise; and compromise, by definition, means no one gets exactly what they want.

Ultimately, here are the questions at hand: Can a deal based on this framework prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon? Will the U.S. and its allies be more secure because of it? The answer to both is yes. Read more at the FMEP blog. 

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The ongoing spat between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and United States President Barack Obama has drowned out an important issue. The entire question of the Israel-Palestine conflict seems to be out of sight and out of mind in Washington and the mainstream media. Instead, the focus has been on diplomatic protocols: on what the United States is or is not willing to concede to Iran in talks, on whether Israel can be trusted with sensitive updates on those talks, and on whether issuing renewed sanctions against Iran is a foolish idea.

Traditionally, the United States and the international community in general don’t even try to push peace in Israel’s direction when the Jewish state is in the midst of electoral campaign season. That’s what is happening now as well, despite the drama stirred up by Bibi and his congressional cohorts John Boehner (R-OH) and Mitch McConnell (R-KY). Staying out of Israeli elections is conventional wisdom, but is it the right move now? Read more at LobeLog

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To all my friends and followers here at The Third Way:Me Dec 2014

First, let me take this opportunity to thank all of you for your support this year. This blog, both as a site for my original works and as a way for me to let you know about pieces published elsewhere, has had an unprecedentedly fabulous year in terms of readership. I’d like to think as well that my analysis and writing have also sharpened in 2014, and I appreciate all of my readers tagging along for that ride.

As 2014 draws to a close, there has been a lot happening for me personally. I have completed  my Masters program at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy. I did get quite a lot out of the program, although it really enhanced my sense of concern about the next generation of leaders in both the public and private sectors in the United States.

More importantly for me, I have finally found employment and couldn’t be more excited about the wonderful opportunity I have. I am the new Program Director for the Foundation for Middle East Peace, where I will be working closely with Matt Duss, and some really great people on the Foundation’s Board of Trustees. Everything about the job seems terrific and perfectly suited for me. Kind of makes me think the world was making me wait all this time for this job.

I am very sure that some of the ideas that are already in motion at the Foundation are going to afford a fantastic opportunity for me to make an impact on US policy in the Middle East and for all of us working on the issue to have greater impact going forward. For me, and for my readers and followers, I’ll still be writing. The Foundation will be a new outlet, but I will still be writing in some familiar places, and will continue maintaining this blog. I don’t anticipate big changes in that regard, and you’ll still be able to find all of my writing, either linked or in full, right here.

Many of you, I’m sure, were already aware of all of this, but this seemed like a great time to let the rest of you know and to let everyone who reads The Third Way know how much I appreciate all of you. There’s a lot happening in the discourse on Israel-Palestine even as the occupation entrenches itself. There’s real reason to hope that we can change things in the coming years. So, my friends, onward!

And again, happy holidays and only the best things for all of you and those you hold dear in 2015.

Mitchell

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During the summertime war in Gaza, the two most progressive members of the US Senate stirred up controversy among their backers with 7258702972_d11e56b4ea_z (1)expressions of uncritical support for Israel. At a town hall meeting, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the lone Senate independent, responded to a questioner that Israel had “overreacted” with its 52-day bombardment and ground incursion, but then proceeded to justify Israel’s actions with the usual pro-Israel talking points about “missiles fired from populated areas” and “sophisticated tunnels.” An audience member began to shout objections, to which Sanders said, “Shut up.”

Elizabeth Warren, the Democrat from Massachusetts, went further in her defense of Israel at a meeting with constituents on Cape Cod. She said it was right for the United States to send $225 million in aid to Israel, a “democracy controlled by the rule of law,” as the bombing continued. She ventured no criticism at all of the extensive damage to civilian lives and livelihoods in Gaza. When another constituent suggested that future US aid be conditioned on Israel halting settlement construction in the West Bank, Warren replied, “I think there’s a question of whether we should go that far.” Read more at the Middle East Research and Information Project

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I was not surprised that my recent article which, in part, discussed Mahmoud Abbas’ assertion that Israel committed genocide in Gaza caused russell-tribunal-on-palestinesome controversy and discussion. Indeed, I was gratified by it.

This is an important question, one that goes well beyond the rhetorical issue and one that I did not delve nearly as deeply into as I probably should have in my piece. Richard Falk’s article in The Nation has now done that job for me. I don’t always agree with Falk, but in this case, I think he and the Tribunal got it exactly right. I see this even though I get the sense from this piece that the Tribunal, and possibly Falk as well, believe in their hearts that genocide was committed in Gaza, while I do not.

One point bears some stress. Falk points out that genocide is regarded as “the crime of crimes.” Some of the debate over the use of this word to describe not only the Gaza horror of 2014 but the occupation more broadly has centered on the legal definition of genocide. I maintain that Israel’s crimes do not reach that level. But beyond the legal semantic question is the very important colloquial understanding of that word.

When people hear “genocide” they think of the Nazis, Rwanda, the Khmer Rouge and the Armenians. These were all incidents where huge numbers and huge percentages of particular populations were exterminated. As Falk points out, the legal definition actually holds a higher standard, where intent to annihilate a particular group must be proven. But colloquially, the understanding most people have of genocide plainly doesn’t fit Gaza. That’s the biggest reason I disagree with the use of that word.

But there was also a demonstrably “genocidal atmosphere” in Israel over the summer, whether it be tweens proudly stating that killing Arabs is a good thing, to plans put forth by Knesset members to empty Gaza of Arabs to statements by another MK that all Palestinians are legitimate targets. That makes the accusation worth investigating. So does the fact that the attack happened in the context of an ongoing blockade of Gaza which left Gazans nowhere to flee to, either outside their borders or within the sardine-can-like Strip.

When the Tribunal did so, they came to this conclusion, as described by Falk: “Despite these factors, there were legal doubts as to the crime itself. The political and military leaders of Israel never explicitly endorsed the pursuit of genocidal goals, and they purported to seek a ceasefire during the military campaign. The tribunal convincingly documented the government’s goal of intensifying the regime of collective punishment, but there was no clear official expression of intent to commit genocide. The presence of genocidal behavior and language, even if used in government circles, is not by itself sufficient to conclude that Protective Edge, despite its enormity, amounted to the commission of the crime of genocide.”

I think that’s right. You make your own decision, but I strongly urge us all to hold the accusation of “genocide” to the highest standard, because there is nothing worse.

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Folks, I neglected to put the link to my actual review in teh previous post. It can be found here.

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This article originally appeared in an edited form at LobeLog.

With U.S. bombs dropping in Iraq once again and Israeli troops having moved out of Gaza, the fighting between Hamas and Israel has 534910-schoolgazafaded a bit from the headlines. The battle for the narrative of the 2014 Gaza conflict is now stepping up its intensity, and, as usual, the truth seems to be losing.

If one wants to understand what has happened in Gaza and in Israel over the past few months, it is important to understand not only the underlying causes, but the immediate triggers as well. It is something of a victory that one of those underlying causes, the siege of the Gaza Strip, has remained in the center of discourse, after spending much of the past seven years off the radar and outside of diplomatic and media discussions.

But one overarching point has become a virtual theme not only in Israel, but in the United States and much of Europe as well. That point is that this latest conflagration started as a result of Hamas rockets being fired upon Israel. It is important to recognize that only a willful misreading of the timeline can bring about this conclusion. (more…)

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