Direct Talks: A Path Forward or A Trap?

Aaron Miller, long-time State Department official, warns President Obama against pushing so hard for direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

Lara Friedman, of Americans for Peace Now, explores the tangled web that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will

PA President Mahmoud Abbas

need to walk now that even the Arab League has endorsed direct talks.

The sum of both articles, though, leaves one wondering why Barack Obama is pushing so hard for direct talks.

It’s clear enough why Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants direct talks. Israel has done nothing to advance the proximity talks and faced no consequences for it. In direct talks, that will be even truer; holding the talks will satisfy much of the world, and Israel will be able to prolong them indefinitely.

But what exactly does Obama expect to come from direct talks at this stage? Netanyahu is shouting to all that will listen that he can’t even extend the joke of a settlement moratorium or his government will fall (it won’t). So how can we believe he can possibly make the concessions necessary for peace?

That aside, let’s say Abbas and Netanyahu do come to an agreement that satisfies both sides. What happens with Gaza and Hamas? Part of any agreement that the Palestinians can agree to is the affirmation of the principle that the West Bank and Gaza are a single territorial unit.

If such an agreement, then, is not possible, what’s the big rush for direct talks?

It does seem that this is another symptom of the tragic lack of strategy that has dogged Obama’s Mideast efforts from day one. The President has kept this issue on the front burner, and I remain convinced of his good intentions.

But we all know what is said about the road to hell. Continue reading

The New Two-State Solution

I recently wrote about the right-wing plans being floated for a one-state solution. In truth, of course, the idea really encompassed two states, with Israel encompassing what is now that state and also including the West Bank, and Gaza being a Palestinian state.

Avigdor Lieberman

Now, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is advancing the idea from the other direction. Lieberman wants Israel to finish disengaging from Gaza, renouncing all responsibility for the Strip and allowing it its freedom while cutting it off from Israel completely.

Lieberman’s plan has not met with approving ears by the international community, nor by the Palestinians, and the Netanyahu government has thus far ignored it. But it seems very likely that it, in some form, will, at some future point, connect with the notion of annexing the West Bank and become the new right-wing alternative to the traditional two-state solution.

Lieberman’s notion and the annexationist stance should not be taken lightly. True, the ideas have little support outside of far-right circles at this point; but they have the kind of appeal that is likely to spread to the center-right and center of Israeli politics. It has the potential, in the long term, to seduce many who today are in the Kadima or Labor parties.

Lieberman’s plan, not surprisingly, has met with sharp denunciations from both Fatah and Hamas. Still, if the plan were ever realized, Hamas would certainly take the opportunity to further consolidate their rule in Gaza and begin to develop the Strip again. Indeed, such a plan would end up benefiting Hamas more than any other party. Continue reading

Israeli Cast Lead Report: Yes, Virginia, There WERE Crimes

I’ve just finished reading the Israeli report updating investigations into alleged war crimes in Operation Cast Lead. The report quite clearly shows there were some serious issues in that war, and that international outrage was not unwarranted, even if Israel would still maintain it was exaggerated.

Many make the case that the report vindicates the Goldstone Report and, in some ways, it does, though I don’t think it

Gaza, during Cast Lead

quite “proves the Goldstone Commission right” as other commentators have said. But what I think is more important is that it shows that if Israel had set up a credible, independent and civilian investigation of Cast Lead as soon as the war was over, and in response to calls from its own civil society, it would be in a much better position than it is today.

The character of such an investigation is important, as is demonstrated within this Israeli report itself, when it says that

“Another challenge is that some Palestinian witnesses have refused to make any statement, even in writing, to IDF investigators. Other Palestinian witnesses have declined to provide testimony in person. While an affidavit can provide investigators with valuable information and serve as the starting point for an investigation, a written affidavit alone is generally inadmissible as evidence at trial. In the Israeli legal system, as in many others, proving a criminal case instead requires that witnesses be willing to appear in court to permit cross-examination on issues such as the witness’s ability to observe the events, whether a witness has any bias, and whether there were other relevant facts not recounted in the written statement. Hence, in some cases, the unwillingness of a complainant to cooperate in criminal investigations may deprive the investigators of the most significant evidence.”

Well, yeah, are we really surprised that the investigative team from the army that just wreaked havoc across your land, and which was previously occupying that land (by even the strictest definition) for almost 40 years would not be trusted by the victims? Continue reading

My Favorite Band and My #1 Topic of Interest

Ask anyone who knows me even a little bit socially who my favorite rock band is, and they will not hesitate for a second before they say it is Jethro Tull. So, at least they will be expecting me to say something about Tull’s leader, Ian Anderson’s statement that the band intends to perform their three concerts in Israel as planned.

Again, it’s well known that I do not support a boycott of Israel, while I do support a boycott of settlement products.

Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull

That said, given the escalation by Israel embodied in Operation Cast Lead and its aggressive actions to defend its blockade as well as the assault on Israeli democracy by a large portion of the Knesset, I am sympathetic to those artists who have chosen not to perform in Israel.

But I think Anderson has chosen the right path to deal with these issues. He says:

Having long maintained the position that culture and the arts should be free of political and religious censorship and a distance kept between them, I took a decision, nonetheless, in February of 2009 that any future concerts in Israel by me or Jethro Tull would be for the benefit of charitable donations to bodies representing the development of peaceful co-existence between Arabs, Jews and Christians, and the fostering of better Palestinian/Israeli relations.

There are nitpicks I can make with that statement (Ian needs to be aware that some Arabs are Christians, and that Arab is not a substitute for Muslim, for instance), but the basic idea is just right—use a concert in Israel to promote reconciliation. I see that as far more productive than the boycott, which is not increasing the Israeli sense that the world won’t stand for the occupation nearly as much as it is reinforcing the Israeli sense that they are being “singled out.”

In my view, this is the better course. Anderson is not ignoring the situation, but he is refraining from getting involved in it, while trying to do something to help that does not necessarily favor one group or the other.

Anderson has generally refrained from being involved in politics, in a public way. As a result, I have no idea how well he grasps the Israel-Palestine conflict. Nor do I have much sense of where his sympathies lie, if he has any. I do hope he will consult with knowledgeable people (and I of course volunteer my services) as to which groups to donate to.

I would hope that BDS advocates would recognize that a band that doesn’t boycott Israel but contributes the proceeds of its shows to good organizations is working toward the same goal most of us are—an end to occupation and conflict. I’ve applauded Ian Anderson at literally dozens of concerts. I now get to applaud him in the context of my work. I like it.

Avraham Burg and a New Israeli Progressive Party

In today’s Ha’aretz, Avraham Burg apparently announced the formation of a new party. His description of it:

“The party Israel Equality (Shivyon Yisrael ) – with the acronym Shai in Hebrew, gift – will fight for a state that will be a total democracy; everything else will be either personal or on the community level. The party will wrestle with the sanctimonious internal contradiction of “a Jewish and democratic state,” which means a great deal of democracy for

Former Knesset Speaker Avraham Burg

the Jews and too much Jewish nationalism for the Arabs. It will be the party of those who are committed to the supreme universal and Israeli cultural values of human dignity, the search for peace and a desire for freedom, justice and equality.”

To be perfectly frank, that doesn’t just sound good, it sounds like precisely what Israel needs.

Over at Jewschool, the Kung Fu Jew expresses his skepticism. His concern is not with Burg’s ideology, but that the formation of another party will divide an already fatally divided Left in Israel. I understand that concern, but here it is misplaced.

The Israeli left is not just divided; in terms of political impact on Israeli policy, both foreign and domestic, it is non-existent. The extent to which the Israeli political system is responding to desires for peace or domestic justice and democracy can be measured by how much those desires are reflected in the mainstream parties. Meretz, Hadash, the Arab parties…none of them have the slightest impact on Israeli policy.

There simply is no progressive representation in Israel that matters. The causes of peace, democracy, human rights and universal values have been advanced, in any material sense, exclusively by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) for years now. Meanwhile, the forces that wish to continue to marginalize Israel’s Arab sector, that wish to maintain the occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, that consider the Golan Heights more important than peace, and that wish to eliminate those very NGOs are strongly represented not only by avowedly right-wing parties, but with considerable representation in Kadima and Likud. Continue reading

The One-State Solution Comes From…The Right?

A section of the Israeli right wing has now graduated from their unabashed opposition to advocating a one-state solution.  This is not a passing affectation, I think, but a strategic choice that is gaining support, with good reason.

The right-wing idea is built on the fatal flaw that progressive advocates of a one-state solution have never been able to adequately address: that the Arab population, whether minority or majority, would be disenfranchised in this one state, leading to the very apartheid scenario the left wishes to avoid (or, as some would put it, erase). Thus part of the strategic goal of a one-state solution among the right is to permanently destroy Palestinian nationalism.

Former Defense Minister Moshe Arens

There are different ideas among right-wingers for how a one-state solution would work. One common thread, though, is that it would not include Gaza. Since there are no longer any Jews in Gaza, and the actual land is neither significant to Jewish religion or history nor worth much in terms of real estate, they can let it go.

So, Israel would annex the entire West Bank, solving the problem of Jerusalem. Palestinians would be given citizenship, in some scenarios immediately, in some gradually. Palestinians in the West Bank and Jerusalem would have the right to vote, but would certainly also be expected to abandon their fellows in Gaza, the refugee camps in the neighboring countries, and scattered around the world.

Here’s how Hanan Porat, one of the giants of the Gush Emunim (Bloc of the Faithful) movement, puts it:

“In my view, every Arab has three options. First, those who want an Arab state and are ready to implement that goal by means of terrorism and a struggle against the state, have no place in the Land of Israel. Second, those who accept their place and accept Jewish sovereignty, but do not want to take part in the state and fulfill all their obligations, can be considered residents and enjoy full human rights, but not political representation in the state’s institutions. By the same token, they will also not have full obligations, such as military or national service. Third, those who say they are loyal to the state and to its laws and are ready to fulfill the obligations it prescribes and declare loyalty to it, can receive full citizenship. I consider this a moral and human principle: citizenship is not forced on anyone or granted just like that. We tried this in East Jerusalem, and the fact is that we failed… Already 30 years ago, we in Gush Emunim were against solutions of fear – both withdrawal and transfer – and said that in the Return to Zion there is room for the Arab population who desire this, as long as we are not naive about the process.” Continue reading

Bibi: More of the Same Bad Leadership

A video from 2001 is making the internet rounds these days, one that shows current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu talking to a settler widow who had just lost her husband to a Palestinian attack at the beginning of the second intifada.

In the video, Bibi says (in Hebrew, translation by Dena Shunra, with a few corrections of my own): “ I know what America is. America is something that can easily be moved. Moved in the right direction…80% of theAmericanssupport us. It’s absurd. We have that kind of support and we say “what will we do with the…” look. That administration was extremely pro-Palestinian. I wasn’t afraid to maneuver there. I was not afraid to clash with Clinton. I was not afraid to clash with the United Nations. I was paying the price anyway, I preferred to receive the value. Value for the price.”

Well, the wifi and fiber optic networks were abuzz. Here is Bibi with his guard supposedly down. The video is said to have been taken without his knowledge, so we’re supposedly getting the unvarnished Bibi.

I’m not so sure. The takeaway seems to have been “Here is the real Bibi, don’t you see he never wants to make peace?” I think the video shows something else, that Bibi is just a huckster, a politician who is always playing to the crowd. And that he is afraid of a negotiated peace—just like his fellows.

Just because he didn’t know there was a camera running doesn’t mean Bibi wasn’t still performing. He knows well that the settlement communities are very tight-knit, and what he says in the home of a settler who just lost her husband almost certainly would be repeated, making its way quickly throughout the West Bank. At the time of that meeting, Bibi was trying to consolidate a hard right opposition to then-Likud leader and Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon. I’m not at all convinced he was being any more sincere with this woman than he was with the Israeli and global public when he accepted a “two-state solution” last year. Continue reading