On January 19, at the annual Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) conference, the leader of Israel’s opposition and head of the Zionist Union party, Isaac Herzog, unveiled an alternative approach to the issue of Israel’s nearly 49-year old occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. It has some points that clearly distinguish his policy from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s. But it is short on detail, and includes some ideas that could make the situation even worse.
Upon examination, Herzog’s plan seems likely to garner support among the centrist, center-left and even parts of the center-right Israeli voter base. Given recent polls which show the Yesh Atid party garnering as many seats as Herzog’s Zionist Union and reflect more public confidence in Yair Lapid, the head of Yesh Atid, as a potential Prime Minister than Herzog, this plan must be read, at least in part, as an attempt to bolster Herzog’s position as opposition leader. Read more at FMEP’s blog, Facts On the Ground.
The recent decision by the European Union to label products from Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank has elicited loud cries of protest from Israel and from the Netanyahu government’s supporters in Washington. Critics have claimed that Israel is being treated unfairly, that the EU is trying to pressure Israel into concessions outside of the framework of bilateral negotiations, and that these measures are a part of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement whose real aim, critics claim, is to de-legitimize Israel.
In fact, the EU measures simply represent an effort to more faithfully implement a longstanding policy, backed by a strong international consensus, of differentiating between the State of Israel within the pre-1967 line, often referred to as the Green Line, and Israeli settlements built in the territories occupied in the 1967 war.
The effort to oppose this differentiation is often based on partial or misleading information, which we address below. It is important to recognize, however, that the unimpeded growth of settlements will eventually foreclose the option of a two-state solution, if it hasn’t already done so, as it will eliminate any possibility of contiguous and economically viable Palestinian state. It is therefore imperative that anyone hoping for a peaceful future for Israelis and Palestinians understand the facts about the settlements, EU labeling and the goal of differentiation. Read more at Facts on the Ground, FMEP’s blog.
In 2015, Israel ushered in the most right-wing government in its history. But the same election produced another notable outcome: for the first time, Arab parties joined in a bloc with the sole Jewish-Arab party, Hadash, to form the Joint List. The bloc garnered 13 seats in the current Knesset, making it the third largest party and second largest in the opposition.
Ayman Odeh is the Chairperson of the Hadash party and the head of the Joint List. In these roles, MK Odeh has established himself as a respected leader, bringing a principled voice to the opposition while balancing the diverse and sometimes contradictory politics of his own List. It is not always easy, and MK Odeh has managed to keep his coalition together while positioning himself as a leader of a progressive movement within Israel. While other opposition leaders such as Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) and Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) have largely backed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in many of his policies dealing with both internal security and the Israel-Palestine conflict, MK Odeh has given voice not only to the views of minority groups within Israel, but also to moderates all over the world who support peace, Palestinian rights and a two-state solution.
In December, MK Odeh embarked on a groundbreaking visit to the United States, his first as well as the first of its kind for a political leader of Israel’s Palestinian community, where he met with many politicians, community leaders and activist groups. The trip, which was supported in part by the Foundation for Middle East Peace, demonstrated that there is a significant opposition in Israel, and that Palestinian citizens of Israel, like MK Odeh, believe themselves to be a part of the country and instrumental to charting a better future for both the citizens of Israel and the Palestinians living under occupation.
FMEP conducted this interview with MK Odeh between December 23, 2015 and January 2, 2016. Continue reading at FMEP’s blog, “Facts on the Ground.”
A great deal of support for Israeli settlements comes from the United States in the form of tax-deductible contributions from private donors. The Obama administration, like all administrations before it, opposes Israeli settlement in the West Bank and considers it an obstacle to peace. Yet, at the same time, the United States government effectively incentivizes support for the settlements by allowing American charities to disburse millions of tax-deductible dollars in support for them.
This problem has not gone unnoticed, even though it continues unimpeded at this point. The Israeli daily, Ha’aretz, is publishing a series of reports and data uncovered by journalist Uri Blau detailing the extent of private American support for the settlements.
This investigation by Blau pushes forward efforts that a number of US-based groups have made in the past. Most recently, T’Ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights brought attention to this issue by filing a complaint against one such group, Honenu, in New York. Earlier in 2015, the group Avaaz petitioned the IRS to revoke the tax-exempt status of The Hebron Fund, which directly supports the flashpoint Israeli settlement in that Palestinian city.
As we wrote in September, “It is no secret that American charities send tax-deductible donations to Israeli settlements. And, while supporting settlements may be contrary to the stated policy of the United States, sending such donations is neither illegal nor a violation of IRS regulations governing tax-deductible charitable donations…[But] Stigmatizing such organizations can have a significant impact.”
This Ha’aretz investigation is bringing important information to light, but if it is to become more than an interesting series of articles, it will be crucial for Americans who recognize the settlements as a problem to bring greater attention to how the US tax code being used to entrench Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. In order to facilitate that discussion, FMEP has assembled the resources below. Read more at FMEP’s web site
**Note: The FMEP page will be updated as more information is published or brought to our attention**
In the aftermath of the horrific terrorist attacks in Paris last week, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon remarked on the tension between security and liberty. “In the United States until the events of September 11, the balance between security and human rights favored human rights on the issue, for example of eavesdropping on potential terrorists,” he said. “In France and other countries in Europe, [a shift toward security] hasn’t yet happened. Countries fighting terrorism have no alternative in this other than shifting in the direction of security. I assume that we will see a large number of steps [to carry out] inspections: passport inspections, inspections at the entrance to public places.”
As in the U.S. this dichotomy between security and human rights is at the very heart of the debate in Israel. ”We believe not only are these not contradictory, but that human rights provides security,” said Hagai El-Ad, the Executive Director of B’Tselem, Israel’s leading human rights groups monitoring its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, on a recent press call. “Indeed, we think that human rights are the reasons for which we have security, they are why people have a society that must be protected. So one has to wonder what kind of society do we end up with (in Ya’alon’s framework) and would that society be worth defending if you take Ya’alon’s idea to extremes. I hope that idea will work differently in France. Time will tell.”
Recently, the European Union implemented a procedure for enforcing existing regulations requiring the labeling of some goods produced in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. Israel has vociferously objected to any labeling of products from its settlements, and this has prompted concern in Congress, including a bi-partisan letter written by Senators Cruz and Gillibrand protesting the requirement.
The Obama administration has made it clear that it does not object to the EU’s decision. “We do not believe that labeling the origin of products is equivalent to a boycott,” State Departmentspokesman Mark Toner said in response to a question. “And as you know, we do not consider settlements to be part of Israel. We do not view labeling the origin of products as being from the settlements as a boycott of Israel.” Read more at Facts on the Ground, FMEP’s blog.
In late October, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a joint meeting of the Knesset foreign Affairs and Defense Committees that “at this time we need to control all of the territory (of the West Bank) for the foreseeable future.” He echoed this during his talk at the Center for American Progress on November 10, when he insisted that, despite his stated support for a two-state solution, he saw no alternative to a permanent Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley.
These remarks fall within a particular set of parameters of discourse around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In this view, Israel is being asked to make a concession by even considering an end to its now 48-year old occupation. In this view, Palestinian liberty is not a self-evident, inalienable right, but an Israeli gift. Read more at “Facts on the Ground,” FMEP’s blog.