Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Avinu Malkeinu (Our Father Our King) אבינו מלכנו

Beautifully performed by Rebbe Shai  http://twitter.com/RabbiShaiSpecht


A beautiful tune by Achinoam Nini (Noa) with scenens from Eretz Israel

Monday, August 30, 2010

Jew to Jew

by Aliza Davidovit

Israeli actors boycott other Israeli citizens, forgetting that all we have is one another. If we act with such hatred, why are we surprised at anti- Semites?
I’m sure mothers are the same in every ethnic group but please oblige me if I pick on Jewish mothers because it’s 
If the blood or bone marrow of a Jew you disagree with or hate was the only one that could save your child’s or your life, would you reject it? Of course not.
just plain fun. Last weeks’ Bible reading in which G-d lists 98 curses that will befall the Jewish people if they don’t behave reminded me of a Jewish mother’s warning every time her child leaves the house: wear your hat or you’ll catch pneumonia; don’t forget lunch or you’ll get an ulcer; park close to the door or you’ll get mugged; call me as soon as you get there or my blood pressure will go up and you won’t have a mother to worry about you, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Then they bid you to have a good day. We didn’t even leave the house yet and we are already advised of 98 ways our lives will be ruined.
Perhaps the above approach does not engender the current trends of positive thinking and of course, G-d's warnings are for real transgressions and the results may be negative natural consequences or punishments meted out by Him. But one thing is sure, every advisory, from G-d and our mothers is packed with deep, deep love. Our souls are all on journeys and when they leave their heavenly house they too are not sent off with such platitudes as “have a nice trip,” but rather are given warnings and codes of behavior. It’s almost like a travel advisory from the State Department.
But when G-d hides his face from his people and our dear mothers are no longer, who is left to love us? Judaism teaches that each Jew must love the other and watch out for his physical and spiritual well being because even though one may be on the political left and the other on the right, they are in essence part of one body and the injury of any part is deleterious to the whole.
The one thing that can sustain the Jewish people is their love and respect for each other--just as Rabbi Hillel summed up the entire Bible by saying what is hateful to you do not do to another. The Second Temple was destroyed not as a punishment for lascivious behavior but because Jews showed hatred toward each other and lack of compassion, love and understanding.
As a people we cannot preserve ourselves or what we love by hating each other. There are times when the religious right frustrates me and there are times when liberal leaning Jews exasperate me. But just as Hitler did not discriminate over which Jew he hated, the antidote for our people is that we can’t discriminate over which Jew we love. In the open courtyards the Nazis stripped Jews down to nakedness and there were no rich or poor, liberal or conservative, religious or secular. The verse in Deuteronomy saying “You are standing today, ALL OF YOU, before Hashem, your G-d” was meant for Mount Sinai, but returned to have a horrendous meaning in the Holocaust. 
On the eve of the high holidays, all Jews must recognize that we are responsible for one another which also means that as a Jew when you engage in the secular world, in business, and in all affairs you must conduct yourself with decency and integrity so that when the next Jew walks into the building there are no aspersions cast upon him because of your dealings.
My friends, if the blood or bone marrow of a Jew you disagree with or hate was the only one that could save your child’s or your life, would you reject it? Of course not! So, don’t be so quick in hating. Our survival is symbiotic whether you like it or not. The mitzvah of ahavas Yisrael (Jews loving one another) is said to be the deed which hastens the coming of the Messiah. If we don’t love each other, why are we surprised that anti-Semites hate us? Yes, we are our brother’s keeper, so here, take my hat. It’s a cold, cold world out there.
Elul 20, 5770 

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Direct Talk About Direct (Israel-Palestinian) Talks

Barry Rubin

The big story of the moment is the announcement that there will soon be direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA).
Perhaps, but for the moment Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has merely issued of an invitation to come and talk. Generally, such an invitation would only be issued when both sides have accepted and all the details are nailed down. Nowadays, however, such cannot be assumed.
On the one hand, the U.S. government has not been so competent in recent times. On the other hand, the PA can well find new excuses for not coming or additional demands that would have to be satisfied first. Will the Fatah barons agree to let "President" Mahmoud Abbas talk?

The Quartet statement says, "Direct, bilateral negotiations that resolve all final status issues should lead to a settlement, negotiated between the parties, that ends the occupation which began in 1967 and results in the emergence of an independent, democratic, and viable Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel and its other neighbors."

We will see if this new round of negotiations actually happens or not.

The other thing we need to see are the terms for the talks. Are they designed as a give away to whatever the PA demands? Are they well-organized in some coherent structure? Is this a set-up to allow the Obama Administration to claim credit for getting direct talks going (after messing up and contributing to their not getting started for about 16 months?

It is amusing to see articles claiming that this is a victory for the Obama Administration. If the U.S. government had been doing such a good job it would have been able to announce the resumption of elections in April 2009, after the visit of Abbas to Washington. The president did indeed announce the resumption of negotiations in September 2009 and nothing has happened in a year.

Moreover, it is amusing to read accounts of the resumption of talks without any mention of the fact that the sole reason it has taken so long has been the PA's resistance to negotiations.

Leaving out those two facts, how can anyone possibly understand the situation or predict what will happen in future?
The same applies to two underplayed facts about the timing. Israel's one-year freeze on building inside settlements is coming to an end. For making this concession, Israel received nothing. Now it will be "rewarded" with the opportunity to renew the freeze. Of course, keeping good relations with the United States makes this worthwhile but the fact that the PA received a gift and still did not fulfill its part is worth comprehending.
The other issue regarding timing is the Obama Administration's desire to claim negotiations as proof of its diplomatic achievements for the November elections. Presumably, this will go along with the completion of combat troop withdrawal from Iraq--also timed to bring electoral benefits--as proof of how good the government is doing.
Inexplicable from the point of view of common sense is the imposition of a one-year deadline for the direct talks. Experience should have taught by now the foolishness of such artificial timetables. After all, the Oslo process failed to meet each deadline and took a total of seven years before failing.
Ironically, those who in 2000 insisted that negotiations had to hurry because PA leader Yasir Arafat had to have "something to show" his people in terms of success now say that it was some terrible mistake to rush Arafat, as if that was the reason he rejected peace at Camp David and in the proposal of President Bill Clinton.
Still one more issue is dealt with in an amazingly naive way. How is there going to be a "democratic, and viable Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel and its other neighbors" when about half of that supposed state--the Gaza Strip--is based on a radical Islamist regime that seeks genocide against Israel? Is it just going to go away? Are the Palestinian masses there going to rise up in support of the negotiated agreement? More likely they will rise up in the West Bank against it.

Finally, I suggest that someone in the media and politics actually begins to talk about what Israel wants out of a negotiated agreement. We hear constantly about Palestinian demands--a state, 1967 borders, east Jerusalem, return of refugees--as if these were the only things on the table. Yet if Israel's demands--recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, security guarantees, resettlement of refugees in Palestine, non-militarization of a Palestinian state, end of the conflict--are ignored that will sabotage the talks.
Remember, too, that even assuming there was a negotiated settlement, Hamas, Hizballah, Syria, Iran, and the Muslim Brotherhoods, among others, would try harder to wreck it. The level of terrorism and conflict would rise even more. Iran, for example, would not stop developing nuclear weapons. The ideas that everything is linked to the Arab-Israeli conflict or that resolving the conflict would bring stability and moderation to the region are simply not based on a serious consideration of the area and its politics.

It would be a great thing if the two sides achieved a permanent, just, and stable peace agreement. But it is an ordeal to hear the nonsense about to be launched about peace being at hand, the Palestinian urgent desire for a state and "end to occupation," the ignoring of the Gaza/Hamas factor, the black-out on discussing Israel's demands, and much more.

As I finish this article, by coincidence I hear Fox radio news explain that both Israel and the Palestinians are eager for peace. Sigh.
Direct talks aren't going to lead to any major progress. If the United States and Europeans are approaching this cynically--let's do this so we can claim to be great statesmen and keep things quiet while we work on Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan--that isn't so bad. The danger would come if they believe their own propaganda and think that papering over real conflicts and pressing Israel is going to produce meaningful peace, enhance regional security, and serve their strategic interests.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Open Letter to Thomas Friedman

by Shmully Hecht
Dear Thomas,

In a recent New York Times column you suggested that those who would like to understand the Middle East conflict should watch a movie "Precious Life" about Israeli doctors and philanthropists who save the life of a young Palestinian
The same rank stench has been emitted for years from under the desks of writers such as yourself who have sold the world on the idea that there are two sides equally committed to peace.
whose mother yet prays the child grows up to become a "martyr;" that is to say a murderer of Jews.

While that film may indeed capture the reality that Israel can do no right for those who dream of its destruction I have a different suggestion to those who desire to better understand the problems that comprise this conflict; travel to the Middle East and talk to the people who live there.

I recently visited Israel and spoke to a Muslim Arab taxi cab driver who drove me across East Jerusalem while telling me that he would not live in the capitol of any other state in the region, not Cairo, not Beirut, not Amman. It is not something you will ever see explored in mainstream American papers, but according to him, the life of an independent minded Arab seeking comfort, freedom and self-sufficiency is vastly better in the Jewish homeland. Measuring by any standard, what the taxicab driver said is an accurate description of life for all Arabs in Israel.
Upon my return I found myself on a connecting flight next to a Christian American who had spent years in Saudi Arabia working for GE, designing healthcare software for Middle East hospitals . After describing the vast differences between Israel and its neighbors he reminded me that non Muslims are not even permitted to enter Islam’s holiest cities, Mecca and Medina. How odd that the same Saudis have offered a “Peace Initiative” to the People of Israel .

So Thomas, I agree that there does exist the foul and ancient stench in the air that you mention. Hyper scrutiny and de-legitimization of Israel have been the hallmark of Arab activism and now we find it in both mainstream press as well as Europe and America's leading universities, including Yale where I serve as the Rabbi of Eliezer; the Jewish Society on campus . How did this happen?
It happened because the same rank stench has been emitted for years from under the desks of writers such as yourself who have sold the world on the idea that there are two sides equally committed to peace. You and your like-minded friends said that if only Israel does the right thing in the form of giving up land or demolishing its security walls then the Arabs will establish a state of Palestine which also only wants what is best for their citizens and the region. The stench is the result of trying to perfume the murderous intent of the PLO, Fatah and Hamas, calling it 'resistance' and statesmanship. The stench is the smell of Yassir Arafat's rotten Nobel Peace Prize.
The fullest and foulest emission of this noxious stench was the Oslo fantasy which began to evaporate even before it took any real form. Even President Bill Clinton could not achieve it’s goals after days of pleading with Mr. Arafat.
You, and most writers on the subject who strive to apportion guilt and responsibility "fairly," sold the world on Oslo and on the withdrawal from Gaza, the first which will never happen, and the second which brought about the daily bombing of Israel with thousands of rockets fired at civilians. Your suggestion that if only Israel now further dismantled cities in the West bank there would be peace, confirm your delusion that there will be a shortage of Kassam rockets fired on Israel from Ramallah.
How odd that the same Europeans and members of the United Nations that urged Israel to withdraw from Gaza were the first to condemn Israel for finally defending their civilians in the Gaza War.

Tom, you return to form with your desire to be a "fair" judge, urging we acknowledge lopsided and twisted criticism of Israel mainly so that Israel will listen better, so that you can be an even better critic.
Now is not the time to criticize Israel or "colonial settlements" on Jewish land that Israel captured in defensive wars and over which Israel maintains legitimate sovereignty. It is time instead to finally clear the air. Thomas, please remove the source of the odor. It is under your desk.

Shmully Hecht is the Rabbinical advisor of Eliezer; the Jewish Society at Yale

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Competing World Views Tear A "Peace Process" to Pieces

By Barry Rubin*

August 21, 2010

The U.S. announcement inviting Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) for direct talks shows quite clearly, though unintentionally, why the talks will fail.

Special Envoy George Mitchell explains:

"We are all well aware that there remains mistrust between the parties, a residue of hostility developed over many decades of conflict, many previous efforts that have been made to resolve the conflict that had not succeeded, all of which takes a very heavy toll on both societies and their leaders. In addition, we all know that, as with all societies, there are differences of opinion on both sides on how best to proceed, and as a result, this conflict has remained unresolved over many decades and through many efforts. We don't expect all of those differences to disappear when talks begin. Indeed, we expect that they will be presented, debated, discussed, and that differences are not going to be resolved immediately."

This is a good explanation that the administration knows how hard it is to bring peace, though it does not jibe well with his saying a few minutes later: "We believe that if those negotiations are conducted seriously and in good faith, they can produce such an agreement within 12 months. And that is our objective."

Of course, Mitchell is right that the task's difficulty shouldn't preclude an attempt to negotiate and that understanding the difficulty is essential to doing a decent job. The one-year thing, though, is nonsense. If negotiations would be conducted seriously an agreement could be reached in a month but there are reasons this has never happened and won't happen for a long time.

As an analyst not a diplomat, I can point out that the problem is not just "mistrust," "residue of hostility," and "differences of opinion," but rather structural impediments to success. Western media and leaders are all too eager to point out alleged problems on the Israeli side-domestic politics-but never really discuss the same thing on the Palestinian side.

I have pointed out HERE that the problems posed by Israeli politics and public opinion for peacemaking is greatly exaggerated, sometimes due to ignorance and sometimes due to a malicious effort to make things seem Israel's fault.

What is lacking, as I've pointed out HERE and HERE and HERE and HERE, is that there is a huge problem on the Palestinian side. This includes:

--Hardline views by the overwhelming majority of Fatah leaders, who do after all control the PA.

--The belief that it is not necessary to negotiate peace because in the shorter-run the PA can get the West to hand them a state on a silver platter and in the longer-run the Palestinians can win the conflict and destroy Israel entirely.

--The almost 100 percent lack of any effort to prepare and moderate Palestinian public opinion by its own leadership, clergy, media, and politicians. There has been an extensive debate in Israel and there is a great willingness to compromise, something simply not there on the Palestinian side. Israelis have empathy and even often sympathy for Palestinians; the reverse is simply not true. It is a cultural and political issue that lies beyond the bounds of any "Politically Correct" "Multicultural" mentality to understand but can be easily demonstrated.

Incidentally, here's one of many such tricks used to avoid understanding these things. Fatah issues a new charter and Western media articles and experts gushed at how moderate it was, including not repeating material from the old charter that called for the use of violence. The only problem is that the new document explicitly stated that all of the old document was still in effect.

--The wooly mammoth, "elephant" is not an adequate description, in the room of a Hamas regime dedicated to warfare, terrorism, and genocide. There is no conceivable mechanism for dealing with this issue.

On that last point here is how Mitchell (didn't) address it:

QUESTION: So you expect Hamas to accept any decision made by President Abbas at these negotiations?

MR. MITCHELL: It is not for me to make decisions for others....With respect to Hamas, let's be clear. Hamas won a legislative election. They acknowledge the continued executive authority of President Abbas and his team, and it is entirely appropriate that we negotiate with the executive head of that government. When Democrats regained control of the Congress in 2006, that didn't end President Bush's tenure as president, and others who wanted to negotiate with the United States negotiated with the legally elected and then-chief of our executive branch of government. And that is the situation here.

Again, Mitchell says what he needs to say, but of course he omits the Hamas violent coup against the PA. Indeed, his statement jibes with the false history of Hamas and its supporters and is rather a mess factually. Abbas's turn came to an end almost two years ago and Hamas could easily argue-and it sure will do so--that he is in office illegally and thus that any agreement he reached with Israel was not valid. By the way, Mitchell states that Hamas does "acknowledge the continued executive authority of President Abbas and his team." I believe that this is false.

In short, Mitchell lays the basis in theory for an Israel-Palestinian treaty leading to a Palestinian state, then Hamas overthrowing the regime to seize control of that state, tossing out the treaty and calling in Iranian and Syrian troops to "protect" Palestine. True, this is leaping ahead in time but this is the kind of thing negotiators need to take into account.

Instead of Mitchell's facile Democrats/Bush analogy, here's a more accurate one: The Democrats regain control of Congress, the two sides reach an agreement, the Democrats than stage an armed coup and murder Republicans by the score then throw the Republicans out of the regions they conquer, and the United States has two governments that are in effect at war with each other. Bush doesn't hold any elections but just keeps extending his term in office.

Would other countries then be able to rely on agreements made with Bush and consider him "legally elected?" Of course not.

And consider this: By forcing Israel to end the high level of sanctions against the Gaza Strip, the West has in effect recognized the Hamas regime as an independent entity that can stay in office for decades. Certainly, it has ceased any effective attempt to bring down that regime. So what is Hamas's incentive to accept a PA-Israel negotiation process that it has denounced as treasonous?

I don't want to spend so much time on this single issue but it is worth reviewing as an example, one of the more obvious cases where the real world and the fantasy world of Washington's Middle East come into collision.

Mitchell also states:

"But we do believe that peace in the Middle East, comprehensive peace, including, but not limited to, an end to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, is very much in the interests of Israelis and Palestinians, of all people in the region; it's in the national security interests of the United States, and therefore, we are going to continue to pursue that objective with patience, perseverance, and determination."

Trying to promote negotiations is certainly in the U.S. national security interest. Yet the strategy and tactics used cannot ignore regional realities.

Here's one of them: Is "comprehensive peace" in the interest "of all people in the region?" On one level that seems obvious but on the level of actual reality it is completely false. Consider this: having peace in Europe was arguably in the interests of everyone at all times between, say, between 1337 (start of the Hundred Year's War between England and France) and 1990 (the Cold War's end), yet nonetheless there wasn't peace much of the time.

Why is that? Because there were ideologies, nations, and leaders who thought there was something more important than peace: gains, victories, land, glory, the will of the Creator of the Universe, and other things. Moreover, they perceived that triumph was easy and that they could have everything they wanted. This worldview does not characterize the position today of more than 85 percent of Israelis (or Americans and Europeans for that matter) but does characterize the position of more than 95 percent of Arabs, Middle East Muslims, and Palestinians.

An element of this doctrinaire, deterministic "even-handedness" and "mirror-imaging" practices by Western governments today is to misunderstand much about the Middle East (and Israel as well) to the point that they fail in their efforts and stumble into crises. This point also applies to their understandings of Islamism, Iran's ambitions, the internal problems of Iraq and Afghanistan, and much more. These mistakes cost lives and produce strategic disasters.

Iran, Syria, Hamas, Hizballah, and most of the PA's own Fatah rulers don't think a "comprehensive peace" is in the interests of Palestinians, much less all the peoples of the region. They believe that anyone who does think so should be murdered. They are certain that the elimination of Israel, which they do not number among the "peoples of the region”, is in everyone's interest.

Certainly, from the standpoint of 2010, the relatively moderate regimes aren't going to do much to make that happen and there are a number of Arab governments that behind-the-scenes understand the value to Israel for them. But they are generally going to avoid being much help because of their own interests.

A typical example: the United States invites the Egyptian and Jordanian governments to observe the new direct talks believing they will pressure the PA and reassure the Israelis into making peace. A far more likely outcome is that they will simply back PA positions, making Israel feel the dice are loaded against it and convincing the PA that it can avoid making peace by using the usual Arab and Muslim levers to guarantee region wide support for intransigence.

This kind of miscalculation is the problem when people like Mitchell conclude, in his words, that opposition cannot, deter leaders "who...recognize that the interests of their people, the future of their societies rests upon resolving this conflict and achieving the kind of peace and stability and security from which they will all benefit."

But of course it can! Not understanding why is the mistake that has repeatedly led Western leaders and experts to predict diplomacy will succeed only to find, to their puzzlement, that it fails.

Indeed, this factor has been the centerpiece of Middle East history for the last sixty years. Fear of public opinion, fear of Islamists and hardline clerics, fear of rivals taking advantage of their concessions, fear of assassination, fear of political destruction, and other such things have deterred leaders. And those not deterred-King Abdallah of Jordan, Amin Gemayel of Lebanon, Anwar al-Sadat of Egypt (and, yes, Yitzhak Rabin of Israel, too)--have been eliminated as a result.

There is a rather sharp gap between the reality of PA "President" Mahmoud Abbas's political position (hardline) and thinking (scared to an extent which usually brings in a bad word at this point) and what Mitchell portrays it as being.

Again, this does not mean the West should not try to negotiate. It does, however, mean that the West should maintain its own credibility in fighting the radicals (in part, to encourage the relative moderates) and support Israel strongly to show that maximal aims cannot be achieved. The lack of these pillars helps to cripple any peace process.

The text is, "Transcript: Clinton, Special Envoy Mitchell on Push for Middle East Peace, U.S. Department of State, Office of the Spokesman, August 20, 2010.

*Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books, go to http://www.gloria-center.org. You can read and subscribe to his blog at http://www.rubinreports.blogspot.com.

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Monday, August 16, 2010

The NY Times Tries and Fails to Explain the Peace Process

By Barry Rubin*

Forget about The Onion, The National Lampoon, Mad Magazine, and Saturday Night Live (sorry for all those American cultural references). When it comes to satire nobody can beat a New York Times editorial!
Well, this one is funny because the Times is--sort of--trying to praise the Israeli government and criticize the Palestinian Authority (PA) but you can't help but laugh at the contortions they go through.

Here's the first one:

 "After three months of American-mediated proximity talks, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has agreed to direct negotiations on a two-state solution; the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, is stubbornly resisting. It is time for him to talk."

Now is this dishonest or what? The implication is that finally, just now, at the very last minute, and after three months (12 weeks, about 90 days) the U.S. negotiators can wipe the sweat from their brow and say that Netanyahu has agreed to direct negotiations.                                                                                            But guess what? He publicly agreed to direct negotiations during a visit to Washington about 16 months (64 weeks, about 480 days) ago! So to avoid giving Netanyahu credit for being ready to talk all along the Times pretends that thanks only to a tremendous battle has the Obama Administration landed the big fish.

Ok, though, but at least they have praised Netanyahu and pointed out that Abbas is the barrier to progress? Not exactly. Keep reading"There are understandable reasons for Mr. Abbas's reluctance. We also don't know whether Mr. Netanyahu, a master manipulator, really wants a deal or whether his hard-line governing coalition would ever let him make one."

Yeah, Abbas, that Netanyahu is one evil dude! We can hardly blame you for refusing to make peace. I can imagine Abbas saying: "Sorry, I cannot negotiate because Netanyahu is untrustworthy. I read it in the New York Times so it must be true."

Might one wonder if Abbas is a "master manipulator" or whether his "hard-line government coalition would ever let him make one?" (See below on that point.) In fact, why throw into question Netanyahu's credentials? What has he done in the last 14 years, during which he has accepted a two-state solution, to make one conclude he is insincere on the issue, rather than just a tough negotiator?
Moreover, his coalition is not "hard-line" at all. Let's give the Times a little lesson in Israeli politics. The coalition includes six parties with a total of 72 seats, 12 more than is needed:
--Likud, 27 seats. While this is the main conservative party, and includes parliamentarians who would be against concessions, Netanyahu has a firm hold on the party.

--Israel Beitanu, 15 seats. While this party is headed by Foreign Minister Lieberman, it is not the "far-right" party that is the stereotype. It is, in fact, a Russian immigrant party. In some ways, Lieberman is rather dovish, proposing far-reaching territorial swaps (even if he does so to get rid of Arab citizens of Israelis the effect is not hard-line on negotiations). He is certainly capable of populist posturing but he is not, as such, an impediment to a peace deal.

-Labour Party, 13 seats. This is the leading party of the dovish left. Enough said.--Two religious parties: Shas (11) and United Torah Judaism (3). These parties are mainly interested in patronage. They would fight tooth and nail on the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem and perhaps over the whole eastern part of the city. But on most of the issues they are not so intransigent. Shas's mentor has in the past said that giving up the West Bank can be justified if that saves lives--National Union (3). Aha, here's a hardline, right-wing party that would walk out of any government that agreed to a two-state resolution! But it represents only 4 percent of his coalition and Netanyahu doesn't need them.

Moreover, Netanyahu could replace any defectors if he wished by bringing in Kadima (28). While one could debate some of the details of my analysis the idea that the Israeli coalition would never countenance a two-state solution is absurd.
What is really astonishing is that, to protect the Palestinian Authority, the Times is even willing to bash its idol, President Obama, in a flagrant miswriting of history:

"Mr. Abbas also is wary of Washington. After Mr. Obama demanded in 2009 that Mr. Netanyahu halt all settlement construction as a prelude to negotiations, Mr. Abbas did the same. When Mr. Netanyahu forced Mr. Obama to back down and the Israeli leader implemented a more limited and temporary building halt, Mr. Abbas was left clinging to the maximalist position."

What? Obama made the demand and Netanyahu complied. He gave a one-year freeze to see what would happen in talks. Was that a case of Obama "backing down?" And when Obama retroactively added Jerusalem outside the 1967 lines, Netanyahu again complied.
Here's the truth: Obama demanded, Netanyahu agreed, and Abbas still rejected direct talks. This has been going on for one year. So I'll stand up for Obama against the Times on this point.

Then there's the way the Times deals with Arab politics. True, it points out that the Arab League backs direct talks. So here's my question for you: What does the Times leave out?
Answer: Palestinian Authority politics, Hamas, Iran, and Syria. Why can't the Times mention that this is the real prime motive for Abbas? It isn't mainly that he doesn't trust Netanyahu (if he were certain Netanyahu was eager for peace it would make it harder, not easier, for Abbas to enter talks!) or he is "wary" of Obama.

The fact is that Abbas knows:

--He has no control or authority over Fatah, a group in which he has almost no direct followers, but is the real power behind the PA. This is the group that would never let its nominal leader make a two-state solution. Most of the Fatah leadership is hardline. Some don't want to make any deal that would block them from trying to destroy Israel in the future. Others are afraid to do so. The number one problem is PA politics.

--Palestinian public opinion tends to be hardline. And why should that be surprising? It is conditioned by years of indoctrination to be that way on top of what existed beforehand. The PA has been pumping out hardline propaganda now for 16 years.

--Then there is Hamas which enjoys somewhere between 25 and 30 percent support in the PA-ruled areas. Even the tiniest concession, merely holding direct talks, will be used by Hamas to claim Abbas is committing treason. And joined with some elements in Fatah this hardline coalition would be deadly for the PA, and perhaps for Abbas personally.

--Moreover, Hamas controls the Gaza Strip. This little detail seems to be left out a lot, as if the PA's making an agreement was in any way binding on almost half the territory it is claiming to control! It would be like making a deal with South Korea or West Germany and claiming it applied to all of Korea or Germany.
Incidentally, it is almost never pointed out that Abbas's term in office ended in January 2009 and he keeps extending it without elections. Why? Because if elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip were held Hamas would win them. This shows how unstable is the regime with which Israel is supposed to make a peace based on massive unilateral concessions. If elections were to be held after a two-state agreement was implemented, Hamas would win, immediately reject the agreement, and return to war. This is rather significant for any discussion of Israel-Palestinian peace, don't you think?

--Then there are the external forces like Iran and Syria that are dead-set on making anyone who makes with Israel just plain dead. If Abbas were to negotiate a deal they would do everything in their power (in line with Fatah hardliners and Hamas) to destroy that agreement and overthrow Abbas.
Doesn't all of this seem a bit significant? Isn't it ridiculous to discuss the issue as if Abbas was some independent actor who could do whatever he wished, while Israel's leader (whose public opinion is eager for a negotiated peace, generally willing to make concessions, and flexible on many of the issues) is enchained?
I'm writing about this editorial not because I think the Times is so important in itself. Rather, these are precisely the ideas that dominate Western debate on the issue. What we have here is a failure to engage accurately with the basic facts on what is persistently (if wrongly) touted as the world's most important issue.

*Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books, go to http://www.gloria-center.org. You can read and subscribe to his blog at http://www.rubinreports.blogspot.com.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Peace Process Story So Far: Israel's Cooperation with the US

August 5, 2010

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In one of his out-of-control anti-Israel rants, Andrew Sullivan included in his list of alleged evils that Israel had repeatedly "defied" the United States. That point stuck in my mind and made me reflect how demonstrably untrue is that charge contrary to what people might think.

Certainly, there have been incidents of friction and disagreement--though always fairly short-lived--and at times Israel has either convinced U.S. policymakers of its position or the two sides agreed. Yet consider on all the key issues of the last twenty years how Israel did heed every major U.S. request.

In 1991, President George Bush asked Israel not to respond to Iraqi attacks. This was a huge request for any country whose civilians were being targeted by missiles and especially for Israel which has always believed that retaliation is essential to maintain its credibility. I can speak from personal experience here, with the nearest hit about ten blocks away from my home. The country not only faced the terror of sudden missile attacks, with the possibility of bacteriological or chemical warheads, but was also largely shut down economically for weeks. Yet Likud Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir agreed, and Israelis stood by passive while the United States fought Iraq in Kuwait and Baghdad shot missiles onto its soil.

The Oslo agreements were an Israeli initiative yet during the nine years of negotiations that followed, Israel and the United States cooperated closely. Israel made a very forthcoming offer in 2000 supported by the United States that was rejected by the Palestinian leadership. There were no major incidents of conflict during the Clinton Administration.

The George W. Bush years were ones of relative amity. Ironically, the greatest disagreement, contrary to mythology, was Israel's lack of enthusiasm for the Iraq war. The concern was that Israel would be asked to pay the political bill afterward, that Saddam might again fire missiles, and that the project of making Iraq into a democracy seemed ill-fated. But Israel supported its ally once the decision to attack Iraq was made.

The administration of Barack Obama has been seen as one of great tension and a U.S. policy less supportive of Israel. Yet every time Obama made a request or demand, Israel has complied, if not immediately then after a brief period, with concessions that were very difficult given internal politics and perceptions of its own interests:

--Obama called for an Israeli freeze of construction on settlements in the West Bank. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu invoked a freeze.

--Obama insisted on direct Israel-Palestinian negotiations. Netanyahu supported this stance beginning in mid-2009.

--When Obama changed his position and also demanded a freeze on Israeli construction in areas of Jerusalem beyond the 1967 border, an extremely difficult concession for Netanyahu and Israel to make, the Israeli government did so.

--Finally, when Obama insisted on a change in the sanctions' regime imposed on the Gaza Strip, Netanyahu quickly complied. The U.S. government approved the terms before they were announced.

Thus, on all of the four big issues during the first 17 months of the Obama presidency, Israel did do what the United States asked. In exchange, Israel received no concession whatsoever from either the Palestinian Authority or Hamas. It did get continued U.S. cooperation and praise for so doing, yet basically received nothing new in exchange for these steps.

Whether this compliance was wrong or right in terms of Israeli interests isn't the point here. What's important is that Israel did take actions and risks at the behest of the U.S. government, which also puts the lie to the idea that Israel "controls" U.S. policy. In addition, Washington made some commitments in response to these concessions which have often been forgotten by successive U.S. governments.

It should also be noted that neither Hamas nor the Palestinian Authority (nor Iran or Syria for that matter) complied with any U.S. request or demand during this period yet reaped benefits from Israeli concessions or U.S. efforts at engagement. Indeed, the PA has continually refused to enter direct negotiations with Israel. And despite stories of U.S. "pressure" has lost nothing as a result.

These points are one small example of how myths about Israel and U.S.-Israel relations are so easy to concoct yet equally easy to demolish with simple reference to the facts. Large elements in the mass media constantly claim that Israel, or at least the current government, doesn't want peace despite all the efforts, sacrifices, and risks made.

Equally, they claim that the PA is moderate and does want peace despite the fact that it does nothing to promote such an outcome. In 2000, the PA rejected the Camp David and Clinton plan deals, launched a violent and terrorist war, and continued it for five years. During the last five years, the PA has not taken a single step toward ending incitement, educating its people for a two-state compromise solution, or offering better terms to Israel. It has not moved one bit from its stance in 1993, 17 years ago.

Meanwhile, as I predicted, here's the Washington Post cartoon, 
"explaining" how Netanyahu and Abbas are "equally" against direct talks, despite Netanyahu advocating and Abbas opposing them for the last 16 months!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Taliban Hang a 47-year Old Woman

As I say, these criminals, the Taliban, are evil. Here's an example from RAWA

By Abdul Latif Ayubi

Armed Taliban hung a 47-year old woman in the Qaadis District of Badghis Province.
The Taliban accused Sanubar of having an "illicit affair" that left her pregnant. She was first punished with 200 lashes in public before being shot, deputy provincial police chief Ghulam Mohammad Sayeedi told AFP.
"She was shot in the head in public while she was still pregnant," Sayeedi said.

AFP, Aug. 9, 2010This was reported to PAN by Mullah Muhammad Yousuf, one of the local commanders of the Taliban in the Qaadis Khordak area of Badghis Province, this morning (August 8th).
He said that the woman named Baidi Sanam, resident of the Qaadis Khordak in Qaadis District, was hung for the crime of getting pregnant. He added that the woman had given birth to a stillborn baby. According to his information, the husband of the woman had died four years back, two of her sons were refugees in Iran and the woman was living alone.
The source further added that the execution sentence for the woman was passed by one of the judges of the Taliban in the area called Ahmad.
Abdul Wahid one of the residents of the districts said that the woman was a widow. While confirming her pregnancy, he said that she shouldn’t have been hung but punished in some other way.

Afghanistan: When Can We Leave?


The graveyard of empires.
It looks like we're stuck.
If we had never gone there, or if we had gone there, taken out the Taliban, and come home, we could act like we didn't know how bad things were there, in terms of human rights, and never pay Afghanistan even a passing thought.
Now we have all seen it, particularly the human rights abuses towards women and children.
We cannot, in good conscience, turn our backs on them.
On Fox yesterday they showed a photo of a woman, a formerly beautiful woman, who'd been disfigured by the Taliban for attending school.
These people, the Taliban, and Hamas and Hezbollah and Al Qaeda, and other Islamist criminal organizations, give new meaning to the word "cruelty".
Their brutality towards women is not their "custom", it's criminality, but even if it was "tradition", woman do not deserved to be enslaved by these evil despots.
We should insist that the U.N. become more involved.
We can pressure this body more than any other member.
We should threaten the UN with sanctions if they continue to overlook human rights abuses by anyone.

It is sad that we probably are there now because of the military-industrial complex need for money, power, and control.
Nonetheless, as a moral nation we must defend innocent victims.

Even if we must do it alone.

at 5:13:

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The False Issue of "Race" in the Arab-Israeli Conflict

August 8, 2010

As the waitress whose family had come from Ethiopia put the pizza on the table at the Tel Aviv restaurant, I contemplated the ridiculous misuse of "race" as a factor in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Regardless of skin color, we belong not only to the same country by way of citizenship but also to the same nation and people in a very profound way that isn't true for countries that are merely geographical entities. 

Among the scores of ridiculous things said, thought, and written about the Arab-Israeli conflict, the pretense that it has something to do with "race" ranks high among them. This has been interjected for two reasons. First, this is a blatant attempt to demonize and delegitimize Israel.

Second, as part of that point but also due to trends in Western intellectual discussions, there is a conflation of nationality and race. Often, there is an attempt nowadays to portray any form of nationalism in the West as racist, though this is never applied to Third World nationalists situations. Neither the internal conflicts in Iraq (among Sunnis, Shias, and Kurds) nor in Lebanon (among numerous groups) are about race but rather arise from national, ethnic, and religious (sometimes all rolled up into one) conflicts.

One of the most basic lessons in looking at foreign or international affairs is to understand that countries just don't think alike about issues. America, and in a different way Europe, has been obsessed with race. That doesn't mean everyone else is racially oriented. Israelis don't think about skin color as such and are well aware that Jews, while having a common ancestry, have been affected by many cultures and societies.

With intermarriage rates between Jews whose ancestors came from Europe and those who came from the Middle East approaching half in Israel today, there is no way to classify people. In fact, Israelis are far less interested than other countries about people's ancestral travels.

Moreover, what does one say about such "darker-skinned" Israelis as my Hungarian-Yemenite colleague or my Syrian-origin pianist neighbor (whose wife is from Poland by way of Argentina? There is absolutely no issue involved here. And many Israelis of European origin are not exactly "white" in their appearance.

Indeed, Israel has more "blacks" among its Jews (from Ethiopia) than do the Palestinians by far. Israeli media never use racial stereotypes or epithets while Arab and Palestinian media have had numerous racist remarks and cartoons about such American leaders as Colin Powell, Condoleeza Rice, and now even Barack Obama. In a recent radio interview one of the leaders of the Islamist movement in Israel, in other words from the Arab minority here, said that it was a disgrace that a black Israeli soldier could ask for the identity document of an Arab Muslim. Yet such racism from the Arab/Palestinian side is ignored in the Western media.

While there have been some incidents in reaction to the arrival of Jews from Ethiopia, these have been few and universally rejected. Moreover, Israel has given refuge to the American "Black Hebrew" movement when it easily could have deported them.

It is officially estimated that at least 19 asylum seekers have been shot dead by Egyptian forces in Sinai. To my knowledge no one in this category has ever been injured in Israel.

I have had friends, mostly Filipinos, who were illegal workers (they overstayed work permits) deported from Israel and they simply accepted it and were soon working in another country. None of them bears any grudge against Israel, quite the contrary they could serve as citizen ambassadors on its behalf. None of them ever reported a single case of "racial" mistreatment and I don't believe there has ever been--and workers' advocacy groups have never reported--a racial assault or even insult on any foreign worker in Israel. The problem, of course, is that there is at times terrible economic exploitation by unscrupulous employers, which is in no way atypical in the world today.

The Israel-Palestinian and Arab-Israeli conflicts are in no way "racial." National identity is something quite different from "race" generally. Israelis and Arabs are not easily distinguished by skin color, though of course there are exceptions.I was in an Israeli government agency meeting a high-ranking official whose skin shade was darker than that of Barack Obama. This was only something I noted because I was planning to write the article you are reading now.

I arrived at the meeting mentioned above by taking a cab from my neighborhood taxi stand. I gave the address and the driver went back to speaking on his mobile phone in Arabic, which is the only reason I realized he was an Israeli Arab. I couldn't tell just by looking at him.

The attempt by anti-Israel slanderers to inject a racial aspect is ludicrously nonsensical. If you have ever travelled in Syria you would find that the average skin color of people there is lighter than that of Israelis on average. Generally speaking, there is less variation in "racial terms" between Israelis and Palestinian Arabs than there is among member states of the European Union.

It just doesn't apply to conditions here. ‎'While Palestinian Arabs are on average a shade or two darker than Israelis you can find wider variations within the EU member states.

But if you can label someone as a "racist" because they are engaged in a conflict with another nation or group automatically "proves" they are in the wrong. If the conflict is a national one, however, you actually have to think about it. Who's right in the following conflicts: Irish Catholics or Protestants; Basques or Spain; Bosnians or Serbs; Russians or Chechens, Somalis or Ethiopians; Iraqi Sunni, Shia, or Kurds; India or Pakistan; Azerbaijan or Armenia, and so on?
The answer cannot be deduced automatically. But label one side as racist and the discussion is over. This, then, is a trick for deceiving, not a tool for understanding.
The ridiculousness of attempts to transfer American or European situations to Israel was embodied in an American student asking an Israeli professor how many blacks were on his university's basketball team. Actually, there are many on the professional teams but they are all, of course, from the United States, though I believe one or two had converted and remained in Israel. 

I don't think there's any question of the fact that there is far far more racism in Europe or in the Arabic-speaking world than in Israel--and that's an understatement. 
*Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books, go to http://www.gloria-center.org You can read and subscribe to his blog at http://www.rubinreports.blogspot.com.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Illusion and Reality Clash in Lebanon

Illusion and Reality Clash in Lebanon

By Jonathan Spyer*
August 1, 2010

Initially, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon probing the murder of Rafik Hariri focused on Syria. Lately, indications suggest that the main focus is now on Hizbullah.

Tension is currently rising in Lebanon, amid reports that the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) is to issue indictments in the coming months. The tribunal is tasked with investigating the 2005 murder of Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri. Earlier this year, its president, Antonio Cassese, said he expected that indictments would be issued at some stage between September and December.

The Hariri tribunal has followed a long and winding path since its formation shortly after the murder, which took place on February 14, 2005. In its initial period, it was expected that its main angle of investigation would focus on the Syrians. Hariri was known as a defender of Lebanese sovereignty and therefore a natural adversary of the Syrian regime.

The latest indications, however, suggest that the main focus of the investigation is now on Hizbullah. This has led some Lebanon watchers to raise the specter of possible renewed civil strife in the country. Others have suggested that the prospect of indictments represents a serious dent in Hizbullah and Iran's power in the country. Neither of these claims, however, holds water.

The first claim rests on the idea that if Hizbullah is indicted for the murder of Rafik Hariri, this will place Saad Hariri - current prime minister and son of the murdered man - on a collision course with it.

But for a civil war, you need two sides. In 2008, it was the effective capitulation of Hariri and his March 14 movement which averted conflict. This time around, Hariri has even fewer options and this makes renewed confrontation less likely.

In a press conference last week, Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah said that he had been personally informed by Hariri that the tribunal would accuse some "undisciplined members" of Hizbullah (i.e. not the movement as a whole) of the murder of his father.

Nasrallah also noted that he had received a personal assurance from Hariri that he would publicly confirm that individual Hizbullah members, rather than the movement itself, were implicated in the murder.

Informed sources suggest that Hizbullah has already selected the individuals it will throw to the wolves if indictments are indeed issued (which is itself not certain).

The men in question are low-level operators reputed to be involved in crime as well as movement activity.

Nasrallah's rare press conference may have indicated that Hizbullah is uncomfortable at the prospect of the indictments. But his name-checking of Hariri also confirmed that he thinks he has little to worry about from the murdered man's son.

The available evidence suggests that he is right. Mustafa Allouche, a former MP from Hariri's March 14 bloc, said last Friday that if the tribunal issued indictments "not backed by proper evidence," then the position of the Hariri movement toward it would change.

Allouche added that Hariri would consider matters in cooperation with Nasrallah to ensure "calm." Hariri is reported to have held a private meeting with Nasrallah in recent days to lay the basis for this cooperation and reassure the Hizbullah leader.

The idea that a group of Hizbullah members decided independently to assassinate Rafik Hariri belongs in the realm of comedy. Hizbullah is a fiercely centralized, disciplined body in which no dissent is brooked. Its militants do not go about pursuing their own political and military policies.

It is made doubly so by the known sophistication of the Hariri murder. The notion that a group of Hizbullah men acting independently could have assembled, planted and detonated the massive explosive device that killed him, without their own movement's knowledge or the knowledge of the Syrian de facto rulers of the country at the time, is without any foundation in reality.

SO WHY IS Saad Hariri apparently bowing before the Iran-Syria-Hizbullah axis that murdered his father? Hariri is a client of the Saudis, and the Saudis, for reasons of their own, are currently engaged in a process of rapprochement with the Syrians. Saudi King Abdullah is due to visit Lebanon this week. The Lebanese prime minister possesses no military power on the ground. A civil war between his supporters and Hizbullah would be exceedingly short, and would rapidly conclude with Hariri's destruction.

As a result, he is carrying out his own slightly macabre courtship dance with the people that killed his father. Syria is quietly rebuilding its power in Lebanon, with no effective pro-Western counter-force to oppose it. Hariri therefore must bow to reality and avoid clashing with Hizbullah and/or Syria over the tribunal.

The Saudi approach in turn is supposed to shore up the troubled Arab diplomatic system by drawing Syria back into it.

Some commentators have claimed to see a silver lining in this. They depict the current situation as representing a weakening of Iran and its Hizbullah client in the face of a new alignment of Syria and Hariri, backed by Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

Such a depiction has little foundation. Syria's return to political influence in Lebanon is a product of its alliance with Iran. Its continuation depends on the continued existence of this alliance. So the idea that Syria's new friendship with Hariri portends a significant shift in the balance of power is an illusion. It is a friendship on Syrian terms, made possible by the implicit threat of Iranian-backed muscle. The Syrians will be happy to reap the fruits of their alliance with Iran in the form of renewed political sway in Lebanon. This has no implications for the real Iranian power in the country, or for Syria's alignment with it.

The real power in Lebanon today, whose resources, investment and ambitions dwarf those of the Syrians, is the Islamic Republic of Iran. Iran exercises its power through its Hizbullah client. Hizbullah, in turn, is able to have the last word in any argument in the country because of its military power on the ground. Hizbullah and its patrons prefer to allow the Lebanese political system and government to exist, and will continue to do so for as long as they do not interfere in their plans.

Iran's plans are region-wide, and it is interested in Lebanon mainly insofar as its control of the southern part of that country allows it to maintain the most active front currently in existence in the Israel- Islamist conflict. Syria is riding back into Lebanon in the form of a minor carriage attached to the Iranian- Hizbullah train.

Against this political-military juggernaut, the conscientious researchers of the SLT can do little. Saudi diplomacy and its Lebanese clients lack the tools to oppose Iran and its allies directly. They are therefore seeking to convince themselves and the world that their strategy of drawing Syria away from Iran is working. It is not.

The US, meanwhile, is engaged in matters elsewhere, and the administration still appears to be in a learning process regarding the ambitions of the Iranled regional axis.

It is against this background that the latest developments in Lebanon should be understood. Neither the SLT, nor Saad Hariri, nor Turkey, nor Saudi Arabia are going to break the power of Iran and its allies in Lebanon. This will be achieved, if it is to be achieved, as a result of the frustration of Iranian plans on a broader, regional level.
*Dr. Jonathan Spyer is a senior research fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, Herzliya, Israel

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The Chomsky Hoax

The Chomsky Hoax
Exposing the Dishonesty of Noam Chomsky