Saturday, November 16. 2013
It isn't exactly surprising that Israel should want to sabotage the new round of talks between Iran, the U.S., and other major powers. Nor that they would employ their vast lobbying networks in the U.S., nor that this would bring out their most obsequious media flacks to the forefront. Still, it is downright shocking the extremes to which Cal Thomas went in his column Iran agreement shouldn't stab Israel in the back. He starts with a story about a 1994 promise North Korea made to ex-president Jimmy Carter to "close a nuclear reactor at Yongbyon in exchange for food and humanitarian aid." He notes then that North Korea reopened the reactor, concluding that "Tyrants lie" -- without mentioning that the US failed to fulfill its end of the agreement, or that the US maintained a blockade and crippling sanctions, or that Bush dubbed North Korea a member of "the Axis of Evil."
Thomas goes on:
Thomas' argument here is not just a "big lie" -- it's based on a total fabrication. No such fatwa has ever existed, nor is any such "religious duty" consistent with any official Iranian position. Iran, like most nations -- judging from UN resolution votes virtually every nation except for the US and Micronesia -- disapproves of Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, or Israel's refusal to allow Palestinian refugees from the 1948 and 1967 wars to return to their homes, and Israel's frequent aggression against neighboring countries. But Iran has also taken the position that it is up to the Palestinians to decide how to deal with Israel. Iran has gone beyond other nations in that they provide substantial military aid to Hezbollah in Lebanon, but thus far at least Hezbollah has only used Iranian rockets in response to Israeli bombing of Lebanon. (Nor have those rockets been very effective.) That is a far cry from a plan to "annihilate" Israel.
The revolutionary Islamic government in Iran has had many reasons over the years to be critical of the US, starting with the CIA-directed coup against Iran's democracy in 1953, the US alliance with the Shah and US training of the Shah's secret police, the US harboring the Shah after he was deposed, the US freeze of Iranian assets, the US role in supporting Iraq in its 1981-88 war against Iran, as well as various acts of American terrorism against Iran, such as shooting down a civilian airliner and attacking an offshore oil platform. The Iranian government hasn't always acted honorably, but since the Iraq war ended and Ayatollah Khomeini, who came up with that "Great Satan" rhetoric, died, it's been the US that has repeatedly rebuffed efforts by Iran to put relations on a less confrontational level.
On the other hand, Israel has frequently threatened to attack Iran. Israel supports the anti-Iranian terrorist group MEK. Israeli agents have murdered Iranian scientists. Israel has used cyberwarfare against Iran (evidently with US help). Israeli security experts openly talk about their hopes for "regime change" in Iran. And since the early 1990s, Israel has lobbied the US heavily to isolate and undermine the Iranian regime. The interesting thing about that last sentence is that Israeli-Iranian enmity didn't start with the revolution in 1979, with the ascension to power of Ayatollah Khomeini and his "Great Satan" rhetoric. Throughout the 1980s, Israel maintained a close alliance with Iran, shipping it arms, and actually intervening in the Iraq-Iran war in 1982 when Israel bombed Iraq's nuclear reactor project site. Perhaps Israel's interest in Iran was cynical -- the hope that by supporting Iran they could weaken their closer enemy, Iraq.
However, after the US-led coalition defeated Iraq in the 1990 Gulf War Israel began to cast about for a new "existential" enemy -- a role that could no longer be plausibly imagined for any Arab state. Iran fit the bill for several reasons: first, the US still harbored resentment against Iran for holding its embassy staff hostage from 1980-82, so it was relatively easy to push American hot buttons; second, Iran's government explicitly identified itself as Islamic, which also raised some hot buttons with America's Christian right, even when none of the latter had any clue about the differences between sunni and shiite; and third, Iran had been fascinated with nuclear power starting with the Shah before ther revolution, and thanks to self-isolation and sanctions, they could only pursue nuclear energy by developing their own capabilities so it was easy to characterize Iran's program as intending to develop nuclear weapons. And, of course, the prospect of a nuclear-armed nation hostile or even merely opposed to the Israel -- populated by the residual victims of genocide -- and/or the US excited all sorts of paranoid fears. And recall that for the post-9/11 Bush administration, those fears were very useful for advancing their ambitions against Iraq, which was supposedly all about "weapons of mass destruction" -- e.g., Condoleezza Rice's taunt that "the smoking gun may be a mushroom cloud."
Problem was, in order to convince people that their fears were based on solid intelligence, Israel had to project a time frame for Iran's "nuclear programme" to come to fruition. In the mid-1990s, they cautiously projected that Iran was five years away from having the bomb. At various points after that, they even projected shorter time spans, but the fact is that 15 years after the Iranian bomb was due, it still hasn't been built. And when the CIA assessed its own intelligence, they concluded that Iran didn't have actual plans to build a bomb. Which, coincidentally, is what Iran's leaders have said all along.
Thomas' next ploy is to cite an anonymous item from "ynetnews.com" -- the website run by Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharanot. If he had a non-Israeli source, don't you think he'd use it? Conservatives love to quote the Wall Street Journal or New York Times not because they revere those papers as because they realize their reports usually look less fishy than "Rush Limbaugh says . . ." or "according to an anonymous tip reported by Drudgenet . . ."
Thomas ends up with a dubious historical analogy, concluding, "Roosevelt and Churchill were wrong about Stalin, and the Obama administration is wrong about Iran." Given that Obama's "go to" guy on Iran for most of his time in office has been Dennis Ross, the Obama administration has usually been wrong about Iran. But even if they're wrong now, you have to ask yourself what are they trying to do, and how does that compare to all the alternatives. If the goal is to keep Iranian maniacs from using nuclear weapons against Israel and/or the United States (or any other enemy they have, something Saudi Arabia is especially keen on being), then first of all you have the time-tested standard approach: Israel and the US have enough nuclear weapons to deter any Iranian plot by making it suicidal. (That approach, after all, deterred the Soviet Union, who as Thomas no doubt said dozens of times were a bunch of godless fanatics convinced that capitalism must die and that history was on their side.) It also wouldn't hurt if the Iranian people were given a better stake in the future, which is a reason for relaxing sanctions, normalizing relations, increasing trade and investment, and so forth. It's worth noting that the only communist nations that didn't democratize were the ones the US fought hot wars against and have nurtured grudges against: China, North Korea, Vietnam, and Cuba. Ill will only begets ill tidings.
Realistically, that should be enough, but given how wholeheartedly Israeli and American officials have swallowed their own propaganda, the concerned countries should work to establish greater transparency and more open review of Iran's nuclear power efforts. Iran is a member of the NPT, which commits them not to build nuclear weapons and not to aid in the proliferation of nuclear weapons. (Israel, by the way, is not, so if you want to look at renegade states bearing weapons of mass destruction, start there.) Under the NPT, countries such as Iran are still entitled to develop nuclear power, and some countries have done just that without ever considering a weapons program -- most notably, Germany and Japan. Iran is unusual in this regard solely because they are so isolated -- especially due to UN-supported sanctions -- and that produces unique dangers. One thing that we should worry about is whether Iran has access to the latest methods and equipment needed to make sure that their nuclear power plants are safe -- and that won't happen if we keep Iran isolated and force it to be self-sufficient. Again, the way forward here is through more openness and less hostility -- exactly the opposite of what Thomas is arguing for.
It is, therefore, easy to see that the path opened up in this new round of negotiations with Iran can lead to allaying Israel's (and America's) fears, and indeed of defusing one of the world's most dangerous hostile fronts. On the other hand, you need to look at Israel's approach -- which aside from sanctions, espionage, and acts of terror within Iran, might add military strikes to destroy Iran's physical plant -- and what its prospects really are. Bombs may do some damage, but they're most likely to drive the nuclear project ever deeper underground, into deeper security. Moreover, they'll drive more Iranians into believing that nuclear weapons are necessary to defend Iran against outside aggressors. Espionage and terrorism will only make Iran's government more closed and more paranoid, and they will invite Iran to do the same in turn. And sanctions again will impoverish Iran, encourage autarky, and a stubborn resolve to fight back.
It should be understood that Israel has its own reasons for making and maintaining enemies: the idea of external threats helps politically unite the Jewish population and keeps the military-industrial complex humming along, and the security issue distracts from the fundamental problems caused by the occupation and treatment of Palestinians. On the other hand, as Americans we have to ask ourselves whether fondness for Israel is really a good reason for the United States to let Israel decide who our enemies are and how we should deal with them. Certain elements of the US right-wing like the idea of letting Israel lead us around by the nose because they wish us to have the same degree of militarism and war-lust Israel has, but most people think that our "enemies" selected us, not the other way around. And so when a nation like Iran comes to us seeking peace and understanding, why should we reject them?
If you believe everything Cal Thomas says here, and buy into all the bogus historical analogies and suppositions, all he's really saying is that we can't trust Iran, so we should go to war with them now instead of waiting until they, like Hitler and Stalin, inevitably go to war against us. (Ignoring the fact that Stalin and his successors never did start that inevitable war.) Fortunately for us, Thomas is as wrong on his facts as he is ghastly in terms of morality. An agreement with Iran wouldn't "stab Israel in the back"; it would save Israel from making the worst mistake a nation could make.
Tuesday, October 29. 2013
From the start of hostilities in 1947 through the declaration of a borderless Israel's independence in mid-1948 and the subsequent war between Israeli militias and various Arab armies up to the signing of the armistices which established Israel's unhappy "green line" borders in early 1950, over 700,000 Palestinians fled their ancestral homes and/or were driven into an exile. Following the armistices, Israel's Knesset passed a series of laws determined to make the exile permanent: Palestinians who escaped the expulsions were granted what turned out to be second-class citizenship -- they lived under military law until 1967, and even today are denied opportunities afforded to Israel's Jewish citizens -- while those who left had their property expropriated and were denied any chance of returning to their homeland. Sixty-five years later millions of their descendants still wait in refugee camps, a stubborn obstacle to ending the conflict.
Many years later, Serbian military commanders in Bosnia coined an euphemism for genocide which has turned out to be a fair description of many historical events: ethnic cleansing. One way to effect ethnic cleansing was to kill everyone you wanted to get rid of. That was, for instance, Germany's response to the Herero rebellion in its Southwest Africa territory (1904-07, in what is now Namibia), and there have been many more examples, most famously the mass slaughter of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire during WWI and of Jews by Nazi Germany in WWII. But the words "ethnic cleansing" also describe a case just short of genocide -- as a norm, not that murder is not a substantial part of the story -- namely, the forced exile of one ethnic group leaving a piece of territory more completely in control of some other group.
A classic example came out of the Greco-Turkish War (1919-22), which resulted in a "population exchange" as Greeks fled Asia Minor and Turks repatriated from Greece. Some examples were notoriously bloody, such as the British partition of India and Pakistan in 1947 (especially but not limited to Punjab and Bengal). Some were more efficiently managed, such as the expulsion of ethnic Germans from Czechoslovakia after WWII, but they've never been done without bloodshed and great hardship. An example from American history, the forced transfer of Cherokee and other Indian tribes to Oklahoma Territory in the 1830s, is remembered as Trail of Tears.
For a long time Israel denied responsibility for and evaded discussion of the expulsions. Benny Morris, in his 1988 book The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949, was the first Israeli historian to systematically document what happened, including more than a hundred massacres which set up a pattern of orchestrated terror. (Morris, by the way, has lamented that Israel didn't drive out even more Palestinians. For a more recent summary, see Ilan Pappé: The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine.) Morris took pains to deny that the Israeli leadership had any "centralized expulsion policy as such," but there were at least two cases where David Ben-Gurion personally directed mass expulsions: the centrally located towns of Ramle and Lydda (population 50,000 or more in 1948).
Lydda and Ramle were Arab towns on the road between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and the main airport in Israel-Palestine was adjacent to Lydda. After Ben-Gurion lobbied for UN approval of a plan to partition Palestine in November 1947, he began plotting how to expand Israel's allotment of the territory. In particular, the UN had kept Jerusalem as an internationally administered region rather than attempt to split it up, but he plotted to seize at least the western half of the city, and that meant he had to capture the corridor between his partition area and Jerusalem. (Israeli forces were only partly successful in this: they captured the cities in the valley but failed to claim the Latrun heights, which like their inability to capture the Old City in Jerusalem remained as a spur to future expansionist wars, an itch not satisfied until 1967, when Israel immediately annexed its most coveted territories.)
The reason I'm dredging up all this history is because I was struck by a passage in a new article on "Lydda, 1948" by Ari Shavitt in The New Yorker (behind their paywall). The article covers the Israeli military campaign to take Lydda -- Yigal Allon and Yitzhak Rabin were leading officers there -- and the expulsion, with some background suggesting that Jewish-Arab relations in and around Lydda were relatively benign before the war. No real news there, but after noting that: "By evening, approximately thirty-five thousand Palestinian Arabs had left Lydda in a long column, marching past the Ben Shemen youth village and disappearing into the east," Shavit adds:
This whole paragraph is sort of a black box about Zionism -- what you get out of it is a reflection of what you put into it. It's easy enough to understand Ben-Gurion's tactical thinking in emptying Lydda and Ramle. He was in the midst of a war where the survival of the Israeli state was at great risk. He had to claim at least half of Jerusalem, and therefore he had to secure the path connecting Jerusalem to Tel Aviv. On that path were close to 70,000 Arabs, and in the hills above that path was the British-led army of Transjordan, his most formidable adversary. Expulsion was an alternative to occupation, and a relatively cheap one under the circumstances -- assuming, of course, that one doesn't have moral qualms about such things.
Ben-Gurion certainly didn't have any such qualms. When Britain's Peel Commission, in 1937, first proposed partitioning Palestine, they also proposed forced transfer of a small number of Jews and a much larger number of Arabs to create two ethnically cleansed states, Ben-Gurion was among the first to stand up and applaud. (The Arabs staged a revolt for independence from Britain and majority rule. When they were finally suppressed in 1939, the British tore up the Peel proposal and never brought it up again. It was Ben-Gurion pushing for partition in 1947, then going to war to secure and to expand his territories, and while no one spoke much of transfer, at least in public, it was deep in their minds -- and I might add it was all too common in fact, as can be seen by the mass violence in partitioning India and Pakistan, by the eviction of Germans from Eastern Europe, by the shift westward of the Polish border, by the massive displacements of the recently ended WWII.
But while it's easy to see the tactical value of emptying Lydda in 1948, and in retrospect it does look like Israel got away both with ethnic cleansing and with its persistent resistance against any return of its refugees -- a combination that shows that justice doesn't always prevail. Still, it's a rather deep and dark statement to see Lydda as something intrinsic to Zionism -- especially looking back from now, when the Jewish State has never been more secure. It's worth recalling that in the 1940s Zionism comprised a range of opinion, ranging from Jabotinsky's "revisionism" on the right -- Netanyahu's father was Jabotinsky's secretary, in case you've ever wondered about his bona fides -- to "cultural" Zionists like Martin Buber and Joseph Magnes whose vision for Israel included an accommodation that would allow Jews and Arabs to live within one state together. The idea that Zionism excludes the possibility of Arab-majority towns like Lydda and Ramle reflects the fact that cultural Zionists have been systematically excluded from popular memory in Israel. That forgetting is ultimately as poisonous as the insistence on drumming into every schoolkid a legacy of fatalistic Jewish heroes from Masada to the Warsaw Ghetto.
Ben-Gurion wasn't a moderate on this scale. He differed from Jabotinsky in his commitment to building the social institutions of the Yishuv, using them as his power base and recognizing that they provided a form for Jewish solidarity before a Jewish state became possible. But his commitment to "Jewish labor" was every bit as exclusionarily racist as Jabotinsky's terrorist militias. Ben-Gurion's great claim to fame was his pragmatism, which let him act ruthlessly while appearing to be reasonable -- in large part due to his remarkable insight into other folks' prejudices. Those skills helped him to use the British colonial administration to destroy his Arab enemies while undermining British rule. They helped him negotiate emigration from Nazi Germany. They helped him gained arms support at critical times from the USSR, France, and the US. They helped him negotiate reparations from Germany. But his compromises with the religious parties precluded development of a broader secular society, and his obsession with maintaining Israel's warrior spirit prevented him (and especially his successor, Moshe Sharrett) from gaining Israel legitimacy as a normal country.
So the view that Israel depends on an Arab-free Lydda (or Lod, as they call it now) should be viewed as a consequence of endless struggle, defined now (as ever) around ethnic cleansing. And if Lydda is key, what's to stop the call for an Arab-free Bersheba, Nazareth, or even Jerusalem? And Shavit, by celebrating Lydda as an essential event in the founding of his beloved Jewish state, leaves himself little defense against even more ethnic cleansing, ever more strife and struggle. It may be pointless to condemn past atrocities, but consecrating them is even worse: it's just a way of surrendering the future to a fate as dismal as the past.
Let me reiterate a bit. Shavit writes:
Or one can search for a different flavor of Zionism that would allow different peoples to live together in peace, or one could shift the import of Zionism into the past (the "post-Zionism" approach), or one could recognize that the mainstream of Zionism was profoundly racist and, given sufficient power, unjust, and try to chuck its dead weight off. By not doing any of these things, Shavit dooms himself to repeat history even though he is aware enough to know better.
Thursday, June 6. 2013
Back in 2005, I wrote a modest proposal for resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict. I mailed it out to a bunch of people -- an example of "running it up the flagpole to see who salutes it" -- and it was uniformly ignored. The distinct feature of my piece was a mechanism that would allow Israel to keep all of the East Jerusalem environs they annexed in 1967. My argument was that if a majority of the Palestinians in the new territory voted to approve joining Israel, and annexation could be separated from the UN's 1967 assertion of the "inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war."
Jerusalem was one of the major sticking points in the "final status" negotiations under Barak in 2000. Even though there was at the time substantial support within Israel for a "two-state solution" that would give up settlements in Gaza and the West Bank, every opinion poll of Israelis that I was aware of showed more than 90% refusing to return East Jerusalem. The equation on annexation for Israel has always been the trade-off between land, which Israel coveted, and people, which Israel feared and loathed. The alternative to the "two-state solution" would be for Israel to extend citizenship and equal rights to all of the people in the Occupied Territories -- a scheme that has become increasingly attractive as expanding Israeli settlements (those "facts on the ground") have made it ever harder, both politically and practically, to disentangle two states. However, Israel has always rejected such a "one-state solution" out of hand, for fear that its demography would tip against a Jewish majority.
However, I figured that the relatively small number of non-Jews in Greater Jerusalem, balanced against Israel's intense desire to keep the land, would be a trade-off that Israel might accept. I also figured that requiring approval of that non-Jewish population would do two things: it would justify annexation under self-determination, grounds that no one could reasonably object to; and it would urge Israel to campaign for the allegiance of a block of Palestinians. Given Israel's past treatment, one would initially expect the latter to reject such an offer, but Israel could offer much in the way of inducements to win the vote, including reforms that would help make Palestinians more welcome as Israeli citizens -- reforms that in general would help to lessen the conflict.
Like I said, my proposal went nowhere. By that time, the Arab League was floating a proposal that called for a full return to the 1967 borders (per UN SCR 242 and 338), albeit with no serious repatriation of pre-1948 refugees. The US was pushing a non-plan called "The Road Map for Peace," which was rejected by Israel, as was every other initiative. There have been proposals by ad hoc groups of Israelis (e.g., the Geneva Accords, the Israeli Peace Initiative of 2011), the coalitions running Israel, both under Kadima and Likud prime ministers, appear to have no interest whatsoever in ever solving anything. The problem isn't even that they have a proposal that Palestinians can never accept. It's that they prefer the status quo, where they face just enough danger to keep their security state sharp, where the settlement project continues to fire their pioneer spirit, and where their low standing in world opinion reinforces the Zionist conceit that the whole world is out to get them -- a unifying narrative with little downside risk, least of all to their standard of living.
I bring this up because I see now that John Kerry is trying to restart some sort of "peace process." Stephen M. Walt writes:
Walt is unsure why Kerry is even bothering, but the US has long had interests in the Middle East beyond Israel, and they demand a certain facade of balance. On the other hand, the Saudis (in particular) don't seem to be very demanding of results, much like they buy sophisticated American aircraft then never really learn to use it. Rashid Khalidi's Brokers of Deceit: How the US Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East details how the US initiated three major attempts at "peace process" in Israel-Palestine, then bowed to Israeli pressure (or in some cases just anticipated it) to get nothing accomplished. Kerry is most likely to just add another chapter of failure.
Khalidi has a good description of how this works (pp. 119-120):
Israel has not only worked tirelessly to create "facts on the ground" that dim the prospects of peace. Israelis have also created a mental clutter of catch phrases and jargon that make peace impossible to talk about.
I'll break this post here, and put a first draft of my thinking about how to resolve the conflict after the break . . .
Continue reading "Thinking Around the Israeli-American Impasse"
Sunday, November 18. 2012
In 1947, when the UN attempted to partition Palestine, it allocated the Gaza Strip and adjacent land extending up the Mediterranean coast more than half way to Tel Aviv to the Arab part, simply because none of the people living in that section were Jewish. In 1948, the Zionist leadership in Palestine declared independence and founded the state of Israel, but even though they had lobbied heavily for passage of the UN partition plan, they did not accept its borders. Among their expansion campaigns, they pushed down the coast, compressing the Gaza Strip to half of its original size, and more than doubling its population with refugees.
When the 1949 armistice agreement was signed, the compressed Gaza was ceded to Egypt, but unlike Jordan (which claimed the West Bank and East Jerusalem) Egypt made no effort to annex Gaza. It was kept as a trust, preserving its makeshift refugee camps as a continuing marker of the injustice of Israel's refusal to allow Palestinian refugees to return to their native country. Israel invaded Egypt in 1967, seizing Gaza and Sinai up to the Suez Canal. In 1979, Egypt signed a treaty with Israel which Sinai to Egypt, making it whole again, but Israel kept Gaza, placing it under military occupation. In 1993, under the Oslo Accords, Israel subcontracted its occupation to Yassir Arafat's Palestinian Authority while keeping Gaza sealed off from the rest of the world. In 2005, Ariel Sharon dismantled the few settlements that Israelis had established in Gaza, reducing its on-ground presence to zero, while still controlling the air space, the sea, and borders, with the entire land border surrounded by high security fences. The net effect was to turn Gaza into a 365 square mile open air prison, holding 1.7 million people.
Conditions in Gaza have been dire since 1948, but they deteriorated markedly after 2007. In 2006, the Palestinian Authority held parliamentary elections, which were won by Hamas. Israel, supported strongly by the US, attempted to overturn the elections, most dramatically by staging a coup to seize power in Gaza. That coup failed, resulting in Hamas seizing control in Gaza. Israel responded by tightening its economic stranglehold. Gazans sought relief by digging tunnels to smuggle goods in from Egypt -- under Mubarak, Egypt was tightly complicit with Israel in isolating Gaza (a relationship that is changing as Egypt becomes more democratic). Outsiders have attempted to deliver supplies by boat into Gaza -- Israel continues to prevent them, sometimes violently.
The Palestinian in Gaza are not part of a monolithic mindset, any more than Israelis or Americans are, but they all start out with the shared experience of Israeli containment. (Occupation may no longer be the right word as it implies boots on the ground and on your neck, but Israel controls the flow of goods and people, and always threatens death from the sky, a situation that often amounts to a siege.) Faced with Israeli oppression, some people will inevitably try to fight back, some will resist non-violently, some will capitulate, some will attempt to profit, some will be confused, and many will vacillate between these strategies, especially since none have been proven to work. (Israel, as a government, has its own options and policies, but mostly they act from strength which they underscore by frequent violence -- a lesson that no Palestinian is unaware of.)
Israel's current "Operation Pillar of Defense" started on Nov. 14 with an Israeli airstrike that assassinated Ahmed Jaabari, reportedly the head of the military wing of Hamas, also killing his son and others. The stated reason for the operation was to clamp down on rockets fired by Gazan "militants" into southern Israel, so the assassination was followed up by Israel bombing hundreds of sites in Gaza. The response, of course, was that those "militants" shot off more rockets in three days than they had in the past six months. (Here is a list; I haven't found a corresponding list of Israeli bombings and shellings of Gaza, but a timeline should show that they match up, with Israeli attacks most often provoking the rocket barrages.)
I don't in any way approve of shooting rockets from Gaza into Israel, but it is easy to understand the attraction. For starters, there is Israel's blockade meant to damage, demean, control, and sometimes just punish 1.7 million people, and the most visible symbol of that blockade is the wall that makes Israel impenetrable from Gaza. The main thing a rocket can do is what no Gazan can do: leap over the wall. The tiny, primitive Qassam rockets can't do much more than that: they have no guidance system, they rarely hit anyone or anything, and they don't do much damage when they do, but Israel likes to play the victim and the rocket attacks make for good publicity, so they play them up, harp on the fear they stoke, constantly reminding anyone who'll listen about the Palestinian commitment to killing Jews. (Israel's ambassador to the US, Michael Oren, recently described the rockets as "more than a crude attempt to kill and terrorize civilians -- they were expressions of a genocidal intent.") Of course, good publicity for Israel is bad for the Palestinians, but those who shoot off the rockets at least can take some satisfaction in how much they are getting under their enemies' thin skins. For your basic Gazan "militant," shooting off a rocket is a way to get noticed, to stand up to the oppressor, and make them recognize you.
Gaza has been under Israel's control since 1967, but this week's level of hostilities is unusual -- much greater than a similar clash in March, probably more deadly than any time since January 2009, when Israel's Operation Cast Lead actually invaded Gaza, killing 1,417 Palestinians (IDF figures: 1,166; Israel lost 13, 10 of those soldiers, 4 of those due to "friendly fire"; the operation actually started Dec. 27, 2008, and ended Jan. 18, 2009). It seems far from coincidental that both operations started soon after US presidential elections and shortly before Israeli elections. In 2008 it seemed likely that Israel wanted to get her kicks in before Obama took office in case he was inclined to caution -- the net effect was that Bush let Israel go on long enough to embarrass themselves with their brutality while Obama was held speechless, the first of many humiliations America's dearest ally inflicted on him. This time the US election probably didn't matter. (What may matter is that the "militants" were able to fire some new, larger Iranian rockets at Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, previously well out of range -- not much of a threat, but it does play into Netanyahu's desire for starting a war between the US and Iran.)
Israel's prime ministers changed between the two operations, but the Defense Minister remained the same: Ehud Barak, the former PM who was elected in 1998 to finish up the Oslo Accords and who wound up destroying the last (at least the latest) good chance we had of resolving the conflict. When Barak was defeated in 2001, George Bush's view was that, "Sometimes a show of force by one side can really clarify things," and Ariel Sharon indulged him, plunging the conflict into the murk of endless reprisals and posturing, where it remains today. In 1967 it seemed quite simple to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict: Israel would give up its newly conquered territories in exchange for peace treaties, a solution that was codified in two UN resolutions, backed by the US and even (with some weasel wording) Israel. Eventually all of the Arab nations, including the Palestinians, came around to that view, but by then Israel and the US (Sharon and Bush) had moved on, thinking they could solve all their problems with a resolute show of force.
That commitment to force is why Israel is fighting its third Gaza War since 2006 (not counting hundreds of skirmishes in a neverending war of attrition). One popular definition of insanity is the belief that repeating a strategy will somehow produce a different result. By that criteria, Netanyahu and Barak clearly are insane -- their sole out is to realize that they are in fact getting the result they want: that by periodically shaking the hornet's nest they get to keep the conflict's definition tied to relative strength, and away from basic human rights.
There is a simple solution here, one so simple it's amazing that no one talks about it. Due to Israel's settlement activities in the West Bank and Jerusalem, it's become very difficult for Israel and the Palestinians to sort out a fair and equitable division of lands there, and indeed they may never be able to clean up the mess that Israel's illegal settlement program has made. But relative interests in Gaza are totally clear: Israel has no settlements within Gaza, and no desire to ever extent Israeli citizenship to Gaza's residents. Therefore, why not hand Gaza over to the UN to organize elections and secure its status as an independent nation?
I don't want to have to rehash all of Israel's security issues about an independent Gaza (or Palestinian) state: they are easily dismissed on many grounds. And other than security, what is there? Water, I suppose. A very trivial bit of economic advantage Israel enjoys. And it would involve "agreeing to disagree" on unresolved issues, like the "right of return" and the relationship between Gaza and Palestinian enclaves in the Occupied Territories, but independence would eliminate more than 90% of the reason Gazans have to be "militant" -- some may still bear grudges over not being able to return to their ancestors' homes and land, but that is fading, and will fade faster without the constant reminder of Israel's military dominance.
I've been trying to think of "out of the box" solutions to the broader conflict here. Some basic ideas: do what you can when you can, and don't let it prejudice the future; try to convert issues into things that can be solved with money, and apply lots of money to them; forget about who was at fault in the past; kick the stuff you can't agree on far down the road; but keep your eye on the one fundamental goal, which is that in the end everyone should wind up with full and equal rights in a secure state. Gaza, which Israel has no real interest in, is the simplest case: break it loose, open it up, rebuild, legitimize its government, and expect it to live in peace, minding its own business. The other problems are messier, and will take time and fresh thinking. But Gaza is easy.
Conversely, Israel's habitual practice of attempting to beat the Gazans into submission only leads to more war, more ill feeling, more injustice. Israel's militarist elite have deluded themselves into believing that disproportionate force works (see this useful "fact sheet" on their Dahiya Doctrine, which only goes back to 1987, but bear in mind that Ariel Sharon first became a popular public figure in Israel by leading the 1951 Qibya attack, a classic case of overkill excused as retribution). Israelis view their carpet bombing of the Dahiya neighborhood in Beirut as the key victory in their 2006 war against Hezbollah -- the explanation as to why Hezbollah hasn't attacked Israel in the years since. The 2006 war was at the time regarded as a huge fiasco: Hezbollah's rockets (far more numerous and powerful than anything Gaza possesses) were ineffective, but Hezbollah was very successful at repelling Israeli efforts to invade southern Lebanon, and Hezbollah was more effective than the government at providing relief for those neighborhoods leveled by Israel's air barrage, so the consensus opinion at the time was that Hezbollah came out of the war stronger. The more likely reason why the Israel-Lebanon border has remained quiet is that Israel hasn't provoked another war there.
It is true that Hezbollah hasn't provoked Israel into another war either. But the reason isn't fear of Israel so much as the fact that Lebanon is an independent country, with a democratic political system that Hezbollah participates in but doesn't dominate, and a functioning economy connected to the rest of the world. Hezbollah doesn't have to fire rockets to remind the world that Israel has locked them up in a cage, because Israel hasn't. (That Israel has cast a pallor of terror over the nation is another story, but lately in remission. It may still inspire some "militants," but they are kept in check by an organization that has a stake in the system, and in keeping the peace.)
Gaza could be peaceful too, but only if Israel leaves it alone (or works with it constructively). What Israel should be worried about is that it's going to happen anyway. Egyptian complicity in sealing off and strangling Gaza is no longer automatic: that border has started to open up, and will become more so -- among other things, that makes it easier to smuggle more deadly weapons in (something Iran has little motivation not to indulge). Foreign investment money has started to trickle into Gaza. Before long, the Strip will be a de facto independent state, recognized by many countries, perhaps even by the UN. By then this Operation will look like a last, futile attempt to stem the path to freedom. And unless they stop real soon, this will be another chapter in Israel's senseless brutality toward its neighbors and, indeed, toward its own people. The problem with violence is not just what it does to its victims, but the monsters it makes of its perpetrators.
 Quoted by Paul Woodward. He also quotes Phan Nguyen calculating how many rockets it would take, given their general ineffectiveness, to kill off the Jewish population of Israel: nearly 4.5 billion rockets. Woodward's statistic is that Gaza rockets have killed an average of 2 Israelis per year over the last 12 years. The latest figure I have for the current operation is that 3 Israelis have been killed by more than 740 rockets and mortar shells. During the same time, 46 Palestinians were killed (including 22 "militants").
By the way, the Phan Nguyen piece, Dissecting IDF Propaganda: The Numbers Behind the Rocket Attacks, goes way beyond the calculations cited above, providing a list of Israelis killed by rockets and mortar fire from Gaza, looking into the timing of the launches, and picking over IDF propaganda on the attacks.
 Quoted in Ron Suskind, The One Percent Doctrine.
I used Saturday's Wikipedia figures on Operation Pillar of Defense. Finishing this up on Sunday, so the current tragic numbers keep climbing.
On Nov. 16, Paul Woodward noted that:
Stephen Walt quotes larger figures from B'tselem: "Israel has killed 319 Palestinians since Cast Lead in 2009, while Palestinians have killed 20 Israelis."
For whatever it's worth, the "stone age" experiment has already been tried, in Afghanistan, and guess what? You can destroy every shred of civilization, wipe out the economy, put people into the dark, keep them ignorant and unaware, and the only things they'll still be able to do are shoot rockets and improvise bombs.
However, the other thing about the "stone age" is that at that level of technology and social organization it is impossible to keep 1.7 million people alive in 365 square miles: reducing Gaza to a "stone age" place would either directly or indirectly amount to genocide. Is that what Israelis really want? Rabbi Yaakov Yosef would rather get it done with faster. Follow the links there for more, including Eli Yishal, Israel's Interior Minister -- inside the government, presumably someone in the know -- saying, "The goal of the operation is to send Gaza back to the Middle Ages."
A few more links consulted:
Quote from the Levy article, cited above:
Quote from the Walt article, cited above:
Thursday, September 13. 2012
On September 10, a US airstrike in Yemen killed seven people, including Saeed al-Shihri, alleged to be "al-Qaida's No. 2 leader in Yemen." This follows numerous other US airstrikes in Yemen, including one that killed US-born Anwar al-Awlaki.
On September 11, a demonstration at the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, turned violent, and the US ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, was killed. Most likely the demonstration was incidental, providing cover for an independent attack force (see the Quilliam report, which describes a video released by al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri with a call "to avenge the death of Abu Yaya al-Libi, al-Qaeda's second in command killed a few months ago"). The US responded by sending a small detachment of Marines to Libya -- not enough for an occupation, but quacks like one, and will be taken as such by those so inclined.
What this shows is that after eight years of Bush and nearly four of Obama virtually nothing has changed. The US still throws its weight around the Arab world, siding with tyrants it finds conveniently corrupt, helping them kill and imprison their own people, getting trapped in blood feuds, and blamed for the dearth of progress that keeps these nations poor. Sensible persons back away from tactics that don't work; US politicians stumble forward, convinced that losing credibility would be far worse than throwing away lives and treasure.
Oil gets blamed for this, and indeed there are lots of things one can pin on the oil companies, but they prefer to work quietly, and were doing nicely in places like Saudi Arabia until external politics got in their way. The rub there is Israel, ever more a warrior state, which has spent the last four years goading Obama into a pointless and potentially tragic showdown with Iran. That may seem nothing more than good sport for Israel, much like their dabblings in US domestic politics, like smacking down uppity presidents with congressional resolutions and radio flak.
For Israel, hostilities are a win-win proposition: either they kick ass, or they burnish up their victimhood cult, renewing their claim to the moral high ground. (And while they whine about their losses, they're never so severe they disturb the warrior ethos.) On the other hand, for the US war is lose-lose: like Todd Snider's bully, what kicking ass winds up meaning is you got to do it again tomorrow, and again and again and again, all the while exposing your inner wretchedness. Israel, behind its Iron Wall, can fancy that it's better to be feared than liked, but the US needs good will to do business, so with every misstep risks losing it all. That's why the two days both wind up in the loss column.
In the wake of the embassy incident, Obama promised to bring the killers "to justice": the first thing that flashed through my mind was Pershing chasing all over Mexico after Pancho Villa, nothing but a wild goose chase. But even nominal success most often rings hollow, as Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden have proven. (Ultimately, both happened after killing more people than the evildoers had themselves, making one wonder what a higher power should do with Bush and Obama.)
Meanwhile, Romney accused Obama of "apologizing for America" when the State Department tried to disclaim and disown the video that triggered (or served as the pretext for) the demonstrations. Presumably, Romney thought that Obama should have stood up for gross slander of a religion with one trillion followers -- presuming that Romney was thinking, as he's likely to disavow the video himself by week's end. Still, even if he walks back the particulars, you've seen his basic instinct: to plunge headlong, chin up, into every conflict that comes his way, as if, like Israel, he's convinced that every fight is win-win.
That last point is the secret behind the Neocons' slavish idolatry of Israel: envy. They want to fight, and they want to win. They want to thumb their noses at the world, and have the world cower before them. They see that on a small scale with Israel, and even there they don't actually see very well, but they're convinced that if only our leaders had the vision and the guts we could scale Israel's formula up and leave the world awestruck. Romney, of course, is as committed to Neoconnery as McCain and Bush -- see John Judis: never apologize, never negotiate, never think, just act. After all, you're America: always right, invincible (except when led by cowards like Obama, Clinton, and Carter).
Update: Minor edit above, changing "Israeli movie" to "video." Initial reports were that the demonstrations were against a movie produced by a California-based Israeli named Sam Bacile. WarInContext has a post that suggests that it was in fact produced by an Egyptian Christian living in California. As I understand it, the title is Innocence of Muslims, and at present it is only distributed as a 14-minute excerpt on YouTube, so it is not clear to me whether words like "film" and "movie" are appropriate. These details don't have any real bearing on the argument above. The video may be a convenient pretext for a demonstration, but the real issue is US interference in the region, including support for regimes that do real violence to people, especially Israel's occupation.
Speaking of which, I see now that Obama has dispatched several Navy ships to the Libyan coast, and has started flying drones over Libyan air space "to search for the perpetrators of the attack" -- once again the instinct of US leaders is to make it all worse. Romney, clueless as ever, argued: "It's disgraceful that the Obama Administration's first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks." What he means is that the government should stand up in solidarity with every bigot identified as American because failure to do so could be construed as "apologizing for America," and the World's Greatest Nation should never apologize for anything.
Further Update (Sept. 15): Two items from Washington Monthly's Lunch Buffet:
It's easy to see how such great minds can get confused. The nominal purpose of America's "Oil Wars" -- the long string of US operations in the Middle East (and Afghanistan) since Carter declared the oil in and around the Persian Gulf a "national interest" in 1979 -- has always been to help our good Muslims against those bad Muslims (the definitions sometimes changing, e.g., in Afghanistan), so the US has always had to be careful not to make offense against Islam. But it's always been easier to sell those wars to the American people with a dollop of racial and religious bigotry -- you could even call it "Crusader zeal" -- and as the wars have unfolded, most of what you actually see is Americans killing Muslims, the "good" inevitably mixed in with the "bad" -- and this results in a polarization that undermines the original premise. For someone like Bachmann, the enemy winds up being all of Islam. Romney is more of a neocon, so he has to keep the notion that we're helping "good Muslims" in play, even though he doesn't always remember that before he speaks.
Saturday, February 4. 2012
The news has been overrun with stories about the grave threat of Iran's nuclear program, or at least the grave threat of Israel's well publicized desire to pre-emptively bomb sites in Iran on the theory that doing so would slow Iran's development program down. Israel's treat has some credibility give that Israel launched similar bombing runs on nuclear power sites in Iraq and Syria, but those sites were smaller and closer, and Israel's plans weren't anywhere near as broadly advertised. Iran's sites are numerous, widely scattered, many in deep underground bunkers, presumably defended with anti-aircraft weapons.
It's not clear that Israel has the capability of launching an effective attack. Israel's case for attacking is uncritically examined in a long article by Ronen Bergman in The New York Times, Will Israel Attack Iran? Indeed, one thing that is clear from the article is that Israel is already attacking Iran. Israel has long backed anti-Iranian terror groups like the MEK. Israel has reportedly launched cyberattacks against Iran. And Israel has already managed to assassinate a number of Iranian scientists. Israel has been successful at goading the US and Europe into adopting crippling economic sanctions against Iran, and many of these have been adopted explicitly in hopes that by appeasing Israel they will forestall even larger and more deadly acts of war.
Tony Karon explains how this works:
Not to put too fine a point on it, but Israel's strategy is nuts. For starters, they assume that a nuclear-armed Iran would behave differently from every other state that has nuclear arms: namely, that it would use those weapons, perhaps even clandestinely, to preëmptively destroy another state. All other states keep their weapons in reserve to deter an attack through the threat of retaliation and mutual destruction. The US is a partial exception to this: during its monopoly period the US became the first and last nation to ever drop atomic bombs on an enemy. Since then, some US officials have threatened to use nuclear weapons on enemies with no nuclear weapons, as in Korea and Vietnam, but there were never any concrete operations to do so. The US did perpetrate the only instance of "nuclear blackmail" when Kennedy threatened the Soviet Union over Cuba, and Nixon later bluffed an attack on Russia -- something he dubbed his "madman theory." Even now, when US presidents like Bush and Obama boast of keeping "all options on the table," the world is well aware that one of those options is nuclear.
Israel's fear of annihilation has deep psychological roots, most specifically in the Holocaust, but that paranoia also depends on the assumed identity between the Jewish people and the Israeli state -- an assumption that many who are troubled by the latter do not share. For Israel to see a potentially nuclear-armed Iran as an existential threat requires a whole chain of assumptions that are more or less dubious: that Iran would develop nuclear weapons expressly to attack Israel, and that Iran would be indifferent to nuclear retalliation by Israel. It would be far simpler, and far more logical, to think that Iran's sole interest in nuclear weapons would be to deter attack from hostile neighbors -- as, for instance, the examples of India and Pakistan show, or for that matter as was the case with Israel's own program. (I cautiously use the past tense here, as Israel too brags about keeping "all options on the table"; Israel's options include nuclear weapons, and indeed it's hard to see how Israel could manage to destroy Iran's bunkers without using nuclear weapons -- so to a large extent, Israel's perception of an Iranian nuclear threat is a reflection of Israel's own willingness to use nuclear weapons against Iran.)
One of the big points in the Bergman article is this idea that Ehud Barak has that there is only a limited time window in which Israel can act to stop Iran (presumably with acceptable consequences for Israel, if not necessarily for its allies), and beyond that window Iran will be immune from Israeli threats. That sounds like a very big incentive for Iran to push ahead: in essence, Israel is saying that as long as Iran doesn't have nuclear weapons Israel will feel free to attack it, but once Iran has nuclear weapons, Israel will have to treat Iran with more respect.
But stop for a moment and think what this means. Israel likes to be able to bully its neighbors. If Israel's security honchos think that Syria is doing something it doesn't like, Israel just swoops over and bombs it -- no questions asked, no risk. Syria doesn't dare strike back against Israel. And when Syria complains to the UN, the US is there to veto any resolution. Same with Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Iraq, you name it: Israel can act with impunity, because no one else can stand up to it. But a nuclear-armed Iran would cramp their style, forcing them to think twice before blowing something up or killing a scientist or political figure or whatever.
Another thing that's nuts about Israel's ploy: why should the world be willing to support, or humor, or appease, Israel's desire to do something insane? When Sarkozy, for instance, came out in support of sanctions, he sounded like Chamberlain in Munich, reluctantly doing so only to buy "peace for our time" -- the clear implication there was that the threat to peace he was appeasing was Israel, not Iran. The fact is that Israel has behaved criminally ever since its founding, when its first move was to overrun the UN partition boundaries to seize Jerusalem, and when the UN sent a mediator in Israelis promptly killed him. Israel then drove over 700,000 Palestinians into exile, stripped them of their citizenship and confiscated their property, in violation of UN resolutions. From 1949-67 Israel repeatedly violated the armistice borders, and in 1967 they more than doubled their territory, again ignoring UN resolutions to return the land in exchange for peace treaties. Instead, they set up hundreds of illegal settlements and outposts while stripping the occupied population of all rights. They promoted a civil war in Lebanon, and occupied the country for 18 years, then six years later came back and bombed it again, just out of spite. They've sent agents out into dozens of countries to commit murder. They've committed "false flag" acts of terrorism like the Lavon bombings of British offices in Egypt. They've developed nuclear weapons. And as Gershom Gorenberg shows in his recent book, The Unmaking of Israel, Israel's contempt for law has lapped over into their daily life.
The nations of the world should be working to rein in Israel's insanity -- not flattering it, or catering to it. One might, for instance, couple sanctions against Iran with a promise that the same (or stiffer) sanctions will be applied against Israel if the latter attacks Iran, or if Israel doesn't desist from activities to sabotage and destabilize Iran. (As the Bergman article explains, Israel's endgame viz. Iran is "regime change" -- how they would do this, let alone why the Iranian people would acquiesce in yet another foreign country picking its leaders, isn't explained at all plausibly.) One might, after all, reasonably suspect that Iran's desire to obtain nuclear weapons is conditioned by fear of attack by a nuclear-armed adversary like Israel (or, for that matter, the US). Since sanctions are seen as a route toward some sort of negotiated agreement with Iran, wouldn't they be even more effective if combined with an effort to make Iran more secure, as opposed to threats which only make nuclear weapons seem more desirable?
All this assumes that the charge that Iran desires to build a nuclear arsenal is correct, and not just a hallucination conjured from the paranoid psyches of Israel's security establishment. There is in fact much reason to doubt this. Iran is a member of the NPT, and as such has officially forsworn nuclear weapons development, and everything verified about Iran's nuclear power program conforms to NPT strictures. Iran's Ayatollah Khamenei has declared nuclear weapons to be inimical to Islam -- an unequivocal statement which will be awkward, to say the least, to amend in the future. Iran's desire to build nuclear power plants isn't unreasonable (although, given the inherent risks of nuclear power may not be wise -- the US continues to promote nuclear power plants around the world but there haven't been any concrete efforts to build new ones here in a couple decades). And Iran's long isolation from world trade -- part its own fault and part not -- has made it all the more critical to Iran to be self-sufficient. (Iran has already gone through the experience of inheriting an Air Force full of American F-15s that it is unable to buy parts for. The Bushehr reactor, started under the Shah, has long been at the mercy of foreign suppliers. On the other hand, one suspects that much of the opposition from France, Germany, and Russia is fear that Iran will succeed and wind up competing for sales of nuclear technology.) Moreover, history has shown that nuclear weapons are expensive and useless; however, having the materials, technology, and expertise may be enough to deter foreign attack. As Karon points out, a number of nations have "threshold capacity" -- everything they need to build a bomb but no finished bombs (he cites "Japan, Brazil, Argentina and others"). There is also a fair amount of ego at stake for Iran: they want to be seen as an advanced nation, one credential for which is mastery of nuclear technology.
Unless you think that Iran's leaders enjoy some death wish where the path to heaven passes through Jerusalem -- a strange perversion of Mohammed's "midnight flight" -- it's hard to think of any reason Iran would want nuclear weapons other than to put an end to Israel's persistent goading. Israel has been predicting that Iran will develop nuclear weapons in 3-5 years ever since 1995. The only thing different now is that they've finally shortened the time frame -- which oddly makes one think they must know something even though they have a two decade track record of knowing nothing.
I've made vague reference to "the world" above, which may or may not include the US, but I'm thinking more of Europe, Russia, China, Japan, and a few others -- India and Brazil especially hate to be excluded. The World doesn't have a lot of commitment one way or the other, but generally dislikes nuclear proliferation -- even if the risk is small, who wants more? -- and worries about an oil price spike, which is likely to happen if Iran's oil is taken off the world market, and certain if oil stops flowing through the Straits of Hormuz -- the main place where Iran's military could fight back (where, in effect, Iran could apply economic sanctions on the rest of the world, not that it would be so neat). (You'd also like to think that the World would put a high value on peace and justice, but their focus on Iran and not Israel here isn't encouraging.) World interests need to find a way to mediate the crisis, but for the most part they've assumed their risks are so minimal that they've just let Israel and the US steer their options.
The US is part of the World, but is also very peculiar -- at least where Israel is concerned. The US should share the World's concerns, and even more acutely. The US economy is exceptionally sensitive to oil price spikes, partly because oil is such a large part of the US trade deficit, partly because the US has kept gas taxes low so price spikes are relatively large. And the US has extensive business interests, not to mention troops, all around Iran, so if war broke out the US would feel the destruction as much as any country other than Iran. But even as Obama has backed out of the war in Iraq and is starting to back away from Afghanistan, his administration has turned aggressively against Iran. The reason is plainly that for domestic political reasons Obama has lost his command of US foreign policy toward Iran: he has subcontracted it out to Israel. (Of course, we should have recognized this the moment Obama appointed long-time Israel flack Dennis Ross as his "Iran advisor.")
There are lots of ways to understand why this worked out this way, but one as good as any is explained by David Bromwich in a review of Newt Gingrich's campaign tome (To Save America: Stopping Obama's Secular-Socialist Machine), a piece called The Republican Nightmare.
You can see how this works: Obama's basic sense of strategy is to take whatever the Republicans say as his normative guideline, then dial it back 10-15% toward sanity, confident that that's all the difference he needs to promise to keep his base and enough of the middle. This approach is bad enough on issues where the parties differ only in degree, but 85% of totally fucking nuts is way too far gone. Presidents normally have a lot of leeway in foreign policy, but here the AIPAC-whipped Congress insists on tying Obama's hands, preventing his administration from even talking to anyone in Iran, lest they figure out how to derail imminent war.
The funny thing is this is a situation that could be resolved if only both sides took some responsibility. All sanctions against Iran should be dropped as long as Iran's program is open to and approved by NPT inspectors. This means that Iran can have its nuclear power industry, including its own enrichment facilities, but cannot divert fuel for weapons development. On the other hand, Israel, the US, and any other party will be prohibited from any efforts to sabotage or destabilize Iran or to influence Iranian politics, under threat of severe sanctions. In effect, the World would guarantee that Iran cannot be be attacked or threatened, as has been the case almost constantly since the Shah was deposed in 1979. In turn, Iran would ensure that the Straits of Hormuz will remain open to shipping, and Iran would agree not to interfere in other nations except as agreed by those nations. This would also be a good time to solve the issue of Hezbollah in Lebanon: if Israel would return its last sliver of Lebanese soil and the several thousand Lebanese it has kept jailed since 2000, and agree not to ever attack Lebanon again or interfere in Lebanon's politics, Iran would agree to stop shipping arms to Hezbollah, and Hezbollah would in time disband its militia. (I don't see a need for them to do so until they can trust that Israel would keep up its end of the bargain. Iranian support of Hamas is another issue, but doesn't really amount to much. It would, of course, be good to resolve that too, that that is a much thornier problem from the Israeli side.) As these agreement go into place, the US would open diplomatic and commercial relations with Iran. In particular, Iran could (if it wishes) draw on US expertise to improve the safety and reliability of its nuclear power plants, since it's in everyone's interest that the damn things not blow up or melt down.
This is hardly utopian: pretty much everything I just described was offered for negotiation by Iran a decade ago, when Iran had a relatively reformist prime minister and proved helpful in getting international agreement on how to run Afghanistan. Bush not only rebuffed such efforts, he assigned Iran to his "axis of evil" -- a phrase that came out of the efforts of Israel-worshipping neocons who saw invading Iraq as a stepping stone to toppling Iran (they liked to say, "anyone can go to Baghdad; real men go to Tehran"). Obama was in large part elected because the American people was sick and tired of Bush's warmongering and the quagmires it led to, but since taking office he has never been able to muster the guts to face down the forces of militarism (of which the Israel lobby looms large). The Republican hawks are giving him another chance to campaign against senseless, fruitless wars. Maybe at last he can find himself, if only he doesn't embarrass himself too badly in the meantime.
Thursday, May 26. 2011
Chernus also has some useful paragraphs on why most Israelis prefer to keep the conflict unresolved -- the common enemy unites the Jewish people, and patriotic unity (militaristic and racist as it is) is the sole grounds for keeping a right-wing government in power, although the nominal left in Israel is every bit as desperate to cling to that sense of unity. What Chernus doesn't say is how much depends on the conflict and its resolution.
The core fact is that Israel is the last unresolved white settler colony. In all previous cases, white settler colonies succeeded or failed based on demographics. Basically, where the white settlers had the numbers they won (US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, many parts of Latin America from Argentina and Chile to Cuba although some parts were eased with integration, where the natives submitted to the colonizer's religion). Where they didn't, they lost (South Africa and Algeria were the closest and hardest fought). Israel is smack in the middle on that scale, a point Israel's founders were all too conscious of. From the early days of British sponsorship, they grasped that success or failure depended on how many Jews they could convince to immigrate, and how many Palestinians they could get to leave. After WWII nearly everyone came to think that seizing land by force, transplanting your settlers to secure that land, and building an occupier/occupied caste system were crimes of a bygone age, but that's what Israelis did -- most emphatically but by no means exclusively in 1947-49 -- and their entire history has been spent in securing those gains, in making them irreversible even as more and more people see them as unjust and unnecessary.
Unfortunately, the lessons we learned from WWII weren't learned as quickly or as completely as we tend to remember them. The Nazis fatally discredited racism and anti-Semitism, but the US Jim Crow system remained intact another twenty years, South African Apartheid much longer, and in 1946 there were anti-Jewish pogroms in Poland. The rules against moving settlers into occupied territory came in reaction to Germany moving its nationals into eastern Europe, but the Soviet Union both moved borders and whole peoples after the war, sliding Poland well to the west, and ejecting both the new Germans and ones that had lived in the east for many centuries. WWII fatally disrupted the colonial system, but France and Great Britain clung to parts of their prewar empires for another twenty years, fighting especially hard to support their white minorities in Algeria and Kenya. Britain callously split its India colony into two camps, instigating genocidal slaughter that killed over a million and sent many more millions fleeing across new borders -- less than a year before Britain callously abanoned Palestine to civil war. And of course the founders of Israel were shocked and reacting to the Nazi genocide of six million Jews, an event that they viewed as proof of the necessity of the Zionist project -- proof that anti-Semitism was eternal, proof that they had no home in Europe they could return to, a prism which inflated the Arab resistence they faced locally to existential peril.
So it's easy to understand how this came about, and why so many Israelis cling to deep-seated myths of diminishing utility. For sixty years they've kept up the fight, motivating themselves with lessons from their victimhood and a neverending litany of wrongs against them. The Palestinians were a bit slow on the uptake at first, although even in the 1930s many could see the same fateful struggle over demography: a fear that proved more than justified, although it came at the most unfortunate of times, just as Hitler was organizing his genocide. The Palestinians went through every stage of resistance, from thinking they could take back their land to thinking they could throw off their occupiers to negotiation to abjectly pleading to the world for the basic dignity of human and civil rights. They are, in short, a beaten people, yet even that doesn't quiet the Israelis, for by their very success they've impaled themselves on the horns of a dilemma: they still want all of the land, and they still want none of the people on that land, and nothing less will satisfy their sense of themselves as the victors, or fully justify their long and bloody struggle.
For anyone with a modicum of rationality, there are two easy solutions at this point: Israel can keep the land and adopt the people, giving them citizenship and diluting the Jewish majority, threatening their sense of owning a Jewish State; or Israel can divide the land, giving up control over the parts that are mostly non-Jewish so that Palestinians can enjoy citizenship and rights in a state that is not Israel. One problem with the latter is that Israel has deliberately created a gulag of settlements in the West Bank that are virtually impossible to disentangle. Another is that Israeli have overwhelmed East Jerusalem, which Palestinians insist should be the capitol of their free nation. Another is what to do about millions of Palestinian refugees, especially those born and raised in countries like Lebanon that do not recognize their citizenship. And there are lots of smaller problems, some real like the vast number of Palestinians held in Israeli jails, most rather silly (like the security concerns of Israelis who insist that a Palestinian state have no rights to its own air space or coastal waters). But all of those things could be negotiated if both sides were to show mutual respect and a desire to give up the struggle and live in each other's company.
It wasn't always like this, but more and more it's just the Israelis who are obstructing peace. The Palestinians, as I've said, have been utterly defeated, but whereas in earlier times that may have meant they would slaughtered, sold into slavery, and/or forced into exile, today they can still insist on the right to be treated like anyone else. More and more, Israel's failure to recognize this is turning them into an international pariah, much like happened to South Africa during the last days of Apartheid. But this far Israel has escaped the practical consequences of their obtuseness because they've been able to bully and cajole the US into providing them with moral cover (and billions of dollars). The US has gone along for lots of not very good reasons, from the fact that we used to be a white settler colony ourselves to the various interest groups, like the military-industrial complex, that benefit from friendship with Israel, to AIPAC, to Israel's bizarre cultivation of born again Christians (especially those pining for the apocalypse). On the other hand, that support has its downsides, not least the utter moral confusion of having to exempt Israel (and therefore the Palestinians) from everything we say about the rest of the world.
So watching Obama flounder here is doubly unfortunate. On the one hand, he is isn't saying what needs to be said: something that finally shakes Israel out of its stupor. On the other hand, what he is saying isn't taken seriously, because he doesn't have the authority and political clout to back it up. I've long understood how intransigent Israel's politicians are on this issue, in large part because I appreciate how central it is to their identity, but I've also long suspected that Israeli public opinion is more flexible. The one time an American president actually showed his displeasure with Israeli intransigence the Israelis voted Shamir out and Rabin in, leading to the Oslo Accords. So what I've been waiting for ever since Obama took office was the sort of signals that would undermine Netanyahu's extremely fragile coalition. Just as Netanyahu successfully sabotaged Oslo, there has never been any doubt that he would keep any new peace initiatives from taking effect -- as indeed he has. But his command of Israel has always been very tentative; nudge him out of office and the climate could change markedly. But as long as Netanyahu can push Obama around, this is certainly the lesson of last week, why should Israelis doubt him? They are relatively comfortable with the persistence of a conflict which costs them very little and makes them feel like God's Chosen People. And as long as the US kowtows to them, they pretty much are, despite the fact that what they are doing is offensive to everyone else -- most of all to people who realize that we'd be much better off with more mutual respect and a lot less violence.
Wednesday, January 26. 2011
Several War in Context links on "the Palestine papers" -- a mass of documents leaked to Al Jazeera. Even more so than Wikileaks these leaks are proving embarrassing to all parties, most pointedly to Palestinian Authority officials like Saeb Erekat who have been desperately and futilely trying to figure out how much surrender it takes to appease an Israeli government that would much rather fight than switch. None of this is news to people who have been paying attention, but most haven't, and may be in for some shocks. Of course, those content with the status quo have already started blaming the leaks for making their lives more difficult, but as Paul Woodward explains, "you can't slow down a stationary peace process."
Many more links are embedded in these pieces, with much of the best analysis at Al Jazeera itself, partly because they've sought out world class experts; e.g.:
I haven't spent anywhere near enough time to sort all this out, and doubt that I will. But I'm glad to see these details emerging into public light.
Saturday, January 1. 2011
Laura Tillem: What do you do/if you are a Jew: Laura wrote this for a Wichita Peace Center event held in September at Poetic Justice, a local cafe that features poetry slam events. Seemed like a good opportunity to roll up and reiterate a set of points she's been making for years. Rhymes too. Also seemed like a good fit for the Mondo Awards, where the poem is entry 29.
I haven't had much to say about Israel recently. The evils of its current government and indeed of the whole culture that lets them rule have become so commonplace it's become tiresome to keep pointing them out. For just a taste, consider these headlines from War in Context:
Not sure who said this, but someone referred to the racist rabbis in Israel as the "auto-defamation league" -- a label that applies to more and more Israeli politicians. It's possible to trace the Zionist movement's fascination with ethnic cleansing -- their term, borrowed from the British, was "transfer" -- back to the 1930s, but Israel's leaders were usually careful to wrap up their intents with loftier prose, which helped Israel's liberal sympathizers and supporters do their best to keep American public opinion in line. But recently, headlines such as those above have started to erode deep-seated trust and commitment. Two pieces point this out: America's leading liberal Zionists are losing faith in Israel, and the typically snarky Israeli riposte: New York Times sick of Israel.
Also of note:
That's just one source among many -- too many to monitor let alone act on. So, indeed, what do you do?
Friday, August 13. 2010
One has to wonder why right now there is so much loose talk going around about the urgent need to preemptively attack Iran in hopes of halting or significantly delaying their nuclear program. The US war in Iraq is clearly winding down, with US forces withdrawing to their luxury bases and forces being moved out of country. Afghanistan is in worse shape, but Obama is certainly hoping for a similar result there: the key, as in Iraq, is to tone down the conflict, to improve security and improve the functionality of the Karzai government. On the other hand, Israel's real problem is the international backlash against the occupation, especially the cruel siege on Gaza. Meanwhile, Iran has been locked in its own internal political crisis, doing pretty much nothing else. So why all the war hysteria over Iran?
The centerpiece is Jeffrey Goldberg's broadside in The Atlantic, titled The Point of No Return, or as it's touted on the magazine's front cover: "Israel Is Getting Ready to Bomb Iran: How, Why- and What It Means." Some reactions: Glenn Greenwald discusses "how propagandists function," pointing out how Goldberg himself has changed his story according to whatever line he wants to push. Stephen Walt points out that the main thing Goldberg is doing is getting us accustomed to talking about war; he calls this "mainstreaming war with Iran." Paul Woodward focuses on the gamesmanship between Israel and the US here: the Israelis are saying that if you don't do it they will try, but it's really beyond their capabilities to do it right, so if the US wants to save Israel from fucking it up, better for the Americans to throw their greater firepower at it. Tony Karon explores the question, "Why do people talk to Jeffrey Goldberg?". Gary Sick pooh-poohs the entire proposition, mostly by looking at Iranian reality.
Then there's Trita Parsi: A campaign for war with Iran begins, which adds much more than reaction to the debate. In particular:
A big part of the problem with Israel and/or the US bombing Iran is that doing so will almost certainly make the problem worse in the future. A show of force would only harden opinion against Israel and the US, and redouble Iran's efforts to develop better defenses and a deterrent against future attacks. So what would reduce or end the threat? The very thing that Obama's election promised, the one thing that Livni was so emphatic about preventing: diplomatic talks. The only possible conclusion is that Israel is against what might work and in favor of what surely will not. Such disinterest in solving the problem makes one wonder whether Israel even considers Iranian nukes to be a real problem.
Indeed, this is hinted at by quotes in Goldberg's article; e.g., where Ehud Barak admits that the problem he sees is demographic: that Jews would be less likely to immigrate to Israel, and more likely to emigrate from. Of course, a much more sensible answer would be for Israel to agree to one of many reasonable solutions to the Palestinian conflict, which would let the hot air out of anti-Israeli passions and reduce Israel to being a normal state. But that's the problem they really don't want to solve.
PS: This has been heating up for a while. Back in July Steven Simon and Ray Takeyh published an op-ed, characterized by Tony Karon as "a how-to-bomb Iran manual, adding that "The idea that you can bomb a country and then 'make sure the confrontation does not escalate out of control' is, quite simply, bizarre." Of course, people need reassurances to keep from thinking these things through -- like, for instance, how Bush's 2003 invasion of Iraq would cost no more than $20 billion and how its reconstruction would be "self-financed."
Karon starts his piece off with a photo of Iraq War-enabler Peter Beinart chatting with Hillary Clinton, and titles his piece "On Iran, Liberals Are Enabling Another Disastrous War." Glenn Greenwald has a follow-up today which starts off with Goldberg's own track record of promoting war with Iraq: his piece is called "Does the past record of jouralists matter?" -- he's responding to James Fallows defending Goldberg's "journalism." The one interesting thing about Fallows's post is the paragraph summing up a 2004 piece on the same recurrent threat:
Fallows goes on to quote Goldberg doubting that bombing Iran would do any good (and then waffling), a neat little bit of deniability in case it all blows up. Does make me wonder why we even stop to take such fantasies seriously, but Greenwald has an answer:
I have to admit I share that frustration, but the core reason is certainly simpler. Any time Israel needs to deflect attention from its own deeds and wants to bolster support from Washington, it drums up its bogeyman, which has been Iran since the fall of Iraq and the Soviet Union. So, Israel taps its usual mouthpieces, like Jeffery Goldberg. That he was wrong on Iraq in 2003 is your opinion; as far as his employers are concerned, his record is spotless, because he's always said what he was supposed to say.
Sunday, July 18. 2010
Paul Woodward: A one-state solution from the Israeli right: Every now and then someone from the Israeli right admits a willingness to grant Israeli citizenship to a lot more Palestinians in order to secure the entire West Bank as permanent Israeli territory. (What happens to Gaza is never made clear, but it is already viewed as a wasteland, so presumably would be sloughed off.) All sorts of bad things could be rolled into such a "solution": the return of any Palestinian refugees would be ruled out; even with "citizenship" much of the West Bank could remain under military rule for decades (as happened within the Green Line from 1948-67), curtailing the legal rights of "citizenship"; social and economic discrimination is likely to persist indefinitely; moreover, the right is likely to use the influx of Palestinian "citizens" as an excuse to chip away at the rights that "Palestinian citizens of Israel" already have. Gaza would be orphaned, perhaps still under siege, subject to controls and periodic mass punishment. Lebanon and Syria would still be viewed as hostile states, with Israel holding the Golan Heights and continuing to hold large numbers of Lebanese prisoners while Israel seeks to back Hezbollah down by threatening the whole country. In short, a right-wing "one state solution" is likely to look a lot like the status quo.
This raises a real question. Anyone can think of lots of ways to sort out the conflict, but the only way that is going to happen is one that Israel itself decides upon -- i.e., a settlement that that not only favors Israel over the Palestinians but that indulges Israeli fears and fantasies. So the question is: what's the worst possible settlement that both sides are likely to accept? It's a tough question, mostly because Israel's politicos and security honchos don't really want any solution -- they're quite happy to fight on indefinitely, and in any case would be hard pressed to agree on just what they are fighting for. But it's also tough for the Palestinians, who on the one hand have already conceded an awful lot, and on the other are basing their claims on justice, which sets some minimal standards for what they can accept.
I've made several sketches of how this can be resolved, and they've all been unwelcome. For instance, knowing that Jerusalem is a particularly emotional issue for most Israelis, I outlined a scheme whereby Israel could legitimately annex Jerusalem, leaving Gaza and the rest of the West Bank for an independent Palestinian state. (The key here would be for the Palestinians in East Jerusalem to ratify the annexation, which would only happen if Israel assumed its best behavior toward them -- a win-win scenario as far as I'm concerned, although before any such thing happened you'd hear a lot about "the third holiest city in Islam" and all that.)
As I was reading Kai Bird's Crossing Mandelbaum Gate: Coming of Age Between the Arabs and Israelis, 1956-1978, I flashed on another even more indulgent scheme. Bird makes a big point about how the conflict would have been reduced had the Palestinians succeeded in deposing King Hussein and turning Jordan into the Palestinian state -- he sees this as a major missed opportunity, given that before 1967 and even after Jordan had a Palestinian majority and that the Hashemite monarchy was nothing more than a British invention later subsidized by the CIA. Lots of prominent Israelis had toyed with the Jordan = New Palestine idea, although they usually wanted it both ways -- a nominal Palestinian state still ruled by trusty old King Hussein. But one reason they never went through with this scheme is that deep down Israel can't abide the existence of a Palestinian state: any such state would memorialize the original sin of Israel's creation. So how about this: Israel turns Gaza over to Egypt as an UN mandate; Egypt assumes responsibility for security and holds the international pursestrings to rebuild Gaza, but otherwise allows Gaza to be run as an autonomous UN-certified democracy; Gaza would in the future (say, ten years) have the option of an independence referendum, but in the meantime Egypt also offers Gazans (including Palestinian refugees) citizenship, freedom to resettle in Egypt, and all such rights as Egyptian citizens have (such as they are). Egypt isn't obligated to become more democratic, although that would be a welcome direction. This way Israel relinquishes its occupation without establishing a Palestinian state. Same thing with Jordan and the West Bank, although it's less clear where Israel draws the borderline -- what is clear is that it will be Israel drawing the border -- perhaps along its notorious "security fence."
So would that be acceptable? Israel would gain a small amount of critical territory, and would get rid of a large number of Palestinians. The resulting Israel could be more equitable and less beligerent, or not. Israel wouldn't be assured of immediate recognition as with the Saudi/Arab League Green Line proposal, but would be in a better position to work those out. Israel already has working security relationships with both Egypt and Jordan, and Egypt has a proven track record of helping Israel to pen up Gaza. One would have to insist that any Palestinians living on land that Israel kept be given full and meaningful citizenship rights. Also that the refugees be given compensation, since they are otherwise screwed -- not that they aren't now anyway. Maybe you could insist on some protocols for dealing with border incidents and acts of terrorism -- which must, by the way, include Israel's assassination networks. Something should be done about Lebanon and Syria. The former is easily resolved by returning Shaba Farms and the Lebanese prisoners Israel holds hostage; the latter involves a more substantial piece of real estate and its watershed. (Perhaps the answer there is for Israel to purchase most of the land and water; Syria would obtain a lot of badly needed cash and get off of America's shit list.)
Or maybe Israel's right insists on keeping all of the West Bank, in which case an acceptable deal would have to safeguard Palestinian rights within a democratic Israel. This is tougher because it gets deeper into Israel's knitting, but there has to be some quid pro quo to get everyone to agree that we have a solution, and that international recognition -- basically the removal of Israel's pariah state stain -- is what Israel stands to gain. For instance, with the Palestinians satisfied, the conflict with Iran -- its alleged nuclear threat, the thing that Israel is supposedly so dreadfully worried over -- goes away.
I can't pretend that these proposals are any better than lots of other proposals. Were I a Zionist, I'm pretty sure that I'd think that the Arab League two-state proposal would be a damn good deal: in particular, there's no need to quibble and no chance of ill feelings if you simply accept the other side's offer. It would allow Israel to go right on being the paranoid racist state it has become yet would extricate itself from a state of perpetual debilitating conflict. Not being a Zionist, and being committed to justice, I'm inclined to be more generous: I'd prefer a secular, multicultural state providing generous support for resettling as many refugees as want to return. And if I were an Arab, I'd support a Law of Return, which inside Israel is a symbol of national discrimination, but outside of Israel undercuts the logic and imputed necessity of an exclusive Jewish national homeland. But the fact is I'd settle for almost anything that reduces conflict and allows all parties to live with respect and dignity.
The best solutions are based on things that at least in principle we can all agree on: equality, human rights, dignity, freedom. The more you carve out special exceptions to universal rights, the more trouble you cause, the more people you leave behind, the more resentment builds. Agreements may be dictated by relative power, but effective agreements are built on mutual respect. If Israel wanted to solve its conflict it would take pains to make its offer as generous as possible, to bind in as much consensus as possible. That hasn't happened for reasons deeply embedded in its national psyche -- Israel has trained itself to trust only its own power, so it sees any compromise as debilitating, and therefore they never offer any solution. Still, everyone else in the world needs to see this conflict come to some sort of resolution. (The Palestinians have offered all kinds of proposals, adjusting them as they grow weary and find force to be useless, but they are never deemed acceptable because they refuse to compromise on the basic issue of dignity; they are left with the one thing Israel cannot take from them, the ability to refuse surrender.) So we're left here, mulling over not just solutions that would do right but all sorts of hackneyed notions that while distasteful might ultimately be considered not so intolerable.
Israel's right has successfully managed to derail the common "two-state solution" that Americans (including Clinton, Obama, and even Bush) fancy, so when they do float a conceivable idea -- anything involving full citizen rights is at least conceivably workable -- it's worth taking seriously, probably not as a coherent proposal but at least as opening a door that until now has remained rigidly shut.
Paul Woodward: One state/two states: rethinking Israel and Palestine: Another vector moving in this same direction, quoting Abu-Zayda on his thinking why the "two states" dogma has become counterproductive. One irony is that it was only a year or two ago when Alan Dershowitz declared that any talk about "one state" should axiomatically be discarded as a non-starter; now we find several scattered instances of people arguing the exact opposite: that "two state" talk is nothing more than a formula for extending the conflict endlessly. (Which, by the way, does seem to be Dershowitz's agenda.)
I've collected a good selection of quotes from Kai Bird's Crossing Mandelbaum Gate: Coming of Age Between the Arabs and Israelis, 1956-1978 (2010, Scribners) on the book page. It's a rather idiosyncratic book in several respects: the personal interest breaks with the usual sense of balance, although the final third synthesizes balance in a rather unique way; the time frame essentially ignores the last 30 years -- the wars in Lebanon, the Intifada, the Oslo Accords, Ariel Sharon -- which by now is most of what you know about the conflict. (The PFLP hijackings in the 1970s are prominently featured in the book, but compared to the suicide bombings of the Al-Aqsa Intifada seem almost quaint.) On the other hand one tends to forget how tenaciously belligerent Ben-Gurion was, or how poorly King Hussein served the Palestinian cause that he occasionally gave lip service to. Even in working in his wife's family's holocaust stories, Bird sticks with the particulars and avoids generalizations.
Friday, June 18. 2010
Paul Woodward: 100,000 ultra-Orthodox Jews rally in Jerusalem in support of segregation: Israel takes umbrage when accused of practicing Apartheid, but this story doesn't have anything to do with separation from Arabs -- that's a "fact on the ground" especially in the settlements -- or maintaining separate schools for boys and girls, which seems to be settled practice at least for the ultra-Orthodox. The desire here is to spare Ashkenazi Jews from having to study alongside Sephardi Jews. This is a social prejudice that has existed since the early days of Independence as Ben-Gurion organized Sephardic immigration as a way of bolstering the Jewish majority. (Sandy Tolan's The Lemon Tree has a bit on this.) Still, I would have expected the effect to lessen over time as Israel turned into a "melting pot" (for Jews, anyway), so this story comes as a shock. What I think this shows is that once you build a nation based on one group's superiority and prerogatives over others, you set up a pattern that reproduces that prejudice fractally. Here we see the conflict eating up the masters as well as the slaves. One more data point that shows how far Israeli have regressed from the egalitarian beliefs of the diaspora.
Wednesday, June 16. 2010
Rich Cohen: Israel: My lost hero: Author of a revealing if somewhat sloppy history not just of Israel but of all of Judaism, Israel Is Real, weighs in on the Gaza Flotilla -- actually, on the occasion of, since nothing more than the timing of the piece has anything to do with Palestinian human rights. What makes the piece noteworthy is the disconnect it shows between American Jews who support Israel and the real Israel they have no grasp of. Consider Cohen's solution:
Where to begin? Israel's 7-mile-wide waist never provoked a conflict, unless you're saying it was a reason Israel expanded the 1967 war to seize the West Bank. In 1948 Jordan respected the UN partition boundaries except for the "international" area around Jerusalem, which Israel was grabbing. Israelis will tell you that while Israel preëmptively attacked Egypt and Syria in 1967, they didn't go after the West Bank until Jordan shot first, but it was a pretty token effort on Jordan's part, like Hussein was waving them in. Only some Israelis ever referred to the 1948 armistice line (the Green Line) as "Auschwitz borders" -- mostly Menachem Begin, who used "Auschwitz" as an all purpose expletive for everything he disapproved of.
But that's just a quibble. There are two much bigger problems in Cohen's proposal. One is that withdrawing your settlers while leaving the IDF in the West Bank wouldn't secure anything. All it does is leave the onus of occupation intact, and therefore begs for armed resistance. We know this because this is exactly what Israel did in southern Lebanon from 1982 to 2000, when Ehud Barak finally realized that sitting around offering themselves as targets in a country that hated them but that they had no special interest in was an utter waste. When Israel leaves the occupied territories, they simply have to let them be. Israel can use diplomacy to press its security concerns, and Israel can threaten to blow the Palestinians to smithereens if they misbehave, but they can't leave a bunch of soldiers behind to go through people's bags and keep them from importing cilantro.
An even bigger problem is that half or more of all Jews in Israel, unlike Cohen and most American Jews, are unwilling to give up their settlements in Samaria and Judea or pretty much any square inch of Jerusalem or the security umbrella they have erected over the several million Palestinians they regard as squatting on their land. (As long as Israel occupies that land, Jews can seize it whenever Palestinians can be nudged aside, or preferably abroad.) Cohen may be as willing to fight for his idea of Israel as Israeli Jews are for theirs, but the difference between Little Israel and Big Israel is huge: it is literally the difference between peace now and conflict forever, because Big Israel is stuck with all those pesky Palestinians, who can't be absorbed by the Jewish State because they aren't Jewish, where all Little Israel has to do is to accept a deal that's already on the table and bring their people back home.
Moreover, the disconnect is not just about land. It's about the value of peace. American Jews live in peace, in a land of great wealth and opportunity and few hardships, so they put a high value on peace. Israeli Jews live in perpetual war, but they've convinced themselves that it's not only the natural state of being a Jew, they think the conflict has made them stronger and more virtuous: in other words, they thrive on war; conflict is what brings them together and makes them great, and now you want them to give that up, to give up their dominance, their superiority, and the land that God gave them, the land that they won with their blood, for what? For peace?
Of course, not every Jew in Israel is so in love with the conflict or with the land. Some would be happy to back out of the occupied territories. Some would like to do business with neighboring countries, and some just want as much distance between themselves and the Arabs as possible. Some may be tired of living in a garrison state, and some may be annoyed by the privileges given the Orthodox to maintain unity. A large number of Israelis have already voted with their feet, entering (or returning to) the diaspora where they can live in peace and relative normalcy. The problem is that Israeli Jews who might be inclined to go along with a peace deal have been consistently undercut from two critical sources: the political right, who have found foolproof ways to make demagoguery work, and from America, where this disconnect lets us give Israel unconditional support while pretending Israel's ideals are the same as our own, even though they clearly are not. (Of course, I'm talking about US liberals here, many but by no means all Jewish. US conservatives have their own reasons to love Israel: neocons envy Israeli military prowess, while evangelical Christians are looking forward to Armageddon.)
The problem with Cohen's proposal, and with dozens more or less like it from pro-Israel US liberals, isn't that you can't refine it into something that will work. Lots of things could work -- the big advantage of the 1967 borders proposal is that accepting it bypasses a whole lot of potentially complicating haggling. The problem is that Cohen's proposal, or for that matter anything realistic that gets Palestinians with some patch of land out from under Israel's thumb, cannot bring Israel to the table, because Israel -- especially ruled by Benjamin Netanyahu, but really we've seen the same problem with Olmert, Sharon, Barak, Peres, Rabin, Shamir, Begin, and possibly earlier -- doesn't want peace, certainly not on any terms that acknowledge and respect Palestinian rights.
So Cohen's proposal, like all the others, gets us nothing. Israel can always nitpick, find some distraction, and depend on their supporters not to break ranks. Inside Israel this is business as usual: as Moshe Dayan put it long ago, "the Americans give us arms, money, and advice; we take the arms and money, and ignore the advice." As long as this seems to be working, no force within Israel is going to change what they view as a winning strategy. The one thing that might make a difference would be for Israel's American allies to break ranks, to recognize that the Netanyahu government has betrayed their hopes and ideals, and to insist that the US stop subsidizing Israel's programs of perpetual conflict.
Of course, Israelis might sink into an even deeper, more paranoid funk if the US were to shun Israel's most belligerent and unjust policies, but why should Israel cling to fantasies when the conflict can so easily be resolved. The fact is that Israel has won virtually everything they set out to win. They significantly expanded the UN Partition borders, adding West Galilee, Haifa, and West Jerusalem to what was already a disproportionately large slice of Mandatory Palestine, and they drove into exile most of the native population, ensuring a large Jewish majority. Those 1949-67 borders, along with the permanent existence of the Jewish State, are universally recognized now, and no one seriously expects the refugees and their progeny to repatriate to Israel. The neighboring Arab states that fought Israel in wars from 1948 to 1973 have been tamed and quiescent, and no longer even fantasize of attacking Israel. Some have signed peace treaties with Israel, and the rest have offered to do so once the conflict with the Palestinians has been resolved. The main Palestinian parties -- Fatah and Hamas -- have shifted focus from armed resistance to ordinary politicking, signifying their will to work within a normal political system. There is, in short, no existential threat to Israel, hardly any security threat at all. The settlements are, as intended, a problem, but a little good will can sort them out: some are best dismantled, but the larger ones could be transitioned to Palestine like Hong Kong was to China, far enough into a more benign future that both sides can plan around. And while the refugees can't return to Israel, something needs to be done to move them out of their "temporary" camps and into permanent homes. If Israel was willing, the world would pitch in to help. The conflict began in the wake of WWII and was thrust upon the UN in its early days -- a first and most fateful failure, one the organization, and the world, has never gotten over.
I suppose you could credit Cohen for addressing his proposals to the only people who can do something about it: the Israelis. But I don't see how reiterating their myths and misconceptions, let alone piling on the flattery, helps. The only thing that seems to strike a chord is shame.
Only adding to my analysis above, Paul Woodward reports these testimonies from Israelis:
In a different voice: a letter from Israel: From Ronen Shamir, a professor of sociology and law at Tel Aviv University:
Israel's greatest loss: its moral imagination: Henry Siegman.
Are Israel's battles costing the country its soul? Ehud Eiran, a major in the IDF reserves:
The Iran reference is another instance of appealing to Israelis by conceding their myths. I thought about mentioning Iran among the list of Israel's minor threats, but in the end couldn't take it even that seriously. A nuclear-armed Iran might cramp Israel's style, or more importantly America's style, in that it would caution against such frequent sabre-ratting as Bush's "Axis of Evil" speech and the neocon quips about "real men" looking past Baghdad to Tehran, but both Israel and the US have highly credible nuclear deterrents, and Iran (unlike Saddam Hussein's Iraq) has never shown any military aggressiveness (although they do have a knack for annoying the US and Israel). It is rather more likely that Iran is just looking for its own deterrent against US and/or Israeli attack, and that desire would wane if the threat were to subside.
Friday, June 4. 2010
Paul Woodward: Israel's national psychosis: Long quote from Anshel Pfeffer, writing in Haaretz. Key point:
But then, the Israeli public doesn't see any problem with what Israel does because they've been so trained to obsess on their own hyped up threats. Moreover, this training goes way, way back. The most striking thing about Tom Segev's 1967 is the extreme disjuncture between the cockiness of Israel's military commanders and the dread of Israel's public -- a split that persists even though for decades now the IDF and Mossad have cocked up nearly everything they've attempted, and the threats to the Israeli public are barely more than desperate acts of symbolic defiance. (When you think about it, suicide bombers are a pathetic form of warfare. The rockets that Hezbollah foolishly thought might deter an Israeli attack on Lebanon did even less damage, and the toy rockets fired from Gaza are little more than ploys to remind Israel that there are people locked behind the walls. The number of Israelis killed or injured is infinitesimal, but more importantis that if you look at the chronology you'll find that virtually all attacks on Israel are responses to Israeli attacks on Palestinians and Lebanon, and that during the few periods when there were honest ceasefires there were virtually no such attacks.)
Gal Beckerman: Gaza flotilla fiasco: A Rorschach test for American Jews: One of our local Israeli spokesmen has been circulating this piece, which implies that reaction to the Flotilla event was simply a matter of predeliction:
The author only surveyed the other end of the spectrum as far as J Street, Rabbi Arthur Waskow, and Peter Beinart, but that was far enough to make the point. It is true that people interpret the Flotilla event according to the framework they've already formed, which may hinge on Israel's precarious perch in a region that is deeply hostile to it, or may recognize the massive injustice that Israel's expulsion and occupation have imposed on the Palestinian people. It is also true that your opinion is unlikely to change at this point just because Israel kills some protesters, if only for the pedestrian reason that Israel has been killing off its so-called enemies for decades now -- and increasingly targeting nonviolent protesters.
For more on the spin, see Glenn Greenwald: How Israeli propaganda shaped U.S. media coverage of the flotilla attack.
Matthew Yglesias: Collective Punishment in Gaza: This is the essential background for understanding not what happened with the Flotilla but why the Flotilla was necessary. Quotes Janine Zacharia: "Originally, Israel hoped the closure would put enough pressure on the local economy that Gazans would grow frustrated and oust Hamas." You know, the same strategy the US has used to such fine effect with North Korea, Cuba, and (until we came up with a worse strategy) Iraq, although it should never be forgotten that Israel learned the basics of collective punishment from Britain in the colonial period:
Beinart's piece is called Israel's Indefensible Behavior. Yglesias quotes this little gem from Beinart:
I suppose that's kind of like Kansas farmers wanting to sell surplus wheat to Cuba, but even before the embargo Israeli business interests used Israel's control of Gaza (and the West Bank) for all sorts of corrupt and debilitating schemes. Yglesias merely summarized Beinart's conclusion, but it bears repeating:
I should add that Beinart deserves to use we/us there. He seems to have shifted his views, a rare instance of someone being moved past their predelictions by the growing realization of what Israel has done. Even if most people respond as predicted to the Rorschach test, at least some people see something they hadn't expected, and adjust accordingly.
Lawrence of Cyberia: Putting Names to Faces: Pictures and short bits of information on the nine Flotilla members shot to death by Israeli soldiers. All are Turkish, although Furkan Dogan was born in the US so is an American citizen. You may or may not relate, but it is certain that this is being taken very hard in Turkey, which until very recently had been a treasured ally of Israel.
MJ Rosenberg: Associate Editor of The Jewish Week: Torpedo the Next Flotilla, "Just Sink It": Quotes Jonathan Mark:
Mark goes on: "We might as well take out Iran as take out the flotilla." It must be lovely to live in an imaginary world where you can project all of your frustrations into acts of violence with no care or consequences, even for your immortal soul.
Max Blumenthal: The Flotilla Raid Was Not "Bungled." The IDF Detailed Its Violent Strategy in Advance: Some details about Israel's planning, including:
Nice touch that the leader of Israel's command squad was nicknamed "Cheney." As it turns out, that could just as well have been in honor of Liz Cheney, who had this to say:
Funny thing is I thought he was just parroting Israel's party line. Must be another Rorschach test.
UPDATE: I was all set to post the above on Friday, June 4, when my account was disabled. Of course, given that this was my fourth straight Israel post, my first thought was that I was being muzzled. I finally got the account opened up and rebuilt on Monday, June 7, at which point I was able to post this. Some more things have happened in the interim (not that I've been able to pay much attention). The straggling Irish boat, the MV Rachel Corrie, was also hijacked by Israel's navy, this time without any casualties. I don't feel like doing a fifth Israel post, but recommend the following recent links:
Thursday, June 3. 2010
MJ Rosenberg: Lying About the Gaza Flotilla Disaster: One of the better pieces out, especially about the spin cycle, but also with some background about life, such as it is, in Gaza these days.
Glenn Greenwald: The Israeli flotilla attack: victimhood, aggression and tribalism: More on the spin, especially how effective it has become in the mainstream press and in Washington political circles. Some of it is even breathing down Greenwald's neck:
In one sense I'm not surprised by the ease with which Washington fell into line: the obsession with destroying Hamas has, ever since the elections they won, been primarily an American -- i.e., a Bush and Elliott Abrams -- affair, based on the neocon faith that Hamas is a key target of the Global War on Terror, and on the visceral belief most conservatives have in force. That doesn't explain everyone who snapped to salute the Israeli flag, but it's a big piece of the background: lots of Americans like that Israel used excessive force. That an American is one of the dead won't faze them. They can think of lots of Americans they'd like to see dead.
Joe Conason: Why Israel should have known better: Mostly quotes Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman, blaming Israel's "siege mentality" for the losing grip on reality. There is something to this, but it's mostly the result of the way Netanyahu and Lieberman have locked themselves into a position that makes it impossible to do anything constructive or ameliorating.
Naomi Klein: Blinding the witness: Not related to the Flotilla incident, an American woman attending a protest in the West Bank was shot in the face with a tear gas projectile, putting out her eye. This is one of a long list of cases where Israel has responded violently to peaceful protests, and actually more typical than the Flotilla incident.