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.
Wednesday, June 2. 2010
Jerry Haber: George W Obama and the Israeli Spin Machine in America: Ouch! Lots of people have observed that Obama has maintained an unseemly lot of continuity with the previous administration -- you know, the one he campaigned so hard to "change" -- but this name merger has to hurt. In words and tone, I think it is clear that Obama wanted at least to change course from Bush, but in practice he has utterly failed to do so, and now we even see the words and tone reverting to previous form. He runs the risk of exonerating Bush, not of being the worst president in American history but of having done so of his own free will. If Obama can't change course, maybe Bush too was just a helpless passenger on a deranged ship of state.
In a subsequent post, Haber quotes arch-hawk Moshe Arens as proposing that Israel simply annex "Judea and Samaria" and make the Palestinians living there Israeli citizens. (Presumably this also means occupied Jerusalem and Golan Heights, which have already been annexed, although without any extension of Israeli citizenship, but not Gaza.) Doing so would increase the Muslim minority in Israel to 30 percent, which would still allow a proportional democracy to maintain all the trappings of a Jewish State. It also isn't clear that this would immediately mean equal rights: in 1951 Israel officially granted citizenship to the Palestinians who stayed within its borders, but kept them under military rule until 1967. Nor would it necessarily mean independence for Gaza, but Arens wants no part of it, and keeping it under siege isn't a viable solution to anything.
Arens' solution won't make many Palestinian leaders happy, and as such will most likely extend the conflict but at a much lower level -- whereas an Israeli withdrawal to 1967 borders has been signed off by pretty much everyone significant who's had a beef with Israel: the Arab League, Iran, Hezbollah, Fateh, Hamas. The only source of terrorism left would be Israel's own settlers, which is a big one. I'd try to smooth them over by providing long-term (30-50 year) leasebacks of settlements to Israel, for which Israel would pay increasing rents. But for someone like Arens, holding that ground satisfies the settlers and feels like victory. Moreover, it gives Israel's security forces something to keep doing, and it's not like they really care whether the Arabs or Iran recognize them; what does matter is keeping the US and Europe more/less on their side, and they can likely sell such a solution there.
I'm personally sympathetic to such a deal. I've said all along the necessary solution is that everyone enjoys equal rights in whatever country they live in. A Gaza-only Palestine wouldn't be much of a country, but it would be a big improvement over the last 43 years (or for that matter, much longer). Palestinians in the West Bank and Jerusalem might be better off in their own country, but as a minority within Israel they'd be plugged into a much more affluent economy. Sure, they'd start at the bottom, and the political system would be stacked against them, but both factors would mitigate over time -- probably faster than has been the case within Israel if the conflict is truly defused. It could be done Gaza-first, and might be simpler that way.
One thing that I think should be emphasized is that the present Gaza crisis is the direct result of the US decision not to recognize that Hamas won the last round of Palestinian Authority elections. The US (meaning Bush, or more specifically Elliott Abrams) then lined up Israel and Europe to overturn the elections, including a coup in Gaza which backfired leaving Hamas in sole control on the ground in Gaza (but, alas, not of the airspace or borders). Hamas had won for the simple reason that Fateh had failed ever since Oslo in 1994 to negotiate a final status treaty with Israel, something that was almost entirely Israel's fault. If Israel truly wanted to reduce the influence and popularity of Hamas, they could do so easily by cutting a real deal with Fateh. Instead, they've enacted the cruel fantasy of trying to break Hamas by starving Gaza, and thus far the US and Europe have played along. Obama's weakness may keep US support subverient, but Europe is showing signs of getting fed up with this whole runaround. (I generally lament any loss of the political left, but the Tory win in the UK sure looks like an improvement -- for the world, if not necessarily inside Britain.)
In any case, I think now is the time to put as much pressure on Israel as possible to break Gaza free. It's an interim step, but a necessary one.
Tuesday, June 1. 2010
Stephen M Walt: Israel's latest brutal blunder: Reaction is coming in to Israel's hijacking of the Free Gaza Flotilla, which reports now say resulted in nine deaths of protesters on a Turkish ship (down from reports of 16-19 deaths yesterday). Walt's first question was "What could Israel's leaders have been thinking?" Then:
I'm not aware of Obama or anyone in his administration rising to this challenge in a principled way. Meanwhile, the spin cycle is running at gale force, and seems to be rallying the pro-Israel hawks in the US without having much effect anywhere else. Again this shows how out of step the US remains with world opinion, even with Obama replacing Bush.
Paul Woodward: It's up to Obama whether the siege of Gaza continues: Echoes Walt's concerns, including a long quote.
Paul Woodward: The Mavi Marmara and the Exodus -- May 31, 2010 and July 18, 1947: Strange thing how Palestinian history keeps recapitulating Jewish history -- the Holocaust and the Nakba, the elevation of terrorists like Menachem Begin and Yasser Arafat to statesmen (admittedly, not very good ones), and now the return of the Exodus. Admittedly, the Palestinians keep coming up with weaker and more flawed symbols, but the main lines are remarkably similar. Given the way Israel turned out, this is a cycle someone needs to break.
Rev. Michael Poage wrote a letter about this incident that seems about right -- some friends passed it on to me:
Poage went to Egypt and Jordan last winter to participate in an international protest in Gaza, but was denied entry by Israel and its Egyptian allies, so he must have a sense of déjà vu. My reaction at the time was that maybe the BDS (boycott, divest, and sanctions) movement should expand its target list to include Egypt. The most interesting and promising reaction to Israel's hijacking has been demonstrations in Cairo against Egypt's collaboration in starving Gaza, and the reports that Egypt has at least partially opened its border to Gaza. Egypt can at least take the blockade off the table if it decides to stand up to the US and Israel on the issue.
Monday, May 31. 2010
Sure, the Gaza Freedom Flotilla was meant to provoke a reaction from Israel. Few if any actually thought that Israel would stand aside and allow humanitarian aid to directly flow from Europe to the barricaded patch of ground that serves as an open air prison to 1.5 million Palestinians. Had Israel failed to stop the flotilla they would have surrendered their goal to reduce the Palestinians to "an utterly defeated people." Why they feel so strongly that their security depends on Palestinian misery is something of a mystery.
When Israel dismantled their settlements in Gaza in 2005 one might have thought that they were breaking their links, allowing Gaza at least -- the West Bank and Jerusalem were still tangled webs of Israeli settlements and reduced Palestinian enclaves -- to exist as a rump Palestinian state. But Israel continued to maintain its control over Gaza's borders, and with the absence of Israeli settlements started using sonic booms to terrorize the population -- something they ultimately discontinued as it was still annoying to nearby Israeli towns. In 2006 and 2008 Israel sent troops into Gaza, and frequently in between they bombed and/or shelled the territory. Throughout they've used their control over the borders to restrict trade and aid.
Now they've not only hijacked the flotilla, they killed 16 (or so) people in the process. Israel has developed a nasty habit of killing peaceful protesters, but this has usually occurred in isolated incidents before -- Rachel Corrie is the most famous. It's rarely clear whether such incidents are sloppy mistakes or a deliberate tactic to intimidate would-be protesters, but either way it has a chilling and scarifying effect.
Paul Woodward has been covering this story at War in Context. Some (by no means all) of his posts:
Some further comments:
Admittedly, these links come from the usual suspects -- the first places I've come to trust on this issue. I did run across one site, Elder of Ziyon, with a vast stream of free-spinning posts like Free Gaza lies caused the deaths, which argues:
Even this spin is meaningless if you don't accept the right of Israel to blockade and starve Gaza. It may well be that Palestinian political leaders would react negatively to carving Gaza off as an independent state, but that is the least that should be done, and that is something that could be done very easily now (or could have been done very easily in 2005 when Sharon dismantled the Gaza settlements). That would still leave a big mess in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, but it would end the siege and strangulation of Gaza, international attempts to break it, and Israel's bloody defense of a stance which is indefensible legally or morally.
Sunday, May 30. 2010
Peter Beinart: The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment: The intended subject here is the growing disconnect between younger, secular-leaning Jews in America (and most likely in the rest of the Diaspora) from Israel, as opposed to the reflexive identification and intensive support the older generation. A lot of things factor into this, but the big one is that it's become harder and harder to whitewash Israel's illiberalism. The most useful part of this is Beinart's survey of Israel's internal political dialogue, which has evolved from the chauvinistic variant of socialism of Mapam and Mapai to the militarism and virulent anti-Arab racism of Likud and other parties vying to see which can be the most demagogic.
The situation strikes me as far more chilling than Beinart concedes: he maintains that there is still an ideological divide within Israel, with a "liberal-democratic Zionism" struggling against the demagogues, but he carves the cake so carefully he includes Netanyahu's Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, among the more enlightened. Still, he writes:
Actually, the real disconnect isn't between young American Jews chosing their liberalism (or radicalism) over their parents' allegiance to Israel, but within their parents who still try to pretend that the Israel they love is a nation worthy of their support. One of the most annoying things about Israel's defenders in America is how they keep advancing claims about Israel's democracy, liberalism, desire for peace, hopes to end the occupation, advocacy of a Palestinian state, etc., when Israel's actual policy and behavior is utterly opposed. Beinart touches on this a bit, but Stephen Walt brings this out more clearly in this comment:
It's clear that the need to maintain U.S. support has often acted as a moderator on Israel's policies: withdrawing from the Sinai in 1956, accepting cease-fires in the 1967 and 1973 wars, backing down from their intervention in Lebanon in 1978, agreeing to return the Sinai to Egypt in the 1979 accords, refraining from attacking Iraq in 1991, completing Sharon's cynical withdrawal from Gaza, and (most likely) holding off from bombing Iran today. On the other hand, the assurance of U.S. support has encouraged Israel to adventurism, as in the 1982 and 2006 invasions of Lebanon. Given this, it's natural to wonder whether a serious U.S. effort at resolving this conflict wouldn't work. But it's never been tried, in large part because the major Jewish lobbies in the U.S., which could give a well-meaning president some room to maneuver, have never asserted any independent views -- rather, they've always insisted on giving Israel a blank check, which has had the effect of indulging Israel's far right. (Admittedly, the neocons had their own reason for favoring Israel's far right, so a president under their influence, like the second Bush, was pleased with the blank check approach.)
One more small point that Beinart brings up but doesn't do much with. He points out that while secular-leaning Jews in America have deserted Israel, orthodox Jews have increasingly embraced Israel, and often very militantly. This is actually a huge shift, given that orthodox Jews have traditionally been anti-Zionist. The trend here seems to be following that in Israel, where the most militant settlers have come out of Rabbi Kook's Gush Emunim to form a new and distinctly more reactionary religious nationalism, one that has increasingly since 1967 held Israel's polity hostage. Their numbers have always been so small that they were easy to discount, but their impact has been profound, not just in the political arena but through such violent acts as the assassination of Rabin and the 1994 Cave of the Patriarchs massacre -- the latter the act of an American-born settler, Baruch Goldstein, now widely revered on Israel's far right. Those two acts are widely acknowledged to be the turning points against the Oslo Accords, which is to say that they were more/less responsible for extending the conflict 15 (and counting) years. No doubt Beinart and most liberal Zionists consider them atrocities, but we still have to ask, where is the backlash against such atrocities? What AIPAC et al. have insisted is that Israel bear no consequences for these or any other acts undertaken directly or in its name. That such hypocrisy has lost the allegiance of many younger Jews is unsurprising. What is scandalous is that it still commands obeissance from virtually all American politicians, not least Barack Obama.
Reading a lot today about how we should remember those who died in defense of freedom. Thinking, in particular, of Rachel Corrie.
Sunday, May 9. 2010
Harold Bloom: The Jewish Question: British Anti-Semitism: Who knew that the greatest existential threat to Israel isn't the dead-ender Palestinians or the fanatical Iranian ayatollahs or even Barack Hussein Obama; it's the British intelligentsia, who carry on the anti-semitic wiles of Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Dickens. Bloom figured this out while reviewing an 811 pp. book by Anthony Julius, Trials of the Diaspora: A History of Anti-Semitism in England, which he praises effusively:
[Emphasis added.] This may be the worst book review I've ever read: gushy in its praise while at the same time hijacking the book to push a personal agenda, which among other things makes a big deal on how little anti-Semitism (ergo anti-Zionism) Bloom finds by contrast in his own American intelligentsia -- let's not omit the intro paragraph:
I don't doubt that one can write 821 pp. on the long history of British anti-semitism going back (at least) to the explusion of 1290, but it seems silly that Bloom, let alone Julius, should spend so much print rehashing Merchant of Venice. The problem is sorting out the British philo-semites and anti-semites (and wacko millenarians like David Lloyd George) who teamed up to sponsor Israel and imbue it with the stink of British Imperialism. It wouldn't surprise me to find that most of today's British intellectuals have reservations about Israel, and indeed about imperialism in general, but I would be surprised to find them as unanimous as Bloom paints them to be: while many have turned against Britain's imperial legacy, if not for what it did to the world at least for what it did to Britain, there are more than a few imperial apologists still operating -- e.g., Niall Ferguson, or less reputably Tony Blair.
The one thing I get from Bloom's obsession is that efforts to boycott Israel are striking that old existential nerve. That sounds good to me, not because I want to destroy Israel but because the only way I can see to get them to change their ways is to shun and shame them. Bloom may be satisfied to think of Israel as no worse than a middling corrupt dictatorship, but he's looking at reality through blinders: to see Israel as a tolerable militarist security state it helps to think no one matters but the eternally oppressed Jews -- least of all the Palestinians.
Ira Chernus: What Price for Israel and Palestine?: It's slowly dawning on Americans of most political stripes that blank check American support for Israel is getting expensive not to mention eternally frustrating. Netanyahu, and most Israelis, see no downside in turning their noses up at Obama, or even Bush. They like their war, their sense of power over the Palestinians, their blind faith that as long as they never give in they can go on thinking they're winning. There's lots here you no doubt know already, but this quote is worth focusing on:
The only move Israel ever made toward peace was when they came up with Oslo as an alternative to the Bush-Baker pressure behind the Madrid conference. That was a rare, almost singular, instance of the US making it clear that its support wasn't unconditional. Clinton backed down repeatedly, in the end helping Barak scuttle Oslo, and Bush did no better (and often worse). Obama at least seems to recognize that there are American interests demanding compromise between Israel and the Palestinians but he has yet to put any muscle behind those interests. Had he done so, it seems likely that Netanyahu's fractious coalition would have cracked, but with no pressure Netanyahu has had a free ride.
Still, we should be clear on one point: even if the US were to withdraw all political, economic, and military support, that would in no way threaten or imperil Israel's existence. All it would do is to force recognition of Israel's status as a pariah state -- a state dedicated to a class/race system that subjects a significant minority of its people to human rights abuses few if any other nations accept or support. There's no reason to think that Israel cannot continue on its own indefinitely. No other nation is a threat to Israel. The only force that can change Israel is its own citizenry.