Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Israel's Latest (Publicized) Abu Ghraib Affair

So Israeli telejournalist Ilana Dayan does a "Fact" (Uvdah) segment about how Israeli soldiers in an elite unite tortured and abused Palestinians. That produces a Haaretz editorial and little else, not even a lot of talkbacks. Most Israelis I know consider the Palestinians to be inferior; they don't really care about the abuse. Those who do care will tell themselves that these are a few bad apples and that the IDF is the most moral army in the world.

What they don't get is that the most moral army in the world inevitably commits acts of immorality against occupied populations. So even if we allow that the IDF deserves that title (funny, I missed the awards competition), that doesn't mean that the IDF doesn't commit despicable acts on an hourly basis.

Please watch the broadcast show here.

Still, why is it that we don't hear more of human rights abuse? After all, Israel is a small country and many of our children serve in the IDF. If this sort of abuse were widespread, then wouldn't we hear more about it?

Not necessarily. In fact, here are some of the reasons we don't.

First, soldiers have the attitude that what happens in the West Bank stays in the West Bank. They don't come home and talk to their families and friends about things they are ashamed of -- if indeed they are ashamed of it. Most soldiers do what they are told to do and don't pause to consider what they are doing when they are doing it. By the time they leave the army and have time to think on their experiences, they are smoking grass in India, or trekking in South America, and trying to move on with their lives.

Second, much of what is considered human rights abuse falls under the category of "necessary, if regrettable, deterrence." There are operational reasons why soldiers, like police officers, have to infringe upon human rights. I am not saying that these are extreme cases, but it is difficult to draw the line between what is militarily necessary or not, and that line is not drawn by you. So you don't even realize that some of what you are doing is abuse.

Third, soldiers get desensitized quickly. The first time they are asked to abuse civilians, some are shocked. But after repetition, and when boredom sets in, they need to up the ante.

Fourth, some human rights infringement are deemed militarily necessary. So if you want to be a good soldier, you have to obey orders and follow procedures, even if that means that a pregnant women will die in childbirth at a roadblock. You are then told that these things are unfortunate, but without that roadbock, Jews may die. Etc.

But, to my mind, the biggest reason why most Israeli soldiers do not talk about their human rights abuse is because they consider Palestinians to be inferior losers.Hence, they will do things to them that they would not do to even their enemies who happen to be Jewish. They do not see the Palestinians as themselves; they are incapable of placing themselves in the shoes of the Palestinians.

At the Breaking the Silence event in Washington, DC, Adam Harmon, who defended the morality of the IDF, made a telling comment that revealed the depth of his insensitivity to Palestinian humanity. He said something to this effect:

I can understand how the Palestinian civilians can feel deeply frustrated by the roadblocks. But I can't understand how they feel humiliated. We did nothing to humiliate them. We certainly did not intend to humiliate them.

That line, uttered by a genuinely likable guy, explains why you don't hear more of the IDF abusing soldiers. Most soldiers like Harmon don't understand that a long-term occupation is BY ITS VERY NATURE a humiliating experience. Even if the IDF soldiers handed out checks to the Palestinians at the checkpoints, or flowers, or free nargila, they would still be humiliating them because they control their lives. The occupation robs the occupied of their dignity, of their value.

Harmon, I add parenthentically, was born in New Hampshire. Apparently, he has never heard of that state's motto, "Live free or die." Taking away a person's freedom is worse than death. And that is what the Israelis have done to the Palestinians in Gaza and on the West Bank. They have robbed them of their freedom. No matter what the Israelis intentions may be -- and I am willing to grant that their intentions are honorable, for the most part -- they have inevitably humiliated the Palestinians.

In a sense, Ilana Dayan and Haaretz take they easy way out. By publicizing yet another Israeli "Abu Ghreib" they desensitive the Israeli public to the humiliation that is inherent in the occupation, any occupation. The expose becomes a new Jewish ritual of self-condemnation that lasts, if it is present at all, for a few minutes. The truth is that in Israel, few give lip-service even to their shock.

So why am I writing this? Two reasons:

First, over time, I believe, people's minds can change. Even hearts of stone can be eroded. The Israeli spin was once universally accepted in the West, even by most intellectuals. Now, can one think of a single serious non-Jewish intellectual who buys it? The first time I read Said's The Question of Palestine, I dismissed him out of hand as a Palestinian Dershowitz. (That was in my liberal Zionist phaze.) We don't need polemicists, I thought, we need thoughtful moderates. Ditto for Chomsky. I was stuck in the Zionist liberal middle. It took an intifada to push me over to the real middle.

Second, even if nothing happens, even if no hearts are changed, even if things get worse...I will have done what I think God wants us to do. If you don't know what I am talking about, read about it in that book by the other Jeremiah.

Here is the Haaretz editorial. Well-worth a read, even though the headline could have been written -- and should have been written -- every day for the last forty years.

Something bad is happening to us

Three years ago, the CBS television network broadcast photos of American soldiers abusing prisoners in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. The horrifying pictures led to the trials of eight soldiers, dismissals and a storm of outrage in America. At the trial of one prison guard, who was sentenced to eight years in jail, a psychologist gave his evaluation: that the man was an entirely ordinary person, without any particular violent tendencies, who served as a guard for many years in civilian life but never behaved sadistically toward American prisoners. The situation of occupier and occupied, as opposed to that of citizen versus citizen, causes ordinary people to become violent and lose restraint. At Abu Ghraib, the trial found, there was institutionalized contempt at every level. The prison guards understood that "this is the way to behave here."

Last night, the investigative television program "Fact" broadcast pictures of our own Abu Ghraib affair. It is doubtful whether a country that has grown used to 40 years of occupation, and the stories that accompany it, will be shocked. We have become accustomed to treating the Palestinians as inferior people. Generations come and go, and new soldiers abuse the residents of occupied Hebron in almost the same manner. Stories similar to those broadcast last night were exposed by the Breaking the Silence group three years ago. The saying "occupation corrupts" has become a slogan of the left instead of a warning signal to everyone.

This time, it was regular soldiers in the Kfir Brigade. They exposed their backsides and sexual organs to Palestinians, pressed an electric heater to the face of a young boy, beat young boys senseless, recorded everything on their mobile phones and sent it to their friends. One of their "mischievous acts" was to test how long a Palestinian who was being choked could survive without breathing. When he passed out, the experiment was stopped. The soldiers described activities to "break the routine" that consisted entirely of abuse. It was enough for a boy "to look at us the wrong way" for him to be beaten.

Earlier, at the trial of First Lieutenant Yaakov Gigi, officers spoke of burnout, of "something bad happening to the brigade," of a Wild West, of a moral crisis. The commander of the brigade, Colonel Itai Virov, said "we failed on several parameters." His words reflect a denial of the depth of the failure. This continuing routine, far from the eyes of the commanders, must lead to a series of investigations, and perhaps to dismissals as well. It is unconscionable for the head of the Hebron Brigade, the division commander, the GOC Central Command and even the chief of staff to ignore the ongoing behavior of soldiers in the brigade responsible for routine security in the West Bank. Colonel Virov admitted that there was a conspiracy of silence in the brigade - in other words, a norm of abuse and its concealment. To change norms, one has to shock and be shocked, not be satisfied with a few imprisonments and empty words about a loss of values.

Perfectly ordinary people, as the American psychologist said of the Abu Ghraib abusers, are capable of behaving like monsters when they receive a message from the top that it is permissible to abuse, beat, choke, burn, make people miserable and generally do anything that man's evil genius is capable of inventing to others who are under their control. Something bad is happening to us, they are saying in the Kfir Brigade. That "something" is the occupation.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Will Obama Takes Us Back to the Failed "Peace Process" Strategy of Dennis Ross?

Because of all the brouhaha over Barack Obama's Middle East advisors, Haaretz correspondant Shmuel Rosner went to interview Samantha Power, one of Obama's top foreign policy advisors. Power spent most of the time defending herself and Obama from the Israel "supporters" who are nervous that Obama will not continue the US policy of assisting Israel to commit national suicide. The article is here.

Power is not the Obama advisor on the Middle East, but she could be in line for a cabinet position, and so she managed to say the sorts of things that one expects from somebody who wishes not to offend the Israel lobby. But one statement caught my eye and lit a big red light:

Asked who is to blame for there being no agreement yet, Power says there is no point expanding on that, but emphasizes that "I've never blamed Israel for the failed talks" (at Camp David). But precisely how should these talks be handled, and what should the goal be? She's no expert on that, she says, and suggests calling Dan (Shapiro), the campaign's adviser on the Middle East, or Dennis (Ross), who also advises Obama (advises - but is not an advisor).

So have we now moved from Rob Malley to Dennis Ross, neither of whom are "advisors" but both of whom have advised Obama?

Dennis Ross, in case you missed it, was the chief architect of the Middle East peace process that ended in the Camp David fiasco. Of course he shouldn't be blamed for all of the failure -- there is enough blame to go around. But his lack of sensitivity to the Palestinian position, specifically, a lack of sensitivity to the political realities of the Palestinian negotiators, while having heaps of sensitivity for the Israeli side, doomed the talks to failure. What the US needed heading its Middle East peace process team was an honest broker, not an American Peace Now-nik.

Dennis Ross, I hasten to add, is a brilliant diplomat who is well-versed in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and who desires nothing more than to see both sides live in peace. He, as well as the rest of liberal Zionists at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, should be heard in any administration. But they are clearly partisan, and their partisanship should be recognized as such. I found Ross's The Missing Peace to be a highly tendentious and self-serving presentation of Camp David. I don't need to read Norman Finkelstein's monograph on Ross's book to come to that conclusion. Of course Ross blamed Arafat because of where Ross was coming from. From a historical perspective, Arafat was considerably more important to the prospect of peace than was Ehud Barak, one of Israel's many recyclable/disposable general-politicians. Arafat was the Palestinian Ben-Gurion and Begin wrapped up in one, and, for all his well-documented flaws, he could have delivered the goods. But Ross, because he is a liberal Zionist, could only be impressed by Barak's "generous offers" and by Arafat's intransigence and unhelpful adherence to "principle."

I didn't realize Ross's fundamental biases until I read the Missing Peace. It is apparent already from the book's back jacket, where the blurbs are all written by Zionists or pro-Israel Secretaries of State. My suspicions increased when Ross purportedly presents the Israeli and the Palestinian narratives, itself a relatively easy task. He discharges the Israeli narrative (which, because it is Zionistic, takes in the sweep of Jewish history) fairly well, but then doesn't so much present the Palestinian narrative (which begins with the Jebusites), but rather analyzes the beginning of Palestinian and Arab nationalism. Hence, the asymmetry of his presentation is clear from the first chapter. And, indeed, it colors his central thesis that the Israelis in their negotiation have been motivated by pragmatic, security reasons (hence, they are able to compromise more), whereas the Palestinians have been motivated by principle, which makes them more intransigent (like the rightwing Zionists.)Ross's embrace of pragmatism over principle reveals the deep influence of the Mapai mindset on him, as much as a negotiator's desire for compromise. One tends to think that Ross would have appreciated more an Arafat accepting Barak's "generous offers" at Camp David as a tactical ploy than somebody who actually believed what he was signing. After all, he praised Ben-Gurion's pragmatism in accepting partition even though Ben-Gurion never gave up the Jewish state's claim to all of Palestine (as Arafat was asked to do.) Ben-Gurion was never asked, nor would he have agreed, to recognize the right of the Palestinians to a state. Of course, partition gave Ben-Gurion much more than Camp David, Taba, or Geneva would have given Arafat.

But all this is history. Dennis Ross failed badly, and after he failed, he came out of the closet as an Israel-apologist, albeit of the liberal Zionist variety. Let him stay in the think tanks, emerging every once in a while to chart strategic options for the Jewish people. Negotiations are not his strong suit.

I don't believe Barack Obama will break out of the "pro-Israel" model that US presidents have adopted since Kennedy. But God helps us if he goes back to the failed policies of the Oslo-Camp David period, where the Mapai-style principle of pragmatism trumped all other principles -- and ended up the most impractical principle of all.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Checkpoints Don't Kill People -- People Kill People

Checkpoints, Israelis and their defenders concede, cause major discomfort for Palestinians. But they are justifiable because a) they save lives, and b) Palestinians share some sort of collective reponsibility for their terrorists, whom they hail as martyrs.

The common responses to these arguments are that a) an occupying army is responsible for the welfare of the occupied people, and that b) the measures it takes to ensure the security of its own population cannot be disproportionate to the pain and suffering it causes to the occupied population. Or to be blunt - saving the lives of your people does not override destroying the lives of an occupied people, if the measures you take are disproportionate.

There will be arguments, obviously, over what is disproportionate, but those arguments should not be held hostage to the sensitivities of the people making them. That is why we need a stronger system of international human rights law and its enforcement, not a weaker one. I am always more sensitive to my pain than to yours.

Haaretz reported yesterday that an Arab woman died because soldiers would not let her reach an ambulance to take her to a hospital. Instead, she was taken back to her village to die. The IDF spokesman said that the husband should have informed the "local military coordination office for humanitarian cases" that an ambulance was arriving. In other words, the soldiers at the checkpoint did not have the authority -- or the desire -- to let the woman through. Read about it here.

More Palestinians have died because of Israeli checkpoints than have Sderot residents because of Kassams. In the last year alone, there was a sharp rise in such incidents, despite the fact that there were no successful suicide bombings So in 2007 ten sick Palestinians died because of checkpoints in order to save -- possibly -- the lives of Israeli citizens. See here I counted ten on B'Tselem's website. And I am not talking of lives ruined or livelihoods destroyed. I am talking about physical deaths.

Some of my readers say that these deaths were not intentional. But they were. Because these people were intentionally prevented from getting medical care. It doesn't matter, either legally or morally, whether other lives could have been saved. It doesn't matter, either legally or morally, that ambulances have been used to smuggle weapons in less than a tenth of a per cent of ambulance use by Palestinians. So don't bother to remind me about it. Certain things cannot be done. I could reduce the murder rate in Washington DC by 98% if I clamped down a dusk to dawn curfew every night and shot violaters on sight. Does that give me the right to do that?

Some of my readers will, say, "Look, war is hell; it's us or them; life is tough, get over it." To those readers I say, "Fine -- as long as you have no problem with the morality of the suicide bombers beyond the fact that they are killing your family." I understand the tribalism that motivates that. I love watching the Godfather.

What really nauseates me are the people who have no problem with wiping out neighborhoods in Gaza -- such as the current Israeli minister of the interior Meir Shitrit -- and then try to claim the moral high-ground. Look, if your morality is "It's us or them", then when they blow up our babies, they are not being immoral -- they are just doing what we are doing.

There should be no illusions.

That's one of the few things I like about the New Republic's Marty Peretz. His morality boils down to "Do it to them before they do it to us." He knows that the Occupation is hell on the Palestinians, but that's their tough luck. Or as he puts it in an interview with Haaretz here

I'm not under the impression that Israeli occupation is kind and sweet. No occupation is kind or sweet. But bad things happen everywhere.

Ah, to be able to talk like John Wayne and still be Jewish, what a rush that must give Peretz! It may not make up for TNR's flaccid circulation, but it sure beats Viagra.

Justice, equity, fairness, self-determination, democracy -- those things don't make much of a difference to tough Jews of Peretz's generation. And I mean, "of his generation". Because they are, thank God, a dying breed. Oh, sure, the young modern orthodox neocons are around, but they are about to be sent to think-tank (and blogger) hell, come the Obama election.

There is change in the air, and I am not just referring to TNR's plummeting readership. Let's put it this way....if I wanted to sound like Peretz, this is what I'd say:

Marty, Israel's bleeding, and you won't be able to stop it. The younger Jewish generation won't really be affected by Birthright, and in your lifetime you will see the only hardcore Zionists go Republican. The problem is not that "all occupations are not nice."The problem is that the longest Occupation in modern history --Tibet's problems will be solved before Israel's -- will catch up with Israel, and unless it is able to extricate itself from its suicidal death-wish -- which you, and other of your ilk, support -- it will plunge further into the chaos.

Then, Marty, you can erect your Museum of Zionism, commemorate the New Masada, as you sit by the waters of Washington and rail against the anti-Semites and the self-hating Jews that were responsible for destroying the third commonwealth. And you will weep over the decline of the the only sort of Judaism you understand (besides gastronomic Judaism)...."neofascist Judaism," "tough guy" Judaism, "'goyische' Judaism."

In short, the Judaism of the qena'im, the Zealots.

You've won before in Jewish history, Marty.

But never for long, thank God.

Friday, February 15, 2008

"Breaking the Silence" at the Washington DC JCC.

Last night, the Israeli veteran's organization "Breaking the Silence," in the US for their annual tour, took part in a dialogue entitled, "What Makes an Army Jewish? Ethics and Tradition: the IDF in an Age of Checkpoints, Village Sweeps and Targeted Killings." For the advertisement and blurbs on the participants, please press here.

The evening was a "trialogue" between Yehuda Shaul, of Breaking the Silence, Adam Harmon, an American Israeli who presented the IDF party line, and Avi West, a local educator, who both faciliated the discussion and presented a Jewish viewpoint.The audience, quite diverse in their viewpoints, behaved in a dignified and civilized fashion.

Because of the time constraints of the dialogue format, Yehuda was not able to develop the BTS message in the way that he usually does, nor could he show more than a few slides. He went for understatement, and in that he succeeded. His counterpart Harmon, a nice enough fellow, and quite respectful of Yehuda, seems not to have read an Israeli newspaper in his life. (One computer slide that Yehuda did show was an article in Yediot that said that according to an internal IDF memo, a quarter of the soliders at checkpoints had abused Palestinians; this was after Harmon had implied that the abusers were only a few bad apples.)

The importance of the evening lay not so much in the message, but in the fact that it took place at all. One of the organizers told me that Shaul's appearance had not been easy to pull off. The DC JCC would not have Yehuda speak on his own, i.e., withough "balance". But as depressing as that may sound, I thought that in the end, the dialogue format worked to BTS's advantage. The evening gave them much-needed respectability in the mainstream Jewish community. What the audience heard was two reservists discussing their Army experiences, and one of them, Shaul, raising disturbing questions. In fact, Shaul repeated his signature line: " We are not here to provide answers; we want people to raise questions." That is a very troubling line for American Jews, who want to believe that there is hope, and that Israel army is capable of cleaning up its act. The truth is that any long-term military occupation inevitably leads to dehumanization of the occupied, to abuse, to immoral and inappropriate behavior. I stress, "inevitable". Of coures, for the liberal-hawk-neocons in the audience, "morality" is a luxury that Israel cannot afford. (Harmon, by the way, as not of their number. He was of the "The IDF-is the Most-Moral-Army-in-the-World" school.) It will be harder to demonize "Breaking the Silence" now that they have appeared in tandem with mainstream speakers in Jewish spaces.

During the Q&A, an older gentlemen with a British accent referred repeatedly to the situation in the Occupied Territories as a "nightmare." He offered no hope of peace, security, or even stability. He just spoke of the nightmare.

He got the message. Will others?

The Rob Malley Affair -- Dennis Ross, Martin Indyk, Sandy Berger, Aaron Miller, and Dan Kurtzer Respond To Martin Peretz et al.

Dan Fleshler posted a letter on Realistic Dove which is a must-read. The letter is from the entire Clinton Israel-Palestinian peace-process team defending former Clinton Middle East advisor Robert Malley from the slurs and defamations of republicans and gruff old liberal-hawks like the New Republic's publisher, Martin Peretz.

Malley, as you may know, co-wrote a highly influential analysis of Camp David in the New York Review of Books that challenged the Israeli spin. The article, which drew front-page coverage in Israel, also provoked a bigoted and embarrassing response from Ehud Barak and Benny Morris. That was quite nice collateral damage.

OK, so you don't have to agree with Malley. Ross didn't, and he wrote a respectful letter to the NYRB about it. But from there to write, as Marty Peretz did,
Malley, who has written several deceitful articles in The New York Review of Books, is a rabid hater of Israel. No question about it
shows how delusional Peretz is. Look, I feel sorry for Peretz; he has run the New Republic into the ground, the readership is at an all-time low, and his support for Obama is apparently motivated by his hatred for the Clintons. He will lose, and lose big, if Obama wins. And now he is getting dissed by the entire Clinton Middle East team -- and rightfully so.

I had lunch with Malley last Shabbat. He seemed to be miffed by the attacks, although he is old enough to know that anybody who deviates a bit from the Israel orthodoxy will be considered by the a.k.'s "a rabid hater of Israel." It would be inappropriate for me to blog about what we discussed around the Shabbat table. But this much I will say: I gave Malley every opportunity I could to criticize Dennis Ross's handling of the Clinton peace process, or his performance at Camp David. I raised what I thought were obvious questions about US bias towards the liberal-Zionist position and the failure of the US to be an honest broker. He did not take the bait. On the contrary, somewhat to my surprise, he refused to be drawn in. He disagreed with Ross, whom he considers a friend, but he consistently took the high road. And I don't think he was just playing the diplomat, either. That reflects a certain nobility of character that makes Peretz's scurrilous attack all the more demeaning for Peretz.

Malley now works at a Washington think-tank called the International Crisis Group. In the weeks to come I will comment on some of their position-papers on Israel-Palestine. Some are well-worth reading.

Well, there are Rob Malley's in this world, and then there are Marty Peretzes.

I try to stand with the former.

Oh, heck, I'll save you all a click. Here is the letter:

Over the past several weeks, a series of vicious, personal attacks have been launched against one of our colleagues, Robert Malley, who served as President Clinton's Special Assistant for Arab-Israeli affairs. They claim that he harbours an anti-Israeli agenda and has sought to undermine Israel's security. These attacks are unfair, inappropriate and wrong. They are an effort to undermine the credibility of a talented public servant who has worked tirelessly over the years to promote Arab-Israeli peace and US national interests. They must stop.

We have real differences among us about how best to conduct US policy toward the Middle East and what is the right way to build a lasting two-state solution that protects Israel's security. But whatever differences do exist, there is no disagreement among us on one core issue that transcends partisan or other divides: that the US should not and will not do anything to undermine Israel's safety or the special relationship between our two nations. We have worked with Rob closely over the years and have no doubt he shares this view and has acted consistent with it.

We face a critical period in the Middle East that demands sustained, determined and far-sighted engagement by the United States. It is not a time for scurrilous attacks against someone who deserves our respect.

The letter is signed by Sandy Berger, Den Kurtzer, Dennis Ross, Martin Indyk, and Aaron Miller.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Norman Finkelstein at the Oxford Union -- Postscript

The siege in Gaza is tightening, human rights abuses continue daily, Hamas promises more suicide bombings, and I am still blogging about...Norman Finkelstein at the Oxford Union?

All right, my justification is that my reporting on the Oxford Union debates has been, to my knowledge, the most accurate account on the web, thanks to my informed source there. And so when a Jewish journal smears Finkelstein (one of the Jewish establishment's favorite targets), I don't think they should get away it.

Richard Silverstein pointed out to me that the Forwards' blog published the following:
FINKELSTEIN’S FLIP-FLOP: It was an odd debate — from the topic to the choice of panelists. To the chagrin of many in Britain’s Jewish community, the Oxford Union — the once-venerable and now-sensationalistic debating society — decided to take up the following proposition: “This House believes that the State of Israel has a right to exist.” As if debating whether or not a sovereign state has the right to exist weren’t bad enough, the Oxford Union selected two fierce critics of Israel to defend the proposition, including “Holocaust Industry” author and Hezbollah booster Norman Finkelstein. Unsurprisingly, Finkelstein proved to be a poor advocate for Israel, voting at the debate’s conclusion against the proposition he had been tasked with defending. London’s Jewish Chronicle has the story.
The Jewish Chronicle's story, to which the Forwards refers, is here. It claims that Finkelstein supported the motion that Israel has the right to exist and then voted against it. It also claims that Ilan Pappe and Ghada Karmi voted against the resolution. Pappe must have sent in an absentee ballot, because he wasn't even present at the debate (nor, apparently were the authors of the Jewish Chronicle piece, Bernard Josephs and Leon Symons, who surely would have known that.) Pappe was supposed to have been present, but he begged off at the last minute and was replaced by a Palestinian lawyer.

Finkelstein argued in favor of Israel's right to exist on the grounds that it had international recognition. He had no intention of voting, and he left the auditorium without voting, or at least not intending to. As explained by my source at Oxford:

The voting system works as follows. The main enty and exit has a bar down the middle of it, with a door either side of it. Above the door to the left of the bar it says something like 'nay'; above the door to the right of the bar it says something like 'aye'. If you exit to the left, that counts as you voting against the motion, and the opposite is true if you exit to the right. (I may have got the two sides the wrong way around as to which is aye and which is nay).

You vote simply by virtue of exiting through a particular side of the bar. A union official at each side keeps a tally. If you want to abstain, you have to tell the official as you exit. So unless [Finkelstein] told the union official at the door that he wanted to abstain, if Finkelstein exited then he necessarily (whether he meant to or not) voted one way or the other.

In fact, Finkelstein wasn't aware of any of this arcane Oxford tradition, much less that he voted with his feet, until I contacted him about it a few days ago. Maybe he should have been, but he was seen walking out talking with students and entirely preoccupied with the debate.

But when it comes to the Jewish media reporting on Norman Finkelstein, who cares about accuracy? Or fairness?

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Israeli MK proposes bill to expel Palestinians from Hebron

Aryeh Eldad, a rightwing member of the Israeli Knesset, presented a private-member's bill on Monday calling for the expulsion of the Palestinians from Hebron. Bill no. 3361/17/פ can be downloaded at the Knesset website here

Here are some snippets from the explanation of the law:

"The aim of the law is to lead to a better security, political, and economic reality for Israel and for the occupied territories."

Please note that Eldad, one of the Greater Israel proponents, calls Judea and Samaria the "occupied territories." I will reveal the reason for this later in the post.

"The price paid by the State of Israel for the continuation of Arab settlement in Hebron is enormous. From the security standpoint, a great array of personnel and economic measures are needed to ensure the security of the Israeli citizens living legally in the city. These security measures include a system of separation between the Jewish and Arab populations, which restricts systematically the lives of the Israeli citizens. The closure of most of the city to Israeli citizens constitutes a serious infringment of the their human rights and the status of Israel in the eyes of the Jewish world."

Etc., etc.

The bill instructs the Israeli government to evacuate all the Palestinians from Hebron, as well as the Palestinian Authority's offices, etc., to seize all real estate from the Palestinians, including infrastructure.

Who will pay for all this? Why, the Palestinians of course.

The Palestinian inhabitants are entitled to compensation and to be resettled elsewhere, according to the decision of the Israeli government. The Israeli government is entitled to substract this payment from the payments that it collects on behalf of the Palestinians."

Etc., etc., etc.

So what is this about? Well, Eldad is in the running for the coveted award of the MOST IMMATURE MEMBER OF THE KNESSET. It seems that he took his bill word-for-word from Yossi Beilin's bill, which called for the evacuation of the Jewish settlers from Hebron, and just substituted "Palestinian Arab" for "settlers".

So careless was he about his "ma'aseh kundas" (youthful prank) that he didn't change Beilin's use of the term "occupied territories" to the ultranationalist "Judea and Samaria." That is a mistake that his glatt kosher fascist father, Israel Eldad, would never have committed.

Or perhaps Eldad fils views Hebron today as occupied territory...occupied by the Palestinians.

His bill does change Beilin's reference to the massacre of Barukh Goldstein to the massacres of Arab terrorists from 1929 until today. So he wasn't entirely asleep.

I suppose that most people's response will be: nu, big deal. This is Eldad, and even he is not serious about the bill; it's just a dig at Beilin's bill.

I mean, who can get upset about an Israeli member of parliament calling for the mass expulsion of Palestinians from their homes?

It's not as if that hasn't happened in the past.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Daniel Kurzter: Looking at Process in the Arab-Israeli Negotiations

Dan Kurtzer, a former US ambassador to Egypt and to Israel, and currently at Princeton, is one of the most level-headed Americans when thinking about Israel/Palestine. When he was ambassador he had to be careful about expressing his opinions. Now he is his own man, and, indeed, a man to watch. On a personal note, he is a former neighbor and fellow synagogue member.

I have reproduced in full his piece in the Lebanese Daily Star that appeared today. At first glance it may appear to be just another exercise in diplomatic non-speak. But a careful reading will show Kurtzer's sensitivity to the "asymmetry" of the power-relations between Israel and the Palestinians, and the need for the US (and others) to take a more proactive stance that they did during the Oslo period. "Letting the parties negotiate the peace without outside interference" -- the mantra of the Israelis, who have everything to fear from such interference -- is heartily rejected here.

The article can be read here

Looking At Process In The Arab-israeli Negotiations

By Daniel Kurtzer

In The Daily Star (Lebanon), Opinion February 5, 2008

With the resumption of the Middle East peace process after Annapolis, the focus has turned to the substantive divide between the parties regarding the core issues of territory and boundaries, security, Jerusalem and refugees. Different ways have been suggested to approach these issues: for example, trying to reach agreement on a declaration of principles; trying to reach a full agreement and then putting it on the shelf until the time is ripe for implementation; or trying for a full agreement and implementation in phases, to begin immediately.

Less attention has been devoted to questions related to the negotiation process - for example, how to structure the negotiations, and what should be the role of the United States and other outside parties. If the past teaches us anything, however, it is that negotiation issues can often be as important as substantive issues in determining the success or failure of the peace process. A study of past negotiations, as we have learned, can be quite revealing and instructive.

Over the past 18 months, I directed a study group of the United States Institute of Peace that assessed US negotiating behavior in the peace process since the end of the Cold War. Our study group - composed of professors William Quandt, Steven Spiegel and Shibley Telhami - interviewed more than 100 current and former officials and analysts from the US and the region. The results will be published in mid-February in a book I have co-authored with Scott Lasensky entitled "Negotiating Arab-Israeli Peace: American Leadership in the Middle East."

During the period of active negotiations, 1993 to 2000, the US administration failed to exercise its role effectively in several important respects. American officials failed to understand and deal with key asymmetries in the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations. While the US paid attention to Israeli security requirements, less attention was devoted to Palestinian political requirements. The US did not find a way to compensate for Palestinian political weakness. This was demonstrated by the fact that this was the first time in history a people under occupation was expected both to negotiate its own way out from under occupation while creating a viable, democratic and independent state.

The US also failed to set up a monitoring system to hold the parties accountable for fulfilling their commitments and implementing agreements. American officials dedicated significant attention to keeping the process alive, even though the behavior of the two sides - settlement activity, limitations on mobility, violence and terrorism and governance weakness - weighted the process down and destroyed mutual confidence and trust.

Since 2000, the US has been almost absent from peacemaking altogether. Rhetoric has replaced diplomacy and little has been done to create or exploit opportunities for progress.

If the US is to be more successful in supporting the peace process after Annapolis, several policy initiatives and changes need to be implemented.

First, the American president must make clear that an Arab-Israel peace settlement is a vital US national interest, not a favor Washington is doing for the parties. We must avoid the false dichotomy embodied in the statement that "we cannot want peace more than the parties." The parties need peace, and the US needs there to be peace.

Second, there is a critical need for effective monitoring and for holding the parties accountable with regard to whatever they have committed to do. There must be consequences for bad behavior lest the parties accustom themselves to not carrying out their obligations.

Third, the US can and must carry out diplomacy more effectively and make better use of its "diplomatic toolbox." The US must have a peace team that is experienced and has a deep understanding of the region. More reliance must be put on our representatives in the field who are on the job every day. A special envoy might be necessary, but our study found that, with the right policy, the question of an envoy will sort itself out - better a policy without an envoy than an envoy without a policy.

Fourth, the US needs to do homework, to lock in the gains of previous negotiations and to be ready to do what is necessary - and what has proved beneficial in the past - to assist the parties on substance with creative ideas to bridge differences. The US also has an array of tools, including economic and other incentives, which, if deployed wisely, can make a difference in the negotiating process.

Just as we have done with respect to the US role - that is, analyze weaknesses and failures in an effort to learn lessons from the past - Israelis and Palestinians should consider doing the same. The substantive issues are challenging and require deft and agile diplomacy that benefits from a proper evaluation of what has succeeded or failed in the past.