Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Deep Rift Between Jim Baker's "Jewboys"

Back in the late 80's and early 90's they were called, "Baker's Jewboys" -- the policy team of Dennis Ross, Aaron Miller, and Dan Kurtzer that helped orchestrate the modestly successful Middle East policy of George H. W. Bush, culminating in the Madrid Conference. The trio were reviled by elements of the Jewish community as self-hating Jews that betrayed Israel (I remember them being called "court Jews" by some Israelis.) Members of the Zionist tribe could understand a Texas goy like Jim Baker pressuring Shamir over the loan guarantees...but how could he be aided and abetted by a team of Jewish policy experts?

At the time, Dan Kurtzer was my neighbor and fellow congregant in the Kemp Mill Synagogue, a breakaway shul that had rented a suburban house for services. Dan is a modern orthodox Jew, a former dean at Yeshiva University, and would become in the nineties -- after Ross cut him out of the peace process, according to Miller -- a distinguished US ambassador to Egypt and Israel. His ambassadorial residence in Cairo was strictly kosher, and I was privileged to visit him when he took up residence as ambassador in Herzeliyah. Dan is deeply committed to the Jewish state. At the time of his tzuris with elements in the American Jewish community, his middle son was studying in a West Bank yeshiva. Kurtzer was not exactly the poster-child for the "Self-hating Jew Club." But in this country if you don't kow-tow to the Israel Lobby and the often self-destructive policies of the Israeli government, you are liable to be called "a self-hating Jew" by pork-eating ignoramuses who mistake ethnic chauvinism for Judaism.

Ross, Miller, and Kurtzer have now all published post mortems for their failed efforts to secure Middle East peace. You would think that these three folks would be pretty much in agreement over who was responsible, right? Guess again. Whereas Ross's book, The Missing Peace, is, in my opinion, a self-serving memoir that places the blame squarely on Arafat and the Palestinians, the books by Kurtzer and Miller, while not absolving Arafat of responsibility, place much of the blame on the Americans, especially Clinton (and Ross), for playing favorites. America became under Clinton, to use the title of Aaron Miller's 2005 op-ed for which he was excoriated, "Israel's Lawyer." If there is any hope for a renewed diplomatic process, both Miller and Kurtzer conclude in their respective books that America must become the honest broker it was during the administration of George H. W. Bush. (Well, relative to the Clinton administration, anyway.)

One example: In Kurtzer's Negotiating Arab-Israeli Peace (co-authored with Scott Lasensky) we learn that future US policy should be to
"Build a diverse and experienced negotiating team steeped in regional and functional expertise; encourage open debate and collaboration within the government. A dysfunctional policy process should not be tolerated"

It is clear from Kurtzer and Lasensky's "commentary" that the above lesson was learned well by Jim Baker but entirely missed by Clinton's secretaries of state, Christopher and Albright. Ross, who was appointed to be a special Middle East coordinator by Clinton, did not encourage debate and collaboration. The Clinton policy team is accused by Kurtzer and Lasensky of being "dysfunctional," without any knowledge in Arab culture, a serious drawback especially at Camp David II.

"There was no expert on our team on Islam or Muslim perspectives," said a former Clinton administration official, "[so] when it came to dealing with Jerusalem, there's some very embarrassing episodes that betrayed our lack of knowledge or bias."

Aaron Miller, in his intriguing new book, The Much Too Promised Land makes a similar accusation against the Clinton policy team (of which he was a member). He waxes nostalgiac about Bush 41 and Secretary Baker, as he criticizes the Clinton administration. And why? Simply because the US, under Clinton and Ross, acted as "Israel's lawyer", abandoning all pretence at being an honest broker. In not-so-diplomatic language, he castigates Ross's "driving ambition to succeed and to exert control." Most significantly, he blames Ross for cutting Kurtzer out of the peace-process team in 1994.

Dan's departure in my view was a major loss. We needed his honesty, balance, and creativity, particularly in the mid-1990's and in the run-up to Camp David."

Miller sums up to my mind the fundamental problem of Ross's approach as follows:

Dennis, like myself, had a inherent tendency to see the world of Arab-Israeli politics first from Israel's vantage point rather than from that of the Palestinians. Not that he didn't understand Arab or Palestinian sensitivities. But his own strong Jewish identity, and his commitment to Israel's security combined with something else: a deep conviction that if you couldn't gain Israel's confidence, you have zero chance of erecting any kind of peace process. And to Dennis, achieving this goal required a degree of coordination with the Israeli's, sensitivity toward their substantive concerns, and public defense of their positions. Baker's good judgment and toughness balanced and controlled this inclination, which was not the case under Clinton.

In subsequent posts, I will be citing more from the books by Kurtzer and Lasensky, and by Aaron Miller. There are must-reads for my readers, especially for American Jewish liberals who cheered the American involvement in the peace process. Miller's book, in particular, is the most important book yet to be written on American's attempts to broker mideast peace, (And, by the way, the book is highly entertaining. I found myself laughing out loud occasionally.)

For when you get down to it, the peace-process team under two US presidents was composed of three talented individuals, all Jews, and all liberal Zionists.

Now we know -- from Kurtzer and from Miller, two-thirds of the trio -- that America, Israel, and the Palestinians would have been better served by a more diverse team.

Apparently, Dennis Ross, whose failure was spectacular, still doesn't get it.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The State Department's Trivialization of Anti-Semitism

Why the US Department of State wastes US taxpayers' money preparing a sloppy report on global anti-semitism is beyond me. Well, it is not beyond me; Jewish organizations lobby Congress, and Congress earmarks the money for the Dept. of State, all part of the propaganda war for Israel.

The report reinforces what we all know: that the so-called "new anti-semitism" is almost always disguised anti-Israelism, and that when the body count of Palestinians rises, so do incidents of anti-semitism throughout the world. That is why during the 1990s, anti-semitism waned, and during the 2000's, and especially during times of conflict, anti-semitism rose. Of course, there is still anti-semitism that is only tangentially linked to Israel, if at all, e.g., in Russia, and among the rightwing. But most anti-semitism is a front for anti-Zionism, and not vice-versa.

The State Department report looks like it could have been composed by Phyllis Chesler; even Abe Foxman's ADL would have been produced something more nuanced. We are treated to the familiar false dichotomy between "legitimate criticism of Israel's policies" (although we are never given examples) and illegitimate criticism of Zionism or Jewish self-determination, as if to be an anti-Zionist makes you an anti-semite.

If you believe that, then you have trivialized anti-semitism and inter alia you are guilty of rabid anti-Palestinianism, because Palestinians (understandably) oppose Zionism. (And yet it is considered legitimate for Israelis to oppose the return of the Palestinian refugees; nobody calls that a thwarting of Palestinian nationalist aspirations.) But of course, requiring the Palestinians to accept Israel as legitimate, and if not, they will be branded as anti-semites, is part of the double-standard employed by those who claim that the Jews have a right to a state of their own in Palestine at the expense of the native Palestinians.

The State Department, not surprisingly, bashes the UN for its imbalanced treatment of Israel; of course, it doesn't view United States's support of Israel as lopsided. Still, the report makes it very clear that it is not accusing the member-nations of the UN as harboring anti-semitic motives, but rather that it plays in the hands of antisemites. Of course, this distinction is missed entirely by David Harris of the American Jewish Comittee who writes

"By exposing the use of anti-Jewish tropes and anti-Israel measures by government and non-governmental bodies, especially in the UN, the report makes it clear that anti-Semitism is not simply found in crude and uneducated circles. It can be found in some of the world's most respected institutions," said Harris.

The State Department report does not say or imply that anti-Semitism is found in the United Nations. But that doesn't matter to David Harris, who wishes to demonize the United Nations as part of "Israel advocacy."

The State Department has adopted the European Union working definition of antisemitism, which considers as antisemitic "comparisons of Israel with Nazi Germany." So, according to this definition, for example, it is antisemitic to point out that the Israel government adopted the Nuremberg racial definition of 'Who is a Jew" for the purpose of establishing Jewish descent. Now, it may be outrageous and ridiculous to compare actions of the state of Israel with that of the Nazis. But why is that anti-semitic?

The report considers the charge of "dual loyalty" on the same par as the charge of "blood libel." Now, I know many Jews who are openly more loyal to the state of Israel than to the country of which they are citizens, and they are proud of that loyalty. But I don't know of any Jews who use the blood of Christian children for their matzot. By considering both of these charges "libels" the report demeans and trivializes the "blood libel" charge.

But more than that -- when there was no Jewish state, then it made sense to consider "dual loyalty" to be an anti-semitic canard. But when Zionists themselves have made the argument that Israel is the homeland of all the Jews -- not the spiritual homeland but the actual homeland -- when Zionists from David Ben-Gurion to A. B. Yehoshua have claimed that you cannot be a complete Jew in the diaspora, and that the state of Israel is the nation state of the Jews, then this Zionist demand is not for dual loyalty, but for sole loyalty to the state of Israel.

When will anti-Israelism be legitimately considered as anti-semitism? When the state of Israel becomes a nation-state of the Israeli nation, composed of various religions and ethnicities. Until that time, the Zionists can't have it both ways. They cannot claim that all Jews are citizens of the state of Israel in potentia by virtue of their religio-ethnic affiliation, and simultaneously claim that world Jewry cannot be judged by the actions of Israeli Jews.

Of course, all ethnic and religious generalizations are morally pernicious, and neither Israelis nor Palestinians should suffer for the sins of their leaders, or their terrorists (often the same.) Anti-semitism is hideous bigotry, as is anti-Arabism, and all sorts of racial and ethnic prejudice. But Zionism, which was the biggest beneficiary of modern anti-semitism, from the Dreyfus affair through the Russian pogroms, through the German holocaust, through the communist Judaeophobia, and through the Arab antisemitism that drove out the Arab Jews "back to their real homeland," cannot wash its hands of the responsibility for some of the "new anti-Semitism" no more than the United States, by virtue of its horrendous foreign policy under the current president, can wash its hands of its responsibility for anti-Americanism around the globe.

If you believe that anti-semitism is not fueled by the actions of Israel (a lot more so than by the actions of the UN General Assembly), then you insult Zionism and Israel. For you claim, against Zionism, that a Jewish state does not empower Jews, that it is not an agent in world history, that the Jews are not now masters of their destiny. You say that Israel's actions have no effect on others, that the Jews are as passive, marginal, and as weak, as they were, according to Zionism, during the period of exile.

What does the State Department's accusation against the UN remind me of? Of the pathetic attempt to attribute Palestinian hatred of Israelis to, ribono shel olam, their friggin' textbooks. As if the checkpoints, the closures, the wall, the mass arrests and imprisonments, the expulsions, the settlements, the massive expropriation of land, have no effect on Palestinian attitudes towards their occupiers.

It's their bloody textbooks! Without them, they would fight among themselves to be our hewers of wood and drawers of water!

Even by its own standards the State Department fails to make a convincing case against the United Nations. For it has to show not that the UN singles out Israel for criticism when there are worse human rights violators. It has to show that it singles out Israel for criticism when there are other putative Western democracies doing the same thing that Israel does. You see, the European Union's working definition of anti-semitism doesn't just refer to double-standards; it refers to double-standards with reference to democratic nations. And so the evidence supplied in the State Department's report about the UN's failing to criticize the Sudan over Darfur has no relevance at all to the double-standard criterion for anti-semitism adopted by the Europeans. Now, it may be that if the US occupies and creates American settlements in Iraq on a longeterm basis, and this is not equally criticized by the UN, then there will be a case for the charge of anti-semitism.

The report gets worse: The British boycott against Israeli academic universities is considered antisemitic because some of the boycotters compared Israel's actions to those of the Nazis. The boycott of Israel by the Canadian Union of Public Employees is cited as an example of antisemitic demonization of Israel because the union's resolution refers to "Israeli apartheid." So if you suggest that Israel's policies constitute apartheid, you are, according to the State Department, anti-semitic. (Well, I guess some Haaretz writers are anti-semitic...hang on, didn't Ehud Olmert say that Israel would become apartheid if it didn't evacuate the territories?) A cartoon published in the Guardian is considered antisemitic because it uses the Star of David, which, as any idiot knows, is a symbol of the modern State of Israel.

To deny that the Jewish people have a right to an ethnic-state of their own in a land claimed by others is not anti-semitism, classical or new. It is anti-Zionism, or to be precise, anti-political-Zionism. To call that anti-semitism is to trivialize and cheapen anti-semitism, as it is to libel the many people, Jews and non-Jews, who opposed and oppose political Zionism because it is bad for the Jews.

Now that's what I would call anti-semitism.

And what about the double-standard of spending thousands of dollars on producing a report about anti-semitism, with nary a dollar spent on Islamophobia, or Arab-bashing?

Walt and Mearsheimer, take note.

Selling Purim to Jewish Progessives

Purim is a three-day affair in Jerusalem this year. However you look at it, the holiday is not exactly a favorite among Jewish progressives. The Megillah/Scroll of Esther celebrates a victory of the Jews over Haman, his sons, and a whole bunch of people inside and outside the Persian capital of Shushan who had it in for the Jews. OK, so the Jews did not take spoils, certainly an advance over today's IDF (which explicitly prohibits taking spoils, and has prosecuted a few soldiers for it, but where taking "souvenirs" is widespread, if I can believe the reports of soldiers in my family and in the group "Breaking the Silence")

Ah, but let's leave the IDF out of this one, shall we?

It's not just the Scroll of Esther that discomfits progressives; it's the Amalek thing; it's the Barukh Goldstein thing; it's the Hanan Porat "Purim Sameah" ("Happy Purim") thing (That's what the Gush Emunim leader allegedly said when he heard about the Goldstein massacre, though he claims that he was not celebrating Goldstein, but urging people to continue with the holiday, despite the horrible thing that had happened.) It's the primitive customs associated with reading the megillah, like making deafening noise when the villain Haman's name is mentioned, or getting stone drunk.

The stone-drunk business reminds me of a story. Once my family was invited to the Ner Israel Yeshiva in Baltimore for the festive meal on Purim. I thought, well, what could possibly go wrong? It's a happy holiday, and the yeshiva students at least know what they are doing. Well, when my children saw drunken yeshiva students vomiting on the lawn outside the yeshiva, my only consolation was that wouldn't want to go back and enroll in the joint. And they didn't, although they did go to some modern orthodox Israeli yeshivot.

All I know is that Maimonides, not exactly a liberal, would be aghast at how the holiday has been turned -- by some -- into a drunken orgy of Jewish ethnic particularism.'s my attempt to sell Purim to progressives a bit late for this year, but not for next year.

Consider the following:

The Scroll of Esther is not history. I mean, there probably never was an Esther or a Mordecai or Haman. The story of Purim is part of the Jewish collective memory, which means that it never happened. So don't worry about innocents being killed, because according to the story, no innocents were killed. According to the story, all of them were implicitly guilty, including the sons of Haman. Is that a primitive, tribalistic morality? Of course. But it helps a bit to realize that we are in the realm of fantasy. I can't shed tears over the death of Orcs either.

Once the book is understood as a fable written two thousand years ago, there are two possible ways of responding to it: by reading it literally as representing a morality that gets a B-(after all, Haman is indeed a villain that turns a personal slight into a call for genocide), or by reading into it, against the grain of the story, our own moral imperatives. I adopt both readings, but I prefer the latter. For one thing, I am doing what my medieval Jewish culture heroes, the rationalist philosophers, always did -- providing non-literal interpretations of scripture that were in tune with their own views.

James Kugel has argued pursuasively that if you detach the Bible from its classical interpreters -- which is what Protestant Judaism and modern Biblical criticism attempts to do -- then the book you are left with is pretty mediocre as literature, and only partly agreeable as ethics. The Bible has always undergone a process of interpretation, of mediation, because none of the classic readers could relate to it as a document produced in a certain time and place.

So for me to relate to the Scroll of Esther, and to the Purim holiday in general, I emphasize (and distort) those points that are congenial to my ethics and worldview, and just forget about the rest. I don't drink on Purim; if I am really feeling frum/religious, I will have a shot of scotch before I go to bed, whereupon I will not be able to distinguish between "Cursed be Haman" and "Blessed be Mordecai". I will have a good time with my grandchildren, and pick a prayer service where there is a lot of decorum and the scroll is read in a respectful manner, without all the lunacy of the vulgar plebs (amkha, in Hebrew).

And, of course, I will overeat, give baked goods that my friends will regift and throw away, and distribute a modest (i.e., token) amount of charity.

I will read the story of Esther as a fictional fantasy about how my people, through political wisdom and without religious fanaticism, or the help of a Deus ex machina, triumphed over the enemies who wished to destroy us because we were different from them. And that is a message which I will apply not only to my people, but to all beleaguered peoples who are in danger of having their identity and culture -- and physical welfare-- destroyed by bad people in power, in the name of culture and ethnic homogeneity.

Because if what Haman wished to do to the Jews was wrong, then it is also wrong when anybody wishes to do this to any group.

Just wait till you hear what I do with the Haggadah!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Obama's Speech on Race and Racism

Several months ago, when I knew very little about Barack Obama I became friends with one of his major fundraisers, a Jewish lawyer living in DC, who has known Obama since their days together at Harvard law school. After a Shabbat lunch, in which I surprised my host with my opinions on Israel, he said, "Jerry, you are not a Clinton supporter; you are a Obama supporter." So I became an Obama supporter.

Shortly after that, I wrote a post called "Why I Still Support Obama." The fact that Obama was making a lot of so-called "pro-Israel" supporters nervous was sufficient reason for me to support him. Then the slurs and the rumours came, and I decided to contribute to the campaign.

Last night, in my Jerusalem apartment, I read Obama's speech on race in America, and I was blown away. I have not heard any presidential candidate, or an president, for that matter, give a speech like that in decades. I certainly have not heard any speech of that intellectual calibre by an Israeli politician.

It took political courage for Obama not to reject his pastor. Nor should he have. Sure, Pastor Wright has said some outrageous things for many Americans, but at the same time, he has done tremendous things for his community and in his personal dealings, and, according to Obama, has never discriminated between white and black. He was a mentor for Obama, and Obama was able -- as we all should be -- to filter out the stuff that he did not agree with and indeed condemned. If I didn't have that ability, I would have ceased going to Young Israel synagogues a long time ago.

Morality and people are complex. That is something I have learned repeatedly over the years. As an orthodox Jew I associate with some people who, on the one hand, adhere to a mafia-morality that is deeply offensive to me, but on the other hand, live exemplary personal lives.

Such is my former neighbor from the Jewish Quarter in the Old City, a close friend of our family, who was a big supporter of Meir Kahane. He and I used to have shouting matches in which he would say some pretty awful things of "The-only-good-Arab-is-a-dead-Arab" variety (I won't repeat what I said.)

One day, I ran into him as he was leaving an grocery store owned by an Arab. There was a bigger grocery store owned by a Jew that was closer to our homes. I turned to my neighbor and said, "Hey, I thought you were the guy who wanted to drive out all the why aren't you buying from Reuven's store?" He looked at me and said,

Reuven? He's a gonif. Imad? He's a mentsch.

I am not forgiving my neighbor his racism. And I don't want to excuse my own moral failings. But people are complicated -- and we are all have to learn from the other's strengths and weaknesses without compromising our values.

Still, having written the above, I think that if a person does not just say outrageous things occasionally, but makes them his/her trademark, I would learn to stay away from the guy, no matter what his/her other virtues are. That wasn't true of my neighbor, and that wasn't true of Pastor Wright. It was true of Louis Farrakhan (though notice how he toned down the rhetoric in the last few years) and it is becoming increasingly true of folks like Alan Dershowitz, who cannot open their mouths without saying something morally outrageous (Cf. his reaction to the Spitzer case here. If there ever was a mafia-moralist,that would be Dershowitz, who feels called upon to defend his former research assistant.) There comes a time when one's supply of charity is exhausted.

But even then, one can hope for their teshuvah.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Planning for a Purim Pogrom and Police Passivity

Sunday's pogrom against the Jerusalem residents of Jabel Mukaber, a Palestinian neighborhood of "united and undivided" Jerusalem, was announced last week by its organizers in posters and leaflets. To be precise, the organizations behind the pogrom announced that they were going to hold a demonstration at 5 pm on Sunday, and from the demonstration would go to the house of the Palestinian who gunned down eight yeshiva students and tear it down. (As is well-known, Arab terrorists get their houses torn down, whereas Jewish terrorists get monuments built in their honor; the loonies of the right were protesting the government's delay in tearing down the house, which will occur once the court gives its ok to collectively punishing innocents. It will.)

After the right-wingers distributed leaflets last week announcing their action, one of the organizers, Nadia Matar, threw dust in the eyes of the public by saying that they would only hold a demonstration. After all, she said, if we wanted to tear down somebody's house, we would do it, and not announce it in the media.

Well, the demonstration was held (without a permit), and then the demonstrators went to Jabel Mukaber and decided to let the government tear down the murderer's house, while they would just smash cars and windows of as many Arab houses as they could. After all, if you an Arab, you are of the seed of Amalek (well, metaphorically speaking, anyway), and there is a commandment to destroy you, right?

Didn't we read about it last Shabbat in Shul?

In the hate poster the organizers declare their intention "to destroy the house of the murderer and to drive out his family and his supporters". They then go on to rant about the Arab fifth column living in the state of Israel.

By the way, I received the image of the leaflet from Prof. Eliot Horowitz, who has studied Jewish violence (and the Jewish desire to cause violence) to gentiles during the Purim holiday in his book, Reckless Rites: Purim and the Legacy of Jewish Violence. The last line of the leaflet quotes Esther 9:1 , "...whereas it was reversed -- the Jews ruled over those who hated them."

The Jerusalem police, who were supposed to protect the Palestinian inhabitants of Jerusalem, were unable to prevent the pogrom while it happened, although they did arrest twenty-two pogromists. The police spokesman, I believe, said that they were surprised by the violent actions of the protesters.

Considering that everybody in the country knew about the planned pogram, which had been publicized in all the media, that's pretty funny. I am glad that the police of the Jewish state know how to tell a good Purim joke!

Another Method of Stealing Land From the Arabs

The theft of Arab land by Jewish settlers has been going on for over a century, but as Uri Zohar used to sing, 'Ha-rosh ha-yehudi mamzi lanu patentim" ("The yiddishe kopf invents new devices"), and I am always intrigued by the methods used to steal land belonging to individual Palestinians and the Palestinian people.

This land theft is at the heart of the Zionist enterprise and, in my opinion, will be the ultimate reason why that enterprise will fail. Call me a religious fanatic, but I believe that over the long term (sometimes a very long term), justice is done, especially when the injustice is blatant. I believe in a God of vengeance, and that God (through natural processes) uprights the apple cart when it has been overturned by the rotten apples. OK, so it didn't work with other native peoples. But who says that the crimes against the Native Americans will not come back to haunt America, until some modicum of justice is done?

But enough of theology.

This land grab method is rather simple: a settlement sees what lands it wishes to take over, allots the land to one of its members for land use, prevents the Arabs owner from cultivating the land, and then after a few years claims ownership of the land, on the grounds that it had not been cultivated by its Arab owners. Lack of cultivation was one of the tricks used by the infamous Peliah Albeck to declare private land "public land" and parcel it out to the yuppie community of Efrat.

Read about it here in Haaretz

Court case reveals how settlers illegally grab W. Bank lands

By Meron Rapoport

West Bank settlements have expanded their jurisdictions by taking control of private Palestinian land and allocating it to settlers. The land takeover - which the Civil Administration calls "theft" - has occured in an orderly manner, without any official authorization.

The method of taking over land is being publicized for the first time, based on testimony from a hearing on an appeal filed by a Kedumim resident, Michael Lesence, against a Civil Administration order to vacate 35 dunams (almost 9 acres) near the Mitzpe Yishai neighborhood of the settlement. Official records show the land as belonging to Palestinians from Kafr Qaddum.

Lesence's lawyer, Doron Nir Zvi, admitted at the hearing that the land in question was private Palestinian property. However, Lesence claims ownership on the grounds that he has been working the land for more than a decade, after he received it in an orderly procedure, complete with a signed agreement, from the heads of the Kedumim local council.

Affidavits from Civil Administration officials stated that Lesence began cultivating the land only in the past six months.

Attorneys Michael Sfard and Shlomi Zecharia, who represent the Palestinian landowners on behalf of Yesh Din - Volunteers for Human Rights, insist their clients continued to work the land, and that the army and settlers from Kedumim are denying their access to it.

Kedumim residents who testified before the board said that the Palestinian have no problem reaching their lands. However, a visit to the area reveals a different picture: The guard at Mitzpe Yishai announced that "it is forbidden to allow Arabs in" to the lands abutting the neighborhood. After the Palestinians approached their property on foot, an army patrol arrived and moved them off. When the commander was told they have Civil Administration documents proving they own the land, the commander replied: "Documents don't interest me."

The land-takeover method was developed in Kedumim and neighboring settlements during the mid-1990s, after the Oslo Accords, and continues to this day.

Zeev Mushinsky, the "land coordinator" at the Kedumim local council, testified as to how it works: Council employees, Mushinsky in this case, would map the "abandoned lands" around the settlements, even if they were outside the council's jurisdiction, with the aim of taking them over. The council would "allocate" the lands to settlers, who would sign an official form stating that they have no ownership claim on the m, and that the council is entitled to evict them whenever it sees fit, in return for compensating them solely for their investment in cultivating the land.

Kedumim's former security chief, Michael Bar-Neder, testified that the land "allocation" was followed by an effort to expand the settlement. Bar-Neder said that once the settlers seized the lands, an application would be made to the military commander to declare them state-owned, since under the law covering the West Bank, anyone who does not cultivate his land for three years forfeits ownership of it.

Monday, March 3, 2008

The March to Folly in Gaza

Israel lost the war in Lebanon before it started; it has now lost the war in Gaza before it started. There is no way that Israel can stop the Kassam and Grad Katyusha rockets from being fired because they are highly portable. It can, of course, do damage to missile-factories and to launchers, but unless it were to sit in Gaza for months, perhaps, years, it could not end the missiles.

It can reduce the level of fighting to a relatively low-level conflict, which is in its interest. As long as Kassams are being lobbed at Sderot on a relatively infrequent basis, Olmert has no pressure to include Hamas or Gaza in peace negotiations. Of course, he will be voted out of office, but that is inevitable anyway; Sharon is the only prime minister in recent memory who was not voted out of office.

It seems that the military strategy is to kill a lot of civilians, but not too many, and then to lie about it. That makes the Palestinians hurt (deterrence) while keeping the world off Israel's back. Thus Gabi Ashkenazi said that 90% of the Palestinian casualties were militants. B'Tselem has said that it is close to 50%. In cases like these, the IDF lies for the sake of Israel's image.

If Israel wants to stop the Kassams -- and I sincerely doubt it -- then they will have to pay a diplomatic price to Hamas, just as they had to pay a diplomatic price to Hizbollah. The price will be lower, and the talk will be quiet, but it will be there. Tzipi Livni can go around saying that there will be no compromise with Hamas -- fine and dandy -- but there will be in the future, just as there has been in the past.

Israel must enter into agreements with Hamas just as they have entered into agreements with Hizbollah. Call them "understandings"; call them what you will, but as long as Hamas has the power and support that it does, then it is a player.

What we are seeing in Gaza is what we have seen in Iraq. Although the Iraqis were upset with Saddam Hussein, and very upset with the anarchy of the occupation, they blame the foreign occupiers in addition to blaming rival sectarian groups. Israel is in a no-win situation, the same no-win situation she has been in since the failure of Oslo (and before.) Both sides may take a pause from the fighting and lick their wounds. But as long as the Kassams are being fired, and as long as Israel fails to stop them militarily, the Israeli public will not accept Olmert's excuses. Killing Palestinians makes most Israelis I know feel good -- revenge is a natural emotion -- but not stopping the Kassams make them feel worse. Being shelled by little pishers like the Palestinians (or the Hizbollah) drives them crazy, the same way that being stung by mosquitoes drive elephants crazy. And killing Palestinians, though it helps to ease the pain, just doesn't heal the wounds of national pride. That is why the Israeli public believes that Israel lost the second Lebanon war, despite Israel's rampant destruction of Lebanon. True, the two situations are not the same, and Israel had less understanding from the world about Lebanon than it does about Gaza. But that understanding will evaporate quickly. When it comes to Israel, the line about "disproportionate use of force" is now hardwired into every diplomat's brain.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Obama, Israel, and the Jews

The New York Times ran an article yesterday about Barack Obama and the Jews. I have started reading the "disclaimers" of the Obama campaign spokespeople very carefully. Here's one:

The candidate’s Israel advisers are three former staff members to President Bill Clinton: Dennis Ross, a top Mideast adviser; Anthony Lake, national security adviser and Susan Rice, assistant secretary of state. Other advisers on Israeli and Mideast matters are Mr. Wexler; Dan Shapiro, formerly of the Clinton national security council, and Eric Lynn, a former Congressional aide. (All but Ms. Rice are Jewish.)

No mention of Rob Malley, right? But there shouldn't be, because Malley is not an "advisor on Israel," but on Middle East/Palestine. I am sure that my friend Marc Zell, co-chairman of "Republicans Abroad in Israel" and cited in the Times article in another connection (and a terrific Mikado in last January's production in Jerusalem), will not sleep better at night.

And how's this one:

Mr. Malley has communicated with the campaign by e-mail but has never spoken to Mr. Obama, a campaign spokesman said.

Now the Israel Lobby can rest assured that one of Obama's Middle East advisors is only emailing his advice, rather than meeting him with Ohio.

Malley no doubt is and will be an advisor to Obama as he was to Clinton. So what? He will be one of many, and his focus probably won't be Israel-Palestine, which is not his main area of specialization. But his views will be solicited, presumably. And that brings a ray of hope to America's Middle East policy.

Ribono shel olam, I am starting to talk like Obama!