Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Devil is in the Details

The Mecca Agreement has temporarily quelled Palestinian internecine violence, and promoted a united front to the world. But the devil is in the details. As MEMRI (The Middle East Media Research Institute) points out, Hamas has cleverly found a way to not have to budge on many of its core positions-- e.g., non-recognition of Israel, the right of return of Palestinian refugees into Israel proper--while enlisting more international endorsement. Meanwhile, Hamas continues to take advantage Israel's restraint in the face of ongoing Qassam missile attacks into southern Israel, in the name of the cease-fire. Hamas Using Cease-Fire to Stockpile Weapons

The Mecca Agreement - A Strategic PLO-Hamas Alliance for Establishing a Palestinian State without Hamas Recognizing Israel -
C. Jacob and Y. Carmon
Hamas will not be required to recognize Israel, since, as a Palestinian movement, and even as a government, it is not authorized to conduct diplomatic negotiations, as negotiations and the signing of treaties in the name of the Palestinian people are the exclusive prerogative of the PLO and its head, Mahmoud Abbas. This tactic allows Abbas to conduct negotiations as the representative of the Palestinian people, and it enables him to ask Israel and the international community to overlook the fact that Hamas, which is part of the PA government, has not changed its principles and does not recognize Israel. (MEMRI)

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Monday, February 26, 2007

Does Peace with Israel Represent Capitulation in Predominant Arab WorldView?

Saul Singer presents an interesting thesis that certainly deserves to be taken seriously. What we in the West take as a given, that a peaceful two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli Conflict-which has continued for a over a century now-may not be seen through quite the same lens in much of the Arab world. If he is correct, and peace with Israel represents shame and capitulation to many, if not most in the Arab world, then our best efforts at conciliation and rapprochement may be for naught if they are not accompanied with equally vigorous efforts at establishing once and for all the absolute legitimacy and permanence of a Jewish state in the land of Israel.
Ironically, those who believe that their efforts at demonizing and delegitmizing Israel are furthering a 'peace process' may in fact be doing the exact opposite. This includes Palestinian sympathists from NGO's to western governments and their diplomats. Anne Bayefsky's piece on a newly released United Nations report shows John Dugard, the UN's "Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967," announcing that Jews seeks racial domination. How Bad Is the UN?
Seen from this vantage point, it is easy to agree with Singer that "The most pro-peace policy is the one that most convinces the Arabs of Israel's permanence."

In the Arab Mind, Peace Equals Capitulation
Saul Singer
As hard as it is for us to comprehend, we must accept that in the Arab mind, peace with Israel - far from success - still represents capitulation, humiliation and defeat.
The Arab-Israeli peace that is a shining prize in Western eyes would be a source of shame and mourning for much of the Muslim world.
In Western eyes, peace is so obviously desirable that the idea that it could be seen negatively is rarely considered. But try, for a moment, to look at the situation through Arab eyes. Peace would be the ultimate ratification of Israel's existence. It would be seen as an abject surrender to the West's bid to dominate the Arabs.
The most pro-peace policy is the one that most convinces the Arabs of Israel's permanence. When it comes to a "political horizon," the problem is not that the Arabs cannot see a Palestinian state, but that they can see a Jewish one. The Arab world will settle for a Palestinian state only when it is convinced of the permanence of Israel.
Today, Hamas leaders openly say that their dreams of Israel's destruction are closer to fruition than any time since 1967. They see the struggle as not only, or even primarily, one of military strength, but of legitimacy. And if it is suddenly and increasingly more legitimate to speak of a world without Israel, why should the Arabs, at this very moment, throw in the towel?
In this context, what we think of as a "political horizon" designed to tempt Arabs has the opposite effect. How does dressing up defeat make it more tempting?
Unfortunately, there is no direct way to change the fact that, to the bulk of Arab opinion, peace equals capitulation. All that can be done is to tip the scales of inevitability: from a world where it seems that Israel can be waited out, to one in which Israel is not only growing in strength but in legitimacy.
It may be counterintuitive, but the Palestinians' many allies who think they are promoting peace by vilifying Israel are doing the opposite. The same goes for Western governments who assume that "evenhandedness" advances peace.
The most pro-peace policy is the one that most convinces the Arabs of Israel's permanence.

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Friday, February 23, 2007

With One Hand Outstrectched For Peace--Yet the Imperative of Remaining Ever Vigilant

If given the real opportunity, are the Palestinians truly willing--if only begrudgingly--to live side by side with a Jewish state? On the face of it, we hear again that if only Israel would relinquish more territory, share Jerusalem more generously, and meet a host of other conditions, the Palestinians would back the two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict. Yet time and again, words and deeds from supposedly moderate Palestinians (and other Arabs in the Middle East) belie this assumption.
In 2005, Judea Pearl, president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation, an organization that promotes cross-cultural understanding named after his son, attended a high-level U.S.-Islamic World Forum in Doha, Qatar. Richard Holbrooke, former American ambassador to the United Nations, reminded the audience that two and a half generations of Arabs have been brought up on text books that do not show Israel on any map, and that such continued denial, on a grass-roots level, remains a major hindrance to any peaceful settlements.
Later in the conference, in a conversation with an aide to Muhammed Dahlan (Palestinian Authority civil affairs minister and former security chief of Gaza), Pearl noted that the aide confessed "we Palestinians do not believe in a two-state solution, for we can't agree to the notion of a 'Jewish state.' " "Judaism is a religion," he added, "and religions do not have states." When Pearl pointed out that Israeli society is predominately secular, bound by history and its sense of peoplehood, his amiable interlocutor replied, "Still, Palestine is too small for two states."
Pearl went on to discuss his disappointment with this line of reasoning with an Egyptian scholar renowned for his liberalism. His response was blunter yet. "The Jews should build themselves a Vatican," he said, "a spiritual center somewhere near Jerusalem. But there is no place for a Jewish state in Palestine. The Jews were driven out 2,000 years ago, and that should be final."
Ze'ev Schiff, below, gives us more chilling examples from the present. If the 'moderates' espouse such beliefs, Israelis must be excused if they seem less than sanguine about the prospects for peace with their Palestinian neighbors at the moment. While we must always be open to even the slightest window of opportunity to move forward, it behooves us to also heed the words of Moshe Dayan, and remain ever vigilant. "This is our life's choice: to be prepared and armed, strong and determined, lest the sword slip from our hand and our lives be cut down."

Lest the Sword Slip from Our Hand
Ze'ev Schiff
Jibril Rajoub, a former head of PA Preventive Security in the West Bank who is considered a "moderate" Palestinian, has now appeared on television and shocked his Israeli acquaintances with the remark that in the end, the Palestinians will recover every inch of land between the river and the sea.
With all due respect to my Palestinian friends, I can only conclude from these remarks that we must shut our ears when the Palestinians scatter promises about wanting to live alongside Israel. It is not words that matter, but deeds, and deeds alone.
There is only one conclusion, and Moshe Dayan already said it in his eulogy over the grave of Roi Rutenberg, who was murdered by Arabs from Gaza in the 1950s: "This is our life's choice: to be prepared and armed, strong and determined, lest the sword slip from our hand and our lives be cut down."
The key issue here, and our primary concern, is the continuation of terror; today manifested in the continued rocket fire, the refusal to release Gilad Shalit, the attempts to carry out suicide bombings, and the massive smuggling of arms. Bringing an end to these things constitutes part of the Quartet's demands.
Of course Israel must help Mahmoud Abbas, and through him, the suffering Palestinian people. But it cannot participate in a sneaky attempt by Hamas to use a moderate and positive-thinking man like Salam Fayad, who would be finance minister in a unity government, to put aid money into the hands of Hamas ministers, including those heading the movement's military wing.
Having a moderating force in Gaza and within the PA is in Israel's interest, but it is not enough. Israel must also insist that the Palestinians pass the critical test of reining in terror and fully abide by all agreements.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Lull in Terrorism Deceiving--Not for Lack of Trying

When things are relatively quiet in Israel, this is often mistaken to be a sign of progress. That the Palestinians by and large have come to their senses and internalized the reality that terror and terrorism only further postpones their dream of statehood. Unfortunately, that is not the case, which of course, does not deny that there are many moderates among the Palestinians who eschew violence and terrorism. But the quiet in Israel is largely due to the success of the security barrier, or separation fence, and the excellent work of Israel's security forces, primarily the Shin Bet. Over the past year alone, they have thwarted scores of terrorist attacks.

Security Official: Terror Attacks Being Foiled Constantly
Israeli security officials said Tuesday, "The calm in recent months is deceiving. There are constant attempts to launch terror attacks." The terrorist who planned to blow himself up in Tel Aviv Tuesday, Omar Ahmed Abu al-Rob, 24, is a member of a cell operating under Syrian guidance. "This is a dangerous cell responsible for most of the serious suicide bombings that were carried out in the last two years," a defense official said.

Palestinian Suicide Bomber Arrested Near Tel Aviv
Avi Cohen
A suicide bombing in Tel Aviv was prevented by Israeli security forces on Tuesday after a Palestinian member of Islamic Jihad from Jenin in the West Bank and his accomplices were arrested in Bat Yam. The would-be bomber told interrogators that he had arrived in Rishon LeZion with the explosive device concealed in a backpack, which he hid in a garbage dumpster. Police later found the device.

The News You Don't Read
Hillel Halkin
It made big headlines in Israel on Wednesday, February 21, but I don’t imagine it got more than scant attention, if that much, anywhere else.
Police thwart major suicide attack.” That’s not front-page news in America or England—unless, that is, it happened in New York or London. If it happened in Tel Aviv, you need at least a bomb going off, and preferably a death or two, for anyone elsewhere to sit up and take notice. And this explains a certain paradox: the more successful Israel’s army and security services are in preventing deadly acts of Palestinian terror against Israelis, the more the world looks upon the means of prevention as vindictive and unnecessary harassment of Palestinians on Israel’s part.
Take this Wednesday’s thwarted bombing. An Islamic Jihad operative from the West Bank city of Jenin was arrested in a Palestinian “safe house” in a southern suburb of Tel Aviv after planting a bomb, which he may have intended to retrieve and blow himself up with, in a trash can in the center of the nearby city of Rishon Letzion. He told his interrogators where the bomb was, a team of sappers was sent to defuse it, and no damage was done. This kind of thing happens all the time in Israel. The main reason it was treated as such a big story this time was that, warned by intelligence sources that the bomber was on his way, the police threw up roadblocks, causing major traffic jams in the Tel Aviv area.
You read such a story in the newspaper and turn the page and go on. Only in the act of turning it, perhaps, do you suddenly stop to wonder: Just a minute—how did Israel’s intelligence services know that someone from Jenin was on his way with a bomb? And how did they know where he was hiding so that they were able to get to him in time?
You won’t find the answers in the newspaper. For obvious reasons, their details are a secret. And yet in a general sort of way, there’s no great mystery. Israeli intelligence must have known about the bomb because it had a Palestinian agent who tipped it off. It may have known about the safe house from another agent. And where did it recruit these agents from? Most probably from the hundreds of Islamic Jihad operatives who have been arrested in recent years at roadblocks, in raids on houses, in dragnets, and in sweeps—in short, in all those operations that have given Israel a reputation for being an unconscionable oppressor. And how did it persuade them to work for it? Possibly with money, possibly with other incentives, possibly with threats against them and their families—that is, by doing the kinds of nasty things that nice people don’t do to one another.
The world hears mostly about the nasty things. “Dozens of Israeli lives saved yesterday” doesn’t play well with the editors of the New York Times or the Guardian in London. We in Israel, who know those lives could have been our own, our friends’, or our family’s, have a different take on it.

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Monday, February 19, 2007

At the Heart of the Conflict: Refugees

Many regions around the globe have experienced refugee conundrums (what is the best solution towards promoting their safety, relocation, rehabilitation, etc.), especially in post-war scenarios. World War ll is one of the most glaring examples, with millions of refugees from war-torn Europe needing immediate assistance, and ultimately resettlement into new homes, often in territories reflecting the new national parameters hammered out in postwar treaties and agreements. The postwar period was marked by the forced resettlement and expulsion of millions of Poles, Romanians/Moldovians, Kashubians, Ukrainians, Hungarians and Jews throughout Eastern Europe and Russia, as well. According to Allied sources revealed after 1990, the migration of ethnic Germans affected up to 16.5 million people and was the largest of several similar post-World War II migrations orchestrated by the victorious Western Allies and the Soviet Union. These resettlements were often as swift as they were harsh.
In 1950, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees UNHCR - The UN Refugee Agency was established by the United Nations General Assembly. The agency is mandated to lead and coordinate international action to protect refugees and resolve refugee problems worldwide. Its primary purpose is to safeguard the rights and well-being of refugees. It strives to ensure that everyone can exercise the right to seek asylum and find safe refuge in another State, with the option to return home voluntarily, integrate locally or to resettle in a third country. In more than five decades, the agency has helped an estimated 50 million people restart their lives. Today, a staff of around 6,689 people in 116 countries continues to help 20.8 million persons.
By contrast, UNRWA, the UN Relief and Work Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East was created in 1949 to exclusively help individuals (along with their spouses and dependants) whose homes were in Palestine from June 1, 1946 to May 15, 1948 and who lost both their homes and their livelihoods as a result of the conflict. It was created solely for the benefit of Palestinians, and close to sixty years after the armistice of 1949, still perpetuates rather than solves the Palestinian refugee problem. The JPost : Refugees forever? One may rightfully ask, why is this so?
The primary function of UNHCR is to ensure the protection, resettlement and rehabilitation of refugees. UNRWA is set up to address only the first issue, and even on that score, its track record is poor. While undoubtedly providing important humanitarian aid to the Palestinians, in the end UNRWA acts as a fig leaf for an Arab world that has deliberately ignored or exploited the plight of these refugees.
While Israel absorbed upwards of a million Jewish refugees expelled from Arab countries following the 1948 War, hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees, third and fourth generation by now, still languish in refugee camps scattered throughout the Middle East, including in the West Bank, and amazingly, still in Gaza, from where Israel withdrew and evacuated every last Jew, dead and alive, in the summer of 2005. UNRWA continues to perpetuate a refugee crisis for the Palestinians by considering the descendants of those whose homes were in Palestine from June 1, 1946 to May 15, 1948 as refugees, thus putting the number of Palestinian refugees in the exodus now into the millions. Amazingly, relinquishing their 'right of return' into Israel proper remains a sticking point for Palestinian leaders. At the heart of the matter we somehow always return to the implicit questioning of Israel's very Right to Exist. more on the refugee issue below...

The Palestinian Refugees

The Palestine Refugee Problem

Perpetuating Refugees
In 1949, the UN established the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA). Last week UNRWA launched a drive to increase contributions. In the 1980s the Arab world financed 8% of UNRWA's outlay. By 2006 its share was less than 3%. The very nations responsible for keeping the "refugees" displaced, and who whip up lust for revenge, do the least for them. Israel has withdrawn completely from Gaza, including dismantling settlements and even moving cemeteries. This was the moment the Palestinians claimed to be waiting for - complete territorial contiguity and not a single Israeli settler, roadblock, or military base in sight. Israel's withdrawal freed up substantial tracts of prime real estate. Yet nothing has been done to help the refugees find permanent homes. Florida-born children of Cuban refugees are no longer considered refugees. But UNRWA stipulates that refugee rights extend to "descendants of persons who became refugees in 1948." The time has come to impress on Western donors to cease shelling out millions that only impede peace, and to bring the UNRWA travesty to its overdue end. The Arab states need to start showing that peace, not Israel's destruction, is their solution to the refugee problem, and to stop doing their best to perpetuate the problem themselves.

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Friday, February 16, 2007

Muslim Refusenik, Irshad Manji, Debunks Carter's Speicous Apartheid Accusations

It takes real courage to ask the harder questions, to look at reality squarely, to be self-reflective, and then self-critical. Irshad Manji is a brave soul who is willing to call "a spade a spade" even at great personal risk. Irshad points the way towards reclaiming the proud and rich tradition of Islam that has been largely co-opted by radicals today. She is not afraid to applaud what Israel does right, while retaining her right to criticize Israel when criticism may be due. Of course, because of her willingness to not paint everything with the same broad stroke, her criticisms carry the moral authority of an honest and fair observer. Her challenges to Carter's outrageous distortions of history only point to the shallowness of his arguments, and how he, in effect, trivializes the horrors that were committed under real Apartheid in South Africa. Shame on him and bravo to Irshad!!!

Absurd to Call Israel an Apartheid State -
Irshad Manji
I respectfully challenge Jimmy Carter's recent critique of Israel as an apartheid state. Would an apartheid state have several Arab political parties, as Israel does? Would the vast majority of Arab Israeli citizens turn out to vote in national elections, as they've usually done? Would an apartheid state extend voting rights to women and the poor in local elections, which Israel did for the first time in the history of Palestinian Arabs? Would an apartheid state award its top literary prize to an Arab? Israel honored Emile Habibi in 1986. Would an apartheid state encourage Hebrew-speaking schoolchildren to learn Arabic? Would an apartheid state be home to universities where Arabs and Jews mingle at will, or apartment blocks where they live side by side? Would an apartheid state ensure conditions for the freest Arabic press in the Middle East? The writer is the author of The Trouble with Islam Today: A Muslim's Call for Reform in Her Faith. (The Australian)

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Road Blocks from Mecca: Is the Peace Process DOA?

What can be hoped for next week when Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice meets in Jerusalem with Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas? Rice Faces Uphill Battle for Mideast Breakthrough
It is hard to imagine a bleaker horizon for reviving the prospects for meaning dialogue on a 'peace process,' given the fact that an unrepentant Hamas has categorically refused to agree to the most basic of conditions for a resumption of negotiations--continued refusal to recognize Israel, no renunciation of violence, and unwillingness to abide by past written commitments. A weakened Abbas cannot afford to make the only kind of concession on the Palestinian refugee issue--relinquishment of their non-starter position of 'right of return' into Israel proper----that could allow Israel to even begin to contemplate an agreement. Is the United States and the European Union throwing good money after bad in a futile attempt to prop up an already moribund Fatah president and unstoppably hemorrhaging Fatah party? What kind of constructive role can the Saudis play and are they willing to do more than re-align Hamas with their Sunni roots, in an effort to undermine Iranian Shia influence? Several different takes on the situation are offered below.

Next Steps in the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process
David Makovsky
The Mecca accord is a victory for Hamas, which has achieved its goal of forming a unity government without agreeing to the conditions imposed by the Quartet - namely, no recognition of Israel, no disavowal of violence and no commitment to agree to past written agreements. It is hard to escape the conclusion that Abbas has legitimized an unrepentant Hamas. Secretary Rice's political horizon initiative was being done in no small measure in order to bolster Abbas at Hamas' expense. People who felt there was a logic to bolstering Abbas against Hamas' growing strength, and therefore supported the security mission of Gen. Keith Dayton and $86 million in non-lethal military assistance, must now wonder if the new Palestinian coalition alignment could lead to a very different outcome. The Mecca experience suggests that not everyone is on the same page. (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)

The Art of the Possible Peace
Dennis Ross
Many, including Secretary of State Rice, see Saudi, Israeli, Egyptian and Jordanian leaders as sharing a perception of Iran as a threat. With such common fears, the thinking goes, the leaders should be willing to accept the necessary hard compromises and end the Palestinian conflict so Iran can no longer exploit the conflict to build its following and put the region's moderates on the defensive. The assessment of the common threat perception is correct. But basing policy only on this misses an important regional reality. Priorities differ on how best to respond to the Iranian threat. For the Saudis, weaning Hamas away from Iran and producing intra-Palestinian peace is more important than trying to forge peace between Palestinians and Israelis. For the Israelis, however, an intra-Palestinian peace that entails accommodating Hamas (and that does not require Hamas to change its hostile posture toward Israel) is hardly a basis for reaching out to Palestinians in a way that would satisfy the Saudis, Egyptians and Jordanians. Is Israel likely to contemplate excruciating concessions on Jerusalem or territory with a Palestinian government led in part by those who refuse to acknowledge its existence or renounce terrorism? The political options available for peacemaking between Israelis and Palestinians have been reduced. And Rice's efforts have to be guided by what is possible, not by what is most desirable. (Washington Post)

Secular Palestinians Surrender to Religious Fanaticism in Mecca Deal
Ray Hanania
While Palestinians see themselves in a conflict with Israel, the real battle is among themselves. Will the Palestinian people be a democratic society based on tolerance and respect for all views and religions, or will it be dominated by a religious demagoguery that distorts religion into a self-serving political agenda? Mahmoud Abbas signed an "accord" with Hamas, the Islamicist organization whose entire existence has been based on violent rejection of compromise, not just with Israel but with the larger and dominant secular Palestinian movement. Hamas has always understood that its ability to prevent peace through the use of violence and even acts of terrorism and suicide bombings against non-military Israeli targets would serve to prevent a genuine peace accord. Today, with no sign of a possible peace accord on the horizon, thanks to Hamas intransigence on compromise, Hamas has forced the secular Palestinian leadership to surrender to its will. Hamas wants all of Palestine or nothing, willing to sacrifice Palestinians for an endless conflict. Despite the pain of an internal Palestinian civil war, the question of whether the future would be in the hands of Hamas or Fatah was too important to sign away in some pathetic deal in which Abbas has basically surrendered his leadership. Hamas is now the voice of Palestine, whose real goal is not Palestinian independence, but the greater goal of political Islam. (Ynet News)

Condi's Summit Won't Bridge Palestinian Gaps
Zev Chafets
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is scheduled to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in Jerusalem next Monday. The event is already being called, in Hebrew, "the delusional summit." Rice wants to talk with the parties because that's what diplomats do, but it is doubtful that she expects results. The gaps are too wide and the animosities are too deep, not just between Israel and the Arabs but among the Palestinians themselves. If the two Palestinian sides can keep the peace until next Monday, Abbas will meet with Rice not as the leader of the unified Palestinian people, but as Hamas' junior partner and mouthpiece. And nothing he can say will move the peace process an inch. (New York Post)

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Forward Progress, or Retreating Into the Future?

Last week's Mecca agreement between Hamas and Fatah does not bode well for Israel, the international community, or for that matter, the Palestinian people. In order to stop the bloodletting in Gaza and the West Bank, both sides agreed to the beginnings of a unity government. Abbas, weakened to the point of no return, is desperate to hold on to some semblance of influence. But in order to flesh out an agreement, he had to sell his soul, along with the body of the Palestinian people. Hamas, on the other hand, loses little and potentially gains greater international legitimacy, while accomplishing its goal of removing the economically suffocating international boycott on the Palestinian Authority. Past history shows that such bargains with the devil can not yield productive results. Conditional to Hamas signing is the implementation of structural & ideological reforms in the PLO, making it possible for the absorption of both Hamas & Islamic Jihad into the organization. Both groups are the antithesis of a national movement to free the Palestinian people and create an independent, secular, democratic Palestinian state. In fact, if they have their way, Palestine will be but a beachhead for fomenting Islamic revolution throughout the Middle East, and Abbas and Fatah will be powerless to stop them. What's amazing, is that Hamas, as part of the Muslim Brotherhood movement, does not even conceal these goals, yet many in the international are quick to hail the Mecca Summit as a major breakthrough towards peace.

See more detailed takes below on the situation.

The International Implications of the Hamas-Fatah Mecca Agreement
- Lt. Col. (res.) Jonathan D. Halevi(Institute for Contemporary Affairs/Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)

The Mecca agreement between Hamas and Fatah does not presage a favorable diplomatic turn. It is merely a tactical political measure calculated to create a false impression regarding Hamas' political flexibility in order to whitewash the organization into being accepted as a legitimate player in the international arena without it having to meet the three preconditions of the Quartet. In practice, Gaza under Hamas rule continues to be a hotbed of terror organizations, including those with ties to al-Qaeda.

The political flexibility of Hamas, as expressed in the Mecca agreement, derives first and foremost from Hamas' inability to score a decisive triumph, as well as from the international political and economic pressure which eroded public support for the Hamas government and the carrot and stick policy of Saudi Arabia (Hamas' financial patron). Hamas' main objective is the removal of the international boycott on the Palestinian Authority.

Despite the desire of the EU countries to see a stable and democratic Palestinian government, past experience demonstrates that the billions of dollars poured into the Palestinian Authority since the Oslo process commenced have only served to strengthen the radical forces. If assistance is now extended to a Palestinian government where Hamas predominates, the West would be sawing off the limb of the tree which constitutes its Middle Eastern perch.
Hamas, as part of the Muslim Brotherhood movement, does not conceal its aspirations to foment Islamic revolution throughout the Middle East, which would topple the moderate regimes allied with the West and establish an Islamic caliphate which will threaten Europe.

One of Hamas' fundamental conditions for agreeing to joint political action with Fatah was the institution of a comprehensive organizational and ideological reform in the PLO which would pave the way for the absorption of Hamas and Islamic Jihad into the organization. Hamas is attempting to revive PLO activity by conducting new elections in the Palestinian Authority and in the diaspora for the PLO institutions. Hamas expects that in such elections the movement will secure a respectable representation and perhaps even a majority. In other words, Hamas' objective upon its entry into the PLO is to take control of the Palestinian national movement, which brings with it exclusive representation of the Palestinian people together with control of the PLO's financial institutions and its international status. Afterwards, it is but a short distance (and Hamas leaders declare this openly) to an ideological reform which will expunge any sign of recognizing Israel.

Furthermore, Hamas has an interest in exploiting the consolidation of its governmental power with the use of Western assistance in order to foment Islamic revolutions in moderate Arab states that are the West's allies in the Middle East, and to establish an Islamic caliphate in the entire region, which will unite all Arab states. In other words, as part of the strategy of the Muslim Brotherhood movement, Hamas aspires via Western assistance to create a new reality in the Middle East that will remove Western influence and foster conditions that will menace Europe.

The Mecca Accord (Part I): The Victory of Unity over Progress
Robert Satloff
With Mahmoud Abbas compromising on almost every critical issue to reach accord with the leadership of Hamas, the Mecca agreement blurs the distinction between moderate and extremist in the Palestinian camp. Abbas' decision to reach an accord with Hamas rather than face Hamas in an electoral showdown comes at a moment when both the U.S. and Israel are pursuing risky political moves to revive the dormant Israeli-Palestinian peace process and strengthen Abbas' position vis-a-vis Hamas. Defining a "political horizon" for Palestinians could only be made possible by a generous Israeli interpretation of the terms of the Roadmap to allow for negotiations over the shape of a permanent status agreement (the third phase of the Roadmap) before an effort had even been made to dismantle terrorist infrastructure (the first phase of the Roadmap). The writer is executive director of the Washington Institute. (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
The Mecca Accord (Part II): Implications for Arabs, Israel, and U.S. Policy Robert Satloff
Hamas received a huge political boost in the form of an embrace by both Abbas and the Saudi leadership. The strengthening of Hamas can only embolden Jordan's own "Hamas-wing" of the Islamic Action Front inside the Hashemite kingdom. While the U.S. welcomes Sunni Arab cooperation to counter rising Iranian influence, it cannot countenance the legitimization of an unreformed extremist organization like Hamas.

Condi's Summit Won't Bridge Palestinian Gaps
Zev Chafets

The Mecca deal did nothing to change Hamas' cardinal principles: Israel has no right to exist, and it is a sacred duty to wage war against the Jews. Abbas, by bringing the Fatah faction into a Hamas-led government, won't be free to go beyond these baseline positions. If he does, the "unity" government will be over, and his life will be in danger.

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Monday, February 12, 2007

Nurturing Illusions & Temple Mount Untruths

Recently, Israel has been accused of attempting to "undermine the Al-Aqsa Mosque" by carrying out construction near the Mugrabi Gate in Jerusalem's Old City. Ironically, despite the fact that the Temple Mount is Judaism's holiest site, most media attention stresses its importance to Muslims (the third holiest behind Mecca and Median) while ignoring or downplaying the very legitimate Jewish religious and historical connection to the site, which precedes Muslim attachments by 1500 years. The stage was set almost 7 years ago, when at the end of the 2000 Camp David Summit, Yasser Arafat said that no Jewish Temple ever existed on the Temple Mount. A year later, the Palestinian Authority appointed Mufti of Jerusalem, Ikrima Sabri, told the German publication Die Welt, "There is not [even] the smallest indication of the existence of a Jewish temple on this place in the past. In the whole city, there is not even a single stone indicating Jewish history."All the commotion about the Mugrabi bridge plan obscures this great Muslim denial - the denial of the Jewish bond to Jerusalem, the Temple Mount and the Temple. Today, increasing numbers of Muslim academics and religious leaders claim that the al-Aqsa Mosque--which according to contemporary studies was built some 1,400 years ago, on the Temple Mount--existed even before Jesus and Moses and that Islam preceded Judaism in Jerusalem. Furthermore, thousands of Islamic rulings, publications and sources deny the Jewish roots in Jerusalem and its holy places. Outrageous claims suggest that if the Temple existed at all, it certainly wasn't in Jerusalem but was located in Nablus or Yemen. According to Nadav Shragai in last week's Ha'aretz, 'Digs, Lies and the Mugrabi Bridge,

"Many Muslims call the Temple "the greatest fraud crime in history" and many Muslim adjudicators attach the world "so-called" to the word "temple." The Western Wall is a Muslim site, they argue, and say Jewish affinity for it was invented for political purposes and dates only to the 19th and 20th centuries. Their aim is to disprove the centrality of Jerusalem to Judaism. Above all they stress the "precedence and supremacy of Islam over Judaism, which contaminates the city's Muslim character." Muslim religious leaders, with at least partial academic backing, are today rewriting Jerusalem's history and introducing new terms and content into Muslim and Palestinian discourse. These terms are total nonsense, even according to known Muslim historians like al Makdessi (who lived in the 11th century). In recent years, this new terminology has penetrated the discourse of Palestinian and Muslim politicians as well. It is therefore easy to understand why the Muslims are so afraid of archaeological digs, not only on the Temple Mount itself but also around it, although these digs also shed light on Jerusalem's Muslim history. Muslims fear these excavations, not because they physically endanger al-Aqsa's foundations, but because they undermine the tissue of lies proclaiming that the Jews have no valid historical roots in the city and its holy sites."

This past Friday, I attended an event at Seattle's University of Washington campus Hillel, which featured 'Combatants for Peace,' an organization dedicated to bringing both sides of Palestinian-Israel divide back to talking with, and more importantly, trusting one another. A noble endeavor, to be sure. I was startled though, when in answer to a question on how this process might be furthered, the former Palestinian fighter went into a harangue about how the proposed Mugrabi bridge is nothing more than a provocation by a right-wing Israeli gov't meant to detract from recent Palestinian solidarity efforts, and could usher in a renewed 'cycle of violence' which would only serve the 'extremists on both sides.' Once again, fantasy overtakes reality, and real progress is subservient to mythologies. While the Palestinians may have gotten some temporary international cover at Mecca last week with agreement on a unity gov't, the sad reality is that there exists no practical mechanism to reverse the ongoing social and political disintegration currently occurring in both Gaza and the West Bank. Ehud Ya'ari, one of the most savvy of Middle East analysts, notes in the current issue of The Jerusalem Report, "Underground organizations metamorphize into militias, militias become paramilitary units, while tunnels are being dug under main highways to plant explosives in order to assassinate political foes. That is the real picture, which is completely isolated from the frank desire of many people of good will to restore a modicum of public order to the swamp of anarchy and to put the PA back on the path toward recovery." He ends his piece on this chilling note. "Nurturing illusions will not cure the sickness that is eating away at our neighbors. Palestine is suicide-bombing itself."

The Truth about the Temple Mount Controversy
David Gelernter
The hysterical Arab reaction to the replacement of a ramp to the Temple Mount must be understood in context. Why are Muslim religious authorities in charge of the Temple Mount anyway - Judaism's holiest site, in the heart of Israel's capital city? And who built the Temple Mount in the first place, and what makes this site holy? Furthermore, the real question is how can the Arab world be cured of its blood-lust against the Jews of Israel? Muslims revere this site in consequence of the Temple that once stood here. The Temple was as real as the World Trade Center. No sane historian doubts its existence. It is attested in many contemporary sources, Jewish and otherwise. Simon Goldhill, professor of Greek at Cambridge University, called the Temple "the largest and most awe-inspiring religious monument in the world....There is nothing like this anywhere else in the ancient world." Israelis created (long ago) the platform on the Temple Mount and the Temple itself, and the religious community that gave it all meaning. Thousands of years later, Israel in 1967 turned over the keys to the Waqf in a peace offering, an act of friendship. Today, Arab leaders demand (in violent outrage) that the world protect the Al-Aqsa Mosque - their precious, sacred cultural treasure - by stopping an Israeli construction project that won't go anywhere near it.

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Monday, February 5, 2007

"Hot House" by Shimon Dotan: A Review

Approaching the miasma that is the Palestinian-Israeli conflict can be a daunting and thankless job. Wading into that treacherous fog requires a steady focus and a sure hand. In Hot House, a new documentary and winner of The World Cinema Documentary Competition Special Jury Prize at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival, Shimon Dotan demonstrates that he is more than up to the task. Already recognized as a seasoned film artist with a number of dramatic movies to his credit, Hot House showcases Dotan’s smooth transition into the realm of the documentary.

Hot House offers us a rare glimpse behind the bars of several Israeli jails where Palestinian are detained. There are nearly 10,000 Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails today. Most Israelis regard these “security prisoners” as murderers and criminals. In contrast, for most Palestinians they are seen as freedom or resistance fighters, heroes, and even martyrs. Their crimes range from assaults on fellow Palestinian “collaborators,” to aiding and abetting terrorists, to carrying out or masterminding terror attacks.

The film begins with fade-overs of one prisoner after another appearing in long steel ensconced corridors, announcing their names and their sentences. Many are serving multiple life sentences, in keeping with Israel’s custom of matching the number of victims murdered with the number of life sentences the perpetrator or accomplice of those attacks is serving (It should be noted that Israel does not have a death penalty—an exception was made for Adolph Eichmann in 1961).

From the early moments of the film, methodical pans across the cells and down the sparse corridors, synchronized with carefully chosen close-ups and the clinking and clanking of steel suggest that we are in the hands of mature film artist. Dotan proceeds to paint a picture of what life inside these jails is like for the prisoners, and what makes them tick. He enquires into the mindset of the inmates, gently probing their perspectives on the topical issues of the day as well their more encompassing world views. Dotan proves to be a master of unobtrusiveness, asking simple and open-ended questions. We learn that many of the prisoners are well-educated, often having studied in Israeli universities prior to their incarceration. Others are auto-didacts, reading widely while serving their time, sometimes tutored by fellow inmates. Palestinian prisoners pride themselves on their knowledge of Hebrew, the mother tongue of their keepers.

The prisoners speak freely and openly, with some notable exceptions. Some see the very real possibility of someday living side by side with their Jewish neighbors, in separate, mutually agreed upon states. Others voice their inherent distrust of Jews, and see peace between the two sides as unrealistic; at best, highly unlikely.

Interestingly, the Israeli authorities decided years ago to separate the rival Palestinian factions, with the adherents of the two major parties, Fatah and Hamas, housed strictly among their own. This has minimized frictions and reduced violence among inmates to remarkably low levels (part of this is also due to strictly enforced discipline and loyalty within ranks). The prisoners are allowed certain amenities, such as permission to cook according to their own cultural/culinary preferences in their own cells. Many shots inside those cells revealed very decent accommodations by prison standards. Cells were often adorned with colorful rugs, mats and wall-hangings, neatly arranged by the prisoners. Other segments of the film showed prayer halls with ample space for the prisoners to freely practice their faith. And aside from books, newspapers and journals, television was also readily available. Many of the interviewees attested to their keen interest in developments in the outside world. Viewers saw how the prisoners got regular infusions of news from Israeli television and print media, as well as Palestinian.

Both Fatah and Hamas maintain internal leadership within the prisons. They, and the rank and file of their respective movements had the opportunity to voice an array of opinions. Through the first half of the film, there were moments when I longed for Dotan to be more demanding of his interviewees. I was concerned that they were getting a pass on too many dubious pronouncements, like the oft repeated sound byte that if not for the ongoing occupation, they would no longer have any reason for resistance, as they put it. I yearned for Dotan to challenge them further, press them, or at least to provide the uninitiated of the audience with a larger context, for example, that the occupation was on the verge of extinction back in the Oslo years and most decisively in 2000 at Camp David (and later at Taba), if not for Palestinian intransigence.

But as the film progressed, I understood that Dotan was wise to employ restraint. While refraining from entering the fray himself, he gave free rein to his interviewees. It was left to the audience to judge the merit-or speciousness-of the prisoners’ claims. Dotan remained a largely invisible force in the film’s physics. At one point, in his interview with a major Hamas leader, he asks about the party’s willingness to accept the 1967 borders as viable boundaries. Dotan reminds the Hamas leader that he has he has been quoted as retracting that acceptance. The leader acknowledges that he has changed his mind, cackles for several chilling moments, and then after his ominous laughter subsides, he pauses and says something to the effect of, ‘in the future we will see what will be.’

Then, towards the end of the film, there is an interview with a female Hamas prisoner that is also quite revealing. The woman, a Palestinian television news anchor at the time, drove a suicide bomber to Yaffa Street in Jerusalem in August of 2001, where he carried out a horrendous bombing in a crowded Sbarro Pizzaria at lunchtime. Sixteen people were killed in the attack, and many more wounded. The prisoner’s testimony was eerie for its cold-blooded detachment. A vacuous smile rarely left her face. When Dotan quietly asked her if she knew how many children had been killed, she volunteered that she thought the number was three. He corrected her, noting that the actual number was eight. She seemed perversely delighted to hear this, and smiled again, saying, “really?”

Hot House presents glimmers of hope and as in the two above depictions, forebodings of despair. No doubt, both sides in this ongoing and tragic conflict will find things to both applaud and criticize. But Dotan was wise to let the prisoners (and to a much lesser degree, Israeli prison authorities) present their unexpurgated points of view. The viewer is free to draw his or her own conclusions, secure in the knowledge that he has not been manipulated by the biased leanings of the filmmaker. While this is not an easy concession for one like myself, who worries that too many of the uninitiated will not know enough of the history of this tragic conflict to make balanced and fair-minded judgments, in the end I’ll hesitantly make this concession to the greater good of neutrality.

Of course, much of this may prove moot, given that internecine violence continues to eat at the body and soul of Palestinian society. Still, films like Hot House hold fast to the best hopes for the future, when the two sides can once again sit down and contemplate their intertwined fates.

Director: Shimon Dotan
Screenwriter : Shimon Dotan
Executive Producer : Arik Bernstein Producers : Arik Bernstein, Yonatan Aroch, Dikla Barkai, Shimon Dotan Coproducer : Danny Rossner Cinematographers : Philip Bellaiche, Shai Goldman, Hanna Abu Sada Editor : Ayala ben Gad Music : Ron Klein

Director's Bio:
Shimon Dotan was born in Romania, grew up in Israel, and is currently working in Canada, Israel, and the United States. Dotan, a fellow of the New York Institute of the Humanities at NYU, is an award-winning filmmaker with 10 feature films to his credit. His film The Smile of the Lamb received the Silver Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival and the award for best director at the Israeli Academy Awards. Dotan has taught filmmaking at NYU, Tel Aviv University, and Concordia University in Montreal.

Film Contact
Arik BernsteinAlma Films

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Thursday, February 1, 2007

Red Lines: Crossing the 'Blue Lines' of International Legitimacy

Yesterday's Times article, "Essay Linking Liberal Jews and Anti-Semitism Sparks a Furor, ", once again raises the question of when the line is crossed from legitimate criticism of a sovereign state to slanderous vilification. Natan Sharansky has provided excellent guidance with three basic criteria: 1. Does the criticism Demonize? (comparisons to Nazis, Nazism; spurious accusations of genocide, Apartheid, etc.) 2. Does the criticism De-legitimize? (call into question a state's very right to exist) 3. Is the state singled out, using a unique standard of judgment devoid of any context? (specious accusations of war crimes, worst offender of human rights, etc.) Considered from this perspective, the line, in fact, loses much of its blurriness.
No other nation but Israel has had its very 'Right to Exist' so brazenly called into question, as if this were a legitimate subject for debate. Yet because the question is seriously entertained, authors like Alan Dershowitz have had to actually write books defending this obvious, unassailable right (The Case for Israel). Yaacov Lozowick tackles the issue head-on in his landmark work, Right to Exist: A Moral Defense of Israel's Wars. As Cynthia Ozick points out, "the title alone--the scandal of calling into question a living nation's existence--ought to shame the prevaricators and defamers, whether they be professors in universities, media distorters, 'peace activists' who justify terror, morally deformed intellectuals, self-deceiving unconfessed haters, or merely the herd of the easily led."
But the argument gains legitimacy when the defamers hide behind arguments of bi-nationalism(code for the dissolution of the Jewish state) or post-modern critiques against the nation-state. Why does Israel have to be a Jewish state, they disingenuously ask? The answer, of course, is glaringly obvious. Post Holocaust safe-haven arguments aside, the very question posits a false premise, namely that a Jewish state is some sort of theocracy. In fact, the Jewishness part of the Jewish state refers to us a people, Am Y'israel (the people of Israel). Israel, like America, is a secular democracy and is a Jewish state in the same way that America is largely a Christian nation, although with notable differences.
One of the problems with this entire debate is in the framing and lack of historical and current context. Another is that in the world of sound bytes and easy catch-phrases that are bandied about, few take the trouble to carefully scrutinize the arguments. A case in point is the yesterday's Times article by Patricia Cohen. In her very first sentence she mis-characterizes the traditionally centrist and liberal (in the best sense of the term) American Jewish Committee as a 'conservative' advocacy group. Thus the stage is set for a false dichtomy from the get-go. And no doubt, those who will take the time to read Alvin Rosenfeld's cogent essay linked here, "Progressive" Jewish Thought and the New Anti-Semitism,{42D75369-D582-4380-8395-D25925B85EAF}/PROGRESSIVE_JEWISH_THOUGHT.PDF, will prove to be the exception rather than the rule. To add insult to injury, 'the paper of record' today published four letters to the editor, and in their unique sense of balance, they lean 3:1 against
For more on this important discussion, see Thane Rosenbaum's fascinating, if overly optimistic Red State Jews written at the end of this summer's Lebanon War. My essay, in the July/August issue of Congress Monthly, "Schism in the Jewish Psyche: Defending Israel's Right to Exist", bears directly on this issue as well. And lastly, a piece on the panel discussion on this topic, looking at Edward Alexander and Paul Bogdanor's The Jewish Divide Over Israel: Accusers and Defenders;%20looking%20for%20old%20articles%20I%20wrote.EML/1_multipart_xF8FF_2_Jewish%20divide.doc/C58EA28C-18C0-4a97-9AF2-036E93DDAFB3/Jewish%20divide.doc?attach=1
And let's not forget the vision of Martin Luther King Jr., who forty years ago said, ". . . You declare, my friend, that you do not hate the Jews, you are merely 'anti-Zionist.' And I say, let the truth ring forth from the high mountain tops, let it echo through the valleys of God's green earth: When people criticize Zionism, they mean Jews--this is God's own truth. "

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