Friday, December 21, 2007

Will Lavishing more $$$ on the Palestinians Miraculously Make them more Stateworthy?

Six months ago I wrote about the dangers of enabling (On the Disastrous Consequences of "Enabling": Pitfalls Ahead of New 'Mideast Envoy' 6/29 & Why "Enabling" Only Perpetuates the Problem 6/18), a concept in psychology that describes counterproductive efforts to help an individual, often in the throes of addiction. Enabling is doing for someone things that they could, and should be doing themselves. Simply, enabling creates a atmosphere in which the individual can comfortably continue his unacceptable behavior.
The analogy seems an apt one for the West in its efforts to "help" the Palestinians move closer towards statehood. Below, several articles pointing out why this hasn't worked so well in the past and why it's not likely to meet with great success now. What's most confounding is that we seem to have learned little from the recent past. The Palestinian Authority has squandered more than $6 billion dollars in aid since 1994, making the Palestinians the most subsidized people on the planet.
Don't get me wrong; I understand that ordinary Palestinians are suffering and their needs are great. I'm not adverse to the West providing both humanitarian aid as well as assistance in building their economy and social infrastructure. But is it unreasonable to attach a few minimal strings to that handsome sum now pledged, totaling over $8 billion? Couldn't we get them to maybe eliminate the incitement to hatred emanating from their airwaves? At least humor us with a moratorium on the 'Virgins of Paradise' music video, exhorting young men to commit jihad and become martyrs on the fast track to Paradise? Or to insert some maps in the school textbooks that actually show Israel existing in the Middle East? Or put a damper on the Friday sermons at the local mosques preaching death to the Jews? Or do we really believe that more money and good faith is the answer?
david brumer

International Aid to PA No Guarantee for Boosting Moderates - Khaled Abu Toameh
Since its establishment in 1994, the PA has received nearly $6.5 billion in international aid. The assumption was that economic prosperity would weaken radicals and boost the moderates among the Palestinians. But hundreds of millions of dollars went into secret bank accounts or to build villas for senior PA officials. The international community that was pouring money on the PA did not seem to care about the stories of financial corruption and embezzlement. Nor did the donors pay attention to the fact that Arafat was inciting his people not only against Israel, but also against the same "infidels" who were signing his checks. While the billions of dollars promised at the Paris conference on Monday are likely to improve the living conditions of the Palestinians and strengthen their economy, there is no guarantee that the financial aid would have a moderating effect on many of them. This money is mainly designed to keep Fatah in power and prevent Hamas from taking over the West Bank. Unless the PA changes its rhetoric and starts promoting real peace and coexistence with Israel, the millions of dollars are not going to create a new generation of moderate Palestinians. The only way to undermine Hamas is not by channeling billions of dollars to the PA leadership, but by offering the Palestinians a better alternative to the Islamist movement. (Jerusalem Post)

What About the Palestinians' Record? - Diana West
Christmas came early to the Palestinian Authority when the "international community" decided to pledge billions in aid. Why? Did the PA end its terrorist ways? Stop state-sanctioned incitement against Israel and the West? Change Fatah's charter (forget about Hamas) calling for Israel's destruction? What we call "foreign aid" to the PA may be understood as a form of "jizya," the protection money paid to Muslims by non-Muslims. We avert our collective eye from the goals of jihad. Instead, we see ourselves as villains - Israel for its existence, and Israel's supporters for, well, their support for Israel's existence. (Washington Times)

What to Expect for $8.6B in Palestinian Aid - Greg Sheridan
So international donors have pledged $8.6 billion in aid to the Palestinian Authority. This eye-popping amount of money will continue the Palestinians' status as the highest per capita aid recipients in the world. Not that I'm suggesting Palestinians don't have it tough, even if most of their suffering is caused by the appalling decisions of their corrupt, incompetent and extremist leadership. The aid pledged in Paris may do some good. It may stabilize living standards on the West Bank. And by exacerbating the contrast between a more prosperous West Bank, controlled by Fatah, and an increasingly poverty-stricken Gaza, controlled by the religious extremists, Hamas, it may strengthen Fatah against Hamas. Assuming all this works out perfectly, at the very best we might get a slightly improved status quo. Fatah is a busted flush of ageing cronies and local war lords. It has not produced a new generation of leaders and it has very little support among the Palestinian people. Remove the Israelis from the West Bank and the estimates of how long Fatah would remain in power range from two weeks to two hours. (The Australian)

Questions about Palestinian Aid - Steven Stotsky
The argument for increasing foreign aid to the Palestinians stems from the belief that the way to defeat radicalism is to eliminate its ostensible cause - poverty and ignorance. But as early as 1958, Daniel Lerner discerned that political activism in the Middle East was not driven by the "have nots," but rather by the "want mores." Claude Berrebi of Princeton University analyzed Palestinian terrorism and determined that "if anything...those with higher education and higher living standards are more likely to participate in terrorist activity." Alan Krueger and Jitka Maleckova in the Journal of Economic Perspectives found that Palestinian suicide bombers were more likely than the general population to have completed secondary education and were less likely to come from an impoverished environment. They also found similar results associated with membership in Hizbullah. (CAMERA)

What About the Palestinians' Record? - Diana WestChristmas came early to the Palestinian Authority when the "international community" decided to pledge billions in aid. Why? Did the PA end its terrorist ways? Stop state-sanctioned incitement against Israel and the West? Change Fatah's charter (forget about Hamas) calling for Israel's destruction? What we call "foreign aid" to the PA may be understood as a form of "jizya," the protection money paid to Muslims by non-Muslims. We avert our collective eye from the goals of jihad. Instead, we see ourselves as villains - Israel for its existence, and Israel's supporters for, well, their support for Israel's existence. (Washington Times)

What to Expect for $8.6B in Palestinian Aid - Greg SheridanSo international donors have pledged $8.6 billion in aid to the Palestinian Authority. This eye-popping amount of money will continue the Palestinians' status as the highest per capita aid recipients in the world. Not that I'm suggesting Palestinians don't have it tough, even if most of their suffering is caused by the appalling decisions of their corrupt, incompetent and extremist leadership. The aid pledged in Paris may do some good. It may stabilize living standards on the West Bank. And by exacerbating the contrast between a more prosperous West Bank, controlled by Fatah, and an increasingly poverty-stricken Gaza, controlled by the religious extremists, Hamas, it may strengthen Fatah against Hamas. Assuming all this works out perfectly, at the very best we might get a slightly improved status quo. Fatah is a busted flush of ageing cronies and local war lords. It has not produced a new generation of leaders and it has very little support among the Palestinian people. Remove the Israelis from the West Bank and the estimates of how long Fatah would remain in power range from two weeks to two hours. (The Australian)

Funding the Palestinians
Daniel Pipes
Lavishing funds on Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority to achieve peace has been a mainstay of Western, including Israeli, policy since Hamas seized Gaza in June. But this open spigot has counterproductive results and urgently must be stopped. Some background: Paul Morro of the Congressional Research Service reports that, in 2006, the European Union and its member states gave US$815 million to the Palestinian Authority, while the United States sent it $468 million. When other donors are included, the total receipts come to about $1.5 billion.The windfall keeps growing. President George W. Bush requested a $410 million supplement in October, beyond a $77 million donation earlier in the year. The State Department justifies this lordly sum on the grounds that it "supports a critical and immediate need to support a new Palestinian Authority (PA) government that both the U.S. and Israel view as a true ally for peace." At a recent hearing, Gary Ackerman, chairman of the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, endorsed the supplemental donation.Not content with spending taxpayer money, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice launched a "U.S.-Palestinian Public Private Partnership" on Dec. 3, involving financial heavyweights such as Sandy Weill and Lester Crown, to fund, as Rice put it, "projects that reach young Palestinians directly, that prepare them for responsibilities of citizenship and leadership can have an enormous, positive impact."One report suggests the European Union has funneled nearly $2.5 billion to the Palestinians this year. Looking ahead, Abbas announced a goal to collect pledges of $5.8 billion in aid for a three-year period, 2008-10, at the "Donors' Conference for the Palestinian Authority" attended by over ninety states on Monday in Paris. (Using the best population estimate of 1.35 million Palestinians on the West Bank, this comes to a staggering amount of money: per capita, over $1,400 per year, or about what an Egyptian earns annually.) Endorsed by the Israeli government, Abbas immediately raised nearly that amount for 2008 at the donors' conference.Well, it's a bargain if it works, right? A few billion to end a dangerous, century-old conflict – it's actually a steal. But innovative research by
by Steven Stotsky, a research analyst for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) finds that an influx of money to the Palestinians has had the opposite effect historically. Relying on World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and other official statistics, Stotsky compares two figures since 1999: budgetary support aid provided annually to the Palestinian Authority and the number of Palestinian homicides annually (including both criminal and terrorist activities, and both Israeli and Palestinian victims).
In brief, each $1.25 million or so of budgetary support aid translates into a death within the year. As Stotsky notes, "These statistics do not mean that foreign aid causes violence; but they do raise questions about the effectiveness of using foreign donations to promote moderation and combat terrorism."
The Palestinian record fits a broader pattern, as noted by Jean-Paul Azam and Alexandra Delacroix in a 2006 article, "Aid and the Delegated Fight Against Terrorism." They found "a pretty robust empirical result showing that the supply of terrorist activity by any country is positively correlated with the amount of foreign aid received by that country" – i.e., the more foreign aid, the more terrorism.
If these studies run exactly counter to the conventional supposition that poverty, unemployment, repression, "occupation," and malaise drive Palestinians to lethal violence, they do confirm my long-standing argument about
Palestinian exhilaration being the problem. The better funded Palestinians are, the stronger they become, and the more inspired to take up arms.
A topsy-turvy understanding of war economics has prevailed in Israel since the Oslo negotiations began in 1993. Rather than deprive their Palestinian enemies of resources, Israelis have been following Shimon Peres's mystical musings, and especially his 1993 tome, The New Middle East, to empower them economically. As I wrote in 2001, this "is tantamount to sending the enemy resources while fighting is still under way – not a hugely bright idea."
Rather than further funding Palestinian bellicosity, Western states, starting with Israel, should cut off all funds to the Palestinian Authority.
Mr. Pipes ( is director of the Middle East Forum and author of Miniatures (Transaction Publishers).

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Saturday, December 8, 2007

Disastrous Consequences of the NIE Report: Will the Fallout Prove Radioactive?

The National Intelligence Estimates (NIE) Report this week on Iran's nuclear weapons program defies credulity. While many analysts search for hidden messages and agendas, the damage has already been done. Efforts to undermine the toxic Iranian regime through sanctions were beginning to have some effect, with growing pressure on countries like Russia and China to participate. Now countries-and corporations-have a fig leaf to hide behind.
The report will only embolden Iran to aggressively pursue what it is undoubtedly already well on its way to accomplishing: developing the technological capability to produce nuclear power, which is then but a short step away from conversion to nuclear weapons.
For over a year, forceful arguments have warned against military actions to stop Iran. The given was that Iran was actively working to become a nuclear power. The question was how to stop this momentum, or whether the world could live with a nuclear Iran.
Ironically, those who hail the NIE report as supporting their belief that Iran's intentions are benign, and who are terrified by the prospect of a military response, choose to remain ignorant of how the report actually brings us closer to military confrontation.
If sanctions lose their teeth--and it is hard to see how that can now be avoided--and Iran's inexorable march toward nuclear capability proves successful, Israel, the country most immediately threatened by such a reality, may be forced to act decisively, powerfully, and likely alone. As Yossi Klein Halevi points out below, Israel could then easily be "branded a warmonger, and faulted for the inevitable fallout of rising oil prices and increased terror."
And when Ha'aretz, the most respected left-leaning daily in Israel, warns that the NIE report does nothing to mitigate Israel's real fears of a nuclear Iran who has threatened to "annihilate" Israel, the world should take heed. Below, more takes from Gerald Steinberg, Melanie Phillips, Avner Cohen, Alan Dershowitz, and others.
david brumer

An Insult to Intelligence: The Israeli Defense Community Responds to the NIE -
Yossi Klein Halevi (New Republic)
With the release of the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran, America, even under George Bush, is hardly likely to go to war to stop a nuclear weapons program many Americans now believe doesn't exist. The sense of betrayal within the Israeli security system is deep. After convincing the international community that the nuclear threat was real, now that has been undone by Israel's closest ally.
What makes Israeli security officials especially furious is that the report casts doubt on Iranian determination to attain nuclear weapons. There is a sense of incredulity. The Israeli strategists I heard from ridicule the report's contention that "Tehran's decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic, and military costs."
For Israeli security analysts, the suspension in 2003 of Iran's covert nuclear military program - the NIE's defining issue - is hardly pivotal. The working assumption in Israeli intelligence is that the Iranians have resumed their covert military program. "The Syrians were working on their nuclear project for seven years, and we discovered it only recently," says one security analyst. "The Americans didn't know about it at all. So how can they be so sure about Iran?"
Shabtai Shavit, former head of the Mossad,
said: "My assessment is that, after they decided to aim for nuclear weapons, they advanced on three parallel tracks: enriching uranium, creating components for a bomb, and developing missiles. The missiles are ready for operation. As for enrichment, they have encountered all kinds of problems, like exploding centrifuges. I estimate that they made great progress, and very quickly, on the military track. Since they have problems with the uranium enrichment track, they can allow themselves to delay the military track, and wait for progress with uranium."
And if Shavit had written the report? "I would have based my assessment on the facts and said unequivocally that Iran is going to create the ability to make a bomb."
Until now, pessimists here could console themselves that a last-resort Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities would likely draw wide international sympathy and even gratitude--very different from the near-total condemnation that greeted Israel's attack on Saddam's reactor in 1981. Now, though, the NIE will ensure that if Israel does attack, it will be widely branded a warmonger, and faulted for the inevitable fallout of rising oil prices and increased terror.
Ironically, an Israeli reading of the report only confirms the anxiety here, felt across the political spectrum, about Iranian intentions and capabilities. Responding to the NIE, the left-wing newspaper, Haaretz, sounds like a neo-con organ: "While Iran continues threatening to annihilate Israel, what American intelligence thinks about Iran's nuclear capability is irrelevant.... The report establishes that if Iran wants to produce a bomb it can do so, and if it doesn't want to, it won't. This evaluation may have a restraining effect in internal American politics. But in Israeli politics it should cause the opposite reaction."
Once the material is available, the final step toward constructing a bomb is the least complicated part of the process. "Today the Iranians are enriching uranium at four percent; to make a bomb, you need 90 percent. From there, the transition doesn't require a lot of time. Most of the work has been done to get to the four percent. It is a matter of months, not years."
That sense of urgency is evident in the highest ranks of the Israeli military. A recent letter circulated by Eliezer Shkedi, commander of the Israeli Air Force, to his officers offered a textual comparison between quotes from Hitler threatening Europe's Jews in the 1930s with quotes from Iranian President Ahmadinejad threatening Israel today. An accompanying letter, signed by an officer identified only as "responsible for the Iranian arena," noted laconically, "We can rely only on ourselves." With the release of the NIE, that old Israeli sentiment has become far more acute.
(Yossi Klein Halevi is a contributing editor of TNR and a senior fellow at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem)

Israel Cannot Let Down Its Guard in the Face of Iranian Threats -(Ha'aretz Editorial)
While Iran continues threatening to annihilate Israel, what American intelligence thinks about Iran's nuclear capability is irrelevant. It is not fantasy or paranoia when we hear regular, concrete threats from Tehran. Therefore, the question of whether Iran obtains a nuclear capability to destroy Israel in two years or seven years is not important. While other nations can amuse themselves by mulling their economic interests with Iran, Israel is the only country that cannot let its guard down as long as the current Iranian regime is in power. The American intelligence report cannot justify a policy change or a calming down. The report establishes that if Iran wants to produce a bomb it can do so.

Stupid Intelligence- By Alan M. Dershowitz
The recent national intelligence estimate that concluded that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 is just about the stupidest intelligence assessment I have ever read. It falls hook, line and sinker for a transparent bait and switch tactic employed not only by Iran, but by several other nuclear powers in the past.
The tactic is obvious and well-known to all intelligence officials with an IQ above room temperature. It goes like this: There are two tracks to making nuclear weapons: One is to conduct research and develop technology directly related to military use. What every intelligence agency knows is that the most difficult part of developing weapons corresponds precisely to the second track, namely civilian use. In other words, it is relatively simple to move from track 2 to track 1 in a short period of time.
The authors of this perverse report, which is influencing policy so immediately and negatively, will have much to answer for if their assessment results in a reduction of pressure on Iran—which is the only nation actually to threaten to use nuclear weapons to attack its enemies—to stop its obvious march toward becoming the world’s most dangerous nuclear military power.

In Iran We Trust? - Valerie Lincy and Gary Milhollin (New York Times)
The latest National Intelligence Estimate contains the same sorts of flaws that we have learned to expect from our intelligence agency offerings. During the past year, a period when Iran's weapons program was supposedly halted, the government has been busy installing some 3,000 gas centrifuges at its plant at Natanz. These machines could, if operated continuously for about a year, create enough enriched uranium to provide fuel for a bomb. In addition, they have no plausible purpose in Iran's civilian nuclear effort. All of Iran's needs for enriched uranium for its energy programs are covered by a contract with Russia. Iran is also building a heavy water reactor at its research center at Arak. This reactor is ideal for producing plutonium for nuclear bombs, but is of little use in an energy program like Iran's, which does not use plutonium for reactor fuel. For years these expensive projects have been viewed as evidence of Iran's commitment to nuclear weapons. Why aren't they still? The answer is that the new report defines "nuclear weapons program" in a ludicrously narrow way: it confines it to enriching uranium at secret sites or working on a nuclear weapon design. Valerie Lincy is the editor of Gary Milhollin is the director of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control.

The Flaws in the Iran Report - John R. Bolton
The headline finding - that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 - is written in a way that guarantees the totality of the conclusions will be misread. In fact, there is little substantive difference between the conclusions of the 2005 NIE on Iran's nuclear capabilities and the 2007 NIE. Moreover, the distinction between "military" and "civilian" programs is highly artificial, since the enrichment of uranium, which all agree Iran is continuing, is critical to civilian and military uses. Indeed, it has always been Iran's "civilian" program that posed the main risk of a nuclear "breakout." The real differences between the NIEs are not in the hard data but in the psychological assessment of the mullahs' motives and objectives. The 2007 NIE is internally contradictory and insufficiently supported. It implies that Iran is susceptible to diplomatic persuasion and pressure, yet the only event in 2003 that might have affected Iran was our invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. As undersecretary of state for arms control in 2003, I know we were nowhere near exerting any significant diplomatic pressure on Iran. (Washington Post)

Not the Best Intelligence - Avner Cohen
The release of the National Intelligence Estimate was a political miscalculation that has struck a fatal blow to the administration's diplomatic efforts to bring sanctions against Iran. The community of nuclear experts in Washington, including many of us who oppose military action against Iran, were shocked at the methodologically shallow, confusing and unprofessional way that many of the NIE's findings were formulated. Some believe that the intelligence officials, with Rice's assistance, have taken upon themselves the patriotic task of saving Bush from himself. The report notes that Iran suspended or halted the working groups building the bomb, but creates the false impression that this was the main component of Iran's nuclear weapons development program. The writer is a senior research fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington. (Ha'aretz)

Decoding the U.S. National Intelligence Estimate on Iran's Nuclear Weapons Program -
Gerald M. Steinberg
The U.S. government's latest National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) has concluded that Iran froze its active efforts to manufacture nuclear weapons in 2003, and will not have such a capability until at least 2012. While the NIE states that the U.S. intelligence community has "high confidence" that the Iranians halted their nuclear weapons program in 2003, it also states that it has only "moderate confidence" that Tehran has not restarted the program. In contrast, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has said that while it is "apparently true that in 2003, Iran stopped pursuing its military nuclear program for a certain period of time," nonetheless, he adds that "in our estimation, since then it is apparently continuing with its program to produce a nuclear weapon." Israeli analysts have long warned their U.S. counterparts about the potential for a parallel "black" Iranian weapons program, based on a small nuclear reactor producing plutonium, and following the North Korean model. Indeed, Iran is known to be constructing just such a reactor at Arak, leaving room for another undetected facility. (Institute for Contemporary Affairs/Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)

Iran's Nuclear Program and the National Intelligence Estimate -
Interview with Senator Joe Lieberman (Federal News Service)
"The headline you just read shows the danger here, which is that people will reach a conclusion that all of our concern about Iran building nuclear weapons was misplaced, it's over, there's no problem. If you read this report, this intelligence report, you see that that's not true. It says very clearly Iran has both the capacity and intention to build a nuclear weapon." "And in fact, they are focused now on the first, most important thing that they need to do, which is to enrich uranium. So this is not cause for complacency. There's still a lot about what Iran is doing that should concern us and encourage us to keep the economic and diplomatic pressure on them."

Peres Warns: One Morning We'll Wake to a Nuclear Iran - Roni Sofer (Ynet News)
According to President Shimon Peres, historically, intelligence reports sometimes turn out to be inaccurate, but on the Iranian issue the international community must eschew compromise and focus on a few clear warning signs. Peres warned visiting former American Secretary of State Madeleine Albright that whenever Iran develops a successful civilian nuclear energy program, the transition to developing nuclear weapons will be quick and easy. Furthermore, Peres warned that it was impossible for any intelligence agency to know the exact nature and scope of the technological knowledge purchased from North Korea and Russia at high prices. "We are likely to wake up one morning and discover that comprehensive nuclear technology was passed on without interruption and is close to implementation," he said.

The Thousand Volt Farce - Melanie Phillips
How Iran is laughing. America has achieved the remarkable feat of dealing a terrible blow to all those fighting to defend civilization. It has actually strengthened Ahmadinejad, whose grip on power had been looking ever more fragile. But then the U.S. handed him a priceless gift in the form of the NIE report which says, in effect, that U.S. intelligence hasn't got a clue about the Iranian nuclear threat. We can all see from its ludicrously threadbare reasoning - much of it merely using guesswork to assess Iran's intentions, in the absence of reliable information on the ground - that intelligence of any sort is clearly in short supply in the U.S. security world. (Spectator-UK)

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Thursday, November 29, 2007

What it Means to be a Jewish State

I thought this article important enough to post in its entirety. Israel's fundamental Jewishness and existence as a State for the Jewish people is not up for debate. Amnon Rubinstein eloquently states why.
david brumer

On dreams and nightmares
Amnon Rubinstein , THE JERUSALEM POST
Nov. 27, 2007
If Israel is not a Jewish state, it can't be called Israel, because Israel is a synonym for the Jewish people. If Israel is not Jewish, its Declaration of Independence should be annulled, because it talks about the establishment of a Jewish state named Israel.
If Israel is not Jewish, the United Nations resolution of November 29, 1947 regarding the partition of Palestine into two states, one Jewish and the other Arab, should be revoked.
If Israel is not Jewish, the Law of Return should of course be abrogated, along with Basic Law: Human Dignity and Freedom, which determines that Israel's values are based on it being a Jewish and democratic state.
If Israel is not Jewish, a new national anthem will have to be found instead of Hatikva. If Israel is not Jewish, it won't be Catholic. Or Buddhist. It will be Arab-Muslim - even if the path toward this outcome has to go via a bi-national state.
If Israel is not Jewish, there will not be two states for two peoples. If Israel is Arab-Muslim, it is not likely to be democratic.

If Israel becomes all of these things, all its anti-Zionist journalists and intellectuals will be the first to flee. However, the Jews from Middle Eastern countries will be left behind. Although they once fled from an Arab regime in order to live in a Jewish country, that same regime, which humiliated and oppressed them, will catch up with them.
SUCH a scenario would be a nightmare - one that will never come to pass, but it is essential we understand just how important the demand to define Israel as a Jewish and democratic state is. Yet we are being told that the existence of a large Arab minority in Israel means that Israel cannot be defined in this way, because defining a country without taking the minority into consideration is not democratic.
But when the UN declared the establishment of a Jewish state, the Arabs constituted more than 40 percent of the population, and despite this, the UN General Assembly saw no contradiction between this reality and defining Israel as a Jewish democratic state.
The anti-Zionists say that this reality has changed, that the world has entered the age of post-nationalism. But even in this age, most of the countries of Europe, even those with very large national minorities, remain nation-states.
The truth is of course that there is no justification whatsoever not to recognize Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. Our Supreme Court has repeatedly defined what the principal Jewish characteristics of the state are and has included in them the following: that the Hebrew language is its principal official language, its rest days will be held in accordance with Jewish tradition and that the state has a Jewish majority. We are told that defining Israel as a Jewish state awakens suspicions of it becoming a theocracy, and that at most, Israel is no more than the state of the Jews - like the name of Herzl's book. But Herzl himself saw no difference between the idea of a Jewish state and that of a state of the Jews, and allowed the name of his book to be translated into other languages as "The Jewish State." When the UN General Assembly decided that Israel would be a Jewish democratic state, it certainly did not have a theocracy in mind; and neither did David Ben-Gurion, who drafted the Declaration of Independence; nor did the former president of the Supreme Court Aharon Barak, who defined the essence of the state as Jewish.
And what good will it do to change Israel's name? Will the Palestinian Arabs ever agree to the existence of a state of the Jews under any name?
If Israel as a Jewish state does not have to be Jewish in the religious-halachic sense, what then does it mean to be Jewish? That meaning has not changed since Herzl's time: The Jews, at least since the Emancipation, are a people, a single people that has a very important religious element to it, and which, like other peoples, is strongly connected to its religious past. That past is the launch-pad from which its modern national identity takes-off.
Israel is the state of the Jewish people and all its parts, and it must also be the state of all its non-Jewish citizens, as well as of its large Muslim minority, whose leaders deny that they belong to the state.
The state cannot be identical to just a part of the Jewish people. It is the shared home of all - both non-Jews and Jews, Orthodox, traditional and secular - and it must not discriminate between any of the elements that constitute it.
Yes, there are still shortcomings in Israel's governmental system, with the absence of civil marriage being one of the most serious of them. The subjugation of Israelis to the Orthodox rabbinical courts and judges is at odds with Israel's essence as a democracy.
But that is not the reason the Arab leadership and the Palestinian president are opposed to defining Israel as a Jewish state. On the contrary, they themselves seek to establish a fanatical, anti-democratic theocracy of their own here, in place of Israel.
Their opposition is to the existence of a democratic Jewish state anywhere in the region. Their dream is our nightmare.

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Monday, November 26, 2007

Annapolis: All Window Dressing or More Going on than Meets the Eye?

With the much vaunted, much maligned Annapolis Conference only days away, there is no shortage of commentaries and perspectives. Is the whole enterprise a farce, organized by a desperate American administration hungry for something to show for itself in the Middle East? Or is there perhaps more going on behind the scenes, not least of which is backroom discussions on how to stop the Iranian Shia behemoth from going nuclear? Or, as Ron Ben-Yishai puts it, perhaps the main purpose of the conference is "to produce a diplomatic show of force in Annapolis that would make it clear how robust Washington's status is in the Mideast region and in global politics. America currently needs a show of force that will reunite the pro-Western camp around it and encourage its allies to continue the struggle against radical Islam's belligerent intention to take over the region."
Aluf Benn echoes this sentiment;
"The main message of this week's summit at Annapolis will be that the U.S. is back as a leader in the Middle East. When the U.S. calls, the world sides with it. Only a year ago, a pessimistic theory of America's decline as a leading power in the Middle East dominated Washington. The photo-op at Annapolis will reflect the power of the "axis of moderates." The U.S., Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and the UAE will stand holding hands against the "axis of evil" who were not invited: Iran, Hamas and Hizbullah."
At the same time, we should be under no illusions about the likelihood of movement on the Israeli-Palestinian track. Efraim Inbar, below points to five major fallacies that underpin the American initiative. They should not be taken lightly. His sober conclusion is that for the moment, "for Israel, containing terrorism and waiting patiently for better times is probably the best course of action." He may well be right, and Israel's current focus on deterrence may be the best that can be hoped for until there is a major sea change in the Palestinian psyche. If past is prologue, actions on the part of Israel in less than ripe circumstances can prove disastrous.
--And finally, Moshe Ya'alon offers up an important reminder on why a pullout from East Jerusalem is not a healthy idea.
david brumer

Unpopular Child
The once much-vaunted Annapolis conference has been reduced, a few days before its convening, to the dimensions of a birthday party for an unpopular child at school.
Everyone now agrees that the parents were foolish to think they could improve their child's social standing by staging an event in its honor with lots of food, fun, games, and a special magic show, but the invitations have already gone out and it's too late to call the party off.
All that can be hoped for now is that enough children will turn up to prevent a fiasco and that the party will be gotten through quickly without fights, broken dishes, or other embarrassments.
Like many conflicts in history, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will not come to an end by means of a negotiated settlement. A viable Jewish state and a viable Palestinian state west of the Jordan River are not both possible.
The conflict will come to an end because the case for a viable Jewish state is the stronger of the two, the Jewish people having no other country and the Palestinians having Jordan, which will sooner or later re-unite with the 90% of the West Bank that Israel will withdraw from. How and when this will happen is impossible to predict. That it will happen is a near certainty. Annapolis will be quickly forgotten, even quicker than the Madrid Conference was. The dire prophecies of what will happen if it fails ("A catastrophe!" Israel's president Shimon Peres, the chief engineer of the catastrophic Oslo Agreement, has predicted) will not come true.
The Palestinian people is not in the mood for a new intifada and Hamas is not on the verge of taking over the West Bank. The broken dishes, if there are any, will be cleaned up and the real processes in the Middle East, which are not the diplomatic ones, will continue to take place.

The Great American Delusion
Nov. 24, 2007
The US planned Annapolis conference whose goals are to facilitate the creation of a democratic Palestinian state - free of corruption and militias - that will live peacefully alongside Israel is doomed to fail. The American initiative rests on several unfounded premises.
The first is that Palestinian society can be reformed by outsiders. Middle Eastern societies have already proven their resistance to attempts by Western powers to change their old ways of doing business. It is naïve to believe that political and social dynamics rooted in centuries-old traditions can be easily manipulated by well-intentioned, but presumptuous Westerners. President George W. Bush should have learned this lesson from his experience in Iraq.
Change among Palestinian and other Middle Eastern societies can only originate from within. And if such a positive evolution were to take place, it would more likely be brought about from within by an autocratic ruler than from the outside by well-meaning Westerners.
The second fallacy is that economic assistance to the Palestinians can alleviate political problems. Since the Oslo Accords in September 1993, the Palestinian Authority has received the most economic aid per capita in the world. Yet billions of euros transferred to the PA have been squandered or misused. Moreover, economic aid is only as good as the ability of a recipient's economy and government to use it productively. The third fallacy is that Mahmoud Abbas can become the agent for change and therefore he deserves the support of the West. Abbas's record as a leader is dismal. He failed to unite the security services under one organ as he pledged and has not followed through with his anti-corruption election campaign promises. If anything, the chaos within the PA increased under his presidency. The Hamas takeover of Gaza is an obvious indication of his weakness.
The fourth fallacy is that Palestinian society can be quickly transformed into a good neighbor of Israel and that a stable settlement is within reach. Since the Oslo Accords, the PA's education system, media, and dramatic militarization process has done great damage to the collective Palestinian psyche. A society mesmerized by the use of force and embracing of the shahid (martyr) ready explode among the hated Israelis will not change overnight. Numerous facets of Palestinian society have been radicalized and the widespread influence and popularity of Hamas is a clear indication of such a process. (this factor is often overlooked or greatly underestimated--db)
IN CONTRAST to Egypt and Jordan, where pragmatic politics led to agreements with Israel, Palestinian politics is not pragmatic and is ever more radicalized by Hamas and a young militaristic generation. What they expect to get from Israel is totally unrealistic. The differences between Israel and the Palestinians are unbridgeable. After being subjected to a terrorist campaign beginning in 2000, Israelis are unlikely to take blind risks for an uncertain settlement. Palestinian demands for bringing refugees from 60 years ago and their descendents into Israel and for control over parts of old Jerusalem are simply not acceptable in today's Israel.
Moreover, Israel has already received American acquiescence for holding on to the large settlement blocs near the 1949 Armistice Lines, nor is Israel about to give up the strategic Jordan Valley.
The fifth fallacy is that Hamas control of Gaza can be uprooted by intra-Palestinian politics. While Hamas's takeover of Gaza is correctly identified by the US as a victory for the Islamist forces in the Middle East and inimical to Israeli-Palestinian rapprochement, a Fatah led by Abbas cannot bring Hamas back under the PA umbrella. The West Bank Palestinians are too weak to impose their will on Gaza and without territorial contiguity they have little leverage on Gazan politics.
And in point of fact, it is Israel's counter-terrorist activities that prevent the West Bank falling into the hands of Hamas - not Abbas.
The Americans are not likely to attain their noble objectives and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will continue to simmer because the Palestinians cannot get their act together.
I can see Egypt or Jordan deciding to increase their involvement among the Palestinians in order to limit the repercussions of the Palestinian failed state. For Israel, containing terrorism and waiting patiently for better times is probably the best course of action.
The author is professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University and the director of the Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies.

The U.S. Is Back - Aluf Benn
The main message of this week's summit at Annapolis will be that the U.S. is back as a leader in the Middle East. When the U.S. calls, the world sides with it. Only a year ago, a pessimistic theory of America's decline as a leading power in the Middle East dominated Washington. Now Bush is launching a counterstrike. Encouraged by the improved security situation in Baghdad and the drop in the number of casualties, and the successful Israeli strike against a Syrian nuclear installation, Bush is embarking on a diplomatic adventure in the Middle East. The photo-op at Annapolis will reflect the power of the "axis of moderates." The U.S., Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and the UAE will stand holding hands against the "axis of evil" who were not invited: Iran, Hamas and Hizbullah. (Ha'aretz)
A Diplomatic Show of Force - Ron Ben-Yishai
Underestimating the Annapolis summit is not a good idea. It is completely clear that the event will only slightly advance the Israeli-Palestinian conflict's resolution, if at all. Yet this is not the reason why Condoleezza Rice initiated this meeting. The genuine and major objective of the U.S. is to produce a diplomatic show of force in Annapolis that would make it clear how robust Washington's status is in the Mideast region and in global politics. America currently needs a show of force that will reunite the pro-Western camp around it and encourage its allies to continue the struggle against radical Islam's belligerent intention to take over the region. (Ynet News)
To Annapolis - Without Illusions - Shlomo Avineri
Annapolis is nothing more than an attempt to institutionalize the change that has taken place in the atmosphere between Israel and the Palestinians and to try to find a way out - as modest as it may be - of the freeze that resulted from the failure of the 2000 Camp David summit and the second intifada. Anyone who expects Annapolis to lead to an agreement is ignoring the situation on the ground. The gaps between the relatively moderate Israeli stance, which is represented by the Olmert-Barak government, and the relatively moderate stance represented by Mahmoud Abbas, are still too profound. After almost six years in which Israeli and Palestinian leaders have not spoken to each other, in recent weeks they have been meeting regularly. Perhaps they have not yet reached agreements, but, after the collapse of the Oslo Accords, the fact they are talking is in itself an achievement that should not be made light of. The writer is a senior research associate at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University. (Ha'aretz)

Ya'alon Warns Against East Jerusalem Pullout
An Israeli withdrawal from Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem as part of a peace treaty with the Palestinians would put the whole city within range of Palestinian rocket fire, former chief of staff Lt.-Gen. (Res.) Moshe Ya'alon said Sunday. "One must be blind not to see that dividing the capital will bring the neighborhoods of Jerusalem, government ministries and schools into the range of Kassam rockets," Ya'alon said at a Jerusalem rally against the division of Jerusalem organized by the One Jerusalem organization. (Jerusalem Post)

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Friday, November 16, 2007

At the Heart of the Matter: The Existential Jewishness of the State of Israel

We have been here before. Our very own Amos Oz posed the question some years ago; Can a state be Jewish? No more so than a chair, he declared. Well, even great writers can sometimes be wrong. Of course a state can be Jewish, and of course The State of Israel is a uniquely Jewish State, established in its modern incarnation as a safe haven for the Jewish people.
No doubt, part of the confusion for many is their insistence on seeing only the religious component of Jewishness. They leave out the notion of Jewishness as a peoplehood; our peoplehood. Am Yisrael Chai (the People of Israel Live). And who are those people? The Jewish People, of course.
Okay, with that as a starting point, we now arrive at the unequivocal refusal of the current Palestinian leadership (and I'm not even talking about Hamas, for whom this isn't even an issue, since they refuse to even recognize 'the Zionist entity') to recognize the Jewishness of the State of Israel. Here's what Saab Erekat, chief negotiator for the PA, Yaser Abed Rabbo and even Prime Minister Salaam Fayad had to say:
On Monday, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said, "The problem of the content of the document [setting out joint principles for peacemaking post-Annapolis] has not been resolved... One of the more pressing problems is the Zionist regime's insistence on being recognized as a Jewish state.
"We will not agree to recognize Israel as a Jewish state," Erekat said. "There is no country in the world where religious and national identities are intertwined."
On Tuesday, another prominent Palestinian negotiator, Yasser Abed Rabbo, said, "It is only a Zionist party that deals with Israel as a Jewish state, and we did not request to be a member of the international Zionism movement."

Yesterday, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salaam Fayad joined in these statements. And Erekat chimed in again on Al-Arabiya TV: "Israel can define itself however it sees fit; and if it wishes to call itself a Jewish state, so be it. But the Palestinians will never acknowledge Israel's Jewish identity."
Why is this adamant and unequivocal refusal so significant and startling? Because, as Yossi Klein Halevi has said, this cuts to the core existential, identity issue between the Palestinians and the Israelis. While peace talks with, for example, Jordan, Syria and Egypt required no such prior recognition on the part of those states' interlocutors, this was because those negotiations were largely territorial in nature. What is so stunning about this position put forth by the Palestinian leadership ready to embark for Annapolis, is that at this late date in the supposed good faith negotiations over a two-state solution, one for the Palestinian people and one for the Jewish people, we appear to be back at square one. Our very right to exist is again being questioned. And needless to say, this is something that will never again be up for discussion.
For fuller explorations of the speciousness and disingenuousness of the arguments against recognizing the Jewishness of the State of Israel, see the three excellent pieces below.
david brumer

The Crime of Being a Jewish State - Bradley Burston (Ha'aretz)
Chief PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat declared Monday that "No state in the world connects its national identity to a religious identity." This ignores the fact that the Saudis are a theocracy of such sectarian dimension that tourists are forbidden from entering the country with Bibles, crucifixes, or items bearing the Star of David.
The bottom line is that if Palestinians want an actual state and not just the trappings, they are going to have to reconcile themselves to the idea of an overtly Jewish neighbor.
The world has shown its willingness to let Palestinians suffer indefinitely. The world has shown its impatience with the glorious victories of Palestine, whether that means Kassam rockets butchering six cows about to give birth in a dairy barn on a Negev kibbutz, or raising an army which spends much of its firepower on fellow Palestinians, as in the memorial rally which left as many as eight dead in Gaza.
What matters, in the end, is not whether the Palestinians choose to formally recognize Israel as a Jewish state. What matters is whether the Palestinians can live alongside a state which happens to be Jewish in character. Can they share the Holy Land with a state in which the dominant religion is not Islam?
Most Jewish Israelis, meanwhile, have come to accept the idea of an independent Palestinian state, in which the dominant religion will certainly be Islam.
If Palestinians cannot bring themselves to accept a Jewish Israel, there is always the default option. For Palestinians to choose not to accept a Jewish state is to choose statelessness.

Is Israel a Jewish State? - Jeff Jacoby
Israeli Prime Minister Olmert announced that he expects the Palestinian Authority to finally acknowledge Israel's existence as a Jewish state. If the more than 55 countries that make up the Organization of the Islamic Conference are entitled to recognition as Muslim states, and if the 22 members of the Arab League are universally accepted as Arab states, why should anyone balk at acknowledging Israel as the world's lone Jewish state? There are many countries in which national identity and religion are linked. Argentinian law mandates government support for the Roman Catholic faith. Queen Elizabeth II is the supreme governor of the Church of England. In the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, the constitution proclaims Buddhism the nation's "spiritual heritage." "The prevailing religion in Greece," declares Section II of the Greek Constitution, "is that of the Eastern Orthodox Church of Christ."
In no region of the world do countries so routinely link their national character to a specific religion as in the Muslim Middle East. The flag of Saudi Arabia features the Islamic declaration of faith; on the Iranian flag, the Islamic phrase "Allahu Akbar" (God is great") appears 22 times. In the Palestinian Authority's Basic Law, Article 4 provides that "Islam is the official religion in Palestine." The refusal of the Palestinian Authority to acknowledge Israel as a legitimate Jewish state isn't a denial of reality; it is a sign of their determination to change that reality. Like Arab leaders going back a century, they seek not to live in peace with the Jewish state, but in place of the Jewish state. (Boston Globe)

The Recognition Sham - Editorial
The Palestinian refusal to accept Israel as a Jewish state suggests that all their solemn and myriad expressions of Israel's right to exist did not mean anything. They did not mean that the Palestinians accepted the Jews as a people (as Palestinians expect to be accepted), or that Israel is the legitimate expression of the Jewish people's right to self-determination. If Israel is not a Jewish state, it is Palestine, which is exactly the point.
There is no way for Israelis to understand the refusal to accept Israel as a Jewish state other than as a rejection of the two-state solution and the embrace of the "strategy of stages," whereby a Palestinian state is not an end of claims against Israel, but a down-payment toward Israel's destruction. As Olmert says, there is no point in entering a "peace process" on this basis. Without mutual recognition, there is no basis for negotiation. (Jerusalem Post)

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Palestinian Reactions to Monday's Deadly Rally in Gaza

Monday's rally to mark the third anniversary of Arafat's death in Gaza City turned deadly, as Hamas militiamen violently dispersed a massive crowd there to commemerate their former leader. Seven people were killed and 75 wounded, according to Palestinian officials.

While Hamas Interior Ministry spokesman Ehab Ghussein charged that "armed men from the Fatah movement initially opened fire," a Washington Post reporter on the scene stated that he saw no Fatah gunmen at the rally or in its vicinity. And Palestine TV reported that Hamas militiamen fired into the crowd from the roof of Al-Azhar University. In addition Hamas militiamen moved in to arrest and beat people in the crowd, and ordered journalists not to film the event. Here's what Amira Hass and the Palestinians themselves had to say about Monday's violence.
david brumer

The Fatah Rally in Gaza
- Amira Hass

"Hamas remains strong among the public. What happened on Monday does not testify to the strength or the weakness of the movement. It testifies to a lack of leadership." For quite some time he has been saying how dangerous it is that Hamas clings to rule over the Gaza enclave, while it is unable to satisfy basic social and economic needs (let alone its promises of independence). An Islamic leadership has redoubled responsibility if it wants to rule, he says. It must be committed not only to the people, but also to Islam. Therefore, in his assessment, the international Muslim Brotherhood movement will reconsider its position regarding the Hamas regime in Gaza. It will not allow that regime to sully so badly the reputation of either its mother movement, or worse, of Islam itself.

"It was women whose votes had led to the defeat of Fatah in 2006, so it was significant now that many women came to the rally. I saw one woman go up to an armed policeman and dare him: Kill me, you Shi'ite." This was related by a devout Muslim, a Hamas adherent who left the movement. "The masses who came to the rally did not come for Arafat or for Mohammad Dahlan, or because they were promised NIS 200 or a phone card. They came out of hatred for Hamas," says the former movement activist.
A friend of his, who has remained a Hamas activist, agrees: "There has been a consolidation among some of the Fatah activists, because of anger and hatred for Hamas, after mistakes of ours that are impossible to ignore....We knew that there was a large public in Gaza that supports Fatah, which hasn't disappeared. But this is a public without a leadership. The leaders have fled." (Ha'aretz)

See also Anger in the Palestinian Press at Gaza Deaths
(BBC News)

Excessive and Lethal Use of Force Against Civilians in Gaza
Pictures showed members of the police firing indiscriminately at the rally participants. The police also chased rally participants and beat them with batons and sticks. Our staff did not find any member of the police who was injured by
gunfire. (Palestinian Center for Human Rights)

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Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Book Review: Haim Watzman's "A Crack in the Earth..." in latest edition of Congress Monthly

David Brumer
A Crack in the Earth: A Journey up
Israel's Rift Valley
. By Haim Watzman.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
208 pages. $23.00.

Exploring Israel’s Rift Valley

I confess to being congenitally predisposed to the basin in the rift at the Dead Sea—a unique and magnificent stretch of the globe, especially at its lowest point; in fact, the lowest point on Earth.As described by Haim Watzman’s chronicle of his travels along the northern part of the valley, "A Crack in the Earth: A Journey Up Israel’s Rift Valley":

“The rift valley is a natural object, created byphysical forces. But when we look at it, we don’t see stories and ideas and our own histories. People see the same landscape differently depending on who they are, when they live, what they've done, andwhat stories they heard when they were children.”

Watzman has crafted a majestic tale, recounting his modern journey up the Jordan rift valley, “a crack in the earth’s crust that begins where the Indian Ocean’s waters mix with those of the Gulf of Aden.” This chasm was carved into the earth’s surface millions of years ago. The author focuses on the stretch of the
rift from the northern shore of the Red Sea at Eilat to the Golan Heights bordering Syria. Blending science and faith, Watzman tells a story about geological phenomena, scientific analysis, archeological examinations, and philosophical musings through the distinct perspectives of biologists, zoologists, kibbutzniks, and other ordinary, modern-day inhabitants of the rift. A religious Jew himself, Watzman points out that he is also a journalist and a man of science, making him naturally skeptical. He challenges accepted biblical verities with the same investigative rigor that he uses when scrutinizing geological and biological ones. He notes that modern archaeology and textual scholarship have cast doubt on the historical accuracy of biblical accounts, and offers that, in many ways, modern Orthodox Judaism is less a religion of the Bible than “a religion built by the sages upon the foundation of the Bible, after the destruction of the Temple and the rise of Christianity.” In the same way that the Rift Valley is the physical foundation upon which people have superimposed their “stories, ideas and histories,” the Bible is the textual foundation which Judaism in its modern application builds upon, through human constructionists in the form of the sages of the rabbinic period, Watzman suggests.

ULTIMATELY, it is the people who have inhabited the sacred lands of the rift that have kept it so fertile in our imaginations. From the Israelites crossing into the Promised Land from Egypt, to Jesus being baptized by John in the waters of the Jordan, all the way up to modern Zionists like Rachel the Poetess—these are the stories of the people that fascinate Watzman, and his infectious love of the land and its people enraptures us as well. Watzman, a religiously-observant Jew with Leftist leanings, largely refrains from politics in this book. Occasionally though, he does weave some political context into his narrative, explaining why, for example Jericho became off limits to Israelis after the outbreak of the second Intifada. Watzman draws parallels to the turbulent landscape (Tiberias has experienced severe earthquakes almost once a century since the beginning of the Common Era) with the incessant political and social turmoil. He ruefully observes that “to an Israeli living in the first years of the 21st century, turmoil seems to be the rule. Periods of equilibrium seem few, far off, and short-lived”; though, in terms of geology, the ebbs and flows are much slower and deliberate. Some of the rocks on both sides of the rift are between 570 million and one billion years old. In that context, humankinds’ effect on the region is insignificant. God, who is unchanging, watches bemusedly over it all.


PERHAPS not surprisingly, some have criticized Watzman for not incorporating more of a Palestinian Arab voice. in his book. John Leonard, in the June 2007 edition of Harper’s Magazinesomehow manages, through a tortured interpretation, to read into Watzman “his homeland’s hateful modern indulgence of Bronze Age identity politics.” Leonard continues with his knee-jerk critique. “He has a hard time even talking to a Palestinian, as if Palestinians were remnants of some antediluvian proto-species prior to language.” Publishers Weekly noted that Watzman “fails almost utterly to bring in non-Jewish voices,the one Arab we meet is an Israeli Bedouin.” Both critiques conveniently leave out the poignant encounter Watzman has with a Palestinian at a West Bank gas station at the end of the book, where he risks his own
physical safety to preserve his moral bearings and psychic equilibrium. For those who know Watzman and what he stands for, the irony would be hilarious if it weren't so deadly. Even in a book that is decidedly apolitical, by an Israeli Jew who has been so vocal in his criticisms of his country’s actions and policies vis-a-vis the Palestinians, critics of Israel can't help but find racism and xenophobia under any and every rock. Watzman comments on the controversy in a passage where he gazes upon an inaccessible Jericho, observing that the fact that he barely encountered any Palestinians on his journey speaks volumes about how the political situation has currently affected the landscape.

But Watzman, if anything, is the ultimate mensch. The last section of his book, in which he has a very real encounter with a very real Palestinian, attests to his own very real humanity and bravery for his beliefs (unlike some Western intellectuals who ‘shoot first’ from the safety of their ivory towers and do their homework later; if ever).
Just before he turns back to “meet the Palestinian halfway,” he muses that “since humans first began to call the names of gods, they have created their own valley of prayers, desires, deeds, and choices, which overlay the landscape just as the rain clouds do. As hard as we try to comprehend the landscape itself,it is humanity that we find.”
This is a beautiful book that radiates a personal warmth and love of the land and its people. It is as uplifting as it is inspired.

DAVID BRUMER is a media analyst, writer, and
consultant on Middle Eastern Affairs. His blog,
BRUMSPEAK: Advancing the Prospects for Peace
and Security for Israel & the Middle East, includes
film and book reviews pertaining to Israel and the
Middle East. He is also a geriatric social worker
and a psychotherapist.

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Saturday, October 20, 2007

Clearing the Record: A Response to Pozzi's 10/18 lte and Mast's 10/19 Op-ed

A response to some of the accusations and counterpoints raised by Lorraine Pozzi in her 10/18 lte and Ed Mast in yesterday's opinion piece: Had I the luxury of more space, I would have gladly addressed some of their predictable concerns in my 10/10 op-ed,"Despite concerns, Israel a vibrant country."
My blog dispatches from Israel do anticipate some of their points, especially the Saturday, September 15 post,
Conversations: What 'Ordinary' Israelis Think about Ha'Matzav' or 'The Situation'
In that dispatch I endeavored to show that Israelis are not indifferent to nor ignorant of the sufferings of ordinary Palestinians. They've just gone into a self-protective mode while they wait for a more sane leadership and populace with which to engage. Psychologically, they're experiencing 'Compassion Fatigue' and as I wrote,
"Following the first Intifada and through the Oslo years, there was a major shift in consciousness among most Israelis, when they came to see the legitimate concerns and rights of Palestinians, and were willing to act on rectifying past wrongs. That was what Oslo was all about. But with the eruption of the second Intifada and the barbaric, deliberate bombings of civilians inside the Green Line, even the mainstream Left in Israel came to understand that this was about far more than 'land for peace' and reasonable compromise among civilized peoples with border disputes. This was an existential war and it was hard for Israelis to not see the other side as wanting to displace them from their homeland of Israel proper. Now, two years after the withdrawal from Gaza and the relentless Qassam attacks from its northern precincts and one year after the war in Lebanon (launched from where Israel also relinquished territory in May of 2000), and 20 months after Hamas' election victory, Israelis feel less than sanguine about 'peace' prospects with their neighbors. Moreover, they have little psychic space left over for empathizing with the plight of the Palestinians (they fully acknowledge that the Palestinians are suffering), who they see as largely having made their own bed. Where in the 90's there was much empathy and goodwill toward Palestinians, today there is more of an attitude of 'we wish you well in creating a civil society and maybe eventually having normalized economic and even social interactions with you; but the burden of proof is now on you to create such a society--and the signs so far are not encouraging; we withdrew from Gaza completely, even left you the Greenhouses, and instead of making a pilot project of independence and building democratic, civil institutions, you destroyed what beginnings were left to you and voted in a fundamentalist, Islamist party who is more interested in destroying our State than in building yours; so you'll excuse us if we continue constructing our separation barrier and get on with our lives. As King Lear once intoned to his wayward daughter Goneril: "Mend when thou canst; be better at thy leisure: I can be patient..."At least that's how I read how many Israelis feel today." and

"In one of my conversations with a friend of a dear Israeli friend of mine, he related a very interesting take on this very issue by Israeli commentator Tzvi Yehezkeli at the 'Arab Desk' on Channel 10. According to Amnon, Yehzkeli spoke of the incredible patience of those in the Arab world. That they understood time very differently than those of us in the Western world where we tend to see things much more short-term and present-centered. When an old Arab man was asked how he felt about seeing Israeli tanks roll in front of him, he replied that it didn't phase him all that much because in the long run, over decades or even centuries he was confident that the land would be returned to the Arabs (reminded me of Ali's pronouncements in the staircase scene with Avner in Munich). But on a more promising note, Yehezkeli also noted that in his conversations with average Palestinians, there was a growing recognition that they could no longer lay all their problems at the feet of the Israelis. That there was growing acknowledgement that their legacy of electing/supporting poor leadership was at the heart of their predicament. That corruption is rampant, tribal affiliations are superseding larger associations, and that until they begin the process of correcting these flaws, they will likely continue to languish behind while they watch Israeli society flourish and prosper. There is a growing understanding that as Israelis feel more secure behind their security barrier, they will be less concerned with the plight of the Palestinians, until they see concrete, on the ground changes."
On to specific charges/accusations
Ms. Pozzi writes below of my "appalling distortions of fact" but of course, doesn't provide any evidence whatsoever of those 'distortions.' She unsurprisingly insists on referring to the security barrier-which I took great pains to point out is over 95% chain link fence-as a wall (as does Ed Mast; repeatedly), and asserts that Israeli snipers manning that 'wall' "have shot and killed Palestinians, many of them children, without warning." This, of course, is patently false. Even where the barrier is a concrete wall, Palestinians are not wantonly shot at, without warning. The IDF takes great pains to avoid Palestinian civilian casualties, sometimes at the risk and cost of Israeli soldiers' lives. Gaza is a prime example. The separation barrier there is almost entirely a fence, and while at one of the Israeli army outposts, I could see areas where Israel indeed did fire back, after repeated Qassam attacks from Gazans on the other side of the fence. Israel gives repeated warnings that they will be forced to respond to those unprovoked attacks, and in one instance has enforced the clearing of a hill from where many of those Qassams were launched. What Israel cannot do is prevent Palestinians from shooting missiles and then running back into densely populated civilian areas. It also cannot prevent Palestinian parents from allowing their children to go and "play" in war zones that have been designated as military zones by the Israelis. Would that the Pozzi's and Mast's of the world exact a modicum of accountability and responsibility to those they so willingly defend as blameless.

Ed Mast trumps out the usual litany of Israeli abuses, 'land grabs,' unnecessary suffering imposed on the Palestinian population, and "the many ways that the Israeli occupation crushes people with poverty, violence and injustice." Naturally, there is not even a hint of what may be behind some of Israel's self-protective measures. It is as if the Palestinians are peace loving Canadians who want only to share their water aquifers with Jews. What is most disturbing to me is Ed's insistence that Israelis kill Palestinians with a wanton disregard for civilian life. I have spoken personally with Ed (we are, alas, neighbors--he lives on the very same block as me in Seattle--no fences) on this subject, and in fact, it is one of the reasons I stopped engaging him on the conflict. His insistence that Israelis in the IDF deliberately target Palestinian civilians with the same frequency as Palestinian suicide bombers who blow themselves up in civilian areas like buses and coffee shops, puts him beyond the pale of reasonable disagreements among reasonable folks who don't always see eye to eye on complex and emotionally laden subjects. And he repeats a variation of this heinous accusation in yesterday's piece.
"Over the past seven years, the Israeli army has killed more than 4,000 Palestinians. The majority of these, even according to Israeli statistics, have been unarmed civilians. Many thousands more have been wounded or kidnapped."
Of course innocent Palestinians have been tragically killed in the crossfires of what has been an ongoing war between the two sides, especially during the heyday of the second Intifada. But to suggest, as Ed Mast has done repeatedly, that the IDF as a matter of policy deliberately targets civilians, flies in the face of both reality and logic. If Israel really was indifferent to Palestinian life, why wouldn't they just bomb from the air and retaliate with the full brunt of their military might? In Jenin in 2002, rather than follow the NATO strategy of bombing Kosovo from 35,000 feet, the IDF went in hand-to-hand combat into the terror-laden streets of the Jenin refugee camp, a hotbed of known terror organizations (conveniently protected under the aegis of the United Nations at the time), and sacrificed the lives of 23 Israeli soldiers in an effort to keep Palestinian civilian casualties to a minimum. Before the smoke cleared, the accusations of an Israeli massacre were hurled about with abandon, only to find out that just over 50 Palestinians had actually been killed, the great majority gun-toting, bomb-bearing fighters. Naturally, apologies for the horrendous accusations against Israel are still not forthcoming.
Another problem with just looking at raw numbers is that it distorts the picture of cause and effect, creating a false dichotomy of casualties suffered by the two sides. Notions of proportionately in war are greatly misunderstood. Space does not permit a more lengthy exploration of this topic, but suffice it to say that in asymmetrical warfare where one side is undeniably targeting civilian populations, the moral question of how to respond is greatly complicated, especially when it is a democracy that is faced with these dilemmas. For an in depth look at this subject, I highly recommend Yaacov Lozowick's Right to Exist : A Moral Defense of Israel's Wars.
See also, Jeff Denaburg´s letter to Amnesty International, "Could Amnesty International be further from reality?"
and Amos N. Guiora, "Teaching Morality in Armed Combat -- The Israel Defence Forces Model," Case Legal Studies Research Paper No. 05-24 (August 2005). "The IDF Model . . . is the most advanced and developed model around."
Okay, just a few examples demonstrating that the majority of the over 4,000 Palestinians killed since 2000 have in fact not been civilians.
This, from Tamar Sternthal
CAMERA: B'Tselem, Los Angeles Times Redefine "Civilian"

After reviewing B’Tselem’s detailed lists of month-by-month Palestinian casualties, it is easy to understand why their numbers are so different from ICT’s (the International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism) B’Tselem (>) has a very loose definition of the term “civilian,” (to say the least!) including countless Palestinians who were killed while they attacked Israelis, like opening fire at a bat mitzah celebration in Hadera, killing six and injuring 35, setting off bombs, infiltrating Israeli communities and killing or injuring residents, and fighting with Israeli troops.
For example, out of the 31 Palestinians listed under B’Tselem’s category “Palestinian civilians killed by Israeli civilians in the Occupied Territories,” 13 were engaged in attacks at the time of their death. Fortunately, B’Tselem provides useful details about the attacks launched by these Palestinian “civilians.” Representative incidents include:
* Dec. 24, 2001: Jamil Mouhammad Abu ‘Adwan, killed by gunfire of an Israeli civilian whom he and two other Palestinians had shot and severely injured at Ramin Junction
* Feb. 22, 2002: Tawfiq a-Shimali, killed by an Israeli civilian’s gunfire, after having operated an explosive device in a supermarket in the settlement Efrat
* March 18, 2002: Muhammad ‘Awad, killed by Israeli civilian gunfire in Netzarim settlement, after he entered the settlement and shot a soldier to death
* May 17, 2002: ‘Ali Idris Hamdan, killed in the settlement of Beit El by the security officer of the settlement, after Hamdan entered the settlement and stabbed the security officer
Likewise, similar cases abound in the lists of “Palestinian civilians killed by Israeli security forces in Israel.”
* Jan. 17, 2002: ‘Abd a-Salam Sadeq Hasouna, killed by IDF gunfire after having fire at Israeli civilians in a Hadera banquet hall, killing 6 guests at a bat mitzvah
* Nov. 28, 2002: ‘Omar Mahmoud Abu Rub and Yusef Muhammad Abu Rub, killed by border police gunfure after they entered Beit She’an, opened fire, and killed six Israeli civilians
These cases are innumerable, thereby disqualifying B’Tselem as a source “credible to support the contention as stated in the essay that ‘most’ killed on the Palestinian side have been civilian.”

How are we to have serious, respectful conversations when the premises for discussion are so warped with ideology masquerading as incontestable fact? Time and again I have acknowledged the horrendous mistakes, errors in judgement, miscalculations and unintended consequences of poorly planned operations that have cost Palestinians (and I might add Israelis) dearly. We are not perfect. Far from of it. But we admit our shortcomings and strive to make the necessary correctives. Of course the Palestinian people are suffering terribly. And of course my heart goes out to all the decent people there who suffer under the yoke of oppressive and corrupt leadership. But as a therapist and a humanist, I suggest that we will only improve things by a more honest appraisal of the situation. Again, to quote Ambassador Dennis Ross,
"Peace will come to the Middle East when Arab political culture moves away from Victimhood and towards Accountability and Responsibility".
I also have to say that I find it interesting that Ed Mast did not on this trip make his way into Gaza, or if he did, he chose not to report on what is going on there. It's got to be pretty hard these days to find a silver lining in the Hamas controlled entity that Israel has now deemed "Hostile."
But no doubt, Mast and his ilk will still lay the blame for the woes of Gaza at the foot of the Israelis. After all, as well all know, the "Occupation" is at the root cause of most everything, short of Avian Flu. And who knows about even that?
David Brumer

Description at odds with recent accounts Given David Brumer's appalling distortions of fact in his March 18 Focus column about Rachel Corrie, it was no surprise to read his misleading statements about Israel (Oct. 10 guest column) as a "vibrant country," a description at odds with most recent accounts, which cite the violence, corruption and disillusionment that plague Israeli society today.
Nowhere does he seriously address the brutal, illegal occupation of Palestinian land. The barrier (wall or fence) has been successful, he asserts, because it has stopped crazed Palestinian suicide bombers from killing innocent Israelis. He does not mention the snipers manning the wall who have shot and killed Palestinians, many of them children, without warning. Nor does he describe how the wall has carved up Palestinian territory into bantustans, furthering a policy of apartheid and ensuring that a viable Palestinian state will be impossible.
And nowhere does Brumer point out that this "vibrant" country with its booming economy demands billions in aid from U.S. taxpayers every year to sustain its "vibrancy."
Free speech must be defended, of course, but the P-I has published several of these factually challenged articles by Brumer, helping to publicize and legitimize him as an authority on Middle East affairs. It also publicizes his blog, which presents a similarly uncritical (indeed obsequious) picture of Israel and its leaders. Your readers deserve a more truthful account of the situation in the Middle East.
It costs us dearly to see such a one-sided and inaccurate article presented as fact.
Lorraine Pozzi

On a visit to Tel Aviv last month, I asked some Israeli friends what people in Israel were saying about the Palestinian situation. Not much, they told me. Israelis are more concerned about the corruption charges against Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, coming on the heels of corruption charges against previous governments. Palestinians and their issues, my friends told me, are becoming more and more invisible to the Israeli people.
Palestinian lives are kept invisible in David Brumer's Oct. 10 guest column, "Despite concerns, Israel a vibrant country." Also invisible are Israel's military occupation and the ongoing takeover of Palestinian land. If Brumer had traveled to the other side of the wall, as I did, he could have witnessed the many ways that the Israeli occupation crushes people with poverty, violence and injustice.
Before visiting Tel Aviv, I spent two weeks working with a theater in the Palestinian city of Ramallah in the West Bank. During that short time, the Israeli army killed at least 15 Palestinians in the occupied territories; several killed were children. For Palestinians, these are regular occurrences. Over the past seven years, the Israeli army has killed more than 4,000 Palestinians. The majority of these, even according to Israeli statistics, have been unarmed civilians. Many thousands more have been wounded or kidnapped. The severe underreporting of Palestinian casualties in the U.S. and Israel can leave the impression that Palestinian lives have less value.
While I was there, Brian Avery came from the United States to testify in Jerusalem against the Israeli army. Avery is a peace activist who was shot in the face by the Israeli army in 2003. At first the Israeli army denied that the shooting took place, but has been forced to launch an investigation now that Avery is bringing a suit.
In Ramallah, I learned that, though there is plenty of water near the city, the several hundred thousand residents had spent the summer with running water available only three or four days each week. That sort of fact tends to be invisible to Israelis, along with the reasons.
Ramallah is near the cluster of West Bank aquifers, which are the main sources of water for both the West Bank and Israel, but 80 percent of the West Bank's water goes to Israel and Israeli settlements. For decades, Israel has used its military occupation of the West Bank to build an illegal network of settlements around the water sources. Palestinians have been beaten, killed and driven away to make space for these settlements, and Israel has built a continuous wall, not on the border of Israel but inside Palestinian territory, which effectively annexes the settlements and water resources into Israel.
Israelis are told the wall is for their security. Palestinians call it the annexation wall, and it is difficult for them to believe Israel can be a partner for peace while the Israeli government continues taking Palestinian land for settlements, building the wall to annex them and maintaining the system of checkpoints that paralyze movement and life in the West Bank.
With some colleagues, I spent one day traveling from Ramallah to Jerusalem. The eight-mile trip took 2 1/2 hours. In Ramallah, the wall is 25 feet high, and the Israeli checkpoint is like an airport security station. We lined up for more than half an hour with Palestinians at a remote-controlled 8-foot turnstile where people had to crowd like cattle and wait for a green light to get as many through as possible before the light turned red.
Once past X-ray security and more turnstiles, we boarded shared taxis for what should have been a short ride to Jerusalem. However, the Israeli military had set up an additional temporary "flying checkpoint" some 1,640 feet down the road, forcing several lanes of traffic down to a single lane for stopping and searching. That took almost an hour.
Business in Ramallah is at a standstill. Poverty is everywhere; jobs are not to be found. The people at the checkpoint said to us, "Take pictures. Tell people what is happening here."
Some Israelis, such as my Tel Aviv friends, no longer accept the excuse that the virtual imprisonment and killing of Palestinians are justified by the need for security.
The Israeli government has recently confiscated more Palestinian land near Jerusalem to build a segregated road, literally underground, for Palestinians. Israeli settlers will be able to commute back and forth from the territories without having so much as to see a Palestinian. Invisibility here is no accident.

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Dispatch from Israel: A Tiny, Intense and Amazing Country


Despite concerns, Israel a vibrant country
Last updated October 9, 2007 5:08 p.m. PT


Having just spent the past three weeks in Israel, I'm happy to report that, rumors to the contrary, Israel is alive and well and thriving.
Israel is a country about the size of New Jersey. Space is at a premium, and so is security for this small expanse of land. That was brought home to me during a three-hour "Intellicopter Tour" around the country, provided by The Israel Project, an international non-profit that educates the media and the public about Israel.
We took off from Herzilya airport, on the Mediterranean coast just north of Tel Aviv. Flying east, we were at the edge of the West Bank within minutes, hovering over Tulkarm and Qalqilya. Unknown to most Westerners is the fact that at this latitude, Israel's waist is at its most narrow, spanning just nine miles (several miles less than the distance from the University of Washington to Microsoft in Redmond).
The coastal plain, where 80 percent of Israelis live, is literally minutes by foot from the West Bank. From the skies, it is much easier to understand why Israel started construction of its Security Barrier in 2002, a year that saw 450 Israeli deaths attributable to terrorism. Often referred to as the Wall, more than 95 percent of the 800-kilometer barrier, when completed, will actually be constructed of chain-link fence.
In Qalqilya, the barrier is in fact a concrete wall. This is because Qalqilya sits on a hill above Highway 6, a major north-south artery for Israelis, and until the construction of the wall there, Israeli motorists were vulnerable to Palestinian snipers. The majority of the concrete portion of the barrier is in Jerusalem, where a fence would be impractical in such a densely populated locale, given that the fence requires a buffer zone on either side for motion detection and army patrols. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the barrier has been enormously successful in stopping terrorism and saving lives. In areas where the security barrier is completed, attacks are down 90 percent.
Flying southwest from Jerusalem, we touched down in Sderot, a development town in the south, only a few kilometers away from the Gazan border. Sderot has borne the brunt of the Qassam missile attacks, with more than 2,000 landing after Israel's full withdrawal from Gaza in August 2005. Although unsophisticated and inaccurate, the Qassams are a very effective weapon of terrorism for the precise reason of their unpredictability. And when on target, they are deadly weapons. The newer Qassams have a range of up to 12 kilometers (7.5 miles), putting the Ashkelon Power Plant in their sights. To date, Israel has not come up with an adequate response, in part, because to strike back at the launching sites would endanger Palestinian civilian lives, something Israel is loath to do.
I came away from the helicopter tour with a renewed appreciation for the security dilemmas Israel faces, especially with the radical Islamists of Hamas now holding the full reins of power in Gaza, and vying for control of the West Bank. To see with one's own eyes the very real security risks that this tiny country faces (not to mention the threats on the northern borders from Hezbollah and Syria, compounded by Iran's long-range missile capabilities and nuclear ambitions) gives one pause.
Israel must balance her citizenry's security needs with ordinary Palestinians' human rights. And Israel's Supreme Court has on several occasions overruled military dictates, for example when the security barrier has been deemed encroaching on Palestinian villages.
Despite those concerns, Israel remains a vibrant, prosperous society. Construction is booming, the high-tech sector is burgeoning and people are out at parks, beaches, cafes and cultural centers.
From the magnificent Baha'i Gardens in Haifa (home to the holiest shrine in the Baha'i faith) to the Druze village of Daliat al-Carmel to the streets of Rehovot (home of the world-class Weizmann Institute for Scientific Research), Israelis of all ethnicities and amazingly diverse backgrounds are dancing, studying, dining and doing it all with a great zest for life.
It is said that great wines are produced from vines that are most stressed and must dig deep into the Earth's surface in search of nourishment. The few grapes those vines produce make the finest of wines. And so it is with Israel, a people who must dig deeply within their greatest resource -- themselves -- to meet the prodigious challenges that this amazing land presents, and in so doing create the modern miracle that is Israel.
David Brumer is a geriatric social worker and psychotherapist. Visit his blog, BRUMSPEAK, at, for more in-depth dispatches from Israel, September 2007.
© 1998-2007 Seattle Post-Intelligencer

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