Sunday, May 22, 2011

Much Ado About Something; What Obama Got Right (& Wrong); Where it Matters, and Where Not

Several different takes on the implications of what Obama said--and didn't say--in his Middle East Speech this past Thursday. I'm of two minds: on one level, Obama conceded much to the Israeli position:
No to negotiating with a Palestinian polity that includes the unrepentant terrorist group Hamas;
A non-militarized Palestinian State;
Israel as a Jewish State and homeland of the Jewish people

Yes, Bibi could have been more diplomatic and statesmanlike in his rebuke of the President--which he clearly was when he met with the President in person, here (and below)
And yes, Abe Foxman thinks that Obama gave a pro-Israel speech on Thursday, and Jeffrey Goldberg makes a point (or two) in his Please Don't Speak to My President like That

I'm less concerned about the President's faux pas on the '67 lines (truth be told, he could have echoed President Bush's assurances that realities on the ground make the "Armistice Lines of 1949" no longer workable in his letter to then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on April 14th, 2004).
But the greater omission was the President's failure to reiterate that the Palestinian 'Right of Return' to Israel proper is a non-starter. As Sari Nusseibeh famously said in 2002; there can't be a two state solution with one state being for the Palestinians and the other also being for the Palestinians.
The Palestinian refugee issue cannot be left for future negotiations. It must be clear from the outset of any new talks--and agreements--that there can be no more than a small, symbolic return of Palestinians into Israel, and only in the context of acceptance and recognition of the 800,000 plus Jewish refugees from Arab lands that also resulted from the 1948 War.
A fuller accounting below from David Horovitz and Ari Shavit
david in Seattle

Bibi's more nuanced critique of the President, to the President

Obama’s failure to internalize Palestinian intolerance

The president’s new parameters show him blind to the significance of the demand for a "right of return."

Last Sunday, the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Palestinian Arabs who had left Israel while the Arab world tried to murder our state at birth, attempted a symbolic “return,” with varying degrees of success, across the Syrian, Lebanese, Jordanian and Egyptian borders, and from the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

They were warmly praised in this effort by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, the ostensibly moderate successor to Yasser Arafat with whom Israel has been trying for almost eight years to make peace. Abbas -- who later in the week, in a New York Times op-ed, rewrote the history of Israel’s reestablishment to air-brush out the Arabs’ rejection of what would have been their independent state alongside ours -- movingly praised those who had died in Sunday’s “Nakba Day” assault on Israel’s borders (most of them killed by Lebanese Army forces) as the latest “martyrs” to the Palestinian cause.

Sunday’s Nakba onslaught against sovereign Israel, and its moving endorsement by Israel’s putative Palestinian partner, was the latest bleak demonstration of the Palestinians’ insistent refusal, for close to two-thirds of a century, to internalize the fact that the Jews have a historic claim to this sliver of land, and that their demands for statehood cannot be realized at the cost of ours.

Amid all the “differences” that Binyamin Netanyahu and Barack Obama on Friday acknowledged in their visions for the way forward to Israeli-Palestinian peace, it is the president’s evident incapacity to appreciate the uncompromising Palestinian refusal to countenance Israel’s legitimacy that is most damaging the vital American-Israeli relationship and most dooming his approach to peacemaking.

An indication of his failure to internalize that Israel, in any borders, is regarded as fundamentally illegitimate by much of the Palestinian leadership and public was evident in Obama’s 2009 Muslim world outreach speech in Cairo. He failed, before that most vital of audiences, to mention Israel’s historic tie to this land – the fact that this is the only place where the Jews have ever been sovereign, the only place where the Jews have ever sought sovereignty, a place we never willingly left and one to which we always prayed to return.

It is immensely troubling for many Israelis to recognize that our most important strategic partner is now publicly advocating, before any significant sign of Palestinian compromise on final status issues has been detected, that we withdraw, more or less, to the pre-1967 lines – the so-called “Auschwitz borders” -- from which we were relentlessly attacked in our first two fragile decades of statehood. But only a president who ignores or underestimates Palestinian hostility to Israel could propose a formula for reviving negotiations in which he set out those parameters for high-risk territorial compromise without simultaneously making crystal clear that there will be no “right of return” for Palestinian refugees.

Obama is urging Israel – several of whose leaders have offered dramatic territorial concessions in the cause of peace, and proven their honest intentions by leaving southern Lebanon, Gaza and major West Bank cities, only to be rewarded with new bouts of violence – to give up its key disputed asset, the biblically resonant territory of Judea and Samaria, as stage one of a “peace” process. But he is not demanding that the Palestinians – whose leaders have consistently failed to embrace far-reaching peace offers, most notably Ehud Olmert’s 2008 offer of a withdrawal to adjusted ’67 lines and the dividing of Jerusalem – give up their key disputed asset, the unconscionable demand for a Jewish-state-destroying “right of return” for millions, until some vague subsequent stage, if at all. He merely suggests that the refugee issue, along with Jerusalem, be addressed later on.

Yet the president’s new formula for Israeli-Palestinian peace is so unworkable and so counter-productive as to indicate a complete breakdown in such communication. No international player, and certainly no Palestinian negotiator, is now going to defy the Obama framework and declare that the Israelis cannot possibly be required to sanction a dangerous pullback toward the ’67 lines unless or until the Palestinians formally relinquish the demand for a “right of return.” And so we can look ahead to another period of diplomatic deadlock, of an Israel appearing recalcitrant in not meeting the publicly stated expectations of its key ally, of the Palestinians garnering ever-greater international legitimacy even as they are freed of the requirement to acknowledge the legitimacy of Israel by withdrawing their demand to destroy it by weight of refugee numbers.

Most gallingly, as on Thursday and now again at this most obvious of opportunities, he chose not to state clearly and firmly – as there can be no doubt predecessors like George W Bush and Bill Clinton would have done in such a context – that the Palestinian refugee problem will have to be solved independently of Israel. He did not make clear that just as Israel built a vibrant state absorbing the hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees from the Middle East and North Africa six decades ago, a new “Palestine” would finally have to resolve its assiduously perpetuated refugee crisis and abandon the dream of a “return.” The repeated omission will have delighted all of Israel’s uncompromising enemies. The dream lives on.

Netanyahu, of course, filled the breach. Netanyahu spoke about the impossibility of a “right of return.” “It’s not going to happen,” he said, as the president sat impassive alongside him. “Everybody knows it’s not going to happen. And I think it’s time to tell the Palestinians forthrightly it’s not going to happen.”

But Obama did no such thing. For the second day in succession the president, in the same week as the Nakba assault on Israel’s borders, when it came to this central demand by the Palestinians that simply cannot be accepted because it would spell the demographic demise of our state, was dismayingly, insistently, resonantly silent.

Obama's speech was bad for Middle East peace
Instead of presenting the 1967 borders as the end of the process, Obama made them its start. Instead of tying them to the end of demands and the end of the conflict, they were tied to greater demands and continued conflict.
By Ari Shavit

On a fundamental level, Obama's speech was good for Israel. He blocked the Palestinian initiative to unilaterally establish a Palestinian state. He condemned the Palestinian effort to delegitimize Israel. He came out against Hamas. He did not demand a total and immediate freeze on settlement construction. He did not embrace the Arab peace initiative. He showed that he has internalized Israel's security problems and defense concerns. Above all, he adopted the two main principles of Israel's peace doctrine: Israel as a Jewish state and Palestine as a demilitarized state.

But in one important respect, Obama's speech was very bad for Israel. And very bad for the United States. And very bad for peace. The U.S. president made an egregious error in the way he introduced the principle of 1967 into his vision of peace. Instead of presenting the 1967 borders as the end of the process, Obama made them its start. Instead of tying them to the end of demands and the end of the conflict, they were tied to greater demands and continued conflict.

Without intending any harm, Obama presented Israel with a suicidal proposition: an interim agreement based on the 1967 borders. It's a proposal that runs along the same lines as the Hamas offer of a hudna - a long-term cease-fire. It's a proposal that will result in certain conflict in Jerusalem and in the inundation of Israel with refugees. It's a proposition that spells an end to peace, an end to stability and an end to the State of Israel.

The good news is that it is not too late. The mistake can be easily corrected, the day can be saved. Obama and Netanyahu need not confront each other before the cameras, as they did on Friday. They must show maturity and wisdom and face the crisis as if it were an opportunity. They must find a way of restoring the principle of 1967 to its correct place and enable Netanyahu to accept it. If they do this, the light in Obama's speech will once again shine brightly. And it will provide Israelis, Palestinians and Americans with a genuine ray of hope.

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Thursday, May 19, 2011

YK Halevi: Bibi, The Surprising Uniter

Halevi makes some important points in this WSJ piece, perhaps most intriguing, his suggestion that the long conceded territories should be redefined again as part of Israel's patrimony. The psychology here is compelling: why are we giving up something without even an acknowledgement of our competing, and arguably stronger claim?
david in seattle

The ability to achieve a credible agreement with the Palestinians depends on Israel asserting—and only then reluctantly ceding—its historic claim to the whole land of Israel, including Judea and Samaria. That's because even moderate Palestinians insist on their historic claim to the whole land of Palestine, including what is today the state of Israel. The moral logic of partition depends on each side sacrificing a precious part of its patrimony. That logic works only if Hebron and Jericho belong to the Jews—just as Palestinians say that Haifa and Jaffa belong to them.

Netanyahu the Surprising Uniter
The prime minister has pretty much ended serious debate over whether a Palestinian state should be created. Israelis now await a credible peace partner.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered a remarkable speech to the Knesset on Monday outlining future Israeli concessions to a Palestinian state. In doing so, he essentially ended the ideological debate within mainstream Israeli politics over the so-called two-state solution.

Mr. Netanyahu's historic achievement has been to position his Likud Party within the centrist majority that seeks to end the occupation of the Palestinians but is wary of the security consequences. There is no longer any major Israeli party that rejects a West Bank withdrawal on ideological grounds. Instead, the debate is now focused where most Israelis want it to be: on how to ensure that a Palestinian state won't pose an existential threat to their country.

Mr. Netanyahu began this process two years ago when he accepted the principle of a two-state solution. That was followed by a nine-month freeze in housing starts in West Bank settlements—an unprecedented concession that was spurned by the Palestinian leadership and squandered by the Obama administration.

In Mr. Netanyahu's latest speech, the implicit was no less important than the explicit. Israel, he said, would insist on retaining the large settlement blocs near the 1967 border—and not, therefore, the smaller, isolated settlements outside the blocs. Israel, he added, would also insist on a military presence in the Jordan Valley—and not, therefore, on retaining settlements there.

None of this is likely to happen anytime soon. Mr. Netanyahu's concessions aren't enough to meet minimal Palestinian demands—and for now at least that hardly matters. Conditions for a resumption of negotiations, let alone for an agreement, couldn't be worse. With the genocidal Hamas now aligned with the Palestinian Authority, and with PA head Mahmoud Abbas insisting on some form of return of Palestinian refugees to Israel, not even Israel's opposition party, Kadima, would be able to reach a deal.

Israelis are willing to take risks for peace when they feel safe and accepted. Israel's secret peace initiative to the Palestinian Liberation Organization in the early 1990s that became known as the Oslo Accords was preceded by an unprecedented rise in the number of countries establishing diplomatic relations with the Jewish state, a result of the fall of the Soviet Union.

The situation today is exactly the opposite. In the past year Israel lost its closest regional ally, Turkey, and there are growing doubts about its peace agreement with Egypt. Not since May 1967, when Arab armies pressed against its borders, has Israel felt more threatened and alone. This past Sunday's breaching of Israel's northern border, when hundreds of Palestinians crossed into Israeli territory, only intensified the sense of siege.

And yet if conditions change within the Palestinian national movement and in the region generally, the Likud could be positioned to negotiate an agreement. Given the transformation of the Israeli electorate—like the rise of the hawkish Russian immigrant community—the right is likely to remain in power for a long time to come.

Israeli voters will only trust territorial concessions offered by a government that shares their fear of and anguish toward withdrawal. Not only will tens of thousands of Israeli citizens be displaced, but Israel will be ceding territory that is the heart of the Jewish nation—territory legitimately won, moreover, in a war of defense against the Arab attempt to destroy Israel in 1967.

The Israeli left is incapable of conveying those national sentiments. Its historic mistake was to emotionally withdraw from Judea and Samaria—the biblical West Bank—ceding any claim to the disputed territories.

The ability to achieve a credible agreement with the Palestinians depends on Israel asserting—and only then reluctantly ceding—its historic claim to the whole land of Israel, including Judea and Samaria. That's because even moderate Palestinians insist on their historic claim to the whole land of Palestine, including what is today the state of Israel. The moral logic of partition depends on each side sacrificing a precious part of its patrimony. That logic works only if Hebron and Jericho belong to the Jews—just as Palestinians say that Haifa and Jaffa belong to them.

Palestinian moderates never shared the enthusiasm of the Israeli left for partition. For Palestinians, partition is at best an historic tragedy that will extricate them from an even greater tragedy. Their counterparts within the Israeli debate aren't left-wing dreamers like President Shimon Peres, but right-wing pragmatists like Mr. Netanyahu.

Under Mr. Netanyahu, then, the Likud's commitment to the Jewish people's right to the whole land of Israel has shifted from being an obstacle to an agreement to an asset. That agreement would be based on this trade-off: ceding the Jewish right of return to greater Israel for the Palestinian right of return to greater Palestine.

Mr. Netanyahu has drawn a clear line between the security-minded right led by the Likud and the religious right of the settlement movement, which rejects territorial compromise under any circumstances.

The mistrust between the religious right and the security right dates back to 1982, when Menachem Begin, the first Likud leader to become prime minister, became the first Israeli leader to dismantle settlements (in Sinai, as part of the Egyptian-Israeli peace accord). One of the unsurprising ironies of Israeli politics is that the only prime ministers who have managed to uproot settlements—Begin and then Ariel Sharon, who dismantled 21 settlements in 2005—were both pragmatic hawks.

The hope for a future land-for-peace agreement will not come from the shattered Israeli left, which is not trusted by the electorate to ensure the nation's security and to uphold the integrity of its history. Instead, it will be the Likud that may once again, on its own terms, fulfill the vision of the left.

That depends on deepening the rift between the pragmatic and the theological right—precisely the process that Mr. Netanyahu, who meets with President Obama on Friday, has set in motion. The more the Obama administration embraces Mr. Netanyahu, the more the rift within the Israeli right is likely to grow.

Mr. Halevi is a fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem and a contributing editor to the New Republic.

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Saturday, May 7, 2011

Noah Pollak on the Shonda of B'Tselem

The B'Tselem Witch Trials

Israel's Left, having won the argument on forfeiting visions of Greater Israel in service to an authentic and durable two-state solution, saw the land for peace bargain crumble in the dust and human carnage of the Second Intifada, the Lebanon withdrawal of 2000 and the subsequent wars against Hezbollah and Hamas in 2006 and 2008-9, not to mention the barrage of over 10,000 rocket attacks from Judenrein Gaza into Israel proper. Israel's mainstream left was decimated in subsequent electoral results, verdicts rendered by a sobered Israeli society that saw its genuine efforts for peace met with terror, ideological and psychological warfare.
Noah Pollak demonstrates convincingly how organizations like B'Tselem have co-opted the politically untenable stances of the mainstream left by recreating themselves as "apolitical" NGO's with human rights and international law norms as their weapons of choice.
It is a tactic as transparent as it is disingenous. Sadly, western media and intellecutals fail to see through the ploy.
Below, a short excerpt. The essay deserves a full reading.
db in seattle

The story of those Israeli Jews who have made careers out of attacking Israel’s right to exist, such as Biletzky and Yiftachel, illustrates the degradation of the once mighty Israeli peace movement. Originally, the movement sought legitimacy and prominence in Israeli politics, and received it for a time—and because it was part of the political process, it was constrained by the need for electoral support and popular legitimacy. Yet the collapse of the Oslo Accords in 2000 and the Palestinian terror war that followed presented the peace movement with an existential crisis: With whom, exactly, were Israelis supposed to make peace? The withdrawals from Lebanon in 2000 and Gaza five years later, and the entrenchment in the vacated territory of Iranian-backed terrorist groups, further disillusioned Israelis and called into question the central proposition of the peace movement: if Israel makes the right concessions, peace will follow. And so, over the past 15 years, the peace movement has fallen from a position of influence in Israeli politics to one, today, of irrelevance, an anachronism that no longer has realistic answers to Israel’s problems.

What remains of the peace movement is a white-hot core of activists who refuse to acknowledge their failure and yet cannot gracefully recede from the political stage. They have discovered an innovative formula for rebuilding their political relevance completely outside the democratic political arena: reconstitute themselves as NGOs and conceal their political agenda in the apolitical rhetoric of human rights and international law. In this guise, the peace movement no longer has any need to win elections or offer a serious platform for governance. The NGOs instead position themselves as a blunt opposition force working against mainstream Israeli society, which is viewed as unsophisticated, provincial, racist, and stricken with “security hysteria.” This “human-rights community” has thus not only opposed every consensus Israeli security measure—Operation Defensive Shield during the
intifada, the security fence to stop suicide bombers, the targeted killings of terror-group leaders, the Lebanon War, and the Gaza War—but has branded them war crimes and human-rights violations for which Israel should be punished.
In these circumstances, where there is no point in trying to succeed at the ballot box, leftist Israeli activism now directs itself internationally in the hopes that fomenting a narrative of Israeli criminality will invite enough sanction and condemnation from Europe, the United Nations, and America to force Israel to accede to the demands of these otherwise powerless radicals.

The policies they support would constitute nothing less than Zionism’s destruction. And they apparently have no compunction about seeking its destruction from without, since they have learned to their disappointment and rage that Israel is too strong a nation to allow itself to be destroyed from within.

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