Netanyahu Pulls A Dick Move

This is a really sleazy move by Bibi Netanyahu:

JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will approve the construction of hundreds of new housing units in Israeli settlements in the West Bank in the coming days as a prelude to a building freeze of six to nine months aimed at restarting peace talks with the Palestinians, senior Israeli officials said on Friday.

The plan is an attempt to ease pressure on Mr. Netanyahu from within his own Likud Party, which wants settlements to continue unimpeded, and from Washington, the Palestinian Authority and the rest of the Arab world, which want a total halt to such construction.

I haven’t yet seen any comment from American officials — though Ha’aretz reports they were apprised several weeks of the decision — but the Palestinian leadership is predictably upset.

Senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat Palestinian Authority also criticized the move on Friday, saying it would derail any progress in peace negotiations.

“I think the only thing that will be suspended by this announcement is the peace process,” said Saeb Erekat.

I’m not sure, ultimately, how much this decision will actually suspend the peace process. If Israel comes to the table with an acceptable deal, we can hope the Palestinians will be inclined to take it. Still, brazenly spiteful maneuvers like this will make it more difficult for the Palestinian leadership to accept a deal, which at first blush, will be fairly anemic. Various reports indicate the thinking was to buy wiggle room for Netanyahu with his supporters in the right-wing Likud party, and if this the only way a deal can be sold to Israeli’s than so be it, but Netanyahu better hope the Palestinians take the deal.

Finally,  if the US hopes to even pretend to be a good faith moderator, American politicians should openly condemn these approvals.

UPDATE: White House statement, “[T]he United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued settlement expansion and we urge that it stop.”

UPDATE II: JStreet statement.

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Positive Developments In Gaza

Maybe I haven’t been looking hard enough, but I’m surprised not to have seen anyone comment on this article from today’s New York Times.

GAZA — Seven months after Israel started a fierce three-week military campaign here to stop rockets from being fired on its southern communities, Hamas has suspended its use of rockets and shifted focus to winning support at home and abroad through cultural initiatives and public relations.

The aim is to build what leaders here call a “culture of resistance,” the topic of a recent two-day conference. In recent days, a play has been staged, a movie premiered, an art exhibit mounted, a book of poems published and a television series begun, most of it state-sponsored and all focused on the plight of Palestinians in Gaza. There are plans for a documentary competition.

This seems to me to be a very promising development. As the article notes, there’s little doubt that the abatement in rocket attacks will be viewed by some as vindication for Israel’s misguided invasion of Gaza in January, but if this is successful — and I think it will be — it will strongly demonstrate the strategic folly of the invasion. Between the Civil Rights Movement in the United States and India’s path to independence from the British Empire, there’s very powerful evidence to support the efficacy of nonviolent dissent. Given the intensity of scrutiny and passions on both sides of the debate, I think there’s little room for something like this to go unnoticed.

If Hamas and Palestinians in Gaza can stick with this plan, it seems to one of two things could happen. First, draw down of tensions met with with loosing of the Israeli blockade could build positive momentum leading towards a peaceful two-state solution. Obviously, a lot needs to happen — and crucially, Israel needs to stop settlement activity elsewhere — but reversing the trajectory is an important step. Alternatively, if Israel mainatins the status quo, its position will grow increasingly untenable, and perhaps, could result in greater pressure from the West to make concessions. Considering Israel receives some $3 billion in direct aid from the United States, there’s cause for hope that Western pressure could produce real change. I realize there are a lot of big “ifs,” but there’s one less than yesterday.

Where Generations And Millions Fail, The Pope Endeavors

I think it’s all well and good that the Pope is trying to rehabilitate his image with Jews and Muslims, but things like this really bother me:

But for the Vatican, Benedict’s trip is an opportunity to urge Palestinians and Israelis toward peace and to continue his assiduous efforts to improve his standing with Jews and Muslims.

“The trip is very important and very complex,” the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said this week. He called the journey “an act of hope and faith toward peace and reconciliation.” Given the tensions in the region, he added, “it seems a brave gesture.”

I mean, I really don’t know how many different ways it can be stated, but I think the absolute worst way to view the Israel-Palestine conflict is through a primarily religious lens. Of course, it would be beyond foolish to think that deeply held religious greivances don’t complicate the matters in variety of ways, but the best path towards peace and reconciliation undoubtedly involves the abatement of illegal settlements, quasi-blockades, punitive economic policy, and political disenfranchisement of the Palestinians in “Greater Israel.” This notion that the whole conflict stems not from land, indigence, and political grievance, but instead from some misunderstanding that can be smoothed over with hugs and transubstantiation is, well, beyond foolish.

Israel: Blame Iran for Israel’s Settlements

I’m not quite sure why this piece outlining Israeli foreign policy is labeled “News Analysis ” — there’s a lot of original reporting in the piece — but I can tell you the policy viewpoints elucidated therein are mind-bogglingly wrongheaded, and I dare say, border on stupid.

“People try to simplify the situation with these formulas: land for peace, two-state solution,” Mr. Lieberman told the newspaper. “It’s a lot more complicated.” He added that the real reason for the deadlock “is not occupation, not settlements and not settlers.” Nor, he said, is it the Palestinians. The biggest obstacle, he said, is “the Iranians.”

He, like the entire Israeli leadership, argues that since Iran sponsors Hezbollah in southern Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, both of which reject Israel’s existence and seek its destruction, the key to the Palestinian solution is to defang Iran and stop it from acquiring the means to build a nuclear weapon.

There’s really a lot to grapple with here, but it’s utterly remarkable that “the entire Israeli leadership” would not stop to ask themselves why it is that Iran is capable of sponsoring Hezbollah and Hamas. The answer, of course, would be anger caused by Israeli occupation, settlements, the settlers. It’s not as though Iran is just disseminating munitions willy-nilly for various groups to use out of bordem. Hezbollah and Hamas use the weapons and money because they have political grievances. If you eliminate the political grievances — and the two state solution is widely considered the best way of muting said discontent — you eliminate the need for these groups to rely on Iran in the first place. It’s a win-win: create better relations with your neighbors and isolate Iran in the process.

What’s more, even if you decide to pursue this strategy of blaming the Iranians for Israel’s illegal settlement activity, it’s not at all clear how you might actually “defang Iran and stop it from acquiring the means to build a nuclear weapon.” In the first place — how do you accomplish this defanging? Take Iran to the vet? Are they proposing invading and forcibly disarming Iran? As for a the nuclear threat, Iran already doesn’t have a nuclear weapon and still manages to create a fair number of headaches for Israel. This again demonstrates the importance of addressing the political grievances of the Palestinians. Without fixing these situations, Iran will always have proxies to torment Israel, whether they have a nuclear arsenal or not. And that’s even before we consider the utter implausibility of Iran using a nuclear weapon offensively, which is itself absurd. Finally, loudly blustering about the need to “defang” Iran will only encourage Iran to continue arming itself and expediting its nuclear program so as to best defend itself against those who wish to defang them.

I’m really at a loss for how incomprehensibly nonsensical this policy is. I really hope Obama can talk some sense into Netanyahu.

Too Late For Pride, Optics

My Jewish interlocutor the other day suggested to me that J Street — the progressive and decidedly politically liberal — advocacy organization was “too soft” on Israeli policy, the implication being that the “tough” positions pushed by AIPAC were far more approrpiate. Unfortunately, it’s my view that the current state of affairs in the middle east has basically rendered the luxury of aesthetics moot. Rather, if the “tough” course is maintained, it will lead only to continual conflict and worse outcomes, and however unpalatable some Jews may find the notion, peace can only come through making some concessions, like, I don’t know, enforcing international law with respect to illegal settlements. Anyway, this all a long way of introducing a really good read on the complete impracticability of the “tough” route by prominent Jew hater, Steve Walt. Here’s a snippet.

The real threat to Israel’s future is the occupation, and the conflict with the Palestinians that it perpetuates. To see that, all you have to do is look at current demographic trends and poll results and then ponder the consequences for Israel. There are presently about 5.6 million Jews in “Greater Israel,” (i.e., the 1967 borders plus the West Bank) and about 5.2  million Arabs (of whom nearly 1.5 million are citizens of Israel). Palestinian birth rates are substantially higher, however, which means they will be a majority of the population in “Greater Israel” in the not-too-distant future. To put it bluntly, it is Palestinian wombs and not Iranian bombs that pose the real threat.

And a bit more…

Netanyahu ought to be equally concerned by signs that the Zionist ideal is losing its hold within Israel itself. There are reportedly between 700,000 and one million Israeli citizens now living abroad, and emigration has outpaced immigration since 2007. According to Ian Lustick and John Mueller, only 69 percent of Israeli Jews say they want to remain in the country, and a 2007 poll reported that about one-quarter of Israelis are considering leaving, including almost half of all young people.

I mean, I just don’t see how optics are really relevant if the goal is to actually create peace. The post itself goes into specifics of various policy options, as well as likely outcomes of Netanyahu’s preferred course. Definitely check it out.

Israel Rebuffs UN Human Rights Investigation

Wanted to post something on this yesterday, but I didn’t. So now you’re seeing it today.

JERUSALEM, April 15 (Reuters) – Israel does not plan to cooperate with a U.N. agency’s investigation into alleged war crimes by Israeli troops and Hamas militants during fighting in Gaza, an Israeli government official said on Wednesday.

The investigation by a Judge named Richard Goldstone, a “highly regarded South African jurist and international humanitarian law scholar,” and also importantly, a Jew. What’s more, Goldstone has said his inquiry will also examine possible breaches of human rights by Palestinians.

There are a lot of ways to react to this, but first, let me say this is probably exactly like what certain Bush Administration policies played abroad — anything from refusing to ratify the Kyoto protocol, to snubbing the security council, to torture, to wiretapping, etc. On a less immediate level, actions like this undermine Israel’s much vaunted moral authority, straining further relationships with Western countries who Israel relies on for military, financial, and diplomatic support. Additionally, it’s not clear that a clean report from the UN would win the affection of moderate Palestinians, but giving the impression that there’s something to lose will certainly help extremists make the case that Israel is a malign force in the region.

Finally, I can’t help but react on a personal level that Israel’s sheer bellicosity is embarrassing as  a Jew. It was striking to read a Passover prayer calling that Israel, understanding the misery of oppression, lead all nations as a peaceful light, and juxtapose that with behavior like Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s campaign call for loyalty oaths from Arab-Israelis or the strategic privation of Palestinians.

Blockades and Moral Superiority

Well, this should notch a chink in the “Israeli is always the victim” defense.

However, an incident occured last week at a crossing into the Gaza Strip that gave a very different impression to a senior observer. When Senator John Kerry visited the Strip, he learned that many trucks loaded with pasta were not permitted in. When the chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee inquired as to the reason for the delay, he was told by United Nations aid officials that “Israel does not define pasta as part of humanitarian aid – only rice shipments.”

Kerry asked Barak about the logic behind this restriction, and only after the senior U.S. official’s intervention did the defense minister allow the pasta into the Strip. The U.S. senator updated colleagues at the Senate and other senior officials in Washington of the details of his visit.

The issue of humanitarian aid is central to a major debate between Israel’s foreign and defense ministries. The former supports broadening the amount and types of aid, while the defense ministry opposes anything it considers “concessions” to Hamas.

This is insanity. It’s really hard to overstate the degree to which Israeli policy directly fuels animosity among the Palestinian population. Of course, the relationship is reciprocal, but it seems to me that it’s hard to don the mantle of moral superiority while choking an entire civilian population of access to humanitarian aid. As Matt Yglesias notes, it says something about the current state of affairs that the international community hasn’t strongly denounced the tactic. Moreover, it illustrates an almost absurd tone-deafness to decry terrorism for targeting civilians and simultaneously employ tactics that to a very large degree target the exact same demographic. It certainly doesn’t bode well for prospects of peace.

As a Jew, it’s downright embarassing.