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.

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 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.

Paved With Good Intentions

So upon logging on to facebook, I saw this little tidbit in my news feed.

missilesI think this raises an important point; lots of hawkish Israeli supporters like to point out that Hamas intends to harm civilians. Indeed they do, and that is indefensible. Still, it’s worth noting that no matter Israel’s stated intentions, they’ve killed over 1,000 Gazans (315 of whom were children) and injured over 4,700 since the start of the offensive in late December. At some point, hawkish Israeli supporters will have to reconcile the fact that the consequences of Israel’s actions animate a great deal of the hostility it receives. You’re simply not going to be able to live peacably with your neighbors when you’re bombing their children, no matter how good your intentions are or how convinced you are of your moral rectitude.