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Last week, my colleagues in the Israeli Peace Now movement issued two blockbuster reports. These weren’t the regular “more construction was announced” fare. These reports have huge implications, both negative and positive, for peace and the two-state solution.

The Bad News: Settlement Construction Surges, Even Without Tenders


Palestinian workers are seen on a construction sight of a new neigbourhood of an Israeli settlement April 12, 2005 in Ariel, West Bank. (Uriel Sinai / Getty Images)

Peace Now documented a 70 percent increase in new construction starts in settlements during the first six months of 2013, as compared to the same period in 2012. That’s in addition to a huge number of units completed or on which work was ongoing during this period—altogether translating to 3,070 units which are or will soon be available to house new settlers. Assuming a family of five, this translates to around 15,000 new settlers.

The legitimacy index of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate has just taken another plunge. That is, the state rabbinate has reduced the number of rabbis from outside its own bureaucracy whom it considers legitimate, and the number of people whom it trusts as being legitimately Jewish.

And, in the process, the Chief Rabbinate has shown yet again that there is no legitimate reason for its own existence.


US President Barack Obama speaks to an Israeli Chief Rabbis during an official welcoming ceremony on his arrival at Ben Gurion International Airport on March, 20, 2013 near Tel Aviv, Israel. (Uriel Sinai / Getty Images)

"The Likud's hilltop youth, headed by (MK) Yariv Levin, are leading Israel into the murky waters of a totalitarian state." 

—MK Isaac Herzog (Labor) reacts like others from the right and the left to the attempt to limit Israel's High Court's authority

  • Settlers attack olive harvest near Nablus - Settlers from Yitzhar on Sunday attacked a group of Palestinians and international volunteers harvesting olives in the Nablus and two international volunteers from the Israeli rights group Yesh Din were lightly injured in the attack. (Maan)
  • Molotov cocktail thrown at settler car near Nablus - A Molotov cocktail was thrown at a settler's car near Huwwara south of Nablus on Sunday, Israel's army said. (Maan)
  • EU Parliament group: Israel 'ethnically cleansing' in Negev - Israel complains to parliament's president after socialist faction holds panel claiming 'ethnic cleansing' taking place against Bedouins. (Ynet)
  • Bills aimed at limiting High Court's authority assassinate democracy' - MKs Yariv Levin (Likud) and Ayelet Shaked (Habayit Hayehudi) face scathing criticism over series of bills promoting judiciary reform. Justice Minister Tzipi Livni: These proposals are dangerous.  Shaked: Media in a hurry to depict us as fascists. (Israel Hayom)
  • Family of first Arab honored for saving Jews rejects Israeli prize - Egyptian doctor Mohamed Helmy was honored posthumously last month by Israel's Holocaust memorial for hiding Jews in Berlin during Holocaust. If any other country offered to honor Helmy we would have been happy with it, says relative of late physician. (Israel Hayom)
  • Netanyahu and the Pope: The meeting that wasn't - Despite the PMO's announcement last week that Netanyahu would be meeting with Pope Francis, such a meeting was never scheduled. However, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met with the Pope during a recent trip to Rome, and even received a pen as a gift that he said he hoped to use to sign a peace agreement with Israel. (Haaretz and Maan)
  • Netanyahu: Geneva nuclear talks may legitimize Iran's 'rogue regime' - Right way to deal with Iran should be to respect it, suspect it and pressure it, the prime minister told the weekly cabinet meeting.  (Haaretz+)
  • Hezbollah seeking 15,000 recruits to fight against rebels in Syria - Sources near Hezbollah claim Lebanese militia plans to attack the rebels’ main supply lines. (Haaretz+)

For the full News from Israel

With Syria's civil war entering its third year, 2 million Syrians are displaced internally while nearly 730,000 are refugees living outside Syria. But for the half million Palestinian refugees who have lived in Syria since 1948, the situation is even more dire. Jordan denies them refuge as a matter of policy, and Lebanon restricts entry by a visa fee that Syrian refugees are not required to pay. Palestinians are running out of places to go.

More than half of the Palestinian residents of Syria have been displaced, according to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the U.N. agency that provides aid and services to 5 million Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria.


Residents of the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk in Damascus return to their homes on December 20, 2012 after fighting had sent them fleeing. (Carole Alfarah / AFP / Getty Images)

Speaking from Amman, UNRWA deputy commissioner Margot Ellis recounted a recent trip to Lebanon, where she visited a family of 23 Palestinians from Syria who lived in a two-room apartment in the Shatila refugee camp. They had to sleep in shifts because there wasn't enough room for everyone to lie down at the same time. Lebanon has allowed in more Palestinians from Syria than any other country, but it already hosted 490,000 refugees descended from those who fled in 1948. The vast majority is denied citizenship or the right to work in nearly every profession. They are dependent on international aid.

Putting the evacuation of settlements at the top of the priority list as part of an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal is a tactical, if not a strategic, mistake.

There is no doubt, of course, that the continued building of settlements is a serious obstacle to any progress with the peace process. Geographically, the policy continues to bite into what is supposed to be the State of Palestine. Palestinians are required to negotiate over division of the land while Israelis continue to carve it out. This is an unfair and impossible situation for the Palestinians.


Ahmad Gharabli, AFP / Getty Images

Some courses of action are clear: Israel should halt all construction in the West Bank. At the very least, it needs to halt construction of new settlements and halt the expansion of existing settlements’ borders. However, the issue of what to do about existing settlers does not have as clear a solution.

Number of the day =70.

—Percentage increase in new settlement construction starts in the first half of 2013 compared with the first half of last year, Peace Now reports.

  • Peace Now: Israel steps up settlement housing starts - NGO says there were 1,708 housing starts in January-June this year, compared with 995 during same period in 2012 and 44 percent of it took place east of Israel's separation barrier which cuts through the W. Bank, and 32 percent fell to the west of it. Peace Now bills the figures as a "drastic rise." (Agencies, Ynet and Maan)
  • Likud municipal campaigns ordered to drop racist ads - Ads against mosque in Carmiel and muezzin in Jaffa prohibited. The Central Election Committee decision was made despite the attorney general's advice that the committee had no authority over online and street ads. (Haaretz+)
  • Housing Minister: Netanyahu isn't building in Jerusalem, and Barekat is silent - Uri Ariel spoke at a closed conference of Habayit Hayehudi party and attacked the two men, accusing the Prime Minister of acting on foreign interests. Habayit Hayehudi is considering following Shas and establishing its own Council of Torah Sages. (Maariv/NRG Hebrew)
  • Former chairman of top Israeli bank convicted of fraud - Danny Dankner pleads guilty to reduced charges relating to misconduct during his time at the bank; agrees to pay fine of NIS 1 million, with additional sentencing to come. (Haaretz+)
  • Egypt army destroys smuggling tunnel in Rafah - The tunnel was found in the home of a man identified only as H.Q, and was used to smuggle people to and from the Gaza Strip. (Maan)

For the full News from Israel.

Cross Cultural Love

The IDF Eid Crasher

The State of Israel prides itself on being masters of public image. They are experts at marketing Israel as a tourist paradise (as long as you’re not a tourist of Palestinian descent) and spinning the occupation as an inconvenience that visitors shouldn't worry their little heads about. Israel also tries very hard to present herself as religious tolerant while granting superior status to its citizens of a certain faith. In an effort to distract from the almost daily incitement by Israeli extremists at Islam's third holiest site, Al Aqsa Mosque Compound in Jerusalem, and the recent raising of the Israeli flag in front of the Dome of the Rock the Israeli Defense Forces thought it would be fabulous to record a vlog wishing those very same Muslims they harass daily a very Happy Eid al Adha.

 The army needed someone to deliver this special message and they knew there was only one man for the job:  Avichay Adraee, the head of the IDF's Arabic Media Desk. I’d like to tell you more about Avichay but he’s a man of mystery. There’s not even a Wikipedia page for him; but there will be one next week when I’m done building it. What he lacks in biographical history, he makes up for in social media presence. Avichay Adraee tweets, he friends folks on Facebook, he stars in a slew of videos on the IDF YouTube channel, and he’s LinkedIn. Nowhere on any of these platforms is his formal education listed, so I am going to assume he was raised by wolves and that is why he is fluent in Arabic. You see, Adraee is not your average Israeli soldier, screaming “Bo, bo, bo!” Double A prefers to use Arabic to express himself and did exactly that as he delivered the performance of a lifetime in the Israeli Army’s Eid Al-Adha clip.

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Palestinians children play on a swing during the second day of Eid al-Adha or 'Feast of the sacrifice' in Gaza City on October 16, 2013. (Mohammed Abed / AFP / Getty Images)

Avichay Adraee seems to have shot and directed himself in the extreme close up, "Happy Eid," message posted to the IDF official YouTube channel on Tuesday. Palestinian Twitter reacted swiftly to Adraee's holiday video greeting. Words used to describe the message were “creepy” “delusional” and “WTF.” Surprisingly, there were no outpourings of thank yous from the Muslim community at large or from the over 1 million Muslims who carry Israeli citizenship.

In many ways, it was refreshing to read Kathleen Peratis’ latest article (“If You Want Two States, Support BDS,” Open Zion 10/16/2013). “Ending occupation is low on the agenda of Israeli voters, lower even than the price of cottage cheese,” she writes. “Israelis are not demanding an end to occupation because the status quo is working for them.” To shake that indifference, she advocates embracing “the wake-up call that occurs when a rock group won't perform in Tel Aviv, when the E.U. refuses to fund Israeli projects that have any presence over the Green Line, when the Presbyterian Church threatens divestment in companies that profit from the occupation.”

I can completely relate to that. This isn’t about demonizing Israelis. We’re no different than the average American—unconcerned about Afghanistan, Iraq, or even conditions in the nearest Indian reservation. As Peratis notes, while boycott initiatives may well engender a siege mentality, the policy of “carrots only and no sticks” has spectacularly failed. The pressure needed to shake this indifference may be uncomfortable in the short term, but it’s probably unavoidable. We’ve tried the other options.  


Palestinian supporters show a banner reading " Boycott Israel" during a demonstration in Rome on June4, 2010. (Vincenzo Pinto / AFP / Getty Images)

If Peratis can agree on that, what prevents her from joining forces with the global BDS movement, instead of separating herself from others working to end the occupation? She writes of “the whiff of anti-Semitism that rises from some of the BDS organizations, including some in the Global BDS Movement. Their advocacy of the 'full' right of return of Palestinian refugees means an end to Jewish Israel. Their one-sided condemnation of '48 is a rejection of our democratic Zionism. We cannot march shoulder to shoulder with them.”

Detente Blues

Don't Offer Sanctions Relief to Iran

Following the first round of nuclear talks with Iran in Geneva, a proposal is circulating to allow Iran conditional access to some of its sanctioned cash. The proposal, reported by Jeffrey Goldberg and apparently originating with Mark Dubowitz at Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), would provide sanctions relief without formally lifting the sanctions. The basic idea is to pay Iran for concessions on its nuclear program to prevent it from advancing toward a nuclear weapons capability.

There is impetus for this approach from the U.S. and Iran. The Obama Administration wants to give Iran an incentive to reduce its nuclear activities, and “put some time on the clock” according to one anonymous official, while maintaining sanctions in case Iran backslides. The Iranian regime may also welcome this suggestion. The Iranian economy is suffering, which has forced the regime to negotiate. Iran has more than $50 billion in oil revenues in overseas banks that it cannot get its hands on. Dubowitz therefore suggests putting a price on Iranian nuclear concessions, letting Iran earn some of the money currently out of reach because of sanctions.


An Iranian man rides his LCD TV loaded bike in Tehran, Iran on October 9. (Fatemeh Bahrami / Anadolu Agency / Getty Iamges)

This sounds like a deal, except that the proposal could turn the nuclear talks into a ransom negotiation. By pricing apparent nuclear concessions, the proposal would encourage Iran to dress up minor alterations as significant moves and financially exploit its flouting of international non-proliferation norms.

"When the Latrun monastery is spray-painted with graffiti, it troubles the entire Protestant world— and we cry about anti-Semitism? Those who seek to destroy and devastate us come from us."
Former Shin Bet chief Carmi Gilon says the roots for the next political murder are planted among "price tag" activists

  • Israeli army taking steps to change Palestinian child arrest policy - UNICEF progress report gives IDF mixed grades in arrest and interrogation of Palestinian minors in the West Bank; army says policy change still under review. The IDF raised the age of minority for Palestinians from 15 to 18, such as it is for Israelis. (Haaretz)
  • IDF officers suspected of dealing in date-rape drug - Investigation into drug sales – including date rape drug – led police to two IDF officers. (Ynet)
  • Boycotting since 1967: East Jerusalem Palestinians to abandon local elections - Voter turnout expected to be low, after talk of reconsidering boycott is muted; Palestinians who considered running in city council back down. (Haaretz+)
  • New international high school in Israel to charge whopping $35,000 a year - English-language private boarding school aims to also attract students from Arab countries. (Haaretz+)
  • Egypt-U.S. relations in turmoil, says foreign minister - Egypt's foreign minister says instability with U.S. reflects negatively on entire Middle East. (Agencies, Haaretz)
  • Turkey missile deal shows China's growing Mideast clout - 'Chinese ambassadors tend to speak good Arabic... while the Americans still expect everyone to talk in English,' says U.S. official. (Agencies,Haaretz)
  • Iran willing to discuss snap inspections of its nuclear facilities - Negotiations between Iran, world powers continue in Geneva; Iranian FM says signing 'additional protocol' is part of last step of proposal. (Agencies, Haaretz)
  • Netanyahu to meet Pope next week - PM to meet Pope Francis at Vatican, discuss Iran, peace talks with US Secretary of State Kerry. (Ynet)

For the full News from Israel


Goodbye, Tooth Fairy

If You Want Two States, Support BDS

I have not only heard all the arguments against BDS, I have made them. I am one of those really liberal Jews who will appear on panels too treif for most mainstream Jews (because they include anti-Zionists) and argue that the liberal Zionist dream is not dead, that a Jewish and democratic Israel is still possible, that Israel (inside the green line) is a democracy. For this I am sometimes mocked. Marilyn Neimark, my co-panelist not too long ago, turned to me when it was her turn and said, "And do you also still believe in the tooth fairy?"

The audience roared. I did not take offense.

Demonstrators hold a placard urging the international community to take action against Israel's settlement policy in the occupied territories as left-wing Israeli and foreign peace activists join Palestinians in a protest. (Gali Tibbon / AFP / Getty Images)

Demonstrators hold a placard urging the international community to take action against Israel's settlement policy in the occupied territories as left-wing Israeli and foreign peace activists join Palestinians in a protest. (Gali Tibbon / AFP / Getty Images)

Most of those who populate the very narrow ground that I stand on (I called them "sad Zionists" in an op-ed early in the year) know that the current peace process is at best a Hail Mary, that the occupation is a lot more entrenched and sustainable than we ever thought, that the two-state solution—along with our liberal Zionist dreams—is going down the drain.   

For all of our efforts, why are we getting nowhere? For one thing, we are fighting the fight with a hand tied behind our backs. We hysterically condemn the use of a nonviolent tool that works. The tool is Boycott, Divestment Sanction (BDS).

CAIRO—From a life in prison to freedom and a pivotal role in brokering a solution to the ongoing military crackdown, Aboud El Zomor, 66, has seen his life’s trajectory transformed by Egypt's January 25, 2011 revolution.

Jailed in 1981 after authorities implicated him in the assassination of President Anwar Sadat, El Zomor is the leader of Gama’a Islamiyya, a radical Islamist group that some claim is linked to Al Qaeda. He was released from prison in March 2011.

OZ_Aboud El Zomor Cairo

Aboud El Zomor, 66, at his Cairo apartment. (Jesse Rosenfeld)

Word of the day:
—"That extra bit of patience nobody has. As in, 'I so don't have the hosseleh for this silly media war between Rohani and Netanyahu. Don't they know neither the Israelis nor the Iranians have any hosseleh left for another war?'" Ilene Prusher writes a Farsi phrasebook for the Israeli Prime Minister

  • Israel army reforms child arrest methods - Israel's army agreed to test alternative treatment for Palestinian children it arrests in the West Bank following international pressure, in the wake of a 2013 UNICEF report that described mistreatment of (Palestinian) children in Israeli prisons as "widespread." (Maan)
  • Masses visit Rachel's Tomb on day of her death - Tens of thousands visit her tomb, beginning Monday night. Police and Border Police increased presence to and near the grave and the IDF was on alert on the Palestinian side (of the wall) to prevent stone and Molotov cocktail throwing. (Israel Hayom, p. 25)
  • Hamas, Fatah leaders in Eid phone call - Leaders of rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas spoke via telephone on the eve of the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday, stressing the need for reconciliation. (Agencies, Maan)
  • Starting next year: Children from Iraq to study at school in Israel - First high school of its kind to be established in Kfar Hayarok to prepare children from Moroco, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority, as well as 10 Israeli students, for the international Baccalaureate. School to be called Eastern Mediterranean International School. (Maariv, p. 18)
  • Russian official: Arafat did not die from polonium poisoning - Russian experts found no traces of deadly substance in body of Palestinian leader, head of Russia's Federal Medical-Biological Agency says. (Agencies,Haaretz)
  • CBS: Twice as many children poor in Israel as in Europe - Central Bureau of Statistics reports that percentage of people at risk of being poor in 2011 was 31% compared to 17% in EU. (NRG Hebrew and Ynet)
  • To ward off hunger, Syrian clerics condone eating cats, dogs - The animals are considered unfit for human consumption according to Islam, but clerics issue fatwa due to conditions in war-torn country, Al Arabiya reports. (Haaretz)
  • Is Hamas to mend ties with Assad?  Hamas' Deputy Politburo Chief Abu Marzouk says Khaled Mashal was wrong to support Syrian opposition, doesn't rule out possibility of renewing ties with Damascus. (Ynet)

For the full News from Israel.

GENEVA—The last time the Iranians sat down with world powers to discuss their nuclear program was only six months ago, in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Today, however, as the sides resumed negotiations in Switzerland, Almaty seemed farther in the rear view than its 7,000-mile distance from the shores of Lake Geneva. The biggest change, clearly, has been the new Iranian team: Iranian president Hassan Rouhani was elected, took office, and leaned heavily into his now-famous "charm offensive." With backing for Rouhani from Iran's clerical leadership, the Iranians claimed to now be serious about reassuring the international community—led by the U.N. Security Council's five permanent members and Germany, the so-called P5+1—about the professed peaceful nature of their nuclear program, and hoped to get the touch sanctions hitting their economy eased. And world powers said they were ready to reciprocate, if Iran gave significant assurances.

Scant details emerged from the talks, but progress seemed apparent. The E.U.'s top foreign policy official's spokesperson Michael Mann told reporters as the morning plenary ended that the Iranians offered a new proposal in the form of an hour-long PowerPoint presentation. "It was very useful," Mann said.

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Iran's Deputy Foreign minister Abbas Araghchi (L) leaves the media center after the start of two days of closed-door nuclear talks on October 15, 2013 at the United Nations offices in Geneva. (Fabrice Cofrini / AFP/ Getty Images)

The Iranians reacted in kind: the "reaction was good," said the Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi, just before briefing Iranian reporters in more detail. "Even if there is no significant breakthrough in these talks, we've had progress," said the International Crisis Group Iran analyst Ali Vaez, citing discussion of an "endgame," proliferating bilateral talks, and an Iranian willingness to talk details. "But we have to wait and see until tomorrow."

At the end of the summer I blogged about the controversy stemming from a series of public transit ads paid for by a Palestine solidarity organization in Vancouver. Now an Israel advocacy group has fought back with an ad of its own.

In my two earlier pieces on the issue here at Open Zion, I discussed the ethics around the decision to post the original ads, and assessed their veracity.

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Image from the Stand With Us "Disappearing Israel" campaign.

I also suggested that the response of the organized Jewish community at the time, namely to try to get the ads removed, was futile. Instead, I wrote,

About the Editor

Author headshot

Peter Beinart

Peter Beinart, senior political writer for The Daily Beast, is associate professor of journalism and political science at City University of New York and a senior fellow at the New America Foundation. His new book, The Crisis of Zionism, was published by Times Books in April 2012.

Open Zion's Take:

Boycotting Israel

Academics Say No To Israel

Academics Say No To Israel

It’s OK for the American Studies Association to judge the country with a double standard. Denying the legitimacy of a democratic Jewish state is another story.

Bastardized Boycott?

Who Defines the ‘B’ in the BDS Movement?

Mixed Motivations

What Does the ASA Boycott Mean? They Don’t Know.