When President Obama visits Israel this week, he will attempt neither to unmoor the old peace process nor outfit a new one. But with new leverage in hand, a determined Secretary of State John Kerry at the helm, and riding a wave of domestic and worldwide popularity, the president may never have stronger winds at his back in the search for Israeli-Palestinian peace. To take advantage of them, he will soon need to open his sails. If the president hopes to ever make any real headway, however, he should first rid his outlook of an old trope that has become an excuse for inaction: the idea that “The U.S. cannot want peace more than the parties themselves.”
In recent years, this idea has been parroted so often that it's become known as the “Washington consensus.” In Israel and the occupied territories, this perception has helped lead to the status quo: periods of relative (and illusory) calm sandwiched between spasms of violence, with continued settlement construction creating facts on the ground ever more hazardous to the prospect of a two-state solution. The truth is that the United States can indeed want peace more than Israel and the Palestinians. In fact, to be successful, we have to.
Employees arrange flags and carpets at the residence of Israeli President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem on March 19, 2013, a day ahead of US President Barack Obama's visit. (Gali Tibbon / AFP / Getty Images)
We have to want peace more because Israeli and Palestinian leaders have made their preference for the status quo abundantly clear. None appear ready to make tough decisions, take responsibility for painful sacrifices, or deal with the inevitable backlash from extremists in their midst. Only the U.S. has sufficient credibility with both sides to capably deploy pain, prodding, and promises of a better future to push both sides over the hump. But if we don’t want peace more than they do, the U.S. will be neither credible nor effective--much as we’ve been over the past four years. We have to want peace more because achieving it will require an exceptional level of dedication. This commitment would likely consume a significant portion of Obama’s foreign policy agenda. But make no mistake: Israeli-Palestinian peace is worth it.
When I first came to teach at the University of Texas at Arlington, I was asked by a colleague whether I was uncomfortable using the term “Zionist” in my courses on the Middle East and on Israel. My response was, of course, “no,” since although some have tried to tar the term with racist, murderous overtones, it is as legitimate a nationalism as American, British, German, Turkish, and Chilean nationalism.
This tarring fits with an ideological or political agenda, but it is a misunderstanding (for some, willful) of what Zionism is and what its leaders and thinkers sought to build and how they wanted to do so. Yousef Munayyer’s piece in these pages is a good example of this.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks at posters of stamps featuring Zionism founder Theodor Herzl. (Sebastian Scheiner / AFP / Getty Images)
Munayyer is not un-informed, but his article is tendentious. He has a particular point to make—that Barack Obama needs to account for the nakba, too, while in Israel—and his explanation of Zionist history is made to squeeze into that particular framework of blame. It is a very partisan and one-sided reading that might work for those (like Munayyer) who advocate for a one-state solution, but it is incomplete.
Two major critiques are levied at Barack Obama's visit to Israel: that it will not break new ground, least of all in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and that it aims to address the people of Israel over the head of their parliament. On both counts, this will be no game-changer.
Fair enough. The U.S. president seems to arrive in Israel with little in his luggage other than a pair of ears. And yes, he could have addressed the Knesset. Except that his much-anticipated speech to university students and teachers is far more important. The young citizens' tweets and posts from that Jerusalem event may prove far weightier, in the long run, than anything Mr. Obama might accomplish with their leaders and legislators.
Israeli student Yuval Kanton sits in his home writing his blog on daily life under the threat of Hezbollah missile strikes on July 25, 2006 in Haifa, Israel. (Christopher Furlong / Getty Images)
For something has changed dramatically in the last few years. Pundits and reporters seem to be ignoring it, because they are searching for novelty under the old streetlamps rather than the new.
Of course, Middle Eastern political climate and the chemistry of leaders are crucial factors. Optimism accompanied the early Clinton visits and the last Bush visit, while pessimism besets both the early and the current Netanyahu terms. Escalation with Iran may be looming, the Arab awakening has largely soured, and peace partnership with Abbas looks remoter than ever. But maybe we are looking for hope in the wrong places.
Everyone expected Ben Ehrenreich's New York Times Magazine piece on the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh—where Palestinian activists have mounted years of protests, often including stone throwing, against a nearby settlement's attempted takeover of their natural spring—to come in for an array of criticisms. But some of them have come from the surprising places: namely, publications with a liberal bent. One such criticism caught my eye. In the Forward, perhaps the most revered institution of the liberal American Jewish press, editor Jane Eisner attacked by claiming that "Ehrenreich is hardly a disinterested observer of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict." After pointing to a 2009 Los Angeles Times op-ed where Ehrenreich declared that "Zionism is the problem," Eisner remarks that, "Now, I’m not one to outright condemn every writer for what he or she has written before. But Ehrenreich’s politics are so evident and his sympathies so decided that it is difficult not to see his bias running through the long magazine story." Oh? Where, exactly? "My second criticism illustrates that point," Eisner answers. "It is not until well into the story that Ehrenreich acknowledges that the 'unarmed' resisters routinely throw stones at the Israel security forces."
As Palestinians protested Israeli settlement moves, the U.S. response was “half-assed,” one source said. (Abbas Momani / Getty Images-AFP)
Eisner's blogpost—headlined: "Real Non-Violence Doesn't Look Like This"—fails to acknowledge that Ehrenreich never actually dubs the protests "nonvioelnt" (that phrase only gets used when Ehrenreich reports that an Israeli military spokesman "took issue with the idea"). In fact, Ehrenreich uses nearly a tenth of his story—800 words, which is more than Eisner's whole blogpost—to discussing various perspectives on the stone throwing, including those of the Israeli military and its soldiers. He reports on exactly the same questions Eisner has about the place of hurling rocks in "unarmed" demonstrations and how this turns them violent, and even directly confronting the protest leader about it. Ehrenreich "only glancingly raised this point and just as quickly dismissed it," Eisner says—quite a statement about a discussion at such length. That leaves only the objection that stone throwing doesn't get discussed "until well into the story." That's it: an editorial quibble with the structure of an 8,000-word story, based on which Eisner would have us believe that Ehrenreich's anti-Zionism manifests itself as a perfidious "bias running through the long magazine story."
But the hollowness of her objections to Ehrenreich's treatment of stone throwing wasn't the most galling thing about Eisner's post. Instead, it's that she claims his anti-Zionism makes him an unfit source of reporting on this conflict. She writes that his reporting will "will now be discredited," but doesn't say why beyond implying that an anti-Zionist can't be a "disinterested observer of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict." But neither being an anti-Zionist nor a Zionist precludes good reporting, which should be judged on its journalistic merits, not the scribe's ideology (personally, I think the notion of "disinterested observers" in journalism is passé). Ironically, the pro-Israel right wing engages in a mirror image of Eisner's attack, demanding for example that New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren declare whether or not she is a Zionist (Rudoren refused to answer). And most Palestinians are anti-Zionists; would they be wholesale excluded from reporting on the conflict? Given Eisner's apparent Zionist bent, she's not even purporting to dismiss the notion that one must be "disinterested" to do good reporting, just that they must have the same interests as her (or at least those that do not clash with hers). This is a clear example of what one might call, to borrow an oft repeated pro-Israel argument, a double standard: it's just as simple to discredit any Zionist who writes on these issues. Not only is Eisner's evidence of bias thin, the logic behind it would damn her and much of her staff's own reporting on the conflict.
Tomorrow, Air Force One will land in my hometown. Lydda, a historic Palestinian city, is where the airport is (not Tel Aviv). Just like the Palestinians, the airport was there before the state of Israel. It was only named after Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion, in 1973.
Unbeknownst to most observers, President Barack Obama is actually traveling to the region on the anniversary of a pivotal day in the history of Palestine. Sixty-five years ago, in a township called Lake Success, NY, a chain of events would be set into motion that would lead to disaster for Palestinians.
A Palestinian survivor reacts on April 7, 2005 during a memorial ceremony at the original site of her former village of Deir Yassin in Jerusalem. (Atta Hussein / AFP / Getty Images)
Lake Success, a township on Long Island, was home to the United Nations long before it moved to its iconic eastside headquarters. There, on March 19, 1948, ambassadors and delegates were gathered to discuss the implementation of the 1947 Partition plan for Palestine. The British mandate was drawing to a close within weeks. Many people know that the U.N. passed a general assembly resolution in favor of partitioning Palestine in November 1947. Few people know, however, that on this day, the United States—which had originally voted for partition—withdrew its support for the plan and favored instead something closer to a one-state outcome.
"(Obama) is probably the most Jewish president the United States has ever had."
--US columnist Jeffrey Goldberg in an interview with Haaretz+.
- Racist incitement by Israeli public figures doubled in 2012, study shows- According to a new report from the Coalition Against Racism in Israel, there were 106 cases of high profile racist statements last year, compared with 59 such cases the year before. (Haaretz+)
- Israeli lightly injured in West Bank shooting - Man shot from passing car at bus stop southwest of Nablus; police searching for shooter. (Haaretz+ andYnet)
- IDF soldier convicted of negligent homicide for killing of Palestinian man - The 21-year-old laborer who was shot was not considered a security threat but was trying to get to his job after entering Israel through a gap in the separation fence. (Haaretz+)
- Prisoners group to protest outside US consulate in Jerusalem - A Palestinian prisoners group will organize a sit-in protest on Tuesday in front of the US consulate in Jerusalem, a day before President Obama visits the region. (Maan)
- Israel Prison Service chief: Mossad responsible for Zygier's suicide - Israel Prison Service Commissioner Lt. Gen. Aharon Franco: Information provided by Mossad on Ben Zygier did not enable his imprisonment to be managed as needed, which led to his suicide. (Israel Hayom)
- Israel's Civil administration (in Palestinian Territories) prevented Palestinian from working in Israel "because he has a relative who is insane" - Jerusalem District Court criticized Civil Administration and ordered it to reconsider Ahmed Khamaysa's request. (Haaretz+ Hebrew)
- Kissinger: Little chance of breakthrough in peace talks - Former secretary of state said chances for progress in Israeli-Palestinians peace process slim. Meanwhile, poll shows 68% of Americans against US involvement in negotiations. (Ynet)
For the full News from Israel.
It’s a cliché that every newly elected president takes office determined to rectify his predecessor’s mistakes. It’s less common for a newly reelected president to take office determined to rectify his own. But that’s exactly what Barack Obama will be doing this week when he visits Israel.
In his first term, Obama spoke frequently about Israel. What he didn’t do was speak frequently to Israelis. It’s not just that in his first year in office Obama visited Turkey, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt while never visiting the Jewish state. In his eagerness to improve America’s reputation in the Muslim world, he also gave his first formal presidential interview to the Arabic-language channel Al Arabiya. He didn’t sit down for an interview with an Israeli journalist, by contrast, until July 2010. For many Israelis, who in the words of veteran Israeli diplomat Alon Pinkas had “become junkies of presidential sympathy and presidential love” during the Clinton and Bush years, Obama’s inattention confirmed the right’s warnings that Obama secretly disdained the Jewish state. Thus, when Obama greeted newly elected Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by demanding a settlement freeze, even some progressive-minded Israelis reacted with alarm. By August 2009, according to a Jerusalem Post poll, only 4 percent of Israeli Jews viewed Obama as more pro-Israel than pro-Palestinian whereas 51 percent believed the reverse.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks towards President Barack Obama as he speaks to reporters in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington D.C. on May 18, 2009. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)
Which is why this week’s trip will involve, if nothing else, a lot of talking to the Israeli people. In addition to visiting Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum, and the graves of Theodor Herzl and Yitzhak Rabin, Obama will give a public speech in Jerusalem at which the White House has requested the presence of at least 1,000 Israelis. The idea is that by wooing ordinary Israelis first, Obama will find a more receptive audience when he unveils another initiative for Mideast peace. Administration aides are well aware that Netanyahu surrendered his first prime ministership after resisting demands for territorial withdrawal by Bill Clinton, a president widely admired in Israel. And they know that Yair Lapid, Netanyahu’s chief political rival, has criticized him for mismanaging the Obama relationship. A charm offensive, in other words, may do more to push Israel’s government in the direction of two states than a hard line.
The Israeli government is pulling out all the stops for President Obama's visit to this tiny nation, right down to special lighting cast upon the Old City of Jerusalem so that Obama can gaze over it from his hotel room at the King David. The high-wattage bulbs hold some symbolism: the idea of the visit is to portray Israel—constantly plagued by conflict and controversy—in a positive light. But to do that, the Israeli government needs to elide the very feature that looms largest over the past twenty-some-odd years of the relationship: the occupation of Palestinian territories. How to get around this? Simply tell journalists that going is a bad idea, and that's exactly what the Israeli government is doing. "Israel has also suggested that journalists could avoid going to the West Bank with Obama when he meets with Palestinian leaders," the Associated Press reported last week. Everything is being done to give international journalists other options. A recent release from the Israeli Government Press Office boasts of a new facility—a "National Press Center"—that will carry live-feeds of Obama's trip into the West Bank to visit with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and subsequent jaunt to Bethlehem.
Israeli soldiers detain a foreign photographer during a protest against the confiscation of Palestinian land by Israel in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh near Ramallah on November 2, 2012. (Abbbas Momani / AFP / Getty Images)
Having crossed back and forth into the West Bank several times this weekend, both by bus and in a private car, the reasons for trying to dissuade journalists from travelling here were painfully obvious: it looks really bad for Israel. Any journalist with an informed guide would become quickly aware of nearby settlements, and the roads that cut through the West Bank's landscape to give them access to Israel proper. The Palestinian roads, with litter and piles of trash strewn about, suffer from frequent potholes, have no streetlamps illuminating them, and wind back and forth along hillsides with either no guardrails, or occasional posts, bent out of shape, where guardrails were once attached. The roads built for Israel's settlers, which beeline from their gated West Bank enclaves back into Israel, are smooth, newly paved swaths of concrete, dutifully lined in the center and at their edges, and illuminated by lamps every 50 meters or so. It's one territory, but with literally quite different road maps.
Should a journalist get a West Bank Palestinian fixer—the journalism term for a guide who often sets up meetings—the difference between Israel and the West Bank will become all the more obvious. With an international passport, a reporter can move freely between Israel and West Bank. But if that reporter wanted to follow Obama from Ramallah to Bethlehem, they'd run into trouble. Israelis and internationals can pass through Israeli-annexed Jerusalem, knocking an hour or so off the trip, to transit between the two West Bank cities. But a Palestinian from the West Bank would need to travel all the way around on a circuitous route. Passing into Jerusalem and out of Jerusalem will take one through multiple Israeli military checkpoints, de facto international crossings. The checkpoints built on roads that access Israeli settlements are notoriously lax; the main one for Palestinians entering the capital, Kalandia, requires hours of waiting, flanked by high concrete walls topped with coils of sharp concertina wire and ominous watch towers.
Mira Sucharov and Gil Troy take issue with my argument in “On Questioning the Jewish State,” recently published in the New York Times. Their criticisms come down to the following (Troy presses 1-3, and Sucharov 2 and 4):
1. I focus on Jewish nationalism, and Israel, and do not raise similar complaints about other nations.
2. I am wrong about the character of Israeli democracy: Israel does not in fact politically oppress its non-Jewish, mainly Palestinian citizens. While there are obvious inequalities between Jewish and Palestinian citizens, this doesn’t mean that there is something wrong with the very structure of Israel’s national institutions.
3. I ignore the history of the conflict.
4. I am confused about the relation between self-determination for individuals and for collectives.
The New York Times logo is seen on the headquarters building on April 21, 2011 in New York City. (Ramin Talaie / Getty Images)
Let me respond in that order.
1. There are two levels at which inconsistency or unfair “singling out” might occur. At the level of principle, consistency means applying the same principle to all cases. So, if I were to argue that the Jewish people do not possess a right to a Jewish state, but that the Kurdish people or the Palestinian people do have a corresponding right, then I would be guilty of inconsistency and unfairness. But this I clearly didn’t do. To quote my piece: “Any [notice, any] state that “belongs” to one ethnic group within it violates the core democratic principle of equality, and the self-determination rights of the non-members of that group.” So if there ever is a Kurdistan or Palestine, the same principles apply to them as far as I’m concerned.
The new Knesset will be blessed with erudite committed women, part of a potential renaissance in a parliament that has lost much public credibility. The inaugural speeches of Ruth Calderon (Yesh Atid) and Merav Michaeli (Labor) both on YouTube with English subtitles were a sensation.
Ruth Calderon's state education created "the new Hebrew... a courageous practical and suntanned soldier." She filled that void with a love of the Talmud and the rest of her speech was an amazing Talmud lesson for the men in kippot from a woman who symbolizes the quiet secular egalitarian Israeli movement to study and "reappropriate" Judaism's texts and faith. Buried in her speech was the word LeTaken, to repair, in the context of repairing Israeli society. In a prayer for becoming a Knesset Member she asked that she "leave this house as I entered it—at peace with myself and with others... and cause a just peace to dwell among us and our neighbors."
Merav Michaeli, a journalist and broadcaster, is the granddaughter of Reszo Israel Kastner, who controversially negotiated with Eichmann for the freedom of a number of Hungarian Jews and who was later assassinated in Israel. She talked about being a woman in a minority where "the machismo of the Sabra"—a native-born Israeli—is still supreme. But she came to the Knesset as an equal "to shape the reality we live in." As a woman she pays the price when "you (men) spend one fifth of the national budget on a security budget that does not deliver security." But she wasn't there on behalf of women, but as a woman who "asks how we, as women, can save our society."
These guides to a new Israel risk being fig leaves for the men who lead the new parties. But what are these men committed to: love of country, or love of self? They seem to be all mouth and trousers. Yair Lapid is very much cast in the mold of the New Israeli, tough, good looking, a word smith, but there's little that's new in his words and deeds. Rejecting creating a bloc including Palestinian Israelis, banning his party members from a tour of East Jerusalem with an organization he deemed too lefty, and announcing he would be the next Prime Minister after Netanyahu even before coalition talks began; these moves do not match up with desires to repair or save Israeli society. They are consistent with the same old exclusivity and elitism of the suntanned Sabra soldier.
As President Barack Obama works on his “Jerusalem Speech” to supplement his “Cairo Speech,” he should focus on three goals. First, the President should show Israel some love—Israelis need reassurance that Obama Hearts Israel. This need is rooted in millennia of persecution reinforced by recent decades of delegitimization, triggering lethal attacks against Jewish homes, schools, synagogues, and children. Second, the President should reassure Palestinians, trying to push the Middle East conflict from a zero-sum stalemate to a win-win. And third, he should try opening a window of hope, if not quite finding the key to opening the door to renewed negotiations and real progress.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and his father Benzion attend the official memorial service for the late Zionist leader Ze'ev Jabotinsky at the Mt. Herzl cemetery in Jerusalem, July 11, 2010. (Templar1307 via Flickr)
The first challenge is the easiest. Israelis love to be loved. While visiting Theodor Herzl’s grave, Obama should use Herzl’s life to affirm that the Jews are a people, a nation, not just a community of faith, with ties to their homeland stretching back millennia. Herzl was a nineteenth-century liberal nationalist, not an imperialist or colonialist, whose founding of modern Zionism predates the Holocaust by half a century. Truly understanding Herzl entails moving beyond the defensive Zionism—we need a Jewish state because non-Jews hate us—he is best remembered for. Herzl believed in liberal nationalism’s redemptive potential, dreaming that “the world will be liberated by our freedom, enriched by our wealth, magnified by our greatness.”
Obama should also acknowledge that Herzl’s messianic dream included saving black Africans after saving the Jews. Herzl believed that, beyond the victims of racism themselves, “only a Jew can fathom” African slavery, in all its “horror.” Zionist leaders embraced this vision so enthusiastically that Tanzania’s legendary president Julius Nyerere celebrated Golda Meir as “the mother of Africa.”
"This insane law, which was only removed from the agenda in the past because of Tzipi Livni’s steadfastness, has now been resurrected due to the strange alliance between Naftali Bennett’s Habayit Hayehudi and Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid."
--Today's Haaretz Editorial takes a look at the return of a bill to make democracy subservient to Judaism in the State of Israel.
- West Bank settlement leaders seizing control of Israel's housing policy - With ministerial appointments complete, it has become clear that the drive to fix the real estate market will be led by those who were once at the forefront of the settlement movement. (Haaretz+)
- Netanyahu sold us out, say top Foreign Ministry officials - Israel's Foreign Ministry is in disarray: It has no minister, a deputy minister without clear powers, no involvement in talks with the Palestinians, and no say in Israel-U.S. strategic dialogue. Oh, and now there's a new Ministry for International Relations. (Israel Hayom)
- Israel likely to cut funding for popular Jewish-Arab dialogue - A project that brings Jewish and Arab teens together with the purpose of promoting coexistence is at risk of closing down as funding promised by the Education Ministry has not been forthcoming. (Haaretz+)
- Soldier sets himself on fire in Tel Aviv base - Soldier in Tel Aviv's Kirya base tries to immolate himself, stopped by other soldiers; claims he was not given home leave. (Ynet)
- IDF complains over Bar Refaeli's involvement in Israeli PR campaign - IDF spokesman sends an official letter to the Foreign Ministry arguing that by using Refaeli, who didn't complete her military service, the Foreign Ministry was sending the wrong message. (Haaretz+)
- Abbas urges EU to remove Hamas from list of terrorist organizations - Though Abbas' faction Fatah is at odds with rival Hamas, Palestinian Authority President insists that Hamas's policies are no different than his own. Abbas hints that if peace talks yield results, Palestinians will drop efforts to prosecute Israel. (Israel Hayom)
- Bulgaria will not take lead in blacklisting Hezbollah, says PM - Interim Prime Minister Marin Raikov says he won't push for EU sanctions on Lebanese Shiite group despite its clear link to Burgas attack. All 27 EU member states must agree on sanctions. Israel urges EU to declare Hezbollah a terrorist organization. (Agencies, Israel Hayom)
For the full News from Israel.
Obama’s coming to Israel is considered a deus ex machina moment for many among us in the “peace camp” here in Israel, a unique opportunity where an American president who shares many of our values will intervene and perhaps finally save us from ourselves (or at least from our stubborn government). This sentiment is echoed of course by our partners abroad—and as our country's security apparatus prepares to shut down our roads for a couple of days of Obamamania, the world, and especially the U.S., is waking up to try and give peace a chance.
Well, let’s be honest. We’re not being called on to give “peace” a chance but rather to give “direct negotiations” a chance. After all, a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians seems so 90s. It reminds us of an era of optimism with dreams of a New Middle East.
Barack Obama watches as Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas shake hands at a trilateral meeting in New York on September 22, 2009. (Pete Souza / White House) (Charles Dharapak / AP Photo)
Today, the hope is not that we will achieve an historic peace, but that the sides will talk directly with each other. We don't discuss what they will talk about, but it’s important that they talk. Obama, we think, can provide a great opportunity. We wish to believe that a strong power from outside the region, an American power, will bring the unwilling sides back to the negotiating table. Talking is better than stalemate, right?
The problem with this line of thinking is that it assumes our problems can be sorted out at that table. But they can’t. Primarily because the leader of our government does not want two states—at least not in a way that is acceptable to the Palestinians or to the world. Sure, Netanyahu has used the phrase “two states” before, but when he did he also made it clear that the 1967 lines will not be the basis for a conversation about borders, a point which basically renders the phrase “two states” meaningless.
In lieu of a speech to the Knesset, President Obama will speak at the Jerusalem Convention Center (a monstrous but not unpleasant venue), to the Israeli public directly. As part of the promotion for the event, Obama’s people are inviting students from Israel’s universities—that is, those that fall within the Green Line. Students from Ariel University—which was recently upgraded to that status after a long and controversial struggle—are specifically not invited.
President Barack Obama arrives to speak at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) convention in Washington, Sunday, May 22, 2011. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
After a small uproar, the Administration has explained this exclusion by the fact that only universities with whom the American embassy in Tel Aviv has some kind of program have been invited; it doesn’t have a program or partnership with Ariel, and so it was only proper to leave it out. When my colleague Sigal Samuel pressed the embassy directly for which universities, specifically, are invited, she was told: “Usually with embassy programs, we don’t really release the guest list.” The embassy is also holding a contest on its Facebook page, in which it will select up to 20 people based on the “originality and creativity” of their request to attend the speech.
It seems, then, that this is not a boycott of an institution that exists in a West Bank settlement that is hotly disputed in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. But the more important implication here is what this tells us about Obama’s approach to the peace process for the next four years. Because this is the first real test of how committed he is to the resolving the conflict, and how determined he is to stand up to Israeli pressure.
One of the most tiresome things about a long-term engagement with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the endless need to push back against those who insist on living in a more pleasurable but entirely fictive alternate reality. For many on both sides, the realities on the ground, or the legal and political facts, are simply too painful or disruptive to be acceptable. So they neurotically retreat into an alternate universe in which everything feels better.
There are innumerable examples of this on the Palestinian side, but among hard-core supporters of Israel, one of the most persistent imaginary realities is that there is no occupation and/or Israeli settlement activity is not prohibited by international law. Writing in the Jewish Journal, the reliably hawkish David Suissa has just engaged in an extended exercise in this kind of sophistry.
Jewish settlers stand on the rubble of a house destroyed by Israeli authorities in the West Bank, near the settlement of Migron, on Sept. 5. (Sebastian Scheiner / AP Photo)
The reason this is such a persistent shibboleth of hawkish pro-Israel propaganda is that occupying powers are bound to abide by the extensive international law and treaty obligations delineating the rights and responsibilities that accrue to this status. And the problem is that so much of what Israel has been doing in the occupied Palestinian territories is in direct and undeniable contravention of international law.
Like so many before him, Suissa makes two manifestly false claims. First, he flatly denies the territories are occupied. Second, he asserts that Israel has "a legal right to settle in the West Bank." He urges Israel to find a good lawyer to make these claims. But no serious attorney is going to take on this case, because it can't possibly be maintained.
Matthew Kalman broke the story of physicist Stephen Hawking’s boycott of Israel. Then Cambridge University tried to falsely deny it.