John Kerry’s unscheduled meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas Monday during his first official trip abroad was anything but a rogue moment for the new secretary of State.
While the original itinerary had been expected to include Jerusalem and Ramallah—until the White House rerouted its top diplomat elsewhere in the region—the impromptu working lunch signaled that Kerry’s much-touted “obsession” with Mideast peace is also shared by President Obama.
Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) testifies during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to become the next Secretary of State in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill January 24, 2013 in Washington, DC. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty)
“I don’t think Kerry is a maverick,” said Hussein Ibish, senior fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine. He called the meeting “very significant” because it shows that “Kerry, with the encouragement of President Obama, is willing to spend some political capital and some energy on investigating the extent, very early on,” of opportunities for progress between Israel and the Palestinians.
“I’m sure it had (White House) blessing,” said Steven Simon, until recently senior director for Middle East and North Africa at the National Security Council, of the meeting in Riyadh. “It makes diplomatic sense.”
When an organization such as AIPAC gathers in Washington, it's meant to serve two purposes: deepen members’ ties, and lobby for a particular position on the Hill. We’re allowed to call it lobbying (though, heaven forfend, we must not refer to AIPAC as the “Israel lobby”) because that’s what AIPAC calls it: when the conference winds up its Tuesday morning session, attendees will be bussed over to the Capitol, for lobbying appointments.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak addresses the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) annual policy conference in Washington on March 3, 2013. (Nicholas Kamm / AFP / Getty Images)
In the first video, we’re told that the world is “increasingly dangerous,” and that “the partnership between between the U.S. and Israel must continue to grow and strengthen.” We’re called on to urge our members of Congress to declare Israel “a major strategic partner” of the U.S., giving Israel the opportunity to avail itself of “unique privileges and collaborations.” In the second, we’re told that Iran “poses a strategic threat to the United States, and an immediate threat to Israel.” We hear about the arms that Iran has provided Hamas and Hezbollah, and that “nothing is more dangerous than Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability.”
Like Caesar's Gaul, all progressive American Zionists and their organizations are divided into three parts.
The first part, probably the largest (I will call them Happy Zionists), continues to believe what they have believed for 10 or 20 years or more—that soon, certainly during their lifetime (even those who are pretty old) Israel and Palestine will make a deal and the inevitable two-state solution will become a reality. For this faction, hope is a strategy. In its ever-optimistic view, a lot of really bad news is viewed as something else entirely. These folks find new cause for hope every Monday and Thursday. In their liberal Zionist organizational board meetings; in reports they receive from their own analysts as well as from Israeli colleagues, they are told that things are dire but looking up.
Tiziana Fabi / AFP / Getty Images
Take the success of Yair Lapid. His party, Yesh Atid, did unexpectedly well in the recent Israeli elections. He has made it abundantly clear that he will never divide Jerusalem. Everyone knows this is a deal-breaker. Yet Lapid’s success makes Happy Zionists happy.
And President Obama, our beloved President Obama: Progressive Zionists were going to give him Jewish cover and he was going to Israel to make a deal—the very idea that launched J Street. There is no reason at all to believe that he will do so in his second term, but don’t try to tell that to Happy Zionists.
"First people should live in peace, and then there will be peace between governments."
--Rabbi Menachem Froman of Tekoa, a settler and a peaceseeker, died yesterday.
- Palestinian attacks in West Bank and Jerusalem surged last month - Shin Bet releases data showing sharp increase in Molotov cocktail attacks and other violent incidents in February. (Haaretz+)
- IDF courts in West Bank cancel just 2.6% of Palestinian administrative detention orders - Report summing up activities between 2009 and 2011 also shows Israel's High Court of Justice has never accepted a single Palestinian’s petition on such an order. (Haaretz+)
- Hamas offers Israel collaborators temporary amnesty - Week-long campaign offers reprieve from typically harsh punishment for working with Israel in exchange for apology and information. (Haaretz+ and Israel Hayom)
- Israel accuses Hamas of keeping Gaza crossing shut - The Kerem Shalom border crossing between Israel and Gaza has been closed since Thursday, despite Israel's decision to reopen on Sunday; Israeli officials say Hamas trying to wrest control of Palestinian side from the PA. (Haaretz+ and Ynet)
- 'Obama will visit Israel even if no coalition formed' - American official tells Israel Hayom that U.S. President Barack Obama will visit Israel later this month whether or not a new Israeli government has been established by that time. The official said this was because Obama's intended audience during his upcoming trip is the Israeli public, not the government. (Israel Hayom)
- Netanyahu: I'll discuss Pollard's release with Obama - Prime minister meets with spy's wife ahead of US president's visit, promises to try and promote his early release. (Ynet)
- Feiglin removed from Temple Mount again - Likud-Beitenu MK tries to enter Dome of Rock, stopped by member of Waqf, later removed from Temple Mount compound. (Ynet)
- Kerry and Abbas hold surprise meet in Riyadh to discuss Israeli-Palestinian talks - The unscheduled meeting was added to Kerry's agenda at the last-minute, as the two leaders' visit to Saudi Arabia coincided; the U.S. secretary of state is currently wrapping up a nine-nation tour, his debut official trip abroad. (Agencies, Haaretz+)
For the full News from Israel.
Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren, speaking at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) annual conference, stated that Prime Minister Netanyahu—leader of the Likud party—has always been willing to stick his neck out for a two-state solution:
Prime Minister Netanyahu has taken consistent risks for peace. In 2009, when he got up at Bar Ilan University and made the two-state solution the official position of the Likud party, that was a risk. When he froze settlement growth for 10 months, that was a risk. When he got up and said in front of U.S. Congress that he understood that there’d be settlements beyond Israel’s borders in the event of the creation of a Palestinian state, that was a risk.
Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren arrives to address the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) annual policy conference in Washington on March 3, 2013. (Nicholas Kamm / AFP / Getty Images)
In reality, though, none of these things have been terribly risky, because Netanyahu’s Likud party has shown through its follow-up that it’s never really taken the two-state solution seriously. In fact, as Lara Friedman detailed in a Peace Now report, “by every objective measure, the Netanyahu government has demonstrated that it is determined to use settlements to destroy the very possibility of the two-state solution.” That’s true of the Likud of the past—consider the fact that, during Netanyahu’s 10-month settlement “freeze,” construction never actually stopped, and was redoubled right after the freeze expired—and it’s even more true of Likud today. So much so, that the two-state solution can’t be considered the position of the Likud party in any meaningful way, despite what Oren would have AIPAC believe.
The first point in Benjamin Netanyahu's video address to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) annual conference was, of course, the threat posed by Iran. "Diplomacy has not worked. Iran ignores all these offers. It's running out the clocks. It uses negotiations, including the most recent ones, to buy time to press ahead with its nuclear program. So thus far, sanctions haven't stopped Iran's nuclear program either," Netanyahu said, seeming to make an implicit case for an Israeli preventative strike. "Words alone will not stop Iran. Sanctions alone will not stop Iran. Sanctions must be coupled with a clear and credible military threat if diplomacy and sanctions fail."
A screen capture of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's video address to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) on March 4, 2013.
The Obama administration, for its part, has formulated a three-pronged Iran policy that consists of pressure, diplomacy and the threat of force, should those fail. The American preference, as Vice President Joe Biden said at AIPAC today, remains a diplomatic deal—and the last round of talks that Netanyahu pooh-poohed actually kept the possibility of a deal alive. While Obama's threats have probably been less frequent and more oblique than the Israeli prime minister might like, what was most remarkable about Netanyahu's speech was that he dismissed the first two prongs of Barack Obama's approach almost entirely, leaving the threat of a military strike as the only remaining prong. That only ends one way: having to carry out the strike. Look at the jumbled way Netanyahu constructed this sentence: "Sanctions must be coupled with a clear and credible military threat if diplomacy and sanctions fail." Actually, more sanctions won't be coupled with anything once the tactic of sanctions have failed. Nor, at that point, will it merely be the threat of strikes.
Another of Netanyahu's remarks was most telling: he said, Iran has "still not crossed the red line I drew at the United Nations last September, but Iran is getting closer to that red line, and it's putting itself in a position to cross that line very quickly once it decides to do so." That red line confused many observers, but the most important takeaway from Netanyahu's remark at AIPAC today was the part about Iran deciding to cross red lines. Contra the image of a country hell-bent on acquiring nuclear weapons at any cost, Iran's strategy has been one of deliberate hedging, maintaining an ambiguity about its nuclear program that simultaneously provokes the international community, but also withholds from it a casus belli. The prime examples of this duality are, of course, Iran's continued enrichment at its fortified, underground Fordow complex and, on the hedging side, its reconversion of high-enriched uranium into medical reactor fuel plates that are effectively useless for enriching to weapons-grade. Just in February, the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog again verified that Iran had re-converted some of its stockpile. That suggests that American and Israeli intelligence assessments that Iran hasn't, indeed, decided to build a bomb still hold true. Deciding to actually produce a weapon, incidentally, is one of Obama's established red lines.
Ehud Barak’s speech at AIPAC did not break new ground. Nevertheless, the White House and the State Department would do well to pick up on his suggestion not to focus exclusively on resuming a peace-process with the Palestinians, but to integrate such negotiations in a wider, regional approach.
Barak’s keynote speech at the AIPAC conference was a combination of self-serving apologetics and actual policy suggestions. In calling for a daring peace initiative, Barak conveniently skips the fact that he has been Benjamin Netanyahu’s fig leaf for not doing anything vis-à-vis the Palestinians for the last four years. And he conveniently makes us forget that his famous statement that there is no Palestinian partner for peace in 2000 has played an enormous role in cementing the stalemate of the last thirteen years.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak acknowledges applause after addressing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) annual policy conference in Washington on March 3, 2013. (Nicholas Kamm / AFP / Getty Images)
Nevertheless he made three important points: one is that Israel needs to move ahead quickly, because otherwise we begin to slide on the slippery slope towards a one-state reality. The second is the possibility of an intermediary agreement in case a final status agreement will not be possible. And the third is that any future process with the Palestinians should be integrated in a regional approach to the Middle Eastern problems.
Steven Cook recently wrote that the Palestinian Authority should be dissolved as the only option left to kickstart the peace process and force Israel to get serious about talks. He joins a growing chorus of voices (including Palestinians themselves) calling for such a radical policy. I buy the argument that the PA needs to be doing a whole lot more, and that the Israeli occupation is constraining the PA’s ability to do those things. But I am deeply skeptical of such proposals for the simple reason that no-one has yet demonstrated that the outcome would be any better for Israelis and especially for Palestinians.
Palestinian Authority president and head of the Fatah movement Mahmud Abbas attends a Fatah 'Revolutionary Council' meeting in the Palestinian West Bank city of Ramallah along with top officials, on December 26, 2012. (Abbas Momami / AFP / Getty Images)
Mostly this is because nobody offers any other structure or institution to replace the PA, and because they presume that Israel would, in a mad rush of fear, jump in to take care of the Palestinians and—like they did during the first intifada—come to realize that this isn’t working and so will get serious about ending the occupation. Both the gap in solutions and the assumption of outcomes undermine this argument.
Cook and others have rightly noted that the PA functions like a patronage system, in which it ensures salaries and wages, contracts, licenses, and other resources in return for loyalty or at least tolerance among groups in society. But because that system is so deeply entrenched in Palestinian politics, removing it completely without anything to replace it would essentially throw hundreds of thousands of Palestinians “into the streets” without any guaranteed source of income and make a difficult economic situation that much worse.
Moreover, it will engender even greater dissatisfaction among the population. Palestinians already have experience taking to mass protests against both Israel and the PA. It’s likely we’d see an outbreak of widespread protests, with the potential to lead to mass violence involving PA security forces, the Palestinian population, Israeli settlers, and the Israeli military. Those who will suffer most under these conditions would be the Palestinians.
Today, Israeli bus company Afikim will begin operating a “Palestinian-only” bus service to transport Palestinian workers to central Israel. Previously, Palestinians holding permits to work in Israel would use Israeli buses to travel to work there. Now Palestinians who try to use the Israeli buses will be requested to use the Palestinian bus instead. Although the Israeli Ministry of Transport cites overcrowding as the official reason for instituting segregated buses, a source from inside the ministry told Yedioth Ahronot that the decision was prompted by complaints from Israeli settlers that Palestinian riders could pose a security threat to other passengers.
Palestinians sit in a bus as a new line is made available by Israel to take Palestinian labourers from the Israeli army crossing Eyal, near the West Bank town of Qalqilya, into the Israeli city Tel Aviv, on March 4, 2013. (Menahem Kahana / AFP / Getty Images)
Though many are outraged over the Jim Crow-like segregation, this is only the tip of an apartheid iceberg in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. To begin with, the Palestinians who are being asked to take the segregated buses are the privileged few with permits to work in the state of Israel. Most Palestinians living in the West Bank are not even able to travel to Israel on a segregated bus; their only options are to find work in the West Bank, which can be very difficult, or to sneak in and illegally work in Israel, which is low-paying and can result in arrest and imprisonment if they are caught.
In addition, segregation between Israeli and Palestinian passengers on public transportation is hardly new. In Jerusalem, the “Central” bus station operates buses connecting Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, Haifa, the Dead Sea and several Israeli settlements throughout the West Bank. These buses do not have to stop at checkpoints—as the passengers are Israeli citizens, soldiers and settlers. Some of these buses—the settler buses—are heavily subsidized by the Israeli government, and thus often travel the city half empty. It's easy for these buses to have a set schedule. The bus station itself is indoors, air-conditioned and even equipped with a Kosher McDonalds.
Despite being repeatedly accused of belonging to the IZC—the International Zionist Conspiracy—I have never attended “Policy Conference,” the AIPAC convention currently taking place in Washington. As an academic, I am not an organization man. This year, as part of my “Moynihan’s Moment” book tour, I spoke at the convention—and discovered an American Israel Public Affairs Committee which is more American-Israel lovefest than all-powerful PAC. What most struck me was the sweetness of AIPAC.
People arrive to attend the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) annual policy conference in Washington on March 3, 2013. (Nicholas Kamm / AFP / Getty Images)
Before attending the conference, I had heard it all. One friend warned I would walk away from such a vulgar display of Jewish power “anti-Semitic.” Another coached me in the conferences’ subtleties, wherein participants are defined by the “lanyard” color around their neck, signifying their giving level. A third expected me to return with the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy’s Secret Decoder Ring.
But what impressed me was the AIPACers’ earnestness, intensity, and warmth. Jew and non-Jew, African-American and Latino, left and right, old and young, they conveyed far more innocent love than manipulative anger. One woman speaker rose in the opening plenary and proclaimed, “I love Israel,” explaining this love as a gift from her parents and a core component of her Jewish identity. A man featured in a convention video talked about the heritage of Israel commitment his Israeli parents transmitted but how the trauma of losing his mother-in-law in 9/11 was triggered his activism. He, too, spoke more in sweet sadness than edgy anger. This is a movement fueled by love not hate.
Sigal Samuel completely misunderstands the dynamics of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic hate speech. The key is the headline. The goal is to create a word—whether it be “apartheid”, “racism” or “pinkwashing”—that sticks. Creating the headline is then followed by rationalizations, explanations, footnotes and sometimes a bit of quiet backtracking. This is what Jimmy Carter did when you used the word “apartheid” in the title of his book and then backed away from that accusation in the text. It is what the BDS movement does when it calls Israel “racist” and then says its real grievance is the occupation. And this is precisely what Sarah Schulman has done by launching her accusation of “pinkwashing” against Israel—headline and all—in the New York Times and then “explaining” it in subsistent unread pages, in which she persists on calling Israel a “racist” state (don’t expect a footnoted explanation of that headline word).
A Jewish homosexual couple take part in the annual Gay Pride parade on June 25, 2009 in Jerusalem. (David Silverman / Getty Images)
The accusation that Israel is “pinkwashing” its bad treatment of Palestinians by its good treatment of gays is nothing more than a new variation on a discredited old theme. The core characteristic of anti-Semitism is the assertion that everything the Jews do is wrong, and everything that is wrong is done by the Jews. For the anti-Semite every rich Jew is exploitive, every poor Jew a burden on society. For the anti-Semite, both capitalism and Communism are Jewish plots. For the anti-Semite, Jews are both too docile, allowing themselves to be led to the slaughter like sheep, and too militant, having won too many wars against the Arabs. For the anti-Semite, Jews are too liberal and too conservative, too artsy and too bourgeois, too stingy and too charitable, too insular and too cosmopolitan, too moralistic and too conniving.
To the anti-Semite, every depression, war, social problem, plague must have been the fault of the Jews. Whenever the Jews appear to be doing something good—giving charity, helping the less fortunate, curing the sick – there must be a malevolent motive, a hidden agenda, a conspiratorial explanation beneath the surface of the benevolent act.
Four weeks down, two to go. Saturday night, Benjamin Netanyahu entered the overtime period for forming a government. If Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid party and Naftali Bennett's Habayit Hayehudi maintain their alliance, Bibi needs both of them to form a coalition. So let's review the issues to which the these parties devoted serious negotiations during those first four weeks:
- "Equal burden": ending the yeshivah exemption that allows most ultra-Orthodox men to avoid conscription. Lapid's opening position was a plan that would cap yeshivah exemptions at 400 a year. Everyone else would be drafted; the army would choose the conscripts it wanted, and the rest would perform civilian service. Netanyahu, with an eye to his long-time ultra-Orthodox allies, opposed a ceiling on exemptions. In principle, Bennett has sided with Lapid.
That's it. Long list, isn't it?
I don't mean to dismiss the frustration of those who serve, the unfairness of an entire community insisting on a free pass while living on the majority's largesse. But how did this become the virtually the entire agenda of the decisive coalition talks?
To be fair, Netanyahu's wider effort to form a government raised a couple of other issues that, if memory serves, once mattered in our politics:
"We support the path you're taking in order to save the world of Torah and the settlements of the Land of Israel by cooperating with Yair Lapid and his party."
--Four pro-settlement rabbis, including extremist Dov Lior of Kiryat Arba, write a letter of support to Habayit Hayehudi leader Naftali Bennett.
- Israeli security forces stand by while settlers harass Palestinian shepherds, witnesses say - Photo circulated over the weekend shows Border Police officer shaking hands with masked settlers who proceeded to harass Palestinians who just moments before had been denied access to their land; Border Police: Officers were trying to stop the settlers. (Haaretz+ + PHOTO)
- Jerusalem Police note rise in 'price tag' acts in 2012 - Jerusalem District Police's data indicate vandalism acts doubled since 2011; but only 20% of cases have been solved. (Ynet)
- The IDF battles a Palestinian shepherd and his two baby goats - According to the army, he planned to steal ammunition, while kindhearted soldiers returned a goat and two kids. (Haaretz+)
- Palestinian mother demands IDF decision on son's death in West Bank protest 4 years ago - Mother of Bil'in protestor, Bassem Abu Rahma, killed after being hit by tear gas canister requests that High Court order Military Advocate General to decide whether or not it will indict any of the soldier involved in her son's death. (Haaretz+)
- Palestinians: Border Police officer threw a Quran in the Al-Aqsa complex -In a petition to the UN, senior Palestinian Authority officials claim that the officer hit people praying close to the Temple Mount. Jerusalem Police: "It apparently fell from the purse of a demonstrator. (Maariv, p. 9/NRG Hebrew)
- Jewish (settler) teen detained over assault of Palestinian woman in Jerusalem - Photos taken by eyewitness purportedly show Hana Amtir being assaulted by several young women at light-rail station in the capital: 'They spat on me, punched me and kicked me.' (Haaretz+ and Ynet)
- Netanyahu to Bennett and Lapid: We must unite in the face of Iranian threat - Speaking at cabinet meeting, PM says Iran is using talks with six world powers to 'buy time', adds that Israel is not only threatened by nuclear Iran, but other lethal weapons that are 'piling up.' (Haaretz+)
- Report: Hamas refuses missile shipment fearing espionage - Egyptian paper says Islamist terror group recently refused to accept shipment of long-range missiles from Libya after preliminary examination allegedly found spy gear inside. (Ynet)
For the full News from Israel.
On March 1, 2003, the first slab of the separation barrier—or Apartheid Wall, as it is called in Palestine—was erected in Bethlehem. Ten years later, the 14-foot concrete slabs now weave through the outskirts of the city, surrounding homes and casting shadows over entire neighborhoods and economically choking the Palestinian residents of Bethlehem. “Before the wall, everyone used to work in Jerusalem—and people from Jerusalem used to come to Bethlehem and support our shops,” Issa Mussa, a member of the Tourist Police in Bethlehem told me. “But now almost no one in Bethlehem is able to work there because of the wall.”
Musa Al-Shaer / AFP / Getty Images
Jerusalem is only 8 kilometers away from Bethlehem. However, even the Palestinians who are able to work in Jerusalem have to leave in the early morning to pass through Checkpoint 300—a notoriously high security checkpoint that can take up to two hours. For many living in or around Bethlehem this is their best hope for making a living. “If you don’t have a car to be a driver or a shop to be a shop keeper, it is very hard to have a job in Palestine,” Yousef Abu Jamar, a cab driver from Bethlehem told me.
Even the shopkeepers are frustrated. “The tourists come to see the Church of the Nativity and then they leave. No one comes to my shop!” said Mohammad Asmak, a shopkeeper in tourist-ridden Manger Square near the Church of the Nativity.
On Tuesday morning, a grad rocket was fired from the Gaza Strip toward the Israeli city of Ashkelon. In response, Israel closed Gaza's commercial crossing and tightened the travel restrictions imposed on Gaza’s residents. The crossings are still closed this weekend, though not in the extreme exception of a medical emergency.
I cannot overstate the severity of having a rocket fired toward Ashkelon. Deliberate or indiscriminate, fire on civilian targets violates international humanitarian law and can be considered a war crime. Because the Hamas regime controls Gaza, it bears the responsibility for the shooting—as do those who actually fired the rocket.
A general view shows the smuggling tunnels along the Gaza-Egypt border in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip on February 19, 2013. (Said Khatib / AFP / Getty Images)
The strict prohibition against deliberately harming civilians is exactly what similarly makes Israel’s response, which is also aimed at civilians, entirely unacceptable. That is the meaning of the ban on collective punishment: You may fight combatants, but you may not punish civilians for actions they did not commit.
Matthew Kalman broke the story of physicist Stephen Hawking’s boycott of Israel. Then Cambridge University tried to falsely deny it.