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Israeli environmental and social justice groups were dealt a significant blow in October when the country’s Supreme Court ruled in favor of the government’s decision to allow the export of 40 percent of Israel’s natural gas. Current debates about domestic natural gas infrastructure are giving them another chance, but it is all but certain the government will win again.

There is no question that such infrastructure is desperately needed. Israel’s gas market is based totally on the Tamar field, which was discovered in 2009 and began production in late March, and the country has only one pipeline to deliver its gas to the Mediterranean coast, which runs to Ashkelon. Tamar also only has one production treatment platform, located 20 kilometers from Ashkelon and 20 kilometers from Gaza. This platform has only one terminal, in Ashdod. Furthermore, when the Leviathan field comes online within a few years, it will need its own gas treatment facilities.

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The Tamar drilling natural gas production platform is seen some 25 kilometers West of the Ashkelon shore in February 2013 in Israel. (Albatross via Getty Images)

When it comes to security of supply, these installations are sitting ducks, and the consensus is that it is only a matter of time until an attack or an accident leaves Israel either sitting in the dark or relying on expensive diesel for power generation. Israel Electric Corporation Chairman Yiftach Ron-Tal said in October that Israel needs at least one more pipeline, but that ideally it would have two in the north and two in the south. With natural gas expected to account for the majority of Israel’s energy mix, diversifying entry points to the shore and constructing additional refineries and treatment sites is an urgent matter of national security.

In public remarks in Ramallah last week, which couldn’t have lasted more than two minutes, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said something that few U.S. officials involved in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process ever mention. He referred to his discussions with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas about security in the region, including “security for a future Palestine.”

Whenever Kerry visits Israel, he reiterates the U.S. commitment to Israel’s security. His visit last week was no different.

“I can’t emphasize enough that Israel’s security in this negotiation is at the top of our agenda,” Kerry said in Jerusalem, after meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) holds a joint press conference with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) on December 5, 2013 in Jerusalem, Israel. (Gali Tibbon / Getty Images)

As often as ensuring Israel’s security is cited by U.S. officials, ensuring Palestinian security, leading into and following a final status agreement, is almost never mentioned. Even when it is, it follows “Israel’s security,” and is tacked to the end of a long list of core issues—Jerusalem, borders, recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, and Palestinian refugees—showing how a secure and sovereign Palestinian state is really only as important to the U.S. as the future state falls in line with Israel’s security demands.

The United Church of Canada has been on the radar of Jewish groups for some time now over its declaration of a boycott of Israeli-made products from the West Bank. Titled  “Unsettling Goods: Choose Peace in Palestine and Israel,” the August 2012 initiative has gained new media coverage over the last week, as the initiative, and its related publicity campaign, has begun to solidify.

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Jewish settlers outside their home on July 22, 2013 at the Jewish settlement outpost of Havat Gilad in the West Bank. (Uriel Sinai / Getty Images)

It’s not surprising that Jewish organizations recoiled when they learned about the United Church initiative. Back in the summer of 2012, a CIJA spokesperson called the Church’s policy a “morally reckless path,” and ARZA-Canada, The Reform movement’s Zionist wing, called it “biased” and “unfair.” ARZA in particular also took issue with the United Church’s opposition to Israel’s demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a “Jewish State.”

There is something heartening about a robust policy debate being carried out in an interfaith context, even if the conversation is contentious. CIJA’s reaction report, for example, urges Canadian Jews to seek out representatives of the United Church with whom to meet.

"It looks like a trick' by someone who does not really want an historic agreement with the neighboring people."
--In a Letter to the Editor, an Israeli reader says Netanyahu's demand for Palestinian recognition of a 'Jewish state' is a ploy.

  • U.K. government warns British citizens against doing business in Israeli settlements - Recommendations released by British government warn citizens of potential 'reputational implications' of getting financially involved in Israeli settlements in West Bank. (Haaretz)
  • Settlement wastewater pumped in valleys, plains in Salfit district - Settlers in illegal settlements in the central West Bank area have started to pump untreated wastewater into the valleys and plains near Palestinian villages in Salfit district. (Maan)
  • Professors call on American Studies Association to vote down Israel boycott - If a majority of the ASA’s voting members do not vote to endorse the boycott resolution by December 15, the national council said that it will withdraw the resolution. (JTA, Haaretz)
  • Settlers raid Palestinian park near Nablus -Settlers attacked al-Masudiyya park and attempted to pull down a number of structures. They also dug out a hole in a small first aid facility located in the park before running away when security guards arrived. (Maan)
  • Israeli forces raid Duheisha camp in Area A near Bethlehem, detain 4 - Undercover Israeli forces entered the camp in a civilian vehicle and detained four young men after ransacking their homes. (Maan)
  • Ultra-Orthodox protest: 'Army recruitment – blasphemous' - Some 1,400 haredi protesters riot in front of army prison against detention of draft dodger. Several demonstrators perform grotesque mock-hangings, throw stones at Ynet photographer. (Ynet)
  • Israel tried to influence Mandela trial, declassified documents show - Then-Foreign Minister Golda Meir urged Israeli diplomats to lobby against a death sentence. Philosopher Martin Buber and author Haim Hazaz among those who were asked to lobby the regime. (Israel Hayom)

For the full News from Israel.

Benjamin Netanyahu's address to a prominent Washington think tank yesterday was initially billed as a conversation with PBS host Charlie Rose. But the Israeli Prime Minster's office said that plan was never cleared with them, and instead Netanyahu appeared in a video address to Brookings's Saban forum. Netanyahu avoided tough questions—should Rose have asked, which has been a problem at these things—but even in an unchallenged address, he struck what has become Israel's softer tone on the U.S.'s diplomacy with Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That doesn't mean he addressed Israel's recent campaign against Iran diplomacy—its apocalyptic language, its "information war" against U.S. analysis of a blooming deal, and Israeli officials' callous warnings of bombs exploding in New York—nor did he make mention of his own cabinet members pouring cold water on a potential deal with the Palestinians. But he did acknowledge that the U.S. and Israel can have "different perspectives" on Iran, and that peace with the Palestinians was "vital—first and foremost for Israel and the Palestinians."

And yet the policy he laid out did something strange: Netanyahu disavowed any link between the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and regional problems—the notion of "linkage," something many U.S. officials do believe, in a measured way—but went on to then link progress on Israeli-Palestinian talks to Iranian nuclear crisis. Netanyahu told the Saban crowd:

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US President Barack Obama speaks alongside Saban Forum Chairman Haim Saban (R) about US, Iran and Israel and the Middle East at the 10th Anniversary Saban Forum. (SAUL LOEB / AFP / Getty Images))

Our best efforts to reach Palestinian-Israeli peace will come to nothing if Iran succeeds in building atomic bombs. A nuclear-armed Iran would give even greater backing to the radical and terrorist elements in the region. It would undermine the chances of arriving at a negotiated peace. I would say it would undermine those peace agreements that we have already reached with two of our neighbors.

Bottom Line

Bibi Can't Afford Mandela Funeral?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has a little problem balancing budget concerns with statecraft: Back in May, he spent $127,000 on “an in-flight rest chamber” for his trip to Margaret Thatcher’s funeral (in addition to the $300,000 El Al was already set to receive for transporting him).

Cut to this weekend, when Netanyahu announced he would be begging off of Nelson Mandela’s memorial service, because attending would be too costly.

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Pool photo by Uriel Sinai

Now, to be sure, the projected bill for getting to and from Johannesburg—between the flight itself and all the special planning and security apparatus involved—was mindboggling: $1.9 million, all told. Flying heads of state around the globe and making sure they complete the journey in one piece is not cheap.

But it’s worth considering just what Netanyahu is willing to spending Israel’s money on (in addition to a super-fancy bed): $2,700 a year on ice cream. $18,000 on clothes, hair, and makeup (double the outlay of just a few years ago). $940,000 on three separate residences. $52 million on compensating settlers for not being allowed to build in the course of a settlement freeze that was more Potemkin’s village than freeze—not to mention billions in the settlements that have already been built and those that are on the way. Suddenly, expensing $1.9 million to pay his nation’s respects to one of history’s greatest men sounds like a bargain, doesn’t it?

Even though Peter Beinart mischaracterizes a great deal of what I said in my TNR article last week, he captures with perfect accuracy the most important part of my argument. He writes, “Mor accuses me of never defining a standard of openness against which the organized American Jewish community should be judged.” But Beinart never actually does define any standard. Instead, he tartly offers, “Is it good for the Jews?” But that is no standard at all, and if we are to determine that the Jewish community in America is a closed intellectual space, I think it is fair to ask compared to what?

In my initial essay, I suggested three possible paths: comparing it to American Muslims or Arab-Americans or the broader pro-Palestinian community; comparing it to partisans of other emotionally resonant distant conflicts with ideologically invested diaspora communities; or defining a standard that can stand alone. I challenge Beinart to do this because it is the only way to make sense of his argument at all. He owes it to himself as much as he does to the people he is so keen to criticize, or at least patronize.

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Peter Beinart speaking at a Center for American Progress event in 2009. (Center for American Progress / Flickr)

It is silly that such a serious topic has descended into furious discussion about the Hillel campus guidelines, but it is worth revisiting them once more, as Beinart returns very partially to them in his post, in a manner that says more about his method than about any intellectual climate in the Jewish community.

Dear fellow Jews—I implore you: Please, please stop trying to make people shut up.

I get it. That person over there—that Jew/Christian/Muslim/Palestinian/Israeli/American/human—has said something that infuriates you. And you’re old enough/have read enough books/have listened to enough relatives at the Seder table that angry words spoken about the Jewish community writ large and Israel in particular bring up frightening memories.

People look at photos of Holocaust survivors displaying their identification tattoos at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. (Brendan Smialowski / Getty Images)

People look at photos of Holocaust survivors displaying their identification tattoos at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. (Brendan Smialowski / Getty Images)

You’re probably among the 78 percent of American Jews who feel that “remembering the Holocaust” is an essential element of Jewish identity—but “remembering” is kind of a vague notion. Whatever it might mean to any given individual, you know that you’re nervous, whether genetically, by training, or by hard experience, and you want to make sure that “never again” means never again. You take one look at tiny Israel, and you worry—you don’t know what to do, but you do know you’re worried. You think that Jews in general and Israel in particular would not just be better off, but genuinely safer if no one ever heard the nasty things that the aforementioned Jew/Christian/Muslim/Palestinian/Israeli/American/human wants to say. So you want to do your best to make sure that no one ever does.

But oy this is wrong on so many levels (and not just because I’ve occasionally been the person you want to shut up). Where do I begin?

Quote of the day: 

"The contemporary Israeli leader is one of the jailers, not one of the jailed." 

--Yaron London writes that Israeli leaders need to look at Frederik Willem de Klerk for inspiration, not Nelson Mandela.

Freedom Fight

Mandela and My Son

As the news broke of Nelson Mandela’s death and reactions were coming in from around the world I did something I always do in these instances, I turned to cable news. No, I am not a masochist, nor did I turn there to learn about Mandela (for real news I turn to the Internet and Twitter), but rather I wanted to see how the narratives around his life, death and legacy would be created or revised.

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Ben Curtis/AP

Next to me sat my 6-month old child, giggling and drooling as he played with a teething toy, completely oblivious to the gravity of the moment. It dawned on me as we sat side-by-side in front of the TV set, that Mandela would be a part our lives in different ways. For me, I will have lived a portion of my adult life along with Mandela, aware of his accomplishments and able to hear him speak in real time. For my son, by the time he is old enough to learn about political affairs, he will learn about Mandela from a history book—most likely an American one.

The narrative about Mandela that he will likely learn from future American history books was being produced before my eyes by pundits on TV. Mandela was being glorified for his role in reconciliation, for his non-violence and shown in pictures with President Bill Clinton, Queen Elizabeth and other Western leaders.

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Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert speaks at the McCain Institute for International Leadership in Washington, DC, June 5, 2013. (Saul Loeb / AFP / Getty Images)

“When the Administration finally puts on the table internationally accepted principles for a settlement—principles I offered and America and Europe implicitly endorse—Netanyahu will face an impossible dilemma,” Olmert said. “If he resists, he turns Israel into the new South Africa. But let’s say that, in spite of his ideological reservations, he tries to stay in power and go along with Kerry. What becomes of his coalition? Bennett”—Naftali Bennett, the current Industry and Trade Minister and a leader of the West Bank settlers and scripture hawks—“leaves. Of the twenty Likud members Bibi supposedly leads to some new coalition, he will bring two. He would rather not face that day. It is easier, in a way, to provoke congressional opposition to the President on Iran. This is a total lack of gratitude and a serious misunderstanding of the political culture of America.”

Remember when Yair Lapid was an unstoppable political juggernaut, and Naftali Bennett was his BFF? Remember when their respective parties, Yesh Atid and Habayit Hayehudi, did surprisingly well at the polls, and quick as a wink they formed their own little mini-coalition? Remember? About three weeks after Israel’s January elections, Lapid and Bennett told everyone concerned that “the two parties will either enter the government together or retire to the opposition.” The fact that voters on all sides felt betrayed by the alliance mattered little; Lapid and Bennett forged ahead.

Well, there’s trouble in paradise.

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Yair Lapid (L), leader of the Yesh Atid party, speaks to Naftali Bennett, head of the Jewish Home party, during a reception marking the opening of the 19th Knesset on February 5, 2013 in Jerusalem. (Gali Tibbon / AFP / Getty Images)

So, okay, the trouble’s been there for a while. Lapid’s tenure as Finance Minister hasn’t exactly been a rousing success, and by October, he and his party had lost the affections of about half their constituency. There’s a powerful internal dissonance between Yesh Atid’s stated support for a two-state solution (however ill-informed and poorly implemented that support may be) and Habayit Hayehudi’s unrelenting effort to expand West Bank settlement and unbending attitude toward the West Bank itself: “The land is ours,” Bennett told an audience at Bar Ilan University, before he’d even formed his brotherhood of convenience with Lapid. Or, as he said a few months later to a gathering of settlers:

This is our home. We are the tenants here, not occupiers. The story of establishing a Palestinian state within our country, that story is over…. The central problem is the failure of the Israeli leadership to simply state that the land of Israel belongs to the people of Israel.

Quote of the day: 

"Israel has nuclear weapons and it an obligation to hold a public and courageous debate about them. Enough with the ambiguity."

--Former Knesset speaker Avraham Burg declares what every other Israeli can't or won't.

  • At the first conference in Israel calling for dismantling nuclear weapons in the Middle East, former Knesset Speaker Avraham Burg declared unambiguously that Israel possesses nuclear weapons, making headlines in Maariv/NRG. "Israel has nuclear weapons and it an obligation to hold a public and courageous debate about them. Enough with the ambiguity," said Burg yesterday at the conference also attended by the Mayor of Hiroshima.
  • Israeli military closes probe into death of Palestinian protester Mustafa Tamimi - This is the second time in recent months that an investigation into a death of a Palestinian protester ends in no charges. (Haaretz+ and Maan)
  • PM, President honor Mossad's 'best' agents - Intelligence agency holds ceremony in honor of most outstanding agents. Peres, Netanyahu commend agents for their work. (Yedioth, p. 1/Ynet and Israel Hayom)
  • Hundreds demonstrate in Be'er Sheva against Bedouin relocation - Arab MKs call on John Kerry to get involved. (Haaretz+ and Maan)
    Sudanese, Lebanese students enroll in Open University - Massive free open online courses attract scholars from all across the world, even from countries that do not recognize Israel. 'Our belief is that it's the right thing to do,' says school's manager, 'In my eyes, it's a revolution.' (Ynet)
  • Amidror: US view of the Middle East is changing - Yaakov Amidror, former head of Israel's National Security Council, says, "Dependence of the U.S. on the Middle East is waning." Amidror says Israel must decide whether to export natural gas to several countries in the region or to China. (Israel Hayom)
  • French Hill neighborhood: Apartment for Jews only  - Owner of apartment in Jerusalem neighborhood (over Green Line) offers it for rent on website for 3,300 shekels a month with one condition: Rental is "For Jews only." Ad sparks storm on internet. A Facebook user named Maqbula Naser posted it on FB with the words "Shamelessly." She says the ad was removed by the website at her request. This is not the first time apartment owners in neighborhood adjacent to Issawiyah declare they will do business only with Jews. Three months ago, a Jewish family in the neighborhood asked (far right-wing activist) Arieh King for help finding a Jewish buyer. (Yedioth Jerusalem, p. 8)
Israeli Intransigence

Blame America First—And Only

The day before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Oct. 1 address to the U.N. General Assembly, the Israeli leader travelled to Washington for a meeting with Pres. Barack Obama. Like the speech, the subject of the meeting was Iran and, according to recent reports, Obama told Netanyahu about back-channel contacts between his government and the Iranians. The next afternoon, Netanyahu excoriated the newly inaugurated Iranian moderate Hassan Rouhani in his speech: "Rouhani is a wolf in sheep's clothing, a wolf who thinks he can pull the eyes"—Netanyahu stumbled over the words—"the wool over the eyes of the international community."

One can't help but assume Netanyahu thought Obama among those international dupes. Indeed, the speech marked the opening salvo of an Israeli public campaign to influence a potential deal, but at times appearing aimed at scuttling it. Israeli officials have attacked diplomacy, the eventual deal having been struck, and even U.S. diplomats conducting talks (though the latter only when cloaked in anonymity).

Benjamin Netanyahu uses a chart as he speaks about the Iranian nuclear program during the United Nations General Assembly. (Stan Honda / AFP / GettyImages)

Benjamin Netanyahu uses a chart as he speaks about the Iranian nuclear program during the United Nations General Assembly. (Stan Honda / AFP / GettyImages)

Throughout the diplomatic wrangling and, eventually, after the agreement was struck in Geneva, Washington pro-Israel figures ranging from think tankers to pundits to members of Congress reminded the public and the administration that Israel must have its concerns addressed. Noting the public rift, some took to influential D.C. outlets to press their case. Two such figures from a pro-Israel think-tank, Robert Satloff and Dennis Ross of the Washington Institute, stressed "repairing the torn fabric of U.S.-Israel relations," and urged that the Obama administration must "reassure [Israel] that it understands these reservations and takes them seriously."

Pessimism And Optimism

Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: This Is Not How It Ends

As befits our new age of social media, one of U.S. peace envoy Martin Indyk’s first acts on the job was to send out a tweet. "This is not the end...”, he wrote, quoting Churchill’s famous 1942 speech, “not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."

While Indyk has remained very tight-lipped about the substance of the end-game he is pursuing, he hasn’t hesitated to make it known that when a deal is done, it will be vital to have a groundswell of public support from Israelis, Palestinians and Americans to validate it and ensure it is pushed through to implementation. In one of his few public utterances, at the J Street Annual Conference in late September, he stressed that Netanyahu and Abbas “need to know that they will have the support of their peoples and they will have the support of people like you, who care to see this conflict ended once and for all.”

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President Mahmoud Abbas (C) meets with U.S. envoy to the peace process, Martin Indyk (2L) September 17, 2013 in Ramallah, West Bank. ((Thaer Ghanaim / PPO / Getty Images))

Indyk should know; as a former U.S. Ambassador to Israel during the late 1990s and early 2000s, he witnessed first-hand the unraveling of what had been hailed as an historic peace agreement, the Oslo Accords. He subsequently became a Board member of the New Israel Fund, the main bridge between American donors and Israeli progressive civil society, which since 1979 has dispensed more than $200 million to over 800 organizations, and has built the kind of grassroots mobilization potential to wage the battle for public opinion should an equitable peace agreement emerge.

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.

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