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Ehud Olmert appeared at Dartmouth College on Tuesday. It's hard to remember a blunter defense of John Kerry's peace process, or statement of impatience with the Netanyahu government, than Olmert's talk, which is worth spending some time with. You can see the entire event in the video, below.

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Olmert reiterated to me that he is determined to challenge Netanyahu the next time around; he is waiting for the Israeli courts to clear him of charges in outstanding cases against him.  Many things would have to fall into place for a challenge to be plausible--about which, more later. But Olmert listed, in private, an impressive array of people who'd be with him if things do fall into place. So if you've been skeptical of him in the past—and who hasn't?—this lecture will be of particular interest. 

Negotiator Redux

The Erekat Came Back

John Kerry’s quest to bring peace to the Middle East was dealt a severe blow this week when Mahmoud Abbas confirmed that Saeb Erekat, Palestine’s chief negotiator, had resigned and was taking the team with him. Abbas didn’t panic because Saeb Erekat can’t quit quitting. His nickname is, "The Erekat that Came Back," and Abu Mazen had no doubt in his mind that Saeb’s most recent resignation would be shorter lived than Rami Hamdallah’s dabbling was. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was already having the worst week ever and the last thing he needed was to have Team Palestine bail on negotiations.

Last week, Kerry headed back to the Holy Land for the latest episode of “Let’s Make a Peace Deal!” His previous pleas that all parties involved keep their yaps shut, because what happens behind closed doors at the peace talks stays behind doors, had fallen on deaf ears and loud mouths. Israeli Knesset member Zahava Gal-On claimed a little birdie told her that the United States of America had a peace plan of their own up their sleeve, which they were going to force upon the sparring parties if they didn’t reach a settlement by New Year’s Day. Kerry swore no such document existed, but I have seen a copy of these proposed plans. The American solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will allow Palestinians to keep their health insurance plan if they like it while allowing Israel to keep everything else. If you all don’t know I’m kidding by now, I cannot help you.

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (C) makes a statement with Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni (L) and Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat (R). (Win McNamee / Getty Images)

A hot mess awaited John Kerry in Jerusalem. Israel had kept up its end of the bargain and released a paltry 26 more of the 104 pre-Oslo prisoners it promised to release 14 years ago. Instead of freeing all of these heavy hitters at once, Israel insists on doing it in phases so that every few months the world can be reminded that she is making a huge sacrifice by releasing these convicted criminals and therefore should be allowed to build another 5,000 illegal settlements.

As the polarizing—and sometimes satirical—controversy marches on over Quebec’s proposed Bill 60, known as the Charter of Values, the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal has been dragged into the mix in an unsavory way, while at the same time taking the opportunity to issue a principled statement of its own. The bill seeks to ban public service employees from wearing overtly religious symbols, including the Muslim hijab and the Jewish kippah.

According to screen shots obtained by the Montreal-Orthodox Jewish community blog Bill613.com, a Parti Quebecois candidate in Montreal, Tania Longpré, made some incendiary remarks on Facebook. In response to a social media query about the public funding of the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal with special mention of its name, the practice of circumcision, and the wearing of kippot (skullcaps) and peyot (sidelocks) in public, she replied “against, against, against.” She then agreed that this language should be added to the proposed text of the bill.

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Girls of Montreal's Muslim taekwondo team posing in a sports hijab on April 22, 2011. They were excluded from competition for wearing traditional hijab. (Géraldine Woessner /AFP /Getty Images)

According to the blog, she soon “backtracked” on her comments, deleting the Facebook thread, and calling the brouhaha “childish.”

Legislators react. They don’t enact. A politician who declares a revolution is actually just announcing the phenomenon that he seeks to legislate can no longer be ignored. The real changes are made by people, by society, by individual choices and actions, not by political statements or election propaganda. The legislator simply updates the law to reflect the changes that the people have already made a reality through individual acts of autonomy and self-expression. This is the true meaning of “creating facts on the ground.” Laws don’t shape society; society shapes the law.

This month, Israel’s Health Minister Yael German announced plans to legalize surrogacy for same-sex couples in Israel, saving same-sex couples and singles that need the help of surrogate mothers to have children expensive and time-consuming medical processes abroad. Four separate civil union bills have been proposed in the first weeks of the Knesset winter session, and indeed, there is a feeling that a point of no-return has been reached. Yet, it is important to realize that legislation won’t enable Israelis who can’t or choose not to wed through the Rabbinate to live together, or to use surrogacy; they are already doing it in record numbers. Legislation must be passed to legalize situations that are already reality, because the absence of such laws is simply an injustice against the citizens.

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Bill Pugliano / Getty Images

The Israeli politician is the last in the chain of social change. The legislator does not enact the revolution; he or she only confirms its existence. The true role of the legislator is to bridge the gap between reality and the law. When politicians declare the need for change, we know that the change is already here, and the change was made by us. The legislator should observe the changes society goes through, the demographic changes it experiences, and propose legislation that responds to the changing reality.

News from Israel

NGO: Hamas Torturing Political Prisoners

Quote of the day:

'Regards from Eden, Revenge!'

--Graffiti spray-painted on wall of Palestinian home in Sinjil village in West Bank that was set on fire while children were sleeping inside.

  • Suspected 'price tag' attack: Assailants set (Palestinian) West Bank house on fire, spray 'Regards from Eden, Revenge!' on wall - Five Palestinians suffer from smoke inhalation; Israeli military: Incident undermines regional stability; attack believed to seek revenge for murder of Israeli soldier by Palestinian teen. (Haaretz+ and Maan)
  • Some 30 thousand Palestinians sneak in to Israel every month to work illegally - So far 60% of the construction of the separation fence has been completed. Security establishment fears: holes in the fence along with the removal of checkpoints in the West Bank may facilitate the infiltration of terrorists into Israel. (NRG Hebrew)
  • Antiquities battle pits Old City merchants against inspectors - The stock of legal antiquities in Israel has not been depleted, despite 35 years of brisk sales; the Israel Antiquities Authority thinks it knows why. (Haaretz+)
  • How the Israeli army is raising the next generation of cyber geeks - But Israel’s military is bullish on a special after-school program for smart high school kids - from the country’s outskirts as well. (Haaretz+)
  • NGO: Hamas torturing political prisoners - Hamas launches arrest campaign aimed at members of Fatah, other political entities; says arrests have been bolstered to try to pro-actively quell onslaught of protests coinciding with anniversary of Yasser Arafat's death. (Agencies, Ynet)
  • CIA declassifies Camp David Accords intelligence - American intelligence warned that Israeli premier Begin's failing health could complicate negotiations, files reveal. (Agencies, Haaretz)

    For the full News from Israel.

Many Iran hawks in Washington claim the mantle of human rights advocacy in their push for ever harsher measures against the Islamic Republic, up to and sometimes including the use of military force against Iran's nuclear facilities. But there's a disconnect: While D.C.'s Iran hawks never relent in their push for more sanctions, human rights activists working inside and outside Iran feel that sanctions are impinging on their work. That's the backdrop for the push by the Obama administration to get Congress to hold off on more sanctions. But Members of Congress, especially from the Republican right, appear poised to press on in their quest to further cripple the Iranian economy. 

“Adding more sanctions at this stage in the negotiations, when there is a lot of hope about the fate of nuclear talks with Iran, is tantamount to sabotage,” said Hadi Ghaemi, the head of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, in a statement released by the group today. “The idea of adding more sanctions at this crucial point in the negotiations disappoints millions of Iranians who are hopeful these talks will lead to a compromise and help lift the sanctions, and sounds like a drumbeat leading to war.”

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Hassan Rouhani, President of Iran, speaks during the 68th Session of the United Nations General Assembly September 24, 2013 at U.N. headquarters in New York. (Stan Honda / AFP / Getty Images)

The release singled out a statement by Sen. Mark Kirk, one of Congress's most avid Iran hawks, to reporters: “How do you define an Iranian moderate? An Iranian who is out of bullets and out of money.” The line refers to Iran's moderate President Hassan Rouhani. While Iran's elections are deeply flawed—only regime-approved candidates can run—it's worth noting that Rouhani was not Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's choice for president. "The 18 million Iranians who defied the odds and voted for change in this year's presidential elections might take issue with Senator Kirk's insulting characterization," noted Jamal Abdi, of the National Iranian American Council, a U.S.-based group that opposes new sanctions, in a press release.

Threats and Promises

Nasrallah Doubles Down On Syria, Iran

Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, who has made two public speeches over the past two days, was recently the object of some poorly-received mockery. Last week, the Lebanese sketch comedy show “Basmat Watan” took to the airwaves with an episode featuring an impersonation of the black-turbaned cleric. The public reaction—demonstrations in Baalbek, tire burnings in Sin el-Fil, a blocked highway in Tripoli—might have scared more faint-hearted artists into a retraction or an apology, but the show's director, Charbel Khalil, has thus far been defiant.

It's not particularly rare for blasphemy, heresy, impiety, or simple disrespect to spark violence in some corners of the world: witness the way Muslim communities were roiled by the 2006 Jyllands-Posten cartoon controversy. But there's more to public touchiness over last week's sketch than just pious indignation. Hassan Nasrallah is a political figure as much as he is a religious one, and his influence is attested in the way that his constituents have so aggressively risen to his defense.

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The head of Lebanon's militant Shiite Muslim movement Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah greets the audience after speaking during a massive Shiite Muslim commemoration in southern Beirut on November 14, 2013. (AFP / Getty Images)

One of the many reasons Lebanese admirers of Hezbollah's Secretary-General offer for their support is the claim that Nasrallah is, unlike the region's other outsized personalities, a man of his word. I have heard him compared in this respect to Benjamin Netanyahu and Saad Hariri, to Ariel Sharon and Bashar Assad and Michel Aoun, all in the same breath. Nasrallah's supporters view him as the rare political figure who keeps his promises—a view bolstered by Hezbollah's 2006 rout of the IDF. Israeli military planners, it seems, have since also learned not to doubt the powerful cleric's guarantee.

What do a Reform Jew, a Muslim and a Buddhist have in common, when living in Italy? To put it bluntly: they don't exist—not officially, at least.

Italy has 1.5 millions of Muslim residents, making Islam de facto the second-biggest religion in this predominantly Catholic country. There are Reform Jewish congregations in most big cities (Rome and Florence have one each, Milan has two) and Buddhism has had an organized presence in Italy since the mid 1980s.

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The Vatican flag (L) floats alongside an Italian (C) and a European Union (R) flag atop the Quirinale presidential palace in Rome as the Pope meets the Italian President on November 14, 2013. (AFP PHOTO / Vincenzo Pinto)

But officially these three groups have no status. And they are in good company: among communities that are currently awaiting for recognition from the Italian authorities there are also Hindus, a number of Christian Evangelical churches, and Christian Orthodox who are not directly affiliated with the Patriarch of Constantinople.

The crisis of the Syrian civil war long ago reached beyond those engaged in battle to become one of the most pressing issues confronting anyone in the region and, ultimately, the global community. With 2.2 million refugees now beyond Syria’s borders, and 6.5 million internally displaced persons within them, well more than a third of Syria’s population has fled the violence that consumes their country. The collapse of the nation’s health care system has led to an outbreak of polio, and no matter where the the flood of humanity turns, they arrive hungry, largely bereft of belongings, and often badly wounded.

The struggles faced by each family, each individual, are of course unique, and often dependent on the direction in which they ran: on Tuesday, reports emerged that Greek border authorities have maltreated refugees and illegally forced many to sail for Turkey; in northern Iraq, 200,000 Syrians are facing what experts predict will be an unusually harsh winter; last spring The Atlantic reported that Syrian girls in Lebanon are becoming child brides, in the hopes of finding security in marriage.

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MAJDAL ANJAR, LEBANON - NOVEMBER 12: A displaced Syrian child walks through a makeshift camp for Syrian refugees only miles from the border with Syria in the Bekaa Valley on November 12, 2013 in Majdal Anjar, Lebanon. (Spencer Platt / Getty Images)

Far and away the greatest number of refugees have arrived in Jordan. As of mid-October, the Hashemite Kingdom had reportedly absorbed some 550,000 Syrians; that number is expected to rise as high as a million by year’s end. The Zaatari Refugee Camp alone is home to some 120,000―roughly the same population as Hartford, Connecticut or Santa Clara, California. Bear in mind that Jordan’s own population numbers only 6.3 million.

Peoples in Profile

Holy Land, Forgotten People

The drive for Israeli-Palestinian peace overlooks the most vital component―the people themselves. That is why Egyptian-Belgian author Khaled Diab, currently living with his family in Jerusalem, is writing a book about these most intimate of enemies and could-be friends.

Although the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has become overshadowed by the tumultuous upheavals gripping the Middle East, the U.S. Secretary of State has created something of a stir with his stated determination to revive the defunct and dysfunctional peace process.

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Ahmad Gharabli / AFP / Getty Image

John Kerry even warned Israel that it faces the prospect of a third intifada if it fails to forge a durable peace with the Palestinians. Presumably to avoid such an outcome, Washington reportedly plans to push through its own peace deal in January if an agreement is not reached before then.

Peace Pantomime

How Netanyahu Plays the Settlement Game

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was outflanked from the right on Tuesday, purportedly surprised by an announcement of 24,000yeah, you read that right—new settlement housing units in the West Bank.

Immediately following the first report of the unprecedented settlement expansion, Netanyahu announced he would block construction in E-1, one of the West’s least favorite proposed settlement plans. Some eight hours later, he publicly reprimanded his housing minister, denied having advance knowledge of the plans and said they would be “reconsidered”—but not canceled.

A picture shows a partial view of the Jewish settlement of Har Homa on the outskirts of mostly Arab east Jerusalem. (Jack Guez / AFP / Getty Images)

A picture shows a partial view of the Jewish settlement of Har Homa on the outskirts of mostly Arab east Jerusalem. (Jack Guez / AFP / Getty Images)

The initial announcement drew immediate criticism and, coming as it did on the heels of one of Washington’s harshest condemnations of Israeli settlement building in recent memory, increased the risk of what appeared to be a quickly deepening crisis brewing between Israel and the United States.

A new documentary about Israel/Palestine tells a familiar though compelling tale. The Village Under the Forest relates the journey of a woman who discovers portions of her ethno-national narrative that have been obscured from her in her community’s zeal to appear righteous. Director and producer Mark J. Kaplan’s film focuses on Heidi Grunebaum, a South African Jewish scholar and author who discovers the fate of the Palestinian village of Lubya. Located near Tiberias, Lubya was evacuated during the 1948 war, its residents expelled and the structures reduced to bits of rubble. The remains are still visible, if you’re looking, within a Jewish National Fund (JNF)-planted park called The South Africa Forest funded by coins collected in famed JNF blue boxes by South Africa’s Jewish community, including Grunebaum herself.

Told through interviews with the village’s surviving residents as well as two critical historians (Avi Shlaim and Ilan Pappe) and an Israeli social activist (Eitan Bronstein of the Israeli NGO Zochrot), the film lands on the moral and political conclusion that the Palestinian refugees must be allowed to return to Israel.

Aside from the heavy-handed score (featuring music by outspoken anti-Zionist activist Gilad Atzmon) and sometimes melodramatic writing and narration by Grunebaum herself, the film moves along in a captivating way. Viewers of the film will, no doubt, have varied reactions, reactions that tend to parallel one’s view of the Israel/Palestine morass.

Specifically, what will wildly differ in the hearts and minds of viewers of this film are at least four sets of questions: First, was Israel born in sin? Or were the actions of the Haganah and IDF in 1947-48 necessary and therefore just? Second, were the JNF Jewish-only land-leasing policies just in their origins? And is there still a need for these Jewish-only land policies, or should the JNF be dismantled? Third, what is the best solution to the Palestinian refugee issue, given the needs and identities of each side? And finally, is Israel an apartheid state, and if so, does the entire Jewish State apparatus—in all its institutional forms—need to be deconstructed and rebuilt, as South Africa was?

The News From Israel

Violent Hebron Outpost Expands At 'Phenomenal' Rate

"The setting aside of these public funds suggests the government is serious (about settlement expansion), and suggests it's only pretending to negotiate while it pursues its settlement construction."
—Peace Now Secretary General Yariv Oppenheimer on Israel's announcement to build a whopping 20,000 new settler homes.

  • Israel agrees to recognize EU ban on funding institutions in settlements - Participation in European R&D program could bring hundreds of millions of euros into the coffers of Israeli research institutes and high-tech companies. (Haaretz+)
  • Israel plans more house demolitions in Shufat camp - Israeli intelligence agents on Tuesday escorted representatives from the Jerusalem municipality on a tour of Shufat refugee camp and took photos. (Maan)
  • Violent Hebron outpost expands at 'phenomenal' rate - Operation Dove on Monday said that activists from the grassroots (Israel-Palestinian) Taayush movement entered an area near the Havot Maon outpost this week to document illegal expansion and demand that Israeli authorities intervene. (Maan)
  • "The interim accords (Oslo Accords) make it difficult to keep law enforcement in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip" - General Eitan Dangut, Coordinator for activities in Judea and Samaria, told the State Control Committee that for the first time a body will be chosen to be responsible for law enforcement. MK Cohen: the Minister of Defense is responsible for putting a stop to lawlessness. (NRG Hebrew)
  • Pollard's Mossad handler: I was promised he would be freed - Rafi Eitan tells Army Radio he incriminated Jonathan Pollard because the U.S. told Israel that Pollard would serve no more than 10 years in prison. Eitan asks for forgiveness from Pollard. Thousands of Israeli students call for Pollard's release. (Israel Hayom)
  • Soldier's remarks give insight into Israel's cyber intelligence practices - Cyber expert admits in video that he culled intelligence using virtual methods, despite Israeli ambiguity on matter. (Haaretz+)

For the full News from Israel.

Israeli and Palestinian adults fighting in a conflict that has been going on for decades and spewing hate speech is bad enough. But whenever children become the targets, society is really in a sorry state of affairs.

Reaching a new low, that’s sadly not that new, Israeli settlers vandalized a Palestinian kindergarten in Hebron last week with vile hate speech, as Mairav Zonstein reported in +972.

The settlers spray-painted “Death to Arabs” in Hebrew on the schoolyard wall, just another recent example of an attack directed at Palestinian children and schools in the West Bank.

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Palestinian students are accompanied by an Israeli army vehicle (unseen) as they walk the three kilometre distance to school between the villages of Khirbet Tuba to Al-Tiwana, near Yatta, south of the West Bank city of Hebron, to protect them from attacks by settlers. (Hazem Bader / AFP / Getty Images)

J Street held its annual Chicago fundraiser last Friday, and the room was fairly packed, in no small part by politicians: Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin and Senator Tammy Baldwin; U.S. Representatives Jan Schakowsky, Danny K. Davis, Bill Foster and Robin Kelly; 10 Illinois state legislators; a handful of local Chicago politicians, not least Mayor Rahm Emanuel; and friend of the president, David Axelrod. Oh, and the consul general of Israel was there too.

Durbin, Emanuel, Axelrod, and Consul General Roey Gilad were all among those who addressed the crowd of about 350, and though the latter made a point of saying that he “respectfully disagrees” with J Street’s position on Iran, the luncheon was largely a love-fest. “Your wish for a two nation-state solution is our wish,” Gilad said in his prepared remarks (making a point of stressing the word “nation,” though J Street’s mission simply refers to “two states”).

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Vice President Joe Biden giving the keynote address at the J Street 2013 conference (JStreet)

Perhaps more tellingly, however, Durbin told Open Zion that “the stated purpose of this organization is the foreign policy of the United States of America.”

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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