Peace in our Time?

August 14, 2007

Filed under: Blogroll, Gaza, Israel, Middle East, Palestine, Peace, Peace Now, Saudi, Uncategorized — angelajerusalem @ 8:30 am

Update August 12, 2007
Interview with Hedy Epstein and Greta Berlin by Silvia Cattori (English & French)“Mit dem Schiff nach Gaza” junge Welt (Germany)“Hamas Shows Gaza to Foreign Reporters” by Steven Gutkin (Associated Press)“I pacifisti: sbarcheremo a Gaza” il manifesto (Italia)“Gaza: a gas for Blair?” By Arthur Neslen (Guardian)Video Link: Israel and the Easiest Targets (12:49) by IfAmericansKnew
2007: Forty Years On

2007 marks the 40-year anniversary of the Six Day War, in which the Israeli army took military control of the Gaza Strip and West Bank, including East Jerusalem… This situation has continued to the current day despite Israel being in violation of international humanitarian law and over 60 UN resolutions.” – Enough! Occupation
Mission Statement
We want to break the siege of Gaza. We want to raise international awareness about the prison-like closure of the Gaza Strip and pressure the international community to review its sanctions policy and end its support for continued Israeli occupation. We want to uphold Palestine’s right to welcome internationals as visitors, human rights observers, humanitarian aid workers, journalists, or otherwise.
Who are we?
We are these human rights observers, aid workers, and journalists. We have years of experience volunteering in Gaza and the West Bank at the invitation of Palestinians. But now, because of the increasing stranglehold of Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine, many of us find it almost impossible to enter Gaza, and an increasing number have been refused entry to Israel and the West Bank as well. Despite the great need for our work, the Israeli Government will not allow us in to do it.

Photo © Joe Carr
We are of all ages and backgrounds. Back home, we are teachers, medics, musicians, secretaries, parents, grandparents, lawyers, students, activists, actors, playwrites, politicians, singer-songwriters, web designers, international training consultants, and even a former Hollywood film industry worker and an aviator. We are South African, Australian, American, English, Israeli, Palestinian, and more.
What are we going to do?
We’ve tried to enter Palestine by land. We’ve tried to arrive by air. Now we’re getting serious. We’re taking a ship.


Filed under: Blogroll, Gaza, Israel, Middle East, Palestine, Peace, Peace Now, Saudi, Uncategorized — angelajerusalem @ 8:29 am   


Project Description: The Free Gaza Movement

This movement is an international nonviolent resistance project to challenge Israel’s siege of Gaza.  Israel claims that Gaza is no longer occupied, yet Israeli forces control Gaza by land, sea and air.  We’ll enter Gaza from international waters at the invitation of Palestinian NGOs but without Israeli authorization, thereby recognizing Palestinian control over their own borders.

The Mission

1.  To open Gaza to unrestricted international access, i.e. Palestinian sovereignty

2.  To demonstrate that Israel still occupies Gaza, despite its claims to the contrary

3.  To show international solidarity with the people of Gaza and the rest of Palestine

4.  To demonstrate the potential of nonviolent resistance methods

The Plan

Up to 100 international volunteers will sail from Cyprus to Gaza in 2 to 6 seagoing vessels of 12 to 60 passengers each.  The prospective date is September 15, but will depend upon funding, logistics, weather and other factors.  The journey will take approximately 24 hours.


If Israel respects Palestinian sovereignty, we’ll arrive without incident.  Some of us will fish at sea with Palestinian fishermen, while others will travel back and forth to test the passage for as long as permitted.  If stopped, we’ll nonviolently resist.  We are prepared to stay at sea if necessary, and/or resist arrest and confiscation of our vessels.  We doubt that Israel will attack, but we will be equipped with medical personnel and equipment, life rafts and flotation vests.  More likely, Israel will prefer sabotage.  We’re prepared with alternate vessels and plans.

The Passengers

Aboard will be Palestinians, Israelis, Americans, Europeans, Africans and Asians. There will be rabbis, imams, Christian and Buddhist clerics, British MPs, entertainment celebrities, and internationally known journalists. Nakba and Holocaust survivors are also joining the project.  All will undergo a training program and be selected according to the interests of the mission, such as the mix of persons and expertise; no one is assured of a place on board.  Others will form the Cyprus support team and may board later vessels.

The Organizers

We are experienced human rights volunteers and organizers, including Huwaida Arraf, Greta Berlin, Sylvia Cattori, Uri Davis, Hedy Epstein, Kathy Kelly, Paul Larudee, Alison Weir, and more than 30 others from 13 countries.  We have consulted with other organizations such as Greenpeace, who have experience with such projects, especially with encounters at sea.

The Vessels

Commercial fishing boats and cruise vessels powered by diesel and sail will be used.  Volunteer vessels are also welcome.  All will have standard GPS, plus radio and communications equipment for international navigation. They’ll also have refrigeration and cooking facilities for their size and passenger load. The larger vessels will carry fuel for both the voyage and an extended period at sea.


If Israel wishes to harm our mission, we expect them to try to plant arms on board. Therefore, before boarding, all participants, vessels and supplies will undergo a security check by qualified personnel from an internationally recognized NGO to verify that no dangerous items are brought aboard.  Since we will not be entering Israeli territory, we will not allow Israeli authorities to perform such inspections. 

Supplies and equipment

Passengers will take basic necessities and electronic devices.  Journalists, technicians and crew may also bring tools and equipment. Larger vessels will have at least one satellite phone with high-speed data transfer.  Provisions, including food, water and medical supplies, will be laid aboard for an extended period at sea.  We will also carry relief supplies to the people of Gaza, but this isn’t a primary part of our mission.

Captains and crew

Although we prefer competent volunteers who take principled risks, we are unlikely to recruit the personnel we need by such means.  We will therefore hire captains and crew, to whom we will fully disclose the risks involved, so they understand and consent to the mission. Engineers will also be required to inspect and prepare the vessels.


We have considered vessel donation, lease and purchase. However, we prefer purchase, to have complete control and avoid cancellation by others.  Terms are a down payment plus installments to be made either by reselling the vessels after the mission or by using them for nonprofit revenue.  Other costs will be crew, equipment, supplies, fuel, docking and agent fees.  The estimated cost is $300K, half from donations and half from loans.  We can succeed on a smaller scale for as little as $150K, but it entails fewer backups and greater risk.

Further information

Organizational endorsements and financial support are needed and highly appreciated. We’re also available to speak to interested groups.  Tax-exempt donations may be sent to our fiscal sponsor, the Palestinian Children’s Welfare Fund at PCWF – Gaza Human Rights, 201 W. Stassney #201, Austin, TX 78745, USA.  Non-exempt donations may be made to our PayPal account through our website at

Clare Short speaking in UK Parliament on Middle East Peace Process

Filed under: Blogroll, Gaza, Israel, Middle East, Palestine, Peace, Peace Now, Saudi, Uncategorized — angelajerusalem @ 7:59 am

Westminster Hall

26th June 2007

Middle East Peace Process

Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood) (Ind Lab): I tabled this debate because I visited recently the Palestinian occupied territories with a delegation organised by War on Want. It consisted of War on Want staff, myself, and Rodney Bickerstaffe, the former general secretary of Unison. I am grateful for the opportunity to report on our findings, and I hope that the Minister will take account of them.

I have previously visited the west bank and Gaza on a number occasions in the late 1980s and early 1990s, at the time of the first intifada-a Palestinian uprising involving peaceful disobedience or, at worst, children throwing stones at soldiers. Despite the injuries inflicted on children by the Israeli army, the intifada was full of hope, and it led to the negotiation of the Oslo peace accord and the return of Yasser Arafat to Palestine. I was hopeful at that time that a two-state peace-Israel and Palestine-was possible, that the new Palestinian state would be based on 1967 boundaries with East Jerusalem as its capital, and that there would be a negotiated settlement on Palestinian right of return. Those are the three essential components of a negotiated peace. I was hopeful; but it is now impossible to believe that there will be such a peace. Instead, I fear that unless we change policy, we face the prospect of years and possibly decades of bloodshed and conflict.

I have followed developments in the middle east carefully over many years, and I was well aware before my recent visit how bad things are for the Palestinian people. Nevertheless, I was deeply shocked by Israel’s blatant, brutal and systematic annexation of land, demolition of Palestinian homes, and deliberate creation of an apartheid system by which the Palestinians are enclosed in four bantustans, surrounded by a wall, with massive checkpoints that control all Palestinian movements in and out of the ghettos.

The Israelis are clearly and systematically attempting to take the maximum amount of land with the minimum number of Palestinians. As things stand, Israel has taken 85 per cent. of historical Palestine, leaving the remaining 15 per cent. for Palestinian ghettos. More shocking than that is that the international community, including the UK and the EU, does nothing to require Israel to abide by international law, despite all the claims made about European support for human rights and international law.

During its visit, the delegation spent a day with the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, which is the agency responsible for humanitarian emergencies. It briefed us on the way in which the wall, the closures, the settlements and the separate system of settler roads were imprisoning the Palestinians. It published a map in the Financial Times to mark the 40th anniversary of the occupation, which is available for all to see.

The delegation spent the second day of its visit with the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, an organisation that I greatly admire. The committee took us on a tour of East Jerusalem and showed us how the combination of formal and informal settlements, and systematic house demolition, was encircling East Jerusalem and how that constrained, displaced and ethnically cleansed the Palestinian population. When we were with ICAHD, we witnessed a house demolition. A massive machine with “Volvo” emblazoned on its side destroyed a substantial house that was built by a Palestinian family on their own land and in territory that belongs to the Palestinians under international law-formally, it is occupied territory.

Women relatives of the occupants quietly wept at the side of the road. Later, a young man was held back by his friends-he wanted to throw himself at the soldiers who were protecting the demolition, to do something about the destruction of his family home. The representative of ICAHD, a young Israeli, said that the demolition was, of course, a war crime. The point about that is that under the Geneva convention, an occupying power is not entitled to impose new laws or to settle in occupied territory. Houses are being demolished because Palestinians do not have permits to build, even on their own land. However, Israel is not entitled to introduce such a permit system. It never gives a permit to build a house, or after a house has been built. When Palestinian families expand, they must live somewhere, but Israel will never issue a permit because of its determination to drive Palestinians out of East Jerusalem.

According to ICAHD, Israel has demolished 18,000 Palestinian homes in the way I described since 1967. Each demolition was a war crime. More shocking than that is the fact that no action is taken to force Israel to adhere to international law. Later, the delegation visited a family whose house had been demolished and rebuilt by volunteers from ICAHD-Israelis and Palestinians worked together to rebuild a home for a Palestinian family. ICAHD is committed to acts of peaceful civil disobedience in order that international law is upheld. The family said how grateful they were to once again have a home. A Palestinian who works for ICAHD said that his house had been demolished four times. He said that most Palestinian homes in Jerusalem were subject to demolition orders, so everyone lives with the fear and insecurity that when they arrive home, they might find that their home has been destroyed. He said that when the Israelis arrive to demolish a person’s house, they give them 15 minutes in which to collect their family and belongings.

Normally, people refuse to co-operate. The ICAHD worker told me that in such a situation, the demolition people use tear gas. He told me that he stood there, with his wife fainting and his children crying while their property was being thrown out of their house on to the ground. He said that it made him feel like a useless man who could not even protect his family in their home, and that three possible courses of action passed through his mind. First, full of hate and anger, he thought about obtaining a suicide vest and destroying his own life and that of others. Secondly, he thought about whether he could get out of Palestine and Jerusalem, being unable to bear the pressure being put on him and his family, but that would be to co-operate in the ethnic-cleansing that he opposed. Thirdly-he said that this kept him sane-he said he thought about working for ICAHD to rebuild the demolished homes in peaceful civil disobedience.

I understand that ICAHD has given a pledge to rebuild all the demolished homes in this, the 40th year of the occupation, and that-poignantly-an American holocaust survivor is funding the work. I hope that all people of good will will support ICAHD financially and politically in that endeavour. Importantly, the organisation brings radical Israelis and Palestinians together and creates a space for hope in an otherwise hopeless situation.

The delegation’s third day was hosted by the Grassroots Palestinian Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign, which is War on Want’s partner in Palestine. We were briefed about how the closures have destroyed the Palestinian economy-that has subsequently been underlined by a World Bank report-and also how more and more Palestinians are forced to work for the Israeli settlements to produce agricultural products and other goods that are exported largely to the European market, to which trade agreements give Israel privileged access. Illegal settlements using Palestinians as cheap labour is another element of the new apartheid system in which the EU and the UK fully collude.

The delegation went to visit the Jordan valley with a representative of the Grassroots Palestinian Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign. The situation there is truly terrible. All fertile land near the river has been confiscated by Israel, supposedly for security purposes under the Oslo peace accords. In the remaining territory, there are occasionally settlements, some of only one person, which lead to Palestinian families being removed from their land for security reasons. There are acres of plastic greenhouses that are organised and worked by settlers and which are strategically located over water sources. They grow organic herbs and other agricultural produce for the European market and yet, when we visited a totally impoverished nearby Palestinian village, we found that there was no school and, that day, no water-the one tap in the village gave no water. The impoverished Palestinians must buy water by the bucket from the settlers.

We visited farming families whose relatives had lived on the land in the Jordan valley for generations to grow crops, herd sheep and goats, and to make cheese. They were being threatened and moved constantly as new settlements of only one or a few people brought in the army, which claimed that they had to move for security reasons. We stopped to talk to another family who had a compound at the side of the road. A house bought for their son and his family on their own land had been demolished, and their aubergine crop was rotting in a heap in front of the house because they could not get it to market.

There is terrible poverty and abuse of human rights in the Jordan valley. The people there are being grossly neglected. I appeal to the Minister, the Department for International Development and all the humanitarian and non-governmental organisations to do more in the Jordan valley-it is in a terrible situation, and more could be done to bring instant relief.

My conclusion is pessimistic, and the prospect of a two-state solution is being destroyed. Instead, we are allowing a new, brutal apartheid regime to be created with the Palestinians being confined to ghettoes and used as cheap labour by the settlers. The Hamas takeover in Gaza is not the cause of the problem, but the consequence of it. The refusal of the UK and the EU to provide aid to the Palestinian Authority following the Hamas election victory has helped to create the problem. The arming of Fatah by US and Israeli forces to enable it to fight Hamas in Gaza made the takeover inevitable. Now it seems that efforts are to be made to offer money and inducements to President Abbas to accept the monstrous ghettoes as the promised Palestinian state. As Uri Avnery, the great Israeli peace campaigner, said, they want him to act as a quisling, and that will not bring peace.

In conclusion, the situation in the Palestinian territories is deeply distressing and depressing, and the Government and the EU are colluding in that oppression and the building of a new apartheid regime. In particular, Israel has privileged access to the EU market under a trade treaty that, like all EU trade treaties, contains human rights conditions. I hope that the Minister will explain why those conditions are not invoked to insist on Israeli compliance with international law. That is a big lever, and Israel would be frightened of losing access to the EU market. I wish that we would make use of that for everyone’s benefit.

I fear continuing bloodshed and suffering, and further destabilisation of the middle east. The situation in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories is fuelling the anger of the Muslim world, which is acting as a recruiting sergeant for the ugly ideology of Osama bin Laden and those who advocate similar ideas.

It is in the interests of the people of Israel, the Palestinians and the wider middle east that there should be a two-state solution to bring an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but that possibility is being thrown away by Israel, which is determined constantly to expand its borders in total breach of international law. The UK and the EU are, sadly, colluding in that, and the consequences are causing terrible suffering, and endangering the future. I truly hope that our new Prime Minister will reconsider that policy, and that the Opposition parties will reconsider and bring pressure to bear to bring the situation back from the brink and to ensure that the centrepiece of UK policy is a just peace and Israeli compliance with international law.

The Minister for the Middle East (Dr. Kim Howells): I thank the right hon. Lady for initiating this debate and for her comments. I also thank her for her eye-witness account of the illegal activities of the Israeli defence forces and others in demolishing houses along the route of the wall, the barrier or fence, where it incorporates Palestinian land illegally. I agree entirely with the right hon. Lady that that not only breaks international law but generates huge resentment, not just in Palestine but throughout the region. We have constantly urged the Israelis not to do that, and it is ironic that lawyers in Israel have given Palestinians their redress only about the route of the wall. Sometimes that route has been altered as a consequence of legal action that Palestinians have taken, especially in and around Jerusalem.

The right hon. Lady’s point about generating sympathy for Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda is prescient, and we ignore such warnings at our peril. I take her message about the Jordan valley needing the attention of the Department for International Development. I, too, was shocked when I saw the extent to which so much of the Palestinian economy on the west bank has collapsed. I shall come to Gaza in a moment.

This is one of those times in history when, from an appalling tragedy of Palestinians killing Palestinians in Gaza, one hopes that the Israelis and everyone else will take a real step forward, remove the barriers on the west bank, and allow people to trade properly. The right hon. Lady referred to a crop of aubergines that were rotting in the field, and we have heard such stories so many times.

I understand, as I am sure can everyone, why Israel has built barriers, and I know why it has built the wall. On my last visit but one, I went to see some old lefties-I do not know how to describe them-in a kibbutz up on the old Jerusalem road. Very reluctantly, they told me that life had become easier since the barrier was built because they were not worried about their kids going out, as suicide bombers were finding it much harder to come in from Nablus and other towns. I tried to argue then, and I argue now, that they will find ways of getting in and killing innocent citizens, because resentment will continue to build up unless the core issue is tackled.

Clare Short: I simply want to say that, ugly and regrettable as the wall is, if it were on the 1967 boundary it would be one thing, but it is taking great swathes of Palestinian land and dividing communities from their land. That was found to be illegal by the International Court of Justice, and there is no excuse for it.

Dr. Howells: The right hon. Lady is absolutely correct. I was quite shocked even to discuss with Labour Ministers in Israel some time ago their unwillingness to build tunnels, for example, to join cantons together. It is hard to believe that a viable state, albeit small, could emerge from such a geographical configuration. It is difficult to see how it could work. We must keep pressing the Israelis.

I do not agree with the right hon. Lady about sanctions-she did not refer to sanctions, but I have heard people talk about them. She referred to withdrawal of the preferential trade agreement with the EU. It is a fair subject for debate, although I am sceptical about making such moves, but that is my subjective assessment. It is a subject that should be discussed, and it is widely discussed throughout Europe. I tend to feel that there is already so much tension and there are so many difficulties that I am not sure that that would advance the cause of peace.

If the right hon. Lady will allow me, I shall say something about Gaza, because we share her deep concern about what has happened there. It is a tragedy, and it underlines the urgent need to maintain international engagement and the current political processes.

We are also concerned, as is the right hon. Lady, about the welfare of Alan Johnston, the BBC journalist, whose family must be going through the most dreadful time. We condemn the release of the latest video, which can only add further distress to his family and friends. We urge his captors, as I know does the right hon. Lady, to release him immediately. There should be a general release of captives on both sides- Corporal Shalit, the soldiers who were kidnapped by Hezbollah, the councillors and elected parliamentary representatives of the Palestinian people. Now is the time to make such moves, and I hope that after the disaster in Gaza there will be a sense that this historic opportunity should not be missed, and that misery should not be heaped on the existing misery.

I also extend our thanks to the Egyptian Government for initiating the meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh yesterday between President Mubarak and King Abdullah of Jordan, whom I had the privilege of speaking with just last week. He brought to the situation a sharp series of observations, which the right hon. Lady complemented today, and he understands the gravity of the situation. If the west bank statelet-that group of cantons-fails, one wonders where the conflict will spread to next. Jordan, with its huge Palestinian population, would be in grave danger, and King Abdullah is well aware of that. He was at Sharm el-Sheikh, as were Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas.

We welcome Prime Minister Olmert’s statement that he will work, with President Abbas as a true partner, towards the establishment of a two-state solution and the implementation of the road map. There are some positive aspects, but I agree with the right hon. Lady that it is a pretty bleak picture. It is as bleak as I can ever remember it, but the decision by Prime Minister Olmert to transfer the withheld revenues is probably a positive step forward, and we look forward to the implementation of the commitments to increase freedom of movement and expand trade connections in the west bank. Such actions are not rocket science; they can easily be done and they could make a big difference, if only to that family about whom the right hon. Lady spoke, with their crop of aubergines.

Such actions are vital to the Palestinian people, and they have helped to improve the humanitarian and economic situation, which is critical. We welcome Prime Minister Olmert’s pledge to ensure the continued supply of humanitarian aid to Gaza. As the right hon. Lady knows, we have earmarked funding for that project. It does not address the central issue that she has raised today, but there is an immediate humanitarian crisis in Gaza, which the international community must address. It is important that the international community works together to help all Palestinian people.

President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad’s Government have our full support, and we share their aim of restoring security and improving the economic and humanitarian situation. We continue to work with all people, including President Abbas, who are dedicated to a peaceful resolution of the conflict.

The right hon. Lady did not mention this point, because time is always limited in such debates, but President Abbas, among others, has said that there ought to be an international peacekeeping force in Gaza certainly, if not on the west bank. I can see the right hon. Lady shaking her head, and one cannot imagine who would donate the troops to such a force. They would have to fight their way in, there would be bloodshed and mayhem on a huge scale, and quite frankly, I cannot see the idea coming off.

To reinforce what the right hon. Lady said, we must understand the gravity of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, address it and at the same time, urge Israel as
hard as we possibly can to think again about its policy of incorporating Palestinian villages and land within the confines of that wall. As she said, the Israelis have a perfect right to defend themselves, and if they want to build a wall, it is up to them, but it ought to be along the agreed frontier-such as it is-that was defined in 1967. It ought not to encroach on Palestinian territory. 

It is important that we receive such reports in the House. In so many ways, that is what such debates are for-so that we are reminded constantly of the reality of what can sometimes look like great, strategic trends and events on the world stage. However, for the family whom the right hon. Lady described so vividly, the reality is that their lives have been shattered. Many other families’ lives have been, too. I have always considered myself to be a friend of the Palestinian people and the Israeli people. I was brought up in a home in which the dreams of everybody who was interested in the subject were about people living alongside each other peacefully, not even in separate states.

I shall not apportion blame; I have been around too long for that. I have seen the successive invasions of Israel, and what the Israelis have done in an attempt to head off what they perceive as threats to the Israeli heartland, which has usually meant extending territory. My message to the Israelis is simple; if they are to live in peace side by side with their neighbours, the Israelis must help them become viable states with economies that can live in a competitive world. They need the education, skills, infrastructure and wherewithal to do all that, but most important, they need the self-respect and dignity that we enjoy as members of sovereign states.

Clare Short: May I press the Minister to reconsider his view on Israeli access to the EU market? If we invoked the human rights conditionality in that treaty, we would have a lever with which to press Israel to do what he calls for. Does not our failure to use that leverage mean that we are colluding in the breach of international law? Will he reconsider his position on that point?

Dr. Howells: I certainly do not believe that we are colluding in any shape or form. I was going to come to that point, but with respect to the right hon. Lady, “colluding” is certainly the wrong word to use. I know that she chose that word very carefully, but I do not think that it is the right one. I can speak only subjectively from my meeting with other European Ministers. She, too, met her counterparts from the EU and other nations many times. There is at one extreme a sense of hopelessness, which she also described today in a very grim analysis of the situation. I am at the other extreme. I keep telling myself that we have material to work with, and that it is a very small part of the world. What is Gaza? Ten miles wide, and at the most, 35 to 40 miles long. It has a wonderful beach on the Mediterranean, and I remember vividly the first time I ever walked on it, thinking, “Why is this a poor part of the world? Why haven’t people here got any jobs?” It seemed mad to me.

The right hon. Lady expressed the hope that my right hon. Friend the new Prime Minister would take the issue by the scruff of the neck and try to do something with it. She knows that he has been very interested for a very long time in trying to work with the Israelis and the Arab countries in the area to do something about that economy and that infrastructure. I disagree with her about the effect of that general sense of good will towards Israel and Palestine-the desire throughout Europe that there should be a good outcome, and peace and prosperity in the future. In the end, we disagree about whether applying a screw to the Israelis on the question of human rights compliance would achieve a great deal.

We should at every possible opportunity engage the Israelis on human rights and on compliance with their undertakings, which, as a consequence, enable them to enjoy access to the European market. We should talk to them about that, but I have a feeling that there are already far too many strictures on all sides to add another one. It would just create more tension, and we should try to build on what we have, aim for the high ground and figure out how we can get there by engaging with both sides.


Filed under: Blogroll, Gaza, Israel, Middle East, Palestine, Peace, Peace Now, Saudi, Uncategorized — angelajerusalem @ 7:49 am

Jeff Halper

August, 2007

On paper, the headlines sounded promising, even stirring. Prime Minister Olmert, they said, told PA Chairman Abbas in Jericho he would push for establishment of a Palestinian state as “fast as possible” on “the equivalent to 100% of the territories conquered in 1967.” The Palestinians, it was said, would cede just 5% of the West Bank in return for territorial swaps, so Israel would withdraw from 95.6 % of the combined West Bank and Gaza -a figure not including East Jerusalem, which Israel does not consider occupied.  It looked like another “generous offer,” one the Palestinians could not refuse. The problem was, it was too generous for Israel to accept. Some hours after Haaretz’ report, the PM’s Office denied the proposal’s existence. “We do not know of any plan as described in [Ha’aretz’] article,” said the PMO. “We would like to clarify that such a plan has not been considered, nor is it being raised for discussion in any forum.”

So much for that. Yet the proposal is useful to examine as a “best case” scenario. It appears to relinquish almost all the occupied territory to the Palestinians: the maximum that Israel could apparently offer. If it was nothing more than a sophisticated attempt to expand Israeli control to the Jordan River, with no chance of ending the conflict, it provides the best illustration of the futility of basing any peace process on mere transfer of territory rather than viability. The devil, as we know, is in the details.

At issue isn’t a Palestinian state on the equivalent of 100% of the Territories (which, of course, is only 22% of historic Palestine). The issue, as the Road Map specifies, is whether a Palestinian state is truly sovereign and viable; but even the 5% that Israel would retain under the purported plan prevents such a state’s establishment. What makes the difference between a just and lasting peace or apartheid?

Sovereignty: The basis for negotiations, says Olmert, “continues to be the Road Map, which is acceptable to both sides.” True in general, but with major caveats. Phase II of the Road Map is a Palestinian nightmare, and they have constantly pressed for its removal. It calls for establishment of a “transitional” state with “provisional borders.” If all is quiet, they fear, and Israel proclaims a Palestinian state and the end of Occupation, who could guarantee the process would continue to Phase III, where thorny final status details must be negotiated and a real Palestinian state emerge? Their fears are justified – and here’s the “catch.” Israel considers its “14 reservations” integral parts of the Road Map. Reservation #5 states: “The provisional state will have provisional borders and certain aspects of sovereignty, be fully demilitarized…, be without the authority to undertake defense alliances or military cooperation, and Israeli control over the entry and exit of all persons and cargo, as well as of its air space and electromagnetic spectrum.”

Try to square that reservation with the notion of Palestinian sovereignty. Tzipi Livni worked for months on “The Israeli Initiative for a Two-State Solution” based precisely on replacing Phase I (which calls for a freeze on settlement building) with this problematic Phase II. Rice says the Bush Administration will work towards a provisional Palestine, leaving “the details” to the next Administration.

A state has no sovereignty without borders. Added to problems of provisionality, does Olmert intend to grant Palestine unsupervised borders with Jordan? If Israel insists on border control, or the Jordan River is part of the 5% the Palestinians must cede, there is no Palestinian state even if they receive all the territory.   

Viability: Israel could relinquish 95% of the West Bank, yet totally control a Palestinian Bantustan, with no viable economy. If it insists on border control, denying free movement of goods and people, Palestine could not be viable. If that 5% includes a corridor across the West Bank, or Israel keeps Ma’aleh Adumim settlement with its “E-1” corridor to Jerusalem, (destroying territorial contiguity of Palestine), it is non-viable. If it includes Israeli control of all the water resources, it is non-viable. If Jerusalem isn’t fully integrated into Palestine politically, geographically and economically – and I would bet the core of East Jerusalem falls outside the 95% – then Palestine is non-viable. The World Bank suggests Jerusalem accounts for 40% of the Palestinian economy because of tourism, its largest industry.

Meanwhile, Israel’s repeated advancement of territorial-based plans all have the same aim: to perpetuate the settlements, Israeli “greater” Jerusalem and control of the entire land. Until that matrix of control is broken and a real Palestinian state can emerge – if that’s still possible given Israeli “facts on the ground” – we will have to monitor carefully each proposal, to ascertain if it can end the conflict or merely substitute a sophisticated regime of apartheid. Israel’s ongoing settlement construction and commitment to retaining strategic parts of the West Bank and “greater” Jerusalem unfortunately justify a healthy suspicion of Israel’s intentions.

(Jeff Halper is the Coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. He can be reached at

Brit Tzedek Letter to Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice

Filed under: Blogroll, Gaza, Israel, Middle East, Palestine, Peace, Peace Now, Saudi, Uncategorized — angelajerusalem @ 7:45 am

Due to the grave humanitarian situation in Gaza as well as the welcome increase in US engagement in Middle East diplomacy, Brit Tzedek v’Shalom has sent the following letter to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Friday, August 10, 2007.

Related articles are listed below.

Dear Secretary Rice:

On behalf of the 36,000 supporters of Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, the Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace, we write to commend your progress towards the planned international conference on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to express several concerns we hope you will consider as you move forward. Brit Tzedek v’Shalom is a grassroots organization that educates and mobilizes American Jews in support of a negotiated two-state resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The U.S.-led international conference, announced by President Bush in his speech on July 16th and set for this fall, represents a significant step forward on the path to the creation of a viable, contiguous Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. We are optimistic that by involving regional and international players, in particular Saudi Arabia, and by building upon the Arab League Peace Initiative, real progress can be made towards that goal. We welcome your recent statements that the conference will be more than a mere “photo op,” and urge you to ensure the seriousness of its content by including discussion of the most fundamental issues regarding the conflict: borders, settlements, refugees, and Jerusalem.

We further welcome your renewed support for the Palestinian Authority led by President Mahmoud Abbas, by ending the boycott of the P.A. and resuming sorely needed economic, humanitarian and development aid to the Palestinian people. Yet, we are deeply concerned by the U.S. policy, which you reiterated on your most recent trip to the region, to ignore and isolate Hamas. This deepens the divide between Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, undermining the legitimacy and viability of peace negotiations and raising greater risk of attacks on Israel.

Brit Tzedek is gravely concerned by the continued closings of border crossings in and out of Gaza, which exacerbate already desperate economic and humanitarian conditions for a population at risk of becoming virtually 100% aid dependent. The international community has already acknowledged that the hopelessness and despair produced by such conditions, creates a climate ideal for the support of extremist groups. Therefore, in the name of ensuring humanitarian treatment of the Palestinian people, please consider a policy of minimal, pragmatic contact with those Palestinians in control of the Gaza side of these border crossings who may be affiliated with Hamas. Without such contact, we fear a dangerous resurgence of attacks against Israelis and renewed factional violence in Gaza. This approach has also been suggested by former Secretary of State Colin Powell and Efraim Halevy, former chief of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency.

We recognize the complexity of your mission and the many challenges that lie ahead. We thank you for consideration of our message which reflects the input and insights of our national Jewish leadership and grassroots volunteers from communities across America dedicated to the well-being and security of Israel and the United States.

Marcia Freedman

Related Articles

Hamas boycott criticised in UK by Ben Hall and Daniel Dombey. Financial Times. August 12, 2007.
George W. Bush’s Flawed Peace Plan by Shlomo Ben-Ami. Daily Star. August 9, 2007.
Getting Hamas Strategy Right by David Dreilinger and IPF Staff. Israel Policy Forum. August 9, 2007.
UN: Gaza faces economic disaster by Associated Press. Jerusalem Post. August 9, 2007.
Final Status Negotiations Now by MJ Rosenberg. IPF Friday. July 20, 2007.

Brit Tzedek v’Shalom,
The Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace
11 E. Adams Street, Suite 707
Chicago, IL 60603
Phone: (312) 341-1205
Fax: (312) 341-1206

The Great Middle East Peace Process Scam

Filed under: Blogroll, Gaza, Israel, Middle East, Palestine, Peace, Peace Now, Saudi — angelajerusalem @ 7:34 am

LRB | Vol. 29 No. 16 dated 16 August 2007 | Henry Siegman

Henry Siegman

When Ehud Olmert and George W. Bush met at the White House in June, they concluded that Hamas’s violent ousting of Fatah from Gaza – which brought down the Palestinian national unity government brokered by the Saudis in Mecca in March – had presented the world with a new ‘window of opportunity’. (Never has a failed peace process enjoyed so many windows of opportunity.) Hamas’s isolation in Gaza, Olmert and Bush agreed, would allow them to grant generous concessions to the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, giving him the credibility he needed with the Palestinian people in order to prevail over Hamas.

Both Bush and Olmert have spoken endlessly of their commitment to a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, but it is their determination to bring down Hamas rather than to build up a Palestinian state that animates their new-found enthusiasm for making Abbas look good. That is why their expectation that Hamas will be defeated is illusory. Palestinian moderates will never prevail over those considered extremists, since what defines moderation for Olmert is Palestinian acquiescence in Israel’s dismemberment of Palestinian territory. In the end, what Olmert and his government are prepared to offer Palestinians will be rejected by Abbas no less than by Hamas, and will only confirm to Palestinians the futility of Abbas’s moderation and justify its rejection by Hamas. Equally illusory are Bush’s expectations of what will be achieved by the conference he recently announced would be held in the autumn (it has now been downgraded to a ‘meeting’). In his view, all previous peace initiatives have failed largely, if not exclusively, because Palestinians were not ready for a state of their own. The meeting will therefore focus narrowly on Palestinian institution-building and reform, under the tutelage of Tony Blair, the Quartet’s newly appointed envoy.

In fact, all previous peace initiatives have got nowhere for a reason that neither Bush nor the EU has had the political courage to acknowledge. That reason is the consensus reached long ago by Israel’s decision-making elites that Israel will never allow the emergence of a Palestinian state which denies it effective military and economic control of the West Bank. To be sure, Israel would allow – indeed, it would insist on – the creation of a number of isolated enclaves that Palestinians could call a state, but only in order to prevent the creation of a binational state in which Palestinians would be the majority.

The Middle East peace process may well be the most spectacular deception in modern diplomatic history. Since the failed Camp David summit of 2000, and actually well before it, Israel’s interest in a peace process – other than for the purpose of obtaining Palestinian and international acceptance of the status quo – has been a fiction that has served primarily to provide cover for its systematic confiscation of Palestinian land and an occupation whose goal, according to the former IDF chief of staff Moshe Ya’alon, is ‘to sear deep into the consciousness of Palestinians that they are a defeated people’. In his reluctant embrace of the Oslo Accords, and his distaste for the settlers, Yitzhak Rabin may have been the exception to this, but even he did not entertain a return of Palestinian territory beyond the so-called Allon Plan, which allowed Israel to retain the Jordan Valley and other parts of the West Bank.

Anyone familiar with Israel’s relentless confiscations of Palestinian territory – based on a plan devised, overseen and implemented by Ariel Sharon – knows that the objective of its settlement enterprise in the West Bank has been largely achieved. Gaza, the evacuation of whose settlements was so naively hailed by the international community as the heroic achievement of a man newly committed to an honourable peace with the Palestinians, was intended to serve as the first in a series of Palestinian bantustans. Gaza’s situation shows us what these bantustans will look like if their residents do not behave as Israel wants.

Israel’s disingenuous commitment to a peace process and a two-state solution is precisely what has made possible its open-ended occupation and dismemberment of Palestinian territory. And the Quartet – with the EU, the UN secretary general and Russia obediently following Washington’s lead – has collaborated with and provided cover for this deception by accepting Israel’s claim that it has been unable to find a deserving Palestinian peace partner.

Just one year after the 1967 war, Moshe Dayan, a former IDF chief of staff who at the time was minister of defence, described his plan for the future as ‘the current reality in the territories’. ‘The plan,’ he said, ‘is being implemented in actual fact. What exists today must remain as a permanent arrangement in the West Bank.’ Ten years later, at a conference in Tel Aviv, Dayan said: ‘The question is not “What is the solution?” but “How do we live without a solution?”‘ Geoffrey Aronson, who has monitored the settlement enterprise from its beginnings, summarises the situation as follows:

Living without a solution, then as now, was understood by Israel as the key to maximising the benefits of conquest while minimising the burdens and dangers of retreat or formal annexation. This commitment to the status quo, however, disguised a programme of expansion that generations of Israeli leaders supported as enabling, through Israeli settlement, the dynamic transformation of the territories and the expansion of effective Israeli sovereignty to the Jordan River.

In an interview in Ha’aretz in 2004, Dov Weissglas, chef de cabinet to the then prime minister, Ariel Sharon, described the strategic goal of Sharon’s diplomacy as being to secure the support of the White House and Congress for Israeli measures that would place the peace process and Palestinian statehood in ‘formaldehyde’. It is a fiendishly appropriate metaphor: formaldehyde uniquely prevents the deterioration of dead bodies, and sometimes creates the illusion that they are still alive. Weissglas explains that the purpose of Sharon’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, and the dismantling of several isolated settlements in the West Bank, was to gain US acceptance of Israel’s unilateralism, not to set a precedent for an eventual withdrawal from the West Bank. The limited withdrawals were intended to provide Israel with the political room to deepen and widen its presence in the West Bank, and that is what they achieved. In a letter to Sharon, Bush wrote: ‘In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centres, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949.’

In a recent interview in Ha’aretz, James Wolfensohn, who was the Quartet’s representative at the time of the Gaza disengagement, said that Israel and the US had systematically undermined the agreement he helped forge in 2005 between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and had instead turned Gaza into a vast prison. The official behind this, he told Ha’aretz, was Elliott Abrams, the deputy national security adviser. ‘Every aspect’ of the agreement Wolfensohn had brokered ‘was abrogated’.

Another recent interview in Ha’aretz, with Haggai Alon, who was a senior adviser to Amir Peretz at the Ministry of Defence, is even more revealing. Alon accuses the IDF (whose most senior officers increasingly are themselves settlers) of working clandestinely to further the settlers’ interests. The IDF, Alon says, ignores the Supreme Court’s instructions about the path the so-called security fence should follow, instead ‘setting a route that will not enable the establishment of a Palestinian state’. Alon told Ha’aretz that when in 2005 politicians signed an agreement with the Palestinians to ease restrictions on Palestinians travelling in the territories (part of the deal that Wolfensohn had worked on), the IDF eased them for settlers instead. For Palestinians, the number of checkpoints doubled. According to Alon, the IDF is ‘carrying out an apartheid policy’ that is emptying Hebron of Arabs and Judaising (his term) the Jordan Valley, while it co-operates openly with the settlers in an attempt to make a two-state solution impossible.

A new UN map of the West Bank, produced by the Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, gives a comprehensive picture of the situation. Israeli civilian and military infrastructure has rendered 40 per cent of the territory off limits to Palestinians. The rest of the territory, including major population centres such as Nablus and Jericho, is split into enclaves; movement between them is restricted by 450 roadblocks and 70 manned checkpoints. The UN found that what remains is an area very similar to that set aside for the Palestinian population in Israeli security proposals in the aftermath of the 1967 war. It also found that changes now underway to the infrastructure of the territories – including a network of highways that bypass and isolate Palestinian towns – would serve to formalise the de facto cantonisation of the West Bank.

These are the realities on the ground that the uninformed and/or cynical blather in Jerusalem, Washington and Brussels – about waiting for Palestinians to reform their institutions, democratise their culture, dismantle the ‘infrastructures of terror’ and halt all violence and incitement before peace negotiations can begin – seeks to drown out. Given the vast power imbalance between Israel and the Palestinians – not to mention the vast preponderance of diplomatic support enjoyed by Israel from precisely those countries that one would have expected to compensate diplomatically for the military imbalance – nothing will change for the better without the US, the EU and other international actors finally facing up to what have long been the fundamental impediments to peace.

These impediments include the assumption, implicit in Israel’s occupation policy, that if no peace agreement is reached, the ‘default setting’ of UN Security Council Resolution 242 is the indefinite continuation of Israel’s occupation. If this reading were true, the resolution would actually be inviting an occupying power that wishes to retain its adversary’s territory to do so simply by means of avoiding peace talks – which is exactly what Israel has been doing. In fact, the introductory statement to Resolution 242 declares that territory cannot be acquired by war, implying that if the parties cannot reach agreement, the occupier must withdraw to the status quo ante: that, logically, is 242’s default setting. Had there been a sincere intention on Israel’s part to withdraw from the territories, surely forty years should have been more than enough time in which to reach an agreement.

Israel’s contention has long been that since no Palestinian state existed before the 1967 war, there is no recognised border to which Israel can withdraw, because the pre-1967 border was merely an armistice line. Moreover, since Resolution 242 calls for a ‘just and lasting peace’ that will allow ‘every state in the area [to] live in security’, Israel holds that it must be allowed to change the armistice line, either bilaterally or unilaterally, to make it secure before it ends the occupation. This is a specious argument for many reasons, but principally because UN General Assembly Partition Resolution 181 of 1947, which established the Jewish state’s international legitimacy, also recognised the remaining Palestinian territory outside the new state’s borders as the equally legitimate patrimony of Palestine’s Arab population on which they were entitled to establish their own state, and it mapped the borders of that territory with great precision. Resolution 181’s affirmation of the right of Palestine’s Arab population to national self-determination was based on normative law and the democratic principles that grant statehood to the majority population. (At the time, Arabs constituted two-thirds of the population in Palestine.) This right does not evaporate because of delays in its implementation.

In the course of a war launched by Arab countries that sought to prevent the implementation of the UN partition resolution, Israel enlarged its territory by 50 per cent. If it is illegal to acquire territory as a result of war, then the question now cannot conceivably be how much additional Palestinian territory Israel may confiscate, but rather how much of the territory it acquired in the course of the war of 1948 it is allowed to retain. At the very least, if ‘adjustments’ are to be made to the 1949 armistice line, these should be made on Israel’s side of that line, not the Palestinians’.

Clearly, the obstacle to resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict has not been a dearth of peace initiatives or peace envoys. Nor has it been the violence to which Palestinians have resorted in their struggle to rid themselves of Israel’s occupation, even when that violence has despicably targeted Israel’s civilian population. It is not to sanction the murder of civilians to observe that such violence occurs, sooner or later, in most situations in which a people’s drive for national self-determination is frustrated by an occupying power. Indeed, Israel’s own struggle for national independence was no exception. According to the historian Benny Morris, in this conflict it was the Irgun that first targeted civilians. In Righteous Victims, Morris writes that the upsurge of Arab terrorism in 1937 ‘triggered a wave of Irgun bombings against Arab crowds and buses, introducing a new dimension to the conflict.’ While in the past Arabs had ‘sniped at cars and pedestrians and occasionally lobbed a grenade, often killing or injuring a few bystanders or passengers’, now ‘for the first time, massive bombs were placed in crowded Arab centres, and dozens of people were indiscriminately murdered and maimed.’ Morris notes that ‘this “innovation” soon found Arab imitators.’

Underlying Israel’s efforts to retain the occupied territories is the fact that it has never really considered the West Bank as occupied territory, despite its pro forma acceptance of that designation. Israelis see the Palestinian areas as ‘contested’ territory to which they have claims no less compelling than the Palestinians, international law and UN resolutions notwithstanding. This is a view that was made explicit for the first time by Sharon in an op-ed essay published on the front page of the New York Times on 9 June 2002. The use of the biblical designations of Judea and Samaria to describe the territories, terms which were formerly employed only by the Likud but are now de rigueur for Labour Party stalwarts as well, is a reflection of a common Israeli view. That the former prime minister Ehud Barak (now Olmert’s defence minister) endlessly describes the territorial proposals he made at the Camp David summit as expressions of Israel’s ‘generosity’, and never as an acknowledgment of Palestinian rights, is another example of this mindset. Indeed, the term ‘Palestinian rights’ seems not to exist in Israel’s lexicon.

The problem is not, as Israelis often claim, that Palestinians do not know how to compromise. (Another former prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, famously complained that ‘Palestinians take and take while Israel gives and gives.’) That is an indecent charge, since the Palestinians made much the most far-reaching compromise of all when the PLO formally accepted the legitimacy of Israel within the 1949 armistice border. With that concession, Palestinians ceded their claim to more than half the territory that the UN’s partition resolution had assigned to its Arab inhabitants. They have never received any credit for this wrenching concession, made years before Israel agreed that Palestinians had a right to statehood in any part of Palestine. The notion that further border adjustments should be made at the expense of the 22 per cent of the territory that remains to the Palestinians is deeply offensive to them, and understandably so.

Nonetheless, the Palestinians agreed at the Camp David summit to adjustments to the pre-1967 border that would allow large numbers of West Bank settlers – about 70 per cent – to remain within the Jewish state, provided they received comparable territory on Israel’s side of the border. Barak rejected this. To be sure, in the past the Palestinian demand of a right of return was a serious obstacle to a peace agreement. But the Arab League’s peace initiative of 2002 leaves no doubt that Arab countries will accept a nominal and symbolic return of refugees into Israel in numbers approved by Israel, with the overwhelming majority repatriated in the new Palestinian state, their countries of residence, or in other countries prepared to receive them.

It is the failure of the international community to reject (other than in empty rhetoric) Israel’s notion that the occupation and the creation of ‘facts on the ground’ can go on indefinitely, so long as there is no agreement that is acceptable to Israel, that has defeated all previous peace initiatives and the efforts of all peace envoys. Future efforts will meet the same fate if this fundamental issue is not addressed.

What is required for a breakthrough is the adoption by the Security Council of a resolution affirming the following: 1. Changes to the pre-1967 situation can be made only by agreement between the parties. Unilateral measures will not receive international recognition. 2. The default setting of Resolution 242, reiterated by Resolution 338, the 1973 ceasefire resolution, is a return by Israel’s occupying forces to the pre-1967 border. 3. If the parties do not reach agreement within 12 months (the implementation of agreements will obviously take longer), the default setting will be invoked by the Security Council. The Security Council will then adopt its own terms for an end to the conflict, and will arrange for an international force to enter the occupied territories to help establish the rule of law, assist Palestinians in building their institutions, assure Israel’s security by preventing cross-border violence, and monitor and oversee the implementation of terms for an end to the conflict.

If the US and its allies were to take a stand forceful enough to persuade Israel that it will not be allowed to make changes to the pre-1967 situation except by agreement with the Palestinians in permanent status negotiations, there would be no need for complicated peace formulas or celebrity mediators to get a peace process underway. The only thing that an envoy such as Blair can do to put the peace process back on track is to speak the truth about the real impediment to peace. This would also be a historic contribution to the Jewish state, since Israel’s only hope of real long-term security is to have a successful Palestinian state as its neighbour.

Henry Siegman, the director of the US/ Middle East Project, served as a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations from 1994 to 2006, and was head of the American Jewish Congress from 1978 to 1994.

George W. Bush’s Flawed Peace Plan

Filed under: Blogroll, Gaza, Israel, Middle East, Palestine, Peace, Peace Now, Saudi, Uncategorized — angelajerusalem @ 7:01 am

Shlomo Ben-Ami
August 09, 2007

That a summit in Damascus of the Middle East’s “axis of evil” – Iran, Hizbullah, Syria and Hamas – was convened immediately following President George W. Bush’s call for a conference of “moderates” to promote an Israeli-Palestinian peace demonstrated once again how intertwined the region’s problems are. The Damascus meeting reflected Iran’s view of Israeli-Arab peace as a major strategic threat, because it would condemn Iran to isolation in a hostile Arab environment free of its conflict with Israel. The Iranians also sought the meeting to forge an alliance against a possible attack by the United States against their country’s nuclear installations.

America has always known that the Middle East’s problems are interconnected, but for years it got its priorities wrong because it failed to see that if there was an Archimedean point to the Middle East problem, it was to be found in the Palestinian issue, not the “war on terror,” Iraq, or the need for Arab democracy. It took Bush six years of wrongheaded policies to finally admit that “Iraq is not the only pivotal matter in the Middle East.

Bush’s initiative is a last-ditch effort to salvage America’s position in a region where it is on the defensive on all fronts. It is especially ironic that, in stark contrast to his own rhetoric, Bush’s call for a Middle East peace conference is a call to wage war against the party, Hamas, that won a democratic election, and to make peace with the loser, Fatah.

Nevertheless, Bush’s initiative is not devoid of virtue. He has finally acknowledged the failure of the “road map,” and hence the need to skip interim stages and move directly to a final settlement between Israelis and Palestinians. Moreover, both he and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice were unusually blunt in warning Israel that its future does not lie in “continued occupation of the West Bank.” Bush also came as close as he could to endorsing former President Bill Clinton’s peace plan by affirming that “the borders of the past, the realities of the present, and agreed changes” will define his two-state solution.

But Bush’s strategy suffers from serious inconsistencies. The conference ground rules exclude radical forces – Syria and Hamas – thus encouraging them to persist in their role as spoilers. It is a fantasy to believe that peace can be concluded without the radicals’ participation. As long as Hamas and Syria are left out of the US-led peace process, they are condemned to remaining in Iran’s orbit.

The Saudis certainly have an interest in supporting this last-ditch American attempt for an Israeli-Palestinian peace, especially now that, for the first time ever, Israel has refrained from opposing an arms deal between the US and Saudi Arabia. The common fear of Iran is a major consideration here. However, Saudi Arabia’s willingness to participate in the conference might come with a price too high for Israel to pay: an endorsement of the Saudi peace initiative. This is the reason US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was cautious in her reaction to the Saudis’ ambiguous acceptance of their invitation to attend the conference.

Bush was right to call on friendly Arab states to contribute to an Israeli-Palestinian peace. But how much leverage can he apply when they are so badly needed for his “war on terror” and for containing Iran? Though certainly a welcome new idea, Bush’s call for Egypt and Jordan to replace Israel as the gateway for Palestinian exports is most likely to be resisted. For these “moderate” American allies, peace is about Israeli concessions, not about pulling Israel’s chestnuts out of the fire, certainly as long as it refuses to endorse the Arab peace plan.

The current American initiative sounds reasonable, but it is essentially unrealistic. Tony Blair, the new envoy of the Quartet (the US, the European Union, the United Nations, and Russia), has called for a “conference with substance.” But Israel will be required to engage in peace talks only if the Palestinians crack down on terrorism – that is, risk another Fatah-Hamas civil war – and eliminate corruption.

Such a sequence – and a conference whose harmless aim is “to review progress toward building Palestinian institutions, look for ways to support further reforms, and support the effort going on between the parties” – fits perfectly with the Israeli view. But Palestinian militias have shown time and again that they will not give up the armed struggle before they see a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders, with Arab Jerusalem as its capital.

This is the fundamental pitfall of a strategy based on driving a wedge between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ “moderates” and Hamas’ “extremists.” If Abbas is to prevail, it will not be through “gestures” or a process focusing on “institution building,” however important these may be. Nothing less than a full-fledged peace agreement that meets the fundamental aspirations of Palestinian nationalism is likely to give him the popular legitimacy needed to confront the radicals.

Shlomo Ben-Ami is a former Israeli foreign minister who now serves as the vice-president of the Toledo Center for Peace. He is the author of Scars of War, Wounds of Peace: The Israeli-Arab Tragedy.”

August 2, 2007

The Apostate

Filed under: Blogroll, Gaza, Israel, Middle East, Palestine, Peace, Peace Now, Saudi, Uncategorized — angelajerusalem @ 1:07 am

A Zionist politician loses faith in the future.
by David Remnick
July 30, 2007
“People are not willing to admit it, but Israel has reached the wall,” Avrum Burg says.

The self-regard of Israelis is built, in no small part, around a sense of sang-froid, and yet few would deny that the past year was deeply unnerving. Last July, Israel launched an aerial attack on Lebanon designed to destroy the arsenal of the radical Islamist group Hezbollah, the Party of God, and force its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, to return two kidnapped soldiers and end its cross-border rocket attacks. “If the soldiers are not returned,” Dan Halutz, the Israeli Army’s chief of staff, said at the time, “we will turn Lebanon’s clock back twenty years.” Israel bombed the runways of the Beirut airport, the Beirut-Damascus highway, and numerous towns, mainly in the south; Hezbollah, from a network of guerrilla installations and tunnel networks worthy of the Vietcong, launched some four thousand rockets, mainly Katyushas, at cities in northern Israel. Israel degraded Hezbollah’s military capabilities, at least temporarily, but there was no victory. Hezbollah survived and, in the eyes of the Islamic world, in doing so won; Nasrallah emerged as an iconic hero; and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, one of his sponsors, called yet again for the elimination of Israel from the map of the Middle East. Halutz, who had dumped all his stocks on the eve of the war, resigned, and Ehud Olmert, the Israeli Prime Minister, saw his approval rating fall to as low as two per cent.

More recently, Hezbollah’s ideological ally in Palestine, Hamas—the Islamic Resistance Movement—led a violent uprising in the Gaza Strip, overwhelming its secular rival, Fatah. Suddenly, Israel, backed by the United States, found itself propping up the Fatah leadership, in order not to lose the West Bank to Hamas as well. Not even the ceremonial office of the Israeli Presidency was immune from the year’s disasters: a few weeks ago, President Moshe Katsav agreed to plead guilty to multiple sexual offences and resign, lest he face trial for rape. Despite a resilient, even booming economy, peace and stability have rarely seemed so distant.

In this atmosphere of post-traumatic gloom, Avraham Burg, a former Speaker of the Knesset, managed to inflame the Israeli public (left, right, and center) with little more than an interview in the liberal daily Ha’aretz, promoting his recent book, “Defeating Hitler.” Short of being Prime Minister, Burg could not be higher in the Zionist establishment. His father was a Cabinet minister for nearly four decades, serving under Prime Ministers from David Ben-Gurion to Shimon Peres. In addition to a decade-long career in the Knesset, including four years as Speaker, Burg had also been leader of the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency for Israel. And yet he did not obey the commands of pedigree. “Defeating Hitler” and an earlier book, “God Is Back,” are, in combination, a despairing look at the Israeli condition. Burg warns that an increasingly large and ardent sector of Israeli society disdains political democracy. He describes the country in its current state as Holocaust-obsessed, militaristic, xenophobic, and, like Germany in the nineteen-thirties, vulnerable to an extremist minority.

Burg’s interlocutor for the Ha’aretz article was Ari Shavit, a writer well known in Israel for his confrontational interviews and his cerebral opinion articles. (His Profile of Ariel Sharon, “The General,” appeared in these pages in January, 2006.) Shavit’s interviewing style is aggressive and moralistic—not so distant, at times, from Oriana Fallaci’s in her prime. Politically, he is left of center, but, in the view of some to his left, he has seemed apocalyptic of late, warning darkly of the “existential” threats against Israel. In the preface to the interview, Shavit declared himself “outraged” by Burg’s book: “I saw it as one-dimensional and an unempathetic attack on the Israeli experience.”

The Israeli political world is unfailingly intimate. Shavit, who is forty-nine, and Burg, who is fifty-two, met twenty-five years ago, when they were both protesting against Israel’s first war in Lebanon. After the massacre of hundreds of Palestinians by Israel’s allies among the Christian Phalangists in 1982, Burg gave a powerful speech before four hundred thousand people at an anti-war demonstration in Tel Aviv—the biggest rally in the history of Israel. This was his entrance into public life. “Because Avrum was a lefty and a religious Jew who wore a kippa, he really stood out among the left-wing speakers,” Shavit told me. “That gave him a very specific role in our society, and he played it extremely well.” Whatever remained of the relationship between Burg and Shavit frayed badly when they met for their interview. After Burg described Israel as a perpetually “frightened society,” the discussion quickly grew tense:

SHAVIT: You are patronizing and supercilious, Avrum. You have no empathy for Israelis. You treat the Israeli Jew as a paranoid. But, as the cliché goes, some paranoids really are persecuted. On the day we are speaking, Ahmadinejad is saying that our days are numbered. He promises to eradicate us. No, he is not Hitler. But he is also not a mirage. He is a true threat. He is the real world—a world you ignore.
BURG: I say that as of this moment Israel is a state of trauma in nearly every one of its dimensions. And it’s not just a theoretical question. Would our ability to cope with Iran not be much better if we renewed in Israel the ability to trust the world? Would it not be more right if we didn’t deal with the problem on our own but, rather, as part of a world alignment beginning with the Christian churches, going on to the governments and finally the armies? Instead, we say we do not trust the world, they will abandon us, and here’s Chamberlain returning from Munich with the black umbrella and we will bomb them alone.

Burg has a fairly standard left-leaning view of the Palestinian question: even now, with Hamas in control of Gaza, the longer Israel delays in coming to terms with a sovereign Palestinian state, the more Palestinian society will radicalize and embrace maximalist, jihadi ideologies, and the more Israeli society will lose its moral sense. But some of the views that Burg expressed in the interview were far from standard. He told Shavit that civil disobedience would have been preferable to the uprising in the Warsaw ghetto and that Israel should give up its nuclear weaponry in exchange for an unspecified “deal” with its Arab neighbors. Israel’s “law of return,” which allows any Jew around the world to immigrate and become a citizen, was “dynamite” in the Arab world, he said, and needed to be reëvaluated. One subject that especially infuriated Shavit, and provoked countless letters to the editor, e-mail screeds, and editorial-page rebuttals, was Burg’s depiction of the European Union as an almost irresistibly attractive “biblical utopia” and his flouting of the fact that he holds a French passport, because his wife is French-born, and voted in the recent French elections. When Shavit asked Burg if he recommended that all Israelis acquire a second passport, Burg replied, “Whoever can”—a moment of determined cosmopolitanism. Shavit sarcastically called Burg “the prophet of Brussels.” He went on:

SHAVIT: There really is a deep anti-Zionist pattern in you. Emotionally, you are with German Jewry and American Jewry. They excite you, thrill you, and by comparison you find the Zionist option crude and spiritually meagre. It broadens neither the heart nor the soul.

BURG: Yes, yes. The Israeli reality is not exciting. People are not willing to admit it, but Israel has reached the wall. Ask your friends if they are certain their children will live here. How many will say yes? At most fifty per cent. In other words, the Israeli élite has already parted with this place. And without an élite there is no nation.

SHAVIT: You are saying that we are suffocating here for lack of spirit.

BURG: Totally. We are already dead. We haven’t received the news yet, but we are dead. It doesn’t work anymore. It doesn’t work. . . . There is no one to talk to here. The religious community of which I was a part—I feel no sense of belonging to it. The secular community—I am not part of it, either. I have no one to talk to. I am sitting with you and you don’t understand me, either.

This was not the first time that Burg had outraged some of his countrymen. In 2003, when Hamas was carrying out a suicide-bombing campaign, he published an article in the mass-circulation daily Yedioth Ahronoth (which was republished worldwide), saying, “Israel, having ceased to care about the children of the Palestinians, should not be surprised when they come washed in hatred and blow themselves up in the centers of Israeli escapism.” That statement caused a sensation not only because of the offices Burg held but also because of his ambitions. “Once I wanted very much to be prime minister,” he admitted to Shavit. “It burned like fire in my bones.” He allowed that he had been living “a lie” while he was in government. “I was not myself.” Now he was very much himself, a man with multiple identities, “beyond Israeli,” a universal humanist.

In Ha’aretz, Burg was prepared to explore his spiritual options and defend his quest for material well-being. Even as he lamented lost values, he made no apologies for going to court to retain the perks of his old job (particularly a chauffeur-driven jeep) or for his desire to leave behind public service for business. “Life is not just to be a pioneer with a hoe and a bold fighter at Lions Gate,” he said. “Life is also to be a merchant in Warsaw. Unequivocally, that is a richer totality in life.”

Soon after the interview was published, Otniel Schneller, a Knesset member from Ehud Olmert’s centrist Kadima Party, said that when Burg dies he should be denied burial in the special section of Mt. Herzl National Cemetery, in Jerusalem, reserved for national leaders. “He had better search for a grave in another country,” Schneller said. One letter to the Jerusalem Post compared Burg to young people who, after military service, go off to India to find their spiritual selves in an ashram. “Yesteryear, Burg would have been disowned as at least a lunatic,” the columnist Sarah Honig wrote in the same paper. “The grave danger is that today he gives voice and lends insidious quasi-respectability to what was heretofore unutterable. By tomorrow, the uncontrollable infestation he spreads might confer outright legitimacy on Israel’s delegitimatization.” If and when Israel’s borders changed, Honig continued, “Burg probably won’t stick around to risk the ensuing slaughter. The new Wandering Jew will pack his sinister seeds and propagate his wicked wandering weeds from afar.”

My own unscientific survey suggested that criticism of Burg was, with few exceptions, general and crossed ideological lines. Conservatives like the former Likud adviser Dore Gold said that Burg’s analysis was “dead wrong: what we used to call crum pshat—twisted interpretation—in the Yeshiva world.” A range of prominent political and cultural figures on the left—Yossi Beilin, the chairman of the Meretz-Yachad Party; Shulamit Aloni, a feminist and a former education minister; A. B. Yehoshua and Meir Shalev, both well-known novelists; and the peace activist Janet Aviad and the philosopher Avishai Margalit, a founder of Peace Now—expressed a familial disgust, or worse, for their wayward brother. They sensed in him a kind of undergraduate universalism, a table talk at once snobbish and half-baked. Burg’s remarks about Edenic Europe and his French passport were hypocritical, a particularly Israeli form of bad taste at a time when it could least be tolerated. “For the so-called head of the Zionist movement to say all this—to say, ‘Get another passport for your kids,’ ” Avishai Margalit said to me. “It’s like the Pope giving sex tips.”

“Avrum is a friend, but I felt what most people felt—that, beyond the ideological debate, there is something profoundly wrong in his character,” Yossi Klein Halevi, a writer, said. “You don’t take all the perks of the Zionist movement and refuse to relinquish them and then repudiate the most cherished notions of Zionism at the same time. There’s something smarmy about it. He is so totally out of touch with Israeli reality that I’m appalled that he ever had any positions of Israeli authority. That interview really destroyed him, or he destroyed himself.”

Avrum Burg lives with his wife in the tiny village of Nataf, in the hills west of Jerusalem. They have six children, all grown. Burg’s bungalow is surrounded by shrubbery, desert blooms, bougainvillea, and a tiny lawn. The Israeli Arab village of Abu Ghosh is a few minutes down the road, and the border with the West Bank is little more than a thousand yards away. The house in Nataf is quiet except for the mewling of cats, whinnying horses, and the attention-beseeching barks of Burg’s dog, Buling, who is missing his left hind leg. The dog, Burg explained, lost the leg when, on patrol with one of Burg’s sons in the West Bank city of Nablus, he leaped at a Palestinian gunman just as he was firing his gun. “Buling saved my son’s life,” Burg said, “so we had to adopt him.”

Burg is a vegetarian, and fit; he has taken up marathon running. He is nearly bald, and wears a small knit yarmulke. Normally, this is the yarmulke of the modern Orthodox, though Burg seemed eager to emphasize his disaffection from all things Orthodox; he told me of his affinity for B’nai Jeshurun, a synagogue on New York’s Upper West Side where some of the rabbis are women and the sermons are as likely to quote Martin Luther King as Maimonides. “My alliance with the people at B’nai Jeshurun,” he said, “is much more immediate and intensive and important for me than my alliance with my nephew or my cousin, who lives two kilometres away in the West Bank, a fundamentalist settler.”

Burg comes from a conservative Zionist family; his father helped found Mafdal, the National Religious Party. But when he started out in politics he joined the Labor Party; he was deeply influenced by Yeshayahu Leibowitz, a scientist and philosophy professor at Hebrew University who had contempt for the Greater Israel movement’s conflation of religion and politics and the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Leibowitz referred to abusive Israeli soldiers as “Judeo-Nazis” and was so upset by the sight of the festivities around the Western Wall after the Six-Day War that he referred to it as a “disco wall.” In the pursuit of increasingly higher offices, Burg avoided such language. He held back, he self-censored. “You’re into the system,” he said. “You’re in the tunnel. I was a devoted politician and so I talked the talk.”

But then, he said, “after some fifteen, twenty years in political life I had a feeling all of a sudden that, to use the Biblical term, Israel was the kingdom without prophesy. I realized that the three founding narratives of the national idea of Israeliness were over: the mass immigration to the land, aliyah; the security of the land; and the settling of the land. All three had served their purpose and were no longer the core of the nation’s narratives. I asked myself what was the alternative. This was a long process of thought. I didn’t feel that the political system in Israel was trying to renew its thinking.”

In 2001, Burg attempted to succeed Ehud Barak as leader of the Labor Party and lost. Thwarted, if not entirely humbled, he quit the Knesset in 2004. At one point in the last months of his political life, he said, “I went on a very long walk on the Appalachian Trail. I went for five weeks and crossed half the state of Connecticut, the whole state of New York, and half the state of New Jersey. I saw maybe twelve people, none of them Jewish—for the first time in my life. I did a lot of thinking, and I realized that I had to change the pace of my life.”

In “Defeating Hitler,” Burg writes that one of the most dispiriting aspects of Israeli political conversation is the constant reference point of the slaughter of six million Jews in the nineteen-forties. “The most optimistic years in the state of Israel were 1945 to 1948,” he said to me. “The farther we got from the camps and the gas chambers, the more pessimistic we became and the more untrusting we became toward the world. It was a shock to me. Didn’t we, the politicians, feed the public? Didn’t we cheapen the sanctity of the Holocaust by using it about everything? Some people say, ‘Occupation? You call this occupation? This is nothing compared to the absolute evil of the Holocaust!’ And if it is nothing compared to the Holocaust then you can continue. And since nothing, thank God, is comparable to the ultimate trauma it legitimatizes many things.” Burg said that contemporary Israelis “are not at the stage to be sensitive enough to what happens to others and in many ways are too indifferent to the suffering of others. We confiscated, we monopolized, world suffering. We did not allow anybody else to call whatever suffering they have ‘holocaust’ or ‘genocide,’ be it Armenians, be it Kosovo, be it Darfur.

“In the last years, Israeliness has confined itself for itself only and lost interest almost for what happens in the world,” he went on. “For me, Israel is shrinking into its own shell rather than struggling for a better world. Who is responsible for identity? The ultraOrthodox. They sit in the yeshivot”—the religious schools. “Who is responsible for our fundamental relation to the soil? The settlers. The two tribes responsible for the spiritual dimension and the territorial dimension are anti-modern Israel.”

Burg is ambivalent about the kind of support that the Israeli government has traditionally received from the United States government and the American Jewish community. His views, in fact, are not far from those expressed in a controversial article published last year in the London Review of Books, by Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, denouncing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) for subordinating American policy to Israeli interests and, by doing so, radicalizing public opinion in the Arab world.

“Can you imagine the European Union with a lobby or a PAC for the Knesset?” Burg said. “Maybe this was O.K. in the early fifties, but today I don’t need it.” He would prefer that Israel take no financial aid from the United States: “I don’t like it. A state like mine should live on its own means.” What Israel does need from its superpower ally is the impetus to move forward on negotiations with the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world, no matter how paralyzed, fractured, and desperate the situation now appears. A purposeful American President, he said, can always push forward even the most conservative Israeli Prime Minister. “Even Yitzhak Shamir shlepped to Madrid” for a peace conference in 1991, he said. “Israel needs dramatic decisions, like de Gaulle giving up Algeria.”

The longer Israel waits to resolve the Palestinian question, Burg said, the more intractable the problem becomes and the more deeply it scars the psyches of both sides. In towns near Gaza, like Sderot, the political outcry is not for peace talks but for military action. Among some right-wing Israeli politicians, there is open talk of schemes to “transfer” Palestinians to Jordan or other neighboring Arab countries, and this alarms Burg: “You hear the conversation in the Knesset, you hear it in the public, you see the graffiti ‘Arabs out’—like Juden raus. I don’t care all that much about the right-wing hoodlum who writes the graffiti so much as I do the municipalities that don’t erase it. The seeds of national chauvinism are here and flourishing. Of course, I can understand all the fears—can you imagine an American kid hit by a foreign rocket in Chevy Chase? Can you imagine the hysteria? I’ve watched Jack Bauer very closely. ‘24’ iconizes the fears of America. So if this seems right in Los Angeles it must be right in Sderot.”

Although Burg is now trying to make a living as a businessman, there are those who think that “Defeating Hitler” is an attempt to reënter the political discussion and, eventually, the electoral arena. And, in fact, Burg’s views on some issues, if not his language, are in keeping with the Israeli mainstream. Even now, with Palestinian politics in chaos, around two-thirds of Israelis, and almost as many Palestinians, are ready to accept a two-state solution—an independent Palestine in Gaza and the West Bank with part of Jerusalem as its capital. What Ari Shavit and so many others are less willing to accept is Burg’s harsh diagnosis of “Israeliness.”

“The comparison with pre-Nazi Germany is absurd,” Shavit said over lunch one afternoon in Jerusalem. “Also, Israel was much more militaristic in the old days. I don’t like the role of generals in political life, and I regret the lack of a Truman to restrain the influence of generals—a tough, decent civilian who understands the need to use power but who is decisive in controlling the Army. But there is nothing here of that Junker tradition or even anything like America’s military élites and academies. Israelis live in an open, free society with a very free spirit, even verging on anarchy. To describe us as a Bismarckian state with expansionist chauvinism—if there was a grain of truth to that, it was thirty years ago! Soldiers here take off their uniforms as soon as they come home. They’re not proud of their uniforms or their ranks. Wearing a uniform doesn’t get you girls.” There are anti-Arab racists in Israel, he added, but nothing like those in Burg’s favorite part of the world. “There are actual racist parties in Continental Europe that are far more powerful than any of the sickening elements here,” Shavit said. “There is no chance that an Israeli Day parade will draw as many as the number of people who came out for the Gay Pride parade in Tel Aviv. So to describe this as a Prussian Sparta is ridiculous.”

One morning, Shavit and I drove south to Sderot, which is surely the most anxious—and Burg-resistant—town in Israel. Sderot is a “development town,” one of many towns that began as absorption sites in the nineteen-fifties for “Oriental” Jews, mainly religious and poor, from Morocco, Algeria, and other Muslim countries. More recently, many immigrants from the former Soviet Union, who are generally low-income and politically conservative, have moved to such towns. Sderot, with a population of twenty-four thousand, is the closest Israeli town to the Gaza Strip—about half a mile from Beit Hanoun, just over the border. Since 2001, Sderot has been hit by nearly five thousand homemade Qassam missiles launched from Beit Hanoun by Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and other groups. Qassams are extremely inaccurate, but they have exacted a toll, especially psychologically. The rockets have killed eleven Israelis in Sderot—far fewer than the Gazans who have been killed by Israeli F-16s, helicopter gunships, and troops—and have succeeded in terrorizing the town. In the second half of May, when hundreds of rockets fell on Sderot, eighty per cent of the population evacuated, according to city officials.

The mayor, Eli Moyal, a rangy, chain-smoking Moroccan who has been called the Rudy Giuliani of Israel by his admirers, has demanded that the Olmert government take more severe military actions against Gaza and has denounced the leadership for failing to spend enough on shelters. The shelter problem has been addressed by Arcadi Gaydamak, one of the most mysterious figures in Israel. He is a Russian-born, multi-passport-holding billionaire oligarch who is wanted in France for tax evasion and for making illegal arms deals with Angola. (He has denied any wrongdoing.) Gaydamak has provided temporary housing for residents from Sderot during heavy periods of attack, and last summer, during the war with Hezbollah, he underwrote a tent village on the beach in Nitzanim for people fleeing the shelling in towns in northern Israel. Gaydamak recently bought Beitar Jerusalem, the popular soccer team supported by the city’s political conservatives, and used his money to improve its roster. Last year, he offered the people of Sderot free vacations to the beach resort of Eilat; and he has even talked—in Russian and English; he speaks almost no Hebrew—about running for mayor of Jerusalem.

When I asked Moyal about Gaydamak, he took a long drag on his cigarette, with such force that he burned it to the filter.

“Aaacchh,” he said, exhaling at last. “Don’t make me talk too much about . . . him.” The Gaydamak phenomenon was evidence of a failed government. Nor was Moyal pleased, he said, to have received a gift of more than two million dollars from an American evangelical group for the purpose of reinforcing buildings against rocket attacks. Moyal came to office hoping to build schools, and he has ended up on the borderline of what is widely known in Israel as “Hamastan.” Even as the Israeli government, along with the United States, tries to bolster the Fatah president, Mahmoud Abbas, in the West Bank, with funds and diplomatic blandishments, Hamas has an absolute hold over Gaza.

“Look,” Moyal said. “Hamas wants to empty Sderot. If we experience a hundred rockets a day—and Hamas says it has ten thousand rockets in its arsenal—no one will stay, and Hamas will be able to show the world that it can beat Israel with its primitive arms. It’s so simple: make Hamas pay a price for this. But the Israeli reaction is nothing. And if Sderot collapses this will be the end of Israel. Then Hamas will reach Ashdod,” ten miles farther north. “And then what? Evacuate Ashdod, a city of two hundred thousand people? Imagine if they start launching rockets from Judea and Samaria”—the West Bank—“and they hit Tel Aviv.”

Moyal said that if the United States could send troops thousands of miles to Afghanistan to fight Al Qaeda and the Taliban, Olmert could surely order a more decisive force into Gaza. Sharon’s unilateral disengagement, in August, 2005, he said, had been a disaster: Hamas controlled Gaza and the Qassams had not stopped. “The big mistake is that this was all for nothing. At the time, the defense minister under Sharon, Shaul Mofaz, said that if after disengagement there was just one Qassam Gaza City would be shut down. We’ve had a few thousand rockets since then.”

Moyal expressed disgust for the generation of Israeli politicians now in their forties and fifties—not least Avraham Burg—and said that it was because of their failure that “we are living in a retro age,” in which the emerging contenders for Prime Minister are two former Prime Ministers: Barak, of Labor, and, Moyal’s preference, Benjamin Netanyahu, of Likud.

Later, Moyal took me to the police station where the municipality stores debris from the missiles that have fallen on Sderot. About a hundred of the rockets—twisted metal tubes, thicker ones by Hamas, thinner by Islamic Jihad—lay on a set of shelves. “Here is the latest harvest!” he said, as if the distorted metal were a rack of prize melons. The police paint the date on the rockets the day they fall. Moyal pointed to one from the previous morning, which exploded in a scrubby field on the edge of town. “This is yesterday’s, fresh from the oven.”

Nearby, in a tiny office, a few young Army technicians monitored a series of computer screens. They were getting satellite information from surveillance cameras, including cameras mounted on a blimp that hovers above Gaza. More than ninety per cent of the time, when rockets are launched toward Sderot from Gaza, the system, called Red Dawn, picks up their flight and an alarm sounds throughout the town.

“You have about fifteen seconds to take cover,” Moyal said.

Most Israelis believe that the occupation of Arab lands is untenable, and they also wonder how, when both Palestinian and Israeli politics have degenerated, the economy has soared. The Tel Aviv stock-exchange index has gone up two hundred and ten per cent in the past four years.

In the coming months, it may turn out that the most important constituency applying pressure to the Israeli government to engage the Palestinians in diplomatic negotiations will be not the activists or the left wing of the Labor Party but, rather, the entrepreneurs and managers who run such successful companies as Teva, Check Point, and Iscar. According to Bernard Avishai, a consulting editor with Harvard Business Review and the author of “The Tragedy of Zionism,” the business élites know that political unrest and, of course, potential war on any front threatens their interests. Those same businessmen are also wary of the most right-wing sector of society: the thirty-eight per cent of the Jewish population that wants the state to be run by religious law, and the thirty per cent that wants Yigal Amir, the assassin of Yitzhak Rabin, to be pardoned.

“The continued success of the economy depends on global companies being willing to let Israeli companies into their networks,” Avishai told me over lunch in Jerusalem. “If Israel collapses into chaos—if the Lebanon war had been six months instead of one—that could all end.”

Olmert and the two leading contenders to succeed him, Netanyahu and Barak, differ politically, but they are all closely connected to the business élites, and they can easily see that, decades after the country left behind its old semi-socialist pioneer economy for a modern one, it cannot afford to let its most educated and entrepreneurial young people leave for Europe and the United States. Avishai said that about a third of forty-five business and law students he taught a few years ago at the Interdisciplinary Center, in Herzliya, now live abroad, and many of them may never return. According to a study by the Institute for Economic and Social Policy at the Shalem Center, in Jerusalem, Israel is the world’s largest exporter of intellectual capital to the United States.

“Will the young people take the job offer in London from Goldman Sachs or will they stay here and wait for the missiles to fall?” Avishai said. “The question is, is this a good enough place to come back to when they are married and have children? Finally, the Israeli government has to confront its own crazies and create a national consensus on democratic ideals, enact a secular constitution, and really confront the settlers. So far, the government is only willing to say that it is making ‘painful’ moves. We are told that we have to grieve with the settlers, think about making deals, but quietly let on that we actually think these are the real Israeli pioneers. Bullshit. Avrum Burg might not express the need to change in the most effective way, but at least he has the courage to insist on it.” ♦


Fury As Israeli Textbook Admits Expulsions

Filed under: Blogroll, Gaza, Israel, Middle East, Palestine, Peace, Peace Now, Saudi, Uncategorized — angelajerusalem @ 12:54 am


ISRAELI right-wingers are furious at the acknowledgement in a new schoolbook that Palestinians were forcibly expelled when Israel was established in 1948.
They claim it undermines Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish nation state.
Zevulun Orlev, the leader of the National Religious Party, called on the education minister, Yuli Tamir, to step down after she gave the go-ahead for the new textbook, which is much more honest about the 1948 war than many Israelis are.

“Some of the Arab residents were forced to leave their houses and some were expelled and became refugees in the neighbouring Arab countries,” the book says.
The book says that what for Jews was a fight for Israeli independence was for Arabs “a catastrophe, a war of disaster and loss”.

The departure from the official Israeli version that all Palestinians ran away during the 1948 fighting rather than being evicted, as many were, comes in a book called Living Together in Israel that is being introduced into schools among Israel’s Arab minority this September.

Ms Tamir, a founder of the Peace Now movement and veteran Labour party MP, said the book “gives a balanced picture that enables the Arab pupil to read about his story.
One shouldn’t expect that the Arab student will connect with a text that says the state of Israel was born and everyone danced in the streets”.

Taleb al-Sanaa, an Arab MP, termed the new text “a significant step”.

“In order for there to be historical reconciliation we need an end to the brushing aside and ignoring of what happened during the [1948] catastrophe,” he said.

Dalia Fenig, an education ministry official, said the text was not being introduced into textbooks for Israeli Jewish eight-year-olds.

Right-wing politicians have reacted furiously to the book. “This is an anti-Zionist decision, which erases Jewish history and denies that the state of Israel is a Jewish state,” said Mr Orlev.

Limor Livnat, a former education minister from the right-wing Likud party, said: “The moment that you teach pupils in the Arab sector that Jews expelled them from their homes and that the establishment of Israel was a catastrophe, they are liable to learn from this that they should undertake armed struggle against the state of Israel.

“The result will be that under the generous sponsorship of our education system, we will with our own hands be raising a fifth column here.”

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