Archive for June, 2010

Recommended Reading: Plitnick on differences between enemies

June 30, 2010

Check out Mitchell Plitnick and “Those We Can Talk To and Those We Cannot.” Exploring some new thinking in the American military and the important distinctions between Hezbollah, Hamas and al-Qaeda.

Jerusalem’s Mayor is a Threat to Israel’s Future

June 28, 2010

Americans for Peace Now sent a letter to President Obama today, urgently pointing out what should be obvious to him: “Engage NOW to get Jerusalem under control.” The full text of the letter can be found here.

The letter lays out the problem clearly enough. And, indeed, the solution is for President Obama to get Prime Minister

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat

Netanyahu to rein in the mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat. I’ll take it further—Barkat is as big a threat to Israel’s future as any individual in the world.

Barkat, a businessman, became mayor in 2008, and many thought that as a secular Israeli, coming on the heels of a very religious mayor, he would be more pragmatic. Such has not been the case.

Barkat has gone out of his way to enflame the conflict with the Palestinians. Jerusalem is the most emotional of all the issues setting Israelis and Palestinians at odds, and the mayor of Jerusalem, therefore, has more direct power than anyone to cause flare-ups.

Barkat does not pay much mind to this fact. In his campaign for mayor he made it very clear that he felt strongly that Jerusalem remain the “undivided, eternal capital of the Jewish people.” And, much more than his Haredi predecessor, he has taken bold steps to ensure that outcome. (more…)

Israel’s A Domestic Issue–That’s the Problem

June 28, 2010

In the 21st century, Congress has demonstrated both incompetence in handling its limited responsibility in foreign policy, and how disastrous it is when it oversteps its bounds and tries to get more involved in foreign affairs than it should.

Outside of those working actively in foreign policy, it still seems like Americans have not grasped the magnitude of the

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA, seated at the left) prepares to address a pro-Israel rally

foolish decisions to go into Afghanistan and Iraq. But, for reasons that did not include a clear and sober calculation of American security or even geo-political interests, Bush, Cheney, and their neo-conservative cohorts did, in fact, put us back into a Vietnam-like quagmire.

But this one is worse. Vietnam was predicated on the “domino theory,” which dictated that the fall of a country in Southeast Asia of relatively minor importance would set off a chain reaction and lead to more crucial countries falling to Communism. Once the theory was discarded, it was possible, even if not so simple, to extricate ourselves from the war.

That’s not the case in either Afghanistan or Iraq, particularly the latter. Iraq, a major oil producer, could easily fall under the control or influence of foreign powers, including Iran, which would significantly affect the global economy and the global balance of power. Afghanistan has always been a center of instability, but the American intervention has embroiled Pakistan more deeply in the conflicts there, and the threat of Afghani issues destabilizing Pakistan, a nuclear power, is very real. In both cases, these are merely singular examples among many other serious concerns.

No, America cannot just up and leave the Middle East as it did Southeast Asia. America also has very little to gain from staying, but must do so to avoid the consequences of leaving. That’s where the Neoconservatives have left the US. Making such clearly foolish mistakes in when and where to go to war is precisely why (among other reasons) Congress is the only body authorized to declare war. (more…)

AIPAC, Gaza and Letters to the President

June 24, 2010

I was reminiscing recently about a very pleasant conversation I had with Stephen Walt, who, along with John Mearsheimer, wrote the explosive book “The Israel Lobby.” Both authors are aware that I disagree with their thesis, and yet Stephen and I were always able to have respectful conversations about it. Would that more conversations about Israel could be conducted in that manner.

But I also disagree with what I call the Chomsky Thesis. Chomsky, and some other analysts, believe that “The Lobby’s” power derives from its essential rapport with American policy aims, and that if it diverges from those aims, it would not prove much of an obstacle.

Saying “The Lobby” is not a considerable force is as false as saying it is the determinative element in US policy. It

Hillary Clinton and AIPAC President Lee Rosenberg at this year's AIPAC policy conference

clearly plays a serious role in American politics, and the more prominently domestic concerns play into an American President’s foreign policy decisions, the more powerful it is. (In fairness, I should note that Walt’s and Mearsheimer’s book is rarely understood to encompass this view, though it can certainly be read that way)

“The Lobby’s” field of play is Congress. To the extent Congress can and will push back against a president on foreign policy, “The Lobby” will get it to do so when they disagree with that president’s policies.

It has often been the case that “The Lobby” tries to push the US into a harder line than Israel takes. It has done so again this week.

Letters to Obama

The Senate, almost as a body, has written to the President in full support of Israel’s version of the events aboard the Gaza-bound flotilla over Memorial Day Weekend. It re-states the position that the siege on Gaza is legal and was imposed to stop the import of weapons to Hamas, while ignoring the question of how children’s toys, coriander, mayonnaise and ketchup could be classified as weapons. It also asks the President to consider putting the IHH, the Turkish organization which is most certainly supportive of Hamas, on the list of terrorist organizations.

The letter, at this writing, was signed by 86 senators, and a similar letter is up to 322 signatures in the House. (more…)

Gaza: A Kadima-Made Quagmire

June 22, 2010

The political mudslinging between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and opposition leader Tzipi Livni over the failure of Israel’s siege of Gaza would be amusing if it were not so disturbing.

The exchange basically comes down to Bibi saying that he inherited the Gaza siege from the previous government and Livni responding that under their version of the siege, the world wasn’t condemning Israel for it.

We’ll get back to Bibi in a moment, but let’s look at the depths of Livni’s disingenuousness.

Benjamin Netanyahu and Tzipi Livni

Livni is not just the current head of Kadima; she was Foreign Minister when the siege was enacted and when Israel wreaked havoc in Operation Cast Lead. Unlike Avigdor Lieberman, the FM in the current government, Livni was at the very heart of policymaking under Olmert. She cannot duck responsibility for Gaza.

Under the watch that Livni was a central part of, Israel enacted a policy that was needlessly cruel and ultimately self-defeating. For three years, the civilians in Gaza have been devastated. They, not Hamas, bore the brunt of Israel’s policies. They, not Hamas, were impacted by Israel barring all sorts of household items, cleansers, foodstuffs, coffee, cigarettes, and other consumer products.

These effects were far from unexpected; they were the sole intent of the policies. This was the very definition of collective punishment. (more…)

Recommended reading: Bernard Avishai on BDS

June 17, 2010

I will continue to defend the rights of those urging sensible economic actions against the occupation, as I did when writing about the divestment proposition at UC Berkeley. Such efforts, even if I don’t agree with them are not, by definition, anti-Israel, much less anti-Semitic. As I’ve said, there are such strains within those movements, and we must consciously discern between those who are trying to bring legitimate economic pressure against the occupation and those who are motivated by animus towards Jews or some bizarre Zionist conspiracy theories.

But I do not believe BDS is an effective strategy strategy, even though Israel’s own sometimes cruel and always harsh and self-destructive are lately giving that movement a good deal of steam. Bernard Avishai, an economist, professor, writer and activist explains very well why this is a dead-end strategy. His article was published in The Nation and at his blog here.

Whether you support BDS or not, I think considering Avishai’s clear-headed arguments, which do not demonize the BDS movement but merely argue about the tactic, is well worth your while.

Solving the Hamas Question

June 16, 2010

Few events are as badly misunderstood as the 2006 election that brought a stunning victory for Hamas.

The factors that led to that electoral victory were:

  • The perception that Fatah had failed utterly to make any significant gains for the Palestinian people
  • The widespread corruption that was the norm for Fatah at that time
  • The in-fighting in Fatah which caused not only disillusionment, but also led to more than one Fatah candidate in numerous districts, splitting the vote
  • Only the smallest factor was a moderate rise in religious nationalism among Palestinians

Hamas enjoyed a certain temporary popularity, more as an alternative than anything else. Much of the current dilemma involving Hamas arises not from their electoral victory but from the coup that the US and Israel attempted to engineer, backing Fatah in Gaza, which was thwarted by Hamas’ pre-emptive strike and led to Hamas ejecting much of

Hamas PM Ismail Haniyeh and PA President Mahmoud Abbas

Fatah completely from Gaza and taking unilateral control.

I bring this up because a friend asked me how Hamas might be undermined today. The answer is both pragmatic and involves no devious tricks or the use of force.

The first step is easing the Gaza siege so that the people can rebuild destroyed homes and business, and resuscitate their economy. Already, even Israel has conceded this can be done without compromising security measures. And that it can be done while largely bypassing Hamas.

From there, Fatah and Hamas must be pushed toward forming a unity government that would have only one purpose—facilitating new elections for the Palestinian Authority. Polls have consistently shown that Fatah would emerge the winner, while Hamas would be a significant minority party. The most recent poll shows that the gap between the two is widening as Salam Fayyad’s popularity is increasing significantly. (more…)

Democrats United In Support of Flotilla Raid

June 15, 2010

MJ Rosenberg reprints dozens of Democrats’ statements on the Gaza flotilla fiasco today in his Media Matters piece.

He doesn’t bother with the Republicans, which are worse, but also to be expected. And the Democrats he quotes include some supported by J Street. This points to a pretty wide consensus of opinion.

I found MJ’s closing line interesting. He writes, pithily, that “Our United States Congress hard at work, doing what it’s told.”

But I’ll say I have no doubt they heard from AIPAC and other, similar advocacy groups. And some, I’m sure, did indeed parrot the party line, wanting to curry favor during this election year.

But I also think that many of them didn’t need to be told what to say and didn’t say what they did because they heard it from AIPAC.

Then-Senator Obama addressing AIPAC on the campaign trail

Let’s face it, there’s more than just political pressure behind the fact that ostensible liberals turn into hawks when it comes to Israel.

Israel’s general approach to terrorism is not much different from our own American version—it’s just the context that makes the biggest difference. We are not anxious to indict Israeli behavior when it comes to real security given the methods we employ in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. They’re not exactly the same, but they all fall under the new rubric of fighting terror.

There’s also the fact that I do not believe many of our elected officials really know that much about the Israel-Palestine conflict and give little real thought to what Israel’s best interests are. They also can’t really understand what America’s interests in the region are, beyond political expediency.

Members of Congress track many issues, even those who focus more on foreign policy. When I’ve listened to Gary Ackerman or Howard Berman speak, I perceive a big gulf between their knowledge of the Middle East and that of their staffers. That’s a reflection, too, of the fact that Israel is a domestic political issue for them. (more…)

The Three Panels: Investigating the Flotilla Fiasco

June 15, 2010

Israel is trying to address the massive criticism it is facing over the flotilla fiasco by empowering not one, but three different investigative panels.

It’s not likely to work.

The military investigation, which was the first one empaneled, was intended to address internal criticism that the operation was poorly planned and executed. This is likely to be the most effective panel in terms of its own mandate, but it obviously won’t address international concerns.

The most recent announcement by the state comptroller is actually the most likely to come up with something serious.

State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss

Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss is planning to look into the government’s decision-making process, something which really does need attention. This was initiated by Lindenstrauss himself, and as such is the most likely to yield credible results.

But the comptroller’s investigation will be limited and will not cover the military’s “the tactical or operational aspects of the raid,” nor the legal aspects that the public commission is tasked with.

The main panel, headed by retired justice Jacob Turkel, is already understood to be a sham. Turkel himself has no significant expertise in these matters. Another member, Shabtai Rosen, would have seemed a much better choice to lead the panel, since, as a recipient of the Hague Prize for international law he has by far the most credibility of anyone involved with this panel. The third member, Amos Horev, a retired general, is not known to be a lock-step supporter of all military decisions, but is also not someone inclined toward really sharp criticism. (more…)

Resolving the Gaza Siege Conundrum

June 13, 2010

The Gaza Flotilla disaster has shone a light on the siege of Gaza. After three years, the international community has finally stood up and said this must stop.

Now the question is how.

I’m reminded of a meeting I had about a year ago with several State Department officials. Already, the Obama

President Obama and President Abbas met this past week in Washington

administration had made it clear that Gaza was not an issue they wanted to deal with. They preferred to advance the peace process with Mahmoud Abbas and hope Gaza would just go away.

That was never going to happen, of course, but the Administration still seems to want to avoid dealing with Gaza if at all possible. The flotilla massacre made it impossible.

At that meeting, I went through the list of reasons why the siege on Gaza was both unjust and against Israel’s better interests. I stressed throughout, and continue to do so today, that Israel has legitimate security concerns that it has every right to address. But that right does not mean all restraints are off.

So after some discussion, I was asked what I thought should be done about it. I believe my answer to them still holds today as a way to address both Hamas and the rights of the people in Gaza. (more…)