Monday, June 22, 2009

On the Peace Process

Shalom All,

There are those who have praised Prime Minister Netanyahu's recent speech and those who have condemned it as more of the same. Many have looked to the bright side, his agreement that the Palestinians could have a state along side Israel, while others have criticized his refusal to stop the expansion of existing settlements as a way of undermining the process of peace, even while calling for it. Personally, I thought that PM Netanyahu's speech was masterful and have seen little substantial criticism of it from anyone not on the far left or right.

In many ways, it paralleled Obama's Cairo speech in which the section specifically dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was fairly well received by the vast majority of Israelis (Obama's falling approval rating among Israelis has more to do with other speeches in which he has been more harshly critical of Israel and with his failure to address Iran's nuclear issues). I do have problems with the President's treatment of history in the Cairo speech, something to which I believe that PM Netanyahu did an excellent job in responding (Pres. Obama made it seem as if Zionism began with the Holocaust). I also have major problems with completely ignoring anti-Judaism in Muslim history, going back much farther than the 1920s where PM Netanyahu began his history. Worst still is probably Pres. Obama's implicit comparison between the Holocaust and Palestinian suffering. I must, however, strongly applaud Pres. Obama for stating in the midst of the Arab world that the US has an unbreakable bond with Israel. For a more detailed treatment of President Obama's speech please see my radio show found at (there were a few technical difficulties with the video, but the sound is good). This all said, on to the more important point at the moment, both speeches contained idea changes whose implications are not fully realized by advocates for either Israel or the Palestinians.

The first is that Two-State Solution is not accurate enough. I have talked about this before. Leaders are now being more explicit that we are talking "Two-States for Two-Peoples" and not simply "Two States." Some leaders are seeking "two states" both of which would eventually become Palestinian states. Pres. Obama mentioned in his speech that:

We will be blind to the truth: the only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians EACH live in peace and security.

The "two states for two peoples" concept eliminates a major threat to Israel, namely the return en mass by Palestinian refugees to homes in Israel because it could not happen while maintaining a Jewish state. Those refugees would go to a Palestinian state. The question then becomes how many could such a state support in addition to its already overcrowded population. The answer is very few, leaving the problem of Palestinian refugees for the Arab nations to handle.

The second is a developing understanding that the Palestinians lack the fundamental institutions necessary for any nation-state to work. President Obama stated in his speech, words that easily could have come from PM Netanyahu:

Now is the time for Palestinians to focus on what they can build. The Palestinian Authority must develop its capacity to govern, with institutions that serve the needs of its people. Hamas does have support among some Palestinians, but they also have responsibilities. To play a role in fulfilling Palestinian aspirations, and to unify the Palestinian people, Hamas must put an end to violence, recognize past agreements, and recognize Israel's right to exist.

While THIS statement is lacking "as a Jewish state," it basically puts the ball in the Palestinian's court. It also functionally forces the PA to live up to those same requirements. They cannot simply wait for Israel to act to grant them a state. They have to do these things, "Now." That societal work won't take months, but could take multiple years or even decades. The problem then is the continuing pressure to find a solution ASAP. ASAP may be decades. It will not be the second year or even third year of President Obama's administration.

After the speech, the people looked to PM Netanyahu to endorse a two state solution. In the minds of most, he did exactly that, but did so in a brilliant way. Netanyahu RE-NAMED what is in essence a state-semi-state solution, a 1 1/2 state solution, as a TWO-state solution. It is in fact NEITHER a one or two state solution. The Palestinian entity would be a SEMI-state. This is what I have suggested for years now. It made sense over a decade ago. I thought that was where things were headed in 1993-1994, much less in 1996, much less in 2000... The Palestinians could be granted a state so long as that state is disarmed and not potentially a threat to the existence of Israel.

The state-semi-state idea would never have been accepted by Arafat and will likely not be accepted by Abbas. It CAN'T be accepted by Hamas. IF the world media actually continues to present this idea as a TWO-state solution, which is seems to be doing, Netanyahu has won the war for Israel, much less the battle. I think that is indeed the path the process will be heading and Pres. Obama supports it. Let us not be blinded to the dramatic implications of this path for Israel.

Basically, it rids Israel of its major problems in making peace. It ends Palestinian hopes for conquest entirely, ending any hope that the right of return to Palestine would matter, since the extra-population could not arm and fight, and means that Israel will maintain whatever land it holds when peace is made indefinitely. The only things that it provides the Palestinians are economic opportunity and freedom so long as the latter does not threaten Israel. The only Israelis who could possibly oppose such a deal would be the settlers who want to oust the Palestinians altogether and settle the entire territory. So long as Israel pledges to defend the future Palestinian state from invasion, something that would be in its own interest anyway, there is little that the Palestinians can argue against it.

I am not going to tell you that there cannot be any problems related to security with such an arrangement. In fact, there are additional requirements that go along with this security relationship so as to prevent or limit some of them including guerrilla warfare. These would include control of borders including airspace. The Palestinian state would run like the Vatican, operating under Israeli military auspices and border control just as the Vatican operates within the Italian versions. In fact, the Eastern border of the West Bank would have THREE entities each doing their own security checks: Jordan, Israel, and the Palestinian authorities. Gaza would also have THREE: Egypt, Israel, and the Palestinian authorities. Egypt and Jordan would be most concerned with what comes OUT of those territories while Israel would be most concerned with what comes into them.

Israel, Egypt, and Jordan all like this solution very much. The rest of the Arab world and the Palestinians almost certainly cannot abide it.


Friday, June 5, 2009

On Obama's Speech - Concerning the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Shalom All,

I have looked in depth at President Obama's speech made yesterday in Cairo. It makes some excellent points and some questionable ones. I found myself practically cheering when reading it at times and then muttering to myself, "What the #%$?" at others. Daniel Gordis, certainly no liberal when it comes to Israel, pointed out that the speech as it concerned Israel was basically in line with the Israeli political center. Even Avigdor Lieberman praised it. Shimon Peres glowed.

I found myself overwhelmingly in agreement with its tenor and its demands of both Israelis and Palestinians. The only truly negative reactions from either side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that I have seen have come from the Far Settler Right on the Israeli side and from Hizballah, Hamas, and the Muslim Brotherhood on the Palestinian side. Obama pretty much hit the bull's-eye. You can't do much better than that for targeting the center.

My own criticisms of that portion of the speech really have nothing to do with the peace process. Some have to do with history and others with context. I won't bore you with details unless you wish to see them. I have included detailed comments below. While I and many other supporters of Israel feared this speech and feared that the President would cave in to pressure to pressure Israel, I found his speech generally very supportive of both Israel and of Palestinian aspirations for statehood. I was very pleased with his call for the Arab nations to help out.

Where I do find significant problems with the speech are in areas only tangentially to do with Israel, such as the Iranian nuclear issue, and on issues having nothing at all to do with Israel, such as women's rights in the Arab and Muslim world. I will address those in a separate email entirely. It was a very long speech!!!

On the whole, I was pleased with what it said about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


Detailed comments on issues from the speech having to do with Israel and the peace process follow:

The introduction to the conflict was both good and bad. I was very pleased with the President's strong statement against Holocaust denial, but found the order of the speech itself problematic in that it seemed to equate the Holocaust with Palestinian suffering. I also found it highly problematic that the President made no mention of Jewish suffering at the hands of the Arab world including their forced expulsion from many Arab nations and their oppression as second class citizens, a dhimmi population, at the hands of Muslim rulers for much of Islamic history. It was as if Jewish suffering was only at the hands of Christian Europe.

I wanted to cheer when I read, "Palestinians must abandon violence. Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and does not succeed. For centuries, black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation. But it was not violence that won full and equal rights. It was a peaceful and determined insistence upon the ideals at the center of America's founding. This same story can be told by people from South Africa to South Asia; from Eastern Europe to Indonesia. It's a story with a simple truth: that violence is a dead end. It is a sign of neither courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus. That is not how moral authority is claimed; that is how it is surrendered."

Then, I noticed the problems in this statement. The Palestinians are not oppressed ISRAELI citizens or even people who SHOULD BE Israeli citizens. They are people actively AT WAR with Israel and SEEKING its DESTRUCTION, not to play a positive role in strengthening its future. Say what you will, but Martin Luther King Jr. was not leading silent demonstrations to DESTROY AMERICA, he was leading them to acquire long overdue civil rights and to obtain the right for black people in America to live the AMERICAN DREAM, to live with full liberty and to obtain full prosperity as American citizens. Let us neither pretend that Apartheid South Africa is an accurate representation. Black people in South Africa were not AT WAR for the destruction of the nation. They had not expressed generations of desire to slaughter the white population or drive them into the sea. Apartheid was a system based, much like American segregation, upon racism. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not such a conflict no matter what anti-Jewish conference may equate Zionism with racism.

For Palestinians it is a war for land, for self-determination, and for some it is a holy war. For Israelis it is a war for their very survival, for the security of Jewish lives, with concern over land and for some it is a holy war. Both want LAND. NEITHER are fighting for CIVIL RIGHTS. Let's not pretend otherwise. The war would have been LONG OVER already had it been acceptable to Palestinians to obtain a state living peacefully along side a Jewish Israel in which they had self-determination and liberty with the end of occupation. The reality is that this is NOT and NEVER HAS BEEN the primary aim of the Palestinian leadership, neither that of Fatah or that of Hamas. This then takes the conflict to a distance far afield from the American Civil Rights movement or that to overthrow Apartheid.

The President then introduced a statement that could easily be stated by Benjamin Netanyahu who has already repeatedly said similar things, "Now is the time for Palestinians to focus on what they can build. The Palestinian Authority must develop its capacity to govern, with institutions that serve the needs of its people. Hamas does have support among some Palestinians, but they also have responsibilities. To play a role in fulfilling Palestinian aspirations, and to unify the Palestinian people, Hamas must put an end to violence, recognize past agreements, and recognize Israel's right to exist."

Much has been made of the President's statement about Israeli settlements. I believe rightly so. Why? Not because it was a wonderful statement, but because it says all things to all people. The Israelis can easily say, "Okay, he's reinforcing the language of previous agreements," meaning the status-quo is okay. No NEW settlements. The Israeli response is then to do nothing. The Palestinians can say, "He's condemning Israel's continuing to EXPAND its constructs on OUR SIDE of the 1967 border." In other words, the statement received applause, but frankly will have little effect other than to entrench both sides in their points of view. EVERYONE liked that statement except the Far Settler Right in Israel which wants NEW settlements. FYI that FAR Right constitutes less than 6% of the Israeli JEWISH electorate. The statement came across as supportive of PA demands, but in reality says nothing new and will have little or no impact.

The President's comments about the need to improve the quality of life for Palestinians were excellent. The question that was left wide open, however, is WHOM is to blame for their lack of prosperity now? One could and many do make the case that it should NOT be solely or even primarily be deemed the fault of Israel, but instead of Palestinian leadership that refuses and has long refused to agree to a reasonable peace that would have already dramatically improved the quality of life. One could certainly argue that continuing attacks from Gaza have FORCED Israel to crack down on Gaza worsening life there and that the terrorist threat from the West Bank has FORCED Israel's hand there as well. Allowing for freer travel through the West Bank is a minor issue. Building industrial and governmental institutions are the bigger ones. The issue of settlements is a diversion. Without the settlements there would still be no viable Palestinian Authority. Institutions need to be built.

What the President said about the Arab world's responsibility, I thought was excellent:

Finally, the Arab States must recognize that the Arab Peace Initiative was an important beginning, but not the end of their responsibilities. The Arab-Israeli conflict should no longer be used to distract the people of Arab nations from other problems. Instead, it must be a cause for action to help the Palestinian people develop the institutions that will sustain their state; to recognize Israel's legitimacy; and to choose progress over a self-defeating focus on the past.
America will align our policies with those who pursue peace, and say in public what we say in private to Israelis and Palestinians and Arabs. We cannot impose peace. But privately, many Muslims recognize that Israel will not go away. Likewise, many Israelis recognize the need for a Palestinian state. It is time for us to act on what everyone knows to be true.