3. Israel: Dramatic Changes

May-18-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: Two major developments in Israel: Netanyahu ditches the far-right for the centre-right, and manages to survive without an election, and the Palestinian hunger-strikers wins most of what they wanted. We offer two reports on each.

* The Netanyahu-Mofaz Pact Uri Avnery Counterpunch

THE MASTER magician has drawn another rabbit from his top hat. A real and very lively rabbit. He has confounded everybody, including the leaders of all parties, the top political pundits and his own cabinet ministers. He has also shown that in politics, everything can change – literally – overnight.

At 2 a.m. the Knesset was busy putting the finishing touches to a law to dissolve itself – condemning half of its members to political oblivion. At 3 a.m. there was a huge new government coalition. No elections, thank you very much.

An operetta in 5 acts.

Act One:  Everything tranquil. Public opinion polls show Binyamin Netanyahu in absolute control. His popularity is approaching 50%; nobody else’s even approaches 20%. The largest party in the Knesset, Kadima, sinks in the polls from 28 seats to 11, with all indications that it will continue to fall. Its new leader, former Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz, gets even less points as candidate for Prime Minister. Netanyahu could sun himself on the roof of his luxury villa and contemplate the future with equanimity. All is well in the best of all Jewish states….

New Israeli Government Likely Won’t Launch Iran Attack Juan Cole Informed Comment

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu moved from the far right to just the Right on Tuesday by bringing into his government the center-right Kadima Party, led by Shaul Mofaz.

Mofaz has been sharply critical of reported plans by Netanyahu and his defense minister Ehud Barak, to launch a go-it-alone military attack on Iran’s nuclear enrichment program. Mofaz is not opposed to military action against Iran in and of itself, but wants it coordinated with the United States. He last week aligned himself with the views of former Israel domestic intelligence head Yuval Diskin, who strongly opposed a unilateral Israeli strike on Iran and who attacked Netanyahu as erratic. Mofaz said, “Let President Obama handle Iran. We can trust him…”

Having Mofaz in the cabinet makes Netanyahu less dependent on extreme hawks, and makes it highly unlikely that Israel will act on its own against Iran. 

* Many Winners, Few Losers In Deal To End Palestinian Prisoners’ Hunger Strike   Haaretz Daily Newspaper 

The agreement that brought the Palestinian prisoners’ hunger strike to an end on Monday, alongside a decision to return 100 bodies of Palestinian terrorists buried in Israel, as a gesture to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, were less about possible progress in peace attempts as much as they were about an Israeli effort to preserve the relative silence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Despite the fact that peace negotiations aren’t likely to restart, the Palestinian Authority, Hamas and Israel are all interested in getting rid of anything that could pose a threat to stability in the region. And so, while the Middle East continues burning (Bahrain, Syria, Lebanon and others), and on a day that was once considered highly likely to draw violent confrontations in the Palestinian territories, the Shin Bet and prisoner’s leadership managed to reach a deal that essentially had many winners and few losers.

The Shin Bet has emphasized their significant “achievement” in the deal: having the Palestinian prisoners sign that they will not return to terrorist activities within the prison walls. One does not need to be a security analyst to understand that despite the deal, at least some of them will repeatedly engage in terrorist activity. Their real achievement lies elsewhere: the fact they could neutralize the ticking bomb of 1,500 hunger-striking prisoners.

In Support of the “Battle of the Empty Stomachs” Rabbi Brant Rosen

After nearly a full month of fasting, around 2,000 Palestinian political prisoners ended last night their mass hunger strike upon reaching an agreement with the Israeli Prison Service (IPS) to attain certain core demands…This is heartening news to be sure, particularly for the families of the strikers.  But on an even deeper level, this deal is a testimony to the astonishing moral/political power of fasting in response to oppression. 

Hunger striking is, of course, is an ancient time-honored form of protest. As a Jew, I’m particularly mindful that the Book of Isaiah passionately connects the act of fasting to the pursuit of justice:

Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?

Indeed, it is critical that we understand that the Palestinians’ “Battle of the Empty Stomachs” as part of this long and honorable tradition of nonviolent resistance. As we have seen from the events of the past several months, it has lasted so long largely because it is a tactic that works.



2. Voices From the Other Side of the Media

Apr-20-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: What’s the other side? The one the main stream media don’t carry. Mehanna’s speech is hugely moving, utterly cogent, depressingly convincing, essential reading. Barghouti, the Palestinian leader is also convincing on why “apartheid” is the right word. I don’t know of any other to describe this system of rule. I’ve been enjoying Cenk Uygur’s rants… and I haven’t seen that the supreme head of Iran ruled officially that the use of nuclear weapons is forbidden. Curious how all our papers and radio and TV missed that, isn’t it?

* Sentencing Statement By American Tarek Mehanna, Convicted Of Helping Al Qaeda Salon

In one of the most egregious violations of the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech seen in quite some time, Tarek Mehanna, an American Muslim, was convicted this week in a federal court in Boston and then sentenced yesterday to 17 years in prison. He was found guilty of supporting Al Qaeda (by virtue of translating Terrorists’ documents into English and expressing “sympathetic views” to the group) as well as conspiring to “murder” U.S. soldiers in Iraq (i.e., to wage war against an invading army perpetrating an aggressive attack on a Muslim nation)…. I urge everyone to read something quite amazing: Mehanna’s incredibly eloquent, thoughtful statement at his sentencing hearing, before being given a 17-year prison term.

In your eyes, I’m a terrorist, and it’s perfectly reasonable that I be standing here in an orange jumpsuit. But one day, America will change and people will recognize this day for what it is. They will look at how hundreds of thousands of Muslims were killed and maimed by the US military in foreign countries, yet somehow I’m the one going to prison for “conspiring to kill and maim” in those countries – because I support the Mujahidin defending those people. They will look back on how the government spent millions of dollars to imprison me as a ”terrorist,” yet if we were to somehow bring Abeer al-Janabi back to life in the moment she was being gang-raped by your soldiers, to put her on that witness stand and ask her who the “terrorists” are, she sure wouldn’t be pointing at me.

The government says that I was obsessed with violence, obsessed with ”killing Americans.” But, as a Muslim living in these times, I can think of a lie no more ironic.

* Mustafa Barghouti to J Street: I know you don’t like the word apartheid, but what do you call a system that gives a settler 50 times more water than a Palestinian? via Mondoweiss

On March 26, at the J Street conference in Washington, D.C., Palestinian leader Mustafa Barghouti described apartheid in Palestine to a largely-Jewish audience. As he spoke, you could have heard a pin drop in a room jammed with 500 people hearing about the one-state option. His comments have resonated in the weeks since.

Some people might not like the word apartheid, when we say that we live in a system of apartheid and segregation, and I understand why you wouldn’t like it. Because there is nothing to be proud about having a system of apartheid and segregation in the 21st century. But as Menachem [Klein] said, we actually live in that system. It’s one regime.

What is apartheid? Apartheid is a system where you have two laws, two different laws, for two people living in the same area. If you don’t like the word apartheid, give me an alternative to a situation where a Palestinian citizen is allowed to use no more than 50 cubic meters of water per capital year, while an Israeli illegal settler from the West Bank is allowed to use 2400. How would you classify a situation where the Israeli gdp per capita is about $30,000 while a Palestinian’s gdp per capita is less than $1400?

Yet we are obliged to pay the same prices for products as Israelis do. More than that: We are obliged to pay double the price for electricity and water that Israelis do though they make 30 times more than we do.

* Khamenei’s Fatwa against Nukes (Cenk Uygur Rant) via  Informed Comment

Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks on the progressive network Current TV gives us an insightful rant on Big TV News’ lack of interest in Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s fatwa declaring making, stockpiling and using nuclear weapons a sin. He points out that you almost never hear about this fatwa on television news, and performs a thought experiment. How often would a fatwa to the opposite effect have been mentioned?



3. The Two State Solution Is Dead. Deal With It.

Apr-13-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: There has been a huge debate among those who care about Israel, in response to Peter Beinart’s  “The Crisis of Zionism”. (All Amazon reviews are either 5 stars or 1 / 2 stars. No middle ground.) But what seem startlingly clear in the debate is a increasingly universal agreement that the time is finished when it might have been possible to have two states, an Israeli and Palestinian country side by side. No Israeli government could survive removing the settlers; no Palestinian country is possible while they’re there. So now the debate is about a one-state solution, and how best to get there.

* The Two-State Solution on Its Deathbed  Robert Wright  The Atlantic

Daniel Levy, a former Israeli negotiator, once told me that part of the problem is a kind of catch 22. When Palestinians aren’t threatening Israelis with violence, there’s no sense of urgency in Israel about dealing with the settlement problem. And when there is ongoing violence (which of course Levy doesn’t support), and therefore there is a sense of urgency, the fear that drives the urgency has an unfortunate byproduct: Israelis don’t trust Palestinians enough to offer a two-state deal that the Palestinians, or any self-respecting people, would accept. (Beinart’s examination of the Camp David talks–see chapter 4–undermines the official Israeli-American story that the Palestinians have been offered great deals but have inexplicably turned them down.)

My point isn’t that we should blame the Israelis for the death or very-near-death of the two-state solution. It’s not surprising that people with their history and geopolitical predicament would let fear get the better of them. (They’re being no more irrationally fearful than Americans were in the wake of 9/11, which led us to launch two wars, one of them against a country that had nothing to do with 9/11 and that posed no threat.) By the same token, it’s not surprising that the Palestinians wouldn’t endure 45 years of subjugation, during which they’ve been denied basic human rights, without any eruptions of violence (which of course isn’t to say I support the violence). That’s the depressing thing about the Israel-Palestinian conflict: It results from the Israelis and Palestinians acting more or less the way you would expect people in their shoes to act.

But that’s why it’s crucial that those of us who live at a safe remove from the conflict, and can in theory summon detachment, should try hard to see the situation clearly, succumbing neither to paralyzing fear nor cozy illusions. And the most common cozy illusion is that, though the time may not be right for a two-state solution now, we can always do the deal a year or two or three down the road.

The truth is that a two-state solution is almost completely dead, and it gets closer to death every day. If there’s any hope at all of reviving it, that will involve, among other things, somehow delivering a shock to the Israeli system. Peter Beinart has an idea for how to do that. Does Zvika Kriegert? Do any of the other well-intentioned liberal Zionists who keep affirming their allegiance to a two-state solution as if that ritual incantation was somehow helping things?

* Staying Up To Date On Israel-Palestine   Stephen M. Walt

I haven’t commented on Peter Beinart’s new book The Crisis of Zionism for the simple reason that I haven’t read it yet. It’s on my list, but will probably have to wait till the end of the term. In the interim, here are a few things you ought to read if you believe that the Israel-Palestine issue is at least as important as our current obsession with Iran.

You might read Isabel Kershner’s New York Times piece on the eviction of an Israeli settler family from an illegal outpost in Hebron. The kicker, of course, is that the removal of one settler family was accompanied by an announcement that the Netanyahu government had authorized construction of 800 new homes in Har Homa and Givat Zeev, and intended “to seek the necessary permits to retroactively legalize three other West Bank settler outposts that went up without authorization.” And lest you be confused about the Netanyahu government’s intentions, here’s what Netanyahu himself had to say about it (my emphasis):

“The principle that has guided me is to strengthen Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria. Today, I instructed that the status of three communities — Bruchim, Sansana, and Rechalim — be provided for. I also asked Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein to see to it that the Ulpana hill in Beit El not be evacuated. This is the principle that has guided us. We are strengthening Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria and we are strengthening the Jewish community in Hebron, the City of the Patriarchs. But there is one principle that we uphold. We do everything according to the law and we will continue to do so.”

So Netanyahu’s aim is clear: keeping control of the West Bank forever. And the reference to “doing everything according to the law” is revealing, because “law” here means the law of the occupation, which is the same law that has allowed a half a million Israelis to move onto the territories conquered in 1967 over the past forty years.

* The Real Radical Left Gideon Levy Haaretz  

The battle for Hebron has been decided. All that remains is to ask what will replace the solution that was put to death. There will not be two states. Even a child knows the alternative: one state. There is no third option. Israel’s most radical left won. For years it said one state, even as we played with ourselves at two states. Now everyone says two states, in unison, only because they know that train has left the station, and the great train robbery was pulled off.

From now we need only take care with our definitions: The extreme left is whoever endeavors toward a single state – the plundering settlers, the establishment that embraces them and the majority of Israelis, who do not lift a finger to stop them.

The Palestinians, as everyone knows by now, aren’t going anywhere. There is even a handful of settlers that has begun talking about giving them citizenship. If this, too, is not a ruse, then this little group is openly reconciling with the great victory of Israel’s most extreme left.

The struggle? From now on it must focus on human rights. Yes, equal rights for everyone who lives in Greater Israel, just as you wanted.

* Why Continue To Build The Settlements? By Andrew Sullivan  The Daily Beast

Why continue to build the settlements? …the evasions of this central point of Beinart’s book by its vitriolic critics are as legion as they are predictable. And they matter. Because the evaders do not want to answer the question: why continue to build the settlements? They do not want to answer that question and dodge it relentlessly because the answer is obvious and devastating to their position. The answer is that the settlements are there because the current Israeli government has no intention of ever dividing the land between Arabs and Jews in a way that would give the Palestinians anything like their own state; and have every intention of holding Judea and Samaria for ever. Netanyahu is, as Beinart rightly calls him, a Monist. He is the son of his father, Ben Zion, as Jeffrey Goldberg has also insisted on. But what Peter does is spell out one side of the Netanyahu vision that Goldberg elides.



4. Thinking about Israel

Mar-30-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: Birds can fly over fences, but the rest of us can’t. A set of fascinating insights into the changes that are taking place in Israel. Al Jazeera has a discussion with three distinguished guests of a quality I can’t imagine another media outlet having. Carlo Strenger, who has long favoured the two-state solution, has now abandoned it. Sadly I see no flaw in his reasoning. And once again, Richard Silverstein breaks important news before anyone else.

* Israel and Democracy: Inside Story video Al Jazeera (Thanks, Gabe)

Is Israel violating Palestinian human rights in the Occupied Territories? What does this tell us about the Israeli government and its policy of settlement expansion in Palestinian territory? And, does that contradict its claim of being the only democracy in the region? Joining Inside Story with presenter Hazem Sika to discuss these questions and more are guests: Jessica Montell, the executive director of human rights group B’Tselem; Akiva Eldar, the chief political columnist and editorial writer for Haaretz; and Mark Ellis, the executive director of the International Bar Association.

*Open Letter To Peter Beinart: Boycotting The Settlements Will Not Save The Two-State Solution Carlo Strenger Haaretz

This brings me to the final point of disagreement. You hope to save the two state solution. But I think you try to save spilt milk. You probably know the wisdom of every investment advisor. It is profoundly wrong to handle your investment portfolio reacting to previous losses. You need to look at it as if you were creating it now.

There is little use for us to decry the folly of Israel’s policy of the last forty years. We need to look at the situation as it is now: no Israeli politician will be able to retreat to the 1967 lines as long as Hamas will not radically change its views, and this, researchers familiar with the movement tell me, is not likely to happen soon.

The problem is that the longer the status quo continues, the more impossible the two state solution will become. In fact, it may already be dead. Hence the real question for liberal Jews and gentile friends of Israel is where we need to aim now.

* “Israel Bought an Airfield called Azerbaijan” Richard Silverstein Tikun Olam

One of the logistical nightmares of an attack on Iran is getting Israeli planes to and from their target, a flight of 2,000 miles.  The IAF simply doesn’t have the refueling capability that’s required.  Thanks to Perry, we’ve just learned one of the ways Israel plans to eliminate the problem:

…Four senior diplomats and military intelligence officers say that the United States has concluded that Israel has recently been granted access to airbases on Iran’s northern border. To do what, exactly, is not clear. “The Israelis have bought an airfield,” a senior administration official told me in early February, “and the airfield is called Azerbaijan.”

Though the country’s foreign minister recently dismissed the notion that his country would serve as a base for an attack on any other country, Perry writes:…Even if his government makes good on that promise, it could still provide Israel with essential support. A U.S. military intelligence officer noted that Azeri defense minister did not explicitly bar Israeli bombers from landing in the country after a strike. Nor did he rule out the basing of Israeli search-and-rescue units in the country. Proffering such landing rights — and mounting search and rescue operations closer to Iran — would make an Israeli attack on Iran easier.

* New Israeli Fence The Guardian

A frontier fence is being erected at high speed along the 150-mile boundary between the Sinai and Negev deserts. Once it is finished, Israel will be almost completely enclosed by steel, barbed wire and concrete, leaving only the southern border with Jordan between the Dead and Red Seas without a physical barrier.



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