Saturday, April 30, 2011

The World According to Fatah

Many people view Israel as the primary roadblock to a lasting peace in the Middle East. The fact is, that there has almost never been any real negotiation between Israel and the Palestinians because the Palestinian leadership has historically refused to compromise any of their core demands. Palestinian negotiating tactics are particularly fascinating, instead of negotiating issues like settlements and land swaps, Fatah simply refuses to negotiate unless Israel gives up its bargaining chips beforehand. Some people have noted that Israel is obligated to give up settlements as a matter of certain UN resolutions and so settlements should not be a matter of negotiation. However, promoting terrorism also runs afoul of several UN mandates and Fatah has done little to discourage its people from committing terrorist attacks when such attacks have served Fatah's political interests. For Fatah or anyone else to turn around and claim that certain issues must be resolved before negotiations is hypocritical. After 60 years of stalemate, it seems most productive to put all issues into play for negotiation instead of refusing to even discuss things like terrorism, "settlements" or final borders.

Since Fatah, now a member of a unified government with Hamas, has refused to give ground on any of its demands with Israel, it is important to see what a Fatah "peace agreement" would look like if Israel actually accepted it. After all, Ehud Barak's government offered the PLO statehood in Gaza and 98% of the West Bank and was flatly turned down by Yasser Arafat. It is hard to believe that the PLO will ever get a better offer out of the Israeli government.

Fatah's view of "peace" with Israel has two key components: (1) full withdrawal of all Israeli security and Jews from the West Bank and Gaza, coupled with the creation of an independent Palestinian state in those territories and (2) the unconditional right of return for Palestinian refugees displaced in the 1948 War (or their descendants) wishing to return to where they formerly lived in Israel.

There are several functional problems with an independent Palestinian state coming into existence in the West Bank and Gaza. Many of these issues are not thoroughly analyzed in the media, but foremost among them is the fact that in 1974, the PLO, then based in Cairo, issued a "Phased Plan" that sought to destroy Israel in three stages:

1. Through the “armed struggle” to establish an “independe­nt combatant national authority” over any territory that is “liberated­” from Israeli rule. (Article 2)
2. To continue the struggle against Israel, using the territory of the national authority as a base of operations­. (Article 4)
3. To provoke an all-out war in which Israel’s Arab neighbors destroy it entirely (“liberate all Palestinia­n territory”­). (Article 8)
The PLO has never denied formulating such a plan nor has it ever renounced its intention to carry out the plan. Some may say that the 1994 Oslo Accords amounted to the PLO's renunciation its intent to destroy Israel, but Yasser Arafat at the time and Mahmoud Abbas today both unequivocally refuse to recognize Israel as a "Jewish State." Abbas has been confronted directly with this question and has repeatedly said that his organization recognizes a state that contains "Jews and other people" but not one that is a Jewish State or Jewish homeland. On the other hand, Mr. Abbas insists that all Jews must leave Palestine as a condition of any peace agreement. Given Mr. Abbas' statements, the Oslo Accords are meaningless because the PLO recognized Israel as some abstract geopolitical entity that had no particular demographic makeup. In its essence, the Oslo Accords required the PLO to recognize an "Israel" that may have no Jews in it whatsoever or that may be an Arab nation.

What we can see, however, is that Hamas has adopted the Phased Plan in Gaza, using what ground it has to do maximum damage to Israel as part of its plan to conquer the Jewish State. Anyone who believes that Fatah has different intentions from its state in the West Bank is ignoring the entire history of Palestinian behavior toward Israel. Israel's 1978 invasion of Lebanon (Operation Litani) occurred because PLO fighters were launching rockets and suicide attacks into Northern Israel from their Lebanese bases (sound like 2006?). From 1967 to 1982, the PLO used its bases in Jordan and Lebanon to attack Israel. When the PLO took partial control of the West Bank, the Intifadas of 1989 and 2000 led to the deaths of thousands of Israelis. There is no reason to think that a Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank would do anything to change this reality.

But the dangers of an independent Palestinian state pale in comparison to the dangers of a "right of return" to Israel. The right of return is the most significant reason why there will never be peace between the Palestinians and Israelis. Israel's view is that the creation of a Palestinian state satisfies Palestinian desires for self-determination and so should extinguish any claims to Israeli land. This seems logical enough, the idea being that if Palestinians have a homeland, they should not also be able to come live in Israel. Moreover, Jewish territorial claims to West Bank or Gaza territory would be similarly extinguished, creating two states for two peoples. However, the PLO view is that there must be a Palestinian state and a Palestinian right of return. 

Why? Putting aside what the Arab leaders say, the push for a right of return has only one purpose: to demographically overwhelm Israel and turn it into an Arab majority state. When one looks at the PLO's insistence on a right of return coupled with its unwillingness to recognize a Jewish state, the end game is clear: an Arab majority "Israel" that extinguishes Jewish sovereignty and leaves Jews to the whims of the Arabs. This situation is exacerbated by the fact that we are now 60 years away the 1948 War and that many Arabs who did live in the British Mandate at the time of the Partition had since lived in Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon and Syria. The PLO insists that Palestinian refugees everywhere, not just in the West Bank and Gaza, be able to return to live in Israel. Consider further that providing that someone is or is not the descendant of someone who lived in a particular Arab village is particularly difficult. Since Israel is already 20% Arab, a demographic catastrophe would be the outcome and "Israel" would become the 22nd Arab State.

The international context really crystallizes this problem. Palestine was not the only territory partitioned in 1947. That year, two nations: India and Pakistan, came into existence. The resulting partition entailed a massive population exchanges with more than 14 million Muslims and Hindus moving to the nation that held their religious majority. Today, nobody seriously considers a "right of return" for Hindus and Muslims who left Pakistan or India because the existence of a national homeland has made such a right of return unnecessary because those peoples' self determination goals have been satisfied by the creation of their states. For Israel to be subject to an independent Palestine and a large scale right of return is simply unprecedented in the post-colonial world and can be justified only by a desire to deprive Jews of their self-determination.

While of the two core goals of "Palestinian peace" are often discussed in isolation, I find it more useful to view them together. What Fatah is proposing through its "peace plan" can be best described as having their cake and eating it too, wanting not only have their own state but also to demographically overwhelm Israel. In fact, the Palestinians would functionally have two states, because Jordan is already a state that has a Palestinian majority. The world according to Fatah has Jordan, Palestine and a State of Israel that is majority Arab, and has no room for Jewish self determination whatsoever.

Since the PLO has refused to concede any of the key components of its "peace plan," it is inconceivable that that any Israeli government can make peace with the PLO since doing so necessarily means destroying Israel as a Jewish state and renouncing Jewish self determination. Even the most leftist Israeli governments have been unwilling to go that far, and successive failures to extract any concessions from the PLO have driven the Israeli people to elect more right wing politicians like Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Israel's Strategic Depth -- Answer to a Friend's Question

First of all, I would like to thank a high school friend for sending me a fantastic and insightful question. I am reproducing it here:

I was discussing with a friend your post on "proportionate response," and his reaction was that Israel should cede some land, such as the Golan Heights and some of the settlements, to win the PR war. And, if the Palestinians and Syrians used it to launch rockets, Israel would be able to respond with only muted criticism. Leaving aside the case study of Gaza (which I think disproves that theory), my concern was the strategic boundaries of the current state of Israel in terms of geographic obstacles for security. His reaction, which I thought was the truly interesting part of the conversation, was that Israel is so dominant militarily, it is not necessary to preserve the traditional boundaries. He, based on his experience working for the DOD's intelligence branch and focusing on Iran's military capability, said that Iran was the strongest military opponent in the Middle East, and that even Iran was not a significant military threat in a traditional sense. The reason I mention this, and am interested in hearing your thoughts, is that I saw a recent post where you compared the 2-state solution to the situation with the Sudetenland (which I personally think is distinguishable since the Sudetenland held the heart of the Czechoslavakian military and industrial infrastructure). In short, do you think that Israel's Arab neighbors pose a military threat to the state of Israel in a traditional sense?

Israel's military successes have proven to be a great burden for the country. Everyone points to Israel's swift victory in the Six Day War to show that Israel can overcome any military odds in a conflict with the Arabs. Israel's military dominance after the 1948 War of Independence has been based on several critical principles: quickly take the fight to the enemies' territory, establish strategic depth to prevent attacks on Israel's population centers and end the war as quickly and decisively as possible. Israel's strength and mobility has been critical to its fighting success.

The fact of Israel's military prowess is used to assert that Israel needs little room to operate in order to be successful in its endeavors and so is in a position to give up land in exchange for peace guarantees. I think this argument is a bit too simplistic in that Israel's military success has been somewhat overinflated by the lightning victory of the Six Day War.

If one compared the military realities of the Six Day War and the Yom Kippur War, these realities become clear. The shock of Six Day War caused the Egyptians to invest substantially in their military and receive Soviet backing. The introduction of the Sagger antitank missile turned the tables on Israel's tank dominance. Egyptian troops became substantially more organized and the Yom Kippur War did not feature the mass surrenders in the Sinai that occurred in 1967. More relevantly, Syria's attack on the Golan Heights allowed the Syrian army to launch missiles into civilian centers in Galilee. In fact, Israel's retention of the Golan in 1973 was by no means assured. There is a great story of a young man named Zvika Greengold who almost singlehandedly (as in with one tank) held off a Syrian tank brigade and saved the Southern Golan from being overrun. As Moshe Dayan famously told Golda Meir during the War's early days "The Third Temple is in danger." There was great concern that any lingering Egyptian or Syrian success against the IDF would inspire invasions by the Jordanians and the Iraqis. Due to some poor decision making by the Egyptian army in the Sinai, the IAF was able to strike exposed Egyptian military units and eventually encircle the Sixth Army after using pontoons to cross the Suez Canal. The situation in the Golan did not swing back in Israel's favor until the end of the war, when IDF commandos retook Mt. Hermon, which fell during the War's early days.

But that is all history. What it shows, though, is that the Israelis are as capable of organizational and operational lapses like any other army. The problem for the IDF is that the margin of error is miniscule. Israel is so small that its population centers are exposed to attack very easily. Had the IDF fully lost the Golan, Syria could launch missiles into Israeli population centers all over the North. The Golan, more than the Sinai or Gaza, poses such a strategic risk for Israel and retaking it is sufficiently difficult that it would become a disaster. Similarly, ceding the West Bank fully creates a huge risk for Israel. Grad rockets from Gaza can reach Ashkelon and Be'er Sheva, two of the largest cities in Israel. Even if Israel could retake ceded territory, the risk of substantial causalities in the interim would be enormous and the Israeli government would be putting its citizens into harms way in the meantime. The point in short, is that maybe your friend is right and Israel could respond or even retake the territory where the attacks came from. But how many innocent Israelis would die in the interim? And wouldn't retaking territory simply put the Israelis in the same position they were in before?

With these issues, I think that the territories at issue are no less critical to Israel than the Sudetenland was to Czechoslovakia. The Golan presents many of the same benefits that the Sudetenland did because it provides altitude that overlooks many population centers and provides a strategic edge. The fact is very simple: you can see Damascus from the Golan and the Syrians know that. In the Yom Kippur, Israel ran no more than 10 sorties into Damascus, but that sufficiently scared the Syrians to force them to slow their advance up the Golan. The West Bank runs down Israel, touching pretty much every major city aside from Eilat and Haifa. Attacks from the West Bank could easily cripple Ben Gurion Airport, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Even if those territories do not hold key infrastructure, they hold crucial strategic value in terms of giving Israel strategic depth and protecting key population centers from attack.

There's a greater issue here. Your friend presupposes that the giving of territory will somehow improve Israel's PR standing internationally. Nobody remembers that Israel gave up the Sinai and the potential for energy independence for peace with Egypt. Nobody "credits" Israel for leaving Gaza or Lebanon, all people focus on is Israel's responses to missile attacks from those locations. I will say this as clearly and I am comfortable being quoted on this: Israel has not given up a single piece of land that I think has been a worthwhile transaction. Not one (even the Sinai). There were no major military inter-state conflicts when Israel was in Lebanon to the Litani River in 1982 and when Israel kept control of Gaza and the West Bank. Those operations had costs to be sure, but Israelis had much more security from conventional attack in those days because they had buffer zones against attack. Withdrawing from those territories had a predictable result: militant groups took over and used their now improved positioning to launch strikes at Israel. Unsurprisingly, Hezbollah saw Israel's departure from Lebanon as a tail between the legs capitulation that signal Israel's weakening state. Hezbollah's operatives began firing rockets as soon as they had mustered up adequate weaponry and dug themselves in. To think that the same things would not happen in the West Bank or the Golan is to turn one's back on the examples of Gaza and Lebanon.

Moreover, in the long run, territorial concessions provide Israel absolutely no benefit. Lebanon and Gaza fell under the control of non-state actors that used them as launch pads for attacks on Israelis. Israel is condemned for whatever it doesn't do and receives virtually no recognition for what it does. We in America have come to believe that the anti-Israel sentiment is based on Israel's actions. In fact, Arabs in the Middle East are anti-Israel because of Israel's existence, a nation that they believe is within their rightful territory that does not submit to Islamic rule. Israel was under attack before it ever came into existence. Long before the Six Day War, there were calls for Israel to return to the 1947 borders or disappear altogether.

I would ask your friend why he believes that giving up land will benefit Israel. Did Israel's international standing improve that drastically when it left Lebanon in 2000 or Gaza in 2005? The myth of land for peace has become so entrenched that nobody questions its logic any more. But Arabs (not Arab governments) have never changed their views about Israel because of land giveaways. A majority of Egyptians still want to annul their treaty with Israel even though that treaty got them the Sinai back. To the majority of Arabs in the Middle East, Israel is an entity so alien and fundamentally wrong that incremental land concessions are only viewed as an interim step to destroying Israel wholesale.

Lastly, I would ask if your friend ever asked the same questions about Sri Lanka? Why didn't Sri Lanka just give up the territories that would be Tamil Eelam and improve their international standing? Despite the UN's finger wagging, Sri Lanka is much happier with its military solution to the Tamil Tiger problem. Why did Indonesia resist East Timor's independence with a 30 year violent crackdown? Why doesn't Morocco give Western Sahara independence? Or how about this one...why don't Arab nations offer Israel land for peace? I mean, it's a crazy idea at first, but it begs the question of why it is that the Israelis have to be the ones giving up land they won in conflicts initiated by the Arabs with the intent of destroying Israel? Every country realizes that territory is the most important thing one can hold because it is real. The Arab states and the Palestinians, but Israel is expected to ignore this reality in exchange for empty promises...

Hiding in Plain Sight: Israel's Fifth Column

First of all, as of this post, this blog has gone over 1000 page views. Considering my initial skepticism that anyone would want to read what I have to say about anything, I am really glad that at least some people have found my views interesting enough to spend their valuable time reading my blog. Since the Israel/Palestine conflict is so dynamic and ever changing, I doubt I will ever run out of material.

Now, onto the substance...

Recently, an Arab Israeli Knesset named Haneen Zoabi called for Arabs within Israel and in the West Bank and Gaza to rise up in a Third Intifada. Haneen Zoabi called for popular Arab resistance against "the occupiers" and for the liberation of Palestine from its Jewish overlords. Zoabi has also been involved in numerous controversies arising from her travels to nations that are sworn enemies of Israel, such as Libya and for her active participation in the Mavi Marmara flotilla. Needless to say, Haneen Zoabi, much like many others from the Balad Party, reject the idea of Israel as a Jewish State and view its definition as such to be racist. She also openly supports Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons and famously left the Knesset when Hatikvah was played, saying "Hatikvah does not represent me."

What we are presented with here is a member of Israel's government who openly supports the destruction of the state that she purportedly represents. This would be the equivalent of having a U.S. Senator who wanted the United States to be conquered by Mexico and actively sought to have Mexicans in the United States rise up and destroy the American government and replace it with a Mexican government. Israel has 120 members of its Knesset, and about 7 are openly opposed to Israel's very existence. No other government in the world has members of its legislature who are opposed to their nation's very existence. Statements made by persons like Haneen Zoabi and, even more famously, Ahmad Tibi, are no often reported in the Western media while any statement made by Jewish members of the Israeli government that "against" its Arab minority is instantly a headliner.

The problem is that the Fifth Column is now so far in plain sight that we no longer take it seriously. Somehow, we have come to the point where we have heard the Arabs threaten to conquer Israel and slaughter the Jews that we no longer take it with any weight. When Mahmoud Ahmadinejad repeatedly threatens to wipe Israel off the face of the earth but is still invited to speak before the United Nations and at Columbia University, Jews in Israel must feel that nobody will care about them but themselves. After all, the repeated nature of the threats against Israel makes them all the more real and to be taken more seriously (or at least, that's what logic would dictate).

The issues become further muddled when Israeli Arabs and Palestinians promote the completely ludicrous idea that a two state solution is likely to create peace. Any lasting peace with Israel is based on a very fundamental notion: that the creation of a Palestinian state will extinguish Arab territorial claims to Israel. Not a single Palestinian representative body has agreed to this proposition, and so there is no peace to be had. If Fatah and Hamas both admit that creating a state within the "1967 borders" will not preclude them from claiming that Israel is an illegitimate state or that Arabs should be able to resettle in Israel, then what does Israel have to gain from allowing Palestine to come into existence? Based on the representatives they elect to the Knesset, it is clear that Israeli Arabs are not interested in perpetuating a Jewish state.

For context, we should see how certain Middle Eastern nations deal with such situations. Jordan, Bahrain and Syria are among several nations whose governments are a minority in the country (Hashemites, Sunnis and Alawites). Most countries that feature this sort of situation were French colonies, as the French installed these minorities to rule their colonies. Since the end of colonization in the 1940s to 1960s, these minority groups have retained controlled and suppressed their (usually Sunni, though in Bahrain's case Shia) majorities.

Jordan presents a particularly illustrative example because the Jordanian monarchy also dealt with a Fifth Column of Palestinian nationalism since the Six Day War. The PLO's attempts to create a Palestinian state in Jordan was met with swift and brutal force during Black September (why a terrorist group that slaughtered Israeli athletes at Munich named itself after a Jordanian attack on the PLO, I will never understand). The Jordanians and other minority regimes have historically used ruthless force to keep their tribe's government in power. Syria's Alawite government is fighting for its very life as I write this. Ruthless crackdowns are the name of the game in Israel's neighbors, while Israel's minority Arab population, which openly seeks the destruction of the Jewish state, grows in size and continues to change the demographic balance.

Which of course, wouldn't be a big problem except that there is 1 Jewish state and 21 Arab nations (22 if Libya splits apart). Jewish nationalism is concentrated in a tiny sliver of land, while the multitude of Arab states provide a homeland for the myriad Arab tribes that are out there. There is plenty of room for Israel's Arab population in any of its surrounding nations, but there is no room for Jews to live in peace and security anywhere except in Israel.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Fatah & Hamas, Together Again...

When I read that Hamas and Fatah had "reconciled" and were going to form a unity government, I had to sit back and think for a second. Why would Fatah, whose members were being thrown off rooftops in Gaza City during Hamas' 2006 takeover, suddenly want to make peace with Hamas? Why would Hamas, which has systemically jailed and frequently executed Fatah members in Gaza, suddely want to make peace with Fatah? What is really going on here?

The move makes a lot of sense for Hamas. First, Hamas' political home base is in Damascus, and the Syrian regime is under a lot of pressure these days and may not survive the current protests. Even if it does, Syria's government will be seen as damaged goods and Hamas may try to distance itself from Syria in the future. Hamas, therefore, would be wise to hedge its bets and align itself with Fatah, an entity which for reasons unknown is viewed by the international community as a somehow legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.

But the second reason is far less direct. One of the underreported incidents of the "Arab Spring" was the Saudi intervention in Bahrain. The Bahraini government, a Sunni minority in a Shi'ite majority country, called in the Saudis to help quash Shi'ite anti-government protests. Considering the circumstances, Iran's silence on this matter was downright shocking. Iran has considered Bahrain to be part of its own territory (think Iraq with Kuwait) and has been a champion of Shi'ite rights in the region. That Iran essentially sat quietly while Saudi troops crushed Shi'ite demonstrations in Bahrain says something about Iran's willingness (or unwillingness) to truly push itself as the Middle East's Muslim hegemon. Hamas' members are no fools. They saw what happened in Bahrain and saw that Iran was not ready for a full showdown with Saudi Arabia yet. If the Iranians aren't willing to back fellow Shi'ites who are being put down by Sunni military forces, can Hamas really expect Iran to really pressure Israel into concessions? Maybe yes, but maybe not.

So where does that leave Hamas? In a time of upheaval, Hamas is climbing out of the shadows and trying to push itself into legitimacy. Maybe Syria and Iran cannot exert pressure Israel, but the EU and the US definitely can. And Hamas has nothing to lose. Its members know what happened in 2006 and they know they can demonize the corrupt and ineffectual Fatah and quickly take control of the government. As it stands, Hamas has little to lose and much to gain from obtaining a foothold in the West Bank.

More puzzling is Fatah's willingness to essentially forgive and forget the events of 2006 and align itself with an admitted terrorist organization. At this point, Fatah is likely positioning itself for involvement in a now forthcoming military conflict with Israel. By throwing its lot in with Hamas at this point, Fatah is saying goodbye to any peace process. And for good reason. Israel's stubborn unwillingness to negotiate its suicide has left Fatah no choice because any agreement they negotiated that did not include Israel's destruction would have left Fatah subject to criticism and denunciation from more radical elements in the Arab world. Since Fatah is useless because it cannot negotiate peace, cannot run the West Bank without Israel's help and cannot even pay their employees.

And so, we have a new geopolitical reality for Israel, at least for now. Israel's most realistic concern is a repeat of the 2006 Gaza War where Hamas evicted Fatah. If this happened in the West Bank, Israel's population centers would immediately be at risk, necessitating a military operation that would make Operation Cast Lead look like child's play.

On the plus side, any pretension that Fatah was a "peace partner" or willing to negotiate or recognize Israel as a Jewish State are now off the table. Fatah's affiliation with Hamas leaves no doubt that Fatah's primary interest is in destroying Israel, not creating some ambiguous two state solution. The real question is whether the US and EU will wake up and realize that Israel has no one to talk to on the other side. If anything, the very idea of these substantial and fundamental government changes make any agreement with entities not worth the paper they are printed on (see my last post for more details).

The Palestinian Government has said it has no interest in negotiating peace with Israel. Clearly, the plan is now to raise support for a unilaterally declared Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank. If that happens, and Hamas is part of that government, the newly formed Palestinian state can expect a similar action to what Lebanon faced in 1982 when they decided to give the PLO refuge.

Things are heating up...

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Waltz with Bashar...Tango with Egypt.

In 1982, the Syrian army entered the Syrian city of Hama, the site of ongoing protests by Syria's Sunni minority. Syrian troops, under the command of Hafez al-Assad's brother Rifaat, put down the rebellion in bloody fashion and killed between 20,000 and 40,000 Sunnis in Hama. Over 1000 Syrian soldiers died in the fighting.

Hafez's son Bashar is now facing a similar protest seeking to overthrow his regime. Whether Bashar is willing to stay in power at the cost of thousands of Syrian lives is not known at this point, but there is reason to believe that he is far closer to Quaddafi than he is to Mubarak. Assad has been able to keep the army closely aligned with him, which has been critical in deciding who has stayed and who has departed among the current crop of Arab leaders. Several members of Assad's military have already refused to continue atrocities on Syrian civilians, with deadly consequences.

More interestingly, Secretary of State Clinton today repudiated the Obama Administration's long standing campaign to pressure Israel to make peace with Syria. Realizing that the Assad regime does not make a good peace partner as they slaughter their own citizens, the U.S. has temporarily ceased pushing Israel to give up the Golan Heights in exchange for some nebulous cold peace with Israel that could be repudiated at any time.

Which brings us, of course, to Egypt. An article in the Jerusalem Post states that 82% of Egyptians polled want to abrogate Egypt's peace with Israel. Which for me, begs only one single question: how quickly should Israel get the Sinai Peninsula back? After all, the 1978 Agreement between Israel and Egypt based peace on Israel's return of the Sinai Peninsula won in the Six Day War and retained in the waning days of the Yom Kippur War. Israel gave up land, a giant chunk of land, for peace with Egypt. The Sinai has important strategic value to Israel, it is a buffer zone against Egypt and, most importantly, it could serve as a place where Palestine could have been created (I have and always will believe that Israel's proper course of action after the Yom Kippur War would have been to move all of its Arabs to the Sinai, build a wall across the border and wish them good luck. The UN would have complained for about 5 years and then everything would have quieted down.)

The issue of Sinai in the event of Egypt repudiating its treaty with Israel is a snapshot of why the entire land for peace idea is fundamentally flawed. In this so called Arab Spring, radical regime changes mean that any deal Israel makes with an Arab state can become invalid when a new regime takes over. In a world of purely bilateral treaties based on recognition, that's not a huge deal. But when Israel is giving up land, an asset not easily recovered in the event of a peace treaty repudiation, Israel places itself at a major disadvantage by giving up land.

Imagine if Israel had made peace with Bashar Assad's government in the mid-1990s, giving the Golan Heights back to Damascus. Now, imagine that the rebellion in Syria succeeds, and a new government comes in, breaks its treaty with Israel and moves rockets into the Golan. As any veteran of Israel's Six Day and Yom Kippur Wars can tell you, taking and retaking the Golan is an incredibly difficult logistical task, especially with a well dug in enemy. So it is with the West Bank or Gaza. Giving the land up for an empty promise of peace is easy, getting it back when the promise is broken is much harder.

This situation is especially true given the unpredictable nature of popular revolts. Nobody had hear of Muammar Quaddafi, Fidel Castro or Vladimir Lenin before they seized power with a small group of rebels. When Indonesia's Communist Party began to assassinate Indonesia's generals in 1967, nobody could have guessed that little known General Suharto would take power and hold it for the next 32 years. As such, giving up a tangible asset such as land, especially in a place where land matters as much as in the Middle East, is paying too high a price for a friendship that is temporary at best.

If Egypt repudiates its treaty with Israel, the current Israeli government will have to be left thinking about all the things they could have done in the Sinai Peninsula over the last 30 years. Imagine if Israel had direct access to the Suez Canal and more than just Eilat on the Red Sea. Even if Israel had given up the land to the Palestinians, imagine how different Israel would be if they did not face rocket attacks from Gaza or suicide bombings from the West Bank because all those "Palestinians" lived in Sinai, on the other side of a military border. All these questions must be running through Benjamin Netanyahu's head as he realizes what a mistake his predecessor Menachem Begin giving up the Sinai for nothing but a promise.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Palestinian Independence and Recreating the 1948 War

At a Seder on Thursday night, I got into a very interesting discussion with one of the guests. Our main point of discussion was whether a unilateral declaration of statehood by the Palestinians would be good for Israel or not. Her point was primarily that the inevitable conflict between Palestine and Israel would be fought more on Israel's terms and Israel would not be viewed as negatively by the world community because Palestine would be a real state, and Israel could not be accused of being an "occupying power" once it disengaged from the West Bank.

I think the theory is very interesting and it begs the question of what precisely would happen if the Palestinians unilaterally declared statehood. First, most would agree that a conflict between Israel and the newly created state of Palestine would be inevitable. This would be true for several reasons. First, if the declaration of Palestinian statehood was not the result of negotiations, any Palestinian state would still push for a Palestinian right of return at Israel's expense. Second, it is well known that Palestinian political groups ranging from Hamas to Fatah believe that Palestine should be in all of Israel, not just the West Bank and Gaza.

The scenario this person laid out would create a situation that would essentially mirror the 1948 War, but with some semblance of role reversal. Presumably, if Israel was opposed to the unilateral creation of Palestine, it would either invade or annex the territory. Even if this did not happen right away, it would happen if (a) Palestine attempted to evict Jews living there or (b) Palestine engages in any military action against Israel. So what would happen? If Israel destroyed "Palestine" it would be right back where it started, unless it undertook some new and unprecedented action such as militarily evicting Arabs from the West Bank into, say, Jordan. This scenario is pretty unlikely and so there is a substantial risk that Israel would be back to its current conundrum unless another Arab state (Jordan) decided to take control of the West Bank, which is also highly unlikely because of Jordan's bad experiences with Palestinian nationalism.

The inevitability of the conflict aside, my response to this person was that Israel will never be considered legitimate or acceptable no matter what the circumstances. There are people who believe that the existence of Israel in any form and those who believe that Israel should retreat to the 1947 borders (the original Partition borders rejected by the Arabs). The establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank would not silence such criticisms. Moreover, the reality of Israel's superior military strength will almost certainly create concerns about disproportionate force that had dogged Israel since the First Intifada.

And of course, there is the significant likelihood that neighboring Arab states would involve themselves in the conflict directly, as well as the risk that Iran would involve itself. More likely, subnational groups such as Hizbullah and Hamas would take the opportunity to embroil themselves in the conflict, which would create an increasingly dangerous situation because the perception would be that they were fighting for "Palestine's" very existence.

Israel will always be lambasted for its use of force because of the way it has been painted as a "bully" and at some level people will always criticize Israel. More fundamentally, Israel is essentially faced with a Pyrrhic choice if it did militarily engage a newly created Palestine: annex the nation and recreate the same problematic scenario it faces now or attempt something more limited and still face much criticism while giving itself only limited security (like Operation Cast Lead). Either of these scenarios mirrors a lot of what Israel faces with Gaza, but attacks from West Bank would be far deadlier because of proximity to all of Israel's population centers.

Lastly, and very significantly, there is no reason to believe that Fatah or any "moderate" element would be able to retain power. The same way that Hamas took over Gaza, it would be likely to overtake Fatah, which has historically been viewed as corrupt and ineffectual. This would certainly be the case if regional powers like Iran or Syria threw their lot in with Hamas because they would see an opportunity to unify Palestine politically under Hamas.

If Palestine declares statehood, the inevitable conflict will have the same type of unpredictability that the 1948 War of Independence had, with the very existence of nations hanging in the balance. The pressure is on the Israelis to have a comprehensive plan in place, both for its military and for its media relations, to succeed in the next battle against its Palestinian enemies. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Some Thoughts on Pesach on Jewish Freedom

After two seders in two nights, I finally have some time to write and reflect on this Pesach. In thinking of the story of Pesach, I tend to focus less on the story of the Exodus and more on the end of story: the arrival in Canaan. The Israelites had to come to Canaan and had to conquer the local Canaanites in order to seize their destiny and become an independent nation. As in 1948, the ancient Israelites had to establish their self determination by force and no one would simply grant it to them. Like in 1948, we came from a tremendous tragedy, unwanted in other lands and subject to the whims of foreign rulers. The importance of the ancient kingdom of Israel as places that allowed Jews to live under the rule of Jewish leaders cannot be overstated. When the Jews left Egypt, we became a free people, but when the Jews established Israel as a sovereign Kingdom, they took control of their destiny and became a nation.

And so it is today. Many people do not understand the importance of having Israel as a Jewish State. In this recent article, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed how Mahmoud Abbas' and the PLO's unwillingness to recognize Israel as a Jewish state is a non-starter to peace. Many critics, most notably Arab and Iranian leaders and anti-Israel activists worldwide, find the idea of a "Jewish State" deplorable and racist. Their belief is that a "Jewish State" is incompatible with democracy because it somehow values Jews over other citizens of Israel. Other critics claim that referring to Israel as a Jewish State makes it a theocratic or religious state.

These criticisms ignore the core issue of why Israel was created. The idea of a Jewish homeland has been discussed intermittently throughout the Diaspora, and finally gained ground in the 1920s with the Balfour Declaration, which asserted the British government's willingness to push a Jewish homeland in the British Mandate of Palestine. The need for a Jewish homeland became acute during the Holocaust because there was no nation that was willing to represent the interests of the world's Jews. The United States and Great Britain famously refused to accept Jewish refugees who had escaped from concentration camps. The need for a Jewish state stemmed from our historical statelessness and horrible torments that Jews suffered as a result of statelessness. Until 1948, persecuted Jews could not simply uproot themselves and move to a place where they knew Jews would be treated well and accepted because Jews ran that nation.

The idea of Israel as a "Jewish State" has little to do with differentiating between citizens or being a theocracy. The idea is that like pretty much all other ethnic groups, Jews need to have a homeland where they can be the masters of their own fate and to where oppressed Jews from around the world can go if they wish. Israel's existence as a Jewish state has far less differential treatment then say, Muslim states that impose dhimmi status on non-Muslims and requiring them to pay poll taxes and live with reduced economic and political rights. Israel's Druze, for example, serve in the IDF, have representatives in the Knesset and enjoy far greater economic and political rights than do Druze in Lebanon or Syria. Black Africans from places like Sudan, having experienced the horrors of violently imposed dhimmi status, risk their lives crossing Egypt to get to Israel.

Israel's government consistently states that a  Jewish State requires a Jewish majority. Of course, that would only be the case in a democratic society, but Israel's critics do realize that Israel cares about its demographics precisely because it is a representative democracy and its Jewish population is critical to retaining its status as a haven for Jews. For peoples who take the existence of their nation homeland for granted, it is easy to overlook the importance of having a place you can call home. But for peoples like East Timorese, Ukrainians, Tiberants and so many others who have fought or are fighting for a national homeland in our time, having a place where your people are a majority and can safeguard your people and traditions is something worth dying for.

Despite this obvious desire and need for a Jewish homeland, the Arab world and other anti-Israel crusaders have distorted Zionism into being a racist and exclusionary idea. Considering the source, the irony is palpable. Muslim peoples have historically been encouraged to rise up when they are ruled over by infidels. The Ottoman Empire stirred up revolts among the Muslim populations in the Balkans by reminding them of the impropriety of having non-Muslims ruling over them. These revolutions helped the Ottomans reach the gates of Vienna in 1683. Zionism is no different from the nationalist movements that led to the establishment of nations as diverse as East Timor, Bangladesh, Finland and Poland. East Timorese (primarily Christians, as distinguished from primarily Muslim Indonesians) Bengalis, Finns and Poles sought a nation of their own, which obviously led to the displacement of peoples caught in the middle of wars of liberation.

Yet, none of those people continue to linger as "refugees" 63 years after a country was founded on top of them. Certainly none of those people are demanding the creation of a sub-state to represent their interests, as Palestinians do. Considering the existence of Jordan as a Palestinian state, the current Palestinian nationalist movement is the equivalent of Russians living in Finland demanding the creation of another Russian state in Finland to accommodate them. And, they would also demand a "right of return" to parts of Finland where they lived before Finland became independent. Since there are only 6 million Finns and over 100 million Russians, this scenario could cause problems for Finland's existence as a "Finnish national homeland." No other peoples have the chutzpah to demand what the Palestinians demand: 2 states plus a right of return.

Interestingly enough, this very scenario actually happened. In the 1938, Adolf Hitler's government demanded that Czechoslovakia allow the Sudetenland to become independent. The Sudetenland was a province that had a substantial German population that remained after Czechoslovakia became independent, but the German government demanded that the Sudetenland be given full autonomy. Never mind that the province bordered Germany and ethnic Germans displeased with Czechoslovakia could move to Germany. What happened next? Neville Chamberlain was sent to negotiate a settlement and sold the Czechoslovakians down the river, having them cede the Sudetenland to the Germans, who then demanded that they be allowed to militarily occupy the Sudetenland. All this happened before the Czechoslovakians knew what hit them, and within 6 months, the Germans invaded Czechoslovakia (using the Sudetenland's higher ground to quickly overwhelm Czechoslovak defenses) and captured Prague. The Sudetenland situation paints a great picture of exactly what the Palestinians demand of Israel and exactly what is likely to happen if Israel goes along with such an idea. The only difference would be that Israel has a superior military to the Arab nations, but that has never stopped the Arabs from attacking Israel before.

The world demands that we give up everything that our fathers and mothers fought for to accommodate the rights of a people who would massacre us en masse if they could get their hands on us. We Jews should take a good long look at the Sudetenland story before agreeing to cede any more land to the Arabs. One of the benefits of being a free, self determinate people is that we are the masters of our destiny and we have the power to say no to those who demand such sacrifice from us. We are, unfortunately, not a people whose destiny it is to be loved by the other peoples of the world because we are different and we like who we are. On this Pesach, we should remember well the sacrifices and trials that our people went through to establish both the biblical Kingdom of Israel and the modern State of Israel. When the first Kingdom collapsed, it sent us on a 2000 year diaspora that saw our people brought the brink of annihilation. Nobody has the right to call us to that fate ever again.

Chag Sameach to everyone and may your mind be clear, your heart strong and your soul at peace. 

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Question of Jewish Self Determination

A lot of my goal in this blog has been to point how Israel's situation mirrors many other current political situations that get a lot less press. The political struggles in Sri Lanka, Western Sahara, Chechnya and  share some crucial similarities, but I think it is important to point out some ways that Israel's situation is different from those situations.

While the Sri Lankan Civil War was a 30 year conflict over the establishment of a Tamil homeland in parts of Sri Lanka, the Tamil Tigers never sought destruction of the entire state of Sri Lanka. Tamil Eelam always represented only a part of the island of Sri Lanka, and the Tigers always believed that the Sinhalese in Sri Lanka had some legitimate right to have a country on the island, even if it required them to cede some land to any future Tamil homeland. Similarly, the Polisario Front makes no claims on Morocco itself and its struggle in no way seeks to delegitimize the Moroccan monarchy or Morocco's national sovereignty. Even the Chechens, who have been among the most violent and sensational in their attacks on Russia, have never sought to destroy Russia or take it over in any meaningful way.

And that is the major difference. No nationalist movement save for the Palestinian nationalist movement is centered on the wholesale destruction of another country. And while certain members of Fatah have disclaimed their desire to destroy Israel, not a single one of them is willing to publicly state that they recognize Israel as a Jewish State. This is bolstered by Fatah's continued insistence on a right of return, which presupposes that the establishment of "Palestine" in Gaza and the West Bank would not resolve the Palestinian refugee problem and that refugees should be allowed to flood into Israel despite having a Palestinian state for them to live in. Hamas is more blunt with their goals, demanding a wholesale liberation of Palestine "from the river to the sea."

The significance of this assertion cannot be overstated. In my estimation, Israel is one of very few countries in the world whose very existence is under constant threat and questioning. The only other ones that come to mind are the Republic of China (Taiwan), which the People's Republic of China contends falls under its sovereignty, and 1990s Kuwait, which Iraq claimed fell within its dominions. In addition to the PLO's refusal to acknowledge Israel's right to exist in any meaningful way, nations like Iran and Syria have openly and honestly call for Israel's destruction and reject the idea of Jewish self determination.

Self determination is the real issue. The Tamil Tigers never questioned Sinhalese right to some level of self determination on Sri Lanka, and Polisario Front never questioned Moroccan self determination. Israel's critics, such as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, repeatedly claim that they have no problem with Jews (pointing out correctly that Iran maintains a substantial Jewish population) but that Israel should be destroyed. What people like Ahmadinejad mean when they such things is that have no problem with Jews so long as Jews have no right to control any territory in "Palestine." They demand that the Jewish homeland be established in Poland, ignoring the fact that a majority of Israeli Jews have Middle Eastern, not European, roots.

It all comes back to the issue of Jewish power. Critics who oppose Israel's right to exist claim to not be anti-Semitic because they have no problem with Jews per se, their problem is with Israel is that it allows Jews to be in power in a place that is part of the historical caliphate and is viewed as a recreation of the Crusader States. That viewpoint becomes clear when Palestinian commentators contend that Jews have no connection with the land of Israel and that, for example, the Western Wall has no significance to the Jewish community. Similarly, when Mahmoud Abbas says that he is unwilling to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, but that he has no problem with Jews per se, he is really saying that Jews are fine so long as they are powerless and disenfranchised in Muslim lands.

And that is why Israel cannot "coexist" with its Arab neighbors. The idea of Jewish power in the Holy Land is so repugnant to the Muslim world that they will not give up fighting for it. Consider, for example, that the Muslims fought for 200 years against the Crusader States because they perceived that Christians had no right to power in the Middle East at the expense of its true Muslim possessors. Since Israel's current critics often view Israel as a new Crusader State, there is no reason to believe that the the greater Muslim community of the Middle East will suddenly accept Israel's presence as a Jewish State where Jews have the power and are not dhimmi.

Israel's critics are unique in that their goal, whether implicitly or explicitly, is to end Israel's existence as a Jewish state and stamp out Jewish self determination. Jewish power has always and will always be a thorn in the side of those who wish to see the Caliphate reborn or that only Muslims control Jerusalem. Jews, perhaps more than any other people, know the danger of losing our self determination. We spent 2000 years as a people without a homeland, subject to the whims of our host rulers. And it is with that knowledge, that we must say no to any attempts to question or impede our self determination.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

What can Morocco's withdrawal from the African Union tell us about what Israel should do if Palestine unilaterally declares independence?

In reading recent coverage about events in Libya, I was surprised that Morocco, a US ally and stable Muslim North African nation, has been minimally involved in anti-Quaddafi operations. After some quick research, I was surprised to discover that Morocco is the only African nation that is not a member of the African Union (AU). The AU has been significantly involved in fostering negotiations between Quaddafi and Libya's rebels. A little more research revealed that Morocco had been a part of the Organisation of African Unity, the AU's predecessor, until 1984, when it left the OAU to protest recognition of the Sahwari Arab Democratic Republic (via the Polisario Front) as the legitimate government of Western Sahara. Since the AU continues to recognize the Polisario Front's government-in-exile as Western Sahara's government, Morocco never rejoined the AU.

My own interest in Western Sahara aside, Morocco's decision to remain outside the AU because of Western Sahara raises interesting parallels as to how Israel can be expected if the UN or any other international organization recognizes a Palestinian state founded absent a peace agreement with Israel. Morocco has thus far refused to allow a referendum on independence in Western Sahara and has threatened or cut off relations with nations that have recognized the Sahwari Arab Democratic Republic. For example, Morocco's relationship with Algeria is very poor because Algeria house's the Polisario government-in-exile in Tindouf, a city that borders Western Sahara. Other nations who dealt with intranational insurgencies, such as Sri Lanka, have also withdrawn from organizations or severed relationships with nations that have recognized the validity of insurgent claims (Sri Lanka put substantially pressure on nations that considered recognizing Tamil Eelam as a nation). More famously, China conditions normalized relations with any nation on that nation's acceptance of the "One China Policy" that refuses to acknowledge Taiwan as an independent nation.

These days, Israel faces many of the same issues because Fatah is considering unilaterally declaring an independent state in the West Bank without reaching a peace agreement with Israel first. Some nations, mostly in South America, have promised Fatah leaders to recognize "Palestine" once it comes into being. Mahmoud Abbas is going around the world seeking $5 billion to finance the Palestinian state that comes into existence. But the scenario I envision is more stark: what happens if a major organization that Israel is a part of, say the United Nations, recognizes Palestine?

Israel is faced with a number of options. First, it could take the option that would be a fundamental role reversal from 1948 by attempting to annex/conquer the West Bank and destroy Palestine in its infancy. Israel itself faced a similar response when it came into existence after the Partition ended. To be sure, such an action would be met with far more resistance than Morocco's 1976 campaign in Western Sahara or Sri Lanka's conquest of the Tamil Tigers in 2009. Other Arab nations, many of which have spent the last 60 years mistreating and crushing the national ambitions of the Palestinians, would likely intervene and a repeat of the 1948 War, with similarly unknowable results, would be likely.

But what if Israel did not take that option? What if instead, Israel took the same option that Morocco took in 1984? What I mean is that Israel should join the Vatican, Kosovo and Taiwan as non-member states of the United Nations. UN recognition of a Palestinian state obtained absent a peace agreement with Israel would be the final straw in a decades long conflict between the UN and Israel, made manifest by the UN's repeated and hypocritical behavior toward Israel. The UN has issued more resolutions condemning Israel than resolutions condemning Hamas, Hezbollah, the Tamil Tigers, the Irish Republican Army, or the Kosovo Liberation Army. Moreover, Israel's behavior toward Palestine has been subject to far greater scrutiny than Morocco's behavior in Western Sahara, Sri Lanka's behavior in Tamil Eelam, Russia's behavior in Chechnya and South Ossetia or Indonesia's behavior in the Aceh province. For the UN to recognize a state of Palestine created without providing Israel even bare bones security guarantees or recognizing Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state would provide more than ample justification for Israel to immediately withdraw from the UN.

Now some might say, wouldn't this simply deepen Israel's diplomatic isolation and deprive Israel of a global forum? Well, Taiwan has maintained substantial economic success and global diplomatic ties even though it has never been in the UN and China tries to prevent other countries from recognizing Taiwan. Israel, for example, had substantial diplomatic ties with Jordan long before the 1994 peace agreement. Even know, there is talk of clandestine Israeli-Saudi relations aimed at containing Iran. No one would say that Morocco has been substantially harmed by its refusal to rejoin the AU. And as a global forum, the UN has done a much greater service in giving Israel's enemies a platform to spew their beliefs than any benefit it has ever provided to Israel.

And there is the ultimate issue: where were the UN peacekeepers and troops to try to enforce the 1947 Partition when the Arabs invaded Israel in 1948? The UN has sat idly by for over 60 years any time Israel has needed help and support but have been very quick to act and maneuver any time Israel's opponents and detractors have needed a hand. Recognizing a Palestinian state in the West Bank is tantamount to the UN stating that Israel has no place in the Middle East and that Jews do not deserve a homeland there. If the creation of Israel was considered an existential threat to the Arabs in 1947, then the creation of an independent Palestinians state that has repeatedly sworn to destroy Israel is the ultimate existential threat. If the United Nations is willing to go down the road of recognizing such a state, Israel and its population cannot simply be expected to kowtow and accept a decision legislating their own death.

Unless the creation of a Palestinian state is conditioned on Mahmoud Abbas and his cronies recognizing Israel as Jewish State, Israel should withdraw from the United Nations if that body decides to recognize a Palestine founded without a peace agreement in place.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Updated: Hamas blames Israel for Italian Activist's Death

Despite a Youtube video posted by the Salafist group Tawhid wal-Jihad, in which the group's members stated that they had kidnapped and were about to execute Italian "peace activist" Vittorio Arrigoni, Hamas now blames Israel for his death, stating that Israel killed him because of his participation in the Mavi Marmara flotilla.

Read the story here. Not that this new commentary runs contrary to Hamas' statements in al-Jazeera, where the group blamed Tawhid wal-Jihad in this story.

Most likely, Hamas realized that having groups under its dominion who kill and kidnap Western pro-Palestinian activists made it less likely that Westerners would continue to participate in such flotillas, Hamas' PR department immediately changed their mind and blamed Israel. Note that Hamas is willing to blame Israel over a group like Tawhid wal-Jihad, even though the Tawhid group strongly opposes Hamas as being too liberal (not joking on this).

Just another great example of the doublespeak coming out of the Palestinian mouthpieces...

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Fate of Palestinian "Peace Activists"

Italian Pro-Palestinian Activist Executed

In case you haven't read (because it's not on CNN), a Gaza terrorist group angry at Hamas executed Italian "peace activist" Vittorio Arrigoni, who had lived in Gaza since 2008. Apparently, this group did not appreciate his contributions to the peace efforts in Gaza. 

Their video, threatening to execute Mr. Arrigoni unless Hamas freed their leader, can be seen here. Pretty frightening stuff, and to me it really says something about the mindset of many Arab groups that we in the West are unwilling and unable to comprehend: that what matters to much of the Muslim world is not what we do, but who we are. All of this harkens back to the untimely deaths of people like Daniel Pearl, killed in Pakistan not for anything he did, but for who he was: a Jew and an "infidel." 

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Mythical "Proportionate Response"

A hail of rocket fire into Israel. IDF and IAF strikes into Gaza, killing Hamas leaders and often the civilians they use as human shields. International outcry, demanding that Israel cease its attacks or at least respond to Hamas rocket fire with a "proportionate response." The last one of these statements has taken on an almost axiomatic quality, as though the idea of proportionate response requirement has always existed, is applied universally in all conflicts and that Israel is somehow deviant in its supposedly disproportionate responses to Hamas rocket fire or suicide attacks or soldier kidnappings.

I find it useful to discuss the "disproportionate attack" issue in several ways: first, why such a requirement is imposed on Israel; second, what would an Israeli proportionate response look like and; third, why current Israeli military responses are far more proportionate than responses in other similar conflict.

The idea of the proportionate response requirement comes on heels of Israel's success in the Six Day War. At that point, Israel went from the small fry in the Middle East to a proverbial big bully. Israel's operational excellence and highly trained military came to be viewed by the outside world as a threat (in part because the Arab armies were so amazingly incompetent. I mean really, who just leaves their planes sitting out on the tarmac. Looking at you Egypt). The geopolitical reality of the Middle East changed in those early days of June 1967, and Israel's military victories became a great liability in the court of public opinion, which came to see Israel as needing little strategic depth and land because its military could overcome any disadvantage. While the Yom Kippur War and the 1982 Lebanon Invasion tempered these beliefs somewhat, those failures have often been blamed on political miscalculations by the civilian branches and not on Israel's military.

Contrast that with the Palestinian situation. From 1948 to 1967 to 1970 (in Jordan) to 1973 to 1982 and moving on, the Palestinians have become weaker and less militarily effective in a conventional sense. The rise of suicide bombings and other unconventional tactics (like firing rockets at civilians) follows from the utter failure of conventional Arab armies to destroy Israel in tank battles and dogfights. So, there was a conscious shift to new styles of warfare that that would throw the Israelis off their game and more importantly, change the international perception to make Israel look like the aggressor and the dominant force.

Eventually, the Palestinians began to win the battle in the media with images of the boy throwing rocks at the tank, civilians dying in air strikes and other such images. Israel began to be punished for having advanced military technology as the UN and the liberal media began to demand that Israel exercise restraint and act with "proportionality" against the PLO, which essentially meant that Israel should prioritize its restraint in response to Palestinian attacks over doing what it takes to protect its citizens from indiscriminate rocket fire and suicide attacks.

So now we know how we got here, but what would proportionality look like? I assume that the liberal media is not saying that Israelis should respond to the Palestinians in kind and launch suicide attacks or cheaply made rockets into Gaza. If that were the case, it would surely be a twisted logic that would legitimate Palestinian style terrorism. So, assuming for a moment that Israel has some right to protect its civilians and respond, what should it do?

Targeted assassinations and abductions? Well no. Israel has been roundly criticized in situations where it has assassinated or abducted Hamas members responsible for rocket attacks. Israel is generally considered to be acting outside the bounds of international law when its operatives have undertaken such operations. I am quickly reminded of the criticism that followed the Mossad's assassination operation in Dubai last year.

Targeted air strikes at rocket launch sites? Also no. Hamas prevents this from being effective by its use of human shields to deter Israel from undertaking small scale targeted strikes on its leadership. Hamas and Hizbullah hide their leaders in bunkers to prevent such strikes.

Large scale responsive operations like Operation Cast Lead? Please. Israel took such an unbelievable amount of criticism for this operation even though it acted in response to several weeks of rocket fire before acting.

So what's a Jew to do? The proportionate response idea needs to be unmasked for what it really is: the idea that Israel has no right to defend its citizens. By definition, Israel cannot act "proportionately" to Hamas because they are not similar entities and have very dissimilar military capabilities and goals. Therefore, to demand that Israel act according to this undefined, mystical notion of "proportionality" is to demand that Israel not respond at all. If the death of Palestinian civilians necessarily subjects Israel to criticism, then Hamas and Hizbullah will continue to use civilians as human shields after firing rockets into Israel.

But let's take it to the next step. Let's look at Israel's responses to the Hamas gunfire to some other situations and assess their proportionality. The Sri Lankan army waged an ongoing battle with the Tamil Tigers, eventually wiping them out in 2009 and killing more than 50,000 Tamil civilians during the operation, including killing thousands in a UN designated "protected zone." The types of terrorism that the Tamil Tigers engaged in mirrors what Hamas and Hizbullah did in many ways. Nobody has ever demanded that the Sri Lankan army act with "proportionality" when fighting the Tamils. Furthermore, by ignoring any such criticism or commentary, Sri Lanka managed to rid itself of the Tamil Tiger threat precisely by acting with greater force than they ever had during the Sri Lankan Civil War.

Other scenarios abound. Morocco has been particularly ruthless in putting down the Polisario, not to mention Indonesia's crackdown on the Aceh rebellions. One that hits pretty close to home for me was Russia's strong military response to South Ossetia's succession, not to mention its multi-year invasions and wars in Chechnya, which followed Chechen terrorist attacks when Chechnya was seeking independence (sound familiar? Though that never stops Russia from criticizing Israel).

So what are we left with at the end of the day? To sum up, we see Israel as a country that is being held to an unmeetable standard of "proportionality," a standard which makes no sense given the geopolitical realities of the conflict and a standard to which no other country has been held to. To say that Israel is being singled out unfairly and illogically is beyond question. What the Israeli government needs to do is explain this to the world, make its voice heard and those of us who love Israel need to stand up and speak as well.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

One of the most fascinating interviews I have ever watched...

I am trying to incorporate more multimedia on the blog to give my readers access to other voices beyond just my own.

This interview with Abba Eban took place in 1958, on Israel's 10 year anniversary. First of all, Abba Eban was a brilliant man whose command of the English language made him one of Israel's most effective advocates in its infancy. What really makes this interview is amazing to me is how the topics have not changed in 50 years. For anyone who wants to see how little things have changed in the Middle East and see an effective advocate for Israel, watch this interview and enjoy.

A Post-Historical Fantasy World

We live in a world where many people believe that history has little to teach us. This is primarily characterized by people who believe that they can accomplish things that history has shown as us are impossible or highly improbable. In addition, many people seem to believe that we in the 21st Century are no longer bound by the mistakes of the past, and that if we do it our way, we can get results that have nobody else has been ever been able to get.

Take Afghanistan for example. George W. Bush really believed that he could succeed where both the British Empire and the Soviet Union failed and be the first outside nation to impose a new political system on the Afghans. Never mind that the British and the Soviets failed despite not really being bound by the rules of war and used extreme ruthlessness combined with political intrigue to try to overthrow the Emir of Afghanistan. The US jumped headlong into nation building despite the fact that Afghans have notoriously resisted Western attempts to influence their government. America assumed that when we walked in with our good intentions and military aid, we would somehow reverse centuries of anti-Western sentiment. 9 years later, the Afghan people still don't trust America and there is no end in sight to our mission in Afghanistan.

And then there's Libya. President Obama is old enough to remember the UN intervention in Somalia. Now, because of NATO's intervention, Libya is fragmented in two and likely faces a civil war that will end with the country being divided into semi-autonomous provinces, much the same way that Somaliland and Puntland no longer answer to Somalia's central government in Mogadishu.

Which bring us, of course, to Israel. Every president since Jimmy Carter seems to believe that they have a unique solution to the situation in Israel. What they don't realize is that, despite what the PLO would have you believe, virtually nothing has changed since 1949. Everything that the U.S., the "Quarter" and the Arab League have attempted has been tried before. The issue of refugees has not changed since the War of Independence except that other countries have evicted their Palestinian refugees for stirring up trouble. Ideas that have never worked, like land for peace, restraint of settlements or other more destructive ideas like the right of return, have been proposed since at least 1967.

So why do we think these old ideas will suddenly work? After all, Ehud Barak offered the Palestinians a state in Gaza and 97% of West Bank, full economic independence, East Jerusalem and everything but the right of return (a suicidal idea that no Israeli government could ever accept). Yasser Arafat said no. Please note, he didn't make a counteroffer except to demand the right of return (in exchange for nothing from the PLO), but simply said no, I can't accept that. At that point, what is the Israeli government to do? If you have offered everything you can and had it thrown in your face, what can you think?

The Israeli government is as guilty as anyone of this. For them to actually believe that any land for peace style arrangement would actually bring them anything after so many land for peace arrangements have fallen through is laughable. More relevantly, for the Israeli government or any other government to believe that the PLO/Fatah or anyone else actually has any interest in making peace despite the decades of history that definitively prove the contrary is simply dangerous. The fact is that the only times that Israel has been able to make peace with its neighbors is when it has operated from a position of strength (after encircling Egypt's Sixth Army in the end stages of the Yom Kippur War).

As much as we want to believe it, things do not change. The question of refugees has been on everyone's tongues since before the rise of Palestinian nationalism after the Six Day War. The Arabs  have always, always answered those questions by envisioning different scenarios that all involve Israel's destruction and the disenfranchisement of the Jews. The discourse has not changed in 60 years, even if the Arabs now do a better job of lying to the Western media to appear more moderate. However, the Egyptian newspapers still portray Jews as pigs and dogs and the Mahmoud Abbas still calls for Palestine to be "from the river to the sea" while telling the Americans that he wants peace.

Fundamentally, we Jews will never make the Arabs like us. For Barack Obama, George Bush or any other president to suggest that Arabs will come to respect and tolerate Jews as equals presupposes that Israel can change a millennium of anti-Semitism by giving things to the Arabs. This also ignores the fact that Israel has had most of its success in negotiating with Arabs states when operating for a position of strength, not when it is giving things away. We can all see what disengagement from southern Lebanon and Gaza have given Israel: rockets into its major cities.

So what conclusion can we draw from Israel's history with the Arabs? We can see that the PLO and Hamas have never accepted and will never accept a peace with Israel that does not necessarily entail Israel's destruction (be it officially or by way of demanding the "right of return.") Israel can not believe that it can please anyone, lease of all the Arabs and would be wise to avoid any plan that continues the foolish land for peace idea. In Israel's case, strong deterrence has been far more effective because the Arabs will never cease trying to destroy Israel. After the Six Day War, Golda Meir believed that Israel was so strong that no Arab nation would dare attempt to disturb it after being so roundly defeated in 1967. Yet, just 6 years later the Arabs were back for another round, proof that the Arab nations' visceral hatred of Israel and disdain toward the Jews will not go away so long as Jews have any ability to control their own destiny and control lands the Arabs claim as their own.

As Machiavelli said, "it is better to be feared than loved." Israel's only chance is to be feared, feared so greatly by their neighbors that they know that any time a Jew's blood is spilled, the repercussions will be so severe and extreme that they will think twice before trying anything. If that means striking at Gaza after Hamas launches 50 missiles, then the strikes should go on. Israel's government needs to make it very clear: for ever missile that hits Israel, we will destroy an entire town in Gaza and leave it to Hamas (the democratically elected representatives of Gaza) to control their people. Instead of attempting some ticky tack game of throwing rocks at each other, Israel needs more than anything to reestablish its deterrence value. I trust that the IDF knows how to do this in an effective way.

The lesson here is that history has already firmly entrenched many features of geopolitics. To believe that anyone, even Nobel Prize winner Barack Obama can suddenly reverse fundamental features of Middle Eastern political relations is laughable and dangerous. Just like you can't teach an Afghan to love a Russian, you can't teach an Arab to love a Jew.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Comments of a man much smarter than I...

A much younger Benjamin Netanyahu discussing the idea of a PLO state in the West Bank and Gaza. Thankfully he addresses the issue of why there was no push for "Palestine" between 1948 and 1967, when Egypt and Gaza controlled Gaza and the West Bank.

A really great video that sums up a lot of the reasons why there should not be another Palestinian state.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Why the Palestinians want in 2011 what they could have had in 1947...

The PLO through Fatah is planning to unilaterally declare a state of Palestine in the West Bank (since they no longer control Gaza). Part of this decision arises from the supposed failure of PLO-Israel negotiations, because the PLO refuses to negotiate with Israel until Israel ceases constructing "settlements." As I discussed in an earlier post, it's ridiculous for Fatah to make this demand because the construction of "settlements" is an issue for negotiation, so Fatah is putting the cart before the horse. This would be the equivalent of Israel saying it refuses to negotiate the Fatah until Fatah renounces the right of return. Logically, this type of negotiation cannot bear any fruit and shows that Fatah is disingenuous in its desire for peace.

But lets get to the real issue. The year is 1947 and the fledgling United Nations has just partitioned the British Mandates of India and Palestine. The Partition of Palestine calls for the creation for 2 states, Israel and Palestine, which will occupy 55% and 45% of the British Mandate west of the Jordan River (as the nation of Transjordan was created in 1946 on the east side). Jerusalem was to be an international city. While the Arabs flatly denied anything less than 100% of the mandate, the Jews had the audacity to accept the partition and prepare for the war they knew was coming. Palestine was stillborn, destroyed before it truly came into existence by the war between Israel and its Arab enemies. Most of the land was occupied by Egypt and Jordan, while some parts came to become parts of Israel.

Now, in 2011, as they have many times before, the Palestinians seek the benefit of the partition without having to give anything up. In fact, they don't just want the Partition, they want the right of return, they want money, resources and to kick Jews out of their territory. The baffling thing about all of it is that NOBODY and I mean NOBODY feels the need to bring up the fact that the Palestinians had their chance. They could have had a state bigger than the one in the 1967 borders, a state that contained large parts of the Negev and would have been far more viable than the state they ask for now. Instead, they and the Arabs who they believed were their allies (but turned out to be their greatest enemies) could not bring themselves to compromise with the Jews (dhimmi) and made war. In 1948, the Jews fought a war of survival for their very existence as a people and from that came a nation.

Fatah's demands are intended to gloss over that history. It is as though the Palestinians are stateless through no fault of their own, that this was cast upon them by cruel fate. Never mind that their "state building attempts" have gotten them evicted from Jordan, Lebanon and Tunisia. Never mind the years of terrorism aimed at Christians and Jews all over the Middle East. Never mind supporting Saddam Hussein and getting kicked out of Kuwait. And most of all, never mind that they started the war and lost it.

I have never, in the history of humanity, ever heard of a country starting a war to destroy another, losing that war and then demanding things from the victor as though the aggressor state was somehow a victim. Think about that. The Arabs started a war with Israel and demand land back to make peace with it despite losing the war. Somehow, the entire world has been convinced that the laws of leverage and bargaining don't apply. Instead of coming to Israel praying for peace and offering up real tokens instead of empty promises, the Arabs have the unmitigated chutzpah to tell the world that Israel must give them land to ensure peace. Most of all, the Palestinians, whose quest to destroy Israel in its infancy cost them their own nation, now stand demanding not one state, but two. For not only do the Palestinians demand their own state within the West Bank and Gaza, but they also demand to be able to return to Israel's land and live there.

If Palestine comes into existence in 2011, it will be an absolute historical anomaly, one that will reward the Palestinians for their decades-long attempts to destroy Israel and throw the Jews into the sea. When and if that day comes, Israel will be in for a fight not unlike the one it faced in 1948, with its very existence hanging in the balance once again. I can only hope that, like those brave men and women who defended the Jewish homeland in 1948, today's Jews believe that their home and very existence are worth fighting for. Because the Arabs certainly think it's worth fighting against.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Just Who is Besieging Gaza Anyway?

Hamas run Gaza is a major thorn in Israel's side. The Hamas government is either directly involved in or complicit in rocket attacks into Israel that have killed dozens of people. Hamas has orchestrated suicide bombings and has kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Schalit, all while continuously calling for Israel's destruction. Israel, understandably, does not allow Hamas to act in an unfettered way because to do so would directly endanger its citizens. Furthermore, Hamas has refused to negotiate with the "Zionist entity" in any direct manner, because doing so would be some recognition of Israel's existence.

Because of Hamas' presence, Israel has significantly restricted the flow of goods into Gaza in order to protect its self interest. It must do this because the political pressure of the early 2000s convinced the Israeli government under Ariel Sharon that disengagement from Gaza would serve Israel's needs by allowing the Palestinians to take control of a territory and govern it. So, Israel unilaterally left Gaza in 2004. Within 2 years, Fatah was thrown out of power in the Palestinian legislative elections and Hamas took power. Israel immediately began to impose significant restrictions on Gaza after Hamas began firing rockets into Sderot, Ashdod and Ashkelon. Gaza's high population density coupled with Israel's restrictions and Hamas' absolute unwillingness to negotiate with Israel to benefit its people has created substantial infrastructure and social problems in Gaza. Although Israel is the primary provider of aid into Gaza, it is constantly criticized in the Western media and the UN for its restrictions on Gaza.

And for most of us, this is where the story ends. For me though, things only got really interesting when I read this article. Basic geography dictates that it is not possible for Israel to fully restrict the flow of goods into Gaza because Gaza borders two countries: Israel and Egypt. When the Palestinians broke through Rafah, it temporarily highlighted the fact that Egypt had also closed its border with Gaza and prevented the Palestinians there from leaving, continuing a well established policy from when Egypt actually controlled Gaza from 1948 to 1967. Within a week or two, the coverage of Egypt's role in restricting movement in Gaza faded away, while Israel's role became more and more prominent in the media.

Fast forward to the Mavi Marmara. There is one question I have always asked myself: if the Mavi Marmara was truly interested in providing humanitarian aid and not provoking the IDF, then why didn't it sail to Egypt? I mean, Egypt has a direct border with Gaza and could easily have transferred the Mavi Marmara's "humanitarian aid" to Gaza through the Rafah crossing. I always believed it was because the crew of the Mavi Marmara and the Gaza Aid Flotilla people knew that the Israelis would never treat them as badly as the Egyptians would. According to an article in 2010, "Egypt will no longer allow convoys, regardless of their origin or who is organizing them, from crossing its territory," Abul Gheit (Egypt's then foreign minister) said. "Members of the [Viva Palestina] convoy committed hostile acts, even criminal ones, on Egyptian territory." This story was in Haaretz, but was of course not reported in the Western media. Although Egypt temporarily allowed aid to pass through in early 2010, it required that such aid not go through Rafah, but through Israeli checkpoints. The flow of aid through Rafah was essentially non-existent and the Mavi Marmara did not even consider sailing to Egypt because Egyptian security forces had beaten and killed aid workers in Egypt. Egypt did open the Gaza border for a few days after the Mavi Marmara incident to make Israel look bad, but then promptly went back to its usual policy once media attention died down.

Fast forward again, this time to the Egyptian Revolution. Many in Gaza and around the Arab world hoped that Hosni Mubarak's downfall would lead to more normalized relations between Gaza and Egypt. Of course, the fact that Egypt is (and, in my opinion, will be) run by a military government precludes the possibility of normalizing relations with Gaza because Arab military dictatorships are notoriously antagonistic toward Islamist groups like Hamas. Since Egypt's revolution, there has been no publicly acknowledged change in this policy, and "aid groups" like Viva Palestina still plan to sail to Israel, not to Egypt to "deliver aid."

So all of this begs the question, why isn't Egypt criticized for its blockade of Gaza? It is surprising that other Muslim nations have not brought more pressure to bear on Egypt to supply Gaza with humanitarian aid, and why other Arab nations don't send aid through Egypt if they really felt compelled to aid the Palestinians. Egypt's current regime has not changed its policy toward Gaza and barring a takeover by the Muslim Brotherhood, it is unlikely to change because Egypt's politicians know what Jordan and Lebanon's politicians know about the dangers of supporting the Palestinian national movement. Despite this, I am left to wonder when Egypt will be held responsible for its decisions to regulate the Rafah border with Gaza in the same way that Israel is held responsible.