Monday, May 30, 2011

It's Gaza Flotilla Season Again...

Despite the forthcoming opening of the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt, the Turkish government is planning to reuse the Mavi Marmara to launch another "freedom Flotilla" to Gaza. The Turkish government has already warned the Israelis not to take action against the flotilla, even though the flotilla members attacked IDF soldiers with knives and clubs last year. Despite the fact that any and all aid could easily be transmitted to Gaza via the Rafah border, it is important for these "peace activists" to provoke Israel and attack its sovereignty. Indeed, the international community is unsurprisingly uncaring about violations of Israel's sovereignty or the repeated attempts to provoke the Israelis.

The flotilla is just one example. After the Nakba Day border crossings by Syrians and Lebanese people, there is a growing movement to undertake further breaches of Israel's borders on June 5, the anniversary of al-Naksah ("The Setback"), better known in the West as the Six Day War. There has been little to no public outcry against the clear breaches of Israel's sovereignty and little has been done in the UN or any other organization despite clear evidence that the Syrian government ordered the invasions. Moreover, there was substantial public outcry when it was believed that the IDF had killed several invaders, but when it was determined that the Lebanese army had killed the invaders, all public outcry suddenly ceased.

Of course, none of this is very new. What I find most interesting about the "freedom Flotillas" is who is on them and who is not. The majority of the participants are Europeans, Americans and Turks, virtually none are Arabs. Indeed, for all their powerful rhetoric, Arab states have never provided the Palestinians with much aid or material support. Indeed, Jordan and Egypt stifled the Palestinian nationalism and provided minimal support. After Black September in Jordan, the Jordanian government rhetorically backed the PLO's actions against Israel while refusing to provide significant military support, especially since they knew full well how dangerous Palestinian nationalism could be.

The need for "freedom Flotillas" arises primarily from the fact that the Palestinians' "Arab brothers" have historically been unwilling to provide Palestinian nationalists with significant financial or material support, primarily because keeping the Palestinians destitute and poor is crucial for undermining Israel internationally. Moreover, keeping the Palestinians in refugee camps and not integrated into Lebanese or Jordanian society has been crucial because a large "displaced" population is crucial when making proclamations about the large number of refugees that the Israelis have displaced. In order to create a stronger case for a larger Palestinian state that takes away more Israeli territory, it is critical to maintain a large and separated Palestinian "society." In comparison to most other conflicts, it is essentially inconceivable for a refugee population to remain for so many years. There has been a concerted effort to keep the Palestinians from being absorbed into the many other Arab states because retaining the Palestinian national cause is considered to be a prime way to attack Israel and take territory from it. The moment the Palestinians become part of another country in a permanent way, they will likely lose their strong international support for a state. After the failed attempts to conquer Israel in 1948, 1967 and 1973, advancing the Palestinian national cause was considered the best way to attack Israel.

The rhetorical support for the Palestinian cause has been only part of the story. The Arabs have had their work simplified because many Western states and people in the West have taken up the Palestinian cause, biting hard on the Palestinian victimization narrative. Financial support from the U.S. and Western Europe for the Palestinian Authority, the successor to Yasser Arafat's PLO, has been forthcoming for decades. NGOs and other groups have taken very direct actions to support both the PA and Hamas, despite Hamas' explicit desires to destroy Israel militarily. Indeed, the Arab states who oppose Israel's existence don't even have to put their money where their mouth is because Western states spend billions funding Palestinians, who continue to oppose Israel's existence as a Jewish state and seek liberation of Palestine "from the river to the sea."

Whatever happens during the forthcoming aid flotillas, it is a good idea to ask why the Arab states are not participating and why leading Arab states like Saudi Arabia and Egypt (until the 2011 revolution) have not expended substantial sums to aid the Palestinians and why nations like Lebanon and Jordan have refused to integrate their Palestinian refugees into society. While Europeans and Americans who blindly believe the Palestinian narrative try to provoke confrontation with the IDF and harm Israel any way they can, the Arab states sit back and watch the West finance their ambitions to destroy Israel.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Why Does Gaza Need Aid Flotillas?

A story broke last week that has flown under the radar in the United States: Egypt intends to permanently open the Rafah border crossing with Gaza on May 28, functionally breaking the Israeli "siege" of Gaza and allowing a free flow of goods and people into and out of the territory. The Israeli government is understandably concerned about this, fearing that weapons will flow into Gaza at even greater rate than they do now. Additionally, concerns about the future of Egypt's government and the extent to which it will feature entities like the Muslim Brotherhood that are sympathetic to Hamas and are actively promoting autocratic rule in Egypt.

The concerns about the Rafah border are justified and will be a subject of another post. What I want to focus is on is the subject of this article. After the Mavi Marmara incident last year, I find myself puzzled as to the need for continued flotillas after the Rafah border opens. Indeed, I have previously stated that I was surprised that the "Gaza flotillas" never attempted to send aid through Egypt instead of intentionally creating confrontations against Israel in order to bring international disdain on Israel.

Now, if the Rafah border is open, functionally lifting Gaza's siege, what is the continued justification for such flotillas? Indeed, I would be utterly shocked if the Rafah border opening had any affect on the "peace activists" who try to confront the Israelis. Indeed, if the flotilla participants were interested in providing humanitarian aid, they always could have sent it through Israel or at least through the Egyptians. And of course, the token humanitarian efforts of the flotillas are minuscule compared to the substantial resources that Israel pours into Gaza (electricity and food being primary forms of aid).

If the flotillas continue after May 28, it will only prove what has always been true: the aid flotillas have always been about provoking Israel's military to try to harm its international reputation. The disciple of the IDF has generally prevented significant casualties even when the "peace activists" have attacked Israel's soldiers. Indeed, the flotillas are similar to the civilian border breaches on May 15 of this year, which are explicit violations of Israel's sovereignty and are primarily designed to see how far they can push the Israelis. Morocco has substantially restricted third party access to Western Sahara much how Sri Lanka's military prevented any attempts to arm or aid the Tamil Tigers and Indonesia restricted access to East Timor from 1975 to 2002.

Unlike the Polisario Front, the Tamil Tigers and the East Timorese independence movement, the Palestinians seek not only to liberate their own land but also to destroy Israel. Therefore, anyone giving aid to the Hamas government must be seen as actively aiding in Hamas and Fatah's mission to destroy Israel as a Jewish state. In the wake of the Rafah crossing opening, it is no longer possible to argue that Gaza is cut off from another nation through which goods can flow. Any such aid flotilla that sails into Israel's territorial waters must now be definitively viewed as an attack on Israel's sovereignty and an attempt to arm a "government" that seeks to make war with Israel. After May 28, why else would they possibly be sailing if not as an act of war and provocation? 

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Why Would We Want to Return to 1967?

Arab armies are massing in the West Bank, Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights. Jerusalem is divided, with Jews unable to pray at their holiest site: the Kotel. A fiery leader in Cairo wants to unite the Arabs and destroy Israel. And only a handful of people are talking about resurrecting the Palestinian State from the failed 1947 Partition Plan.

This is the world of early June, 1967 in the Middle East. From June 5 to June 10 in that year, the entire region changed as the IDF routed the Arab armies and Israel's territory tripled in size. The Six Day War and the geopolitical reality that it created in the Middle East are now viewed by the West as essentially the beginning of history of the Arab/Israel conflict in the sense that the June 4, 1967 borders are now considered a "starting point" or point of equilibrium under which the Israelis and Palestinians could live in peace and harmony.

Even assuming some sort of understanding with the Palestinians, it is utterly implausible to contend that the June 4 borders created some sort of equilibrium or stability between the Jews and Arabs. Indeed, in the wake of the 1949 Armistice, border clashes became a frequent fact of life. At the time, the Jordanians, the weakest of the surrounding Arab states, was not a primary instigator of such clashes, while Syria and Egypt frequently launched small scale raids and attacks on Israel. Yet, all it took for such hostilities to truly flare up was the introduction of Gamal Abdel Nasser and his pan-Arabist ideology and the backing of the USSR. Thereafter, the borders with Israel became much hotter and Nasser's ability to convince both Syria and Jordan to attack Israel led to the Six Day War.

The proximity of the Arab states, particular Jordan, to Israel's population centers, put the IDF on very high alert as tensions escalated in the summer of 1967, and this proximity and lack of strategic depth were at least part of the reason why Israel launched Operation Focus, which destroyed Egypt's air force, the Arab states' strongest, on the war's first day. Israel felt that a preemptive strike was necessary to establish military dominance at the outset because failing to do so might risk substantial civilian causalities if the Arabs made tactical headway against the IDF in the war's early stages. Indeed, one can compare this scenario with the almost shocking lack of preparation for the Arab invasion in 1973, when Israel's very existence was saved by its newly gained strategic depth in the Golan and the Sinai (and Jordan's relative non-involvement).

What is desirable about this geopolitical layout? Certainly, no one who looks at the history of the region from 1948 to 1967 can believe it was stable or productive to peace. During that era, no Arab state recognized Israel and instead there was a strong perception that Israel was vulnerable and that a well organized attack could finish it off (always highlighted by talk of splitting Israel in two at its narrow 9 mile stretch from the West Bank to around Netanya). Indeed, Israel's lack of strategic depth and the West Bank's proximity to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem was almost an invitation for the Arabs to try to destroy Israel. In fairness, this desire was not reduced after the Six Day War, but I certainly don't think it was much greater either. Although, many contend that the Yom Kippur War was less about Syria and Egypt trying to destroy Israel as they did in the Six Day War, but to recover territory lost in that conflict. One piece of evidence to support this was the fact that Syria did not attempt to invade the Upper Galilee when it held partial control of the Golan Heights early in the Yom Kippur War.

The central point of all this is quite simple: the circumstances present from 1948 to 1967 were not conducive to peace. Indeed, for the 1967 borders being considered now by President Obama for final resolution of the Israel/Palestine, there are many factors that make a Palestinian state within those borders even less conducive to peace than what actually existed on June 4, 1967.

First, before the Six Day War, Gaza and the West Bank were held by two different nations. Egypt and Jordan were not always on the same page, indeed the Jordanians felt quite threatened by Nasser's formation of the  United Arab Republic (UAR) with Syria and are generally thought to have been reluctant entrants into the Six Day War (and from a strategic standpoint they stood to and did lose the most). The Jordanians and the Egyptians did not do an effective job coordinating their attacks, but if one government controlled both the West Bank and Gaza, they would be uniquely positioned to effectively strike Israel's population centers quickly.

Second, given the fragile and emerging status of a Palestinian state, such a state would be susceptible to foreign influences (read: Iran) who would try to use it as a proxy for attack. While the Soviets in 1967 saw the Egyptians and Syrians as valuable proxies who could strike at Western-backed (at the time, not US backed, as most of Israel's military equipment came from France) Israel, the Soviets did not harbor the same fanatical hatred for Israel's very existence that Iran's government does. Since Iran has already provided substantial aid to Hezbollah in its war on Israel (obviously, there is a Sunni/Shi'ite divide here when it comes to PLO members, but many peoples who are otherwise enemies have come together in their hatred of Israel), it is not implausible to believe that Iran would push hard to become the nation that destroyed "the Zionist entity."

And then there is a far more fundamental issue. If a Palestinian state was formed in the 1967 borders and subsequently attacked Israel or was used as a launchpad by another country to attack Israel, wouldn't Israel feel compelled to recreate the Six Day War and re-annex the West Bank at least, under the theory that the Palestinians were still interested in destroying Israel wholesale and would use the West Bank as a launchpad to do so? Since Hamas, part of the presumptive government of Palestine, states that it will destroy Israel and liberate Palestine "from the (Jordan) river to the (Mediterranean) sea," is it difficult to envision another scenario? And, considering that neither Hamas nor Fatah is willing to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and that Syria and other states have orchestrated civilian invasions of Israel to actualize the right of return, I find it difficult to believe that a conflict will not arise soon after the declaration of a Palestinian state that does not simultaneously destroy Israel.

If such a state is created within the 1967 borders, any subsequent attempt by the Arabs to destroy Israel will have to be met by overwhelming Israeli force because of Israel's loss of strategic depth in the West Bank. Indeed, such a scenario makes it more likely that Israel will need to start explicit introducing its nuclear deterrent to maintain its deterrence level. Returning to the June 4, 1967 borders is very likely to recreate the events of June 5, 1967, though possibly with much deadlier results and no swift victory.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Significance of the 1967 Border

The aftermath of Barack Obama's speech is already being felt. While many people will say that Obama's speech was merely a public statement of a long believed policy, I believe that it has substantial ramifications on future negotiations because it identifies a certain position: the June 4, 1967 borders, as a reasonable concluding position for the borders of Palestine. By pegging the 1967 borders as a reasonable conclusion, Obama is enabling the Palestinians to start future negotiations from the 1967 borders and push for territory beyond this ground.

How do I know this will happen? It already has. In this article, Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar has already pushed beyond the 1967 borders, questioning why the negotiations don't involve the 1947 Partition borders. Of course, Zahar ignores the fact that the Palestinians rejected the very same partition after the UN proposed to divide the land. Now that the 1967 borders are essentially the starting point for negotiations, and there is an explicit endorsement of some politically defined border, Zahar and other Palestinians will ask "Why June 14, 1967? Why not May 13, 1948?" Indeed, this type of negotiation strategy is entirely consistent with creating absolutely indefensible borders for Israel with the intent of bringing about a final confrontation in which Israel's position is so thoroughly compromised that even the IDF cannot prevent catastrophic causalities.

Indeed, I would challenge Mr. Obama to answer that question. Why does he choose the 1967 borders and not the 1947 ones? Since Mr. Obama is agreeing to peg Israel's future borders in a geographic setting that led to two wars within 20 years (1956 and 1967), as well as numerous border conflicts and significant bloodshed in Jerusalem, why would he be uncomfortable with the 1947 borders, mandated by the UN? The very notion that the June 4, 1967 borders are to be some sort of starting point with "limited land swaps" presupposes that such a border is viable. Although successive administrations have used the 1967 borders as a starting point, to a degree that it has became almost dogma to base all negotiations on those borders. Why? What makes the June 4, 1967 political lines remotely viable or logical for the creation of Palestine. Let us consider the fact that the West Bank and Gaza were controlled by two different countries (not Palestine) from 1948 to 1967. Indeed, Israel's lack of strategic depth in June 1967 was big reason why Israel took the offensive to assault the Egyptian air force in the war's first day, knowing full well that any significant military penetration by the Jordanians would endanger Jerusalem and even Tel Aviv. The existential threat to the Israelis would have been far more real had the Jordanians possessed a more formidable fighting force. At the time, the Jordanians were weak allies to the Egyptians, while a more militant and belligerent force in the West Bank, say Hamas, would pose a significant threat to Israel's population centers.

Of course, it's much easier to say buzzwords like "1967 borders" and "land swaps" without considering the history that led to those borders being discussed in the first place. The very reason why we are discussing "going back to the 1967 borders" is that those border were not viable in the first place. Territorial holdings changed precisely because 1967 Israel did not feel secure having a belligerent country, even one as weak as Jordan, holding territory so close to its population centers. When one looks at Israel's history, it is easy to see how quickly its neighbors seized advantage of strategic land positions to attack Israel. The reason why Israel was so focused on taking the Golan Heights in 1967 was because Syria used the Heights' strategic position to launch rockets and missiles into the Upper Galilee. To demand that Israel now give such lands back to its enemies, while the same enemies give up nothing but promises on paper, is to blind oneself to history.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Gene Simmons...Crass but mostly correct.

Gene Simmons really expresses a lot of my views here...(except the part about women having thousands of babies).

Thoughts on President Obama's Speech

President Obama gave a speech about the Middle East recently, giving what he views as a method to achieving peace in the Middle East. Mr. Obama's vision was for a Palestinian state within the West Bank and Gaza, while leaving issues of the right of return and the status of Jerusalem up for later negotiations. Mr. Obama views this Palestinian state as providing a fair and just solution to the Middle East conflict.

While I have disagreed with many of Mr. Obama's policies, I have generally thought him to be an intelligent man. However, Mr. Obama's recent speech reflects a strong anti-Israeli sentiment that, given his intelligence and education, cannot be the product of ignorance. Mr. Obama's speech foresaw Israel returning the territory it gained in response to Arab aggression in 1967 for no conceivable reason. Mr. Obama did not demand that the Palestinians renounce their claims on Israeli land, did not demand condemn the Hamas government and did not take into account the fact that neither Hamas nor Fatah will be willing to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

But let's get to a more core issue. I would ask Mr. Obama a simple question: what correlation do the 1967 borders have to do with Palestine? The Palestinians did not exist as a nationalist movement in 1967 and were not meaningfully involved in the Six Day War. The pre Six Day War borders did not have a Palestinian state. But even assuming that the artificially constructed borders made sense, I am always left to wonder why Obama feels like Israel has to give away land when the history of Israel ceding land has been universally terrible. Israel's withdrawals from Gaza in 2005 and Lebanon in 2000 have led to those locations becoming bases for rocket attacks into Israel. Now that Hamas has become part of the Palestinian government, is there any reason why Israel should not expect the same thing in the West Bank? However, rockets would now fly into Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Ben Gurion Airport with ease.

Mr. Obama maintains that Israel's security is a crucial factor in future agreements. However, Mr. Obama's unwillingness to stand with Israel and condemn the "right of return." His unwillingness to stand against the right of return shows that Mr. Obama does not even believe that Israel even needs to be a Jewish state. Indeed, Mr. Obama promotes the idea that Jews have no right to live in the West Bank or Gaza, but that Arabs should have the right to live in Israel AND that Palestinians from all over the Middle East should potentially be allowed to overrun Israel.

Mr. Obama did not even mention the Arab attempts to invade Israel at Majdal Shams and other northern cities. Israel's territorial integrity concerns Mr. Obama far less than appeasing the Palestinians. Indeed, Mr. Obama's failure to mention the "Nakba Day" invasions of Israel should put all Jews and Israelis on notice that this administration is not concerned with maintaining Israel's territorial sovereignty. While Mr. Obama says words like "we value Israel's security," he simultaneously puts the interests of the Palestinians far, far ahead of the Israelis. He wants Israel to withdraw from the West Bank, but I would ask him what benefit Israel got from its withdrawal from Gaza. The fact is quite simple: the Palestinians won't be satisfied, not even for a single day, with that state. Fatah explicitly demands a right of return, Hamas demands the destruction of Israel outright. Both groups seek Israel's destruction of a Jewish State. President Obama is helping them on their way.

In some ways, it's refreshing to have him put it all out on the table. Indeed, Obama is not the first nor will he be the last American President to sell the Israelis down the river to try to gain credibility with the Arabs. The bigger issue is that any Jew, in Israel or abroad, should realize that the U.S. government will sell Israel down the river and will turn against Zionism and Jewish sovereignty in a heartbeat if the US thinks it can get some oil or other benefits. Indeeed, there is only one Israel and there are a lot of countries that hate Israel. In this sense, Mr. Obama's decision makes rational sense. But to the Jews out there who helped put him into office, you should really consider whether President Obama has any interest in maintaining a Jewish state. You may not live in Israel now, but we must all realize that while we live under the whims of another people, we never know when that other people will turn against us. While Israel is strong and vibrant, we have a place to go no matter what happens. But nobody will ever stand up for us and only we can rely on ourselves.

Mr. Obama certainly does not mention the numerous peace offers that the PLO has refused before. Why should Israel offer the Palestinians what they already declined in 2000 from Ehud Barak? If nothing else, we should be convinced that the Palestinians do not peace. And at the very least, couldn't Obama have at the very least mentioned the name of Gilad Schalit, held in captivity by Hamas for years? Couldn't that even be a minor precondition to statehood for the Palestinians?

If you are reading this and you are a Jew, realize that Barack Obama wants to see your state slowly but effectively destroyed. Barack Obama is pushing for a Palestinian state but demanding little to nothing of the Palestinians. He won't even condemn an Arab civilian invasion of Israel, or even mention it. He pushes through Egyptian aid even though Egypt is now considering repudiating its peace treaty with Israel and is jailing critics of the regime. Of course, President Obama's speech about the Middle East does not mention Morocco's occupation of Western Sahara and Syria's behavior takes a back seat to Israel. Mr. Obama has fallen into the usual trap: he believes that Israel is the main conflict in the Middle East. Indeed, even though the Arab Spring taught us that the core issues in the Middle East are the violent and repressive governments, the Arab states deflect blame from themselves by pushing Israel and the Palestinians into the forefront, even when those states have complete disdain for the Palestinians. Obama is completely willing to go along with this narrative and put Israel on the spot while putting all other conflicts on the backburner, to Israel's detriment and to the Arabs' benefit.

If you are a Jew and you voted for Barack Obama in 2008, I truly hope that this speech is a wake up call to you.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A Response to Mahmoud Abbas

Mahmoud Abbas had an editorial piece in the New York Times, found here.

Mr. Abbas' thesis is that the Palestinian state is long overdue and that Israel has systemically denied Palestinians national sovereignty through its military actions and unwillingness to make lasting peace with the Palestinians.

Mr. Abbas takes us on a journey back to 1947, while omitting some crucial facts from his view of history. Lamenting Israel's "takeover" of Partition Palestine, Mr. Abbas conveniently ignores the reason for Palestine's collapse: its invasion of Israel. Mr. Abbas states that "Minutes after the State of Israel was established on May 14, 1948, the United States granted it recognition. Our Palestinian state, however, remains a promise unfulfilled" Mr. Abbas' statement seems to assume that the Palestinians (a) approved the Partition and (b) attempted to form their state when the British Mandate ended. In fact, neither of these things happened, as Palestine was more focused on destroying Israel than its own state building.

One of Abbas' more historically bankrupt statements is his note that "in November 1947, the (UN) General Assembly made its recommendation and answered in the affirmative Shortly thereafter, Zionist forces expelled Palestinian Arabs to ensure a decisive Jewish majority in the future state of Israel, and Arab armies intervened." To say that Israel was the instigator of the 1948 War is the equivalent of blaming Poland for Hitler's invasion. Although the General Assembly did recommend the formation of Palestine, the Arabs in Palestine rejected their state, demanding all of the British Mandate west of the Jordan river, with no room for a Jewish state. But the more audacious claim that Abbas makes is that Arab forces intervened in order to somehow stop the creation of a Jewish majority or to help Palestine in any way. In fact, after the 1949 Armistice Agreements, Jordan and Egypt occupied most of the land promised to "Palestine" in the Mandate, and spent the next 20 years affirmatively preventing Palestine from coming into existence.

Continuing through Abbas' rampant inaccuracies, Mr. Abbas intentionally frames the "Nakba" as somehow relating to 1967 borders and forming a state within those borders. I would ask Mr. Abbas, then, why Nakba day was on May 15, the secular anniversary of Israel's founding and not June 5, the day the Six Day War started and created the political boundaries for the state he is now seeking. As much as Abbas and his kind want to hide it, the creation of Palestine is not and has never been about 1967. As Benjamin Netanyahu pointed out in his response to Abbas, the entire discussion is about 1948 and the very existence of Israel. The "Nakba" was never about Israel's winning territory in the Six Day War, it was about the Arab view that Israel's very existence is a catastrophe to the Arab psyche and belief in Muslim supremacy over Jerusalem and "Palestine."

I will not get into the fact that Mr. Abbas ignores the "Nakba" suffered by Jewish residents of the Middle East, 750,000 of whom were expelled and harassed in the wake of Israel's founding. The crucial thing to realize is that Mahmoud Abbas writes the following: "The State of Palestine intends to be a peace-loving nation, committed to human rights, democracy, the rule of law and the principles of the United Nations Charter. Once admitted to the United Nations, our state stands ready to negotiate all core issues of the conflict with Israel." Everything about those two sentences epitomizes the extent to which the PLO has pulled the wool over Western eyes. Palestinian nationalism has never been peaceful, not to Israel, not to Jordan, not to Lebanon and not to Kuwait. The reason that Palestine is not a `Josef Stalin and Mao Tse-Tung might have an easier time establishing a track record of "peacefulness" than the PLO. For Hamas, this goes without saying, as their entire purpose is to destroy Israel, not to nation build. And there is no reason to believe that Abbas or anyone else is willing or ready to negotiate. The PLO will not recognize Israel as a homeland for the Jewish people and seeks to flood it with Arab refugees, thus extinguishing its Jewish majority. At that point, Israel as a refuge for the Jewish people will cease to exist.

Mr. Abbas can paint rosy pictures of the Palestinians as people who want a nation and are ready to make peace. The problem is that his actions and the actions of the Palestinians speak much louder than any New York Times editorial can.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Morocco's Green March and the Dangers of Illegal Border Crossings

Individuals in various Arab states have attempted to cross Israeli borders today, as part of the large scale Nakba Day protests in which Palestinians and their sympathizers around the world characterize the founding of Israel as a "catastrophe." Aside from the fact that the continued celebration of Nakba Day clearly shows that many Palestinians have no interest in coexisting with Israel (since they find its existence to be a catastrophe), today's events create the potential for dangerous escalation, initiated by the Arab States.

First, since the trespassers are Lebanese and Syrian primarily (the majority of the crossings or attempted crossings occurred in the Golan Heights, which by the way, were not part of the land given to Palestine in 1947 and belong to Syria, not Palestine, until the Six Day War), there is real danger to Israel because those are nations that do not recognize Israel and have no diplomatic or consular relations with Israel. As a result, Israel cannot know the intent of such protesters, many of whom were screaming to "Free Palestine from the River to the Sea" and were marching as part of a group condemning Israel's very creation. As the IDF cannot know the intent of such protesters, whether they are armed or whether they are acting under the orders of the Syrian military, one cannot simply presuppose peaceful intent on the part of persons crossing the border. Syria maintains an active state of war against Israel, so it is reasonable to assume that any border incursion is consistent with that military stance.

There is, however, another issue at play here. A large scale border crossing has great political significance and can have a significant role in escalating military conflict. In 1975, when Spain agreed to withdraw from Western Sahara following Francisco Franco's death, three competing interests sought to control Western Sahara: Morocco, Mauritania and Sahrawi Nationalists (later POLISARIO). Upon Spain's departure, Morocco's King Hassan organized "the Green March," an incursion by 350,000 Moroccan civilians across the Western Sahara border, by which Morocco would take functional control of the disputed territory by simply sending a substantial number of civilians into the territory. While some negotiations later restricted the Green March so that the civilians only marched down to the capital of El Aaiun, the very threat of the Green March gave Morocco substantial leverage and was instrumental to preventing the success of Western Saharan natonalism in 1975.

The situations are not identical, as the border crossings here have been of a small scale so far. They are, however, very dangerous. Arab states have always accused Israel of "changing facts on the ground," a term used to refer to essentially every economic or construction activity undertaken in "Palestine" since 1949. While Israel has blossomed into a successfully democracy with significant economic development, the Arab states and the Palestinians welcome the opportunity to "change facts on the ground" through border crossings, much the way that King Hassan did in 1975. Because the Israelis are held to such high moral judgment in the world, Israel would be at great risk no matter what it did to border crossers. Such activity must be dealt with swiftly and decisively.

There is another amazing aspect here, highlighted in this article, in which the Syrian government condemns Israel's response to the Nakba Day protesters. I am not even going to point out the irony and hypocrisy of the Syrian government making any statements about another nation's dealings with protesters. I don't recall the Syrian government making such statements about Egypt, Libya, Bahrain or Tunisia. Moreover, given Syria's tight control over its military and political establishment, it is highly unlikely that the people who crossed the border into the Golan did so without explicit authorization from Damascus. Considering Syria's present domestic unrest, there is little reason to believe that the Syrian government did not orchestrate this march to divert attention from its own unrest.

On this Nakba Day, I would ask my readers to look back at my posts about what Nakba Day means for the potential success of the peace process. My central thesis is that Nakba Day marks Palestinian rejection of any state of Israel and proves that the conflict is not about any particular border issue, but is an existential discussion about Israel's very existence. Second, I think it is prudent to remember what would have happened had the "Nakba" never happened. Considering that Jordan and Egypt took and held Gaza and the West Bank for 19 years until Israel took those territories, there is no reason to believe that Israel's neighbors had any interest in seeing a state of Palestine. If they had, then a state could have been established within the West Bank and Gaza Strip any time between 1948 and 1967 without Israel's consent or input. But it never happened, because the other Arab states never wanted to see a Palestinian state in land that they felt belonged to them. Now, those same nations hypocritically use the Palestinian nationalist cause as a way to attack Israel even though they have never had any interest in promoting such nationalism when it came to giving the Palestinians land or political rights within their own nations.

How long can we continue to deceive ourselves into believing that Palestinians want peace when everything they do shows otherwise?

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Anti-Israel vs. Anti-Semitic: What is the Difference?

It's been 63 years since Israel was founded on May 14, 1948. There are few nations whose very existence is so open to dispute, perhaps only the Republic of China (Taiwan) faces such uncertainty and dispute as to its very existence. One critical issue has always been prime for dispute between Israel's supporters and critics: to what extent is criticism of Israel anti-Semitic?

From a superficial view, criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitic. Israel is a nation and Jews are a people, many of whom do not live in Israel and have no connection with the state whatsoever. Criticism of particular Israeli policy is not an attack on the existence of the Jewish people in the way that the Holocaust or the Exile after the fall of the Second Temple. Many of Israel's critics stand fast to the notion that their criticism of Israel, no matter how biting, should not be viewed as an attack on the Jewish people. Notably, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad takes this view, frequently calling for the destruction of Israel while stating that Iran's Jews live in peace and are not harmed by the Iranian government.

Indeed, this intuitively makes sense. One would not be called anti-American simply for criticizing America's involvement in any number of political or military conflicts or speaking negatively of a particular American law. Similarly, critics of French, British or Spanish colonial practices could not be considered to be harboring racist beliefs against those peoples just because of such criticism. Indeed, this speaks to the idea that one can divorce the criticism of a people's government from any hostile belief against the people themselves because we correctly assume that a government does not necessarily represent the will of the people, even in a democracy. Indeed, one need look no further than the (properly) positive treatment that American service personnel receive in this country, even from many people who oppose the U.S. government's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But, how is this situation different when looking at Israel's critics?

In the first camp, we must look at criticisms that directly and explicitly call for Israel's destruction. Such criticism can be viewed as anti-Semitic first because it is frequently couched in language that laments Jewish control over "Muslim" land or believes that Jews should be uniquely denied the right to self-determination. Such criticism, stating for example that "Israel has no right to exist" is anti-Semitic because it is an attempt to deny Jews one of the fundamental rights enjoyed by the majority of the world's peoples: self determination and a nation of their own. People like Ahmadinejad, who attempt to appear more neutral toward Jews by stating his own government's favorable treatment for Jews, is simply regurgitating the classic Islamic of dhimmi: in which non-Islamic peoples are treated as second class citizens in Islamic nations. Obviously Ahmadinejad's willingness to keep Jews in Iran as second class citizens is all well and good, but it does nothing to ameliorate the blatant anti-Semitism implicit in stating that Jews have no right to their own country.

That is the easier case and there are very few such direct critics of Israel in Western society. Even when there are, it's easier to stand up to these kinds of critics by noting the multitude of justifications for Israel's continued existence. The harder cases arise when faced with a person criticizing a particular Israeli policy, generally when dealing with critics of Israel's actions toward the Palestinians and other nations.

In my mind there is a central factor that has led me to believe that the majority of criticism of Israel has anti-Semitic overtones, and that is the way that Israel has been uniquely singled out for its actions, which are frequently more humane and considerate than other nations' when other nations deal with similar geopolitical situations. Indeed, one of the central anti-Semitic undertones is the extreme over-focus on Israel. Despite several conflicts that mirror the Israel/Palestine situation in one way or another, you have probably heard very little about them. Indeed, when the UN decided last month to issue a denouncement of the Sri Lankan government's actions during the end of the Sri Lankan Civil War in 2009, I predicted to several people that the story would make news for a day or two in the West and then disappear.

Post-WWII history is replete with examples of incredibly violent crackdowns aimed at putting down nationalist movements. Indonesia's annexations in Papua and East Timor have been largely forgotten and never got significant media attention in the West, even though Indonesia's 25 military governance of East Timor after its 1975 invasion was particularly brutal, with 100,000 to 150,000 East Timorese dying during the conflict out of a total population of 700,000. I have often mentioned on this blog how the conflicts in Sri Lanka and Western Sahara have been largely ignored in the past, save one day headlines when some flare up occurs.

But why stop there? Let's look at the Palestinians. Jordan has historically mistreated its Palestinian population despite the fact that Palestinians represent a demographic majority in Jordan (a fact largely buried in the Western media because it would take away some of the "urgency" from establishing a Palestinian state). When Palestinian terrorists killed Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics, they were members of a group called Black September, named for Jordan's campaign to put down and expel PLO members after an abortive coup attempt in 1970. Indeed, criticism for mistreating Palestinians seems confined to Israel even though Palestinians have generally been treated better in Israel than they were in Jordan, Kuwait or Lebanon. Israel has provided food, electricity and supplies to Palestinian territories in a way that Jordan and Kuwait did not. If nothing else, Israel has not engaged in the kind of large-scale military backed population expulsions that Jordan undertook in 1970 and Kuwait undertook in 1991-92.

I ask my readers: have you heard about Jordan's treatment of its Palestinians or Kuwait's expulsion of 400,000 Palestinians in 1991? Why do you often hear more about Israel than you do about Syria's crackdown on its protesters? After thinking long and hard about it, Israel has been held to an unjustifiably high standard that no other nation is held to. And there is no reason to believe that it is not because Israelis are Jews. If that were not the case, I would challenge someone to answer me why coverage of those other conflicts, often bloodier, more gruesome and undertaken by military forces who go out of their way to kill civilians, get substantially less press than Israel's conflict with the Palestinians? When Israel launches attacks that kill 5 in Gaza (frequently deaths in Gaza are disproportionately high because Hamas members use "civilians" as human shields), why does that get more attention than Sri Lanka kills 30,000 Tamils? The great irony is that few people realize that it would be shockingly easy for the IDF to maximize Palestinian causalities if that were there intent and that Hamas, knowing well how disproportionate media coverage against Israel is, takes intentional acts to make sure innocent civilians die in Israeli military actions. Hezbollah did this too during both the 2006 Lebanon War and the 1978 Israel action against the PLO in Lebanon (Operation Litani).

The point here is quite simple: Israel's military actions have generally been focused on minimizing casualities to enemy combatants, while receiving coverage and condemnation that is disproportionate when compared to other military forces' behavior when putting down enemy nationalist groups. It leads one to the inescapable conclusion that Israel must be singled out because it is a Jewish state, not because of the substance of its actions.

This different treatment of Israel has now become so entrenched, so central to the Palestinian narrative and the supposed "uniqueness and intractability" of the conflict, that few question it. 63 years after 5 Arab states tried to destroy Israel in its infancy, Israel faces unending questions over every house it builds and demolishes, over every village that was destroyed in the 1948 War (regardless of why or by whom) and faces ultimate existential questions that few other countries experience. Israel has been deprived of the right to be treated as simply another nation, to be judged no more harshly or leniently than its peers. Israelis want to be judged for their actions and not because they are Jews surrounded by Arab states.

As Ze'ev Jabotinsky pointedly said in 1911, "Our habit of constantly and zealously answering to any rabble has already done us a lot of harm and will do much more. ... We do not have to apologize for anything. We are a people as all other peoples; we do not have any intentions to be better than the rest. As one of the first conditions for equality we demand the right to have our own villains, exactly as other people have them. ... We do not have to account to anybody, we are not to sit for anybody's examination and nobody is old enough to call on us to answer. We came before them and will leave after them. We are what we are, we are good for ourselves, we will not change, nor do we want to."

On Israel's 63rd birthday, I can only wish that Israel be treated as simply a nation among others and Jews as a people among others, judged based on their actions and not arbitrarily high moral standards. As Jews, that's all we ask.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Rewarding Bad Behavior: Land for Peace in Palestine

As we go into summer, we are approaching the Palestinian government's self appointed date for independence. Of course, it's no surprise to hear members of the Hamas government already stating that the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza will not lead Hamas to recognize Israel or cease its attempts to destroy Israel. Senior Hamas official Mahmoud Zahar said as much here.
Of course, people like Mr. Zahar and Ismail Haniyeh have never changed their tune, seeking political gains to establish a foothold for what they see as an ultimate confrontation with Israel.

While such public proclamations should raise alarm, the willingness to recreate the geopolitical reality in the Middle East in spite of reality of requiring Israel to cede land to a political entity that unequivocally begs for Israel's destruction. Fatah, while speaking in rosier terms, has done little to functionally disclaim terrorism or renounce its ambition to see Israel destroyed, choosing to emphasize its desire to overrun Israel with returning "Arab refugees" instead of outright calls for its destruction.

I have discussed before my belief that Western nations are enthralled by the Myth of the Peacemaking Palestinian, a belief arising primarily from Europe's colonial guilt and America's love of "underdogs" and blind belief in victimization narratives. But there is a further issue here that has specific ramifications for Israel and its national defense: land for peace.

Land for peace began as an idea following the Six Day War. When Israel won the Six Day War, it came into possession of substantial territory, famously capturing the Sinai Peninsula as the Egyptian Army disintegrated and abandoned the Sinai Peninsula. Other territories fell as the Arab armies proved to be so operationally inferior that they could not hold core territories with major strategic advantages (Golan Heights). When the Arab armies failed to effectively recapture territory in the Yom Kippur (partly because Anwar Sadat was overconfident in Egypt's ability to gain territory beyond its initial foothold across the Suez Canal and partly because of his need to keep Israel's army occupied while Syrian forces attempted to retake the Golan), the harsh reality that defeating Israel by military force was not a feasible option given Israel's current territory, which gave it significant buffer zones from its population centers. And so, the idea of land for peace began, proposed by various Arab states, which led to the 1978 peace agreement between Egypt and Israel (note, that the 1994 Jordan-Israel peace agreement did not involve land for peace, primarily because Jordan had little interest in regaining sovereignty over the West Bank and its large population of disaffected Palestinians).

Land for peace was historically based on the notion of returning the Middle East arena to its pre-Six Day War political borders, with Israel giving up land won in return for normalized relations with its neighbors (Egypt). The history of this process begs an important question infrequently asked: how could land for peace as understood in the context of the Six Day War's political ramifications possibly apply to the Palestinians? First of all, Palestine did not exist in 1967, or even during the 1949 Armistice Agreements. The vast majority of Partition Palestine was occupied by Egypt and Jordan after the 1948 War, effectively extinguishing that part of the Partition. To the extent that Palestine was not a participant in the Six Day War and had no territory to lose, having Israel return territory to Palestine in exchange for "peace" is essentially requiring Israel to transfer land to the Palestinians that they lost to Jordan and Egypt.

But the troublesome mechanics of land for peace with the Palestinians is less an issue than the fact that the Palestinians have done absolutely nothing to show themselves as willing to establish a state that will live at peace with Israel. During the 30 year Tamil Nationalist movement, there was intermittent political pressure for Sri Lanka's government to make territorial concessions to the Tamil Tigers, but the Tigers' militant activities and terrorist acts ultimately cost them valuable international support. Similarly, international sympathy and support for Chechen independence is often temper when Chechen terrorists do things like blow up subways in Moscow or take people hostage in a theater (some might compare the Basque ETA as well). In many cases, international support wanes for these nationalist movements when entities affiliated with the nationalist movements commit terrorist acts. While this was often the case in Palestine, Fatah and Hamas seem to have essentially "waited it out" and are now on the verge of receiving a state while doing nothing to justify this difference in treatment. At some level, the Palestinian national movement has always had more international support than the Tamil Tigers, ETA or the Chechen movements for a variety of reasons that will be the subject of a separate blog post.

But when Fatah and Hamas see that, despite launching rockets and suicide attacks at Israelis for decades, they are closer than ever to a state, how can they not believe that their violent behavior will be tolerated even after they have that state? After all, no one in Hamas or Fatah will actually be satisfied with a state within the "1967 borders" and will push for more territorial concessions from Israel. Considering the international support for them despite their murderous intent, can we really blame them for thinking they can get away with it? I don't see why. If Hamas, after 20 years of publicly supporting the destruction of Israel and perpetrating an untold number of violent acts against Israel see that the UN focuses its criticisms on Israel and that more and more nations are moving to recognize Palestine, wouldn't they believe that the international community will sit on the sidelines (at worst) or support them (at best) in their ultimate quest to destroy Israel? It's a completely logical conclusion under the circumstances.

We have spent the last 20 years legitimizing and apologizing for the violent behavior of the Palestinian "nationalist movements." They have received much more support than comparable movements in Sri Lanka, Spain or Russia and are gaining support by the day. When we reward Fatah and Hamas with financial and political support despite their complete unwillingness to make any tangible gesture toward Israel, we encourage them to continue their behavior, and then act surprised when Hamas feels like its time to launch rockets again. Maybe we need to take Hamas and Fatah at their words and deeds and finally hold them accountable for their behavior and cut their political and financial support the way we did for the Chechens, Basques or Tamils. The Palestinians do not deserve to be treated any different from those groups.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Arab Spring...and Fallback

There is a lot excitement and hope emanating from the Middle East because of the popular revolutions and attempts at government overthrows. Many friends and family have asked me what I think of these developments, and I have universally been feeling very negative about them. As bad as some of the governments have been, about 95% of revolutions have brought governments worse than those that preceded them. For every Portuguese Carnation Revolution, there are a dozen revolutions that bring people like Joseph Desire Mobutu, Idi Amin, Vladimir Lenin or Mao Tse-Tung to power. For every American Revolution, there are many more Pol Pots, Papa Doc Duvaliers and Robert Mugabe's who seize upon people's optimism and wish for change and then begin bloody crackdowns and repression.

The Muslim world's history with revolutions have been pretty bad. When Hafez Assad took power in the 1966 Ba'athist Coup, his rule followed decades of civil unrest in Syria. However, one must ask whether civil unrest was really better than the bloody crackdowns at Hama and decades of ironclad repression. When Gamal Abdel Nasser led the coup to overthrow the Egyptian monarchy, Egypt was no paradise. And although Nasser brought some level of modernization and some level of pride and prestige to Egypt, his people were still destitute and subject to decades of civil rights abuses. Muammar Quaddafi's coup that overthrew the Libyan monarchy, he began a steady campaign of purges. And for a non-Arab perspective, General Suharto's overthrow of Sukarno's leftist government in 1967 brought 30 years of repressive, though pro-Western, government to Indonesia.

Yet, we in our post-historical society, believe that this new Arab movement forward will somehow create new and better governments. We think of this as some sort of unique movement in history and believe that now, things will be different. Of course, we ignore the fact that the rapid African decolonization movement of the early 1960s led to near universal governance failure, leading to the rise of many ineffective and outright corrupt governments. This is not the first time we have seen a rapid series of regional government changes, but expect some level of difference.

This is especially true in Arab nations, where every country is either a military dictatorship or a religious theocracy. In fact, the regression has already begun. Today, the Egyptian government announced that it will use an "iron fist" to crush conflicts between Christians and Muslims. The government has already jailed dissidents, much in the way that the Mubarak government did. Bahrain called in the Saudis to crush their rebellion, with some significant success. Syrian forces continue fight back against protesters, but there is no reason to believe anything good will come of it.

Of course, these facts do not stop the US government from sticking its nose where it doesn't belong. Despite supporting government after government that we have helped bring to power, only to discover that the government turns against its own people, one might think we'd have learned our lesson. After all, it was the US that gave us the Taliban and others. As the "Arab Spring" continues and we come to realize that perhaps pushing out Mubarak and Quaddafi will leave us with anti-American and possibly more repressive governments than those we helped overturn. We are truly stuck between a rock and a hard place but look very hypocritical when we militarily intervene in Libya while doing nothing but throwing some angry words at the Assad government. Our track record is sufficiently bad that even one as inspiring as Nobel Peace Prize Winner Barack Obama cannot reverse the trend of American failures in nation building. As the Arab democracy movements fail to bring about meaningful change in Arab societies, we must seriously rethink our role in the Middle East and realize that we cannot hope to change the future of a people who do not want to the change themselves.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Myth of the Peacemaking Palestinian

If I've learned anything from reading about Israel and its history, it's that Western countries that have not had regular encounters with hostile Islamic populations are incredibly naive in how they think about peace agreements in the Muslim world.

There is a fundamentally mistaken belief that Israel can make peace with its Arab neighbors (and even Iran) if it only does something or gives a little more. Underlying this belief is the notion that Israel's Arab neighbors are, in fact, interested in peaceful coexistence with Israel. I call this idea "The Myth of the Peacemaking Palestinian." A logical outflow from this myth is Western nations' unending attempt to find and prop up certain Arab leaders and convince themselves that those leaders are interested in making peace if only Israel gave up some land. Yasser Arafat, a man whose history of terrorism and attacks against Israel and its citizens goes all the way back to the 1956 Suez Conflict, was propped up by Western nations as a "moderate" and a man capable of making peace with Israel. Arafat even received the Nobel Peace Prize, but gave Israel nothing but empty words. His successor, Mahmoud Abbas, has been similarly propped up by Western nations, telling them of his peaceful intentions while at the same time passing laws that make selling land to Jews in the West Bank punishable by death and allowing the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades to run wild. Western nations willfully blind themselves to the reality that many "moderate Arab governments" are in fact just as insidious in their anti-Semitism as groups like Hamas or al Qaeda.

So why do we believe this? Partly, I think that part of America's psyche is that any group that doesn't like us must dislike us for something we did. It always reminds me of Jerry's mom on Seinfeld who is shocked at the idea that Joe Davola is coming for Jerry, exclaiming "How can anyone not like him?" We feel the same way, and not just about ourselves. At this point, no Western leader is willing to stand up and state the obvious: that Arab leaders are unwilling to compromise with Israel because Israelis are Jewish. Newspaper comics all over the Arab world portray Jews as pigs and dogs and that moderate leaders like Mahmoud Abbas and Yasser Arafat have always denied the Jewish right to a Jewish State, carefully couching their recognition of Israel as recognizing some demographically ambiguous state that will accommodate millions of returning Arab refugees. But, Western leaders delude themselves into believing that the Arabs want to make peace with the Israelis, but that they just haven't had a good chance because Israel obstructs their attempts by continuing to exist and thrive.

The facts are really quite simple. There is no Arab leader that has the political will or desire to truly make peace with Israel. By that I don't mean the cold peace that exists between Israel and Egypt and Jordan, where those governments routinely blast Israel in the news media and support sanctions against Israel. The reason there is no true peace is very simple: Muslim governments find in Israel an ideal nemesis and foil on which they can pawn off political problems. Because most Arab and Iran nations know little to nothing about the true nature of the Arab/Israeli conflict (as witnessed, in one of my favorite all time stories, by Gamal Abdel Nasser convincing the Egyptian public that Egypt had conquered large swathes of Israeli territory in the first day of the Six Day War), Arab leaders can project onto Israel the cause of all their problems. When sharks killed three tourists at Sharm el-Sheikh, the Egyptian government asserted that Israel had trained the sharks to kill tourists to hurt the Egyptian tourism industry. Saudi Arabia arrested a migratory goose with a tracking collar placed by Tel Aviv University scientists and had the goose appear in court. I wish I was making those last two stories up, but they are the creations of societies that so strongly believe in keeping Israel as a foil, that demanding that they now change is too radical. Islamic nations have blamed Jews for their problems for too long to suddenly expect them to change their tunes when they feel like they have a chance to destroy Israel to avoid having to deal with it any more.

But we out in Europe and the U.S. don't understand. We think that the Arab/Israeli conflict is based on political decisions, territorial exchanges, sanctions on Gaza or any concrete action taken by the Israeli government. We project our beliefs onto people like Mahmoud Abbas, who exploit our naivete and drag out "peace negotiations" with the Israeli governments, that have amounted to absolutely nothing in 60 years. Mahmoud Abbas is not the man we think he is. He and Yasser Arafat before him have made careers on deceiving Western leaders into believing they are moderates. And it's not as though nobody knows their true colors. Anyone in the Jordanian or Lebanese government knows exactly how dangerous and deceptive Yasser Arafat was when he tried to overthrow the Jordanian monarchy in 1970 and the Lebanese government soon after. Western leaders don't think about that and believe that people like Abbas have any interest in peace despite overwhelming and unambiguous evidence to the contrary.

And it doesn't stop with the PLO. We have now reached the point of true and inescapable madness. Now, there is a substantial and vocal group that advocates Israel dealing with Hamas and negotiating peace with it. Notwithstanding the fact that Hamas is organizationally incapable of recognizing Israel because its charter specifically calls for Israel's destruction, for anyone to believe that Hamas has any interest in peaceful coexistence with a prospering state of Israel is an act of unbelievable blindness. Hamas, unlike the PLO, has never disguised its intent to destroy Israel. Yet, there are people who are so anti-Israel, so strong in their belief that it is Israel and only Israel that prevents peace in the Middle East, that they give Hamas a pass.

Hillary Clinton demanded that Hamas "reform" and recognize Israel and its previous agreements with the PLO. Are you kidding me? Mrs. Clinton, a highly intelligent woman, has fallen into the myth of the peacemaking Palestinian The same U.S. government that would NEVER negotiate with al Qaida wants Israel to negotiate with Hamas? Did we ask Osama bin Laden to "reform himself" before we agreed to sit down and make peace with him? Or, if you'd prefer, there's this article, in which J-Street, a left wing Israeli peace organization, wants to "wait and see" how Hamas behaves before condemning the new unified Palestinian government. So what if Hamas has spent the last two decades killing Jews and promising to destroy Israel if it only gets the chance. Let's give them another chance!

Today, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon asks that Israel withhold judgment on the new unity government and that the process has just started. Obviously, Secretary General Moon seems to be believe that Hamas' unification with Fatah will cause it to change its murderous anti-Semitic behavior. He of course gives no reasons why he believes this is so. The Secretary General also asks that Israel transfer tax funds to Abbas' Palestinian Authority, even though that money can be used by Hamas to fun terrorist attacks against Israel. Little discussed fact: the EU has decided to give the PA the $80 million that Israel refuses to, so is it fair to say that the EU is funding a anti-Semitic terrorist organization? I certainly think so.

Once again, all this goes back to the same issue. Naive Western leaders (and leftist Jews in Israel) who believe that we live in a post-historical society. They believe the Myth of the Peacemaking Palestinian only because they believe that the last 63 years in Israel and the last 1500 years in general have nothing to teach us about Muslim/Jewish relations. They sincerely believe that even though Hamas prides itself on spilling Jewish blood, they can somehow change if we give them some land. But most of all, they blame Israel while they romanticize and glorify a Palestinian leader whose deeds show anything but a desire to live in peaceful coexistence with Jews.

We as Jews must begin the process of debunking the Myth of the Peacemaking Palestinian. We need to expose Palestinian leaders, especially the supposedly "moderate" leaders from Fatah/PLO for the charlatans and terrorists that they are. Demand that people explain to you exactly what actions Mahmoud Abbas has taken to ensure peace with Israel beyond blowing smoke up everyone's ass with rosy promises. Ask what Yasser Arafat did in his decades leading the Palestinians to give the Israeli government any reason to believe that his "peace overtures" were anything more than an attempt to initiate the PLO's "Phased Plan" to destroy Israel. Only when we break the Myth of the Peacemaking Palestinian can we expose the underlying reason why there is no peace in the Middle East: there is simply no one for Israel to talk to.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Fatah allies with Hamas...and expects Israel to be just fine with that.

I read a great article yesterday in which PA negotiator Salaam Fayyad criticized the Israeli government's decision to withhold about $88 million in taxes and customs that it pays to the Palestinian Authority because the Israeli government was concerned that the money would fund Hamas, an organization whose primary purpose is to destroy Israel.
The sheer chutzpah that Fayyad and other Palestinians have demonstrated as to this is really amazing. Saeb Erekat, a member of Palestine Liberation Organization's Executive Committee said the following: "The accord with Hamas was an internal Palestinian matter, and the Israeli decision is financial piracy that reflects Israel's dangerous intentions." To Mr. Erekat, Israel owes an absolute obligation to fund the Palestinian Authority, whether or not the PA is using that money to destroy Israel. Additionally, the idea that the Hamas-Fatah unification is only an internal matter would seems laughable considering that the joint government made several very public proclamations about terminating direct negotiations with Israel.
Of course, this comes on the heels of the Hamas portion of the unification government demanding that Fatah rescind its recognition of Israel (though such recognition has little value anyway given Abbas' unwillingness to recognize Israel as a Jewish State). In addition, Mahmoud Abbas has said that Israel's decision to cease financial cooperation with the PA means that he is moving up his time line for a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state, a state whose government will consist in part of an organization dedicated to Israel's destruction.
At this point, the battle lines have been drawn and Fatah's fate is of its own choosing. In a world that wasn't insanely hypocritical in its treatment of Israel, Fatah would be publicly and frequently discredited for allying itself with a recognized terrorist organization, but we hear nary a peep in the global media about the implications for Fatah's legitimacy. I have yet to hear the highly ineffective UN Secretary General Moon issue any comment on this issue. No doubt if Israel had taken some action he found unsavory, he would be issuing proclamations left and right as soon as possible. In fact, no one outside of Israel is actively denouncing Fatah even though it has functionally renounced its denunciation of violence (whatever value that had) and has thrown its lot in with a group who seeks the violent destruction of the entire State of Israel, not just the formation of a state within the "1967 borders."
It is truly a sign of the insane times that we live in that Fatah's actions are treated as having no significant ramifications on its global standing. The hope is that people like Shin Bet Chief Yuval Diskin are right and this unity deal is just an attempt by Hamas' political wing in Damascus to hedge their bets in case Bashar Assad's regime is toppled by protests. Rumors are swirling that cracks have already appeared in the new unity government, including a heated dispute between Hamas' Khaled Mashaal and Fatah's Mahmoud Abbas over who would give the keynote speech at the Cairo signing ceremony. And even if the agreement falls apart, Abbas' embrace of a unity government with a terrorist organization should discredit him in the eyes of Western governments who seem him as a viable peace partner for Israel. However, Western leaders are either ignoring the implications of this new unification or are making sure not to pass any harsh judgment on Abbas lest his reputation be tarnished and the West be left without a corrupt, ineffectual leader for the Israelis to talk to. 

Targeted Killings of Terrorists - Hypocrisy in International Responses

U.S. Navy SEALS killed Osama bin Laden this week, a great operational accomplishment 10 years coming. When I heard about it, I envisioned that the response would be very different from the response Israel got when its armed forced killed Imad Mugniyeh in 2008 and even more famously, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin (aka the Blind Sheikh) in 2004.

For those who don't know, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin was a blind, quadriplegic man who also happened to be the spiritual leader and primary inspiration for Hamas when it was founded. He was a central figure in encouraging terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians, frequently stating that Arabs should never make peace with Jews and that Israel must be wiped off the map in order to restore Palestine. Yassin was arrested in 1997 and thrown and given a life sentence, but was later released in exchange for Jordan's freeing two captured Mossad agents (captured during an alleged and failed attempt to assassinate Khaled Mashaal, Hamas' leader-in-exile). Yassin went right back to work as a Hamas leader, playing a crucial role the Second Intifada and ordered a number of suicide bombings in Jerusalem and other parts of Israel.

An Israeli helicopter fired a missile that killed Yassin, his bodyguards and several bystanders as Yassin departed morning prayers on March 22, 2004. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan immediately criticized Israel for its "extrajudicial killing" while making no mention of Yassin's involvement in ordering suicide bombings that killed dozens of Israeli civilians since Hamas' founding. Both the Arab League and many members of the United Nations roundly criticized Israel for killing a man who played the same functional role for Hamas that Osama bin Laden played for al-Qaida.

And then there is Imad Mugniyeh. Mugniyeh played essentially the opposite role of Yassin within Hamas, an operational mastermind who was an almost untraceable figure. His exploits included the 1983 Marine Barracks bombing in Beirut, the 1982 attack on the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires and countless other smaller scale attacks. When Mugniyeh died in 2008, in an attack that Israel never claimed responsibility for, many Western states and the United Nations roundly criticized the Israeli government for its actions.

Indeed, nearly every targeted assassination that Israel has carried out has been the subject of extreme criticism in the West (it goes without saying that such killings are viewed as abhorrent in the Islamic world, which issues no condemnations when Israeli civilians are "extrajudicially" killed). It does not matter what the terrorist's body count is, there is something that seems fundamentally wrong with the Israelis taking the law into their own hands. Maybe they do it because they know how useless the United Nations is. Maybe they do it because they understand that nobody, not the Europeans, not the Americans, not anybody else, is going to bring Jew killers to justice if they don't do it.

As happy as I am that Osama is dead, I am just as happy that Ahmed Yassin and Imad Mugniyeh are dead. Thank you to the Mossad and the IDF for making those last two happen.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Thoughts on Yom Ha'Shoah

First of all, I think it's great to hear that Osama bin Laden is dead. Considering what he did, it's great to hear he no longer has the privilege of living and that our government will not have to stage a show trial for him. Thank you to the men and women in uniform who took him down. I imagine that Bin Laden is being mourned in Gaza, Nablus, Ramallah and East Jerusalem tonight.

Today is also Yom Ha'Shoah, a day where survivors and their descendants remember the Nazis' systemic attempt to destroy the Jewish people and celebrate our people's survival. Since I have many living Holocaust survivors in my family, I take the day very seriously and think about the Holocaust's contemporary ramifications. One of the most significant outcomes of the Nazis' Final Solution was to create international support for a Jewish homeland. The Holocaust was the ultimate modern demonstration of what happens when a stateless people are left to the whims of others with no place of refuge. At the famous Evian Conference, only one country (the Dominican Republic) of the almost thirty in attendance agreed to take on Jewish refugees fleeing Germany after Kristalnacht. The liberation of concentration camps came as almost an afterthought to the tactical steps the Allies took in defeating Germany. And of course, there is the eternal lingering question: if the Allies knew what was going on at places like Auschwitz and Treblinka, why didn't they simply bomb the camps to save those who had not yet arrived there?

The main lesson of the Shoah was the need for a people like the Jews to have a homeland to provide a refuge should they come under attack in other nations. Indeed, with the rise of Islamist activity in Europe, Jews have fled France, Belgium and the United Kingdom for Israel in significant numbers. Israel is certainly no utopia, but it at least offers them freedom from the anti-Semitic persecution that has again spread across Europe.

Indeed, Israel's creation as a result of a genocide is not unique. Post-WWI Armenia was born partly because the Entente powers felt it necessary to create an Armenian homeland in the wake of the Ottoman Empire's actions against the Armenians in 1915. Today, the secession of Southern Sudan can be seen as a direct result of the Muslim Sudanese government's systemic mistreatment of black Christian Sudanese, most famously in the Darfur region. Indeed, support for the creation of Southern Sudan is fairly universal because of the violence that has driven black Sudanese to demand their own nation in the first place.

The importance of the Jewish homeland cannot be overstated. Since the fall of the Kingdom of Judah, Jews have been subjected to various atrocities and unable to flee because they had nowhere to go. As the Evian Conference recently demonstrated, other nations are rarely if ever willing to take on the burden of helping Jews and we can rely only on ourselves in times of need. Even some of our greatest allies, notably the United States, have shifting loyalties to Israel that make them unreliable in times of great need. We who live comfortably in the United States must remember that it was not too long ago that Jews felt comfortable living in Germany, Turkey and Poland and that things changed all too swiftly. We cannot rely on others to have our best interests in mind and we cannot rely on anyone else to stand up for us when the chips are down. When we say "never again" on Yom Ha'shoah, we can only guarantee our safety from another genocide by ensuring a strong and vibrant Jewish homeland where those Jews facing persecution can find refuge and safety among their own people.

As Ze'ev Jabotinsky said, "Eliminate the Diaspora, or the Diaspora will eliminate you."