Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Response to a Comment

This post is a response to a comment that was left on my previous post. For ease, I am reproducing it here and will respond to it below. I wanted to say thank you to the commenter, and I appreciate having a discussion about the issues raised in the comment, because they are very important and at the heart of the conflict between Israel and Palestine. The comment is:
But why grant the authority to a non-Israeli citizen to define the character of the Israeli state? The citizens of Israel define who they are, no one else. Why give other people the opportunity to delegitimize Israel? Does Israel have a law against citizens forming parties outside of Zionism? I'm quite sure the answer is no considering they ARE a democracy. I'm also quite sure because there are a lot of post-Zionists not locked up in prison. So, how can Israel require a non-Israeli citizen to, essentially, join their political party/ideology to be worthy of negotiations? I dont think its necessary to recognize the validity of the communist ideology in order to negotiate with community countries. Moreover, it seems arbitrary to require this of the Palestinians when it was never required as a condition of the agreements with Egypt or Jordan. This has never been a policy of the Israeli government. Even in the UK they say that Israel is the 'homeland of the Jewish people' - never using the language of 'Jewish State.' The only political leader that I know of that HAS done this is Barak Obama. In his Middle East speech, he went farther than any other US President when he referred to Israel as a 'Jewish Democratic State.'  Now, regarding the 'right of return' - this is considered an unalienable human right that no single individual can wave for the collective. During the peace process discussions in the past, there has been a discussion about a 'creative solution' that can 'symbolically' provide the right of return but preserve the Jewish character of the state. Through annual caps, resettlement incentives, etc. But this is the MOST emotional demand of Palestinian refugees. I gather there is a consensus that no Palestinian leader has the moral or credible authority to do this unilaterally. For any Arab leader to do this, they would have to have the backing of the Arab leaders - especially Saudi Arabia. Frankly, this isn't as 'easy' as it seems. There are real existential threats to political leaders who take bold steps on both sides of this conflict. US officials involved with the peace process have said that they realized too late that a huge part of the problem in their negotiations was not providing political cover to the Palestinian leaders by bringing in the Arab countries. When ever any Palestinian leader makes these concessions or compromises, I'm certain the fate of Sadat is playing in the back of their head. Similarly, whenever Israeli leaders make bold moves, they consider what happened to Rabin.
I think this should also apply to Jewish refugees who were expelled from their homes by Arab countries after Israel's establishment. They should be able to return or be provided reparations for their loss. One right of return don't cancel out another - which is why a) the other Arab countries should be brought in on this and b) this should be part of the negotiation process.
I want to address the Egypt/Jordan comparison, because it raises an interesting point. It is indeed true that Egypt and Jordan's peace treaties never mention Israel's demographics and status as a Jewish homeland, but that is because Israel's demography was never a core issue for peace with Egypt or Jordan. Neither Jordan nor Egypt were proposing to send Arabs from their territories into Israel as part of their treaty. With Egypt, the key issue was the Sinai Peninsula and with Jordan, there were several key issues, none of which involved Jordan's substantial Palestinian population moving to Israel (mostly focused on water rights, border control and cooperation on Red Sea ports). Demographics were simply not at issue and Israel's central character as a Jewish state was never up for negotiation. Jerusalem was never going to be divided in exchange for peace with Jordan or Egypt. It's just the same with any proposed peace with Syria: the issue is the Golan Heights and is never going to be about Syrians moving to Israel or Israel's demography.

Which raises a further issue of why Netanyahu is pushing for recognition of a Jewish state by the PA. The reason is quite simple: it has to do with the right of return, which you state is "an unalienable human right that no single individual can wave for the collective." Even if true in theory, this is not true in practice. Tens of millions of Muslims and Hindus were displaced when British India was partitioned into India and Pakistan in 1947, based primarily on ethnic and religious lines. Those displaced Hindus and Muslims do not have a right of return, which was waived for them by their newly established governments because of their desire to create a Hindu-majority state and a Muslim-majority state. I have yet to hear anyone in the last 64 years argue for that right of return. Even earlier, Greece and Turkey agreed on a population exchange that displaced 2 million Greeks and Turks in 1923. Nobody ever allowed them a right of return. The point is that while theoretically the right of return is an inalienable human right, it is not one that has been enforceable where governments have agreed to waive it on behalf of their people. The takeaway from the India/Pakistan partition was that the creation of a national home for Hindus and Muslims on the Indian subcontinent extinguished the claims of those displaced by needing to move those national homes. So it must be with Israel and Palestine if Palestine is established, it must be at the expense of the right of return or the Palestinians will essentially be getting two states: Palestine and Israel (in addition to one more in Jordan).

Unlike with India and Pakistan, however, Israel's demographics would make a Palestinian right of return exceedingly problematic because of the antipathy that Arabs have exhibited toward Jews living in the Holy Land, an antipathy that pre-dates Israel's founding (such as the 1923 Jaffa Riots). Since the entire premise of the Jewish national homeland is that Jews must be a majority of the population (since otherwise the situation is no different from the Diaspora), allowing the right of return in this case would inconsistent with Israel continuing to be a Jewish homeland. The idea of a Jewish homeland is based on the idea that historically Jews were not safe living as minorities in countries controlled by other groups precisely because they were a stateless people with nowhere to run. Their traditions and beliefs were under attack in Europe and in the Middle East. If Israel becomes a state that Jews do not feel is their own, then Israel will not accomplish its main purpose: to be a refuge and haven for Jews in the diaspora who live at the whim of other peoples' goodwill or lack thereof. That is the hangup with Mahmoud Abbas. He is willing to recognize "Israel" as some ambiguously defined geopolitical entity that could have no Jews in it at all. He himself said that he doesn't care how the Jews want to define Israel so long as Palestinians can move back there. Abbas' Israel may have Jews in it, but it is not a Jewish state or even a homeland for the Jews.

As to your earlier point, obviously Israel does not require people to be Zionists. Many Haredi sects are strongly anti-Zionist, such as the Satmars and the Neturei Karta, who famously appeared with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at a conference denouncing Zionism. The issue here is that Palestinians want Israel to accept the aspirations of Palestinian nationalism when neither Jordan nor Lebanon did before. To accept the nationalist aspirations of the Palestinians, isn't it only reciprocal and fair to require that the Palestinians accept Jewish nationalist aspirations? I mean, the entire issue here is that Palestinians failed to establish their national home in Jordan in 1970 and in Lebanon in 1978 and have now moved on to Israel and that Israel wants to retain its national identity as a Jewish homeland. It's really that simple and there are going to be certain lines Israel cannot cross. The right of return is one of those lines. Ehud Barak offered Palestinians a state in 96% of the West Bank and all of Gaza in 2000 but was turned down due to the absence of a right of return. The Palestinians will never get an offer that good and they can only blame themselves for that. Israel is willing to give up land and it's about time the Palestinians agreed to give up something of value, not just empty promises of peace, back.

Quite frankly, I don't care about the Palestinians' external and internal pressures. Obviously it's not popular to abandon a position that will aid the Arabs in destroying Israel. But King Abdullah made peace with the Israelis and he is still alive. Ehud Barak offered up a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders and nobody killed him. If people are truly willing to make peace on terms that benefit the parties, they will make it happen. The reason why people like Sadat were killed is that Arabs and especially Palestinians indoctrinate and educate their children to hate Jews and see them as subhuman. I suggest you examine the caricatures of Jews in Arab newspapers and watch the shows that Hamas puts on for the children of Gaza to understand why the Arabs feel that it is inconceivable to accept the legitimacy of Jewish sovereignty over any territory that Muslims consider rightfully theirs. The Arabs created a climate where moderates are not tolerated while the rest of the world demands that Israel make peace with "moderates" who condone terrorism in the Arab media and call for Jews to be pushed into the sea.

Now you raise the issue of Jews returning to Arab lands. The main problem with this is that the Jews would not want to return because the local Arabs would discriminate against them and try to kill them (hence why many of them left). Jews in Muslims countries are treated as second class citizens, dhimmi, under Sharia Law and have restricted political rights in secular Arab nations. Jews are forbidden to purchase land in nations like Jordan under penalty of death to the seller. Jews cannot bring any religious items into Saudi Arabia with them and no one carrying an Israeli passport may enter that country. There is a hatred of Jews that has been sown through centuries of antisemitic indoctrination taught to Arab children in schools from childhood and the core features of Muslim countries prevent Jews from exercising their political and social rights.

Second, the right of return issue is nonsensical because Palestinians already have a place to return to where they are a majority population: Jordan. In the original Partition of the British Mandate, the territory east of the Jordan river was promised to the Arabs and the territory to the west (Israel) was promised to the Jews. The majority of Jordan is Palestinian and King Hussein himself famously said that "Jordan is Palestine." Indeed, the main reason Palestinians are not welcome to return to Jordan is their historical disdain for the Hashemite government and their attempts to overthrow it in 1970. So why should Israel now welcome them back when they have behaved more subversively and maliciously toward Israel than they did toward Jordan?

The Palestinians are not a nationality that can be easily separated from the general Arab population or from the Jordanians. While they have convinced the world that they are a separate group, Palestinians only really became a separate political/national group in 1964. At that time, the newly formed PLO did not even claim the West Bank and Gaza for its state for fear of upsetting Egypt and Jordan (it sought to liberate "Israel"). It was only after the Six Day War that Palestinians laid claim to those territories because Israel now held them. Even then, the PLO's 1974 "Ten Point Plan" never called for the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, it called for a binational state as a means to establish "Arab unity" and for the Arabs to liberate any territory they could as a means to establish that binational state by destroying Israel. That "Ten Point Plan" has never been renounced. The true proof that Palestinians are not a nation with ties to Israeli land is that they (a) did not attempt to form a state for the 19 years that Jordan and Egypt held the lands that they are now claiming and (b) attempted to form states in at least two other countries, Jordan and Lebanon, before finally deciding that Israel was their location of choice.

It is the Palestinians and their Arab neighbors that have artificially created the need for "Palestine" by intentionally exacerbating the refugee situation by refusing to integrate Palestinians into their separate Arab countries. The Palestinians have raised hell everywhere they live in large numbers and have faced large scale evictions from Jordan, Kuwait and Lebanon. After causing no end of trouble in those nations, they and the rest of the world now expect and demand Israel to solve their problems when even their own Arab brothers booted them once they realized how subversive a group they were.

The issues here are really quite simple when you break them down: will the Arabs ever accept Jewish sovereignty over Israel? It's not about territory or policy or 1967. It's about 1948 and Israel's very existence as a Jewish sovereign state over territory that Muslims fundamentally believe belongs to them. Israel is being asked to shoulder a burden that the other Arab states have refused to take on. Israel has financially supported the Palestinians in ways other Arabs have refused to (consider Egypt's empty promises about opening the Rafah border). The Arabs have tried it all: wars in 1948, 1967 and 1973, plane hijackings, murdering Olympic athletes, and launching rockets. Their last, and perhaps best hope, is to create a "diplomatic solution" so unfavorable to Israel so as to put it on such a hair trigger that it will likely ignite another war, exactly like the circumstances before June 1967. In this context, the "right of return" is nothing more than an attempt to destroy Israel as a Jewish homeland and a haven for Jews. Israel cannot and will never accept that as part of a peace agreement in any circumstance because allowing any "return" opens the floodgates to new claims and legitimates such returns when they have no legitimacy. If the price for peace is for Israel to recognize a right of return, then I do not think Israel should ever make peace. I sincerely believe that.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

What is a Jewish State and why is a Jewish State Important?

Benjamin Netanyahu recently put a line down in the sand, demanding that representatives of the (not so) unified Palestinian government recognize Israel as a Jewish state as part of any prospective peace agreement with the Palestinians. Netanyahu acknowledges that Israel will recognize a homeland for the Palestinians within certain borders, and he expects the Palestinian leadership to be willing to do the same for Israel.

Of course, many people find that defining Israel as a "Jewish state" to be racist and exclusionary of its non-Jewish citizens. This makes me wonder, what does it mean for Israel to be a "Jewish and democratic state" and why is this definition important.

The idea is actually quite simple: Israel needs to be a homeland for the Jewish people, a state where Jews are a majority and a state to which Jews from any other country can return and make their home. This last point is perhaps the most critical given the history of Jewish mistreatment in the Diaspora. A Jewish homeland must be a place where Jews can return and be free of the harassment and antisemitism that they are subjected to in many other countries. Because Jews created a state that is a well functioning democracy, it is important that Jews be able to maintain a demographic majority to ensure that Israel is a state that can protect Jews around the world and represent Jewish interests in the international community. If the state does not retain a Jewish majority, then the state's policies will not create a society that is truly a refuge for Jews.

This does not mean that the state must forbid others from living there or deny them rights. Indeed, one need look no further than Israel's Baha'i population. The Baha'i moved their headquarters to Haifa because both Iran and Egypt practiced systematic discrimination against the Baha'i because they perceive the Baha'i to be heretics. From the State of Israel's founding in 1948, the Baha'i making pilgrimage to its holy sites in Haifa and Akko have been able to do so without enduring the harassment and threats that they faced in Iran and other countries. Israel has been historically tolerant of its Christian minorities while Christians living in Egypt and Lebanon have long endured persecution and threats for practicing their faith. Lastly, Israel is viewed as a haven of tolerance and opportunity by Africans escaping from countries like Sudan, where they are often persecuted by their Arab neighbors (like during the Darfur genocide).

And last, but certainly not least, is Israel's largest minority: its Arabs. Making up 20% of Israel's population, Israeli Arabs have representation in the Knesset and there is even an Arab justice on Israel's Supreme Court. Despite the fact that many in Israel's Arab community support Israel's enemies (several Arab MKs have been cooperated with Hizbullah and Hamas), Israeli Arabs have enjoyed political rights and freedoms that they do not get in any other Arab nation.

But all this aside, the central issue is not Israel's treatment of its non-Jewish population, the key issue is the importance of having a Jewish state. While Jews live in other nations, they cannot rely on other nations to protect their interests. For example, there are significant movements in many cities in the United States to ban circumcision for anyone under 18 years of age. Whatever the legal merits or demerits of such bans, it shows that a country like the United States will never prioritize the promotion or protection of Jewish culture or traditions. And for good reason, since the United States is not a Jewish state or even a Christian state and is not focused on preserving any ethnic or religious traditions. In many ways, this is what makes the United State great, but a people interested in preserving their culture and traditions in the long term need a homeland where those traditions are the essence of the culture. Jews survived in the ghettos and shtetls of Europe by frequently isolating themselves or being shunned by the rest of society. Jews should not have to choose between living in isolation or assimilating in order to survive as a distinct people.

Indeed, Israel is a focus of Jewish life even for those of us still in the Diaspora. We have a place we can visit and experience what it is like to live in a place where Jewish culture is predominant and we  know we have a place we can go if our host country turns on us like so many have before.

We need a Jewish state for the same reason that the Armenians need Armenia, the Turks need Turkey and the Kirghiz need Kyrgystan. We are a people that barely survived 2000 years spread across the globe and we need a place to call our own where we can be amongst our kind if we choose to be. We should never choose to be an ethnically or religiously homogeneous state and Israel has so far been able to balance its Jewish identity while respecting the rights of its minorities.

The question is: will Israel's Arab neighbors ever be able to come to terms with Israel's existence as a homeland for the Jewish people, which necessarily requires a Jewish demographic majority and a promotion and respect for Jewish traditions? Israel's current government and its predecessor governments have recognized the right of Palestinians to have a state for themselves and ask only that the Palestinians recognize the same rights for the Jews. Of course, doing so means abandoning the "right of return," or as I prefer to call it "the right of Arabs to demographically destroy Israel as a Jewish state." Until the Arabs give up their dream of destroying Israel as a homeland for Jews, there can be no expectation of peace.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Problem with Being the "Chosen" People

Many Jews view themselves as a "chosen" people, a manifestation of their special relationship with God. Others who are less religious see something special in the Jewish people due to their endurance and survival despite being stateless for two thousand years while many other stateless peoples became fully assimilated. For many, the implication of being a "chosen" people is that Jews have certain privileges and certain responsibilities, responsibilities that many Jews impose on themselves that often impact their self perception. There is a "higher" standard that many Jews subscribe to for themselves, a higher code of conduct that many Jews apply to themselves.

Lets get concrete. Many Jews, especially those that do not live in Israel and do not perceive Israel's existence as a critically important requirement for the continued survival of the Jews hold Israel to a substantially higher moral standard than they would hold other nations to. Other nations around the world have essentially followed the lead on this, and hold Jews to a similarly high standard than they hold other nations. Ideas like "proportionate response," "land for peace" and the casual way in which many Jews dismiss Israel's delegitimization and question Israel's right to exist because of its perceived interference with Arab desires for expansion are almost unparalleled among other nations.

But before we criticize others for imposing impossibly high moral standards on us, we need to look ourselves in the mirror. At Israel in the Gardens, I spoke to a J Street representative. He stated that he was an Israeli citizen and that he was very troubled by Israel's unwillingness to make peace with its Arab neighbors because "he wanted to live in an Israel that resembles Athens, not Sparta." His implication was that Israel's unwillingness to cede land to the Arabs made Israel an undesirable place to live because military planning and culture played too central a role in Israeli life. He felt that Israel needed to "be the better man" and seize the initiative. He had big visions for Israel that focused most of all on finding a way to move Israel away from a "military culture" that, in his view, Israel had imposed on itself by not giving enough up to the Arabs.

I had no response to his comment in the moment, because I so surprised by what he said. The idea that Israel, a country that in 60 years has made innumerable contributions to the arts and sciences, is too spartan was shocking. But what was more shocking was the subtext of his point: that Israel is the nation that must give things up, that Israel's behavior in the "occupied territories" is so appalling and unacceptable that Israel must do essentially whatever it takes to ease the Palestinians' problems even if that ends up hurting Jewish interests.

This man from J Street is not alone in his thinking. A prevailing notion in the Middle East is that the Palestinians are essentially the objects of Israeli action. Israel is the actor, the Arabs are the re-actors. This idea has manifested itself in several failed Israeli policies (that the Israelis were pressured into): the withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 and the withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000. These policies fed into a notion that Israel must act, and then the Arabs will react in a favorable way. Of course, that is not how things happened after either of those withdrawals. More broadly, the land for peace notion and the two state solution are both based on the same notion: that Israel needs to be the first actor to bring change and resolution to the conflict.

Of course, most other countries are not put in such a position, at least not with any great success. No other nation is subjected to more criticism for doing less harm than Israel. Turkey, one of Israel's newest detractors, remains steadfast in its refusal to even acknowledge its role in the Armenian Genocide of 1915 and continues to brutally put down the Kurdish nationalist movement. Sri Lanka decimated the fighting forces and nationalist dreams of its Tamil minority, while killing approximately 25,000 Tamil military and civilians as it wrapped up its campaign against the LTTE in 2009. China has controlled Tibet for over 60 years and continues its attempts to destroy Tibetan culture. While all of these nations continue their unfortunate and often terrible behavior, none of those countries has had its very existence considered a sin to be expunged from the records of history. Jews are the only people whose goals of a national home are considered racist and improper.

The problem is, we have allowed ourselves to be questioned this way and we have allowed ourselves to be brought to trial by the very same nations who have committed far worse sins than we. When the British government criticizes us, we ought to remind them that it was their government that was given the mandate to provide the Jews a home but refused to allow Jews fleeing the Holocaust entrance into Israel. We should say this not to prove that we are better than them or that they owe us something, but that they have no right to cast judgments on us. Ze'ev Jabotinsky believed in this point himself. He felt that the Jews' goal should be to become simply a people among all others, a people who had the same rights as any others: to have enemies, to act in their own self interest and to be for themselves.

I want nothing else for Israel and I want nothing more for the Jews. We have a unique history that we must celebrate and remember, but in a world of flawed and self-interested actors, we demand too much altruism from ourselves. After 30 years of working through the international "peace process," the Sinhalese in Sri Lanka simply got fed up with dealing with the Tamil insurgency. I am not saying that their solution was correct, what I am saying is that 99% of nations would have eventually reached the same conclusion and most everyone would have forgotten about what happened in a few years (as we basically have with Sri Lanka or Western Sahara). There are far too many within our own tribe who would demand that we never take the Sri Lanka option and never put our interests so far ahead of the interests of our enemies as to pursue a course as conclusive as .

At this point, we have allowed the world to put us on such a moral pedestal that it can demand that we feed and give energy to those who would seek to destroy our country. We have allowed the world to demand that we give away land for empty promises of peace and we have allowed the world to cast moral judgment upon us. When everyone else sees Jews hold Israel to the highest moral standard, it can safely do the same without being accused of antisemitism. We do not need to become lower than other nations, as countries like Sudan, North Korea and Burma behave in ways that no country should seek to emulate. What we need to become is a nation like all others, which will only happen we demand of ourselves nothing more than we demand of others.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Back to the Future: The 1947 Partition Plan

A recent New York Times article discusses resurrecting the 1947 Partition Plan, which called for the division of the British Mandate west of the Jordan River into two states: Israel and Palestine. This Partition followed the prior division of the British Mandate into Transjordan, which made up 78% of the territory of the British Mandate, and Israel/Palestine, which occupied the remaining 22%. While the Arabs were to receive the vast majority of the British Mandate of Palestine (all of Transjordan and 45% of the territory of "Palestine"), they rejected the Partition plan, leading Israel to unilaterally declare independence one day before the expiration of the British Mandate. What followed would later be referred to as Israel's War of Independence, when Israel's fighting forces defeated 5 Arab armies and established a state while Palestine's national movement was suppressed by Jordan and Egypt.

63 years later, we are now seriously talking about going all the way back to the Partition Plan. At this point, neither Friedman nor anyone outside of a few Hamas leaders is discussing the 1947 borders as a basis for the two states. However, there are no other internationally recognized borders that exist. While Friedman and many others, notably President Barack Obama, continuously refer to the "1967 borders" (the "borders" that existed before the Six Day War) as a basis for a final settlement. Friedman discusses the 1967 borders as a basis for updating UN Resolution 181. One problem: there were no "borders" at that time. When the war ended in 1949, none of the nations bordering Israel (Syria, Jordan, Lebanon or Egypt) recognized Israel or its borders. Indeed, the 1949 "borders" were armistice lines that only signified the location of where hostilities ended, nothing more.

There is an erroneous belief that Israel's conflicts with its neighbors were discreet events: War of Independence, Suez Conflict, Six Day War, Yom Kippur War, First Lebanon War, First Intifiada, Second Intifiada, Second Lebanon War, Gaza War. However, Israel's existence from 1948 to 1967 was marked by ongoing small scale border skirmishes, especially in and around Jerusalem. The belief that going back to a proposed Partition plan that failed to garner support for ANY neighboring Arab state in 1947 seems like a pipe dream because there is absolutely nothing that shows that the same conflict that occurred in 1948 would not occur again. I think that the implementation of such a Partition would in fact exacerbate conflict in the Middle East for two reasons.

The first has nothing to do with Israel. If a Palestinian state was formed in the West Bank and Gaza, the Palestinians living in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon would face a fate substantially similar to what Jews in the Middle East faced after Israel's founding: mass expulsion from their homes. One must ask oneself a simple question: why would the neighboring Arab states be so in favor of forming a Palestinian state when they had no interest in creating one for 19 years when Jordan controlled the West Bank and Egypt controlled Gaza (which combined made up about 80% of the territory promised to "Palestine" in the Partition). The reason is quite simple: when the Palestinian state is formed, the neighboring states can finally evict their Palestinians. What if Palestinians didn't want to leave and move to Palestine? The Kuwaitis didn't wait on the Palestinians to decide, evicting 300,000 Palestinians in 1992 after they supported Saddam Hussein's invasion. Jordan, Lebanon and Syria have systematically prevented Palestinians from integrating into their societies. They have always viewed Palestinians as a threat to their societies, leading to campaigns against their nationalist movements in both Jordan (Black September, 1970) and Lebanon (Lebanese Civil War, 1978). Moreover, there is no reason to believe that a Palestinian state would be able to absorb or deal with a mass influx of refugees, considering that Israel had to undergo 10 painful years of austerity and integration programs for the 800,000 refugees it received in 1948. Considering their lack of support for Palestinians in the last 63 years, I very much doubt that the Arab states will provide substantial support for the Palestinians beyond empty words.

The second has everything to do with Israel. We must ask ourselves a very simple question: what will lead to stability in the Middle East? Reading the history of the conflict and the rhetoric on both sides, I cannot believe that going back to a situation that produced ongoing conflict for 19 years is a good solution. Nothing that Barack Obama or any other pundit has said makes me believe that the creation of Palestine will solve the animosity. I do not believe that the Palestinians will abandon their right of return demand and I do not believe that certain elements within the Palestinian Authority and Hamas will always seek to destroy Israel because they do not accept any Jewish sovereignty. Giving away territory has historically led to conflict against Israel, both in Gaza and in Southern Lebanon.

The question is not whether we can go back to 1947, but whether we would want to. We are facing a situation where leaders and activists around the world are demanding a return to a situation that led to two wars. Given the present instability facing several regimes, notably the Syrian government's repression of its pro-democracy activists and the Lebanese government's repression of its non-Hezbollah elements with death threats. There is a high risk of recreating the conflicts that arose in 1947 and thereafter because there is no reason to believe that giving the Palestinians what they want will placate or satisfy them. The PLO rejected Israel's offer of 95% of the West Bank and all of Gaza in 2000 at a time when Hamas was not part of the government. Why would they accept an "inferior" offer now? And even if they accepted it, do we really think it will prevent a future conflict or create peace?

Saturday, June 18, 2011

What is Israel's Obligation to free Gilad Schalit?

Earlier this week, Hamas military wing vetoed a proposal in which Israel would release 1000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. The Gilad Shalit issue has been a major point of contention in Israel, primarily debating how much Israel can give up to free him. Obviously, paying a high ransom by freeing Arab terrorists in exchange for Israeli soldiers gives the Palestinians significant incentives to kidnap Israeli soldiers in order to free their prisoners. With the 5 year anniversary of Shalit's capture coming up, a Facebook group has popped up calling for the capture of a female Israeli soldier to "marry off to Shalit."

Of course, the Gilad Shalit issue has now become old news in the international community has neither the UN nor any other international organization has exerted significant pressure to make sure he is freed. The Red Cross has not been allowed to visit him. There has been no attempt at a rescue operation because, as outgoing Mossad chief Meir Dagan explained, the Palestinians have taken extreme precautions to ensure that he cannot be found by anyone. The present situation truly begs the question of what Israel's best course of action is.

On one end, there is a "give the Palestinians what they want" theory to free Shalit. Unfortunately, this is a very short-sighted solution that is likely to embolden potential kidnappers who will see how highly the Israelis value captured soldiers and use that value to pressure Israel to release prisoners, many of whom killed Israelis. Indeed, the PLO and Hizbullah used ambiguous statements about the whereabouts of Israeli airman Ron Arad for almost 20 years in attempt to exert pressure on Israel to release prisoners.

The other extreme would be for Israel to fight fire with fire and being kidnapping and/or assassinating Palestinian (Hamas) leaders as a means of exerting pressure on the Palestinians to both release Shalit and to discourage them from further kidnappings. Obviously, such an action would be detrimental to the "peace process" and would draw the kind of international condemnation that Hamas has not received for its kidnapping of Shalit. Imagine if Mossad agents kidnapped Ismail Haniyeh and kept him a hidden location until Shalit was released. Aside from possibly inciting a war, the level of condemnation on Israel would be enormous. It seems unlikely in the current political climate, with Israel attempting to rally opposition to Palestine's unilateral move for independence, that Israel would consider such a harsh option that would risk alienating world opinion.

Of course, world opinion cannot be the driving force behind Israel's military decisions. If it were, the Sayeret Matkal commandos would never have rescued Israeli hostages at Entebbe and would have never captured Adolf Eichmann. As I have frequently lamented, the rest of the world rarely has Israel's interests in mind. How else could one explain the fact that Jewish nationalism (Zionism) has been condemned as "racism" in the United Nations, a treatment that no other nationalist movement has received.

Moreover, the international community has refused to take action in a meaningful way, although France and Germany have more recently taken actions to try to convince Hamas to return Shalit. In the context of ongoing peace negotiations, Israel needs to take a page out of the Palestinians' book and place Shalit as a precondition to direct talks (much in the same way that the Palestinians have put settlements, borders, right of return and everything under the Sun as a precondition to talks). Because returning Shalit is a relatively easy and minor way for the Palestinians to show their good faith and willingness to make peace with the Israelis, their unwillingness to return him could help turn the Palestinians into the foot draggers because they would not even free one prisoner to get talks started. Obviously, imposing more preconditions on talks might backfire, as Israel might be accused of getting away from core issues in the peace agreements by bringing in Shalit.

But I think it raises a simple question: wouldn't the Palestinians want to extend some sort of olive branch to the Israelis in the interest of peace? The Israeli government enforced two moratoriums on the construction of Jewish homes in the West Bank to try to push talks forward. The best the the Palestinians have offered is a cessation of firing rockets for some period of time. Israel has also release Palestinian prisoners on several occasions in the past, most notably in 2007, when 450 prisoners were released at one time as a gesture to Mahmoud Abbas. Fatah leader Mahmoud Bargouhti criticized Israel for not releasing more prisoners. The response for Fatah, that this gesture was not enough really tells a lot about the mindset of Fatah (remember, Fatah are the supposed "moderates"), who repeatedly demand to have all of their negotiation conditions met before negotiations happen.

Considering the failure of previous peaceful gestures to more moderate Fatah, it seems like Israel's only recourse for getting Gilad Shalit back is to turn up the pressure on the Palestinian Unity Government. Anything less will simply encourage more kidnappings.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Some Truth about the Freedom Flotillas

This article has flown under the radar in the Western media, but it is very significant in terms of defining the goals of the "Gaza Freedom Flotilla." One of the flotilla organizers made the following comment: "the Rafah crossing “is not about aid, but then neither is our flotilla. It’s about raising awareness of the ongoing occupation in Gaza and the freedom of the Palestinians. The aid has always been secondary to the message of challenging the [Israeli] policy." To say that the flotillas are not about aid reveals a very important aspect of the policy. The opening of the Rafah border puts the decision on whether to give aid to Gaza in the Arab nations' court because they can choose to send aid directly to Gaza if they choose to. To the same extent, if the Arabs wished, they could provide any aid they wished to the West Bank through Jordan. 

We have it laid out for us, the primary purpose of the flotillas is to force the Israelis hand and hurt their international standing by causing them to act to enforce the flotilla. Never mind the fact that Israel's unilateral withdrawal from Gaza saw a marked increase in rocket fire into Israel and the election of a radical terrorist group to represent the people of Gaza. More interestingly, the freedom flotilla organizers are not taking a stand against Egypt and its apparent about face on opening the Rafah border freely. The flotilla organizer mentions the lack of foreign aid flowing into Gaza through Rafah almost in passing, focusing exclusively on Israel while ignoring the fact that the post-Mubarak Egyptian government promised to lift restrictions on Rafah and allow a freer transit of goods and people from Gaza to Egypt and vice versa (though I am not sure why any Egyptian would want to go to Gaza). 

In reality, the Egyptian government reimposed restrictions on Rafah only 3 days after opening the border, and there is rising concern that Hamas and other militants associated with al-Qaida and other groups are moving into the Sinai Peninsula, an area with notoriously low military and police control. To the extent that the Egyptian military still runs and controls the government, there are real concerns that the flow of Islamist militants into Egypt could tip the scales in the Muslim Brotherhood's favor in determining who will control Egypt in the future. There is good reason for the Egyptians to be highly concerned about who is leaving Gaza, but it is less clear why the Egyptians refuse to allow humanitarian aid in. Moreover, one might believe that the Freedom Flotilla organizers would pressure Egypt if they had any interest in resolving the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

The fact is quite simple: the flotillas are not and have never been about humanitarianism. They are simply about putting Israel into a difficult position and drive international opinion against it. It is difficult for me to imagine how exactly the Israelis can resolve the current Gaza crisis knowing that the government in Gaza (and now the West Bank) contains substantial elements that are explicitly dedicated to its destruction. It is quite easy for the flotilla organizers to delude themselves into believing that Israel can allow a free flow of arms, goods and people into Gaza and that the result will be the creation of some sort of Arab paradise that will no longer have qualms with the Israelis. The 2006 Lebanon War proved exactly what happens when Israel does not act to restrict the flow of arms and goods along its borders. Hezbollah launched its war 6 full years after Israel unilaterally withdrew to the borders that existed in 1978 before Operation Litani. Considering that both Hamas and the PA seek to liberate Palestine "from the river to the sea," asking Israel to remove restrictions on Gaza and the West Bank is asking it to sacrifice civilians to its enemies for nothing.

Since unilateral withdrawals from Gaza and Lebanon failed to bring peace, it is not clear exactly how the freedom flotillas can even accomplish the goal of promoting peace, if that is their goal. Considering the current lack of peace talks, any Israeli action vis-a-vis Gaza or the West Bank must be unilateral by its nature. But, if unilateral withdrawals and unilateral "settlement" building moratoriums have failed to bring reciprocity from the Arabs, then what is their value? If Israel's withdrawal from Gaza was answered with rockets, it is very conceivable that its easing of goods and transit restrictions will be answered with bigger rockets. 

The core issue with the flotillas like the Mavi Marmara is that it is difficult at best to determine what their goal is. Since humanitarian aid is not their primary concern since they do not attempt to transport goods through Rafah (I think because they are scared of what the Egyptians will do to them) and the geopolitics of the Middle East preclude unilateral Israeli concessions from bringing about any positive change in Israel's relationship with the Palestinians, one can only see the flotilla organizers as seeking to aid those who seek to destroy Israel wholesale.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Israel: Middle Eastern Boogeyman

This year, both May 14 and June 5 were marked by hundreds of Syrians attempting to cross Syria into Israel at the Golan Heights village of Madjal Shams. The Syrian government, one of the most authoritarian in the world, has either orchestrated or very explicitly allows for these crossings to occur. After all, the Syrians who attempted to cross the border with Israel did so while passing Syrian military installations and the Syrian government must know that such breaches of the Syrian-Israeli border risk inflaming war. So then, why would the Syrian government allow this?

The reason is quite simple because Syria is using the oldest trick in the Middle Eastern dictatorship book: stir up conflict with Israel to placate the domestic populace. While some critics say that Syria is simply staking its claim to the Golan Heights, a territory Syria believes rightfully belongs to it despite the fact that Syria instigated the conflict with Israel in 1967, the Syrian border has been very quiet overall since Bashar al-Assad replaced his father in 2000. Compared to Lebanon and Gaza, Syria has been downright silent. Even when Israel destroyed a Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007, in an operation that mirrored the 1982 Osirak bombing and perhaps served as a warning to Tehran, the Syrians did not attempt military action. So why now?

Obviously, Syria's internal dissent has become a major issue in recent weeks and months, and Bashar Assad is using extreme force to put down the protests against his regime. In many ways, the current situation is very similar to the Sunni insurgency that Hafez al-Assad faced in 1982 when his army entered Hama and massacred 25,000 insurgents. Now, while the younger Assad has overseen the death of hundreds if not thousands of protesters across Syria, he needs something to defer attention from his internal problems: and that someone is Israel. Indeed, Israel has become a proverbial pinata in the Muslim world, serving the same role for those governments that the Communist Warsaw Pact served for successive U.S. administrations. Whatever the actual geopolitical situation may be, it is very easy for a leader in Syria or Egypt or even Turkey to drum up support by criticizing and threatening Israel.

In Syria, Bashar Assad is facing sufficiently desperate circumstances that he is risking a potential military conflict with Israel to stabilize his government. Nothing else could explain his undertaking something as reckless as having "civilians" cross into Israel and cause problems. At the least, he's looking for a diversion, something else for his people to focus on. In the past, Assad might have been able to hide the atrocities his military is committing, but in the new information age, he feels pressed to act quickly and blame someone, anyone, for the internal dissent. Syria's closest ally, Iran, has already joined in the chorus of blaming the United States and Israel for meddling in internal Syrian politics while at the same time applauding the Arab Spring revolutions that have toppled Western-supported leaders such as Hosni Mubarak. While blaming Israel is one thing, Assad's actions bespeak a new level of desperation. Indeed, his actions were seen as so potentially dangerous and likely to create a new conflict that the Lebanese Army shot several Syrian-inspired "civilians" as they attempted to cross the Lebanon-Israel border on May 15. As the "Naksa Day" demonstrations approached on June 5, Lebanon militarized its border to prevent any such breaches from its end.

The Arab Spring has also seen a substantial rise in anti-Israel rhetoric in Egypt, where a now several month power vacuum exists. At this point, there are only two primary contenders: the army and the Muslim Brotherhood. Indeed, for all of its promise, Egypt's next government will either be a military dictatorship or a totalitarian theocracy. Notice how no one is talking about Mohammed al-Baradei becoming the leader again. The interim military government is taking plenty of steps to show its "anti-Israel credentials" to the people, by floating the idea of voiding the Egypt-Israel peace treaty. Even though the (cold) peace between Israel and Egypt has brought significant economic benefit to both countries, the army must match the Brotherhood's anti-Israel stance in order to gain traction with "the Arab street." The army in Egypt knows well the fate of the leader who does not behave in a sufficiently antagonistic way toward Israel, all they need to do is compare the fates and legacies of Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar Sadat.

In Iran, this behavior is reaching epic proportions. Iran has reacted swiftly and harshly against its protesters and there are persistent rumors of Ahmadinejad butting heads with Ayatollah Al Khamenei. Ahmadinejad recently ousted the nation's oil minister and took over the post himself, apparently much to Khamenei's dismay. Ahmadinejad and Khamenei have both used Israel as primary way to divert from the economic sanctions being levied on Iran for its nuclear weapons program. While many average Iranians are struggling, they are told that confronting Israel over its mistreatment of Palestinians and its aggressive and expansionist policies is of utmost importance. So is pouring millions if not billions of dollars into a nuclear program that is at once diverting Iran's resources from improving and diversifying its economy and incurring international sanctions.

And so, the trend goes marching on. In these countries with controlled media and decades of indoctrination, no one actually knows anything about the real Israel. Jews are portrayed alternatively as pigs, dogs and jack booted SS officers crushing the life out of the Palestinians (the same ones that Jordan and Lebanon evicted from their midst and shoved into refugee camps). Jews are viewed as a cancerous, foreign presence in "Muslim lands" that must be thrown into the sea. Indeed, since the fall of Nasser in the wake of the Six Day War, various Muslim leaders take their turns championing the anti-Israel cause, with little actual success. Yet, in many cases, rhetoric is no longer enough. For, if the Arab Spring proved anything, it was that the idea that Israel is at the center of Middle Eastern conflict is a myth. The revolutions started in Tunisia and Yemen, countries that share no border with Israel and have not had any direct conflict with Israel. Yet, those leaders try to always bring the conflict back to Israel. Muammar Quaddafi at one point blamed "the Zionists" for turning his people against him.

For so long as there is Israel, there will be Muslim dictators who blame their nation's sorry state of affairs on Israel instead of taking steps to improve their societies. Dictators need a boogeyman, something scary that they can show their people to make sure they stand behind their government and its attempts to kill the boogeyman. For Middle Eastern governments, when the going gets tough, blame Israel.

Monday, June 6, 2011

A Discussion with J Street

Yesterday, I attended the Israel in the Gardens festival in downtown San Francisco. After some prodding from my significant other, I decided to conclude my thoroughly enjoyable day by getting into a discussion with the individuals at the J Street booth. For those who don't know, J Street is a Jewish organization that promotes the creation of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders under the belief that the creation of such a state will improve Israel's international standing and will promote Israel's interests by removing the risk to Israel's Jewish demographic majority.

I would preface the rest of this point by noting that the J Street representatives I spoke with were generally very polite and I very much enjoyed having a discussion with them. They sincerely believe that their ideas will serve Israel's interests, and so to the extent I disagree with them, I at least acknowledge that they are bringing ideas and discourse to the table and that there is certainly some value to that.

The primary message I got from their group was that Israel needs to have a peace plan on the table because the Palestinians will go to the UN in September and may come out with a state that has no peace agreement with Israel. They contended that the primary swing votes in the UN will be European states who will perceive the lack of an Israeli sponsored peace initiative as a strong reason to give the Palestinians the state they seek, but without any peace for Israel.

I think at some level they are correct, it would obviously be preferable to have a peace agreement in place. But there are certain redlines that Israel cannot cross for the sake of peace. The right of return is one of those. Maintaining a unified Jerusalem and recognizing Israel as a Jewish State is another. Maintaining an Israeli that has secure and livable borders, whatever those borders may be, are a final one. To the extent that Israel's peace agreement with the Palestinians require it cross those redlines, it must be satisfied that peace cannot be attained. Indeed, there are certain redlines other nations will not cross in peace negotiations. One could not expect the Republic of China (Taiwan) to accept Communist rule as a condition of reconciliation with China.

In 2000, Ehud Barak offered the Palestinians everything they wanted but without a right of return, but was rebuffed by Yasser Arafat. To expect Israel to give the Palestine more than that now, after being turned down before, is unrealistic. The J Street representatives told me that if Israel indicated its willingness to return to its Ehud Barak negotiating position, the international community would blame the Palestinians if talks broke down.

Of all the things the J Street people suggested, this was the most unrealistic. When talks broke down, everyone forgot who was to blame and returned back to the dominant "blame Israel" narrative within a few months. Moreover, Israel is constantly blamed for everything it does. Israel was condemned for its rescue of hostages at Entebbe in 1976 and was also condemned for capturing Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann. Israel was condemned for its destruction of the Osirak Reactor in 1981 and its bombing of Syria's nuclear power plan in 2007. Zionism, the name for Jewish self determination and nationalism, was condemned in the UN as racist. If Israel's behavior was governed by what the international community accepted, Israel would never exist. There are 57 Muslim countries and over 1 billion Muslims, and there is one Jewish State and 14 million Jews. Muslims control large quantities of oil and other resources, Israel has few natural resources. To expect that the international community will view the Arab/Israeli conflict unbiasedly is simply naive. And, while it certainly behooves Israel to present its case and convince the international community that its cause is just and should be supported, it cannot rely on the UN or any international community to have its best interests in mind.

My conclusion from the discussion: I wish they were right. I wish Israel could gain substantial international support by giving the Palestinians a state in the 1967 borders. I wish that state would settle the Palestinians' claims on Israeli land, and I wish that the establishment of Palestine would give Israel peace and security. Unfortunately, everything points the other way. The Arabs have made their intentions known: to use a Palestinian state as a launchpad to attack Israel with the intent to destroy it. The international community has bought into the Palestinian narrative, and there is little that the Jews can do aside from giving up their state to placate the UN and the Muslim world.  

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Naksah Day Protests

Today marks the 44th secular anniversary of the start of the Six Day War. In the Arab world, it is called al-Naksah (the Setback) because of the spectacular way that the Arab armies not only failed to destroy Israel in June 1967, but also because of the substantial territory they lost to Israel.

This year, the anniversary was marked by substantial "civilian" demonstrations in the Arab world, which featured civilian attempts to cross into Israel from Syria, the West Bank and Lebanon. Today, Syrian TV reported that 14 people were killed in border crossings at Madjal Shams and several others were killed in Jerusalem as Palestinians forcibly breached Israeli border crossings. Of course, Syrian TV is not a particular credible media source, but it is relevant to note that even if these figures are remotely accurate, Israel's response of using military force is absolutely justified.

What we are seeing here is government sponsored civilian invasion of another sovereign nation. Such events are incredibly dangerous and can significantly alter geopolitical realities. King Hassan of Morocco used a 300,000 strong civilian march ("The Green March") to destroy Western Sahara's chances for independence when Spain departed in 1975. That same year, Indonesia began a policy of using civilian invasions to alter the population dynamics in East Timor to its benefit.

Morocco used its civilian marches against Western Sahara, a country whose independence Morocco did not recognize, just as the Arabs are using civilian marches against Israel. In both cases, the issue was not about specific borders or negotiated solutions, it was about an ultimate attempt to deny sovereignty to a nation. Taken in the context of the Palestinians' plans to unilaterally declare statehood without having peace with Israel, the situation at present is very much akin to the territorial and military maneuvering that occurred in the British Mandate from the UN Partition Plan declaration in 1947 to the end of the Mandate on May 15, 1948. After the Arabs rejected the Partition Plan, both sides began to maneuver their forces in anticipation of the war that would break out once the Partition ended.

With the second attempt to create a Palestinian state in 64 years coming up in October, Israel should prepare for the same level of belligerency that it faced in 1948. The fact that there have been several hundred infiltration attempts into Israel that show Syria, Lebanon and the future Palestine's unwillingness to recognize Israel's borders. One can and must foresee military action occurring in Jerusalem immediately upon Palestine's creation, since the Palestinians claim all of Jerusalem as their capital. Considering the Palestinians' unwillingness to recognize a Jewish State within any borders, today's Naksah Day protests are but a precursor of the militancy that Israel can expect from its Palestinian neighbors.

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Antisemitic Aspects of the Two State Solution

The dominant framework for peace between Israel and Palestine calls for the creation of a Palestinian state within the territories Israel gained in the Six Day War, the dismantling of "settlements" and the possibility of Jerusalem being divided and some sort of resettlement of Palestinian Arabs into Israel. Over the last 44 years, we in the West have become convinced that this is the path to peace between Israel and Palestine and that Israel's attempts to deviate from this proposal are the primary cause of continued conflict.

In reality, the very core ideas of the two state solution follow the teachings of Nazi Germany and are rife with antisemitism. I fully understand that this is a very bold claim because the two state solution idea has become such a central part of the way peace in the Middle East is to be achieved. I am not reaching this conclusion by drawing a lot of questionable inferences, but by looking at many of the central aspects of the two state solution that are openly and frankly discussed by European governments and by successive U.S. Administrations.

If I could ask Barack Obama one question after his most recent speeches, it would be this: "How does the presence of Jews in the West Bank preclude the creation of a Palestinian state when the presence of Arabs did not preclude the founding and growth of Israel?" The issue of "settlements," areas where Jews live in the West Bank, is viewed as one of the the crucial issues preventing peaceful settlement between Jews and Arabs. While the Arabs frequently contend that it is the presence of fortified style settlements and the need for military presence that are detrimental to the continuity of the West Bank, the truth is that the Palestinians simply do not want Jews living in their midst. Indeed, Palestine wants to follow the examples of Jordan and Saudi Arabia, where it is illegal for Jews to live. Moreover, the presence of Arabs, who frequently live in their own towns and villages in Israel, is not considered to be so detrimental to Israel's continuity or existence.

Of course, the idea of creating places where Jews were not allowed to live has been around for centuries if not milennia. The Nazis mastered this idea, herding Jews into certain areas where they were allowed to live, frequently in cramped and confined ghettos where they could not defend themselves and were easily killed. They even had a term for it, Judenrein, which referred to areas "clean of Jews" during the Holocaust. The idea that it is improper for Jews to live in certain places has become national policy in Jordan and Saudi Arabia, two countries with whom Israel has no ongoing territorial dispute (Israel shares no borders with Saudi Arabia and never has and Jordan renounced its claim to the West Bank in favor of the PLO in the 1970s). There is no explanation for the exclusion of Jews from those nations except for antisemitism. Indeed, the very creation of Israel, the very exercise of Jewish self-determination, prompted several Arab states to expel 800,000 Jews from their lands after Israel emerged victorious in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. The idea that Jews would exercise the same national right in a place the Arab states regarded as exclusively their dominion was so repulsive that it has driven Arab relations with Israel 63 years later. Taken together one cannot but conclude that Arab states want to turn themselves into Judenrein as punishment for Jews exercising their right to self determination in the State of Israel. It has nothing to do with borders or policy, it has everything to do with the belief that Jewish power is illegitimate and must be opposed.

It is one thing for the Arab states to express this antisemitism, they do not pretend to view Jews with any respect or regard. However, for European nations and America to buy into and promote this antisemitism is alarming. That such a viewpoint has become acceptable and infrequently questioned is beyond frightening. We have reached a point where it is absolutely acceptable to say, "I don't believe that Jews should be allowed to live in the West Bank because they are Jews." Indeed, the idea that Jewish people are committing some sin or are hindering peace simply by living in certain places, visiting certain religious sites (such as Joseph's Tomb) or choosing to protect themselves where they live is now widely accepted in the West. A common contention is that Jews living in the West Bank are somehow occupying or stealing "Palestinian" land be seen as lending legitimacy to laws like those in Jordan, which make it a capital offense to sell land to Jews. I sincerely doubt that any Western politician would contend that Arabs buying land or living in Israel are "stealing Jewish land" or "harming Jewish sovereignty." But why not?

The situation is absurd when one considers the life of Israeli Arabs. Arabs form about 20% of Israel's population. Arabs hold 10 seats in the Knesset. There is an Arab justice on Israel's Supreme Court. Arabs in Israel enjoy political and economic rights that their cousins in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt could only dream of. While the situation for Israeli Arabs is not always ideal and the Jewish citizens of Israel are often (sometimes justifiably) suspicious of the Israeli Arabs, they are not subject to the large scale political persecution that, say, a Palestinian in Kuwait faced in the early 1990s or that an advocate of democracy might face in Syria or Iran. Indeed, I could only imagine the outrage in the Western world if Israel demanded that Arabs dismantle their "settlements" in Israel as a precondition to peace negotiations.

This discussion begs another question: why shouldn't Jews live in Palestine like Arabs live in Israel? In theory, shouldn't Jews living in a future Palestinian state receive the same minority rights that Israeli Arabs receive? Why shouldn't they be allowed to live in a reciprocal arrangement? Some might say that the manner in which Jews live in Palestine, living often in tightly secured villages with military protection, is detrimental to Palestinian nationalism. I believe that the Jews living in the West Bank wish they did not have to live the way they do. Sadly, their fear and need for security is quite justified by the antisemitic violence perpetrated by Arabs since before Israel's formation (Jaffa, 1919). Any Jews remaining in Palestine would likely become targets for the Palestinians' frustration with Israel's continued existence even after a state was formed within the 1967 borders. Of course, it is quite ironic to punish Jews in the West Bank for the violence visited upon them by their Arab neighbors. Obviously, those Jews are not blameless and a cycle of violence has become strongly entrenched, but it is interesting to note that the incidents of large scale Arab-Israeli violence in Israel seems to be far less substantial than those in the West Bank.

Taking together Barack Obama's speeches and proclamations on the Middle East, he (and, in fairness, many presidents before him) believes that they way to peace is to evict Jews from the West Bank like they were evicted from Gaza and create a Jew-free Arab state in Palestine. From this, it certainly sounds like the key to making peace with the Arabs is to remove Jews from their lands. This did not create peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors after the Arabs evicted Jews from their lands in 1949. The idea that removing settlements is key to peace has been accepted only because it has been repeated by the PLO so many times that people just believe it. As a Jew, it is quite frightening to hear  others say that the key to peace is for Jews to leave the places where they live and that the only way to achieve peace with the Arabs is to cease living among them.

By endorsing the two state solution that requires Jews to pack up and leave the West Bank the way they left Gaza in 2005, Western nations are promoting antisemitism. They are promoting the blatantly antisemitic policies of nations like Jordan and Saudi Arabia and saying that those types of antisemitic laws are a foundation on which peace can be built. In my opinion, the continued presence of Jews in the West Bank would be a litmus test as to the true intentions of the Palestinians. If the very presence of Jews in their midst is so repulsive to the Arabs, how can we honestly expect them to respect and treat a Jewish state with dignity?