Thursday, May 28, 2009

Psychopathology -- on the individual & international level

Erev shavuot- happy holiday to all. Back with a new positing on Monday
-- elliot

A moral vacuum

We now know that around midnight on August 1, 2003, Adwan Yihya Farhan murdered Dana Bennet outside Tiberias. The Chicago-born 18-year-old was "killed for the sake of killing," said Dep.-Cmdr. Avi Elgrissi.

Farhan's criminal history, which dates back to 1994 when he was 18, includes the murders of Sylvia Molorova, a traveler from the Czech Republic, Aharon Simahov, with whom he shared a Tiberias lock-up, and a nameless man in his 40s. He committed other violent crimes including kidnapping and rape. When he was arrested, the one-time police informer was being held in a Beersheba-area jail for raping an Australian tourist.

Writing in Wednesday's Jerusalem Post, eminent sociologist Shlomo Giora Shoham noted that Adwan "displays the behavior of a typical psychopath. He doesn't have a conscience, he doesn't have empathy. He kills without reason." Triggered by a combination of nature and nurture, the psychopath's compulsion to kill is sexually-driven, Shoham wrote.

NEWS OF Farhan's capture competed for attention Wednesday with North Korea's announcement that it has abandoned the 1953 truce ending the Korean War.

On Monday, the Pyongyang regime illegally detonated a huge underground nuclear explosion - eliciting worldwide condemnation and the relaunching of the US-led multinational Proliferation Security Initiative aimed at uncovering the transfer of weapons of mass destruction to state and non-state actors.

The North Koreans' response: yet more saber-rattling. They test-fired more missiles, revved up their weapons-grade Yongbyon reactor and rallied the country's hapless masses. They then proclaimed that any stopping and searching of North Korean shipping would be viewed as "a declaration of war." They were particularly incensed at South Korea's joining the multinational initiative, launched originally by president George W. Bush on May 31, 2003. At the time, China, which along with South Korea is the only country with leverage over the North, refused to cooperate. With Washington focused on Iraq, the initiative was quietly shelved.

Analysts have been debating Pyongyang's motivation for Monday's blast. Some argue it was to solidify support for the ruling clique at a time when Kim Jong-Il, who is both dictator and deity, is fading. Others speculate that the detonation followed a pattern in which the North behaves outrageously to garner attention, and is paid off in return for better behavior.

But the explanation we prefer suggests that as a proliferator of nuclear technology to countries such as Syria and Iran, the North Koreans need to show their customers that what they're selling really works.

Though they also make ends meet by trafficking in heroin and methamphetamines, and by exporting citizens for forced labor and sexual exploitation, nuclear proliferation is the country's most lucrative export.

THESE TWO stories, breaking within a single week, show very clearly how psychopathology can exist on both the individual and the international level.

Both the serial killer and the malevolent leadership in Pyongyang are guilty of extreme immoral and antisocial behavior, the one compelled by bloodlust, the other by calculated depravity.

There are no angelic nation-states, including ours. All countries are adept at rationalizing behavior that is patently morally wrong. Ask certain European nations, for example, why they conduct billions of Euros worth of trade with a fanatical regime that threatens to wipe Israel off the map, and the reply will likely be that they are actually bolstering international tranquility.

Nations, like individuals, sometimes lie to themselves.

Not North Korea, apparently. It is unapologetic about its illegal nuclear testing and proliferation activities. It doesn't feel compelled to lie to itself about why it engages in commerce with Iran or Syria. Like the lone psychopath, its leaders are narcissists who show a reckless disregard for others, a lack of empathy and an inability to tell right from wrong.

AS WE ponder what happens when law and morality vanish, the Jewish world prepares to celebrate Shavuot tonight and Friday. By tradition, the holiday marks the giving of the Torah - the basis of law and morality in Judaism - at Mt. Sinai.

Heaven knows, we too often fall short of what is demanded of us.

Yet, as we saw again this week, when the shackles of a higher moral code are absent, the world becomes even more dissolute, brutish and riddled with delusions of grandeu

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Tzipi Livni & Bibi Netanyahu ...the saga continues

The loyal opposition

For the first three decades of the state, Menachem Begin was Israel's sole leader of the Knesset opposition. Since 2000, however, Israel has had nine opposition heads. Today's politics may be more volatile, but it's less ideologically coherent. Political campaigns increasingly center on the leader's personality and character.

It is amid this ambiance that the four-year-old Kadima Party has been either governing, under Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert, or leading the opposition, under Tzipi Livni.

Just months into this role, Livni has formed a "shadow team," not quite akin to the British concept of the "shadow cabinet" - yet complete with shadow ministers and area experts to basically parallel Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's cabinet.

Since Kadima is a relatively new party, the idea is intended to help it develop positions on a range of issues. With any luck, novice "shadows" will become sufficiently proficient in their areas of responsibility to produce informed critiques. From a morale point of view, the idea is to diminish opposition MKs' feeling that they are wasting away in the political wilderness.

The scheme, for example, calls for Shaul Mofaz to shadow Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Ronnie Bar-On shadows Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz. Meir Sheetrit shadows Interior Minister Eli Yishai. Avi Dichter shadows Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch… and so on down the line.

Area experts include Otniel Schneller on how to bridge Judaism and democracy. Yohanan Plessner will examine the Tal Law and national service. The party has also designated liaisons for Gush Katif evacuees, Diaspora affairs, Negev and Galilee development and Beduin concerns.

It's an altogether splendid idea that could generate a level of reasoned criticism and hone policy expertise. So we'd like to believe it's more than a gimmick developed by Livni's political consultants. The credibility of the plan, a revolutionary rethinking of how opposition politics should work, would have been enhanced had it not been disseminated via a Monday night press release issued by the party's spokesman. Nevertheless, we credit Livni with the approach and encourage her to actualize it.

IN HER new role, Livni is to be commended for generally recognizing that politics stops at the water's edge - meaning criticism of government policies should be tempered while abroad, or addressing foreign audiences. She acquitted herself well in telling a recent AIPAC audience that in regard to Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons, there are no policy differences between the government and the opposition. She also appears to be in synch with Netanyahu on how to handle Hamas in Gaza.

On the Palestinian track, however, in a recent Newsweek interview, Livni labeled the Netanyahu government "very right-wing." Asked how an international audience should understand the categorization, she replied that "just saying no" doesn't take into account a new camp of Arab moderates.

Speaking on Army Radio Monday she was understandably more explicit: "This government doesn't want to talk. It is dragging its feet in an attempt to refrain from renewing contacts with the Palestinians," and concluded that Netanyahu's policies are already leading toward a "diplomatic collapse."

We don't begrudge Livni the need to differentiate Kadima from Likud. But she'd be both more credible, and more effective in the international arena, if she noted that she herself engaged these same Arab moderates with not much to show for it, and that at the end of the day, her policy differences with Netanyahu are not all that substantive.

Like Netanyahu, she would wait until after an agreement on final borders before dismantling any settlements. Livni, no less than Netanyahu, opposes unfettered Palestinian sovereignty - and if we've got that wrong, Ms. Livni, do enlighten us.

While saying he does not want to rule over the Palestinians, Netanyahu won't commit to the "two-state solution" until he knows what that entails for Israel's ability to defend itself.

Here Livni's public diplomacy style is wiser. By forthrightly espousing the two-state solution, she places the onus for opposing an end to the conflict where it belongs - on the Palestinians. After all, it's their intransigence - on borders, refugees and recognition of Israel as a Jewish state - that's prevented a deal.

She can enhance her stature as leader of the loyal opposition by making that clear, at every opportunity.

He ain't mad...

Got busy Tuesday & didn't get around to posting this...

Pyongyang lesson

Say that in response to North Korea's detonation on Monday of a Nagasaki-like nuclear blast, the world declares: "Enough is enough."

China, the North's only ally, cuts off fuel and seals its border. South Korea halts humanitarian aid. NATO warships, backed by Russia's Pacific fleet, enforce a total blockade.

How might North Korea react? Perhaps by invading the South; perhaps by exploding a nuke over Seoul. Or perhaps the regime would begin to gasp its last, as millions of starving northerners stormed the Chinese and South Korean borders.

The sudden, forced reunification of the peninsula would saddle the modern, affluent South with incredible logistical problems - foremost among them how to feed a backward, impoverished population and integrate it into their hyper-modern society.

In other words: At this late stage, decision-makers are likely to find meaningful action totally unpalatable.

IT HAS no doubt been instructive for Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to observe the civilized world's reaction, over the years, to North Korean provocations.

After revving up their nuclear program around the time of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the North Koreans conducted an underground nuclear test on October 9, 2006. Following an outcry, they pretended to abandon their program and duly obtained a range of economic and diplomatic payoffs. In October 2008, the Bush administration removed North Korea from the State Department's list of countries which sponsor terrorism.

Western intelligence analysts think the 2006 test, which registered with the magnitude of a 4.2 earthquake, may have been a dud. As David E. Sanger of The New York Times writes in The Inheritance, "The yield was below a kiloton, far less than a tenth of the power of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima."

Not so yesterday's blast, estimated at 4.5 to 5.3 magnitude.

North Korea is a hereditary dictatorship led by Kim Jong-Il, who followed his father, Kim Il-Sung. He will likely be replaced by his son Kim Jong-Un.

The masses suffer unspeakable deprivation - during the 1990s hundreds of thousands died of famine and disease - while resources are directed to the military-industrial complex and propaganda. A cloying personality cult has transformed the leader into a deity, while xenophobia and racial supremacy lead people to fear change.

North Korea purchased centrifuges and, possibly, uranium from Pakistan. It raises money by selling what it knows about building missiles and atom bombs. For 10 years - under the nose of American intelligence - it built Syria's al-Kimbar nuclear facility in the Euphrates Valley, a mirror image, writes the Times' Sanger, of the North's own Yongbyon reactor.

As the Bush administration was obsessing over Saddam Hussein's non-existent nuclear weapons, North Korea was preparing to transform next-door Syria into a nuclear power. Mercifully, on September 6, 2007, the nearly completed reactor was smashed by the Israel Air Force before it could be fueled.

Pyongyang and Teheran share their nuclear know-how. Iranian scientists were reportedly present at the October 2006 detonation and, we assume, observed Monday's blast too. By learning from the North Koreans, the mullahs may be laying the groundwork - literally - for an underground nuclear explosion of their own.

KHAMENEI knows that while the West spins its wheels, Iran's quest for nuclear arms proceeds apace. "Fate changes no man, unless he changes fate," he's fond of telling acolytes. And yet, he can't afford to be sanguine.

True, Iran's nuclear sites are scattered throughout his vast territory, providing redundancy and concealment from attack. True, too, complex problems such as fuel-making, bomb-building and weapons delivery are being successfully addressed.

Still, the ayatollah worries. It's not inconceivable - even at this late stage - that he could be forced to freeze Iran's program. What if the new American president runs out of patience, sooner rather than later? What if Barack Obama convinces Europe, Russia and China that the world can't afford another North Korea on top of an unraveling nuclear Pakistan? Certainly not one whose imperial ambitions are fueled by high-octane religious extremism.

Realistically, Khamenei reassures himself that the prospects of crippling sanctions don't figure even remotely on the international agenda. Still, he will sleep a lot more soundly once stopping Iran becomes as unthinkable as trying to roll back nuclear-armed North Korea.

Monday, May 25, 2009

We have a suspect

A patient enemy

One solitary Arab country has never been under absolute Muslim hegemony: multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and religiously heterogeneous Lebanon. For this, it has paid a price - even before Persian Shi'ite radicals took power in Teheran in 1979 and set up Hizbullah in 1982.

In 1958, for instance, Sunni nationalists tried to force the country into the pan-Arab orbit under Egypt's Abdul Gamal Nasser. The Christians, then less fragmented, more numerous and wielding clout, said no and were backed by president Dwight Eisenhower.

By 1975, civil war had pitted Muslims against Christians, drawing in the PLO, Syria and Israel; it lasted into the 1990s.

Only two months ago, Damascus opened an embassy in Beirut, which suggests it may have abandoned the claim that Lebanon is part of Greater Syria.

Israel, needing to defend its northern border - first against Palestinian incursions, more recently against Hizbullah - has repeatedly been drawn into the quagmire.

This is the context for Lebanon's election campaign, which culminates on June 7. It is being waged in 26 districts for 128 parliamentary seats. Iran's proxies are led by Hizbullah (fielding only 11 candidates) and include Nabih Berri's (Shi'ite) Amal and Michel Aoun's (Christian Maronite) Free Patriotic Movement. They're competing against the Sunni-led "March 14 coalition" backed by Saudi Arabia and headed by Sa'ad Hariri. Other members include the mercurial Druse leader Walid Jumblatt and former Phalangist chieftain Samir Geagea.

The election is "free," but not cheap. One voter told The New York Times: "Whoever pays the most will get my vote. I won't accept less than $800."

It costs money to pay your opponent to drop out, to purchase positive news coverage, and to fly in expatriates. To help citizens remember to whom they owe allegiance, the parties helpfully provide them with prepared ballot slips.

TWO BIG news stories frame the lead-up to the voting. Hizbullah and its allies say they've uncovered a spy ring working for Israel (21 local suspects arrested, several others reportedly having fled to Israel). The disclosures, Hassan Nasrallah declared in a campaign message, prove that his movement can best face down "the Zionist enemy."

The other big story, revealed over the weekend in Germany's Der Spiegel, is the surprise revelation that an independent (partly UN-funded) tribunal investigating the February 14, 2005, assassination of Rafik Hariri will lay the blame at Hizbullah's - not Syria's - doorstep. German investigators will reportedly name as the mastermind Hajj Salim, Imad Mughniyeh's replacement, who reports directly to Nasrallah and Gen. Kassim Sulaimani in Iran. Hariri was murdered, Der Spiegel speculates, because Nasrallah felt threatened by the Sunni billionaire's broad-based popularity. Hizbullah claimed the story was intended to divert attention from the Israeli "spy networks."

Even the rosiest election result scenario - a slight gain for the anti-Iranian bloc - would not fundamentally shift Lebanon's alignment of forces. The prime minister, as always, will be a Sunni, the president a Christian and the parliament speaker a Shi'ite. Sorry to say, Hizbullah will remain the dominant social, political and economic movement - regardless of how many seats its partisans capture. It has the guns, the cash and the backing of a ruthless regional power. It seeks to change the constitution and ultimately capture de-jure control of the country.

It's hard to see how US Vice President Joe Biden's Friday visit to Beirut, coming on the heels of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's trip last month and aimed at tacitly bolstering the relative moderates, did much good. The last thing the "moderates" need is to be publicly embraced by Washington. They know that the West has been loath to confront Hizbullah or its patron, and that's what matters.

In February 2005, in the wake of the Hariri murder, tens of thousands of Lebanese demonstrated in the streets, eventually forcing Syria to withdraw its troops from the country. There was a fleeting sense that, just maybe, the forces of extremism had been routed. But the following month, Hizbullah massed far greater numbers, dashing hopes that popular sentiment alone could overcome the Iran-Hizbullah behemoth.

Rather than going for an overt power grab, Hizbullah is slowly metastasizing deep inside Lebanon's body politic. The process offers a sobering glimpse into Iran's regional modus operandi and its patient imperial designs.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Thank God it's Friday

The week that was

An FBI sting operation led to Wednesday's arrest of four Muslims in New York City charged with plotting to blow up the (Orthodox) Riverdale Jewish Center and the (Reform) Riverdale Temple in the Bronx. Lev Dassin, acting US attorney for the Southern District of New York, said the men had "selected targets and sought the weapons necessary to carry out their plans."

Besides the uncovering of the Riverdale plot, this week brought some other good tidings for which we are grateful: The Obama administration decided to fund the entire Arrow-3 anti-missile program now in development; US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Al Jazeera that there would be no European-like flirtation with Hamas by Washington, saying: "Hamas has to comply with not only the Quartet principles but the underlying principles of the Arab Peace Initiative." Finally, the president made it clear that his efforts to dissuade Iran from building nuclear weapons would not carry on beyond the year; and that - as he told Newsweek - all options were on the table.

YET there's no papering over the differences that emerged this week in the wake of Binyamin Netanyahu's meeting with Barack Obama.

The president supposes Israeli concessions on the Palestinian track can help stop the Iranian bomb. The reality: With the mullahs' power ascendant, Hamas and radical Fatah factions have no reason to moderate their line. Obama wants a complete settlement freeze, West Bank checkpoints lifted, outposts removed, and the criteria regarding what passes into Gaza loosened.

Yesterday's dismantling of Maoz Esther, near Kochav Hashahar -- a non-authorized outpost reportedly built on private land -- belatedly begins to addresses the outpost issue. And Netanyahu is committed to not creating new settlements. But mainstream Israel will not tolerate a "settlement freeze" in metropolitan Jerusalem.

Personally speaking, I don't want to see a freeze in the settlement blocs either. In fact, so long as the state invites people to live over the Green Line, I don't know how we can expect them -- no matter which community they live in -- to freeze their lives. What if there is a need to expand an apartment or home because of a new baby?

The elimination of more checkpoints - a life-and-death decision - needs cautious handling, as does the question of what passes into Gaza.

It was no secret that the administration was working on a peace plan. But it is unsettling that more of it was leaked to the London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi than, apparently, was revealed to Netanyahu.

And yet the details, if accurate, break little new ground. Obama reportedly wants a Palestinian state alongside Israel and stresses it must be demilitarized - something George W. Bush failed to emphasize. He tells the Palestinians to abandon demands for the "right of return." The fate of Jerusalem, he says, must be decided by the parties (though the holy basin should be placed under UN stewardship). He reportedly calls for land swaps to compensate the Palestinians for settlement blocs, thus implicitly embracing the "1967-plus" letter Bush gave Ariel Sharon in 2004. He's also pressing moderate Arabs to push the Palestinians to be more compromising.

In that Al Jazeera interview, Clinton was asked whether the settlement freeze meant Obama wanted to roll Israel back to the 1949 Armistice lines. Her answer: "First, we want to see a stop to settlement construction, additions, natural growth - any kind of settlement activity. That is what the president has called for. We also are going to be pushing for a two-state solution which, by its very name, implies borders that have to be agreed to…"

We read that as a "no."

It is unlikely in the extreme that the PLO will accept Obama's blueprint, despite the moderate-sounding tone lately adopted by Nabil Abu Rudaineh, Mahmoud Abbas's spokesman. Fatah is horribly fragmented: The old guard doesn't want to loosen its grip on power. Its pragmatists and hard-liners are arguing over how to negotiate with Israel. And the younger generation wants to officially reverse Fatah's commitment to end terror if Israel doesn't capitulate to its demands.

Meanwhile Hamas, ever more popular, bides its time, waiting for the West to reconstruct Gaza for it.

RATHER than get into a huff over Obama's demands, which are basically in harmony with the policies of his predecessors, Israel needs to ensure that it does not allow itself to be depicted as the obstacle to peace.

The good news is that Netanyahu is making a beginning at stressing what we are for - letting the Palestinians rule themselves. And by trying to get the Palestinians to acknowledge Israel's legitimacy as a Jewish state, he is correctly addressing the root cause of the conflict.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Two short comments

Jerusalem Day

Friday marks 42 years on the Hebrew calendar since Jerusalem was reunified; Jews never abandoned the hope of returning following their expulsion in 70 AD. Between 1948 and 1967, Jordanian snipers transformed the streets near the Old City into a no-man's land. Jews were barred from reaching such iconic sites as the Temple Mount and the Western Wall.

It's simplistic to talk about Jerusalem in catch-phrases. The city is neither as "united" as Zionists would want, or as "de-facto divided" as Arab propagandists claim. It's also a misnomer to talk about "east" and "west" in describing a city whose neighborhoods intersect around hills and over valleys.

Walk Jerusalem's streets and you'll quickly understand why the city can never again be physically divided - though it can, potentially, be peacefully shared.

Metropolitan Jerusalem - population 760,800 - is 65 percent Jewish and 35% Arab. Sadly, most Arab families, and a good many Jewish ones, live in poverty. Only 45% of Jerusalemites are in the labor force (Arab women and haredi men tend not to work). Most Jewish pupils attend haredi schools. There's a classroom shortage in Arab neighborhoods.

The population is, socially and religiously, old school; at the same time, the city brims with spiritual pluralism, culture, art, even fine dinning.

Mayor Nir Barkat promises better services for the Arab sector (which boycotts the municipal council and is thus voiceless regarding how tax money is spent). He has also undertaken to make the city more inviting for non-haredi Jews.

In short, living here is intense… it's not easy, but it is a privilege.

Funding conversion

Israel is a Jewish state. Yet, paradoxically, all too many of its native-born Jewish citizens are alienated from their heritage.

The state's founders were mostly irreligious - though Jewishly literate, capable of navigating their way through the liturgy and expounding the Torah. Oddly enough, they took it for granted that subsequent generations would be equally learned, adhering to a secular worldview while grounded in the Jewish canon.

So they relegated Judaism to an Orthodox rabbinate, which became the "established church." Sadly, however, in the minds of countless Jewish Israelis, honoring their tradition become entangled with Orthodox nitpicking and coercion.

Add to this mix the arrival of 300,000 immigrants from the former Soviet Union who are not halachically Jewish.

Among them are those who wish to affiliate with the Jewish mainstream, but do not want to commit to the Orthodox way of life. Citizens in the formal sense, the rabbinate has left them in communal limbo - socially and culturally marginalized.

Israel's self-funded Reform and Masorti (Conservative) movements have been preparing some of these immigrants for conversion to Judaism. While the Orthodox state authorities won't accept these converts as "authentic" Jews, they are otherwise absorbed, spiritually and culturally, into Israel's mainstream. Many join synagogues and take succor in a tradition the Soviets had sought to rob them of.

We are delighted, therefore, that the High Court of Justice has ordered the state to start covering the expenses of non-Orthodox conversion institutes.

The beginning of the end of the Orthodox funding monopoly? Let's hope so.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Netanyahu & Obama...continued

Seeing linkage, plainly

Saeb Erekat, the hardline chief PLO negotiator, is described as "discouraged" and "disappointed" in The Washington Post by the outcome of Monday's White House meeting between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama.

He started out in a bad mood, telling The Jerusalem Post he opposed any friendly gestures by the Arab League toward Israel even if the Netanyahu government put a total freeze on "settlement" construction in Judea, Samaria... and metropolitan Jerusalem. And Aaron David Miller, a former US Middle East negotiator who leans left, told The New York Times that "Anyone who was expecting a major rift in the US-Israeli relationship is going to be disappointed."

It will take a while yet to get a handle on the direction Obama wants to take. How will he finesse the seemingly irreconcilable differences with Netanyahu exposed at Monday's meeting? On Iran, for one, Israel feels more acutely threatened than the US. And on the Palestinian issue - which Obama intimated should be solved en route to grappling with Iran - the president gave the impression that Israel's leadership could somehow rapidly enable the creation of a non-threatening Palestinian state

Netanyahu has foolishly allowed himself to be perceived as an obstacle to progress by making an issue over Palestinian statehood, when he could so easily have found an "in principle" formulation that would in no way have undermined his legitimate concerns about the dangers Palestinian sovereignty poses.

The Palestinian Arabs have been opposing a two-state solution ever since the British Mandate. Nowadays, the PLO says it wants "Palestine" and Israel to exist side by side - though you wouldn't know it from the way it behaves at the negotiating table.

An insight into why this is so comes from Hussein Agha and Robert Malley in the June 11 New York Review of Books: "For Palestinians, the most primal demands relate to addressing and redressing a historical experience of dispossession, expulsion, dispersal, massacres, occupation, discrimination, denial of dignity, persistent killing-off of their leaders, and the relentless fracturing of their national polity. These… yearnings are of a sort that, no matter how precisely fine-tuned, a two-state deal will find it hard to fulfill."

No matter. On Monday, Obama in effect told Netanyahu: You want our help in stopping Iran getting nuclear weapons? Ease your grip on the West Bank so the Palestinians can create their state there.

Exerting leverage in this way is nothing new, as veteran Israeli diplomat Zalman Shoval points out. Jimmy Carter tried to link aid to Israel with a settlement freeze; George H.W. Bush tried to link loan guarantees for the absorption of Soviet Jews to a settlement freeze; and he even linked Israeli concessions on the Palestinian front to gaining Arab cooperation in America's 1991 Gulf War.

WHAT MAKES the current situation unique is the gravity of the Iranian threat and the ascendency of Hamas and Hizbullah, combined with the fact that a charismatic American president, capable of using the "power to persuade" in a coherent and determined manner, is apparently becoming convinced - in part by ostensible "friends of Israel" - that Israeli intransigence is at the root of Palestinian and wider regional tension.

Obama is not the first president to watch some among the Jewish lobby pressuring Israel on behalf of US policy, rather than the other way around. For example, leading figures in the community facilitated the Reagan administration in its desire to diplomatically recognize the PLO in 1988.

Administrations have long enjoyed political cover for their Israel-related policies from elements in the US Jewish community. It is legitimate for Jewish Americans not to support Israeli policies; Jewish machers have been giving our premiers a piece of their minds since Nahum Goldmann first tried to set David Ben-Gurion straight. And it is legitimate for them to champion American policies to Israeli leaders. It's even fine for them to yell gevalt over Israeli policies.

Where American Jews cross the line is in proactively lobbying their government to pressure Israel into steps most Israelis strongly feel would put this country in jeopardy - and in doing so under the intellectually dishonest banner of being pro-Israel.

This is a challenging time for Diaspora Jews. Netanyahu has failed to define Israel's "red lines," or say unequivocally what he's for. Nevertheless, no one whose lobbying platform is indistinguishable from Erekat's should get away with telling you he's "pro-Israel."

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Day After...

Washington summit

The long-awaited summit between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama finally took place yesterday - carrying on for considerably longer than scheduled. When it was over, both men came out smiling and exchanging compliments. Obama affirmed that the "special relationship" the two countries share is alive and well.

That tells us little about how things really went inside on the critical topic of Iran's quest for nuclear weapons. It tells us nothing about whether the president was privately persuaded that peace-making with the Palestinians has been made unworkable because Fatah and Hamas are bitterly polarized, and because even the relatively moderate Mahmoud Abbas has yet to abandon maximalist demands about boundaries and the so-called right of return. Nor do we know if Obama will press Abbas to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

Perhaps the biggest unknown is whether the two men - whatever their earlier prejudices - now feel that they can trust each enough to collaborate. Though Obama and Netanyahu had their "blink" moment in July 2008 at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, Monday's was their first lengthy and substantive get-together.

Obama has had greater exposure to the Palestinian "narrative" than previous presidents. Speaking to reporters after their meeting, he talked of the humanitarian situation in Gaza in the same breath as he recalled the security situation in Sderot. It would have been more helpful for him to note that Gaza would not be suffering deprivations if it wasn't led by a violent Islamist movement that uses the territory to attack Israel.

Regardless of what was said publicly yesterday, the question is whether Obama appreciates the distinction between a Netanyahu who is reluctant to foster the establishment of what could quickly devolve into Hamas-led "Palestine" on the West Bank, and a Netanyahu who is an "obstacle to peace." The two are not synonymous. Most Israelis do not have to be convinced that the establishment of a demilitarized Palestinian state (initially with limited sovereignty) is a clear Israeli interest. That's why the Netanyahu government is already reportedly holding discreet talks with Abbas's people on renewing negotiations.

Yet Netanyahu critics in Washington, along with the faux pro-Israel community, have been urging Obama to push for Israeli concessions on settlements as the perceived key obstacle, though they can't help but admit that the Palestinians are paralyzed by divisions and have been unwilling to accept Israel's viable proposals for reconciliation. Still, goes their reasoning, if it looks like the administration is not leaning on Israel, that "could turn opinion against Obama across the region." The question is whether Obama has himself accepted this argument.

Obama emphasized America's continuing commitment to a two-state solution, while Netanyahu said that if the two sides made progress the "terminology would take care of itself." The premier also reiterated that Israel has no wish to rule over the Palestinians and that they must rule themselves. He said he wanted to move the negotiating process along so that the two peoples could live side-by-side. Obama emphasized the road map and the obligations both sides have in fulfilling it, including a halt to settlements - a long-standing US demand.

ON IRAN the president said that America was committed to Israel's security and agreed that Iranian nuclear weapons were a threat not just to Israel, but to the US and to regional stability. Obama said he would not place a deadline on talks aimed at persuading Teheran that it is not in its interest to pursue nuclear weapons, but that obviously they could not drag on forever, and that he expected results this year. He earlier told Newsweek that the US is not taking any options off the table with respect to Iran.

Obama emphasized making progress on the Palestinian track, but in no way played down the looming menace from Iran. Netanyahu emphasized the threat from Teheran, but also said he was ready to "immediately" resume talks with the Palestinians. What was perhaps most surprising was the firmness with which Obama stressed a sequence - progress on the Palestinian front on the route to stopping Iran - so at odds with Netanyahu's view.

In the coming weeks, the president will be meeting in Washington with Abbas and President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt. After that, he will deliver a special address to the Muslim world from Cairo. Then we will we have a clearer picture of where the new administration is heading.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Hours Away ...Obama & Netanyahu

Obama, the realist

At 10:30 this morning Washington time, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu enters the Oval Office for a critical 90-minute meeting with President Barack Obama. That will be followed by a short photo-op and a second session over lunch.

There are those who are hoping Obama will read Netanyahu the riot act over "settlements," press him over the "two-state" issue and tell him that Israel's "privileged relationship" with America is over. Others, who keep insisting they are "pro-Israel," want him to use tough love, to impose a solution - because, supposedly, it's best in the long run.

We're hoping they will discover that Obama is a realist who understands why his predecessors' peace-making efforts failed to end the conflict.

Naturally, Washington and Jerusalem have had policy differences, yet these do not obscure our long-term mutual strategic interests. After a series of meetings with Arab leaders, and after seeing Netanyahu today, Obama should conclude that the reason there has been no breakthrough is principally attributable to Arab intransigence.

But aren't settlements the main obstacle? If only they were. Arab rejectionism predates the issue of settlements by two whole decades.

Israel can hardly dispute the long-standing US contention that settlements complicate peace-making. The State Department issued its first disapproval of "settlement activity" in January 1968, when it criticized the construction of apartment buildings on Mount Scopus and the Sheikh Jarrah areas of east Jerusalem. Nowadays, however, peace-making realists grasp that Israel will under no circumstances uproot neighborhoods and communities that are an organic part of the country.

At the same time, the Jewish state is willing to make painful territorial concessions. Didn't it withdraw from the Sinai peninsula in return for peace with Egypt? And seeing no Palestinian partner for peace, it unilaterally pulled out of Gaza in 2005. The Palestinians could have transformed the Strip into the Singapore of the Mediterranean; instead, it became Hamastan.

And yet, Ehud Barak in 2000 and Ehud Olmert in 2008 both offered massive territorial concessions in the West Bank and metropolitan Jerusalem - only to be rebuffed.

AS A realist, Obama is unlikely to conflate - as many do - disparate issues. Construction in strategic settlement blocs (such as Ma'aleh Adumim); house demolition in east Jerusalem; "unauthorized outposts," and natural growth in established communities beyond the security barrier must each be understood in its own complexity. Failure to do so is a recipe for deadlock.

We hope Obama will stand behind the March 2004 letter George W. Bush sent to Ariel Sharon (a reiteration of Bill Clinton's policy) making it plain that the 1949 Armistice Lines are not the realistic lines for a final-status agreement.

Everyone pays rhetorical homage to the "two-state" solution. In 1988, the PLO began hinting that it was willing to abandon the destruction of Israel in favor of two states. While the authenticity of this PLO commitment remains debatable, all Israeli premiers from Yitzhak Rabin to Netanyahu have made it plain that Israel does not wish to rule over the Palestinians.

In practice, it is the Palestinians who reject the two-state solution.

Mahmoud Abbas dismissed Olmert's plan for land swaps that would have fast-tracked a two-state solution and provided the Palestinians with the equivalent of 100 percent of West Bank territory (plus a link to Gaza). The hitch? Abbas's obdurate insistence on an Israeli pullback to the hard-to-defend '49 lines, and on the "right" of refugees from the 1948 war, plus millions of their descendents, to settle in Israel.

Given what the Palestinians have done to Gaza, Netanyahu is saying: Before we put anything like Olmert's offer back on the table, let's figure out what kind of sovereignty the Palestinians can be given without Israel's security being endangered. Obama will surely not blame Israelis for not wanting to wake up to an Iranian Revolutionary Guard base looming over Ben-Gurion Airport.

The issue, then, is not how to quickly restart negotiations, but how to avoid past pitfalls. One clear sign that the president is a realist: He's reportedly urging the Arab League to modify its 2002 initiative, transforming it from an unworkable diktat to a genuine peace plan.

That would mean getting real about boundaries, refugees - and, we trust, recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Pope Goes, Netanyahu Goes. Obama at home

Dear Readers,
Have a restful shabbat. The pope is leaving in a few hours. Traffic will return to normal.

From Benedict to Obama

The past week showed that on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Pope Benedict XVI just doesn't get it. Next week, however, should prove that President Barack Obama does get it - which is far more essential.

Curiously, where Palestinians and Israelis are concerned, the views of the Catholic Church mirror those of the secular European intelligentsia. Together they see one reality; we Israelis see another.

We see the Palestinians perpetuating the "occupation" by refusing to negotiate in good faith and Gaza ruled by a Hamas more interested in pursuing its Islamist war-to-the-finish against us than in helping its own people. We are conscious that the security barrier was erected only after unpardonable Palestinian violence that claimed over 1,000 Israeli lives.

We know that Palestinian youth are drawn to violence primarily because of the pathological values inculcated in them by a political culture that revels in victimization and score-settling. We believe that the only way the Palestinian polity will make essential compromises for peace is for its leaders to start telling their people that painful concessions on borders, the nature of sovereignty and the right of return are necessary.

We know, too, that Hamas will never let Fatah make those compromises while its patron in Teheran looms near.

ISRAELIS were distressed by some of the remarks the pontiff made when he visited the Palestinian Authority. But they were even more troubled by his deafening silence on Iran. The Church has said that a nuclear-armed Iran is unacceptable. Yet it has essentially ruled out military intervention as morally unjustifiable.

Why do our views on the Palestinians and Iran leave the Vatican and Europe's intelligentsia cold? Because embracing our admittedly bleak appraisal would be awkward for a Europe whose governments still subsidize trade with Teheran.

Also, we keep repeating what we oppose, while inadequately explaining what we propose. And, let's be honest, our failure to consistently honor our commitments to the international community also influences perceptions.

NEXT Monday the spotlight shifts from a Europe in denial about the Palestinians and Iran to an America forthrightly struggling to develop sensible policies. Having parlayed with Egypt's Hosni Mubarak on Monday and with King Abdullah yesterday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will hold a fateful meeting with President Barack Obama in Washington.

There are those who want the president to outline to the premier the contours of an imposed solution. We trust they will be sorely disappointed. Peace doesn't have to be "imposed" on us. Zionism's greatest triumph would be a comprehensive resolution of the conflict in which Jewish rights are finally recognized.

Still, this will be a historic opportunity for Netanyahu to make it clear that this government does not oppose a Palestinian state - that, indeed, by asking tough questions about the nature of such a state, the prime minister is arguably taking the prospect more seriously than his recent predecessors.

Everyone pays lip service to the need for a Palestinian state, but Washington knows that the most pressing item on the regional agenda is the Iranian bomb. That is what it is hearing behind closed doors from Arab leaders - including those who tell waiting reporters that the Palestinian issue is paramount.

CIA director Leon Panetta was recently in Israel, reportedly to urge Israeli leaders not to surprise the administration by acting precipitously on Iran.

There is a camp in the administration that is arguing, "Better an Iran with a bomb than the bombing of Iran." On May 18, in the privacy of the Oval Office, Netanyahu needs to make Israel's "red lines" unmistakenly clear and tell Obama how right he was in saying that a nuclear Iran is a game-changer.

"Iran first" isn't an Israeli gambit to change the topic from the Palestinians. It is a sound evaluation that coolly identifies the only way forward.

Netanyahu has already made plain his determination, right away, to improve life for West Bank Palestinians on the economic front. An assurance from Obama that right behind the administration's current efforts to engage the mullahs stands a menu of crippling sanctions should be matched by Netanyahu's parallel assurance that once the Iranian menace fades away - taking the threat of Hamas and Hizbullah with it - his government will push hard, too, to meet the Palestinians more than half-way on the diplomatic front.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Pope in Israel -- Continued

Limits of interfaith

Perhaps we expect too much of priests, rabbis and imams. We want our clergy to be spiritual beacons, above the temporal fray; and to be politically savvy. Alas, on this earth there is no unscrambling politics and religion. And this inevitable mingling of the holy and the profane sometimes leaves us dismayed that those who claim a deeper understanding of the Creator's will should behave parochially.

Still, man is a political animal and in his image did he create religion.

At Yad Vashem on Monday, Pope Benedict XVI spoke mostly as a theologian - which left many Jews wanting. Granted, the German-born pontiff expressed opposition to Holocaust denial: "May the names of these victims never perish! May their suffering never be denied, belittled, or forgotten!" Yet his pledge on arriving at Ben-Gurion Airport to "honor the memory of the six million" would have been better fulfilled had he referenced the relationship between the Church's age-old "teaching of contempt" and what the Nazis did.

It was a stark contrast to the March 2000 visit by the charismatic John Paul II, who found a way, politically, to combine personal testimony with the Catholic attestation: "The Catholic Church, motivated by the Gospel law of truth and love, and by no political considerations, is deeply saddened by the hatred, acts of persecution and displays of anti-Semitism directed against the Jews by Christians at any time and in any place."

At the Western Wall on Tuesday, Benedict's decision to speak briefly in Latin in theological vein, citing the Book of Lamentations, seemed eminently sensible. Moments earlier, on the Temple Mount, visiting what the Holy See diplomatically referred to as "Mosques Square," he also delivered an altogether apolitical, mildly theological statement about the children of Abraham.

Only at Hechal Shlomo, where his Orthodox audience received his denunciation of moral relativism with silent approval, did the pope manage the right combination of politics and religion, saying: "The Catholic Church is irrevocably committed to the path chosen at the Second Vatican Council."

We found ourselves feeling oddly positive about the Chief Rabbinate yesterday.

Politically and theologically, the Jewish world speaks to the Church in three ways - via world Jewish bodies; via biannual meetings between the chief rabbinate and the Vatican; and via the Israel Foreign Ministry. Hechal Shlomo united all three channels. Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar and his Ashkenazi counterpart Rabbi Yona Metzger acquitted themselves well - they could have been mistaken for the national religious chief rabbis of old. Their performances almost justified their annual budget.

And yet, to Palestinian Arab ears, their remarks must have sounded politically loaded.

WITH HIS vitriolic Monday night performance at Notre Dame, the chief Islamic judge of the Palestinian Authority, Sheikh Tayseer Tamimi, embodied the most awful combination of politics and religion.

Tamimi stole the podium to deliver a harangue bereft of spirituality and drenched in the politically profane. Remember that Tamimi represents - not Hamas, but the moderate side of Palestinian religiosity. His Christian compatriots, no more moderate, waved PLO flags at yesterday's papal mass in the Kidron Valley, amid a sea of Vatican and Israeli flags. And if you missed the Palestinian Authority's apology for Tamimi's theatrics, so did we. The dirty little secret about interfaith work is that it's invariably spearheaded by non-Muslims.

The pope, visibly discomfited by Tamimi's tirade - though he didn't understand it - left earlier than scheduled, after a forced handshake with the Muslim cleric. Dozens of Arabs in the interfaith audience applauded the sheikh's anti-Israel calumnies.

The Vatican, to its credit, criticized Tamimi for this "direct negation of what a dialogue should be." To that, amen.

Tamimi will be delighted to learn that the Protestant World Council of Churches is planning its own week-long blitz in June: agitation against the "occupation," "settlements" and Jewish rights in Jerusalem. Fortunately, WCC-affiliated churches are in decline, whereas evangelical denominations displaying profound empathy with the Jewish state are thriving.

Since there is no separating politics from religion, the best we can strive for is that the spiritual in religion informs our politics more than the worst in our politics informs our religion.

Pray we have the wisdom to know the difference.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The King's London Times Interview

Taking a break from the pope today. But I was stuck in "pope traffic" last night. Our reporters and chief photographer (who are out there in the field) tell me they are exhausted from covering the pope. Nothing like it, they say. They have to show up hours ahead of schedule to events to get through extremely tight security...

Abdullah's Vital Role

As the Royal Jordanian Airlines jet carrying Pope Benedict XVI to Israel taxied toward the waiting dignitaries yesterday, the cockpit side windows were adorned with the Vatican and Israeli flags. That was in keeping with protocol, yet it was a remarkable sight: a Muslim carrier bringing the Catholic pontiff to the Jewish state.

Then, too, there was the afterglow of the warm hospitality extended to the pope earlier by King Abdullah II and Queen Rania.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is interested in meeting with Abdullah before he sees President Barack Obama next week in Washington. Yesterday, however, directly after welcoming the pope, Netanyahu was off to Sharm e-Sheikh for lunch with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and talks about the new government's approach to the Palestinian issue, Iran and, presumably, Gilad Schalit.

Abdullah, for his part, has met with Obama (on April 21); addressed the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC (last Friday); and granted (yesterday) a major interview to London's Times - headlined, on page one: King's Ultimatum: Peace Now Or It's War Next Year.

Throughout, he's been hammering home the message - delivered with regal understatement - that Israel is to blame for the negotiating impasse with the Palestinians, and that it has maybe 18 months to submit to the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative. Everything, he says, hinges on the Obama-Netanyahu meeting. If there is "no clear American vision" - read: If Obama doesn't lean hard on Israel - the president will lose his credibility, and the region will go up in smoke.

THE KING is a genuine moderate. His father made peace with Israel in 1994. In a region prone to shrill bullying, Abdullah prefers reasonable-sounding persuasion.

And yet it is striking that all his recent pronouncements held hardly a hint of Arab self-criticism; not a word about what the Palestinians need to do for peace.

The king naturally wants to end the "occupation." He claims the "Arab Peace Initiative is the most important proposal for peace in the history of this conflict." And he warns that "any Israeli effort to substitute Palestinian development for Palestinian independence" is unacceptable.

But the king surely knows that:

# Israel has no interest in "occupying" the Palestinians. That's been the stance of every premier from Rabin to Netanyahu. It is the Palestinians who have prolonged the "occupation" by rejecting generous offers to end the conflict (the latest proffered by Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni at the end of 2008).

# The Arab initiative, as it stands, is a fatally flawed take-it-or-leave-it diktat. Too bad, then, that just last week, Jordan denied it had agreed to a reported Obama administration suggestion that it spearhead efforts to make the plan more palatable.

# The Palestinians are hardly ready - today, right now - for total sovereignty. They are violently divided between the West Bank and Gaza. Fatah itself is polarized between generational factions. Palestinian political institutions are, shall we say, embryonic.

Stampeding the creation of a militarized "Palestine" would endanger both Israel and Jordan (a majority of whose population is Palestinian).

The good news is that moderate Jordan can play a vital role in fostering peace. We don't mean via such Abdullah platitudes as - "We are offering a third of the world to meet them with open arms" - but by working to narrow the differences between the parties. For no one understands the dynamics of Palestinian polity or appreciates the geostrategic lay of the land west of the Jordan River better than the king.

Rather than expecting Obama to deliver Israel prostrate, the king needs to lobby the Arab League for essential improvements to its plan: removing unrealistic demands for a total Israeli pullback to the hard-to-defend 1949 Armistice Lines; dropping their insistence on a Palestinian "right of return" to Israel proper - no more than a mechanism for demographically asphyxiating Israel; and adding a necessary plank committing the League to recognizing the legitimate rights of the Jewish people to self-determination.

The king does an excellent job of making the Arab position seem reasonable. But he could better advance the cause of peace by helping to make it reasonable in practice.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Pope in Israel

Monday - Salve, Shalom

On the blustery morning of January 5, 1964, president Zalman Shazar and prime minister Levi Eshkol stood ready to "unofficially" welcome the first head of the Catholic Church to the Jewish state.

Pope Paul VI crossed into northern Israel via the Ta'anech gate, near Megiddo, from the Jordanian-held West Bank. Such was the excitement that local cinema houses advertised newsreel screenings of the visit within 24 hours of the pontiff's departure.

A day earlier, in a story datelined "Jerusalem, Jordan," UPI reported that the pope was practically trampled on his visit to the Via Dolorosa "when hysterically excited crowds pressed in upon him," and later escaped harm "when the arc-light cables in the church of the Holy Sepulcher caught fire while he was saying mass. Many pilgrims and worshipers were injured in the pushing, thrusting, shouting crowds whose unruliness at times threatened to overwhelm the 66-year-old pontiff…"

On the Israeli side of the 1949 Armistice Line, the pope was determined not to utter the name "Israel," nor hold any formal meetings with the Israelis - not even with chief rabbi Yitzhak Nissim. The Vatican did not recognize the Jewish state.

Pope Paul conducted Mass in Nazareth and dipped his hands in the Sea of Galilee. Then he made his way to western Jerusalem, thousands of Israelis lining the roads; 25,000 awaited him at the entrance to the city.

Just 111⁄2 hours after arriving, the pope stood before the Mandelbaum Gate connecting divided Jerusalem, ready to take his leave.

The area was floodlit and 5,000 well-wishers came to bid him farewell. The president and prime minister were there, as were religious affairs minister Zerah Warhaftig and Jerusalem mayor Mordechai Ish-Shalom.

In brief farewell remarks delivered in French, the pope chose to dwell on the controversial figure who was pontiff during the Holocaust: "Our great predecessor Pius XII… everybody knows what he did for the defense and the rescue of all those who were caught in [the war's] tribulations, without distinction; and yet you know suspicions and even accusations have been leveled again the memory of the great pontiff… [This is a] slight against history."

Back in Rome, the pope sent a thank-you cable to Israel's president in "Tel Aviv," thanking nameless "authorities" for their logistical assistance during his visit.

AS Israel greets Pope Benedict XVI today, we cannot fail to recall, fondly, the March 2000 visit of pope John Paul II; how, standing at the Western Wall, the leader of the Catholic Church stuffed a note into a crevice among the ancient stones imploring God's forgiveness for those who had caused Jews to suffer throughout ages.

Clearly, any appraisal of relations between the Church and the Zionist enterprise must take a long view - from the January 25, 1904 meeting between Theodor Herzl and Pius X, at which the pontiff refused to support Zionism or recognize the Jewish people; to December 30, 1993, when the Holy See established diplomatic relations with Israel; to Benedict's arrival at Ben-Gurion Airport this morning.

The conclusion? There has been more progress in Catholic-Jewish relations during the past 105 years than in the previous 2,000.

Yet there is no papering over the reality that relations under this pope have not been entirely smooth. Elected in April 2005, Benedict pledged to continue in John Paul's path to have the Church recognize Pius XII as a saint. Benedict also tacitly encouraged the Latin Good Friday prayer "For the Conversion of the Jews," used by ultra-traditionalists. And he lifted the excommunication of four bishops belonging to the reactionary Society of Saint Pius X, which rejects reconciliation with the Jews. One of the four, the British-born Richard Williamson, is an unregenerate Holocaust-denier.

Since these contretemps Benedict has, however, reiterated his commitment to Vatican II's more liberal line, strongly repudiated anti-Semitism, called the Shoah "a crime against God" and labeled Holocaust denial "intolerable."

From now until he leaves Friday, the pope's every pronouncement will be scrutinized. On Mount Nebo, where tradition holds God showed Moses the Promised Land, Benedict made a promising start, citing the "inseparable bond" between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people, and speaking about "reconciliation" and "mutual respect."

It is in this spirit that we welcome the Holy Father.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Trial balloons

Erev Shabbat -

Nobody can be uncheered with a balloon. - Winnie the Pooh

Perhaps Pooh is right. Still, some balloons rise to the stratosphere, while others sputter into oblivion. This week witnessed a cascade of trial balloons - from Hamas, the American State Department, the Quartet and the Arab League.

Let's differentiate between the one potential high-riser and the three duds.

# The New York Times interviewed Hamas politburo chief Khaled Mashaal in Damascus this week. Hamas is following in the footsteps of the Yasser Arafat's PLO, circa 1980.

Arafat had come to the realization that "armed struggle" alone would not achieve his goals. So in July 1982, he confided to Uri Avnery that the PLO was prepared to "recognize" Israel. Avnery immediately shared the good news with the Times.

As it turns out the PLO hasn't, to this day, genuinely recognized Israel as a Jewish state.

Anyway, Mashaal has an offer: Were Israel to pull back to the hard-to-defend 1949 Armistice Lines, uproot "settlements" such as Jerusalem's East Talpiot and French Hill neighborhoods, agree to have its population inundated by millions of descendents of the original 650,000 Palestinian Arabs who became refugees during the 1948 war - Hamas would offer us a long-term truce.

Dud Number 1.

# Before Rose Gottemoeller became Assistant Secretary of State for Verification and Compliance in the Obama administration, she had been a think-tank wonk advocating a nuclear-free Middle East. In a 2005 paper "Universal Compliance: A Strategy for Nuclear Security," she called on Israel to "proactively" negotiate a Mideast "free of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons."

So it was little surprise that in her State Department capacity, in addressing the Preparatory Committee for the 2010 Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty Review Conference this week, she made waves by pointedly including Israel in her call for "universal adherence to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty," bunching us together with India, Pakistan and North Korea.

Dud Number 2.

Curiously, Gottemoeller did not include Iran, a NPT signatory working furiously to build a bomb.

Israel, unlike Iran, has never threatened to wipe one of its neighbors off the face of the earth. Jerusalem maintains a policy of nuclear ambiguity, but has said it will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons to the region.

Gottemoeller only needs to know that the raison d'etre of the Zionist enterprise is to make certain that, should our survival here be jeopardized, the Jews of Israel will "never again" go defenselessly to the slaughter.

# The Quartet is, according to Palestinian-sourced reports on Wednesday, working on a new peacemaking strategy, with input from the US, UN, EU and Russia, supposedly to be unveiled later this summer, promising a comprehensive solution to the Arab-Israel conflict.

Dud Number 3.

The Road Map broke down, in Phase I, due to ongoing Palestinian violence. But rather than hold the Palestinians to account, the international community produced Annapolis, which also bombed. Coming up with a new "framework" every time the Palestinians violate their promises is a recipe for failure.

# The London-based, pan-Arab, Al-Quds Al-Arabi newspaper reported that Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia are working on Version 2 of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative which will "clarify the vague points" of the defective original.

As far as this trial balloon goes, we confess to being intrigued. As we understand it, the plan calls for the Palestinians to abandon their demand for a "right of return" and be granted citizenship in Arab countries, or in the newly created and demilitarized Palestine. There would be a timetable for the establishing of diplomatic relations between Israel and the Arab states. Israel would not be expected to return to the 1949 Armistice Lines (there would be some kind of land swap). Jerusalem would not be physically partitioned, and the holy places would be placed under international stewardship.

OBVIOUSLY, we have lots and lots of questions, but this is broadly the kind of proposal that could constitute a realistic starting point for talks.

Reaction to the Al-Quds Al-Arabi report? Denials from Jordan and Egypt, and silence from the Palestinians. Meanwhile, Mahmoud Abbas says he's working on a peace plan...

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Is "international law" out to "get" Israel?

Wed - Dickens' law

What a busy time it's been for those who exploit international law to gang up on Israel. Let us count the ways.

Starting with yesterday's UN report compiled by Ian Martin on that incident during Operation Cast Lead at the UNRWA compound in Jabaliya, the one that generated mendacious headlines like "Israeli shelling kills dozens at UN school in Gaza."

In fact, no one sheltering at the school was killed - but about a dozen Palestinians nearby (including gunmen) were when Israel retaliated to Hamas's shelling. While Martin pointedly refused to incorporate the IDF's side in drafting his report, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon promised his cover note to the Security Council will provide some of the missing details and extenuating circumstances.

Don't go confusing Martin with Richard Goldstone's commission, which will be also be investigating the Gaza war. And don't confuse Goldstone with Richard A. Falk's "investigation" for the UN's Human Rights Council.

All this is in addition to the routine "docketing" of Israel at the UN Committee Against Torture in Geneva, partly instigated by Israel-based advocacy groups, some of which receive funding from the New Israel Fund and foreign powers. The committee's chair is Claudio Grossman, a Chilean national whose connection to the NIF figures is no secret.

If that wasn't enough, there is the Spanish legal system's persecution of top Israeli officials for the 2002 operation that liquidated Salah Shehadeh. Tragically, 14 civilians also lost their lives. But unintended civilian deaths in warfare are not unheard of. Shehadeh supervised dozens of terrorist attacks, killing or wounding hundreds of Israelis. The "universal jurisdiction" claimed by Spain and other countries - even where neither the "perpetrator" nor the "victim" has anything to do with them - verily turns the law into an ass.

Let's not forget the Durban II farce starring Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, or that it was ostensibly organized as a UN-sponsored "anti-racism" conference.

Finally, there's the unrelenting abuse of international law at every single UN body - except the essentially defunct Trusteeship Council.

WHY this obscenely inordinate investment of time, money and personnel in bashing us?

Because an odd coalition - of progressives and reactionaries - finds itself united in the aim of forcing Israel out of the West Bank, and international law is a potent weapon in their arsenal.

The progressives see Israel as "occupying" only the West Bank and Gaza (though Israel pulled out of there in 2005), while the reactionaries see the "occupation" as extending over all of "Palestine," and Israel's establishment as an inexpugnable sin. This "human rights coalition" is united in the belief that the end - forcing Israel out of the West Bank - justifies the means: exploiting and distorting international law.

That's why it has been made virtually "illegal" for Israel to defend itself. An "occupier" doesn't deserve that right.

The progressives' demand for a West Bank withdrawal is hardly tempered by concern for realities on the ground. Didn't Ehud Olmert offer just about the entire West Bank to Mahmoud Abbas? Hasn't every Israeli leader since Yitzhak Rabin made clear that Israel has no interest in ruling the Palestinians?

If the international community wanted to be part of the solution, rather than the problem, it would tell the Palestinians to stop hiding behind a perverted international law and start negotiating with Israel in earnest.

As for Spain, it's patently obvious that politicians in that country could have intervened to limit the scope of "universal jurisdiction." Their repeated failure to do so speaks volumes. Spanish diplomats and Spanish EU functionaries ought not to be astonished when Israelis show little faith in them as honest brokers.

Are we claiming that Israel - uniquely among nations - never commits human rights violations? Of course not. We are saying that the unprecedented manipulation of international law and global legal institutions to isolate and delegitimize the Jewish state is simply not fair. Moreover, it has the unintended consequence of ripping asunder the fabric of international law and morality.

For the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the Arab League this may not matter much, but shouldn't it matter a great deal to those who embrace Western values?

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Iran or the Palestinians -- which should come first?

...but first two announcements.
1. Happy Birthday Jelly!!
2. Shmuel Katz haskara postponed. Details to follow

Switching the subject

The president of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari, will be in Washington this week to reassure President Barack Obama that, contrary to appearances, his nuclear-armed country isn't really unraveling. The Pakistani army is killing increasing numbers of "militants" and there is no real danger of a creeping Taliban takeover, Zardari will assert.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, perhaps sitting in on the meeting, might opine that putting too much pressure on the Pakistani army to crush the Islamists could destroy the country's "nascent democracy."

Indeed, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, told The Washington Post's David Ignatius: "My experience is that knocking [the Pakistani government and military] hard isn't going to work. The harder we push, the further away they get."

For the Taliban to be defeated, Mullen argues, the Pakistanis have to see their interests in the struggle. Of course, as Mullen well knows, there are elements in Pakistan's intelligence community that even today provide support to the Taliban.

At this point, neither Mullen nor Gates knows where all of Pakistan's nuclear sites are located. That's awkward considering that the Bush administration invested $100 million into helping Islamabad protect these nukes from falling into the hands of Muslim extremists. No one knows where the money really went.

Crisis or not, Pakistan continues to produce weapons-grade plutonium.

CLEARLY, Pakistan-Afghanistan presents American decision-makers with a conundrum.

Israelis could, perhaps, commiserate if the Americans threw up their hands and said: "Sorry, we just can't deal with an Iranian bomb because Pakistan is unraveling, Afghanistan looks set to again become a base for al-Qaida attacks on the West and, to boot, the prognosis in Iraq looks even worse than we thought."

But that's not what Washington is saying.

What they may be saying is, "Better a bomb than a bombing," as an Israel Television news report claimed Sunday, citing unnamed European and Israeli sources - meaning the administration has become reconciled to a nuclear-armed Iran.

If true, that would go counter to everything the administration is saying publicly, and every solemn personal commitment Barack Obama has made.

At the same time, the Iranians are talking straight about their plans. Following a report in the French magazine L'Express that the Israel Air Force staged exercises near Gibraltar, training for a possible attack on Iran, Maj.-Gen. Hassan Firouzabadi, the Iranian chief of staff, announced that he needs just 11 days to "destroy" Israel. Analysts here are still scratching their heads over the significance of the 11-day figure.

ADMINISTRATION officials are reportedly insinuating that the US will only act - in some unspecified fashion - on Iran if Washington can muster an alliance of European and Arab countries. For that to happen, as The New York Times put it Monday, Israel - if it wants the world to "confront" Iran - needs to "work toward" an end to the "occupation," halt settlement construction and foster the creation of a Palestinian state.

If this truly is Obama's position, frankly, we don't get it. Does America really feel hamstrung in "confronting" Iran without Arab and European support? Aren't the Arabs privately - and insistently - telling American envoys that they are as worried about Iran as Israel is?

Moreover, if, for argument's sake, Israel tomorrow - in the depths of existential despair - pulled back to the 1949 Armistice Lines, abruptly ending the "occupation" and uprooting every "settlement," does anyone this side of la-la land think such a withdrawal would constrain Iranian imperialism? Encourage Teheran to end its quest for nuclear weapons? Satiate Palestinian demands?

Israel isn't arbitrarily trying to "switch" the discussion away from the Palestinians to Iran. It is warning that a nuclear-armed Iran is the overriding threat - to Israel, the Arabs and the West. We are saying that the reason there is no Palestinian state is principally attributable to the intransigent, unrealistic and self-defeating Palestinian negotiating position which, if anything, will become less malleable should the mullahs get the bomb. Iran's proxies, Hamas and Hizbullah, would become even more puffed-up.

Someone is trying to "switch the subject" all right - but it isn't Israel.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Israel's Next Ambassador to the United States


May 31
Shmuel Katz hazkara
The Begin Center
6:30 PM


Monday - Our man in Washington

On Monday, August 21, 1995, a Hamas suicide bomber blew up the No. 26 bus in the northern Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Eshkol. Among the dead was Joan Davenny, a Connecticut schoolteacher here on sabbatical.

Some thought of her as soon as the news broke that Michael Oren was about to be appointed Israel's ambassador to the United States. For Joan's sister, Sally, is Michael's wife. This is a small country, and Oren is one of us - in every way.

Our new man in Washington, who will be giving up his American citizenship to take the job, made aliya at 15 from New Jersey. After serving in the paratroops, Oren returned to the US to take degrees from Columbia and Princeton universities. A senior fellow at The Shalem Center, Oren is a best-selling historian whose books include Six Days of War: June 1967, The Making of the Modern Middle East and, most recently, Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East, 1776 to the Present. He's also an accomplished polemicist with scores op-eds and television appearances to his credit.

As recently as Operation Cast Lead, Oren voluntarily donned his army uniform to work in the IDF Spokesman's office. He has diplomatic experience too, having served in Israel's UN Mission.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman jointly made the selection, which will take effect in time for Oren to accompany the premier to Washington for his May 18 meeting with President Barack Obama.

THE Washington ambassadorial job is arguably Israel's most important diplomatic posting.

Naturally, it entails representing our government. But it also requires the ambassador to ensure that the prime minister understands which way the wind is blowing at the White House, Foggy Bottom and on Capitol Hill. Moreover, the ambassador is the face of Israel to the American people.

Even in an era when Obama can Blackberry and Netanyahu can Twitter, a flesh-and-blood ambassador - one with a reputation of enjoying the complete trust of his prime minister - is an essential conduit. Though it behooves Oren to remain in Lieberman's good graces, his number one client is Netanyahu. Hawk or a dove, or the epitome of an independent thinker, Oren must now put loyalty to Netanyahu above any personal or political consideration.

There's a sense among some in the US pro-Israel community that while Oren is a fine appointee in terms of public diplomacy and hasbara, he still needs to master the art of the "Washington insider" - someone who can work behind the scenes to enable American decision-makers to understand what Netanyahu wants, and why.

Here, Oren could take a leaf from David Ivri, the air force commander who oversaw the 1981 Osirak raid and became our ambassador at the beginning of the second intifada. Ivri kept a low media profile, but achieved much behind the scenes.

Plainly, the Obama administration will not be spun or won over by Oren's rhetoric. With them, he will need to speak authoritatively for a premier who, we trust, will have a clear agenda - foremost on Iran and the Palestinians.

Still, Oren's appointment is heartening for a pro-Israel community that has at times in the past seen the posts of ambassador to Washington, the UN, and consul-general in New York go to individuals who, whatever their talents, do not excel in the media. Clearly, Israel needs articulate and knowledgeable diplomats like Oren, capable of bolstering those in the US who care about Israel.

Here at last is a figure at ease on the public stage, someone who knows what he's talking about and can speak to Americans in their own language.

We at The Jerusalem Post take pride in the appointment of a fellow Anglo, a reconfirmation of what immigrants can achieve in Israel. For in Oren we have an American who came here, served in an elite unit, and then worked tirelessly to improve the way the world understands our country and the region.

However, an ambassador, no matter how eloquent or well-connected, cannot be compelling if the policies at the top are jumbled or lack resonance. Oren will be at his most effective if Netanyahu can articulate a foreign and security policy that is coherent and sensible.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Barack Obama's first 100 days - part two


May 31
Shmuel Katz hazkara
The Begin Center
6:30 PM

Waiting for Netanyahu

President Barack Obama held a prime-time news conference Wednesday to mark his first 100 days in office. The potential flu pandemic was topic number one. Next came the economic crisis, with worries about the security of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal a close third.

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict went unmentioned.

Next week, however, expect Israel to be in the Washington limelight. The 2009 AIPAC Policy Conference kicks off on Sunday with speeches by leading US politicians and Christian religious leaders. President Shimon Peres is scheduled to talk on Monday morning, and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will deliver his banquet address Monday evening, via satellite.

Following his AIPAC speech, Peres will head to the White House for a meeting with Obama. Their conversation will focus on Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons - another topic which got nary a mention during the news conference.

This is an international problem, not Israel's alone, Peres will say. In an Independence Day interview with Channel 10, our president mused about a coalition nuclear umbrella which signals the mullahs: "If you use a nuclear weapon - no matter against whom - you'll get a nuclear response."

A better plan is to give them every reason not to build a bomb in the first place, and if necessary to ensure that they do not.

We hope Peres tells Obama that while Jerusalem can appreciate Washington's reluctance to broadcast a timetable for giving up on trying to talk the Teheran extremists out of building a bomb, there is, in fact, very little time left.

NETANYAHU is booked to travel to Washington for an all-important May 18 White House meeting. There, he will present Obama with his plan on how to re-float talks with the Palestinian Authority in the wake of Mahmoud Abbas's rejection of Ehud Olmert's late 2008 peace offer.

Our premier will likely also come away from that meeting with a realistic appraisal of whether Obama will make good on his campaign promise to "use all elements of American power" and do everything to "prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon."

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is to travel to Italy, Germany, France and the Czech Republic next week to talk about Iran and the Palestinians. The EU's External Affairs Commissioner, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, has been pushing for a freeze on upgrading relations between the EU and Israel because... the Palestinians asked her to. She seems considerably less engaged over Iran's quest for an atom bomb.

Lieberman's task will be to urge more open-minded European leaders to await the outcome of Netanyahu's White House meeting and to accept that the current approach to Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations needs revamping.

Israel would like America and Europe to internalize that defanging Iran, while not a precondition to progress on negotiations with the Palestinians - or with Syria, for that matter - is an essential gateway. Also that flirting with an unreformed Hamas is a dead end if the destination is a two-state solution.

Pressuring Israel, a la Ferrero-Waldner, or making insinuations about an imposed solution, serve only to harden the already unreasonable expectations within the Palestinian polity. Thus is the conflict perpetuated.

THE PLAN Netanyahu will be taking to the White House next month needs to offer a sensible way forward on the Palestinian track, even if truly substantive progress may be difficult until the Iranian crisis is contained.

He will garner the support of Israel's majority - and of the pro-Israel community worldwide - if he broadly enunciates the country's "red lines" on defensible boundaries, strategic settlement blocs, the parameters of Palestinian sovereignty in the West Bank and Gaza, the issue of Jerusalem and Arab refugees.

Furthermore, his government's credibility would be immeasurably enhanced by the dismantling of unauthorized settlement outposts, demonstrating that the West Bank is not the Wild West. The Palestinians have just shown how "law" works in the territory under their jurisdiction: On Wednesday, a Hebron court sentenced a man to be hanged for selling a parcel of land to a Jew.

Though Fatah and Hamas continue squabbling, they agree on two things: a rejection of Israel as a Jewish state, and a refusal to share this land with non-Muslims.

If any plan presented by Netanyahu to Obama is going to matter, those attitudes have to change.

Friday, May 01, 2009


May 31
Shmuel Katz hazkara
The Begin Center
6:30 PM

My Archive