The myth of “Good Israel” vs. “Bad Israel”

Posted: January 8th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: racism, The Left, The Right, The Settlements | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Some thoughts following Jeffrey Goldberg’s public doubts regarding the Israeli commitment to democratic values

“What If Israel Ceases to Be a Democracy?” asked the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg a couple of weeks ago. “Am I being apocalyptic? Yes. Am I exaggerating the depth of the problem? I certainly hope so,” he added.

Well, This week Goldberg got his answer from the Knesset: no, you are not exaggerating. As Roi Maor and Yossi Gurvits write, the decision to form a special committee which will look into the activities of human rights organizations is one big step away from the limited democracy Israel used to be. Where does it all lead? I honestly don’t know.

But I wanted to discuss something else. Reading his post, what struck me most was the way Goldberg analyzed the causes for the current political trends in Israel:

I will admit here that my assumption has usually been that Israelis, when they finally realize the choice before them (many have already, of course, but many more haven’t, it seems), will choose democracy, and somehow extract themselves from the management of the lives of West Bank Palestinians. But I’ve had a couple of conversations this week with people, in Jerusalem and out of Jerusalem, that suggest to me that democracy is something less than a religious value for wide swaths of Israeli Jewish society. I’m speaking here of four groups, each ascendant to varying degrees: The haredim, the ultra-Orthodox Jews, whose community continues to grow at a rapid clip; the working-class religious Sephardim — Jews from Arab countries, mainly — whose interests are represented in the Knesset by the obscurantist rabbis of the Shas Party; the settler movement, which still seems to get whatever it needs in order to grow; and the million or so recent immigrants from Russia, who support, in distressing numbers, the Putin-like Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s foreign minister and leader of the “Israel is Our Home” party.

This is a return to the old “good Israel” vs. “Bad Israel” theory. According to this idea, there are the peace-loving, democratic and liberal Israeli Jews, who represent the “real” values on which the country was born, and there are the “bad”, Sephardic Jews, Ultra-orthodox and Russian immigrants, who are to blame for all the current hiccups what was a model democracy until not that long ago. Goldberg is actually angry with them for taking away “his” Israel. I think he represents many in saying that

the Israel that I see today is not the Israel I was introduced to more than twenty years ago. The rise to power of the four groups I mentioned above has changed, in some very serious ways (which I will write about later) the nature and character of the Jewish state.

Let’s not deal with what some see as latent racism in these assumptions (I don’t think this is the case with Goldberg), and talk politics instead. First, Shas, is actually weaker than at any point since the mid nineties. The party is going through an internal crisis (some say it will split once its spiritual leader, Ovadia Yosef, passes away). The other Orthodox party, United Torah Judaism, has five seats – roughly the same number it always had. As for Avigdor Lieberman, the conventional wisdom is that only 60-something percent of his votes were from Russian immigrants and the rest came from ordinary middle class Jews. Pollsters claim that those middle class voters are the reason for Lieberman’s rise in the last elections (and probably, in the next ones).

We are left with Goldberg’s favorite target, the settlers. Contrary to the common belief, the settlers are also weaker than ever: the National Religious Party, which used to represent their interests, split into two, and the only real hard-core, rightwing party (The National Unity) has only four Knesset seats and was left out of the government by Netanyahu.

So, If the settlers and the orthodox might be so weak– or at least, not stronger than ever – how come we end up with the most racist, rightwing Knesset in the country’s history?

The answer is as simple as it is unpleasant: it’s Israel’s “good guys” that turned bad – and maybe they weren’t that good in the first place. The Israeli middle class, the good ole’ boys, are the ones supporting the racist bills in the Knesset and the anti-democratic initiatives. In other words, we always had Rabbis like Shmuel Eliyahu and members of Knesset like Kahane’s student Michael Ben-Ari. The difference is that now, we have Kadima and Likud backing them.

Just like the settlements couldn’t have been built without the active support and participation of the Israeli center-left (including Labor party, which started the whole thing back in the 70′s), the current torrent of racist bills couldn’t have come without the help of Kadima, Labor and Likud members. And with all the ridiculous, xenophobic and undemocratic ideas they came up with, their public can’t get enough. When it comes to questions of human rights and democracy, there is no coalition and opposition in the Knesset: Almost everyone is on the same side.

Israel has always been a place that favored Jews over non-Jews. It was always a country that confiscated and colonized Arab land, on both sides of the 67′ borders. In the past, it was easier to avoid those issues, but today, faced with a choice between democracy and the “Jewishness” of the state, it’s clear what almost all Israelis – and not just the Russians and the Hassidic – prefer.

By now, any reasonable person can understand that the “good guys” won’t save the day. It’s more likely that they will vote again for Lieberman or Kadima – two parties that actually get along quite well ( some Kadima Knesset Members even joined the coalition on the shameful vote this week). Dennis Ross and others can spend another decade in efforts to create the political environment that would allow the peace camp in Israel to take the lead again – without real outside pressure, it simply won’t happen. With the exception of Rabin’s government, this country was led by conservative politicians, all of them but one from the Likud, since 1986. And people still don’t get it: Israel wasn’t hijacked by the right. It was there all along.

Lieberman: Israeli government cannot agree on peace plan

Posted: December 27th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , | 10 Comments »

But clearly, the Palestinians are to blame for negotiations’ failure

Even before the administration’s peace effort collapsed, speakers for Israel were pulling the old “Arab Rejectionism” card to defend Jerusalem’s decision to prefer settlements over talks. Prime Minister Netanyahu wanted a Palestinian state, they explained, but Abu Mazen refused to negotiate.

One thing you can’t take from Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is his ability to say things as they really are. The Israeli government cannot even come up with a peace offer, he explained yesterday, let alone implement one:

“In the current political situation, I don’t think it’s possible to find a common denominator between [Shas chairman] Eli Yishai and [Labor chairman] Ehud Barak or between me and [dovish Likud minister] Dan Meridor, or even within Likud, between [ministers] Benny Begin and Michael Eitan,” [Lieberman] explained. “In the existing political circumstances, it’s not possible to present a diplomatic plan for a final-status agreement, because the coalition will simply no longer exist.”

The best thing was Netanyahu’s comment on this: He actually explained that his Foreign Minister does not represent the Israeli government.

The political line of Israeli papers (a reader’s guide)

Posted: October 26th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: media, The Left, The Right | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 28 Comments »

Maariv and Yedioth Ahronoth showing the same headline (photo: yossi gurvitz)Newspapers in Israel have always been of great importance. One of the first things early Zionists did in Palestine was to create their own Hebrew papers. Every major political faction had its own publication, usually a national daily. Even today, with the decline of printed journalism, papers are still widely read, especially among opinion makers.

The Hebrew papers raise issues and frame political questions; Knesset members often quote news items and op-eds during Knesset debates, and Knesset committees conduct debates on issues exposed by the printed media. It is worth noting that Israel has never had strong local daily papers, so the printed media always tended to deal with national questions of diplomacy, politics and security, and less with local issues such as crime and local policies. So if you want to understand Israeli society and Israeli politics, you need to understand Hebrew printed media.

The old party papers died over the last two decades or so, and today’s papers don’t have a certain partisan affiliation. Papers in Israel usually don’t endorse candidates or parties, but they do have a political line. In the cases of Haaretz and Yisrael Hayom this line is very clear. With Maariv – and especially with Yedioth – it tends to be more subtle, and has changed over the years.

Here is a short guide to the political lines taken by Israel’s newspapers these days. Remember that these assessments are subjective as well, and reflect my own views and knowledge. Disclaimer: I worked for Maariv and for Yedioth’s internet division in the past, and in the past six months I have written a few stories for Haaretz.

Yedioth Ahronoth

Market Share* (June 2010): 35 percent on weekdays, 43.7 on weekends.

Internet site: Ynet (English edition here).

Politics: After years of dominating the printed media market, Israel’s leading tabloid has met a fierce rival – the free paper Yisrael Hayom, launched three years ago by gambling billionaire Sheldon Adelson. Many people believe that this is the reason for the sharp anti-Netanyahu tone Yedioth has taken over the past year. The paper is constantly publishing articles attacking the Prime Minister, his staff and even his wife. Star pundit Nahum Barnea is especially hostile to Netanyahu; in fact, I think there is only one columnist in Yedioth – Hanoch Daum – who is an open Netanyahu supporter and a proxy to the Netanyahu family.

Leaving Netanyahu aside, Yedioth is a fairly centrist paper. It tends to be conservative on military and security issues, but more open than other tabloids when it comes to dealing with civil rights issues. The campaign the paper launched against the State Prosecution and the Supreme Court for their intervention in policy issues and nominations of high ranking officials seems to have calmed down recently.

I think people outside Israel don’t pay enough attention to Yedioth. For years, the paper was known for its ability to capture the voice of the average middle class Israeli. The front page story of the papers’ weekend magazine always presented “the man of the moment”, or the story that would be discussed during the following week. Yedioth is not as strong today – but it is still the most important media organization in Israel. Yedioth’s internet site (Ynet) is by far the most popular news site in Israel.

Yair Lapid, channel 2 anchorman and a possible candidate in the next elections, has a widely read column in Yedioth.

The bottom line for Yedioth Ahronoth: Conservative on security and Supreme Court; critical of the government and Netanyahu himself; slightly more liberal than the two other tabloids.


Yisrael Hayom

Market Share (June 2010): 35 percent on weekdays, 25.7 on weekends.

Internet site: Yisrael Hayom (Hebrew, printed edition only).

Politics: According to most estimates, Sheldon Adelson’s free tabloid, which is circulated in 250,000 copies, is losing money. But Adelson’s intention in launching the paper was not to gain profits, but political influence.

Adelson’s paper is edited by a former proxy to Netanyahu, Amos Regev. Under Regev, Israel Hayom is extremely supportive of the Prime Minister, constantly pushing stories that present Netanyahu and his family in a positive way. Recently, the paper is taking on an even more nationalistic editorial line.

[A more detailed post about the ties between Yisrael Hayom and Netanyahu can be found here.]

Yisrael Hayom is very hostile to the Palestinians; it tends to emphasize security threats and to present a favorable coverage of some of the new Knesset bills which are aimed against the Arab minority, Arabs members of Knesset and leftwing NGO’s (though one could find in it from time to time an occasional op-ed expressing different views).

Yisrael Hayom is supportive of the State Prosecution and the Supreme Court, but only on corruption issues, not civil rights ones.

Yisrael Hayom doesn’t have its own publishing house, so the paper has outsourced its printing and distribution to Haaretz. There are rumors that this move saved Haaretz from bankruptcy.

The bottom line for Yisrael Hayom: Conservative on security, diplomacy and civil rights; highly supportive of Netanyahu.



Market Share (June 2010): 12.5 percent on weekdays, 16.1 on weekends.

Internet site: nrg (Hebrew only).

Politics: for years, Maariv was Yedioth’s greatest enemy (when I moved from Ynet to Maariv in 2003, I was told by one of the senior editors that I would never write for Yedioth again), but now both papers join hands in the battle against Yisrael Hayom.

Maariv ran into financial difficulties more than six years ago, and since then it has been changing its editors and CEO’s frequently. A new team of editors (Yoav Zur and Yoav Golan), and a new co-publisher (businessman Zachi Rachiv) seem to have stabilized the paper a bit recently.

Under its new editors, Maariv has taken a sharp turn to the right. The paper’s subtle criticism of Netanyahu could be a bit misleading. Maariv keeps a very nationalistic and conservative line. It was Maariv that launched the campaign against the New Israel Fund by publishing the Im Tirzu reports. The paper is extremely hostile to the Arab population and to human rights organizations, and recently, it shows a hospitable attitude to the settlement project (a recent double spread all but invited people to live in Tapuach, a settlement formally known as the stronghold of Kahane supporters). Among Israeli papers, Maariv is the most supportive of Avigdor Lieberman’s policies, and it usually presents a somewhat favorable coverage of the bills Israel Beitenu is trying to pass in the Knesset.

Rumors have it that it was a conscious decision by Maariv’s editors and managing board to take an editorial line that would exploit the current nationalistic trends in the Israeli society. The promotion of conservative contributors such as Kalman Livskind and Ben-Dror Yemini support this theory. Yemini is known for his campaigning against “lefty” influence in the Israel academia and media. He has repeatedly called to hold state funds from critical movies and from artists and professors who are “anti-Israeli”. Last week he published a double spread attacking Haaretz journalist Gidon Levi for an interview he gave to the Independent.

The bottom line for Maariv: Highly conservative on security; anti-civil rights, anti-Supreme Court; slightly critical of Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.



Market Share (June 2010): 6.4 percent on weekdays, 7.4 on weekends.

Internet site: Haaretz (English site here).

Politics: Haaretz was Israel’s liberal paper for many years, and one could claim that it’s the only paper committed to supporting civil rights and promoting democratic values. By Israeli standards, Haaretz is very critical of the IDF, thought in the past few years the paper was criticized for pushing Palestinians’ civil right issues into its back pages. Many leftwing activists and politicians are also dismayed by the liberal line Haaretz tends to take on economical issues.

Haaretz’s editorial line is very critical of Netanyahu and Lieberman, though some important contributors, such as Ari Shavit and Yoel Marcus are less clear on the issue. Haaretz journalist Amira Hass is especially known for her work on Palestinian rights issues.

Haaretz’ circulation is not substantial – it’s almost similar to that of the unimportant free tabloid Israel Post – but it is widely read and discussed by public opinion makers, politicians, diplomats and the international press, so it has a more substantial weight than its numbers. Nevertheless, it’s important to remember that very few Israelis actually read Haaretz.

The bottom line for Haaretz: liberal on security, civil rights and economy; supportive of the Supreme Court; very critical of Netanyahu’s government.


(*) Maariv and Israel Hayom are the only daily papers in Israel to disclose their circulation figures. The common way to measure papers’ share of the market – and the one used to determine advertising prices – is through the TGI poll, conducted twice a year by the independent company TNS-Telegal. The figures in this post relate to the June 2010 poll.

For daily updates on the leading stories in the Israel Hebrew press, check out the daily media roundup on +972 magazine.

Netanyahu’s government: from here it’s all downhill

Posted: October 21st, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: elections, In the News, The Left, The Right | Tags: , , , , | 10 Comments »

The current Israeli government has reached the end of the road. Soon, Netanyahu will have to chose between changing his coalition to new elections

Benjamin Netanyahu returned to the Prime Minister office determined not to repeat the mistakes of his previous term, those that led to his premature downfall in 1999. This time, he enjoyed a better starting point: unlike in his first term, Netanyahu has a strong rightwing majority in the Knesset, and he was able to cover his left flank by pulling Labor into the government.

But things didn’t work out as Netanyahu expected, and people familiar enough with Israeli politics already estimate that the current government has reached the end of its road. Knesset speaker and Likud member Rubi Rivlin even predicted that by the end of the current Knesset session, six months from now, the date of the next elections will have been set.

The cracks in Netanyahu’s coalition are easy to spot. Netanyahu’s most important coalition partner, defense minister Ehud Barak, was quoted today In Israel’ leading tabloid, Yedioth Ahronoth, criticizing the Prime Minister for his demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state now.

“We don’t need an aggressive Winston Churchill now, but a De Gaulle,” said Barak, according to Yedioth. Churchill is Netanyahu’s role model; De Gaulle is the President that ended French occupation in Algeria.

Barak is the weakest link in the coalition, and he is just about to break. He has been under pressure for supporting Netanyahu from the day he entered his government, and he can’t hold much longer. Haaretz editorial already called for the resignation of Labor ministers because of the Loyalty Oath bill, top labor officials have left Barak’s camp one after the other, and Maariv’s top story today was a declaration by MK Avishay Braverman that he will run for Labor’s leadership.

Barak feels the heat. He stopped defending Netanyahu in public a while ago, and it seems as if he is preparing the ground for his departure from government (the other option, that he would leave Labor and stick by Netanyahu, doesn’t seem very likely now).

Netanyahu’s senior partner on the Right, Avigdor Lieberman, smells the blood as well. When Lieberman was on Netanyahu’s side, he kept quiet and never doubted the peace process in public. Now he does it at the UN, much to the dismay of the Prime Minister. Lieberman might be forced to leave the government soon because of a police investigation on corruption charges, and he probably wants his exit to be noisy. Like Barak, he wants to show voters that he left power behind for ideological reasons.

There are other signs that the Prime Minister doesn’t enjoy the same respect within his coalition or even his party. Politicians have a great sense for weakness, and if Netanyahu wasn’t getting weaker, Knesset speaker Rivlin – who wants to succeed Peres as president and needs the Prime Minister’s support for that – would have never challenged him publicly. The game has changed: now Netanyahu needs Rivlin more than Rivlin needs Netanyahu.

What’s now?

One thing is clear: in the current Knesset, the only possible Prime Minister is Netanyahu. Tzipi Livni cannot have a majority without either Lieberman or Netanyahu himself as partners, and she probably won’t have any of them. Assuming there is no immediate breakthrough in the peace process (or a war…) and Labor does leave the government, we are left with the following scenarios:

A. New centrist government: Netanyahu declares he wants to move forward in the peace process, and invites Kadima to join him. Even if Livni agrees, such a deal won’t last for long, as Kadima might think that it’s in her interest to break the partnership sooner than later. Netanyahu knows that, so he hesitates on turning to Livni. UPDATE: as I’m writing this, Haaretz reports that Netanyahu is considering having Kadima join his government.

B. New extreme-right government: Labor leaves the coalition and Netanyahu relays on the right for staying in power. That would make him the most “lefty” element in his coalition – a very bad position for a PM. The settlers would make his life miserable, and the international pressure would become unbearable. Result: early elections.

C. Elections: according to the Israeli law, when the government falls, new elections must be held in three months. In reality, when the government is about to fall, it sets up a date for new elections much further away (usually in six to eight months), so the prime Minister can remain in power and engage in a long campaign which is not dominated by a crisis atmosphere. If Netanyahu is cornered, he might go for elections, especially if he feels that there is not a powerful challenger around. Right now, there isn’t any one, but if Tel Aviv’s mayor ron huldai chooses to run, he might be the strongest candidate the Left had in years.

I think Netanyahu haven’t made up his mind regarding the choices he faces. He views the current coalition as the best one for him, so he would probably wait to see how the midterm elections in the US affect him and hope that the fault for the failure of the peace process would fall on the Palestinians (Israeli representatives in Washington are already working to make sure it does).

Eventually, and without some sort of external development that would save him, I think Netanyahu would prefer to change his coalition than to have early elections. If Kadima enters his government, we might have another round of meaningless talks with the Palestinians before things break up again.

If, however, Netanyahu turns to the Right, events might turn real crazy.

Israeli security forces practice dealing with “riots following population exchange”, mass detentions of Israeli-Palestinians

Posted: October 8th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, racism | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

IBA Radio is reporting that Israel’s security forces ended Thursday a large national drill, in which the civil defense forces, police, military police, fire department and Israel’s prisons unit trained for large scale riots in the Israeli-Arab public, following a signing of a peace agreement that would include “population exchange” (transfer of Arab population to the Palestinian state).

According to Kol Israel’s report, in such an event, a large detention camp for Palestinian citizens would be constructed in Golani Junction, at Israel’s north, and all illegal aliens would be released from prisons to make room for Palestinians.

Two weeks ago, Israel’s foreign minister was criticizing for presenting his plan for population exchange in a speech at the United Nation General Assembly. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later claimed that FM Avigdor Lieberman didn’t represent Israeli government policy in his speech.


On one hand, I think we should not turn this into a conspiracy item. The fact that the security forces are training doesn’t mean that Israeli leaders have such a plan or that they have a secret deal for population exchange with the Palestinian Authority.

On the other hand, this report does teach us a lot about the way Israel views its Palestinian citizens: while Israeli leaders praise Israeli democracy and claim that Palestinians are equal citizens (within the Green Line borders), policy makers view Arabs first and foremost as a security threat, and as people whose citizenship might be revoked at any given moment.

Some might argue that security forces must train for every scenario, even one that is not very likely to happen, so we shouldn’t deduct much from this item.

Well, how about training for widespread demonstrations and terror attacks following the evacuation of settlements? This is something that can actually take place, but no one would ever consider preparing for mass detentions of settlers right now. The political consequences of even contemplating such idea in public would be disastrous, as they should be.

Arab citizens should be treated with the same respect.

Kol Israel (Israeli public radio) is retorting that Israel’s internal security forces ended Thursday a large national drill, in which the civil defense forces, police, military police, fire department and Israel’s prisons unit trained for large scale riots in the Israeli-Arab public, following a signing of a peace agreement that would include “population exchange” (transfer of Arab population to the Palestinian state).

According to Kol Israel’s report, in such an event, a large detention camp for Palestinian citizens will be constructed in Golani Junction, at Israel’s north, and all illegal aliens will be released from prisons to make room for Palestinians.

Two weeks ago, Israel’s foreign minister was criticizing for presenting his plan for population exchange in a speech at the United Nation General Assembly. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later claimed that Lieberman didn’t represent government policy in his speech.

Still, I think we should not turn this into a conspiracy item. The fact that the security forces are training doesn’t mean that Israeli leaders have such a plan or that they have a secret deal for population exchange with the Palesinian Authority.

On the other hand, this report does teach us a lot about the way Israel views its Palestinian citizens: while Israeli leaders are praising Israeli democracy and claiming that Palestinians are equal citizens (within the Green Line borders), policy makers view Arabs first and foremost as a security threat, and as people whose citizenship might be revoked at any given moment.

Some might argue that security forces must train for every scenario, even one that is not very likely to happen, so we shouldn’t deduct much from this item.

Well, how about training for widespread demonstrations and terror attacks following the evacuation of settlements? This is something that can actually take place, but no one would ever consider preparing for mass detentions of settlers right now. The political consequences of even contemplating such idea in public would be disastrous, as they should be.

Arab citizens should be treated with the same respect.

The Israel Project vs. J Street: from pro-Israel to pro-Netanyahu

Posted: October 4th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Right, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , | 12 Comments »

In the current political context, groups like “The Israel Project” and “Stand with US” represent more than anything the interest of extreme rightwing Israeli politicians

I have first heard of The Israel Project (TIP) when I traveled to Denver in 2008 to cover the Democratic National Convention for Maariv. TIP had a press conference with pollsters Frank Lunz and Stan Greenberg. Lunz is the guy who is teaching speakers for Israel to call the Palestinians “Arabs” because it makes Americans think of oil and money rather than refugees. Greenberg is the endangered specie of our time: a pro-Israeli liberal.

The spirits at Denver – and later, at the GOP convention at Saint Paul, were a similar event was held – were high. American support for Israel was at an all-time record, and the buffet was excellent.

The halt of peace negotiations, the humanitarian crisis in Gaza or the rapid expansion of the settlements didn’t seem like a problem. If these issues bothered anyone (They probably didn’t make Stan Greenberg happy), it was for what was labeled as the “challenges” that they might present for those repeating Israeli talking points abroad.

It’s easy to forget how many things have changed in the last two years. Now, Jennifer Mizrahi, Founder and President of TIP, has some concerns. Still, it’s not the expansion of settlements or the future of Israeli democracy that worries her. Her problem is J Street, which seems to deceive the Jewish-American public into thinking that opposing settlements is desirable.

This is what Mizrahi writes about the left-wing Jewish advocacy group on TIP Blog:

The real problem with J Street… is not that it misled people by hiding the fact that it received contributions from people whose support of Israel is suspect. Rather, it is that J Street uses a false premise to take time and resources from thousands of people – including American leaders — whose concern for Israel is unquestioned.

You get that? J street is dangerous because it makes pro-Israelis waste time and money on ridiculous ideas, such as actively engaging with the Israeli government over its control over the life of 2.5 Palestinians in the West Bank.

The same can’t be said about The Israel Project. TIP never wasted their time on such original thoughts, or any new idea regarding the Palestinian problem for that matter. They simply follow orders from Jerusalem, regardless of the identity of the person seating in the PM office.

No Israeli official is too hawkish for TIP. Mizrachi describes PM Netanyahu and his government – the one with Eli Yishai and Avigdor Lieberman as his senior coalition partners – as one that is willing to make “painful sacrifices” for peace. Both those ministers deny it, but let’s not get too obsessed with such details.

“20% of Israeli citizens are Arabs who have full rights,” she writes, while at the same week Israeli Foreign Minister is calling in the UN General Assembly for “population exchange”.

“Why is it so hard for some Arabs and Iran to accept that Israel should be the national and democratic homeland of the Jewish people,” adds Mizrahi, while Deputy PM Moshe Yaalon is declaring that there is not even a chance of a peace deal, and claims that all seven top cabinets ministers agree with him on this one.

TIP and similar pro-Israeli groups argue that Israelis want peace and quote polls showing that the Jewish public opposes the settlements and supports a Palestinian state, but at the same time, they go against the will of those very same Israelis and fight for settlements expansion. In short, they are not interested in Israel (and surly not in the Palestinians) but in the desires of the current political leadership in Israel, and especially those of PM Benjamin Netanyahu.

Recently, Netanyahu found himself facing some decisions that might force him to replace his coalition partners, so he can carry on the talks with Mahmoud Abbas. But TIP doesn’t want Netanyahu to be cornered. They want Abbas to face the pressure. So they attack J Street for not taking its talking points from the Israeli PM office.

I wonder where Jennifer Mizrahi is drawing her moral and political lines, if she has such. What kind of Israeli act or which politician she wouldn’t support? Twenty Five years ago, would she have explained why the Sabrah and Shatila massacre was OK? Will she be speaking for PM Lieberman in a decade?

Right now we have a very extreme Israeli leadership and a very moderate Palestinian one – to the point where most Palestinians don’t think Abbas and Fayad represent them. Jerusalem is currently insisting on its right to built settlements – something the entire world opposes, and even considerable numbers of Israelis. And we have a Foreign Minister who is our proud version of the neo-Fascists in Europe. Yet TIP and other Jewish lobbying groups are doing all they can to lead the Jewish community – one of the most liberal groups in the US – into supporting them.

And they say J Street is the one deceiving people.

Peace talks resuming: actually, there is nothing to talk about

Posted: August 23rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

The Obama administration finally got what it wanted, and the Palestinians were dragged into direct peace negotiations that would probably lead to nowhere. Even Yossi Beilin, maybe the single most committed politician to the idea of direct talks and the two-states solution, is pretty sure that no agreement will come out of this, not to mention every member of the Israeli seven-minister cabinet, the top decision-making forum, who has an automatic majority against any concessions. In this cabinet, the only difference between the “dovish” Defense Minister Ehud Barak and the “hawkish” Foreign Minister Lieberman is that one thinks we should negotiate so that the world will learn again that “we have no partner”, while the other believes we shouldn’t even do that.

As for Beilin, this is what he told the New York Times:

“I think this is a huge mistake by the U.S. administration (…) There is not a chance in the world that in a year — or two or three — peace can be achieved. The gap between the sides is too big. Netanyahu did not come to power to divide Jerusalem or find a solution to the Palestinian refugees.”

On a phone conversation I had with him a month ago, Beilin expressed similar views. At best, he said, Netanyahu will end up unilaterally withdrawing to the security barrier, and even this will happen under tremendous pressure, and when the Prime Minister feels really cornered. “Netanyahu simply can’t do it,” he said.

Yesterday, Nahum Barnea, Israel’s top diplomatic correspondent, wrote in Yedioth Ahronoth that while he received a torrent of phone calls from foreign media representatives regarding the talks, Israelis and Palestinians hardly care about them. Some people view low expectations as a good sign, but in the peace process’ dynamic they make both sides enter the negotiations with the sole purpose of blaming the other party for the inevitable failure. This seems to be the case this time as well.

Sources in the administration told the NY Times that “while talks may be risky, the current drift is even riskier, and the only possible way forward is to put the leaders of the two sides together with American help”. This is complete nonsense. When talks fail, the urge to resort to violence is higher. It seems that the administration simply wanted a political achievement here, the famous photo-op with Israeli and Palestinian leaders every president must have. Since the White House failed to get any real concessions from Netanyahu, it started applying the pressure on the Palestinians in order to create the appearance of progress.

This has been the path all US presidents, Democrats and Republican alike, have taken in the past two decades. As a precondition to dealing with them, they demanded the Palestinians to stop resisting the occupation, to change their national charter, to recognize Israel, to conduct elections, to ignore the results of the elections, and lately, to cancel the elections altogether; to negotiate while Israel is building settlements (that’s “without preconditions” for you), to arrest those opposing negotiations, to withdraw their request to have the Goldstone Report discussed in the UN, to negotiate while half their population is under siege, and to do it with an Israeli Prime Minister who refuses to accept the 67′ borders even as a starting point for the talks.

The Palestinians did all this, and more. Being the weakest party in the Middle East, they never really had any choice. Even the “moderate” Arab leaders didn’t back them when it came to confronting the White House.

And what do you know? In two decades, all these negotiations didn’t lead to the evacuation of a single settlement. Not one. It was the armed struggle, and the thousands of casualties on both sides, that made the Israeli government pull out of Gaza. This time, there were no negotiations involved.


The truth is that there is very little to negotiate. Strange as it may seem, the Palestinians don’t have anything to give Israel. More often than we care to believe, Israel’s demands are nothing but excuses, reasons not to give the Palestinians what is theirs to begin with: their freedom.

What can Israel possibly get from the Palestinians in exchange for the termination of the occupation? A guarantee they won’t attack us? Suppose we have one – how do we know the next Palestinian government will honor it? And the one after it? The truth is we can’t know. No matter what agreement is signed, Israel will have to take care of its own security, possibly with the help of the US. For that we don’t need the talks.

Maybe we want the Palestinians to give up the right of return? But the problem is not the abstract right but the very real refugees. If we don’t come up with some solution for their situation, they will continue to demand to go back to their families’ old homes, no matter what will be written on the piece of paper president Abbas will sign, immediately before he loses the elections and disappear forever.

The same goes for Jerusalem – if the problem won’t be solved and the sovereignty will be divided, the battle over the city will go on, regardless of what any agreement might say. The latest of Netanyahu’s tricks is the demand that the Palestinians will declare that Israel is a Jewish state. This is completely absurd. Since when do we need Abu-Mazen to decide out national character? This is an internal Israeli affair, nothing to do with the talks.

In short, Israel simply asks the Palestinians to make all kinds of promises they might or might not keep, and while we debate these issues endlessly, the occupation goes on and on.

Yes, there are many minor issues to debate: borders, taxing, water etc, but there has already been a lot of thinking on these details, and there are solutions at hand. The only real question is whether Israel is capable of doing one of the two: get out from the West Bank and accept the consequences this step might have on its security, or annex the land, give the Palestinians their rights, and see the character of the state changed. Both are bad options from most Israelis’ point of view, so it’s little wonder we rather not chose. What incredible is our ability to convince ourselves that the Palestinians are to blame.