“Air Flotilla” successful in exposing Israeli blockade of West Bank

Posted: July 7th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Right, unarmed protest | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

Israeli authorities deployed hundreds of policeman in order to stop and deport pro-Palestinian visitors. Minister of tourism announced that “good tourists” will be greeted with flowers

Panic. There is no other way to describe the Israeli reaction to a plan by a few activists—no more than a thousands, according to the most generous estimates—to try and travel to the West Bank via Ben Gurion International Airport. A handful of those visitors got here (five of them already deported), and it seems that the whole country has gone mad.

Haaretz has reported a special deployment by hundreds of policemen and special unites both inside and outside the terminals, “in case one of the arrivals will try to set himself on fire.” The Petach Tikwa court, in charge of the airport area, is to have more arrest judges on alert, and the minister for Hasbara (propaganda) Yuli Edelstein demanded the government to take no chances, “because we should remember what happened on 9/11.”

All this, lets not forget, in order to welcome between a few dozens to a few hundreds Westerners (most of the quite old, according to reports), who would arrive on separate flights and on different hours, who went through extensive security checks before boarding their planes, and who openly declares their intentions to visit the Palestinian territories. This is the national threat that caught all the headlines for some days now in a country armed with one of the strongest militaries in the world as well as an extensive arsenal of Nuclear Bombs.

While events at the airport are more absurd than tragic (there is a torrent of jokes on twitter about this, like: “attention all units, attention all units, a Swedish woman is now getting off flight 465″, or “security personal have been ordered to report all those not singing ‘Heve’nu Shalom’ at landing”), one cannot watch the government’s handling of this situation and not question the judgment of Israeli decision makers, or wonder on the things they are capable of doing if and when they sense a more substantial threat. One of the sole voices of reason was Yedioth’s Eithan Haber, the former secretary of Prime Minister Rabin, whose commentary today had the title: “We simply lost it” (“ירדנו מהפסים”).

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The lunacy started at the top. Earlier this week, Netanyahu’s office has released a statement saying that “welcome to Palestine” campaign “is part of a continuing effort to undermine Israel’s right to exist.” This call for action was supposed to expire long ago from over use (I wonder what doesn’t make, in Netanyahu’s eyes “an effort to undermine Israel’s right to exist?”), but it did spark the desired result in the government. Internal Security Minister Itzhak Aharonowitz (Israel Beitenu) has put his forces on high alert, promising “not to let the hooligans enter Israel,” and senior police officers promised “harsh treatment” for those who will manage to board their flights to Tel Aviv.

The real nugget was revealed today, after Tourism minister Stas Misezhnikov has sent his people to the airport to hand flowers to those arrivals that are not planning to travel to the West Bank. “Handcuffs to the activists, flowers to the tourists,” one of the headlines read. The tourism office, it was reported, fears that arrivals to Israel will “meet unpleasant sights of riots and arrests.”

“My office will welcome ["normal"] tourists in a respectful way that will convey the message that Israel is safe, advance and attractive place to visit,” minister Mazesnikow told the press, in a statement that would have reminder the practices of the Soviet regime, if I wasn’t sure that Mazesnikow, a Russian immigrant, would know better.

There is a deeper point to make here: By dividing the tourists to “evil” ones and to “good” and “honest” ones, according to their political motivation and their views on the Palestinian issue, Israel is confirming the logic of the BDS movement – that any business or contact with Israel is political, and would probably serve Israeli policy. Much in the way the Israeli Foreign Office promotes on his Facebook wall articles on artist who plans to visit Israel next to pieces denouncing the Palestinians, the tourism office now views every visit to the county, be that for business, religious or personal reasons, as a sign of support in the face of “an effort to undermine our existence.”

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In recent days, government officials have made a single talking point regarding the “Welcome to Palestine” campaign: that every country has the right do defend its sovereignty. If the United States, France and Japan can reject people from entering their territory without bothering to cite their reasons, why can’t Israel? Yet these are the same people who on any other week of the year deny even the term “occupation”, claiming that since the Oslo agreement, “Palestinians control their own lives.” PR people and supporters of the Israeli government repeat this idea all the time, and while everyone familiar with the reality in the West Bank knows that the Palestinian Authority has more or less the authority of a local US municipality, it is always surprising how widespread is the notion that Israel has effectively removed its control from the territories.

Here, for example, is a quote the glossary section in the internet site of the Propaganda organization “Stand with US

Israel never formally annexed the West Bank or Gaza, and the Palestinians are not Israeli citizens and wish to have their own state. Today, Palestinians have their own government, the Palestinian Authority.

This is Morton Klein, head of Zionist of America, in often-cited 2002 article titled “There is no Occupation“:

Following the signing of the Oslo accords, the Israelis withdrew from nearly half of the territories, including the cities where 98.5% of Palestinian Arabs reside. The notion that the Palestinian Arabs are living under “Israeli occupation” is simply false. The areas from which Israel has not withdrawn are virtually uninhabited, except for the 2% where Israelis reside.

And this is another mouthpiece for the occupation, Washington Post’s blogger Jennifer Rubin:

Now ninety-five percent of Palestinians are under the jurisdiction of the PA, which is responsible for everything from local police to schools. Israel’s official interaction with West Bank Palestinians is limited to intelligence gathering and extraction of terrorists.

The Welcome to Palestine campaign was meant to prove that not only did Israel never remove its control from the Palestinians, the West Bank is effectively under an Israeli blockade, with every person or good entering the Palestinian Authority must be cleared first by Israel. Some might argue that this is a legitimate security precaution, but the history of this policy proves that it weren’t security concerns the determined whether people got permission to enter or leave the West Bank, but the political needs of maintaining the occupation. A couple of familiar cases were that of Prof. Noam Chomsky and a Spanish Clown that were denied entry for their support of Palestinian independence, but these kind of things happen on a daily basis.

Considering all this, it’s clear that even before a dozen activists landed here, the “Welcome to Palestine” campaign won the day. Israel has played it part in it perfectly, spreading threats and promising to immediately deport anyone who would state his intention to visit the West Bank or would cite a political motivation for his travel. Israel has even prevented a couple of Dutch pro-Israeli journalists from boarding an El-Al flight, perhaps fearing that they might report something Jerusalem won’t like.

When the first news items on the “air flotilla” appeared in the Hebrew media, some of the comments by Israelis wondered why the activists won’t enter the West Bank through the crossing point at the Jordanian border, believing it to be controlled by the Palestinians themselves. The myth of the Oslo withdrawal was so successful, that even some Israelis took it as a fact.

After a week of headlines on the activists’ invasion, everybody knows that even more than Gaza—which can be entered through Rafah, where there is no Israeli presence—the West Bank is under an Israeli blockade.


Awaiting activists, police to deploy extra forces at TLV airport

Posted: July 5th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off

The Israeli authorities are determined not to let any visitor who would declare his desire to come to the West Bank enter the country this Friday. In a statement made yesterday, PM Netanyahu’s office called the planned attempt by hundreds of activists to conduct a solidarity visit in the Palestinian Territories “an effort to undermine Israel’s right to exist”

As we have reported here on Sunday, A coalition of organizations has made public its intention to have hundreds of international activists land at Ben-Gurion airport this Friday, July 8th, and openly admit their intention to visit the Palestinian Territories. The campaign has been named “Welcome to Palestine.”

Israel controls all entries and exits to the Palestinian Territories. Until now, visitors coming in solidarity with the Palestinians–and even non-political visitors–had to conceal their destination when questioned at the airport, or risk immediate deportation. A couple of years ago, American scholar Noam Chomsky was denied entry to Israel at the Jordanian border, after declaring his intention to give a lecture at Ramallah’s Bir Zeit University.

Though the intention of the international activists to visit the West Bank has been known for sometime, it was only picked up by the Hebrew media in the last couple of days. Citing security officials, Israeli papers have reported on special deployment of police forces at Ben-Gurion international airport to take place from Thursday.

A police source told the daily Maariv that an effort will be made to locate the activists before they board their flights to Israel. “Those who will try to disturb public order will be dealt with,” a spokesperson for the Foreign Office told the site Walla.co.il.

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s office has released a statement declaring that the arrival of the protesters “is a continuation of the efforts to undermine Israel’s right to exist.” Netanyahu ordered the Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharomowitz (Israel Beitenu) to handle the preparation of all security agencies to the arrival of the activists. Aharonowitz will conduct a joint session of senior police officials tomorrow, the Army Radio reported.

“We will block those Hooligans from entering the state,” Aharonowitz told the press today.

The local media has labeled the event as “the air flotilla.”

The Israeli warning doesn’t seem to deter the activists from coming, though it is nor clear how many of them did buy tickets to Tel Aviv, and how many of those will be able to pass through the security questionings at the gate and board their flights.

In an article at the British Guardian, Sam Bahour, a coordinators of the Right to Enter campaign, called Israel’s threat to deny visitors entry to Palestine “disturbing” and “shocking”:

…more than 300 international activists plan to arrive in Tel Aviv during the week of 8 July at the invitation of 30 Palestinian civil society organisations, to participate in an initiative named “Welcome to Palestine”. Delegations from France, Great Britain, Belgium, Sweden, Germany, the USA, Japan and several African countries are expected.

Upon arrival at Ben Gurion airport, the invited guests, all from countries that have diplomatic relations with Israel, will make no secret of their intent to go to the occupied Palestinian territory. This nonviolent act, a civil society tsunami of sorts, only comes after Israel’s restriction of movement and access to and from Palestine for Palestinians and foreigners has exhausted all established channels that carry the responsibility to uphold international law first and their domestic laws second.

Israeli anti-occupation activists are planning to conduct their “welcoming party” at the arrival hall of TLV airport.


Triumphant over flotilla, Netanyahu is stronger than ever

Posted: July 2nd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: elections, In the News, The Left, The Right | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

With no threat from his political rivals and no pressure from Washington, the Israeli PM is enjoying the best weeks of his career. Yet his rightwing politics are likely to bring a much bigger change than his supporters care to imagine

If Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu could have one wish, I guess it would be to conduct general elections tomorrow. Between the cheers of his obedient followers in Congress and his success in preventing the Gaza-bound flotilla from sailing to the Strip, the Israeli prime minister is enjoying the best weeks of his term, possibly of his entire career.

Unlike in the first two years of his term, Netanyahu finally seems in control. The Greek decision to prevent the flotilla from sailing has taken everyone by surprise, but as it turned out, the PM has been preparing the ground for some time.

Haaretz quoted yesterday  an Israeli diplomat saying that Netanyahu “Netanyahu has become Greece’s lobbyist to the European Union.”  Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou returned the favor yesterday: As the American boat “Audacity of Hope” was about to leave the port of Athens, the authorities issued an order prohibiting all flotilla vessels from sailing. It is very unlikely that the Greeks would have dared stopping a Canadian or American ship without permission from their respective governments, so one could speculate that other administrations–and most notably, Washington—stood by Netanyahu’s side. For a politician often portrayed as hated and despised by world leaders, this is no small thing.

The Israeli morning papers are likely to praise the Prime Minister tomorrow. Netanyahu’s numbers are will go up again, and his coalition will become safer than ever before. Unlike in his first term, Netanyahu is now able to communicate his messages both to the center and to his base on the Israeli right. Politicians around Netanyahu recognize that. On Friday, dovish Likud minister Dan Meridor backed the PM in an interview to Maariv – and he is just one of the former rivals who now praise Netanyahu.

Kadima, the Knesset’s biggest party, failed so far to produce its own agenda, and its leader, Tzipi Livni, was revealed as a shallow politician. Besides repeating talking points regarding government policies, Livni did not make one substantial move that would challenge the government. Furthermore, the fight over Labor leadership has taken the predictable ugly turn, ensuring that the winner will get a fragmented and bitter party that would make his life miserable and suffer another blow at the elections.

Defense Minister Barak polls zero Knesset seats, which means he depends on Netanyahu for his political survival, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman waits the Attorney General’s decision regarding his corruption charges, and Shas’ Eli Yishay is too busy with the return of former party leader Aryeh Deri to cause the PM any trouble. As far as Netanyahu can see, the horizon is clear.

Netanyahu might be the strongest Israeli PM in the last two decades—stronger than Sharon and Rabin—despite not having their IDF record, charisma or leadership skills. He is for sure the best survivor: General elections are due to take place on autumn 2013, and by then, Netanyahu will be the longest serving Israeli PM since David Ben-Gurion.

Yet the Middle East has a strange way of turning your victories against you. Netanyahu has no vision, and his politics resemble troubleshooting. It’s no wonder that his goals are the subject of an endless guessing game.

It seems that ultimately, Netanyahu wishes to secure Israeli control over as much as possible of the West Bank, understanding that he won’t be able to control it all forever. If that is the case, his policies are likely to backfire: It was Netanyahu’s rejectionism that got the world’s attention to nature of the occupation; it’s his backing of the settlements that will ensure Israel is unable to force a quasi-state on the Palestinians (since there will be no room left for even this kinda of a state); it’s Netanyahu’s successful manipulation of the US Congress that proved the limits of the administration’s and the State Department’s ability to serve as an honest broker between Palestinians and Israelis and left Jews in the States torn apart and bitter; and it’s his coalition’s anti-democratic legislation that shows the need to an overhaul reform regarding the Jewish character of the Israeli state.

In short, The Prime Minister is winning every battle on his way to lose the entire war. As long as his poll numbers are high and his republican backers are happy, I guess he would be the last to care.

One final note: While everyone’s eyes were on the Greek ports, the people of Bil’in celebrated the removal of the security barrier erected by Israeli on their land six years ago. Back then, the thought that a few hundred villagers will be able to defeat the Israeli military establishment seemed delusional; now everybody is talking about the challenge of a Palestinian unarmed revolt. There are undercurrents at play which are not always easy to detect, and this is a lesson Netanyahu and his shortsighted admirers would do well to remember.


Flotilla: Even state officials say Netanyahu, IDF spread lies

Posted: June 29th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, media | Tags: , , , , , , , | 17 Comments »

According to government sources, the army doesn’t have any evidence that the flotilla activists are planning violent resistance, yet it publicly accuses them of conspiring to murder soldiers

Flotilla activists preparing weapons for their encounter with IDF soldiers (photo: Mya Guarnieri)

Flotilla activists preparing weapons for their encounter with IDF soldiers (photo: Mya Guarnieri)

The top story in two of Israel’s leading daily papers yesterday was a bombshell: The IDF unveiled plans by flotilla passengers to kill soldiers trying to stop the ships from getting to Gaza.

Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel’s most widely read paper, ran a headline declaring “Flotilla activists set to kill,” which was attributed to military sources (but only in the fine print). The story declared, “Intelligence information revealed violent plans.” In the inside pages, the headline declared that this flotilla is considered to be “more violent than the previous one.”

Maariv’s top story covered the same topic: “IDF intelligence reveals: Lethal acid on flotilla boats.” The free paper Israel Hayom had a smaller headline in the front page. “Fear: Flotilla activists will try to kill soldiers.” Haaretz is the only paper that didn’t give the story such prominence in its print edition, but it was the top headline on the paper’s website throughout the previous evening. The Jerusalem Post’s headline read “IDF: Some flotilla activists planning to kill soldiers.

You can view all front pages of the Hebrew papers in this pic, taken from the media blog Velvet Underground. Yedioth and Maariv are the bottom two.

Front Pages of Israeli papares, June 28 2011 (photo: velvet underground blog)

Front Pages of Israeli papares, June 28 2011 (photo: velvet underground blog)

Chemical Weapons? Against the Israel Navy Seals, Air Force and war ships? Even as a suicide mission, it sounded too fantastic. And how could this flotilla be “more violent,” when the notorious IHH, whose members were on the Mavi Marmara last year, cancelled its participation? Who exactly is going to execute the soldiers with the lethal acid, 64- year-old Alice Walker? It was the kind of propaganda no thinking person could believe, yet the entire Hebrew media – even Haaretz! – went for it.

Luckily, it didn’t take Max Blumenthal to debunk this one. The media’s tone today was entirely different. Government sources have told Maariv that the so-called “intelligence information” was a spin by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, reflecting “a Hasbara [propaganda] hysteria.”

“It’s unthinkable that in cabinet meetings we receive information according to which there are no threats of violent actions from the flotilla activists or [indication of] the presence of terror elements on the ships, and that at the same time, senior political sources, including the army, feed the media with information that is the exact opposite of what we were given.”

Information that the media was only to eager to swallow, one should add.

A day too late, Yedioth Ahronoth’s military correspondent was the voice of reason in his paper:

“There isn’t a shred of evidence that extreme elements will initiate resistance against IDF soldiers. There is no knowledge of the existence of firearms on the ships.”

The damage, however, was done. The reports of the murderous intentions of the flotilla activists traveled around the country and across the world. Not for the first time, a group of unarmed European and American activists traveling on old yachts was presented as a threat to the security of the region’s superpower. The only question is: for how long will the world continue to buy these kind of stories?

Maariv’s story today offers a comment from Prime Minister Netanyahu’s office, claiming the information that was passed to the media came from IDF spokesperson unit. In response to my question today, the IDF spokesperson’s office made it clear they stand behind the information that was released yesterday.


Rightwing MK to Netanyahu: GOP should nominate YOU for 2012

Posted: June 4th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Right, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , , | 5 Comments »

The Israeli Right has embraced PM Binyamin Netanyahu for the hardline positions he expressed in his Washington visit, and for the masterly control of US politics he has showed. Yossi Verter quotes in Haaretz a funny exchange between the PM and Likud MK Danni Danon, who until recently led the opposition to Netanyahu in his own party:

…the Likud faction, which has a hard-line right-wing bloc, was easy on Netanyahu. MK Danny Danon told him at the meeting, “You gave an excellent speech in Congress. Maybe you should run for president on behalf of the Republicans? I hear they’re looking for a candidate. You could be the man.”

Netanyahu cut into Danon’s remarks: “My visit to Washington was bipartisan. I made sure of that. When the members of the Republican Party’s Jewish leadership wanted to visit me in Blair House, I asked them to come with the parallel forum from the Democratic Party – and I met with them both.”

The rest of the dialogue appears only in the Hebrew version of the article:

“Anyway,” insisted Danon, “you should run for president on behalf of the Republicans. You are the man they are looking for”.

“If you want, you should run,” replayed Netanyahu.


Polls: Israeli public follows Netanyahu to the right

Posted: May 28th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, Polls, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off

According to the Jerusalem Post, only 12 percent of the Jewish public views President Obama as “pro-Israeli.” Israel Hayom’s poll has Netanyahu’s Likud party picking up five seats following the PM’s US visit

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can be satisfied with the result of his visit to the United States. A new poll published today shows growing support among the Israeli public for his positions regarding the two-state solution.

According to the “Hagal Hachadash” poll, published by the pro-Neatnayhu tabloid Israel Hayom, only 28 percent of the public support president Obama’s guidelines for a solution based on the 1967 borders. 61 percent supports the positions presented by Prime Minister Netanyahu in his speeches in Washington, those regarding a continued Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley and the rejection of a compromise that would divide Jerusalem into two capitals.

If elections were held today, Netanyahu’s Likud party would make gains, collecting up to 32 Knesset seats (it now holds 27). The rightist-Orthodox bloc would win 69 sets, while the center-left would hold on to an all-time low of 51 seats.

One interesting figure: Even in this poll, Kadima keeps its current 28 seats, indicating that Netanyahu won’t chip at Tzipi Livni’s base.

A different poll, conducted by the right-leaning Jerusalem Post, shows that only 12 percent of the Jewish public considers President Obama pro-Israel, while 40 percent of Israeli Jews categorize him as pro-Palestinian.

However, it is interesting to note that according to Israel Hayom’s poll, Obama is more pro-Israel than pro-Palestinian (38 to 37 percent), and a clear majority of the public – 68 percent – says that “president Obama is committed to Israel’s security.” Some of the difference between the two polls can be explained by the fact that the Israel Hayom sample included Palestinian citizens, while the Jpost had a Jews-only sample.

Haaretz‘s poll from Thursday had Netanyahu’s approval rise by 13 points.

A few notes regarding these numbers: Earlier this week I quoted a Maariv poll that had 57 percent of the public somewhat supportive of the positions outlined in President Obama’s speech. It seems that the readers who posted critical comments of this item were right, and the way Maariv framed the questions in the poll “tilted” some of the public towards more moderate positions.

At the same time, we did have a series of polls in recent years which had around half of the Jewish public agreeing to a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders. What I think we are witnessing now is a shift of the public to the right, following the positions expressed by Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Since Netanyahu became Prime Minister, he was urged to present his own diplomatic vision. The thinking was that the PM is strong enough, and the public will follow him wherever he goes. It seems that Netanyahu finally made up his mind: He basically rejected the two-state solution, and as expected, many Israelis went with him.

Where do we go from here? I’ll try to deal with that question in my next post.

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Knesset polls: The Israeli Right has the upper hand

Posted: May 7th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, Polls, The Left, The Right | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Financial paper Globes: Avigdor Lieberman’s party getting stronger; reaches 18 Knesset seats

Though we are still far from elections, two polls were published last week in the Israel media. According to both, if elections were held today, the Right-Orthodox block would have remained in power, possibly even getting stronger.

In Globes‘ poll from Sunday, Avigdor Lieberman’s party, Israel Beitenu, goes up to 18 seats of the Knesset’s 120 (it has 14 currently) and the Likud reaches 29 seats (27 now). Kadima would have dropped from 28 to 26 seats and Labor to 8. Labor has won 13 seats in the last elections, but since split to two parties – Atzmaut, under Ehud Barak (5 seats) and Labor (8 seats). According to all recent polls Atzmaut, Barak’s new party, will be left out of the next Knesset.

Altogether, the right rises to 72 seats, while the center-left block drops to 48.

Yedioth Ahronoth’s poll, which was published last Friday, checked what would be the result for Labor under several potential leaders (following Barak’s departure, Labor will soon conduct new premieres). Amram Mitzna, who announced his candidacy this week, has the best result – 17 seats – but even together with Kadima’s 25 seats in this poll, the rightwing and Orthodox parties hold a majority of 62 seats. When Labor is under other leaders the Right is even stronger. Avigdor Lieberman polls 16 seats.

According to the same poll, a majority of the public (48 against 41) thinks that Israel should recognize an independent Palestinian state, while keeping the so-called “settlements blocks”; and a clear majority (53 percent) believes that Netanyahu should present his own peace plan in his visit to Washington this month, and include in it “significant concessions”.

Yedioth’s poll was conducted before the Palestinian reconciliation was announced, so these figures could have changed significantly since. Yet one could still draw two conclusions, which are at odd with the messages coming out of the PM’s office: First, Netanyahu’s coalition is stable, and if he calls new elections, he is likely to win them; second, the PM has a mandate from the public to make concessions – and it is his own choice not to do so.


American-Israeli bluffs and the success of palestinian unilateralism

Posted: April 26th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Right, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

President Abbas has told Newsweek he is disappointed with Obama, but the American President has actually done a nice job of revealing the American double-standards with regards to Israel. Meanwhile, Jerusalem’s hawks are suggesting that in response to a Palestinian declaration of independence, Israel should annex the West Bank. Not such a bad idea

First Lady Michelle Obama, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas & President Barack Obama (photo: Lawrence Jackson/United States Government Work)

Newsweek has an interesting interview with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. It’s titled “The Wrath of Abbas,” and in it Abu-Mazen shares with Dan Ephron his frustration and disappointment over the US administration’s recent moves, and most notably, the attempt to block the Palestinian diplomatic effort at the UN.

The US has vetoed a Security Council resolution demanding Israel would stop all settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and in recent weeks the administration has stepped up his rhetoric against the attempt to get UN recognition for a Palestinian state. Instead, the US is demanding that the Palestinians return to direct negotiations with Israel.

The heart of the matter for Abbas is the way the US backed down from its demand to freeze construction in the settlement as a precondition to negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.

… He [Abbas] told me bluntly that Obama had led him on, and then let him down by failing to keep pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for a moratorium on settlement building in the West Bank last year. “It was Obama who suggested a full settlement freeze,” Abbas explained. “I said OK, I accept. We both went up the tree. After that, he came down with a ladder and he removed the ladder and said to me, jump. Three times he did it.”

Naturally, Abbas couldn’t agree to negotiate with Israel as construction in the settlements goes on – not after Washington itself put forward a demand to stop such activities. This is probably what John Kerry and other foreign policy veterans referred to when they claimed that the administration “has wasted 1.5 years.” But I am not so sure time was in fact wasted.

American administrations have been demanding Israel to stop building its settlements – and protesting when Jerusalem ignored them – for decades. All President Barack Obama did was try to actually uphold the stated policy – one that was shared by Democrats and Republicans alike. The result was a major crisis between Jerusalem and Washington, which hurt the President even in his own party.

In other words, the demand to freeze the settlements revealed that all previous demands and condemnations were no more than lip service, and that in fact over the years all administrations shared a support for unilateral Israeli activities in the West Bank and Gaza. This is why veterans of the peace process like Dennis Ross and John Kerry might claim it was a failed policy – because it called their bluff – even if that wasn’t what the President intended to do.

The problem was not Obama’s demands from Israel, but rather the fact that he backed down from them — “came down from the tree,” as Abbas put it — because of his political problems back home. Netanyahu was able to manipulate Washington in his favor, and the administration is now back to the old game: advocating direct negotiations and “monitoring” Israel’s actions on the ground, which is the code word for turning a blind eye.

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All this is not enough for the hawks in Israel, who hate Obama with such a passion that they suspect he is behind the recent European moves and even the Palestinian unilateral effort. Ironically, a one-on-one with Israeli Benjamin Netanyahu would have probably resulted with the same headline as Newsweek’s interview with Abu-Mazen (except for the different name in the title, of course).

Meanwhile, the administration is floating the idea of publishing “Obama’s parameters” for a two state solution – ones that are likely to be rejected by both sides, as they are based on the 67′ borders (which Jerusalem doesn’t accept) and exempt Israel from its responsibility for the refugees problem, which is a non-starter for the Palestinians. Still, putting forward guidelines for a solution is not a bad idea, as long as the Americans don’t actually expect Netanyahu to negotiate on them in good faith.

There is zero chance that the Israeli Prime Minister will deliver any kind of solution. Netanyahu will not evacuate settlements; at best, he will create the false impression of agreeing to do it in a far away future, hoping that some turn of events will rescue him from the need to keep up his promises. It’s not just Netanyahu’s character and upbringing that pushes him to the right, but also the hawkish coalition he has built, the hard-line advisors he has surrounded himself with (the latest being the recently-appointed National Security Council Chairman Yaakov Amidror), the messages he is sending the Israeli public, his connection to the neo-cons in Washington, and the threat from Avigdor Lieberman in the coming elections. In short, all signs point in the same direction: Netanyahu is playing on time.

Recently, some Israeli hawks have come up with a new idea: Answering a Palestinian declaration of independence with annexing the West Bank and canceling the Oslo accords (didn’t we do the second part at least a dozen times in the past?). It is unfortunate that this idea has very little hope of materializing. As even the settlers know, the Palestinian Authority and the “disputed” status of the West Bank is this government’s greatest—and perhaps only—diplomatic asset. I don’t suppose the Knesset members who initiated this idea meant that Israel should make the Palestinians equal citizens — those rightwing fanatics want the land, not the people — but annexing the territories will be the first step on a one way road that leads to the one-state solution. And as I wrote in the past, this is an option that should stay on the table.


PM Netanyahu is cornered, and the US shouldn’t save him

Posted: April 14th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Right, the US and us | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment »

Benjamin Netanyahu (photo: The Jewish Agency for Israe)

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is cornered. Netanyahu is looking for a diplomatic initiative that would save him from a UN recognition of a Palestinian state, followed by a declaration of independence, in the coming fall. What a couple of years of pressure from an American president didn’t do, Palestinian unilateralism did.

The Israeli Prime Minister has no hope of winning a majority at the UN’s general assembly, yet he still wishes to get some of the western Europeans counties on his side, possibly also Russia. But most of the European leaders don’t trust him personally, and doubt his ability or desire to take real action that would end 44 years of occupation. Caught between the international pressure and his rightwing partners—which he himself brought into the coalition—Netanyahu seems to be moving in circles. He told the German Chancellor he would present a diplomatic initiative in a major speech, then, when speculations on the content of his plan began, his proxies told the Israeli media that Netanyahu never promised any new declarations.

Now Netanyahu is at it again: reports of a new offer are leaked to local papers, Shimon Peres is sent to the White House carrying diplomatic messages, and a new venue is chosen for the historic announcement: the US congress, where Netanyahu enjoys more respect and support than in the Israeli Knesset.

But even a dozen standing ovations for the Israeli Prime Minister on the Hill won’t hide the fact that he has nothing to say. According to Barak Ravid’s report in Harretz, Netanyahu’s “diplomatic initiative” consists of the re-deployment of some army units in the West Bank, without removing a single settlement; a small scale version of the Oslo accord – the same document that Netanyahu made his career opposing. Perhaps it’s time for him to send some flowers to Rabin’s grave.

It should be said again: there is absolutely no hope that Netanyahu will deliver on the Palestinian issue. He avoided any opportunity to generate some concrete moves in the important first two years of his term. He is now at the hands of his rightwing political partners, and most notably, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. He has surrounded himself with rightwing advisors, the latest addition being Yaakov Amidror, the recently appointed national security advisor. There are even talks that Netanyahu is close again to Uri Elitzur, his former chief of staff who became a passionate advocate of the One-State Solution. And beside, the elections are only a couple of years ahead. Netanyahu won’t initiate a move that could backfire exactly when Israelis go to the polls.

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There is also some talk of an American initiative. Senator John Kerry suggested this week that the US could soon embark on yet another effort to renew negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, perhaps even present its own peace initiative. Speaking to a gathering in Washington of leaders from the Muslim world, Kerry said

“I suspect that it’s very possible that President Obama will even step out ahead of that and will possibly– I say possibly–make his own contribution to where he thinks the process ought to go in the meantime. Conceivably, that can come together in a responsible effort that produces a transition here,” Kerry said. “I think we can get to borders and the fundamental issues fairly quickly and its conceivable that between now and September we will do that.”

Many liberals think that a US peace plan is the way to go. Shortly after a visit to Israel The New Yorker editor, David Remnick, called for Obama to “speak clearly and firmly,” on the issue, meaning to present his own peace plan for a final settlement between Israelis and Palestinians.

For a long time, this has also been the dominant view in the Israeli Left: That one day the US will “rescue” us by presenting Jerusalem with an offer that it can’t refuse. But if the past two years have taught us something, it’s that even an administration that is more sympathetic to the Palestinians is unable or unwilling to push Israeli out of the West Bank.

The hopes that president Obama will travel to Jerusalem to present a bold plan, and by the sheer power of his words will create a political change in Israel—perhaps even bring the left back to power—shows a troubling lack of understanding of Israeli culture and politics. If anything, such a visit would make Netanyahu stronger, by presenting him as a man who brought Obama to Jerusalem on his own terms.

UPDATE: Yedioth Ahronoth daily reported yesterday that the Administration is about to present guidelines for a peace effort, very similar to the Clinton parameters.  According to Yedioth, this will be done before Netanyahu’s speech in Washington.

The administration should recognize the limits of its power. Everybody knows that “Israel is an internal political question in the US,” but that’s only half the problem. Confronting Israel is extremely costly on political currency, while getting Israelis and Palestinians talking or even signing an agreement is not that a big political achievement for a president. Israel can make life miserable for Obama, but it cannot make him more popular.

Another round of negotiations brokered by the US is bound to lead to the same failure we witnessed in previous talks and summits. At a certain point both parties will disagree on something. The US won’t be able to get concessions of Israel, so it will twist the Palestinian’s arms. The Palestinians will have to choose between a solution that won’t meet their basic needs, and leaving the talks, and being blamed for missing another great opportunity. Nothing good will come out of either.

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So, what’s the solution? From a US perspective, it’s very simple: Stay out of the way, and let others take the lead. European leaders are not facing the unique political difficulties an American president has to overcome when dealing with Israel. The international community can apply effective pressure on Jerusalem, and such pressure can change the political dynamic here. Netanyahu’s recent troubles at home may suggest that in a way, it’s already happening.


The Israeli incitement problem: A personal look at a children’s book

Posted: March 29th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: culture, In the News, this is personal | Tags: , , , , , , | 9 Comments »

Israeli leaders and advocacy groups love to complain about Palestinian incitement, but militaristic and nationalistic indoctrination is all too common in Israel itself. Some personal reflection, following a mail from an outraged parent

Danni Din "Saving the President" cover (1997, M. Mizrachi publishing)

Danni Din "Saving the President" cover (1997, M. Mizrachi publishing)

When I was a kid, I loved Danni Din stories. Their hero was wonder-kid Danni Din, which became the worlds’ only invisible person after mistakenly drinking a strange liquid left on the window by the reckless Prof. Katros. As befits superheroes of his kind, Danni didn’t take advantage of his unique condition by rushing into the girl’s dorms, but instead dedicated his childhood to helping Israel’s security forces. Danni Din fought in the Six days war, caught terrorists and rescued IDF prisoners, and though even at a very young age I sensed there was something tragic in his condition (he was to remain invisible forever, not to mention the fact that he never seemed to grow up), I dreamed of getting the opportunity to perform such heroic acts for our country myself.

Last week, in the wake of another round of the endless debates over the “Palestinian incitement”, I got an e-mail with pictures of the front and back cover of one of the latest Danni Din stories, published in 1997. The author of the mail, an Israeli parent, was shocked to see the militaristic tone in the book his son, a second grader and an avid reader, brought home from the public library one day.

“Saving the president”, the 1997 Danni Din story, featured a new heroine: Dina Din, the invisible girl. The book has a somewhat bizarre plot: the invisible kids are abducted by extraterrestrials (the late 90′s were the days of the X-Files mania), only to escape after a fierce battle, in which they take control over the aliens’ spaceship. Headed back to earth, they intercept a plot by Hamas to send a flying suicide bomber that would crash into president Bill Clinton’s Air Force One – on his way to Israel, naturally – with the intention of blowing up the plane and killing all its passengers.

“Will our invisible heroes succeed in saving the beloved president and the planes passengers from death?” asks the back cover.

Danni Din "Saving the President"'s back cover (1997, M. Mizrachi publishing)

Danni Din "Saving the President"'s back cover (1997, M. Mizrachi publishing)

Danni Din’s war on Arab terrorists is not unique. Almost every adventure book I remember from my childhood featured at least a handful of evil Arabs (never mention the P word), if not full Egyptian military divisions. Some of the Arabs in those books were thieves and kidnappers, but most of them were terrorists.

The best known of these books were the “Hassamba” series, featuring a group or kids operating like a secret army unit in the service of Israel’s defense, getting their orders directly from the most senior generals. These books weren’t about politics: While Shraga Gafni, the author of Danni Din series (as well as many other Israeli classics), was a rightwing ideologue , Hassamba’s Yigal Mossinson was a Tel Aviv bohemian. His books were a bit more sophisticated, but the militaristic-nationalist tone was largely the same.

Whenever I hear Israeli advocacy groups speaking of incitement, I think of Danni Din and Hassamba. I also remember the maps of Israel we use to draw in school: none of them featured the green line, just one big happy Jewish state, from the sea to the Jordan; and we never marked the Palestinian towns on them, only Jewish cities. Does this qualify as incitement?

Naturally, there are many examples of hardcore anti-Arab incitement in Israel: from streets named after the racist Rabbi Meir Kahane and Minister Rahavam Zeevi, who promoted the idea of transfer, to graffiti and even rabbinical orders calling for killing and expulsion of Palestinians. But these are the obvious cases, to which people pay attention. There is something about the “innocent” examples, like kids’ novels and pre-school work pages that show the depth of militaristic and nationalistic indoctrination in Israel. It’s almost impossible to grow up here without being told to fear and hate the Arabs, or to idolize the army.

Naturally, none of this prevents Israelis from seeing themselves as a peace-loving nation. In fact, I think that the real message of these books is that we fight the Palestinians because they prevent peace. We are forced to conquer and sometimes kill in the sake of a greater good (like saving Air Force one from a suicide attack). Isn’t that what you hear from advocacy groups like Stand With Us and The Israel Project – that fighting the Arabs alongside Israel is not just Israel’s interest, but the US’, or even the world’s?

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I remember watching the military parade for Israel’s 40′th anniversary. The main event took place in the National Stadium in Ramat Gan, not far away from where I grew up. I was 14, and extremely exited that my parents got us tickets for the event, even though it was the cheaper of two shows, the one in which air force didn’t take part.

Behind us in the stands was another family, with younger kids. I have a very vivid memory of a certain point in the show in which the announcer describing the army unites and armed vehicles on the field in front of us said something like “The IDF’s real battle is for peace,” and the young kid sitting behind me burst into a spontaneous laughter. It sounded very stupid to him, “fighting for peace,” and he said so to his dad. In the next few minutes, this father explained to him why this phrase actually made perfect sense. I remember being embarrassed for the kid, which clearly didn’t understand what the army was all about. Much later, I thought he was right: It was a stupid sentence.

This Israeli dialectic of militarism and peace couldn’t have been better demonstrated than in these kindergarten Independence Day assignments from 2009, sent to me together with the Danni Din cover. They made me think of the infamous “suicide baby” picture, and how it became for many the symbol of the “inhumane” Palestinian culture.

Kindergarten Independance day assigment, 2009

Kindergarten Independance day assigment, 2009

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Kindergarten Independance day assigment, 2009

Kindergarten Independance day assigment, 2009

One final word on this: It wasn’t my intention here to deny Palestinian incitement or hate-talk, or to say that our side is worse. Political indoctrination exists on both sides. Perhaps this is the reason Netanyahu refused to renew the work of the joint Israeli-Palestinian committee against incitement – he knew that it would have its hands full with evidence from both societies.

More than anything, I think that the complaints over Palestinian incitement are excuses to avoid real political action on behalf of Israel. I actually find it hard to believe that as long as the occupation continues – and the resistance to the occupation, which is natural and justified – we will be able to rid ourselves completely from the problem of “incitement”. Only after we deal with the political issues at the heart of the conflict, we could succeed in changing our children’s books.