Flotilla | A probe that would get Netanyahu’s government off the hook

Posted: June 14th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

“[the] commission’s conclusions were pre-determined… members of the panel did give the facts a chance to confuse them.”

(Israel’s Foreing Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, on the Goldston’s commission’s report)

“Gaza flotilla probe will show the world Israel acted lawfully.”

(PM Benjamin Netanayhu talking at the start of the cabinet meeting which unanimous approved the probe).

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced today the forming of an investigative commission into the raid on the Gaza-bound flotilla. The commission will include three Israelis and two foreign observers. The internationals won’t be bale to vote on decisions or view confidential material.

The three Israeli members were carefully chosen so that they would suit Netanyahu’s political needs. The Prime Minister wishes to keep the government intact, and not have Defense Minister Ehud Barak forced to resign. It shouldn’t be too hard with Supreme Court justice Jacob Turkel heading the committee. Turkel explained his views of on such probe in an interview to the IDF radio three weeks:

“I don’t like personal recommendations. The main thing is what stands before me. I don’t want any more failures, and whether a certain person is dismissed or not, or whether his role is frozen or not is of secondary importance.”

Two elderly gentlemen will serve under Turkel:  93 years old international law professor Shabtai Rosen, and 86 years old Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Horev, who has been know for his criticism on the army in the past, but will probably not put the political leadership in danger.

In order to take care of the international crisis, add some credibility to the committee and give the US something to justify backing it with, two international observers were added to the panel. The first is Lord David Trimble, a former leader of Northern Ireland’s Ulster Unionist party, a known supporter of Israel and a member of the recently launched “Friends of Israel” group. In 2007 Mr Trimble wrote a report for the Conservative Friends of Israel in the UK, explaining that the international community should oppose to negotiations with Hamas. You can read more on his appointment in NYT’s The Lede blog.

The second international observer is Canadian Brig. Gen. Ken Watkin, an expert on terrorism and on fighting none-governmental organizations. Terrorism experts usually back Israel.

This committee will probably not hear evidences from the passengers. It won’t be allowed to talk to IDF soldiers and officers, except for chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi. To gain knowledge of the events on the Mavi Marmara, it will have to rely on the army’s report – if they even let the two observers to see it. Its report will deal with the legal justifications for the siege on Gaza and with the legitimacy of the Israeli raid.

The US has welcomed the commission. The rest of the world is doubtful, which is not surprising. It’s interesting to note that the Obama Administration, who supposedly believes working with in international institutions, helped Israel bypass a UN resolution (or at least try to: we don’t know what will happen with the UNHRC planned commission).

I think the administration is simply looking to put the entire affair behind it, and go back to the diplomatic game with the Palestinian Authority. Maybe the White House hopes to get some concessions out of Netanyahu for getting him and his government off the hook. Otherwise, I can’t imagine that they really take this probe seriously, and I even guess that’s the reason they didn’t put an American observer on it – so they don’t be part of the report which will find that Israel, believe it or not, did act within its rights. But if there is something that both the US and Israel needed to understand from the past two weeks, it’s that you can’t ignore Gaza, isolate Hamas and hope the problem will just go away or sort itself somehow. In fact, both should have learned that after Cast Lead. There won’t be half a peace, just in the West Bank. And even the flotilla incident is far from being over.


Flotilla | The case against an Israeli-led investigation (part II)

Posted: June 8th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, the US and us, war | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

By agreeing to an Israeli legal panel that would look into the attack on the flotilla, the US administration might end up saving Netanyahu’s government

In a previous post I tried to explain why I think an Israeli-led investigation will not result with a credible account of the events concerning the attack on the Gaza-bound flotilla. The facts that Israel has already tempered with the evidences; that it cannot be expected to collect testimonies from the passengers that it has attacked and arrested; and that the whole affair occurred on foreign territory, make the very idea of an Israeli investigation absurd, at least from a legal point of view.

Since than, the UNHRC decided to form a fact-finding mission, similar to the one that produced the Goldstone report, and the international pressure on Israel to agree to some sort of inquiry has mounted.

Yesterday (Monday), Israeli media reported that the government has presented the White House with its preferred model of investigation, and since there was no formal comment on the issue from both Jerusalem and Washington, we can assume that the two sides are negotiations this very idea.

According to media reports, the Israeli government wishes to form a legal panel of some sort, on which a couple of international experts will serve as observers. Israel will have veto power on the identity of the observers, and they will not have access to confidential military material.

The committee will concern itself mainly with legal issues such as the legitimacy of the blockade on Gaza, the flotilla’s attempt to break it and Israel’s decision to capture the ships. It will not have access to soldiers or officers, and would have to settle for the report the army’s internal probe will produce. It is not clear whether the committee will collect testimonies from the flotilla’s passengers, and if so, how it will be done. According to one of the ideas I heard, the foreign observers will be in charge of this part. However, most reports in Israel don’t even mention this issue.

Israel’s legal system has already ruled that the siege on Gaza is legal, and Israel’s Supreme Court approved limiting gas, electricity and food supply into the strip. Therefore, Israeli leaders can expect that almost any Israeli legal scholar will declare the attack on the flotilla legal as well according to paragraph 67(a) of the San Remo Manual on Armed Conflicts at Sea, even if it occurred on international water. The international observers that will serve on the panel would only make this claim even more credible. In other words, the committee won’t serve as an investigating panel, but as an Israel’s defense attorney.

But we should always understand Israel’s international policy (or any country’s, for that matter) in the context of its internal dynamic, and this is where this legal panel carry the real benefits for Israeli leaders.

Right now, the Israeli public is mostly united behind its government and military. But such moments don’t last long, and there are already calls for a civilian inquiry into the decision making process that led to the attack – and even into the attack itself. There calls are likely to intensify as time passes.

Civilian committees carry tremendous political risks to both generals and political leaders. More often than not, the reports they produce lead to the resignation of senior government ministers. Such was the case with the Agranat committee after the 1973 war, the Kahan committee which investigated the massacre at the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps (1982) and the Winograd committee that looked into the 2006 war in Lebanon. A tough report might force defense Minister Ehud Barak to resign – and without Barak, Netanyahu won’t be able to hold on to an extreme rightwing coalition for ling. This could end up being the break the US was hoping for.

On the other hand, a panel that would look into the legal aspects concerning the attack is not likely to produce a politically dangerous report. The panel’s aim will be to defend Israel from the world, but its by-product will be defending top decision makers from the public anger, and containing political damage.

In other words, by agreeing to an Israeli legal probe of the attack, the White House would end up strengthening Netanyahu’s government, and who knows, even saving it from collapsing or from having Kadima from entering the coalition on a peace platform.

From what I read, it seems that all the administration wants right now is to put the entire flotilla affair behind it, as there are much bigger concerns it deals with, especially at home. By doing so, instead of gaining some political capital from its decision to be on Israel’s side in the days following the attack, it now stands the risk of making a political mistake that would hunt it for the months, possibly years, to come.


Flotilla | New Mavi Marmara pictures raise more questions regarding IDF attack

Posted: June 6th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, media, the US and us, war | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments »

Turkish paper Hurriyet published pictures of captive IDF soldiers inside the Mavi Marmara (see them here) during the Israeli raid on the ship. IDF spokesperson already declared that “this is clear proof of Israel’s repeated claims, that the boat was carrying mercenaries, whose sole purpose was to kill the soldiers.”

But to me these pictures raise even more questions. It seems that the people on the Mavi Marmara actually kept the soldiers alive – rather than “lynch” them, as Israel claims. This might also explain why the battle against unarmed civilians took so long: Could it be that the nine casualties weren’t just the result of an attempt to protect the life of the soldiers at the moment they were attacked, but rather the outcome of a violent rescue operation?

Since the Gilad Shalit kidnapping, there is a standing order in Israel not to let any IDF soldier to be captured alive, even if it means risking his own life – let alone the life of the people around him.

Another thought: could it be that the bullet injuries few IDF soldiers suffered occurred during this rescue attempt?  Maybe it was IDF shots that caused them?

Here is another picture, posted on the IHH flickr page, showing passengers treating a wounded IDF soldier. I don’t know if this pic is real or not, but if it is, it might back the claim that the passengers were trying to defend themselves rather kill the soldiers:

flotilla

As long as the IDF doesn’t release it’s version of the events and all confiscated material, we have no way of knowing what happened on the Mavi Maramra. But as passengers’ testimonies are released and more material is coming out, the army’s version seems to have more and more holes in it.

UPDATE: Alon Ben David, channel 10 military correspondent, gave last night an unofficial account of events from army sources: attack on the ship started on 4:30 AM, with 15 soldiers going down the ropes to the upper deck. The first three were captured in the lower deck. After one minute the soldiers opened fire and took control of the upper deck.

At 4:35 another team arrives by helicopter. At 4:50 the army starts taking over the ship. At 5:00 the army announces it has control over the ship’s bridge. The soldiers in the lower deck escape from their captives: two jump to the water, and the third reach the front of the ship and awaits there for the other commandos to rescue him. According to a report from Al-Jessira (quoted here in Ynet), the third soldier didn’t escape; IDF commandos broke into the room he was held in and shot the passengers surrounding him.

There is no official IDF version of the events yet.

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Israel has rejected United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s idea for an international commission of inquiry into the raid. According to this offer, the inquiry committee would have been led by former New Zealand Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer (an expert on maritime law), with an Israeli representative and a Turkish one serving under him.

Yet Prime Minister Netanyahu informed the government today (Sunday) that he would not agree to such an investigation. Netanyahu also said that the world is beginning to open up to the Israeli view of last week’s events.

The Israeli dilemma is simple: reject an international committee, and you risk having another Goldstone report, based entirely on the evidences of the flotilla’s passengers. Accept the committee, and you risk ending up with a report which will condemn Israel and enjoy world wide credibility. There is also a problem with the IDF, which opposes to having soldiers testify in front of any sort of civilian committee, Israeli or international. Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who finally agreed to some sort of investigation in order to ease up the pressure on Israel, still firmly object to having soldiers testify before it.

Israeli leaders also have their own political concerns, which further complicate things: a civilian Israeli committee might force them to resign, while an international inquiry won’t have personal implication on them.

The solution Israel is hoping for is an Israeli-led investigation, with an international observer, preferably an American, sitting on it (but staying out of the room when security issues are discussed). Zeev Segal, Haaretz’s legal expert, wrote in favor of such a solution this morning.

I explained here why the international community should not accept an Israeli-led investigation.

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The talk of the day in Israel was the decision by Boston Rock group The Pixies to cancel their gig in Tel Aviv planned for this Wednesday. The Pixies are very popular with my generation of Israelis (I had tickets), and this was supposed to be their first show in Tel Aviv. But the real issue is that Israelis are extremely troubled by the idea of an international boycott. Producer Shuki Weiss, who booked the show, called the pressure on bands not to perform in Israel “cultural terrorism“.

Most pundits and talking heads I heard today said that it was a PR failure, rather than a policy one, which led to pressure on Israel these days (here is an example from Israel’s most popular columnist). Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman decided, like many Israelis, to put the blame on the left and the Israeli Arabs.

More and more it seems that Israelis simply don’t understand why the world is mad at them. As Amos Harel wrote in Haaretz today, the one place IDF propaganda actually worked very well is Israel, where both the media and the public now views the attack on the flotilla as an heroic success story.

British Author Iain Banks also decided to join the boycott on Israel. He explains why in a letter to the Guardian:

Writers and artists refusing to visit Israel, and the cutting off of as many other cultural and educational links with Israel as possible, might help Israelis understand how morally isolated they really are. It would be a form of collective punishment (albeit a mild one), and so in a way an act of hypocrisy for those of us who have criticised Israel for its treatment of the Palestinian people in general and those in Gaza in particular, but appeals to reason, international law, UN resolutions and simple human decency mean – it is now obvious – nothing to Israel, and for those of us not prepared to turn to violence, what else can we do? For the little it’s worth, I’ve told my agent to turn down any further book translation deals with Israeli publishers. I would urge all writers, artists and others in the creative arts, as well as those academics engaging in joint educational projects with Israeli institutions, to consider doing everything they can to convince Israel of its moral degradation and ethical isolation, preferably by simply having nothing more to do with this outlaw state.

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News and Suggested reading:

NY Times: Washington Asks: What to Do About Israel?

Our own Freedom Fries: A right-wing group has asked Elite, Israel’s largest coffee manufacture, to change the name of its popular  Turkish Coffee [link in Hebrew].


Flotilla attack, day 4 | News round-up: who will lead the investigation?

Posted: June 3rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Breaking News: Ynet quotes a Turkish news agency that reported the nationality of the casualties: one American and 8 from Turkey.

The big question this morning in Israel is the probe. Yesterday, the UNHRC decided to form a fact finding mission of the attack on the Gaza bound flotilla, similar to the one which issued the Goldstone report. The US, together with Italy and Netherlands, opposed the resolution, and according to reports, suggested that Israel will lead the investigation, but that US observers will take part in it. VP Joe Biden proposed something similar on his Bloomberg interview yesterday, saying Israel would ran the investigation, “but we’re open to international participation.”

There are conflicting reports as to what Israel will agree to. The army, as always, wants to investigate itself. The IDF was able to block all suggestions of a civilian Israeli investigation into the war in Gaza or the events in Jenin in 2002 (it’s very hard to touch the army in Israel: it even blocks attempt to have external inquiries into fatal training accidents when those occur). But this time the IDF might lose the battle, the military blunder is so evident and as even Israeli sources are admitting that an investigation is all but inevitable.

Strangely enough, Israel might even agree to an international probe, and for the most cynical reason of all: an internal civilian investigation might force leaders to resign (as happened after the war in Lebanon in 2006), but an international one won’t have immediate political consequences for them.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Netanyahu, as well as other officials, refused to address the issue at all.

UPDATE: both Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman and minister Ben Eliezer spoke in favor of an Israeli probe with a foreign, probably American, observer.

More political fallout: the battle between Ehud Barak and Labor to Avigdor Liberman and Israel Beitenu has officially opened. After unnamed ministers called for Barak’s resignation two days ago, today Barak and his proxy, minister Ben-Eliezer, are publicly declaring that the attacks on Israel are the result of failed PR effort, or Hasbara, by the foreign office.

Ecuador will be sending home its Ambassador in Tel Aviv. UPDATE: so does South Africa.

NY Times reports that the US wants Israel to abandon the siege policy:

The Obama administration considers Israel’s blockade of Gaza to be untenable and plans to press for another approach to ensure Israel’s security while allowing more supplies into the impoverished Palestinian area, senior American officials said Wednesday.

Turkish TV reporting that all 9 casualties in the raid died of gun wounds. Their bodies’ arrived yesterday to Turkey. More evidences are published on the way the passengers were treated by Israeli security authorities. Regarding the attack itself, here is Former US Ambassador Edward Peck, who was on the Gaza aid flotilla, followed by Israel deputy ambassador to the UN:

recommended commentary:

Nicholas Kristof (NY Times): “Saving Israel from itself: President Obama needs to find his voice and push hard for an end to the Gaza blockade.”

Cenk Uygur (Huffington Post): “If the Israeli government is convinced they took the appropriate action in this case, they can go a long way toward proving that by giving us the whole tape. If not, we have to assume they’re hiding something.”

Ari Shavit (Haaretz’s pundit and Netanyahu and Barak supporter until recently): “Instead of rallying the Palestinians, Syrians and Turks against Iran, Netanyahu is pushing them toward Iran. Instead of rallying the Europeans and Americans in Israel’s favor, he is inciting them against Israel. The process reached a frenzied peak with the flotilla.”

Haaretz editorial: “Like a robot lacking in judgment, stuck on a predetermined path – that’s how the government is behaving in its handling of the aid flotillas to the Gaza Strip.”

Daniel Machover (Guardian): “This was almost certainly a breach of international law and Turkey has the right to take charge of a criminal investigation.”

Moshe Yaroni: flotilla fallout: winners and losers of the raid (very good analysis, with an emphasis on US reaction).

Harold Meyerson (Washington Post): The collateral damage from Israel’s raid (a look on the US Jewish community’s trends).


Flotilla attack, day 3 | Waiting for the US, as more ships are headed to Gaza

Posted: June 2nd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, the US and us, war | Tags: , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

Almost a riot in the Knessset as Jewish house members try to prevent Arab MK Zoabi from speaking:

Israelis behind the government, for now: Maariv daily paper published a poll in the morning, showing that 63 percent of the Jewish public think that the flotilla should have been stopped by other means, and that about half the public think Israel should establish its own inquiry committee to investigate the events at sea.

Still, support for Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remains high, and a clear majority thinks that none of them should resign. This figure, however, might be a bit misleading. At times of national crisis or under international pressure the Jewish public in Israeli tends to rally behind its leaders and generals. Only later, when the initial shock passes, people start asking questions. They don’t necessarily become more dovish – quite the opposite sometime – but they might turn their anger at the leaders. This is exactly what happened after the 2006 war in Lebanon.

Media continues not asking questions regarding IDF clips: a new film released today shows activists throw plates and  a firecracker at the soldiers (watch here). but didn’t the IDF earlier claimed the boats arrived only after the commandos dropped on the mavi Marmara? so who took that video from upper deck? If this is confiscated footage, why not say so? (h/t: Dimi Reider).

Update: United Nation says Flotilla journalists’ equipment was confiscated by IDF soldiers.

More ships to come: As the Rachel Corrie makes its way to Gaza. Organizers of the flotilla declared they raised the money for another ship, named Freedom II. There are some indications that Turkey is looking to diffuse the tension with Israel, so it’s not clear whether this ship will sail, but if it does, Israeli and US decision makers will face a major challenge, as the whole world will be closely watching this time. IDF sources boosted earlier this week that they will meet the coming ships with even more force, but these seems like empty words, intended for the ears of the public at home.

Administration under pressure: the flotilla incident caught the White House at a delicate moment. It hard for it to publicly denounce Israel, because the US was part of the failed Gaza policy, and it obviously can’t support it. The ball is in the American court right now: Will they cast their weight behind the calls for an international probe? Will they work to defuse tension between Turkey and Israel? One thing is clear – the White House and State Department need to act, before things escalate even further.

Godlstone report, round II? The UN Human Rights Council is expected to vote on a draft resolution this afternoon, on whether to send an international committee to investigate the circumstances surrounding Israel’s operation on the Gaza-bound flotilla. this is the same UN body which sent the Goldstone comittee to Gaza. I think it might be a good idea to let some other organization lead the investigation this time, so it wouldn’t suffer from the results of delgitimizing campaign Israel initiated against the Goldstone report.

UPDATE: UNHRC resolution regarding investigation passed. US, Netherlands and Canada Italy opposed it.

opinion round-up (I highly recommend the first item):

Fania Oz-Salzberger (daily Beast): “The army in which I served, which will soon enlist my children, is only good for one thing: to fight those who are aiming a gun at me. Not those who dislike me, demonize me, or hope to see me dead.”

Michael Godween (NY Post): President Obama should do what any American president would — protect our friend and ally from the predators who want to devour it.

Michael Tomasky (Guardian): this event really could be a tipping point in America.

Mark Steel (Independent): It’s time the Israeli government’s PR team made the most of its talents, and became available for hire.

Jeremiah Haber (The Magnes Zionist): Once again, you have the “progressive-on-everything-but-Israel” syndrome. When will that change? Probably not for some time now.

One more thing: more than 48 hours have passed since the raid on the Mavi Marmara took place, and Israel still hasn’t released the names and nationality of all casualties.

more opinion, news and video in this morning’s post.


Attack on the flotilla: the day after

Posted: June 1st, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments »

2:15 AM: As the second day following the attack on the Gaza bound flotilla comes to its end, the Israeli public is standing behind its government and military. But things might still change, as the country will go on facing international pressure and the fingerprinting among top government and army official will increase.

The international community demands an inquiry, again. After its campaign against the Goldstone committee, it’s clear that Israel won’t like an external investigation, but this time it might not be easy to avoid one. The question will be, as always, the White House’s position. So far it’s been a very careful one, expressing regret on the loss of life, but not condemning the raid. Israel couldn’t have hoped for better.

From here it also seems that Israel was able to get some of its message through today, at least in the US. Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon briefed hundreds of Jewish community leaders today, and as long as they feel that Israel is under attack, they might try to fight any measures from being taken against it. But the American Jewish community is changing, and it seems that most of it is getting tired from the policies of the current Israeli government. The real effect of the attack on the Mavi Marmara will be felt there once the initial storm passes.

The affair itself is far from being over: Israel has yet to finish releasing the detained passengers, which will finally be able to tell the story from their point of view. It was said that Israel confiscated all cameras and phones, so I don’t know if we will get any new material from the time of the attack. So far, the IDF only released the clips showing the soldiers being attacked, and not anything that followed. I guess they have a good reason for that.

Israel also needs to make public the names and nationality of all casualties. There were reports that at least four of them are Turkish nationals, and possibly one or two others are Arab-Israelis.

2:10 AM Amos Oz in a NYT Op-Ed:

Even if Israel seizes 100 more ships on their way to Gaza, even if Israel sends in troops to occupy the Gaza Strip 100 more times, no matter how often Israel deploys its military, police and covert power, force cannot solve the problem that we are not alone in this land.

1:15 AM Opinion and comments round-up (some of this stuff was posted much earlier today, but I didn’t have time to get to it):

David Grossman (Guardian): “No explanation can justify or whitewash the crime that was committed, and no excuse can explain away the stupid actions of the government and the army.” [this article appeared also in Hebrew in Haaretz].

Alan Dershowitz (Huffington Post): “The moment any person on the boat picked up a weapon and began to attack Israeli soldiers boarding the vessel, they lost their status as innocent civilians.” [this article apeared also in Hebrew on Maariv]

Peter beinart (Daily Beast): “Don’t blame the commandos for the flotilla disaster. Blame Israel’s leaders, who enforce the cruel and corrupt Gaza embargo, and their supporters in America.”

Helena Cobban (Just World News): “Israel should also be required to provide a full accounting of what happened to all those who were killed or injured, and to cooperate with the international inquiry.”

Andrew Sullivan (Atlantic): “Time after time, Netanyahu just pwns Obama; and the US president just lets it happen.”

Seth Freedman (Guardian): Flotilla activists had ample opportunity to defuse the situation before the IDF arrived – instead they decided on violence.

M.J. Rosenberg (TPM cafe): “The administration barely uttered a word of criticism yesterday. The whole world was appalled but we only asked for an investigation.”

Read also rep. Anthony Weiner strongly defends Israeli attack on flotilla, in a conversation with the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent.

1:00 AM: Under international pressure, Israel will release most of the flotilla’s passengers, including those who were on the Mavi Marmara. There are conflicting reports as to whether those who attacked the soldiers will be released. Ynet.co.il claims that Israel will go on detaining them, while Maariv and Haaretz say they will be released as well. I estimate that Maariv is right, and only few might be detained any further.

Haaretz: The White House demanded a “credible and transparent” investigation into the Israel Navy raid of the flotilla bound for the Gaza Strip.

00:50: IHH launches an information site on the Gaza flotilla.

10:45 PM: Something I couldn’t avoid noticing since yesterday: all the material released by Israel is from one minute (!) during the battle. The soldiers’ testimonies refer to this timeframe as well. But events on the Mavi Marmara lasted, according to reports, several hours. Even at this early stage, if Israel wants its version to have some credibility, it needs to start explaining what happened from the minute the soldiers took their first shot, until they held their fire.

10:15 PM Ynet’s military correspondent has a report claiming that the people who attacked the soldiers on board the Mavi Marmara had “direct and indirect ties” to the Global Jihad. According to the IDF, they pre-planned the assault, and even had bullet proof vests and light weapons.

Some of the suspects were found to be carrying large sums of money. Others had Kevlar vests and gas masks; and all were found to be carrying weapons such as knives, metal clubs and slingshots. Several of the suspected were wounded by IDF fire.

Investigators have already concluded that this was the group that planned the violent resistance, which centered on the Marmara’s top deck.

IDF also released another clip, this time a recording of the radio transition prior to the moment when the soldier opened fire. While I post it here, I must say that it’s very hard to conclude anything from these clips, as the IDF doesn’t reveal any material concerning the actual shootout, and according to reports, even confiscated all recording devices the passengers on the Mavi Marmara had.

10:05 PM Labor junior MK Daniel Ben Simon joins the calls for the resignation of Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

10:00 PM Another diplomatic crisis on the way? Ireland officially requested Israel to let the Rachel Corrie, with 15 activists on board, into Gaza. Haaretz reports:

Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen urged Israel to let the vessel to finish its mission. The ship was carrying 15 activists including a northern Irish Nobel Peace laureate.

“The government has formally requested the Israeli government to allow the Irish-owned ship … to be allowed to complete its journey unimpeded and discharge its humanitarian cargo in Gaza,” Cowen told parliament in Dublin.

21:50 PM A few small pro-IDF rallies took place in several towns in Israel, including Jerusalem, Kiryat Shmone, Karmiel, Gush Etzion (West Bank), Beer Sheva, Maalot, Raanana, Netivot and Natanya. Each of the rallies had between a few dozens to a few hundred protesters. Demonstrations against the attack on the flotilla took place in the Arab town Arabe, in Jaffa, and in several other Arab towns. Pro-IDF protesters clashed with Palestinian supporters of Raed Saleh in Ashkelon, were the Shikh was brought before a district judge.

4:20 PM Amos Oz: Israel is turning into the new South Africa.

Celebrated Israeli author Amos Oz said today on IDF radio that Israel is becoming the new South Africa:

“We are placing ourselves under an international siege, which is more dangerous for us than the siege on Gaza in dangerous to Gaza.

“Israel is turning into South Africa in the Apartheid days – a country which the world’s nation wouldn’t want to buy its goods, wouldn’t want to visit, and that will be thrown out of international organizations. We will become a pariah state that nobody wants anything to do with

Oz said that there was no reason to prevent the flotilla from reaching Gaza, and added that Israel is not only losing the media battle, but also the moral battle.

4:00 PM The flotilla got its first victory: The siege on Gaza have been partly lifted, after Egypt opened the Rafah border crossing until further notice, allowing goods and people to travel in and out of the strip.

Egypt has been facing mounting pressure from pro-Palestinian groups and opposition elements for its support for the Israeli siege on the strip. So far president Hosni Mubarak allowed Rafah crossing to be opened only on for limited periods, claiming that he wouldn’t let Israel make Gaza an Egyptian problem.

2:30 AM Guardian: Journalists on the flotilla were censored and arrested by Israeli forces.

Irish Times reports that Rachel Corrie, the last ship of the Gaza flotilla is due to arrive at Gaza territorial waters. No official word has come out of Israel concerning this ship, but army sources told Maariv that the ship would be treated in the same way the other ships were handled.

2:00 AM Maariv is reporting that unnamed “senior ministers” are calling for Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s resignation over the Mavi Marmara fiasco [link in Hebrew].

Some more commentary from the world:

Glenn Kessler (Washington Post): Condemnation of Israeli assault complicates relations with U.S.

Jeffrey Goldberg (Atlantic): the disappearance of Jewish wisdom.

Stephen Walt (Foreign Policy): Will the Obama administration show some backbone on this issue?

Leslie H. Gelb (Daily Beast): Israel was right.

12:30: Israel might have sabotaged the engines of some of the vessels in the Gaza flotilla, but not the Mavi Marmara’s. Haaretz reports that in a testimony in front of the Knesset’s Foreign and Security affairs committee, Colonel Itzik Turgeman of the IDF command stated that some of the ships were treated in what he described as “a gray way”.

According to colonel Turgeman, the Mavi Marmara wasn’t sabotaged so a humanitarian crisis wouldn’t break in it when the ship will run out of food and water, and because towing it to Israel would have taken too long.

Head of Mossad, Meir Dagan, said in the Knesset that “Israel is becoming from an asset to a burden on the US”.

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11:00 AM: During the night, the UN Security Council passed a resolution condemning the Israeli attack on the Gaza-bound flotilla and calling for an investigation, as well as the immediate release of the captured vessels and the their passengers. It seems that Israel will not complicate things further and all foreign passengers will be deported in the next few days.

The Israeli passengers might face charges (though most of them have been released by police). MK Hanin Zuabi (Balad) was interrogated twice and proceeding against her, which began in the Knesset prior to the attack, will probably resume. There are also calls to press charges against Sheikh Raed Saleh, already one of the least popular Arab public figures with the Jewish public. Saleh is still under arrest.

Israel is yet to release the names and nationality of the passengers killed in the attack. Yedioth Ahronoth reported this morning that most of them are Turkish nationals. The paper claimed that six of the 9 casualties were identified as ones who took part in the assault on the soldiers.

Attorney Avigdor Feldman filed a petition to the Israeli Supreme Court demanding the immediate release of the flotilla passengers, and allowing them to sail to their original destination in Gaza. Feldman claim the attack on the flotilla was done without legal authority (my guess is that it’s more of a political move. The court will not intervene in these matters, and Feldman knows that).

Israel’s morning papers frame the entire incident as a trap the government stepped into. Yedioth’s front page headline is “the trap” and Maariv follows with “The failure and the heroism”, referring to the soldiers that were put in risk. The rightwing Israel Hayon also view the events from the soldiers’ perspective: “Soldiers facing Lynch“, the headline says. as one might expect, the only ecception is the Liberal Haaretz, which calls for a state inquiry committee which will investigate the decision-making process, and “decide who should pay for this dangerous policy”.

opinion round-up:

Jerusalem Post’s editorial is dismissing some of the public and internationl outrage, caliming “IDF response to violence could have been worse.”

Ari Shavit (Haaretz journalist known until not very long ago for his good relations with Ehud Barak and Benjamin Netanyahu): “During the 2006 war in Lebanon I concluded that my 15-year-old daughter could have conducted it more wisely than the Olmert-Peretz government. We’ve progressed. Today it’s clear to me that my 6-year-old son could do much better than our current government.”

Zvi Mazel (Foreign Office veteran writing for Jpost): “We are facing a full-blown diplomatic crisis (…) we can’t expect help or even assistance from anyone. But if that’s the way it is, that’s the way it is. The biblical words from Numbers 23:9 come to mind: wLo, the people shall dwell alone and shall not be reckoned among the nations.’”

Gidon Levi (Haaretz): “If Cast Lead was a turning point in the attitude of the world toward us, this operation is the second horror film of the apparently ongoing series.”

Caroline Glick (Jerusalem Post): “A straight line runs from the anti-Israel UN resolution passed last Friday and the Hamas flotilla.”

Yossi Sarid (former minister and head of Meretz, writing in Haaretz): “Seven Idiots in the Cabinet.”

(Sarid is refering to the top decision making forum in Netanyahu’s government, whose members are Barak, Netanyahu, Liberman, Eli Yishay (Shas), Beni Begin and Dan Meridor (Likud) and deputy PM Moshe Yaalon from Likud. The final go ahead to yesterday’s operation was given in the “7 forum” prior to Netanayhu’s departure for North America – an issue that will surly be discussed in the days to come).

Ofer Shelah (Maariv military correspondent): “Israel is being portrayed as a country which acts violently, without thought, and out of a permanent existential fear” [Hebrew].

Yedioth Ahronoth’s top political correspondent, Nahum Barnea, and senior pundit Sever Plotsker are attacking the government this morning, and Plotsker – that reveled yesterday that Yedioth didn’t publish information regarding vast concerns the army had over the operation – is calling for Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s resignation. Military correspondent Alex Fishman is claiming that the even with its consequences, “the operation was the right thing to do.” (Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel’s most widely read daily paper, doesn’t post editorials online, so I can’t link to its articles).

Amnon Abramowits, Channel 2 senior political commentator, is calling in an op-ed in Yedioth for PM Netanyahu to immediately form a different coalition that would have new diplomatic policies, both in Gaza and in the West bank.


Death at Sea | the attack on the Gaza flotilla (live blogging)

Posted: May 31st, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, war | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 29 Comments »

2:50 AM: finally, going to sleep. I will post at least another media round up in the morning.

2:05 AM: the finger pointing begins. Ynet quotes [Hebrew] unnamed government ministers claiming the army guaranteed them that taking over the ships would end with no casualties. One senior cabinet minister said: “we didn’t understand how explosive this story is.”

Senior IDF official was quoted saying the all scenarios were presented to the cabinet before PM Netanyahu left for north America. “the responsibility lies with the political level.”

0:30 AM: MK Hanin Zuabi (Balad) who was on board the Mavi Marmara, is interrogated at the Ashdod police station. Sheikh Raed Saleh is also interrogated.

Earlier this evening, some 500 people demonstrated in front of the Turkish Embassy in Tel Aviv, protesting the Turkish involvement in organizing the flotilla and Ankara’s recent hostility towards Israel. the demonstration received extensive coverage in the Israeli media.

11:42 PM: Weapons found by IDF on Mavi Marmara: knifes and sticks (IDF spokesperson picture here).

11:05 PM: It seems that the government and the army got their message through, at least here in Israel. The last two graphic videos released clearly showed the soldiers being attacked, and are going to have an enormous effect on the Jewish public, as such images always do.

These images will be used by Israel in its PR counter attack in the US and Europe, and might have some effect there as well, though people will surly wonder what reaction the army expected when he sent commando unit on a civilian ship in international water.

As the last passengers of the Mavi Marmara leave the ship, the day’s drama comes to an end, but the diplomatic and political game only begins. There are reports of another ship – the Rachel Corrie, heading from Irland – on its way to Gaza; Israel haven’t released the names and nationality of the passengers killed in the attack; the Security Council is meeting. Questions might be raised even in Israel, once the initial shock passes. More important, we have yet to hear testimonies – and we might even get some new pictures and videos – from the passengers of the Mavi Marmara, something that is bound to have an effect on public opinion, in Israel and outside.

I will follow events here in the next few days, focusing as always on the Israeli angle. I will also try to add some of my own analysis, something I didn’t find the time to do today.

10:18 PM: Dozens of Ultra-Orthodox demonstrated in Jerusalem in protest of the Israeli attack on the flotilla [link in Hebrew]. They carried signs reading  “Zionist ד= pirates”.

9:48 PM: Evening analysis round-up:

Dan Ephron (Newsweek): Israeli Attack highlights failure of Gaza blockade.

Jo Klein (Time): This is an insane use of disproportionate force. It is a product of the right-wing radicalization of the Israeli government.

Andrew Sullivan (Atlantic): The disproportionate use of force, the loss of life, the horrifying impact of the blockade of Gaza in the first place: it makes Israel look like a callous, deranged bully, incapable of accepting any narrative that it cannot control and responding instinctively with disproportionate violence.

Adrian Blomfield (Telegraph): Under the stewardship of Benjamin Netanyahu, its abrasive prime minister, Israel has developed an extraordinary knack for inopportune timing.

Gideon Rachman (financial Times): “three particular angles for the Israelis to worry about. First, that there will be some sort of new intifada. Second, the continued deterioration in their relationship with Turkey. Third, their fraying ties with the Obama administration” [I don't agree. there won't be Intifada over this. the major problem is Europe and world public opinion, not US].

Yossi Melman (Haaretz): the government acted in such a tragic and stupid way, it’s hard to even understand it [Hebrew].

9:40 PM final casualties report from IDF spokesperson: 9 civilians killed, 7 soldiers injured, out of which four soldiers were moderately wounded, and three lightly wounded. The number of injured civilians wasn’t reported.

9:10 PM: estimated 2,000 people at tel Aviv protest in front of defense department.

8:55 PM: 7th eye (Israeli media watchdog organization): Yedioth Ahronoth daily knew but wouldn’t publish vast IDF top brass opposition to the raid on the flotilla [Hebrew].

8:50 PM: IDF posted another very graphic video in which the activists are shown attacking the soldiers landing to the Mavi Marmara. Passengers’ video supposedly show IDF shooting on board Mavi Marmara even after the ship raised a white flag.

8:40 PM: The Maramra docked in Ashdod, and the passengers are being detained by Israeli authorities. So far, there were no violent clashes. According to reports in Israel, the activists will be deported soon.

In New York, the UN  security council began its discussion.

6:45 PM: The Mavi Marmara is about to enter the Israeli post of Ashdod, while some demonstrations take place in Israel: a few hundreds are protesting the attack on the flotilla in the Arab town Um El-Fahem. Small protests are scheduled for 7.00 in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. There were also pro-IDF protests in Ashdod and in Haifa.

6:15 PM: Opinion and analysis round-up: there is a growing gap between what’s the talking heads are saying in Israel rigth now – focusing on the threat to the soldiers lifes and the insuffianct force that was sent to take control over the Mavi Marmara – to what’s going on in the world, where this is viewed as a brutal attack on civilians on international water, or as Moshe Yaroni puts it, Israel’s Kent State.

David Horvitz (Jerusalem Post’s editor): A race to contain the damage: The “humanitarian aid” flotilla was clearly a perniciously well-conceived initiative, for which Israel prepared inadequately.

Blake Hounshell (Foreign Policy): It’s not hard to imagine boycott campaigns gaining momentum, damaging the Israeli economy and isolating the country diplomatically, especially in Europe.

MJ Rosenberg (Huffington Post): Israel is in trouble. At the present rate, the remarkable accomplishment that is Israel will be lost because the right (i.e, Netanyahu, AIPAC, etc) prefers the settlements, smashing Gaza and building in Arab East Jerusalem to Israel itself.

Marc Lynch (Foreign Policy): It is difficult to fathom how the Israeli government could have thought that this was a good way to respond to a long-developing public relations challenge, but its actions will certainly fuel its evolving international legitimacy crisis.

Avi Trengo (Ynet): When Israel conveys a sense of weakness is it any wonder that a mob would charge at a commando and attempt to lynch him?

Richard Spencer (Telegraph): Whether on land or now at sea, there is a terrible symmetry to Israel’s engagement with the Palestinians and those who support them.

Rafi mann (Seventh Eye): The Palestinian Exodus [Hebrew].

5.00 PM: IDF completed search of Mavi Marmara, no weapons discovered except for the two pistols that were taken from the soldiers (channel 10).

4:57 PM: IDF spokesperson: 9 activists killed on Mavi Marmara, 7 soldiers injured. Ynet: 31 activist injured.

4:55 PM: It’s Official: PM Benjamin Netanyahu canceled his trip to Washington and will not meet president Obama, but rather return home to handle the crisis. It was speculated that part of the reason is the will to avoid the scheduled press conference with the president, in which the President will be forced to condemn the attack in the presence of the Israeli PM.

4:35 PM: IDF releases video and report of the events:

4:15 PM: CRIF, the representative council of the organized Jewish community in France, declared the events “not good news for peace,” and expressed its regret on the death of civilians.

4:00 PM: Israeli media framing the incident as one in which the soldiers were the victims of an organized, surprise attack (the fact that it was the IDF soldiers who boarded the ships on international waters is hardly mentioned). There are more and more descriptions on channel 1 and 2 of the knifes and bats that were used against the soldiers.

The IDF just started releasing videos of the demonstrators rushing to the soldiers as they board the ship. According to most pundits, the mistake the IDF did was not applying enough force, and boarding the ship with a small force, not fully armed.

This is Ron Ben-Yishay, Ynet’s military correspondent, that was on one of the Israeli navi ships:

Our Navy commandoes fell right into the hands of the Gaza mission members. A few minutes before the takeover attempt aboard the Marmara got underway, the operation commander was told that 20 people were waiting on the deck where a helicopter was to deploy the first team of the elite Flotilla 13 unit. The original plan was to disembark on the top deck, and from there rush to the vessel’s bridge and order the Marmara’s captain to stop.

(…)

Navy commandoes slid down to the vessel one by one, yet then the unexpected occurred: The passengers that awaited them on the deck pulled out bats, clubs, and slingshots with glass marbles, assaulting each soldier as he disembarked. The fighters were nabbed one by one and were beaten up badly, yet they attempted to fight back.

However, to their misfortune, they were only equipped with paintball rifles used to disperse minor protests, such as the ones held in Bilin. The paintballs obviously made no impression on the activists, who kept on beating the troops up and even attempted to wrest away their weapons.

3:10 PM: Two of the smaller ships arrived at the Ashdod post. The Marmara, – the main ship on which the fight occurred – is not expected to arrive before 7PM. Israeli press speculates on possible danger to soldiers and Israeli civilians from the protesters on the ships. Riot police and anti terror units are on their way to Ashdod. Early reports claim that 16 protesters were arrested.

3:00 PM: Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon on Channel 10:

“As time passes, it becomes clear we found weapons in the ships. The events move now to the diplomatic front. All our messages were passed to the Foreign Media.

“Regarding relation with Turkey: we did not initiate any confrontation; we hope there won’t be damage to relations. This wasn’t a peace flotilla, it wasn’t a humanitarian flotilla. IDF spokesmen will publish material that will prove that there were terrorist personal and arms on the ships. This is our message to the world.”

2:50 PM: Channel 10: soldiers boarded the main ship with paintball guns and were immediately in danger for their life. they had no choice but to move to live ammunition.

2:40 PM: Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi and Navi Commander Eliezer Marom held a press conference in which they gave the first Israeli official explanation to the day’s events. Barak declared that the flotilla organizers are to blame for the casualties.

“The soldiers were attacked after arriving at one of the ships. Some were injured by serious physical violence on the part of the protestors.

“In light of the life-threatening situation, the soldiers were forced to use crowd dispersal means and firearms,” said Barak, adding that some of the casualties were killed by firearms. According to Barak, 10 soldiers were injured in the incident, some from firearms and some from cold arms.

“The IHH organization, which was behind these unruly ship, is a violent and radical organization acting under the cover of humanitarian activity.”

2:30 PM: Israel Ch1 military reporter: Islamic leader Raed Salah “alive and well” – reports of him injured and in surgery are a case of mistaken id.

2:15 PM: commentary round up:

Bradley Burston (Haaretz): We are no longer defending Israel. We are now defending the siege, which is itself becoming Israel’s Vietnam.

Aluf Ben (Haaretz): Netanyahu should stop US trip, come home and form an official commission of inquiry. excuses that activists were armed won’t work [Hebrew].

Ian Black (Guardian): Israel’s bloody interception of the Gaza flotilla looks like a disastrous own goal… this was a gift to Israel’s worst enemies.

Amos Harel (Haaretz): If rumors are confirmed that Muslim leader Raed Salah is among casualties of Israel’s raid on a Gaza aid convoy, the country’s Arab population could explode.

Glenn Greenwald (Salon): If Israel’s goal were to provoke as much disgust and contempt as possible, how could it do a better job?

Shmuel Rosner (Jerusalem Post):  PR – as important as it might be – is not all in life (…) If force had to be used as to prevent the flotilla from going into Gaza – if there was no way around it – than PR becomes a secondary issue and will have to be dealt with later.

1:50 PM: CH 10 TV defense correspondent Alon Ben David at Ashdod: Rioting expected to continue at port. Some passengers still locked in cabins. Channel 10 site: Arabs from Haifa among casualties.

1:40 PM: Israeli Foreign Office warned Israelis from trips to Turkey. Those already here are advised to stay in hotels. Turkey canceled three planned military maneuvers with IDF. Greece also canceled its planned maneuver with Israeli air force.

1:30 PM: Turkish ambassador leaving for Ankara.

12:30: Deputiy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon accuses Flotilla organizers of having ties to Hamas and AL-Qaeda. Regarding the attack, the Foreign Ministry web site stated that:

According to reports from sea, on board the flotilla that was seeking to break the maritime closure on the Gaza Strip, IDF forces apprehended two violent activists holding pistols. The violent activists took these pistols from IDF forces and apparently opened fire on the soldiers as evident by the empty pistol magazines.

As a result of this life-threatening and violent activity, naval forces employed riot dispersal means, including live fire.

12:10: Leftwing protests scheduled for 6 Pm in Jerusalem; 7 Pm in Tel Aviv (in front of the Defense Ministry on Kaplan st.); 7 Pm in Haifa. Some protesters are on their way right now to Ashdod and Haifa ports, to which the flotilla boats are headed.

12:00 AM: Ynet: two soldiers badly injured during the attack on the ships. 7 civilians in Israeli hospitals.

11:40 AM: Haaretz: Raad Saleh injured, not dead, hospitalized in Tel Hashomer (Tel Aviv). UPDATE: ynet reports that according to army sources, Salah is on one of the boats, only slightly injured.

video: MK Hanin Zuabi (Balad) calling for help in English and Hebrew from the attacked ship.

Ynet: 15 died on Ships.

10:50 AM: We woke up to the news of the violent takeover of the flotilla by IDF soldiers, and to the rumors that Sheikh Raad Salah, the Israeli-Palestinian Muslim leader, is among the 10 casualties. Regardless of one’s political views and what comes out of this incident, these are horrible news. It seems that the government really blew it this time. Violence looks almost inevitable, and who knows what will follow.

After a few hours of silence, Army and government spokesmen started commenting on the affair, declaring that the people on the boats “tried to lynch the soldiers“. But the spins won’t work here. Even without knowing what really happened, so much is clear: when you keep more than a million under siege for years – even if you make sure they don’t starve to death, as Israelis constantly remind us they do – some people are bound to try and break this siege. And when they do, if you send the commando at them in the middle of the night – and on international water! – there will be consequences, and there might be casualties.

I will keep updating this post as news come.

This is an insane use of disproportionate force. It is a product of the right-wing radicalization of the Israeli government


The litmus test for Israel’s intentions

Posted: May 3rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off

Every now and then I get to hear the argument that Israel never claimed the West Bank for itself (therefore it’s not Apartheid nor occupation, etc.). After all, Barak offered almost the entire West Bank to the Palestinians in Camp David, and in 2008 Ehud Olmert had gone even further, so basically it’s the Palestinians fault that we are still there.

But even of you subscribe to the “generous offers” idea – and I don’t – actions speak louder than words, and Israel never stopped colonizing the West Bank. Even while talking to the Palestinians about evacuation, we kept sending our settlers to the occupied territories, thus making it practically impossible to carry out a full withdrawal. The greatest trick Israel was ever able to pull out was the spreading the notion that the settlers “hijacked” the state. The settlements are, and have always been, a government project, financed by taxpayer money and carried out by state agencies, from the justice and housing departments to defense ministry.

Read Akiva Eldar’s report in today’s Haaretz. Israel wouldn’t even evacuate the outpost that the state itself has declared illegal, and it states so publicly!

A statement that prosecutors sent the High Court at the end of last week on behalf of the defense minister, the army’s commander in the West Bank, the head of the Civil Administration and the commander of the Samaria and Judea Police District needs to be read at least twice in order to believe it is a document from a supreme law enforcement authority.

The statement relates to a petition by Palestinians via human rights organization Yesh Din, asking to enforce a High Court decision to evacuate the illegal outpost Amona, established about 10 years ago. Petitioners have also asked for the removal of fences that prevent access to their lands. The petitioners’ attorney, Michael Sfard, noted that during the four years since the demolition of nine structures at the outpost (which took place only after a previous petition by Yesh Din), Amona settlers have built new buildings to replace them.

In the statement to the High Court, the State Prosecutor’s Office confirms Amona is an illegal outpost. It stresses that the defense minister, the Civil Administration and the police take a grave view of the improper conduct of the Mateh Binyamin local council (which receives its budget from the state!), “and most certainly when it comes to construction on private lands belonging to Palestinians”. The prosecution saw fit to boast that “for many years now the state has been strict about not building any settlement on private land”. Really, bully for the state. It would be interesting to note, incidentally, what it intends to do with the property it handed out to settlers before it stopped stealing private land.

And here comes the line that could go down in a book of records for insolence: The prosecution asks to reject the demand to evacuate the illegal settlement, since diverting the limited means of enforcement to old illegal construction “is not high on the respondents’ agenda.” And why not? “Means of enforcement” are needed to implement the temporary building freeze in the settlements.

In other words, the government’s decision in the matter of the temporary moratorium on construction in the settlements has become the illegal settlements’ insurance policy. All that remains is for them to ask the government to extend the freeze.

President Obama was right to insist on the settlements issue. It is the litmus text for Israel’s intentions. And right now, it doesn’t show any sign of a policy change.


Why Israel would never evacuate settlements without considerable outside pressure

Posted: April 22nd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: The Left, The Right, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

(a short exercise in rational choice)

Many people, including supporters of the two state solution, have argued recently that the United States should not apply pressure on Israel in order to make it leave the West Bank. Their basic claim is that since evacuating the West Bank is in the long term interest of Israel, Israel, being a democracy, would do so itself, when the right time will come (for example, when it will face a reliable Palestinian leadership and receive assurances for its security). The role of the international community, these people argue, is to create the right conditions for such withdrawal. In Obama’s White House, it is said that Dennis Ross holds such view.

I will try to explain why I disagree with this approach, using something like a Rational Choice model. In short, Rational Choice theory claims that all humans try to maximize advantages by weighting costs against benefits when taking decisions. It sounds pretty self-evident, but there has been a lot of criticism regarding this notion. People might also argue that putting the Middle East and “rational” in the same sentence is somewhat absurd. However, I think that this could be a useful exercise for understanding the political dynamics in Israel. The main advantage of this line of reasoning is that it frees us from questions of ideology or character, which tend to blur our judgment.

———————————–

The basic assumption of this model is that no leader will take an action that is likely to bring his downfall. In this context, we should remember that Israel’s political system is very unstable. It is one of the most direct systems in the West, which makes it very easy to bring down a Prime Minister.

Let’s look at Benjamin Netanyahu’s government: if he even declares he is going to evacuate settlements, let alone split Jerusalem, his rightwing partners will leave his government. Theoretically, Kadima and Labor could save him in the name of peace, but Tzipi Livni and Ehud Barak are rational actors as well (for the sake of this debate. Nobody knows what goes on in Barak’s mind). What do you think will happen when they have a shot at getting Netanyahu out of the way and going immediately to elections? Naturally, they won’t do it over the peace process, because their voters would punish them. It will be on some side issue, but the outcome will be just the same: the government falls and we would have elections.

Netanyahu, of all people, knows that: this is exactly what happened to him in his previous term as PM: after hesitating for two years, he handed Hebron to the Palestinians. The settlers left the government, the Left imposed new elections in 1999, and Netanyahu lost to Ehud Barak.

But even if our leader is able to pull it off politically, his troubles are just beginning: Every Prime Minister that will try to evacuate settlements will have to confront the settlers and their establishment for what would be their political showdown. The settlers will have nothing more to loss; all scenarios, from a fierce political fight to a civil war, are possible. Israel had around 9,000 settlers in Gaza, most of them considered “moderates” or non-ideological – and still, evacuating them left a political and social trauma that the country has yet to overcome. The offers made by Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert to the Palestinians would have had at least ten times this number of hardcore ideologist evacuated. I don’t think anyone can tell which way this might go. And here is the real nugget: estimates are that around 25 percent of combat soldiers in Israel are national-religious, some of them already declared that they wouldn’t take part in evacuations of Jews.

I’m not saying evacuating the settlements is impossible. I’m just claiming that it will be very hard to carry out. All evidence from the past show how high the cost of handing territory to the Palestinians is: out of the three PM’s who tried to do this, one (Netanyahu) fell from power, the other (Sharon) had to split his own party and didn’t finish the job, and a third (Rabin) paid with his life.

Here is the heart of the matter: an Israeli leader who considers withdrawal from the West Bank and evacuation of settlements needs to ask himself what’s the political price he might pay, and compare it with the political price of maintaining the status quo. The lower the cost of the status quo is, the less likely is the Israeli leader to evacuate settlements.

In order to increase the likelihood of evacuation, one must increase the political cost of maintaining the status quo (lowering the cost of evacuation doesn’t seem very likely). Unless we do so, the Israeli leader is likely to avoid negotiations or negotiate forever, hoping that political circumstances might change in his favor.

Read the rest of this entry »


Poll: Obama’s message getting through to Israeli public, Netanyahu losing ground

Posted: March 29th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, Polls, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

A poll published today by Maariv revels a sharp decline in PM Netanyahu’s approval ratings, which drops to an all-year-low of 41 percent, with 53 percent of the public now stating that they are “dissatisfied” with the PM.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak also pays the price for his support of Netanyahu’s extreme government, with approval ratings of 38 percent. If elections were held today, Barak’s Labor would have dropped to an all-time-low of 8 out of the Knessets’ 120 seats. Kadima would have remained the largest party with 29 seats, one more than Likud.

These last figures are very telling. Contrary to what the PM and his supporters want us to believe, applying pressure on an extreme Israeli government does bring results. Until the recent confrontation with the US Netanyahu and Barak were riding high in the polls and Kadima was losing ground and getting torn by internal politics; but now the public is concerned by the idea of losing American support (48 percent saying that “Israel’s international statue is deteriorating”) and is not happy with the road Netanyahu is leading this country.

More important, even though most of the public still thinks there is no partner for peace on the other side, 46.2 of Israelis are now accepting the idea of splitting Jerusalem between Israel and Palestine (that’s more than those objecting it) – not at all the consensus around the idea of a “united Jerusalem” like Netanyahu and AIPAC would like us to believe.

President Obama might not be very popular with Israelis these days, but they are certainly listening to what he has to say.