Goldstone “apology” won’t make us stop talking of occupation’s crimes

Posted: April 2nd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, this is personal, war | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Some initial thoughts regarding Judge Richard Goldstone’s op-ed, in which he retracted some of the allegations against Israel made in his report

Israel wouldn't have investigated all those killings of civilians if it had not been for Goldstone (photo: United Nations Information Service - Geneva)

Israel wouldn't have investigated all those killings of civilians if it had not been for Goldstone (photo: United Nations Information Service - Geneva)

A strange combination of thrill and anger seems to be the immediate response to Judge Goldstone’s surprising op-ed on the Washington post today. Goldstone wrote that while Israel was investigating the allegations of crimes perpetrated during the 2008 Gaza invasion, Hamas had failed to do so; he expressed disappointment in the UN’s Human Rights Council and its treatment of Israel, and demanded condemnation of the Fogel family murder. The key sentence in the article was this:

While the investigations published by the Israeli military and recognized in the U.N. committee’s report have established the validity of some incidents that we investigated in cases involving individual soldiers, they also indicate that civilians were not intentionally targeted as a matter of policy.

It is somewhat difficult to retract a blood libel,” wrote Jeffrey Goldberg in response. Comments on Israeli news sites were even harsher, promising never to “forgive or forget” Goldstone’s crime. “The traitor got tired of being a pariah,” wrote one of my Facebook friends on his wall – and this was a mild comment, compared to others I saw and heard. Since the popular way to discredit anyone criticizing Israeli policy over the past two year was to link them to Goldstone, the government’s PR people jumped on the opportunity to take punches at progressive voices (check, for example, Noah Pollak’s Twitter feed – he is clearly having the day of his life). Prime Minister Netanyahu, a PR expert himself, gave a national speech, in which he demanded that the UN throw the Goldstone report “into history’s garbage can” (what a great opportunity to make the public forget the latest travel scandal). In a sense, this op-ed and the responses it received made me appreciate Judge Goldstone more. He probably knew that everyone would hate him for it – those who adopted the report and are clearly embarrassed, and those who rejected it and now received their validation. Now he really is alone. What is also clear is that many people missed Goldstone’s point: if Israel had provided his committee with the information it requested, the report would have been different. The fact that Goldstone is ready to retract some of the allegations could serve as an indication that he would have taken evidence coming from Israel seriously, if it had been presented to him at the time of the investigation (Israel refused to have anything to do with the investigation). In that sense, Jeffrey Goldberg is right: you can’t go back in time – Israel’s decision not to investigate its army’s behavior during the attack on Gaza turned out to be a strategic mistake. Another point that needs to be made is that Israel wouldn’t have investigated all those killings of civilians if it had not been for Goldstone. Even now, the army is doing everything it can to prevent prosecution of some of its officers and soldiers. Only international pressure forced the IDF to being searching for those soldiers who shot innocent civilians – some of them carrying white flags – or looted Palestinian homes. And that’s another thing people are missing now: nobody is denying that such crimes occurred. And there are additional incidents – like the execution of defenseless policemen by an Israeli gunship on the first day of the war – which Israel views as “legal” and other (myself included) see as a war crime, planned at the highest levels. On the other hand, and at the risk of making many friends angry at me, I would also say that Goldstone should not have spoken of a “policy” of targeting civilians only because he saw numerous cases in which civilians were killed. These are not accusations to be made or take lightly. Saying now that “civilians were not intentionally targeted as a matter of policy” is a big deal – and the explanation given in the Washington Post op-ed to this sentence is hardly satisfying. ————— Since I mentioned the Goldstone report on this blog more than once, and also contributed a chapter to the book on report (which discusses the way the report was received in Israel – and I stand behind every word I wrote there), I would like to add something personal regarding the way I feel today. Many people claimed that “the IDF couldn’t have done the things Goldstone said it did.” Most of them never even read the report, but that’s beside the point. But I felt, and I still do, that targeting civilians could have been an Israeli policy. That’s why I supported an external investigation of Operation Cast Lead. That’s why I still want a public report on the military operation that would include Israeli evidence. The reason I think the IDF could, in certain cases, target civilians (just like any army would, at times), is that I saw it with my own eyes when I served as an infantry officer in South Lebanon. I described this incident in detail here. More than anything I read in Haaretz, my own experiences as a soldier and an officer led me to reflect on the crimes of Israel’s 44 year-old occupation of the West Bank. I have seen beating of civilians, settlers’ violence and mistreatment of Palestinians with my own eyes (I am happy to report I haven’t been part of killing – but that’s pure luck, I guess). Some of those things I continue to see in the occupied territories these days, only now I don’t go there in uniform. Right after the Goldstone op-ed was posted on the Washington post’s site, +972 Magazine received a tweet calling us to “retract” on charges of Israeli war crimes. To that I answer: the entire occupation is a crime. The blockade on Gaza is a crime. The settlements are a crime. The killing of civilians is a crime – even if it wasn’t part of a policy, it was part of the occupation. And I don’t need Judge Goldstone to tell me that.


The Goldstone Report: more important than you think

Posted: January 27th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: the US and us, war | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment »

With each passing day, the publication of the Goldstone Report seems like a key event in shaping the political and diplomatic trends that currently dominate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A new book – to which I contributed an article dealing with the Israeli reaction to the report – takes a fresh look at the findings and the political significance of the UNHRC fact-finding mission to Gaza

Justice Richard Goldstone's report ended up serving as the major evidance in the persecution of Israeli human rights organizations (photo: United Nations Information Service - Geneva)

Justice Richard Goldstone's report ended up serving as the major evidance in the persecution of Israeli human rights organizations (photo: United Nations Information Service - Geneva)

When I checked out the web page for the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict (more popularly known as the Goldstone Report) for the first time, one thing bothered me immediately: the report was posted only in English.

Furthermore, the executive summary and the conclusion chapter, which were available in six languages (Chinese and Russian among them), were not translated to Hebrew. There was a media summary and a press release in Hebrew on the site, but I couldn’t get the documents opened. If the UN Human Rights Council wanted to communicate a message to the Israeli public, it failed on its very first step. As a result, while most people have a definite view on the report, very few have actually read it. It’s a shame, because the Goldstone Report not only makes for a fascinating reading, but is also one of the most important documents to be published on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in recent years.

The Goldstone report was the first evidence in what has since become a pattern – the failure of the Israeli leadership to register diplomatic achievements following the use of military power. Israel had no troubles achieving its victory in Gaza. One could argue – as many Israelis do – that operation Cast Lead helped deter the Hamas from launching more missiles on Israeli towns. Yet it also made Israel more isolated than ever in the world. The military operation boosted the BDS movement, mobilized public opinion in support of the Palestinians, and led to the Gaza-bound flotilla last spring, which resulted in a partial lifting of the blockade on the Strip.

The Goldstone report played a key role in these developments. Even though the report was rejected by Israel, the United States and for a brief moment, even by the Palestinian Authority (under Israeli-American pressure), it proved powerful enough to change regional politics. Some people claimed that operation Cast Lead cured the IDF from the effect of the unsuccessful confrontation with the Hezbollah in 2006, but Goldstone also caused Israel a diplomatic trauma. Now, when Israeli leaders consider sending their troops to another military operation against the Palestinians or in Lebanon, it’s Goldstone that they have in mind. The report served as an important lesson for the Palestinians as well: it proved that they can apply considerable pressure on Israel by bypassing Washington and taking their case to the international community and to international organizations. That strategy is echoed in president Abbas’ recent unilateral effort to gain international recognition of an independent Palestinian state in the 1967 borders.

The publication of the report also turned out to be a key moment for Israel’s limited democracy (I use the term “limited democracy” because of the absence of full political rights to Palestinians under Israeli control). The report itself was widely rejected in Israel, even as more and more events cited in it led to criminal investigations and in some cases, to prosecution of soldiers and officers. If anything, Goldstone made Israelis more hostile and suspicious of the international community.

Even more important was the use of the report in the persecution of human rights organizations and activists. A few months after it was made public, rightwing movement Im Tirzu spread the (false) claim that 92 percent of the evidence in the Goldstone report came from Israeli human rights organizations. Im Tirzu demanded to put legal limits on the activities of these organizations, and in some cases, even ban them completely. Lately, the Knesset has decided to answer this call by forming a special investigative committee that will look into the actions of leftwing NGOs. This might turn into a major showdown in Israeli politics, as all opposition parties decided not to cooperate with the Knesset’s probe.

In both cases, the Palestinian and the Israeli, we have yet to fully grasp the lasting political effect of the Goldstone Report.

I covered some of the initial reaction in Israel to the report in an article for the recently published “The Goldstone Report: The Legacy of the Landmark Investigation” (Nation Books). The book, edited by Adam Horowitz, Lizzy Ratner and Philp Weiss, features articles by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Naomi Klein, Moshe Halbertal, Laila El-Haddad and others. Most importantly, it holds the report itself. As I said, even if you have already made up your mind to reject Goldstone’s finding, it’s a document worth reading.


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 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).


Following Im Tirzu’s campaign: first Knesset steps against NIF

Posted: February 3rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, media, Polls, racism, The Left, The Right, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments »

We should see the attack on the New Israel Fund in context: this was no isolated event, but part of a widespread campaign against human rights and peace activists

The Knesset committee for legislation has decided today to look into foreign donations to non-profit organizations operating in Israel, and among them, those received and handed by the New Israel Fund. The investigation will be led by the head of the legislation committee, MK David Rotem (Israel Beitenu) and a special subcommittee, to be formed immediately. Meanwhile, MK Otniel Schneller (Kadima) is pushing for a special Knesset investigation aimed against all Israeli human rights organizations which testified before the Goldstone committee.

Maariv reports that in a heated debate at the Knesset legislation committee, MK Zevulun Orlev (NRP) accused the NIF, Meretz party and the Israeli left of no less than treason:

“…NIF sponsors elements which are hostile to the state, and [by doing so] it causes us an unimaginable damage, not unlike our worse enemies… Meretz party has crossed the lines… former MK Naomi Hazan, which heads the NIF, has also crossed the lines.”

MK Yulia Shamalov-Berkovich from opposition party Kadima joined the attack on the NIF in saying that:

“We must say to all Israel-haters that enough is enough. We won’t sit quietly when our enemies from home try to lead an undemocratic revolution here, encouraging boycott, desertion and pacifistic refusal to serve in the IDF, based on lies and distortions. We must draw our lines and tell the traitors to our people that this is enough.”

Im Tirzu, a right-wing nonprofit organization, has launched last week a campaign against the NIF, claiming it sponsors organizations that support Hamas. In a front page story in Maariv, senior political correspondent Ben Caspit quoted a “research” by Im Tirzu, which supposedly showed how the NIF was responsible for 92 percent of the anti-Israeli evidence in the Goldstone report. Caspit went even further, and raised the notion the all the NIF activities in Israel – the fund aids more than 300 grassroots and social justice organizations – are a cover for anti-Israeli subversion.

Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud) which represented the government in the Knesset debate, praised Im Tirzu: “it is a Zionist organization, which is doing a very important and positive work.” During the debate, minister Erdan referred to judge Goldstone as “this liar”.

—————————

One of the contributors to the progressive Jewschool blog asked yesterday how this campaign against the NIF and other nonprofits different from the smear campaigns we have seen against the left in the past.

While it is true that the Right has been attacking human rights organizations for as long as they existed in Israel, things have changed in the last few months, and those who care about Israeli politics should be aware of those changes.

For start, the nature and the intensity of the attack changed. The Im Tirzu ads against the NIF shocked many American Jews – they reminded almost everyone of anti-Semitic cartoons – but in Israel they were considered legitimate. The tabloids had no problem publishing them, and you can still catch them as banners on popular news sites as Ynet.co.il and nrg.co.il. In fact, I don’t know of a paper or site that refused to run this ad. What’s even more important is the personalized nature of the attack – specifically targeting the head of the NIF, Naomi Hazan. We haven’t seen such viscous personal attacks since the assassination of PM Yitzhak Rabin.

Second, and unlike the attack on left wing politicians during the Oslo days, this time it is not only the political right that goes after human rights activists. And it’s not just smears. We are talking official government and Knesset policies, and real measures being taken. When minister Erdan praised Im Tirzu in the Knesset, he did so as the official representative of the government to the committee. This government includes even the labor party (though some labor MK’s came out in the NIF’s defense). In fact, some of the dominant figures in the campaign against the NIF are MK’s from opposition party Kadima, which under Tzipi Livni claim to represent the pro-peace alternative to Netanyahu’s Likud! Kadima’s official website even posted Im Tirzu’s accusations against the NIF. Read the rest of this entry »


End of the wasted decade / slightly optimistic analysis of the current moment in Israeli politics

Posted: December 29th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Left, The Right, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Fireworks1

Almost two weeks of intense political maneuvering ended yesterday. Many people on the Left got worried by Benjamin Netanyahu’s effort to split the opposition Kadima party or to have it join his coalition. Both options, it seemed, would have made the PM even stronger, and everything that’s good for Netanyahu is surly bad for the peace process. Or isn’t it?

While I write here regularly against the current Israeli policies, and consider myself to be a part of the Left, I think that the last year have moved us closer to the end of Israeli occupation of the West Bank, possibly also to the end of the siege on Gaza. The current political circumstances are pretty favorable, to the point that if I could have replaced Netanyahu with other Israeli leaders – say Livni or Barak – I probably wouldn’t go for it.

To understand why, we need to dive into the depth of the complex political dynamics in Israel.

——————-

If left to do as he wishes, I have no doubt PM Benjamin Netanyahu wouldn’t make one step towards the end of the Israeli occupation. His ideological background is one that views the West Bank as part of the land of Israel; he believes that an independent Palestinian state would put Israel’s national security in danger; and his political base has always been on the Israeli right.

But political leaders have to consider political circumstances and limitations, and Netanyahu – unlike the two other PMs from Likud, Yitzhak Shamir and Ariel Sharon – is extremely sensitive to outside pressure. And pressure came from the first moment Netanyahu entered his office.

First, there was the new approach from Washington. It’s not just Obama, but the whole backlash against the Middle East policy of the Bush administration. Furthermore, the world knew Netanyahu, and remembered him as the man who succeeded Yitzhak Rabin and almost single handedly buried the Oslo accord. And if somebody was ready to consider the idea of “a new Netanyahu”, along came the appointment of Avigdor Liberman to the Foreign Office and fixed the image of this government – quiet rightly, I must say – as the most extreme Israel ever had. Even Israel’s supporters are having troubles in the last year explaining the PM’s fondness for settling in the West Bank or defending the daily gaffe by the Foreign Minister.

And there was the war in Gaza. It’s hard to grasp how differently the international community and most Israelis view operation Cast Lead. Israelis see the war as a justified, even heroic, act against Hamas’ aggression – which was the Palestinian response to the good fate we showed in withdrawing from the Gaza strip – while most of the international community sees Cast Lead as a barbaric attack on (mostly) innocent civilians. And while the Goldstone report might never be adopted by the UN Security Council, the respond it initiated made it clear that in the near future – and unless something very dramatic happens and change everything (we always have to add this sentence in the post 11/9 world, don’t we?) – there won’t be another Cast Lead. The world won’t allow it.

All these elements – the change in Washington, the suspicious welcome the world gave Netanyahu and the respond to the war in Gaza – are forcing Netanyahu to do something he never planned to – at least with regards to the Palestinians: to act. That’s why he announced the settlement moratorium, and that’s why he is willing, according to today’s reports, to negotiate a Palestinian state on the 67′ borders, and even to talk about Jerusalem’s statues. And this is the man that won the 1996 elections after he accused Shimon Peres of agreeing to divide the Israeli capitol.

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Yes, I would have preferred a Hadash-Meretz government. But this isn’t, and won’t be an option in this generation. Right now, the political leaders with a shot at the PM office are Tzipi Livni, Ehud Barak, maybe Shaul Mofaz, and god forbid, Avigdor Liberman. Next in line after them are people with basically the same agenda.

I don’t trust Ehud Barak. I don’t know what drives him, I don’t think anyone understands what his views are, and I believe he has at least partial responsibility for the failure of the Camp David summit and the negotiations with the Syrians – and all that followed this failure.

With Kadima and Livni, it’s even worse. Under Ehud Olmert, this party brought to perfection the art of talking about peace and declaring wars. Read the rest of this entry »


The problem with Benjamin Netanyahu

Posted: December 25th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: elections, In the News, The Right | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Why the PM’s brilliant political moves this week won’t help him

netanyahu

This was one of the strangest weeks I can remember in Israeli politics. It started with everybody waiting for a prisoner exchange deal with Hamas that could change the diplomatic reality in the entire region – just to forget it immediately as PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s move against Kadima was reveled. Gilad Shalit was back in his cave in a split of a second, and all attention was turned to the seven backbenchers who supposedly agreed to deflect from Kadima to Likud, thus making Netanyahu’s coalition – which is fairly strong as is – significantly more stable.

Even as it turned out that Netanyahu wasn’t able to split Kadima (only one Knesset Member, the unimportant Eli Aflalo – known mostly for his impressive mustache – announced his departure from the opposition party), it seems that he handed his political opponent the blow of her career. Now Tzipi Livni has to chose between abandoning her entire political strategy and accepting Netanyahu’s offer to join his coalition, to trying to keep her party together in the opposition – a task which seems much more daunting by the day, if no entirely impossible.

In the last couple of days, many pundits were praising the PM for his brilliant move. Here is for example Amir Mizroch, news editor at The Jerusalem Post, on his blog:

If he had managed to pull it off, Netanyahu would have stepped up a level as a political operator. This was a Sharon-like move. In fact, this was the move designed to counter Sharon’s establishment of Kadima. Sharon undone. Disengagement from Kadima. If he had managed to pull it off…

But to what end?

When Yitzhak Rabin was split Tzomet party in 1995 he did it to pass the Oslo agreement in the Knesset, once it was clear that the Orthodox Shas would vote against it; and when Ariel Sharon split the Likud he did it to carry out his plan of unilateral withdrawal from the Palestinian territories. Netanayhu, it seems, is trying to break Kadima for little more than getting even at his political opponents. The only reason that would really require Netanyahu to strengthen the left flank of his coalition is some sort of diplomatic progress with the Palestinians or with Syria. With regards to Iran, the Goldstone report, the Hamas and Gilad Shalit, the Knesset and the public are more than likely to support whatever decision the PM would take.

Right now there are no negotiations with the Palestinians or the Syrians, and in any case, all indications are that Netanyahu wouldn’t go one step further than where the White House forces him. He accepted the two state solution because of president Obama’s speech in Cairo, and he agreed to a partial settlement freeze only after tremendous pressure from Washington. As even some of Netanyahu’s supporters recognized, in both cases, his move came too late to hand him real political gains, and the world remained suspicious of the Israeli PM’s agenda.

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This is something that characterized Netanyahu’s approach to politics throughout his career: he (almost) never initiates moves. He always reacts. This has nothing to do with ideology, Left or Right. There are leaders on the right who try to shape reality themselves (Ariel Sharon and George W Bush come to mind, and maybe that’s part of the reason they had such good personal relations), as there are some leaders on the Left who tend to react to events. It’s a matter of personality. Read the rest of this entry »


Two things to watch in the next few weeks (and a good word for pro-Palestinian activism)

Posted: December 3rd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Right, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off

After PM Benjamin Netanyahu announced his partial settlement moratorium, many observers were right in noting that Israeli leaders had no problems declaring a settlement freeze in the past and than doubling their building efforts in the West bank and East Jerusalem. Therefore, monitoring what’s happening on the ground will play a major role in the months to come.

Before we can hope for renewal of negotiations, there are political developments that will have to play out on both Israeli and Palestinian side. This might take between few weeks, even months.

On the Israeli side, we will have to see if Netanyahu will actually stop construction in the West Bank, or if this is just another one of the Israeli stalling games we have seen before. As I wrote, I don’t trust the PM, but constant pressure from the US and from Labor might actually make him turn his back to the settlers. There is already some minor protest from the right against the moratorium, and it remains to be seen whether this is a real split between Netanyahu and the “ideological right” or just a show for the media. We have known this before as well.

On the Palestinian side, we have yet to find out the effect of the Shalit deal on the relations between Fatah and Hamas. If Abu-mazen does resign in two weeks or so, anything can happen. It can pave the road for negotiations with Israel under a new Palestinian leadership (perhaps Marwan Barguti. there are contradicting reports on the possibility of his release), or it can lead to the collapse of the Palestinian Authority and an end to the peace process as we know it. Read the rest of this entry »


A Palestinian Game-Changer

Posted: November 15th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Settlements | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off
President Abbas and PM Fayad

President Abbas and PM Fayad

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has an unbalanced nature, as Israel is holding most of the economical and military power in the region, while the Palestinians have only the world’s public opinion to rely on. But lately it seems that the Palestinian Authority is able to take the game to a field in which it has the upper hand – that of public NGOs and multinational bodies. That’s what happened with the Goldstone report, and this is the context, I believe, in which we should understand the Palestinian plan to unilaterally declare independence in a couple of years.

In the last decade, both Yasser Arafat and the Hamas tried to gain political achievements through the use of force (not a new approach in the Middle East; Arab and Israelis have been doing it for a century). This effort didn’t only fail, but also handed Israel the currency it lacks the most: international legitimization for its military actions. Thousands of dead and years of suffering have passed, and all the Palestinians got was the withdrawal from Gaza, and Israel is still making them pay for it through its siege on the strip.

After losing the current military round, the Palestinians are playing a game in which Israel will find it much harder to win.

The basic idea of the Palestinian PM, Salaam Fayad, is this: if Israel will go on refusing to freeze all settlement activities and the peace process won’t reignite, the Palestinians will ask for a UN resolution recognizing their independence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as their capitol. Such proposal will enjoy an overwhelming majority in the general assembly. Things might get a bit trickier for the Palestinians in the Security Council, where the US holds veto power, but given the new administration’s support of the two states solution, it’s hard to imagine the White House blocking the Palestinian move altogether. More likely, it will push for some sort of compromise.

An Israeli diplomatic counter-attack could have stood some chances with a centrist Israeli government and a neo-conservative US administration like we had a year ago, but with the current world atmosphere and a radical right-wing coalition in Jerusalem, this effort will be doomed from the start. Read the rest of this entry »


Listen to Congressman Brian Baird on the Goldstone Report

Posted: November 10th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, the US and us, war | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off

Most people who criticize the Goldstone report in the US have never been to Gaza, not even before Cast Lead. But Congressman Brian Baird from the state of Washington (D) visited the strip after the Israeli offensive, and these are the wise and sensitive words he had for his fellow legislators, just before an overwhelming majority of them (344-36) backed a resolution calling “the President and Secretary of State to oppose unequivocally any endorsement or further consideration of the [Goldstone] Report“:

Brian Baird is coming from a district that split almost equally between Democrats and Republicans – it went 53-47 to Obama in the 2008 elections – so his approach cannot be seen as an attempt to please the West Coast liberals (which don’t like him very much anyway, after he opposed the health care bill on Saturday’s vote). It seems that his February visit to Gaza – he was in Israel and traveled to Sderot as well – really made him question the administration’s unequivocal support of Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians. Read the rest of this entry »