Netanyahu was the one to stop Israeli-Palestinian talks

Posted: August 20th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: The Left, The Right, the US and us | Tags: , , , | Comments Off

The Israeli media is reporting a high-level effort to resume negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians was brought to an end a couple of weeks ago at the Benjamin Netanyahu’s orders. The prime minister, meanwhile, continues to claim he has no partner.

Coming up to September and the UN bid by the Palestinian Authority, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu claims that the Palestinians refuse to negotiate with his government, and therefore urges the world to oppose their diplomatic moves, “in the interest of peace.”

Many echo this talking point: It’s being voiced no not only by advocates for the Israeli right in America (here, here, here, and here) but also by critics of the current Israeli government, sources in the Obama administration and even an editorial in the New York Times.

I intend to write a separate post on the way Israel is manipulating the world’s public opinion by using the term “peace” when it actually means maintaining the status quo; I also have my doubts on the UN bid and the false notion of “Palestinian statehood” when in reality the occupation only deepens—a better idea might be to dismantle the PA altogether—but it is important to note that even on this very issue of negotiations, the Israeli prime minister and the people speaking in his name are far from telling the whole truth.

As various media outlets in Israel have revealed that in recent weeks, Israeli president Shimon Peres has had a secret negotiating channel with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. According to a report in the daily Maariv, Peres—who has  often acted as an unofficial envoy for the government, given the rivalry between Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and the latter’s poor image in the world—has met with Abbas four times, discussing various details regarding the resumption of formal negotiations between the two parties. In-between these meetings, Peres also had a one-on-one with president Obama, which could be indicative of the importance attributed to these talks.

Netanyahu was aware of Peres’s moves, and according to the Israeli president’s closer circles, approved them. Yet a couple of weeks ago, Netanyahu surprisingly called off a meeting between Peres and Abu-Mazen, effectively closing the secret channel.

According to Maariv, the Palestinian president was already on his way to Amman, where the meeting was supposed to take place, when an aide to Peres notified him over the phone that the meeting was cancelled at the order of the Israeli PM. According  to Netanyahu’s associates, this wasn’t a good time for an understanding with the Palestinians, given the political circumstances in Israel, Ben Caspit reported.

According to Maariv, President Peres is now “completely exasperated” with Netanyahu.

My guess is that Netanyahu felt that Peres was getting closer to some understanding—anything—with Abbas, and this was against his goal of prolonging negotiations without offering concessions, as a way to get the international pressure off his back while keeping the Israeli consensus behind him (at least on this issue). In my opinion, there was little to no hope that that these talks would have led to anything, but still, it’s important to note that as soon as there was the slightest whiff of progress, even that informal channel became way too much for the Israeli prime minister.


Yedioth: IDF Chief of Staff told US Israel has no military option against Iran

Posted: February 4th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, the US and us, war | Tags: , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

According to reports in the Israeli media, a major reason for the bad blood between Defense Minister Ehud Barak and departing Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi was their differences of the issue of Iran, and especially what Barak saw as an attempt by Ashkenazi to bypass him

Did the possibility of an Israeli strike on Iran play a major role in leading to the current IDF generals’ wars? Yedioth Ahronoth’s veteran diplomatic pundit Shimon Shifer claims that one of the reasons for the all-too-public rift between Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak and the IDF’s departing Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi was a move by Ashkenazi that was interpreted by Barak as an attempt to undermine the military option:

Discussing the bad blood between Barak and Ashkenazi, Shifer writes (my translation):

Barak claims that Ashkenazi did not respect his authority in many cases. The most serious charge is that Ashkenazi told the U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral [Michael] Mullen, that talks by [Prime Minister] Netanyahu and Barak regarding an Israeli military option against Iran are empty words. Israel has no military option.

The unrest in the army’s leadership has reached new heights last week, when Barak and Netanyahu were forced to cancel the nomination of Major General Yoav Galant as the incoming Chief of Staff, after it was established that Galant didn’t tell the truth in documents involving the acquisition of agricultural lands and the construction of his home.

Despite public pressure, Barak decided not to extend Ashkenazi’s term at the head of the IDF (which will end in ten days), but rather asked Major General Yair Naveh to serve as a temporary Chief of Staff until the government approves a new candidate.

Reports in the Israeli media linked some of the recent events in the IDF leadership and the political system to the possibility of a strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities. Barak and Netanyahu are said to be favoring such an attack; Ashkenazi, as well as government ministers Avigdor Lieberman and Moshe “Bugi” Yaalon (a retired chief of staff himself) and possibly President Shimon Peres are said to be on the skeptics’ side. Speculations were that Major General Galant was more comfortable than Ashkenazi with the idea of a military strike. With him out of the picture (at least for the time being), Barak will have to look for a new candidate that would not undermine his authority on the issue of Iran.

UPDATE: reports are that Barak has made up his mind to appoint Major General Benni Ganz as the incoming Chief of Staff. Ganz dealt with Iran during his time at the IDF, and upon his retirement, he called Iran “a threat to Israel and the entire world.”

It was also speculated that the one of the main reasons for Netanyahu’s successful attempt to split Labor a few weeks ago was his desire to have Barak, a decorated officer and a former Chief of Staff, at his side when he decides to push forward with the military option.


The rabbis’ racist letter: many words, little action

Posted: December 16th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, racism, The Right | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

While public figures in Israel condemned the latest rabbinical Fatwa against renting homes to Arabs, little to no action was taken against its authors. Also, some secular Jewish communities are introducing their own version of the racist letter

Almost two weeks passed since dozens of Israeli rabbis – most of them civil servants, working for Israeli municipalities –signed a letter forbidding renting homes to Arabs. During this period, strong condemnations for the letter were heard from public figures, but little action was taken against the rabbis themselves.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu spoke against the letter, and so did Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin (Likud) and President Shimon Peres. Two very important religious figures – the Ashkenazi leader Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv and Rabbi Ovadia Yosef of Shas – condemned the letter. As a result, at least three of the signing Rabbis withdrew their names from it.

Several Jewish research institutes, most of them left-leaning, published an ad on Haaretz against the letter. Many rabbis and 900 hundreds former Yeshiva students signed public letters opposing the racist nature of the rabbis’ ruling. The Israeli Bar Association issued a condemning statement.

These were positive developments that proved that there are still many Israelis that would stand up against racism and hate. We shouldn’t ignore their voice or downplay its importance.

Another encouraging sign was the response the rabbis’ letter got from the American Jewish community. Some 500 rabbis signed a public petition - issued by the New Israel Fund – condemning the letter. This initiative got good media coverage in Israel, including a half-page article on yesterday’s Yedioth Ahronoth.

The problem is that so far, no concrete action was taken against the rabbis who signed the letter (with the exception of the Government Attorney that, under some public pressure, ordered his office to examine whether the rabbis violated a law forbidding racist incitement). With no official action, the nature of the letter remains in the sphere of the legitimate public debate – something that’s similar to discussing the pros and cons of rape.

When public officials announce that renting apartments to Arab citizens is forbidden – and that Jewish communities should outcast those renting homes to Arabs – action is the only solution. It’s not the time for political calculations. In such a moment, real leadership sends the Civil Guard to escort and protect the members of the minority under threat.

So far, Israeli leaders – including Labor party, which insists on staying in this government – fail this test.

The danger of inaction is clear: it makes racism a legitimate political choice (adopted by most of the Jewish public, according to a recent poll). Already, someone opened a hotline for Jews who want to report people who rent Apartments to Arabs (I encourage readers to jam it with made-up information; the number is 0522258183). The result: hundreds more rabbis have added their names to the letter, and there are even reports on a “soft” version of the letter - one which will enable more to sign it.

What’s even worse is that you could also hear voices in the center saying things along the lines of “I don’t support the letter, but…”. Such claim is made in a bizarre op-ed on Haaretz today by Ruth Gavizon, the former head of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel who turned into a neo-Zionist. While condemning the racist tones of the rabbis’ letter, Gavizon frames it within “a legitimate debate” over the notion of separate communities:

It would be a mistake to have the public response take the form of indicting or firing the rabbis, separating religion and state or denying the legitimacy of the state’s Jewish character. Ranting and raving could prevent us from seeing the picture in all its complexity and from confronting the authority of the rabbis in this country, both as regards the content and “Jewish” morality of their positions and as regards the residential dwelling patterns of different communities here.

The controversy over desirable living patterns for Jews and Arabs and the use of the law to obtain them is not dictated by religion. Some advocate “color blindness” as the only normative approach to civil equality, on the assumption that this leads to greater integration. Some advocate complete segregation. And some, like me, prefer more diverse social arrangements that would provide different communities with various living options, based on their level of integration and inner cohesiveness.

Gavison is not alone. Just today, Haaretz reported that another Jewish community in the north is working on a charter that would forbid Arabs from joining it. The “separate communities” idea is the upper-class, secular, version of the rabbis’ letter.


Jeffrey Goldberg’s Iran piece: an Israeli perspective

Posted: August 18th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, the US and us, war | Tags: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

I finally got to read the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg cover story on the probability of an Israeli attack on Iran. Much has been said on this issue, so I’ll add here just a few observations, from an Israeli perspective.

Goldberg mentions just few of the names of the people he has been talking to, but one can gather that most of them come from the Israeli defense establishment, and some from the government. Goldberg has spoken to Labor hawks such as Ephraim Sneh and Ehud Barak, he has met with PM Benjamin Netanyahu, and with several high ranking generals whose names he doesn’t disclose. From these conversations he concludes that the common belief in Israel is that Iran is a new Nazi Germany, and therefore must be attacked, whatever the price is and as slim as the chances of successfully delaying the nuclear program may be.

The views of Israeli generals and senior officials in the Defense Department on Iran are of great interest, but they should be put in the right context. There are many in Israel who don’t see Iran as an existential threat, or, more precisely, they don’t see it as a different threat than those Israel faced in the past. There are even more who think that the risk in attacking Iran is far greater then the possible benefits.

Israeli Generals have a tendency for creating mass hysteria. Defense Minister Dayan thought in 1973 that the end of Israel has come, and Israel armed its nuclear warheads. Army officials declared in 1991 that Israel should send its air force in respond to the Iraqi missiles fired on Israeli cities. They were  wrong. Luckily, the army doesn’t always get what it wants, even in Israel.

President Shimon Peres, the only official not related to the Israeli military complex that was interviewed and quoted by Goldberg, seems very critical of the idea of an Israeli attack on the Iranian nuclear facilities, and even rejects the attempts to cause the US to attack Iran. But Peres is the exception in Goldberg’s piece, and his words are brought at the end, once the case was established.

In my view, Goldberg might have rushed to adopt some of Netanyahu’s rhetoric, and especially the references to the Holocaust – and then wrongly presented it as the sole view in Israel.

Goldberg writes:

It is this line of thinking, which suggests that rational deterrence theory, or the threat of mutual assured destruction, might not apply in the case of Iran, that has the Israeli government on a knife’s edge. And this is not a worry that is confined to Israel’s right. Even the left-wing Meretz Party, which is harsh in its condemnation of Netanyahu’s policies toward the Palestinians, considers Iran’s nuclear program to be an existential threat.

Reading this, one can conclude that Meretz share Natanyahu’s views on Iran, and even his ideas regarding how Israel should deal with it. Yet Meretz officials have rarely mention Iran, and the party’s platform clearly states that Israel should support negotiations between the international community and Iran, and only if those fail, resort to “methods which will be determined by the Security Council”. I don’t remember any Meretz official expressing any sort of support in an attack on Iran, Israeli or American (If I had to guess, I would say that Goldberg attributed Yossi Beilin’s view on Iran to Meretz, but Beilin was never really a part of Meretz, and he in no way represents the party today. But this is only a hunch).

I’m pretty sure that there are also people in Labor and Kadima, and even in the Likud and the Orthodox parties, who oppose an attack on Iran. I wonder with how many of them Goldberg met.

As for the Israeli public, the little polling that was done on this issue had mixed results at best. Many people quote the poll which had 25 to 30 percent of the Israelis declaring that they would consider leaving the state if Iran gained a nuclear bomb as a proof to the public’s anxiety, but there are different numbers as well. For example, a poll conducted by the Institute for National Security Studies had 80 percent of Israelis declaring the Iranian bomb wouldn’t change their life. This is form Reuters report on the INSS poll, (my Italic):

“The Israeli leadership may be more informed,” INSS research director Yehuda Ben Meir told Reuters, explaining that the discrepancy between public and government views about Iran.

But he added: “I think the Israeli public does not see this as an existential threat, and here there may be an exaggeration by some members of the leadership.

“Most Israelis appear willing to place their bet on Israel’s deterrent capability and, I would add, on Iran’s rational behavior.”

I must say that I also don’t feel a great anxiety in the Israeli public regarding Iran, or at least not what you would expect if Israelis really believed that they are facing a second Holocaust. People don’t discuss this issue so much, and when they do, you don’t get this sense of mass hysteria I got from Goldberg’s article. In fact, the article had me worried: I’m sure Goldberg did a fine job in presenting the views of the Israeli military leadership, and now I feel an Israeli or American attack on Iran might be more probable than I imagined.

There is another issue in the article which bothered me. It seems that Goldberg also adopted Netnayahu’s views regarding the connection, or the lack of one, between the peace process and Iran. According to the Israeli PM, the two issues are not related, and if they are, it’s Iran that is preventing a meaningful dialogue between Israel and the Palestinians from taking place. This is why the Palestinians are hardly mentioned in Goldberg’s piece; as if one can talk about the geo-political game and leave them out (or Syria, for that matter).

But there are those, even in Israel, who view things differently. Many pundits, diplomats and even retired generals, have been arguing for sometime now that a real effort on the Palestinian front will make it much easier for Israel to deal with Iran. It will enable the creation of a coalition that would block Iran’s influence, and help moderate regimes fight the Iranian influence. In the past, top IDF generals made a similar case for peace with Syria, arguing that it would disconnect Iran from one of its major allies and make dealing with Hezbollah much easier.

Israel could have pursued these options. There is a moderate and relatively stable Palestinian leadership in the West Bank. Syria has made several attempts to resume negotiations. The Arab peace initiative is on the table for more then 8 years. Yet Israel made no attempt to create new alliances and reduce tension in ways that could help her face the challenge from Iran.

The question of Iran goes way beyond the chances of sending a few squads on a bombing mission. But even though Jeffrey Goldberg acknowledges that the importance on an Iranian nuclear bomb will be in its effect on the geo-political relations in this region, he doesn’t draw any conclusions regarding Israel’s foreign policy.

If I had spent this much time with PM Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, I would have liked to know the answers to the following question: if Iran is the biggest threat the Jewish people faced since Nazi Germany, why not compromise on other issues – important as those might be – and maybe help reduce this threat, isolate it, or just deal with it on more favorable terms? Why not try getting Syria out of the game, possibly also Lebanon as a result? Why not strike a deal with Abu-Mazen and help legitimize Israel in the Arab world?

For me, the fact that Netanyahu is ready to confront an American president – and with it, the entire international community – so he can build a few more housing units near Nablus or Hebron, shows that deep inside, even he might not be thinking that Israel is facing a new Hitler. If this was the case, everything else had to become unimportant.

Yet he got Jeffrey Goldberg convinced.


Israeli media: Netanyahu to announce partial settlemets freeze, diplomatic plan

Posted: November 23rd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Right, The Settlements | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off

netanyahu_bibiRecent reports in the Israeli media suggest Benjamin Netanyahu is about to present a diplomatic initiative, probably accompanied by a partial, time limited, settlement freeze. It is unclear whether this plan is coordinated with the US administration and the European Union.

UPDATE: 30 minutes after I posted this item, Haaretz’s headline declared Netanyahu about to bring limited settlement freeze before cabinet.

PM Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak seem to be thinking that the diplomatic standstill is beginning to cause them damage, both on domestic and on international level. Barak is standing the real risk of a split in Labor, if the government won’t come up with some sort of an initiative soon, while Netanyahu is worried from other plans being put before the public by rival politicians. But the real threat for both Barak and Netanyahu is the two contradictory ideas the Palestinians are discussing: a unilateral declaration of independence and the dismantling of the Palestinian Authority.

According to Yossi Beilin, Netanyahu will soon announce a settlement freeze which will not include existing projects, the so-called “settlements blocks” and East Jerusalem. Then he will invite the Palestinians to renew the negotiations. UPDATE: Alex Fishman reports in Yedioth that the IDF is already preparing for construction freeze.

Maariv’s Ben Caspit reveled last week that Barak and President Peres are working on a way to make the two sides come to the table. According to this new idea, both Israel and the Palestinians will receive official letters from the US administration addressing their main concerns. Israel will get a paper acknowledging the Jewish nature of the state and a promise that the Palestinian state will be de-militarized; the Palestinians will be promised that the negotiations will be limited in time and that the territory they will get at the end will equal in its size to the West bank and Gaza.

According to Netanyahu’s idea, by the end of a certain time frame, the Palestinians will be able to declare independence on temporary borders (roughly the territory they hold now), and a time table for a permanent deal will be set.

Haaretz reports that Uzi Arad, the head of the Israeli National Security Council and the top advisor for Benjamin Netanyahu, said today that the government hopes to resume negotiations with the Palestinians “within the next few weeks”, and that a move forward with the Palestinians is more important right now than the Syrian front (Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazy is said to be pushing for an agreement with Syria, and there are many indications that the Syrians are more than ready to reach a deal. On the other hand, no Israeli leader is willing to commit to a complete withdrawal from the Golan Heights). Read the rest of this entry »


My own war crime: personal reflections following the Goldstone Report

Posted: October 28th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: this is personal, war | Tags: , , , , , , , | 9 Comments »
Israeli artillery during operation Grapes of Wrath, 1996

Israeli artillery during operation Grapes of Wrath, 1996

When the Goldstone report was first mentioned in this blog, one of the readers asked me what is it exactly that makes me think that the IDF could have committed war crimes in Gaza. I was asked the same question in an e-mail exchange I had with Prof. Richard Landes, who is a passionate advocate of the Israeli point of view, and naturally, extremely critical of Goldstone.

In both cases I replied that my answer was based on what I learned from the media: That includes cases that the IDF itself confirmed, like as the white phosphorus bombing, and others where the Palestinians’ account of events seemed reliable; there were also numerous reports that the IDF “eased up” its fire-opening procedures during operation Cast Lead; and there were other, more subtle indications, such as a high rate of friendly fire casualties and a low rate or enemy fire casualties – which might, but not necessarily, indicate a policy of “shoot first, then ask questions”. None of this is solid evidence, of course. But the same goes for the people criticizing Judge Goldstone’s report – they also based their opinions on second hand information (at best).

More than anything, it seems to me that the discussion regarding the Goldstone report drifted very quickly from the legal sphere of war ethics and laws to pure propaganda: those who wanted to criticize Israel jumped on the opportunity to attack it, and Israel’s defenders automatically responded. It looks as though the Allen Dershowitzs of this world never even considered the possibility that Israel – let alone the IDF – could have committed a crime. At best, they thought, there might have been some “mistakes”, but never ever something intentional. This was their assumption before reading the report, and this is the conclusion they reached after reading it – if they ever bothered reading it at all.

(There is something absurd about whole debate regarding “war crimes”, because moving civilian population into an occupied territory, as Israel does for more than forty years, is a violation of the 4th Geneva Convention, but the Goldstone report deals with a different crime: widespread killing of uninvolved civilians, either by intension, or as collateral damage, when ways to avoid or substantially reduce this damage were available.)

This is what separates the two sides and at the same time shapes their approach to the Goldstone report: Israel’s defenders don’t believe such things could have happened, while those who attack Israel think that it could, and probably did. As for me, as I said, I don’t know for sure what happened in Gaza, but I’m certain in one thing: the IDF has no problem in attacking civilian targets on purpose, and it did so on numerous occasions. The reason I know this is simple: I did it myself. Read the rest of this entry »


Liberman left out; Barak lobbying for settlements

Posted: July 6th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Left, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

The control over the relations with the US was a source of tension between Israeli PMs and their foreign ministers throughout the years. Whenever the Prime Minister assumed control over the dialogue with Washington (and being the most important element in Israeli foreign policy, this usually happened very quickly), the foreign minister would start feeling he was cut out, and behave accordingly. The fact that the foreign ministers are usually political rivals of the PM – whether in his own party or as leaders of a senior coalition partner – didn’t help either.

But yesterday we saw something new: Israel’s Foreign Minister, Avigdor Liberman, graciously (and publicly) accepting the fact that Ehud Barak, the defense minister, has taken over the negotiations with the US special envoy, George Mitchell:

“Our relations with the United States are more important even than the dignity of the foreign minister,” Lieberman continued. “I don’t want people to say that a settler put our relations with the U.S. at risk.”

Read the rest of this entry »


I don’t listen to Peres, and you shouldn’t either

Posted: May 4th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off

As international pressure is mounting, Israel goes back to the old habit of speaking in two languages. The first one is aimed to please the world (This is the traditional role of Shimon Peres), the second one – reserved for internal use only – deals with the things we really plan to do.

Daphna Golan has a great example in today’s Haaretz:

It’s to be hoped that the White House gets a subscription to one of the local Jerusalem newspapers ahead of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Washington. Simply leafing through the giant advertisements would save American and Israeli taxpayers significant amounts of time, money and grief.

Israel has long promised there would be no new construction in West Bank settlements. President Shimon Peres reiterated this promise recently to Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, whose country currently holds the European Union presidency. Topolanek, in turn, promised to work to improve Israeli-European relations. Netanyahu, during his U.S. visit, is certain to repeat the same lies uttered by Peres.

Yet this week, a Jerusalem daily promised that any Israeli factory willing to move to the settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim would benefit in three ways. First is the community’s “Ideal location,” ten minutes from Jerusalem. The map featured in the ad shows only Israeli communities as recommended sites for factory owners to build in – no Palestinian communities, even those next door to the settlements.

read the rest here.