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Obama Addresses UN – Lots of Rhetoric, Little Substance

September 21, 2011 Comments off
U.S. President Barack Obama addresses the 66th United Nations General Assembly at the U.N. headquarters in New York. (Photo by Reuters)

U.S. President Barack Obama addresses the 66th United Nations General Assembly at the U.N. headquarters in New York. (Photo by Reuters)

President Obama delivered an aspirational and inspirational speech at the United Nations General Assembly this morning.  It was a great piece of rhetoric.  It reflected on the real change of the last year and called on the members to support continued progress in the areas of democracy, reigning in nuclear arms and climate change.  However, it contained lots of cheer-leading and little substance, viz.

The men and women who built this institution understood that peace is more than the absence of war. A lasting peace – for nations and individuals – depends upon a sense of justice and opportunity; of dignity and freedom. It depends upon struggle and sacrifice; on compromise, and a sense of common humanity.

Unfortunately, when it came to Israel and Palestine, there was really very little of substance that he could offer. He reiterated the U.S. position that the Palestinians could not use the UN to gain legitimacy because peace could only come through direct negotiations by the parties. While this may be true – he offered no way out of the pending clash.

Israelis must know that any agreement provides assurances for their security. Palestinians deserve to know the territorial basis of their state. I know that many are frustrated by the lack of progress. So am I. But the question isn’t the goal we seek – the question is how to reach it. And I am convinced that there is no short cut to the end of a conflict that has endured for decades.

Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the UN – if it were that easy, it would have been accomplished by now. Ultimately, it is Israelis and Palestinians who must live side by side. Ultimately, it is Israelis and Palestinians – not us – who must reach agreement on the issues that divide them: on borders and security; on refugees and Jerusalem.

Full text of Obama’s speech to the UN General Assembly can be found here.

Another Rocket From Gaza Today – Will IAF Retaliation Follow?

August 12, 2011 1 comment

Seems that there have been rocket firings every couple of days from Gaza. The latest was yesterday (in Israel – 8/11/11).  But this has been going on for a while. They are being shot mostly into the “Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council” which is the administrative area that includes Sderot.  They have been sporadic, and since the area is quite sparsely populated, usually have done little harm. However, last week, after rockets landed near Ashkelon and Sderot, the IAF retaliated with several strikes in Northern Gaza.  I learned about the attacks live while I was monitoring #J14 on Twitter.  #J14 is the Twitter hashtag for the so-called July 14th demonstrations in Israel.  (If folks out there are not on Twitter, but would be interested in finding out why I think it is by far the best medium for getting news and commentary, please leave me a comment below.  I would be happy to post a blog on why I feel that way and how I use Twitter).  It isn’t clear who is firing the rockets (that is, even though Hamas controls Gaza, there are still multiple rouge factions within Hamas – several of whom are far more violent than the main governing organization), or why.  With the serious domestic turmoil that is going on throughout Israel, if these provocations lead to a major military action against Gaza, it will probably actually strengthen the current government.  Nothing pulls together a country like a good ol’ war.

Anyhow – here are some recent Jerusalem Post posts which provide a flavor of what is going on in the south:

08/11/2011 21:01  Kassam from Gaza lands in Sha’ar Hanegev council; none hurt
08/07/2011 20:35  Kassam lands in Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council; no injured
08/03/2011 11:25  Kassam explodes in Ashkelon, no injuries reported
8/1/2011 11:11 PM  IAF strikes several Gaza targets following Kassam attack
Air Force action comes in response to Kassam rocket fired at southern  Israel, moderately injuring a woman in her fifties.
8/1/2011 10:59 PM  Kassam explodes near Ashkelon, 1 moderately injured
7/31/2011 3:17 PM  Two Kassams from Gaza land in Israel; no injuries reported 
7/28/2011 7:46 AM  Kassam explodes south of Ashkelon; no injuries or damage 

This is clearly terrorism – drip by drip.  But let’s be clear.  It is not: “thousands of rockets raining down on Israel”.  It is not meant to damage property or kill people per se.  Rather, it is meant to instill fear and fray nerves because the possiblity of death is very real.  Nevertheless, at it’s heart, it is really psychological warfare.

But let’s also be clear:  there are indeed 40,000 rockets on the other side of the security fence that would cause widespread death and destruction if used.  Let’s hope, for the sake of both sides, that they never are.

David Grossman’s Poetic Essay on Saturday’s March in Tel Aviv

August 9, 2011 Comments off

From the Guardian: Thousands of Israelis march in central Tel Aviv during a protest against the rising cost of living in Israel. Photograph: Oded Balilty/AP

Richard Goldwasser translated a heartfelt reaction and reflection by one of Israel’s top writers, David Grossman (Yellow Wind, To the End of the Land) about his march on Saturday night, along with 300,000 others, in the demonstrations in Tel Aviv.  A sample paragraph seems to capture how many of us feel about the world around us today.  As a matter of fact, it strikes me that by changing a few names and places – and squinting into the future at the descriptions of the demonstrations actually taking place – this essay could just have easily been written about the situation right here in the USA:

And then also rises the amazement where were we until today? How did we allow this to happen? How have we put up with governments that we have chosen turning our health and our children’s education into luxuries? How did we not shout when the Treasury officials crushed the social workers, and before them – the disabled, the Holocaust survivors, the old, and the pensioners? How for years have we pushed the hungry and the poor into soup kitchens and charities and to lives of humiliation for generations. And how have we abandoned the foreign workers to the abuse of their persecutors and exploiters, to the slave trade and the trafficking of women. And how have we put up with the destructive instances of privatization, and among them the privatization of everything dear to us – solidarity, responsibility, mutual aid and the sense of belonging as a people?

I urge you to read the entire essay at Blog Zahav:  http://blogzahav.blogspot.com/2011/08/david-grossman-window-to-new-future.html#comments

   

Could The Domestic Social Protests in Israel Be The Greatest Impetus for Moving Towards a Two State Solution?

August 8, 2011 Comments off

Tent 48 - Named for 1948, the Year of the Declaration of Israel as a state

With all of the emphasis (and rightly so) on the domestic economic and political crises here in the U.S. , it may be lost on people that there are huge (and growing) demonstrations against Israeli government social policy going on in Israel virtually as we speak.  Reports are that Saturday night there were 300-350,000 people in the streets.  As Dimi Reider and Azziz Abu Sarah, wrote in an op-ed published last Wednesday,

The protests that are paralyzing Israel began on July 14, when a few professionals in their 20s decided they could no longer tolerate the city’s uncontrolled rents, and pitched six tents at the top of the city’s most elegant street, Rothschild Boulevard. Three weeks later, the six tents have swelled to over 400, and more than 40 similar encampments have spread across the country, forming unlikely alliances between gay activists and yeshiva students, corporate lawyers and the homeless and ultra-Orthodox Jews and Israeli Arabs.

So far, the protesters have managed to remain apolitical, refusing to declare support for any leader or to be hijacked by any political party. But there is one issue conspicuously missing from the protests: Israel’s 44-year occupation of the Palestinian territories, [emphasis added] which exacts a heavy price on the state budget and is directly related to the lack of affordable housing within Israel proper…

Had the protesters begun by hoisting signs against the occupation, they would most likely still be just a few people in tents. By removing the single most divisive issue in Israeli politics, the protesters have created a safe space for Israelis of all ethnic, national and class identities to act together. And by decidedly placing the occupation outside of the debate, the protesters have neutralized much of the fear-mongering traditionally employed in Israel to silence discussions of social issues…

If the protests continue to stir more and more Israelis out of their political despondency, Mr. Netanyahu still holds two possible trump cards: a sudden breakthrough in the negotiations to free the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, held captive in Gaza, or a sudden escalation of armed conflict.

Moreover, the impending United Nations vote on Palestinian statehood in September imposes a deadline of sorts on the protesters. If Palestinians react by marching on Israeli army checkpoints to demand freedom, Israeli protesters will have to choose between losing internal support by siding with the Palestinians, or abandoning any claim of a pro-democracy agenda by siding with the Israeli soldiers charged with suppressing them.

Interestingly, It didn’t get much press reporting here in the U.S., but the night after this op-ed was published, the Israel Air Force conducted several bombing raids in northern Gaza.  However, unless Bibi has some pull with Hamas that nobody is aware of, this was a legitimate (in Israeli terms) response to several rockets that had been launched at Ashkelon and Sderot the previous day.  Obviously, from Didi and Azziz’ point of view, whoever fired these rockets (not necessarily the Hamas government itself – there are various factions both within and outside of Hamas which hold varying degree of militancy) played directly into the hands of Netanyahu  by providing a pretext for this military action which could potentially take the spotlight off of the domestic protests.  For now, the raids have not the averted the attention of the demonstrators – as shown by the fact that the largest turnout yet was on Saturday night.

Bibi finally began to react to the protestors this week with new proposals for more government subsidies for housing and new building.  But the protestors don’t seem to be buying that and Bibi is trying desperately day-by-day to get the situation under control.  

So, we will just have to watch and see what happens.  Certainly, one eventual outcome could be the fall of the current government.  And that is what this post’s title refers to is just that.  If the government does fall – though it might be based solely on domestic issues – it might well be replaced with a new government that at the same time makes a significant change in Israel’s foreign policy.  They might really understand the dangers inherent in the status quo, and do everything possible to make a two state solution happen.

After the Optimism of the Arab Spring – Mayhem Returns All Over the Middle East

August 4, 2011 Comments off

Not much time here, so here is a short list of events – with no attempt to prioritize:

Hama, Syria Under Fire 

1. Syria – Tanks rolling into Hama to violently put down civilian rebellion

2.  Israel – Protests in the streets re: housing, etc and other, mostly economic, issues.  Tent city (Twitter: #tent48) in Tel Aviv

3.  Israel – Settlers disrupt protests by engaging protestors with slurs and obscenities (#j14)

4.  Israel – Gaza fires missiles into Southern Israel (Sderot & Ashkelon) – luckily only minor injuries

rockets - AFP - April 10 2011 An Iron Dome missile outside Ashkelon responding to a rocket launch from the Gaza Strip in April 2011.
Photo by: AFP

5.  Gaza – Just minutes ago, Israel retaliates with large bombing raid on Gaza.  Early reports are a couple of children injured

Gaza IAF airstrike AFP 24.02.2011 A Palestinian man walking at a destroyed beach front facility in Gaza City on February 24, 2011 following an Israeli air strike the previous night.
Photo by: AFP

6.  Israel – Knesset continues to move to the right with its legislation – anti-boycott law, proposals to reduce rights of Israeli-Arabs, etc.

7.  Palestine – Meeting last night to finalize plans to appeal to the UN for recognition

8.  Lebanon – Hezbollah rattling sabres

9.  Egypt – Mubarak going on trial

Visceral anger at Mubarak and his inner circle helped unite Tahrir Square during Egypt’s 18-day uprising [EPA]

10.  Libya – Fighting drags on

11.  Iran – Announces new missile a few weeks ago

Raouf Mohseni/AP – Iranian revolutionary Guards personnel watch the launch of a Zelzal missile during military maneuvers outside the city of Qom on Tuesday.

Other than that, not much going on…

Netanyahu Makes Big New Plan: He has agreed to Sit Down with Palestinians and Negotiate Based on ’67 Borders With Swaps. Of course, this has this been the Understood Basis Since 1993. Oh, and didn’t Someone Else mention this less than three months ago?

August 2, 2011 Comments off

Although for those of us who really care about peace, this could be a really good thing, it would seem to put a bit of egg on the face of a lot of folks here in the U.S.

First, here is the report from the AP via Yahoo News:

TV: Israel agrees to negotiate over pre-’67 lines

AP

“…In a speech about the Middle East in May, Obama proposed negotiations based on the pre-1967 line with agreed swaps of territory between Israel and a Palestinian state. Netanyahu reacted angrily, insisting that Israel would not withdraw from all of the West Bank, though that was not what Obama proposed.

Now Netanyahu is basically accepting that framework, according to Channel 2 TV, offering to trade Israeli territory on its side of the line for West Bank land where its main settlements are located…

Part of the reason, he [an anonymous Israeli official] said, was that Israel is seeking to persuade the Palestinians to drop their initiative to win U.N. recognition of their state next month, something the Palestinians are doing out of frustration with stalled peace efforts.

In an eerie parallel to the debt crisis Kabuki theatre that we have been watching here in the U.S. (and it is far from over, IMHO – this has just been the warm-up, wait until we really get to election season), the Israelis and the Palestinians have each painted themselves into a corner – on opposite side of the room.  Netanyahu’s ‘refusal’ to negotiate based upon ’67 borders with swaps was like taking the negotiations back to square one.  Not only impossible, but insulting.  On the other hand, Abbas’ plan to go to the UN is fraught with dangers – probably more for himself than for Israel.  One of General Sharoni’s points when he was in town last week was that Abbas needs to “deliver some goods” for his people or his leadership will weaken significantly.  On the surface, if the Palestinians are able to obtain “observer State” status in a vote by the General Assembly” (the U.S. will almost certainly veto full admission to the U.N. in the Security Council), it would appear to be a victory for Abbas.  However, nothing on the ground will change.  As a matter of fact, Israel could well tighten its security regimen in anticipation of increased resistance – whether violent or non-violent.  Therefore, the “expectation gap” of the Palestinians in the West Bank could well expand – which could actually bring the situation from simmering to boiling – and could possibly spin out of control.

Bottom line:  Signs are that Abbas will jump on this opportunity right away and use it as a rationale for postponing the push to the UN.  Then, the question will remain as to whether this is just a gambit on Bibi’s part to head Abu Mazen off at the UN pass – or whether he is really ready to move the peace process forward.

But there is another issue that the American Jewish community – and the U.S. Congress for that matter – must face.  Will those who mercilessly criticized  the President back in May, now “apologize” to him?  Shouldn’t they?  Because less than three months after the President was excoriated by Netanyahu, members of Congress, and many in the American Jewish community – the Prime Minister of Israel has now come around to exactly what Obama presented regarding borders in his two speeches (you can read key passages from those speeches here:  https://beyondzs.com/2011/07/23/another-look-at-the-obama-and-netanyahu-speeches-given-in-may/).  I hope that all who criticized the President then, will now come out and admit they were wrong in doing so.  Or, alternatively, I hope they will level the same criticism at Prime Minister Netanyahu as they did at Obama back then. 

Rhetorical Question:  If “1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps” was so terrible in May – how can it be a good idea now?

Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Danny Ayalon, Shills For The Settlers

July 28, 2011 1 comment
Daniel Ayalon

Image via Wikipedia

In a very interesting story, Danny Ayalon, Israeli’s Deputy Foreign Minister and one of the notoriously right-wing members of the Netanyahu government has made a video supporting the occupation of the West Bank – er, excuse me, Israel controlling the “disputed territories” (after you watch the video, you will understand).  But, the truly interesting part is that the images used in the video were exactly the same as those used for a pro-settler lobbying group.  Gal Beckerman in the Forward says:

Ayalon’s video is identical, image for image and in large part word for word, with one he made in May for the YESHA Council, the organization that represents and lobbies for the settlers.

Read more: http://blogs.forward.com/forward-thinking/#story-1#ixzz1TLSq1YTs

 

It is a great piece of propaganda.  Watch it here:

 
 

I’m Back

July 23, 2011 Comments off

It’s been quite awhile since you’ve heard from me – and I apologize for that.
I could tell you that I’ve been on vacation, that I’ve been very busy with work and family, and that I’ve been meeting with various folks all summer. While that is all true, the fact is that events in the Middle East (and perhaps even more so, here with domestic politics) have left me both depressed and dumbfounded.  As many have said, we seem to be on the way to a “train wreck” in the Middle East, and I feel like it’s an extremely excruciating one.  Kind of like watching that fantastic scene from “The Fugitive” (the movie, not the TV series) where  they are transporting Harrison Ford downstate by bus, a fight ensues and the bus goes over a railing and ends up straddling some train tracks with a huge freight train barreling down on it.  There is a tremendous crash which allows him to escape into the woods. The train crash is shown in intimate detail, from several different angles, and as the engine caroms off the track, we see dirt and metal and wood flying all over the place as the train’s inertia keeps tearing through the underbrush.*  All of the time, Harrison Ford is trying to hop away with his arms and legs shackled.  Pretty good analogy for what is happening in the Middle East from all sides – the Palestinians, the Israelis, us and the Europeans – trying to avoid the fallout from the prospective UN vote.  Oy! 

And unfortunately, that ain’t the only thing going on.  Here is my current rundown of agita producing events:

Middle East:

  1. Upcoming September vote in the UN where the Palestinians will be seeking recognition as a State
  2. The erstwhile flotilla and fly-tilla of “humanitarian” aid headed for Gaza
  3. The recent passing in the Knesset of an “anti-boycott law” wherein anyone who supports a boycott of Israeli products, services etc. can be sued for both actual and potential(!) damages.
  4. As always, new announcements of continued settlement activity. 

Domestic:

  1. The Republicans refusal to compromise on a balanced package to raise the debt ceiling.
  2. The Republicans ability to lie with a straight face – and have the public not able to see it.  We had 8 years of the “no tax increase” policy under Bush and it destroyed the economy.  (However, it did result in the largest transfer of wealth to the top 1% of the country in history.  And I thought that the Republicans were against redistribution of wealth?)
  3. The Democrats inability to come up with virtually any effective messaging.  If I hear the “corporate jet-owners” and “big oil companies” one more time I’ll puke – it just isn’t working.
  4. Obama’s refusal to get mad as hell – and call out the Republicans. (He’s starting to, but it is a case of too little too late.)
  5. I have hardly  heard one commentator speculate that the Republicans actually have no interest in raising the debt ceiling because if the economy melts down, so do Obama’s chances of reelection.  I hate to be so cynical, but it appears that the Republicans have no qualms about the doomsday option because they will be able to blame the disaster on Obama and the “unreasonable” Senate Democrats who refused to bring their Cap and Trade (oops, Cut, Cap and Balance) bill to the floor.  And those same Senate Democrats who wouldn’t bring their own budget bill to the floor.  (Of course, they forget to inform the American public the minor detail that the way our forefathers set up the Constitution, budget bills can only be originated from the House.) 

OK, so I am going to try to overcome my doldrums and begin explaining why I am so upset by some of these issues – and you should be to.  But my next post will actually be about some very positive news – the current tour of several extremely prominent Israeli military and political figures who have come to the U.S. to discuss their assessment of the urgency of coming to a two-state agreement as the only way to assure Israel’s security.  They are here to discuss the Israel Peace Initiative and the activities of the Council for Peace and Security in Israel.

 

*By the way, that was a REAL train crash in The Fugitive that they set up and filmed – however, I would guess that Harrison Ford wasn’t actually running from it!  Check out the aftermath 18 years later:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aFGNkkWf4_M&feature=related

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