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Posts Tagged ‘Middle East Peace’

Mid-East Peace? Here Is An Organization You Need To Know About: The Council for Peace and Security

July 27, 2011 2 comments

Gen (Ret) Nati Sharoni - Wouldn't you listen to this General?

Who do you think would be most worried about whether or not Israel has defensible borders?  Who would be most wary of trusting the Arabs?  Who might you think would believe that maintaining the settlements, and particularly the outposts, should be a cornerstone of Israeli defense policy?  The obvious answer would be:  former IDF and security (Shin Bet, Mossad, etc.) officers, right?  Think again.

Some of Israel’s most recognized and decorated soldiers, sailors, airforce personnel, security directors and staff have joined together with other prominent diplomats and academics to form the one thousand strong Council For Peace and Security.  The Council describes itself as a “Non-Profit Organization of Experts on Peace and Security”.  One of the statements in its website’s Profile sums up their point of view:

“It (the Council) considers the support of the Middle East Peace Process to be a necessary component of National Security.” 

The Council’s current President, Gen (ret) Nati Sharoni, is going to be in Chicago speaking this Thursday (July 28) at a private home in the city.  I urge you to come hear him.  If you are interested – please email me directly at beyondzerosum@gmail.com.

To understand more about the Council, here are the Guiding Principles that all members must accept:

  • DELIBERATIONS ON SECURITY ISSUES MUST BE NON-POLITICAL 
  • PEACE IS ACHIEVED BY COMPROMISE 
  • THE OCCUPATION IS CAUSING DAMAGE
  • A PALESTINIAN STATE IS NOT A THREAT
  • JERUSALEM, THE CAPITAL OF ISRAEL
  • A PALESTINIAN STATE IS NOT A THREAT
  • ISRAEL MUST REMOVE PROBLEMATIC SETTLEMENTS
  • ISRAEL MUST RESIST PROVOCATION
  • PEACE WITH SYRIA IS A STRATEGIC NECESSITY
  • THREAT OF WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION 
  • CONSCRIPTION FOR ALL 
  • EQUAL RIGHTS FOR MINORITIES

The members of the Council are not wild-eyed, left-wing radicals whose views can be dismissed with the usual argument of naiveté.  They are seasoned military and security thinkers who have come to the very rational conclusion that Israel’s long term security depends on achieving a two-state solution – as soon as possible.  Disappointedly, I have never heard of the Council For Peace and Security in any of the Jewish circles that I am involved with in the United States. 

To remedy that, J Street is sponsoring nine members to travel the country so that American Jews can listen to the conclusions of these military and security experts.  It is particularly important  because the conclusions they have arrived at are almost 180 degrees opposite from what Mr. Netanyahu’s government is espousing – along with the American Jewish organizations which believe that there should be “no daylight” between American Jews and the Israeli government.  Personally, I think that it is irresponsible  for American Jews not to listen to the point of view of these extremely experienced and battle-hardened military and strategic experts.  Listening only to people who tell you what you want to hear is the easiest way to make tragically wrong decisions.

So, again, if you are available on Thursday night and would like to meet General (Ret) Sharoni (along with Col (Ret) Shaul Arieli), please send me an email at beyondzerosum@gmail.com – and feel free to pass the information along to others who might be interested.

More Disturbing Mid-East News: New Hezbollah-Majority Cabinet Approved In Lebanon

June 14, 2011 2 comments
-/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Druze Protests from NYT via Reuters

New York Times via Reuters has just reported that after five months a new cabinet has been proposed in Lebanon.  Not only does it contain a majority of Hezbollah ministers, but also contains more Sunnis than Shiites.  In a related development, Druze minister Talal Arslan, who was nominated to be Minister of State, resigned the government – leading to street protests by local Druze.

To get an idea of what is likely to come out of this government, Prime Minister Najib Mikati made the following statement:

“Let us go to work immediately according to the principles … (of) defending Lebanon’s sovereignty and its independence and liberating land that remains under the occupation of the Israeli enemy.”

If that weren’t scary enough, he also openly supports President Assad in Syria.

Two More Iran Stories – Sanctions and Nuclear Program

June 10, 2011 Comments off
Nuclear program of Iran

Image via Wikipedia

Two other pieces of breaking news regarding Iran:

  1. New Sanctions:  http://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/tg1204.aspx

 

2. Report on the tripling of nuclear program:  http://www.jta.org/news/article/2011/06/09/3088068/iran-to-triple-uranium-enrichment

 

Is President Obama Pro-Israel? Yes, According to AIPAC President Lee Rosenberg

June 7, 2011 Comments off

There have been a lot of arrows slung at President Obama in the last ten days from both sides of the political aisle.  But there is one person, a very unlikely person some would say, who actually lays out the facts about what Barack Obama has done for the State of Israel while he has been in office – the President of AIPAC, Lee Rosenberg (better known as “Rosy”).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JS3aQJUtpyQ&feature=player_embedded

It is very curious to me that the the media, members of Congress, and apparently many members of AIPAC have seemingly ignored Rosy’s very eloquent review of the President’s pro-Israel record:

  • Enhanced military co-operation between the two countries
  • Maintenance of aid to Israel at current levels of a little over $3B per year
  • Request for additional funding of $200M+ for the successful Iron Dome missile defense system
  • Obtaining international support for the most stringent sanctions on Iran to-date (which by the way, despite what many critics have been saying, may be beginning to work – although WSJ front page article on June 2 points to internal domestic political issues, implicitly it would seem that Ahmadinijad’s taking over the Oil Ministry is likely related to issues caused by both oil and financial sanctions)
  • Veto of UN resolution regarding settlements (albeit with alot of hesitation)

Despite this record, the President is being attacked from all sides for making explicit what has been the understood basis for negotiations by virtually everyone directly associated with the current peace process:  “1967 borders with mutually agreed swaps“.  Note: those words form a single phrase.  That was true listening to the speech as well as reading the transcript.  Anyone who claims that he suggested “1967 borders” alone, is simply being deceptive.  This deception is now being used to make Israel a partisan issue.  See Rep. Joe Walsh laughingly outrageous rant in the Daily Caller last week and Bret Stephens similar contentions in the Wall Street Journal.

The real problem is that this masked some actual new content in the speech.  Specifically, this paragraph was virtually ignored:

As for security, every state has the right to self-defense, and Israel must be able to defend itself – by itself – against any threat. Provisions must also be robust enough to prevent a resurgence of terrorism; to stop the infiltration of weapons; and to provide effective border security. The full and phased withdrawal of Israeli military forces should be coordinated with the assumption of Palestinian security responsibility in a sovereign, non-militarized state. The duration of this transition period must be agreed, and the effectiveness of security arrangements must be demonstrated.

Note these very clear statements:

  1. Reaffirms Israel’s right to defend itself, i.e., not having to trust international or UN troops to provide defense
  2. Reaffirms Israel’s need to prevent weapon smuggling and to secure its borders
  3. Although he does call for “full” withdrawal of Israeli troops, it is within the context of a “phased” withdrawal, and for what I believe is the first time, calls for the Palestinian state to be “non-militarized”
  4. Recognizes that the security arrangements must be effective

These undeniably strong pro-Israel statements are loud and clear.  Why has everyone – Netanyahu, the US Congress, the press, and most importantly, a large portion of the American Jewish Community – ignored them?

I Think That There Are Actually People Out There Trying To Paint President Obama As Anti-Israel!

May 26, 2011 2 comments
A political map of the en:Near East in 1135 CE...

SECRET MAP OF PRESIDENT OBAMA’S PROPOSED BORDERS

Far be it from me to speculate what the motivations would be for people to want to mischaracterize the President’s positions and actions towards Israel, but it certainly appears that there are indeed folks out their who are claiming that, based upon the speeches which Mr. Obama made over the past week, he is the most “Anti-Israel President ” ever.  (Shockingly, some of these comments have even been heard from those who are normally fair and balanced).  What is even more upsetting is that if I am wrong (which I am known to be occasionally) and those people are correct in saying that he is insidiously anti-Israel, we have a bigger problem.  Because that would mean, since their veiwpoints are so closely tied as you will see,  that Prime Minister Netanyahu would be the most anti-Israel Prime Minister that Israel has ever had!  And somebody had better wake up the Israelis ASAP so that they can drum this guy out of office because things are tough enough without having their country run by an imposter who is clearly as anti-Israel as this Obama no-goodnik.

Why do I say this, you might ask?  Because I have actually gone through the transcripts of the four speeches given since last Thursday and discovered something that really is surprising.  When you strip away the audiences and all those standing ovations, when you look at the texts of these speeches, not only are each of their positions virtually identical, but they even use almost exactly the same themesAnd, everyone talks about the importance of there being “no daylight” between the US and Israel, and I’ve got to tell you, when I compare the differences between Barrack and Bibi’s positions, I am surely not being blinded by the light. 

Although a lot was made of the “1967 borders” issue, anyone who listened to the speech or even read the transcript had to understand that “1967 borders with mutually agreed land swaps” was all part of a single phrase which should never have been parsed out separately.  Also, as the President said in his speech to AIPAC, anyone who has spent any time at all following the current status of the peace process knows that virutally everyone agrees that any agreement will almost certainly involve just that:  1967 borders plus swaps.  And when you actually read the details of what Bibi and Barrack both said about this, they really didn’t disagree.

As to the Right of Return and Jerusalem, granted Obama did not agree with Bibi.  On the other hand, he didn’t disagree either.  What he was doing, it is clear, was trying to bring the parties together using the two issues that various reports (including Bernard Avishai’s NYT Magazine article about Olmert and Abbas negotiations) indicated they were close on: Borders and Security.  The idea was that if they could show some progress on these issues, it could build trust and goodwill before moving on to the even more intransigent issues. 

So, my only conclusion, as difficult as it is for me to believe, is that there are actually people out there that want to misrepresent Obama’s stand towards Israel.  And, heaven forbid, they may even be doing it for political purposes!

Finally, I believe so strongly that the content spoken by Obama and Netanyahu is almost exactly the same (with the partial exception of the Right of Return & Jerusalem issues as stated above), that I challenge anyone out there to prove me wrong.  If you can come up with some valid evidence using direct language from these speeches showing me where I have missed significant disagreements, then I have a crisp $100 bill here that I am prepared to give to Magen David Adom.  Let me know.  I’m up for the challenge.  Either way, it’s win-win.  Kind of like a peace agreement might be…

Below is a topic-by-topic comparison of selections from the four speeches:

1. Obama at the State Department, May 19

2. Obama at AIPAC, May 22

3. Netanyahu at AIPAC, May 23

4. Netanyahu before Congress, May 24

TOPIC

OBAMA-STATE DEPT

OBAMA-AIPAC

NETANYAHU-AIPAC

NETANYAHU-CONGRESS

         
Borders The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states. The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.    
Borders The Sequel   By definition, it means that the parties themselves – Israelis and Palestinians – will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967. It is a well known formula to all who have worked on this issue for a generation   The status of the settlements will be decided only in negotiations. But we
must also be honest. So I am saying today something that should be said
publicly by anyone serious about peace. In any peace agreement that ends
the conflict, some settlements will end up beyond Israel’s borders. The
precise delineation of those borders must be negotiated.
Borders III   It allows the parties themselves to account for the changes that have taken place over the last forty-four years, including the new demographic realities on the ground and the needs of both sides.   This compromise must reflect the dramatic demographic changes that have occurred since 1967.
Enough with the Borders Already       We will be very generous on the size of a future Palestinian state. But as President Obama said, the border will be different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967. Israel will not return to the indefensible lines of 1967.
Palestinian Right of Return Open issue     Palestinians from around the world should have a right to immigrate, if they
so choose, to a Palestinian state. This means that the Palestinian refugee
problem will be resolved outside the borders of Israel.
Jerusalem Open issue     As for Jerusalem, only a democratic Israel has protected freedom of worship
for all faiths in the city. Jerusalem must never again be divided.
Jerusalem must remain the united capital of Israel. I know that this is a
difficult issue for Palestinians. But I believe with creativity and goodwill
a solution can be found.
Israel as a Jewish State   Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people, and the state of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people; each state enjoying self-determination, mutual recognition, and peace. [Emphasis added]   My friends, this must come to an end. President Abbas must do what I have
done. I stood before my people, and I told you it wasn’t easy for me, and I
said… “I will accept a Palestinian state.” It is time for President Abbas to
stand before his people and say… “I will accept a Jewish state.”
Self-Defense As for security, every state has the right to self-defense, and Israel must be able to defend itself — by itself — against any threat As for security, every state has the right to self-defense, and Israel must be able to defend itself – by itself – against any threat.   When we say never again, we mean never again. Israel always reserves the right to defend itself.
Security Provisions must also be robust enough to prevent a resurgence of terrorism; to stop the infiltration of weapons; and to provide effective border security. The full and phased withdrawal of Israeli military forces should be coordinated with the assumption of Palestinian security responsibility in a sovereign, non-militarized state. The duration of this transition period must be agreed, and the effectiveness of security arrangements must be demonstrated.[Emphasis added] Provisions must also be robust enough to prevent a resurgence of terrorism; to stop the infiltration of weapons; and to provide effective border security. The full and phased withdrawal of Israeli military forces should be coordinated with the assumption of Palestinian security responsibility in a sovereign, non-militarized state. The duration of this transition period must be agreed, and the effectiveness of security arrangements must be demonstrated.   So it is therefore absolutely vital for Israel’s security that a Palestinian state be fully demilitarized. And it is vital that Israel maintain a long-term military presence along the Jordan River. Solid security arrangements on the ground are necessary not only to protect the peace, they are necessary to protect Israel in case the peace unravels. For in our unstable region, no one can guarantee that our peace partners today will be there tomorrow.
Obama Admin Commitment to Israel As for Israel, our friendship is rooted deeply in a shared history and shared values. Our commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable. And we will stand against attempts to single it out for criticism in international forums. But precisely because of our friendship, it is important that we tell the truth: the status quo is unsustainable, and Israel too must act boldly to advance a lasting peace.   Yesterday President Obama spoke about his ironclad commitment to Israel’s
security. He rightly said that our security cooperation is unprecedented. He
spoke of that commitment in front of AIPAC. He spoke about it in two
speeches heard throughout the Arab world. And he has backed those words
with deeds.
 
Security Cooperation   It’s why we’ve increased cooperation between our militaries to unprecedented levels. He rightly said that our security cooperation is unprecedented  
Advanced                        Technologies   It’s why we’re making our most advanced technologies available to our Israeli allies    
Military $$   And it’s why, despite tough fiscal times, we’ve increased foreign military financing to record levels. I know these are tough economic times. So I want to thank the president and
Congress for providing Israel with vital assistance so that Israel can
defend itself by itself
Thank you all, and thank you President Obama,
for your steadfast commitment to Israel’s security. I know economic times
are tough. I deeply appreciate this.
Iron Dome   That includes additional support – beyond regular military aid – for the Iron Dome anti-rocket system. This is a powerful example of American-Israel cooperation which has already intercepted rockets from Gaza and helped saved innocent Israeli lives. … make no mistake, we will maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge. I want to thank you all for supporting the Iron
Dome missile defense system
 
Agreement Must Be Between the Two Parties   These are the facts. I firmly believe, and repeated on Thursday, that peace cannot be imposed on the parties to the conflict.    
Delegitimization For the Palestinians, efforts to delegitimize Israel will end in failure. Symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won’t create an independent state. You also see our commitment to Israel’s security in our steadfast opposition to any attempt to de-legitimize the State of Israel. As I said at the United Nation’s last year, “Israel’s existence must not be a subject for debate,” and “efforts to chip away at Israel’s legitimacy will only be met by the unshakeable opposition of the United States.”…No vote at the United Nations will ever create an independent Palestinian state. And the United States will stand up against efforts to single Israel out at the UN or in any international forum. Because Israel’s legitimacy is not a matter for debate.    
Hamas As a Partner Palestinian leaders will not achieve peace or prosperity if Hamas insists on a path of terror and rejection. Moreover, we know that peace demands a partner – which is why I said that Israel cannot be expected to negotiate with Palestinians who do not recognize its right to exist, and we will hold the Palestinians accountable for their actions and their rhetoric.   And Hamas is not a partner for peace. Hamas remains committed to Israel’s
destruction and to terrorism. They have a charter. That charter not only
calls for the obliteration of Israel, but says ‘kill the Jews wherever you
find them’. Hamas’ leader condemned the killing of Osama bin Laden and
praised him as a holy warrior.
Hamas-Fatah Unification the recent announcement of an agreement between Fatah and Hamas raises profound and legitimate questions for Israel — how can one negotiate with a party that has shown itself unwilling to recognize your right to exist. In the weeks and months to come, Palestinian leaders will have to provide a credible answer to that question. And I indicated on Thursday that the recent agreement between Fatah and Hamas poses an enormous obstacle to peace. No country can be expected to negotiate with a terrorist organization sworn to its destruction. We will continue to demand that Hamas accept the basic responsibilities of peace: recognizing Israel’s right to exist, rejecting violence, and adhering to all existing agreements    
Israel’s Right to Exist And Palestinians will never realize their independence by denying the right of Israel to exist.     My friends, this must come to an end. President Abbas must do what I have
done. I stood before my people, and I told you it wasn’t easy for me, and I
said… “I will accept a Palestinian state.” It is time for President Abbas to
stand before his people and say… “I will accept a Jewish state.”
Gilad Shalit   And we once again call on Hamas to release Gilad Shalit, who has been kept from his family for five long years. And you’ve joined
President Obama and me in denouncing Hamas and demanding that it release our captive soldier, Gilad Shalit
 
New Proposals?   There was nothing particularly original in my proposal; this basic framework for negotiations has long been the basis for discussions among the parties, including previous U.S. Administrations.…By definition, it means that the parties themselves – Israelis and Palestinians – will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967. It is a well known formula to all who have worked on this issue for a generation If there’s a controversy, then, it’s not based in substance. What I did on Thursday was to say publicly what has long been acknowledged privately. [Emphasis added]    
Palestinian intransigence       So why has peace not been
achieved? Because so far, the Palestinians have been unwilling to accept a Palestinian state, if it meant accepting a Jewish state alongside it.…You see, our conflict has never been about the establishment of a Palestinian state. It has always been about the existence of the Jewish state.
Iran   See below   A nuclear-armed Iran would ignite a nuclear arms race in the Middle East…This is why I ask you to continue to send an unequivocal message: That America will never permit Iran to develop nuclear weapons.
Obama’s Actions Against Iran   You also see our commitment to our shared security in our determination to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Here in the U.S., we’ve imposed the toughest sanctions ever on the Iranian regime. At the United Nations, we’ve secured the most comprehensive international sanctions on the regime, which have been joined by allies and partners around the world. Today, Iran is virtually cut off from large parts of the international financial system, and we are going to keep up the pressure. So let me be absolutely clear – we remain committed to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.   It is even worse because there
are many who rush to condemn Israel for defending itself against Iran’s
terror proxies.  But not you. Not America. You have acted differently. You’ve condemned the Iranian regime for its genocidal aims. You’ve passed tough sanctions against Iran. History will salute you America.  President Obama has said that the United States is determined to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. He successfully led the Security Council to adopt sanctions against Iran. You in Congress passed even tougher sanctions. These words and deeds are vitally important.
Arab Teaching Hatred For Israelis, it has meant living with the fear that their children could get blown up on a bus or by rockets fired at their homes, as well as the pain of knowing that other children in the region are taught to hate them.     They continue to educate their children to hate. They continue to name
public squares after terrorists. And worst of all, they continue to
perpetuate the fantasy that Israel will one day be flooded by the
descendants of Palestinian refugees.

Hillel’s Message to AIPAC and all American Jews: Now Is The Time To Make A Two State Solution Happen (Part 3 of 3)

May 24, 2011 1 comment
“If I am not for myself, then who will be for me?
And if I am only for myself, then what am I?
And if not now, when?”

“And if not now, when?”

Hillel ends his admonition with an imperative:  The time is now.  And so it is for Israelis and Americans who truly want to preserve Israel as a democratic homeland for the Jewish people.  Although it has been said for years that the window of opportunity is closing, like the boy who cried wolf, this time it is really true.

Map of Israel and Territories

There are three major trends in the Middle East which underscore why it is so critical to move boldly and swiftly towards peace.  The first is the Arab Spring.  Everybody loves democratic uprisings – when they first begin.  However, they do not always end up quite the way we hope.  The very nature of grass-roots rebellions is that they tend to be short on organization, which opens them up to co-option as things move from the emotional frenzy of demonstrations in the streets to the reality of picking up the garbage in the streets.  In Egypt, which is probably the best example of successful regime change, the final outcome is indeed still open to question.  But the response of the Israelis seems to be that of delay. In March, we spoke with Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky who had just come back from Israel bearing the message from Israelis leaders that “Now is not the time for action.  We need to let things settle down.”  While there is some logic in that point of view, the counter argument carries a lot of weight as well.  That is, it might make better sense to get an agreement moving farther along (including the support of other world nations) before things blow up around or in the Palestinian territories.  In other words, it seems just as likely that spontaneous developments in the region will actually give the Israelis less control at the negotiating table than they have now.

The second factor is the movement towards a unified government that Fatah and Hamas have taken.  This took everyone by surprise (by all accounts, Mahmoud Abbas included) and as a result it is not totally clear whether the arrangement will work out or what the results will be if it does.  But what is clear from the reaction of the Israeli and American governments is that everyone on this side of the table is scared to death.  Although the excuse is that Hamas is a terrorist organization, it seems that the real fear is that no one really understands Hamas’ motivations or its ability to politically control and organize its factions. I am not sure why people are reacting with such repulsion.  It seems to me that we should take the advice of that old Texan, LBJ, on this one:  “It’s much better to have him (LBJ referring to J. Edgar Hoover) inside the tent pissing out, than having him outside pissing in.”  It would certainly be much easier to assess what Hamas is thinking if we met with them rather than to simply turn our backs – which is what both the Israelis and Americans are doing.  A former Israeli General once said to me:  Never turn your back on a Arab (which by the way, was not said with malice or derision, but simply as honest
advice).  So why turn your backs on Hamas? Additionally, the current position gives Fatah nowhere to turn.  Simply saying “it’s Israel or Hamas” makes good political rhetoric, but if you think about it, it actually gives additional power to Hamas because they know that Abbas does not have enough political support to reject Hamas at this point in time – so the Israelis haven’t given him a real choice.  Under normal circumstances, it might be best to wait to see what happens between these two factions.  However, there is a third
factor that overrides this:  September.

The Palestinians have slowly and methodically been paving the way to go to the UN in September to seek recognition as a nation of the world. The resolution will first go to

UN Flag

the Security Council where the US will be able to veto it.  However, it will then move to the General Assembly for a vote of all of the nations.  It is quite likely that they will be able to
get the votes needed to pass the resolution as there are already over 100 countries that have recognized the Palestinian Authority.  One Israeli official has been quoted as calling the possibility of UN ratification a “train wreck”, and rightfully so.  If Palestine is recognized as a sovereign nation, it totally changes the legal relationship with Israel according to accepted international law.  And while many American and Israeli spokesmen have minimized the validity of the vote and its potential impact, that seems to be the naïve point of view.

So, the Arab Spring, the Fatah-Hamas détente, and most importantly, the anticipated Palestinian quest for statehood at the UN, all underscore the fact that time is closing in on Israel’s opportunities to control their own fate.  But instead of urgency, what we hear loudest from the American Jewish community is denial.  American Jews can stonewall and contend that the Israelis cannot possibly deal with terrorists (although let’s recall that the PLO was the foremost terrorist group in the world at one time) and that there is no one to make a deal with, and that the world is delegitimizing Israel, and that that old UN is once again being anti-Israel and anti-Semitic.  We can do that.  But that doesn’t stop the clock towards UN declaration of a Palestinian state from ticking.  Why do we want to put the fate of Israel and Palestine in the hands of the UN?  If we don’t act now to do everything we can to get the Israelis and the Palestinians to the table, we may well leave setting the terms of the agreement to others.

Instead of continually reciting all of the obstacles to peace, we American Jews should do all we can to urge Israel to engage with the Palestinians.  And soon.  Instead of a wholesale rejection of Hamas, why not be creative?  Find some clever way of giving Hamas an out that will allow them to save face with their own people, while providing some assurance to the Israelis that they are moderating.  For example, while some in Hamas have maintained their hateful rhetoric, Hamas leader Khalid Mashaal has already indicated his openness to accepting an agreement under certain circumstances.  Why shouldn’t Israel use these statements to open the door – even if it’s just a crack?

This is just an example, but if you examine the information being distributed and promoted by the Major American Jewish Organizations, most of it consists of reasons why peace cannot be accomplished.  It lists all of the obstacles to peace.  Underlying all of this is an unstated (or sometimes stated) assumption that Israel has too much to risk by making peace.  But there are two problems with that.  First, it fails to recognize that
it is no longer 1948.  The relative powers in the region are very different than they were back then.  As Hillary Clinton said last year at the AIPAC Policy Conference, the real dangers to Israel lie in demography, ideology, and technology – not from conventional military attack.  And secondly, it fails to recognize the very real risks of doing nothing.  More former Israeli political and military leaders than you can count have emphasized that the status quo is simply unsustainable.

So, my hope is that my fellow AIPAC members and the rest of the mainstream American Jewish community will go beyond the same old platitudes that give all the reasons that peace is not possible and instead, urge the Israeli government and our elected leaders to make definitive, substantive steps towards peace.  It is time to be bold and brave.  We Jews are strong enough, we are tough enough, and we are smart enough to cut a deal with the Palestinians that, if well thought out, implemented and monitored, can bring better lives to everyone in the region.

The time is now.

Hillel’s Message to AIPAC and all American Jews: Now Is The Time To Make A Two State Solution Happen (Part 2 of 3)

May 23, 2011 Comments off
“If I am not for myself, then who will be for me?
And if I am only for myself, then what am I?
And if not now, when?”

“And if I am only for myself, then what am I?”

The second phrase of Rabbi Hillel‘s aphorism implores us to attend to the other.  In this context we might also give attention to what is perhaps Rabbi Hillel’s most famous quote. As the Gentile stood on one foot, Hillel summed up the Torah:

The Gentile

“What is hateful to thyself do not do to another. That is the whole Law, the rest is Commentary.”  This is one of the most clear-cut and direct definitions of Jewish Values that one can find (and with a better pedigree than the kishke test) and one that should be appropriately applied to the relationship between Israel and the Palestinian people – no matter whether there is a peace agreement or not.

In this context, one of the biggest issues being addressed by AIPAC, the Jewish Federations, and other major Jewish organizations is the “delegitimization” campaign against Israel.   There certainly are people who are purposefully trying to weaken or even destroy Israel by making it a persona non grata among the nations of the world.  But there are others who raise very legitimate questions about Israeli government and military policies.   It is time for the Major American Jewish Organizations to recognize the difference between those who seek to purposely delegitimize Israel as a strategy and those who honestly and objectively are concerned with the treatment of the Palestinians and Israeli Arabs and whether this treatment lives up to the standards enumerated in Israel’s Declaration of Establishment.  Currently, virtually any criticism of the Israeli government or military is labeled as “delegitimization”, and any issues raised are blindly dismissed by these American Jewish groups.  Presumably, the argument is that admitting any wrong-doing simply provides ammunition to Israel’s enemies.  The opposite is actually true.  Failing to criticize any Israel policy at all or refusing to recognize obvious, documented incidents only destroys the credibility of the anti-delegitimization campaigns.  In essence, the Major American Jewish Organizations are delegitimizing their own campaigns against delegitimization! 

A simple example:  The day-to-day treatment of the Palestinians as they try to travel through the checkpoints.

Scene from a Checkpoint

I have seen with my own eyes the disrespectful, disdainful, and humiliating way the Palestinians are treated.  It is wrong – plain and simple.  My very first experience crossing into Bethlehem was to witness a nineteen year-old border guard leaning back in his chair in the glass enclosed control booth, talking on his cell phone and simply ignoring an old Palestinian woman trying to show her passport to get into Jerusalem.  It was a very light day and she was the only one in line at that time.  We watched as she waved and waved her papers to no avail.  The guard continued to ignore her.  Finally, after she banged on the glass, he simply waved her along with a sneer of impatience and contempt.  Not the end of the world, one might say.  Perhaps.  But again, I use a simple criterion:  How would I feel if it was my bubbe being treated this way?  Outraged.  And I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t feel the same way.

Sure, this example doesn’t rise anywhere close to a human rights abuse.  But it does illustrate an important point:  as concerning as the impact of this type of behavior is on the Palestinians involved, the effect on Israeli youth may be even worse when viewed through the prism of Jewish values.  The attitude displayed by this young man (and this was not the only incident like this that we observed) shows a callous disregard for the very humanness of the other.  This sector of the Israeli military has gone from being brave defenders of Israel’s very existence to being masters over the day-to-day lives of others
who are powerless.  As Peter Beinart pointed out several weeks ago when he spoke at Northwestern University, you measure the nature of a people not by how they treat others when they are in a position of weakness, but rather when they are in a position of power.  Israel is taking young eighteen and nineteen year-olds and putting them in positions where they are lording it over men and women two and three times their age.  These young people are allowed to treat the Palestinians with disrespect and contempt.  And either through neglect or purpose, there appears to be little supervision or questioning of these attitudes and actions.  A whole generation is growing up with attitudes that would make our bubbes cringe.  This is the insidious part of the current situation:  the fact is that when a society is in the position of controlling another people it morally rots from the inside (more posts on this to come).  It is time for American Jewish organizations to make realistic, open and candid analyses of Israel’s policies and actions with regard to the Palestinians and Israeli Arabs.  They should then state publicly the very real abuses they will almost certainly find.  And finally, openly engage with the Israeli government and military to change or eliminate objectionable behaviors.  To do otherwise calls into question the veracity and integrity of their anti-delegitimization campaigns, but more importantly allows a moral cancer to fester within Israeli society.

While addressing these issues should be done as soon as possible, there are even more pressing needs that require immediate attention as will be seen when we examine the third phrase of Hillel’s admonition.

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