Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The American Disconnect

One of the implicit themes throughout my posts, especially the ones written in Israel, that I'd like to make explicit is this: there is a growing and vibrant movement in Israel that is mobilizing around the urgent need to arrive at a two-state solution. I don't want to oversell the number of Israelis in this camp, but there is a significant number of former security officials, business leaders, professors, and journalists among them. They are opinion makers and if they lead, large numbers of Israelis just may follow.

Meanwhile many Americans, Jews included, are generally unaware of this movement, or if they have some vague notion of its existence, do not know that it is being driven to a large extent by former chiefs of the IDF, Mossad and Shin Bet. You know the type, some of them are our friends or members of our family: the can't go back to 67 borders choir; the united and eternal Jerusalem crowd. They know Ahmadinejad threatened to "wipe Israel off the map," and are ready to back a pre-emptive strike on Iran's nuclear facilities, but don't know that the past head of the Mossad, Meir Dagan, called the suggestion of an Israeli attack on Iran "one of the stupidest things I have ever heard." These Americans "know" that Israel will never "divide" Jerusalem, but have no idea that two Israeli prime ministers offered to do just that.

Too often the discourse in the US proceeds along the premise that there is some unanimity of Israeli opinion that is reduced to the most intransigent and hawkish of views. Americans seem largely oblivious of the fact that not all Israelis agree with Netanyahu's policies vis-a-vis the Palestinians. So when they hear someone in Chicago or New York voice the very same ideas that are expressed in the Israeli Peace Initiative (two state solution, 1967 borders with land swaps, etc.), they are dismissive, unaware that this initiative even exists or that it was put forward by Amnon Lipkin-Shahak (former head of the IDF), Danny Yatom (former head of the Mossad) and Yaakov Perry (former head of the Shin-Bet), just to name a few.

The challenge for us is to make them aware. Circulate news stories and links to the Israeli Peace Initiative and highlight the identities of its signers. Send it to friends and family. Send it those who agree with you and those who don't. Most teachers will tell you that if one student in a class fails, it is probably the student's fault. But if a large number fails, it is partly the teacher's fault.

Get this information out there. We can't allow this class to fail.

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Week to Come

The Palestinians are planning demonstrations on Israel's borders on June 3, 5 and 7 to mark their losses in the 1967 Six Day War. 

Meanwhile, the Israeli opposition parties and peace groups will gather the evening of June 4 in Tel Aviv at Rabin Square to say "Yes" to a peace agreement.

The Netanyahu government? Today they started making noise about the need for a military attack on Iran.

Meanwhile, we're another week closer to September.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Must Read Article - Can Obama Beat the Israel Lobby?

In case you believe AIPAC's line that it is apolitical and will back whatever the current government in Israel happens to be, think again. From Henry Seigman, member of AIPAC's executive committee from 1965 to 1994, and former head of the American Jewish Congress:
The main agency for the promotion of this deception [that Israeli governments have sought a two state solution] in the United States has been the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), whose legitimacy is based on the pretense that it speaks for the American Jewish community. It does not, for the lobby’s commitment is to Israeli governments of a certain right-wing cast.(Emphasis here is mine.)
AIPAC went into virtual hibernation during the government of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in the 1990s because he disliked its politics and the notion that an Israeli prime minister needs AIPAC’s intercession to communicate with the US administration. The chemistry between them was so bad that Rabin encouraged the formation of a new American support group, the Israel Policy Forum.
It is not widely known that in 1988 the three major US Jewish “defense” organizations—the American Jewish Committee, the American Jewish Congress and the Anti-Defamation League—joined in a public challenge to AIPAC (as well as to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations), charging that the policies it advocates do not always represent the views of the American Jewish community.
Siegman goes on to propose a way of overcoming AIPAC's grip on Congress:
It is generally believed that for a US president to speak truthfully to the American people about the dishonesty of this Israeli government’s peaceful pretensions is to invite a devastating loss of financial support, as well as electoral defeat. Can Obama overcome the opposition of the Israel lobby, and of a Congress so deeply beholden to that lobby, and successfully promote a US peace plan? I believe he can, particularly if he obtains the support of former Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush, whose deep friendship with Israel is beyond challenge. The plan is consistent with the Clinton parameters of December 2000 and with positions taken by Bush, who stressed that Israel cannot acquire any territory beyond the ‘67 lines without Palestinian consent. In a confrontation between the Israel lobby, on the one hand, and former Presidents Clinton and Bush and President Obama, on the other—who together declare their support for a peace plan they believe to be just, fair to both sides and in America’s national interest—there should be no question about who would prevail.
Take the time to read to the entire article.

Back to Jerusalem

Here's Bibi earlier earlier today: "The government is obligated to building Jerusalem, as [Jerusalem] is the heart of the nation." Here's the map. I guess Bibi didn't read yesterday's post.

Airstrike Kills 14 Women and Children

It seems that hardly a week goes by without a similar report. The tragedy of our involvement on so many levels is indescribable.

Where is the international outrage? Is there a limited supply which is being saved for Israel?

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Salaam Alaikum!

Welcome Palestine! It's only taken about six weeks, but I finally penetrated the Palestinian market. Got my first pageview from the "Palestinian Territories."  Palestine joins Iran, India, Bulgaria, Greece, the Netherlands, the Bahamas, Singapore, France, and Germany, just to name some of the others. And of course the US and Israel. Still, the comments have been few and far between. Time for everyone to speak up. Palestine, the floor is yours . . . .  

Let's Talk Jerusalem

Since Elie Wiesel penned his open letter on Jerusalem over a year ago, I have been doing a lot of thinking. Mr. Wiesel’s words were poignant and his obvious love for the City of Peace found a ready audience in me. Reading that the first song he heard was a lullaby from his mother about Jerusalem drove home in a very personal way the strong attachment many Jews, myself included, feel toward Jerusalem. Mr. Wiesel wrote his letter in reference to the contretemps set off by the announcement that Jerusalem’s municipal board had approved construction in  Ramat Shlomo and the Obama administration’s demand that all construction beyond the green line be frozen. In his letter, Mr. Wiesel urged that a solution to Jerusalem be addressed last among the issues between Israel and the Palestinians.

The speeches this past week by President Obama, in which he paid heed to Mr. Wiesel's advice, and by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, in which he conditioned any peace with the Palestinians on Israel retaining full sovereignty over all of Jerusalem, accelerated my thinking. Is it possible that Jerusalem could be shared with the Palestinians as part of a final peace agreement? Can our collective yearning for Jerusalem be reconciled with a division of Jerusalem? What about the call for a "united" and "eternal" Jerusalem? So I returned to take a look at the map of Jerusalem to better understand where the Palestinian neighborhoods are located and where the Jewish neighborhoods are located.  

For many years I have had some familiarity with the history of Jerusalem borders. For example, I knew that the UN partition plan set up Jerusalem as an international city. I also knew that Israel’s War of Independence ended with Israel in possession of West Jerusalem and Jordan in possession of East Jerusalem, including the Old City. Certainly I knew that after the Six Day war, Israel gained possession of East Jerusalem, reuniting the city. What else did I need to know?

In 1990, during the first Gulf War, when I was in Jerusalem apartment hunting I went to Hebrew University and pulled off a telephone number for an apartment located in Gilo. I wasn’t exactly sure where Gilo was, but I knew the rent there was lower than in other areas, like Rehavia and Beit Hakerem. So I took the No. 32 bus out to see the apartment and it was in a beautiful stone building, the flat had a marble floor and a stunning view of the terraced hills to the West. So I moved in. I remember telling some of my Israeli friends at the time that I found an apartment in Jerusalem, in Gilo. Well that’s not really Jerusalem, it’s more of a suburb they told me. But this did not bother me in the least; every morning I got up and rode the bus into the city center and walked to the court, which was then located in the Migrash HaRussim.

Eventually, a brother of one my friends said that Gilo could be considered a settlement as it was beyond the green line. I satisfied myself that it wasn’t a settlement because Israel had annexed it. (I assure you, the Palestinians do not see it this way.)

And there matters stood - until I started considering the borders in the context of a possible peace agreement and started looking at maps and doing some research. This is what I found. After the Six Day War, Israel annexed, not only Gilo and what was then East Jerusalem, but several Palestinian villages east of East Jerusalem. The size of Jerusalem had tripled and Palestinian villages never part of Jerusalem now found themselves within Jerusalem’s borders. I also learned that prior to the 1860's Jerusalem's population was confined to the Old City, and that the British during the Mandate period after World War I had drawn municipal borders for Jerusalem that included areas well outside the Old City. Take a look at the map above.

So how does an understanding of the history of Jerusalem's changing borders affect a determination about whether to give up areas of Jerusalem as part of a peace agreement?

Let's put aside for the moment that Jerusalem is already de facto a divided city, divided between Jewish and Palestinian neighborhoods. Danny Seidemann, who I wrote about in a previous post, in making this point told us about "Tel Aviv tourism" and how it has become fashionable for Israelis to travel as if on an exotic safari to East Jerusalem and stay at the American Colony Hotel. That East Jerusalem's American Colony is considered by Israelis to be in a foreign land was recently confirmed for me, before I ever met Danny, by my Israeli friends, some who grew up in Jerusalem. When I told them that I would be staying at the American Colony, they laughed or gave an Israeli "oo-ah" as they told me to enjoy Palestine.You see, most Israelis understand that Jerusalem is a divided city. And they are fine with it. That's why Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak before him were ready to cede the Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem as part of a final agreement. But like I said, let's put that aside.

A city is defined by its borders. Jerusalem no less. But when people speak about "an undivided eternal" Jerusalem, the underlying premise is that there is some naturally occurring physical space that is Jerusalem. And because God promised us Israel, and David made Jerusalem its capital around 1000 BCE, and Solomon built the Temple there in 957 BCE, and because Jews have maintained a continued presence ever since, Jews have eternal sovereignty over Jerusalem.

What this argument ignores, however, is that there is no naturally occurring physical space that is Jerusalem - it's a construct. While we do not have a surveyor's map of David's Jerusalem (though archaeology may one day provide one), we know that through the 1860's Jerusalem's population was confined to the Old City and the borders have been defined differently at different times, depending on the nation exercising sovereignty. We also know that the borders have grown significantly.

So when assessing our own willingness to negotiate sovereignty over some of the neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, we need to understand what Jerusalem we are talking about. Are we talking about the Jerusalem at the time of King David, the Jerusalem of the Ottoman Empire, or the British Mandate. And if we are talking about today's mega-Jerusalem, we must ask what is so sacred about the Palestinian areas in East Jerusalem, which until 1967 had never been considered part of Jerusalem, that Israel needs to retain sovereignty over them?

Perhaps I am wrong, but I believe the Jerusalem Elie Wiesel's mother sang about in the 1930's transcended borders. Certainly, Jerusalem's boundaries in Mandatory Palestine are not its boundaries today. Jewish collective spiritual attachment and claim to Jerusalem, no less than to Israel itself, cannot  be reduced to borders. And it would be more than folly to try to align our spiritual attachment to Jerusalem with its present day borders; it would be impossible. They simply do not align.

Top Ten Viewed Posts

Friday, May 27, 2011

Kabbalat Shabbat Blogging

Bibi Issues Joint Statement with Hillary on 1967 Borders*

*All the way back in November of 2010. Here Bibi is agreeing with Secretary of State Clinton that "the requirements" of "1967 lines, with agreed swaps," will be "fully taken into account in any future peace agreement":

Joint statement by PM Netanyahu and US Sec Clinton

The Prime Minister and the Secretary agreed on the importance of continuing direct negotiations to achieve our goals. The Secretary reiterated that "the United States believes that through good-faith negotiations, the parties can mutually agree on an outcome which ends the conflict and reconciles the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state, based on the 1967 lines, with agreed swaps, and the Israeli goal of a Jewish state with secure and recognized borders that reflect subsequent developments and meet Israeli security requirements." Those requirements will be fully taken into account in any future peace agreement.
The source for this joint statement? The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Gordis According to Gordis

I was really done with Daniel Gordis after my post here, and did not intend ever to write about him again. But I just came across a piece he wrote in the Jerusalem Post about his presentation before us. More accurately it's a summary of his presentation sanitized of his most obnoxious and facile remarks. His seventh grade English teacher would no doubt commend him on the edits. So if you're interested take a look. Or not.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Finally MSNBC Shows Some Balls

Thank you Lawrence O'Donnell. Here he is calling out the bs on the Obama/Bibi spin and more. Worth the time to watch. Rachel, grab a bat, you're up next! (h/t my brother Jim)

Call Your Congressman

Show support for Obama's call for two states “based on 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.”
Easy to use link - here
Click on the link, fill in the info and you're basically there. Easier and quicker than you would think.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Israeli Defense Establishment Concerned

As mentioned in a very early post, according to Professor Yaron Ezrahi those in the upper echelons of the Israeli military have deep anxiety about the Netanyahu government. Now the Jerusalem Post is reporting as its lead story that the defense establishment is voicing growing concern about the economic impact of the expected UN vote in September:
“We need to prepare for the possibility that a unilateral declaration of statehood by the Palestinians at the United Nations in September will lead to a boycott of Israeli military hardware,” a senior defense official said this week.
The article states that in 2009 and 2010 Israel was the fourth largest arms exporter in the world at around  $7.5 billion each year.

Hangover III

For anyone drunk with delight over Bibi's speech before Congress, you will eventually awake with a hangover. For the rest of us, it's time to get to work:  
Under the banner “Netanyahu said ‘no.’ Israelis say, ‘yes,’” leftwing groups plan to rally for a Palestinian state on Saturday night, June 4, in Kikar Rabin in Tel Aviv.
Peace Now and Gush Shalom are among a wide coalition of peace groups who are organizing the rally, along with members of the Meretz, Hadash and Labor parties.
Whether you are in Israel or not, there will be ways to make your voice heard.

Bored with All Bibi All the Time - Let's See What Else is On

1967 borders: New policy or reiteration?

Elliot Spitzer interviews J Street's President Jeremy Ben-Ami and former AIPAC Policy Director Steven Rosen:

1967 borders: New policy or reiteration?

Bibi Pro American

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Two for Tuesday

Just so you don't think my ramblings are the result of eating too many Carson's ribs as a kid, here's some commentary from two Blue and White blooded Israelis about Bibi's American Tsunami, touching upon the dual themes of the day - congressional reaction and the anachronism of the current debate.

Akiva Eldar:
Netanyahu proved that he has no Israeli equal when it comes to plucking the strings of American patriotism, of guilt feelings over the Holocaust, and most of all, of the wish of Congress members to preserve their close ties with the large Jewish organizations. Lest we forget, the strength of the applause bears no relation to the genuine interests of the State of Israel.
The speech-making of recent days has been entirely removed from reality and as such, the chances are slim, if any, that it will lead to any change.

Gideon Levy:
The fact that the Congress rose to its feet multiple times to applaud him says more about the ignorance of its members than the quality of their guest's speech. An Israeli presence on the Jordan River - cheering. Jerusalem must remain the united capital of Israel - applause. Did American's elected representatives know that they were cheering for the death of possibility? If America loved it, we're in big trouble.
It was a 1970s show. Maybe back then people still bought the piles of pretty, wise words shoveled by a peace-loving Israeli prime minister.

Cold Comfort

Bibi's "rousing" speech before an embarrassingly fawning and out of touch Congress will be cold comfort come September when the UN Generally Assembly votes to recognize Palestinian sovereignty along the 1967 borders without land swaps. Members of Congress don't really care about Israel. For them it is a calculated political decision and blaming them for their reaction is like blaming a dog for barking. That's what they do.

Pretty Simple

Don't get played. Haaretz speaks:

 U.S. Jews must support Obama's Mideast vision 

"The large Jewish peace camp in the United States must support the president and reject political activists who have turned Israel's fate into a ball on America's domestic political court. The time has come for the Jews of New York and Illinois to stand beside their worried brethren in Jerusalem and Sderot who have welcomed Obama's message and are hoping for it to become reality. Between loyalty to Obama's way and loyalty to Netanyahu's way, they must choose loyalty to the future of the State of Israel."

Monday, May 23, 2011

Time to Go to School on E-1

Figures. When I was in Israel, I didn't blog about our tour of Jerusalem, courtesy of Ir Amim's Danny Seidemann. For anyone who has met Danny or seen him interviewed, you know that he is a force of nature, in the way only an excited little Jewish lawyer from New York can be.What you really need to know about him is that he is the expert's expert, the go to guy on the political geography of Jerusalem. He related so much information with so much enthusiasm that while I knew I would absorb the tenor of his presentation delivered at a half dozen points around East Jerusalem, I was actually concerned about being able to retain all of the details. So I took notes. On a tour. Of Jerusalem. On a beautiful day. Like I would keep them.

One of the stops we made was on the Mount of Olives, where lies my favorite view in Israel. Looking west from up high you see the whole of Jerusalem, from the Old City, where the Dome of the Rock dominates, to Yemin Moshe and Montefiore's Windmill, on to Rehavia, and eventually past the outskirts of the city. Turn east and you see the great expanse of the Judean Desert open before your eyes. So what you have is the beauty of Jerusalem tumbling from the edge of the world into the desert landscape of soft brown hills.

It was at this spot that Seidemann explained to us the import of E-1. Somehow, miraculously I have my notes. Because while I remember the significance of the land spreading east just below us, I couldn't recall the words Seidemann used to express his concern about the past and possible future attempts to build settlements in this area. Heart Attack. He said allowing settlement construction in this area would be the "fatal heart attack of the two-state solution." The reason is simple. If you take a look at the map above, you can see that a Jewish settlement in this zone would completely seal off the Palestinian areas of East Jerusalem from the West Bank, making a contiguous Palestinian presence there impossible. And it wasn't just the words he used that got the point across. It was the absolute urgency and conviction with which he spoke them. The words I had forgotten, but not his dire warning. Building here would be the death knell of the two state solution.

So fast forward a month later and before I headed to the train this evening I checked the internet and saw this:
Rightist activists attempted to set up a new farm in the contentious E1 area, near the settlement of Maale Adumim, in an apparent bid to provoke and embarrass Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is currently in Washington. 
Apparently riot police stopped the settlers; although the settlers announced that this was only the opening shot. Don't know where this is headed, but it's a good time to get up to speed on the issue. Ir Amim's website is a good place start.

Palestinian PM Recovering From Heart Attack

RAMALLAH, West Bank – Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad suffered a heart attack while visiting the U.S. and is recovering at a Texas hospital, a spokesman said Monday.

Like a Meteor Crashing into Planet AIPAC

Israeli opposition leader, Tzipi Livni, rains down like a meteor on the dinosaurs:
Opposition leader Tzipi Livni said Monday that the only way to maintain the National Home is by adopting and implementing the two-state vision. She added that it is not about doing a favor for others, not even for the United States' president.
In a speech before the Jewish lobby of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Livni said it was the policy of the last three governments, and this policy is not anti-Israeli, adding this policy is imperative to the interests of Israel.
Update:  What does it say about the state of the debate, when the leader of Israel's largest political party (although in the opposition, Kadima has 28 seats in the Knesset to Likud's 27) comes to the US and at this late stage has to explain to thousands of politically engaged Jewish Americans that a two-state solution is in Israel's interest?


As expected, the dinosaurs are roaming at the AIPAC conference. Here's executive director Howard Kohr providing the voice over to AIPAC's version of Jurassic Park:
"In a world which is demonstrably on the side of the Palestinians and Arabs - where Israel stands virtually alone - the United States has a special role to play," said the AIPAC director. "When the United States is even-handed, Israel is automatically at a disadvantage, tilting the diplomatic playing field overwhelmingly toward the Palestinians and Arabs."
“If Israel's foes come to believe that there is diplomatic daylight between the United States and Israel, they will have every incentive to try to exploit those differences and shun peace with the Jewish state," warned the AIPAC director. 
“There is still time for a Palestinian leader to be bold and creative: to turn back from the current dead end; to reject Hamas; to reject the international path; to reject the road to unilateral recognition at the United Nations and instead to embrace the chance to sit down with Israel to negotiate a real peace," said Kohr.
"To say to those who profess to stand for peace: There can be no end to strife for the Palestinian people unless their leaders pursue a partnership in peace with Israel," he added.
Nice words and all, but they still don't get it. These are yesterday's arguments, which are not relevant in today's reality. Blaming the Palestinians ain't going to preserve Israel's future as a Jewish and democratic state. Time is on their side, not Israel's. Israel, as Josh Marshall says, needs a deal more than anyone else.

AIPAC is roaming in a world that no longer exists. We follow at our own peril.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

So What Changed?

All of a sudden Bibi and Co. are acting as if everything is hunky dory and they have no problem with Obama or his 1967 borders! To hear them tell it, Bibi stared Obama down, who then changed his "tone." Watch or read Obama's address to AIPAC and judge for yourself.

So what really changed? What changed is that Obama refused to back down and Bibi realized he had badly miscalculated. An Obama adviser told the NY Times that Obama did not believe that Bibi would ever make the necessary compromises for peace. Understanding the Obama was willing to fight and seeing the writing on the wall, Bibi was soon backtracking and spinning.

Kol Hakavod (Good Job) Mr. President

Obama, speaking before AIPAC, holds firm and calls out the bs. As reported in the NY Times:
“Let me repeat what I actually said on Thursday,” Mr. Obama said in firm tones at one point, “not what I was reported to have said.” 
“I said that the United States believes that negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine. 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 president emphasized the “mutually agreed swaps,” then went into an elaboration of what he believes that means. Mr. Netanyahu, in his critique of Mr. Obama’s remarks, had ignored the “mutually agreed swaps” part of the president’s proposal.

“Since my position has been misrepresented several times, let me reaffirm what “1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps” means,” Mr. Obama said. “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. It allows the parties themselves to account for the changes that have taken place over the last 44 years.”
The question that needs to be answered is why Bibi chose to attack Obama's remarks on the disingenuous basis that he did. Obama's remarks Thursday were quite clear. So was Bibi trying to look tough? Was he trying to make trouble for the president? Both? And how pathetic for congressmen in both parties to have played along with Bibi!

Haaretz Calls Israel's Current Borders "Indefensible"

And says Bibi is lying. From this morning's editorial:
Netanyahu is lying to the Israeli public and leading the U.S. administration astray when he portrays Israel's current borders as defensible. The occupation of the West Bank, the planting of more settlements on the rocky hilltops, control of the Jordan Valley or the construction of thousands of homes in East Jerusalem do not remove the Iranian threat, prevent the firing of Qassam rockets or end Hezbollah's willingness to fire missiles at Israel.
Click here for the full editorial. 

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Indefensibly Naive

My wife and I watch tv differently. Which explains how I ended up watching the last 2 minutes of Bill O'Reilly's show Friday evening. See my wife had the remote and she flips through channel by channel, something I had given up on ever since I got cable in 1977. So on the way to E!, she first landed at Fox News, where O'Reilly was discussing Obama's speech on the Mid-East and, in particular, his comments calling on the Israelis and Palestinians to negotiate based on the 1967 borders with agreed upon mutual land swaps. (Has everyone now seen how the right wing has dropped the mutual land swaps from the conversation? You were warned.)

O'Reilly had on someone named Brooke Goldstein, who was identified as a pro-Israel human rights attorney. Silly me, I thought I had been meeting with the pro-Israel human rights attorneys when I was in Israel earlier this month.You know, the ones from the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Yesh Din, B'Tselem and Gisha. Well, okay, big tent, I get it. Fair enough. 

Anyway, I'm not writing to pick on Ms. Goldstein (okay maybe a little), but to comment on something she said and that I have heard repeated ad infinitum since Obama delivered his speech on Thursday. That somehow anyone advocating for a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders with mutually agreed upon land swaps, Obama for instance, is "naive" and that such borders are "indefensible."

First, the naivete argument. What exactly makes people like Ms. Goldstein so wise in the ways of geopolitics? What do they know that people like former IDF chiefs and generals, Shin Bet directors, and Mossad heads, who in April put forward a proposal known as the Israeli Peace Initiative, don't. On the issue of borders their proposal states:
The borders shall be based on the June 4, 1967, lines, with agreed modifications subject to the following principles: the creation of territorial contiguity between the Palestinian territories; land swaps (not to exceed 7% of the West Bank) based on a 1:1 ratio, including the provision of a safe corridor between the West Bank and Gaza, under de facto Palestinian control.   
Their initiative actually goes further than Obama's comments. They propose solutions to what Obama called the "two wrenching and emotional issues [that] remain: the future of Jerusalem, and the fate of Palestinian refugees." They call for a partition of Jerusalem - Jewish areas remain under Israeli sovereignty and Palestinian neighborhoods to Palestine - and the return of refugees to the Palestinian state, with agreed upon symbolic exceptions.

Further evidence of Israeli "naivete" can be found in J.J. Goldberg's article in the Forward, Israel's Security Elite Joins the Opposition:

It probably won’t surprise you to hear that the leaders of Israel’s security establishment, the people who’ve led the fight against the state’s enemies for decades, are more frightened now than they’ve been in a long time. You might be shocked, though, to hear what’s got them in a panic.
I’m not speaking of some random ex-generals, but of the former heads of Israel’s main security services: the Israel Defense Forces, the Mossad intelligence agency and the Shin Bet internal security service. There are 18 living ex-chiefs: seven Mossad, six IDF and five Shin Bet. No fewer than eight of them are actively working against Netanyahu in one way or another. Another four have made their alarm publicly clear, though they aren’t aggressively campaigning right now. That’s 12, if you’re keeping score. Two of them have openly called Netanyahu’s policies and leadership a threat to Israel’s future — just in the past few weeks.
What do the critics want? Some want to dial back the rhetoric on Iran and stop the Netanyahu-led talk of military action. Some are pushing for a two-state agreement with the Palestinian Authority based on the 1967 borders and the 2002 Arab peace initiative. Some favor both.

For those who believe that these former leaders of Israel's security branches are somehow naive, please explain where their naivete comes from.Then when you are done, please explain how the current defense minister, Ehud Barak, could have been so naive when as prime minister in 2000 he negotiated based on the 1967 borders, and how then Prime Minister Olmert did the same in 2008. You want to disagree with this Israeli approach, fine. You want to say it's wrong or misguided, that's okay too. But naive? YGTBFKM! 

One last word on this issue. Obama's remarks were not any more prescriptive - what should be - than they were descriptive - what has been. His comments merely described what had gone on in the past and what most sane people believe will be how this conflict finally comes to an end. What is really naive is to repeat the naivete line. Either naive, meaning you believe it, or perhaps cynical meaning you don't, but hope no one calls you on it. I've done my best to stay away from attacking Ms. Goldstein (this post probably would have been a bit more lively with me scoring cheap points and I guess the fact that I mostly stayed away is a sign of my growing maturity and the fact that I couldn't entirely a sign that I'm not quite there yet). But please understand that when someone calls the 1967 borders with land swaps naive, it means one of two things. Either they don't know what they are talking about, or they think you don't.

Now quickly the indefensible argument. It should be obvious by now that Prime Ministers Barak and Olmert and the overwhelming majority of former security chiefs believe that the 1967 borders with land swaps (which from what I can tell, not having any experience defending borders, are included for demographic realities not security concerns) are defensible. Simply put, they would not have negotiated on them had they believed otherwise. So the question I put to those who repeat the "indefensible" talking point is this: what makes the 1967 borders indefensible? Please identify for me the threat, who poses it, and how. Feel free to be specific. After all, just repeating a talking point without understanding what it means is the epitome of naivete. Talk about indefensible!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Shabechi Yerushaly'im

Shabbat Shalom.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Obama's Speech - revised, updated and better

Not bad. Pretty damn good. President says 1967, punts on Jerusalem and refugees. Not sure we could have expected anything more. Obama says:
So while the core issues of the conflict must be negotiated, the basis of those negotiations is clear: a viable Palestine, and a secure Israel. The United States believes that negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine. 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 Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state.
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.
These principles provide a foundation for negotiations. Palestinians should know the territorial outlines of their state; Israelis should know that their basic security concerns will be met. I know that these steps alone will not resolve this conflict. Two wrenching and emotional issues remain: the future of Jerusalem, and the fate of Palestinian refugees. But moving forward now on the basis of territory and security provides a foundation to resolve those two issues in a way that is just and fair, and that respects the rights and aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians.
How will Bibi respond to 1967?

On reconsideration: Upon further reflection, Obama did not punt on Jerusalem or refugees. Rather, by couching the two as "wrenching and emotional issues" he set them up to be compromised, one for the other. Bibi has been demanding a "unified and eternal" Jerusalem; the Palestinians have clung to a "right of return." The deal is fairly obvious then. Israel cedes the Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem and the Palestinians forgo their right of return. This is essentially where Olmert and Abbas left off in September 2008. I'm upgrading my review from Not bad to pretty damn good.

Update: Bibi responds:
"Israel appreciates President's Obama commitment to peace," Netanyahu said, but stressed that he expects Obama to refrain from demanding that Israel withdraw to "indefensible" 1967 borders "which will leave a large population of Israelis in Judea and Samaria and outside Israel's borders."
Although the headlines are screaming that Bibi rejects a pullback to 1967 borders, that was not what Obama suggested. Instead Obama said that the borders should be "based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps," meaning the settlement blocs, which is what Bibi means when refers to  "large population of Israelis in Judea and Samaria (also known as the West Bank)." The crazy right in Israel is up in arms now, calling Obama the new Arafat. And apparently, Hamas didn't likey the speech much either. Meanwhile, Mahmoud Abbas calls an emergency meeting.

Just to be clear, when you hear someone reject Obama's call for 1967 borders, that is a strawman argument. Obama did not propose that.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Like I Said, a New Reality

Haaretz editors must be reading my blog. Now I know how Boaz Gaon must feel. From this morning's editorial (the emphasis and link are obviously mine):
Only minutes after praising Theodor Herzl, who in fact knew how to adapt his vision to changing realities, Netanyahu sketched out a diplomatic plan devoid of vision and totally detached from the new reality developing in the region.
Government policy, as expressed in Netanyahu's speech, will end up isolating Israel to a point that it could face economic and cultural sanctions similar to those once imposed on apartheid South Africa. Responsibility for such a crisis will lay squarely on the shoulders of the prime minister and his colleagues at the top of the diplomatic ladder. The price will be paid by the public, partying on a slippery slope.
The sad truth is that it doesn't take reading my blog to figure out what is happening (but please, keep reading!). It's all right there in the open for anybody to see. You just have to be willing to open up your eyes.

See Who Signed

From J Street
On the eve of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s visit to Washington, more and more prominent Israelis are calling for recognizing a Palestinian state now and for negotiating with that state to achieve peace and security. They are calling it an “existential Israeli interest.”
Today, they ran unprecedented ads in Israeli papers making their case, signed by 18 retired generals and 27 winners of the prestigious Israel Prize, among others.

The ad reads in part:
We, the undersigned, therefore call upon any person seeking peace and liberty and upon all nations to join us in welcoming the Palestinian Declaration of Independence and support the efforts of the the citizens of the two states to maintain peaceful relations on the basis of secure borders and good neighborliness. The end of the occupation is a fundamental condition for the liberation of the two peoples, the realization of the Israeli Declaration of Independence and a future of peaceful coexistence.
אנו החתומים מטה, קוראים אפוא לכל אדם שוחר שלום וחופש, ולכל האומות — לברך על הכרזת העצמאות הפלסטינית לתת יד ולפעול כדי לעודד את אזרחי שתי המדינות לקיים ביניהם שלום על בסיס גבולות 67 ', והסדרים המוסכמים ביניהן.סיומו המלא של הכיבוש הוא תנאי יסודי לשחרור שני העמים, לקיומה של הכרזת העצמאות הישראלית — ולעצמאותה של מדינת ישראל                                                                                                            

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Cigarettes and Feathers

Atop Masada on a Cool and Cloudy Day
In my last post written from Israel, I took upon myself the foolishly large burden of promising to put together some concluding thoughts about my trip. In place of this grandiose task, please accept this post.

To a person, my Israeli friends - by the way, none of them "leftists" like me - support a two state solution and have no problem sharing Jerusalem. This is hardly surprising. There are basically three groups in Israel; those who are ready to cut a deal now, those who will never be ready, and in the words of Boaz Gaon and Jonathan Gurfinkel from their article Charge of the Left Brigade (Haaretz, March 25, 2011), a group who accepts a deal in theory "like a heavy smoker who wants to run a marathon 'someday.'" Side note: After "using" this line to explain Israeli public opinion to anyone who would listen, I actually met Gaon, a playwright, in Old Jaffa the night before we left. I confessed to him that I had "stolen" his line. His amusement did not stop him from asking for royalties.

After two weeks in Israel, I now understand why Israelis are "heavy smokers." Traveling from the North to as far south as Masada, I saw a burgeoning country. For many the standard of living has gone up noticeably and their sense of security has increased greatly. If you drive along certain roads, you see the security fence/wall showing where "they" (the Palestinians) are and where "we" (the Jews) are. You can argue about the wall's actual efficacy, legality or morality, but I think its palliative effect on Israeli nerves is well-settled. And as I mentioned in an earlier post, it's easy to see why they believe the status quo can go on forever.

On the flipside, from the United States, you are not able to sense the positive energy or experience the beauty of Israel. Because of this I would venture to say most progressive Americans are apt to view Israel through a political lens, as a problem to solve. I have on occasion been afflicted with this astigmatism myself - just look at the arc of my posts. (Meanwhile, those on the right have an entirely different set of issues, not the least of which, in the words of Peter Beinart, is the Disneyfication of Israel.) In fact, this differing lens was the first realization that got my synapses really firing. Not that I have been wrong with my diagnosis or prescription. It may very well be the contrary - that the distance allows us a better view of what's to come.

But it makes it more difficult to persuade Israelis that they better put out their cigarette if they ever want to run that marathon. To be effective we need to connect with Israelis on a more personal and fundamental level.

So a question I heard from my Israeli friends - and remember these are friends and people who agree on a two state-solution - is what right do we have to come to Israel and tell them what to do? They ask it not as an accusation but as a sincere and legitimate question. We don't live there. We don't send our children to the army. We haven't been touched by war and terrorism in the way that they have. They are right and they deserve an answer.

Here is my answer. I begin by telling them that I stipulate that Israelis and Israelis alone will decide their future for themselves, but that doesn't mean I have no right to express my opinions or advocate for them. I explain that my right to be heard is derived from my status as a human being - I have an opinion and I have a right to express it. But also my right comes from my status as a Jew, whose future is inextricably bound up in the State of Israel. Most importantly, I tell them that at this very moment Israel's existence as a Jewish democracy is slipping through our fingers. If we don't change course, we will then be in a position of owing future generations an answer to the moral question of what we did to prevent the disappearance of Israel as a Jewish democracy. Remaining silent for the sake of "unity" is no answer at all; and it is neither a Jewish nor Zionist response. So I will continue to fight for Israel's future as a Jewish and democratic state, even if I ruffle the feathers of a few chain-smoking Israelis along the way. I know a few of them and, trust me, they will understand.

The New Reality

Here's some video of Palestinians or Syrians, maybe both, unarmed, crossing into Israel from Syria where they are greeted by Arab Israelis living on the Israeli side of the border.

For years people have been saying that if the Palestinians just put down their arms and engage in non-violent mass demonstrations Israel's occupation would end, recognizing that protests of this nature would enable the Palestinians to claim the moral high ground. It appears that Palestinians are embracing just such a tactic.

The question of whether the Palestinians will have a state based on the 1967 borders is no longer the question. The question now is whether there will be a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders, with Israel living alongside an independent Palestinian state or whether there will be a single bi-national state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories is simply untenable. My fear is that Israeli and American leadership fail to comprehend this, and that will mean only more pain for all sides until we arrive at the end-game.

It would be well to keep all this in mind when we hear Obama's and Bibi's speeches in the next seven days, and what we hear coming from the AIPAC Policy Conference convening on May 22. The relevant debate is no longer the debate of the last twenty years. And it will be interesting to see if this is acknowledged in Washington during the coming week. I'm not overly optimistic.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Baby Steps?

Reviewing Netanyahu's speech this afternoon and noting his substitution of "military presence" in the Jordan Valley in place of "sovereignty," Haaretz's Yossi Verter calls Netanyahu's speech his most dovish yet:
This was undoubtedly Netanyahu's most dovish speech this term. More dovish even than the Bar-Ilan speech of two years ago. But it was accompanied with a host of rightist mannerisms, aggressive and pessimistic statements and belligerent body language. It was a dove masquerading as a hawk.
Perhaps, but the bar has been set pretty low.

Bibi Treading Water

Bibi speaking to the Knesset today. Haaretz reports:
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that Israel would be prepared to compromise and "cede parts of our homeland" for true peace with the Palestinians, but added that he did not believe the latter was ready to be a true partner for peace. 
A Palestinian government that comprises representatives of Hamas, a movement that refuses to recognize Israel's right to exist, is not a government with which it would be possible to make peace, said Netanyahu.
And so the march toward September goes on.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Does This Look Like the Status Quo?


These photographs show Palestinian refugees (at least that is how it's being reported) advancing on the Israeli border from Lebanon and Syria as part of today's Nakba demonstrations, protests, incursions, call it what you will.

Somehow, I don't think things will be the same after today. These are only pictures, but one of the realizations I had during my two weeks in Israel is that the Palestinians think they are winning. Whatever else that means is that the Palestinians sense they are advancing toward independence regardless of what Israel does, that time is on their side, and that Israel's intransigence may be Israel's greatest weakness. The Palestinians get where this is headed and Israel doesn't.

And looking at these photographs, it would be hard to argue with them. Israel needs to understand that this does not need to be a zero sum game, as my good friend over at beyondzerosum likes to say. By continuing to approach this conflict as a zero sum game, Israel may very well find itself on the losing side.

Have you seen photographs that are more iconic than these? Perhaps these photos merely reinforce my perspective and that explains my reaction to them. But if this is my reaction to these photos, imagine what the Arab world is thinking.

Nakba Day

Today Arabs are marking what they call their "nakba" (catastrophe), the day of Israel's independence. Seems something is a little different this year. You can read about it here, here and here. If this annual day of protests and violence morphs into another stream of the Arab spring or a Third Intifada, it will be a long and painful march toward September's UN vote on recognizing Palestinian independence.

The Israeli government must stop reacting to events and start initiating. The status quo will not hold and in fact does not even exist.   

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Still Waiting . . . .

Still waiting for my earlier post, Cigarettes and Feathers, to reappear.

Obama, Bibi and Mitchell

It's clear to me that Mitchell - who had been pushing for a more aggressive US role - had lost the internal battle in the White House, and decided to make a statement by setting his resignation to become effective on the day Bibi comes to the White House.

It is now being reported that President Obama will not focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict when he gives his speech on the Middle East on May 19, the day before Bibi arrives. Earlier a report suggested that Bibi would "tone down" his address before a joint session of Congress to be delivered on May 24, depending on what guarantees he received from Obama.

The question here is this: Does the fact that Obama apparently will not be using his speech to launch a new push for peace indicate that he and Bibi have come to some sort of an understanding, where the president backs off and Bibi steps forward with a more reasonable position before Congress?

While I have been disappointed with Obama in many respects, he does seem to play the long game. It will be interesting to see what Bibi says before Congress. And it is worth remembering this from Netanyahu's first term as prime minister in the mid-1990's:
During their first meeting in 1996, Bibi lectured Bill about the Arab-Israeli conflict, drawing an angry reaction from the American president, according to a book, Much Too Promised Land, by a former special envoy to the Middle East, Aaron Miller.

Mr. Clinton is quoted as saying: "Who the [expletive deleted] does he think he is? Who's the [expletive deleted] superpower here?"

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Israel We Prefer Not to See

Israel opens its gates to the world, shuts them to Palestinians - Haaretz Daily Newspaper | Israel News

Not Particularly Good News

U.S. Mideast Envoy Resigns After 2 Years of Frustration

With Bibi coming to Washington - he meets with Obama on May 20 and will address a joint session of Congress on May 24 - the news of George Mitchell's resignation does not buoy my spirits.

Update: Mitchell's resignation takes effect on May 20, the day Bibi visits the White House. I'm sure that it's just one of those funny coincidences. 

Announcement from Blogger

We are very sorry that users are unable to publish to Blogger right now. We have rolled back the maintenance release from last night and as a result, posts and comments from all users made after 7:37 am PDT on May 11, 2011 have been removed. Again, we apologize that this happened and our engineers are working hard to return Blogger to normal and restore your posts and comments. We will post a report once this work is complete.

-The Blogger Team

Cigarettes and Feathers - Update

The blogger service was down yesterday and this morning as well. In addressing whatever issue they were experiencing they removed yesterday's post - Cigarettes and Feathers, and I'm trying to find out what happened to it. Hopefully, it will reappear as magically as it disappeared. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, here are the latest stats on pageviews:

United States
United Kingdom

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Call to Action from J Street

With the winds of change sweeping the region, sudden Palestinian reconciliation, and Prime Minister Netanyahu visiting the U.S. next week for important meetings and speeches – there is more awareness than ever in the region that this is a time for decisions and action when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

But there is loud opposition to the reconciliation of Fatah and Hamas here in the United States, in particular on Capitol Hill, with some in Congress calling for an immediate end to all U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority.

I've just emailed my Representative and Senators to tell them to read the New York Times editorial, "A Fatah-Hamas Deal," which lays out precisely the mix of caution and realism that I believe is appropriate at this moment.

'Israel must take charge of its destiny'

'Israel must take charge of its destiny' - Israel News, Ynetnews

President Shimon Peres meets with forces behind new Israeli peace initiative, who warn that unless government reignites peace process, Israel may find itself in a position of weakness.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

I'm Home, Gilad's Not

Returned home Monday morning to read in the NY Times about our meeting with President Abbas. What the article didn't mention was that during the meeting and in light of the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation, we pressed Abbas to use his influence to secure the release of Israeli Gilad Shalit, who Hamas has held now for five years. A report yesterday suggested some movement on this front. Hamas quickly shot it down.

Happy 63rd!

NY Times Editorial on Fatah-Hamas Deal

It’s too early for a cut-off [of aid to the Palestinians]. The money is Washington’s main leverage on the new government. A cut-off would shift the political balance dangerously toward Hamas. . . .

It is time for Mr. Obama, alone or with the quartet, to put a map and deal on the table. If Bin Laden’s death has given the president capital to spend, all the better. The Israelis and Palestinians are not going to break the stalemate on their own. And more drift will only lead to more desperation and more extremism. Read the rest here.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Last Night

It's late and I've just come back from Neve Tzedek where I sat with some friends and had a few drinks. Rather than blog about events and who we saw and what they said, I thought I'd just convey some thoughts.

I'd like to begin by wishing my wife a Happy Anniversary, our 17th (and Happy Mother's Day, too). It's not easy sharing your husband with the State of Israel. Love you, Deb.

For anyone who knows me or has read this blog, they know I have a deep personal attachment to this place that I cannot explain, and perhaps that is the source of my attachment. I've seen a lot here in the last two weeks, and no matter how much has changed on the surface, it's the same place I left 16 years ago. My friends haven't changed, they just live in different homes and have families of their own now. In many ways, it seems as if not more than a week has passed since 1995.

I count myself as very fortunate to have been on this mission. The people I've met and been around during the last week, particularly the young people involved with J Street and the various organizations from the peace camp, have given me great hope for Israel's future. If there are people that don't believe J Streeters are pro-Israel, it's only because they aren't paying attention. I spoke with a Knesset Member this evening who congratulated us on the work we have done, a refrain that not surprisingly, considering who we have met with, I have heard often during the past seven days. I thought the comment to be perfunctory and asked him what  we accomplished. "You have driven the right wing in Israel crazy," he answered. And so I was convinced.

I'm going to sign off for now. Tomorrow we'll be meeting with Kadima chair, Tzipi Livni, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. In the next couple days, I hope to get some concluding thoughts together and share them on this blog.

In the meantime, one thing you should know is this is one tough place to leave.

Thanks for reading.

Tel Aviv

Heading for a quick run on the beach. Will try to find some time later today to write about last night's dinner with Anat Hoffman, who was arrested at the Wall for carrying a torah (women are not allowed to do so), and former IDF Chief of Staff, Dan Halutz, now with the Kadima party. Very lively discussion.