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Fisking a Letter

Stupidity is a common feature of letters to the editor. Indeed, without obliviously stupid letter-writers, sifting through these letters would be a significantly less tedious task.  Parsing this one (the second letter on the page) is almost like taking candy from a baby, but let’s do it anyway. (Besides, you shouldn’t give candy to babies).

After more than 60 years of unwavering support militarily, diplomatically and financially . . .

As for military support, Israel’s strongest ally for much of its initial two decades was probably France. In 1956, Israel partnered with France and the UK, to launch the Sinai Campaign–in the face of American opposition.

Diplomatic support? The yea vote to recognize a Jewish State in 1947 was the very definition of wavering. While Truman may have been supportive, the State Department was opposed, and the American vote was not a given.

The United States simply does not provide Israel with real financial support.  Bribery ≠ support.  What the U.S. is trying to do, is to support the American defense industry. If the true goal is the betterment of Israel’s finances, the U.S. would keep its money, and allow the development, nay the creation, of a genuine Israeli market.

. . . beg the state of Israel for a mere 60-day extension of the settlement freeze . . .

No one is begging. The portrayal of states as people, as opposed to entities with cold, calculated interests, is simply wrong. Even accepting as true the claim of “unwavering” American support, for the sake of argument, that does not give the U.S. any relevant rights. The issue is not a mere extension–it is the infringement on the sovereign rights of another state. Pure and simple.

” . . . to facilitate an agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority . . . “

Wow. Just wow. If this guy really believes that anything Israel does, short of deporting all the Jews to Poland, will “facilitate an agreement,” I’ve got a bridge to sell him…

Second, notice who the parties are in this hypothetical, snowballs-in-hell agreement: Israel and “the Palestinian Authority.” Let’s make a deal with a fictional entity! Not with “the Palestinians,” with “the Arabs,” or with any people. We need peace with the entity that Arafat and Rabin created in 1994.

. . . which is so important in promoting peace and security for the region and the world.

  • Superficial reading: ‘We need peace to promote peace.’ This is the guy that sets up meetings to promote meetings.
  • Secondary reading: An agreement will not be a peace agreement. We first need an agreement, and only then can we really start moving toward peace.
  • Deeper reading: He thinks that Israel’s capitulation to its enemies will lead to peace in the entire region–and the whole world.
    1. If peace were to somehow materialize, regional instability would quickly follow. After all, what would the Arab regimes use to distract their subjects from their miserable lives?
    2. The whole world? I know, the situations in Korea, Iran, Sudan, Pakistan, the Congo, and Venezuela (to name just a few) are wholly dependent on whether 10 million people in the eastern Mediterranean get along. Utopia is just around the corner. If only those pesky Jews would get with the program.

As an American citizen of Israeli origin, I am angry and offended. It is time for the White House to explain to the nation . . .

His “Israeli origin” is irrelevant. Either he’s Israeli, and the NY Times and White House are the wrong address, or he’s American, and who cares. Who is the target of his anger, the source of his offense, and why?  It’s much easier to toss around empty slogans, than actually provide reasoned arguments.

And which nation deserves an explanation?  The one on the other side of the world, whose citizens don’t care–or the nation whose citizens are forced to put their lives on the line because every few years another rich American thinks he can fix the world?

. . . how American interests are still being protected within such an uneven relationship and what it plans to do about it.

Uneven relationship? Oh, please. I can’t even say that with a straight face. Which American interests are endangered? And why does this idiot pin the blame on Israel? These are American interests that are at stake–but blaming Netanyahu must be the solution.

Unlikely Mythbuster

Remember the myth that Arafat was unable prevent terrorism because he did not have control over Hamas?

Straight from the (other) horse’s mouth, Mahmoud al-Zahar:

“Arafat instructed Hamas to carry out a number of military operations in the heart of the Jewish state after he felt that his negotiations with the Israeli government then had failed.”

Failure, of course, is a relative term.  In this case, Arafat likely considered failure to be anything less than could be squeezed out of Barak at the negotiating table.

Unfortunately, he did not miscalculate too badly.

This post is dedicated to NG.

Corrupt Land Privatization

A recent bill proposal is being promoted by Netanyahu, and would drastically alter the status of lands in Israel. The legal status of land in Israel is not simple matter. In a nutshell, 93% of the land in Israel is not privately owned (owned either by the state or JNF), but is leased by the state for 49-year leases. Administered by the Israel Land Administration (ILA), these leases are renewed nearly automatically.

Proponents of the bill say the ILA is a monopolistic, ineffective bureaucracy and hampers economic growth. Privatization, they claim, will make housing more affordable and promote overall transparency with regards to land use.

by zeevveez

by zeevveez

Critics, on the other hand, say that housing costs will actually rise. The most convincing argument against the proposed bill is a Zionist-ideological one. If land is simply sold to the highest bidder, Israeli law would allow enemies of Israel to purchase large swaths of Israel, essentially buying out Israel from under her.

As anyone who has had the misfortune of applying for an Israeli passport knows, Israeli bureaucracy is not customer friendly, to put it lightly. Reform is necessary, and in that respect Netanyahu’s plan is not all bad. However, the current bill, if approved, would cause a great deal of long-term harm to Israel.

That is not the only problem. Netanyahu has announced that any minister who votes against the bill will be fired. Bibi has experience in this matter, and his declaration should not be viewed as an idle threat.

Firing ministers in order to secure artificial majorities has , in the past, preceded horrendous decisions. Israel has already paid a high price for Sharon’s error, and cannot afford any additional mistakes.

Terrorism Pays

The arrest of an allegedly abusive mother. That is the excuse for the continued Haredi summer riots in Jerusalem, following the ones over a parking lot.

The mother, a member of the anti-Israel Neturei Karta faction, was released from custody today, and placed under house arrest. This decision was made by the Jerusalem Magistrate Court, despite the prosecution’s request for remand.

These riots show a complete disregard for Jewish commandments that are not ritual in nature, but they are fairly successful. This is not the first group to have learned that it is not very difficult to bend the will of the Israeli government.

There is a world of difference between these rioters and wholesale murderers of Jews. Nevertheless, at the end of the day, capitulation is capitulation, and the message is clear: Terrorism is a rewarding venture in Israel.

Clarification: I am well aware that the rioters represent a minority within the diverse Haredi community. Nevertheless, the silence coming from the Haredi leadership is deafeaning.

Pro-Shabbat or Anti-State?

It is summer in Israel, so someone must be either protesting or on strike. This time protests were started by only a small, extremely anti-Zionist sect within the Haredi community, the Eda HaHaredit, over Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat’s decision to open a parking lot for use on Shabbat. The parking lot would be operated by a non-Jew, and would help alleviate the city’s parking shortage. That was a few weeks ago. In the mean time, much of the larger Haredi community has taken on this “cause” as their own.

These protests are not peaceful demonstrations, but violent riots, and often take place on Shabbat, in violation Jewish law. Not only do the rioters ignore the concept of ואהבת לרעך כמוך (love your friend as yourself) by attacking people, throwing rocks is a violation of Shabbat. These rioters, and those who incite them are merely masquerading as observant Jews.

A few weeks ago, (former) Ha’aretz reporter Shachar Ilan wrote in his The Marker blog about the situation:

To embarrass! That is the name of the game in the new Shabbat struggle in Jerusalem. The Eda HaHaredit (a small fanatical faction) opposes the participation of the Haredi parties in the municipal coalition and so they protest. In the intra-Haredi political game the Eda HaHaredit is the opposition and the Haredi parties are the government. The opposition’s job is to criticize. The fact that the Safra Parking Lot is surrounded by restaurants, pubs and clubs that have been operating on Shabbat for years is irrelevant. As is the fact that the parking lot will not charge for parking, or that parking at Safra will prevent parking on Shivtei Yisrael Road near Mea Shearim, and will prevent serious safety hazards. The issue is the opening of the parking lot on Shabbat, and the Eda HaHaredit will not miss a golden opportunity to embarrass the Haredi parties.

The economic angle. There is a difficult crisis in donations to religious institutions due to the global economic crisis. The Eda HaHaredit subsists primarily on donations. It is a well-known secret that religious struggles and confrontations with the Zionist police encourage donations. Could it be that the new Shabbat struggle in Jerusalem is part of the fallout from the global economic crisis and that the reporting of the Shabbat protests should be done in the business section? Can’t be. No way. How could one suspect the Torah sages of such motives?

Ilan’s analysis is interesting, but the comments section is fascinating. A former Haredi,  Shlomo, shares his insight into the world of the young protesters. This perspective is rare to see, as airing dirty laundry is taboo. Teenagers were assigned to various locations for the protests, and participants were exempt from homework. In his words, they were but “mere cannon fodder.” When they threw stones, they thought about the punishment Shabbat violators will receive in hell. When they burned Israeli flags on Yom Ha’atzmaut, they thought about how the state is impeding the arrival of the Messiah. Vandalism or respect for property – “these were not terms that were in our lexicon.” These crimes are encouraged, and those who commit them are idolized:

Each of us that was arrested, turned into the darling of the class, or the Yeshiva, surrounded by love in shul, got calls of “yishar koach” from passersby, even though we only spent a few hours in the Russian Compound (police headquarters).

In addition to the brainwashing of these kids to commit crimes, the hypocrisy of the rioters is clear. On the one hand, they are anti-Zionist, disavowing Jewish sovereignty until the coming of the Messiah. On the other hand, their behavior exhibits their sense of entitlement in the Zionist state.

An old story (source unknown) about Rabbi Shach emphasizes this point. Upon witnessing a Haredi man yelling at an Israel Police officer, Rabbi Shach quipped that the man must have become a Zionist. The man was surprised, “What are you talking about?” Rabbi Shach responded, “Would you have dared to yell at a police officer back in Poland?” In other words, is there rioting in the streets of Brooklyn and Antwerp?

Leave No Man Behind?

Yesterday marked three years (according to the Jewish calendar, this Thursday will be the Gregorian date) since Gilad Schalit was abducted at Kerem Shalom. Three years of talks, of attempts at negotiating his release – but he is still absent. Schalit, however, is not the only Israeli soldier to be left behind.

  • October 10, 1973 – Ze’ev Rotshik went missing, while in search of his unit during the Yom Kippur War.
  • June 12, 1982 – the battle at Sultan Yaqub resulted in three MIAs – Zecharia Baumel, Yehuda Katz, and Tzvi Feldman.
  • October 16, 1986 – an Israeli F-4 Phantom II suffered damage in Lebanese skies. Two crew members were able to eject to safety, but the navigator, Ron Arad, went missing.
  • August 17, 1997 – Guy Hever mysteriously disappeard from his base in the Golan Heights, and has never been heard from since.
  • May 24, 2005 – Majdi Halabi mysteriously disappeard, while on his way from home back to his base, and has never been heard from since.
  • October 1, 2000 – Jospeh’s Tomb in Nablus was attacked, and Border Patrol Officer Madhat Yusuf was shot in the neck. No rescue mission was sent to save him, and he died due to loss of blood.
  • October 7, 2000 – Benny Avraham, Omar Sawaid, and Avi Avitan were kidnapped in a cross-border raid by Hezbollah. In early 2004 their bodies were returned to Israel in a questionable prisoner exchange deal.
  • June 25, 2006 – Gilad Schalit was taken hostage in an attack on an IDF post.
  • July 12, 2006 – Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser were captured in a cross-border raid by Hezbollah, leading to the Second Lebanon War. Their bodies were eventually returned in an even more questionable prisoner exchange deal.

Israel has a declared policy of leaving no man behind, of caring for its soldiers. However, there are too many missing soldiers whose fate is still unknown. And the last few times it has tried to bring any kidnapped soldiers home through negotiations, it has paid too dear of a price, and learned, all too late, that it was sold a bill of goods.

The last real attempt at rescuing a captive IDF soldier was in 1994. On October 9 of that year Nachshon Waxman was kidnapped from an intersection by Yehud, and an operation was undertaken for his release. The rescue mission was unsuccessful, leaving both Waxman and the mission commander dead.

Ever since there has been a fear of launching, admittedly dangerous, rescue missions for the release of Israeli captives. Soldiers risk their lives for their country. That is a given – it is the very nature of a soldier. It does not mean that avoiding risk is an acceptable excuse for the abandonment of Israelis behind enemy lines. Nor does it mean that the release of murderers in exchange for dead bodies is an acceptable attempt at bringing the soldiers home. It only strengthens the enemy’s resolve.

While no Prime Minister would dare admit this in public, this fear seems to be grounded in politics, than stemming from a concern for soldiers’ lives. A failed mission would cost the government a significant amount of political capital, but that does not mean that they should not try. These pathetic excuses must be brushed aside, and the government must begin fulfilling its duty – safeguarding the people of Israel.

Even unsuccessful rescue attempts are better than the current situation, in which the kidnapping of a soldier can bring a whole country to its knees. In any case, Israel has executed successful operations in the past, leading to the safe return home of captives. Although the abducted were not soldiers, arguably the most famous of these was in Entebbe, Uganda. Another well-known operation was the rescure Sabena Flight 572, in which two future Prime Ministers participated – Ehud Barak and Benjamin Netanyahu.

Today, Netanyahu is the Prime Minister, and Barak is the Minister of Defense. Why have the years gone by with nary an attempt at rescuing the MIAs. Where is today’s Entebbe? Where is today’s Sabena?

J Street Dislikes Israelis’ Opinions

A recent poll found that 56% of Israelis support continued construction over the green line. If this finding was not enough evidence that Israeli public opinion stands in opposition to Obama’s vision for the Middle East, another poll shows that only 6% of Israelis view his administration as pro-Israel. Apart from the initial question (who are these 6%??), the impression these polls give is that by pushing its view on Israel, the White House is once again undermining Israel’s sovereignty.

In comes J Street. Using its position as a group that allegedly represents American Jews, the organization characterized the first poll as “politically motivated and distorted.” From their comfortable armchairs in the West, the so-called “pro-Israel” lobby decided the results are “a good example of the half-truths and lies… injected into the debate.” J Street did not carry out any statistical analysis that found fault with results. They just don’t like the results.

Instead, they point to an older poll, which included the possibility of sanctions, to show that there is support for “acquiescence by Prime Minister Netanyahu to U.S. demands.” Setting aside the worrying implication that Israeli capitulation to the U.S. would a positive development, J Street has no say in the matter.

I strongly disagree with J Street. However, regardless of their views on Israel and the region, J Street’s self-proclaimed position as “pro-Israel,” as well as representative of the American Jewish community does not grant it a right to influence Israeli policy. They are merely observers to “the debate.” As I’ve said before, American Jews can easily make their opinion matter, by leaving comfortable American suburbia and joining the forefront of modern Jewish life – in Israel. Until then, their words are little more than a waste of breath.

Disengage

In 2005, an event widely known as “The Disengagement” transpired. The follies of this operation are well known, and have been discussed in depth elsewhere.

The Hebrew word for the plan is התנתקות – separation, disconnection. Yet, in spite of two protracted military operations, and thousands of still homeless Israelis that were the result of this horrendous error, Israel is still very much connected to that tiny piece of land. There was no “disengagement,” only withdrawal of residents and permanent military facilities.

The world over has accused Israel of collective punishing Gazans by blockading the territory and closing the crossings. In essence, a siege. If only that were true – that would actually mean Israel had disengaged, and Gaza would deal with with the world through its Egyptian border. Instead, the world is calling for Israel to remain engaged with Gaza.  As analyst Guy Bechor wrote four years ago:

this disengagement is for the sa[k]e of engagement: “crossings” will be opened between Israel and Gaza that will give passage for workers into Israel, the electricity and water companies have already announced that they will continue to provide Gaza and northern Samaria with services as usual even after disengagement.

There is no disengagement, but rather intensive engagement, and not on Israel’s terms. In the same piece from August 2005, Bechor hits the nail on the head: “they control the territory and also continue to milk Israel. In contrast, in its folly, Israel will both lose its settlements in Gaza and also continue to provide for the Palestinians there.”

Israel must decide. This messy, ill-defined situation is only playing into the hands of her enemies. The first option is to return to Gaza, which is not likely to happen anytime soon, nor am I convinced that it is a wise policy decision. The second is to disconnect completely. By truly disengaging Israel will finally shed all responsibility for the “humanitarian crisis” that has been at Gaza’s doorstep for years. No more gas, food, medicine, water, electricity, or money – remove all pretense and “let them fend for themselves or with their great Arab sister Egypt.”

Status Quo

In today’s world standing still is not considered good. Movement and change (and don’t forget hope) are demanded of leaders. Nevertheless, barring any earth shattering event, maintaining the status quo in Israel is the most desirable option currently available.

There are a number of alternatives, the most widely repeated of which is the “two state solution.” This “solution,”   supporters of which claim it bring peace to the region, advocates for a Jewish state roughly within the 1949 armistice borders, and an Arab state in the rest of the land between the river and the sea. Setting aside the issue of the right to sovereignty over the land, very little in their actions says the Arabs even want a state of their own.

Israel has a lot of experience with withdrawing from land over the past couple of decades. Egypt, arguably the most successful example, is lead by a president who refuses to visit Israel, is in constant violation of the treaty between the two states, and is in an arms race – but against whom? Yet, one could argue the Camp David treaty from 1978 was successful, and largely beneficial to Israel. After all, Israel has not fought a war against Egypt in three and a half decades. Further, Egypt was already an established state in 1978, and Israel’s relationship with the P.A. is very different.

The “two state solution” assumes a peace treaty between Israel and what would be Palestine. Such an agreement, of course, would need to be respected. However, the short history of the P.A. is a lesson in how to boost one’s international reputation while violating obligatory agreements. There is no need to elaborate Arafat’s murderous riots (aka “The Second Intifada“) after Ehud Barak’s refusal to actively eliminate Israel. Yet war in the guise of “the peace process” did not begin in 2000. As far back as 1996, a time period many Israelis would characterize as euphoric, the very guns supplied to the P.A. by Israel were used to murder Israelis.

There is no reason to think times have changed. After winning 4-5 years of difficult fighting, terrorist attacks against Israel have become less frequent. This is not for lack of trying. Hamas’s electoral victory in 2006, as wonderful as democracy may be, shows that a deal is as far as it has ever been. In other words, not only is such an agreement unlikely to garner the requisite popular support, it would have a very short life, after which Israel would be left with an enemy/terrorist state in its midst, of its own creation no less.

Another popular plan is unilateral withdrawal, the policy that was pursued by Ariel Sharon in his “disengagement plan,” followed by Ehud Olmert’s “realignment,” the latter of which abandoned due to Olmert’s limited political capital after the war in Lebanon. In recent years Israel has ceded land under fire (in contrast to Sinai) in a number of instances, and has paid dearly for it each time. The experiences in Lebanon and Gaza, not to mention the various pockets of “Area A” have shown anyone with eyes in his head that when Israel cedes territory, whether unilaterally or as a result of an agreement, it shall be repaid with fire.

If neither unilateral nor bilateral withdrawals are feasible – what is?

If Arabs left the area between the river and sea clearly the “Israeli-Palestinian conflict” would be a non-issue. The question is, can this be accomplished? I would like to reiterate that I am not examining what is right or wrong from a moral standpoint. I am looking at the strategic aspects of these plans alone.

Mass expulsion of Arabs, and the Rehavam Ze’evi plan are two such approaches, yet both are unfeasible. There is a difference between the two. The former is self-explanatory. Ze’evi’s, on the other hand, advocated “making the lives of Palestinians so miserable they would relocate, by use of military force during wartime, or through an agreement with Arab nations.” Even if we set aside the issue of American aid and the strings attached to it, Israel, like nearly every other country on the globe, is not completely independent. Both of these tactics will undoubtedly bring about international opprobrium, and possibly sanctions, maybe even regional war. These are not risks to be taken lightly, and will likely stem any initiative drawn up along these lines, not to mention that no foreseeable Israeli government would dream of adopting such a policy.

Ze’evi has also suggested paying Arabs to emigrate. While this will not carry with it quite the same level of international criticism of mass deportations (which would be, in effect, population exchanges), this plan is unlikely to get off the ground, as well. Even though the price of oil is not as stable as OPEC would like it to be, money would probably start flowing out of Saudi and  Iranian coffers in order to maintain the “refugee problem,” thereby keeping the focus off of their own corrupt regimes. Many want to leave anyway, but regional pressure, and the offsetting monetary offers would render Israeli financial incentives moot.

Furthermore, international pressure would be intense. The world has been wed to the “two state solution” for a long time, and any action that would undermine this vision would not be taken kindly. The UN, for example, would be extremely unhappy. The UN has a vested interest in maintaining the conflict, since ending it would mean the dismantling of an entire UN agency.

Even before 2005, Jordan expressed opposition to a unilateral Israeli withdrawal. Considering Jordan’s inherent instability, this is understandable. The last thing the Hashemites want is a coup d’état on their hands. One creative idea, that has recently been reintroduced by Benny Morris, is a regional federation. Such an arrangement is not clearly defined, and the variations are nearly endless. The most significant impediment to such an arrangement, however, is Arab opposition. While King Abdullah might be in favor of an agreement that could lay to rest its fears of an uprising, the success of a federation is heavily reliant on popular support. Since terrorist activity is still very much alive, and has a considerable amount of popular support, it is hard to believe that the Arab residents of the region – on either side of the river – would acquiesce to such a deal. This settlement (or category of settlements, as seen in the JCPA paper) would mean that Jews and Arabs would be living in closer proximity than the framework of any the other “solutions” suggest. The societies would be much more intertwined, which is currently not something either side wants. Without widespread popular support this plan is dead on the table.

There are moral issues to be considered, as well. Although I do not delve into these here, I would like to point out that I do not see how outright mass deportations, or actively making people’s miserable are defensible from a moral standpoint. This is especially true considering the probable inefficacy of such actions, as outlined above.

New plans are constantly being floated, and someone more creative than I might come up with a way to bring peace and quiet to the region. For the time being, however, the The Middle East is nowhere near peace. The way US foreign policy is being handled these days, primarily with regards to the de facto acceptance of a nuclear-capable Iran,the possibility of a major regional war is growing by the day. Major wars mean widespread population shifts. Until a significant shift occurs in Middle Eastern attitude no “solution” is possible, two-state or otherwise. Taking action that has only proven to add instability, cause strife, and cost lives is a bad idea. For now, staying the course is the best course of action.

Bad News Rahm

Rahm Emanuel has been serious trouble from the start. Although adored by his hometown Jewish community, and of strongly Zionist lineage, he seems to be working overtime to dispell any potential rumors of dual loyalty.

As Obama’s right-hand man, the White House Chief of Staff is arguably the second most powerful in America. It is no secret that the U.S. enjoys an enormous amount of power in Israel, for which it continues to pay in the form of large annual bribes.

It is also no secret that Emanuel dislikes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and would prefer to deal with a left-wing government in Israel. Rumors over personal disagreements between the two have been surfacing for some time, leading some to question whether Obama would even Netanyahu if the Israeli premier visited Washington (that specific rumor was dispelled, when they actually did meet). On the other hand, today, Obama surprised Defense Minister, and Labor Party chairman, Ehud Barak, at a meeting with National Security Advisor Jim Jones.

Just last month Emanuel tried to push his way further into Israeli affairs by promoting a link between Iranian threat and the “Palestinian issue” saying movement on Iran “depended on the ability to make progress on the Palestinian front.” The picture becomes clearer when one taking into consideration the American administration’s anger at Avigdor Lieberman’s statement that Israel is not obligated to follow a non-agreement, all the while declining to even state its position on a binding commitment to Israel.

Meddling in internal affairs on any level is bad enough, but there are now rumors of deliberate intransigence on the part of Rahm Emanuel, with the intent of preventing cooperation between Obama and Netanyahu. If this is indeed intended to cause Netanyahu’s government to fail, then Emanuel is not only representing a White House whose attitude towards Israel is questionable, but a clearly negative influence in his own right.

To paraphrase Lord Palmerston, states do not have friends, but only interests. It appears the United States is behaving in light of its interests, without considering any so-called “friends.” Israel, on the other hand, seems to still be operating under the misconception that is such a thing as a U.S.-Israel friendship.