BigMo’s Blog

Politics and Economics in Israel

Israel Proposes Palestinian Statehood

Israel is facing an unprecedented diplomatic challenge. The current government has had to contend with a host of plagues, most of which are the result of poor decisions made by previous Israeli governments. The disastrous consequences of the withdrawal from Gaza, the fallout from Operation Cast Lead, the fallout from the Mavi Marmara Flotilla, and finally an American government that is not unsympathetic to Palestinian pleadings. Nonetheless, the Likud coalition cannotcontinue to blame previous governments. It must act. The Palestinian Authority (PA), has announced its intention to obtain a UN General Assembly (UNGA) resolution in favor of Palestinian statehood. Israel should propose the resolution to the UNGA in September.

Palestinian diplomats are traveling across the world attempting to rally support for their initiative. This effort has been five years in the making – ever since Mahmoud Abbas succeeded Yasser Arafat as leader of the PA.  The Palestinians automatically have the support of the nations that belong to the Arab League and the Islamic Organization Conference – a total of  1/3 of the UN’s member states. Their support is strong across Africa and Latin America. Thus, with at least one hundred nations in favor of such a resolution, its passage is a given.

The support of forty European and Western-oriented states is what is critical to the PA. So far, the diplomatic efforts of the US and Europe to deflect the Palestinians from approaching the UN in September have failed. They understand that such a move is likely to decrease the possibilities for a settlement, not increase them.  Given this reality, the North Atlantic bloc will focus on crafting a vaguely-worded resolution. However, the PA needs more than just another resolution endorsing previous UN Security Council (UNSC) resolutions. Any resolution that merely endorses UNSC 242, 338 and the moribund Oslo Process would – regardless of how many votes it garners – actually be a diplomatic defeat for the Palestinians.

There are four key points the Palestinians want included in a resolution. 1) a state with the June 1967 borders; 2) East Jerusalem as the capital of this state; 3) the “return” of Palestinian refugees; and 4) the branding of Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories as “illegal.” Inclusion of these four points would constitute a diplomatic grand slam, and as noted above, is already guaranteed the support of at least 100 of the UN’s 180 member states. An additional point, calling on UN member states to provide the Palestinians with assistance in establishing their independence would also be a key feature of any resolution.

Can the Palestinian Authority accept a limited resolution? This would be a terrible defeat for the PA, a defeat upon which Hamas would try to capitalize.  This would inevitably lead to another bloody round of fighting. Similarly, a resolution that calls only for modification of the 1967 borders and a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem would be Pyrrhic victory. Hamas would instantly brand the PA’s acceptance of such a resolution as a betrayal of Palestinian rights. This would signal the end of the reconciliation agreement, and another round of violence.

This is why Israel should take the lead and propose a resolution that would significantly alter the dynamics of the conflict, and seriously limit the Palestinian Authority’s options. It will instead focus on a Palestinian state within secure and contiguous borders, and recognition of the borders established as a result of the armistice agreements signed with Arab states in 1949 and 1950. The main features of this would be similar to the Palestinian-sponsored resolution, but would slant the outcome even more heavily in Israel’s favor:

  • A Palestinian state within secure and contiguous borders.
  • Recognition of the 1948 Egyptian-Israeli armistice lines as the border of the Gaza area. This could also include the official demarcation of the Gaza-Israel maritime border, thus putting Lebanon on the hot seat.
  • Recognition of the 1948 Jordanian-Israeli armistice lines from Al Burj eastward to the Dead Sea, with modifications in the Eshkolot, Sansana, Tene, Shaniand Mezadot Yehuda areas as the permanent border of Israel and the Palestinian area of Judea & Samaria.
  • A corridor between the Palestinian area in Judea & Samaria and Gaza, under Palestinian control, albeit with Israeli sovereignty, will be stipulated. The route of the corridor, as well as overall engineering design, environmental impact and construction will be in accordance with Israeli laws and regulations. Note: this is already part of Oslo.
  • A six-month moratorium on residential building in areas of Judea & Samaria that are outside the “Greater Jerusalem Basin.”
  • Designation of the “Greater Jerusalem Basin” to include all of 1948 Jerusalem, as well as the neighborhoods of Gilo, Har Homa, East Talpiyot, Ramat Eshkol, French Hill, Ramat Shlomo, Ramat Allon, Pisgat Ze’ev, Neve Ya’akov, the Etzion Bloc and the Great Ma’ale Adumim area. The Arab villages of Anata, Hizma, Ar-Ram, Az-Za’ayyem, Sur Bahir and Al-Balad should be excluded from the Basin, as should the settlement of Atarot.
    • Performing a census of the population in the Greater Jerusalem Basin.
    • Issuing special identity cards for the population.
    • Establishing regulatory mechanisms for the administration of 1) Antiquities, 2) Residential building, 3) Commercial & industrial building, 4) Education, 5) Energy, 6) Environment, 7) Telecommunications, 8) Tourism, 9) Transportation, 10) Labor and Social Affairs, 11) a Coordinating Administration responsible for the overall functioning of the other ten areas listed.
    • Judicial matters (appointment of judges, establishment of courts, credentialing of attorneys, legislative matters) will be under the exclusive domain of the Israeli government.
    • Security will be under the exclusive domain of the Israeli government.
    • Taxation will be under the exclusive domain of the Israeli government.
    • A plebiscite to be held in six months, in which all persons of voting age with a valid Greater Jerusalem Basin identity card will participate, to decide as to whether the Greater Jerusalem Basin will be under full Israeli sovereignty or continue to exist as outlined above.

Such a resolution – sponsored by Israel – would simultaneously create a separate identity for Jerusalem and at the same time ensure its indivisibility and Jewish majority. It would enshrine the democratic principle of “one-man, one-vote,” while at the same time preempting Palestinian attempts to signify alter Jewish demographic control. It would also give token victories to the Palestinians in terms of Jerusalem and settlements, albeit temporary ones that would expire in six months.

This would compel the Palestinians to the negotiating table. If not, a new status quo will be established – one given the imprimatur of the UNGA. If they fail to return to the negotiating table, Israel can hold the plebiscite, whose outcome is already assured. The Palestinians will have little recourse at the UN, and six months from September the US will be fully engaged in a presidential election.

Such a resolution – sponsored by Israel – would effectively diminish the Quartet, the UNGA and subsidiary bodies of the UN from initiating diplomatic and political proposals that invariably run counter to Israeli interests. Furthermore, it would significantly degrade the diplomatic and political achievements that the Palestinians have achieved over the last six years. It would ensure that Jerusalem and its surrounding environs remain intact and, at a minimum, under Jewish sovereignty.

July 29, 2011 Posted by | Middle East | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

One More Peace Plan

I am going to toss my hat into the ring on the issue of “jump-starting” Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. There is no deficit of peace initiatives floating around out there, and at worst, I will simply have to buy another hat.

Both sides seem to be content with negotiating with the media and courting public opinion. Neither side wants to make the next move. It is important to remember that since 1982 the Palestine Liberation Organization (the forerunner of the Palestinian Authority) was sitting in Tunis, after having been militarily defeated in the First Lebanon War. Israel made the first move in 1993, allowing Yasser Arafat and the PLO to set up shop in the West Bank as a legal entity for the first time ever.

So, without further introduction, my peace plan.

  • A Palestinian state within secure and contiguous borders;
  • Recognition of the 1948 Egyptian-Israeli armistice lines as the borders of Gaza;
  • Recognition of the 1948 Jordanian-Israeli armistice lines from Al Burj eastward to the Dead Sea as the permanent border of Israel and the Palestinian area of Judea & Samaria; there would be border modifications (i.e. land-swaps) in the areas Eshkolot, Sansana, Tene, Shaniand Mezadot Yehuda;
  • A corridor between the Palestinian area in Judea & Samaria and Gaza, under Palestinian control, albeit with Israeli sovereignty, will be stipulated. The route of the corridor, as well as overall engineering design, environmental impact and construction will be in accordance with Israeli laws and regulations;
  • A six-month moratorium on residential building in areas of Judea & Samaria that are outside the “Greater Jerusalem Basin”;
  • Designation of the “Greater Jerusalem Basin” to include all of 1948 Jerusalem, as well as the neighborhoods of Gilo, Har Homa, East Talpiyot, Ramat Eshkol, French Hill, Ramat Shlomo, Ramat Allon, Pisgat Ze’ev, Neve Ya’akov, the Etzion Bloc and the Great Ma’ale Adumim area. The Arab villages of Anata, Hizma, Ar-Ram, Az-Za’ayyem, Sur Bahir and Al-Balad should be excluded from the Basin, as should the settlement of Atarot. This will ensure a contiguous area within the Greater Jerusalem Basin.

Additional points that might considered under this include establishing:

  • Performing a census of the population;
  • Issuing special identity cards for the population;
  • Establishing regulatory mechanisms for the administration of 1) Antiquities & Archeology, 2) Residential building, 3) Commercial building, 4) Education, 5) Energy, 6) Environment, 7) Telecommunications, 8) Tourism, 9) Transportation, 10) Labor and Social Affairs, 11) Justice, 12) Freedom of access to religious sites, 13) Industrial regulation, 14) a Coordinating Administration responsible for the overall functioning of the other areas listed.
  • Security will be under the exclusive domain of the Israeli government.
  • A plebiscite to be held in six months, in which all persons of voting age with a valid Greater Jerusalem Basin identity card will participate, to decide as to whether the Greater Jerusalem Basin will be under full Israeli sovereignty or continue to exist as outlined above.
  • Removal from the jurisdiction of the UN General Assembly any and all questions pertaining to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and transfer of responsibility for said consideration to the UN Security Council. Israel-Palestinian issues shall also be removed from the agenda of all other bodies of the UN and UN-affiliated bodies, such as the International Labor Organization, Red Cross and UN Human Rights Commission.

The Palestinians must recognize the “Right of Return” as a non-starter. If the areas that the Palestinian Authority is claiming sovereignty over in the Judea & Samaria, a.k.a. the West Bank are to be free of Jewish settlements – in other words, Judenrein – then the Palestinians must accept the fact that mass immigration into Israel is not politically acceptable. In order to spur accept of this fact, the UN must dismantle UNRWA (by far the UN’s greatest failure in terms of managing refugees).

The Israeli government tomorrow could propose this. Similarly, the Israeli government could wait until September and propose this as a resolution in the UN General Assembly. Overall, a resolution of this sort would represent an achievement for Israeli diplomacy. Such a resolution – sponsored by Israel – would simultaneously create a separate identity for Jerusalem and at the same time ensure its indivisibility. It would enshrine the democratic principle of “one-man, one-vote,” while at the same time pre-empting Palestinian attempts to alter demographic realities. It would also give the Palestinians victories to in terms of Jerusalem and settlements.

Such a resolution – sponsored by Israel – would effectively eliminate the Quartet, the UN General Assembly and subsidiary bodies of the UN from initiating one-sided diplomatic and political proposals. This would compel both sides to the negotiating table. If not, a new status quo will be established – one given the imprimatur of the UN. If the Palestinians refuse to return to the negotiating table, Israel can still hold the Jerusalem plebiscite. Given that Arabs – both Christian and Muslim – currently living in the area already prefer Israeli rule, the outcome of the plebiscite will confer legitimacy on continued Israeli sovereignty, albeit in a different legal context.

June 8, 2011 Posted by | Middle East | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Netanyahu’s consistency: an historical message for the future

If you are a foreign policy analyst, newspaper editor, pundit or just political junkie like myself, the last few days have been a real treat. From 19 May to 24 May, two world leaders – one the leader of the world’s only superpower and the other the leader of the world’s most historic people – made speeches, held press conferences and addressed some of the most influential and powerful political bodies in the world. There is a school of thought that says history is best understood by examining its records: treaties, laws and speeches. Whether one accepts this belief or not, the speeches made by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have been a model of historical consistency.

It began on 19 May. President Obama made a major foreign policy address at the US State Department (see He stated, in short, that the 1967 borders of Israel should be the future borders of a Palestinian state. This has long been a demand of the Palestinian Authority and its predecessor, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). To be fair, ever since the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993 it has been tacitly acknowledged that a Palestinian state would exist somewhere inside those borders. However, President Obama’s remarks crossed a line that no previous American president had: he publicly endorsed a key demand of the Palestinian Authority – and just days before the Israeli Prime Minister was due to arrive in the US.

Netanyahu’s office released a reply the same day, and battle lines were drawn. The Prime Minister’s response foreshadowed the themes that would be repeated and expanded upon in three more speeches over the coming days. First, any future Palestinian state would not come about at the expense of Israel’s security: Israel would not withdraw to the 1967 borders. Second, major Israeli population centers beyond the 1967 lines would be incorporated into Israel’s final borders. Third, that the solution to the Palestinian refugee problem would be within Palestinian borders, not Israel’s. There would be no “right of return.”

The Prime Minister also showed some of his card-playing skills in the press release of 19 May. It mentioned commitments made by a previous US president in 2004 and alluded to the overwhelming support of both US Houses of Congress. If President Obama reneges on the commitments of former President George W. Bush, what credibility does President Obama or any future American president have? Moreover, while he may be the leader of the world’s only superpower, President Obama still must contend with a US House of Representatives and US Senate that are in the hands of his Republican opposition.

Two days later, these same men sat together for several hours and discussed the status of American-Israeli relations, the stalled peace talks, and wider developments in the region. At their joint press conference afterwards, the Prime Minister returned to and expanded on the themes his office annunciated just two days earlier. “Israel is prepared to make generous compromises for peace,” but would not accept the indefensible 1967 borders. He stated quite clearly that Israel’s pre-1967 geography precluded any possibility of this. In addition, he stated very forcefully, “we’re going to have to have a long-term military presence along the Jordan.” He didn’t say “we would like to have” or “it would be a good idea,” but decisively, we are going to have it.

Perhaps to allay concerns that a major rift was growing between the two allies, Prime Minister Netanyahu acknowledged the President’s statement regarding Hamas. Scorning it as “the Palestinian version of al-Qaeda” (see he indicated that Israel could not be asked to negotiate with a terrorist organization. Only weeks before, Hamas terrorists had killed a teenage boy with a deliberate rocket attack on a school bus and then condemned America for the killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

Finally, echoing his statement of 19 May, the Prime Minister said, “the Palestinian refugee problem will have to be resolved in the context of a Palestinian state” not within Israel’s borders. He also raised, perhaps for the first time by an Israeli prime minister, the issue of Jewish refugees. It is little known outside of Israel, but in the period from 1948-1952 Israel absorbed over 900,000 Jewish refugees from Arab states. People who had been stripped of almost all of their possessions and subjected to dictates reminiscent of the recently defeated Nazi Germany.

On 24 May, the Prime Minister forcefully repeated Israel’s position in front of a partisan audience at the America Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) annual policy conference. He evoked the shared commitment to democracy and liberty, reminding those assembled that the ideas of all mean being “created in God’s image, that no ruler is above the law, that everyone is entitled to justice” originated in biblical Israel. These ideas are finally coming to the Arab world, he said, noting the unrest that has rocked the region and toppled two Arab autocrats. Pointing out that the region’s problems are not rooted in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but in the lack of freedom in the Arab world, he proclaimed, “Israel is what is right about the Middle East.”

Finally on the same day, Benjamin Netanyahu had the rare privilege, although it was the second time he has enjoyed such an honor, of addressing a joint-session of the US Congress. Immediately, he played his “Congress card” saying, “And I do see a lot of old friends here. And I do see a lot of new friends here. Democrats and Republicans alike.” The message was clear: my support in your Congress, unlike yours, President Obama, is deep and bipartisan. Applause interrupted the Israeli Prime Minister’s speech more than they had interrupted the President’s State of the Union address four months earlier. Later on in his speech, he would thank President Obama for leading the international effort to impose sanctions on Iran, and pointedly thanked Congress for passing “even tougher sanctions.”

Once again, he noted the region’s turbulence, the “epic battle” unfolding “between tyranny and freedom” and reminded America’s congressional representatives that the outcome of this battle is never certain. Indeed, twice it was lost in the region: in Iran in 1979 and Lebanon in 2010. He made a point that, “Of the 300 million Arabs” in the region, only the one million in Israel “enjoy real democratic rights.” He could have easily added that if there was freedom of press in the Arab world, his words would ring true in every home from Sudan to Syria, from Algeria to Oman.

Again, he clearly stated Israel’s policies: ‘yes’ to a Palestinian state, ‘no’ to the 1967 borders. Israel will incorporate major settlement blocs into its final borders, including Jerusalem. The Palestinian refugee problem will be solved within the context of a Palestinian state, not within the borders of Israel. Finally, that the Palestinian state that emerges will be demilitarized, and that Israel will maintain a long-term military presence in the strategic Jordan River valley.

May 26, 2011 Posted by | Middle East | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Pity poor President Obama

Pity the poor politician. Reading the newspaper over breakfast, he sees his policies assailed from both Left and Right. Pundits – who always know better two days after a decision is required – double-guess him. Of the many editorials that appear in the op-ed pages, few are supportive. And that is just what our tormented public servant must contend with over his morning coffee!

Of course, we really don’t pity him. First, he asked for the job. He raised money, campaigned, traveled from one end of the state to the other and back because he wanted this responsibility. Second, he is financially compensated for his efforts by the taxpayers. The non-financial perquisites – cars, planes, personal security teams, and an official residence – are also courtesy of the taxpayer. So, perhaps we have a right to expect greater consistency, a higher level of performance, more so than we might demand of ourselves.

In my opinion, it is consistency (or its lack thereof) and level of performance (or the unevenness thereof) that bothers voters more than the salary and other perks. A politician who sticks by his principles and matches effective policies to his beliefs is, with a bit of luck, often successful. A politician who dithers back and forth between positions and who fails to create and implement effective policies is scorned.

I will offer today’s punditry, and call on the op-ed page of Israel’s largest daily newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, for the editorial. One of the editorials, “Obama’s False Comparison”, chides the US President for not extending his reasoning to its ultimate conclusion. Hanoch Daum writes that Barack Obama is “pained by the suffering of Israelis, but also by the suffering of Palestinians. For Obama, Israeli parents who lost their children and Palestinian parents who lost their children are two sides of the same equation . . . the pain felt by parents who lost their children is the same.”

If we were to extend this line of reasoning further, as Daum rightly does, “the suffering of the children who lost their parents in the September 11 disaster is similar to the pain felt by bin Laden’s young children after they lost their father, who was killed without a trial.” Daum rhetorically asks why the US president does not have the same Osama bin Laden’s children, whose assassination Obama ordered?

The answer is clear: “because protecting American citizens is more important” to Obama than the pain of al Qaeda orphans. After all, al Qaeda orphans do not make campaign contributions or vote; the children of the 9/11 victims can, do and will. Politics is not Pythagorean logic, and there are some parallels one cannot draw. Daum has the freedom of being an editorialist; President Obama the not-so-enviable task of reconciling Israelis and Palestinians.

However, if President Obama is truly interested in ending the suffering of Israeli and Palestinian children, of ensuring that neither Israeli nor Palestinian parents are bereaved, an effective policy would start with the truth. As Daum notes, Israeli children are “suffering as result of harsh, direct Palestinian belligerence. Palestinian terrorists are trying to deliberately hurt them. The children of Gaza, on the other hand, are suffering indirectly, only because Israel needs to defend itself. Both sides are suffering as result of Palestinian terrorism.”

Making high-minded speeches about borders, land swaps and two-states for two-peoples is empty rhetoric as long as half of the Palestinian political establishment is active supporting terrorism.

May 22, 2011 Posted by | Middle East | , , , , | Leave a comment

The Palestinian Price Tag

For several years now, since the first sanctions were imposed on Iran for defying the International Atomic Energy Association’s rules, there has been an on-going discussion of military action. A variety of scenarios have been circulated regarding American and/or Israeli air strikes. Some analysts contend that Iran’s nuclear program is too advanced and too far-flung to destroy. Others contend that it hinges on just a few critical sites. Regardless of the level of success, pundits agree that if Israel attacks Iran, Iran will strike at Israel in response.

If the US is seen as involved, the Iranian response will include the various Gulf kingdoms aligned with the US using missiles, possibly armed with chemical or biological weapons. Others predict that Iran will unleash its puppets, Hamas and Hizbullah, and their arsenals of short-range missile. A regional war involving several countries has been forecast, as well as a global wave of terror. Any combination of these is also possible. The Iranian response will undoubtedly be violent, but it will be brief as it is ineffective.

Any solid military analysis of the situation leads to the conclusion that Israel, acting alone, is capable of inflicting enormous damage on Iran. Using just conventionally armed aircraft and missiles, Israel would be able to destroy at least six critical Iranian nuclear facilities in one blow. It could also inflict heavy damage of Iranian petroleum facilities, further delaying an Iranian rebuilding effort.

Having clearly demonstrated that it is militarily superior to every country in the region, and having destroyed the single existential threat that (currently) exists, Israeli leaders would be hard-pressed to claim any additional security concerns. The price tag of success will be a Palestinian state. And there will be intense international pressure for this to occur immediately.

Without American support, Israel would be diplomatically isolated. Traditionally anti-Israel bodies, such as the UNHRC, would be mobilized to condemn Israel. Claims would be brought to the International Court of Justice. UN Security Council resolution would pile up fast. Various treaties and pacts currently under discussion between Isreal and a host of nations would be shelved, if not scrapped outright. If Israel acts alone, it will need to have the diplomatic muscle of the United States behind it in order to deal with the aftermath.

The US and EU would not be overly concerned with the long-term consequences of either a Palestinian state or how such diplomatic pressure might effect Israel’s geo-strategic psychology. The conflict will have sent oil prices to the $150/barrel range – or higher. Energy shortages will cripple the already sluggish global economy. World financial markets will be in turmoil. The US and EU will act hastily to prevent further economic damage. It will not be a time to worry about demographics, Riparian water rights or political stability (Palestinian).

NATO, perhaps with a token Russian presence, would deploy troops over most of the West Bank as an interim measure, probably within a month of the UNSC imposing a ceasefire on all the belligerents. Israel would withdraw the bulk of its forces, probably over a period of 3 – 6 months. The smaller settlements would be dismantled and their occupants transferred to Israel proper or the so-called large settlement blocs. There may be a token exchange of territories and populations between Israel and the nascent Palestinian state.

What would happen to Jerusalem? That depends on how quickly and quietly Israeli leaders agree to the deployment of NATO troops, removal of settlements and the re-drawing of boundaries. Quick accession to these demands might assure continued Israeli sovereignty over most of Jerusalem, with a minimal international presence with very limited authority. Israeli delay could result in Jerusalem being partitioned.

Israeli leaders face an excruciating dilemma. It is universally agreed that sanctions will not dissuade the Iranians from developing a nuclear capability. Unless publicly forced to face the clearest evidence of Iranian intentions, the Obama administration will not act militarily. Thus, Israel must act on her own.
However, military success will also result in the creation of a Palestinian state that is economically and politically unstable, as well as violent. This is likely to remain the situation for at least a decade, meaning that there will be no “peace dividend” for Israel. The question now becomes, not will Israel act, but when? And have Israeli leaders considered how they – and the citizens of Israel – will contend with the aftermath?

October 1, 2010 Posted by | Middle East | , , , , | Leave a comment

Who’s the bigger idiot?

Joe Klein recently interviewed President Barack Hussein Obama for Time Magazine.  Klein’s softball questions and lack of follow-up questions, challenging this soon-to-be one-term wonder, left me asking a simple question: Who the bigger idiot?

It is Klein, who allows himself to be used? Is it Time, for publishing such drivel? Is it Obama, who ladles out this self-serving drivel? Or it the people who will, inevitably, vote for him again?  Here it is, word for word.

Klein: My sense of it is that [U.S. special envoy to the Middle East George] Mitchell spent a number of months negotiating a settlement deal and saw some progress from the Israelis and kind of got blinded by that, because he didn’t see that it wasn’t sufficient progress for the Palestinians.

Obama: I’ll be honest with you. A) This is just really hard. Even for a guy like George Mitchell, who helped bring about the peace in Northern Ireland. This is as intractable a problem as you get. B) Both sides — the Israelis and the Palestinians — have found that the political environment, the nature of their coalitions or the divisions within their societies, were such that it was very hard for them to start engaging in a meaningful conversation. And I think that we overestimated our ability to persuade them to do so when their politics ran contrary to that. From [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud] Abbas’ perspective, he’s got Hamas looking over his shoulder and, I think, an environment generally within the Arab world that feels impatient with any process.

And on the Israeli front — although the Israelis, I think, after a lot of time showed a willingness to make some modifications in their policies, they still found it very hard to move with any bold gestures. And so what we’re going to have to do — I think it is absolutely true that what we did this year didn’t produce the kind of breakthrough that we wanted, and if we had anticipated some of these political problems on both sides earlier, we might not have raised expectations as high. Moving forward, though, we are going to continue to work with both parties to recognize what I think is ultimately their deep-seated interest in a two-state solution in which Israel is secure and the Palestinians have sovereignty and can start focusing on developing their economy and improving the lives of their children and grandchildren.

BigMo: Wow! The Middle East is really hard! What is this, a 6th grade geography test? Europe was a snap, but the Middle East? Wow, man, it was really hard . . . SuperBama had fifteen months on the campaign trail to brush up on the capitals, major rivers, etc., but it is really hard.

BigMo: “if we had anticipated some of these political problems . . . ” isn’t that kind of like, well, the job of the president and his staff? SuperBama took office almost a full three months before Binyamin Netahahu’s coalition was formed. That should have been more than ample time to get a subscription to the Jerusalem Post – or read a cable from the ambassador in Tel Aviv.  Of course, when you spend all your time mugging for the cameras, who has time to read?

January 24, 2010 Posted by | Israel, Middle East, Obama, Palestine | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

No to Palestine!

Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat says the Palestinian Authority is making an effort to elicit international support for declaring statehood, Al-Ayyam newspaper reported Saturday, November 14th. According to Erekat, the PA intends to promote this issue in order to bring it for a vote at the UN Security Council. The Palestinians’ frustrations are understandable to a certain extent. The Oslo Peace process, begun in 1993, has not delivered to them the independent state that they want. This brings several questions to mind.

First, the Palestinians’ frustrations are largely of their own making. They have never negotiated in good faith, they have never recognized Israel as the legitimate expression of the Jewish People’s right to their own independent state, they have constantly resorted to violence at every opportunity, and their leadership continues to make statements regarding Palestinian plans to erase Israel from the map completely.

Second, the Oslo peace process specifically forbids the declaration of a Palestinian state without negotiations with Israel and a peace agreement with Israel. This latest ploy is just more evidence of the Palestinian leadership’s inability and unwillingness to abide by signed agreements. If a situation displeases them, they tear up past agreements and resort to terrorism and murder.

Third, Oslo does not guarantee a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. The 1967 borders are actually based on the armistice lines of 1949 between Jordan and Israel. Those lines were internationally recognized as a temporary accommodation based on the military situation on the time. The international community, Israel and Jordan accepted that the “Green Line” would eventually be replaced by a negotiated border acceptable to both sides.

“A Palestinian state cannot be established without a peace agreement,” Israeli President, Shimon Peres,  told reporters. He continued, “It’s impossible and it will not work. It’s unacceptable that they change their minds every day. Bitterness is not a policy.” Peres is right. The international community should take note of this, not just in regard to Palestinian issues, but also toward a host of other issues, such as: Iran’s nuclear proliferation; Saudi Arabia’s treatment of migrant workers and women; Pakistan’s sponsorship of terrorism against India; Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism in Gaza and Lebanon; and Sudan’s persecution of Christian and Animist tribes in southern Sudan.

The fact of the matter is that Islam as a whole is an aggressive, militaristic, racist religion incapable of interacting honestly or peacefully with other faiths. To give Islam one more platform (a Palestinian state) to wage global jihad is not just a mistake, it is a criminal act against western Judeo-Christian culture and society.

November 15, 2009 Posted by | Middle East | , , , , | Leave a comment

Why has Obama Failed?


On August 29, 2009, I posted on this blog a somewhat long piece entitled “The September Deadline.”   The majority of the article elaborated on Israel’s military options, as the impending IEAE report and G20 conference in Pittsburgh had not yet taken place. Since the various Israeli military options have been discussed, there is no point in re-hashing them.  However, it is worthwhile to look at the failed diplomatic efforts and ask the question, “Why has Obama so far failed in the Middle East?”

The Promises of Obama’s Spring

Just five months ago, the Middle East was awash in optimism. President Obama had given his “historic” speech in Cairo.  Lebanon seemed to cast off the shackles of Hezbollah with the electoral victory of the March 14 coalition (backed by the US, Egypt and Saudi Arabia).  A week later, demonstrations and riots engulfed Iran in the wake of its bogus exercise in democracy.

Things looked promising for the so-called “moderate Arab camp.”  Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu was compelled to acknowledge that a Palestinian state would be established in the West Bank and Gaza.  This is something that previous Likud leaders, such as Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir, never would have stated.  To his credit, Netanyahu’s speech was not a blank check to either Obama or Abu Abbas.

But what happened next?  The promises of spring withered under the relentless Middle East summer.  Obama’s speech received lukewarm acceptance within the moderate Arab camp.  They were not as easily charmed as the doe-eyed sophomores at Al Azhar University.  Hariri’s coalition shattered against the implacable opposition of Hezbollah, and his Druze allies deserted.  Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad answered demonstrators with a bloody crackdown and sweeping arrests.
Obama’s Folly

Why has Obama been unable to deliver significant concessions from the moderate Arab camp – his erstwhile allies – that would move the peace process forward?  Why does Hezbollah continue to exercise power completely out of proportion to the results of the Lebanese elections?  Why, instead of sitting down to negotiate over its nuclear ambitions does Iran instead test missiles?

In a word, this is because President Obama has no clear-cut conception of how to conduct foreign policy.  He wavers back and forth between the “One World” approach and the idealistic naiveté Jimmy Carter.  His folly is thinking that geopolitics is the same as Chicago ward politics.  Obama wants to use multilateral diplomacy, close cooperation with allies and negotiations with adversaries.  He ignores the fact that multilateral diplomacy seldom works until the all the antagonists are sufficiently weakened by a conflict.

China and Russia have made significant economic, military and technological investments in Iran.   They will not abandon their global aspirations; the change they believe in is written in the Pinyin and Cyrillic alphabets, respectively.

Western Europe is in an economic shambles.  It does not have the economic muscle, and hence lacks the diplomatic and military muscle, to do much more than hold Obama’s coat while he fumbles for his watch.

Similarly, direct talks with Iran and Syria have failed to materialize.  Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria and Iran have accomplished more in thirty years of opposition to American policy than have any previous coalition of Arab/Muslin leaders.  Why would they cooperate with America, which they believe is corrupt and evil?  Especially now, when there is a president in the White House who they view as weak and overly infatuated with himself?

Damascus is not a Chicago union hall filled with overweight, middle-aged ex-steel workers.  Teheran is not the Harvard Club where fine points of constitutional law are debated.  These are capitals of independent states with their own ambitions, foreign policies and admittedly, a string of successes in opposing America.   They are dictatorships whose strongmen rule via the torture chamber and truncheon, not the ballot box and debate.   Obama has frittered away what little political capital he had in vain a vain attempt to change the reality of weltpolitik.  At best, he has a year to change his policies and tactics accordingly.

September 28, 2009 Posted by | Middle East, Obama | , , | 3 Comments

A Third Intifada?

August 4, Fatah – the ruling faction within the Palestinian Authority, opened its sixth party general assembly. Let’s ignore the fact that this is only the sixth general assembly in its 45-year history. Let’s ignore the fact that arcane and arbitrary rule-making muzzle many of its younger members. Instead, let’s just take a look at a couple of quotes from today’s opening session.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas condemned Hamas, calling the group “revolutionaries” and “men of darkness.” Yet, sixteen years after the Oslo Accords, nine years after the second Intifada and three years after losing control of Gaza to Hamas, the Palestinian Authority itself continues to act as a revolutionary organization plotting a coup d’état in a basement.

Senior Fatah official Jibril Rajoub said his organization will never abandon the option of armed struggle. “Resistance was and is a tactical and strategic option of the struggle are part of Fatah’s policy” which Israel must acknowledge

The Palestinian Authority – which to all intents and purposes means Fatah – refuses to mature into a government capable of handling even basic services as trash collection. Of course, if it did manage to effectively deal with something as “complex” as the collecting garbage on a regular basis, the PA would have a serious problem on its hands. Palestinians might actually expect them to deliver on an entire myriad of problems that the PA has been ignoring for years. Problems that have no connection to their self-continued conflict with Israel.

Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz responded to early reports on Sunday that the Fatah would update its political platform against recognizing Israel as the Jewish state during its general assembly. “The draft version for Fatah’s meeting is a declaration of war against Israel,” Katz said during a Likud ministers’ discussion ahead of the weekly cabinet meeting. “Fatah’s unwillingness to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, the demand for a withdrawal to the 1967 borders and a complete right of return for Palestinian refugees is tantamount to wiping out the State of Israel from existence.”

Former Shin Bet chief, current Knesset Member, Avi Dichter (Kadima) echoed his comments Monday night. “Fatah’s statements are clearing the way to what may eventually be the third intifada. Once you say that the fight will go on by all means necessary – anyone in their right mind understands that spells an armed conflict. Such a decision by the congress would send us years back.”

Dichter also addressed reports suggesting Fatah may reaffirm and update sections of its charter, particularly those objecting to any recognition of Israel as the Jewish homeland. “It is very clear, even now, that the Palestinians have no intention of missing an opportunity – to miss an opportunity,” he said. If the Palestinians have a cardinal rule, this is it.

If Operation Cast Lead proved anything, it is that the Israel Defense Forces is more than capable of handling the Palestinians. Bluff and bravado are no match for skill and determination. A Netanyahu government is also more likely to prosecute such a military action to its logical conclusion, unlike the craven former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

August 4, 2009 Posted by | Israel, Middle East, Palestine | , | Leave a comment

PM Netanyahu’s Speech – Official Translation

Honored guests,

Citizens of Israel.

Peace has always been our people’s most ardent desire. Our prophets gave the world the vision of peace, we greet one another with wishes of peace, and our prayers conclude with the word peace.

We are gathered this evening in an institution named for two pioneers of peace, Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat, and we share in their vision.

Two and half months ago, I took the oath of office as the Prime Minister of Israel. I pledged to establish a national unity government – and I did. I believed and I still believe that unity was essential for us now more than ever as we face three immense challenges – the Iranian threat, the economic crisis, and the advancement of peace.

The Iranian threat looms large before us, as was further demonstrated yesterday. The greatest danger confronting Israel, the Middle East, the entire world and human race, is the nexus between radical Islam and nuclear weapons. I discussed this issue with President Obama during my recent visit to Washington, and I will raise it again in my meetings next week with European leaders. For years, I have been working tirelessly to forge an international alliance to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Confronting a global economic crisis, the government acted swiftly to stabilize Israel’s economy. We passed a two year budget in the government – and the Knesset will soon approve it.

And the third challenge, so exceedingly important, is the advancement of peace. I also spoke about this with President Obama, and I fully support the idea of a regional peace that he is leading.

I share the President’s desire to bring about a new era of reconciliation in our region. To this end, I met with President Mubarak in Egypt, and King Abdullah in Jordan, to elicit the support of these leaders in expanding the circle of peace in our region.

I turn to all Arab leaders tonight and I say: “Let us meet. Let us speak of peace and let us make peace. I am ready to meet with you at any time. I am willing to go to Damascus, to Riyadh, to Beirut, to any place- including Jerusalem.

I call on the Arab countries to cooperate with the Palestinians and with us to advance an economic peace. An economic peace is not a substitute for a political peace, but an important element to achieving it. Together, we can undertake projects to overcome the scarcities of our region, like water desalination or to maximize its advantages, like developing solar energy, or laying gas and petroleum lines, and transportation links between Asia, Africa and Europe.

The economic success of the Gulf States has impressed us all and it has impressed me. I call on the talented entrepreneurs of the Arab world to come and invest here and to assist the Palestinians – and us – in spurring the economy.

Together, we can develop industrial areas that will generate thousands of jobs and create tourist sites that will attract millions of visitors eager to walk in the footsteps of history – in Nazareth and in Bethlehem, around the walls of Jericho and the walls of Jerusalem, on the banks of the Sea of Galilee and the baptismal site of the Jordan.

There is an enormous potential for archeological tourism, if we can only learn to cooperate and to develop it.

I turn to you, our Palestinian neighbors, led by the Palestinian Authority, and I say: Let’s begin
negotiations immediately without preconditions.

Israel is obligated by its international commitments and expects all parties to keep their commitments.

We want to live with you in peace, as good neighbors. We want our children and your children to never again experience war: that parents, brothers and sisters will never again know the agony of losing loved ones in battle; that our children will be able to dream of a better future and realize that dream; and that together we will invest our energies in plowshares and pruning hooks, not swords and spears.

I know the face of war. I have experienced battle. I lost close friends, I lost a brother. I have seen the pain of bereaved families. I do not want war. No one in Israel wants war.

If we join hands and work together for peace, there is no limit to the development and prosperity we can achieve for our two peoples – in the economy, agriculture, trade, tourism and education – most importantly, in providing our youth a better world in which to live, a life full of tranquility, creativity, opportunity and hope.

If the advantages of peace are so evident, we must ask ourselves why peace remains so remote, even as our hand remains outstretched to peace? Why has this conflict continued for more than sixty years?

In order to bring an end to the conflict, we must give an honest and forthright answer to the question: What is the root of the conflict?

In his speech to the first Zionist Conference in Basel, the founder of the Zionist movement, Theodore Herzl, said about the Jewish national home “This idea is so big that we must speak of it only in the simplest terms.” Today, I will speak about the immense challenge of peace in the simplest words possible.

Even as we look toward the horizon, we must be firmly connected to reality, to the truth. And the simple truth is that the root of the conflict was, and remains, the refusal to recognize the right of the Jewish people to a state of their own, in their historic homeland.

In 1947, when the United Nations proposed the partition plan of a Jewish state and an Arab state, the entire Arab world rejected the resolution. The Jewish community, by contrast, welcomed it by dancing and rejoicing.

The Arabs rejected any Jewish state, in any borders.

Those who think that the continued enmity toward Israel is a product of our presence in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, is confusing cause and consequence.

The attacks against us began in the 1920s, escalated into a comprehensive attack in 1948 with the declaration of Israel’s independence, continued with the fedayeen attacks in the 1950s, and climaxed in 1967, on the eve of the six-day war, in an attempt to tighten a noose around the neck of the State of Israel.

All this occurred during the fifty years before a single Israeli soldier ever set foot in Judea and Samaria .

Fortunately, Egypt and Jordan left this circle of enmity. The signing of peace treaties have brought about an end to their claims against Israel, an end to the conflict. But to our regret, this is not the case with the Palestinians. The closer we get to an agreement with them, the further they retreat and raise demands that are inconsistent with a true desire to end the conflict.

Many good people have told us that withdrawal from territories is the key to peace with the Palestinians. Well, we withdrew. But the fact is that every withdrawal was met with massive waves of terror, by suicide bombers and thousands of missiles.

We tried to withdraw with an agreement and without an agreement. We tried a partial withdrawal and a full withdrawal. In 2000 and again last year, Israel proposed an almost total withdrawal in exchange for an end to the conflict, and twice our offers were rejected.

We evacuated every last inch of the Gaza strip, we uprooted tens of settlements and evicted thousands of Israelis from their homes, and in response, we received a hail of missiles on our cities, towns and children.

The claim that territorial withdrawals will bring peace with the Palestinians, or at least advance peace, has up till now not stood the test of reality.

In addition to this, Hamas in the south, like Hezbollah in the north, repeatedly proclaims their commitment to “liberate” the Israeli cities of Ashkelon, Beersheba, Acre and Haifa.

Territorial withdrawals have not lessened the hatred, and to our regret, Palestinian moderates are not yet ready to say the simple words: Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people, and it will stay that way.

Achieving peace will require courage and candor from both sides, and not only from the Israeli side.

The Palestinian leadership must arise and say: “Enough of this conflict. We recognize the right of the Jewish people to a state of their own in this land, and we are prepared to live beside you in true peace.”

I am yearning for that moment, for when Palestinian leaders say those words to our people and to their people, then a path will be opened to resolving all the problems between our peoples, no matter how complex they may be.

Therefore, a fundamental prerequisite for ending the conflict is a public, binding and unequivocal Palestinian recognition of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people.

To vest this declaration with practical meaning, there must also be a clear understanding that the Palestinian refugee problem will be resolved outside Israel’s borders. For it is clear that any demand for resettling Palestinian refugees within Israel undermines Israel’s continued existence as the state of the Jewish people.

The Palestinian refugee problem must be solved, and it can be solved, as we ourselves proved in a similar situation. Tiny Israel successfully absorbed tens of thousands of Jewish refugees who left their homes and belongings in Arab countries.

Therefore, justice and logic demand that the Palestinian refugee problem be solved outside Israel’s borders. On this point, there is a broad national consensus. I believe that with goodwill and international investment, this humanitarian problem can be permanently resolved.

So far I have spoken about the need for Palestinians to recognize our rights. In am moment, I will speak openly about our need to recognize their rights.

But let me first say that the connection between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel has lasted for more than 3500 years. Judea and Samaria, the places where Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, David and Solomon, and Isaiah and Jeremiah lived, are not alien to us. This is the land of our forefathers.

The right of the Jewish people to a state in the land of Israel does not derive from the catastrophes that have plagued our people. True, for 2000 years the Jewish people suffered expulsions, pogroms, blood libels, and massacres which culminated in a Holocaust – a suffering which has no parallel in human history.

There are those who say that if the Holocaust had not occurred, the state of Israel would never have been established. But I say that if the state of Israel would have been established earlier, the Holocaust would not have occurred.

This tragic history of powerlessness explains why the Jewish people need a sovereign power of self-defense.

But our right to build our sovereign state here, in the land of Israel, arises from one simple fact: this is the homeland of the Jewish people, this is where our identity was forged.

As Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion proclaimed in Israel’s Declaration of Independence: “The Jewish people arose in the land of Israel and it was here that its spiritual, religious and political character was shaped. Here they attained their sovereignty, and here they bequeathed to the world their national and cultural treasures, and the most eternal of books.”

But we must also tell the truth in its entirety: within this homeland lives a large Palestinian community. We do not want to rule over them, we do not want to govern their lives, we do not want to impose either our flag or our culture on them.

In my vision of peace, in this small land of ours, two peoples live freely, side-by-side, in amity and mutual respect. Each will have its own flag, its own national anthem, its own government. Neither will threaten the security or survival of the other.

These two realities – our connection to the land of Israel, and the Palestinian population living within it – have created deep divisions in Israeli society. But the truth is that we have much more that unites us than divides us.

I have come tonight to give expression to that unity, and to the principles of peace and security on which there is broad agreement within Israeli society. These are the principles that guide our policy.

This policy must take into account the international situation that has recently developed. We must recognize this reality and at the same time stand firmly on those principles essential for Israel.

I have already stressed the first principle – recognition. Palestinians must clearly and unambiguously recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people. The second principle is: demilitarization. The territory under Palestinian control must be demilitarized with ironclad security provisions for Israel.

Without these two conditions, there is a real danger that an armed Palestinian state would emerge that would become another terrorist base against the Jewish state, such as the one in Gaza.

We don’t want Kassam rockets on Petach Tikva, Grad rockets on Tel Aviv, or missiles on Ben-Gurion airport. We want peace.

In order to achieve peace, we must ensure that Palestinians will not be able to import missiles into their territory, to field an army, to close their airspace to us, or to make pacts with the likes of Hezbollah and Iran. On this point as well, there is wide consensus within Israel.

It is impossible to expect us to agree in advance to the principle of a Palestinian state without assurances that this state will be demilitarized.

On a matter so critical to the existence of Israel, we must first have our security needs addressed.

Therefore, today we ask our friends in the international community, led by the United States, for what is critical to the security of Israel: Clear commitments that in a future peace agreement, the territory controlled by the Palestinians will be demilitarized: namely, without an army, without control of its airspace, and with effective security measures to prevent weapons smuggling into the territory – real monitoring, and not what occurs in Gaza today. And obviously, the Palestinians will not be able to forge military pacts.

Without this, sooner or later, these territories will become another Hamastan. And that we cannot accept.

I told President Obama when I was in Washington that if we could agree on the substance, then the terminology would not pose a problem.

And here is the substance that I now state clearly:

If we receive this guarantee regarding demilitirization and Israel’s security needs, and if the Palestinians recognize Israel as the State of the Jewish people, then we will be ready in a future peace agreement to reach a solution where a demilitarized Palestinian state exists alongside the Jewish state.

Regarding the remaining important issues that will be discussed as part of the final settlement, my positions are known: Israel needs defensible borders, and Jerusalem must remain the united capital of Israel with continued religious freedom for all faiths.

The territorial question will be discussed as part of the final peace agreement. In the meantime, we have no intention of building new settlements or of expropriating additional land for existing settlements.

But there is a need to enable the residents to live normal lives, to allow mothers and fathers to raise their children like families elsewhere. The settlers are neither the enemies of the people nor the enemies of peace. Rather, they are an integral part of our people, a principled, pioneering and Zionist public.

Unity among us is essential and will help us achieve reconciliation with our neighbors. That reconciliation must already begin by altering existing realities. I believe that a strong Palestinian economy will strengthen peace.

If the Palestinians turn toward peace – in fighting terror, in strengthening governance and the rule of law, in educating their children for peace and in stopping incitement against Israel – we will do our part in making every effort to facilitate freedom of movement and access, and to enable them to develop their economy. All of this will help us advance a peace treaty between us.

Above all else, the Palestinians must decide between the path of peace and the path of Hamas. The Palestinian Authority will have to establish the rule of law in Gaza and overcome Hamas. Israel will not sit at the negotiating table with terrorists who seek their destruction.

Hamas will not even allow the Red Cross to visit our kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit, who has spent three years in captivity, cut off from his parents, his family and his people. We are committed to bringing him home, healthy and safe.

With a Palestinian leadership committed to peace, with the active participation of the Arab world, and the support of the United States and the international community, there is no reason why we cannot achieve a breakthrough to peace.

Our people have already proven that we can do the impossible. Over the past 61 years, while constantly defending our existence, we have performed wonders.

Our microchips are powering the world’s computers. Our medicines are treating diseases once considered incurable. Our drip irrigation is bringing arid lands back to life across the globe. And Israeli scientists are expanding the boundaries of human knowledge.

If only our neighbors would respond to our call – peace too will be in our reach.

I call on the leaders of the Arab world and on the Palestinian leadership, let us continue together on the path of Menahem Begin and Anwar Sadat, Yitzhak Rabin and King Hussein. Let us realize the vision of the prophet Isaiah, who in Jerusalem 2700 years ago said: “nations shall not lift up sword against nation, and they shall learn war no more.”

With God’s help, we will know no more war. We will know peace.

June 15, 2009 Posted by | Israel, Middle East, Palestine | , , , , | Leave a comment