Arabs who love Israel

Facebook page provides welcome space for Israeli Arabs who support Israel

 Tzvi Lev, Ynet News, September 9, 2016

When Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan blamed Facebook in July for the recent wave of terror attacks, he was likely not referring to the “Arabs and Right-Wingers Tweeting,” Facebook page, which serves as a forum for Israeli Arabs who love and support Israel but who often pay a heavy price for it.

A post on the page displays a picture of two Israeli-Arab soldiers in uniform and lauds them for their efforts to protect Israel. Another presents a video documenting a platoon of sweaty IDF troops struggling to push a tractor up a steep hill. “When a Palestinian tractor broke down, IDF reserve soldiers were the first to help. Together with the Palestinian farmers, they got the tractor up and running,” read the accompanying caption. “Sometimes IDF soldiers perform great acts of heroism; sometimes all it takes is a small act of kindness.” The posts, that received thousands of “likes,” are typical for the page, which was launched by an Israeli Arab together with a Orthodox Jew who are attempting to foster coexistence by providing a forum for Arabs who love Israel to express themselves. “We want to unite Arabs who love the country and who are Zionist, but who feel like they do not have a welcome place in their communities,” said Michal Julian, 37, a Jewish resident of Jerusalem who co-founded the page with Abdallah Abdel Rahman, 27, from Abu Ghosh.

Acre resident Mahdi Satri, a frequent contributor to the 'Arabs and Right-Wingers Tweeting' Facebook group (Photo courtesy of Mahdi Satri via Facebook) (Photo courtesy of Mahdi Satri)

Acre resident Mahdi Satri, a frequent contributor to the ‘Arabs and Right-Wingers Tweeting’ Facebook group (Photo courtesy of Mahdi Satri via Facebook)

“Israeli-Arab Knesset members are constantly inciting against the state, and many Israelis think that they are the true representatives of the Arab sector, which isn’t true,” continued Julian. “We have a group of Israeli-Arabs here who truly love their country and we want to show that they are not alone.” “Arabs and Right-Wingers Tweeting” was launched in 2014, after Julian and Abdel Rahman met while battling anti-Israel incitement on a Facebook page popular with Israeli Arabs during Operation Protective Edge. She said that one of the administrators reached out to her and suggested creating a Facebook forum for pro-Israel Arabs, rather than arguing on that page. “I decided that if there are Arabs who define themselves as Zionists, then we should (support them by) opening a Facebook page and showing the world the truth,” recalled Julian. “We started small, but more and more people joined us, and here we are today, with thousands of followers.” The page aims to be the voice of a sector whose existence is unknown to many Israelis—right-wing Israeli Arabs, who proudly support Israel and oppose the establishment of a Palestinian state. The founders also hope the project will show a different face of the Arab community to Israelis in addition to acting as a force for Israel advocacy, or hasbara. The page regularly features displays of coexistence between Arabs and Jews. One Arab man named Khaled received 100 “likes” after exclaiming “forever my Israel, I have no other country” in response to a post showcasing Arab children distributing candy to IDF soldiers. He was lavished with praise from both Arabs and Jews alike, with statements like “I would love to shake your hand” and “Khaled, people like you bring light to the world.”

One supporter and frequent contributor to the page, 45-year-old Sara Zoabi of Nazareth Illit, says she is an unabashed supporter of the Jewish state. She stunned Israelis when she introduced herself on the MasterChef cooking show as “Arab, Muslim, Israeli, and proud Zionist.”

“This page is a necessary step and can further encourage this phenomenon of Arab Zionists expressing themselves,” Zoabi contended. “The page is successful and will continue to be successful and it has a bright future.” The memebrs of “Arabs and Right-Wingers Tweeting” are no strangers to the consequences that can befall an Israeli Arab openly supporting Israel. Julian has received frantic calls from Israeli Arabs who begged him to remove their posts after they had received death threats. “Abdel Rahman could not deal with the emotional pressure,” lamented Julian. “They wrote many things about him on pages frequented by Arabs. He was called a traitor and lived in constant fear.” Nevertheless, Zoabi believes that many Israeli Arabs secretly support Israel, but are afraid to come out and say so openly. “It is a problem that many people do not have the courage to come out and say so,” Zoabi claimed. “I myself have paid a very steep price with curses hurled at me and having been forced to move apartments because of my feelings about Israel.” Zoabi’s own son Muhammad had to leave the country in 2014 due to blowback he received following his condemnation of the abduction and murder of Eyal Yifrach, Gil-Ad Shaer and Naftali Frenkel. “It is not easy,” Zoabi admitted. “But I have to do what I think is right and I am prepared to pay any price for it.”

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Oslo Accord was Disaster

The Oslo Disaster

By September 4, 2016

Mideast Security and Policy Studies No. 123

Prof. Efraim Karsh, the incoming director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, skewers the Oslo diplomatic process as “the starkest strategic blunder in Israel’s history” and as “one of the worst calamities ever to have afflicted Israelis and Palestinians.”

“Twenty three years after its euphoric launch on the White House lawn,” Karsh writes in this comprehensive study, “the Oslo ‘peace process’ has substantially worsened the position of both parties and made the prospects for peace and reconciliation ever more remote.”

“The process has led to establishment of an ineradicable terror entity on Israel’s doorstep, deepened Israel’s internal cleavages, destabilized its political system, and weakened its international standing.”

“It has been a disaster for West Bank and Gaza Palestinians too. It has brought about subjugation to corrupt and repressive PLO and Hamas regimes. These regimes have reversed the hesitant advent of civil society in these territories, shattered their socioeconomic wellbeing, and made the prospects for peace and reconciliation with Israel ever more remote.”

“This abject failure is a direct result of the Palestinian leadership’s perception of the process as a pathway not to a two-state solution – meaning Israel alongside a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza – but to the subversion of the State of Israel. They view Oslo not as a path to nation-building and state creation, but to the formation of a repressive terror entity that perpetuates conflict with Israel, while keeping its hapless constituents in constant and bewildered awe as Palestinian leaders line their pockets from the proceeds of this misery.”

Karsh details at length how the Oslo process has weakened Israel’s national security in several key respects.

On the strategic and military levels, it allowed the PLO to achieve in one fell swoop its strategic vision of transforming the West Bank and the Gaza Strip into terror hotbeds that would disrupt Israel’s way of life (to use Yasser Arafat’s words). Continue reading

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Origin of life is mystery

Greenland Fossils, Earth’s Oldest, Pose an Evolutionary Dilemma

David Klinghoffer

September 1, 2016 4:50 PM | Permalink

Greenland Fossils.jpg

The origin of cellular life, with all that implies by way of mind-bogglingly sophisticated biological information in action, now seems to have occurred as early in earth’s history as it could have done — 3.7 billion years ago. Just right off the bat it happens, “immediately,” as one paleontologist puts it in amazement: genetic code, proteins, photosynthesis, the works.

It’s reported in Nature (“Rapid emergence of life shown by discovery of 3,700-million-year-old microbial structures“). From the New York Times:

Geologists have discovered in Greenland evidence for ancient life in rocks that are 3.7 billion years old. The find, if confirmed, would make these fossils the oldest on Earth and may change scientific understanding of the origins of life.

Experts are likely to debate whether the structures described in the new report were formed biologically or through natural processes. If biological, the great age of the fossils complicates the task of reconstructing the evolution of life from the chemicals naturally present on the early Earth. It leaves comparatively little time for evolution to have occurred and puts the process close to a time when Earth was being bombarded by destructive asteroids. [Emphasis added.]

The microbial mats from the Isua Greenstone Belt involved creatures already “fairly evolved.”

Several different species of microbes are involved in stromatolite creation. The Isua structures, if indeed stromatolites, would represent fairly evolved organisms.

Here’s the problem:

If life on Earth did not begin until after the Late Heavy Bombardment, then it had a mere 100 million years in which to evolve to the quite advanced stage seen in the new fossils.

If so, Dr. [Abigail] Allwood wrote, then “life is not a fussy, reluctant and unlikely thing.” It will emerge whenever there’s an opportunity.

But the argument that life seems to have evolved very early and quickly, so therefore is inherently likely, can be turned around, Dr. [Gerald] Joyce said. “You could ask why, if life were such a probable event, we don’t have evidence of multiple origins,” he said.

In fact, with trivial variations, there is only one genetic code for all known forms of life, pointing to a single origin.

If some unguided chemical and biological evolutionary model must be assumed as explaining the origins of life, then something is wrong. Life springs up easily. It must, “whenever there’s an opportunity.” If so, it should have happened repeatedly on earth — why not? — leaving evidence in the form of multiple genetic codes. But there is no such evidence.

It should also have happened elsewhere in the cosmos, perhaps in our own Solar System, like on Mars. Not just the most simple life, either, but something “fairly evolved.” Why not intelligent, too? But there’s no evidence of any of that either.

For evolutionists, it’s a dilemma without an apparent solution. For advocates of intelligent design, it can be taken in stride. Whether the origin of life, of complex animals, or of homo sapiens with our gift of speech, wonderful things have a funny way of “slipping suddenly into being,” in Michael Denton’s phrase.

Remember, this is all apart from the devilish difficulties for theories of unguided origins raised by Meyer in Signature in the Cell and Darwin’s Doubt. Innovations don’t “evolve.” They spring into existence, we find again and again, with an alarming abruptness. As if by design.

Photo credit: Yuri Amelin via Science Daily.

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No State for Palestinian Arabs

The End of Palestinian Nationalism

Liel Leibovitz

With the Israelis murdered this week by Palestinian terrorists—13-year-old Hallel Ariel, stabbed in her sleep, or Michael Mark, father of 10, shot in his car with his wife and children by his side—it’s also time to bury the bloated corpse of the Palestinian national movement. A cause that had once attracted the sympathies of just and compassionate people everywhere is increasingly devolving into a call heard only by the wild and the deranged.

How did that happen? Like all questions of its scope, this one, too, contains multitudes. You could argue pragmatism and say that it was Israel’s fault, that the Jewish state’s stringent policies and its penchant for settlements drove the fragile Palestinians to despair. You could argue essentialism and say that it will always be in the Arabs’ nature to hate the Jews. There’s no shortage of good stories to tell, and all likely contain some dusting of the truth. But none explain 17-year-old Muhammad Nasser Tarayrah taking a smiling selfie and then leaving his luxurious two-story house in Bani Naim, ambling over to Ariel’s home in Kiryat Arba, watching her as she slept peacefully in her bed, exhausted from a dance recital the evening before, and slaughtering her with a kitchen knife. None explain Tarayrah’s mother and sister hailing the murderer as a hero who has made them proud. This is not nationalism. It is madness.

And yet, don’t expect the arbiters of global rectitude to pay much attention. The world, moved both by moral rightness and political necessity, has gotten used to holding two opposing narratives about the Palestinian national movement in its head at the same time. The first of these—some versions of which are inclusive of Israeli rights and aspirations, and some of which are entirely hostile to the existence of Israel itself—is about the right of the Palestinian people to their own state. The second is about the wrongs committed by both Palestinians and Israelis, and which tend in the minds of most reasonable people who are not deeply staked in the tangled history of the conflict to drown each other out: Oppression leads to terror attacks which lead to more oppression.

This clash between narrative A (the Palestinians deserve a state) and narrative B (bad deeds on both sides make a Palestinian state more and more unlikely) is frequently referred to by Western reporters and diplomats, usually with a schoolmarmish clicking of the tongue, as the “cycle of violence.” If only both sides could get along, the common wisdom among the global elites still runs, it would be easy enough to find some sort of solution, and the world would be at least a moderately better place.

But what if both narratives of rights and wrongs are in fact inseparable? That’s what the leaders of the BDS movement believe. In their view, the deeds of the occupation they decry are hardly an accident, because all of the land of Mandate Palestine properly belongs—by transcendent right, if not by international law and treaty—to the Arabs of Palestine. Compromise with Zionism is a compromise with inherent oppression and injustice, which by its very nature will only inflame further conflict. The only morally right, and politically stable long-term solution, therefore, is to eliminate the Zionist State of Israel, once and for all, even if both Zionists and devotees of international law might read the historical record and the facts on the ground very differently. The great virtue of the BDS position is that it replaces contradictions with clarity: Zionism is occupation, always and forever, plain and simple.

It is worth considering whether the leaders of the BDS movement have stumbled on something profound about the conflict, a premise that people in the West who oppose the elimination of the State of Israel might also want to consider. Maybe it isn’t true that both sides are right. Maybe the easy nostrum that both national movements have justice on their side and that both sides do bad things is a false appeal to complexity of the kind that comforts people who would really rather not deal with hard real-world questions of right versus wrong. Maybe the failure of decades of painstaking but fruitless efforts by the most sophisticated diplomats and map-makers and negotiators on the planet, backed by unending rivers of cash, is telling us something important: that there isn’t room for two full-fledged national movements in the same tiny sliver of land, even if, in a perfect world, it would be better if there was. What if what you see on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is what you get? Then what?

It is in fact impossible to separate the Zionist dream of creating a Jewish nation-state in the Biblical land of Israel from the abridgment of the national aspirations of those Arabs who were previously living in that land under the Turks, or who were drawn there in growing numbers in the early 20th century by the economic activity of Jewish colonists. In that sense, while Zionism doesn’t have to—and should never—imply that non-Jewish citizens of Israel do not have absolutely the same rights as Jewish citizens to live, work, think, and speak freely, the BDS movement is certainly right that Zionism absolutely does imply the abrogation of the national dream of the Palestinian people to enjoy the whole of historical Palestine as their national homeland. It is perfectly fine for some Palestinians to see that abrogation as a burning injustice, and to reject Zionism as a cruel, unjust imposition on their own experience, just as Zionists are free to celebrate the return of the Jewish people to its historic homeland, and wish that all the Arabs would pack up and leave. Whether settled in courtrooms or on battlefields, it is an argument that, really, only one side can win.

By the same token, it is also time to see the Palestinian national movement as a unified whole, rather than picking and choosing among its parts in order to construct a Western-friendly creature that can then be positioned as a likely partner for negotiations that—for reasons that should now seem obvious to every thinking person—go absolutely nowhere, because they are premised on a fantasy of a thing that doesn’t actually exist. Is there actually any meaningful difference in the aspirations of the leaders of Hamas and the leaders of Fatah, both of whom compete to incite and lionize the unending stream of zombie-like killers who murder Jews wherever they can find them, whether in settlements or on the beaches of Haifa and Tel Aviv? These killers, and the leaders who incentivize them, are not something separate from the Palestinian national movement. They are, as the wall posters and the television broadcasts in their honor claim, the front-line soldiers of the movement, and its purest representatives.

And that’s the real catastrophe facing the Palestinian people these days. There are plenty of other nations created by colonists on occupied land—America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and all of Latin America come immediately to mind, even if none of the Europeans who forged new nations in those places had even the slightest historical connection to the lands they seized. And there are some examples of national movements pushing off their oppressors and winning back their ancestral homelands. There are, however, no examples of nations, even failed ones, created by death cults. And a death cult is just what the Palestinian national movement has now become.

To understand how that is possible, we’ve few better guides than Leo Strauss. Lecturing in 1941, the philosopher was tasked with trying to explain what the hell had happened in his native Germany, and how so many seemingly normal people slid past reasonable reservations about logical geopolitical considerations and into the Hitlerian dance of death. The answer Strauss gives is chilling: The young Nazis weren’t so much ardent anti-Semites or staunch nationalists as they were nihilists repulsed by seeing their closed society threatened by the promise of progress and change. “Their Yes,” Strauss wrote as his subjects were still very much on the rise, “was inarticulate—they were unable to say more than: No! This No proved however sufficient as the preface to action, to the action of destruction.”

The Palestinian genius for nay-saying is well-documented, but what’s at play here is something new, something that transcends the dull boundaries of international negotiations and seeps into the hearts and minds of the young. Once the essential No that has guided Palestinian policy for decades has been turned inward, it could find no other outlet but destruction and no better target than the Jews next door. Anti-Semitism has something to do with fanning this derangement, but it is not its essence; neither are pure yearnings for an independent Palestinian homeland. The revolt we’re seeing now is more profound, more ontological in nature: It’s the revolt of an educated and relatively well-off generation—note how many of the stabbers have come, like Tarayrah, from comfortable and stable families—that looks for meaning and honor and sacrifice and can find it nowhere in the vastly compromised world outside, succumbing instead to the all-consuming fire of utter annihilation. We’ve seen this tide rise before under similar circumstances, and we’ll see it rise again.

It’s easy to argue that Tarayrah and his fellow pogromists are merely youth pushed into murder by the constant torrent of incitement prevalent in every corner of Palestinian culture; this is true, but it eerily assumes, like the looniest moralists do when they argue that violent video games or gangster rap will inevitably lead to shootouts in the streets of suburban Connecticut, that adolescents are spongy creatures incapable of doing much more than soaking violence and spurting out violence in kind. It’s even easier to continue to blame that mythical horned beast, the Occupation, as if there was no other reason for young Palestinians to feel hopeless—like, say, the fact that their own government is one of the world’s most repressive and corrupt—and as if hopelessness necessarily translated into taking knives to the throats of slumbering children. If we abandon these simplicities, and acknowledge instead that what bedevils Palestinian society is a much more wicked problem, we’re left to make some uneasy decisions of our own.

First, we should realize that we must approach a death cult differently than we would a healthy national movement. The latter calls out for compromise. It rewards negotiations, and it reassures its foes by offering indications, real and symbolic, that future reconciliation is likely and at hand. This is why we often forgive it its missteps, and are willing to look away even when it occasionally unleashes bloody hell, as even the most well-tempered and responsible national movements sometimes do. The former, however, has no appetite for anything but destruction, and measures its triumphs with the crude arithmetic of body counts and death tolls. It cannot be reasoned with. It can only be forcefully stopped. Until it is, any attempt to pretend that Palestinian nationalism is still viable is simply grotesque.

This should come as little surprise to any serious student of national movements throughout history. Reread Herder’s remark that, in a certain sense, every form of human perfection is first and foremost national in spirit, and reflect again on the Treaty of Westphalia, which sliced Europe into nation-states erected on the basis of self-determination and committed to diplomatic congress as a means of resolving disputes. Then go forth and observe the myriad national movements that failed miserably to live up to this new spirit of creative nationalism. Ask the Moravians or the Transnistrians about their efforts at self-determination, and that’s just one small corner in Europe. The world is thick with failed national movements that, for one reason or another, saw their dreams disintegrate into violence, or irrelevance, or both. Sadly, the Palestinians now join them. This will have many implications, for Palestinians and Israelis alike, but if history is any guide, the only way to counter a No is with an equal or greater Yes, a spirit that meets death by loudly and enthusiastically affirming life.


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Israel is best for Arabs

Best Place for Arabs in the Middle East

Bradley Martin, American Spectator
June 29, 2016, 5:00 am

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Palestinians are newcomers

Who were the 1948 Arab refugees?

Yoram Ettinger, Israel Hayom, June 3, 2016

 Contrary to conventional “wisdom,” most Arabs in British Mandate Palestine — and most of the 320,000 1948 Arab refugees — were migrant workers and descendants of 1831-1947 Muslim immigrants from across the Arab world. At the time, Britain enticed Arab immigration and blocked Jewish immigration.

Thus, between 1880 and 1919, Haifa’s Arab population surged from 6,000 to 80,000, mostly due to migrant workers. The eruption of World War II accelerated the demand for Arab manpower by the British Mandate’s military and its civilian authorities.

Moreover, Arab migrant workers were imported by the Ottoman Empire, and then by the British Mandate, to work on major civilian and military infrastructure projects. Legal and illegal Arab migrants were also attracted by economic growth generated by the Jewish community starting in 1882.

According to a 1937 report by the British Peel Commission (featured in the ground-breaking book “Palestine Betrayed” by Professor Efraim Karsh), “during 1922 through 1931, the increase of Arab population in the mixed-towns of Haifa, Jaffa and Jerusalem was 86%, 62% and 37% respectively, while in purely Arab towns such as Nablus and Hebron it was only 7% and a decrease of 2% in Gaza.”

Irrespective of occasional Arab emigration from British Mandate Palestine — due to intra-Arab terrorism, which has been an endemic feature in the Middle East — the substantial wave of Arab immigration between 1831 and 1947 triggered dramatic growth of the Arab populations in Jaffa (17 times), Haifa (12 times) and Ramla (5 times).

According to Joan Peters’ momentous book “From Time Immemorial”: “The 1931 census [documented] at least 23 different languages in use by Muslims plus an additional 28 in use by Christian Arabs — a total of 51 languages. The non-Jews in Palestine listed as their birthplaces at least 24 different countries.”

In 1917, the “Arab” population of Jaffa included at least 25 nationalities, mostly Egyptians, but also Syrians, Yemenites, Persians, Afghanis, Indians and Baluchis. The British Palestine Exploration Fund documented a proliferation of Egyptian neighborhoods in the Jaffa area: Abu Kabir, Sumeil, Sheikh Munis, Salame, Fejja, etc. Hundreds of Egyptian families also settled in the inland, in Arara, Kafr Qasim‎, Tayibe and Qalansawe‎.

The 1831-1840 conquest of the land of Israel by Egypt’s Mohammed Ali was solidified by a flow of Egyptian and Sudanese migrants settling between Gaza in the south, Tulkarem in the center and the Hula Valley in the north. They followed in the footsteps of thousands of Egyptian draft dodgers who fled Egypt before 1831 and settled in Acre.

In 1865, the British traveler H.B. Tristram, in “The Land of Israel: A Journal of Travels in Palestine,” documented Egyptian migrants in the Beit Shean Valley, Acre, Hadera, Netanya and Jaffa.

According to the August 12, 1934 issue of the Syrian daily La Syrie, “30,000-36,000 Syrian migrants, from the Hauran region, entered Palestine during the last few months alone.” The role model of Hamas terrorism, Izzedine al-Qassam, who terrorized Jews in British Mandate Palestine, was Syrian, as was Fawzi al-Qawuqji, the chief Arab terrorist in British Mandate Palestine during the 1930s and 1940s.

Libyan migrants settled in Gedera, south of Tel Aviv. Algerian refugees escaped the French conquest of 1830 and settled in Safed alongside Syrians and Jordanian Bedouin in Tiberias. Circassian refugees, fleeing Russian oppression (1878) and Muslims from Bosnia, Turkmenistan, and Yemen (1908) further diversified the Arab demography west of the Jordan River.

This unusual Arab/Muslim demographic diversity is evidenced by popular Israeli Arab family names, which are a derivative of their countries of origin: Al-Masri (Egypt), Al-Obeidi (Sudan), Al-Lubnani (Lebanon), Halabi (Syria), Al-Mughrabi (Morocco), Al-Djazair (Algeria), Al-Yamani (Yemen), Al-Afghani (Afghanistan), Al-Hindi (India), Al-Hijazi (Saudi Arabia), Al-Baghdadi (Iraq), Bushnak (Bosnia), Khamis (Bahrain), Turki (Turkey), etc.

Aryeh Avneri, a pioneering historian of Arab and Jewish migration, estimated that in 1554 there were 205,000 Muslims, Christians and Jews in Palestine, then 275,000 in 1800 and an unusual surge to 532,000 in 1890, resulting from accelerated Arab immigration.

In fact, Mark Twain wrote in 1869: “Of all the lands there are for dismal scenery, Palestine must be the prince. … The hills are barren. … The valleys are unsightly deserts. … Palestine is desolate and unlovely.”

Thus, contrary to the myth of the 1948 Arab refugees — aiming to delegitimize Israel — Arabs have not been in the land of Israel from time immemorial; no Palestinian people was ever robbed of its land; there is no basis for an Arab “claim of return”; and most of the 320,000 Arab refugees — who were created by the 1948 Arab invasion of Israel and their own collaboration with the invasion — were recent immigrants and foreign workers (from neighboring Arab countries) in the land of Israel.

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Jerusalem is united

Jerusalem Day: A personal recollection

By MICHELLE MAZEL \ June6, 2016

It happened almost half a century ago – 49 years ago to be precise – and one tends to forget the days of terror that preceded the reunification of the city.

Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser had enforced a blockade on the Straits of Tiran on the Red Sea, effectively cutting off Israeli vessels’ access to Asia and to Africa; he had also ordered the UN peacekeeping force to leave the Sinai Peninsula where it had been posted since the 1956 Suez war. On June 5, 1967, the beginning of the Six Day War, the government of Israel had been at pains to inform King Hussein of Jordan that the war was only directed at Egypt. Therefore, no efforts had been made to prepare the capital for an attack. The sudden Jordanian artillery barrage took everyone by surprise.

Like most Jerusalemites, I had gone to work as usual. The first salvos found me at the Government Print House then located in Baka. Nobody knew what to do. While some of the employees chose to remain in the building, others decided to make a break for it. Though my two-year-old daughter was with a caretaker, I was afraid she would be scared and I joined them. A courageous colleague drove me part of the way and I started walking. It was very hot, there was a pervasive smell of gunpowder and the streets were deserted. The sound of big guns was heard intermittently.

I made it home just as the neighbors were getting organized to take refuge in what passed for a bomb shelter – a small room on the ground floor with reinforced walls and a steel door which was usually used to store junk. It had been hastily cleared but offered no facilities whatsoever, not even water. There was no proper ventilation and we had to leave the door partially open most of the time. Seven families lived in the building and there were small children so there was barely room for mattresses. Of course the men had all been drafted.

We settled down for the night with no expectation of being able to sleep. The hills of Jerusalem reverberated with artillery fire. Kol Israel radio was sending encouraging messages but refraining from giving any information. However, at the time Egyptian radio had special broadcasts in Hebrew, and boasted of a string of successes. It provided us with some unlikely comic relief, as when it was said that while Israelis were suffering, their prime minister was ensconced in a luxury hotel “with his much younger wife.” But as the hours went by, it was getting more and more difficult to joke. Any minute we expected Egyptian planes to bomb the city. Around two or three in the morning Kol Israel suddenly announced that the Egyptian air force had been completely eliminated. The relief was indescribable and we managed to get some sleep.

Meanwhile reinforcements had been pouring into Jerusalem and were soon routing the Jordanians. On June 7, barely two days after the beginning of the war, a joyful yell was heard all over the world: “Har habayit beyadenu” – the Temple Mount is in our hands.

The war was over for Jerusalem, but it was not before June 11 that a global cease-fire was reached. The Israeli government then took a momentous decision and the walls between eastern and western Jerusalem went down. An incredible event followed. Tens of thousands of Israelis walked to what had hitherto been forbidden territory, while tens of thousands of Arabs were going the other way, eager to discover the new city. They mingled, stopping sometimes to exchange a few words with the new neighbors. An endless flow of men, women and children filled the streets of the reunited city. It is safe to say that they all shared the same feeling of unreality. There was not the slightest incident to mar this extraordinary day where we all thought that a new beginning was bringing hope to all.

It did not quite happen that way. Yet it is worth remembering that had King Hussein believed Rabin instead of Nasser, Jordan would still be ruling the West Bank and east Jerusalem… there would have been neither settlements nor settlers.

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Diplomacy won’t work

Why U.S. diplomacy can’t fix the Middle East

By Aaron David Miller,June 3, 2016
Aaron David Miller is a vice president at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington. He served in the State Department from 1978 to 2003.

Israel wanted no part in it. And neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians were scheduled to attend. Yet Secretary of State John Kerry remained optimistic ahead of Friday’s sure-to-go-nowhere Middle East peace conference in Paris. “What we are seeking to do,” he said, “is encourage the parties to be able to see a way forward so they understand peace is a possibility.”

I recognize that sentiment: wanting to remain upbeat, even while knowing that the odds are long. For much of my 24-year career as a State Department Middle East analyst, negotiator and adviser, I held out hope that a conflict-ending peace agreement was possible. I had faith in negotiations as a talking cure and thought the United States could arrange a comprehensive solution. I believed in the power of U.S. diplomacy.

But by the time I left government in 2003, I was a disillusioned diplomat and peace processor with serious doubts about what the United States could accomplish in the Middle East. I realize now that, like Kerry, I was tilting at windmills. U.S.-brokered peace in the Middle East is a quixotic quest. And the more we try and fail, the less credibility and leverage we have in the region.

Looking back now, the high point of my optimism was probably in 1991, the year we orchestrated another, more productive Middle East peace conference in Madrid. I remember that on one of nine trips that led to the conference, a large fly boarded the plane with us at Andrews Air Force Base and buzzed annoyingly around the staff compartment. I was vainly trying to swat it when Secretary of State James Baker walked by to brief the press in the rear of the aircraft. Hours later, while drafting talking points, I felt a presence over my shoulder and turned just as Baker’s large hand dropped the fly onto my yellow legal pad.

That kind of sums up how I thought about our diplomacy back then: With good timing and assertive American leadership (something short of fly-crushing brute force), we could solve festering problems once and for all. My memos at the time had a yes-we-can edge.

The moment seemed ripe for a Middle East breakthrough facilitated by the United States. Our influence in the region was at an all-time high. The U.S. military had just pushed Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait, and the Israelis and Arabs were off-balance — in the case of Jordan, Syria and the Palestinians, they were looking for ways to ingratiate themselves into America’s good graces. We were respected, admired and feared in the region to a degree we haven’t been since.

Baker, meanwhile, was probably the best U.S. negotiator to tackle the Middle East since Henry Kissinger brokered three disengagement agreements in the wake of the 1973 Arab-Israeli War. I watched Baker cajole, pressure and threaten to walk out on both Israel’s Yitzhak Shamir and Syria’s Hafez al-Assad, and I saw him huddle with Palestinians like a football coach to encourage them to attend the peace conference. It helped that he had the full backing of President George H.W. Bush — his close friend who cared about Mideast peace and was making good on a pledge to Saudi Arabia that he’d take on the ­Arab-Israeli issue after the Persian Gulf War.

The Madrid conference produced the first direct bilateral negotiations and peace process success between Israelis and Arabs — Syrians, Jordanians and Palestinians — since the Egyptian-Israeli agreement 12 years earlier. I reveled in our achievement and marveled at what U.S. diplomacy could accomplish when it was tough, tenacious and strategic.

My mistake was in believing that Madrid, which really produced only a procedural breakthrough, would necessarily create a foundation for progress on the substantive issues. I thought if we just kept the process going, if we were committed and creative, we would somehow find our way to agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians on Jerusalem, borders and refugees, along with agreement between the Israelis and the Syrians on the Golan Heights. But we never got there. Process can’t substitute for substance.

I maintained my misplaced optimism into the Clinton administration. Sitting with my family on the South Lawn of the White House in September 1993, watching President Bill Clinton preside over the historic handshake between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat, I believed, in what had to be one of the most stunning misjudgments of my career, that the peace process had become irreversible.

The Israelis and the Palestinians, without U.S. involvement, had reached an agreement on mutual recognition and a declaration of principles that was supposed to get them toward talks on the big issues. I really thought they had taken ownership of their negotiations and would dedicate themselves to making the Oslo Accords stick.

Through the crises of the next seven years of the Oslo process — Palestinian terrorist attacks, Israeli settlement activity, the assassination of Rabin by an Israeli extremist opposed to Oslo — I kept the faith that the almighty peace process ultimately would succeed. I convinced myself that with added urgency from the United States, the confidence-building, interim measures laid out in the Oslo agreement could be made to work and pave the way for negotiations on the core issues. Early in 1997, literally down on my hands and knees in the West Bank city of Hebron measuring the width of a street that figured prominently in the negotiations, I felt both small and ennobled. This was important, and I’d do anything to keep the process alive.

My commitment, and the illusions that sustained it, would take me all the way to the ill-advised, ill-timed and ill-prepared July 2000 Camp David summit: a last-ditch effort to save the Oslo process. During a briefing a week before, Clinton went around the room asking everyone to gauge the prospects of the summit. And everyone, from the national security adviser to the secretary of state, said more or less the same thing: There was a chance; Ehud Barak and Arafat would make decisions only in the heat of a summit; the president owed it to the cause and to himself to pursue peace before the end of his term. The assessment we all should have given him was that there would be no conflict-ending accord or even a framework agreement, because neither Barak nor Arafat were ready to pay the price, and the president was unlikely to bridge the gaps. But I brushed aside my doubts and echoed the others. Part of me was concerned about pissing off everyone else in the room. The invitations to Arafat and Barak had already been issued, so the briefing really was a formality. But part of me still wanted to believe that we could make peace.

The president thought that if he could just get the Israelis and the Palestinians in the room, he could somehow get them to an agreement, building on what Barak was prepared to offer and using the famous Clinton powers of persuasion. But we had no strategy, we coordinated too closely with the Israelis, and we had no Arab buy-in on issues such as Jerusalem nor any sign that the Palestinians would move off their core demands. We didn’t run the summit; the summit ran us.

When I think back about that fateful period, I shudder. With the best of intentions, in eight months, we planned three presidential negotiations (two on the Syrian track and one on the Palestinian) and failed at all three.

What I should have realized all along was that strong U.S. mediation can’t make up for weak leadership of the parties to a negotiation. We can’t talk them into getting control over their political constituencies. And we can’t expect that our enthusiasm will persuade them to invest in solutions, take necessary risks or recognize that a negotiated settlement is in their interest (and not just ours).

In March 2002, during the height of the second intifada, President George W. Bush’s Middle East envoy, Anthony Zinni, and I were sent to negotiate a cease-fire between Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. But that was either the Bush administration’s idea of a cruel joke or just a throwaway talking point before the final break with the PLO leader.

That week, a Palestinian suicide bomber had blown himself up at a Passover seder in Netanya, killing 30 Israelis and wounding 140. Israeli forces responded with Operation Defensive Shield, entering the West Bank and imposing closures on most major Palestinian cities and towns.

I’ll never forget the scene in Arafat’s compound. The place reeked of foul air, body odor and too few working toilets. The only light, in what had been in better days a reasonably well-lit conference room, came from candles and a bit of sun that managed to peek through windows that were almost completely blacked out for fear of Israeli snipers. And there in the gloom sat a self-satisfied Arafat, his black machine gun ominously displayed on the table, holding forth about how he’d be rather be martyred than surrender to Israel’s diktats.

There was no longer any way for me to rationalize the importance of process without direction, negotiations without substance or even the use of the word “peace.” Our overinflated optimism at Camp David had had real costs. After raising expectations we couldn’t deliver on, we blamed Arafat for the summit’s failure, and that made it easier for him, in the wake of Sharon’s provocative visit to the sacred Temple Mount, to acquiesce to and encourage the violence that would become the second intifada.

U.S. diplomacy can be effective when we have partners willing to make decisions, when all parties feel an urgency to make those decisions and when gaps separating the parties can actually be bridged. The Iran nuclear agreement, while greatly flawed, is a case in point. It succeeded because it was not a transformational but a transactional arrangement, a highly detailed arms-control accord of arguably limited duration and scope that both the United States and Iran wanted for their own reasons.

But when it comes to matters that cut to the core of people’s identities — such as Jerusalem or Palestinian refugees, or the social engineering required to end Syria’s civil war — or creating an outcome in Iraq or Libya that produces stability and good governance, the United States doesn’t have the horses to pull the wagon. The inconvenient reality is that we will never have a greater stake in this region, or more power to remedy its ills, than those who live there.

I haven’t given up hope for smart and well-timed U.S. diplomacy. But I’ve abandoned my illusions of just how much America is able and willing to do to repair a badly broken, cruel and unforgiving Middle East.

As the fix-it people, Americans have a hard time accepting that we can’t sort out conflicts when those directly involved aren’t willing or able to do so. But sometimes, it makes more sense for our diplomats and negotiators to stay home rather than look weak and ineffective while searching for solutions to problems they simply cannot resolve.

Twitter: @aarondmiller2


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