Arabs still haven’t recovered

The Arab World Has Never Recovered From the Loss of 1967

Emily Tamkin |Foreign Policy, June 5, 2017

On Dec. 11, 2016, Sadiq Jalal al-Azm, Syria’s most consequential public intellectual in the last half-century, died in Berlin. He was 82 years old. In his last conscious days, Azm, like numerous other Syrian exiles, watched from afar the slow, methodical massacre of rebel-held eastern Aleppo. For a man who struggled for half a century against Arab tyranny, intellectual vacuity, socio-economic injustice, and sectarian and ethnic bigotry, it must have been particularly cruel to see the victory of these forces in the physical destruction of Aleppo, the jewel of Syria’s ancient and famed cities. From the heady days of intellectual debates over the perennial question of “what went wrong” in the Arab world to his last deathbed moments of solitude and sober reflection, Azm was a critical witness to the Arabs’ long descent into the heart of darkness.

Fifty years after Azm and other Arab intellectuals started to mercilessly deconstruct their ossified political orders, reactionary and primitive religious structures, and stagnant societies, the Arab world has descended further into darkness. Physical, intellectual, and political desolation has claimed many of the once lively metropolises of the Arab region — Damascus, Aleppo, Baghdad, Mosul, Cairo, and Alexandria — with only Beirut still resisting, albeit teetering on the edge. For centuries, these cities constituted a rich human and linguistic mosaic of ancient communities including Muslims, Christians, Jews, Druze, Arabs, Kurds, Assyrians, and Circassians. In modern times, they were joined by Greek, Armenian, and Italian communities. A vibrant cosmopolitanism found home in the port cities of Alexandria and Beirut and the cities of the hinterland, such as Aleppo, Damascus, and Baghdad.

As a teenager roaming the streets of Beirut, I would hear a babel of languages: Arabic, French, English, Armenian, Greek, and Kurdish. Admittedly, that thriving cosmopolitanism had its drawbacks amid a brittle world of uncertainties and inequalities. The rural hinterland was populated by resentful peasants, who could see and envy from afar the shimmering lights of the forbidden cities and their hidden rewards.

As a young man, I witnessed the surprising outburst of enthusiasm that arose in the wake of the collective Arab disbelief and humiliation following the swift, crushing defeat of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan at the hands of Israel in six days. The war allowed Israel to seize Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, the Syrian Golan Heights, and the West Bank and Gaza and eventually marked the death knell for the idea of Arab nationalism embodied by Egypt’s then-president, Gamal Abdel Nasser.

Initially, most Arabs sought refuge in denial, refusing to admit that their military rout was emblematic of deeper rotten cultural maladies and social defects and instead calling the disastrous defeat a temporary “setback.” Many wanted badly to believe that Israel’s victory was achieved only because of Western machinations and deception, since it was almost an article of faith among many Arab nationalists, leftists, and Islamists that Israel was an “artificial entity” — an extension of imperialism in the Arab East.

The belief among Arabs that their armies would prevail in the war was almost universal. I was 17 years old then, and I still vividly remember the searing pain I felt, mixed with unadulterated rage directed mostly against the self-appointed guardians of Arab patrimony.

Fifty years after the defeat, the brittle world the Arabs built is unraveling in civil wars fought with abandon by cruel men supported by equally cruel foreign and regional marauders. Ancient cities that survived many an invader now lay in ruins in Syria, Iraq, Libya, and Yemen. Schools and hospitals, places of worship, bakeries and pharmacies — all were repeatedly violated by governments and rebels. Millions of bereft souls wandered over large swaths of scorched earth before fleeing their countries, by choice or by force, forming rivers of refugees and spilling over into neighboring lands and then scattering across Europe. A tragic modern version of the “Middle Passage” has taken place in the Mediterranean, whose deceptively calm waves became the watery graves of many a refugee braving the sea on rickety, overflowing boats operated by greedy seamen, the slave traders of yesteryear. In the second half of the second decade of the 21st century, Arabs — who barely constitute 5 percent of the world’s population — burdened the world with more than 50 percent of its refugees.

Today, Arabs find themselves living in the shadow of more powerful non-Arab neighbors: Israel, Turkey, and Iran. In both Syria and Iraq, the concept of a unitary national identity has collapsed along sectarian and ethnic fault lines, thus deepening political, social, and cultural polarizations and making the reunification of both countries all but impossible. Egypt, once a regional power, has been thoroughly marginalized politically in the last few decades, remaining afloat economically only because of handouts from the Arab Gulf states. The vaunted Egyptian military is even incapable of imposing its total sovereignty over the Sinai Peninsula. It finds itself reliant on the might of the Israeli Air Force — the same air force that decimated Egyptian air power on June 5, 1967 — in the fight against the so-called Islamic State and other extremists.

Cairo has ceased to be the cultural mecca of the Arabs, with none of its universities, research centers, laboratories, publications, studios, or galleries producing meaningful science, knowledge, or art. Beirut, the imperfect liberal oasis of my youth, is meanwhile being suffocated by an ossified, corrupt, and feudal political system and by a predatory, cunning, and ruthless paramilitary force: Hezbollah. The group is among the most lethal nonstate actors in the world, serving effectively as Iran’s foreign legion — a Shiite version of the famed Ottoman Janissaries.

Israeli tanks roll in action on the Golan Heights in June 1967 during the Six-Day War. (Photo credit: AFP/Getty Images)

From the ashes, a questioning

The Sadiq Jalal al-Azm I knew saw such developments as the culmination of his worst fears. I met him in 1968 after the publication of his seminal book Self-Criticism After the Defeat, a withering critique of all facets of Arab life. Published in Beirut, the book argued that only a radical dismantling of the entrenched structures of Arab society and culture, a total rejection of the myths and superstition that support them, coupled with sweeping social and political reforms, could transcend the defeat. It became a milestone in modern Arab intellectual history and caused a storm of contradictory reactions.

But Azm wasn’t done tearing down the Arab world’s sacred cows. In 1969, he published a collection of essays titled Critique of Religious Thought. This time, he directed his critical blows against the backward religious authorities and their abuse of religion to serve the political powers, which fostered fatalism and ignorance. He juxtaposed these atavistic notions with the values of rational thinking and scientific inquiry.

The reaction from the custodians of the status quo and the religious authorities to this “blasphemy” from the most prominent leftist Arab intellectual was swift and unforgiving. Lebanon’s Sunni mufti and a collection of hypocritical politicians urged the state to ban the book, and the government briefly arrested Azm and charged him with “inciting sectarianism” — a laughable charge since Azm did not spare the Christian religious establishment.

After Azm’s arrest, his legion of supporters among the literati, intellectuals, and activists in Beirut and beyond began to mount a counterattack. By 1969, Adonis, the greatest modern Arab poet — a Syrian by birth who spent his most productive years in Beirut — had established the literary journal Mawaqif (“Positions”), which became the venue for critical thinking and avant-garde literature and art. Adonis’s poems and trenchant essays in Mawaqif were magnificently evocative and prescient, the stuff that underpins a civilization. I was among the lucky few to be invited to his weekly salon, along with some of the mostly young and gifted Arab writers and artists who came to Beirut to join the good fight for enlightenment. The biggest thrill in my youthful years was seeing my name in print for the first time in Mawaqif above a few poems Adonis thought worthy of publication.

The agitation against Azm’s trial was mounting, and I felt emboldened enough to go to court along with a few friends to show solidarity with our hero. Azm was concerned about the safety of his family after receiving death threats, and as a precaution he sent his wife to Jordan. However, Azm’s ordeal was short: He was released from prison after two weeks, the case against him was dismissed, and his book was celebrated as a progressive victory against the forces of backwardness.

Of all the Arab intellectuals and artists who transformed Beirut after 1967 into the most lively and cultured city in the Arab world, the Syrians had the pride of place. In addition to Azm and Adonis, other Syrian literary luminaries — among them playwright Saadallah Wannous and poets Muhammad al-Maghout and Nizar Qabbani — displayed tremendous courage in exposing the entrenched taboos and sacred religious dogmas of Islam and the political myths of the Arab nationalist movement in its Nasserite and Baathist manifestations. Wannous’s gripping play An Evening Party for the Fifth of June first published in Mawaqif and then produced in Beirut to critical and popular acclaim — was incisive in its deconstruction of the underlying political and social causes for the defeat. The play, in which some actors sat among the audience, helped revolutionize theater in the Arab world.

In the early 1970s, new weekly and monthly publications came into being, joining established ones like the progressive periodicals Al-Talia and Al-Tariq, as well as the daily An -Nahar, whose weekly supplement, edited by the Lebanese poet and commentator Ounsi el-Hajj, featured pages brimming with exciting debates and profound soul-searching and introspection. The Palestinian novelist Ghassan Kanafani, who lived in Beirut, produced some of his best literary work and his most scathing political commentary in those years. Beirut’s publishing houses, theaters, art galleries, and universities — including the famed American University of Beirut — were humming with creative activities. That moment of Arab enthusiasm was possible only in Beirut, at that time the freest, most cosmopolitan Arab capital.

There was a faint attempt by some Arab nationalist writers to resuscitate Arabism, but to no avail.

The great intellectual debate in the years after the June 1967 war raged mainly between the progressive current (Azm, Adonis et al.) and an assortment of Islamists from many Arab states, who saw the defeat, correctly, as the historic rout of Arab nationalism. There was a faint attempt by some Arab nationalist writers to resuscitate Arabism, but to no avail. I have always believed that it was only after the 1967 defeat that the Arab Islamists, who were mocked and dismissed by the left in previous decades, began to regroup and reassert themselves intellectually and politically as the only “authentic” alternative to Arab nationalism. None of us who were politically active in those years would have believed that the exclusivist and reactionary Islamists, mainly the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood movement and its various branches, and later the Shiite Hezbollah, would dominate Arab life and politics in subsequent decades.

A destroyed tank sits on the side of a road between Bethlehem and Jerusalem in June 1967 during the Six-Day War. (Photo credit: PIERRE GUILLAUD/AFP/Getty Images)

War comes again

That historic moment of cultural and political ferment and renewal in Beirut began to dissipate in 1973, as Arab autocracy and the forces of the status quo got their second act. During the October War that year, Egyptian and Syrian forces breached Israeli defenses and performed relatively well, at least in the first few days of fighting. The war achieved its immediate political goal — to draw in American mediation — and allowed Egypt and Syria, having regained some of their territories, to claim that they had restored their credibility.

By that time, however, the Palestinian national movement, represented by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), had failed to live up to its claim that it represented the genuine “secular” alternative to the humiliated Arab nationalists. The PLO’s blunders in Jordan and Lebanon — in which it intervened in the domestic affairs of both countries and intimidated local communities — deprived the leadership of the pretense that the movement was different from the rest of the Arab regimes. Finally, the civil war in Lebanon, which began in 1975, decisively killed the fleeting moment of hope and promise that was Beirut.

The forces of autocracy and reaction were back in control. But the world they maintained, even when it looked deceptively strong behind a fake veneer of stability and legitimacy, could not hide the fact that there was something rotten in the world of the Arabs. From the middle of the 1970s until the beginning of the Tunisian uprising in December 2010, several Arab states experienced spasms of violence, some of which could be qualified as civil wars (Algeria in the early 1990s; Syria from 1978 to 1982; Iraq, particularly in 1991), low-intensity civil strife, or limited, mostly peaceful uprisings. All of those upheavals were put down by brute force. In Syria, Iraq, and Algeria, the regimes used savage means to crush their armed opponents, including the use of chemical weapons in Iraq and the uprooting of people from their ancestral homes. Occasionally, such as in the case of Algeria, the armed opposition matched the savagery of the regimes.

In 1979, the Middle East was shaken to its core by three major political earthquakes: the Islamic revolution in Iran, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and the violent takeover of the Grand Mosque in Mecca. From the Iraqi port city of Basra to Beirut, these cataclysmic events brought in their wake long wars, invasions, mass killing of peoples because of their ethnic or religious backgrounds, and unspeakable and unprecedented sectarian Sunni-Shiite bloodletting.

The attack in Mecca, an apocalyptic Sunni attempt to herald the coming of the new Mahdi, arose from an intolerant religious fanaticism that has a modern parallel in the Islamic State. The reaction of the Saudi monarchy to that attack could not have been worse. The austere Islam preached by the extremists who stormed the Great Mosque was the same Islam that the Saudi state sponsored and embraced with renewed vigor after 1979, as if to prove that no Sunni Muslim could be more puritan or more exclusivist than the Wahhabism it spread across the Muslim world. The Islamization of the war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan initially helped the Saudis, but today they and the rest of the world are reaping the apocalyptic wrath that the self-appointed custodians of puritan Islam in Riyadh began sowing decades ago.

A Palestinian worker prays at a housing project in the Jewish settlement of Har Homa on Sept. 7, 2009 in East Jerusalem. (Photo credit: DAVID Silverman/Getty Images)

The war for Islam

These are the roots of the current Sunni-Shiite sectarian conflict — not any theological dispute or ancient hatred. The foot soldiers who are doing the killing may believe that they are defending what is sacred in their sect, but those who mobilized them know the struggle is at its core a recent political phenomenon. It is a conflict that pits Iran and its Shiite allies in the region against Saudi Arabia and other Sunni allies over political power and tangible strategic interests.

The revolution in Iran brought the country’s Shiite ethos to the fore. Meanwhile, Sunni identity in the Arab world was undergoing a revival after the defeat of “secular” Arab nationalism. In Syria, the majority Sunnis had been chafing under Baath rule since the 1960s, where the levers of real power were in the hands of the Alawite minority, an offshoot sect of Shiism. In Iraq, Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Iran unleashed the monsters of sectarianism on a massive scale — but it was the American invasion in 2003 that pushed the country into a Sunni-Shiite civil war that is likely to continue for years to come.

There is also an undercurrent of economic and class resentment at the heart of the current upheavals in the Arab world. After World War II, the first waves of young, ambitious, and misguided military officers who hailed from the upper classes but claimed to be representing the resentful rural hinterland took over power in the cosmopolitan cities of Cairo, Baghdad, and Damascus. The regimes they overthrew were not full democracies but were relatively open and tolerant systems that embraced diversity and wanted to maintain good relations with the West. They had allowed for the formation of political parties and lively if not fully free media. Certainly, the monarchies in Egypt and Iraq and the Syrian republic never engaged in the gratuitous violence the petty military officers visited on their people in subsequent years.

For decades, these new Arab regimes imposed on their peoples a political version of a Faustian bargain: The state will provide social and educational services, government employment, economic subsidies, and other forms of state patronage, provided that the population not agitate for real political empowerment. In the states that espoused Arab nationalism — such as Syria, Egypt, and Iraq — part of the authoritarian bargain was that citizens should postpone their demands for democracy until the so-called battle for national economic development had been won and until victory in the struggle with Israel and imperialism was secured.

Many intellectuals accepted this diabolical bargain; those who resisted were persecuted or sought refuge in the sanctuary of Beirut. But after decades of atrocious governance, rapacious authoritarianism, predatory economic monopolies, and the hollowing out of civil society, the rickety scaffolding of those new nation-states, built over ancient civilizations like Iraq and Syria, began to fray and disintegrate. Even the homogeneous states with clear cultural identities and a sense of permanency like Egypt, and to a lesser extent Tunisia, could not escape the storm of discontent that swept the region in 2011, ushering in a new open era of constant sorrows and lamentations.

The unraveling of Syria may well drag into its maelstrom the fractured country of Lebanon or even Jordan.

In the June 1967 war, three Arab states were defeated and lost territories to Israel, but their very existence was not in jeopardy. Today, the multiple wars raging in Syria and Iraq, as well as those in Libya and Yemen, are more dangerous, as they grind at the weak foundations of the states. The unraveling of Syria may well drag into its maelstrom the fractured country of Lebanon or even Jordan. The local combatants and their regional and international sponsors appear to have no vision for the future and thus condemn these lands to continue their slow unwinding.

Israelis chant slogans while waving flags at Damascus Gate on June 1, 2011 during a Jerusalem Day parade in the city’s eastern sector to celebrate its capture during the Six-Day War. (Photo credit: GALI TIBBON/AFP/Getty Images)

To the victor go the spoils

The Arab defeat in June 1967 instantly transformed Israel, the little Sparta, into the region’s military superpower. Fifty years later, Israel has a first-world economy with a high-tech industry capable of competing with other corporations from technologically advanced states. But Israel is a country of paradoxes: It is a democracy for its Jewish citizens, a partial democracy for its Arab citizens, and a mean occupier of the Palestinians of the West Bank while keeping the Gaza Strip in its grip. Israel is at home in the 21st century, but it is also home for Jewish groups that wallow in religious atavism, intolerance, and anti-modernity and that are not dissimilar from the like-minded Muslim groups plaguing Arab lands. Regardless of what Israeli leaders say publicly about possible land compromises with the Palestinians, their actions — in the form of unabated settlement building on Palestinian land — speak of their conviction that Israel should maintain enough territories in the West Bank to make the creation of a viable Palestinian state impossible.

Despite what U.S. President Donald Trump might wish, there is no incentive for Israel to strike a historic bargain with the Palestinians now or in the near future, since the balance of power is not likely to change. The Palestinians, in turn, have grown dependent on the kindness of strangers from Europe and the United States. The Palestinian leadership exists in stagnation, after wasting many opportunities to pursue a comprehensive and protracted strategy of creative peaceful resistance to occupation that could draw the necessary support from Israelis who don’t want their country to be an occupier in perpetuity, one that gives off a whiff of the old American South.

The absence of a peaceful way out, and Israel’s insistence on maintaining control over a captive nation, will force the occupied to embrace nihilistic violence such as that promoted by Hamas. But this will not lead to liberation or reconciliation, but to more pain and resentment to the occupied and the occupier alike. The recent phenomenon of Palestinians knifing Israeli soldiers and civilians should not be surprising to Israelis familiar with the history of Jewish resistance to Roman control. The group within the Jewish Zealots known as the Sicarii (Latin for “dagger men”) waged a campaign of stabbing against the Romans and their Jewish sympathizers in the first century. The Sicarii Jews wanted to create a Jewish rebellion against the Romans, but their campaign backfired. It was a nihilistic endeavor — but occupation, and the desire to end it, was at its core.

It may be difficult for the Arabs of today to seriously reflect on the meaning of the defeat they suffered 50 years ago, given their current calamitous predicament.

It may be difficult for the Arabs of today to seriously reflect on the meaning of the defeat they suffered 50 years ago, given their current calamitous predicament. A half-century ago in the free sanctuary of Beirut, Arabs engaged in introspection and self-criticism, seeking to answer the central questions of their political life: What went wrong, and how did we reach this nadir? That unique moment of guarded hope and promise lasted but a few years.

Fifty years later, there is no equivalent to Beirut in which to ask the hard questions about why and how the moment of enthusiasm that followed the 2011 Arab uprisings lasted for only a few months before the peaceful protest movements gave way to violence and civil wars. And in the last half-century, the Palestinian movement — along with its numerous Arab allies — has failed to become a transformational force, just as the uprisings of recent years never became transformational revolutions.

But the fundamental questions asked by Azm, Adonis, and their supporters 50 years ago are as relevant today as they were then. What is radically different today is that things have been falling apart for years and are likely to continue on this trajectory of death and desolation for the foreseeable time. Cairo has lost its greatness, Baghdad is on its way to becoming almost exclusively a provincial Shiite capital, Aleppo was sacked for the first time in 600 years, and Damascus is a city in fear. Geographically, Alexandria is still on the Mediterranean, but in reality it has become a desolate hinterland. Beirut keeps fighting — but it is getting old and tired and feels abandoned. We now know that there are many ways to pillage great cities.

Singing about his harsh world in the Mississippi Delta of the 1930s, Charley Patton, to my mind the greatest bluesman in the classical era, belted out: “Every day seem like murder here.” Fifty years after the defeat, it is still the time of assassins in the Arab world. But there are many young Arab voices in politics, the arts, academia, and business who are not willing to give up the good fight. They constitute thousands of points of light keeping hope alive. But the reality is that for years to come, these flickering embers of enlightenment will continue to be engulfed in that endless, thick darkness.

(Top image credit: PIERRE GUILLAUD/AFP/Getty Images)

Hisham Melhem is a columnist for the Lebanese daily An-Nahar. Follow him on Twitter at: @hisham_melhem.

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Israel is strong but vulnerable

Insecurity and Vulnerability in Israeli Political Culture

For most Israelis, including for those who oppose settlement expansion, the main obstacles to peace include terror and the Palestinian rejection of Jewish historical claims and the right to sovereign equality, independent of border concerns.

Gerald Steinberg

Israel’s current government—the fourth headed by Benjamin Netanyahu over eleven years—is often referred to as “the most right-wing in Israel’s history.” This claim, however, is not evidence-based analysis. Reacting to the uncertainty resulting from regional chaos, Israelis continue to respond to the sense of insecurity and vulnerability that has been central to the political culture since 1948. Demands in negotiations that Palestinian leaders stop naming schools after “martyrs” (terrorists to Israelis), acknowledge Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people, and end international boycott campaigns (BDS) are recent manifestations of this deep insecurity.

In part, the perception of a sharp “turn to the right“ also reflects eight years of conflict with President Obama over the failure to reach a breakthrough with the Palestinians. Obama and former Secretary of State John Kerry repeatedly attacked Netanyahu over Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, identifying those actions as “the central obstacle to peace.” This view also dominates the agendas of U.S.-based groups, such as J Street and the New Israel Fund that oppose Israeli policies from the outside, which had significant influence during the Obama years. In December, just prior to leaving office, Obama departed from previous policies by pointedly refusing to veto UN Security Council Resolution 2344 which singled out Israeli settlements for condemnation, Just five days later, this theme was highlighted in Kerry’s emotional speech on the future of the Middle East.

However, this one-dimensional approach to analyzing Israeli political culture negates key factors, particularly the sense of ongoing instability and uncertainty. The combination of six decades of war and terror, the ongoing chaos and instability, Iran’s shrill threats of annihilation, and discriminatory boycott campaigns reinforce the dismal lessons of Jewish history. Netanyahu’s policies and rhetoric, often sharpened by his coalition partners, embody these interpretations.

As voting behavior and other data consistently show, the “average Israeli” pays close attention to the widely heard chant “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” – which, in the words of Ayelet Shaked, (a young politician and currently Minister of Justice) means “Palestinians see no place for the Jews“. The problem is more than words: the rhetoric is accompanied by rocket attacks from Gaza and terror from the West Bank. On these core issues, Israel today—ostensibly led by the “most right-wing government ever”—is not very different from 20 years ago, aside from the deepening loss of faith in the potential for rapid change.

Israeli voters have also not forgotten the mass terrorism that occurred in the wake of the 1993 Oslo agreements that created the Palestinian Authority. Similarly, the hope that pragmatic leaders would follow Arafat and negotiate a compromise turned out to be a mirage. Even if an agreement becomes possible with moderates in the West Bank, Hamas could quickly take control, as was seen in Gaza in 2007—two years after Israel’s complete withdrawal. Viewing the chaos and massive violence in Syria and Iraq, the presence of ISIS in Sinai (leading to rocket attacks and terror warnings in Israel), and the strengthening of the Iran-Hezbollah regional alliance, Israelis—including those who support a two-state solution in theory—perceive withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines and a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza a dangerous fantasy.

Meanwhile, the intense national debate taking place in the Knesset and media reflects a growing understanding that the status quo since 1967, when the West Bank was taken from Jordan, is increasingly costly. For five decades, Israeli leaders from diverse parties avoided long-term decisions on the status of Judea and Samaria, as the West Bank is known in Israel, resulting in uncertainty on almost every significant issue. The interim agreements under Oslo have not been supplanted by a “permanent status” framework, adding to the difficulties.

Conflicts in the West Bank, a disputed territory under military rule as in pre-1967 Israel, are rooted in complex and contradictory documents from the Ottoman, British Mandate, and Jordanian periods that make ownership difficult to prove. In some areas, houses built on barren land were found to have been constructed on private property, as the case of nine residences in Amona. This case was fought in Israeli courts for ten years, finally ending in February 2017, when the nine houses were demolished under court order. In parallel, the Knesset adopted legislation similar to long-existing regulations inside Israel and in many Western democracies which compensate the land-owners when their claims are recognized retroactively. Although this law was criticized as “creeping annexation” and a “land grab,” the demolitions demonstrate a more complex reality.

These developments led a number of ministers and Members of Knesset (MKs) from different parties to advocate unilateral action in order to reduce the uncertainty and its costs in the West Bank. Some call for applying Israeli law to strategic Area C of the West Bank, which is mainly desert with a relatively small Palestinian population, and is under Israeli administrative control. Others call for starting with “consensus settlements” (meaning they are widely accepted as an integral part of Israel, including by the center-left) near Jerusalem, such as Ma’ale Adumim, a suburb of 40,000. While the rhetoric is ideological, invoking Jewish history and rights in the area, the proposals are also presented as pragmatic—including the expectation that such changes would gain Washington’s approval and not block a wider agreement.

On the other side of the debate, the strongest argument for pushing a negotiated two-state framework in the short term is based on demographics and the fear that a single state would have a near-majority Arab population. The Zionist core of Jewish self-determination and the cultural renaissance enabled by a primarily Jewish society would be endangered. Proponents of this case, however, have failed to make a strong impact in Israel, in part due to the security fears and the visible risks of territorial withdrawal.

For Israelis who share the demographic concerns, oppose expanding settlements, and advocate taking risks for peace with the Palestinians, the options appear limited. The Labor Party that dominated Israeli politics and society for the first 30 years of the state’s existence is today divided by leadership disputes and lacks a realistic alternative to the status quo. During the Obama era, Labor leader Isaac Herzog and his predecessor, Shelly Yachimovich, attacked the Netanyahu government for alienating Washington, while their election platforms emphasized domestic and economic issues, not foreign policy. In secret, Herzog also conducted lengthy negotiations with Netanyahu to pursue a regional peace framework with Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, including a freeze on construction outside the blocs along the 1949 Armistice Line and Jerusalem. A coalition with Labor would offset the veto power of the far right in the coalition, but the talks ended in disagreement, and Herzog remains outside.

Polls indicate that if elections were held now, the centrist party Yesh Atid, headed by former journalist Yair Lapid, would overtake Labor and perhaps Likud and Lapid could become prime minister. To gain support, Lapid has adopted much of Netanyahu’s rhetoric and Likud’s policies on negotiations with the Palestinians and other foreign policy issues. Lapid, like Netanyahu, has focused on the widespread Israeli alienation from and distrust of international institutions, particularly in Europe, and of the “liberal world order.” He has repeatedly condemned UN bodies that single out Israel for attack, such as the Human Rights Council, BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions), and lawfare campaigns (efforts to demonize IDF soldiers and politicians as war criminals and calls for prosecution by the International Criminal Court). Lapid posted blanket denunciations of these organizations and their campaigns, in contrast to the left’s low profile and hesitant approach. MKs on the right make headlines by pushing symbolic legislation, such as the March 2017 law banning the worst of the BDS activists from entering Israel, while the left opposes these measures and the center is divided.

These measures, which critics denounce as anti-democratic and counter-productive, reflect the dominant uncertainty and vulnerability within Israeli society. The fear that the nation that was reborn in 1948 could be erased again is widespread and crosses party and ideological affiliations. Israel remains a nation in arms, defending itself from what are seen as existential threats to its existence.

As a result, if Netanyahu is defeated or resigns in the wake of corruption investigations, and if the government that follows is headed by centrists or the Labor party, Israeli policies with respect to Palestinians and the West Bank will continue to be framed by history and perceptions of insecurity and vulnerability. These core dimensions will only change when the Palestinian side—and the wider region—address them directly, and provide evidence that the benefits of substantial Israeli withdrawal and a two-state framework outweigh the risks.

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Gaza is a failure

INTO THE FRAY: Gaza: Let their people go!


Reprinted from Israpundit.

Instead of pouring millions into inoperative desalination plants & rusting sewage treatment works, humanitarian aid should be generous relocation grants to help Gazans find safer, more secure lives elsewhere

“If the borders opened for one hour, 100,000 young people would leave Gaza”  –  Rashid al-Najja, vice dean, Gaza’s Al-Azhar University; “

…I’d go to Somalia, Sudan — anywhere but here” –  Salim Marifi, student, Gaza’s Al-Azhar University, in Al Jazeera, May 6 2015.

“96 percent of water in the Gaza Strip is now undrinkable” –  i24 News  April 9, 2017.

“Each day, millions of gallons of raw sewage pour into the Gaza Strip’s Mediterranean beachfront … turning miles of once-scenic coastline into a stagnant dead zone” – Associated Press , May 3, 2016.

“Gaza’s sole power plant runs out of fuel” – Times of Israel, April 16, 2017.

The endeavor, spanning almost a quarter century, to transform the coastal enclave of the Gaza Strip into a self-governing Arab entity (or even part of such an entity) has failed.

It has failed resoundingly and irretrievably.

After two-and-half decades of futile effort, the time has come to accept this—and to acknowledge that further pursuit of this  ill-conceived objective will only compound the current tragedy—for both Jew and Arab alike.

Incapable and uninterested

Indeed, with the passage of time, it is becoming increasingly clear, that as a collective the Palestinian-Arabs, in general, and the Gazan-Arabs, in particular, are totally incapable of, and largely uninterested in, creating and sustaining an independent political entity for themselves, by themselves.

Underscoring this dour assessment is the increasingly frequent —and increasingly ominous—flow of reports warning of imminent  collapse of virtually all the basic infrastructure in Gaza—electric power, water, sewage and sanitation systems—and the impending catastrophe this is likely to precipitate.

This raises a trenchant question and one which advocates of Palestinian statehood must be forced to confront: Why has a Palestinian state failed to materialize up to now?

This is not a trivial question that can be avoided or circumvented.

After all, it is difficult to identify any other “national liberation movement” that has enjoyed circumstances more benign for their cause than that of the Palestinians-Arabs.

Since the early ’90s, the Palestinians have had:

  • Virtually wall-to-wall international endorsement of their claims;
  • Almost unanimously supportive coverage in the global mainstream media;
  • Generous financial aid – reportedly among the highest per capita in the world; and
  • Successive willingly compliant Israeli administrations that not only accepted their claims, but built much of their political credo on that acceptance…and gambled much of their political capital on it.

Yet, despite these bountiful benefits, the Palestinian leadership have produced the most meager and miserable results.

Corrupt kleptocracy or tyrannical theocracy

Other national freedom movements, with far less funding, far less armaments and far less political support, have cast off mighty empires. By contrast, the Palestinian-Arabs have, after decades of “resistance”,  not only proved unable to assert their political independence from a tiny mini-state, beleaguered  in the region and berated by all and sundry in the international community;  but they have failed abysmally to create anything remotely approaching a stable, and productive civil society.

Under Fatah in Judea-Samaria, they have spawned a corrupt kleptocracy.
Under Hamas in Gaza, they have imposed a tyrannical theocracy.
Under neither is there any horizon of hope for a better, more peaceful, more prosperous life for the general public, nor is there any prospect of such hope dawning in the foreseeable future. Both are critically dependent on the (ill-advised) largesse of its alleged “oppressor”, from whom they purportedly strive to liberate themselves.

The magnitude of this failure can be gauged from  a recent  report by the Congressional Research Service entitled, “U.S. Foreign Aid to the Palestinians:”:  “Since the establishment of limited Palestinian self-rule in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the mid-1990s, the U.S. government has committed more than $5 billion in bilateral economic and non-lethal security assistance to the Palestinians, who are among the world’s largest per capita recipients of international foreign aid.”
The futility of international aid

The report goes on to stipulate the intended objectives of this generous aid: “Successive Administrations have requested aid for the Palestinians in apparent support of at least three major U.S. policy priorities of interest to Congress:

  • Promoting the prevention or mitigation of terrorism against Israel from Hamas and other militant organizations;
  • Fostering stability, prosperity, and self-governance …that may incline Palestinians toward peaceful coexistence with Israel and a “two-state solution.”
  • Meeting humanitarian needs…”

Seen against the grim realities today, this aid has failed miserably in achieving any, and all, of its declared goals!

The motivation for terror attacks against Israel by Hamas and other Palestinian-Arab terror organization have been neither prevented nor mitigated.  Indeed, with Hamas  still actively engaged in enhancing its offensive capacities—both underground tunnel networks and overhead missile capabilites—there are few  illusions in Israel that a fourth round of fighting  is merely a question of “when”, not “if”

Neither stability, nor prosperity, nor effective self-government have been in any way significantly fostered. Indeed, quite the reverse seems to be the case. Thus,  despite decades of generous international goodwill, all the Palestinian-Arab leadership has managed to create is an untenable, divided entity, crippled by corruption and cronyism, with a dysfunctional polity, incapable of holding even municipal elections; and a feeble economy that, with its minuscule private sector and bloated public one, is utterly dependent on external support.

Moreover, humanitarian needs have not been met in any meaningful manner. If anything, the opposite seems true with the entire civilian infrastructure system teetering on the cusp of collapse.

Powers outages, undrinkable water, untreated sewage

With perennial power outages, undrinkable water supplies, failing sanitation services, and awash in uncontrolled and untreated flows of raw sewage, life for many in Gaza is becoming unbearable.

Earlier this month, the media abounded with dire warnings of an impending shut down of power supplies in Gaza. One headline proclaimed   Gaza Electricity Crisis Deepens as Sole Power Plant Shuts Down; while another declared Gaza’s Sole Power Plant Runs Out of Fuel

The shutdown would leave many with barely four hours of electricity a day and would impact virtually all walks of life.

One member of Gaza’s Chamber of Commerce warned that factories will be forced to shut down, because the owners cannot afford to run generators as an alternative source of electricity: “The continuing stoppage of the Gaza power plant for 20 hours a day foreshadows a real catastrophe that might affect the basic food security of the people as well as the health and education sectors,” he lamented.

The power shortages have also crippled the operation of a new desalination plant and sewage treatment plant and undermines the regular operation of sanitation services.

Significantly, the reasons for the shutdowns are not related to Israel’s security quarantine of Gaza, but rather to intra-Palestinian quarrels between the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority and Hamas in Gaza; and to Hamas’s own priorities in the use of electrical power .

Indeed, senior figures in Hamas put the blame squarely on Mahmoud Abbas and the Fatah for imposing exorbitant taxes on fuel imports into Gaza – see here and here .

Moreover, several reports indicate that Hamas has deprived Gaza’s desalination and sewage  plants of electricity, opting to use the available power for other purposes—such as Gaza’s luxury hotels, which cater for the enclave’s wafer thin affluent class.

Calamitous consequences

The grave results of this dysfunctional governance are not difficult to discern.

iTV News reported that both international and Israeli bodies “estimated that some 96 percent of water in the Gaza Strip is now undrinkable after the collapse of the enclave’s main aquifer”.

Al Jazeera carried an account of the appalling conditions that inadequate sewage treatment has brought, from a local farmer in Wadi Gaza, a valley in the central Gaza Strip: “Farming is ruined. The plants are diseased. There are flies, worms, and it is spreading.”  The report added:  “Animals and birds were soon replaced by swamps of sewage, swarming flies and thriving bacteria. Residents began to suffer from an increase in allergies, inflammation, fevers and weakened immunity.  Disease-ridden mosquitoes feasted on the community at night. The stench was overpowering.”

Thus, with much of the sewage conveyance pipes in a state of disrepair, leaking into the coastal aquifer, Gaza’s sole source of natural water; with the aquifer itself being depleted at three times its recharge rate from rainfall; with massive flows of untreated sewage flowing directly into the sea, making the beaches and swimming a distinct health hazard, future prospects for the average Gazan look bleak indeed—with little hope for improvement on the horizon.

Accordingly, it is hardly surprising to learn that polls conducted by Palestinian institutes consistently show that almost half (and occasionally more than half) of the Gazans would like to emigrate—even without there being a tangible economic incentive offered.

The only real “reconstruction” in town

Of course, many of Israel’s detractors will attempt to lay the blame for this dismal situation on the “Occupation” and the “Siege”. But, this is merely a flimsy pretext that is sounding increasingly hollow.  After all, as we have seen previously, virtually the entire crisis is a result of intra-Palestinian decisions regarding resource allocation and taxation.

Indeed, the validity of this contention is bolstered by examining just how the Palestinian-Arabs in Gaza have chosen to invest their energies and divert their resources.

Last year, high level Israeli sources revealed that Hamas was seizing over 90% of cement supplies entering into Gaza for its own purposes, such as construction of terror tunnels.

But Hamas’s efforts were not confined to underground terror installations. The organization invested considerable effort in replenishing and enhancing its overhead weaponry.

Thus, last December, Hamas Political Bureau Member, Fathi Hammad,  proudly informed Al Aksa TV : ..our Jihadi, ‘Izz Al-Din Al-Qassam units have become an army, Allah be praised…This army has its own industry. Incidentally, we are now ready to sell our missiles to Arab countries. These are advanced missiles. If you look into the missile or weapon industries of developed countries, you will find that Gaza has become the leading manufacturer of missiles among Arab countries…

Showing commendable commercial enterprise, he went onto propose a new export industry for the beleaguered enclave “We are prepared to sell them (to Arab countries) – so that they will launch them against the Jews…”

Significantly, according the Guardian, IDF assessment shows that by the beginning of this year, Hamas’s “military capabilities had been restored to their pre-2014 war strength”—which is, of course, an impressive feat of “reconstruction”

So, despite Israeli restrictions, it appears that, where mobilizing against the hated “Zionist entity” is concerned, Gazans seem able to find the ingenuity and productive energies that evidently elude them in other fields of endeavor.

The need to restructure humanitarian aid

The current situation in Gaza, and the accompanying misery, are the direct result of the misguided attempt to foist statehood on the Palestinian-Arabs.

It was Albert Einstein who famously said that one could not solve a problem with the level of thinking that created it.

The problem of Gaza was, irrefutably, created by the belief that land could be transferred to the Palestinian-Arabs to provide them a viable opportunity for self-governance.

Accordingly, the problem of Gaza cannot be solved by persisting with ideas that created it – i.e. persisting with a plan to provide the Palestinian-Arabs with land for self-governance. This concept must, therefore, be abandoned for any lasting solution to be possible.

Clearly then, persisting with humanitarian aid, as in the past, will yield essentially similar results to those of the past.  Any improvements in the humanitarian conditions will be at best marginal, probably imperceptible.

The only real way to alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Gaza is to offer the Gazans what they really want – a better life elsewhere, out of harm’s way, free from the clutches of the cruel, corrupt cliques, who have lead them from disaster to disaster for decades.

Thus, rather than pouring millions into inoperative desalination plants and rusting sewage treatment works, the aid should be  in the form of generous individual relocation grants to allow non-belligerent Gazans to seek a safer, more secure future elsewhere, outside the “circle of violence” that inevitably awaits them if they stay.

This should be the real humanitarian effort to effectively eliminate the suffering in Gaza.  This should be the call to the international community: Let their people go!

Martin Sherman is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.

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No apartheid in Israel

New African Perspectives on Israel and the Palestinians (Africans for Peace)
Reprinted from Daily Alert
  • Zenobia Ravji: As a Kenyan, I saw how the voices of Africans were exploited by the widespread and false comparison of Israel to apartheid South Africa. The unfortunate circumstances and struggles of the Palestinian people are largely perpetuated by their own leaders, whose political strategy determines that the worse things are for Palestinians on the ground, the more convincing their case against Israel. These are the same leaders who compare the Palestinian people’s situation to apartheid South Africa, robbing South Africans of their history and cheapening it, in order to gain sympathy and financing from the international community.
  • Lesiba Bapela: As a social justice activist from South Africa, I was part of a group that went to Israel in January 2016. We saw that in the West Bank, the Palestinians were more hardline. They don’t believe in a two-state coexistence. They want to govern themselves according to Islamic law, and they don’t believe in Israelis having their own territories. However, on the Israeli side, I heard talk of cooperation. The Israelis have been inviting the Palestinians to create peaceful coexistence. But the Palestinian Authority has this all-or-nothing mentality and doesn’t truly believe in a two-state solution. There is nothing in this conflict that I can associate with apartheid. This is a religious conflict.
  • Nkululeko Nkosi: The comparison between Israel and apartheid South Africa has been around for more than 50 years. Its originators were not black South Africans or even Palestinians, but the Soviet Union. But apartheid was about race, not religion or nationality. Unlike black people in apartheid South Africa, Arabs in Israel are entitled to vote in national elections, elect their own representatives, and have their interests represented in political deliberations. In 2015, the predominantly Arab party, the Joint List, won 15 parliamentary seats. This party is one of the harshest critics of the Israeli government. The point here is that Israeli policy and law allow dissent and opposition without instilling fear of banishment or imprisonment.
  • Tshediso Mangope: As a black South African and member of the ANC, I reject both the analysis that Israel practices apartheid and the demand that Israel should be dismantled and replaced with a single state of Palestine. After actually visiting Israel, my views on BDS have changed drastically. I am no longer involved in the BDS movement and don’t believe it to be a legitimate cause. The insistence of the Arab world on denying Jewish people, the indigenous people of Israel, the right to sovereign existence is a main reason this conflict has lasted for so long. There is no self-respecting, sober intellectual who will argue that returning to your ancestral homeland from whence you were displaced makes you a settler.
  • Klaas Mokgomole: In 2013, I was one of the BDS protestors who disrupted a piano recital which featured an Israeli pianist at the University of Witwatersrand. But I came to understand that the analogy of apartheid in Israel was an abuse of the memory of apartheid. South Africans involved in BDS need to be given the opportunity to understand that this is a conflict in which both sides have legitimate rights. As a former BDS activist, I encourage those involved in BDS to not blindly believe everything the movement says – because if you accept their propaganda uncritically, you are not contributing to peace, but to further needless bloodshed.
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Civilian deaths in Mosul

Mosul, Gaza and the world’s hypocrisy

Op-ed: ISIS learned from Hamas how to use civilian populations as human shields. While hundreds of civilians have been killed in US-led airstrikes in Iraq, there have been absolutely no protests and no claims of ‘war crimes.’ Those are reserved for one country only—Israel.

Hundreds of women and children were killed in west Mosul last week. The Americans bombed the area, as part of their cooperation with the Iraqi army against the Islamic State. The tragedy did not make the headlines. Claims of “war crimes” were nowhere to be found either. Neither was something more moderate like claims of “a disproportional response.” There were no protests whatsoever. The hostile sentiments, like the condemnatory headlines, are reserved for only one country in the world—Israel.


The United Nations issued condemnations—not against those who bombed the area, but against the use of civilians as a “human shield.” The New York Times, which constantly condemned Israel during Operation Protective Edge, argued mostly with Trump: “Taken together, the surge of reported civilian deaths raised questions about whether once-strict rules of engagement meant to minimize civilian casualties were being relaxed under the Trump administration.”


One might have assumed that since 2003, or maybe only from 2008, the strict rules of engagement had led to minimum civilian casualties. Well, the figures show that 268,000 civilians have been killed in Iraq since the war began there in 2003. There is no proof that former President Barack Obama reduced the number of casualties. The use of drones, for example, was 10 times higher during the Obama era than during the George W. Bush era.


Destruction in Mosul after US-led airstrikes. No condemnations, no protests (Photo: AP)

Destruction in Mosul after US-led airstrikes. No condemnations, no protests (Photo: AP)


Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey has admitted in the past that in an effort to reduce the number of civilian casualties, he sends his officers to Israel, which “went to extraordinary lengths to limit collateral damage and civilian casualties” in Gaza. That did nothing to lower the level of hostility towards Israel. Neither did the guidelines issued for Hamas militants, ordering them to operate from within a civilian population in order to increase the number of innocent casualties, so as to increase the pressure on Israel.


It’s clear that from a comparative perspective, the number of civilian deaths caused by Israel is much lower. Hamas spokespeople, even more than ISIS fighters, have repeatedly boasted that they use civilians—mainly women and children—as a human shield. ISIS learned from Hamas, hoping that the same international pressure exerted on Israel would be exerted on the coalition forces as well. The organization’s fighters were stationed on the roofs of bombed buildings. The mission was accomplished. Hundreds of civilians were killed.


I am writing this because we are already hearing the sounds of the drums of war in the background: there has been a rise in the number of rockets fired from the Gaza Strip, Hamas has elected a militant leader, Yahya Sanwar, and like all jihad organizations, it is investing in the industry of death—in tunnels and rockets rather than in the strip’s reconstruction. As soon as the conflict begins, the global response will be the exact same response as in the previous rounds. The protests will be against Israel, not against Hamas.


That doesn’t mean that there is nothing we can do. There is. Israel should initiate a dramatic, far-reaching proposal to end the blockade on the strip. The formula should be reconstruction in exchange for demilitarization. If Hamas says yes, Israel will benefit. If Hamas says no, Israel will gain important diplomatic leverage.


Israel is neither the US nor NATO. Israel is not treated like the rest of the Western states. As soon as the first reports about civilian casualties emerge, international pressure will begin, including demonstrations, protests and condemnation articles. Forgiveness and restrain in such situations are reserved for every other army, but not for Israel. And we should admit that the international protest, which turns Israel into a criminal, affects tactical and strategic decisions during the fighting.

An Israeli initiative won’t eliminate the anti-Israel hypocrisy, but it will help Israel deal with the traps prepared by Hamas in order to increase the number of civilian casualties. Israel is preparing for the next conflict. The preparations should focus on diplomacy too.


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Palestinians lost international significance

The Palestinian “Internationalization” Strategy: End of the Road?

INSS Insight No. 907, March 21, 2017
When the Netanyahu government replaced the Olmert government and Barack Obama assumed the United States presidency, the Palestinians adopted an “internationalization strategy.” This choice reflected the Palestinian skepticism about the possibility of bridging the gaps with Israel and the hope that the international community would accept their tripartite demand: (1) establishment of a Palestinian state (2) on the basis of the 1967 borders (3) with East Jerusalem as its capital. The consolidation of the new administration in the United States, the unease among the Israeli public with the existing situation in the Palestinian context, and the room for maneuver in this context available to the Israeli leadership create a unique opportunity to fashion a new Israeli policy for dealing with the conflict with the Palestinians, and for coordinating this policy with the United States. This strategy should rest on the neutralization of the Palestinian internationalization strategy and incentives to the Palestinians to return to direct negotiations with Israel in order to achieve a settlement on the basis of a two nation-state solution.
Some eight years ago, when the Netanyahu government replaced the Olmert government and Barack Obama assumed the United States presidency, the Palestinians adopted an “internationalization strategy.” This choice reflected the Palestinian skepticism about the possibility of bridging the gaps with Israel (including with Olmert’s far reaching proposals) and the hope that the international community would accept their tripartite demand: (1) establishment of a Palestinian state (2) on the basis of the 1967 borders (3) with East Jerusalem as its capital. The Palestinians hoped to achieve this without having to contribute the minimum demanded by Israel for achievement of an agreement: committing to an end of conflict and finality of claims; waiving the right of return; and agreeing to security arrangements that to some extent would limit their sovereignty. The Palestinians pursued measures to prompt the international community to establish a Palestinian state as per the outline they wanted, but without negotiations with Israel and without the concessions necessary in order to achieve an agreement through negotiations.

Then-UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon (l) with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Ramallah, June 28, 2016. Photo: Abbas Momani / AFP

The Palestinian internationalization strategy was bolstered by a public relations effort to implant the Palestinian narrative of the reasons for the conflict and the “just way of solving it,” and to saddle Israel with responsibility for the political deadlock. This was joined by general efforts to delegitimize Israel. This strategy, which focuses on a persistent systematic, effort to blacken Israel in international institutions, undermine its legitimacy, and deny the historic national connection of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel, has scored several notable achievements in recent years.

During the Obama administration, Israeli and Palestinian leaders did not return to direct talks, despite the temporary freeze on Israeli construction in the West Bank that President Obama succeeded in imposing on the Israeli government; despite the mediation efforts of the President’s special envoy, former Senator George Mitchell; and despite the mediation efforts of King Abdullah of Jordan. One of the prominent achievements by the Palestinian national movement was the 2012 UN General Assembly resolution defining Palestine as a “non-member observer state.”
Furthermore, the Palestinians succeeded in entrenching within the US administration the belief that Israel’s settlement policy in the West Bank was the main obstacle to an agreement. In this sense President Obama’s Cairo University speech of May 2009 was a convenient point of departure. Two subsequent extremely important diplomatic achievements were the administration’s decision to abstain in the December 23, 2016 UN Security Council vote, which passed Resolution 2334 establishing that the 1967 borders were the basis for negotiations (in contrast to Resolution 242, which requires an Israel withdrawal from “territories” occupied in 1967), and the speech given by John Kerry at the conclusion of his tenure as Secretary of State, which he chose to devote to the Israeli-Palestinian issue.
The confidence gained by the Palestinians with their political and diplomatic achievements over the years was reflected in the threats against the Trump administration should it carry out the President’s campaign pledge to transfer the US embassy to Jerusalem. Senior Palestinian officials threatened the administration that they would “make its life miserable” in UN institutions, and that the entire Middle East would explode in a wave of violence. PLO Secretary General Saeb Erekat even threatened to cancel recognition of Israel, and to give the keys to the Palestinian Authority to Israel. Overall, it appears that the Palestinians are having difficulty in internalizing two major changes that have made their internationalization strategy much less relevant: the Trump administration is not committed to the Palestinians to the same degree as was the Obama administration, and the Israeli narrative is closer to the outlook of the current administration than the Palestinian narrative.
In addition, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has become less important in the Arab world and in the international community. Indeed, for several years the Palestinian issue has not led the agenda of Arab leaders, who are preoccupied by acute problems in their respective states and the region at large that have far reaching geopolitical consequences. The fact that Israel is a source of stability and an ally in the struggle against Iran on the one hand and against the Islamic State on the other, combined with the weakening of US support for regimes in the region, particularly Egypt and Saudi Arabia, has altered their prioritization of the conflict. Furthermore, the challenges encountered by the major powers in dealing with other disputes and conflicts in the Middle East, led by the civil war in Syria, instability in Yemen and Iraq, the strengthening of Hezbollah, and the increased influence of Iran and Russia in the Middle East, also currently undermine the effectiveness of the Palestinian strategy. Ten million Syrian refugees, a humanitarian disaster in Yemen, and instability in Iraq and Libya have shunted the Palestinian issue to the region’s political sidelines.
Israel’s interest is that the United States, and not the international community, which has accepted the Palestinian narrative practically in toto, should lead the international effort to address regional issues, including the Israeli-Palestinian issue. It is therefore important for Israel to coordinate an official response on the Palestinian question with the US administration, while changing the rules of the game that the Palestinians have managed to impose in recent years. There is likely to be a greater and more concrete ability of the United States to spearhead this issue now, thanks to a more resolute policy by the new President, the joint recognition of priorities, and the joint formulation of a relevant strategy.
With the consolidation of the new administration in the White House, which appears to be open to new ideas, Israel therefore has an opportunity, in coordination with this administration, to reshape the range of possibilities concerning the Palestinian issue as an element in a broad regional strategy. The Trump administration has already declared that the Israeli-Palestinian issue should be returned to the negotiating table in the framework of a bilateral dialogue, and that it does not accept unilateral anti-Israeli dictates at the UN or in the Quartet. The administration does not favor continued construction in the settlements or Israeli annexation of territory in the West Bank, but at the same time, it does not accept the Palestinian argument that Israel and the settlements are the obstacle to peace.
Israel’s interest requires coordination and understanding with the United States on what are truly significant challenges in the region: Iranian subversion and terrorism, the conflict in Syria, the need to strengthen Egypt and Jordan as stabilizing elements, and the failed states in the region, which can potentially cause instability and undermine regional security, including in the international system (particularly in Europe). The Israeli-Palestinian issue should thus be assigned a lower priority than it received during the Obama administration, with a joint Israeli-American effort to persuade the Palestinians of the futility of the internationalization strategy.
The new priority assigned to the conflict and the efforts to reach a settlement are not designed to strengthen the status quo – on the contrary. Paradoxically, the Palestinian internationalization strategy, the Palestinian refusal to advance to the second stage of the Roadmap, i.e., temporary borders for the future Palestinian state, and the all or nothing position of the two sides on the core issues have prevented progress toward a solution to the conflict. Making it unmistakably clear to the Palestinians that they must return to the negotiating process and mutual give and take, and also accept transitional and interim arrangements as preferable alternatives to the status quo will engender greater potential for progress than during the Obama administration.
As an initial sign to the Palestinians that the rules of the game have changed, moving the American embassy to Jerusalem is in order. An American retreat from this pledge, even if in a flexible and creative format, as a result of the Palestinian threat aimed at preventing this measure, will weaken the American stature, and become an incentive for the Palestinians to adhere to a strategy of bypassing Israel and evading direct negotiations. Initial signs interpreted by the Palestinians as an American retreat from this promise have already led senior Palestinian figures to announce their intention to continue to target Israel in the international theater and promote a Security Council resolution on the illegality of the settlements, this time under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, even though it is clear that this time the US will veto it. It is therefore important for the United States to uphold the promise to move the embassy to Jerusalem, while underscoring that its location in the western part of the city on territory not subject to dispute, which will remain under Israeli sovereignty in any settlement, is a sovereign American decision, and does not indicate a retreat by the United States from its traditional position about determining the future of East Jerusalem through negotiations between the parties.
The consolidation of the new administration in the United States, the unease among the Israeli public with the existing situation in the Palestinian context, and the room for maneuver in this context available to the Israeli leadership create a unique opportunity to fashion a new Israeli policy for dealing with the conflict with the Palestinians, and for coordinating this policy with the United States. This strategy should rest on the neutralization of the Palestinian internationalization strategy and incentives to the Palestinians to return to direct negotiations with Israel in order to achieve a settlement on the basis of a two nation-state solution. These must be accompanied by three principal requirements: a specific time framework for the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table; a Palestinian commitment to an orderly and responsible process of state building (institutions, economy, a monopoly of force, enforcement of law and order), in order to ensure that the Palestinian state that arises will be a functional and not a failed state; and an end to incitement and monetary support for terrorists imprisoned in Israel and for the families of terrorists who were killed.
It is important that the United States clarify that if the Palestinians prefer to continue their effort to isolate Israel in the international theater, instead of returning to direct negotiations during the allotted period, it will back independent measures by Israel for determining its border in accordance with Israel’s strategic interests, while preserving the possibility of future implementation of a negotiated two nation-state solution. In this way, Israel can prepare for disengage from the Palestinians, while retaining the settlement blocs and the Jordan Valley and the possibility of security operations throughout the West Bank. At the same time, territorial contiguity for the Palestinian entity and the undisturbed movement from the northern to the southern West Bank should be promoted and permitted. In addition, the international community and Israel will take action to develop the Palestinian infrastructure and economy, including through allocation of parts of Area C for these defined purposes.
Findings from a public opinion survey on national security matters conducted recently by the Institute for National Security Studies indicate that the majority of the Israeli public opposes a continuation of the existing situation or annexation of territory. Only 10 percent support annexation of all of Judea and Samaria, and 17 percent favor the continuation of the existing situation. Sixty-one percent of the public favor a settlement, be it a permanent agreement or an interim agreement in advance of a permanent agreement. As the Israeli public wants a change, the Israeli leadership has the flexibility and room for maneuver in this matter. Coordination with the United States under the special circumstances created will make it possible to disarm the Palestinian threats and the Palestinian internationalization strategy, assign the Palestinian issue a more balanced position on the regional and global agenda, and shape a more suitable security and strategic situation for Israel as a Jewish and democratic, secure, and just state.
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Living with antisemitism in America

Ron Jager

The writer, a 25-year veteran of the I.D.F., served as a field mental health officer and Commander of the Central Psychiatric Military Clinic for Reserve Soldiers at Tel-Hashomer. Since retiring from active duty, he provides consultancy services to NGO’s implementing Psycho trauma and Psychoeducation programs to communities in the North and South of Israel. Today, Ron is a strategic advisor at the Office of the Chief Foreign Envoy of Judea and Samaria.

Living with Anti-Semitism in America

American Jews and the Jewish organizations that represent them have demanded, in thundering pleas, that President Trump take action and end the current tsunami of anti-Semitic attacks on the American Jewish community. This is just and reasonable. Expecting political leadership not to abdicate their responsibility and at best act as conflict managers only allows a problem to fester and proliferate. Political leaders act to change a situation, leading a nation to a better place, allowing the people to feel secure and not under threat. This is a natural expectation that any normal public can expect of their national leadership.

Despite anti-Semitic acts being a relatively common occurrence way before the presidential campaign, since President Trump’s election, these ripples of anti-Semitic hatred have blossomed into a giant wave. American Jews have become consumed with trepidation and are beginning to realize that they have every right to stand up and demand that the president take action and end this vile anti-Semitism. Local television channels in the United States are flooded with footage of small children holding the hands of adults walking next to them and trying to catch up with them. The adults, meanwhile, are seen trying to get the little ones to walk a bit faster without making them panic. From North Carolina to Maryland, from Alabama to Rhode Island, thousands of children have been evacuated from Jewish community centers and schools, as if it is happening everywhere.

Yet this very same American Jewish leadership, who in recent weeks have been banging on the walls of the White House demanding that the current wave of anti-Semitism be stopped immediately, have for the latter part of the past quarter of a century demanded that the Israeli public, and the Israeli political leadership, continue with business as usual, despite the incessant Palestinian Arab incitement and blatant anti-Semitism in Israel.

Palestinian Arab anti-Semitism has long been recognized as the Arab world’s prominent vehicle for the hatred of the Jews. From academics teaching that Judaism permits murder and rape of non-Jews to religious leaders teaching that Islam demands the extermination of Jews, Palestinian anti-Semitism is a compelling force driving hatred and terror. The Palestinian Authority depicts Jews as the archetypal force of evil throughout history. Jews are said to be responsible for all the world’s problems: wars, financial crises, even the spreading of AIDS. Palestinians have long claimed to receptive ears that Jews are a danger to humanity.

Palestinian incitement to murder Jews has always been a natural outgrowth of anti-Semitic incitement rampant in Palestinian society, expressed at all levels without hesitation and without sanction. In Palestinian society, no one is ever held accountable for anti-Semitic incitement. This has never prevented American Jewish leaders from meeting with and supporting the Palestinian people and their leaders.

When Jews attack Jews, and when Jews deny the State of Israel the basic right of self-defense afforded to all nations of the world, thereby making it OK to express hatred of Israel, then they are invoking hatred toward themselves and hatred towards the Jews of America. Over the years, since the heyday of the Oslo agreement, American Jews, liberal Jews, have bent over backward supporting the case of the Palestinian Arabs, while here in Israel, the Palestinians have made anti-Semitism and incitement the backbone of the Palestinian education syllabus from kindergarten and up. Is it any wonder that the world has gotten used to the hatred of Jews and a culture of unabated anti-Semitism?

In America, the irony of all this is that over the past eight years of the Obama presidency, the administration opened the gates and encouraged millions of Muslims to flood into America. As with the Palestinians, anti-Semitism is rife in the Arab world, with over 80 percent of the Muslim public holding strongly anti-Semitic views. Yet this anti-Semitism, harbored by a large portion of Muslims, has never stopped these same Jewish organizations, these liberal Jews, from being at the front lines of demonstrations or political action when President Trump attempted to stop this unrestricted refuge admission into America. These Jews never ever expressed any concern that supporting this continuing addition of anti-Semitic Muslims to American society would create a breeding ground for the kind of anti-Semitism that the American Jewish community is experiencing today. American liberal Jews have become infatuated with doing “Tikkun Olam” and paving the way for flooding America with Muslim anti-Semites while ignoring the potential problems of admitting an untold number of immigrants from Muslim countries where extreme anti-Semitic sentiments are mundane and unrestricted.

All this will not end well. With no tradition of assimilation or integration into Western societies, Europe being the best example of this, the restive Muslim minorities that have entered America by the millions over the past eight years will only grow louder, and the level of anti-Semitism will get much worse before it gets better. The myth of multiculturalism, propagated wholeheartedly by the American Jewish liberal community, will implode as the volume of anti-Semitism becomes louder and more brazen. The American melting pot, a symbol of America for the millions and millions of immigrants over the past century, will cease to exist, leaving these anti-Semitic and anti-American Muslim minorities to reproduce, in America, the anti-Semitic and cultural squalor they claim to have wanted to flee.


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Esther is relevant today

The Biblical story of Esther and the immoral society

March 8, 2017

The holiday of Purim, which celebrates God’s salvation of the Jewish people from the annihilation scheme of the evil Haman, as recorded in the Biblical Book of Esther, is a mere few days away. While the narrative is thousands of years old and depicts occurrences in ancient Persia, the story’s relevance to contemporary society at large is striking, for it describes the eventual results of an absence of divine moral norms.

This concept was elucidated by the illustrious 20th century rabbinic scholar, Rabbi Dr. Joseph B. Soloveitchik, who taught thousands of students at Yeshiva University’s affiliated rabbinical school over the course of nearly half a century.

Rabbi Soloveitchik explained, based on a careful reading of the Book of Esther, that the locus of its narrative – the Persian capital of Shushan – was the seat of an orgiastic society, drunken with unbounded enjoyment and self-gratification. Hence does the text of the Book of Esther give exceptional attention to the ornate furnishings of the king’s palace, the detailed cosmetics regimen of the women, the eunuchs of the king’s harem, and so forth, so as to portray Shushan as the apex of indulgence in pleasure and hedone. Such a society, devoid of divine morality and steeped in blind and limitless self-gratification, is most vulnerable for takeover by amoral totalitarianism.

To quote Rabbi Soloveitchik’s lesson on this theme:

“The hedonic society is, more or less, a democratic Western society, in pursuit of pleasure and happiness. That society’s world philosophy and outlook can be broken into a number of component parts. This democratic society is in pursuit of pleasure, insists on minimum government interference in private life, resents controls, demands unrestricted freedom in matters which do not affect the community, particularly, matters of sexual morality, hates discipline imposed from above, not even by teachers, is opposed to any constriction…

“There is also another society. There is another path which human beings take in order to escape from the finiteness awareness and in order to engage in self-defeat, not only in an allusion but simply in a delusion. The second path, along which frightened man runs in his wild flight from finiteness and death, leads in the opposite direction… Man, traveling along the second path, tries to calm the fear of finiteness through a big lie, through convincing himself that he is more than man. This is done by intentionally magnifying, a hundred-fold, and exaggerating and lying about human ability and power to solve both scientific and metaphysical problems of humanity, and by painting, in iridescent colors, the eschatological age which should be brought about by man alone, through his wisdom and creative efforts.

“Then something happens… By idolizing man and setting him up as a deity, it inevitably leads to the formation of idolatrous cults, from time to time, like the cult of Stalin… Society, mankind, humanity is idolized, defined and set up as the omnipotent deity… The idol is the class, not the individual… In the name of some man-made doctrine or code, they appeal for sacrifices… Arrogant man becomes a tyrant, and the arrogant society which he establishes turns into a tyrannical society.

“As a rule, orgiastic society eventually succumbs to a tyrannical, arrogant society… Orgiastic man overemphasizes the importance of freedom. He simply lacks the courage, the vision, to have the power of anticipation. He lacks the predictive element in history. He does not experience history, since he just lives for the present. Little by little, his power is eroded, and he is replaced by the irrational (tyrannical) man…

“Man cannot, and must not, legislate the moral norm. Man should be ready to either accept morality from God, or give up any attempt to lead a moral life. Imposition of a secular, finite and relative code upon society is in vain and is worthless. In my opinion, that is exactly what the original sin consisted of. Adam tried to impose and legislate norms of good and bad. He brought disaster upon himself and mankind. Irrational man does that with arrogance and ends up with the law of immorality…

“A society that lacks a divine moral code cannot endure. The empty, meaningless void that is created by pliable and disposable communal norms gives entry to totalitarianism, be it Marxism, communism or fascism.”

I fear to ponder what would have eventually happened with American society, originally structured by a strong sense of Biblical values, had the Democratic party won the recent elections. The Democrats’ rejection of any sense of divine morality and their basic embrace of unbridled permissiveness portended the eventual collapse of American society and a severing of its historical connection to Biblical values. When such values are replaced with trends of self-gratification and the breaking down of all semblance of dignified social order, one must worry. When the Biblical concepts of marriage, gender and even honesty are banished in favor of a contrived right to totally redefine and overturn these truths, society is in major trouble.

Rabbi Soloveitchik addressed these issues very clearly, explaining during a 1974 public lecture in Boston:

“A philosophy of [homo]sexualism is being preached throughout the Western world, to such an extent that a certain rabbi came to me and said, “How can we defend ourselves against it?” I told him, take out a Bible and read the verse,“You shall not lie with a male as with a woman.” We are on the defensive, you understand. Why? And the same is true of abortion and so forth.

“I can never predict what modern society will come up with. Everything is possible. The most abnormal, obnoxious, repellent ideas may be introduced in the form of legislation to Congress. And now, since it is modern to be liberal, it’s quite in vogue to be heretical, so any law can be adopted. The Supreme Court in America is the most unpredictable body. Did you see, did you read carefully, the decision about abortion? (Roe vs. Wade)

“This is the meaning of the phrase in Genesis, “children of the flesh”. Children of the flesh are oversensitive to beauty, to unredeemed beauty. We ourselves cherish beauty, but redeemed beauty. Unredeemed, vulgar, coarse people. And simply what the children of the flesh preach is non-interference on the part of ethics and morality. This man wants to enjoy life, that’s all. Because actually the pagan way of life rests upon the idea of egocentric hedonism. The latter was declared by the pagans to be morally desirable. In other words, free man is expected to reject any restrictive norm interfering with his hedonic freedom. The permissive society is the pagan society, which heads toward disaster. The permissive society consists of the children of the flesh, who are obedient to the flesh and its biological pressures.

“The main sin of pagan society consists in its exploiting nature for the sake of man’s enjoyment without the latter accepting responsibility for the very act he enjoyed. In a word, hedonic society, the generation of the Great Flood, drove itself and the environment to annihilation. That is exactly what happens to the Western part of the world, the so-called “democratic world” or the “free world”.”

Rabbi Soloveitchik opposed liberal, hedonistic societal values, and he likewise was an outspoken opponent of communism. He voted for Eisenhower, despite the Democratic party’s all-out efforts to secure the Jewish vote, and he was a staunch supporter of the Vietnam War, viewing the spread of communism as the greatest evil.

There is another lesson of Purim: the defeat of lies and hypocrisy. Haman persuaded the king that his Jewish subjects were not loyal and hence should be done away with. Haman lacked any factual basis for this claim, and, to the contrary, the Jewish community of Persia was quite loyal to the government, as evidenced by various events in the Bible. The Talmud teaches that one must pray for the welfare of the government, and to this day, every synagogue recites a public prayer for the President during Saturday morning prayers. (I must admit that even though I, of course, always respond Amen to this prayer, it was quite a challenge to do so the past eight years, until January 20th of this year.) Haman perpetuated a great lie, and was a hypocrite par excellence.

And today, with so much fake news and totally baseless attacks on the president emanating from the liberal media, inspiring naive people to take to the streets in protest incessantly, the lesson of Purim that the truth must be sought and falsehood must be boldly dispelled needs to be taken to heart and acted upon.

The current hypocrisy of the American left knows no limits, as media and protesters selectively overlook liberal politicians’ numerous and outrageous statements and acts of prejudice, and are obsessed with fabricating implications of bias on the part of President Trump.

We must ask:

Where was the righteous indignation of these people and media organizations when it came to the racial overtones of an important election season communication by the campaign manager of Hillary Clinton?

Where was the righteous indignation of these people and media organizations when it came to the now former Vice President Biden calling then-candidate Obama “the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy“?

Where was the righteous indignation of these people and media organizations when it came to Nevada’s Democratic Senator Harry Reid stating of then-candidate Obama that he was electable because of his light skin and “no Negro dialect, unless he wanted one“?

Where was the righteous indignation of these people and media organizations when it came to former President Clinton stating about then-candidate Obama, “A few years ago, this guy would have been getting us coffee”?

Where was the righteous indignation of these people and media organizations in reaction to top advisers to the Hillary Clinton ticket harboring and being associated with misogynistic and anti-Israel views?

Where was the righteous indignation of these people and media organizations in reaction to top-tier Democratic party and administration leadership making disparaging remarks about Indians ?

Where is the righteous indignation of these people and media organizations in reaction to Minnesota Democratic Congressman Keith Ellison’s likely ascension to chair the DNC, in light of  Ellison’s support for Nation of Islam and other anti-American and anti-Semitic causes?

Purim instructs us not to fall for the Big Lie and to be ever so wary of efforts to strip society of divine moral values. I pray that the coming years represent a reversal of these trends and of the overall damage of the past eight years.

Avrohom Gordimer serves on the editorial board of Jewish Action magazine, is a staff writer for the Cross-Currents website, and is a frequent contributor to Israel National News and a host of other publications. He is a member of the Rabbinical Council of America and the New York Bar, and he is also a board member of Coalition for Jewish Values, (, a national organization that speaks on behalf of what are commonly known as Judeo-Christian ethics — the moral voice of the Torah. By day, he works as an account executive at a large Jewish organization based in Manhattan. The views expressed in the above article are solely those of the writer. Sent by the author, also on

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