Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Middle East Media Sampler 1/15/2013: The Perpetual Claim Israel Is Shifting Right

From +David Gerstman:

1) Israel's right turn?

It was a throwaway line in a New York Times editorial last week:
There are many threats to a two-state solution, including an Israeli government that could become even more hard-line after the Jan. 22 election.
No doubt we will continue to see "analyses" (or more accurately, cliches) like this over the next week and coming months.

David Weinberg argues in Israel: Wary not bullheaded that not as much has changed in Israel as the editors of the New York Times (and like-minded people) think.
In fact I would argue that Israelis are pretty much where they have been since the early Oslo days when it comes to acceptance of Palestinian statehood, except that the world has never quite understood what we mean by Palestinian statehood. 
The Palestinian state that Israelis can support in Judea, Samaria and Gaza cannot threaten Israel’s security – meaning that it must be truly demilitarized, cannot form hostile foreign alliances, will bring Hamas to heel, renounce terror, agree to Israeli or American monitors on its borders, and accept a permanent Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley. The Palestinian state that Israelis can support in Judea, Samaria and Gaza must be a reasonable neighbor and willing to compromise – meaning that will not contain any large Israeli settlement blocs, will not have sovereignty over Jerusalem, and must share its airspace and natural resources with Israel. The Palestinian state that Israelis can support in Judea, Samaria and Gaza agrees to a permanent end to all conflict and claims on Israel – meaning that it renounces the right of return, stops all incitement, and recognizes Israel as the nation state of the Jewish People. 
Unfortunately, the world community has not bothered to relate to these outlines for a realistic peace agreement. Instead, the Europeans and other Western leaders (along with Iran, Syria and now Egypt) have helped ratchet-up Palestinian expectations to unrealistic, maximalist levels and have encouraged Palestinian extremism. After all, the world community is prepared to “recognize” Palestinian statehood on the 1949 lines even in the absence of any Palestinian concessions to reality; even though Palestinian leadership is unwilling to negotiate directly with Israel, never mind compromise with it!  
In The Israeli Elections and Political Reality Rick Richman summarizes what's convinced Israelis to be wary over the past 19 years:
The “dramatic imminent shift” is not a shift, but a realization; not imminent, but rather what happened over many years; and not dramatic, but rather the slow accumulation of many events:
  1. the barbaric terror war against Israeli civilians, commenced after the first Israeli offer of a state;
  2. the Palestinian rejection of the Clinton Parameters, after Israel formally accepted them;
  3. the Palestinian failure to carry out even Phase I of the three-phase Roadmap;
  4. the transformation of Gaza into Hamastan after Israel withdrew every settler and soldier;
  5. the election of Hamas in 2006 and the Hamas coup in 2007;
  6. two rocket wars from Judenrein Gaza, and the continuing prospect of more;
  7. the year-long negotiation in the Annapolis Process that produced still another offer of a state, from which Abbas walked away;
  8. Abbas’s announcement in 2009 that he would do nothing without a construction freeze, followed by his doing nothing after he got one;
  9. the continual “reconciliation” attempts by Abbas with the terrorist group he promised to dismantle;
  10. his failure to give a Bir Zeit speech to match Netanyahu’s Bar-Ilan one;
  11. the inability of the Palestinians to hold an election, much less build the institutions of a peaceful democratic state;
  12. the violation of their express Oslo commitments with repeated end-runs at the UN;
  13. a Palestinian society, media and educational system steeped in anti-Semitism;
  14. et cetera.
But regardless of why Israel's next government is relatively more "right wing" or "hard line" than the current one, would it really that "right wing" in absolute terms? Two years ago Elder of Ziyon linked to one of PM Yitzchak Rabin's final speeches to the Knesset. Elder of Ziyon's observations about some of PM Rabin's ideas are worth recalling:
The hawk that gave this speech was none other than Yitzchak Rabin, weeks before he was assassinated in 1995. Yes, the sainted, Nobel-peace prize winning Rabin was far more hawkish in his positions than Binyamin Netanyahu is today. Something to think about as people continuously attack Netanyahu for being so intransigent and "hawkish." And while you are thinking about it, think about how the PLO's policies have changed between 1995 and today in regards to what they are willing to do for peace. The answer is, of course, nothing.
2) The false premises of Middle East peace

 Two of the most common premises about the Arab/Israeli conflict are that it is central to solving conflict in the Middle East and that settlements are the primary obstacle to peace. Following from these premises is the conclusion that Israel must end settlements and offer enough to convince the Palestinians to give up their grievances. A number of recent, disparate stories demonstrate how wrong these perceptions are.  Recently, This Ongoing War asked Can salad vegetables tell us something about the Arab/Israeli conflict? It was discovered that peppers being sold in a Lebanese grocery chain may have been packaged in Israel. This led to a major investigation as to how these vegetables got there. The blogger comments:
It would be nice to laugh, or even just to smile knowingly, about the gravity hinted at in this news item. But let's dwell briefly, before getting too amused, about how the presence of these packaged peppers required the forensic interventions of
  1. the Lebanese army,
  2. its military intelligence,
  3. the Lebanese national police and
  4. the military judiciary.
... Anyone who shops in European supermarkets knows that quality peppers increasingly means Israeli peppers. An angry "boycott Israeli goods" website which we will not quote here (why give them the attention or the traffic?) resentfully sings the praises of Israeli peppers and their success in penetrating discerning markets. Such is life. Israeli agriculture does a really good job of producing winning fruits and vegetables. But before checking for leaks in the border fence, it would not be surprising to learn that the peppers that infiltrated Spinneys originated with a European wholesaler. But more seriously, think about what this tells us about Lebanon and the Arab world, and about the ongoing conflict. How good are the chances for a better understanding on both sides of the dispute when the presence of one word on a printed label, whether accurately placed there or not, triggers the big-time involvement of the military, the police and the judiciary? And that's just on the day of the "discovery". What might be coming next? Is the Lebanese government going to fall? Will a minister resign? Will Lebanon retaliate and if so, what form will that take? And why is this not already in front of the UN Security Council or the World Health Organization?
If the word "Israel" printed on a package possibly is a treasonous act, how can it be that settlements are the cause of conflict? Hating Israel isn't due to resentment of settlements, which would be - at worst - a political issue, it is something that must be much deeper seated. To the degree that occupation is the source of conflict, Dore Gold recently observed that Turkey's settlements in Cyprus don't cause much consternation in Europe (h/t Eugene Kontorovich).
Anyone flipping through cable television channels with his or her remote control has undoubtedly come across programs about British and other retirees from Northern Europe seeking to escape the harsh climate where they live by venturing to one of the well-known vacation spots along the Mediterranean coast. The difficult problem that these buyers face is the soaring prices of properties over the last decade in places like Marbella, Spain, the French Riviera, or Italy's Amalfi Coast, which leads many to look for more economical alternatives. As a result, many European buyers after 2002 have been flocking to Northern Cyprus, where a villa with a swimming pool can be bought at discount prices. The main legal question that is not addressed with this new European property boom is the legal status of the area where these new homes are being built. It should be recalled that in 1974 the Turkish army invaded Cyprus, which had been an independent state since 1960 and took over 37 percent of the island. Tens of thousands of Greek Cypriots were expelled in this period in what they viewed was a deliberate policy of ethnic cleansing by the Turkish army. In the aftermath of the invasion, the U.N. Security Council adopted Resolution 353 which demanded "an immediate end to foreign military intervention" and called for "the withdrawal without delay from the Republic of Cyprus of foreign military personnel." The Turkish Cypriots declared their independence in 1983 by forming the "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus," an act that the U.N. condemned as "null and void." Over the years, an estimated 160,000 "settlers" who came from Turkey moved into Northern Cyprus. In many cases, properties that had been left behind by Greek Cypriot refugees were given by the Northern Cyprus administration to Turkish Cypriots and to the Turkish settlers, who sold them to European buyers. To date, some 5,000 British citizens have purchased homes in Northern Cyprus despite it being a clear-cut case of an "occupied territory." According to a BBC report, as many as 10,000 foreigners have bought up former Greek Cypriot properties in Northern Cyprus.
But is the  Israeli/Palestinian conflict really the main source of instability in the Middle East? David Weinberg writes in Counting the dead in Syria:
The figure of 60,000 dead is also a historic marker. Because 60,000 dead is double the estimated casualty count of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict over the past 45 years. Add them all up over all the years of the “occupation”: combatants, civilians, and indirect casualties of conflict – on both sides of the Palestinian-Israeli divide. Add in all Palestinians killed by intra-Palestinian violence and/or executed by Hamas and Fatah as “collaborators.” Add in Israeli victims of Palestinian terror. Add them all up. And still, the total casualty count in Israeli-Palestinian conflict doesn’t hit half the number of Syrians slaughtered by other Syrians over the past two years!
Only by inflating the importance of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict does it become necessary to pressure Israel for ever more unreciprocated concessions. Finally, Elder of Ziyon noted a recent comment by Mahmoud Abbas the overextended President of the Palestinian Authority:
Following a meeting with Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, Abbas said that he had appealed to the UN to intercede on behalf of Palestinian refugees living in Syria and demand that Israel allow them to enter the West Bank and Gaza. Abbas said Ban was told Israel “agreed to the return of those refugees to Gaza and the West Bank, but on condition that each refugee ... sign a statement that he doesn’t have the right of return (to Israel).” “So we rejected that and said it’s better they die in Syria than give up their right of return,” Abbas told the group. 
Contrast the bluster of the Palestinian leader with what some Israelis troops recently did. (h/t Meryl Yourish)
Soldiers of the IDF's haredi battalion Netzah Yehuda managed to rescue three Palestinian men before the fierce currents washed over them. Ynet obtained a documentation of the rescue. The IDF troops were called to an area near the Nablus River, where, they were told, cars were stranded with their drivers trapped in a constantly intensifying current. The storm was too severe for helicopters to arrive at the scene, and the battalion commander resorted to utilizing a Palestinian's tractor that was passing by.
By paying too much attention to Israeli settlements and hyping the importance of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict would be do-gooders the world over likely make peace less likely For one thing, they ignore the role of antisemitism in the fueling the conflict.  It also leads them to ignore what Israel actually does and the apathy  Arabs actually show to the Palestinians. Most importantly it means that they allow Palestinian grievances veto power over any possibly peaceful solution.


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