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Jun. 1 2010 — 10:48 am | 280 views | 0 recommendations | 6 comments

After Israel’s flotilla fiasco, Egypt opens the Gaza border to avert an intifada

What would be the next diastrous step in the Middle East, following yesterday’s ambush by the Israeli military against a civilian aid convoy? Clearly, a new intifada – a Palestinian uprising adding to the bloodshed.

Thus it was a wise move by the Egyptian government this morning to defuse the time bomb of Palestinian anger by opening the Rafah gate – the only gate it controls – to allow some of Gaza’s 1 1/2 million civilians to escape their collective punishment for the actions of the ruling Hamas party. Though Egypt hasn’t said how long it will keep the Rafah border open, its opening is the escape valve that could help prevent another intifada.

Other smart moves have come from the United States, where experts understand the full import Israel’s killing of nine civilians.

Taking a cue from President Barack Obama’s restrained reaction to the shootings on a humanitarian aid ship bound for the Gaza strip, the smartest U.S. commentators are focusing on the root causes: the continued occupation of Palestinian lands since the 1967 war, and the failure of Western nations to secure a two-state solution to achieve peace between Israel and its neighbors.

The Washington Post – whose editorial team is hawkish on Israel whether the ruling coalition in Tel Aviv is peaceful or virulently racist (as it is currently) – jumped way ahead this time to the core issue:

As for Mr. Netanyahu, the only road to recovery from this disaster lies in embracing, once and for all, credible steps to create conditions for a Palestinian state. A good start would be easing restrictions on both Gaza and the West Bank, once the reactions to Monday’s events subside. Mr. Netanyahu also needs to broaden his government to include pro-peace parties; one of his main problems is cabinet hawks who have made Israeli diplomacy an oxymoron. The prime minister is in a deepening hole; his only way out is to move to the center.

In Israel meanwhile, military experts reacted with anger to the poor command-and-control inherent in the pre-dawn mounting of a ship in a manner that instantly put individual commandos at risk. The incompetent leadership helped create “a Palestinian Exodus,” noted one expert.

There were certainly some wrongheaded reactions: The Maariv newspaper called for the resignation of Ehud Barak. Yes he’s the Defense Minister, but he’s certainly not in control of Israel’s military, which is increasingly dominated by extremists who see their mission as a holy war against their Arab neighbors. Barak’s resignation would be a greater disaster than the Gaza flotilla killings, as he is one of the few pro-peace-process members of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s seven-member cabinet.

The most astute comment came from Meir Dagan, the head of Israel’s Mossad spy agency – which was recently embarassed by its alleged assassination of a Hamas operative in Dubai:

“Israel is gradually turning from an asset to the United States to a burden,” said Dagan, speaking before the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

The next step for the Netanyahu government is very clear: Use this embarrassing international incident to move the peace process forward.  Focus your energies on expanding the marvelous economic success of Israel “proper.” Persuade those anti-Arab American billionaires who fund the settlement movement in the occupied Palestinian territories to build housing in Israel for a change. Be the Start-Up Nation that just earned Israel membership in the prestigious OECD.

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May. 31 2010 — 3:50 am | 519 views | 1 recommendations | 15 comments

Netanyahu-Obama visit cancelled after 10 killed by Israel on Gaza-bound humanitarian aid ship


Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has cancelled his visit to President Barack Obama today after the Israeli military’s embarassing middle-of-the-night raid on humanitarian aid ships bound for Gaza left at least 10 people dead and many wounded. The incident has created a double tragedy, as the two were scheduled for a fence-mending visit designed to boost peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

The United Nations Security Council will hold an emergency meeting on this devastating incident, says Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon: ”It is vital that there is a full investigation to determine exactly how this bloodshed took place. I believe Israel must urgently provide a full explanation,” he said at a press conference in the Ugandan capital of Kampala.

Notes Laura Rozen in Politico: “Turkey has withdrawn its ambassador to Israel, Greece has canceled planned military exercises with Israel, France has condemned the killings, and the Palestinian Authority declared a day of mourning.”

Could last night’s tragedy aboard the Gaza-bound ship in a humanitarian-aid flotilla have been avoided?

The Israeli military had successfully managed to divert ships to its own waters during previous water convoys to Gaza – without bloodshed. I understand that the commandos who dropped from helicopters onto the deck of aid ships th0ught they were being attacked by passengers. Shouldn’t their trainers have given them ways to deal with this, without opening fire? And did they have to arrive in the dead of night – 4:30 am local time? The civilians aboard the ship must have been terrified to see armed, masked men.

The commandos – by arriving in an unnecessarily dramatic manner in international waters 70 miles outside Israeli territory - have created an international incident that will incite further anti-Israel feeling around the world, especially the world’s 2.5 billion Muslims – who are already watching news reports about this on television. Like this one from Aljazeera English – which had a reporter on board:

The Israeli military put out a statement:

“We did not attack any boat, we merely fulfill the Israeli government’s decision to prevent anyone from going into the Gaza strip without coordinating with Israel,” a statement from the Israeli military said. “The flotilla is a provocation made to de-legitimize Israel. Had they really wanted to deliver the cargo into Gaza they could have done so via Israel as it is done on a daily basis.”

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May. 27 2010 — 4:23 pm | 323 views | 0 recommendations | 0 comments

Kach terrorists threaten Rahm Emanuel’s family in East Jerusalem

It’s not simply “hecklers” bothering White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and his family, visiting Israel and East Jerusalem for their 13-year-old son’s bar mitzvah.

Zach Emanuel, praying today at the Western Wall in East Jerusalem.

It’s a truly scary bunch: Oft-arrested Itamar Ben-Gvir and Baruch Marzel – leaders of the right-wing Kach terrorist organization outlawed by the Israeli government. They were picked up by the Israeli police after their actions almost prevented Emanuel from going up to pray at the Western Wall in East Jerusalem with his son. CBS News reported they had threatened to “take Zach Emanuel “on a day of fun without his father” in order to “teach him a few things about the Jewish peoples’ heritage.” As a result, the Emanuel family was accompanied throughout their visit by a heavy guard of plainclothes police.

Kach, a terrorist group founded by the late racist Rabbi Meir Kahane, was officially labeled as such and outlawed by the Israeli government in 1994, following the massacre of 29 Palestinians and wounding of 125 others by a Kach follower, Baruch Goldstein. Yigal Amir, another Kach follower, assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995. Since then, though officially outlawed, Kach members continue to operate in settler communities on the West Bank and have an extensive network on Facebook. A former Kach member, Michael Ben-Ari, actually holds a seat in the Knesset; Ben-Gvir and Marzel are his aides. The U.S. government asked Israel to intervene last fall when Ben-Ari tried to stage an official Knesset tribute to his late terrorist mentor, Kahane.

All three of these Kahanist troublemakers reside in illegal West Bank settlements. All three specialize in staging protest marches by settler extremists in Palestinian towns in Israeli and in the occupied West Bank, inciting Palestinians to riot.

Ben-Gvir, restrained by Israeli police as Emanuel and entourage toured occupied East Jerusalem today, yelled a mantra of the extremist settler movement:

“You are an anti-Semite, a hypocrite who hates Israel!” Ben-Gvir shouted. “You want Israel to return to the 1967 borders. Shame on you!”

Previously, these terrorist group members had spread false rumors that the Emanuel family was treated to a non-kosher meal funded by the Israeli government - another attempt to incite anti-Obama hatred among the Orthodox, kosher-eating settler population.

Emanuel did manage a pleasant visit with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, inviting him to the U.S. to visit with President Obama next Tuesday.

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel met with Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu yesterday.

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel met with Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu yesterday.

Here’s M.J. Rosenberg of Media Matters for America’s take on this:

Now that the Bar Mitzvah is over, the Emanuels should get themselves to liberal secular Tel Aviv, Eilat, Haifa, a kibbutz, or just come home. One last thing: the President should not set foot in Israel so long as Israel’s equivalent of the tea party right dominates the culture. If the half-Israeli, all-Jewish chief-of-staff to a President who provides Israel with more aid, by far, than any other country is not safe in Israel in Israel, who is? (Obama himself just approved an extra $200 million in aid; Israel is exempt to all the cuts applied here). The good news is that Rahm now has a hint of the kind of hate Palestinians endure nonstop.

What I want to know is, how is it that these Kahane terrorists operate openly in Israeli and the West Bank – and even hold a seat in the parliament?

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May. 10 2010 — 10:03 am | 235 views | 1 recommendations | 2 comments

Don’t Play with Middle East Maps, II

An editorial by Jerusalem Post editor-in-chief David Horovitz posits low expectations for success of the latest round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks getting  underway this week, based on Yassar Arafat’s intransigence during the 2000 peace talks.

Even president Bill Clinton, knowledgeable, committed and widely trusted by both sides, proved unable to foster a workable arrangement for Jerusalem 10 years ago….

The collapse of Camp David in 2000, for instance, when Yasser Arafat chose to shatter the high expectations of many Israelis and Palestinians, and opted not to legitimize Israel, was followed by his fostering of the second intifada’s terror war.

Is Horovitz’s version of events, one commonly held on both sides of the Atlantic, really accurate?

Flash back to July a decade ago, when the media were reporting an expected peace agreement between Arafat and Israel’s Ehud Barak, after a marathon two weeks at Camp David with a determined Clinton & Co. Arafat suddenly left Camp David. Since then, we’ve seen Dennis Ross/Clayton Swisher/Jimmy Carter/Bill Clinton and others debate what Arafat rejected, when, and why.

Hard to believe that even today, there are no ‘official’ maps available to the public showing what was offered/rejected by Arafat at Camp David. The closest we can get is a dramatic pair of maps on the website MidEastWeb.com, attributed to Clinton’s chief negotiator, Dennis Ross, who says he had drawn up for his 2004 book, The Missing Peace. [Roughly similar maps are on the website of the Foundation for Middle East Peace.]

In a 2007 New York Times op-ed [where he criticizes Carter for using and mislabeling 'his' maps], Ross notes that the map on the left below “is actually taken from an Israeli map presented during the Camp David summit meeting in July 2000.” The map on the right, he says, is “an approximation of what President Clinton subsequently proposed in December of that year.”

These maps look radically different. On the left-hand map from July 2000 at Camp David, if what Ross wrote in the NYT is true, Palestine looks like three separate, non-contiguous entities surrounded by Israel – with Israel controlling the eastern border with Jordan. [Gaza, presumably a fourth entity, isn't shown on these maps.]

Is this very unattractive vision of a new nation, on the left, what Arafat thought he walked away from in July 2000?

Regarding the map on the right, which Ross says in the NYT is Clinton’s December 2000 map: Arafat responded to what was obviously a much more attractive proposal, asking for more details, in a December 28, 2000 letter. Later the two sides talked at Taba, Egypt. Ross, in his book, says it was Arafat who ultimately wouldn’t make a deal.

Yet even Ross seems confused. In his op-ed, he says they were offered many months apart – important months during which an epidemic of suicide bombers began, George Bush was elected president, and Ehud Barak was facing overwhelming right-wing opposition led by Ariel Sharon, who was indeed elected PM in February 2001. But in his book, Ross labels the maps as if both were offered at Camp David in summer 2000. Still, the one on the right says ‘no map was presented.’ Huh?

Could the confusion over maps help explain why Israelis continue to talk about the generosity of the offer their negotiators made to the ungrateful Arafat at Camp David, while Palestinians claim they were offered a bunch of bantustans?

A gross oversimplification, to be sure. But ….

Remembering the title of Ross’s NYT op-ed, Don’t Play with Maps, I hope today’s negotiators are moving beyond this paper and pencil stuff anyway. In an era when Google Maps instantly displays the precise location of settlements, walls, “bypass” roads, and checkpoints – when folks on the Palestinian side sport American and British PhD’s, not keffiyehs - why not sit down together over one huge digital map to negotiate?

Note to Mitchell’s team: There’s a great new interactive digital map on the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace’s site, showing six different alternatives for the border between Israel and Palestine.

At least put your maps in Google docs, and hit the share button.

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May. 3 2010 — 1:45 pm | 140 views | 0 recommendations | 0 comments

MidEast Peace: Pessimism on the Left and Right

Why is it that merely talking about talking about peace brings instant backlash? Four of the most controversial writers on the Middle East – pessimists all – are at it.

It is a little hard to read these guys and still expect results from the “proximity” talks to be mediated by Special Envoy George Mitchell, beginning Wednesday.

Each of the authors of the AIPAC-outing landmark, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, is dissecting the current state of Israeli v. Palestinian affairs. Yeah, the Israel lobby hates them and tries to paint them as anti-Semites, but these guys definitely understand the deeply divided nature of opinion in the American Jewish [and I might add, Christian] community about Israel’s move to the right in an era of American progressivism.

U. Chicago’s John Mearsheimer, in a very pessimistic speech in Washington, DC, last week talked about three different camps in American Jewish public opinion and posited that in these groups’ hands lies the decision about whether Israel will end its occupation of Palestinian lands. He divides people into three camps: “righteous Jews,”  ”new Afrikaaners,” and “the great ambivalent middle.” Mearsheimer goes into great detail about who’s who in his speech, but we all know who he thinks the “righteous Jews” are – they vocally support groups like J Street or Jewish Voice for Peace and read Tikun Olam.

Mearsheimer’s view of who are the rightists:

I would classify most of the individuals who head the Israel lobby’s major organizations as new Afrikaners. That list would include Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, David Harris of the American Jewish Committee, Malcolm Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Ronald Lauder of the World Jewish Congress, and Morton Klein of the Zionist Organization of America, just to name some of the more prominent ones. I would also include businessmen like Sheldon Adelson, Lester Crown, and Mortimer Zuckerman as well as media personalities like Fred Hiatt and Charles Krauthammer of the Washington Post, Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal, and Martin Peretz of the New Republic.

In short, all the various factions that come together as AIPAC. Mearsheimer predicts that in the near future as the two-state solution fails to occur, the overwhelming power of the lobby in favor of maintaining the occupation will facilitate the political cover as a true apartheid state takes hold in Israel-Palestine. But eventually [he doesn't state years or decades] he predicts that the “the great ambivalent middle” of American Jewry will side with the “righteous Jews” and call for a one man, one vote government in Greater Israel.

The result, Mearsheimer predicts, will be suicide for the nation of Israel:

Thus, I believe that Greater Israel will eventually become a democratic bi-national state, and the Palestinians will dominate its politics, because they will outnumber the Jews in the land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean.

What is truly remarkable about this situation is that the Israel lobby is effectively helping Israel commit national suicide. Israel, after all, is turning itself into an apartheid state, which, as Ehud Olmert has pointed out, is not sustainable in the modern era. What makes this situation even more astonishing is that there is an alternative outcome which would be relatively easy to achieve and is clearly in Israel’s best interests: the two-state solution. It is hard to understand why Israel and its American supporters are not working overtime to create a viable Palestinian state in the Occupied Territories and why instead they are moving full-speed ahead to build Greater Israel, which will be an apartheid state. It makes no sense from either a moral or a strategic perspective. Indeed, it is an exceptionally foolish policy.

On ForeignPolicy.com, M.I.T.’s Stephen Walt [co-author of The Israel Lobby] responds to an even more pessimistic, even depressing, Obama-should-give-up themed cover story by former MidEast negotiator Aaron David Miller. Walt argues for determined U.S. intervention now, but wonders if a two-state solution is never achieved and Israel eventually becomes a human-rights cause celebre, what could/should the U.S. do, given how closely [and permanently] we are allied with Israel?

So here’s the question I’d really like Miller to address: if it becomes clear that “two states for two peoples” is no longer an option, what does he think U.S. policy should be? Should we then favor the ethnic cleansing of several million Palestinian Arabs from their ancestral homes, so that Israel can remain a democratic and Jewish state? (By the way, that would be a crime against humanity by any standard.) Or should we then press Israel to grant the Palestinians full political rights, consistent with America’s own “melting-pot” traditions? (That is the end of the Zionist vision, and may be unworkable for other reasons). Or should we back (and subsidize) their confinement in a few disconnected enclaves (in Gaza, around Ramallah, and one or two other areas in the West Bank), with Israel controlling the borders, airspace, and water resources? (This is the apartheid solution, and it’s where we are headed now.) I fear that some future president will have to choose between these three options, and it would be interesting to know what an experienced Middle East negotiator like Miller would advise him or her to do then.

Walt’s points speak almost directly to a piece by the Hoover Institution-affiliated scholar Daniel Pipes with the tongue-in-cheek title, “What is my Peace Plan for Israel?” His first sentence: “My peace plan is simple: Israel defeats its enemies.” So Pipes would probably say, the scenario Walt describes is okay by him. Without the label, apartheid. Here’s more from Pipes:

For nearly 60 years, Arab rejectionists, now joined by Iranian and leftist counterparts, have tried to eliminate Israel through multiple strategies: they work to undermine its legitimacy intellectually, overwhelm it demographically, isolate it economically, restrain its defenses diplomatically, fight it conventionally, demoralize it with terror, and threaten to destroy it with WMDs. While the enemies of Israel have pursued their goals with energy and will, they have met few successes.

Ironically, Israelis over time responded to the incessant assault on their country by losing sight of the need to win. The right developed schemes to finesse victory, the center experimented with appeasement and unilateralism, and the left wallowed in guilt and self-recrimination. Exceedingly few Israelis understand the unfinished business of victory, of crushing the enemy’s will and getting him to accept the permanence of the Jewish state.

Fortunately for Israel, it need only defeat the Palestinians, and not the entire Arab or Muslim population, which eventually will follow the Palestinian lead in accepting Israel. Fortunately too, although the Palestinians have built an awesome reputation for endurance, they can be beaten. If the Germans and Japanese could be forced to give up in 1945 and the Americans in 1975, how can Palestinians be exempt from defeat?

Need I add my hope Israeli PM Netanyahu – who just announced he will personally be handling the talks – and the Israeli people, a majority of whom favor a two-state solution, prove all these guys wrong?

Also worth a look is a new Foreign Policy historic slideshow of photos of the Middle East conflict, beginning with a photo of a triumphant Mr. and Mrs. David Ben-Gurion celebrating Israel’s independence on May 14, 1948, at Haifa’s harbor.

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