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Blog: January 2010 Archives

This entry is cross posted at Dialy Kos.

Please Note: This is an opinion diary not a definite statement of fact, it is the diarists interpretation of the facts as he sees them

As we head into the second decade of the 21st century the Jewish community finds itself in the beginnings of a cultural battle with regards to it's traditional support for progressive politics, the Zionist Movement and International Neo-Conservative ideologies.
On Thursday, January 28, 2010, APN co-sponsored a forum on Capitol Hill featuring Danny Seidemann and Gregory Khalil.

This event was also co-sponsored by Project Engage (an initiative of the Kairos Project), and the Foundation for Middle East Peace.

Haaretz Editorial: Call It by Its Name: Terrorism!

Israel's Haaretz Daily on Wednesday documented a violent attack by West Bank settlers on defenseless Palestinians.

Today, the newspaper devoted its editorial to the ongoing and escalating violent campaign that settlers call "Price Tag." Haaretz urges us all to call it for what it is: Terrorism.

Here is the full text:

Stagnation can kill

In recent weeks, APN has been emphasizing the need for President Barack Obama to step up his efforts to pursue peace for Israel, and to be willing to play political hardball to get Israelis and Palestinians to make progress towards peace.

APN is not trying to win any popularity contests. We know that this is the only way forward. We also know that, absent a peace process that people can believe in, things can get worse.
Following President Obama's admission to Time Magazine last week that Middle East peacemaking has turned out to be harder than he expected, speculation is mounting that Obama will decide that he has no political choice but to abandon his ambitious Mideast peace efforts.
This would be a terrible mistake. If he addresses the Middle East at all tonight, at his State of the Union Address, the President should make clear that he will not make this mistake.
The lesson to be drawn from 2009 is not that peace is too difficult or has too high a political price.  The lesson of 2009 is that it takes more than patience and polite words to make peace.

Tell Obama to step up the pressure

In an interview with Time Magazine last week, President Barack Obama acknowledged that his efforts to promote peace for Israel were stymied by the forces of inertia from within Israeli and Palestinian societies.

Obama said: "I think the Israelis and Palestinians have found that the political environment, the nature of their coalitions, or the divisions within their societies were such that it was very hard for them to start engaging in a meaningful conversation."

Now - emboldened by the Democratic loss in the Massachusetts Senate race - critics want him to put peace for Israel on the back burner.

The RJC's low blow

Yesterday, after the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) slammed Congressman Berman for speaking to APN, I took them on over Twitter.

I was deeply frustrated with the RJC's low blow:

1) The RJC's attack on Berman was transparently about petty partisan politics. And peace for Israel is more important than that.

2) The RJC argued that a discussion about the toll of the occupation on Israel is somehow beyond the pale. But for America to be a real friend of Israel, we need to be open and honest about what's at stake. I have a beef with anybody who tries to stifle debate on Israel.

In LA, Testimony to APN's DC Impact

Anybody present at APN's Yitzhak Rabin luncheon in Los Angeles yesterday witnessed a strong testimony to APN's impact in Washington.

Howard Berman (who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee) spoke of his admiration for APN's "firm commitment to peace" and praised us as being "among the most reliable and valuable sources of information about the peace process, especially regarding Israeli settlements in the West Bank."
Berman 186x140.JPG

Berman to APN: Israel in Danger of Ceasing to be a Jewish Democracy; Praises APN's Commitment to Peace

Los Angeles, CA - House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman, Rep. Howard Berman today told a group of Americans for Peace Now activists and supporters in Los Angeles that if Israel maintains its rule over the West Bank and Gaza, it will either cease to be a democracy, or will cease to be Jewish.

Sheikh Jarrah - a microcosm of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Another Friday, another protest in Sheikh Jarrah. 

Another Friday where Israeli police react with fury and force, trying to bar and then break up the event, and arresting peaceful protesters. 

Another Friday and more evidence that democracy - and key pillars of democracy like freedom of speech and freedom of association, let alone the freedom to protest peacefully - are under threat in Israel.

When the Sheikh Jarrah protests first started an Israeli friend told me that they would never have any impact -- that Jerusalem is something that Israelis just can't think rationally about.  He said that even though we are talking about settler activities in neighborhoods that few Israelis can find on a map, let alone ever visit, the average Israeli hears "Jerusalem" and stops listening. 

I hope he is wrong.  Because this is about more than settlers targeting houses in this one Palestinian neighborhood.  Sheikh Jarrah is a microcosm of the entire Israeli-Palestinian conflict - as pointed out by Didi Remez in a podcast he did with APN earlier this week, following his arrest in last week's protest.  It is about Israeli actions and policies that are wholly inimical to peace.  It is emblematic of the battle between those who believe in a negotiated peace -- for Israel's own sake -- and those who prefer the zero-sum logic of occupation, domination, and perpetual conflict. 

In one neat little package the Sheikh Jarrah protests encompass the core issues at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the peace process: territory, settlements and borders, displacement of Palestinians, and of course, Jerusalem.

I have watched (from afar) these protests grow, week after week.  I have watched them gather more and more "mainstream" support, especially in the face of the extraordinary actions of Israeli police. I hope my friend turns out to be wrong -- that Sheikh Jarrah will be the issue that focuses Israelis minds on what is really at stake and motivates them to action.

Israeli Media: Obama's Frustration is Israel's Loss

According to the Israeli press, there was gloating in Israel's right-wing government yesterday, when Time Magazine published President Barack Obama's words of frustration with his administration's inability to elicit bold action toward peace from the leaders of Israel and the Palestinians.

"If you promise not to reveal the name of senior Israeli officials, you can hear more than a bit of gloating at the expense of Obama and his advisers," wrote Yedioth Ahronoth's veteran diplomatic correspondent Shimon Shiffer. A senior Israeli official told Shiffer: "It took [Obama] a year to 'discover America," and "did [Obama] really believe that bowing to the Saudi king would help him harness the moderate Arab world to the negotiation wagon?"

Drawing the wrong conclusions (my response to Jim Besser)

I read with some disappointment James Besser's response (in the New York Jewish Week) to APN's call for President Barack Obama to be more aggressive in the pursuit of Middle East peace.

Besser concedes that:

"APN is probably right that U.S. pressure on both sides is the only strategy with any real hope of pushing the two sides back to the negotiating table."

But he also argues that:

"Leaving aside the question of whether that's smart policy or not, politics suggests the administration is likely to move in the opposite direction."

Let's hope David Axelrod isn't drawing this same mistaken conclusion.  As we argued in the same paper that Besser is critiquing, Obama has little to lose -- and everything to gain -- by stepping up pressure to make progress toward peace.

The IDF in Haiti: Pride in Proportion

I wanted to take a minute to salute Israel and its military for the impressive work that the IDF is doing to help the earthquake survivors in Haiti.

Democracy in jeopardy: Israel intensifying efforts to quash dissent

Today a friend asked if I thought the story of Israel's recent deportation of Jared Malsin - the American (and Jewish) editor of a Palestinian news outlet - was important.  I responded that if you consider it important that Israel arrests a working journalist, holds him in virtual solitary confinement under miserable conditions for a week until he can't stand it anymore, and then deports him under highly dubious legal circumstances - then yes, it is.

But that is not the whole story.  Because this is not an isolated issue.

It is clear to all of us who work on issues related to peace, human rights or Israeli civil society, that the government of Israel is deliberately and systematically upping the ante and increasing the pressure on those who do not toe the Israel policy line.

Obama laments lack of bold gestures by Israel

In an interview published today by Time Magazine, President Barack Obama spoke about some of the obstacles he's faced in his efforts to pursue peace for Israel:

I'll be honest with you. A: This is just really hard. Even for a guy like George Mitchell who helped bring about the peace in Northern Ireland. This is as intractable a problem as you get. B: Both sides--I think the Israelis and Palestinians--have found that the political environment, the nature of their coalitions, or the divisions within their societies were such that it was very hard for them to start engaging in a meaningful conversation. And I think that we overestimated our ability to persuade them to do so when their politics ran contrary to that.

From Abbas' perspective, he's got Hamas looking over his shoulder and I think an environment generally within the Arab world that feels impatient with any process.

And on the Israeli front, although the Israelis I think after a lot of time showed a willingness to make some modifications in their policies, still found it very hard to move with any bold gestures.  And so what we're going to have to do--I think it is absolutely true that what we did this year didn't produce the kind of breakthrough that we wanted and if we had anticipated some of these political problems on both sides earlier, we might not have raised expectations as high.

Moving forward, though, we are going to continue to work with both parties to recognize what I think is ultimately their deep-seated interest in a two-state solution in which Israel is secure and Palestinians have sovereignty and can start focusing on developing their economy and improving the lives of their children and grandchildren.

(emphasis added)

Is Bibi deliberately thwarting peace talks?

Every time the peace process begins to take a step forward, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seems to trip it up.

Take this latest example: Last week, US National Security Advisor Jim Jones visited Israel. During his meetings Jones reportedly expressed optimism that American efforts to renew Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations would result in a renewal of talks next month.

But then comes Netanyahu and announces that, even after a peace agreement, Israel must control territory between any future Palestinian state and Jordan. This is the first time Netanyahu has made such a demand.

Sheikh Jarrah heats up.

In yesterday's Middle East Peace Report, I provided coverage of the manner in which Israel's police interfered with a perfectly legal (and sensible) demonstration against the settler take-over of homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah:

Sheva Brachot

Seven Blessings Celebrating the First Year in Office of President Barack Obama.

By Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels

1) We are in awe and in wonder before and within the Unity of All and we express our appreciation for being Jews embraced by the bountiful freedoms that are "America."

2) We are in awe and in wonder before and within the Unity of All, realizing that our presence in this nation is a gift, as it is for all our fellow citizens.

Disrespect Muslim cemetery in Jerusalem at Israel's peril

There is good news today regarding a dangerous project in Jerusalem: famed architect Frank Gehry pulled out of a plan to build a "Museum of Tolerance" on top of an ancient Muslim cemetery.

APN repeatedly called on the Simon Wiesenthal Center to move the planned museum to another site. Now that Gehry has backed out we have a new opportunity to get the Wiesenthal Center to do the right thing.

A Chance to do the right thing on the Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem

In a rare bit of good news regarding Jerusalem, this week it was confirmed that famed architect Frank Gehry has pulled out of the Simon Wiesenthal Center's (SWC) misguided plans to build a "Museum of Tolerance" smack-dab on top of the most important historic Muslim cemetery in Jerusalem.  As he exits the project he takes with him his ambitious blueprint for the structure, taking away the government of Israel's lame argument that the project is vital to Israel since it will create an architectural gem of international stature in the heart of West Jerusalem. 

The Government of Israel and SWC's longstanding insistence on building the museum on the site of this historic Muslim cemetery from the start provoked widespread consternation and outrage among right-thinking people in the US and Israel, not to mention the Muslim world.  In a sort of tragi-comedy (where the irony of the situation was apparently lost only to the SWC), it has also forced SWC leaders (and in particular Rabbi Hier) to transform themselves into rhetorical, moral, and ethical contortionists, twisting and turning the facts and arguments to try to defend a plan that is patently indefensible. 

The exit from the project of its celebrity architect offers Israel and the SWC a wonderful face-saving opportunity -- a chance to change course and come up with a new plan on a new site.  Doing so will ensure that if a Museum of Tolerance is built in Jerusalem, it is built in a manner that reflects and supports the value for which it is named and to which, ostensibly, it is dedicated.

Continue to read a Backgrounder on the project

McCain & Lieberman play politics with Israel

During their visit to Israel this week, Senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman chose to score political points rather than to help promote peace for Israel.

The senators pounced on a statement made by George Mitchell. After being pushed repeatedly by Charlie Rose on this point, Mitchell observed that previous presidents had withheld loan guarantees to Israel in order to push Israel to make progress towards peace. Pundits in Israel quickly interpreted this statement as a veiled threat.

Peace Now petition challenges Hebron settlement

HebronMB.jpgYesterday, Israel's High Court of Justice held a hearing on a Peace Now petition calling for the removal of settlers who live in a military base in Hebron.

This is but the latest in a series of Peace Now legal actions that have compelled the Israeli government to stop -- and even to roll back -- settlement actions that violate Israeli law.

Obama Premises for Re-Starting Permanent Status Talks?

For some time there has been a debate over whether President Obama will, or should, release his own ideas about the content of an Israeli-Palestinian permanent status agreement (PSA).  Now, as there appears to be a renewed push underway to launch Israeli-Palestinian permanent status talks, there is again discussion of whether it is time for President Obama to lay down some clear US ideas about those talks.

Interestingly, the Obama Administration has already gone a good way in this direction.  The fact is, with little fanfare and nobody really noticing, the Obama Administration has - in speeches and other statements of President Obama and his top officials - been gradually laying out some clear premises upon which it believes any permanent status talks will be based.  While these statements fall short of directly stating US expectations for the content of a PSA, they very clearly communicate US policy on some of the key permanent status issues, and it is no great leap to infer from them some clear US expectations about the shape and content of a PSA.

Transforming these discrete policy utterances into a cohesive set of premises about peace could arguably be very helpful in energizing President Obama's Middle East peace effort, reasserting US leadership and confidence in the Middle East policy arena.  Doing so could also reassure Israelis and Palestinians - as well as key allies in the region whom the US needs help from in launching talks - that the US recognizes and validates their core concerns.  Moreover, were the US to release a formal policy statement of some kind, along the lines discussed below, it would be very difficult for Israel or the Palestinians to attack the content, since it genuinely includes nothing that has not already been said.

Facing Israel's diplomatic "Price Tag" strategy: lessons for Obama

Since Special Middle East Envoy George Mitchell's appearance on Charlie Rose, the Israeli press has been full of reports of official indignation and outrage.  The running theme is: how dare Mitchell threaten Israel with cutting aid if it does not play ball on the peace process?  

And in a gift to Israeli hasbara-niks, this weekend's visit to Jerusalem by two of Obama's chief opponents in Congress, defeated Republican presidential candidate John McCain (R-AZ) and his lackey, Joe Lieberman (I-CT) spent most of Sunday telling the Israeli media how they would never allow such a thing to happen.

What Mitchell actually said, after Rose pressed him on whether the US has any sticks to use in the Israeli-Palestinian arena, was this

A Year of Israel Rebuffing the US on Gaza Crossings

As we near the 1-year anniversary of the end of the Gaza War, the Gaza Strip remains under siege, with Israel allowing very little - in terms of either goods or people - to enter or exit the area.  Last week, in an appearance on the Charlie Rose show, Middle East Special Envoy George Mitchell said that he thought Israel would have be better off if it opens the crossings (and thus lifts or seriously alleviates the siege).  

This is not the first time senior US government officials have argued that Israel should lift the siege.  Indeed, almost exactly a year ago President Obama made the same argument - and made it several times since - only to be ignored by Israel.

Mitchell's determination deserves support

On Mondays, we at APN look for a quote -- Quote of the Week -- to feature in the Weekly Update that we send to our supporters.

This week, I looked through the extensive interview that President Obama's Special Envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell gave to PBS's Charlie Rose for good quotes.

Last week (January 7), Defense Minister Ehud Barak issued an order "mitigating" the settlement freeze - in effect revising the terms of the settlement "moratorium" imposed earlier by military order.  The order was immediately denounced by settlers as meaningless, but the headlines told the real story, at least in terms of how the decision is viewed politcally:  Haaretz: "6 weeks into settlement freeze, Barak eases restrictions"; YNet: "Barak orders settlement freeze mitigations" and Maariv (Hebrew) "Following the Freeze: Eases in Construction." 

Now, in the "adding insult to injury" category, it is being reported today that the Israeli High Court of Justice has decided to re-examine the cases of two illegal outposts - outposts that in the past the government of Israel has admitted are completely illegal and promised to demolish.  In the words of Peace Now Secretary General Yaariv Oppenheimer,  "The government of Israel is thumbing its nose at the rule of law and granting immunity to illegal building by settlers. On the same day that the Civil Administration destroyed 14 Palestinian buildings, the settlers are again being granted a judicial gift, as the process changes from evacuation to authorization. The defense minister ensures protection of the status of the Supreme Court within the Green Line - but decides to ignore the law and submit to settler pressure beyond it."

Background on both stories after the break.

Settler Violence Surging; APN Documenting and Cautioning

Hebron-Settlers.gifA frightened kidnapped Israeli soldier is sending a taped video message to the Israeli public. He tells who he is, assures his loved ones that his captors are treating him well. They are feeding me, he says, and adds "kosher food," as the barrel of a gun nudges his shoulder. As the camera zooms out, the viewers realize that the captors are not Hamas terrorists but rather two armed settlers. 

Nahum Barnea's weekly column in today's Yedioth Ahronoth offers some fascinating nuggets - insights into Prime Minister Netanyahu's modus operandi.
For example, the stunning fact that Bibi speaks English "to his confidants in the bureau, the people whom he truly trusts." I found it ironic. This week, Israel's Education Minister, Gideon Saar - a Netanyahu confidant - announced unveled an ambitious campaign to improve the poor Hebrew of Israel's next generation.
Of course, the influence of rich American Jews in Netanyahu's neighborhood is eye-opening.
Long, but worth reading.

Influences, Money and Appointments

by Nahum Barnea

Yedioth Ahronoth Jnuary 8, 2010

    "Are you on a landline or a cell phone?" Netanyahu demanded to know.  Netanyahu fears wiretapping of his calls.  Most prime ministers have feared wiretapping, mainly by our own forces, but he is more afraid.  Therefore, he prefers to be connected to a landline.


Jerusalem Blitz (latest news and analysis)

Special report from Daniel Seidemann and Lara Friedman

As more reports of new settler activities and settler plans in East Jerusalem accumulate now on an almost daily basis, it is becoming clear that we are in the middle of a Jerusalem settlement blitz.  

This blitz is part real and part hype.  The motivation behind the blitz is clear: fear that the peace process will take root.  The goal of the blitz is also clear:  to prevent this from happening.  

The good news here is that the nature of this blitz - consisting of a combination of relatively obscure, small projects and projects that are unlikely to actually be implemented - demonstrates how few cards the settlers and their supporters have to play in Jerusalem. 

The bad news is that every report of new provocative plans in Jerusalem - even reports that are mostly hot air - represents a very real and tangible blow to the effort to re-launch the peace effort.  As such, the Obama Administration and the international community cannot let the Israeli government off the hook in Jerusalem - even as the Israeli government will try to disclaim responsibility, assert that it has no authority, and will try to downplay the importance of these Jerusalem provocations.  Jerusalem is the first and best test of how serious the Netanyahu government and the international community are about peace.

Jerusalem settlement déjà vu (this time it's the Mt. of Olives)

Headlines in Israel and the US continue to report progress toward launching Israeli-Palestinian permanent status talks.  And where there is smoke there must be fire - as the axiom goes - and thus even many cynical observers are today feeling moderately hopeful that new talks may break out.

But developments in Jerusalem challenge that hopefulness.  

Last week, Israel announced new tenders for 700 units in large East Jerusalem settlements.

Quietly on December 29th, with no fanfare or press coverage, steps were taken to expedite final approval of the (link has expired) Shepherds Hotel settlement plan - paving the way for the imminent demolition of that iconic building and the beginning of construction of the first Jewish settlement to be established in the heart of the densely-populated Palestinian neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.  (The link is to a screen shot from the Jerusalem Municipality website - Hebrew only).

Most recently, on January 4th (Monday) the Jerusalem Municipality approved the construction of four large buildings to house 24 families - in what will be the first Israeli settlement construction on the Mount of Olives since 1967.  The site is adjacent to the existing Beit Orot settlement (a yeshiva housed in pre-1967 building with some additional trailers).

Haaretz Editorial: Time to Talk

Important piece in today's Haaretz:

Time to talk

The peace process between Israel and the Palestinians has become an empty phrase since Israel's elections, interchangeable with the word "daydreaming." On the Israeli side, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted on conditions that will prevent a renewal of the process such as Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, or not freezing construction in East Jerusalem. On the Palestinian side, President Mahmoud Abbas has insisted on freezing all Israeli construction over the Green Line, even after Washington gave Israel "discounts."

In Your Backyard (on American-Israeli Terrorist Jack Teitel)

(From today's Ma'ariv (Hebrew only, translation by INT)

In Your Backyard
by Neta Patrick and Michael Sfard

The fact that the murder case in which Yaakov (Jack) Teitel was a suspect at the end of the 1990s, was shelved on the grounds of an unknown perpetrator (a situation in which the police has no lead for locating a suspect), is a scandal and a police fiasco.  It would be a smaller scandal if this was an exception that did not attest to the rule, but whoever follows the outcome of investigations of violent incidents against Palestinians in the West Bank knows that hundreds of cases are shelved on a daily basis without basic investigation actions being carried out in them.  Alibis are not checked, investigation teams do not visit the scene of the incident, and police lineups are not in the lexicon of the Samaria and Judea District Police.

"Shelving a case" is a euphemism for closing a case.  In theory, shelving a case does not rule out the possibility that it could be reopened if new evidence is discovered, but in practice, cases do not return from the shelf.  The statistics gathered by Yesh Din show that for several years, consistently, over 90 percent of the cases involving suspicions that Israelis committed offenses against Palestinians have been closed without an indictment.

Why is Michael Oren Telling Obama What to Do on Iran?

The Jerusalem Post is reporting that Israel's Ambassador to Washington, Michael Oren -- yes, the same Michael Oren who apparently was deeply wounded (or many people were wounded on his behalf) by criticism leveled at him by President Obama's new Antisemitism envoy Hannah Rosenthal, who callously suggested (in response to a question) that it was "unfortunate" when Oren publicly and quite un-diplomatically told the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism's biennial convention that J Street  is "a unique problem" -- is now in the business of telling President Obama what the next steps for the US on Iran should be.  JPost reports: 

"The next step, according to Ambassador to the US Michael Oren, should be 'imposing crippling sanctions' on the Teheran regime, which is in keeping with the pledge Oren said Obama made to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in May that the US would end the engagement phase toward Iran if it were unsuccessful by year's end. Oren told The Jerusalem Post that 'there isn't an Israeli view and an American view' on the Iranian question, but rather 'one view.'"

Never mind that the Administration has made clear it doesn't like the "crippling sanctions" Oren is referring to -- sanctions more commonly known as the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act (IRPSA) and being energetically pushed by most of the organized Jewish community (pretty much everyone but APN).  

And never mind that Oren appears to be at odds with his bosses in his call for these "crippling sanctions," since Israeli officials reportedly are on board with the Obama Administration's efforts to pursue multilateral sanctions.

And never mind that Obama did not come close to making any such "pledge" to Bibi in May.