Archive for the ‘Palestinians’ category

Insight Into Next Four Years?

December 29, 2016

President-elect Trump and many elected representatives in Congress have risen from their seats to denounce the US decision not to veto a 14-0 UN Security Counsel vote. The vote which condemned Israel’s current practice of building in the occupied territories, including Jerusalem. President-elect Trump tweeted today that things would be different after January 20th. Hmmm.

A characteristic of recent GOP Congresses and George W Bush’s Administration has been their preference to see all issues as single component issues. Complex systems invariably gave way to much easier to communicate “black or white” perspectives. So, as the President-elect sees it, Israel is our best friend in the Middle East and America should be steadfast in recognizing that. Hmmm.

President-elect Trump has spoken out many times about the mistake the Iraq War was. I wonder whether the President-elect remembers that Israel was very vocal about Iraq regime change and urged the US to overthrow Saddam Hussein. From that and a host of other preconceived notions, America got the Iraq War and the huge failure in foreign policy it represents.

There are many other complex, systems specific issues that Congress will come across. In fact the number of single factor issues is vanishingly small. Healthcare (including Medicare and Medicaid), Roe v Wade, racial and gender discrimination, religious freedom, reducing poverty, and education to name a few.

Republican stated position have been simplistic and untested. Repeal and replace is easy to articulate, but to date, there have been no fiscally sound replacement proposals which do not put healthcare out of reach for millions of Americans. With the American public fairly evenly split on abortion, actions to severely restrict abortion access will have consequences. Like many other Republican advocacies, abortion restriction impacts the poor and poverty stricken the hardest. As a consequence, breaking the poverty cycle will become orders of magnitude harder. And so on.

So, the apparent rush to assuage Prime Minister Netanyahu’s hurt feelings completely overlooks the complexities of the Middle East, not to mention the unthinkable outcome of a single State, apartheid-like solution which Netanyahu seems heading towards.

One should not lose sight of the Arab convoluted situation. The Palestinians are dependent upon deep pockets in other Arab countries. Without this money, Hamas, Hezbollah, or even the Palestinian Government’s daily business could not exist long. The PLO’s resistance to negotiation can not be a stand along decision and must reflect outside demands. The Palestinian-Israeli situation is a complex issue.

Inherently a master deal maker must consider competing issues. For the President-elect, deal making is a highly developed skill. The issue that may escape the President-elect and for sure the GOP controlled Congress is what might follow an Israeli-Palestinian one State peace. What will a united Middle East (with all its oil) possessing nuclear capability do for national aspiration?

The next Administration’s Middle East policy needs to be complex enough that it foresees a pathway to Israeli-Palestinian peace.  Or, will this policy simply be standing by America’s friend?

Israel and The Event Horizon

December 25, 2016

Yesterday the US abstained during a United Nations vote critical of Israel’s continued settlement building in and around Jerusalem. Despite strong words from President-elect Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, President Obama called for the “no vote” rather than issue a veto. To say this is a complicated issue is an understatement. One would hope logic and not politics underpinned the US position. Hmmm.

The first difficulty in assessing Israel’s right to annex occupied territory land is to identify which State (Israel or Palestinians) has a just claim for what land. Does one begin with the 1947 resolutions which created the State of Israel? Or does one take into account the Yom Kippur and 6 Day wars initiated by the Arab States and subsequently won by Israel? And what weight should one put on Prime Minister Netanyahu’s claim that Israel still seeks a “two State” solution to this near 70 year conflict?

Israel actions seems to suggest a preferred compromise would be an Israeli State with a minority Arab population and with Jerusalem Israel’s capital. As for the Palestinians, Israel would accept a disarmed separate State occupying the West Bank land Israel does not want, and with no right of return for any Palestinian refugees. Hmmm.

This type of two State solution flies in the face of the 1947/48 boarders as well as any year since. Israel has continually expanded its occupied territory with housing developments each year. Each year Israel asserts its preference to negotiate a lasting 2 State peace only to take over more land the next year. Does Israel have an end game in mind?

A very real complication lies in demographics. The Arab population living in Israel or even the occupied lands is growing faster than the Jewish residents. Consequently, the Israeli desire to remain a “Jewish” state and a democratic one can project its end as the Arab population outgrows the Jewish residents, and then in a democratic state, votes to change the nature of a “Jewish” State.

Given this complication, the two State solution seems like a no-brainer. Unfortunately, Israel’s behavior, building more settlements in the occupied territories and laying claim to all of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, simply do not provide suitable conditions for negotiations.

For most outsiders, Israel’s actions do not appear to have been an accident. Israel appears to have a premeditated intent of changing the “on the ground” facts and claim negations should be about the rest of the West Bank. Hmmm.

Israel’s actions are not the only events taking place in the Middle East. The Sunni and Shiite worlds seem out of control and the radical elements like al Qaeda and ISIS could potentially lead to a two headed Arab world (Sunni and Shiite oriented) with only one thing in common, hatred of a Jewish State in their midst. The event horizon could suck the Arab States and Israel in a new round of armed conflicts making Hezbollah look like a beginner’s militia.

President Obama has steered a wise course denying any encouragement to Israel avoiding negotiations and instead annexing land by simply occupying it.

Come January 20th, this policy will likely change. Will Israel (and the US) get swept over the event horizon?

Israel’s Democracy On Way Out?

May 15, 2015

Democracy has been characterized as a poor form of government, but better than any other form tried so far. Hmmm.

Democracies claim that government is based on one man, one vote. In modern countries this is one person, one vote. The principle in either case is that members of one group (for example, the landed, the wealthy, the military, the clergy, etc) do not have more votes than any other person. But once a vote is held and government ministers are selected, the job of creating rules and regulations fall to a subset of the population. This is representative government and is considered a necessary compromise on one person, one vote.

Authoritarian governments often arise following a “democratic vote” when the “representatives” gradual cede power to a smaller group. Many think that “checks and balances” like the three branches of government the US has, has help guard against any group accumulating too much power. Three branches and a history of free speech have kept the US form of democracy reasonably safe for over two hundred years, a long time in terms of continuous government.

When Israel was founded, it was founded as both a democratic and a Zionist State. The democracy assured all residents the same rights under the law and Zionism assured that Jewish beliefs were protected.

Much has happened since Israel’s founding and Israel has been forced to defend its very existence against Arab invasions. Israel now occupies the West Bank and appears on a path to make this land part of Israel. Forgetting for a moment whether there is a legal basis for Israel to annex this land, the addition of the West Bank presents a serious challenge to Israel’s founding principle of “democracy” and “zionism”.

Simply stated the birth rate of the Palestinians will soon put them in the majority and in a true democracy, Palestinians could be expected to control the Israeli government in time.

With this backdrop, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s appointment of Ayelet Shaked as Justice Minister has opened many eyes about the dangers of mixing democracy and religion. At some point citizens will be asked to choose between the two. Ms Shaked is an avowed proponent zionism and a Jewish State. Her party, the Zionist Jewish Home party is active in supporting expansion of settlements in the West Bank. Hmmm.

As Interior Minister, or Defense Minister, or even maybe Education Minister, Ms Shaked’s party and views might be not unexpected. As Justice Minister, this seems totally out of place… if Israel is committed to democratic principles.

A democratic and zionist Israel, with its expansion of West Bank settlements, will have to eventually decide whether it want to be an apartheid State or one where “ethnic cleansing” is practiced.

Elevating zionism (theocracy) over democracy is a box one should be careful about opening. What say Muslim Brotherhood?

Truce – Maybe

August 28, 2014

Israel and Hamas have agreed to indefinite cessation of Gaza hostilities. Reports said the terms were exactly the same as was offered to Hamas initially by Egypt. Another way of looking at the first truce offer was about 200 innocent civilians ago.

There is no rational way to assign “good guy – bad guy” to this conflict. The bizarre Hamas behavior firing hundreds of rockets aimlessly into Israel and then sitting back and watching the vastly superior military equipped Israelis smash Gazan buildings killing so many innocent civilians defies explanation.

Probably all wars are pointless but this conflict must rate up near the top for insincerity. The explanation lies, most likely, in the layers of anti-Arab and anti-Semitic hatred, and seemingly endless devious negotiations which have taken place in the past between Hamas, the Palestinian Authority, and Israel.

After all these years, there should be no one who thinks Israel will not exist in some form within (at least) the 1967 borders. There should just as certainly be no one who believes Israel can annex with impunity large blocks of the West Bank. The path to a just settlement is, unfortunately, only straight forward to someone not living there.

A lasting peace between the Palestinians and Israel cannot be brokered in Gaza. Until both parties seriously negotiate a two State solution and find acceptable borders and water rights, Gaza will be a killing zone waiting to happen.

Gaza will remain a useful surrogate for third parties (like Iran or other Arab States) to strike safely at Israel for their own self interests. Should Iran develop nuclear capability and should this spread to other Middle East countries, Israel (as well as all other Middle East countries) would be at risk.

In most complex problems, breaking them into smaller pieces is the first step. The next step is to eliminate each smaller problem until the complex situation is neutralized. A Palestinian peace is such an example.  

It is in Israel’s best interest to get on with a larger peace solution with its Palestinian neighbors. It is even more important to the militarily weak Palestinians to find a peace path or the 1200 dead gazans will appear insignificant compared to the hundreds of thousands that would die in any nuclear outbreak.

Great leaders would see this.

Has The Time Come?

November 11, 2009

There are some things in life one never understands. After years of bashing each other, Israel and the Palestinians stand close enough to resume peace negotiations. Close, it seems but not close enough.

Israel now says it is ready having gotten the US to waffle on whether Israel must stop completely with the building of settlements on the West Bank. The PLO (Authority) says, however, that without a complete halt, there can be no negotiations. From most Americans perspective, this seems reasonable but these opinions do not count.

To break this impasse, PLO leader Mahmoud Abbas has said he will resign soon. This has sent a wake up call to all interested parties. Without Abbas there is no credibility to the PLO side and no one to negotiate with (or even just make believe you are negotiating). The price to get Abbas to continue? You guessed it, stop the building of settlements.

Common sense should dictate this as the correct action, not with standing the negotiation value of trading land for peace.  Unfortunately too many Israelis claim a biblical right (god gave them this land) to much of the West Bank. Even a cursory knowledge of history would inform someone that lots of different groups have occupied this land before and after the Jews of the Bible. So if the Biblical Jews won in battle this land, does that mean that Greeks can regain Asia Minor?

Recently, Israeli naval forces seized a ship ladened with arms originating in Iran. The ship was supposedly destined for Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. This week Saudi Arabian forces were fighting on land and at sea against Yemeni rebels who are being supplied with money and arms by Iran. What do these have in common? Hezbollah and the Yemeni rebels are Shiites and their continued success is helpful to Iran’s national ambitions as well as their unbelievable religious goals.

The Israeli Government needs to put a lib on the Jewish extremists who insist on keeping land they think “god gave them”. There is an opportunity to leverage the Sunni-Shiite madness and carve out a peace with the Palestinians on the West Bank. With that settled, Gaza looks much more solvable.


Well Excuse Me !

October 15, 2009

The Israeli Government announced yesterday that they would not resume peace talks with the Palestinians until the UN dropped it consideration of “war crimes” charges against Israel. Israel declared that the charges were unfounded and unfairly leveled against them. I am not sure what part of the Geneva Convention, particularly the portions dealing with protecting innocent non-combatants, that Israel does not understand.

A more plausible explanation for the apparent indiscriminate bombing of Gaza Strip residents is that Israel was provoked and that Hamas fighters hid amongst the Palestinian residents. The key point here is that it can not be denied that bombs, rockets, and bullets from Israel killed or wounded scores of non-combatants in easily recognized civilian neighborhoods. These were not errors in judgement, these were the results of deliberate judgement.

Hamas, of course, is just as guilty as Israel, and has also been charged by the UN. Hamas purposely provoked Israel knowing full well what type of response Israel would make. Hamas clearly did not care about its own civilians and instead, pushed its political agenda, through violent methods, at the expense of Palestinian lives.

In the age of the internet and world news, the record of Hamas and Israel’s war crimes will be there forever. The best we can hope for is that these are the last records. The decision to not resume peace talks is just another example of dangerous short term faulty political thinking on Israel’s part. Israel (and Hamas) have already been convicted in the court of public opinion and it is time to move on.

Bush – Obama Tied

October 14, 2009

When you compare the Bush Administration’s record of achievement dealing with the Palestinian-Israeli situation, and that of President Obama, at this same point in time, there is little difference in accomplishments. How can that be?

From day one in office, President Bush made clear that if there was to be progress, it would come from the two parties without any help from the US. In his opinion (assessment would be to overstate it), the white hats went to Israel, and the black hats belonged to the Palestinians. One State was our friend, one was not. It is not surprising that by October 2001, there had been no progress towards peace by either party.

President Obama, on the other hand, has made several overtures to the Arab and Muslim world, and has spoken to both parties in a strikingly even handed manner. Obama has made special efforts with Syria and Egypt in an effort to reduce adverse outside influences. Special Ambassador George Mitchell has spent a large amount of time shuttling between the parties and neighbors. With all these best of intentions, President Obama has seen no progress towards peace result.

To be clear, this was not a situation former President Bush created, and arguably his approach may pragmatically have made sense if both parties held intractable positions. Unfortunately, Bush did two things which were wrong. Under Bush, (1) Israel was supplied plenty of munitions with only a wink as to limits upon their use. Horrible tragedies resulted bordering, if not outrightly, on crimes against humanity. (2) The invasion and occupation of Iraq was authorized. This single act completed the polarization of the Arab world and ensured that any support the Palestinians were receiving would continue and be even made larger and more deadly. Does not anyone wonder how the Gazans could obtain and fire so many rockets into Israel?

It is certainly true that peace will come only when the parties agree to accept it. It is most likely that the parties will accept peace terms sooner if the level of outside influence is less. The role President Obama has embarked upon seems consistent with this multi-pronged approach. I am hopeful in years ahead President Obama’s approach will begin to show results and the two parties will come to their senses.

President Obama can not dictate terms for a just peace. With Israel now holding an unstoppable military advantage, the President could rightly help the process by withholding ever increasing amounts of munition aid to Israel.   This could help their internal political process understand the ramifications of their appropriation of West Bank land and intransigent position on Jerusalem. Is that playing god?

One Battle Too Many?

September 23, 2009

President Obama met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas yesterday. There were few smiles and the meeting was short and seemingly unproductive. That outcome was predictable.

The Israeli position is hopelessly truncated due to internal religious based political pandering. You know commonsense will be absent when the Israeli Government listens to groups that claim “God willed the land to Israel”. But the Israelis have not cornered the market for senseless thinking. Abbas speaks for Fattah (maybe) but certainly not for Hamas. Hamas seems to speak for a wide range of interests that includes Iran in addition to the needs of the Palestinians. Land for peace seems like such an obvious place to begin.

One is tempted to return to the George W Bush approach. Do nothing. Since there is no sensibility or apparent interest from the two parties in finding a settlement, why not let them continue to bang each other over the head?

The answer, of course, is that the Palestinian-Israeli situation is tied to everything else in the Middle East and to a large extent the entire Muslim world. To the Muslim world, America is clearly favoring Israel and allowing the Palestinians to be suppressed by Israel.  On the other hand, with Iran on the verge of nuclear weapons, Israel is the only Middle East country that the US can count on. So if push comes to shove, Israel will probably always get the edge.

This is where the highest forms of diplomacy and statecraft are needed. Behind the scenes, the US must be pushing gently but firmly to get Israel to open negotiations. The US must also be pushing other countries like Syria, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia to thwart Iran and provide economic support for the Palestinians. A settlement in this issue would be a huge positive for all the Middle East with the possible exception of Iran (where having Israel as the enemy is an aid to the Iranian Government to remain in power).

The question is, “is this just one battle too many for the Obama Administration to focus on at this time?”

What Will He Say Next?

May 19, 2008

America’s “speaker in chief”, George W Bush, spoke again, this time in Egypt at the end of his 5 day Middle East trip.  Once again, George the sage showed the world why he was only a C+ student at Yale and why Yale is considering rescinding his diploma.  George, who has made being an honest broker in the Middle East his by-line, told his Arab State audience that “too many countries in the Middle East have one party in power and the opposition party in jail”.  Smooth, real smooth.

If you allow that what Bush said is about correct and that it is not a recent observation, you have to wonder why he said it and what was his intended audience.  Two days before George had been on his knees asking the Saudis to pump more oil which they briskly refused to do.  Was he speaking to them or was he even ruder and speaking to Egypt, one of the few stable governments that is trying to help in the Israeli-Palestinian mess?  Or could it be a deep trap for the Democrats in the upcoming election?

In any case Bush’s comments show that he has learned nothing from Iraq about democracy.  He must think democracy is like all the jobs he has had and never had to earn them.  Bush champions women’s rights in the Middle East while at home he is happy to deny women their inalienable rights.  Fortunately George has two sides to his mouth so it is no problem for him to speak this way.

The Middle East is a troubled spot for sure.  Israel is arguably a democracy but it is one with many political parties and forming a consensus is very difficult.  Look at their position about Jerusalem and not sharing or returning a portion to the Palestinians.  The rest of the Middle East are dictatorships in one form or another.  Without these authoritarian governments, religious factions would take over and install even more barbaric forms of government.  This is a mess where stability, economic growth, and time are the only ingrediants that will bring modernity to this region.  Modernity is too big a word for George.

Arsonist’s Habits

May 12, 2008

Law enforcement agencies have a high rate of success catching arsonists because they usually return to the scene of their crime often.  Our “arsonist in chief”, George W Bush, flies off this week again to the Middle East in order to pour more oil on the situation.  What reasons would justify picture taking and fancy diners when there is a quagmire in Iraq, raging oil prices, and general ugliness throughout the region is difficult to figure out.  Never the less, our George will celebrate Israel’s 60th birthday party but somehow will not have time to visit with Palestinians. 

Bush appears born to be a poor negotiator.  Instinctively a bully when being a snob won’t get him his way, Bush simply won’t do the heavy lifting to help put the pieces in place in the Middle East.  It has been clear for a long time that the Iraq War was a huge mistake and that getting the bulk of US Troops out was in our national interest.  Unfortunately it is not that easy.

Iraq, as bad as Hussein might have been, was connected to the general stability of the region.  When regime change occurred, it quickly became apparent that forces tending to contain Iran and Syria were not there.  In trying to put a stable framework back together, one immediately comes to the chief “pot hole” in the road to Middle East peace – the Israeli-Palestinian issue.  (Most Middle East literate people knew that before the US invaded Iraq, but that was not included in the “Pearl, Wolfowitz, and Feith” memos).

Bush has had the chance to play the “honest broker” for 5 years following the invasion but apparently his mountain biking has precluded that effort.  This trip he will confirm one more time for all Arabs that Bush has a one sided view of the Middle East and they can forget about any progress while he remains President.  So, the list of those who are counting the days to January 20, 2009 keeps growing.