Archive for June, 2011

June 29, 2011

Obama and the Jewish Vote

Politico asked a range of observers and participants: Is President Obama’s Jewish Support Slipping?

Nine of the respondents were identified as Democrats, including former politicians. Eight of those nine said Obama would be fine with the Jewish vote in 2012. Only one, Jeff Smith, said it depends on the other candidate.

Two of the respondents were identified as Republicans. They both felt the GOP would get a larger share of the Jewish vote, or at least had a good shot at doing so.

Where you stand is where you sit.

The Democrats (with the tagline Politico supplied):

Ryan Rudominer Former National Press Secretary, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. David A. Harris President and CEO, National Jewish Democratic Council. Christine Pelosi Attorney, author and Democratic activist. Jonathan Prince Democratic consultant and former State Department official. Ted Kaufman Former senator (D-Del.). Michael Arcuri Former congressman (D-N.Y.). Steve Murphy Democratic consultant; Managing Partner at Murphy Vogel Askew Reilly. Jeff Smith Former Missouri state senator (D); political science professor. Josh Nanberg Democratic strategist.

The Republicans:

Matthew Brooks Exec. Dir., Republican Jewish Coalition. Ford O’Connell Republican consultant and chairman of CivicForumPAC.

(One could also dig deeper in the full bios to categorize all the others.)

June 29, 2011

Marketing and Boycotts

I was in a gift store today looking for, well, gifts. Two intrigued me.

One was small crosses made from olive wood. They were said to be from the “West Bank.” The brief, written explanatory material said they were made in Bethlehem and mentioned Jesus. It made no mention of Palestine, Israel, the West Bank, Judea and Samaria, or the occupied territories. The crosses were too small to have anything imprinted directly on them.

A second item was a packet of bars of soap. The label said the bars were made in the Galilee by Arab and Jewish women. Again, no mention of Israel, Palestine,the West Bank, Judea and Samaria, or the occupied territories. (The store attached its own label that did say the bars are “Made in Israel.”)

But this time, the written explanatory material offered further detail with reference to “the Galilee region of northern Israel.” They are “Made in Israel.” Moreover, the organization also works “with olive growers and artisans in the Palestinian Occupied Territories.”

One way to avoid the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions vs Israel) movement is by making clear the product is neither Israeli nor from the Israeli settlements (the crosses). A second way is to appeal to pro-BDS buyers that the Israel connection is necessary to help Arab citizens of Israel as well as Palestinians living under Israeli occupation (the soap). In the second case, pro-BDS buyers might feel a conflict: promoting the boycott of Israeli goods vs. promoting social change and the empowerment, in particular, of Palestinian women.

June 29, 2011

Netanyahu’s Misleading History

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to the Jewish Agency Board of Governors yesterday. What was his view of history? How did he use it?

1. He used a static view of causes when it worked for him. In short, since Arabs opposed Israel before the occupation began in 1967 as well as after the 1967 war, Netanyahu noted, the occupation itself could not be the cause of Palestinian (and Arab) displeasure with Israel. They must hate and reject Israel in any form. This stance has the added implication that the peace process is of questionable (or no) value because a two-state solution would still leave an Israel for Arabs to hate and attack.

But causes are dynamic. The 1967 War (through the early 1970s) was exactly the pivot point when the central question of the Arab-Israeli conflict changed. From 1948, it had been whether Israel should exist.** Israelis felt their position was tenuous and the Israeli public feared for Israel’s survival on the eve of the 1967 war (though both the Israeli and US governments privately expected Israel to win any war handily). But after Israel had repeatedly demonstrated its military prowess, several key Arab players started to shift: Sadat’s Egypt and then Arafat’s PLO accepted Israel. (Jordan also signed  a treaty in 1994)

The question increasingly became what to do with the Palestinians and the focus was no longer on the territory of pre-1967 Israel but rather on the West Bank and Gaza, the occupied territories. The ground had literally shifted in 1967 and that affected the nature of the conflict. In other words, Israel was state but should the Palestinians exist in the form of a state?

This shift has not been a complete one and important elements of the prior argument are embedded in, say, the Hamas charter. But the much-talked about Israeli-Palestinian negotiated resolution would in any version – US, Abbas, Netanyahu, Peres – leave Israel with as much or more sovereign territory as it had pre-1967 war.

2. His presentation of the Palestinian refugees is misleading and incomplete. Netanyahu:

The second point derives from the first, and that is that the refugee problems are settled in these two respective states – the question of Palestinian refugees will be resolved in the Palestinian state and not in Israel.  Just as the question of Jewish refugees caused by that same Arab assault on Israel in 1948, was resolved within the Jewish state.  The Arab attack, the attack of five Arab armies, with the Palestinians, on the embryonic Jewish state caused two refugee problems.  About 650,000 Palestinian refugees and a somewhat larger number of Jewish refugees expelled from Arab states.  Tiny Israel absorbed all the Jewish refugees and the vast Arab world refused to absorb the Palestinian refugees, and neither justice nor common sense mandates that 63 years later, the Arab world or the Palestinians will come to us and say: Now, absorb the great-great-grandchildren of this part of the refugee problem that we created ourselves.

Note the missing verb: “About 650,000 Palestinian refugees.” The Jewish refugees were “expelled” but there is no verb for the Palestinian ones. The reality is that many of the Palestinians were expelled (e.g. see Yitzhak Rabin’s memoir for one example) and some fled a dangerous war zone. The timing is also wrong since several hundred thousand Palestinians became refugees before Israel declared statehood in May 1948 and thus before the battle between Israel and the Arab states.

Israel was designed to absorb Jews. That was and is its self-defined identity and mission, the ingathering of the exiles. Netanyahu takes pride in this immigration in the speech:

Remember we were 600,000 in 1948 and our population grew over tenfold in 63 years.

That was not the mission of the Arab countries. Maybe you could argue that was the mission of pan-Arabism of the 1950s and 1960s, but pan-Arabism was a failure. Its few attempts at unity, such as Egypt and Syria in the United Arab Republic, were short-lived.

Moreover, Jordan granted citizenship to Palestinian refugees and 41.6% of the refugees live and work in Jordan. Though often mentioned, the blanket claim that “the vast Arab world refused to absorb the Palestinian refugees” is false.

3. Netanyahu has moved the goalposts. For years Israel wanted recognition as the State of Israel. It got recognition. First came Egypt with the peace treaty. Then the PLO in 1988 and again in September 1993 when Arafat wrote:

The PLO recognizes the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security.

Jordan signed a peace treaty in 1994. Syria almost did in 1999-2000, but then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak got cold feet about a full withdrawal from the Golan Heights. (I wrote about it here: “Mediation, Domestic Politics, and the Israeli-Syrian Negotiations, 1991-2000,” Security Studies 16:3, July-September, 2007, pp. 350-381.)

Now Netanyahu wants recognition as a Jewish state as if no one had ever recognized Israel period. There is no acknowledgement of how Israeli policy worked effectively in the past to get recognition of the State of Israel. Of course Bibi wants the Jewish state phrase as a precondition to negotiations because it helps get the PA to make its biggest concession – no refugee right of return to Israel – without getting anything in return such as genuine statehood or Palestinian sovereignty in Arab East Jerusalem.

4. Netanyahu wrongly conflates negotiated outcomes with unilateral ones. Ehud Barak’s government unilaterally withdrew from southern Lebanon in 2000. Ariel Sharon did the same in Gaza in 2005. In 2005, I thought this was a bad idea not to coordinate with the PA because it handed the victory to Hamas. Hamas could claim its military fight had caused Israel to flee and without a negotiated context, what could the PA retort?

So Netanyahu took problems from unilateralism (Netanyahu: “We don’t want a repeat of what happened when we withdrew from Gaza or from South Lebanon.”) and applied them to a hypothetical negotiated outcome. That is mixing apples and oranges.

In falling back on these historical manipulations, Netanyahu is not breaking new ground but simply reinforcing the claims that regularly inform the Likud worldview.

**I left aside the revisionist Israeli historians who have strongly challenged the claim that the Arab world was uniformly intent on ending Israel. e.g. Simha Flapan, Avi Shlaim, Ilan Pappe.

June 28, 2011

Tensions inside Israel

The Arab-Israeli conflict often overshadows other issues and tensions inside Israel. When Israeli police detained Rabbi Dov Lior, a senior religious Zionist, for an hour of questioning, it set off protests by his supporters and a range of reaction across the Israeli punditry. Jews in Israel differ on the role of religion in state affairs and on the importance of the (secular) rule of law vs. halacha (Jewish law).

Lior was asked about a preface/endorsement of a book on Jewish law that dealt with when Jewish law permits killing non-Jews. Over the past year, he had declined to come in for police questioning.

Yigal Walt typifies those who are alarmed:

The greatest threat faced by Israel today is not external, but rather, domestic; the wars of the Jews may be more dangerous than any battle waged by our enemies.

Opposition leader Tzipi Livni said Prime Minister Netanyahu should have done more to defend the state and uphold the rule of law.

This kind of spat takes place against a shifting demographic backdrop: the religious Jewish population is growing faster than the secular Jewish one. [For a future discussion: exploring what the term ‘religious-secular’ obscures. Haredi, religious Zionist, traditional and more…]

June 27, 2011

PA Sticks with UN Plan

The  PLO Executive Committee supported seeking statehood recognition at the UN in September. President Abbas is not backing away from the idea (so far, anyway).

The US is likely to veto any resolution at the UN Security Council. At best, the PA may hope for a supportive resolution in the UN General Assembly. If so, I hope the resolution writers listen to this op-ed, as I noted the other day.

But assuming the resolution is the current PA line, I have a hard time seeing that the passage of a UN resolution would bring the PA closer to Palestinian statehood. It would not change the occupation on the ground. If it increased international pressure on Israel (which it very well might not), many members of the current Israeli government and Israeli public would simply see that as further proof of irrational, international hatred for Israel. Thus, it would serve as further evidence that Israel needs to protect itself without reliance on others (except, for some, the US), without risky treaties with Palestinians or other Arabs, and without major territorial withdrawals.

I certainly am open to hearing about scenarios where UN action does somehow change the status quo.

June 25, 2011

Thinking Proactively

Four Israeli Jews with strong credentials argue in a New York Times op-ed that the Palestinian push at the UN in September can be a moment used constructively to advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. (Malley made a similar argument, in brief)

This op-ed is important.

Leaving aside the details for a moment, this is leadership. Rather than simply rejecting the other side’s policy, the op-ed is taking the Palestinian move seriously and thinking about how it can be used to further the peace process (or, more deeply, how to bring about a genuine resolution) and advance Palestinian and Israeli interests. The authors seek  “the components of a possible “win-win” U.N. resolution regarding Palestinian statehood.” (my emphasis) 

Moreover, the op-ed is historically grounded, working in  U.N. General Assembly resolution 181 of 1947, the Arab Peace Initiative, and other building blocks of the past.

The authors do not try to resolve all the hardest issues. They address the “refugee /right-of-return issue” only in passing. But they do offer a list of principles that could guide a final agreement. In the Obama-Netanyahu spat over 1967, they endorse the Obama stance:

Accordingly, support the establishment of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state on the basis of the 1967 lines with its capital in East Jerusalem in parallel with Israel’s recognized capital in West Jerusalem, and with mutually agreed territorial swaps and modifications, subject to negotiation — a state that will live side by side with Israel in peace and security.

They also set broad terms for how to 1) move forward with the two-state solution and 2) set rules for bringing in Gaza and Hamas.

President Obama may have boxed himself into a corner by publicly opposing the Palestinian plan for UN action: “Symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won’t create an independent state.”  I hope it is not too late for the Obama administration to consider support for this different, win-win course that would embrace, not isolate, Israel.

June 22, 2011

Bibi’s Savvy Tactics?

Aluf Benn of Ha’aretz wants Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to form a new governing coalition in order to make a peace deal with the Palestinians possible. His current coalition would not support a two-state solution in any form the PA would accept. Netanyahu, Benn writes, should act now and avoid being blinded by overconfidence:

There is no greater threat to good statesmanship than being drunk with success. This is what brought down some of history’s greatest leaders, and it is what now threatens Netanyahu.

A different aspect of the op-ed struck me as worthy of note: Benn’s appraisal of Netanyahu as a savvy political tactician on every front. In Benn’s view, Netanyahu has handled the Israeli public, Turkey, Obama and the US, Fatah-Hamas, and Abbas well. Everything has worked in his favor.

I can see some of the points, but it seems to gloss over the global delegitimization campaign (which is much more than just the PA/Abbas threat of a September UN resolution). The poor personal relations with Obama could come back to hurt Netanyahu. The Iran issue is far from over. To me, the picture looks quite mixed going forward.

June 21, 2011

Rejecting Land Swaps & More

In a recent rejection of the idea of land swaps as part of a two-state solution, Dore Gold (fmr Israeli Amb. to the US) posed the following question:

 Just because an idea was discussed in the past, does that make it part of the diplomatic agenda in the future, even if the idea was never part of any legally binding, signed agreements?

The question tells us a lot. Whether in terms of Israeli-Palestinian issues or Israeli-Syrian ones, the current Netanyahu government has resolutely refused to pick up where past Israeli governments left off. (As Sharon declined to do in 2001 just after the Taba talks, so Netanyahu has not done in the aftermath of Olmert and Annapolis of 2008.)

This refusal to pick up where talks left off should come as no surprise because to do so would lead the current Government of Israel (GOI) to adopt positions that it does not support. The GOI would rather squander past progress not out of spite but because it does not view those past talks as progress. It is not squandering anything but rather discarding ill-conceived concessions. So while Gold’s question embodies his view of land swaps, it also embodies the view of many other ideas, such as the idea of Palestinian sovereignty in Arab areas of East Jerusalem.

Moreover, Gold’s claim that swaps are not based on “any legally binding, signed agreements” is correct, but it is an argument of convenience. It implies that signed agreements would need to be accepted, something the Likud failed to do in the 1990s under Netanyahu. Yes, Netanyahu did eventually sign the Hebron protocol (1997) and Wye agreement (1998), but those were efforts to renegotiate what had already been agreed to by the Rabin government in Oslo I and II (1993, 1995).

Ideas that do not come to fruition can make a comeback; Gold’s protestations cannot prevent that somewhere in the future (though Israeli settlement expansion might make many of these compromise ideas moot). Oslo I, the Declaration of Principles, was itself based on past ideas for resolving Israeli-Palestinian matters that had not been implemented. Some Oslo ideas were drawn from the Framework for Middle East Peace in the Camp David Accords (1978).

Had Abbas and Olmert signed an agreement in 2008 that a final resolution would be based on land swaps, I would argue that the current GOI would nonetheless reject the idea because they think it is a bad idea. Here’s the real point of Gold’s query: Just because a previous Israeli government was willing to make a concession to the Arabs, it doesn’t mean the current government is willing (or even thinks it would ever be a good idea), signed document or no signed document.

June 20, 2011

The Arab Spring and Israel

In considering the impact of the Arab Spring on Israel, much of the attention has been on two issues, the peace treaty with Egypt and the Israeli-Syrian border. But a fuller picture of the impact offers a more varied set of questions and issues for Israel and in some ways may even bolster Israel’s strategic position. If Asad falls and Iran is left out in the cold by a new Syrian regime, Israel would greatly benefit.

Mubarak’s fall has already changed Egyptian policy at the Rafah border crossing. As has been widely noted, if a working democracy develops in Egypt and public opinion has greater bearing on policy, one would expect greater Egyptian pressure on Israel. But given the close ties between the Mubarak regime and Israeli governments, that still leaves a lot of room for change in Cairo. In other words, Egypt could rigorously adhere to the peace treaty and still act very much unlike Mubarak by pressing Israel on the peace process or its nuclear program, working closely with and advocating for the Palestinians, and in particular, helping Hamas in Gaza.

Whatever has changed and will change in Egyptian governance, the underlying Egyptian-Israeli strategic balance is the same and that suggests limits to Egypt’s revisions of its Israel policy. At the end of the day, the Israel military still could best the Egyptian military. Israel, not Egypt, has nuclear weapons, and Israel is much closer to the United States. To break the treaty and risk open warfare is a recipe for Egyptian military disaster.

Israel’s challenge, however, is the continual need to secure allies in an unfriendly region. Like in 1979 after the fall of Israel’s ally, the Shah of Iran, Israel wants to replace the loss of close friend. Ironically, that the Egyptian-Israeli peace process was at an advanced stage when the Shah fell made that transition easier in 1979 than today. Out went Iran, in came Egypt.

The choice today is not obvious. Israeli-Turkish ties remain strong behind the scenes, but the public aspect is mixed. Israel has accepted Turkish mediation in the past with regard to Syria, but would it do so again in a post-flotilla relationship? Neither of the other aspirants for regional leadership – Iran, Saudi Arabia – are about to get closer to Israel either.

Maybe the answer is to rely even more heavily on the United States. Despite the Obama-Netanyahu differences over the peace process, the US-Israeli strategic relationship is closer than ever. (as Israeli Amb. Michael Oren recently argued in Foreign Policy) The Israeli line: friends must hug each other even tighter in the face of regional storms and upheavals.

The Arab Spring’s mass protest model surely scares the Israeli government, and the intensity of the Israeli reaction along the Syrian border is a testament to that fear. The Palestinians have used such tactics on a smaller scale before, such as in Bil’in on the West Bank. But if tens of thousands of Arabs ever marched on Jerusalem or the Israeli borders and repeated it day after day in the face of Israeli snipers, tear gas, and detention, Israel’s ability to hold the line would weaken. Mass protests create exactly the kind of images Israel would rather avoid seeing plastered across the media and the web. It would make the Netanyahu’s government’s resistance to the American-Palestinian versions of a two-state solution that much more difficult. And it might force average Israeli Jews to confront the occupation in a way they have not had to do over the last couple of years.

Meanwhile, the impact of so many Arab states consumed by internal matters cuts both ways. Israel could become a political football as old and new politicians compete for power. Who can hammer Israel the most has long been political currency in the Arab World and diversionary politics, if not violence, is a recurring trope.

At the same time, the depth of the Arab political mobilization and the many social and economic demands may mean little substantive attention is paid to Israel. Furthermore, if things really deteriorate as in Libya or Syria, one could argue the bloodletting leaves few resources and political energy for anti-Israel tirades and physical confrontations.

Of all the chaos, the future of Syria is central for Israel. If the Asad regime falls, Iran’s core link to the Levant will be broken, assuming a Sunni-led regime in Damascus is less interested in close ties with Tehran. Hamas and Hezbollah may lose not only an ally in Syria but also a link to their Iranian patron. That matters for Israel, and it matters a lot. It would be both a symbolic and political defeat for Iran.

If I were Israel, I’d be happy to trade an Iranian-allied Syria for a more critical Egyptian government.

June 19, 2011

The Four One-State solutions

The other day I wrote about the four versions of the two-state solution. So today I turn to the four versions of the ONE-state solution. One state, of any type, is not the aim of the US-led peace process, but these ideas are out there.

1. The status quo

Right now there is one state, Israel, and territory that exists in a gray area, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. This might not seem like a stable outcome, but it has been the status quo for 44 years and counting. As much as it seems obvious that it cannot go on forever – and the forces of liberalism (international norms against occupations, at least among democracies) and nationalism (self-determination) seem to push in the other direction – stranger things have happened. (DON’T force me to start naming them….)

2. Israel, the annexation and expansion version

Israel has annexed East Jerusalem (though UPenn’s Ian Lustick argues that it was not formally an annexation). Israel has extended its law to the Golan Heights, a step similar too but short of annexation. But Israel could eventually annex much or all of the West Bank and thereby rule out a Palestinian state in the West Bank. Critics contend that an expanded or “Greater” Israel would be forced to sacrifice either democracy (no rights or voting for many of the Palestinians living under Israeli rule) or the Jewish nature of the state due to faster Palestinian birth rates.

That said, some Israeli Jews clearly value (biblical) territory over democracy, so they would embrace one state along these lines.

3. One binational state

Options #1 or #2 or some other pathway, a liberal could hope, will lead into a binational state where everyone would be an equal citizen, though communities (Jewish, Arab) might have special protections. Israel, if it was still called that, would officially stretch from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River and could be a comfortable place for Jews to live; but it would not be defined as  Jewish state. You are probably having as hard a time as I am imagining how/why the bulk of today’s Israeli Jews would allow this to happen. But it is theoretically possible and has a few advocates. Google Isratine.

4. A (Giant) Palestinian State

If somehow the Palestinians could overcome Israel (odds: ranging from highly unlikely to zero), they could turn the territory – what is today Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank – into a single Palestinian state where Jews had less standing or maybe existed only as individuals, not a collective with collective rights and identity. This stance is the PLO before 1988/1993 (or maybe even before 1974) and before the changes to its charter in the 1990s. Or it is some thinkers in Hamas today as one variant would be a theocratic state.

Later in the week, I hope to talk about some polling data on all this (one state, two state, red state, blue state).

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