Archive for June, 2010

June 9, 2010

The Cyprus Model? (NYTimes Blog, "Evaluations")

by Gedalyah Reback

by Ross Douthat for the New York Times

The Cyprus Model?
June 8, 2010, 3:33 pm

David Frum argues that the relative stability of a politically-divided Cyprus, half Turkish and half Greek, offers a model for Israel and Palestine:

Despite the fuzzy legal status of the North — despite lingering angry feelings between Greeks and Turks — peace has in fact settled upon Cyprus.

There has been no major violence on the island since the mid-1970s. The economy on both sides of the line has grown handsomely in recent years. Barriers between the two sides — including physical barriers — have begun to open. Greek Cyprus belongs to the European Union and uses the euro; Turkish Cyprus does not. Greek Cyprus has a seat at the UN; Turkish Cyprus does not.

But if Turkish Cyprus does not have a legal existence as a country, it nonetheless exercises the functions of sovereignty. Turkish Cyprus keeps the peace on its side of the line: It tolerates no terrorist groups and shoots no rockets.

And over time, the two sides have approached closer and closer to mutual acceptance. Younger Cypriots seem increasingly bored by the ancient dispute. … Will the two sides ever ratify a formal peace? Who knows? And how much does it matter?

Frum’s column deserves to be read alongside my colleague Tom Friedman’s piece last week on the slow-but-steady institutional progress being made by Mahmoud Abbas’s quasi-government in the West Bank. Both make a plausible case for what might be called post-peace process optimism: The hope that if Israelis and Palestinians stop investing all of their energy into the dream of a final settlement — what Aaron David Miller provocatively calls “the false religion of Mideast peace” — they might be able to make a kind of organic progress, à la Cyprus, toward a world where a formal peace treaty is almost beside the point.

But to return to yesterday’s point, the Cyprus model depends on a much cleaner separation — indeed, a U.N.-monitored buffer zone — between the warring parties than seems imaginable in the Holy Land at the moment. And this, again, is the case for Israeli disentanglement from its occupied territories: So long as the current intertwinement endures, any incremental progress toward peace, prosperity and stability will remain a hostage to the politics of occupation. Just ask Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian Authority’s impressive prime minister, whose technocratic élan has helped midwife an economic revival in the West Bank — but who still feels the need, as Slate’s Michael Weiss points out, to play the rabble-rouser on the settlement issue:

If Fayyad’s stock has gone down in Israel, it’s because of his emergence as the public face of the settlement-boycott movement in the West Bank—a policy that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calls “economic and political warfare” and settlers call “economic terrorism.” Fayyad has attended protests, which now average 40 per week, as well as various “bonfire” ceremonies, where settlement-made goods are incinerated. The Palestinian Authority has said that by the end of the year, all West Bankers employed in settlement industries must find alternative means of income. His most provocative measure so far was organizing the failed attempt to prevent Israel’s entry into the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, because he says it is keeping a single ledger for domestic and settlement accounts. Only the former, he insists, should make it eligible for inclusion.

Israeli admirers say that Fayyad is merely doing what any politician in the region has to do: indulging in the theatrics of “resistance” in order to maintain credibility with the people. Many Palestinians wonder at Fayyad’s true political motives; the settlement-boycott movement began at the grass-roots level and, depending on whom you talk to, the Palestinian Authority has either hijacked it in order to claim credit for the idea or infiltrated it in order to tame its more radical exponents and forestall a worst-case scenario: the outbreak of a third intifada. As one of Fayyad’s own officials recently told The Economist, that dreaded contingency is all too real, particularly beyond the well-patrolled cities of the West Bank.

When a Palestinian leader can govern, and state-build, without looking over his shoulder for an intifada, I’ll believe that Israel and Palestine are on their way to a Cyprus-style detente. Maybe Ariel Sharon may have had a plan to make that possible, but I’m pretty sure the current Israeli leadership doesn’t.

June 8, 2010

The Right to Property in relation to Peace between Jews and Arabs

by Gedalyah Reback

There is a fundamental flaw in the approach of the diplomatic world in inundating a peaceful settlement in the Middle East – at least between Israel and the Palestinians. Rather than looking at property as the unalienable human right to obtain and hold that other Western governments and the main religions of the world have long respected, international mediators have encouraged an agreement that rests on uprooting thousands of Israeli Jews and Palestinian Muslims from their homes in the name of an ethnic realignment along the lines of the partition of India and Pakistan in the late 1940s.

Arguing the West Bank is open to settlement under international law, Israel openly pursued a settlement policy that expanded the breadth of the besieged Jewish state once the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem had been secured from Jordan and Egypt – themselves considered occupying powers by nearly every government in the world.

Excluding the now defunt settlement blocs of the Gaza Strip, 500,000 Israelis have taken up residence in private apartment and housing units throughout the conquered territories. At the same time, Palestinians have affirmed their ownership over their own share of land in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. But because of the competing political interests of the State of Israel and the Palestinian Authority, both population groups have seen their properties usurped or restricted.

Several cases have seen Jewish settlers evicted from, and recently purchased properties destroyed, often on the orders of the Supreme court in an effort to appease tension with the Palestinians in the facinity of the properties – be they in Jerusalem or Hebron. Settlers have made purchases in excess of hundreds of thousands of dollars through a series of intermediaries – a system used by Palestinians interested in selling who fear reprecussions by lynchers or the Palestinian Authority.

Jewish women being forcibly evicted by Israeli police from the “House of Peace” in 2008 on the outskirts of Hebron

East Jerusalem Palestinians themselves face a different challenge. Municipal authorities have long prioritized building new neighborhoods that would consolidate the city of Jerusalem, at the expense of permit requests by residents of Muslim neighborhoods. Lengthy waits have encouraged illegal building in these neighborhoods that should have been authorized from the outset. recently, the Mayor Nir Birkat has used the possible demolition of up to 200 illegally built houses for political leverage against American pressure on Jewish housing projects and against Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu.

Police arrest protestors in Sheikh Jarrah, Arab neighborhood in Jerusalem

These political considerations have done more to increase tension in the region than pacify it, with two rival population groups venting their legitimate gripes at each other. This is the fundamental flaw in the idea of splitting Israel from the West Bank along ethnic lines, and points even more directly at the risks of the Obama Administration’s stress on Jewish settlements themselves.

Competing NGOs that represent Jewish settlers and East Jerusalem-West Bank Palestinians have found themselves in conflict. The two groups’ advocates have sought to undermine the rival’s access and rights to properties while strengthening their own.

2007 Hebron Eviction

The most competent way forward is to alleviate the anxiety of these rival groups and declare a moratorium on evictions and demolitions in Jewish and Arab areas that are contentious. Each group’s mirroring concerns fuel much of the tension that has come to a boiling point in the last year. The legalization and restoration of illegal or siezed properties would help restore public confidence in the Israeli government and the right to due process at a time where social confidence is low. To be sure, preserving property rights is a fundamental to any economic aspect of peace, between two states or not.

June 5, 2010

The Gaza Blockade and International Law

by Gedalyah Reback

The Gaza Blockade and International Law
Israel’s position is reasonable and backed by precedent.

by Eric Posner as published in the Wall Street Journal

Israel’s raid on a fleet of activists bound for the Gaza Strip has led to wild accusations of illegality. But the international law applicable to the blockade eludes the grasp of those in search of easy answers.

The most serious charge is that by seizing control of the flotilla, Israel violated the freedom of ships to travel on the high seas. The basic law here is that states have jurisdiction over a 12-mile territorial sea and can take enforcement actions in an additional 12-mile contiguous zone, according to the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention (which Israel has not ratified, but which is generally regarded as reflecting customary international law). Outside that area, foreign ships can sail unmolested.

But there are exceptions. Longstanding customary international law permits states to enforce publicly announced blockades on the high seas. The Gaza blockade was known to all, and certainly to those who launched the ships for the very purpose of breaking it. The real question is whether the Israeli blockade is lawful. Blockades certainly are during times of war or armed conflict. The U.S.-led coalition imposed a blockade on Iraq during the first Gulf War.

The catch here is the meaning of “armed conflict.” Traditionally, armed conflict can take place only between sovereign states. If Gaza were clearly a sovereign state, then Israel would be at war with Gaza and the blockade would be lawful. If, however, Gaza were just a part of Israel, Israel would have the right to control its borders— but not by intercepting foreign ships outside its 12-mile territorial sea or contiguous zone.

Gaza is not a sovereign state (although it has its own government, controlled by Hamas) and is not a part of Israel or of any other state. Its status is ambiguous, and so too is the nature of the armed conflict between Israel and Hamas. Thus there is no clear answer to the question whether the blockade is lawful.

However, the traditional idea of armed conflict involving only sovereign states has long given way to a looser definition that includes some conflicts between states and nonstate actors. The international rules governing blockades attempt to balance belligerents’ interest in security and other countries’ economic interests in shipping. During war, security interests prevail.

War-like conditions certainly exist between Israel and Hamas. And because Israel intercepts only self-identified blockade runners, its actions have little impact on neutral shipping. This balance is reflected in the traditional privilege of states to capture foreign pirates on the high seas.

So Israel’s legal position is reasonable, and it has precedent. During the U.S. Civil War, the Union claimed to blockade the Confederacy while at the same time maintaining that the Confederacy was not a sovereign state but an agent of insurrection.

When the Union navy seized ships trying to run the blockade, their owners argued that a country cannot interfere with shipping on the high seas except during war, and one cannot be at war except with another sovereign state. The U.S. Supreme Court approved the captures in an ambiguous opinion that held that an armed conflict existed, even though one side was not a sovereign state. The opinion suggests a certain latitude for countries to use blockades against internal as well as external enemies.

Human Rights Watch argues that a blockade to strike at a terrorist organization constitutes a collective penalty against a civilian population, in violation of Article 33 of the fourth Geneva Convention. This argument won’t stand up. Blockades and other forms of economic sanction are permitted in international law, which necessarily means that civilians will suffer through no fault of their own.

Most attention has focused on the question whether Israeli commandos used excessive force while taking control of one of the flotilla ships, which resulted in nine deaths. Human Rights Watch says that Israel’s actions violated the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials. However, that document is not international law; its principles are akin to a set of “best practices” for advising countries with poorly trained police forces. It is also vague and it would not apply to a military operation.

Military operations must respect the principle of proportionality, which is a fuzzy, “know-it-when-you-see-it” test. But one thing is clear. Ships that run blockades may be attacked and sunk under international law. If Israel had exercised that right, far more than nine people would have been killed.

Mr. Posner, a professor at the University of Chicago Law School, is the author of “The Perils of Global Legalism” (University of Chicago Press, 2009).

June 5, 2010

For Many, it’s about Much More than Just a Blockade

by Gedalyah Reback

The best step to ending the blockade is the invasion and overthrow of Hamas once and for all. That is not a guaranteed result of any invasion, and any invasion as necessary as it is would never get the support it deserves. Israel has not been given a choice vis a vis its war with Hamas. There is no buffer zone the country can make to protect Sderot, Ashkelon and Ashdod from rocket attacks from the strip – all those cities are within range from any position in the Strip.

Occupying the strip would be the next best option, but would put the country in a further diplomatic bind. International peacekeepers have failed to prevent the rearmament of Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, and remain as useful as they were in the prelude to the Six Day War in 1967, when the President of Egypt Gamal Nasser demanded the UN force there abandon their positions so Egypt could establish a springboard position for invasion of Israel from within the Sinai.

What form of self-defense is legitimate here? Israel is being pushed against a wall when even its limited use of military power is considered illegitimate. The diplomatic pressure on the Israelis to end wars as soon as they begin – such as accusations of disproportionate use of force before evidence of such even presents itself – compels a mentality that Israel would have to use even heavier firepower in greater quantities in order to deter future attacks on Israelis – symmetric or asymmetric. In other words, rather than a careful campaign that can focus on tactical targets, Israel is given a time limit that encourages sloppiness and increases the likelihood of mistakes.

Israel has long faced irrational international pressure over its combat efforts – the Soviet Union cut off relations with Israel after the Six Day War, and the UN censured Israel’s use of force on that occasion (in the face of public threats by Arab leaders to annihilate the country) as well as following the Entebbe Raid in 1976.

The accusation that Israel’s siege mentality is unjustified, as has been repeated ad nauseum over the past week, is itself baseless. Israel has responded with heavy military operations in response to great threats to its citizens, and has consistently pocketed several victories – Operation Defensive Shield in 2002, I would argue the deterrence factor following the 2006 invasion of Lebanon, and the near-total lack of rockets fired from the Gaza Strip following Operation Cast Lead.

Yet, with every military operation, come some amount of diplomatic fallout be it based on propaganda or political considerations. The IDF was exonerated after an investigation of a massacre in Jenin – the casualty numbers cited by accusers were inflated 10 times the correct count and all casualties were combatants. Israel was accused of targeting civilians in 2006, when in fact Hezbollah has never been forthcoming about how many “combatants” died during the war. And of course, last year Turkey decided to consider its political opening in the Middle East by publicly using every opportunity possible to attack Israeli policies in order to earn favorable public opinion (never mind Turkey’s own stated policies of military occupation of the Kurds).

European pressure to immediately accuse Israel of war crimes before such evidence of them having occurred is available – notably the idea of disproportionate force – has diluted European credibility in Israel to absurd lows. The term was even used incorrectly on several occasions, as if using air power against inaccurate rockets was illegal. Any enemy target is legitimate in war. But European politicians’ description deliberately misleads, as if it required a state to act in self-defense in a tit-for-tat and any expanded campaign against hostile targets that went beyond, say, merely eliminating rocket launchers.

This combination of factors has forced Israel into a siege mentality. Perhaps my own perspective of the situation is worth a psychological analysis, but these are undeniable facts relating to Israel’s defense policies over the last 10 years – since the rebuff at Camp David.

This has become an issue about more than just the international community’s demands to compel Israeli withdrawals from hostile territory. More and more, the right wing in Israel is seeing its narrative reaffirmed as to the unfair treatment Israel’s defense policies have gotten. It is encouraging further self-reliance. feeding into the present cycle of military action and diplomatic fallout.

What this is leading to is not a breaking point for the Palestinians – as claimed by Mahmoud Abbas, or a breaking point for Turkey – which took its own initiative to downgrade ties with Israel and upgrade with Iran on its own. Israel feels that it has to further increase its military prowess. This is the mentality in the country, not necessarily the strategy that military brass will outline if any fundamental changes are to some to national defense strategy.

Israel will be wise to fix its reputation by changing many domestic policies and its attitude within the West Bank and vis a vis Gaza, as well as its diplomatic situation. But expect Israel to start preparing to move harder and faster than it ever has before. More and more, Israel will be forced to act in the dark, which means a jolt to Israel’s intelligence strategy and secret operations. Most of all, it will prepare itself to go beyond limited military confrontations in order to fully eliminate threats that put Israel in these diplomatic binds in the first place.

June 2, 2010

Once and for All, Israel Must Increase its Soft Power

by Gedalyah Reback

“Disproportionate power, sometimes called ‘hegemony’, has been associated with leadership, but appeals to values and ideology also matter, even for a hegemony . . .”

These are the recent words of American political scientist Joseph S Nye, in an article entitled “Recovering American Leadership.” He is widely credited with having pioneered the conceptual theories of “soft power,” which contrasts with the ability to economically or militarily exert influence over other political entities, i.e. “hard power.”

Israel has built up an incredible military strength out of necessity, surviving numerous attempts to jeopardize the existence of the country and the ability for it to sustain itself. In so doing, it has developed a perhaps unmatchable sense of self-reliance when it comes to military conflict, showing a willingness to battle with several state and non-state actors at once without the help of allies.

The last ten years has coupled this attitude with a general sense of anger and isolationism in Israeli society. Israelis and their supporters the worldover have more and more lost faith in a workable agreement with any Palestinian political faction, and a willingness to rely on more aggressive military campaigns to intimidate rivals Hamas and Hezbollah from attacking Israelis and their interests.

These efforts have worked. But analysts near universally say those efforts only result in a temporary payoff. The war in 2006 certainly prevented Hezbollah from attacking Israel during Operation Cast Lead. Operation Cast Lead itself led to the quietest year for Israeli security since the inception of the state. But the price of these operations is building a bigger tinderbox with each future war.

These efforts rely entirely on hard power – military onslaughts and economic sanctions. The failure by Israel’s leadership to cultivate soft power has enabled simple PR stunts to isolate the country diplomatically, be it under the Likud-led right wing coalition of Benyamin Netanyahu, or the Kadima-led center-left alliance of Ehud Olmert.

Israel has yet to reconcile itself with the changing winds in the Middle East, namely the undeniably growing influence of Islamist parties. The myth that they are universally opposed to reconciling themselves with the existence of the State of Israel has to be undermined.

Israel’s policy toward Islam is seemingly non-existent. More often than not, the country’s leadership relies on the Western prejudices toward Muslims to cultivate support for the country’s policies against Hamas and Hezbollah. This is a risky attitude, because it fails to detail the precise reasons the country finds itself in conflict with these entities and prevents policymakers from drawing distinctions between these Islamist groups and other Muslim political actors.

Israel’s relationship with Turkey had long been based on military pragmatism. Given Turkey’s recent realization ties with Israel were an obstacle to cultivating its own soft power over its neighbors – political mediation and trade cooperation for example – that foundation is obviously floundering. Turks, especially those who affiliate with the views of the AKP, see no reason to maintain any ties with Israel, especially given the strength of Turkey’s own armed forces.

Israel will itself have to invest in positioning itself like Turkey has. Without a natural bond with neighboring countries like the same religion, it will have to be based on values and pursuit of certain mores. It would entail emphasizing what values Jews would hold common with Muslims.

Islam itself is in a state of crisis. While religious violence is a symptom of it, the greatest problem the religion faces is the quality of its educational structures. The stability and credibility of many major religious figures is lower than it has been in generations, and the standards implemented for resolving religious disputes and questions are criticized as simplistic by many Muslim theologians and academics.

With that leaves an opening for giving a little while getting a little. It is in the interests of Israel to couple any political outreach to Palestinians, or Jewish outreach to Israeli Arabs, with a growth in Islamic institutions in Israel that host the most respected and moderate scholars in the Islamic world, giving them much more presence and labeling Israel as a country where the freedom of Islamic thought actually does exist in contrast to the countries around it.

But all this carries minimal benefit to the country and would have to be conjoined with several other efforts directly aiming to increase Israel’s softpower on a global scale.

The deteriorating relations between Israel and the diaspora is scandalous. The tremendous resources of the Jewish community and its disproportionate involvement in charitable, investment-worthy causes worldwide should be utilized as a conduit for Israeli involvement in humanitarian projects, global political campaigns and efforts to help the third world that will cultivate a stronger diplomatic and economic card in developing nations.

Given most of the Jewish resources linked with innumerable amounts of aid efforts are heavily rooted in the American Jewish community, Israel has to renew its efforts to reach out to that community and address its needs. What is viewed as idealism is in reality a matter of national interest not beyond the political capabilities of the state. The government here has to turn its Ministry for Diaspora Affairs into something serious, aimed at helping every major movement in American Judaism and pushing their leaders to form more cohesive streams of Jewish religion and culture in the country.

Without the influences of language and religion, Israel will lose its pull with the Jewish communities of the United States and Europe in the next generation. On the other hand, the demand for a stronger education system within the Jewish communities of the world leaves a wide opening that Israel has to fill. Students in Jewish schools should not only be able to manage a prayerbook, but also communicate freely with Israelis or read modern Hebrew newspapers. Recent generations of American Jews have shown how the crippled education structure has left a void in tangible support for the Jewish state.

Financial power is a necessity that needs more expansion rather than development.
The Jewish communities of the world carry disproportionate weight in the economies of developed countries. These resources need to be sought after, and encouraged to open up new bases of operation, if not completely shifting major business headquarters, to Israel’s major cities.

The obvious need to increase the number of immigrants relates to the matter of human resources. Israel can challenge its competitors in the region with its rapidly growing population and ability to affect economic development in neighboring states. Be they Jewish or not, people who are distinctly Israeli should be more often crossing borders to conduct trade, consulting and planning foreign investments.

But most importantly comes the need for more political influence in neighboring countries. For too long, Israel has been afraid to engage friendly politicians publicly for fear of resprisals against those allies. With the tremendous abuse of minority groups in most of Israel’s immediate neighbors, it is in the interest of the country to be seen as refuge and redeemer for those groups. Tens of thousands of non-Muslim refugees from Iraq and non-Arab victims from Darfur have been left broken by the last decade’s conflicts. Israel should make its business the be the regional advocate for abused minorities, identifying with their respective plights as long disposessed victims of oppressive, majoritarian societies. What restrictions currently exist on refugee intake have to be eased and a center for support be developed in the country, with a path open to integration into Israel’s society.

Whatever value crisis the State of Israel is currently having with the strong liberal tendencies of the world’s Jews sees alleviation in a massive campaign to not only reshape Israel’s image for image’s sake, but to actually alter Israel’s attitude toward the world around it and simultaneously increase the quality and breadth of the country’s power. Self-reliance cannot be allowed to consolidate itself in the form of isolationism. The tenaciousness of the country to resist the world’s own disproportionate political demands was ensnared this week in a situation that should not have been so difficult to explain to the world. The country’s existence may not be on the verge of destruction, but the ability of it to control its own destiny certainly is.

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