Archive for ‘Israeli Arabs’

May 10, 2012

Bringing Kadima into the Government Increases the Possibility of a Multilateral Strike on Iran

by Gedalyah Reback

Shaul Mofaz‘ win in the Kadima primaries just three weeks ago was about a lot more than the survival of Tzipi Livni. Read the postmortem reports about Tzipi Livni’s political career and you find that her inability to compromise with other politicians was what ultimately doomed her candidacy to remain at the top of Kadima. When Ehud Olmert resigned his post in 2008, she couldn’t form a coalition with other political parties and had to hold a new election. Even after winning those elections in March 2009, 28 seats versus Likud’s 27, she still couldn’t compromise enough for any parties in order to get them to agree to joining a new coalition. That’s why second-place Likud ended up leading the government. Livni made things worse by opposing everything Likud did in power, even though they were often continuing a lot of the same policies she supported while she was in power the previous administration.

In reality, this primary was about whether or not to join the Likud-led government. Now Mofaz, former head of the IDF and Minister of Defense, is a member of the administrative Cabinet and Deputy Prime Minister. He has been revered for his performance during the Yom Kippur War and an appropriate leader in the event there were a war with Iran.

And that might be what has made this deal happen. Benjamin Netanyahu would have won the September elections easily, with few parties offering much opposition or alternative. But instead of going to elections and refreshing his term as Prime Minister, which would then be guaranteed to last at least until September 2016, he will lead the largest coalition in Israeli history and its largest cabinet (94/120 Knesset members; 33 members of the cabinet – over a 1/4 of the Knesset). Why? Perhaps because he wants political strength to strike Iran.

When the government he formed took power in Spring 2009, worries circulated worldwide about the direction of policy and particularly the influence of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Leading Yisrael Beitenu, he has been extremely outspoken about the uselessness of the peace process and applied enormous social pressure on Israeli Arabs. Many on the political scene thought there would be massive diplomatic boycotts of the figure, and they’ve been right. Ehud Barak has met with a number of Western leaders in place of Lieberman. Avoiding Lieberman preceded the actual diplomatic crisis two years ago when Israeli commandos killed 9 Turks on a boat running the Gaza blockade. Many people wanted Kadima to join the government in order to blunt Lieberman’s influence and impact policy on the peace process.

What impact this will all have on policies toward settlements and relations with the Palestinians remains to be seen, though the first hints of change are breaking through. But Shaul Mofaz is important for the reason he effectively opposes a unilateral Israeli strike on Iran. His coming in gives the government a number of things. On the one hand, it eases Israel’s trigger finger, which many have speculated has been on the verge of a strike. But on the other hand, Mofaz is a defense man, and a unity government like this might signal leaders’ preparing for a strike and ensuring near universal political approval. Regarding diplomacy, Mofaz becomes the instrument others have hoped for since 2009. He opposes striking Iran, but has called striking Iran under certain scenarios “unavoidable.” He is rational and flexible. He enhances the image of Israel’s government abroad, even by just a bit. Bringing a qualified voice of caution into the mix brings Israel’s position closer to the Western powers negotiating with Iran over its nuclear program. Closing the gap, Israel’s aggressive stance is going to start sounding more rational as Mofaz probably will cool the rhetoric, talk about calculated steps and especially emphasize multilateral, international opposition to an Iranian nuclear weapon.

So if things do break down, Mofaz and his Kadima Party will make it easier to talk alliance with other countries, and maybe even increase international support for a future unilateral Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

April 22, 2012

Golan Heights’ Druze: An Intro

by Gedalyah Reback

The Golan Heights is a disputed territory to the southwest corner of Syria and in the northeast corner of Israel. Once used as a high ground from which to launch shells into the Galilee Valley, the Israelis captured it in two days during the Six Day War. It was not an empty area. Maybe 100,000 Syrians lived there. But most of its poor inhabitants fled immediately. The only group that largely stayed were the Druze: “Around 7,000 remained in six Druze villages: Majdal Shams, Mas’ade, Buq’ata, Ein Qiniyye, Ghajar and Shayta. They are estimated to number 20,000 today.” There are populations of Druze in Israel and Syria. Nothing was particularly different about the Golan’s Druze until this moment. None could have guaranteed they’d be virtual Israelis into infinitude, but that has what happened.

In 1981, Israel annexed the Golan Heights for several reasons. Unlike the West Bank, it was a direct front with a sworn enemy, unlike the West Bank regarding Jordan. Jordan was not as hostile an Arab state as Syria, nor did the issue of negotiating territory with the Palestinians come up with the Golan – it was never Palestinian. So only the Golan and East Jerusalem have been annexed from the conquests of the Six Day War, leaving both populations with unique residency rights in Israel. The Golan Druze face a different social situation than the Palestinians of East Jerusalem. They were citizens of Syria, and their territory was recognizably Syrian. East Jerusalem was void of an internationally recognized owner. So here, nationality was neither in dispute nor coalescing. East Jerusalemites have experienced waves of Arab nationalism, Jordanian citizenship and Palestinian nationalism both under the Jordanians and under the Israelis. Golan’s Druze were cut off from their indisputable home government.

Druze are generally labeled fiercely loyal to their home regimes, no matter who’s in charge. Along the same lines, the leadership is generally pragmatic. In Israel, Druze living in the Carmel and the Galilee aligned themselves with the Jews in the Israeli War of Independence. Today, they are the only ethnic or religious group aside from Jews who are obligated to serve in the Israeli Defense Forces (a request made by the group’s leadership).

The Druze of the Golan don’t have any sort of requirement. The reasons are simple. For one, their loyalty is ambiguous. There have been vocal pro-Assad demonstrations in the Golan for years. The community has either been motivated by a genuine patriotism for Syria or fear that a land-for-peace deal might bring vengeful Syrian police to arrest anyone who advocated against Damascus while the territory was Israeli. But secondly, while it’s practical for the Israeli government to hold back anyone whose loyalty to the Jewish State is just non-existent, it’s also a humanitarian gesture and obligation that they don’t serve in the IDF. It is illegal under international law to force residents of an occupied territory to serve in the conqueror’s army. Even if it weren’t, it would be cruel to compel service to anyone who is conflicted about their national identity.

Golani Druze carry Israeli residency cards and have virtually open access to the country’s services without some of the rigors of citizenship, but maybe about 10% of them have accepted Israeli citizenship. Many Druze have taken the opportunity to attend universities, a fictional example of which coming from the Israeli film “Syrian Bride.” On the Syrian side of things, there is an exchange between the two countries for Golani college students to go for free (with Syrian government funding) to universities in Damascus. Funerals also bring visitors, who more and more over the years have gotten more relaxed ruled on moving between the borders.

After almost 50 years on the Israeli side, the attachment to Syria is breaking. The lot of native Israeli Druze is noticeably good. Despite whatever social and economic issues might exist for the small Israeli Druze community, it doesn’t approach critical levels. Intermingling is also much easier than with Syrian Druze. The social scene is also available to the younger Golani Druze, being just another opportunity to immerse themselves on the Israeli scene.

With no clear way of returning the Golan Heights to Syria, much less to a Syria ruled by Bashar al-Assad, Golan’s Druze will probably continue to adopt Israeli citizenship at an increasing rate.

April 13, 2011

Jerusalem Needs to Expand

by Gedalyah Reback

This is going to have to be accepted by policymakers worldwide if the city of Jerusalem is to avoid the economic decline of Berlin in the event of a sudden rupture by war or abrasive politicking in the United Nations. Jerusalem has too many interests to be left to a simple municipal government. In many ways its politics make its status as important as New York City. Michael Bloomberg has the de facto status of a governor in the American media (he might be more important than the Governor of New York anyway). So too, the mayor of Jerusalem should be balancing the multitude of interests in such an important city as if it had five bureaus itself – and maybe it should.

The city is crippled by a number of domestic and international factors. The lack of political options has reduced the municipality to politically clumsy home condemnations in areas targeted for development, alienating the local Arab population.

According to the left-wing non-profit Ir HaAmim (City of the Nations), the master plan announced for Jerusalem in 2009 inadequately answers the concerns of East Jerusalem residents. They periodically point out that no plan has ever really addressed development needs in Arab East Jerusalem. While they might be correct, the political context and diplomatic stopping short by Israel’s Western allies and Arab ambiguity about negotiations has created a protracted Catch 22 in Jerusalem vis-a-vis its Arabs: if Israel builds, it alienates states supporting negotiations with Arab states; if it doesn’t build, it alienates Arabs within East Jerusalem.

The fact the plan severely under-addresses the likely housing needs of East Jerusalem is only part of what is lacking. The plan makes no preparations for alternative realities – i.e., the city splitting between two governments.

The analysis of the right-wing Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs brings up the issue of land registration in East Jerusalem, though with different motives than Ir HaAmim. While Ir HaAmim complains that subjecting local Arabs to contract law in order to prove ownership of property, the JCPA complains that the lack of that information prevents the Jerusalem municipality from planning to develop areas (and deciding what land to buy from private owners. As their analysis states:

However, the policy of refraining from resolving ownership on most of the land in eastern Jerusalem substantially contributes to the illegal construction there, and severely damages the property rights of the individual, allows for dual registrations and the implementation of contradictory transactions, and does not allow for mortgaging innumerable properties whose exact boundaries are not known.

Basically, East Jerusalemites are screwing themselves.

Neither approach clearly gives us a way forward. There is clear politicization in both analyses. The city is snarled by traffic and perpetually in shortage of housing for the lower and middle classes. Tourism is below possible numbers and the possibility of conflict leaves the city in perpetual stagnation.

Building in Jerusalem is necessary in all neighborhoods for the general health of the city, accommodating immigrants and spurring job growth. It also encourages de-congesting traffic – the indisputable molasses to Jerusalem’s economy.

In my opinion, conceiving a durable development plan that can be adjusted easily as political realities shift, is the only responsible maneuver. Nir Barkat’s plans are simply unoriginal and sub-par. He might be less a fiend than Ehud Olmert (when he was mayor of Jerusalem), but he does not seem to be ready.

March 30, 2011

Palestinian Land Day – A Day for Arabs AND Jews?

by Gedalyah Reback

In Lod yesterday, Israeli Arabs and liberal Israelis demonstrated in commemoration of Land Day – an Israeli Arab and Palestinian day to protest the seizure of private Arab land by the Israeli state. But it has taken on more significance this year. That is not because of the protetss sweeping the Arab world, but regardingthis week’s passing of the citizenship law sponsored by Yisrael Beitenu. What was unique about the demonstration was the presence of effigies – images – of a certain politician. In particular, Avigdor Lieberman, whose face was set alight on the posters carrying his punim.

Two years ago, J Street released an ad immediately after the Israeli elections that condemned Avigdor Lieberman as a staunch nationalist and a racist. His statements have not been so far removed from those of his coalition partners – even members of the opposition! But his actions and the actions of his party have backed up this view. His party has sponsored a bill that has just passed, allowing citizenship to be revoked from anyone found guilty of treason or espionage.

At the same time, Lieberman has personally advocated his own version of a two-state solution that recommends trading Arab towns in Israel for Jewish towns in the West Bank. In the context of other statements he has made, this seems to be born more out of distaste for Arabs than strategic thought. In fact, it contradicts historic, traditional Israeli strategic thinking. Since the West Bank juts into Israel in such a way that Israel’s north and southern regions are only connected by a thin strip of land, there has always been worry invading Arab armies would aim for that thin strip in order to cut israel into two during a war. It was in fact Iraqi strategy during the War of Independence (when Iraqi troops were stationed in Nablus, the northern West Bank.

Arab Areas in Israel by Proportion

Land Day though is significant. It has become an annual day of protest, but it is relatively young. The Israeli state has been expropriating land since the state’s inception, particularly in the north. Land Day though goes back to 1976, when a specific attempt to implement eminent domain led to mass protests.

Up until that point, the Arab minority of Israel remained relatively passive to current events. In fact, Arabs in Nazareth are known to have thrown flowers at Israeli troops heading to the Golan front during the Yom Kippur War.

In my very humble opinion, private property is more of a factor in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than experts let on – or realize. It plays on both sides of the aisle – Jewish and Arab. Despite what you might think about settlers, the reality is settlers often purchase land either from the Israeli government or from private Palestinian owners.

When claiming government land, the state uses the same legal precedents as did the Jordanians (when they controlled the west Bank 1948-1967), the British (who controlled it from 1917-1948) and the Ottoman Empire (out of commission by the end of World War I. It usually means that the land has not been cultivated or built on in at least three years, making the land hefker – owner-less.

Palestinians do sell private land. This is why the Palestinian Authority authorizes the death penalty for anyone selling land to Jews (there would be no law if it did not actually happen). Landsellers have been known to be lynched in Palestinian areas, particularly Gaza. Every time settlers are evicted from their homes, the perception they have actually stolen the land is reinforced, when in fact each case is different.

The Israeli government, particularly the Supreme Court, has ordered settlers leave homes they’ve claimed to have purchased, leading to police-implemented evictions for court-cases which are “pending.” Take for example the “House of Peace” in Hebron in 2008.

Palestinians in East Jerusalem today often have their non-permit built homes evicted or bulldozed. But at the same time, Jewish residents who actually do purchase homes usually need extra security to protect them from angry residents. Even though the two groups seem to be in conflict, what they have in common is that they are both trying to preserve private property.

There is a perception that the Jewish and Arab residents of Israel and the West Bank need to be divorced from each other in order to implement the Two-State Solution. But by trying to implement this peace plan, the Israeli government, Palestinian Authority and the international community are encouraging the violation of private property rights of both Jews and Arabs, intensifying the conflict by inflaming the anger of people who truly have been personally wronged.

But that’s just my opinion.

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 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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