Archive for ‘Settlements’

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.

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April 21, 2011

What are Israel’s Priorities?

by Gedalyah Reback


Netanyahu Looking Like a Wreck

This has dragged out too long. Just shut down the settlement expansion.

I have to admit, I am a Religious Zionist. Not all RZs support settlements, but most do . . . and but I do. The settlements actualize the imperative to settle the country. If the land is bought from a private owner, there is nothing stopping me from celebrating it.

I am also a realist. They give Israel some more breathing room territorially and reach at the negotiating table . . . that is until now.

Diplomatically, the comfort zone the country has had building them was probably going to decay – eventually. I think that point has come. The extra cards it gave Israel in negotiations do not mean anything if the world does not let you negotiate. This is not judging the settlements as legal or illegal under international law; nor moral or not; nor conducted while respecting private property or not. There is simply too little breathing room these days. Shut down the enterprise. Shut it down.

The prospects of international isolation are very real. While Jews worldwide and Israelis especially think the situation with the Palestinians as much more complicated than issues of independence and self-determination, the rest of the world simply does not agree.

The world simply prioritizes Palestinian independence over Israeli security. There is little Israel or the global Jewish community can do about it. We will, by majority, disagree with the planet on this. Public relations and negotiating tactics are out of step with global opinion. The country simply has been caught off guard by the drive toward Palestinian independence. With that, Israel ought to go with the flow and change its approach to the Palestinians. Allow the West Bank and Gaza Strip their independence, merely with the stipulation that border and refugee issues have not been finalized, and that goes doubly for Jerusalem. Just outright support it – just ask for some time to design a withdrawal plan.

I expect Netanyahu to say something like this soon. But as of now, he does not have the political foresight to out-pace this situation. The UN will recognize Palestine as an independent state. Even if the Syrian protests turn into a civil war and the world allows Israel more leeway in how it positions the IDF (i.e. in the West Bank), the pressure is just going to come back.

Building the settlements was the right idea. It expanded Israel’s physical territory. No one knew how far it would eventually go before it became too much of a problem. Given the situation, I am guessing this would be a time to consolidate what Israel has gained and re-focus on other issues. Israel has no vision for its future.

Everyone has been running too scared to choose the country’s path. What preparations have been made for Palestine actually becoming an independent state? What does that mean for the priorities of the Jewish State in such an event?

As for the country’s identity, what would be Israeli policy toward a Palestinian state; goals of Zionism; security and religious interests under Palestinian rule; and settling the Galilee & Negev?

The lack of priorities has left Israel unprepared for the “diplomatic tsunami” that seems to be headed toward its pristine Mediterranean beaches.

Will Israel try to get a million new Jewish immigrants? Will it expand its economic power? Its cultural influence? Settle disputes between Jewish denominations in Israel and reform civil law? Write a constitution? There are simply no goals. There is no clarity.

AND as for Religious Zionists: the West Bank and Gaza are still holy land – it’s not going anywhere – it will just be under Palestinian government. It cannot constitute a priority compared to Jerusalem on the one hand or domestic stability on the other. But when was the last time you heard a settlement leader talking about the Temple Mount instead of a less significant hilltop somewhere south of Hebron? Religious Zionist leadership is out of step with reality and has no vision for its community and its religious goals. Of all the priorities that are contorted, twisted and far from straight, theirs seem to be the utmost.

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 4, 2009

The Obama Speech in General

by Gedalyah Reback

I think Barack Obama is clearly prioritizing mending ties with Muslims, but at the same time undermined himself by spending 9 minutes talking about the Israelis, 3 minutes talking about the Iranians, and absolutely no time talking about Lebanon.

Settlements are a talking point, because they simply are not the most important issue Israelis and Palestinians concern themselves with. Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have never realistically considered impeding or uprooting major settlements, especially the ones that continue to grow as suburbs of cities like Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. The President has picked an issue he thinks Israel can give some leeway on, compared to security and Jerusalem, that the US can used to win points in Muslim public opinion.

The Obama Administration was designed to build up US ties with Muslim countries in order to make the pursuit of American goals much easier by ending Muslim opposition to US policies. It will be slow in coming and I doubt that after four years Muslims will overwhelmingly support American policies, but it seems to be that they will support them 5 to 6 times more than they did under George W Bush.

But if he was thinking Muslims would understand US policies better by emphasizing the points that he did in this speech, he is absolutely wrong. US goals of undermining nuclear proliferation by Iran and North Korea will not get any more tension than they already have, since he spent only three minutes on the issue, and scarcely mentioned Iranians.

But Muslims around the world, even Sunni Arabs, do not conceive of an Iran that would ever use nuclear weapons, especially against Sunni Arab countries. The Obama Administration banked raising poll numbers on being stern on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but I doubt that Muslims will ever take this as the major initiative the US needs to undertake to earn back any respect.

Even the withdrawal of troops from Iraq, as he described with as much detail as he could in Cairo, nor an eventual withdrawal from Afghanistan, will placate public opinion in Muslim countries.

Iraq and Afghanistan are recent issues that result from past issues that are yet unresolved. Issues with Israel are not directly related to the United States, and the idea that an Israeli-Palestinian agreement will solve the problems for Israelis in their foreign relations and domestic relations between Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs is also naive – but this is again an Israeli concern that the United States cannot effectively relate to as the world’s most influential empire and not as a small embattled state like Israel.

For the US, issues of ties to governments like Egypt, like Saudi Arabia, and eventually to Iran will be the issue. It’s those ties to despotic regimes, just like Barack Obama emphasized in regards to the 1953 coup in Iran that overthrew the elected government of Prime Minister Muhammad Mossadeq, are what irritate Muslims. There is consequently a double-edged sword in fostering ties with certain countries if those countries never make progress toward change.

He took a few important shots at Muslim countries and European countries on major issues. Firstly, he highlighted Bosnia and Darfur. For Darfur, Egypt has been criticized for its ties to the Sudanese regime and especially defending President Omar al-Bashir. The entire Arab League has vowed to defend him from the warrant issued for his arrest by the International Court of Justice, an amazing policy considering they implemented it while trying to criticize Israel for its Gaza operation, which killed 300 TIMES LESS the amount of people than Bashir’s operations in Darfur the last six years, and in fact better targeted enemy fighters than the Sudanese military ever has.

Toward Europe, he attacked the idea of banning Muslim hijab in public places, especially schools, and said he would take to task anyone who tried to take away the right of Muslim women to wear it. He also said it was wrong to think that women that do cover their hair, or wear any other conservative clothing, are in any sense lacking in equality compared to their male counterparts – the emphasis should be on their opportunity in their countries and not whether common culture demands a more conservative style. (This I thought was an interesting point, because as a sound bite it doesn’t just apply to Muslims.)

Overall, there is a lot more to be said in the implications of his differing policies toward Iran and North Korea, and for that matter toward Israel and South Korea as American allies. There is obviously so much more, and many more issues with settlements that the Obama Administration is instigating more than it realizes, especially on natural growth.

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