Tuesday, April 27, 2010
George Mitchell is back in the Middle East – back to try and restart “proximity talks” between Israelis and Palestinians. This means that Mitchell is seeking approval from both sides to be open to the concept of possibly starting indirect peace negotiations.
In a year and a half we have gone from at least one monthly meeting between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and either Ehud Olmert [the former Israeli Prime Minister] or Tzippy Livni [Olmert’s Foreign Minister] to an approximation of when Abbas himself and current Israeli Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, may be able to arrange a meeting about holding a future meeting! We may be on the path to scheduling a meeting in which future meetings with substance might be arranged.
It is this Einsteinian proposal – the idea of “proximity talks” - by the Obama administration that has succeeded in saying, “Hey, we really have no idea what the hell we are doing!”. “Why don’t we talk about the possibility of the possibility of sitting down indirectly because we are all somewhere between a rock and a hard place.”
The Obama team entered office in 2009 like a football team on human growth hormones sprints out of the locker room before a big match – full speed ahead with the strength and fury of a raging bull. And how couldn't it after 8-years of the Bush Administration’s alienating foreign policy and many nearsighted domestic bombshells. Unfortunately, with that excitement and hope came some of the American President’s own nearsightedness in trying to forcefully exert pressure on what is often-perceived as an “anti-Obama”, governing coalition [Israeli] to start throwing in the concessions. By publicly calling for the halt to construction in East Jerusalem – a measure never demanded as a precursor for negotiations – the Palestinian position now taken by Abu Mazen [Abbas] can never be anything short of what Obama explicitly demanded.
On the other hand, I do believe the reports in the Media about a diplomatic “crisis” – as it is often described - between Israel and the United States has been blown far out of proportion; nonetheless, it seems that Obama should be held accountable for creating a diplomatic balagan for his bulldog-like approach with regards to demands concerning East Jerusalem. Even if these demands do not mean any concrete action on the ground, the wording itself is enough to create a new damaging language used in talks.
Whether you agree with Obama on his position about the future state of East Jerusalem or not, his optimism in pursuing an overtly diplomatic and conciliatory track across the globe fell yards short on the particular issue of his desire to reignite negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.
To make “proximity” even more complicated and far from somewhere, we cannot forget the fact that Salam Fayyad – the “sort of” appointed – Prime Minister and Economic Guru in the West Bank is working his own independent track to prepare the Palestinians for statehood, should talks (both proximity and direct) fail. Albeit being appointed by Abbas as the Prime Minister of the Palestinian National Authority, Fayyad does not have a direct role in negotiations nor does he even pretend to. To make matters worse, the Palestinian Government in Gaza – run by Hamas – still does not recognize his appointment and prefer to claim Ismail Haniyeh as its official representative. Officially (more or less), Haniyeh is the Prime Minister for the Palestinian Legislative Council.
It is known that Mahmud Abbas is often abroad on diplomatic missions or at his compound in Ramallah while it is Fayyad who is on his “tour” as a “one man band” preparing the Palestinians for de facto Statehood while Haniyeh is still considered by strong backing to be the legitimate Prime Minister of the Palestinians. This approximation to nowhere is something that cannot be forgotten. Rather, it seems to me that proximity itself would rely on some sort of internal coordination and correspondence between at least two of these three “officials” (we can leave Haniyeh out of this for now as he becomes the lame duck representative of Hamas in Gaza).
Everything I have written above may sound a bit confusing, especially to those who are not involved with these issues on a daily basis. However, I would hope that I am more than in the proximity of where the Israelis, Palestinians and Americans are right now. There is nothing approximate about these ‘Proximity Talks’ at all; unless you want to use them to describe how we are in the proximity of being far off from any meaningful changes in this standstill. Maybe Obama should find his own proximity to a plan before throwing out demands that will only stretch everyone further and further from one another
Sunday, April 25, 2010
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Halfway across our puddle
One mountain caused a big muddle
It blew off its top
Brought Europe to a stop
Sunday, April 18, 2010
The house in question was purportedly owned by a Jewish family 63 years ago, on the eve of the War of Independence, who fled their home during the war. An Arab family from Jaffa fled their home that year and settled in. The Jewish family dug up the Ottoman-era paperwork proving their past ownership and claimed the home for themselves, evicting the al-Ghawi family in the process. The al-Ghawis can not return to Jaffa due to the nature of the Israeli legal system.
Protesters have gathered down the road from the house for several months. Friday there was a small mob, maybe three hundred people at most, amassed in the park out of view of the building. Some were holding homemade signs, others were banging on drums and chanting slogans like "There is no holiness in an occupied city!", but many were sitting or standing towards the back socializing. Most of those attending were of my parents' demographic, and only a rather small number were close to my age-- something I quickly noted. They were the ones with the drums and the megaphones, shouting "Fascism will not come!" Across the road the police sat in the shade of a tree, waiting. Some had automatic weapons, all had batons and heavy vests. No one was allowed to get closer to the house. As time wore on and the protesters riled up a bit, the commanders ordered a more aggressive stance and the police lined up in the middle of the street facing the crowd. Unlike previous weeks, no one (to my knowledge) was arrested for expressing their distaste with the Israeli judicial system.
It was an interesting peek into the political activism of the Israeli Left. Most people were above the age of thirty, and those below expressed views far left of center. The turn-out was meager, uncoordinated, and tame.
Sheikh Jarrah is becoming another Bil'in. If the Israeli Left hopes to succeed at anything it strives for, they need to learn to coordinate better, communicate better, and rally around their causes. It can not be that only a few hundred people in this country care about what has happened in Sheikh Jarrah. The Left must mobilize to provide an effective counterweight to the Radical Right by incorporating more of the centrist camp, otherwise its ideologies will never come to fruition.
Friday, April 2, 2010
Thursday, April 1, 2010
Its no secret that the United States and Israel have been having a bit of a lover's spat lately. Vice President Biden gets embarrassed in Jerusalem. President Obama completely humiliates and bullies Prime Minister Netanyahu in Washington. These types of ups and downs are common in relations between countries that are close friends. Remember 2003? Americans were so mad at France that we started eating “Freedom Fries” just to spite the French. My point here is that these types of disagreements are not the end of a deep and enduring friendship (sorry Israel bashers). Friends can have disagreements, but things can become dangerous when one side starts blaming the other for atrocities committed against it. That is exactly what Gen. David Petraeus did when he essentially blamed Israel for anti-U.S. activities in the Middle East. Here is just a small portion of what the General said:
“...enduring hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbors present distinct challenges to our ability to advance our interests in the area of responsibility....Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of U.S. partnerships with governments and peoples [in the region]”
Wow! Let me get this straight General Petraeus; Muslim anger at the United States has nothing to do with the fact that we invaded two Muslim countries, killed tens of thousands of civilians, and have army bases in the Arabian Peninsula! The reason Muslims are angry at the United States is because of Israel! I get it now! It couldn't possibly be because the Islamic radicals subscribe to a violent stream of Islamic jurisprudence which stresses an unending holy war against all non Muslims! It couldn't be because their countries are horrendously mismanaged by oppressive dictators who we support because they give us cheap access to their oil! It couldn't possibly be because we invaded two Muslim countries, (unintentionally) killed tens of thousands of civilians, or that station hundreds of thousands of our troops in what they consider to be their Holy Land-Saudi Arabia- thereby corrupting the land with our infidel presence. Muslim extremists attack US soldiers in Afghanistan because of Israeli apartments in eastern Jerusalem! Does anybody else see how ridiculous this sounds?
I would like to make clear here that I am a veteran of both the Iraq and Afghanistan campaign. Not only that, but I do, did, and will continue to support our decision to invade both countries. The Afghanistan war was thrust on us by Al-Qaeda (who incidentally blame their own terrorist activities on Israel) and the Iraq war removed a genocidal dictator giving Iraq to its people for the first time in history. However, I realize that when you come half way across the world and drop hundreds of thousands of tons of munitions on a country which –however unintentionally – kill tens of thousands of civilians you are going tick a few locals off. Also, I would like to add that such wrong headed thinking will lead the United States to make poor policy decisions which will be paid for with the blood of our soldiers.
General Petraeus has since denied that he intended to blame Israel for American combat deaths in the region, and American short comings in our dealings with the Arab world. You're a day late and a dollar short General; the damage has already been done. The media is now filled with reports claiming, “Israel is clearly in the wrong and, according to the Petraeus briefing, it is hurting American foreign policy in the region.” (Time). Foreign Policy magazine declared, “David Petraeus sent a briefing team to the Pentagon with a stark warning: America's relationship with Israel is important, but not as important as the lives of America's soldiers”. General, if you didn't intend to blame Israel for American deaths in Muslim countries you did a very poor impersonation of it.
This accusation being circulated in the media now is bordering on a blood libel against the Jewish state (what happened to that supposed media bias towards Israel?). The implication is that America is completely blameless for its troubles in the Muslim world. The real reason behind Muslim anger at the United States is Israel!. If only Israel wouldn't build apartments in eastern Jerusalem we could be having a Coca-Cola and hot dog with Osama bin Laden at Disney World! I'm used to hearing Arab dictators blaming Israel for their problems. I just didn't expect to hear this from an American General. I guess General Petraeus just learned the lesson that most of the rest of the world learned long ago: when in doubt, blame the Jews.
So here we are, April 1st 2010 – hopefully you haven’t been fooled too bad on yet another wonderful April Fools Day. Often times, living in Israel, we are prone to many undertones of disbelief and amazement in terms of our short history (Israel as a country), as it has been parlayed with our steroidal growth. Every day, we are bombarded with worsening headlines regarding our current political standing both internally and outside of our borders. Within both Israeli and foreign newspapers, you really have to dig for a story that does not pain this country as a maniacal state with a Napoleonic complex. Despite the often-sobering news about our current state of affairs, we cannot overlook the miracle that is Israel and the many milestones we have reached in almost 62 years of existence.
With that being said, I felt compelled to write the first ever – and surly not the last - book review featured on The Young Diplomat. Often times as bloggers, commentators and conceded Op-Ed gurus, we forget about others’ opinions and perspectives. We must really force ourselves to slow down, back up and allow others to grace us with their eloquent observations and critique.
Amos Oz’s In the Land of Israel is an exemplary insight into the paradoxical complexities and contradictions that have arisen as a result of having a modern and rapidly evolving Jewish state. In the Land of Israel is a collection of interviews recorded by Oz during his travels across Israel while working for the former Israeli daily, Davar, coupled with his own micro-vignettes and personal expressions as a native Jerusalemite, veteran of two Israeli/Arab wars and self professed ‘Peacenik’. Better than anyone, Oz allows all of us to step into the shoes of those we often fervently detest for what we perceive as being detrimental to having a Jewish homeland.
The secular and religious divide - broken down across even deeper subcategories -, Ashkenazic [Jews of Eastern European and German decent] and Mizrahi [Jews who emigrated from North Africa and the Middle East], Israeli Jew and Israeli Arab are just a few of the clashes that Oz examines, even coming across an individual who sees himself as a Judeo-Nazi: literally a Jew who commends Hitler for having an agenda and acting upon it; thus suggesting that Israel apply those principles to create a purely Jewish state.
Ultimately, the interviews are rekindled – often rebuked, yet surprisingly understood in their context - by the author himself and eventually tied back into the dilemma we have with our Palestinian neighbors. As Oz poignantly explains:
"The clash between Israeli Jew and a Palestinian Arab is a tragedy, not a wild west movie, with good guys and bad guys. It's a tragedy, because it is a clash between right and right. The Israelis are in Israel because they have nowhere else to go. The Palestinians are in Palestine because they have nowhere else to go. This is a conflict between victims, and between people who both have a just claim to the land."
He continues to make the reality even clearer and more disturbing by summing up the often hard to accept facts – facts that few of us may ever accept:
“The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been a tragedy, a clash between one very powerful, very convincing, very painful claim over this land and another no less powerful, no less convincing claim. Now such a clash between right claims can be resolved in one of two manners. There's the Shakespeare tradition of resolving a tragedy with the stage hewed with dead bodies and justice of sorts prevails. But there is also the Chekhov tradition. In the conclusion of the tragedy by Chekhov, everyone is disappointed, disillusioned, embittered, heartbroken, but alive.”
Overall, In the Land of Israel is an essential read for both those that immerse themselves with the never ending political and moral struggles that affect Israelis – Jew and Arab alike – on a daily basis, as well as those that simply want a clearer picture of both the internal and external complications that will eventually force us all to painfully compromise on many things dear to us within this land.