THE WEEK THAT WAS (We Wish it Wasn’t) [ssba]

THE WEEK THAT WAS (We Wish it Wasn’t)

 

Perhaps never before have Israeli and American Jewish liberals felt so angry, frustrated, and, above all, impotent regarding both Israeli and American policies in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  Our red lines have been repeatedly crossed, our warnings have gone unheeded; we have little influence in Washington and less in Jerusalem and we are reduced, Cassandra-like, to cautioning darkly of inevitable catastrophes that will materialize in the near and medium futures.  Perhaps it is all too appropriate that Tisha b’Av is the next holiday on the Jewish religious calendar.

As the week from May 8 through May 15 unfolded, we were barraged by events we oppose and have warned against for years: Trump’s withdrawal from the JCPOA, the glittering and religiously toxic ceremony transferring the American Embassy to Jerusalem and, most horrific of all, the killing of 61 Palestinians and wounding of over 1500 Palestinians at the Gaza border fence as the culmination of the six week ‘March of Return’, led by Hamas, while the ceremony in Jerusalem proceeded.  Israelis supported all of these actions by wide margins.  This is on top of Israel’s biggest air operation in years, directed against the Iranian military buildup in Syria in the wake of Bashar Assad’s apparent victory in the seven-year Syrian civil war.  The other shoe has yet to drop in the latter operation; i.e., whether, when, and how Iran, together with its Hezbollah allies, will retaliate against Israel or maintain its Syrian buildup.

As I sit in a beautiful Jerusalem garden the morning after Shavuot waiting for the heat to drive me indoors, I am forced to contemplate what we on the Left who support Israel but abhor its current policies should do – and what we can do to make our voices heard in effective ways.  While neither Trump nor Bibi will be with us forever, their legacies – and especially the fears they have engendered – will continue to add to the violence and belligerence in the entire region for years to come.

Let’s unpack these issues one by one and see where we are and what we might do about it.

On the Iran deal, there is little we can accomplish.  The question is whether the European powers, together with Russia and China, who also have a stake in a non-nuclear Iran, can make it worth Iran’s while to maintain the safeguards intended to be locked in through the JCPOA.  President Rouhani of Iran is no western-style democrat, but he represents the only effective domestic opposition to the hardline Islamic Republican Guard Corps (IRGC).  We should be empowering him in that opposition, instead of reinforcing the IRGC’s worldview that the West is single-mindedly bent on regime change.  The only hopeful development that can be discerned is that Iran apparently is by no means eager to get into a war with Israel or the US, would prefer to stay in the JCPOA, and may calibrate its actions accordingly, perhaps even including its military activities in Syria.

With regard to Israel’s relations with the Palestinians, they seem to be at rock bottom, which by no means precludes their getting even worse. Nonetheless, it appears that, in the short run, the current Israeli policy of ferocious and murderous response to any Palestinian initiative to change the status quo is succeeding, at least for the moment.  I cannot believe that, at some not-too-distant point, Israel’s almost casual killing of over 100 Palestinians and wounding of over 7000(!) more will not come back and haunt us.

Israel’s actions on the Gaza border have already been raked over from every conceivable point of view and it is hard to add much new to the acrimonious debate, except this, based on years of observing and studying Hamas.  Black-and-white scenarios that separate the “innocent” (ordinary) Palestinians from the “guilty” (Hamas, along with Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other such groups) rarely approximate reality, nor do they lead to effective policy, except in the shortest of runs.  Hamas has now ruled Gaza for exactly ten years and, since Israel makes it virtually impossible to leave, everyone living there must find a way to coexist with Hamas in power.  It seems clear that the “March of Return” was originally planned by independent groups (which should not even exist under the black-white scenario) but Hamas became a major player more recently.

There is no doubt that Hamas members (whether designated as operatives, soldiers, or terrorists) were among the tens of thousands of marchers, but there is likewise no doubt that the vast majority of them were ordinary Gazans, who are utterly fed up with the impossible conditions under which they have lived for more than ten years, and refused to heed the Israeli admonitions to stay home.  Belief that this continuous experience of horrendous living conditions with no realistic hope for change is what brought out the large majority of marchers is invidiously labelled the “Hamas narrative.” The other (Israeli) narrative is that the innocents were paid, forced, or both, and that they were simply a smokescreen for the terrorist arms, bombs, and kites.  In other words, ‘ordinary’ Gazans are solely pawns, to be passively trotted out to be killed or wounded whenever Hamas wishes.

This fantasy defies belief.  As many have pointed out, any self-respecting person cooped up in Gaza for 10 years would almost certainly seize the opportunity to get the world’s attention for their plight, whether fan or foe of Hamas.  And Hamas is eager to come to some sort of open terms with Israel.  Just last week, it offered Israel a 10 year hudna (truce), which was immediately and contemptuously rejected by Defense Minister Lieberman.  Israel, as by far the stronger party, can and must take the lead in trans­forming Gaza’s reality, of course taking into account Hamas’s response as well.  There is no doubt that Hamas refuses to recognize Israel and calls for its destruction, but it also appears to accept the two-state solution in Article 20 its most recent ‘Document of General Principles and Policies’.  Israel must try to ‘engage’ Hamas since it knows it can’t destroy it. Instead, it seems to hew forever to its long- failed policy based on hope that Gazans will throw out Hamas if only their situation becomes horrendous enough, and that they will blame Hamas for the death and wounds inflicted by IDF snipers.

Of course the dichotomy between “peaceful, unarmed marchers” and “terrorists invading Israel” is simplistic and false.  Among the thousands of unarmed marchers there clearly were some who were determined to kill or capture Israelis if the opportunity arose – and it was indeed the IDF’s responsibility to prevent that opportunity.  But the other dichotomy – the one between killing and wounding thousands, on the one hand, and watching passively while the marchers invade Israel, on the other – is equally absurd.  The IDF and Israeli police have successfully and nonviolently confronted numerous Haredi marchers in Jerusalem and evacuated settlers from Gaza in 2005, so it is not exactly without experience in this area.

Finally, there is the specious argument that because the marchers’ official slogan called for the ‘Right of Return’, they were therefore bent on Israel’s destruction and that justified anything the IDF could do to stop them.  The fact is that the 1948 refugees and their descendants, who comprise the vast majority of Gaza’s population, will continue to demand RoR until some realistic alternative is presented to them, such as a genuine Palestinian state.  Those marchers were not in any way an existential threat to Israel, and should have been dealt with as protesters, not invaders.

So I want to invite all those who feel like I do about these calamities to do what they can, whether working on the midterm elections, supporting the many active and progressive Israeli NGO’s working for positive change, or helping to convince their friends and neighbors that this is not the way, and Bibi’s Israel can and must be changed.  And also, please support Partners for Progressive Israel in our educational activities that demonstrate a different way to support Israel, that does not involve lining up behind Bibi.


Paul Scham, President

Hillel Schenker on the Meretz Elections and its Implications [ssba]

Hillel Schenker on the Meretz Elections and its Implications

Hillel Schenker on the Meretz Elections and its Implications

By Lenny Grob

On March 28th Hillel Schenker, co-editor of the Palestine-Israel Journal, spoke via conference call about the March 22nd Meretz primary and the ramifications of Tamar Zandberg’s election for the future of Israeli society in general, and of the left in particular. Hillel began with the history of Meretz as a political party, noting that MK Zandberg was the first elected leader to have come from within Meretz itself; others having come from older parties.

The elections, Hillel explained, were preceded by a struggle within the party centering around the issue of whether Meretz would proceed as in past primaries, when only about a thousand party activists could vote, or whether the primary would be open to all members. Following a tense internal debate, it was agreed the primary would be open to the entire party.

Hillel Schenker

Hillel Schenker

Initially it was expected that current party leader Zehava Galon and MK Ilan Gilon, along with Tamar, would prove to be the leading candidates. However, three weeks prior to the election, Galon and Gilon dropped out, leaving Tamar to face Avi Buskila, former Executive Director of Peace Now, and Meretz activist Avi Dabush as her main opponents, all of them representing a younger generation. MK Zandberg, (who’s 42), won 71% of the vote. Hillel noted that Tamar, an MK for five years, was perceived to hold a more comprehensive worldview, including emphasis on areas such as social and economic justice, gender equality, and care of the environment, as well as providing leadership in the struggle against the Occupation. Hillel believes these goals are integrally linked and need more political emphasis. Tamar has also been outspoken about the need for Meretz to be part of a coalition when possible, to be proud of its ideology, and to energize others to move leftward.

Having won 28% of the vote, Avi Buskila, a Mizrachi activist, has positioned himself as a promising candidate for election to the Knesset in the next election. Hillel sees Buskila and Avi Dabush—also Mizrachi—as comprising a significant part of a new leadership team with Tamar, leading the party to reach out beyond its comfort zone of Ashkenazi Tel Avivians to those living in the geographic and social ‘periphery’.

Hillel noted that following the primary, a poll showed Meretz—currently with five MKs–winning nine seats in the next general election, just one short of the ten that Tamar had projected as her goal. He sees the real possibility of a left-center coalition forming prior to the next generation; much depends on the disposition of the charges currently facing PM Netanyahu, as well as the ability of the left in general, and Meretz in particular, to reach out to Russians, Palestinian Israelis, and some religious parties, as well as Mizrachim.

Since Israel is always engulfed in political crises, it was not surprising to Hillel that Tamar faced her first challenge right after the election. Tamar was harshly criticized in the media for having accepted advice from a public relations specialist with a history of working with the extreme right. Hillel opined that the crisis would soon pass.

We’re grateful to Hillel for his on-the-spot and informed commentary, as well as his upbeat account of what may lie ahead for a left energized by Meretz’s new leadership.

Lenny Grob is a retired professor of philosophy and a vice-president of PPI.

The Guns of November [ssba]

The Guns of November

The calendar is currently full of anniversaries and commemoration of major events that happened exactly 100 year ago, during or in the aftermath of World War I, such as the Balfour Declaration on Nov. 2. A particularly horrendous anniversary is already more than three years old; namely, the outbreak of World War I, famously dubbed “The Guns of August,” by Barbara Tuchman, Unfortunately, recent events force inescapable comparisons to August 1914, with Lebanon playing the role of Serbia and Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salmon (MBS) of Saudi Arabia as a far too believable Kaiser Wilhelm II, the chief villain back then, though there was (and is) far more than enough blame to go around. Will things now turn out as they did then?

As anyone who’s looked at the news during the last week knows already, MBS last weekend orchestrated (likely demanded) the resignation of Said Hariri, the Prime Minister of Lebanon, a Sunni Muslim who has always been close to the Saudis (he’s even a Saudi citizen). Hariri made the announcement from Riyadh, and is still there, leading to strong suspicions he is being detained, though he denied that a week later. Simultaneously, MBS was “appointed” head of a new anti-corruption agency and immediately arrested perhaps 500 leading Saudis on corruption charges, including 11 royal princes, i.e., his cousins. There is no doubt that MBS is using this to change the kingdom from a comfortable oligarchy run for the benefit of the several thousand descendants of its founder, Abdul-Aziz Al- Saud, into an autocratic dictatorship a la Putin, Erdogan, Xi, Orban, Duterte, and presumably the dreams of Donald Trump.

In fact, MBS resembles Trump more than any of the others, being similarly impetuous and inexperienced, though MBS has a better excuse; he is 31 while Trump is forty years his senior. Trump, clearly still glowing from his Saudi welcome in May and its purchase of $110 billion in US arms, has put himself foursquare behind his young friend. Trump also, like Obama before him, has supported Saudi Arabia’s brutal and seemingly pointless air war against the Houthi rebels in Yemen, which has continued since 2015, turning Yemen into probably the worst basket case on earth, with no discernible political advantage.

MBS clearly sees that war, like several others, as really against Shi’a Iran, which has undoubtedly provided some help to the Houthis but no serious expert considers the Houthis an Iranian proxy, though their brand of Islam is a variant of mainstream Shi’ism. Then last week, a Houthi missile apparently landed near Riyadh, allegedly manufactured in Iran, which MBS declared an act of war, backed up by Trump. (By that logic, US gun manufacturers should be held liable for the damage and death their products cause, which extension Trump certainly wouldn’t approve of).

In June of this year, right after Trump’s visit, MBS, in concert with other Gulf states and Egypt, launched a fullscale boycott against Qatar, claiming it supports terrorists. It was immediately clear that their grievance against Qatar, though no democracy itself, rather stemmed from its support of al-Jazeera and its unflattering coverage of other Arab states, as well as Qatar’s independent foreign policy. While Qatar is not a model democracy itself and al-Jazeera has its own biases, it has been invaluable in bringing an infinitely better class of journalism to the Middle East and the rest of the world. Trump immediately tweeted his support for the boycott, though he’s since moderated that, belatedly realizing Qatar is itself a major American ally.

Of course, all this has transpired against the background of the apparent defeat of the “Islamic State” (ISIS) and the victory of Bashar Asad’s forces, now completely beholden to his allies who enabled his victory in Syria’s bloody civil war, namely Hezbollah, Russia and especially Iran (in the latter case “proxy” probably fits.) Hezbollah suffered considerable casualties in Syria, but undoubtedly burnished its reputation, making it that much stronger in its Lebanese home, where it is both an independent (i.e. Iran-influenced) militia and a part of the governing coalition, which presumably leads us back to why the Saudis are disrupting Lebanese politics.

Israel has, of course, been keeping a watchful eye on both Lebanon and Syria, and has even admitted carrying out some bombings in Syria when fighting got too close for comfort, as well as destroying supply caravans headed to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Despite this interdiction, Hezbollah reportedly has now deployed 120,000 missiles aimed at Israel, many apparently with the range to hit Tel Aviv, not to mention Haifa and most of the rest of Israel. Israel of course has its own defensive and offensive capabilities but under these circumstances, if it a war of missiles, it’s hard to believe it would escape unscathed, perhaps more so than in any war since 1948. Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, claims that Saudi Arabia is inciting Israel to attack Lebanon, though no evidence has been provided.

President Trump, of course, has played a menacing, if somewhat offstage role in this. He has made Iran his chief bête noir in the Middle East, almost comparable to ‘rocket man’’ Kim Jong Un in Northwest Asia. He has declined to recertify Iran’s compliance with the 2015 JCPOA but, characteristically, left it to Congress to decide whether to reimpose sanctions and thus give Iran free reign to move towards a nuclear bomb, though it appears Congress is likely to decline the invitation.

So now it’s back to the 1914 analogy when, it is usually agreed, none of the European powers (with the possible exception of Germany) wanted war, but they found themselves in a horrendous one, nevertheless. Similarly, none of the current players seek a war, with the possible exception of MBS and perhaps Trump, both of whom are anxious to burnish their toughness credentials – and neither of whom has accomplished much in their respective short tenures. Trump has the advantage that a Middle East war would probably not directly involve the US, but you can bet he’d be lustily cheering from the sidelines and supplying as many armaments as he could.

Will cooler heads prevail? In this case, unbelievably, the cooler heads (everything is relative) belong to Bibi Netanyahu, Vladimir Putin, the Iranian leadership, Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah and, perhaps, other Mideast notables such as Turkey’s President Erdogan. None would normally appear on anyone’s list of cooler heads. But here, compared to MBS and Trump, all the others are experienced and, though by no means necessarily adverse to war, probably have a more realistic idea of what war in this context might mean and almost certainly would prefer to avoid it. This is likely in strong contrast to Trump and MBS, neither of whom have any experience with it and don’t seem too worried about its prospect.

I personally think there won’t be a war at this time, though perhaps that is simply wishful thinking. But it is a striking and discomfiting circumstance to find our safety hostage to the ‘cooler’ heads of some of the most dangerous men in the world.

Michal Gera Margaliot: Fighting for Inclusion of Women in the IDF [ssba]

Michal Gera Margaliot: Fighting for Inclusion of Women in the IDF

Recently Haredi-Zionist rabbis have been pressing the IDF to separate female and male soldiers serving in the same units. They argue that the current Joint Service order, which regulates the inclusion of women in gender-mixed units, hampers the modesty requirements of religious soldiers. In response, a coalition of Israeli organizations fighting for women’s rights and religious pluralism appealed to the IDF chief of Staff saying that “Segregation based on gender is a violation the principle of equality and is against the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty.”

Michal Gera Margaliot is the managing director of Israel Women’s Network and a fellow at the Alliance for Israel’s Future. She published this text in Saloona on July 27, 2017.

The changes expected in the Joint Service Order will segregate female soldiers and push them aside.

The IDF is considering changes to the Joint Service Order, because of Haredi-Zionist rabbinical pressure. The pressuring rabbis are the same rabbis who argue that women shouldn’t serve in the IDF at all and that female soldiers hamper the IDF’s ability to win.

Three comments on the expected changes to the Joint Service Order:

First, the new order states that the IDF should plan events which “make all the soldiers feel comfortable from the outset.” But we already know that the demand to be considerate is always one-sided: we must consider the feelings of religious soldiers, they don’t need to consider ours. The number of females on stage in IDF events has already shrunk, and sometimes female soldiers are even forbidden to sing in public. Making “all soldiers feel comfortable from the outset” means that from now on women in the IDF will neither perform on stage nor appear in official ceremonies.

Second, [the new order determines that] an IDF officer will be permitted to refuse commanding females in joint units. This means that without official declarations, fewer jobs and assignments will be opened to women, because opening positions to women would invite religious officers and soldiers to refuse and make special requests. The new order gives the impression that the IDF cares more about the new sensibilities of religious soldiers than the actual contribution of female soldiers.

Third, [by surrendering to rabbinical demands] the IDF gives credence to the hallucinatory theories of the extremist rabbis, according to which female soldiers hamper the IDF’s ability to win. The new order create new segregated service units and from now on when a soldier says he is uncomfortable serving with a woman – the IDF will move her aside.

But, women make up about a third of all IDF soldiers, and their number in combat and combat support positions has risen in recent years. The extreme leadership of the national-religious public is the one distracting the IDF and hampering its ability to win.
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The truth is that the IDF cannot exist without the women’s service. But the struggle against pushing the women out of the army should not be a women’s fight alone. The IDF is leading a change that is expected to create gender segregated units. But there is another option. Secular soldiers and officers, choose to serve with your sisters, the women. If religious soldiers don’t want to serve with women, let them serve not only in gender homogenous units, but also in religious units. If religious soldiers want to serve without women, they can also serve without secular men.

The rabbis demand to annul the Joint Service Order. We agree: there is no need for an order regulating gender inclusion in the IDF. We live together all our lives and we will serve togetherץ Religious soldiers are welcomed to take part in the people’s army, which includes women. Religious soldiers who don’t want to serve in accordance with the values of the IDF and the State of Israel will have to find segregated units that will push them aside, rather than push female soldiers to a corner.

Israel doesn’t need a religious war on the Temple Mount! [ssba]

Israel doesn’t need a religious war on the Temple Mount!

Last week three armed assailants launched an attack on the Temple Mount to ignite a religious war. They killed two policemen. Nevertheless, the State of Israel needs to carefully consider its response. The wrong response could engulf the entire region.

For generations, Jews prayed at the Western Wall and avoided ascending to the Temple Mount. On June 10, 1967, just three days after General Motta Gur had famously declared, “The Temple Mount is in our hands,” the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi said that Halakha (traditional religious law) forbade Jews to visit the site. Two weeks later, the leading Sephardi authority, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, stated that even flying over the site was forbidden. The then Religious Affairs Minister Zerach Warhaftig, a member of the National Religious Party, noted that, “It makes me happy” [that Halakha forbids us from visiting the Mount] “because we can avoid a conflict with the Muslim religion.”

Since the Oslo Accord, the Israeli far Right has been pushing to change the status quo and thus provoke the Muslim world. Why? Because manifesting Israel’s sovereignty over the Temple Mount has become more important than traditional Halakha. For example, in recent years the number of Jews visiting the Temple Mount has grown by 250%. In a survey asking “Why are you going up to the Temple Mount?,” 96.8 percent replied that visiting the site would constitute “a contribution to strengthening Israeli sovereignty over the holy place.”

A few facts:

  • The Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif is one of the most sacred places for both Judaism and Islam. As a result, it is also one of the most volatile places in the world.
  • In 1967 the Israeli government allowed the Muslim Waqf to continue managing the Temple Mount. This is the status quo. The Waqf is responsible for allowing Muslims to pray and Jews to visit the site.
  • The decision to install metal detectors at the entrance isn’t really about security. It is a continuation of the religious zealots’ attempt to assert Israel’s sovereignty over the Temple Mount. Do you need proof? Both the IDF and the Shin Bet [Israel’s security service] oppose it. The metal detectors wouldn’t have prevented last week’s attack, because it was done outside the gates.
  • Worse yet, the decision was taken unilaterally without consulting the Waqf. Rather than provide security, these metal detectors are already escalating the situation.

Israel is in a political conflict with the Palestinians; not a religious one with the Muslim world. Zealots on both sides want otherwise. They are eager to bring a religious war to end all wars to the Middle East. We must do everything in our power to prevent them.

The last thing Israelis – or Palestinians – need is a religious war on the Temple Mount. The decades-long political one between them is bad enough. For both sides.

The text was inspired by a Hebrew Peace Now Facebook and Tomer Persico’s wonderful piece, Myth and Modernity: The End Point of Zionism

Have you heard of ‘Operation Economic Defensive Shield’? [ssba]

Have you heard of ‘Operation Economic Defensive Shield’?

‘Operation Economic Defensive Shield’ exemplifies how wedded Israel’s Occupation of the West Bank is to its devastating economic policies toward its own citizens.

In March 2002, two days after the terrorist attack on a Seder dinner in Netanya’s Park Hotel killed 30 and injured 160 people, the IDF unleashed ‘Operation Defensive Shield.’ The largest military operation in the West Bank since 1967, the operation sought to retake Palestinian cities in area A and shield the Israeli public from terror. For the first time Israelis in Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem felt the consequences of Occupation on a daily basis. Restaurants, buses and clubs were exploded all around. Suicide bombers killed 21 teens in the Dolphinarium discotheque in Tel Aviv, 16 in the Matza restaurant in Haifa, and 11 in Jerusalem’s Café Moment. Everyone feared a loved one could be next. And the Israeli public was willing to pay any price to end this nightmare.

At that very moment Ariel Sharon’s government also declared ‘Operation Economic Defensive Shield.’ The plan sought to support the growing defense budget to combat terrorism (not only for the IDF and security services, but also the police), while reducing the national deficit.

How? Austerity: a series of drastic cuts to the National Insurance Institute, eroding the social safety net, education, health, welfare, and housing services. Within a year, the poverty level among families increased from 18% to 20%. Read More »

Israeli Progressive Millennials Speak about the Occupation [ssba]

Israeli Progressive Millennials Speak about the Occupation

Bar Gissin, the co-chair of Young Meretz, 28, says her generation, was raised amid continuous conflict with the Palestinians. She was 10 years old when the Second Intifada erupted in 2000. Her generation has no direct memory of glorious years of Oslo. Yet, rather than engage the reality of the Conflict, the leadership of the progressive camp remains stuck in the political rhetoric of the 1990s.

“They refer to the 1990s as a relevant point of reference,” she says about how Israeli’s leftwing leadership confronts the Occupation, “and that’s insane! It happened 25 years ago! All the leaders who were involved are dead and there is no peace. The [peace] process didn’t succeed!”

Her generation, she says, deeply distrusts their party’s leadership. Party leaders refuse to soberly examine the current political conjecture and think they can miraculously win elections and end to the Occupation by relying on the voting patterns from the 1990s. And though they lose time and again, they continuously wax about the glorious years of Oslo.

Gissin stresses the historic role of Israeli Millennials is to rebuild a left that is political relevant and confronts the challenges Israelis experience in 2017 head on. This New Left is a progressive network consisting of labor unions, grassroots social movements, and NGOs. Only such a broad network of activists and organizations, Gissen and her allies stress, can take power and bring an end to the Occupation.

Gershon Shafir – Israel maintains the occupation by denying it [ssba]

Gershon Shafir – Israel maintains the occupation by denying it

Gershon Shafir is the author of the recently published: A Half Century of Occupation: Israel, Palestine, and the World’s Most Intractable Conflict

In these timely and provocative essays Gershon Shafir inquires “What is the occupation?” “Why has this occupation lasted so long?” and “How has the occupation transformed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?” in order to figure out how we got here, what here is, and where we are likely to go. He expertly demonstrates that at its fiftieth year, the occupation is riven with paradoxes, legal inconsistencies, and conflicting interests that weaken the occupiers’ hold and leave the occupation itself vulnerable to challenges.

Gershon Shafir is Professor of Sociology at the University of California, San Diego. He is the author or editor of ten books, among them Land, Labor, and the Origins of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, 1882–1914. He is also the coauthor, with Yoav Peled, of Being Israeli: The Dynamics of Multiple Citizenship, which won the Middle Eastern Studies Association’s Albert Hourani Award in 2002, and the coeditor, with Mark Levine, of Struggle and Survival in Palestine/Israel, 2012, a collection of life histories.

MK Tamar Zandberg, Netanyahu’s Challenge [ssba]

MK Tamar Zandberg, Netanyahu’s Challenge

Nothing scares Netanyahu more than an opportunity for peace. Not Iran or Israel’s housing crisis. Last week, President Trump hosted Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and promised to do whatever it takes to reach a peace accord. Abbas said it was time to reach a two-state solution and end the Occupation.

And Netanyahu? He rushed come up with excuses. This time, he accused Abbas of lying when he said that the Palestinians were raising their children to pursue peace. Every time there’s the faintest sign that maybe – just maybe – there might be an opportunity to extricate us from a fate of violence and despair, the prime minister immediately shuts it down. Last time he demanded that the Palestinians recognize the Jewish state. On another occasion, he claimed that they fund terrorists. This time it’s about how they educate their children. Maybe next time he’ll demand that Abbas light Sabbath candles.

Every Israeli must ask themselves, how did the State of Israel turn from being an active initiator of peace into a state led by a cowardly and frightened leadership refusing the possibility that something might change for the better?

There is a large segment of the Israeli public seeking solutions, not excuses, and unwilling to follow blindly into the next war. We’re here to make it clear that another way is possible.

Translation: Maya Haber

NOT a New Era for Israelis and Palestinians (for Better and Worse) [ssba]

NOT a New Era for Israelis and Palestinians (for Better and Worse)

President Trump has certainly made good on his promise to shake things up in Washington – and around the world.  I assume most readers of this article are as unhappy and angry about most (if not all) of what he’s doing as I am – and are appalled at the prospect of four more years on this roller-coaster.  But one area seems likely to proceed on its traditional voyage to nowhere, oblivious to Trump’s various promises about a ‘great deal’ and similar nonsense.  That, of course, would be the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

This is written after a week in which Bibi and Trump held their first meeting as  heads of government, which produced the expected hugs and kisses and, as well, blaring headlines about the U.S. “abandoning” the two state solution, which has already been pronounced dead or nearly so for years.  Maybe it is, probably it isn’t, but Trump’s pronouncement certainly did not cause its demise.  In fact, his statement , like most of his shoot-from-the hip remarks, almost certainly means little, other than giving further impetus to the stalemate (yes, I know it’s an oxymoron) that has prevailed for years.

In fact, probably the only ones really affected by it are the supporters of the Israeli far right in Israel, the US, and elsewhere.  Many of them apparently made the (always dangerous) mistake of taking Trump’s pronouncements seriously.  Sometimes they’re followed through more often they’re not, and sometimes his policy direction is totally different.  Anyone who’s followed the news lately has seen more examples of this than they can keep track of. Trump “promised a series of moves that gladdened their hearts; now they don’t know what to think (welcome to the club!).

Unlike issues such as immigration and trade where he also made very specific promises and has actually attempted to follow through, his Israel/Palestine-related measures have been conspicuous by their absence.  Moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem?  Seemingly not happening.  A free hand on settlements? Two softly-worded but unexpectedly clear admonitions not to go crazy with them.  Jared Kushner making peace?  No sign of it.  And even David Friedman, Trump’s nominee as ambassador to Israel, notorious for is particularly vicious slanders and support for the most extreme ideas on the far, far right, is now desperately attempting to appear to be a born-again moderate supporting two states (not that I believe him, obviously).

In fact, one could well argue that Trump’s main effect on this issue so far is to provide a new impetus to those of us who do believe in two states and the long-term viability of Israeli/Palestinian peace, after 8 years during which our hopes were repeatedly dashed.  I should note that I am, on most issues, an admirer of Barack Obama, and even more so now that he has been succeeded by someone appallingly antithetical to the high standard of morality, patriotism, and erudition that Obama set.  But no one can maintain that Obama succeeded with regard to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.  His high hopes and ideals invariably flopped and he was out-maneuvered by Bibi Netanyahu at almost every turn.  Unlike with most of his other failed initiatives, he cannot blame the obstruc­tionist Republican-controlled Cong­ress for this. Even his long-overdue absten­tion on UNSCR 2334, condemning Israeli settle­ments, was so late that it had little or no impact.  The only success he had in this arena was in negotiating and pushing through the Iran deal, which is not really “Israel/Palestine,” though it certainly makes Israel safer and removed one of Bibi’s favorite fear points.

Trump’s ignorance of and, seeming lack of concern with the issue forces us now to focus on the parties themselves and removes the vain hope we held for so long that a Hawaii-born deus ex machina would somehow resolve the conflict and sweep away the obstacles erected by the parties themselves.  One thing American liberals (not only, but especially American Jews ) can do is to educate themselves regarding Israeli peace and social justice initiatives, which often get lost in the flurry of internationally-based news.  Israelis are hurting economically – as shown most spectacularly by the 2011 ‘tent cities’ protests – a fact most Americans are only dimly, if at all, aware of.  This is illustrated by a favorite factoid of mine from a 2016 Pew Research Center poll. Thirty-nine percent of Israelis named economic as Israel’s main problem, while only one percent of American Jews thought it was Israel’s most important problem.

Prof. Danny Gutwein of Haifa University is one of Israel’s most prominent public intellectuals addressing this issue and connecting the issues of occupation and economy.  For those planning to attend the upcoming J-Street Conference Feb. 25-28 here in Washington, D.C., he will be speaking there, as well as many others who will be discussing priorities tor this current period.  For more information on Danny Gutwein, see the PPI blog. He will also be speaking on the subject at the University of Maryland in College Park on Feb. 28 and in New York later that week.

This comes at a time when the parameters of the Israel/Arab conflict are changing fundamentally. The cornerstone of Israeli foreign policy for many years was opposition to dealing with the Palestinian issue in an international or regional forum, because it feared being ganged up on by the Arab states.  It is a mirthless irony that Bibi and parts of the Israeli right are now hawking a regional ‘solution’ to the Palestinian issue, based on the very real perception that in recent years many of the major Arab states are now more fearful of ISIL and Iran, enemies of both Israel and those states, than they are of Israel.  However, what the right won’t understand is that the sine qua non for ANY open peace or deals with any Arab country has an absolute precondition of first allowing for the creation of a Palestinian state. The governments of those states realize that their own domestic legitimacy cannot withstand a deal with Israel that ignores the Palestinians. It is time that Bibi recognized that too.

The even bitterer irony is that for most of its existence, Israel has claimed that the enmity of the Arab states prevented peace.  Now, it is the Arab states who want peace – otherwise Bibi wouldn’t be hawking his regional plan – but the settlers and their allies who support the occupation refuse to allow progress on that front. They are essentially holding Israel hostage to their messianic dreams – and harming Israel’s real security, which can only come with its recognition of a Palestinian state and the peace with most, if not all, Arab states, which would follow. They are the true dangers to Israel.

I am not at all blasé regarding the very real threats that President Trump poses to the US and to the whole world.  However, he may be (totally inadvertently) doing a real service to the grassroots efforts to further Israeli/Palestinian peace.  But there is no time to lose!  He may well say something completely different tomorrow.