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.

The French Initiative and the Meretz Party [ssba]

Partners for Progressive Israel notes with approval the statement of the Meretz party in Israel reproduced below endorsing the French initiative for an international conference on the Middle East. We have long deplored the absence of any movement toward a two-state resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and we believe more than ever that the opening of negotiations is critical in the near term. We agree that the occupation of the Palestinian land and people is immoral and contrary to Israel’s own interests. If the current opportunity is lost there may never be another and the possibility of Israel remaining a democratic and Jewish state will be lost. If Israel is forced to choose between its commitment to Judaism and its democratic character it will end up as neither Jewish nor democratic but rather a nationalistic autocracy that will be a perversion of the Zionist dream.

The peace process which was launched successfully with the Oslo agreements in 1993 has been at a standstill for a long time. All the initiatives since then – the Road map, the negotiations at Annapolis, the negotiations led by Secretary of State Kerry have brought no results.
Notwithstanding the declaration of Prime Minister Netanyahu a few years ago at the Bar-Ilan University supporting a two-state solution, the policy of the two last Israeli Governments has been to avoid any serious contact with the Palestinian Authority, and to postpone indefinitely any possible solution to the conflict. In fact, the members of the current government are divided over this issue, and therefore the proposal of a two state solution has never been adopted as the Government’s policy.

Meretz, the representative party of the Israeli left, believes that the creation of a Palestinian State alongside the State of Israel is necessary and urgent and is a vital interest of Israel. We believe that the continued occupation of the Palestinian people and land is immoral and that the prolonged status quo is dangerous for Israel and for the entire region. Therefore we welcome the French initiative to convene an International Peace Conference. Any step that may bring the sides together, with the assistance of the international community should be encouraged and pursued.

Tomer Persico, The Duality of Israeli Existence [ssba]

Tomer Persico, The Duality of Israeli Existence

The following is a translation of a Facebook post, Dr. Tomer Persico published today. In the eight hours since it was published, it received over 1,700 likes. By the time you read it, it will have many more. Persico is a Research Fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, and teaches at the department for Comparative Religion in Tel-Aviv University. But more than that, he is an astute observer of Israeli reality.

Translator: Maya Haber

The story over the last few weeks is the collapse of the delicate duality the Israeli government has been trying to preserve for years. It is the duality of occupation at home and democracy for abroad, religious coercion at home and a booming high-tech industry abroad, the stabbing at a Jerusalem Pride parade and pinkwashing for abroad. This is a strategic duality. It allows Israel to play a part in the community of enlightened nations. It has enormous benefits like trade agreements, the ability to purchase advanced weaponry (and silent permission to possess nuclear weapons) and the right to participate in the coalition of the virtuous allies fighting against jihadist Islam. Read More »

Without Trial and No Evidence [ssba]

Without Trial and No Evidence

Israelis, human rights organizations, and the United Nations call to end the practice of administrative detention. This practice has recently taken on a face and a name of a Palestinian journalist, Mohammed al-Qiq from the village of Dura. Al-Qiq, who was arrested and held without charges, demanded a trial to end his detention. When his request was denied al-Qiq went on a hunger strike that today Thursday, February 17 is on its 84th day.

His hunger strike has revealed the cruelty of the process in which detainees are powerless to seek legal justice and exposed in full public view the horror of their use of hunger as a last resort. Al-Qiq has used the only means he has to fight his detention, knowing full well the consequences, the gruesome physical impairment to his hearing, his heart, his speech and the ensuing excruciating suffering. Photographs and sounds of pain and agony of the 33-year-old father of two, who is hospitalized in Afula, have now been on public display. Al-Qiq’s use of his starving body sends a most powerful message about the body politics of the occupation. Read More »

Michael Manekin, Sitting on the Fence: The problems with Herzog’s Disengagement Plan [ssba]

Michael Manekin, Sitting on the Fence: The problems with Herzog’s Disengagement Plan

Mikhael Manekin is the executive director of Molad, the Center for the Renewal of Israeli Democracy. Yesterday he posted the best response I have seen to Isaac Herzog’s Disengagement plan. In essence, he argues that plan looks more like a PR stunt than a real policy. Herzog avoids discussing real issues and does not offer solutions to most problems. But Manekin’s most significant contribution is his observation that Herzog simply fails to perceive himself as an alternative to Netanyahu. He cannot imagine a universe in which Netanyahu will not be Israel’s Prime Minister. This is an interesting psychological failure – one I had not expected of the leader of the opposition.

Translation by Maya Haber from The Hebrew original: Read More »

Imagining the Future: Is a Single State Possible? [ssba]

Imagining the Future: Is a Single State Possible?

“One hundred years ago, could you imagine Protestants and Catholics marrying each other, or Jews and Christians could marry each other? Seventy years ago could you imagine Germany and France leading Europe together – with an open border? No, but look at it now!”

Thus Avrum Burg entreated his audience to consider the possibility of a confederation-style state as the most likely possible outcome for the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, rather than the standard liberal position of two states for two peoples.

Burg stated that the two-state solution is dead in the water. A two state solution is no longer the answer to the conflict, if it ever was. Instead, he laid out a confederation model that would include elements of both the two-state and one-state solution. Read More »

Conversation with Israel and Palestine: Naomi Chazan on the future of the two-state solution [ssba]

Conversation with Israel and Palestine: Naomi Chazan on the future of the two-state solution

Today was our first of a three part series on the future of the state of Israel and the two-state solution.

Listen to our conversation with Prof. Chazan.

Naomi Chazan kicked off the conversation speaking frankly about the untenable and immoral nature of the occupation, and how it severely harms both Palestinians and the Israeli state.

Chazan argued that two peoples occupy the land in parity. The number of Palestinian nearly equals the number of Israeli Jews between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean sea. Chazan asserted that the best bet for co-existance would also support the national aspirations of both peoples – a two-state solution.

This problem isn’t a new one. It has existed since before the creation of the state in 1948. However, after 1967 it took on much greater urgency. Now that the Occupation nearing its 50 year mark, the current generation of Palestinians – the third generation to live under the Occupation – has no recollection of what it was like to live free of it – the urgency is that much greater.

Read More »

PPI Agrees: Resettle Syrian Refugees! [ssba]

PPI Agrees: Resettle Syrian Refugees!

syrian refugeesPartners for Progressive Israel strongly endorses the statement by its sister organization, Ameinu, of November 20, titled “Stop Demagoguery: Resettle Syrian Refugees.”  As a Jewish Organization in America we are mindful of and mourn those would be Jewish refugees of the 1930s and 1940s who lost their lives after being refused admission to the United States because of similar absurd fears of “terrorists” or traitors among them that are being stoked against Syrian refugees today.  We associate ourselves with Ameinu and other Jewish organizations who have courageously supported the admission to the United States of vetted Syrian refugees.

By the same token we reaffirm our earlier statement associating ourselves with Isaac Herzog and Zehava Galon who called upon the Netanyahu government to admit Syrian refugees to Israel.  We deplore the Israeli government’s refusal to grant refuge to the African refugees already in Israel, or to recognize its responsibility as a bordering nation to offer succor to fleeing Syrians as Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey have done.  We note that Israel, which harbors a large population of Druze who have since its inception been loyal to the State, should respond to the pleas of its own Druze people and save their coreligionists who are directly menaced by the Islamic State. PPI’s previous statement on refugees is attached.

Netanyahu Partitions Israel [ssba]

Netanyahu Partitions Israel

Yesterday, November 29, the world marked two events: the 68th anniversary of the UN Partition of Palestine decision and the International day of Solidarity with the people of Palestine. At a moment suspended between symbolism and irony, PM Netanyahu retaliated yesterday for the EU decision to mark products made in the Occupied Territories by announcing the suspension of EU role in peace process with Palestinians.

A senior official at the Foreign Ministry argued that the EU decision is “a discriminatory step that smells of a boycott” and added that “it is inconceivable that Israel will hold dialogue with EU institutions on how to advance a peace process while the EU simultaneously initiates measures against Israel.” Israel, the official said, “will examine each case individually with the guiding principle of making sure Israel’s interest vis-à-vis Europe and EU nations are not harmed.”

In wake of the Paris attacks, while the world raises its eyes to the Paris Climate talks, acknowledging that discussion and collaboration are the only ways forward, Israel does not. Instead, PM Netanyahu throws his toys at the EU and refuses to play.

Read More »

Boycott of Settlements’ Produce is a Move towards Peace [ssba]

Boycott of Settlements’ Produce is a Move towards Peace

Haaretz reports that Israel informed the European Union on Wednesday that it had cancelled a number of consultations with EU officials scheduled over the coming weeks.This was Israel’s response to the EU decision to mark produce manufactured in the settlements.

This decision created a divergence of responses. As MK Tamar Zandberg wrote that a “loud catharsis among right wing MKs” who fall back on the label of anti-Semitism as de-legitimizing any critique of Israeli policy. Zandberg writes that “the settlements are not part of Israel and are illegal according to international law…..they are the main obstacle on the way to peace”.

Read More »