Who’s The Real Chickenshit?

President Obama Meets With Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu At The White House

The White House, answers Stephen Walt, for lobbing childish insults at Netanyahu via anonymous officials rather than acknowledging the real problems with our relationship with Israel. Indeed, in his view, chickenshit-gate itself demonstrates just how messed up that relationship is:

Netanyahu’s decision not to attack Iran wasn’t a show of cowardice (or being a “chickenshit”); it was a sensible strategic choice. The war talk from Israel was intended to distract attention from the settlements issue, keep Iran in the crosshairs as Public Enemy No. 1, and convince the United States to impose stiffer sanctions in the hopes of securing a better deal from Tehran over its nuclear program. But an actual attack was never a serious possibility. Bibi’s bluster might have fooled journalists like Goldberg — who has raised bogus alarms about an imminent Israeli attack on more than one occasion — but sensible observers should not have been taken in by all this folderol.

In the end, this minor incident mostly confirms the unhealthy effects of the “special relationship” itself. The sad truth is that top U.S. officials still can’t say openly what they really think about Israel’s behavior, or what they really think about the relationship itself. The mildest criticism invites automatic abuse from the lobby, and of course, anyone aspiring to a top foreign-policy position still has to mouth embarrassing platitudes and repudiate any previous criticisms in order to get appointed and confirmed. Just ask Samantha Power and Chuck Hagel how this process works. Ironically, it is U.S. leaders who mostly lack courage on these issues, not Netanyahu.

Walt is right so far as he goes – but what administration would want to directly confront the Greater Israel lobby, when it could manage to make some progress by other means?

And look at the long game with Israel – which, beyond the daily headlines, really has been fruitful. Not so long ago, we were warned (by Jeffrey Goldberg among others) that Israel was determined to attack Iran’s nuclear program unless the US intervened and did so itself. This was an existential issue, we were told. The task of the United States was, as ever, to fall in line behind the policy of the state of Israel. The Obama team handled this bluff – and what kind of government bluffs about what it calls an existential threat? – with varying levels of equanimity and exasperation. But they also constructed truly potent sanctions against Iran to prod Tehran to come to a deal.

The sanctions worked. Netanyahu railed against the policy, holding up his famous cartoon bomb at the UN, which measured the Iranian progress. But as the Iranians agreed to talk, and temporarily suspended parts of its program, the threat receded.

We’re now in the critical stages of a negotiation that could provide a breakthrough, relieve the sanctions and enable a reliable inspections process to ensure that the West gets a year’s notice if the Iranians decide to renege on their commitment against a nuclear bomb. If an agreement is reached, Netanyahu will be on the opposite side of all the major international powers, and Israel isolated as never before – but also more secure than before.

This maneuvering – around rather than against the Israel lobby – puts the US in a much stronger position vis-a-vis the two state solution. With the Iran threat neutralized, Netanyahu’s constant provocations on the West Bank will appear more egregious than ever. And as Matt Duss argues,

the U.S. might then be less energetic about providing diplomatic cover for Israel in various international venues, especially as the Palestinians consider a new strategy to put pressure on Israel in organizations like the United Nations, possibly through another resolution condemning settlement activities, and the International Criminal Court.

Netanyahu will then look for salvation from the Clintons (but he royally pissed them off a long time ago) and, of course, from the GOP’s neocons. But his preferred policy – a US-led attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities – is hardly likely to play well in American public opinion, fearful (and rightly so) of yet another lurch into the unknown in the Middle East, with incalculable and unknowable consequences for the entire region and the world.

Well, and I guess I haven’t been saying this very often lately: meep meep.

(Photo: U.S. President Barack Obama, left, looks on as Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, speaks in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, March 3, 2014. By Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty images.)

What The Hell Is Happening In Jerusalem (This Time)?

Clashes In East Jerusalem After Israeli Activist Shooting

For the first time in 14 years, Israeli authorities yesterday closed off the Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary in the Old City of Jerusalem and prevented men under 50 from praying there this morning, out of fear of escalating tensions in the city amid whispers of a third intifada:

Palestinian leaders had called for a “day of rage” because of the closing on Thursday and the killing by Israeli forces of a Palestinian man suspected in the assassination attempt Wednesday night against Yehuda Glick. Mr. Glick is a right-wing activist who promoted increased Jewish access and prayer at the site, known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary. By midafternoon, Israel Radio reported that there were “riots” at several locations in the occupied West Bank, including Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem and the often-tense city of Hebron.

The situation remained mostly calm today but tensions remain high, and the situation could get worse before it gets better. Daniel Gordis describes the Israeli public’s reaction to the attempt on Glick’s life and the killing of the alleged shooter:

“How had he been found so quickly?” people wondered.

Then came the disturbing news that the gunman had worked in the restaurant located in the Begin Center. To complicate matters, it was soon reported he had ties to the Islamic Jihad, had attacked jailers while in an Israeli prison, had made a video in which he boasted of wanting to be a thorn in the throat of Zionists — and despite all that, was not under surveillance and was allowed to work in a place frequented by public figures. It was, popular mood quickly decided, a shocking security blunder. Blunder or not, the attack on an unarmed rabbi (who, though right wing, had advocated that Jews and Muslims pray together on the Temple Mount, a hugely significant site for both religions) in a supposedly safe place crossed an unspoken red line.

Anshel Pfeffer fears that Glick’s once-extreme views on the Temple Mount have gone mainstream, with predictably disastrous consequences:

Make no mistake, the campaign to reestablish a more permanent Jewish presence on Mount Moriah is dangerous. Their Judaism is one that exalts sacred stones and hallowed soil above human life, and threatens to take the Zionist endeavour down a dark alley where it was never intended to go. Many of those involved are blatantly trying to provoke exactly the kind of violent Muslim reaction that will lead to a downward spiral of bloodshed, that they believe will once and for all end any possibility of a territorial compromise between Israelis and Palestinians. That was the express intention of Yehuda Etzion and his Jewish underground, who tried in the early 1980s to blow up the mosques in the hope it would derail the Camp David Accords.

Elhanan Miller calls the low-level unrest that the city has seen over the past four months the “Jerusalem intifada”:

Sparked by the July 2 kidnapping and murder of Palestinian teenager Muhammad Abu Khdeir, apparently by Jewish extremists, the disturbances consist mainly of throwing stones and Molotov cocktails — haphazard activities reminiscent of the largely spontaneous First Intifada launched in late 1987 across the Israeli-controlled West Bank and Gaza. But the “Jerusalem Intifada” has its own unique characteristics, experts say. Namely, it has scarcely spread beyond the confines of the capital, and lacks the grassroots leadership that characterized the two previous Palestinian uprisings.

Talking to some experts on the conflict, Zack Beauchamp weighs the chances that the tensions will spiral out of control:

The situation is very bad. Even a slight provocation by either side could set off a wider conflict. But is this already a Third Intifada — another Palestinian mass uprising against Israel, like the First Intifada beginning in the late 1980s, and the far deadlier Second Intifada of the early 2000s? It’s tough to say. “Simmering tension/violence is not the same thing” as an intifada, [Brent] Sasley argues, “though it could well develop into [one].” Rather, he says, “what’s going on now feels more like a demonstration of frustration, rather than an uprising.”

Moreover, the pressure is largely concentrated in Jerusalem, and hasn’t yet spread to Gaza or the West Bank. “One of the reasons it’s getting out of hand is precisely because there’s no Palestinian Authority there to keep a lid on it,” [Matt] Duss writes. In his view, it’s easier for Palestinian security forces to contain popular outrage than for their Israeli counterparts to do the same. The PA stands “between the people and the occupation” in the West Bank, but not in Jerusalem.

But Keating doubts another genuine intifada is afoot, for a number of reasons:

The Palestinian leadership isn’t as united and the populace is less well armed than in 2000. Other Arab governments, distracted by a myriad of other crises, aren’t as focused on the Palestinian issue as they used to be. (Though the al-Aqsa closure is likely to irritate the government of Jordan, the official custodian of Jerusalem’s Muslim holy sites, which has been coming under increasing pressure over its relations with Israel.) There has also not been much enthusiasm among Palestinian leaders for another intifada given that the violence of the previous two didn’t do much to advance the cause.

Another big difference is that Abbas is president today, not Yasser Arafat. The Palestinian foreign minister has gone on record saying, “as long as [Abbas] is in charge, there will be no third Intifada.”

The unrest also comes at a moment when Israel is increasingly isolated on the world stage, facing a chill in its relationship with the US (e.g. chickenshitgate). Sweden’s decision to recognize a Palestinian state on Thursday has not gone over well in Jerusalem either. “Yet none of this,” Gregg Carlstrom laments, “has prompted new thinking”:

Netanyahu has nothing to offer the residents of Jerusalem beyond throwing an additional 1,000 police at the problem; Abbas is encouraging unrest that he has no means to control; and Hamas, keen to discuss anything other than the disastrous conditions in Gaza, held a rally in the strip earlier this month urging Jerusalemites to follow its “successful example” and revolt. All three parties are still acting as if the status quo of the past seven years remains intact. “It’s a deadlock everywhere,” said Mukhaimer Abu Saada, a Gaza-based political analyst. “Nobody is serious, not Hamas, not Fatah, not the Israelis. And it is making people more and more pessimistic … it’s an unsustainable situation.”

A “Crisis” In US-Israel Relations?

There was a little kerfuffle yesterday as Goldblog reported on an Obama bigwig calling Bibi a “chickenshit.” My favorite bit of the column was this nugget:

“The Israelis do not show sufficient appreciation for America’s role in backing Israel, economically, militarily and politically,” Abraham Foxman, the head of the Anti-Defamation League, told me. (UPDATE: Foxman just e-mailed me this statement: “The quote is accurate, but the context is wrong. I was referring to what troubles this administration about Israel, not what troubles leaders in the American Jewish community.”)

Heh. But the more troubling aspect of the column is this idea that any obvious clash of views or interests between the US and Israel is some kind of “crisis”. It certainly isn’t a crisis for Obama or the US. Paul Pillar makes a good point (seconded by Larison):

Sweep aside the politically-driven fiction about two countries that supposedly have everything in common and nothing in conflict and instead deal with reality, and the concept of crisis does not arise at all.

Nor does it really matter if Netanyahu “writes off” Obama in his last two years.

Obama can get the critical nuclear deal with Iran without the Israelis and without the Congress, for that matter, and the deal will (and already has) made an Iranian nuclear bomb much less of a threat than it once may have been. With the Iranian threat neutralized, Netanyahu will have to find another excuse to justify his creeping annexation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank. But with the Iran issue bracketed, the Obama administration can adjust its UN veto in defense of Israel, expose it to greater international isolation over the occupation, and publish the official American view of what the borders of the future Palestinian state will be.

It was always Obama’s strategy to offer Israel and Netanyahu every chance to abandon its neo-colonial enterprise, to do everything possible to reassure Israel about its security (the Iron Dome/the security guarantees and arrangements proposed by Kerry), but, in the end, to pursue America’s core interests in the region, if Israel and its powerful lobby refuse to budge an inch.

I suspect the Israelis have under-estimated Obama’s steel in this regard; and they may be particularly foolish to write him off in his last two years, when a president often has more leeway in conducting foreign policy, when Obama’s long game is designed to reach a conclusion, and when the president has nothing left electorally to lose. If the end result is a tamed Iranian nuclear program and progress toward a real two-state solution, it will have been well worth waiting for, won’t it?

Know hope.

How Do You Say “Chickenshit” In Hebrew?

After a “senior Obama administration official” calls the Israeli prime minister a “chickenshit”, Goldblog wonders whether the strained relationship between the Obama and Netanyahu administrations is finally reaching a breaking point:

What does all this unhappiness mean for the near future? For one thing, it means that Netanyahu—who has preemptively “written off” the Obama administration—will almost certainly have a harder time than usual making his case against a potentially weak Iran nuclear deal, once he realizes that writing off the administration was an unwise thing to do. This also means that the post-November White House will be much less interested in defending Israel from hostile resolutions at the United Nations, where Israel is regularly scapegoated. The Obama administration may be looking to make Israel pay direct costs for its settlement policies. …

Netanyahu, and the even more hawkish ministers around him, seem to have decided that their short-term political futures rest on a platform that can be boiled down to this formula: “The whole world is against us. Only we can protect Israel from what’s coming.” For an Israeli public traumatized by Hamas violence and anti-Semitism, and by fear that the chaos and brutality of the Arab world will one day sweep over them, this formula has its charms. But for Israel’s future as an ally of the United States, this formula is a disaster.

The “chickenshit” comment referred in part to the Obama administration’s realization that, for all his bluster, Bibi will never follow through on his repeated threats to start a war with Iran over its alleged nuclear weapons program. Larison considers that a reasonable assessment, reiterating that a US- or Israel-led war with Iran would likely be a disaster:

Two years ago, Daniel Levy made the case that Netanyahu was too risk-averse as a politician to do anything as hazardous and potentially disastrous as starting a war with Iran. That seemed very plausible at the time, and I still find it persuasive. It has never made much sense that the Israeli government would launch an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Even if Netanyahu were inclined to do this, which he reportedly isn’t, starting a preventive war against Iran wouldn’t prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. On the contrary, a foreign attack would probably make the acquisition of such weapons a priority for the Iranian government.

Walter Russell Mead mulls what it means if the administration’s “chickenshit” assessment of Netanyahu is correct:

If this is in fact the conclusion U.S. senior officials have reached, their Middle East policy becomes clearer: The Israelis and the Sunnis are whiners who complain about U.S. policy toward Iran but are unable to do anything about it or come up with an alternative. If the threat of Israeli military action is really off the table (and we should remember that this wouldn’t be the first time a U.S. administration misjudged Israeli intentions), then it’s very unlikely that a strong international coalition in favor of tough sanctions against Iran can long survive. Many of the European countries that have supported sanctions on Iran have been trying to deter Israeli military action as much as to influence Iran’s behavior. If Israel has missed its chance for military action, or is perceived to lack the will to take it, then as that perception spreads we will have to expect significant changes in the politics of the region and in the attitudes of the Europeans.

Allahpundit, on the other hand, finds the insult outrageous:

Let me understand this. Netanyahu considered attacking Iran, we pressured him not to do it, and now we’re mocking him as a “chickensh*t” for taking our advice?

John Allen Gay is mystified at what purpose this sniping serves. He believes it could damage the chances of a nuclear deal with Iran:

The Iran negotiations come to a head on November 24. If there’s a deal, the administration will come under immense pressure at home, particularly from Israel’s strongest defenders in Congress. A better relationship with Israel would mitigate that pressure. And if there’s not a deal, the administration may wish to extend the interim deal with Iran—another political friction point in which pro-Israel factions will be at odds with the administration. Yet the White House has opened fire early, and rather than attacking Netanyahu’s Iran approach, it’s engaging in playground name-calling. It’s hard to see what good this will do, and the damage could be serious. There has been a growing feeling in Washington that Israel would not have been willing to push Congress to confront the president on Iran, that it would prefer to live with a tolerable deal than to have an open battle with its closest ally. If Congress is already attacking Obama on Israel and if Israel and America are already fighting each other, these incentives change.

Larison is less concerned about that:

That’s possible, but the administration may assume that it is going to bypass Congress on the nuclear deal anyway so that this doesn’t matter as much. More to the point, Netanyahu already made his opposition to the interim deal very clear, so it’s doubtful that Israeli opposition to a final deal would be kept in check by keeping these criticisms under wraps. The administration may also assume that the Iran hawks in Congress intent on sabotaging the deal will be committed to doing so no matter what the state of the U.S.-Israel relationship is, so there is nothing to be lost by broadcasting that the relationship is in very bad shape. That’s the trouble with being implacable foes of diplomacy–no one has any incentive to treat you as anything more than an obstacle to be overcome. That appears to be how the administration sees Netanyahu as well, and they are treating him and the rest of his government accordingly.

Ilan Ben Zion rounds up the reaction in the Israeli press, which had some difficulty translating the key term:

Israel Hayom writes that the vulgarity expressed by American officials in the Atlantic article brings relations between the two countries to an all-time low. It explains to its readers that chickenshit is “a derogatory slang term whose meaning is ‘coward.’” Haaretz simply translates the insult that put the two allies’ relations on tenterhooks as “pathetic coward.” Yedioth Ahronoth uses the same translation, and also includes the litany of terms American officials used to berate Netanyahu that Goldberg listed.

Update from a reader:

I find it surprising that all of the pundits (and the Hebrew translators) are assuming chickenshit = coward and seem totally unaware of the meaning that the word has long had in the US military. While it is possible that the unnamed “senior Obama administration official” did indeed intend to call Netanyahu a coward, I think it’s just as likely, if not more so, that he meant this:

“Chickenshit refers to behavior that makes military life worse than it need be: petty harassment of the weak by the strong; open scrimmage for power and authority and prestige; sadism thinly disguised as necessary discipline; a constant ‘paying off of old scores’; and insistence on the letter rather than the spirit of ordinances.”

― Paul Fussell, Wartime: Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War

“The Death Of Klinghoffer” Lived

John Adams and Alice Goodman’s 1991 opera explores the murder of Leon Klinghoffer, a wheelchair-bound American Jew who was killed during the 1985 hijacking of the cruise ship Achille Lauro by members of the Palestine Liberation Front. The Metropolitan Opera’ new staging of the play opened on Monday night, but long before the curtain was drawn, the drama had already begun, as the Anti-Defamation League and other Jewish organizations (and some guy named Rudy Giuliani) protested the Met’s decision to stage a show that they claim has anti-Semitic overtones and tries to justify an act of terrorism:

Angry protesters gathered across from the Met on the opening night of the opera season last month; a pair of public talks with members of the “Klinghoffer” creative team were quietly called off; and Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager, said that he had received threats related to the production. He recently sent an email to the opera’s cast expressing regret that they had been subject to “Internet harassment” and defending the work from its critics, according to a copy obtained by The New York Times. Many Jewish leaders, including liberals and conservatives, are finding themselves drawn into the debate. The Met’s attempts to calm things by canceling a planned transmission of the opera to movie theaters around the world this fall accomplished little — and may have fueled more criticism. Now “Klinghoffer” threatens to become the Met’s most controversial company premiere since 1907, when Strauss’s “Salome” was deemed outrageous and banned for decades.

Alex Ross, vitally, reveals the hateful illiberalism of the opera’s prime critic:

The most aggressive rhetoric came from Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, a money manager who has also worked as a political operative. A few years ago, Wiesenfeld won notoriety for seeking, unsuccessfully, to deny the playwright Tony Kushner an honorary degree, on account of Kushner’s criticisms of Israel. Wiesenfeld led the “Klinghoffer” rally, and he had much to say. “This is not art,” he thundered. “This is crap. This is detritus. This is garbage.” He declared, as he did at an anti-“Klinghoffer” event last month, that the set should be burned. He made a cryptic joke to the effect that, if something were to happen to Gelb that night, the board of the Met would be the first suspects.

Burning the set?

Paul Berman, in his review of the opera, gets why it’s so controversial but doesn’t quite agree with the protesters:

I can see why, in gazing on what they have wrought, Adams and his librettist must feel that, all in all, they have been badly misunderstood by their detractors, and that, in fact, they have presented a subtle and nuanced picture, not romantic, not apologetic, but intent on showing why, at times, decent people do sometimes sink into degraded hatreds and gratuitous violence.

And yet, in regard to seeking out everyone’s humanity, The Death of Klinghoffer seems to me to run aground on a philosophical shoal. Everything in the opera hangs on the validity of the “root cause” explanation—on the assumption that Palestinian terrorism and violence result from the dispossession of 1948, which means that reasonable or “human” traits attach to even the ugliest aspects. But something in that assumption ought to be questioned. Many millions of people and entire ethnic and religious groups were displaced and exiled in the course of the turmoil that accompanied the end of World War II, and not all of those millions responded by forming terrorist movements, and this reality may suggest that something else, apart from suffering and dispossession, is required for terrorist crazies to emerge.

But Frank Rich rolls his eyes at the scandal, noting that the opera’s loudest critics haven’t even seen it:

Klinghoffer has zero anti-Semitism. It does have what Justin Davidson of New York has accurately described as a “clumsy libretto” — dramaturgically diffuse, often lyrically banal — though it is far more lucid in this gripping, beautifully sung Tom Morris production than it was in Peter Sellars’s original at BAM. Not for a second does the opera present the terrorists as anything other than cold-blooded killers — in Adams’s score and the staging as well as in words — and not for a second does your heart fail to go out to their victims, led by Leon Klinghoffer. The performance ends with a wrenching solo by the widowed Marilyn Klinghoffer — “They should have killed me / I wanted to die” — and, as Alex Ross of The New Yorker tweeted Monday night, “In the end, the protest failed completely. Marilyn Klinghoffer had the final word, and John Adams received a huge ovation.”

Moustafa Bayoumi argues that the opera is problematic, but not for the reasons the ADL asserts:

Palestinian history in Klinghoffer is staged as Muslim only – and only as fundamentalist Muslim, which is wrong and dangerous. The group that carried out the Achille Lauro operation, the Palestinian Liberation Front, was a Marxist-Leninist faction, an offshoot (twice removed) of the Marxist-Leninist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which was led by the Christian Palestinian George Habash. But if you watched Klinghoffer, you’d have no idea Marxist Palestinians even existed, or that Christian Palestinians were at the forefront of much of the Palestinian national movement. … Klinghoffer wants to collapse the complexities of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians into a timeless religious battle between Muslims and Jews.

Adam Shatz is on the same page:

[Y]ou could make the case that if The Death of Klinghoffer caricatures anyone, it’s Palestinians, not Jews. The ‘Chorus of Exiled Palestinians’ that opens the opera features a group in Afghan-style clothes, evoking the vanished paradise of pre-1948 Palestine and the Nakba that robbed them of their land and future. Dressed in black and virtually indistinguishable, they’re designated mourners of Palestine, an undifferentiated mass united in suffering and thirsty for revenge. The women are all covered in full abayas, which is unusual among Palestinian women today, and was even more unusual in 1985.

The Tories And Israel

Here’s a straw in the wind. The Daily Telegraph is in many ways the bastion of British (or rather English conservatism). I worked for it as an intern in the summers of 1984 and 1985, while I was also moonlighting in Margaret Thatcher’s personal policy shop. (My contribution was a paper arguing for an aggressively pro-environmental stance for conservatism, which died a very quick and sudden death.) Back in those days, it was still literally on Fleet Street in a great mausoleum of a building that was the model for the paper in Evelyn Waugh’s classic novel, Scoop. It was then edited by the man Waugh lampooned as “William Boot” in the novel, William Deeds, an astonishingly sane, charming and decent man, and seconded by the man who shepherded me into the higher arts of hackery – even if I simply never mastered the functional alcoholism which was the Fleet Street rule in those days.

Which is a long way of explaining why the paper that championed Thatcher, that has a soft spot for UKIP, and that is by and large to the right of David Cameron, just ran a piece that no right-of-center outlet in the US – save The American Conservative (peace be upon them) – would ever dream of running. It’s about Israel, and it follows the British parliament’s overwhelming but non-binding vote to recognize a Palestinian state as a way to put some pressure on Israel to stop its continued assault on the land and homes and dignity of the Palestinians it controls. Money quote:

If you need proof of just how friendless Israel’s hard-Right government has become, consider the statements last night from MPs who would normally count themselves the country’s natural allies.

Arch-Tories such as Nicholas Soames (whose grandfather Winston Churchill is Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s political hero) spoke eloquently in favour of Palestinian statehood … Not a single MP on either set of benches dared to express support for Israeli policies such as this summer’s devastating assault on Gaza or the ever-expanding settlement project (which experts warn may be about to destroy any chance of dividing Jerusalem between the two sides as part of a future peace deal). And Israel was criticised in terms that until recent years were considered taboo: Labour MP Andy Slaughter’s comparison of the West Bank occupation to South African apartheid drew only murmurs of assent around the chamber. Even most of those who expressed misgivings about the motion preferred to follow the Tory leadership and abstain rather than openly oppose it.

Alan Duncan, former Tory minister, and shadow leader of the Commons, yesterday let it rip as well:

Since 1967 Israel has continuously and systematically built outside its legitimate borders and has claimed its neighbours’ land as its own. Israeli settlements are the worst, most destructive, aspect of the military occupation, an occupation which has become the longest in modern international relations. The continued expansion of settlements demonstrates that the occupier has little or no intention of ending that occupation or of permitting a viable Palestinian state to come into existence …

This illegal construction and habitation is theft, it is annexation, it is a land grab – it is any expression that accurately describes the encroachment which takes from someone else something that is not rightfully owned by the taker. As such, it should be called what it is, and not by some euphemistic soft alternative. Settlements are illegal colonies built in someone else’s country. They are an act of theft, and what is more something which is both initiated and supported by the state of Israel…

Occupation, annexation, illegality, negligence, complicity: this is a wicked cocktail which brings shame to the government of Israel. It would appear that on the West Bank the rule of international law has been shelved. One should not use the word ‘apartheid’ lightly, but as a description of Hebron it is both accurate and undeniable.

Netanyahu knows the American Congress will continue to enable this “wicked cocktail,” as long as fundamentalist end-times Christians and the American Jewish Establishment have anything to do with it.  But soon, the American Congress will be all Israel’s got in the Western world. And the US will become as isolated as well.

This Time He’s Serious?


On the heels of a UN speech that pissed off Israel to no end by accusing the country of committing “genocide,” Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is circulating a draft Security Council resolution that would compel Israel to withdraw from all occupied Palestinian lands by November 2016. The resolution is almost guaranteed to fail by way of a US veto, but Colum Lynch examines the strategic thinking behind the move:

The Palestinian strategy is driven by two basic assumptions, according to senior diplomats. The Palestinians believe they can never achieve agreement on the creation of a Palestinian state as long as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in power. At the same time, they doubt that President Barack Obama is prepared to invest the sufficient personal political capital needed to even revive meaningful peace talks. “They don’t believe they can make a deal with the Israelis as long as Netanyahu is president,” said one senior Western diplomat who maintains close contacts with the Palestinians. “They want to tell the international community that they have done everything on the diplomatic front.”

Juan Cole outlines the stakes for Israel:

If the US does veto the resolution, then Washington is clearly saying that it is all right with American elites if Israel goes on stealing Palestinian land on a vast scale and expropriating and oppressing the stateless Palestinians under its boot. In that case, Palestinian circles are suggesting that Mahmoud Abbas will have no choice but finally to go to the International Criminal Court to charge Israel with crimes against humanity (i.e. systematic war crimes). This step is serious, since the US cannot block the ICC and any judgment it delivered against Israel would be taken seriously in the European Union and many other countries.

But Shlomi Eldar considers this a mistake by Abbas, who he says is alienating badly needed allies among moderate Israelis:

The man who chose a different path than the twisted road of predecessor Yasser Arafat, and a totally different route than the rival Hamas movement, did not succeed in convincing the Israelis of the veracity of his intentions. Thus, as far as he is concerned, Abbas is embarking on a new path, his last path — a diplomatic battle to persuade members of the UN Security Council to support the establishment of a Palestinian state and its acceptance into the various UN organs. Thus, he will also attempt to placate Palestinian public opinion, which demands indicting senior Israelis responsible for the “genocide,” (according to Abbas and his advisors).

But this new path of Abbas also does not guarantee success. In fact, Abbas has almost no chance of making it to the finish line after fulfilling his promises to his nation. The UN will not determine the borders of a Palestinian state and cannot force Israel to accept conditions for withdrawal and evacuation of settlements, certainly not to partition Jerusalem. The UN will not be able to grant Abbas a Palestinian state on a silver platter.

But Ben White doesn’t see much anything new in Abbas’ threats:

Much of the Palestinian leadership’s strategy for the past two decades has been based on the assumption that “good behaviour” will convince the US, as well as European nations, to back Palestinian independence and call time on Israeli occupation. This has proven to be a dismal failure, and it remains to be seen whether another plan based on the idea of “embarrassing” the White House into declining to use its veto will be successful.

Mr Abbas’s headline-generating accusation of genocide thus actually spoke more about his weakness than his strength. Despite the grandstanding, Mr Abbas’s decisions to date indicate that he still views the ICC and other tools available to the Palestinians as cards to be played or held back for the sake of a bankrupt peace process, rather than as elements of a more comprehensive strategy for liberation and decolonization.

Ali Jarbawi proposes that Abbas also threaten to dissolve the PA, as a way of making Israel and the world take the situation seriously:

The international community must be convinced to move beyond managing the conflict to solving it. This will not happen until Israel and America fear that the situation within Palestine and Israel will deteriorate. And this will only happen if Mr. Abbas declares that he will dissolve the Palestinian Authority unless there is a set time frame to end the occupation.

As it stands, the Authority performs a role that comforts Israel. Israel gets the Authority to keep it safe through “security cooperation,” while Israelis are absolved of responsibility for their occupation while avoiding its costs. Indeed, until Mr. Abbas takes a tangible step toward dissolving the Authority, the international community, especially Israel and America, will not take him seriously, and his demands will remain nothing but complaints.

In any case, Haviv Rettig Gur notes, Netanyahu is ready with a counteroffensive:

For Israel, the Palestinians now present two choices, and hope to box Israel in with these choices: Hamas’s permanent war or Abbas’s maximalist (in Israel’s view) demands backed by the threat of international isolation. In response to this Palestinian “plan of attack,” Netanyahu has begun a subtle strategy of his own — one which addresses the other side’s internationalization with his own version of the same.

“I think that there are opportunities. And the opportunities, as you just expressed, is something that is changing in the Middle East, because out of the new situation, there emerges a commonality of interests between Israel and leading Arab states,” he told President Obama in the White House on Wednesday. … If the Palestinians won’t parley, Israel would take the Palestinian issue to the larger Middle East — where Netanyahu believes, particularly after the Egyptian experience in Gaza, that there is little more than rhetorical sympathy for their cause.

(Photo: Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas sits after addressing the 69th Session of the UN General Assembly on September 26, 2014 in New York. By Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images)

ISIS And Israel

Yishai Schwartz argues that the Islamic State has killed off chances for an Israeli-Palestinian peace:

Israel sees a region in flames and a proliferation of terrorist groups. As governments fall and brutal militants seize territory all around them, the guarantee of a paper treaty seems scant protection. Who knows what government will even be there tomorrow? What good is a treaty when terrorists with rocket launchers control territory mere miles from your cities?

In his speech at the United Nations just a few days ago, this was Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s central theme:

“States are disintegrating. Militant Islamists are filling the void. Israel cannot have territories from which it withdraws taken over by Islamic militants yet again, as happened in Gaza and Lebanon. That would place the likes of ISIS within mortar range – a few miles – or 80 percent of our population.”

These are not the words of a man prepared for imminent and far-reaching territorial concessions. Netanyahu has long had something of a pre-Egyptian treaty strategic mindset. Now, with al-Nusra and Hezbollah sitting on Israel’s northern border, Hamas in Gaza and most frighteningly, an unstable Jordan threatened by ISIS to the East, who really can blame him?

But Nathan J. Brown disputes the Israeli PM’s facile views on ISIS, particularly his “Hamas=ISIS” propaganda:

The rise of ISIS and its rivalry with other groups does pose a challenge but in a less direct way than Netanyahu suggests. In a visit earlier this month to Jordan, I found Da’ash (as ISIS is known according to its Arabic acronym) on everybody’s lips regardless of an individual’s political affiliation. Those of an Islamist bent regarded the upstart as a challenge and a rival, not an ally. …

But that places the leadership of some of the groups Netanyahu identifies in a very awkward position. On the one hand, they reject Da’ash’s ideas, methods, textual interpretations and agenda. On the other hand, they note that Da’ash defiance strikes some chords among the youth and that its actions grab agenda-setting attention. Their response is therefore somewhat guarded — to criticize Da’ash’s deeds and doctrines but in tones that fall far short of the horrified revulsion expressed elsewhere. The result sounds cagey and calculated — because it is.

Is The Anti-ISIS Coalition Coalescing? Ctd


Ali Murat Yel defends Turkey’s reluctance to join the war coalition against ISIS:

Public opinion in Turkey holds that a Muslim cannot be a terrorist and any terrorist cannot be a Muslim. In other words, terrorism and Islam cannot be reconciled. This public conviction is certainly the real attitude of the President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who has formed the Alliance of Civilizations with Spain against the expectation in some quarters of a “clash of civilizations” and has been trying to restore peace with different ethnic groups in Turkey. The President himself and the majority of Turkish people believe that terrorism could be defeated intellectually not through waging war on them.

Turkish foreign policy has been formed on the principle of “zero problems with neighbors” because we believe that stability in the region would only bring more peace and wealth. … Instead of an external military operation the local politicians and people should come together and find their own solution according to their own realities and circumstances. Outsiders cannot understand all the local realities like the ethnic origins, sectarian divisions, or the political or ideological power structures of these peoples. Turkey, finally, does not want to be in the position of going to war in another, neighboring Muslim country.

Sanity! But we, thousands of miles away, know better. Amos Harel takes a look at the background role Israel is playing:

Despite the growing concern, it should not come as a surprise that the Netanyahu government has not yet taken any immediate steps against IS. The government has only announced that the organization would be considered illegal in Israel and the Palestinian territories, and decided to focus intelligence-gathering on the group’s activities in Syria and Lebanon. But while IS might not present an imminent threat at home, Netanyahu has been extremely eager to aid the Arab world in the battle against the group. Last week, the prime minister confirmed media reports that Israel was supplying intelligence to the new anti-IS international coalition. Jerusalem no doubt has useful information to contribute: For decades, it focused on acquiring first-rate intelligence about events in Syria, which it considered its toughest enemy.

Michael Crowley turns to Saudi Arabia, the linchpin of the coalition, and what King Abdullah al-Saud brings to the table:

While Saudi money has long helped nurture a fundamentalist Sunni doctrine that inspires groups from al Qaeda to Boko Haram, Islamic radicalism has come to threaten the king as well. … ISIS seems to have raised the king’s anxiety another notch, however. He has banned Saudis from traveling to join the fight in Syria, lest they return to threaten his regime. Last month Saudi authorities arrested dozens of suspects linked to ISIS — including members of an alleged cell plotting attacks within the country. But Abdullah wields a potent weapon in his defense: his influence over Saudi Arabia’s religious leaders. The king has a symbiotic relationship with his kingdom’s hardline clerics, whose words hold sway far across the Muslim world.

But Simon Henderson suspects that the Saudis will prefer to play both sides:

Despite the diplomacy of recent days, which suggests an emerging coalition that includes Saudi Arabia and will take on the fighters of the Islamic State in Iraq and perhaps Syria, the House of Saud will likely continue to try to balance the threat of the head-chopping jihadists, while also trying to deliver a strategic setback to Iran by overthrowing the regime in Damascus. From a Saudi point of view, the move of IS forces into Iraq contributed to the removal of Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad, whom they regarded as a stooge of Tehran. Despite official support by Riyadh for the new Baghdad government, many Saudis who despise Shiites probably regard IS as doing God’s work.

Which is why this really is whack-a-mole. The administration, meanwhile, is engaging in linguistic contortions to explain how we’re not “coordinating” with Iran or Syria even if we’re talking to them and perhaps sharing intelligence:

“Coordinating means we talk directly to [the] Syrian Air Force and coordinate our attacks against ISIS with their operations against ISIS,” Christopher Harmer, an analyst with the Institute for the Study of War, told Foreign Policy, using one of the Islamic State’s acronyms. “That’s not happening, won’t happen.” But “deconflicting,” Harmer explained, means that the United States will monitor where the Syrian aircraft are flying and stay out of their way, thus avoiding any potential skirmishes. “That way we don’t accidentally intrude on their operations, or they on ours,” he said.

Harmer said the United States and Iran followed this protocol during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. “The U.S. did not coordinate with Iran, but Iran definitely deconflicted their normal military operations to avoid any unwanted interaction with the U.S., particularly in the Persian Gulf,” he said. In that case, Harmer said, the Iranian Navy held back patrol boats that had often harassed U.S. Navy ships in the Strait of Hormuz. “They backed way down off of their normal operations in order to deconflict with the U.S. operations,” Harmer said.

But Jacob Siegel rightly worries that Iran could become our shadow enemy in Syria:

As Iran showed in the last war in Iraq, when it armed and backed insurgent groups fighting U.S. forces, having a common enemy, as Saddam Hussein once was, won’t prevent Tehran from trying to counter American influence in the Middle East. For Iran, the question is what comes after ISIS. In Iraq there is already a Shia-led government in Baghdad broadly aligned with Tehran. But in Syria, where Shia are a minority, a post-ISIS future threatens to freeze Iran out.

To defeat ISIS, the U.S. is relying heavily on Sunni coalition partners to give its aims local legitimacy and ensure that constructing the post-ISIS political order won’t fall solely to America. Fearing the loss of its power, Iran could try to destabilize U.S.-led efforts in Syria, causing a protracted conflict that would weaken the allied participants. Alternately, if Tehran resigns itself to Assad’s ouster, it may seek other means to maintain its influence in Syria. One option would be controlling the political transfer of power from Assad, to ensure that the new government installed in Damascus remains receptive to Iranian interests. Then there’s the real long shot: that Iran reaches a détente with its Sunni rivals and accepts a power-sharing arrangement rather than a client state in Syria.

(Chart of Middle Eastern relationships via The Economist)

I’ve Seen Israel From Both Sides Now …

by Jonah Shepp

At one point or another in my short life so far, I think I have held every position on Israel that it is possible to hold, from militant support to equally militant opposition. But this summer, I briefly reverted to the right-wing Zionism of my teenage years, at least for the purposes of Facebook. Amid the Gaza war, my feed was suddenly inundated with denunciations of the racist, fascist, Zionazi terrorist state. There wasn’t much to love in the rants about the ZOG or conspiratorial nonsense about ISIS being an Israeli-American plot, but what really got my goat were comments like this one:

Settlers can go back to anti-semitic Europe where they came from! … Every last zionist shall be kicked out and notice the emphasis on the word zionist. Jews however are welcome to stay and woreship like they have among us for the past 1500 years. (sic)

This oft-expressed distinction between Zionists and Jews betrays a total misunderstanding of what Zionism is and what Israel means to most Jews. Palestinians who say that “the Zionists” must go but “the Jews” can stay need to come to grips with the fact that Zionism, at its core, is about creating a space where Jews do not need someone else’s permission to live. Diaspora Jews of my generation may be much less attached to Israel than our parents and grandparents, but when push comes to shove, we’d rather it exist than not, because we know that our permission to live freely and safely in any other country can be withdrawn at any moment. In our history as a people, we have seen it happen time and time again with devastating consequences. With a well-armed territorial state to our name, we no longer have to fear those consequences.

There is no question that anti-Semitism is alive and well in the world, and not only in its traditional strongholds in Europe, but is world Jewry really in such great danger as to match our insecurities? More importantly, given the imbalance of power between Israel and its enemies, can we really fear that it will cease to exist? Noah Millman took up that question the other day:

I have, myself, plenty of fears for Israel, a country with which I am deeply concerned, but essentially no fear at all that Israel will “cease to exist.” I don’t even know what that phrase means – that Israel will cease to define itself affirmatively as a “Jewish state”? That Israel will merge into a larger entity, or subdivide into smaller entities? Those would be big changes, yes, but “cease to exist” is a funny phrase to use for something could happen to the UK, or Belgium, or Canada. When I listen to both of them, what I think they mean is: that the Israeli Jewish population will cease to reside there; that Jews will move, en masse, to some other place or places, or will be physically annihilated. Does anyone really believe that kind of outcome is likely?

“Israel is not, in any meaningful sense, a provisional experiment,” he concludes, and both its supporters and its detractors ought to stop speaking of it as such. This, as I see it, really gets to the heart of the matter. Israel is a fait accompli; it is not going anywhere, no matter what Hamas feels the need to tell its constituents. We really ought to stop catastrophizing.

But Palestinian nationalism isn’t a provisional experiment, either, much though right-wing Zionists wish it to be. Netanyahu claims that there can’t be peace with the Palestinians until they get used to the idea that Israel is there to stay and stop espousing delusions of getting rid of it. But by persistently denigrating and stepping on Palestinian aspirations for fundamental rights and self-determination, his policies encourage a Palestinian discourse of resentment, fear, and hostility toward Zionism, Israel, and ultimately Jews. You can’t claim to wish for the day when Palestinians become OK with Israel while actively working to undermine that possibility. And it’s just nuts to pretend that Palestinians have no legitimate reason to feel angry and even hateful toward Israel. Until Israel grapples with the fact that its creation was indeed a nakba (catastrophe) for the Palestinians, and finds some way to make amends for that, the conflict will surely never end.

It would also behoove the Israeli right to acknowledge that Zionism has won, and how. Anti-Semitism may be rooted in the resentment of Jewish power, but the power Israel wields today is such that it really doesn’t matter what other countries think of it: nobody is going to wipe a wealthy, well-armed, nuclear power off the map. Israel’s choice isn’t between defending itself or being dismantled; it’s between continuing to exist with the support of other countries and world Jewry, or as a pariah state.

What disheartens me is that it seems to be on the latter path, as the center shifts farther to the right and the “Arab problem” takes up a shrinking segment of its public consciousness. When Tzipi Livni heads the dovish camp in the security cabinet and Netanyahu holds the center against a militantly anti-Arab right flank, it’s hard to see how this ends well. To some extent, this was inevitable: the influx of immigrants from post-Soviet countries after the fall of Communism brought a new demographic to Israel that despises the left on principle and has actually experienced persecution, so paranoid politics resonate especially strongly. The growing ultra-Orthodox population also contributes to the shift.

But Israel also made choices. Its leaders might have forced a two-state settlement at Camp David if they had taken the refugee problem seriously and proposed a bold solution to it. The Arab Peace Initiative has been on the table since 2002 and still stands, but who knows for how long? The Israeli right remains convinced that the Palestinians must learn to accept Israel before the occupation can end. That is about as convincing as someone claiming in 1960s America that the end of segregation would have to wait until black people stopped resenting white people. Peace is nearly always made between leaders before it is made between peoples. Israel is no exception to this rule; claiming otherwise just avoids the issue. And Israel must take the lead on this, precisely because the balance of power is so lopsided.

A permanent solution isn’t even necessary in the short term. Whether the parties finally opt for one state, two states, twelve states or no state, as Noam Sheizaf argues, what matters now is ending the occupation and the deep inequities it entails:

[O]nce Israeli society decides to end the occupation irrespective of the political circumstances, the power relations and various interests will determine the nature of the arrangements on the ground. That is the moment in time where we, Israelis, will need to conduct an honest conversation about the kind of arrangement we would rather negotiate (Palestinians would do the same probably). Such a debate cannot exist now because the one thing we can all agree on is prolonging the status quo.