Fair Policy, Fair Discussion

July 29, 2010

“Israel’s right to defend Israeli sovereignty”

One week ago, Republicans in the House of Representatives introduced a resolution that would give Israel the green-light to go ahead and attack Iran militarily if it were to acquire nuclear weapons. So far, H.Res.1553, which asserts “Israel’s right to defend Israeli sovereignty”, has been signed by 46 Congressmen or one-third of House Republicans. The resolution, spearheaded by Congressmen Gohmert of Texas, expresses:

Support for the State of Israel’s right to defend Israeli sovereignty, to protect the lives and safety of the Israeli people, and to use all means necessary to confront and eliminate nuclear threats posed by the Islamic Republic of Iran, including the use of military force if no other peaceful solution can be found within reasonable time to protect against such an immediate and existential threat to the State of Israel.

The bill goes on to lay down its argument.  First, it describes the plight of the Jewish people, the Holocaust, and their right to return to their homeland.  The “special relationship” between the U.S. and Israel is stressed, as is the fact that the U.S. was the first country noble enough to accept Israel as a state.  After this historical background, which is being used as an emotional appeal, the bill proceeds to attack Iran.

The bill adopts an ethical stance, implying that the U.S. is right in acting as a police force.  It describes Iran’s history of noncompliance in regards to  sanctions against its nuclear program and also quotes some of the deplorable things President Ahmadinejad has said, such as the infamous: “Israel should be wiped off the map.”  The use of this kind of rhetoric of existential fear is meant to instill fear in the public, which would justify the use of military action against Iran.

But the one most important thing this bill is lacking, perhaps, is logic.  There is no denying Iran’s words and actions.  But how credible is Iran? If Iran acquires nuclear weapons, is it feasible to think they would use them? Even Iran is smart enough to recognize the consequences of using nuclear weapons.  It is well-known that the purpose of nuclear weapons is not actual use, but rather deterrence and international power and leverage.  Israel’s claim of self-defense is futile in this regard.  Israel probably fears Iran acquiring nuclear weapons more because it would challenge the nuclear hegemony of Israel in the region, limiting its leverage and ability to act without accountability, as well as shifting the regional balance of power in Iran’s favor.

The House Republicans who signed this bill need to think about the outcomes of what would happen if Iran was attacked militarily.  Most likely, a dangerous, regional war would erupt that would also involve the U.S.  The legitimacy of Iran’s threats need to be re-examined, as preemptive attacks on Iran could have devastating effects.  The difference between mere rhetoric and credible threats need to established.

And the U.S. needs to tone down its own use of rhetoric as well, as is evident in this resolution .  Americans need to become more aware of the attempts made by the government to make them think they are in danger, as it allows the U.S. to take any actions it deems fit in the name of security. As Abraham Lincoln once said:  “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”

July 28, 2010

Can You Believe the Spin?

Filed under: Gaza,Hamas,Israeli politics,Netanyahu government's policy,Uncategorized — quinnconnors @ 3:20 pm

In a recent visit to Turkey, the UK’s Prime Minister David Cameron condemned the current blockade on Gaza and referred to the territory as a “prison camp”.   The Israeli embassy in London accordingly responded to Mr. Cameron’s remarks by asserting that the Palestinians living in Gaza are actually prisoners of Hamas, rather than prisoners of the Israeli blockade. Furthermore, the Israeli spokesperson claimed that Hamas, due to its election in 2006, is responsible for the situation in Gaza.

While the media is focusing on the visit and remarks by David Cameron, the responding statements by the Israeli embassy are, in my view, more interesting.  Both statements are clear examples of political spin, but spin that has gone so far as to place the blame for Israeli actions upon Hamas.

The logic is impossible to follow, but according to the Israeli envoy to the UK, this is what we are supposed to understand about the blockade. They want us to believe that Hamas really doesn’t care much about the well-being of the Palestinians who elected it into power.  And that Hamas is enforcing a strict blockade on the territory that they control.  Clearly, they would never want any form of international trade, freedom of movement, secure access to power, or building materials.  Instead, Hamas focuses solely on building rockets and killing Israelis, at the expense of any effort that might aid Gaza.

However, the officials who work at the Israeli Embassy are not idiots.  They most likely understand that the blockade of the Gaza Strip, and the ensuing conditions of poverty, are not the responsibility of Hamas.   But they still try to put out this kind of spin, wriggling their way out of any sort of blame or consequences and using Hamas as a scapegoat.  Unfortunately, many in the United States accept this spin without question.

July 27, 2010

Perspectives on Reconciliation

Today, I attended a hearing on Capitol Hill hosted by the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations that focused on viable strategies on Afghanistan. It was entitled: Perspectives on Reconcilation Options in Afghanistan.

Panelists included former Ambassador to Pakistan, Ryan Crocker, Zainab Salbi of Women for Women International, and Dr. David Kilcullen of the Center for a New American Security.  All were very knowledgeable and experienced, offering their unique perspectives on what should be done to create a stable Afghanistan.

The source of strife in Afghanistan was discussed among the panelists.  All generally agreed that the Taliban is not the only source of instability.  Along with the Taliban, government corruption and a lack of economic development are factors that contribute to the creation of a breeding ground for insurgency.  Due to such a cycle of instability, Dr. Kilcullen emphasized that efforts in Afghanistan should not only focus on counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism, but also on stability efforts.

Because of the many factors contributing to instability, the panelists generally agreed that a solution to conflict in Afghanistan cannot be merely military in nature.  A political solution is needed, one that focuses on empowering civilians and reforming the government.

Security of civilians must be ensured, and the only way to do so is to have a more capable and less corrupt government.  Unless a credible and legitimate government that is capable of ensuring law and order is established in Afghanistan, the Taliban will keep resurfacing.

Basic rights and access to economic resources are also crucial to achieving stability, as Zainab Salbi stressed.  She argued that if Afghans, especially women, have access to jobs and education, they would not pay heed to the Taliban.  In addition, she argued that Afghans also desire an end to human rights abuses, as well as access to justice.  The reason the Taliban has leverage is because it offers the people financial support and protection, in exchange for patronage.  When another source of support emerges, the people will no longer have to rely on the Taliban.

However, such stability efforts are long-term goals, and may take 12-15 years.  As the U.S. is seeking to withdraw troops in July of 2011, a more immediate solution is desired.  Amb. Crocker discussed the idea of negotiating, from a position of strength, with all interested parties.  He commented on the international dimension of the instability in Afghanistan and the need to engage other countries that have an interest in the stability of Afghanistan, such as Pakistan.  He believes the partnership with Pakistan needs to continue for the sake of security efforts.

And with Afghanistan becoming more nebulous and the insurgency continuing, members of the committee voiced their concerns about U.S. involvement in the issue.  A worried Chairman Senator Kerry asked the panel why Afghans, if they do not like the Taliban, could not fight the Taliban themselves.  The bottom-line answer from the panelists was that in order to quell the Taliban, Afghans need support to become powerful enough to counter the Taliban.  While the Afghans may not like the Taliban, they prefer anyone who can offer them stability.

July 22, 2010

An Arab-Israeli Dialogue for Peace

Several generations have now grown up with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  Central to that reality has been the start and stop of Arab-Israeli peace talks, which always seem to take one step forward and then three back.  But in some areas of the world, most recently on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., talks between Arabs and Israelis are continually moving forward with the same message: peace.

Yesterday I attended a discussion hosted by Americans for Peace Now (APN), which featured Ori Nir of APN and Hussein Ibish of the American Task Force on Palestine. While their speeches, comments, and answers to questions were certainly insightful, the most striking lesson that I left the brown bag lunch with was the plain and simple fact that an Arab and an Israeli could talk with one another and agree upon the most basic desire for anyone involved in the Middle East: peace in Israel/Palestine.

Now, at first that sounds rather silly to come out of such a discussion focusing on this basic and fairly self-evident thought.  However, from my short time working on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and especially how it is approached in the United States, I have found that many people deeply involved in the issue have lost sight of that basic fact.  We all want the same thing.  Jewish Israelis, Arabs, American Jews and Arab-Israelis all deeply desire peace.  The main problem of the specific terms of peace still appears insurmountable at times, but the end goal is a common one.

At the talk, which was open by invitation to interns on Capitol Hill in hopes of inspiring the younger generation to work towards a comprehensive peace, of course the standard topics of two-state versus one-state solution, Hamas, the future of Fatah, Palestinian state-building efforts, the effect of the American government, etc. were all touched upon.  Listening to the complexity of the issue unravel before you, the probability of a successful two-state solution not only seems far off but shrouded in complicating factors and misleading stereotypes held by all sides.  But unlike most talks on this issue that I have attended, I came away from this one optimistic and uplifted by the image of an Israeli and an Arab both speaking passionately about the need for peace – the need not only just for the Palestinians and Israelis, but for all Americans, all Arabs, and the world to realize this peace.

Peace can and must come to pass in this conflict, which has continued throughout not just my lifetime but my parents’ lifetimes as well.  Such a peace can only succeed if all parties stop focusing on what the other side is doing wrong and instead recognize that they are not the only party with dear interests at stake.  I am entirely aware that my statements now are highly idealistic and that peace is complicated by many factors, not least of which is the imbalance of power between Israel and the Palestinians.  But without reminding ourselves to think of all the interests involved in the issue and the common-held desire to see peace within our lifetimes, I believe that a true, successful peace will be lost.

July 20, 2010

Divesting from Israel

Filed under: American attitudes,Boycott etc,Discourse in America — Ayesha Yousuf @ 2:19 pm

Divesting from Israel is a strategy that has been practiced by many organizations for almost two decades.  The campaign has drawn the participation of various groups, including churches, students, and international non-governmental institutions.  It has also evolved into a greater general movement dubbed BDS (boycotts, divestment and sanctions.  Inspired by the success of similar campaigns against apartheid South Africa, the divestment campaigns aim to put pressure on the Israeli government to end occupation and human rights abuses of the Palestinians.

Just today, the Olympia Food Co-op in Rachel Corrie’s home town of Washington state decided it will no longer sell Israeli products in its grocery stores.  Rachel Corrie was an American student and International Solidarity Movement activist who was killed in Gaza in 2003 while protesting a home demolition.  She was run over by a bulldozer driven by an IDF solider.

Rob Richards, a board member of the co-op states: “I am trying to be realistic – the Olympia Food Co-Op boycott is not going to change the Israeli policy, but I believe that these small drops will eventually have an effect. I would like to see more co-ops joining the boycott and more voices involved.”

Also in the news for their divestment efforts is JVP, Jewish Voice for Peace.  JVP just held its annual meeting in New York City to deliver over 12,000 signatures to the company TIAA-CREF urging it to divest from companies such as Caterpillar, Northrop Grumman, and Motorola.  JVP wants TIAA-CREF to “stop investing in companies that profit from the
Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.”

Though divestment is an ideal strategy, it may lack  economic effects that are significant enough to bring about change.  However, if such efforts are publicized enough, that may bring about the attention needed to pressure governments to change their policies.

July 19, 2010

Behind the Smiles and Handshakes

Broad smiles and firm handshakes are staples of any meeting between world leaders documented by journalists and cameras. But in these diplomatic relationships there is always a gap between the symbols of alliance or trust and the true power dynamics between nations and their allies. In the case of the American-Israeli relationship, a recently- released video of Binyamin Netanyahu from 2001 reveals which partner the Prime Minister believes really holds the reigns.

The video, aired Friday on Israel’s Channel 10, shows PM Netanyahu speaking candidly with Israeli settlers about Israel’s relationship with the United States, it’s image on the world stage and using loopholes in the Oslo Accords to continue occupying the West Bank. His remarks, even in translation, are direct and clearly demonstrate the extent to which Netanyahu felt, and likely still feels, Israeli actions are safe from world and especially American criticism.

“Woman: wait a moment, but then the world will say “how come you’re conquering again?”

Netanyahu: the world won’t say a thing. The world will say we’re defending.

Woman: Aren’t you afraid of the world, Bibi?

Netanyahu: Especially today, with America. I know what America is. America is something that can easily be moved. Moved to the right correction…They won’t get in our way. They won’t get in our way.”

On the topic of the Oslo Accords and maintaining Israel’s occupation of the West Bank Netanyahu said “I’ll give such interpretation to the Accords that will make it possible for me to stop this galloping to the ’67 [armistice] lines. How did we do it? …No one said what defined military sites. Defined military sites, I said, were security zones. As far as I’m concerned, the Jordan Valley is a defined military site.”

The words truly speak for themselves in revealing the chasm that exists, at least from the Israeli side, between Netanyahu’s photographed smiles and the strength of his handshake.

The Israeli Nuclear Arsenal: Worst-Kept Secret in the Middle East

Several CNI interns and I attended an event entitled “The Israeli Nuclear Arsenal: Espionage, Opacity, and Future” held at the International Spy Museum here in Washington, D.C. The event was organized by  Institute for Research: Middle East Policy (IRmep) and brought together three distinguished panelists to discuss the worst-kept secret in international politics–the existence of an Israeli Nuclear Arsenal.

The panel discussion was frank and deeply informative, bringing together authors Grant F. Smith and Sasha Polakow-Sulansky, and recent CNI Radio: Jerusalem Calling guest John Mearsheimer. The topics discussed ranged from the interpretation of recently declassified documents on the role of American interests in building Israel’s nuclear arsenal to the relationship between apartheid South Africa and Israel.

Perhaps most striking was John Mearsheimer’s realistic analysis of the situation.  Mearsheimer posed four questions:

Why did Israel develop nuclear weapons?
Should Israel abandon its nuclear arsenal?
Is opacity in Israel’s best interest?
Is it in America’s best interest for Israel to have nuclear weapons?

Coming for a realist perspective, Mearsheimer argued that nuclear weapons are the ultimate deterrence; he said that if he were a national security adviser to Israel in the 1950s, he would advocate that the state acquire nuclear weapons.

In regards to opacity, Mearsheimer argued that Israel is not fooling anyone with its “strategic ambiguity,” as virtually everyone is aware that Israel is a nuclear power.

The nuclear issue clearly shows a divide in interests between the U.S. and Israel.  “Israel is an albatross around our neck,” he said.  Initially, the U.S. was against Israeli nuclear proliferation in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations.  If Israel was a nuclear power, it would be difficult to secure a nuclear-free Middle East.

Mearsheimer is not optimistic about the future; he believes the situation will only get worse.  He believes the proximity talks are a charade and that Israel will eventually become an apartheid state.   He articulates his point further in his article in the American Conservative.

When asked by former CNI President Gene Bird what the U.S. can do to prevent another war in the region , Mearsheimer laid out what he believes the Obama strategy should have been: Obama should have appealed to the American Jewish community and emphasized that a two-state solution was in the best interest of Israel.  Instead, he picked a fight with the Israeli lobby, and consequently had to “run up the white flag,” during the recent White House meeting with Netanyahu.

While Mearsheimer’s realist perspective is intriguing and certainly feasible, the future of the conflict does not have to be as grim as he predicts.  Though his analysis of the Obama administration’s strategy and relationship with both the Israeli government and Israeli lobby is spot-on, there are some encouraging aspects of Obama’s policies, notably his willingness to address the Israeli-Arab conflict so soon in his term, unlike his predecessors.

July 14, 2010

180° from Cairo to Washington

Last June, in the famous address at Cairo University, President Obama promised the world that “America will not turn [its] back on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own” and argued that two viable states living side-by-side is in America’s, as well as Israel’s, best interests. On July 6th, however, Obama made a complete about-face in a highly theatrical meeting with PM Netanyahu, retreating from pressuring Israel on its peace-hindering settlements.

During their “excellent conversation” that Tuesday, the President took pains to assure Netanyahu of the United States’ unconditional support for Israel, despite a growing disparity in the countries’ strategic interests. This fissure has become more visible recently, especially on the topic of non-proliferation. Concerned with preventing nuclear proliferation, the United States recently signed a UN document that singled out Israel for refusing to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. But, in last Tuesday’s meeting, President Obama backtracked from this stance, instead implicitly allowing Israel to keep building its undeclared nuclear arsenal by pledging that “efforts for weapons control and decommisioning nuclear weapons will not harm Israel’s security.”

On the topic of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, a source of contention that led to March’s chilled White House reception for Netanyahu, Obama decidedly avoided the issue. In response to a reporter’s inquiry, according to the Washington Post, the President finally acknowledged the subject, but only by declining to say that Israel should extend its West Bank settlement building moratorium which will expire in September. Settlement construction, however, is a clear impediment to any meaningful peace talks, as well as the formation of a viable state for Palestinians. Thus, Obama’s retreat on this issue discredits any hoped-for direct negotiations.

A week after this disappointing meeting, the on-the-ground reality is quickly reflecting Obama’s new stance. Just this Tuesday, July 13th, a Palestinian home was demolished in East Jerusalem for the first time in eight months. Since November Israel had not implemented any standing house demolition orders in this area due to pressure from the US. But now, given America’s changed attitude, Israel can feel confident in continuing actions, such as house demolitions in highly-contested East Jerusalem, which directly harm the peace process.

The hope and change rhetoric of Cairo now appear almost gone. The ‘peace process’ is moving further away from a two-state solution in which each state is a viable one, signaled by Netanyahu’s refusal to even utter the phrase ‘two-state solution’ on July 6th while discussing peace. By surrendering to domestic pressures which demand unconditional support for Israel, President Obama is now agreeing to support a stance which could ultimately hurt Israel’s and America’s security and international standing.

July 9, 2010

How About a Pollard Spy Exchange?

Filed under: Uncategorized — eugenebird @ 11:26 am

What should Israel give up in exchange for Pollard, its master spy in US Naval intelligence? The US supposedly has no spies in Israel, so the obvious exchange would be Pollard for Marwan Barghouti, who is currently serving a life sentence in Israel and is a hero to Palestinians.

The recent Russian-American spy exchange was easy, but it was also relatively unimportant; it merely served to maintain friendly relations between the two countries. A free Marwan Barghouti, on the other hand, would be an ideal personality to bring the Palestinians together.

This is not a facetious suggestion. Barghouti has been used by Israel before–while in jail–to negotiate the eighteen point agreement between Fatah and Hamas to jointly govern the West Bank and Gaza.

Israelis often complain that there is no ‘partner’ on the Palestinian side. A Pollard-Barghouti exchange would provide one. This is exactly what the Mitchell/Obama proximity talks need.

Bibi Netanyahu raised a ruckus at the Wye River negotiations in 1997 when he demanded the release of Pollard as the final price for agreeing to sign a partial withdrawal agreement. He held out for two hours the morning the agreement was to be signed in the East room of the White House. President Clinton initially agreed to release Pollard, but the CIA director said that he would resign if this happened.

We know Prime Minister Sharon also asked for the release of Pollard, who would be a hero in Israel, but US Naval Intelligence is deeply angered by Pollard’s spying and copying of highly classified documents, which led to his conviction twenty years ago.

So why not exchange an aging Pollard for a new and vigorous leader of Palestine who would carry weight with the Palestinian public and be able to create a real negotiating ‘partner’ for Israel in the proximity talks?

July 8, 2010

Proposed Prisoner Exchange: Reading the Fine Print

Filed under: American attitudes,Netanyahu government's policy,West Bank — quinnconnors @ 8:40 am

The imprisonment of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit by Palestinian forces in the Gaza Strip is a tragic event.  But even more upsetting than his situation is how simplistically his captivity is portrayed by major American media outlets.

Recently, calls have increased for the release of Gilad Shalit and PM Netanyahu has agreed on the release of 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Shalit’s release. Answering such a proposal, especially given the seemingly generous terms for the Palestinians, appears a no-brainer.   But American news stories about this exchange leave out some crucial details which make the release of these 1,000 imprisoned Palestinian men, women, and children rather unpalatable.

According to regional media sources, such as Haaretz and the Jerusalem Post, Netanyahu’s offer has two conditions attached.  The first is that dangerous terrorists would not be released, a precaution against future Palestinian attacks on Israelis.  The second condition would disallow the released Palestinians from entering the West Bank, even if that is where they and their families live.  Instead, according to Netanyahu, the Palestinians would  go to the over-crowded Gaza Strip or Tunisia.  In agreeing to this proposal, an exchange of prisoners would happily reunite one man with his family and in fact exile or resettle 1,000 other people.

Israel’s offer thus counters what many Palestinians desire, reunion with loved ones, as these 1,000 men and women would be sent to far-away locations.  Such resettlement, to the Gaza Strip, Tunisia or other foreign locations, would provide many barriers to the possibility of any future reunion.

When it comes to the Middle East, and especially Israel-Palestine, the situation is never clear-cut and simple.  The American media should thus read through the fine print and at least attempt to portray the complicating circumstances in each situation instead of omitting crucial details that unfairly skew events.

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