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 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

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 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.

June 17, 2010

Double Standards

Helen Thomas’ misinterpreted remarks about Jews in Palestine led to the end of her accomplished career.  Meanwhile, Senator Schumer of New York is allowed to say he supports the continued “economic strangulation” of Gaza, without anyone even blinking twice.

Schumer is a powerful politician; he is the vice-chairman of the Senate Democratic Caucus, and the third highest ranking Democrat in the Senate.  His position in the government makes the fact that he can make such comments without press coverage or any sort of accountability is especially perturbing.

Schumer, speaking at the Orthodox Union, went on to blame the identity of Palestinians for their situation:  “Palestinian people still don’t believe in the Jewish state, in a two-state solution… They don’t believe in the Torah, in David.” Both of these statements are blatantly false, as most Palestinians support a two-state solution, and Muslims consider the Torah a holy book and David a prophet.  He also blames Gazans for the actions of Hamas, and states that they can only have economic advancement  “when there’s some moderation and cooperation.” (more…)

June 16, 2010

Muslim Student Union banned at California University after students heckle Israeli Ambassador

Filed under: Activism,American attitudes,Discourse in America — sabihankhan @ 11:30 am

In February of this year, eleven University of California-Irvine students (all members of the Muslim Student Union) were arrested for creating a disturbance at an event in which Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren was speaking. In response to this incident, the University has decided to ban the Muslim Student Union for one full year, beginning Sept. 1. UCI MSU has since appealed the decision and is awaiting the results of that appeal.

This action is not only destructive to the UCI Muslim community, but the the college activist community as a whole. The “Irvine 11,” as they’ve been referred to, were  exercising their freedom of speech at a public event on a public school campus. Yes, what they did may not have been pleasant or polite, but it was their right. And when they were deemed to be too “disorderly,” they were removed from the building–and the Ambassador was able to finish his speech–as was his right.

Detractors point to the fact that this disturbance was planned as evidence for the MSU ban. “Detractors” and “Reserves” were identified within the group who were willing to be escorted out or arrested, if it came to that. This is not some sort of diabolical MSU plot but instead pretty standard fare for a well-planned protest on a university campus. At UCLA earlier this year, for example, students protesting tuition hikes followed an almost identical procedure in dealing with campus police and administration during a well-planned and meticulously executed sit-in on campus.  Planning their protest is not grounds for suspension. It’s just good planning and it shows that the MSU students did NOT want things to get out of control or turn violent in any way.

Sadly this kind of gross overreaction is typical in the US. Similar to the Helen Thomas incident, conservative and mainstream Americans seem to have a zero-tolerance policy where pro-Palestinian sentiments are concerned.

http://articles.latimes.com/2010/feb/22/opinion/la-oew-levine23-2010feb23

http://www.ocregister.com/news/university-253265-union-student.html

June 10, 2010

Obama and Abbas Meeting

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas finally met with Obama in Washington D.C. yesterday, after his trip was delayed by the Gaza flotilla raid.  The leaders discussed Gaza as well as prospects for a Palestinian state (BBC).

Obama called the situation in Gaza “unsustainable,” and pledged $400 million dollars in aid to the region.  The proposed aid package would give $240 million towards investment in  home ownership, $75 million towards improving infrastructure, $40 million to support UNRWA’s Gaza and West Bank appeal, and $10 million dollars to enhance the Palestinian economy (Al-Jazeera).  As for the logistics of how that aid will reach the area, Obama did not give any details, but it will most likely be filtered through Israel to the PA.  He does however have more opinions on how the blockade on Gaza should be altered.  He believes the blockade should focus more on arms shipments rather than all goods and people to and from Gaza (Washington Post). (more…)

June 8, 2010

UN preparing to vote on sanctions against Iran

As early as this Wednesday, the UN could vote upon a new set of sanctions against the Islamic Republic of Iran in order to punish it for continuing its nuclear program. As the vote approaches, US officials are confident that at least twelve states should vote for this new round of sanctions, although Turkey, Brazil and Lebanon are expected to vote against them.

Recently, there has been a lot of talk among the international community warning against sanctions. Russian President Vladimir Putin commented that the UN should be wary of passing a resolution that is too tough on Iran arguing that “This resolution should not be excessive, should not put Iran’s leadership, the Iranian people in a tricky situation that creates barriers on the way of development of Iran’s peaceful nuclear energy.” This being the case, it is still projected that Russia will vote in favor of sanctions. (more…)

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