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 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.

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 21, 2010

Democracy and Equality in Israel

The Israeli Declaration of Independence states that Israel: “will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture.”

This was Israel back in its idealistic days, when it advertised itself as a land of egalitarianism and democracy.  Israel now, as Minister of Minority Affairs Avishay Braverman puts it, has the most “unequal society among western nations.”

Israeli Arabs are marginalized and discriminated against in Israeli society, though they make up about 20% of the population.  Just to highlight a few aspects of discrimination, the State Department’s 2009 Human Rights Report on Israel and the Occupied Territories states that: “Institutional, legal, and societal discrimination against Arab citizens, Palestinian Arabs, non-Orthodox Jews, and other religious groups continued, as did societal discrimination against persons with disabilities. Women suffered societal discrimination and domestic violence. The government maintained unequal educational systems for Arab and Jewish students.” (more…)

Far from Ideal: Gaza Blockade Eased

Following international pressure and diplomatic discussions with Egyptian, US and Quartet representatives, Israel’s security cabinet announced Sunday that it would change its blockade policy for the Gaza Strip.  At present only 114 items are allowed into the Strip, but according to the announced easing of the Gaza blockade a new “black list” of unpermitted goods will replace the current highly restrictive policy. The PM Binyamin Netanyahu confirmed that all goods, other than “weapons and materials Hamas uses”, will  be allowed into the Palestinian territory while adding that a finalized list of items not allowed will be released as soon as possible.

While the exact definition of a “material Hamas uses” is not clear, the announcement certainly paves the way for humanitarian aid and some construction materials to soon enter the Gaza Strip.  Heavy limitations, however, remain on the construction materials allowed, as they must be for Palestinian Authority-approved projects and kept under international supervision.  Netanyahu described these new allowances as “eliminating Hamas’ main propoganda claim and allow[ing] [Israel]…to face [their] real concerns in the realm of security.” (more…)

June 14, 2010

Investigation into Gaza Raid

Israel has rejected UN demands for an external probe of the Gaza raid, and instead has announced that it is to administer an internal investigation.  Israel, trying to somewhat appease the international community, has added “two foreign observers” to the commission.  The observers include Irish Nobel Prize laureate David Trimble, and Canada’s former Judge Advocate General of the Canadian Forces Ken Watkin.  David Trimble, one of the “foreign observers,” recently joined a Friends of Israel group.  If Israel is to include outsiders in the internal probe, it should at least let them be chosen by an external party.  The “observers” should also have an active participating role; simply observing the commission and not offering their input seems futile.  The structure of the commission is inhibiting in other ways as well.  The commission must use summaries of the events, as soldiers cannot be directly questioned.  It can ask for more information if not satisfied, though there is no guarantee they will receive more information (BBC).

The purposes of the commission are to: examine the “security circumstances” of the naval blockade on Gaza and whether this conforms to international law, decide if the actions of May 31st, conform to the principles of international law, and consider the actions of those who organized and took part in the flotilla “and their identities” (BBC).  The last requirement, not surprisingly, shifts the focus away from Israel and tries to make them the victims.  This culture of victimization and no sense of accountability will no doubt result in another travesty of justice. (more…)

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…)

The Separation Barrier

A mix of Palestinians, West Bank settlers, environmentalists and developers, have all united in opposition to the construction of the separation barrier in an area around Jerusalem (Haaretz).

Environmentalists and settlers of Gush Etzion are opposed to the destruction of the natural landscape.  Also, a development company called Givat Yael, though self-interested, drew up an alternative route that Israel rejected.  The alternative would have met security goals, had a smaller impact on the Palestinian village of Al-Walaja, and allowed the company to continue with its development plans (Haaretz).  Israel’s rejection of the alternative gives more credence to the idea that the wall is not motivated by security, but rather demographics, as the proposed placement of the barrier blocks off the village. (more…)

June 8, 2010

Rising Jewish Extremism

In the media, extremism is often associated with the Muslim world.  Rarely is it ever associated with Jews in Israel.  However, recent events demonstrate not only how extremism is infiltrating Israel, but how such a trend threatens even more the unstable social fabric of the region.

Just today, while trying to appear as if Israel is enforcing a building freeze in the West Bank, security forces clashed with settlers in the settlement of Beit El over the demolition of an illegal structure.  About 100 teenagers tried to block the forces and threw rocks, against the advice of their rabbi. And one officer was injured.  The fact that the next generation is so unyielding in their views that they are willing to fight, even their own people, is very worrisome. (more…)

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