Saturday, December 29

Deceptions and Whitewash

Trust between Israel and Hamas is non-existent. Israel views Hamas’s tentative attempts at an all-embracing cease-fire as a respite working in their (Hamas’s) favour in order to re-group after the heavy losses they suffered, and carry out another round of terrorism against Israel. They need a period of quiet in order to re-arm and initiate a new cycle of terrorism. Hamas has taken a severe beating from the Israeli security forces and many of their ringleaders in organizing terror have been killed.

Despite all this terrorist activity and cycle of violence, whether it is the firing of Qassam rockets into Sderot, and its environment, Israel should accept the cease-fire and at the same time be ready to retaliate if Hamas and Islamic Jihad break the cease-fire when it suits them. The advantages of a cease-fire are obvious for both sides. The biggest advantage, of course, is the saving of innocent lives of both Palestinians and Israelis.

We are all aware that the presence of international observers to ensure that the cease-fire is kept by both sides had failed in the past. Perhaps the system of cease-fire monitoring should be reviewed in order to increase its effectiveness in preventing cease-fire violations. The cease-fire should be advantageous to both sides. It should also be bolstered by trust-building measures for serious negotiations for a settlement. If this is done wisely it could open a window of opportunity for Hamas to give de facto recognition to Israel, despite it uncompromising rhetoric against Israel. The mindset of Hamas is adamant and unyielding, and to date, apart from the obvious difficulties that Hamas faces (international boycotts, violence between Hamas and Fatah, the cycle of violence between Hamas and Israel as well as an economy that is non-existent) because of its uncompromising position towards Israel, attainment of some kind of rapprochement with Hamas remains beyond the realm of reality at this stage.

While Palestine is still divided into two entities, Gaza and the West Bank, each ruled by Hamas and Fatah respectively, the chances of any realistic peace negotiations for two separate states, Israel and Palestine, would never really get off the ground.

Nevertheless, Israel is negotiating with the West Bank leadership under the weak President Mahmoud Abbas. As the situation stands now, the Olmert government has angered the Palestinian representatives by not freezing Jewish settlements in Palestinian lands. They are not keeping to the spirit of Annapolis to which they are committed. If Israel committed itself to peace negotiations and cessation of settlement activity beyond the green line including building new homes then Israel should have kept to its side of the bargain. Instead, the Israel Housing and Construction Ministry is seeking budget approval for 2008 to build 500 apartments in Har Homa, a highly disputed area of East Jerusalem and a further 240 apartments in Ma’ale Adumim, the largest Jewish settlement in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Ma’ale Adumim has a population of more than 30 000 Jewish inhabitants. Perhaps Israel’s tactic is such that it will slowly encroach into Palestinian areas by establishing illegal settlements ensuring that a two-state solution will never be attainable.

If this trend continues, the two-state solution will cease to be a viable reality. The idea of a one-state solution will gain more support as well as legitimacy. After all, if the Israeli occupation continues to encroach upon Palestinian lands, there will be no room for a separate Palestinian state. The potential Palestinian state will have so many corridors of illegal settlers that it will not be an option. The Palestinian state will be a “never-land” forever unattainable. The right wing faction in the coalition government must be held accountable for the one-state solution. It is just a matter of time unless they come to terms with a total freeze on settlement activity in the occupied lands as well as voluntary withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines. There is no other territory available for a Palestinian state!

It is obvious from these facts that Israel is deceiving the Palestinian representatives and this could endanger the fragile spirit of Annapolis. How can Israel accuse the Palestinians of breaking agreements while they, themselves, are building more illegal settlements? Surely in order that the spirit of Annapolis is maintained both sides must abide by the understandings reached.

While Israel is deceiving the Palestinians by enlarging existing settlement by stealth, its behaviour towards its own citizens is hardly any better. The Israeli government is a government of cartels – scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours! Israel has no leaders but a dearth of mediocre, corrupt and selfish politicians who warm their behinds on Knesset seats for their own personal aggrandizement and egos. Their interest in the citizens they claim to represent is directly proportional to their own self interest! Many of these gentlemen enjoy hobnobbing with the wealthy oligarchs from the ex-Soviet Union and other wealthy businessmen who wield the real power. Many of these politicos also have an aura of corruption hanging over their heads like the sword of Damocles. The poor are getting poorer and the middle class is being wiped out. At the same time, the rich are getting richer!

At the same time, all is not well on the West Bank, the Israeli Army still carries out abuses against many innocent Palestinians and nobody says a word. It is all whitewashed very effectively by the Israeli Army spokesman. Either there is no comment or else there are the vague promises of an enquiry when soldier abuses are carried out. There have been no removals of humiliating check posts within the occupied territories itself and there are still tremendous difficulties for innocent Palestinians to travel and carry out their daily business. Promises made by Israel to ease the situation for the Palestinians in the West Bank have not been carried out and the situation there remains intolerable. The situation is made difficult for the Palestinians on the West Bank in order to protect the illegal Jewish settlers living there in their palatial homes.

There is no doubt, that while Israel has very little credibility - not because of its words but because of its actions, it cannot be held blameless for the hopeless economic situation that is the Palestinians’ lot. The inhuman treatment meted out by the Israeli Army on Palestinians at check posts in need of medical attention as well as the suffering of pregnant women about to give birth does much to increase the hate against Israel. Many Palestinian terrorist groups have mushroomed because of much of Israel’s occupation policies.

Saturday, December 22

The Call of Hamas for a Cease-Fire in Gaza

Hamas has created a situation of total turmoil in Gaza. The situation is desperate for the Palestinians living there with all the international economic boycotts and isolation; the cycle of suffering is increasing. The Hamas leadership still encourages the firing of Qassam rockets into Sderot and the surrounding areas causing tremendous damage and shock to the economically deprived citizens of Sderot. Many residents of Sderot have limited economic means and many are unemployed and have nowhere to go. What are Hamas and its Islamic Jihad allies hoping to achieve? Do they believe that Israel will surrender to them in the hope that it will cease to exist?

Hardly a day passes without a volley or two of Qassams being fired into Sderot creating havoc and fear as well as casualties. Israel has pulled out from Gaza and Hamas and company filled the vacuum created. They are on the road to violence and instability. Why? The strength of Hamas in Gaza is dependent on its ability to stir up violence and hate rhetoric for Israel. There is no plan to stabilize Gaza and create a responsible government in order to attend to the needs of a desperate Palestinian population that is poverty-stricken and unemployed. As we are all aware, Palestine is now divided into two entities – Fatahland (the West Bank) and Hamastan (Gaza). The chances of these two entities uniting under a moderate Palestinian Authority with President Mahmoud Abbas at its head is close to zero. This is what makes the aftermath of Annapolis so hopeless for the Palestinians to create a semblance of unity so that Palestine can negotiate with Israel in order to arrive at an agreement.

Now the sanction belt is tightening around Gaza which is close to being under siege. Israel is pounding the Hamas terrorist leaders responsible for the Qassam rocket fire into Sderot and the surrounding environment. They have killed many of them but the rocket firing continues and so does the stress of the inhabitants of Sderot with no end in sight.

Hamas is not showing any signs of recognizing Israel’s right to exist under any circumstances. Their manifesto remains unchanged towards Israel and they are now seeking a way to sign a cease-fire without any move towards reconciliation with Israel’s existence. However, it is obvious that they are feeling the pressure because of Israel’s retaliatory actions, and the Hamas PM, Ismail Haniyeh, now shows signs of softening up and making overtures towards a hudna or cease-fire.

Israel will not accept Haniyeh’s offer because it views this as an attempt by Hamas for a respite in order to re-arm for another round of terrorism against Israel. While the basic concepts of Hamas in its attitude towards Israel’s existence does not change and Hamas terror continues, there is no point in even moving towards negotiating as there is nothing to discuss. It looks as if Israel is on the verge of a huge military operation against Hamas and its terrorist allies. While the terrorist threat against Israel’s citizens in Sderot and its environment remains and continues, it is very difficult if not impossible to negotiate.

The other alternative is to negotiate a cease-fire with Hamas in order to avert a wide scale military operation in Gaza with all its implications. A military operation will cause great suffering to many innocent Palestinians and further destruction of the poor institutions of Gaza. These negotiations could be carried out under mediation of the UN who must agree to send in observers to monitor the situation to prevent either side from attacking each other. However, the hate-rhetoric coming out of the Hamas leadership in Gaza is not conducive to any form of negotiation. The only legitimate reason for any form of negotiations is to prevent the cycle of violence and the intense suffering that it causes for both sides. If there are negotiations, Israel will have to remain on its guard for any future Hamas attack once they decide to terminate the temporary hudna, if by some miracle it is achieved. Note that there has been no desire to discuss a permanent peace settlement on the part of Hamas. This in itself is suspect of Hamas’s intentions.

A military operation, if carried out in the near future, would also result in heavy casualties on both sides and Gaza, once more, would fall under Israeli jurisdiction which is not desirable under any circumstances. As the situation remains now there is a “Catch 22” situation with neither side gaining any advantage. Even if Israel does conduct a wide scale military operation into Gaza, within days they would have to withdraw because there would be mounting world pressure against Israel.

Of course, under these circumstances, the only hope for a solution would be for Hamas to cease its terrorist activities against Israel, by climbing down from the tree of intransigence, recognizing Israel’s right to exist and show a desire to negotiate with Israel. There should also be a willingness on the part of Hamas to release the captured soldier, Gilad Shalit. There is really no alternative to avoid further destruction and violence.

Friday, December 14

Religious Zionism is Racism

The definition of Zionism has many facets. Before one can discuss this highly charged subject, it would be helpful to define Zionism in general terms. Zionism is the national revival movement of the Jewish people. It holds that the Jews have the right to self-determination in their own national home, and the right to develop their national culture. Historically, Zionism strove to create a legally recognized national home for the Jews in their historical homeland. This goal was implemented by the creation of the State of Israel. Today, Zionism supports the existence of the state of Israel and helps to inspire a revival of Jewish national life, culture and language.

Today, since the establishment of Israel, Zionism has lost its relevancy. It is alive and kicking in the comfortable armchairs of Diaspora Jewry, most of whom do not intend to leave the fleshpots where they live in order to settle in Israel.

However, religious Zionism – an offshoot of general Zionism, has an ideology based on occupation and with it very extreme self-righteous racism. This occupation gained tremendous impetus after the Six Day War of June 1967 whereby successive governments in Israel encouraged illegal settlements in the occupied territories.

In 1968 a group of religious fanatics under the leadership of Rabbi Moshe Levinger founded the settlement Kiryat Arba near Hebron. These were the predecessors of Gush Emunim. In 1974, following the shock of the Yom Kippur War, the organization was founded more formally, by students of the younger Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook, who remained its leader until his death in 1982.

In late 1974, an affiliated group named Garin Elon Moreh, led by Rabbi Menachem Felix and Benjamin (Beni) Katzover, attempted to establish a settlement on the ruins of the Sebastia train station dating from the Ottoman period. After seven attempts and six removals from the site by the army, an agreement was reached. According to the agreement, The Israeli government allowed 25 families to settle in the Kadum army camp southwest of Nablus/ [[Shechem]. The Sebastia agreement was a turning point which opened up Samaria to Jewish settlement. The small caravan site with 25 families eventually became the municipality of Kedumim, one of the major settlements in Judea and Samaria. The Kadum army camp settlement model was copied over the years in Beit El, Shavei Shomron and other settlements.

The religious Zionist Zealots believe that greater Israel (which includes the territories occupied since the Six Day War) was ordained by God for Jewish settlement. They established settlements. They built religious institutions on Palestinian lands as well as palatial homes in these settlements.

Another well-known right-wing rabbi who was the champion of the settler movement and one of its ideologues was the late ex-chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Avraham Shapira who died at the age of 94 years in October 2007. He was a very divisive religious leader. He urged soldiers to disobey orders to evacuate the Gaza Strip in 2005. Shapira believed that the territory Israel had won in 1967 was promised by God and belonged to Jews in perpetuity. He felt that “surrendering an inch of sacred turf was tantamount to blasphemy”. After leaving the chief rabbinate he co-founded the Rabbis' Union for the Complete Land of Israel. Its 500 clerics attacked the Oslo Accords for transferring land to Palestinians - forbidden under Jewish law, they claimed. In 2003 Shapira asked the Knesset to boycott a ceremony honoring the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. American evangelicals, he claimed, were deceiving Jews and Christians into imagining a "common faith shared by both".

Shapira inspired thousands as dean of the Mercaz Ha-Rav Kook Yeshiva, one of Israel's largest talmudic academies and the flagship of religious Zionism. He probably wielded more influence in that post than as chief rabbi, as most settlement rabbis are Mercaz graduates. Many national religious Jews, who make up two-thirds of Israel's 12% observant minority, considered Shapira the gadol ha-dor - greatest authority of his generation on Jewish law.

Palestinian agricultural lands were severely compromised as a result and many Palestinians suffered hardships because of being uprooted from their homes by the encroaching settlements. This is one aspect of religious Zionism in action. This did not contribute to improving relations between Palestinians and Israelis. The religious settlers behaved in a brutal manner towards the Palestinian population. They uprooted their olive tree plantations and destroyed much Palestinian agricultural land. They also regarded themselves as superior to the Palestinians. These Zealots were imbued by the spirit of their faith in their right to occupy lands that was not theirs. Here we have a perfect example of religious Zionism being a racist colonizing ideology. Religious Zionist adherents must share the blame for the deteriorating situation between Israelis and Palestinians.

According to a B’tzelem report, the establishment of settlements on the West Bank violates international humanitarian law, which establishes the principles applying during war and occupation. Moreover, the settlements lead to the infringement of international human rights law.

International humanitarian law prohibits the occupying power to transfer citizens from its own territory to the occupied territory (Fourth Geneva Convention, article 49). The Hague Regulations prohibit the occupying power to undertake permanent changes in the occupied area, unless these are due to military needs in the narrow sense of the term, or unless they are undertaken for the benefit of the local population.

The establishment of the settlements leads to the violation of the rights of the Palestinians as enshrined in international human rights law. Among other violations, the settlements infringe the right to self-determination, equality, property, an adequate standard of living, and freedom of movement.

The illegality of the settlements under international humanitarian law does not affect the status of the settlers. The settlers constitute a civilian population by any standard, and include children, who are entitled to special protection. Although some of the settlers are part of the security forces, this fact has absolutely no bearing on the status of the other residents of the settlements.

Taking Control of the Land

Israel has used a complex legal and bureaucratic mechanism to take control of more than fifty percent of the land in the West Bank. This land was used mainly to establish settlements and create reserves of land for the future expansion of the settlements.

The principal tool used to take control of land is to declare it "state land.” This process began in 1979.It is based on a manipulative implementation of the Ottoman Lands Law of 1858, which applied in the area at the time of occupation. Other methods employed by Israel to take control of land include seizure for military needs, declaration of land as "abandoned assets,” and the expropriation of land for public needs. Each of these is based on a different legal foundation. In addition, Israel has assisted private citizens purchasing land on the "free market.”

The process employed in taking control of land breaches the basic principles of due procedure and natural justice. In many cases, Palestinian residents were unaware that their land was registered in the name of the state, and by the time they discovered this fact, it was too late to appeal. The burden of proof always rests with the Palestinian claiming ownership of the land. Even if he meets this burden, the land may still be registered in the name of the state because it was transferred to the settlement "in good faith.”

Despite the diverse methods used to take control of land, all the parties involved - the Israeli government, the settlers and the Palestinians - have always perceived these methods as part of a mechanism intended to serve a single purpose: the establishment of civilian settlements in the territories. Accordingly, the precise method used to transfer the control of land from Palestinians to Israel is of secondary importance. Moreover, since this purpose is prohibited under international law, the methods used to secure it are also unlawful.

Israel uses the seized lands to benefit the settlements, while prohibiting the Palestinian public from using them in any way. This use is forbidden and illegal in itself, even if the process by which the lands were taken were fair and in accordance with international and Jordanian law. As an occupying power in the Occupied Territories, Israel is not permitted to ignore the needs of an entire population and to use land intended for public needs solely to benefit the settlers.

The High Court of Justice has generally sanctioned the mechanism used to take control of land. In so doing, the Court has contributed to imbuing these procedures with a mask of legality. The Court initially accepted the state's argument that the settlements met urgent military needs, and allowed the state to seize private land for this purpose. When the state began to declare land, “state land,” the Court refused to intervene to prevent this process.

The involvement of the religious orthodox establishment in Israeli politics in practice curtailed religious freedom and resulted in many laws that are prejudiced towards non-Jewish citizens. There is no separation of religion and state in Israel. It is all dependent on coalition deals in the Knesset between the ruling parties and the religious parties. Today, the National Religious Party (Mafdal) is part of the extreme right wing Herut Party and sits on the opposition benches.

The extremist Shas Party remains in the Government in order to coerce the government to look after its own interests which are very narrow indeed. It takes its orders from Rabbi Ovadia Yosef (the Sephardi ex-chief Rabbi) who is well known for making insulting statements directed at those whom he considers heretics who do not hold his bigoted world view tinged with racism.

Reactions to Rabbi Yosef's "political" quotes have ranged from laughter to fury among more secular Israelis, both in the political sphere and among common citizens. Shas spokespeople and Rabbi Yosef's followers argue that his quotes are taken out of context and that they include technical religious terms which the average person is not familiar with, and therefore, misunderstood. For instance, in April 2001, Rabbi Yosef was widely criticized for what was interpreted as a call for the unconditional annihilation of Arabs, saying, "It is forbidden to be merciful to them. You must send missiles to them and annihilate them. They are evil and damnable” and "The Lord shall return the Arabs' deeds on their own heads, waste their seed and exterminate them, devastate them and banish them from this world." However his second comment was in fact a slightly modified quote from Obadiah 1:18, referring to the descendants of Esau. A Shas spokesman defended Rabbi Yosef, saying the speech had been in reference to "Arab murderers and terrorists", not all Arabs, and that the Rabbi had been saying that the state of Israel should pursue its enemies mercilessly, as God had commanded the ancient Israelites to fight against their own adversaries. [14].

If one were to substitute the word “Jew” in the place of “Arab”, in Yosef’s statement it would correspond to the kind of anti-Semitic utterances straight from the mouths of fanatic Islamist or Hamas Imams. This shows that Hamas and Shas ideology could be the mirror image of each other directed to their own communities. The so-called excuse of Yosef that “not all Arabs are terrorists” is pathetic. It is parallel to the anti-Semite’s denial of being anti-Semitic by saying “after all, my best friends are Jews!”

Israel’s discriminatory practices are rooted in Jewish religious law. In 1995, the rabbis of Safad, joined by then Chief Rabbi Bakshi-Doron, issued a judgment prohibiting Jews living in the Land of Israel to lease or sell any real estate property to non-Jews. These rabbis are on the State of Israel's payroll. Yet all too clearly, their judgment contravenes Israeli state laws proscribing public expressions of racism and utterances hurtful to human dignity. The situation is still very much the same today.

Another aspect is the religious monopoly the orthodox establishment has on Judaism, conversion and all aspects of Jewish religious life in Israel. The Reform and Conservative movements in Israel do not have the right to convert or marry couples. They do not receive state subsidies as the orthodox establishments do and are not considered on an equal footing. An example of this attitude was reported in the Jerusalem Post 19th November 2007:

“Reform and Conservative synagogues reek of hell [Gehinom] and a Jew should not even come near their entrance, former Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel Mordechai Eliyahu said last week.

"Once I was invited to be the sandak (godfather) at a brit in a three-story building," recounted Eliyahu in his weekly flyer called Kol Tzofayich, which discusses various halachic issues.

"On the first story was a Reform temple, on the second floor was a Conservative synagogue and on the third floor was an Orthodox synagogue where I was invited.

"I wondered how I would manage to pass by those two synagogues that reek of hell. I asked if there was a way of avoiding those two entrances and I was told that there was a kitchen through which it was possible to reach the third floor. I announced that I would not go up any other way besides through the kitchen so as to avoid passing by those prohibited synagogues."

It is obvious that the authoritative orthodox rabbis in Israel do not bring any credit to Judaism at all. They are no examples to emulate. They are indicative of a society that is bigoted, discriminatory and intolerant. They claim to be religious Zionists. Many Jews, including myself, have been estranged from Judaism because of establishment orthodox bigotry and racism. Their attitude towards the Arabs is hateful. Orthodox Judaism is associated with the political right wing and maintaining the occupation. They are also on a campaign delegitimizing Reform and Conservative Jewish belief. The environment for Reform Judaism or any other non-Orthodox stream of Judaism is hostile in Israel.

Lately the Ethiopian children have also suffered discrimination at religious schools. The discrimination against Ethiopians is more widespread in Israel than one would wish to believe. Their Judaism is not recognized and they have to undergo a giur (conversion) process before being accepted.

All these incidents orchestrated by the Orthodox establishment of Israel have created much suffering and hardships to people whose Jewishness is questionable according to Halacha (Jewish Law). Religious Zionism is part of the Orthodox establishment in Israel and is discriminatory towards non-Jews (including Arabs and Palestinians in the occupied territories), Reform and Conservative Jews. This puts them into the racist category.

Wednesday, December 5

After the Annapolis Summit

The red carpet treatment was meted out to the main players and the overflow went to the other delegates as well. The main players were President Mahmoud Abbas, P.M. Ehud Olmert, Dr. Condoleezza Rice and President George Bush who was trying to emulate ex-President Bill Clinton. All the speeches that were made were very diplomatic - almost mesmerizing. So many hopeful statements were made giving an air of optimism that in reality is an illusion. How can one not feel a sense of cynicism and skepticism after hearing the speeches of all these players?

What was interesting to note was the body language of the participants in their interaction with one another. So much warmth was exhibited between Bush, Olmert and Abbas. These three gentlemen have one big thing in common – their common weakness! This weakness will illustrate their inability to make any decisions in the near future. It showed up so blatantly during the summit proceedings. There was no joint declaration between Israel and the Palestinians. This came as no surprise. Instead, we all witnessed a rather watered-down statement read out by President Bush at the commencement of the summit. This was followed by Abbas and Olmert’s speeches. Here was a hint of more banalities to come. Both the Palestinian and Israeli leaders gave good speeches, saying the right things that the other delegates wanted to hear.

The end of the summit did not give the successful photo scoop that we all wanted to see. There was a fizzling out of proceedings as the Summit ended and the delegates returned home. No momentum was created nor did any reason for optimism come out of all this. Instead we were all left “high and dry”. Perhaps “low and dry” is more appropriate. There was a false feeling that the attendance of the Arab nations such as Saudi Arabia, Syria and some other non-Arab Moslem countries added a certain amount of importance to achieving a positive result. This was not the case. The whole Summit was a blip on the TV screen and newspaper media which will go down in history as another non-event soon to be forgotten like all the other meetings in the past.

It is almost certain that Israel will not be prepared to discuss “core issues” such as right of return of refugees, Jerusalem being the capital of two states, final borders of Israel which includes a return to the borders prior to June 1967 and thus an end to the occupation. The reason – Olmert does not have a mandate from his coalition to negotiate these issues despite what he said at the summit. Abbas is not in any better position to make decisions in security matters. Palestine is divided into two entities today - Gaza ruled by Hamas and the West Bank by Fatah. The latter will lose strength as it is under threat from Hamas to take over the West Bank the way they took over in Gaza. The only way that Abbas can survive is by getting support from the US and Israel. This is not a healthy state of affairs from the Palestinian viewpoint. It turns Abbas and his Fatah supporters into Israeli and US stooges and this would result in their grassroots support being further weakened.

It will become clear that Abbas’s power base, or what is left of it, will be further weakened. A huge question remains to be answered. Where does Hamas fit in the negotiating patterns? Hamas is so opposed to any form of rapprochement with Israel. The statements of Hamas PM Haniyeh of Gaza have made this so crystal clear as to leave no doubts. This goes against all the statements made by Abbas. The conclusion is that the Palestinians were not represented in their entirety at Annapolis. Their representation was a problem even prior to the Annapolis Summit.

It is very unlikely that Israel will stick to its side of the bargain as proposed by Ehud Olmert at Annapolis. The chances of movement towards a negotiated settlement leading to a Palestinian State are remote. It is also unlikely that Israel will cease existing settlement expansion as well as establishing new settlements in the occupied territories. The right wing parties, Shas and Israel Beitenu, will pressure the coalition government to expand settlement activity. How this can be an impetus to the creation of a Palestinian state defies all logic.

It is doubtful if President Mahmoud Abbas will use his security police to fight terror against Israel. Apart from that, Hamas will be doing everything to destroy Abbas’s minuscule power base. Abbas will lean more on US and Israeli resources to keep him in power.

Maybe it would be a good idea for Olmert to fire his right wing coalition partners and replace them with Meretz and the Arab parties. It could strengthen Olmert’s negotiating stance with the Palestinians as he would gain support from the Israeli Arab community. It could also neutralize Hamas by either pushing them further into the sidelines or making them more pragmatic in their attitude towards Israel. This idea will not be approved by most of the Israeli electorate. If the right wing remains in the coalition, it will lead to a dead end and a total lack of progress. The question is whether this is a gamble worth taking.

Saturday, November 24

Annapolis Summit – to be a Total Failure or Limited Success

There are only a few days left before the Annapolis Summit gets under way. The press hype from all sides will increase in its ferocity about its impending failure or limited success. On the eve of this summit, it is only natural for those interested in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict to predict as to what the result of the proceedings will bring. It is fair to remind all those who seek a genuine peace between Israelis and Palestinians to give support to the leadership of both Israelis and Palestinians, despite their known weaknesses, for the success of Annapolis.

The odds weighing against the success of this summit are varied and many on both the Israeli and Palestinian side. I have written about the problems in a previous article. Nothing has changed. Despite all these misgivings, it is the only show in town whereby two leaders (even though both are very weak in the eyes of their people) of the Israeli and Palestinian peoples will be meeting despite the fact that they have not even presented a Joint Declaration of Principles before the summit.

It is perhaps a good sign that the Saudis have announced their attendance, so has Syria according to a report in Al Jazeera. That is the good news. Arab states such as Egypt and Jordan, who have signed peace treaties with Israel, will also be there. The bad news is the lack of support by Hamas and Iran (which is no surprise!).

Both PM Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas have their hands tied by the extremists in their respective countries. This means that the “core issues” – the real basis of the problems that have perpetuated the conflict will not be discussed. This weakens the summit as both main players and their representatives will achieve very little apart from a joint declaration to carry on negotiating about substance that will be procrastinated almost indefinitely. This will be Olmert’s tactic to maintain the right wing Yisrael Beitenu and Shas Parties in his overburdened coalition as well as the Labour Party. It will be a tight rope walk for Olmert but at the end of the day the coalition will remain intact while all the “core issues” will be placed under the carpet for discussion at a future unspecified date.

It remains to be seen how the Palestinians will accept that after the summit ends. It will weaken Mahmoud Abbas even further in the eyes of his people. They will say that he sold out to the Israelis and the US and this could strengthen Hamas’s hand and pose a danger to Abbas’s moderate leadership in the West Bank which is rather shaky anyway.

The Israeli right wing, by its opposition to discussing “core issues” is playing into the hands of Hamas by weakening Mahmoud Abbas even further. The Hamas are relying on this tactic. This makes Hamas and the Israeli right wing very strange bedfellows indeed – each for their own narrow reasons. If by some miracle, the “core issues” are discussed and a formula is found for a fair solution that is suitable to both the Israeli and Palestinian sides, Hamas and its terrorist allies will be weakened and so will the right wing in Israel be weakened. Surely this is desirable for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.

If extremists on both sides could be neutralized, the chances of a successful Annapolis Summit would be far greater. It is an unfortunate reality that this is far from the case. The agenda will be so watered down resulting in a platform for neutral, meaningless declarations of no substance that will allow both sides to claim success. This will result in procrastination being the thief of time and many will view this summit as a total failure rather than a limited success.

Saturday, November 17

Israel – a Jewish State?

At the beginning of the past week, Saeb Erekat, chief negotiator for the Palestine Liberation Organization, rejected on Monday 14th November 2007, the government's demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

In an interview with Israel Radio, Erekat said that "no state in the world connects its national identity to a religious identity." This caused a storm in a tea cup and of course grist to the mill to the right wing in Israel. Surely, the reaction to this is rather exaggerated!

Erekat’s statement may be true about western world countries. The nationality of citizens of these countries is determined by their country of birth or naturalization not by their religious affiliation. It is not true when referring to Arab countries. In many of these countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, UAE and a host of other Arab countries, there are no Jewish citizens as many have been expelled in the past. In most Arab countries national identity is linked to religious identity which is Islam. Some other examples of countries that are referred to as Islamic republics are: Islamic Republic of Pakistan (since 1956), Islamic Republic of Iran, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, and Islamic Republic of Mauritania.

However, be this as it may, while Israel has a Jewish majority; there is a sizeable non Jewish minority (approximately 20%). This being the case, the government of Israel should represent all Israeli citizens irrespective of race, colour or creed.

Shulamit Aloni, who was Minister of Education in late PM Rabin’s cabinet, wrote a thought provoking article “Still a Democracy?” on this issue:

“The government of Israel, with all due respect, does not represent the Jewish people but rather the citizens of the State of Israel who elected it. Israel is a sovereign state, which is still considered a democracy. In other words, it is a state for all of its citizens. Therefore it must not demand of the Palestinians to recognize it as a Jewish state, because in that way it would be declaring that any citizen whose mother is not Jewish or who did not convert with our strict Orthodox rabbis is a second-rate citizen, and his rights as a human being and a citizen are not ensured.

The Jews are a people but not a nation, they are a religious ethnic group or as respected a tribe as may be. The Jewish citizens of Britain, including the Orthodox among them, are British, and that is what is written in their passports and in the British population registry.

The same is true of France; the Jews there are French. In Canada, they are Canadians, and in Holland they are Dutch. They uphold their Jewish lives in their communities, since in democratic nations there is freedom of religion and freedom from religion. If they were to register the Jewish citizens in these countries as "Jewish" in the nationality category, we would accuse them of being anti-Semitic.

There is a difference between a people and a religion and a nationality, since nationality is decided by citizenship - a people as opposed to a nation - and therefore citizenship is nationality. The affinity of a citizen to the state is based on citizenship and not on religion; it is not based on the tribe or on the heritage of the genes of the mother.

If among the cabinet ministers there are those who feel that they are more Jewish than Israeli, that is their right, and they can uphold all the religious precepts and pray all the prayers. But that is not relevant to the ties between the State of Israel and its neighbors.

There are people among us who like to repeat that this is a Jewish state and not a state of all its citizens. It is strange that the demand has been raised of the Palestinians, as a condition for ending the occupation, to recognize a state where some 20 percent of its citizens have inferior status.

In the past it was a great joy to be an Israeli. Israel was father to the nations. The word "Jewish" does not exist in any of the prayers. There is: "And I will restore the captivity of my people Israel." And there is the people of Israel, the land of Israel, the Torah of Israel, the God of Israel and the daughter of Israel, who with the Jews is also a second-rate person.

The state of Israel was established as a civilian state, as a state of law, and not as a state of Halakha (Jewish religious law), by the "representatives of the Jewish yishuv and the Zionist movement." Not by the ultra-Orthodox to whom the cabinet ministers enslave themselves, and whose masses they release from military service, from working, and from tuition fees, and even pay them a monthly wage.

In the document establishing the state, it was promised that there would be "complete equality of rights for all its citizens regardless of origin, race or gender." And another reminder: On the Day of Independence, we light 12 beacons, the number of the tribes of Israel.

Let the cabinet ministers feel at home as Jews as much as they want, let them raise their voices in prayer and let them lay tefillin (phylacteries) - but they must remember that they serve the government of Israel, which still represents itself as being democratic. In other words, they are the representatives of all its citizens and are responsible for them.

Therefore it would be better to demand of the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a sovereign state, and not to coerce them with what the citizens coerce us - religion and its rabbis.

The existing arrangement was suitable for the Catholic Spain of Isabella and Ferdinand at the end of the 15th century. This was the year of expulsion of non-Catholics from Spain, since Spanish nationality was granted only to the Catholics or to those who converted to Catholicism.

If it is more important to be a Jew than it is to be an Israeli, why do we demand of the Jews of the world to come here at a time when they are having it good in the democratic countries in which they live as Jews?”

Shulamit Aloni is correct in her article. This has nothing to do with whether Saudi Arabia and the Arab countries are considered Moslem or not. This is irrelevant. Does one refer to England as the Christian state of England? Israel is a country that belongs to all the people living in it.

Yoel Marcus of Haaretz has put it concisely in his article of 16th November 2007, “A Stupid Demand” where he wrote: “The whole world has recognized Israel as a Jewish state. The Arab countries that attacked after Israel's Declaration of Independence did so because it was a Jewish state. Israel made peace with Egypt and Jordan in spite of being a Jewish state. If there is anyone who needs recognition, it's the Palestinians. Their leaders over the generations have goaded them into hating Jews and killing Jews, which has gone on without stopping, but left them without a state of their own.”

The upcoming Annapolis Conference will probably not reach the desired result in any case. Is the idea of putting emphasis on recognizing the Jewishness of Israel so important? The nature of Israel’s identity is well known and there is no reason to re-emphasize that in peace negotiations.

According to an editorial in Haaretz on 15th November 2007, it is easy to speak about a Jewish state, but difficult to find the political courage required doing what it takes: Settlements scattered in the heart of the Palestinian population make it impossible to separate between Israel and Palestine along a plausible and viable border. With each passing day and each passing year, every settlement expansion, every outpost and every road built to reach it disrupt the chance to separate the two nations.

Therefore suspending construction in the settlements is not a prize for the Palestinians ahead of one agreement or another, but a life-saving medicine for Israel. It is already difficult to delineate a border between the Etzion, Ariel and Ma'aleh Adumim settlement blocs as the building boundaries within them keep expanding, with a wink at Washington.

Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are demanding that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state, but they should direct this demand at the Israelis. Another conference, more negotiations, more trips and another draft agreement, another escape from addressing the core issues, as though there is anything else to negotiate. The Israelis, not Palestinians, are making the vision of the Jewish state impossible. A law tying the government's hands vis-a-vis concessions in Jerusalem passed the Knesset in a preliminary reading, as though Israel's interest is to annex East Jerusalem with its hundreds of thousands of Palestinians.

For religious fanatics on both sides, the existing solution is charmingly simple. Islamists want a Muslim state on all the area they consider sacred. Right-wing religious Israelis want a halakhic Jewish state on all the area they regard as sacred. The only problem is, both mean the same "holy ground." So the longer partition is postponed, the nearer draws the possibility of bloody messianic chaos.

Avoiding a debate on the core issues in Annapolis is not an Israeli achievement. It is an escape from the main issues, stemming from political cowardice. Every additional round of futile talks is pushing Israel farther away from determining its borders and fate.”

Apart from this, the moment one attaches a religious label on a state, that state cannot be a truly democratic state. The laws that are passed automatically favor the dominating religious group over the minorities. There can never be true equality between all the religious groups.

There are a number of apartheid-like decisions in Israel. An outstanding example is the land laws concerning purchase of land by Arabs show a remarkable similarity to the notorious Group Areas Act of apartheid South Africa. Israel’s rule of law in many respects is governed by Halacha which has become part of the state machinery. Another example is state interference in marriage partners when the one partner is not Jewish. There is no civil marriage in Israel while in progressive democratic countries provisions are made for civil marriage. The whole idea is to prevent assimilation of the Jewish People by preventing intermarriage. There are other examples but it is not the purpose of this article.

Israeli society is composed of all its citizens and this includes Arab Israelis. Peace is to be made with the State of Israel and its people.

Saturday, November 10

Problems with the Annapolis Peace Conference

Most peace loving people would like to see this conference ending in success. However, there are so many factors going against the Annapolis Peace Conference even before the delegates enter the conference venue for its first meeting. This is sad but one has to be realistic. It is really Hobson’s choice for both Prime Minister Olmert and President Mahmoud Abbas. It is a matter of both sides not being allowed to be winners or losers each for their own reasons.

If Abbas, by some miracle, is successful, he will be condemned by Hamas which will emphasize Abbas’s role as a traitor to the Palestinian cause and he will be viewed as a US-Israel collaborator. This could result in a threat to his leadership as well as to his life.

If Abbas fails, the Palestinian people who wish to see an improvement in their lives as well as an end to the occupation with its check posts and the resulting humiliations from it will remain under occupation with all that it entails. This time there will be no face savers if there is failure.

If Olmert fails, the Labour Party coalition partner could bolt the government resulting in its fall. If Olmert succeeds, his right wing partners – Israel Beitenu and Shas could bolt the government and it would fall as well. So both sides will be at a conference which will be accompanied by much press hype and is doomed to failure.

No matter how one views the prospects of this conference, both the Israeli and Palestinian leadership are weak and have their hands tied by their electorate or coalition partners.

According to a report in Haaretz, November 9 2007,

"Israel and the Palestinian Authority agreed that any future agreement between them would be conditional to the implementation of the first stage of the Road Map, which includes Palestinian counter-terrorism operations and a freeze on construction in the settlements. The agreement, which follows two weeks of stalemate in the negotiations between the two sides, may pave the way to the drafting of a shared declaration that will be presented at the Annapolis peace summit later this month.

In talks between the two negotiating teams in Tel Aviv yesterday, it was agreed that "any implementation of agreements in the future will be conditional to both sides carrying out what they must in accordance with the first stage of the road map." It is expected that a similar formulation will appear in the joint declaration the two sides will make at Annapolis".

It remains to be seen whether the two sides will be able to make a joint declaration before the Annapolis Peace Conference commences.

Israel talks about peace but is still expanding settlements in the territories at the same time.

Another point as far as the Palestinians are concerned is the freeing of prisoners. The Palestinian leadership will press for a wide scale prisoner release including those prisoners with blood on their hands. Anything less than that would be unacceptable to them. Core issues, such as the refugee problem, will not be discussed because it would result in Olmert’s right wing coalition partners bolting the government. The problem with Hamas is another factor that cannot be overlooked. Hamas rules Gaza today. Abu Mazen’s team does not represent Hamas-ruled Gaza. This means that the West Bank is the decision-maker as Palestine is divided into two entities in practice – Fatah-ruled West Bank and Hamas-ruled Gaza. The latter does not have any recognition by the EU, US, UN and Russia nor will it be represented. One cannot deny that Hamas has wide support and is a threat to the Fatah leadership in the West Bank. This non-recognition strengthens Hamas’s resolve to put a spanner in the works of Annapolis. Overlooking Hamas is a great mistake and it will not ensure the success of Annapolis. How can this peace summit succeed with so many factors working against it? Hamas is uncompromising in its attitude towards recognizing Israel’s right to exist and in ceasing its terrorist activity against Israel. Hamas is also not prepared to negotiate with Israel. This in itself creates a very serious problem for Hamas representation at Annapolis. It is doubtful if Hamas would have accepted an invitation to attend the conference had an invitation been issued to it. If Hamas had accepted the invitation to attend it would be tantamount to recognition of Israel and all that it entails. This is unacceptable to Hamas if one judges by their rhetoric and their deeds so far.

As far as both Olmert and Abbas are concerned, they are both in a Catch 22 situation whether they succeed or fail. If there is success or failure, Olmert’s coalition will eventually break up. Mahmoud Abbas is in a similar predicament. He cannot sign an agreement with Israel while Hamas breathes down his neck. If there is no agreement, the Palestinians stand to lose as there will be no chance of giving up the occupation, easing the check posts and no chance of economic improvement as well as a better standard of living for the Palestinians.

A far better alternative to the ill-fated Annapolis Summit would be investment in building viable Palestinian institutions that would ensure stable government and law enforcement. This is actually one of the provisions stated in the first phase of the Road Map. Now there is total anarchy in the West Bank with crime rates reaching a zenith.

Whatever concessions Abu Mazen manages to get from the Israelis, if any, will never satisfy Hamas and its allies. Hamas is dead set on sabotaging the results of the conference at all costs.

If Annapolis fails and the chance of that is not remote, the whole idea of a two-state solution to the conflict will be destroyed. This means that the idea of a binational state or a federation of Israel and Palestine as one entity will come up for debate. There are no other solutions.

Wednesday, October 31

To Attack or Not to Attack Iran – that is the Question

Once again the Bush Administration is at the threshold of decision making. A number of issues are pre-occupying the minds of the US leadership. Sometime in the fall, there will be the Annapolis Peace Summit with its hopes of success not being very high. A final date has not been reached as the parties are unable to come out with a declaration of principles because of problems with opposition in their own ranks. The Palestinian leadership has strong opposition from Hamas and the Israelis have opposition from their own right wing coalition partners who have threatened to bolt the coalition if agreements are reached with the Palestinians at Annapolis.

The emphasis once again has shifted towards Iran’s nuclear activity. According to a report on the Voice of America News, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohammed ElBaradei said on Sunday 28th October 2007, there was no evidence that Iran was trying to make nuclear bombs and that the country was still years away from having that capability. But the United States and other western countries, such as France, suspect Iran has a weapons program. Iran continues to deny the charge, saying its nuclear program is for energy. Nevertheless, with a certain amount of skepticism, the US is not ruling out military action to get Iran to cease its nuclear activities.

While President Mahmoud Ahmadinajad of Iran is not a very savoury character and his statements are full of bluster, it is not wise to engage in a military operation against Iran. Sanctions and economic boycotts of Iran should be increased to push Iran into economic bankruptcy with the hope that the Iranian people will overthrow the present Iranian leadership. As it is, the US has the gift of creating havoc in countries that do not abide by its will. If the US attacks Iran, even those members of the Iranian opposition will turn against the US resulting in a call to the blood by the notorious Iranian leadership that would create increased support for Ahmadinajad and his ilk.

Opposition to an evil regime and its overthrow can only be instigated by the people who are dissatisfied with the regime that rules them. Outside powers will not succeed in overthrowing an evil regime.

If we examine what had happened in oppressive communist regimes in Eastern Europe, the people overthrew their leaders. The Romanian people overthrew Nicolai Ceausescu, the communist tyrant, and created a democratic regime. All the communist bloc countries fell, not because of the US but because this was the will of the people who were oppressed and the economy was failing. However, when an outside power - the US overthrew dictatorships, the results were anarchy and terror by extremist nationalist groups vying for power. Typical examples of US failure are in Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam. The chances of the US withdrawing its military from Iraq and Afghanistan in the near future are close to zero. The US has failed in these two countries. Bush continues with his paranoia over terror which is achieving nothing to solve the crises in these two countries. This scenario could easily be repeated in Iran. This would also result in oil prices reaching heights that would be prohibitive. The world still has no alternative to oil for energy.

It is up to the Iranian people to get rid of their dictator and not the US or any other power for that matter. The world can only stand on the side lines and ensure that Iran is isolated and that its economy would crash because of boycotts and sanctions. This could enable the Iranian people to revolt and rid themselves of the evil Ahmadinajad regime already weakened by severe sanctions and boycotts. This would be more effective than using an external military option, the results of which could be catastrophic on a world basis. This would also create a refugee problem of great proportions. The US had also created a massive Iraqi refugee problem as a result of its activities there and a severe humanitarian crisis.

Iran is concerned with creating a situation on the ground in the Middle East whereby it supports extremists like Hamas financially and militarily. The goal of Iran is similar to the goal of Hamas. This goal is the destruction of Israel. Ahmadinajad and Hamas have made this clear on numerous occasions. However the Palestinians fail to realize that if Iran achieves nuclear weapon capability, they are under threat of total destruction no less than Israel. It is in the interests of the Palestinians no less than Israel, that nuclear weapon capability of Iran is never realized. Iran is interested in establishing a Shiite-style caliphate in the Middle East by trying to exploit the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict to achieve that end. It will be an interesting mental exercise to try and predict how a Sunni extremist group like Hamas would accept this in the future.

Despite the evil of the present Iranian regime under Ahmadinajad and his ilk, a military operation by the US against that regime would be a total disaster and would not contribute anything to solving the various crises in the Middle East. It would contribute to further scorn on the US and it would add another failed campaign to the increasing lexicon of US-failed campaigns and the humanitarian crises caused.