Saturday, December 25

Racism - a Cancer in Israel

It is unfortunate that there are public servants in Israel of all ranks - ranging from some extreme right wing Knesset members to religious establishment public servants (rabbis) in the various municipalities around the country who are legitimizing hatred of non-Jews.

If this causes many Israel pundits to raise their eyebrows and say that I am anti-Israel, anti-Zionist as well as doing a great disservice to Israel and feeding grist to the mill of Israel's enemies - I disagree! Am I deserving of these epithets when I condemn racism and xenophobia in Israel? The justification for being apathetic to racism in Israel is that it gives ammunition to Israel's enemies. Any positive criticism of racism in Israel is viewed as an anti-Semitic reaction that is denying Israel's right to exist. Does this mean that denying or ignoring the existence of racism in Israel serves Israel's interest?

As mentioned in my previous articles - there is a trend of increasing racism or xenophobia as witnessed a few weeks ago (50 rabbis signed a document against renting out apartments to non-Jews). This had a snowball effect, which spurred on feelings of hate for Arabs as well as foreign workers and the demonstrations by right wing groups that followed.

Incidents of violence against Arabs have occurred in East Jerusalem. Widespread demonstrations also occurred in Bat Yam, and Hatikva Quarter. These demonstrations were aimed at Arabs and foreign workers generally.

The demonstrations were even attended by Knesset Member Michael Ben-Ari - a right wing extremist, who stooped to rabble rousing the masses against Arabs. When racism is legitimized by an MK then we must be aware of the danger signals and condemn this development very strongly. It is unacceptable! It is our duty to condemn this phenomenon. These extremists are giving Israel's enemies an excuse to hate Israel and making comparisons between Israel and apartheid South Africa more legitimate especially as some of these racist tainted bills makes its way into law.

If we are complacent and allow racism to prevail then we are just as guilty as the perpetrators themselves. If we do not nip this tendency in the bud we are doing just as much a disservice to Israel as Israel's enemies.

The right wing coalition government of Israel has a number of right wing partners headed by racist extremists, whose statements have been giving legitimacy to racism towards Arabs as well as foreign workers where Israel has adopted a "revolving door" policy whether the latter are caregivers of the Israeli aged, agricultural field workers or builders. They come and go depending on the whims of the Interior Ministry headed by Eli Yishai of the racist Shas Party. He is on record stating that foreigners pollute the Jewish people with AIDS and all kinds of diseases, not to mention the fact that they are a threat to the Jewish character of Israel. Does this perhaps ring a bell of an evil era in Germany in the 1930's and 40's?

Must we Israelis not be aware of the danger signals of racism and try to hide it in the cupboard as it could be perceived as serving the interests of Israel's enemies?

Those who are harming Israel are the racists in the Netanyahu Government. Avigdor Lieberman, Eli Yishai and Michael Ben-Ari, the neo-Kahanist, are spewing hatred for the foreigners in our midst. Lieberman reserves his hate for the Palestinians. Netanyahu's condemnation of racism rings empty when the extreme right flank of his government holds racist views.

Another surprising incident was the visit to Vienna, Austria of Likud Deputy Minister, Ayoob Kara. The purpose of his visit was a meeting with Heinz-Christian Strache, head of the far-right FPO Party and praising him at a joint press conference.

This party was founded by former Austrian Nazis in 1948, including many who had served in the SS. This is the party of the late Joerg Haider.

The FPO has "called for the abolishment of anti-Nazi legislation." It is known for its anti-Semitism as well as praising the Nazi regime. The FPO is also on record for supporting notorious Holocaust deniers. Netanyahu received a letter of condemnation of the visit from Ariel Muzicant, the president of Austria's Jewish community. Maybe Israel supporters will say that criticism of this visit is also anti-Semitic!

While considering the increasing racism in Israel and the nature of Israel's right wing government, it should not surprise us that this government would find strange bedfellows in far right wing movements in Europe and elsewhere. Israel is sensitive towards racism directed at the Jewish people but towards the minorities, the sensitivity is somehow lacking and this is exhibited in the quality of Knesset members in the right wing coalition that was voted in by the majority of Israel’s citizens. It has set a pattern that is moving towards racism and fear of the minority non-Jewish groups living in Israel.


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Sunday, December 19

Is Democracy in Israel at the Cross Roads?

Since the right wing coalition government in Israel was elected in 2009 with its macabre collection of partners on the right, there are disturbing signs of erosion of democracy in Israel.

One does not have to be a political scientist to see that democracy in Israel is reaching the crossroads.

In recent weeks we have witnessed some trends in the government orchestrated by Israel Beiteinu, the extreme right wing racist party under the leadership of Avigdor Lieberman, the Foreign Minister. This racist party has been at the forefront of the Pledge of Allegiance Bill aimed at non-Jews who wish to become citizens of Israel.

Are we moving towards an apartheid-like society? Where are the checks and balances that should prevent racist legislation being enacted? The Labor Party, which used to be the left of centre party associated with the left wing in Israel has lost its identity and is part of the Netanyahu Government. It is compromising on its socialist ideology for the sake of being in a ruling coalition irrespective of whether it is right or left wing.

When the terrible fire was raging in the Carmel forests, resulting in the tragic loss of 44 lives, Israel appealed for help from overseas. The plea was answered by many countries, including Turkey and the Palestinian Authority, with whom Israel has problematic relationships.

Israel's appeal for help was answered and it was quick in coming. The Palestinian Authority sent a contingent of 21 fire fighters despite the fact that their fire fighting abilities are limited.

What was interesting is that Israel accepted help from wherever it came and even the Palestinian firemen were not subject to massive security checks prior to their entry. However when the community of Usfiya organized a ceremony in their honour, it was business as usual and these fireman were not granted permits to attend the ceremony in their honour. The excuse given was a technical one and an apology was made by Israel for the misunderstanding. Some right wingers made cynical statements that Palestinians were responsible for the Carmel fire tragedy and that the fireman should not have been allowed in the first place.

The signatories to a document against renting homes to non-Jews signed by 39 senior rabbis on the payroll of many municipalities in Israel is also a dangerous signal which could cause problems for democracy in Israel. It also has wider ramifications than most of us wish to believe. What comes to mind is the weakening of the separation of synagogue and state which is the cornerstone of most western democracies.

The declaration of recognition of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state is in itself problematic. As I mentioned in a previous article, Israel has a Jewish majority and the non-Jewish minorities account for 20% of Israel's population. Bearing this in mind, is it necessary to emphasize this in a Pledge of Allegiance? What purpose does this serve and what benefits can the citizens of Israel accrue. Nobody will deny Israel's Jewish character as this is a demographic reality that does not need to be emphasized ad nauseam.

Today Israel is becoming more of a theocracy rather than a democracy. A theocracy can never be a true democracy. Most Arab states in the Middle East are theocracies. The predominant faith is Islam. There is no democracy in these states and the status of women is poor. If we take Iran as an example, we note that it is also known as the Islamic Republic of Iran. This country is not democratic. If Israel becomes the Jewish Republic of Israel with a coalition of religious parties, the situation in Israel would not be democratic. It is perhaps very different from the evil Iranian Ahmadinajad regime but the threat to a healthy democracy is still present.

Apart from the signatures of racist rabbis mentioned earlier in this article there are also trends that some towns are enacting bylaws to discourage non-Jews from living there.
A report in Haaretz by Jack Khoury on 16th November 2009 stated the following:
 “Less than six months after two northern communities proposed changing their bylaws to make "loyalty to the Zionist vision" a condition of acceptance into the community, a third has just followed suit.
All three locales are small communities where houses can legally be sold only to people approved by a vetting committee. All are also located in the Misgav Regional Council.
In June, after Haaretz's report on the proposed bylaw change in Manof and Yuvalim raised a storm, both communities decided to reconsider the move, and are still in the process of thinking it over. At the time, Arab Knesset members and Adalah, an Arab advocacy group, had charged that the new bylaws were an attempt to circumvent a High Court of Justice ruling barring such communities from refusing to sell houses to Arabs who meet all the other requirements for membership.
Last Thursday, however, another Misgav community, Mitzpeh Aviv, approved new bylaws stressing the town's Jewish and Zionist character - an issue that had gone unmentioned in the old bylaws. In a section titled "goals and powers," the new document lists the community's primary goals as "settlement; Zionism; the heritage of Israel; the values of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, in the spirit of the vision of the State of Israel's Declaration of Independence; tolerance; and human dignity."
Moreover, it said, "the community's Israeli Zionist essence is emphasized in daily life, by celebrating Israeli holidays communally, organizing activities for the youth in connection with their bar-mitzvah year and having members' children join Zionist youth movements, all while taking part in the Zionist enterprise."
Finally, the section on membership stated that new members must share "the basic worldview and goals of the association as presented in the 'goals and powers' section."
If the emphasis in the future is going to be on Israel’s Jewishness and turning Israel into a state based on Halacha (Jewish Law), democracy in Israel will be compromised and people’s freedom of choice where they may live will be severely compromised especially if they are not Jewish.

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Saturday, December 4

Israel in Flames

A terrible tragedy hit the Carmel Mountains. A forest fire of tremendous proportions had broken out resulting in the loss of millions of trees and wild life. The lives of 40 prison wardens trapped in a bus engulfed in flames were lost. They were on the way to save security prisoners, Jewish and Palestinian, who were threatened by the monstrous fire. Over 40000 dunams of land destroyed.

The fire has been raging for a few days now and we are witnessing the total impotence of the Israeli Fire Brigade. I have seen reports about the lack of allotted budgets for the fire brigade. The fire brigade commanders have demanded a budget increase from all the Israeli Governments past and present over the years but nothing was done. The only time when moneys are allotted is when there is a fire literally but in actuality the crippling network of Israeli burocracy has always been a big obstacle to overcome in just about every important civil necessity.

The budget that should have been allotted to essential civil services has somehow made its way to partisan parasitic yeshivas in coalition religious deals that somehow seem to get their booty with the minimum of burocratic red tape. All this is done for the sake of placating the parasitic Shas Party to remain in the coalition to wreak hell and brimstone havoc in the form of political blackmail to gain disproportionate funds for their yeshivas.

The fire brigade is the responsibility of Interior Ministry under Eli Yishai the Shas Party leader. The ultra Orthodox Shas Party’s price to be in the coalition is to get money for their yeshivas. This explains the ill-equipped and largely ineffective fire brigade services. The fact that they are able to function is due to the dedication of the firemen despite the tremendous odds against them. We must raise our hats to them in humility. They are working round the clock facing indescribable difficulty.

We are facing a natural disaster of incredible proportions with damage to property, loss of lives including wild life that will take a long time to rehabilitate.

I think of the time, prior to the mega fire, wasted on issues that antagonize a large section of Israel's minority. I think of the paranoiac attitude that the Israeli Government has towards the outside world that criticizes Israel for its settlement policies in the occupied territories. The cries of anti-Semitism are quick in coming whenever Israel is condemned for Palestinian human rights abuses. The fire brigade is the responsibility of the Ministry of the Interior. This Shas Party inflated Ministry seems to be more concerned in preserving racial Jewish purity (endless energy spent on xenophobic attitudes towards foreign workers and pledges of allegiance by non-Jews to Israel as a Jewish state are some examples of wasted energy) by the plethora of costly bills to ensure that goal rather than being accountable for essential services that citizens are entitled including the fire brigade.

It is a case of Nero fiddles while Rome burns. Nero is the Likud leader, PM Benjamin Netanyahu, while Rome is the burning Carmel forests.

Many people in Israel say that this mega fire could have occurred under previous governments but it was just unfortunate that it happened under the present government. This may or may not be true. What is true is that there have been fires in the Carmel forests over the years but the responsible bodies took no heed in beefing up the fire brigade once the fires were put out. Instead they had numerous commissions of enquiries with inconclusive results swept up in an insurmountable web of Israeli Government burocracy that did nothing.

Israel appealed to the world community for aid to extinguish the fire. Help was fast in coming - even from so called "hostile" countries like Turkey. PM Erdogan whom Israelis claim hates Israel played his part in sending two fire fighting planes to help in containing this natural disaster. Even the Palestinian Authority had sent in aid to Israel to help extinguish the fire. 

The cause of the fire is from Isfiya, the Druze village. It was started by the negligence of two youngsters. It was not arson. There are pyromaniacs who have been lighting fires as well causing new fires in the area. The police are investigating and have made some arrests.

However, some lessons can be learned from this. What comes to mind is the failure of Israel's fire brigade because of lack of modern fire-fighting equipment. Israel's appeal to the international community for help in extinguishing the fire never went unheeded and the response was gratifying beyond expectation.

So much time had been wasted on passing racist bills against Israel's non-Jewish minorities led by two racists, Avigdor Lieberman the Foreign Minister and Eli Yishai the Interior Minister. All this was done in order to maintain a right wing coalition. All these racist bills pale when the terrible disaster occurred. Israel was caught with its pants down in its inability to extinguish the fire without outside help.

It also reinforces the fact that Israel is part of the world community and we are all dependent on each other especially in times of disaster. Lately Israel has been very arrogant and going against the wishes of the international community in its opposition to the extension of a settlement freeze in the occupied territories.

After the fire is put out, there will be a commission of enquiry. What is obvious at this early stage is the pathetic ineptitude of the Interior Ministry under Eli Yishai the Shas Party leader. He has proved to be a disgrace and totally useless. He must resign and shoulder some of the responsibility for this tragedy. This would be the correct thing to do.

Israel has always sent teams on rescue missions to countries that have had natural disasters. They have built field hospitals in countries like Haiti with great success. They helped Turkey when it suffered a massive earthquake about 24 years ago. However, on their own turf, their fire fighting ability is poor and they had to rely on outside help. This is unfortunate and our hearts go out to all those families who lost dear ones in this disaster. The ecological disaster area in the Carmel will take many years to rehabilitate.    

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Saturday, November 27

What Direction are we taking?

Proclamations from states concerning the 2008–...Image via Wikipedia
There is a very negative trend in Israel towards non-Jewish minority groups who are Israeli citizens. The handwriting was on the wall when the Bill of Allegiance had passed its first reading in the Knesset.
The Jewish people had been a persecuted minority for centuries in the Diaspora prior to Israel's establishment. They suffered severe discrimination in almost all the professions. All that was left for them was various commercial enterprises and even money-lending. This had resulted in hate for the Jews increasing as they were viewed as usurers. They became the scapegoats for a long time.
Libelous stories against the Jew became widespread and their lives were turned into an unjustifiable hell.
The climax of it all was the Holocaust and the murder of six million Jews by Nazi Germany. Nothing can be compared to this in its horror and this was an attempt at ethnic cleansing of the world of its Jewish population - the goal of the Nazi regime in Germany in its "final solution" plan.
Israel was established after the Holocaust in 1948 when the world voted for partition between Israel and a Palestinian state in the United Nations on 29th November 1947.
Today Israel has a severe problem in its relations with many nations in the world. The most outstanding example is its rapid deteriorating relations with Turkey. The PM of Turkey, Racep Tayyip Erdogan, has made many anti-Israel statements since the Gaza War of 2008-9. The Turkish flotilla debacle of 31st May 2010 sealed the fate of Israel's relations with Turkey that reached a new low with the death of nine Turkish citizens on the Mavi Marmara ship.
Israel's deteriorating relations with Turkey have had wider ramifications than expected and even Israel's traditional friends have begun to criticize Israel for blockading Gaza. Nevertheless, the result is that Israel's right wing coalition government has gone on to blame the world, who in their eyes are becoming increasingly anti-Semitic. Is this really the case? There are those who say that the world expects more morality from Israel and thus the criticism towards Israel is the result of this.
Israel's reaction is controversial bills such as the Pledge of Allegiance to Israel as a Jewish state. Also there are signs of racism against the non-Jew in this pledge. The Jews have suffered so much from racism. The basis of Judaism according to Hillel the Elder, is: "What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellowman”. We have no right to use stereotype examples when we judge other nations and this includes the Palestinians.
Today we are witnessing a very dangerous trend in both Judaism and Islam. Both faiths are becoming increasingly fundamentalist in their attitude towards each other.
In Safed, an Israeli town in the north, famous for Cabbala (Jewish mysticism) and its artist's quarter has made news because of the racism against Arabs as residents. Safed's Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu called on a ban on renting apartments to Arabs. This is in violation of the law. This is aimed at Arab students who wish to study at Safed Academic College. There is a hospital there as well which is to be enlarged and will include a medical school. Many Arabs are employed in the hospital and undoubtedly many Arab students will enroll as medical students in the future.
These potential students will be seeking board and lodging near to the academic colleges where they are enrolled. If this racist ideology of the Safed Chief Rabbi is not nipped in the bud, a dangerous precedent will be created between Jewish and Arab citizens in Israel which could lead to a deterioration of relations between the two peoples which is problematic without this added racist ideology.
This example of racism towards Israel's non-Jewish minority citizens has been stoked up even further by many right wing "hell and brimstone" rabbis. This is not only peculiar to Safed but also in the main cities of Israel where Arab students are denied board and lodging close to the colleges and universities where they are studying. Many rabbis are justifying this in their warped and racist interpretation of Judaism. This is no different ideologically from the hatred of Jews as expressed by extremist imams in Islam as espoused by the wicked Hezbollah, Hamas, Al Qaeda and their affiliated fanatic terrorist groups all over the world including the evil Ahmadinajad regime of Iran.
Maybe it is true that Israel's friends, including the US, expect more from us. We claim to be the only democracy with an impartial and fair judicial system in the Middle East. However, the increasing tendency of many rabbis exhibiting blatant racism and justifying it in the name of "Hashem" is appalling!
When racism is exhibited against the non-Jewish citizen in Israel and given the kosher stamp of approval by many influential rabbis, it draws Israel into the apartheid mentality of white South Africa. At no time in Israel's relative short history since 1948 has this been more evident since the election of the present right wing government under PM Benjamin Netanyahu. It is the most right wing government since Israel's establishment.
Where are the voices of moderation and reconciliation condemning racism in all its forms? Surely there is room for spiritual leaders in both Islam and Judaism to make their voices heard in the condemnation of racism between the two sides. There is no room for religious prejudice or hatred, which could so easily result in a blood bath if it is not curbed.

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Saturday, October 16

The Deed is Done

Eli YishaiImage via Wikipedia

The Pledge of Allegiance Bill recognizing Israel as a Jewish and democratic state will be passed into law. This pledge is directed towards potential non-Jewish immigrants who wish to become naturalized Israeli citizens. Jews, who immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return, are exempted from the pledge.

This heinous bit of racist legislation was orchestrated by the Yisrael Beiteinu Party of Avigdor Lieberman. It received overwhelming support from the right wing coalition Knesset members. The spineless, weak, Labor Party made a few ineffectual squeaks of opposition, but is still in the coalition. This comes as no surprise, as the Labour Party under Ehud Barak, has sacrificed its ideological platform for seats in the odious right wing cabinet which includes the likes of right wing Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, and Shas leader Eli Yishai, the Minister of Interior, whose dislike for Arabs is no secret.

Their hatred even spreads to non-Jewish foreign workers who are victims of a "revolving door" policy. They are contracted laborers, many of whom look after our aged as caregivers. After a number of years, many of these people marry and raise a family. Their children speak Hebrew as their first language. They are integrated into the Israeli education system, see themselves as Israelis, and have Israeli friends. Now Interior Minister Eli Yishai is trying to get them deported. The reason - foreigners are a threat to the Jewish identity of the State of Israel! How xenophobic can one get? We have been victims of anti-Semitism in the Diaspora. Now we are becoming xenophobic ourselves and are resorting to discriminatory measures to preserve our Jewish identity in Israel whether it be allegiance pledges of loyalty or our attitude towards our Israeli Arab citizens. Even the foreign worker as mentioned is caught up in this weird and unjustified crusade.

Israel seems to be joining a host of Middle East Countries that are using religion as part of the identity of the state. Some examples are: The Islamic Republic of Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Mauritania

Naturally these Moslem theocracies are not democratic and some of these countries even forbid Jews from living there. Is it appropriate for Israel to follow their example by discriminating against non-Jews whether they are foreign workers or have an Israeli spouse especially if she or he is not Jewish?

Any theocratic state is not democratic. Religion and democracy are not compatible and there is no reason to believe that Israel will be any different in the future. The Pledge of Allegiance is just the first stage in the erosion of democracy in Israel which could become "The Jewish Republic of Israel" with all its ramifications.

The prospect of transfer of Israel's Arab population who has a problem of recognizing Israel as a Jewish state could be the first target. This does not mean that Israel's Arab population does not recognize Israel's right to exist. It is a matter of terminology. Most Israeli Arab citizens have no problem with Israel's Declaration of Independence. Why does the Jewish identity of Israel have to be so aggressively emphasized when this has never been an issue in the past?

Surely this bodes evil and could put every non-Jewish citizen's loyalty under scrutiny.

The Israel Government is occupied in justifying its attitude towards the Palestinian-Israeli conflict while at the same time building in occupied territories and passing a controversial Pledge of Allegiance law.

Israel is moving down the slippery slope of intolerance towards those who are different. This is against the spirit of the Declaration of Independence which stresses equality of Israel's citizens irrespective of race, colour or creed.

Now we arrive at Israel's requirement of Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. Surely it is sufficient that the Palestinians recognize Israel as an independent state. The nature of Israel as a Jewish state is understood without it being turned into a hot potato.

While both the Palestinian and Israeli side are placing great emphasis on marginal issues that are causes of disagreement between the two sides in order to torpedo the talks and win world support in apportioning the blame for the failure of peace negotiations. The Pledge of Allegiance and the demand by Israel that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state is a ploy by Israel to pull out of the peace talks. Ending the moratorium on settlement activity is another excuse.

So there we have it. Intransigence and obstinacy on both sides, coupled with a lack of vision are laying the foundations for further violence between the two sides. The deed is done and another opportunity for achieving peace is slipping away.

A state
That declares war
On a fifth
Of its citizens -
Can it be called

A state
That persecutes
Its minority -
Can it be called

Gush Shalom Ad in Haaretz, October 15, 2010
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Saturday, October 9

Discriminating Pledge of Allegiance?

Portrait of Avigdor LiebermanImage via Wikipedia
The settlement freeze will not continue in order to jump start the faltering Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. PM Netanyahu risks a coalition break up if he acquiesces to US and international pressure. FM Avigdor Lieberman's address from the UN General Assembly podium was an opportunity for him to present his Israel Beitenu Party agenda which has racist and discriminatory undertones.

There are trends in the Israeli Government which ought to be a concern to those who value freedom and democracy. FM Lieberman never represented official government policy (or maybe he did?). He was not fired for this speech. He was advocating transfer of Arab populations in Israel in a soft-serve style, but the message was obvious. It is business as usual in the Foreign Ministry with Avigdor Lieberman remaining at the helm.

A national paranoia is setting in as the Israeli Government is seeking ways to justify Israel's existence as if the whole world is seen as seeking the deligitimization of Israel. Israel's identity as a Jewish and democratic state is written in the Declaration of Independence which is recognized by the High Court of Justice. A new bill formulated by the Minister of Justice, Yaakov Neeman, will be passed for non-Jews who wish to become naturalized Israeli citizens - an oath of allegiance stating loyalty to Israel as "a Jewish and democratic state”. This awkward and unnecessary pledge of allegiance will create problems for Israel's non-Jewish naturalized citizens. It has discriminatory undertones. It also gives rise to the notion that Israeli Arabs will forever remain second class citizens in a Jewish and democratic state. There are countries who demand a pledge of allegiance from citizens who are naturalized and this is legitimate. Can one imagine what would happen if the US demanded its naturalized citizens who are not Christians to plead allegiance to the US as a Christian and democratic country? It would not go down well with Jews who would view this as anti-Semitic, Moslems who would see the US as anti-Moslem, and a xenophobic tint towards other faiths.

We are all aware that Israel is a state for all its citizens, irrespective of race, colour or creed. We are also aware that the majority of Israel's citizens are Jews and 20% are non-Jews. The character of Israel is determined by the majority of its inhabitants who are Jewish. So why is it necessary to emphasize this in the Pledge of Allegiance? Surely there is a discriminatory intention to dissuade non-Jews from becoming naturalized citizens? A pledge of loyalty to the State of Israel is sufficient and is no danger to Israel's existence? The pledge of allegiance to the State of Israel should be applicable to all its naturalized citizens including those who arrived under the Law of Return.

Perhaps it is Likud strategy to appease the right wing parties in the coalition, including Lieberman's Yisrael Beitenu Party which is also a very strong coalition partner and is very much part of the ideology behind this declaration-citizen law.

The introduction of this strange law could also be a form of digression to free Netanyahu from making a decision over extending the settlement freeze. Here he can score points from the right wing that is unanimous in their support of the citizen allegiance law.

It is certain that despite Israel's claim to the contrary, it is not interested in wrapping up a peace agreement with the Palestinians. The continuation of building settlements in the occupied territories is proof that the Israeli Government wishes to continue to annex the occupied territories. Continuous building means the negation of the two state solution and the Palestinians can forget about ever getting their own state. Would there be any point in building new settlements if in the end there will be a withdrawal from the occupied territories? One must remember that the situation in the West Bank is far more complex than in the occupied Gaza Strip when Israel withdrew unilaterally in August 2005.Many of the settlers who were forced to leave their homes still have not found alternative housing and are living in temporary homes.

The Israeli Government is creating a situation on the ground whereby there will be movement towards a bi-national state that will subject the Palestinians to an apartheid-like situation of being second class citizens who will have to plead allegiance to the State of Israel being a Jewish and democratic state. This catastrophic scenario could be the result in the future.

Surely it would be beneficial to both Palestinians and Israelis if the moratorium on settlements continues to allow both parties to negotiate a solution to the conflict. Both sides are not interested in a solution for the reasons I have already mentioned in a previous article.

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Saturday, September 25

The Freezing Deadline

The deadline on the freezing of settlements ends on the 26th September 2010. President Mahmoud Abbas has threatened to pull out of the peace negotiations with Israel if the freezing of settlements in the occupied territories is not extended after that date.

It is unlikely that PM Netanyahu will extend the moratorium on settlement expansion after that date as he risks major coalition crises if he does. One must remember that the present Israeli Government is composed of right wing to extreme right wing parties who are opposed to settlement freezes.

On the Palestinian front, Abbas will heave a sigh of relief and the excuse that he has been seeking to pull out of the peace talks will occur. If he pulls out of the peace talks because building in the occupied territories will commence, his skin will be saved and so will his standing amongst the Hamas supporters in Palestinian street. Abbas has his hands tied by Palestinian extremists who do not want peace. If he would sign any form of agreement with Israel his life would be placed in jeopardy. If the moratorium on settlement expansion continues, it would put Abbas in an embarrassing situation and he would soon find another excuse to pull out of the talks. No amount of US arm twisting will prevent that eventuality in the end.

The greatest losers will be the Obama Administration in the US who has failed to understand the dynamics of the Israeli - Palestinian Conflict. In their naivety towards the region, they (the US) will once again prove their amateurishness in their approach to the conflict. As it is, both sides were brought together screaming by the US Administration for peace talks that neither side believes or wants. Both Abbas and Netanyahu do not really have a mandate from their people to make the concessions and bold decisions needed to achieve peace and put an end to this tragic conflict - the festering cancerous sore in the Middle East - that defies a solution because of extremists on both sides that really hold the balance of power.

Hamas and their extremist Islamic allies are waiting in the shadows in the hope that the peace talks will fail. Netanyahu will supply the reason by the continuation of settlement expansion in order to make a Palestinian state unattainable. The "we told you so" reaction will be quick in coming from Islamist Palestinian terror groups and the pressure on Abbas to pull out of the talks will be enormous.

One cannot avoid asking the question - why were peace talks not started at the beginning of the settlement freeze? It is doubtful if both sides have an answer apart from a myriad of excuses each blaming the other for tardiness, and the US on the side embroiled in its own domestic and economic problems.

As I mentioned in my last article, both Netanyahu and Abbas do not have what it takes to end the conflict finally and so it will continue for a long time to come. Hamas is not interested in recognizing Israel's right to exist and there seems to be a fatwa declared on Israel's total destruction whether there are settlements in the occupied territories or not. As far as they are concerned Israel's existence since 1948 is occupied territory and Israel ("the Zionist entity" as they call it) must be destroyed. The words of the evil President Mahmud Ahmadinajad of Iran have expressed similar sentiments which are a page from the Hamas book of hate.

When one views these doomed peace talks within that context, we can see that without Hamas being involved in the talks, they are bound to fail. It will always be the powerful Hamas mindset in the shadows whose strength in Gaza is absolute, and in the West Bank their influence is stronger than most moderates would like to admit. They are a potential danger to Abbas and the Palestinian Authority and a civil war between the Fatah faction and Hamas cannot be ruled out. Any signing of a peace agreement with Israel could be a catalyst for Hamas taking over power in the West Bank and this could result in a blood bath. This would pose a great security threat to Israel as Qassam rockets could be smuggled into the West Bank and there would be risks of further suicide terrorists infiltrating into Israel from there. The current mindset of Hamas is such that it would never negotiate a peace settlement with Israel. All that remains is the devil and the deep blue sea.

The continuation of "peace" flotillas towards Gaza will continue as naive peace-seekers on these vessels under the guise of "humanitarian assistance" to the besieged Palestinians will continue to play into the hands of the evil Hamas rulers of Gaza who are masters of deception. They are corrupt, evil and abusers of human rights of the Palestinian people over whom they rule.

The future of the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians seems to be an exercise in futility. The US patronage is bound to fail as it has in the past. Failure to come to terms with the harsh realities on the side of the US must also be held to account for the upcoming failure. It will also dent President Obama's decreasing popularity rating even further. His chance of being a one term president of the US will be further increased.

Saturday, September 11

The Renewed Peace Negotiations

                                                              President Mahmud Abbas and P.M. Benyamin Netanyahu

Rosh Hashanah is upon us and at the same time Eid El Fitr - the conclusion of the month long Ramadan Fast. Both holy days for Jews and Moslems respectively are significant as they fall at the same time. Both holydays symbolize repentance and purification of the soul for both peoples. The Ten Days of Penitence also begins for the Jewish People culminating in Yom Kippur - the Day of Atonement.

My gut feeling is that both peoples need to realize that their respective faiths have more in common than what divides them. Surely the time has come to understand that the Arab and Jewish people are closely linked in a common destiny. This rings true for both Israelis and Palestinians who must organize themselves and move towards a conclusion of the Palestinian - Israeli Conflict which has embroiled them for generations. After all, both sides wish for a better future for themselves and their children.

Now with the renewal of peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians under US patronage perhaps there is a flicker of hope for both sides. Maybe there is no room for great optimism as both sides have so many grudges against each other for historical reasons whether it is Al Naqba (the catastrophe) from the Palestinian side and with it the historical non-recognition of Israel's right to exist and the ongoing tragic Palestinian refugee problem which has defied a solution since 1948 when the State of Israel was established. The Palestinian violence against Israel with its tragic consequences for both sides have resulted in hatred and total lack of trust that will make negotiations for peace between the two sides almost impossible to achieve.

The establishment of the State of Israel had received the legal stamp of the United Nations Partition Plan adopted overwhelmingly on November 29th 1947 by a vote of 33 to 13, with 10 abstentions.[1]and therefore Israel's right to exist is unquestionable and irrefutable.

The Arab leadership (in and out of Palestine) opposed the plan.[88] The Arabs argued that it violated the rights of the majority of the people in Palestine, which at the time was 67% non-Jewish (1,237,000) and 33% Jewish (608,000).[89]
Arab leaders threatened the Jewish population of Palestine, speaking of "driving the Jews into the sea" and ridding Palestine "of the Zionist Plague".[90] On the eve of the Arab armies invasion, Azzam Pasha, the General Secretary of the Arab League, "describing the fate of the Jews" is said to have declared: "This will be a war of extermination and a momentous massacre which will be spoken of like the Mongolian massacres and the Crusades".[91] However, Joffe and Romirowsky report that this "cannot be confirmed from cited sources".[92] Six days later, Azzam told reporters "We are fighting for an Arab Palestine. Whatever the outcome the Arabs will stick to their offer of equal citizenship for Jews in Arab Palestine and let them be as Jewish as they like. In areas where they predominate they will have complete autonomy."[93]  (From Wikipedia)

The time has arrived for the Palestinian People to come to terms with Israel’s existence. The character of Israel is that of the majority of the people which is Jewish. Any denial of Israel’s identity as a Jewish state is tantamount to delegitimizing Israel’s right to exist. This does not mean denial of equal rights to Israel’s non-Jewish citizens which comprises 20% of the total population. Of course, the issues arising from the occupation and the Israeli Government's encouragement of settlements in lands conquered since the 1967 June War have to be addressed and a solution found acceptable to both parties in this unending conflict.

There are so many problems and pitfalls as well as the fact that Gaza is not involved in the negotiations because of the intransigence of Hamas in its uncompromising hate for Israel and its continuation of terrorist acts against Israelis. Hamas is an evil organization that terrorizes the Palestinians in Gaza especially those opposing Hamas. Their methods of torture are cruel and relentless in their desire to turn Gaza into an Islamic state under Iran's patronage.

The absence of Gaza at the negotiating table weakens the Palestinian Authority under President Mahmoud Abbas who will be under constant threat and harassment by the Hamas regime in Gaza as well as the Hamas cells in the occupied West Bank.

At the same time, Israel must also show some flexibility by maintaining the settlement freeze or else President Mahmoud Abbas's rather tenuous standing in the negotiations will be further weakened and he will pull out of the negotiations which would result in total collapse of the new US sponsored peace initiative.

However, with all the best intentions of the Obama Administration to achieve a peace settlement, the odds are stacked heavily against an end to this tragic conflict. It could end up like all the numerous attempts in the past that have failed. All that remains of past failures are photographs of forced smiles on the faces of the leaders of their respective peoples and their representatives in the negotiations.

Both Netanyahu and Abbas have huge problems even in the preliminary stages. Netanyahu has a right wing coalition which is supportive of the right wing settler movement and the continuation of building new settlements in the occupied territories. It is unlikely that the coalition will agree to continuation of the settlement freeze even though it was and still is cosmetic. Any signing of a peace treaty with the Palestinians could severely endanger Netanyahu’s coalition and result in its break up.

Abbas also has a large problem. He is weak and does not have much popular support from his own people. An added problem is Hamas which is breathing down his neck waiting for the kill if he signs any agreement with Israel.

These two severe problems are a great threat to a successful outcome of any form of peace negotiations. It is hard to overlook these facts and carry on smiling in the negotiating rooms in the midst of photo opportunities.

How does one overcome these almost insurmountable problems? I really am at a loss for answers. Perhaps there is none.

Maybe a possible change of approach could be an answer. Some years ago I wrote about the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission similar to the South African model but modified to suit the situation between Israelis and Palestinians. The TRC was very successful in South Africa. It may not be the ideal solution but it could create a movement towards reconciliation and building up of trust between the two sides. The head of the commission could come from a neutral country. Representatives of both Israelis and Palestinians could be invited to appear before the commission and each should seek forgiveness from each other for the wrongs committed towards each other. The perpetrators of injustices on both sides should be encouraged to come forward and give evidence without being prosecuted and thus a healing process could be initiated prior to peace negotiations. This of course would be symbolic but if done with sensitivity and understanding could go a long way in building up trust and motivating both sides to achieve peace. It is a dynamic rather than a solution. What better time is there than now, even when viewing it from the Jewish ethic? A process of forgiveness for the wrongs and injustices done to both the Israeli and Palestinian peoples could begin. Both sides need to adopt the difficult and challenging path of reconciliation and a desire to make peace.
Three simple words are so important to solve the conflict without which no dynamic could ever begin - HOPE, TRUST and COEXISTANCE.