Obama and Israel-Palestine


in Bombs and rockets, Politics, Security

Einstein doll

Expectations of the Obama administration could hardly be higher: both in terms of domestic promises (fixing health care, etc) and international ones (fixing climate change, etc). Successfully addressing a good number of the pressing issues facing the United States would make for a very successful presidency. That being said, it may be overly optimistic to hope for progress on all fronts. There is only a limited amount of time even the most energetic and capable administration has, and there is always the need to negotiate with other actors, most importantly the US Congress. In the end, it is better to make strong and durable progress on a smaller subset of issues than to make a weak and easily reversible advance on many more.

It seems to me that one area where Obama should consider limiting his engagement is the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. The region is undeniably in crisis, and there is most definitely both severe human suffering and considerable injustice ongoing. That being said, it is not clear that Obama could contribute usefully to reducing either, and it is clear that attempts to do so are time consuming and costly, in terms of political capital and energy. In order to get a sense of that, one need only look at the amount of effort some past presidents have put into the region (Clinton and Carter, for instance) and the very limited long-term results from them doing so.

If anything, the current situation in Israel and Palestine is even more fractured, unstable, and volatile than has been the norm in recent decades. In addition, the political leadership of the Palestinians is fractured in two, with Hamas openly advocating a second Holocaust. Given the absence of a situation conducive to negotiations, the prospects to do anything more than somewhat reduce the level of violence are very limited. With that in mind, perhaps the best course for Obama to take would be to send a respected special envoy to the region to try and contribute positively, while devoting his own time and attention elsewhere. Certainly, it makes sense to reiterate the most important points for an eventual resolution (a two state solution, demolishment of many settlements, an end to violence, etc), but pushing to achieve these things within the next four years seems far more likely to be a distraction than a path to accomplishment.

To those who will disagree, I ask what specifically Obama should do to produce outcomes that are better than those that would be achieved through the approach above.

{ 239 comments… read them below or add one }

. January 15, 2009 at 9:09 am

Agenda: Foreign Policy

Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Obama and Biden will make progress on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a key diplomatic priority from day one. They will make a sustained push — working with Israelis and Palestinians — to achieve the goal of two states, a Jewish state in Israel and a Palestinian state, living side by side in peace and security.

. January 15, 2009 at 9:10 am

Ensure a Strong U.S.-Israel Partnership: Barack Obama and Joe Biden strongly support the U.S.-Israel relationship, and believe that our first and incontrovertible commitment in the Middle East must be to the security of Israel, America’s strongest ally in the region. They support this closeness, and have stated that the United States will never distance itself from Israel.

Support Israel’s Right to Self Defense: During the July 2006 Lebanon war, Barack Obama stood up strongly for Israel’s right to defend itself from Hezbollah raids and rocket attacks, cosponsoring a Senate resolution against Iran and Syria’s involvement in the war, and insisting that Israel should not be pressured into a ceasefire that did not deal with the threat of Hezbollah missiles. He and Joe Biden believe strongly in Israel’s right to protect its citizens.

Support Foreign Assistance to Israel: Barack Obama and Joe Biden have consistently supported foreign assistance to Israel. They defend and support the annual foreign aid package that involves both military and economic assistance to Israel and have advocated increased foreign aid budgets to ensure that these funding priorities are met. They have called for continuing U.S. cooperation with Israel in the development of missile defense systems.

. January 15, 2009 at 2:33 pm

Harper’s Index

Year by which the third and final phase of the 2003 “road map” to a Palestinian state was to have been reached: 2005

Estimated number of the twenty-five provisions of the first phase that have yet to be completed: 12

Josh January 15, 2009 at 3:53 pm

He could start by condemning Israel’s excessive use of force. Israel has responded to terrorist attacks that originally killed 4 people by killing over 1,000 Palestinians. Does Israel’s “right to defend itself” include such extreme outbusts of violence? This doesn’t seem like a legitimate strategy for fighting terrorism.

I remember watching the news during the recent terrorist attacks in India. American officials warned India not to react with violence. And yet during the recent Israeli attacks every US official asserted that Israel has a “right to defend itself”.

Milan January 15, 2009 at 4:14 pm

Certainly, both sides should be encouraged to avoid harm to civilian populations whenever possible.

That being said, such encouragement could take a lot of different forms, some more passive (public statements) and some more active (diplomatic sanctions, etc).

What could an Obama administration do, in concrete terms, to reduce the toll of death and harm in Israeli and Palestinian civilian populations?

BuddyRich January 15, 2009 at 5:49 pm

I don’t think there is anything Obama can do.

Even if he wanted to, the US did the same thing in Afganistan and Iraq in recent history, the later without any proof that a wrong had been committed against the US.

Politically he should stay clear, as the saying goes, “those in glass houses shouldn’t throw rocks”… Unless of course he advocates the immediate withdrawl of US troops from Iraq and Afganistan, and somehow I don’t think he will.

Yes I know Obama didn’t advocate going into Iraq in the first place and was against the war, but he unfortunately inherits his predecessor’s track record as he acts as the voice of the US at that point. And as for Afganistan, which is more akin to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as Palestin (or at least Hamas) was the agressor (at least in recent history…) I don’t know what his stance was. To most, that was justified.

I think in concrete terms, if he could get a ceasfire and negotiations going, that would be the best thing he could do (a la Clinton in 97 or so…) Its not a permanent solution, but its something that will help in the shortterm… After that I don’t think there is anything he could or should do. Let the UN do its job…

Sarah January 15, 2009 at 7:09 pm

send a respected special envoy to the region Well, they’ve sent Blair, but given his history with imperialist wars I’d be surprised if the Palestinians were all that impressed with him.

The main counter-argument I can see is that the Palesinian conflict is important to other Arab & Muslim states, and thus that he should be seen to make an effort in order to improve broader foreign relations. Of course, that only works if his interventions would be seen as ‘fair’ enough to win applause rather than condemnation from those states, and I have serious doubts about that.

Magictofu January 15, 2009 at 8:08 pm

One thing that could help in the much longer term would be to support international efforts, particularly at the UN. In such situation, I feel that there is a desperate need for a stronger supra-national organization to step in. I’m not sure the UN is the right vehicle but that is pretty much all we have. Individual nations such as the US often lack legitimacy. In recent history, the US, for obvious but often objectable reasons, has shown little support for the UN and other international fora.

Anonymous January 15, 2009 at 10:18 pm

The Israeli-Palestinian dispute can only end with the destruction of one or the other entity.

Time will tell which it will be.

. January 15, 2009 at 10:26 pm

The Arabs and Israel
The hundred years’ war

Jan 8th 2009
From The Economist print edition
How growing rejectionism, the rise of religion, a new military doctrine and a new cold war keep peace at bay

Israel and Gaza
More war for peace

Jan 12th 2009 | JERUSALEM
From Economist.com
Will Israel’s intensification of military operations in Gaza hasten a ceasefire?

Tristan January 15, 2009 at 11:44 pm

It’s really interesting how an aggressor state can, by being just unreasonable enough, make sure that the opposition to it is radical enough to be entirely dismissed by the “educated” political classes.

Milan January 15, 2009 at 11:47 pm

I am definitely not saying that Israel is entirely in the right and Hamas is completely wrong. I am just saying the situation is such a mess that it’s not plausible Obama can make a positive difference. At least, any difference he could make would require a disproportionate expenditure of energy, compared to other vital and urgent things he is expected to do.

Milan January 15, 2009 at 11:50 pm

Also, are you saying that the total destruction of Israel would be an acceptable outcome, but we don’t realize it because Israel has been so ‘unreasonable?’ This strikes me as a perplexing argument.

Just as any Israeli ambitions of controlling the entire territory of the old Palestinian mandate are unreasonable, any expectations of entirely dismantling the state of Israel are unreasonable.

Tristan January 16, 2009 at 1:20 am

The issue is only “impossible”, the Palastinians only elect people like Hamas, because Isreal refuses to accept anything like an acceptable solution.

The solution to the middle east conflict isn’t sexy or new, it’s already understood by everyone except Isreal and the U.S. Chomsky talks all the time about how there is a two state solution that’s been on the books for years. Everyone supports it but the U.S. and Isreal.


Tristan January 16, 2009 at 1:44 am

What amazes me about your diagnosis of the situation, Milan, is that you don’t recognize U.S. support for Isreal as a major contributing factor towards the instability in the situation. Isn’t this recognize by everyone? It’s even in the mainstream news reports which have been saying the timing of this attack coincides with the end of the Bush admin because Isreal is afraid that Obama won’t support Isreal to the same extent – in other words, stand by while these acts of disproportional aggression are carried out.

Tristan January 16, 2009 at 3:01 am


Can you please explain what exactly you see as similar between the U.S.’s invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and what they could possibly do to improve the situation in the middle east. The first two are situations where previously supported military dictatorships were invaded, and the third is a situation where a militant state is still supported by the U.S. Do you suggest that the U.S. might not only withdraw support to Isreal but invade it? You surely don’t mean that. So then, what is the similarity?

Josh January 16, 2009 at 3:23 am

Obama could easily force Israel to stop their excessive attacks.

I thought this interview with Bob Simon was interesting:


Apparently he’s from 60 minutes and has spent a great deal of time in Israel. Toward the end of the interview, he describes Gaza as “the world’s largest prison”. He also discusses three possible outcomes of the conflict: one state solution, two state solution, and apartheid.

Milan January 16, 2009 at 8:44 am


I think by-and-large the US and Israel accept the need for an eventual two-state solution. In fact, I believe that is their stated official position (at least, at the time of the 2007 Annapolis Conference). The question is what kind of solution it will be, and how it will be brought about. Major issues include the status of Jerusalem, the fate of Israeli settlements, and the rights of returning refugees.

If, for instance, the new state of Palestine has boundaries defined by Israel’s security barrier, it is unlikely that it will have sufficient legitimacy to emerge.

One of the most frustrating things about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is that the general outline of the solution is fairly clear. What is lacking is the ability to bring it about politically.

Milan January 16, 2009 at 8:53 am

What amazes me about your diagnosis of the situation, Milan, is that you don’t recognize U.S. support for Isreal as a major contributing factor towards the instability in the situation.

Even if this is true, it isn’t necessarily the case that Obama can do anything about it, or that doing so would be worth the political cost.

If he were to be less supportive of Israel, in the face of Hamas, every Republican would be accusing him of selling out democratic Israel to terrorists, by the time of the mid-term elections.

I have no doubt that, if Obama made this a central and top priority, he could achieve something resembling progress towards a solution. What I question is (a) whether such progress would be durable, or just a brief respite from violence and (b) whether granting this issue so much attention wouldn’t significantly reduce Obama’s odds of succeeding on other areas.

Tristan January 16, 2009 at 9:44 am

Would it be politically impossible for Obama to advocate for a 2 state solution with the pre 67′ borders? Would he have to make this a top priority to achieve this? What political support does Israel have for a solution more favorable towards it from any states other than the U.S. and states pandering directly towards the U.S.?

If Obama is half the politician he keeps acting like he is, then he can through sheer force to discourse prevent his opposition from turning “less support for Isreal” into “support for terrorists” – only idiots believe this, and all that’s required to stop this kind of fox-news truth from being taken as dogma is someone in a position of power to discredit it through critique.

Milan January 16, 2009 at 10:30 am

Would it be politically impossible for Obama to advocate for a 2 state solution with the pre 67′ borders?

My understanding of the most common US/EU position is 1967 borders with some modifications. Usually, it is suggested that any land Israel is to keep on the Palestinian side of the line will be repaid with equivalent land on their side.

Of course, the issue of how Gaza and the West Bank would connect remains uncertain. There definitely wouldn’t be a link consisting of sovereign Palestinian territory.

Would he have to make this a top priority to achieve this?

He wouldn’t need to prioritize it at all to say that he wants a two-state solution in keeping with certain principles. What would require a lot of attention would be actually trying to negotiate this between Israel, Fatah, Hamas, and the neighbouring states.

What political support does Israel have for a solution more favorable towards it from any states other than the U.S. and states pandering directly towards the U.S.?

This is a very complicated question, especially since states often say things in public about Israel that are quite contrary to their private beliefs. For instance, a lot of Middle Eastern states were probably glad to see Israel destroy the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak, though they publicly protested the action.

If Obama is half the politician he keeps acting like he is, then he can through sheer force to discourse prevent his opposition from turning “less support for Isreal” into “support for terrorists” – only idiots believe this, and all that’s required to stop this kind of fox-news truth from being taken as dogma is someone in a position of power to discredit it through critique.

Firstly, it isn’t clear that ‘less support for Israel’ would permit the emergence of a Palestinian state. Even if Israel withdrew all military forces within the 1967 borders and kept them there, it’s not clear that Palestine could emerge as a real sovereign state, given its present internal conditions.

As for the issue of terrorism, I can definitely see it being a powerful talking point for Republicans during the next election. It certainly seems that the American public is willing to accept large amounts of collateral damage in exchange for ‘fighting terrorism’ – just look at the Iraq war. It has lost public support due to the deaths of soldiers and – more importantly – the sense that the US isn’t winning. For more people, harm to the Iraqi civilian population doesn’t seem to be of major interest.

To actually solve the Israel-Palestine conflict would be an enormous coup. That is largely on account of how difficult it seems to be, and how unlikely it is that efforts toward that end will be rewarded with success. As such, it does seem as though the best course of action is to devote limited attention to trying to restrict the violence, while concentrating the bulk of foreign policy attention on more tractable problems.

Milan January 16, 2009 at 10:35 am

Incidentally, those looking for a brief yet informative account of the history of the Middle East since the fall of the Ottoman Empire should read Avi Shlaim’s “War and Peace in the Middle East: A Concise History.”

This brief book (160 pages) provides some regional and historical context, and doesn’t avoid being quite critical of some Israeli actions and policies.

This interview with him is also interesting.

Anon January 16, 2009 at 10:44 am

One huge issue that hasn’t been mentioned yet is Iran. Specifically, their nuclear ambitions.

Will Obama allow them to develop nuclear weapons? Would he attack them to prevent it? Would he encourage Israel to attack them? Would he try to stop Israel, if they decided to attack? If he wanted to stop an Israeli attack, could he?

Also, if Iran gets nuclear weapons, what are the chances of a nuclear war between Iran and Israel?

. January 16, 2009 at 10:46 am

U.S. Pact Seen as Step Toward Gaza Cease-Fire

Published: January 16, 2009

WASHINGTON — The United States has agreed to a range of measures, including providing international monitors, to help Israel stem the smuggling of weapons into Gaza, a step that could open the way for a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas militants, a senior American official said Friday.

Magictofu January 16, 2009 at 11:26 am

I think something else is missing here: on what ground should a nation intervene in a conflict to which it is essentially external?

Milan January 16, 2009 at 11:37 am

You can’t say that the United States isn’t involved, given the volume of aid and arms they provide to Israel.

Additionally, you can make an argument that, as the pre-eminent power, the United States isn’t ‘external’ to any major international conflict. This is especially true in the Middle East, given how the history of the region has been defined by the interactions between local powers and external major powers.

. January 16, 2009 at 11:58 am

The Arabs and Israel
The hundred years’ war

Jan 8th 2009

“Those who choose to reduce it to the “terrorism” of one side or the “colonialism” of the other are just stroking their own prejudices. At heart, this is a struggle of two peoples for the same patch of land. It is not the sort of dispute in which enemies push back and forth over a line until they grow tired. It is much less tractable than that, because it is also about the periodic claim of each side that the other is not a people at all—at least not a people deserving sovereign statehood in the Middle East.

That is one reason why this conflict grinds on remorselessly from decade to decade. During eruptions of violence, the mantra of diplomats and editorialists is the need for a two-state solution. It sounds so simple: if two peoples cannot share the land, they must divide it.”

Magictofu January 16, 2009 at 12:08 pm

I am not saying that the US is not involved and not even that it should not be involved. I’m saying that the rationale behind its involvement should be established before we can discuss what can be done. Trying to ensure some level of stability and reducing suffering is one thing but being the bigger kid in the sand box does not automatically gives the US the legitimacy to act. The world of international affairs is a very complicated one and I have always felt that not enough thought was placed on articulating the need to act with the necessary need for respecting sovereignty or at least some level of juridiction.

Sorry for the confusion.

. January 16, 2009 at 12:14 pm

Israel’s military strategy
Two eyes for an eye

Jan 8th 2009
From The Economist print edition
The role of retribution in Israel’s military thinking

R.K. January 16, 2009 at 1:17 pm

Bombing hospitals in Gaza is clearly an illegal act. Obama should condemn such unambiguous targeting of civilian facilities unequivocally.

BuddyRich January 16, 2009 at 1:39 pm

Can you please explain what exactly you see as similar between the U.S.’s invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and what they could possibly do to improve the situation in the middle east. The first two are situations where previously supported military dictatorships were invaded, and the third is a situation where a militant state is still supported by the U.S. Do you suggest that the U.S. might not only withdraw support to Isreal but invade it? You surely don’t mean that. So then, what is the similarity?

The similarity is that the US unilaterally (or at least with Britain) invaded Iraq… now it is supposed to have the moral authority to tell Israel not to the same thing it did 4 years ago? Of course the circumstances between the two events aren’t the same but I think it is a valid comparission.

Given that of course it is going to support Israel, or at the very least not condemn them. At least Israel has “self-defense” as a justification, as Hamas has been firing rockets into Israel prior to this. So because of this, it is more akin to the Afgan invasion, as that was in response to 9/11…

I honestly don’t think there is anything the US could do without egg on their face… not saying they couldn’t or shouldn’t do anything but, politically (not counting jewish vs. muslim support within America) it would be bad for Obama to get involved personally.

Tristan January 16, 2009 at 1:46 pm

Don’t you understand R.K.? All the atrocities committed against Gaza are Hamas’ fault!

But more seriously, Isreal’s internal politics doesn’t seem that complicated – it’s in its interest to foster anti-Isreali radicals because it keeps the population afraid and radicalized and supportive of the radical regime running the place now. A lot like another country I can think off..

I’d go as far as say people at the top in Israel probably actively seek out ways to increase the perception of anti-antisemitism, if not ways to increase antisemitism itself.

The Jewish Community Centre at Oak and 49th’s refusal to use its front doors is a pretty stark example of the practice of fostering the imagination of terror. The fact this seems to have become so ubiquitous to Jewish life cannot be disconnected from the fact that people who appear to be reasonably moderate within Israel support this kind of state terror.

Milan January 16, 2009 at 4:02 pm


The intentional bombing of hospitals and other vital civilian facilities should certainly be condemned, and may well be an illegal act.


Israel has been in this position for a long time, so it is always possible to look back to a previous justification. If X action on the part of Hamas justified Y Israeli response, you can always find a W action on Israel’s part that could be taken as justification for X.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is never going to get resolved through the specific atonement for all past unacceptable acts. What is necessary is a political leadership in both Israel and Palestine that is capable and reasonably united, as well as the support of the international community in general.

Given how those conditions are not in place, this doesn’t seem like a sensible time to undertake much beyond damage control and crisis management.


This comes awfully close to being a conspiracy theory. While it is fair to say that Israel has sometimes been able to use the radicalism of its opponents as a mechanism for asserting its moral superiority as an entity, it certainly doesn’t seem fair to suggest that Israel does or should cultivate anti-Semitism,

Both sides have a legitimate claim here, and both have real security issues that should be addressed. That being said, it doesn’t seem that there is much that Obama could contribute through Clintonian levels of engagement that couldn’t be accomplished with less expenditure of energy and a much more restricted peacemaking ambition.

BuddyRich January 17, 2009 at 8:46 am

“Israel has been in this position for a long time, so it is always possible to look back to a previous justification. If X action on the part of Hamas justified Y Israeli response, you can always find a W action on Israel’s part that could be taken as justification for X.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is never going to get resolved through the specific atonement for all past unacceptable acts. What is necessary is a political leadership in both Israel and Palestine that is capable and reasonably united, as well as the support of the international community in general.

Given how those conditions are not in place, this doesn’t seem like a sensible time to undertake much beyond damage control and crisis management.”

I 100% agree and it’s what I advocated in my first comment… Specifically since the question was “What can Obama do”… Not much, especially given the US’ recent invasions of its own. At best he can help get negotiations started and a ceasefire hammered out to stop the immediate killing. A long term solution might not be possible, without one side wiping out the other.

Tristan January 17, 2009 at 10:06 am

I’d like to see Obama support the pre-67 borders, with minor and mutual modifications – and not support aggression from either side. I wonder how much “work” that would take.

Josh January 17, 2009 at 9:19 pm

In the Simon video I posted he basically says a very bold president could force an acceptable two-party settlement.

Maybe if Obama gets re-elected and has nothing to lose in his second term he could do that. Seems like a bit of a long shot though.

Tristan January 18, 2009 at 6:37 pm


What do you think of the non-interventionist approach, which advocates American retracting support for all parties? Do you think a lack of U.S. support would encourage Isreal to engage in peace talks?

Josh January 18, 2009 at 9:20 pm

I have no idea. But that seems even less likely than the “bold president” scenario that Simon mentions in the Charlie Rose interview (and he doesn’t seem to believe that will ever happen). Even without US support, Israel still has far more military power than the Palestinians.

Obama had to say a lot of pro-Israel things just to get elected. No one knows for sure what he is going to do. As you mentioned before, the mainstream media was of the opinion that Israel had launched this recent offensive because they were afraid that Obama wouldn’t tolerate this anymore (like Bush always did). Simon, and perhaps others, predicted this recent outburst of violence would end as soon as Obama became president.

Milan January 19, 2009 at 12:06 pm

I am not sure of what to think about the “attack while Bush is still in office” argument. After all, it is not as though Obama is going to ignore tomorrow what he saw today. At the most, having Obama in office during the attacks may have led to a more strongly worded presidential statement while the conflict was ongoing.

It is incredibly difficult to imagine how this conflict will ever end. Demographics seem to be against the Israelis, given the higher birthrates in the Palestinian territories and neighbouring states. Nuclear proliferation is also a force moving against Israel. By the middle of this century, I would not be surprised if Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and others all have nuclear weapons.

Milan January 19, 2009 at 1:38 pm

Here is an interesting suggestion for Obama’s inaugural address:

“Omar Bashir says he should quote Muhammad in his inaugural address and appeal to the Islamic just war tradition.”

It would be a lot more daring than just continuing to compare himself to Lincoln. Of course, Fox News would probably go absolutely batty.

. January 19, 2009 at 4:47 pm

Photo Essay: Gaza’s (Literal) Underground Economy
By Preeti Aroon

Since Hamas gained control of Gaza in June 2007, Israel has blockaded the flow of goods into and out of the territory. But when trade is closed aboveground, the economy simply moves underground, in more ways than one.

Tristan January 19, 2009 at 5:09 pm

“It is incredibly difficult to imagine how this conflict will ever end. ”

I absolutely disagree. If the U.S. refused to condone atrocities from either side, and endorse the pre-67 borders two state solution, the conflict would end very quickly. Perhaps not as quickly as if the U.S. withdrew from involvement in the region entirely, but I don’t really want to see Isreal driven into the sea.

Milan January 19, 2009 at 5:19 pm

The United States cannot simply impose a settlement to this conflict. Even if it cut off Israel completely, Israel could find other sources of arms. It would remain stronger than its regional enemies (at least until they get nukes), and much stronger than the Palestinians. The United States abandoning Israel entirely would not result in either a two-state solution or the destruction of Israel in the near-term.

If the United States wants to create a two-state solution, they will need to address the outstanding issues of the conflict including settlements, refugees, the status of Jerusalem, etc. Obama is unlikely to be able to do that, and it isn’t clear that he could even leave things significantly better off than they were when he started.

A quick peek at Afghanistan and Iraq provides pretty good evidence that trite oversimplifications about the causes of Middle Eastern conflicts rarely lead to successful peacemaking policies.

Milan January 19, 2009 at 5:23 pm

These books like they could be useful for this discussion:

What Barack Obama can learn from Bill Clinton’s failed peacemaking.

Tristan January 19, 2009 at 6:03 pm

What other sources of military aid does Israel have?

Milan January 19, 2009 at 6:37 pm

A lot of their military equipment is American or domestic, but they have a variety of suppliers:

Military equipment of Israel

For instance, their submarines are German-built.

There are two issues here: having access to arms and having money for them. Reduced American financing could be responded to by paying for arms with taxes instead, or buying cheaper ones. It seems very unlikely that the US would cut Israel off from buying their weapons, especially given how they sell them to so many other states in the region. If they did, there are always Russian and Chinese weapons (and American weapons bought through third parties). As for the very most high tech weapons the US sells to Israel: they are more necessary for defending against neighboring states than intended for use in Gaza or the West Bank. If the US cut off access to those, it would probably increase Israel’s regional vulnerability; it’s not clear that doing so would help resolve the Palestinian question.

. January 19, 2009 at 8:15 pm

From Gaza to Obama

On January 20th Barack Obama takes office as the 44th president of the United States, amidst turmoil in the Middle East following Israel’s offensive in Gaza, which has left more than 1,200 Palestinians dead.

Al Jazeera spoke to three Palestinians living in Gaza about their experiences during the Gaza offensive, how their life has been affected and what the new US president should do to bring about peace.

Tristan January 19, 2009 at 8:41 pm

“Both sides have a legitimate claim here,”

What legitimate claim does Israel have to the territories it acquired in the 1967 war?

Milan January 19, 2009 at 8:44 pm

They won it from neighbours who were trying to destroy them?

Israel got attacked by Egypt, Jordan, and Syria while Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tunisia, Morocco, and Algeria provided arms. I am not saying that Israel should keep any captured land forever, but I am saying they deserve something in return for it, such as their neighbours accepting their right to exist.

Tristan January 19, 2009 at 8:49 pm

I thought that was no longer a legitimate reason for holding territory. The first two world wars had winners, but only very minor territorial changes resulted that contradict self-determination, and even less which resulted in brutal military occupations.

Milan January 19, 2009 at 8:52 pm

When you are a tiny state with neighbours that will destroy you if they get stronger than you, you are in a unique and tricky situation, are you not?

Tristan January 19, 2009 at 9:29 pm

Sure, so what’s the practical gains of holding territory when that increases hatred and violence towards your tiny state? Don’t you need to appeal to the moderates in the states that “wish to destroy you”?

Milan January 19, 2009 at 9:42 pm

1) The leadership in Arab states cares a lot less about the Palestinians than the ‘Arab street’ does. The leaders know they can manipulate the street to legitimize themselves, but there is good reason to suspect they are largely indifferent to the harms done to those on Gaza and the West Bank.

2) Trying to tinker with the day-to-day politics in Syria or Saudi Arabia or Egypt isn’t much of a guarantee of success. While the painful consequences of having a security doctrine based on deterrence are currently on display, it does seem safer overall in the medium term to have neighbouring states believe they cannot attack you without unacceptable losses than it is to have them somewhat mollified because you did something they approved of (at least, in public).

Milan January 19, 2009 at 9:59 pm


We don’t disagree on the desirable outcome.

I would love to see an independent, secure Palestinian state.

I would love to see a Middle Eastern Union that bickers over farm subsidies.

The question is: “How can that come about?” and the secondary question is: “Can Obama do anything to advance that agenda?” and the tertiary question is: “Would doing so burn up so much time and political capital as to be counterproductive, overall?”

Tristan January 19, 2009 at 10:46 pm

America is heavily involved in the situation. If you don’t advocate withdrawal and non-interference, then you have to either advocate continuing the same kind of practices, or different ones. Both of these are “actions”.

. January 19, 2009 at 10:47 pm
. January 19, 2009 at 10:51 pm
Tristan January 19, 2009 at 10:59 pm

Chomsky and Dershowitz on whether the Geneva Accords were a universally except by Israel and the U.S., and disputes about facts


Tristan January 19, 2009 at 11:06 pm
Tristan January 19, 2009 at 11:17 pm

Does Iran have the right to pre-emptive war because Israel and the U.S. are threatening to Destroy it, and the threats are not empty?

Tristan January 19, 2009 at 11:24 pm

It seems if Obama affirms the Geneva initiative (http://www.geneva-accord.org/mainmenu/summary), a solution could be come to quite quickly.

Josh January 20, 2009 at 3:32 am

I find it hard to believe that the timing of the recent Israeli attacks is a coincidence. As Bob Simon and others predicted, the Israeli’s are stopping the violence just before Obama officially becomes president.

Here’s an excerpt from Chomsky’s latest article on the recent conflict in Gaza:

The timing of the invasion was presumably influenced by the coming Israeli election. Ehud Barak, who was lagging badly in the polls, gained one parliamentary seat for every 40 Arabs killed in the early days of the slaughter, Israeli commentator Ran HaCohen calculated.

That may change, however. As the crimes passed beyond what the carefully honed Israeli propaganda campaign was able to suppress, even confirmed Israeli hawks became concerned that the carnage is “Destroying [Israel’s] soul and its image. Destroying it on world television screens, in the living rooms of the international community and most importantly, in Obama’s America” (Ari Shavit). Shavit was particularly concerned about Israel’s “shelling a United Nations facility … on the day when the UN secretary general is visiting Jerusalem,” an act that is “beyond lunacy,” he felt.

Adding a few details, the “facility” was the UN compound in Gaza City, which contained the UNRWA warehouse. The shelling destroyed “hundreds of tons of emergency food and medicines set for distribution today to shelters, hospitals and feeding centres,” according to UNRWA director John Ging. Military strikes at the same time destroyed two floors of the al-Quds hospital, setting it ablaze, and also a second warehouse run by the Palestinian Red Crescent society. The hospital in the densely-populated Tal-Hawa neighbourhood was destroyed by Israeli tanks “after hundreds of frightened Gazans had taken shelter inside as Israeli ground forces pushed into the neighbourhood,” AP reported.

There was nothing left to salvage inside the smoldering ruins of the hospital. “They shelled the building, the hospital building. It caught fire. We tried to evacuate the sick people and the injured and the people who were there. Firefighters arrived and put out the fire, which burst into flames again and they put it out again and it came back for the third time,” paramedic Ahmad Al-Haz told AP. It was suspected that the blaze might have been set by white phosphorous, also suspected in numerous other fires and serious burn injuries.

The suspicions were confirmed by Amnesty International after the cessation of the intense bombardment made inquiry possible. Before, Israel had sensibly barred all journalists, even Israeli, while its crimes were proceeding in full fury. Israel’s use of white phosphorus against Gaza civilians is “clear and undeniable,” AI reported. Its repeated use in densely populated civilian areas “is a war crime,” AI concluded. They found white phosphorus edges scattered around residential buildings, still burning, “further endangering the residents and their property,” particularly children “drawn to the detritus of war and often unaware of the danger.” Primary targets, they report, were the UNRWA compound, where the Israeli “white phosphorus landed next to some fuel trucks and caused a large fire which destroyed tons of humanitarian aid” after Israeli authorities “had given assurance that no further strikes would be launched on the compound.” On the same day, “a white phosphorus shell landed in the al-Quds hospital in Gaza City also causing a fire which forced hospital staff to evacuate the patients … White phosphorus landing on skin can burn deep through muscle and into the bone, continuing to burn unless deprived of oxygen.” Purposely intended or beyond depraved indifference, such crimes are inevitable when this weapon is used in attacks on civilians.

Josh January 20, 2009 at 3:40 am

And here’s a typical argument in favour of Israel:

“Israel’s critics will nevertheless demand that Israel show restraint, and in some cases they will defend Hamas. But they will never be able to draw a parallel. No democracy in the world has had to endure what Israel has tolerated. Imagine rockets being shot from Baja California into San Diego indiscriminately. The United States government would have the responsibility to protect its citizens. As president-elect, Barack Obama said during his last visit to Israel: ‘If missiles were falling where my two daughters sleep, I would do everything in order to stop that.’ Israel has the obligation to do the same.”

Do Palestinians also have the “obligation” to “protect” hospitals and UN buildings (and of course, their women and children)?

Tristan January 20, 2009 at 1:30 pm

This is all becoming depressingly simple. Is it not the case that there is an upcoming election IN Israel as well? And, if the moderate part wins, could not the Geneva accords go through, especially since Obama’s secretary of state was a co-sponsor of them at some point in the past? Isn’t Israel’s current anti-Geneva accord party practicing “politiques des pires” to try to win the election under the brouhaha of war, specifically because if the Israeli turned towards the moderates and the Geneva accords go through, there is no more fight for the radicals in the Israeli elite to win?

Milan January 20, 2009 at 1:41 pm

If there was a simple solution that just required a bit of American support to achieve, it really seems like it would have come together at Camp David in 2000. Right now, there is a lot less willingness on both sides to make the compromises necessary for peace.

Several good road maps have been developed and advocated over the years. In the right conditions, any of them might have led to a decent two-state solution. The question is whether such conditions can ever be made to exist.

. January 20, 2009 at 1:44 pm

The Gaza war
Long past time to cease fire

Jan 15th 2009
From The Economist print edition
The war in Gaza has done Israel, as well as the Palestinians, a great deal of damage

. January 20, 2009 at 3:46 pm

Obama Enters the Great Game

“The major challenge he faces is not Gaza; the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is not one any U.S. president intervenes in unless he wants to experience pain. As we have explained, that is an intractable conflict to which there is no real solution. Certainly, Obama will fight being drawn into mediating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict during his first hundred days in office. He undoubtedly will send the obligatory Middle East envoy, who will spend time with all the parties, make suitable speeches and extract meaningless concessions from all sides. This envoy will establish some sort of process to which everyone will cynically commit, knowing it will go nowhere. Such a mission is not involvement — it is the alternative to involvement, and the reason presidents appoint Middle East envoys. Obama can avoid the Gaza crisis, and he will do so.”

Tristan January 20, 2009 at 5:46 pm

The fact that Camp David and Taba were not simply failures, but failed due to specific parties blocking the progress, and high level parties on both sides have continued talks from those talks culminating in the current Geneva Accords, indicates that which party happens to be representing either side may make all the difference in achieving a settlement – it may simply require the election of moderates by both sides to implement an already developed solution.

Tristan January 20, 2009 at 11:12 pm


This is a pretty decent hour and a half talk about the current events – the talk is only a week old.

Tristan January 22, 2009 at 1:44 am


A more in-depth analysis of Obama’s rhetoric and appointments on the Israeli-Palestine issue.

Again, the idea that the U.S. is not complicit in the current terrorist action against Gaza is absurd, without U.S. support Israel would not have been able to continue to block peace and not fear destruction.

Milan January 22, 2009 at 10:58 am

[I]t may simply require the election of moderates by both sides to implement an already developed solution.

If this happens, by all means Obama should convene a summit. This would be just the kind of peace-compatible circumstance where an investment in peacemaking would be sensible.

Again, the idea that the U.S. is not complicit in the current terrorist action against Gaza is absurd, without U.S. support Israel would not have been able to continue to block peace and not fear destruction.

Firstly, I think it is inflammatory and incorrect to allege that Israel’s action in Gaza was an act of terrorism. While it was arguably disproportionate to the threat posed by Hamas, it was not motivated by the desire to cause indiscriminate harm within the civilian population. Certainly, a lot of harm to civilians occurred, but that is true in most wars. If Canadians bombing Germany during WWII was not terrorism, neither was Israel bombing Gaza.

Asserting that something is ‘terrorism’ is often a good way of closing off argument by marking yourself as a radical. It’s also the kind of comment that a person might regret having publicly associated with them in a few decades’ time.

Secondly, what do you mean by ‘without US support’ and what time period are you talking about? I don’t think the Palestinian issue has ever been the major reason for which Israel could not make peace with its neighbours. Even if a Palestinian state had been established in 1948 and had continued to exist thereafter, it seems certain that states neighbouring Israel would have tried to destroy it, if they had the strength.

Tristan January 22, 2009 at 11:59 am

Pre-emptive aggression is only justified if there is no other option. Israel has another option – stop terrorizing Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. Stop the terror, and the rockets will stop.

The fact that this aggression will not actually stop rocket attacks on Israel is kind of beside the point, but it does put an obvious lie to their declared reasoning behind the attacks.

It’s in Israel’s perceived interest to radicalize the Palestinian population – if they became moderates it would be more difficult to continue expanding.

Tristan January 22, 2009 at 12:06 pm

Is the attack on Gaza civilian population terrorism?

U.S. Definition:
“…activities that involve violent… or life-threatening acts… that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State and… appear to be intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping…”

1937 League of Nations definition:
“All criminal acts directed against a State and intended or calculated to create a state of terror in the minds of particular persons or a group of persons or the general public”.

UN Academic Consensus decision 1988:
“Terrorism is an anxiety-inspiring method of repeated violent action, employed by (semi-) clandestine individual, group or state actors, for idiosyncratic, criminal or political reasons, whereby – in contrast to assassination – the direct targets of violence are not the main targets. The immediate human victims of violence are generally chosen randomly (targets of opportunity) or selectively (representative or symbolic targets) from a target population, and serve as message generators. Threat- and violence-based communication processes between terrorist (organization), (imperilled) victims, and main targets are used to manipulate the main target (audience(s)), turning it into a target of terror, a target of demands, or a target of attention, depending on whether intimidation, coercion, or propaganda is primarily sought” (Schmid, 1988).[14]

UN General Assembly resolution 1994:
“Criminal acts intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the general public, a group of persons or particular persons for political purposes are in any circumstance unjustifiable, whatever the considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or any other nature that may be invoked to justify them.[17]”

By what meaning of Terrorism does the invasion not fall under? Unless you want to adopt a strong Hegelian anti-UN, statist position which says terrorism cannot be committed by a state only by individuals or groups of individuals. But, if you believe that, then you don’t believe the attack on Gaza is justified, you just think the question of whether it is justified or not is the wrong question – the right question is just whether it will be effective or not.

Milan January 22, 2009 at 12:36 pm


This wasn’t pre-emptive aggression. Pre-emptive aggression is when your enemy is amassing troops on your border and you attack them before they cross into your territory.

This was aggression in response to rocket fire. You can certainly argue that the scale of response was disproportionate, but it was not unprovoked.

In any case, I think this is a pointless thing to argue about. It is one of those discussions where everyone involved just gets angrier and angrier, and fewer and fewer useful comments are made. The rights and wrongs of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute are (thankfully) outside the scope of what I hope to achieve with this site.

Tristan January 22, 2009 at 1:01 pm

So, you don’t think principled responses are appropriate? We’re not allowed to discuss ethics on this blog, just pragmatics. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, you are asserting the same position here as in the climate change debates – this is not a place to discuss right or wrong, those are things we have to assume that we agree on before hand. That’s a pretty depressing point of view, but a reasonable one.

Milan January 22, 2009 at 1:03 pm

All I am saying is I don’t care to extend an argument that is vexing and unpleasant. Feel free to raise it on your blog, if you like.

Tristan January 22, 2009 at 1:11 pm

And by the way, my argument was not Israel’s response was wrong because it was unprovoked. Terrorism is never unprovoked, terrorists are extremely motivated, and it’s hard to get motivated without being provoked. That’s why terrorism is defined in terms of terrorizing civilian populations, and not by some kind of proportionality of violence. That’s also why terrorism has to be justified in cases where one is being attacked and one has no better alternative than to resort to violence against civilian populations – the number of cases where this situation arises might be extremely limited, but it has to be at least logically possible. Maybe in the German resistence anti-state terror would have been justified, although probably only for those who didn’t have the possibility of carrying out political assassinations, which is much easier to justify, for obvious reasons.

Basically, what I am saying is that the “retaliation” argument, as in “because you hit me I hit you”, is bullshit. What is morally reasonable is the reasonable action argument – what can I reasonably do to prevent you from continuing to hit me? If I am big and you are small, and you hit me, and I hit you back – I get charged with assault, because what I ought to have done was simply prevent you from hitting me, which would be easily accomplished because I am so strong.

We can violate the rights of others, but we should do so as little as is neccesary to ensure our own rights. Therefore Israeli aggression can only be justified on the combined grounds of a) is it the solution to the existing problem which violates the least amount of rights and b) is it effective.

This is similar to, in Hegel, the right to steal – which isn’t properly a right, but is a principal by which you must be allowed to for example, steal bread, if you need it to live, because life is the supreme condition of having rights at all.

Tristan January 22, 2009 at 2:36 pm

“Pre-emptive aggression is when your enemy is amassing troops on your border and you attack them before they cross into your territory.”

So, is the Attack on Iraq not pre-emptive aggression? Pre-emptive aggression is attacking another state which has not attacked you, “yet”. That’s what “pre-empt” means. There is no guarentee that the state ammassing troops on the border is going to attack. Otherwise, we’d have to say there is nothing that could have averted the ground invasion of Gaza after Israeli troops were “amassed on the border”. When obviously, a U.S. security counsil resolution condemning the aggression would have stopped it immediately.

. January 22, 2009 at 2:51 pm

The One-State Solution
Published: January 21, 2009

“THE shocking level of the last wave of Israeli-Palestinian violence, which ended with this weekend’s cease-fire, reminds us why a final resolution to the so-called Middle East crisis is so important. It is vital not just to break this cycle of destruction and injustice, but also to deny the religious extremists in the region who feed on the conflict an excuse to advance their own causes.

But everywhere one looks, among the speeches and the desperate diplomacy, there is no real way forward. A just and lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians is possible, but it lies in the history of the people of this conflicted land, and not in the tired rhetoric of partition and two-state solutions.

A two-state solution will create an unacceptable security threat to Israel. An armed Arab state, presumably in the West Bank, would give Israel less than 10 miles of strategic depth at its narrowest point. Further, a Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip would do little to resolve the problem of refugees. Any situation that keeps the majority of Palestinians in refugee camps and does not offer a solution within the historical borders of Israel/Palestine is not a solution at all.

For the same reasons, the older idea of partition of the West Bank into Jewish and Arab areas, with buffer zones between them, won’t work. The Palestinian-held areas could not accommodate all of the refugees, and buffer zones symbolize exclusion and breed tension. Israelis and Palestinians have also become increasingly intertwined, economically and politically.

In absolute terms, the two movements must remain in perpetual war or a compromise must be reached. The compromise is one state for all, an “Isratine” that would allow the people in each party to feel that they live in all of the disputed land and they are not deprived of any one part of it.”

. January 22, 2009 at 4:24 pm

Egypt halting the arms flow? Forget it!
The Jerusalem Post
Jan 22, 2009 22:36


“Overall, where do you consider that Israel succeeded, and where did it fail, in Operation Cast Lead?

The most important success is that the operation will produce quiet for a long time in the South.

Israel’s deterrence has been reasserted.

Hamas has suffered a blow to its legitimacy in Gaza. Outside help is required to provide economic assistance to the people there. Hamas has had to make commitments to Egypt, and any breach of those commitments will bring it trouble with Egypt and with others.

The IDF was successful, the public has been reassured, the home front functioned well.”

Tristan January 22, 2009 at 6:25 pm

“The most important success is that the operation will produce quiet for a long time in the South. ”

Quiet as a cemetery.

. January 22, 2009 at 6:57 pm

Obama appoints key hotspot envoys
22:59 GMT, Thursday, 22 January 2009

US President Barack Obama has named his two key envoys – to the Middle East, and Pakistan and Afghanistan.

. January 22, 2009 at 6:58 pm

“Mr Mitchell would head to the Middle East as soon as possible to shore up the fragile truce between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

Israel must re-open the border crossing into the Gaza Strip “to allow the flow of aid and commerce,” Mr Obama said.

“Hamas must end its rocket fire… The United States and our partners will support a credible anti-smuggling and interdiction regime so that Hamas cannot re-arm,” he added.

But Hamas spokesman Osama Hamdan told al-Jazeera television that Mr Obama would fail in the Middle East unless he changed his position.

Israel ended a three-week offensive on Sunday, pounding the Gaza Strip with bombs and shells and sending in tanks and infantry in an attempt to stop Palestinian militants firing rockets into southern Israel. “

. January 23, 2009 at 11:15 am

War boosted extremists in Gaza, says U.N. official
Fri Jan 23, 2009 3:50pm GMT

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – Israel’s invasion of Gaza has strengthened the hand of extremists and only a credible independent investigation into alleged wrongdoing can quieten growing Palestinian anger, a U.N. aid official said on Friday.

. January 26, 2009 at 12:28 am

Saudi warns US over Middle East

A senior member of Saudi Arabia’s ruling family has warned the US that it needs to change attitudes over the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Prince Turki al-Faisal, a former Saudi intelligence chief and former ambassador to the US, said a failure to alter policies could threaten links.

The prince said ex-President George W Bush had left a “sickening legacy” in the Middle East.

He accused the US of contributing to the killing of Gazans.

. January 27, 2009 at 6:52 pm

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart : January 26, 2009 : (01/26/09) Clip 2 of 4

Jon welcomes former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who outlines a strategy to end the Middle Eastern conflicts in “We Can Have Peace in the Holy Land: A Plan That Will Work.”

. January 28, 2009 at 11:19 am

After the Gaza war
Peace now?

Jan 22nd 2009
From The Economist print edition
At the very least, this is not a bad time to start serious work

Impetuosity can be a dangerous thing in diplomacy. One reason for the failure of Israel and the Palestinians to make peace at Camp David in 2000 was a lack of adequate preparation by Bill Clinton. And Mr Sarkozy would certainly be a fool to rush in before co-ordinating any proposal with Barack Obama. But the French president’s main insight is correct: the aftermath of the Gaza war is as good a moment as any—and maybe even better than many—to breathe new urgency into broader peacemaking in the Middle East.

; January 28, 2009 at 11:53 am

“the aftermath of the Gaza war is as good a moment as any—and maybe even better than many—to breathe new urgency into broader peacemaking in the Middle East.”

This is bullshit. The Gaza war is not about making peace, it’s about furthering expansion into the West Bank, and making sure the population knows they aren’t allowed to fight back.

Camp David failed because Israel wouldn’t accept the concensus – same reason Taba failed, same reason Hamas’ proposals are much closer to “reasonable” than Israels even today.

Milan January 28, 2009 at 11:59 am

Here is an explanation of how to post news stories using the . (dot@sindark.com)

. comments are meant to link to related news stories, without including additional comments from the person posting them. Anyone is welcome to post such comments.

Milan January 28, 2009 at 11:59 am

This post discusses the same policy.

Tristan January 28, 2009 at 12:11 pm

; is not an .

What other instances in 20th century have been exceptions to the principle that territory is not to be acquired by war. Finkelstein says this is a “bedrock principle of international law”, and the World Court seems to agree with him. Is he, and the World Court, complete radicals?

. January 28, 2009 at 12:14 pm


Finkelstein discussing the World Court decision concerning the Israeli wall, and “bedrock principles of international law”. Maybe people on this blog have specific information which might help put Finkestein’s “Bedrock” emphasis of these principles into context.

Milan January 28, 2009 at 7:49 pm

It is worth noting that ‘.’ comments are unusually likely to be eaten by the spam filters, since they tend to be short, posted on older entries, and contain hyperlinks.

I try to recover the flagged ones manually, when possible.

. February 1, 2009 at 12:01 pm

Israel vows “disproportionate” response to rockets

Sun Feb 1, 2009 4:46pm GMT

By Jeffrey Heller

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert threatened on Sunday a “disproportionate” response to the continued rocket and mortar fire into Israel from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

. February 9, 2009 at 11:16 am

Israel and Hamas: Conflict in Gaza (2008-2009), January 15, 2009
United States Congressional Research Service

Author(s): Jim Zanotti, Coordinator, Analyst in Middle Eastern Affairs

Date: January 15, 2009


“The Gaza crisis constitutes a conundrum for all involved. Israel would like to avoid a drawn-out invasion and occupation of Gaza, but at the same time does not want to abandon the military operation without assurance that the end result will leave Israelis more secure from rocket attacks. Although the ground attack might endanger its rule in Gaza, Hamas may welcome it in the hopes of miring Israeli forces in close-quarters combat to strip away their advantages in technology and firepower and in hopes of heightening perceptions that Palestinians are being victimized. Linking the cessation of violence in and around Gaza with international enforcement of a truce or a broader regional security initiative may be possible, but, at present, no proposed solution appears straightforward.”

Ignore this February 9, 2009 at 2:54 pm

Make sure no one mention the illegal settlements in the west bank. Or the fact that the withdrawal from Gaza was explicitly justified by the Israeli hawks as a means to expand those settlements. Or the world court ruling on the wall. Or the diplomatic settlement which has been universally supported since 1971 by everyone but the US and Israel.

Milan February 9, 2009 at 2:57 pm

None of that actually has anything to do with whether Obama could make a positive difference here, or whether doing so would be worth the political effort involved.

There is a reason I tried to frame the discussion as “what should Obama do?” rather than “Who is right and who is wrong in the Israel-Palestine / Arab-Israel conflicts?”

Tristan February 9, 2009 at 5:01 pm

I’ve said many times what Obama could do. He could join the international consensus, which since 1971 has called for a 2 state solution along the pre 67 borders with mutual and minor modifications. The name for them now is the Geneva accords. Their historical origin is Camp David (blocked by Israel), and Taba (blocked by Israel). However, there are high level Israeli negotiators who believe this is the right settlement.

The person who is the most wrong, in the Israel-Palestinian conflict, is categorically the president of the United States – since without US support there is little belief that Israel could continue to block peace in the region or continue to ignore world court rulings.

Things Obama could do:

-denounce the Israeli settlements in the West Bank
-Admit that the blockade of Gaza, which he claims he will end, was actually enabled by US support
-Recognize the World Court
-Withdraw support for the wall
-Denounce Israel’s military publicly admitted policy of targeting civilians
-Point out that Israel is justified to defend itself, but only justified to defend itself with force if there is no non-violent way to defend itself

Milan February 9, 2009 at 5:16 pm

By ‘World Court’ I suppose you mean the International Court of Justice?

What do you mean by saying the US should ‘Recognize the World Court?’ Given that the United States has a member sitting on the court (Thomas Buergenthal), they are clearly involved with the court. That is further demonstrated given that the Statute of the International Court of Justice is an integral part of the United Nations Charter.

Of course, general involvement with a court doesn’t necessarily mean you endorse or put into effect all its decisions. Which specific rulings are you concerned with?

Milan February 9, 2009 at 5:24 pm

I agree that:

  • A two-state solution, based on a negotiated return to borders similar to those pre-1967 is the most likely successful peace outcome.
  • Illegal Israeli settlements should be condemned and dismantled.
  • The West Bank security barrier should follow a path compatible with pre-67 borders, not one that cuts deeply into land likely to belong to a future Palestinian state.
  • Israel should conform with public international law on armed conflict.

I do not agree that the United States should threaten to unilaterally cut off support for Israel, in an attempt to force it to make peace. I have serious doubts about whether such a policy could be successful. For one thing, Israel could forge other alliances or simply operate with its own resources. For another, the Palestinians are too politically divided to be ready for statehood. Until Hamas and Fatah are somehow reconciled (or both are replaced with something else), it is hard to see how any Israeli action could produce a real Palestinian state.

I also do not agree that the Camp David or Taba negotiations failed exclusively because of Israeli rejection.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict goes through cycles in which the leadership in Israel and Palestine is more and less willing to make a serious effort at peacemaking. When both sides are in the mood, by all means the United States should engage. When neither side is willing or able to be a serious partner in peace negotiations, the best the outside world can do is somewhat reduce the level of violence involved in the ongoing conflict.

. February 9, 2009 at 5:57 pm
Tristan February 9, 2009 at 6:01 pm

” * A two-state solution, based on a negotiated return to borders similar to those pre-1967 is the most likely successful peace outcome.
* Illegal Israeli settlements should be condemned and dismantled.
* The West Bank security barrier should follow a path compatible with pre-67 borders, not one that cuts deeply into land likely to belong to a future Palestinian state.
* Israel should conform with public international law on armed conflict.

So, that’s great. Do you think it would bad for Obama to demand these conditions in exchange for American support? What other alliances could Israel make, if the US explicitly denounced its expansionist efforts?

Tristan February 9, 2009 at 6:06 pm

“When neither side is willing or able to be a serious partner in peace negotiations, the best the outside world can do is somewhat reduce the level of violence involved in the ongoing conflict.”

The “terrorist” governement – Hamas, is willing to accept the Geneva accord style settlement. Whereas, Israel will not currently consider it. So, while the positions of both sides are unacceptable, Hamas’ position is more acceptable.

Milan February 9, 2009 at 6:07 pm

Pages 17-22 of this document speak to the direct topic of this post and conversation. They correspond to pages 21 to 26 of the PDF.

Sub-topics covered include:

  • The Role of Hamas
  • Capacity-Building for Pale
Milan February 9, 2009 at 6:09 pm

I have no problem with Obama making statements that are relatively uncontroversial and unlikely to eat up too much administration time. What I question is whether the Israeli-Palestinian peace process is a sensible investment for a lot of time, given how many other things Obama needs to do and the low probability that any peacemaking effort will be successful.

Tristan February 9, 2009 at 7:47 pm


You’ve painted yourself into contradictions. You’ve on the one hand agreed with me that the 67 borders are the best prospect for solution, that Israel should comply with international war law, and that the security wall should be on the border, not inside palastinian territory.

And yet, if Obama were to endorse that position, it would not be “relatively uncontroversial” – it would create massive backlash. You know enough about the American political structure to know that – presidents aren’t allowed to actually say the truth in public (i.e. there are plenty of places in the US declassified record where statesmen talk frankly about why the US should be supporting horrendous dictators to preserve easy US access to oil – but they couldn’t have said this in a news briefing).

Magictofu February 9, 2009 at 7:48 pm

According to the news these days notably about the lack of palestinian leadership and the direction Israel is likely to take after the elections, the timing does not seem right for peace in the Middle East… but that does not mean some kind of intervention from the US or another foreign government is not needed more than ever.

It seems like the need to act and the possibilities for a successful intervention are unfortunately opposing each other.

Milan February 9, 2009 at 7:55 pm

Uncontroversial things include: vague statements about avoiding violence, pre-67 borders, etc. By definition, platitudes cannot “create massive backlash.”

Controversial things include: trying to force Israel to open borders, not build walls, not respond to attacks in a way they think will deter future attacks, threatening to cut off military or economic aid, etc.

Uncontroversial statements don’t commit you to doing anything; controversial ones either commit you to doing something or embarrass you when they are ignored.

The CRS report explains this pretty clearly. In principle, everyone but Hamas and some hardline Zionists generally agree that a two-state solution is the most probable outcome. What they disagree about is the process through which it should occur.

Tristan February 9, 2009 at 9:11 pm

What’s amazing to me is that you can keep talking about this without focusing on the settlements in the West Bank, or making some argument as to how Israel would pursue those expansionist measures without US support.

Milan February 9, 2009 at 9:16 pm

Cutting off US support might stop some of the disagreeable things that Israel does, but that is not sufficient cause for doing so.

Beyond any issues of pragmatism, there are broader political and strategic circumstances to consider.

Tristan February 9, 2009 at 10:01 pm


“According to the news these days notably about the lack of palestinian leadership and the direction Israel is likely to take after the elections, the timing does not seem right for peace in the Middle East… but that does not mean some kind of intervention from the US or another foreign government is not needed more than ever.”

You should definitely just listen to the news, and expect that everything they tell you about how it’s the Palastinian leadership that’s being unreasonable, and how all the rocket attacks are caused by Hamas, and how Israel hasn’t broken the law of the sea and rammed humanitarian vessels in international waters. It’s much safer that way, you wouldn’t want to offend anyone. It would be a total disaster if it turned out Hamas’ position was more reasonable that Israel’s, wouldn’t it!

Magictofu February 10, 2009 at 9:56 am

Tristan, the news I was refering to mostly address the divisions in Palestinian leadership, notably between Fatah and Hamas (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fatah-Hamas_conflict) . Given that we generally talk about both the West Bank and Gaza when talking about a potential Palestinian state, this is a major problem in terms of actual Palestinian leadership.

No reasons to seek a fight on things I haven’t said or do not believe in.

Tristan February 10, 2009 at 10:18 am

“this is a major problem in terms of actual Palestinian leadership.”

If Hamas and Fatah support the 2 state solution, and Israel doesn’t, how is it the Palestinian leadership which is “a major problem”. “A major problem” is Israel’s decision since 71 of pursuing expansion rather than peace.

Tristan February 10, 2009 at 10:21 am


If the Palestinian leadership is too radical, that is just a direct effect of Israel’s continual violations of international conventions (i.e. continually kidnapping citizens), and attacking civilians (this is their declared policy). So, the problem is Israel’s war crimes, not the understandably radicalized voters in the territories.

Magictofu February 10, 2009 at 10:44 am

It’s not about being too radical, its about being divided… regardless of preferences, who should Obama and Israel consider a viable negotiating partner?

As an aside, does Hamas accept the idea of a 2 states solution? I have to admit that I have no clue about Hamas position on this… I have read many conflicting articles over the years.

. February 10, 2009 at 11:19 am

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Hamas’s charter calls for replacing the State of Israel with a Palestinian Islamic state in the area that is now Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. However, Ismail Haniyeh, Prime Minister of the Hamas government in Gaza, stated in 2008 that the group was willing to accept a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders and has offered Israel a long-term truce. Hamas describes its conflict with Israel as political and neither religious nor antisemitic. However, the Hamas Charter and public statements by several prominent members of Hamas reflect the influence of antisemitic conspiracy theories. On the other hand, the head of the political bureau of Hamas stated that their conflict with Israel “is not religious but political”, and that the Jews have a covenant from God ” that is to be respected and protected.”

The Hamas Charter (1988)

The quotation section that precedes the document’s introduction provides the following quote, attributed to Imam Hassan al-Banna: “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it.” The quotation has also been translated as follows: “Israel will be established and will stay established until Islam shall nullify it, as it nullified what was before it.”

. February 10, 2009 at 12:18 pm

Hamas tortured, killed Palestinians, rights group charges

Amnesty International has accused Hamas militants in Gaza of kidnapping, killing and torturing fellow Palestinians they accuse of spying for Israel, the organization announced Tuesday.

According to Amnesty International, at least 24 Palestinian men — most of them civilians — were shot and killed by Hamas gunmen during the recent Israeli offensive aimed at crippling the Hamas leadership in Gaza.

“Scores of others have been shot in the legs, kneecapped or inflicted with other injuries intended to cause permanent disability,” the human rights organization said in a news release.

Hamas leaders have publicly accused followers of its rival Palestinian political faction, Fatah, of spying for the Israelis during the conflict, and they have said many have been arrested for collaborating with the Jewish state. But they deny ordering any reprisal attacks against suspected spies, instead blaming rogue elements.

Tristan February 11, 2009 at 10:43 am

It’s not about being too radical, its about being divided… regardless of preferences, who should Obama and Israel consider a viable negotiating partner?

As an aside, does Hamas accept the idea of a 2 states solution? I have to admit that I have no clue about Hamas position on this… I have read many conflicting articles over the years.

Hamas accepts the 1971 peace offer, which has never gone away – now it’s called the Geneva accords. Isreal and the US have opposed this solution for 40 years.

You can’t distinguish the divisiveness of the Palastinien governments from ongoing Israeli war crimes. You want less radical, more moderate governments in the territories? Easy. Pull out of the settlements, stop kidnapping palastinians, stop the missile attacks, and the violence against Israel will stop.

Magictofu February 11, 2009 at 1:03 pm

Does Hamas really accepts the Geneva accord? I quickly looked online and found nothing very convincing yet.

As for your explanation of the civil-war like divisions between Fatah and Hamas, I find it a bit simplistic but I won’t argue on that. I would question however the outcome of a radical change in Israeli actions in Gaza and the West Bank on the divisions in the Palestinian camp. Ì would even suggest that the impact of this on the level of radicality among Palestinian is also discutable since an apparent ‘victory’ can certainly encourage more radical actions. I am not a strong believer in deprivation theories in general.

Tristan February 11, 2009 at 1:15 pm

How the US has blocked the international consensus view on a solution since ’74

And how Israel kept Camp David from succeeding.


Tristan February 11, 2009 at 3:54 pm

“I would question however the outcome of a radical change in Israeli actions in Gaza and the West Bank on the divisions in the Palestinian camp”

You can disagree with the consensus view that violence against marginalized populations begets violence from those populations if you want. You could also ignore all the CIA’s arguments about blow-back. You can do whatever you want. Generally, though, you should be worried about thinking about the middle east in a way that holds Israel’s actions as constant, and asks what could the Palestinians do differently. Especially since, as a Canadian, the only possible democratizing activity that might have any effect on anything, that I can see, is that we can engage in is increasing awareness of the link between US support for Israel and Israeli war crimes.

Stopping Apartheid in South Africa took decades of popular organizing before the mainstream business lobby would support a boycott of south Africa. It seems unlikely that peace will come to the middle east without US business support – because if the last 35 years of vetoed Security Council resolutions are any indication, the U.S. loves insecurity and violence in the middle east region – they must believe it to be in their geo-strategic interest.

Magictofu February 11, 2009 at 4:20 pm

I don’t think that there is a consensus view “that violence against marginalized populations begets violence from those populations” but that is probably a very different discussion.

That being said, I do see a big difference between the actions of Israel (a state) and those of some palestinian militants part of a larger social movement. I also do think that the international community has a role to play in solving the crisis both on humanitarian terms and on legal terms (i.e. accusations of war crimes and genocide).

That being said, like Milan, I have the impression that the opportunity to act is very limited.

Tristan February 11, 2009 at 5:13 pm

It seems that both of you have taken an ultra-realist position, which is basically to say, we can’t do anything about Israel’s war crimes. Or, to say we can’t do anything about the U.S. position with regards to the middle east. You both continue to just assert the mainline position, without actually responding to any of my substantive criticism of it.

This is just not a serious position. You can do what you want, but as a citizen you have the duty to try to make the results of your deliberations positions that other serious citizens might take seriously. If your position is basically, “we can’t expect that organizing can have any effect on the systematic perpetuation of violence which might result in the destruction of a people”, then it fails to meet this simple test.

Josh February 11, 2009 at 6:34 pm

I agree with Tristan, which is funny because we are mortal enemies.

Why are so many people soft on Israel? They’re comitting blatant war crimes with US support. And the fatalistic attitudes about changing the situation are very disappointing. Is this how we should face every difficult task in life, giving up immediately because the likelihood of success seems slim?

Tristan February 11, 2009 at 6:50 pm

“That being said, like Milan, I have the impression that the opportunity to act is very limited.”

Unless you can refute the position that the U.S. has systematically been blocking the consensus peace proposal since 1974, you cannot assert this position without expecting to be laughed at.

Tristan February 11, 2009 at 6:53 pm

As far as it being impossible to do anything about the situation, it is possible to elect anti-war, anti-interventionist candidates, although only from the Republican party, in the U.S. This is the platform that W. ran on in 2001. However, the fact that he proceeded with a foreign policy the exact opposite of his promises, means that we cannot expect the existing system, as is, to solve these problems. The system must be democratized, and if it can’t be democratized, replaced.

Tristan February 11, 2009 at 7:03 pm

“30 For most of the
time since Hamas’s forcible takeover of the Gaza Strip in June 2007, most of Gaza’s border
crossings have been closed to everything but a minimum of goods deemed necessary to meet
humanitarian needs. As a result, the Gazan economy has been brought to a virtual standstill. The
Palestinian Federation of Industries estimates that 98% of Gaza’s industrial operations are now
inactive.31 Even if Israel agrees to Palestinian sovereignty over Gaza and the West Bank, there are
no guarantees that Israel will allow Palestinians and their goods access to Israeli jobs and

-CRS report on prospects for a two state solution.

And, the U.S. apparently thinks this is totally ok. Great.

Tristan February 11, 2009 at 7:06 pm

US Congressional Research Service Report declares that Hamas’ calls for the destruction of Israel to be only “superficially different” from the one-state solution (espoused by Israeli workers parties, and others)

“Israel. A single democratic state for Jews and Arabs that guarantees all
citizens equal rights to civil liberties and political participation could conceivably come about
through modification of the governing structure of the existing state of Israel. This makes the idea
superficially different from the one-state solution generally advocated by Hamas, which insists
upon the elimination of the state of Israel and the establishment of Palestinian and Islamic
primacy over all of pre-1948 historic Palestine.37 Whether the two are different in real terms is
open to debate.”

Tristan February 11, 2009 at 7:11 pm

U.S. opposes the construction of Israeli West-Bank settlements in Word, but minimally in action:

“Although longstanding official U.S. policy opposes the settlements as “obstacles to peace” and
insists that existing settlement blocs should not prejudice final-status negotiations, Arab critics
routinely charge that U.S. support of Israel indirectly supports settlement activity.67 Since 1972,
the United States has periodically offered loan guarantees to Israel. Current legislation
authorizing these loan guarantees through FY2010 specifically prohibits the use of U.S.-
guaranteed funds to finance Israeli settlement activity in territories occupied by Israel since the
1967 war, and permits the U.S. government to make reductions in the guarantees equal in amount
to Israeli expenditures on settlement activity. The last reduction made was in 2003.68 In
recommending that the incoming Obama Administration “hold Israel accountable to its
commitment to freeze new construction of settlements in the West Bank, including in the
Jerusalem area,” a December 2008 joint publication from the Brookings Institution and the
Council on Foreign Relations stated that “conditioning portions of aid to a settlement freeze can
be effective in eliciting Israeli compliance.”69”

Magictofu February 11, 2009 at 7:19 pm

“Unless you can refute the position that the U.S. has systematically been blocking the consensus peace proposal since 1974, you cannot assert this position without expecting to be laughed at.”

Please laugh at me! I have no intention of justifying Israeli or US positions on the issue. I am not an expert on the situation but I do feel that both countries have taken positions that are difficult to defend and have probably been very wrong on key issues.

Magictofu February 11, 2009 at 7:22 pm

“Is this how we should face every difficult task in life, giving up immediately because the likelihood of success seems slim?”

Of course not, but I think people should pick their fight… arguably I am very bad at it because I still debate these issues here.

Tristan February 12, 2009 at 12:43 am

“Please laugh at me! I have no intention of justifying Israeli or US positions on the issue. I am not an expert on the situation but I do feel that both countries have taken positions that are difficult to defend and have probably been very wrong on key issues.”

It’s important if one’s position is “the issues are complicated”, that that can only be used as grounds to support the “I can’t assert a position” position, rather than the “peace is obviously very difficult and Obama should do something more doable” position. You can use nothing to support nothing, but not to support something.

Magictofu February 12, 2009 at 9:20 am

Tristan, no matter what the past US involvements were, simply returning to a more neutral position won’t solve the crisis. I know you are smart enough not to fall for this kind of linear logic so your last interventions have been extremely puzzling to me.

Anonymous_one February 12, 2009 at 10:08 am

There is also a tension here between peace and justice, as is often the case with long conflicts.

Look at South Africa, or Northern Ireland – if all the leaders who committed crimes were punished, there would be nobody to carry out the reconciliation. At the same time, if nobody is punished, it can be difficult to produce the will required to make any settlement work.

Good will is what this all boils down to, in the end. Unless enough of it exists among various key groups of Israelis and Palestinians (any of whom can wreck a peace attempt), no peace attempt can succeed.

Tristan February 12, 2009 at 1:16 pm

“Tristan, no matter what the past US involvements were, simply returning to a more neutral position won’t solve the crisis.”

You don’t know this- and you’ve admitted so. You haven’t even seriously responded to the allegations that the US has blocked security council resolutions since 1974 which called for the implementation of the 1971 borders, with minor and mutual modifications. You can’t say, therefore, that it is not the US which has systematically opposed and continues to oppose peace in the region. If you want to say this, you need an argument, and you still haven’t presented even the semblance of one.

Tristan February 12, 2009 at 1:21 pm

“Good will is what this all boils down to, in the end. Unless enough of it exists among various key groups of Israelis and Palestinians (any of whom can wreck a peace attempt), no peace attempt can succeed.”

Again, this isn’t an argument. Peace attempts succeed when a deal is reached that all parties can agree to. Such a deal has been on the table since 1971.

The idea that the brutal occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, and the blockade of Gaza since the de-militarization, has not radicalized the Palestinian population or pushed anyone towards violence is just dumb – no one seriously believes that you can abuse people over and over again and not expect them to fight back. And to expect people to fight back only through conventional warfare is to put an un-acceptable re-enforcement on the status quo. Terrorism has to be justified in those cases where there is no other option, i.e., suicide bombers in the concentration camps – no one would seriously dispute this.

Anonymous_one February 12, 2009 at 1:43 pm

Even if you believe that Palestinian terrorism is God’s own wonderful vengenace against the wicked Israelis, you need to appreciate that there are pre-conditions to peace between two warring factions.

The existence of a Palestinian state is not sufficient to stop all violence between the parties. It is extremely naive to think that organizations that have always wanted to destroy Israel (not just shrink it a bit) will sit contentedly once they control the West Bank and Gaza back to the pre-1967 borders. They might be happier than they are now, but they will still be looking for any opportunity when Israel is weaker, so that they can try to destroy it again.

Israel will always need to deal with the security threats from all of its neighbours. It can only be seriously expected to make peace with those neighbours who are willing to guarantee Israeli security in return.

Magictofu February 12, 2009 at 2:44 pm

Tristan, this is going nowhere. You keep accusing me and others of being ignorant or biaised and seem to seek confrontation on every issue imaginable even if, on many cases, people do not necessarily disagree with you on basic ideas. As the Anonymous_one said about the conflict in the Middle East, “Good will is what this all boils down to”. I’m sorry to say that I lost my good will to discuss here.

Tristan February 12, 2009 at 3:49 pm

“Good will is what this all boils down to”

There never seemed to be any good will here to interrogate the issues with any kind of seriousness.

Milan February 12, 2009 at 4:14 pm

What connects the three subjects I no longer care to discuss is the lack of civility in the conversations, not any lack of interest.

Trying to keep things civil is not a sign of intellectual weakness or disinterest. Rather, it is a simple show of respect to those who are choosing to speak with you.

Also, it is important to note, incivility quickly creates incivility in return, effectively neutralizing the possibility that a conversation will have any value.

. February 12, 2009 at 9:14 pm

Hamas ‘set for truce with Israel’

A long-term truce between the Palestinian militant group Hamas and Israel may be announced within days, Hamas officials said in Cairo.

Border crossings would reportedly be re-opened and a ceasefire would be called for 18 months under the Egyptian-brokered deal.

Tristan February 13, 2009 at 3:10 am


Whether civilized or not, there has been a lack of actual responses to any of the points I’ve made. You made on substantive set of responses, but none of them seem that serious.

“I do not agree that the United States should threaten to unilaterally cut off support for Israel, in an attempt to force it to make peace. I have serious doubts about whether such a policy could be successful. For one thing, Israel could forge other alliances or simply operate with its own resources.”

Israel could continue to defend itself in the region, i.e. not be invaded, without US military support? Israel does not build military aircraft. They could perhaps defend themselves for a while, but eventually the threat of invasion would force them to make peace in the region – because the threat of war would be too costly. Right now, the threat of war is a non-issue because they have U.S. backing.

The U.S. has opposed in word and small deed the settlements – but if the U.S. issued Israel an ultimatum – abandon the settlements and open the borders or you will lose U.S. support, it seems reasonable to say conditions for peace would be upon up quite rapidly.

“For another, the Palestinians are too politically divided to be ready for statehood. Until Hamas and Fatah are somehow reconciled (or both are replaced with something else), it is hard to see how any Israeli action could produce a real Palestinian state.”

The idea that continual Israeli violations of international law (i.e. occupation of territory gained in war, the settlements, kidnapping civilians, attacking civilian populations etc…) does not have an effect on the Palestinian population, one that makes peace more difficult, is just pretty hard to believe.

“I also do not agree that the Camp David or Taba negotiations failed exclusively because of Israeli rejection.”

Do you have a reason for this? The debate seems to be whether or not we should believe Ron Pundak, the head of an Israeli “peace” research centre. The alternative is to believe the testimonials from the American negotiators (i.e. Dennis Ross). It’s not hard to see why the American’s have more of an incentive to lie than the Israeli’s – it’s perfectly acceptable for them to be blunt about rejecting peace, it’s been national policy for 40 years. But, of course, it’s not acceptable for America to appear to be rejecting peace, so that must be concealed.

“The Israeli-Palestinian conflict goes through cycles in which the leadership in Israel and Palestine is more and less willing to make a serious effort at peacemaking. When both sides are in the mood, by all means the United States should engage. When neither side is willing or able to be a serious partner in peace negotiations, the best the outside world can do is somewhat reduce the level of violence involved in the ongoing conflict.”

The idea that the “mood” of either side can be considered independent of the terrorist actions of the other, which is not explicit but implicit here, seems a bit problematic to me.

Generally, your picture of the middle east seems to be one which sees it as an inherent difficulty. As in, there is something inherently difficult about these two different populations living near each other, made worse by the fact one wasn’t there a century earlier. But it seems to me that there is nothing inherent about the difficulties – the difficulties may simply have been produced for the benefit of specific parties. If Israel had accepted the peace offer in 71, 74 or 76, which will have been substantially the same to the eventual peace offer if the Geneva accords are successful, the entire region probably would be debating farm subsidies by now.

. February 13, 2009 at 3:50 pm

Diplomacy after the Gaza war
A long and bumpy road

From The Economist print edition
Foreigners are trying yet again to bring peace to Israel and Palestine

AS AN array of diplomats intensify their efforts to consolidate the ceasefire that took hold in the Gaza Strip after January 18th, the battered territory’s 1.5m people were still gasping for desperately-needed help. Gazans are terrified that violence might return, as tit-for-tat attacks resumed at a relatively low but still dangerous level. Most Gazans now rely on food handouts to survive. Meanwhile, representatives of Israel, various Palestinian factions and the European Union, as well as America’s new peace envoy, George Mitchell, converged on Egypt’s capital, Cairo, to hash out the terms of a more lasting peace.

The talks covered not only the securing of a formal ceasefire and getting immediate humanitarian aid into the stricken territory, but a range of other tricky issues. These included longer-term arrangements for Gaza’s border crossings, the fate of a kidnapped Israeli soldier held by Hamas and of thousands of Palestinians held by Israel, and a power-sharing deal between Hamas and its rivals. If Hamas were bound into a broader Palestinian government, outsiders could help the Palestinians while still not dealing directly with the Islamist group, which has preserved de facto control of Gaza despite the ferocity of Israel’s three-week assault.

Tristan February 14, 2009 at 2:25 pm

“the fate of a kidnapped Israeli soldier held by Hamas and of thousands of Palestinians held by Israel, ”

This is a decent metaphor for the balance of violence in the middle east conflict.

. February 15, 2009 at 12:07 am

Unstable politics plague Israel

By Heather Sharp
BBC News, Jerusalem

While rockets from Gaza and potential nuclear bombs from Iran are looming large in the minds of Israeli voters, the party’s leader, political science Professor Gideon Doron, says the voting system itself is a “threat to Israel’s existence”.

“We can’t make peace and we can barely make war,” he says, as he fields phone calls about election billboards.

The country has a diverse electorate – combining immigrants from all over the world, hawks and doves, religious and secular viewpoints as well as traditional right and left wings – and an unusual political system.

. February 21, 2009 at 9:30 pm

Israel and the Arabs
Stalemate all around

Feb 12th 2009
From The Economist print edition
All the more reason for Barack Obama to march towards the sound of gunfire

FOR reasons of his own, Barack Obama chose to disregard the advice he got from many quarters that he should spell out his views on Palestinian statehood before Israel’s voters went to the polls on February 10th. That is a pity. Israelis disagree about many things, but most understand the value of having a prime minister who is liked and welcomed in the White House. Had Mr Obama made it clearer before the election that he is impatient to see Israel withdraw from the bulk of the West Bank and the creation there and in Gaza of an independent Palestinian state, more Israelis might have cast their vote for Tzipi Livni, the leader of Israel’s centrist Kadima party. Ms Livni showed as foreign minister during Israel’s recent Gaza war that she is no cooing dove. But she appears genuinely to believe not only in the possibility but also in the urgency of negotiating a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

. February 23, 2009 at 8:59 pm

U.S. to Give $900 Million in Aid to Gaza

Published: February 23, 2009

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration intends to provide some $900 million to help rebuild Gaza after the Israeli incursion that ended last month, administration officials said Monday.

In an early sign of how the administration plans to deal with Hamas, the militant Islamist group that controls Gaza, an official said that the aid would not go to Hamas but that it would be funneled through nongovernmental organizations.

. February 27, 2009 at 4:35 pm

Mr Obama faces three early tests. The first, and perhaps the easiest, is to spell out his vision of a Palestinian state. Its outlines are well known and have been more or less agreed by sensible Palestinians and Israelis, including those in power, for the past decade. Israel would return to the armistice line that existed before the 1967 war, with minor adjustments and territorial swaps of equal size and quality, and would probably keep the three biggest Jewish settlement blocks that bulge out from the 1967 line. Jerusalem would be tortuously but fastidiously divided, allowing each side to have its capital there, with international oversight of the holy places. Palestinians would be granted a symbolic right for their refugees to return on the understanding that only a small and carefully calculated proportion of them would actually do so. Palestine would be sovereign but demilitarised, with an international force, perhaps led by NATO, securing its borders, both along the Jordan valley and maybe between Gaza and Egypt. A road-and-rail link, internationally monitored, might well connect the 50km (30 miles) or so between Gaza and the West Bank.

Tristan February 27, 2009 at 5:57 pm

The crucial question concerns whether the West Bank will return to its former size, and even more important than that – whether it will be an undivided whole, or whether there will be borders and restrictions that break it up, like now.

mek February 27, 2009 at 10:21 pm

I support a complete halt to all US aid to Israel. I think a majority of Americans do, at a time when fiscal responsibility is paramount.

It doesn’t have to be permanent – it would be an excellent bargaining chip in forcing Israel to adopt more progressive and humanitarian policies, improving the quality of life in Palestine and therefore helping to defuse the situation. The ball is in the US’ court and has been for decades.

Glen Greenwald has several posts on the topic which conclusively demonstrate that while the American political elite certainly supports Israel, a majority of American voters do not.

Tristan February 28, 2009 at 3:38 am


It’s nice to have a supporting voice here. I think it’s quite true that the ball has been in the US’s court for decades to put some pressure on Israel to comply with international law and stop their war crimes.

. February 28, 2009 at 10:42 am

“Throughout history, states have often rejected security in favour of power”


Milan February 28, 2009 at 9:59 pm

Regarding that last comment:

Linking to relevant news

. March 1, 2009 at 11:27 pm

Clinton’s delicate Mid-east tour

By Kim Ghattas
BBC News, Washington

Hillary Clinton arrived in Egypt on Sunday evening for her first foray, as US secretary of state, into the complex politics of the Middle East.

While the main reason for her trip is to attend an aid conference for the reconstruction of Gaza in Sharm el- Sheikh, she will also meet Arab leaders on the sidelines of that meeting.

Mrs Clinton will then travel to Israel and the Palestinian territories to meet leaders from both sides and also students, during an event similar to the kind she held throughout her maiden trip to Asia.

. March 2, 2009 at 11:43 am

Two part interview with Chomsky on the Middle East situation, feb 20th 2009



. March 3, 2009 at 12:01 pm

Challenge of Israeli settlements

By Katya Adler
BBC News, Jerusalem

Israel’s Prime Minister designate, Benjamin Netanyahu, will not openly commit to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But the US insists it’s the only way forward, and Hillary Clinton is visiting the region for the first time as secretary of state.

“I feel like a stranger in my own land. I can’t go for a long walk. I have to sneak around. Otherwise I’m stopped by Israeli soldiers or threatened by Israeli settlers.”

Raja Shehadeh is an award-winning author. A Palestinian mourning the erosion and theft, as he sees it, of his birthplace, the West Bank.

. March 3, 2009 at 12:02 pm

US Israel support ‘unshakeable’

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has restated “unshakeable” support for Israel, whatever type of government emerges from current coalition talks.

Tristan March 3, 2009 at 1:35 pm

Presumably “unshakeable” support means unshakeable support for the illegal settlements, the illegal threats and exercises of force, the illegal defiance of international law, etc…

. March 4, 2009 at 11:05 am

Clinton concern over demolitions

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says Israeli demolitions of Palestinian homes in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem are of “deep concern”.

She renewed her commitment to an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement, saying it was a “commitment I carry in my heart, not just my portfolio”.

. March 4, 2009 at 11:30 am

“If We Could, We’d Be Building Like Crazy”
Why Jewish settlers in the West Bank are looking forward to Benjamin Netanyahu’s premiership.
By Linda Gradstein
Posted Wednesday, March 4, 2009, at 7:05 AM ET

HAYOVEL, West Bank—Elianna Passentin says she moved from her native California to this settlement deep in the heart of the West Bank because she wanted to raise her six children in a place tied to Jewish history.

“Looking out our windows, we see Tel Shilo, which was the capital of the Israelite kingdom for 359 years and the site of the Tabernacle,” she says. “In our garden we found dozens of pottery shards from the time of the Bible. Our children learn [the] Bible at home and then they see the Bible out their window.”

The outpost currently consists of 16 permanent houses and 20 mobile homes. It was built more than 10 years ago to mark the 50th anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel. Passentin and others here say Hayovel is a neighborhood of nearby Eli, a large Jewish settlement with 640 families. But Eli is almost a mile away, and to much of the international community, this is an outpost, one of about 100 built illegally even according to Israeli law.

. March 4, 2009 at 11:31 am

“Ten of the incoming Knesset members live in the West Bank, and one faction, the National Union, says it will join Netanyahu’s government only if it agrees to expand settlements and legalize dozens of outposts like Hayovel.

Netanyahu has repeatedly said that he would prefer a unity government with the centrist Kadima and the center-left Labor Party, but both of these parties seem headed to opposition. That means Netanyahu needs the National Union if he wants to have a stable coalition of 65 seats in the 120-seat parliament.”

Tristan March 4, 2009 at 1:16 pm

The settlements are great. The U.S. should definitely keep supporting Israel regardless of whether it removes them or not. Also, it’s ok for Israel to have nuclear weapons, but not other countries in the Gulf with comparable human rights records. Also, pre-emption is completely legal, and threats of aggression are not violations of international law.

. March 5, 2009 at 3:57 pm

Middle East Peacemaking Has Failed
By Nathan J. Brown
Foreign Policy
Posted March 2009

Addressing the international conference gathered in Egypt this week to discuss aid to Gaza, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made clear that her inclination is to continue precisely where the Bush administration left off — using assistance to shore up the Palestinian government based in Ramallah, ignoring the Palestinian government based in Gaza, and hoping that the Ramallah government can realize enough success to help lead the path back to a two-state solution.

But if the past two years have shown nothing else, it is that showering Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad with help, hoping Hamas will disappear, and going through the motions of two-state diplomacy only opens the door to a darker future.

It is time to choose a different path.

Far from the limelight, a less ambitious diplomatic process, overshadowed by the 2007 Annapolis conference hoopla, was born in the Bush administration’s last year. Gritty, difficult, and serious negotiations took place between Israel and Hamas — talks that, eventually, were tolerated by the United States. They were indirect and barely acknowledged, and they specifically excluded mutual recognition and permanence. But they may provide a more realistic place for Obama to start.

. March 5, 2009 at 3:59 pm

“Rather than chasing an elusive peace, George Mitchell, the U.S. special envoy to the Middle East, should focus on stretching a short-term cease-fire into a medium-term armistice — a modus vivendi in which Israelis and Palestinians live without hurting each other for five to 10 years. An armistice will have to codify a situation that both sides find tolerable for a while. Hamas could operate freely and govern; Israel could live free from rocket fire and other attacks on civilians. Neither side could be allowed to use the period to impose permanent changes: Israel would have to accept a real settlement freeze, and Hamas would have to live with an internationally patrolled arms embargo.”

Tristan March 6, 2009 at 12:10 am

There won’t be peace until the U.S. accepts the international consensus and makes its support of Israel contingent on accepting international law and removing the settlements, and what amounts to 80% of the apartheid wall (the portion in the West Bank). Until that, the U.S. is supporting a position which is unacceptable to the Palestinians, and to denounce terrorism while accepting Israel’s right to violently defend itself, is both naive in the sense that the attacks will continue, and morally hypocritical in the sense that they are both supporting and condemning terrorism at the same time. The notion of a “mid term peace” is nonsense. And the notion that America is somehow in a weak position to force Israel to accept peace is nonsense as well, since Israel relies on U.S. support for everything.

. March 11, 2009 at 3:44 pm

On Chas Freeman’s withdrawal
Wed, 03/11/2009 – 10:35am

Second, this incident does not speak well for Barack Obama’s principles, or even his political instincts. It is one thing to pander to various special interest groups while you’re running for office — everyone expects that sort of thing — but it’s another thing to let a group of bullies push you around in the first fifty days of your administration. But as Ben Smith noted in Politico, it’s entirely consistent with most of Obama’s behavior on this issue.

The decision to toss Freeman over the side tells the lobby (and others) that it doesn’t have to worry about Barack getting tough with Netanyahu, or even that he’s willing to fight hard for his own people. Although AIPAC has issued a pro forma denial that it had anything to do with it, well-placed friends in Washington have told me that it leaned hard on some key senators behind-the-scenes and is now bragging that Obama is a “pushover.” Bottom line: Caving on Freeman was a blunder that could come back to haunt any subsequent effort to address the deteriorating situation in the region.

. March 20, 2009 at 11:10 am

“Argumentum ad nauseam or argument from repetition or argumentum ad infinitum is an argument made repeatedly (possibly by different people) until nobody cares to discuss it any more. This may sometimes, but not always, be a form of proof by assertion.”

. March 23, 2009 at 10:33 am

Hamas chief hails Obama approach

The political leader of Hamas, Khaled Meshaal, has credited US President Barack Obama with using a “new language” for the Middle East.

Speaking to an Italian newspaper Mr Meshaal also said that an official opening to his Palestinian Islamist movement was only “a matter of time”.

The interview was published three days after President Obama called for a “new beginning” in relations with Iran.

. March 28, 2009 at 11:35 pm

“I had never seen a refugee before. My parents are Irish, and I immigrated with them to America from Ireland at the age of nine. But refugees are very different from immigrants. The people who tumbled into Berlin were fleeing for their lives. They were filthy. They were needy. And they were angry. Many were reliving the horrors they had experienced: concentration camps, rape camps, little boys and girls picked off their bicycles by Sarajevo snipers. Yet these refugees caused me then to do only one thing: walk as quickly as I could in the other direction.

I saw only people I had no capacity to help. And very quickly, as a way of easing or preempting any sense of guilt, I told myself the same story that American politicians were using: Bosnia was “a problem from hell,” I said, “we could never make these people like one another.” “They” had been killing one another for centuries. If something is a problem from hell, it places little burden on outsiders to problem-solve.

I lacked something very important in those days: sight. In Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison writes about the “peculiar disposition behind the whites of the eyes,” a disposition that blinds us to injustice before us, that causes us to look through people. And we are never more prone to look away than when we don’t want to face the implications of what we might see.”

. April 9, 2009 at 3:09 pm

Too Busy To Save Darfur
The Obama administration has very few options for solving the crisis in Sudan.
By Shmuel Rosner
Posted Thursday, April 9, 2009, at 12:31 PM ET

Sudan’s sovereignty has been violated twice in recent weeks. It was violated physically by an Israeli attempt to find a simple remedy to a relatively simple problem. It was violated symbolically by the International Criminal Court, which sought and failed to find a simple remedy to a complicated problem, thus making it even more complicated. One sobering lesson can be drawn from these two incidents: In Sudan, as in the Wild West, if you want to shoot, shoot. Talk will get you nowhere.

. May 20, 2009 at 2:16 pm

An Israeli Prime Minister Comes to Washington Again
May 18, 2009

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is visiting Washington for his first official visit with U.S. President Barack Obama. A range of issues — including the future of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, Israeli-Syrian talks and Iran policy — are on the table. This is one of an endless series of meetings between U.S. presidents and Israeli prime ministers over the years, many of which concerned these same issues. Yet little has changed.
That Israel has a new prime minister and the United States a new president might appear to make this meeting significant. But this is Netanyahu’s second time as prime minister, and his government is as diverse and fractious as most recent Israeli governments. Israeli politics are in gridlock, with deep divisions along multiple fault lines and an electoral system designed to magnify disagreements.
Obama is much stronger politically, but he has consistently acted with caution, particularly in the foreign policy arena. Much of his foreign policy follows from the Bush administration. He has made no major breaks in foreign policy beyond rhetoric; his policies on Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Russia and Europe are essentially extensions of pre-existing policy. Obama faces major economic problems in the United States and clearly is not looking for major changes in foreign policy. He understands how quickly public sentiment can change, and he does not plan to take risks he does not have to take right now.

. May 20, 2009 at 2:23 pm

“The foundation of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process for years has been the assumption that there would be a two-state solution. Such a solution has not materialized for a host of reasons. First, at present there are two Palestinian entities, Gaza and the West Bank, which are hostile to each other. Second, the geography and economy of any Palestinian state would be so reliant on Israel that independence would be meaningless; geography simply makes the two-state proposal almost impossible to implement. Third, no Palestinian government would have the power to guarantee that rogue elements would not launch rockets at Israel, potentially striking at the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem corridor, Israel’s heartland. And fourth, neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis have the domestic political coherence to allow any negotiator to operate from a position of confidence. Whatever the two sides negotiated would be revised and destroyed by their political opponents, and even their friends.

For this reason, the entire peace process — including the two-state solution — is a chimera. Neither side can live with what the other can offer. But if it is a fiction, it is a fiction that serves U.S. purposes. The United States has interests that go well beyond Israeli interests and sometimes go in a different direction altogether. Like Israel, the United States understands that one of the major obstacles to any serious evolution toward a two-state solution is Arab hostility to such an outcome.”

. May 20, 2009 at 5:09 pm

America and Israel
Don’t hold back

May 14th 2009
From The Economist print edition
Barack Obama must not just scold Israel’s leader but also promote his own plan soon

FOR the first time in many years, an Israeli government is scared stiff that an American administration may squeeze it until its pips squeak. That is surely a good thing, if it makes the Israelis more amenable to giving the Palestinians the fair deal—in essence, a proper state of their own—that might bring peace to the two peoples and to the wider region of the Middle East. So when Barack Obama meets Binyamin Netanyahu in the White House on May 18th, he must be tough with him.

. May 21, 2009 at 10:53 am

Israel: ‘No need to finish’ W Bank barrier

The head of Israel’s security service has said there is no security reason for continuing construction of Israel’s barrier through the West Bank.

Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin told a parliamentary committee that Israel had enough capabilities to prevent attacks from the Palestinian territory.

. May 25, 2009 at 10:46 am

Netanyahu says settlements can expand

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says settlements in the occupied West Bank will be allowed to expand despite US objections.

Mr Netanyahu said no new settlements would be built, but natural growth in existing settlements should be allowed.

During Mr Netanyahu’s visit to the US last week, President Barack Obama told him all settlement activity must end.

The US regards the Jewish settlements -home to some 280,000 Israelis – as obstacles to the peace process.

“I have no intention to construct new settlements, but it makes no sense to ask us not to answer to the needs of natural growth and to stop all construction,” a senior official quoted Mr Netanyahu as telling the Israeli cabinet.

“There is no way that we are going to tell people not to have children or to force young people to move away from their families,” he added.

. June 15, 2009 at 4:21 pm

How To Lean on Israel
There are three ways for Obama to pressure the Israelis. Each is incredibly difficult.
By Jacob Weisberg
Posted Saturday, June 13, 2009, at 9:30 AM ET

Since the first stirrings of the Arab-Israeli peace process after the Yom Kippur war, America’s relations with Israel have been characterized by a paradox. Those presidents regarded as the least friendly to the Jewish state have done it the most good. Its strong allies have proven much less helpful.

This history begins with Jimmy Carter, who threatened a cutoff of American aid to pressure Menachem Begin into returning all of Sinai to Egypt, which made possible the 1979 Camp David agreement. The other most meaningful U.S. contribution to Mideast peace came under the first President George Bush at the 1991 Madrid Conference. When the Israelis refused to participate, Secretary of State James Baker withheld loan guarantees and said that Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir should call him when he got interested in peace. At one point, Baker actually banned Benjamin Netanyahu, who was representing Shamir in Washington, from the State Department Building. Madrid led to a peace treaty with Jordan, the recognition of Israel by many other countries, and the first real face-to-face negotiations with Palestinians.

. August 12, 2009 at 4:57 pm

Israel and Palestine
Not quite as gloomy as they look
From The Economist print edition

The contours of a peace deal are clear. But who has the courage to draw them?

BACK in the autumn of last year, Ehud Olmert, then Israel’s fading prime minister, and Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinians’ more durable president, were astonishingly close to a peace deal. Judging by an interview with Mr Olmert published in Newsweek in June, after he had given up his post, they appeared to have been only a whisker apart—though Mr Abbas has since called the gap “wide”. But it is worth spelling out what Mr Olmert says he offered, in an account that other senior Palestinians have pretty much verified. For it starkly shows what both sides need to do to clinch the deal—and how feasible it is.

According to the report, Mr Olmert offered the Palestinians nearly 94% of the West Bank as the basis of their would-be state, plus land swaps of Israeli territory to make up the difference, amounting to nearly 6%, plus a safe-passage road-corridor to link Gaza with the West Bank.

All the same, even if Mr Netanyahu is bent on building settlements, he has been rattled by Mr Obama’s apparently equal determination to stop him. It is the first time in nearly two decades that an American president has twisted Israel’s arm so hard. It is possible that something close to a freeze will be agreed on with Mr Obama’s envoy, George Mitchell. After Mr Netanyahu met him this week, he agreed to halt a building project in East Jerusalem. If the Palestinians can be convinced that settlement-building has “stopped” (Mr Obama’s word), peace talks may yet resume.

. August 18, 2009 at 3:47 pm

New Israeli settlements ‘on hold’

Israel’s government has stopped issuing new settler housing tenders in the West Bank, hoping to reach common ground with the US, a senior minister says.

The US administration has been putting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu under pressure to freeze all settlement work, which has strained normally close ties.

“There is no freeze, there is a waiting period,” said Housing Minster Ariel Atias in an Israeli radio interview.

But anti-settlement groups say work in settlements has in fact increased.

. September 2, 2009 at 3:03 pm

Israel: A Prompt Defense Against Qassams
April 21, 2009

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barack announced April 21 that his ministry will buy the land-based Phalanx weapon system to defend against Qassam rockets and mortars fired from the Gaza Strip. Its deployment will mark an important first step for Israel in countering Hamas’ principal means of striking Israeli territory.

While the crude Qassams are not a new problem for Israel, Hamas has begun to use longer-range artillery rockets. At the same time, C-RAM technology has matured to the point of operational effectiveness, and when Phalanx is deployed in numbers in southern Israel, it could significantly erode Hamas’ ability to strike Israeli territory. Clearly, this would have significant political implications.

The Phalanx system is short range and does not offer area coverage, but it can defend specific towns and strategic facilities, and should be effective in countering the Qassams as they are currently employed. Hamas’ rockets are generally targeted at a few specific locations such as the western Negev city of Sederot, and are consistently launched from the same sectors in Gaza, which allows for efficient placement of Phalanx systems. Most of the rest of Israeli territory surrounding the Gaza Strip, especially those areas within mortar and Qassam range, is sparsely populated.

Tristan September 2, 2009 at 4:03 pm

Ceasing extension of the settlements won’t produce peace. Peace will come when the 67′ borders are recognized. This isn’t a moral claim (at least insofar as “Peace” has a descriptive meaning), its just a matter of fact.

. September 2, 2009 at 4:17 pm

Israel’s Geopolitical Problem

The success of the 1967 war gave rise to Israel’s current geopolitical crisis.

Following the war, Israel had to balance three interests:

1. It now occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which contained large, hostile populations of Arabs. A full, peripheral war combined with an uprising in these regions would cut Israeli lines of supply and communication and risk Israel’s defeat.
2. Israel was now dependent on the United States for its industrial base. But American interests and Israeli interests were not identical. The United States had interests in the Arab world, and had no interest in Israel crushing Palestinian opposition or expelling Palestinians from Israel. Retaining the industrial base and ruthlessly dealing with the Palestinians became incompatible needs.
3. Israel had to continue manipulating the balance of power among Arab states in order to prevent a full peripheral war. That, in turn, meant that it was further constrained in dealing with the Palestinian question by force.

Israeli geopolitics created the worst condition of all: Given the second and third considerations, Israel could not crush the Palestinians; but given its need for strategic depth and coherent borders, it could not abandon the occupied territories. It therefore had to continually constrain the Palestinians without any possibility of final victory. It had to be ruthless, which would enflame the Palestinians, but it could never be ruthless enough to effectively suppress them.

. September 2, 2009 at 4:20 pm

The Geopolitics of the Palestinians
January 15, 2009

Palestinian nationalism’s first enemy is Israel, but if Israel ceased to exist, the question of an independent Palestinian state would not be settled. All of the countries bordering such a state would have serious claims on its lands, not to mention a profound distrust of Palestinian intentions. The end of Israel thus would not guarantee a Palestinian state. One of the remarkable things about Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza was that no Arab state moved quickly to take aggressive steps on the Gazans’ behalf. Apart from ritual condemnation, weeks into the offensive no Arab state had done anything significant. This was not accidental: The Arab states do not view the creation of a Palestinian state as being in their interests. They do view the destruction of Israel as being in their interests, but since they do not expect that to come about anytime soon, it is in their interest to reach some sort of understanding with the Israelis while keeping the Palestinians contained.

The emergence of a Palestinian state in the context of an Israeli state also is not something the Arab regimes see as in their interest — and this is not a new phenomenon. They have never simply acknowledged Palestinian rights beyond the destruction of Israel. In theory, they have backed the Palestinian cause, but in practice they have ranged from indifferent to hostile toward it. Indeed, the major power that is now attempting to act on behalf of the Palestinians is Iran — a non-Arab state whose involvement is regarded by the Arab regimes as one more reason to distrust the Palestinians.

Therefore, when we say that Palestinian nationalism was born in battle, we do not mean simply that it was born in the conflict with Israel: Palestinian nationalism also was formed in conflict with the Arab world, which has both sustained the Palestinians and abandoned them. Even when the Arab states have gone to war with Israel, as in 1973, they have fought for their own national interests — and for the destruction of Israel — but not for the creation of a Palestinian state. And when the Palestinians were in battle against the Israelis, the Arab regimes’ responses ranged from indifferent to hostile.

. September 2, 2009 at 4:24 pm

“The only solution for the Palestinians to this conundrum is the destruction of Israel. But they lack the ability to destroy Israel. The destruction of Israel represents a far-fetched scenario, but were it to happen, it would necessitate that other nations hostile to Israel — both bordering the Jewish state and elsewhere in the region — play a major role. And if they did play this role, there is nothing in their history, ideology or position that indicates they would find the creation of a Palestinian state in their interests. Each would have very different ideas of what to do in the event of Israel’s destruction.

Therefore, the Palestinians are trapped four ways. First, they are trapped by the Israelis. Second, they are trapped by the Arab regimes. Third, they are trapped by geography, which makes any settlement a preface to dependency. Finally, they are trapped in the reality in which they exist, which rotates from the minimally bearable to the unbearable. Their choices are to give up autonomy and nationalism in favor of economic dependency, or retain autonomy and nationalism expressed through the only means they have — wars that they can at best survive, but can never win.”

. September 2, 2009 at 4:38 pm

The Geopolitics of Israel: Biblical and Modern
May 4, 2008

Israel’s danger is not a Palestinian rising. Palestinian agitation is an irritant that Israel can manage so long as it does not undermine Israeli unity. Whether it is managed by domination or by granting the Palestinians a vassal state matters little. Nor can Israel be threatened by its neighbors. Even a unified attack by Syria and Egypt would fail, for the reasons discussed. Israel’s real threat, as can be seen in history, lies in the event of internal division and/or a great power, coveting Israel’s geographical position, marshalling force that is beyond its capacity to resist. Even that can be managed if Israel has a patron whose interests involve denying the coast to another power.

Israel’s reality is this. It is a small country, yet must manage threats arising far outside of its region. It can survive only if it maneuvers with great powers commanding enormously greater resources. Israel cannot match the resources and, therefore, it must be constantly clever. There are periods when it is relatively safe because of great power alignments, but its normal condition is one of global unease. No nation can be clever forever, and Israel’s history shows that some form of subordination is inevitable. Indeed, it is to a very limited extent subordinate to the United States now.

For Israel, the retention of a Davidic independence is difficult. Israel’s strategy must be to manage its subordination effectively by dealing with its patron cleverly, as it did with Persia. But cleverness is not a geopolitical concept. It is not permanent, and it is not assured. And that is the perpetual crisis of Jerusalem.

Tristan September 2, 2009 at 5:29 pm

““The only solution for the Palestinians to this conundrum is the destruction of Israel.”

This is just as absurd as saying the only solution for Israel is the destruction of Palestine. The destruction of the other is the platform being pursued by those in power on both sides. But it is absurd to assume that because of this all Israeli’s support the settlements, or that all Palestinians support the destruction of Israel. That’s like saying that because American’s voted for Bush, they all support torture and the invasion of Iraq.

Milan September 2, 2009 at 6:41 pm

This is just as absurd as saying the only solution for Israel is the destruction of Palestine.

Israel is clearly a viable state now, capable of maintaining internal cohesion and defending itself. A state comprised of the West Bank and Gaza cannot be assumed to be viable. The article on Palestinian geopolitics emphasizes how the differences between Gaza and the West Bank make viability less likely:

“The Palestinians are trapped in regional geopolitics. They also are trapped in their own particular geography. First, and most obviously, their territory is divided into two widely separated states: the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Second, these two places are very different from each other. Gaza is a nightmare into which Palestinians fleeing Israel were forced by the Egyptians. It is a social and economic trap. The West Bank is less unbearable, but regardless of what happens to Jewish settlements, it is trapped between two enemies, Israel and Jordan. Economically, it can exist only in dependency on its more dynamic neighboring economy, which means Israel.

Gaza has the military advantage of being dense and urbanized. It can be defended. But it is an economic catastrophe, and given its demographics, the only way out of its condition is to export workers to Israel. To a lesser extent, the same is true for the West Bank. And the Palestinians have been exporting workers for generations. They have immigrated to countries in the region and around the world. Any peace agreement with Israel would increase the exportation of labor locally, with Palestinian labor moving into the Israeli market. Therefore, the paradox is that while the current situation allows a degree of autonomy amid social, economic and military catastrophe, a settlement would dramatically undermine Palestinian autonomy by creating Palestinian dependence on Israel.”

I don’t necessarily agree, but the argument is an interesting one.

. September 13, 2009 at 11:41 pm

Israel, Lebanon: An Isolated Exchange of Fire

September 11, 2009

At least two Katyusha rockets fired from southern Lebanon landed in open fields near Israel’s northern city of Nahariya on Sept. 11. Israel fired 15 artillery shells in response. The incident appears to be an isolated one and is not likely to result in a broader conflict. Hezbollah has reasons to avoid starting a conflict with Israel right now, and Israel is too focused on Iran to want to engage in a fight on Lebanese soil.

. September 16, 2009 at 3:38 pm

“Yes We Can” Meets “No We Won’t”
Obama’s attempts to broker Middle East peace are doomed to fail—for now.
By Shmuel Rosner
Posted Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2009, at 1:51 PM ET

Between them, President Shimon Peres of Israel and former Sen. George Mitchell share 162 years of experience in high-flying diplomacy. Peres was born Aug. 2, 1923; Special Envoy Mitchell—President Barack Obama’s peace-process handyman—was born exactly 10 years and 18 days later, on Aug. 20, 1933. Last Sunday evening, the two of them sat down together to talk about Washington’s Middle East peace initiative. So much experience—and so little opportunity to put it to proper use. “We must not let the month of September pass without a new beginning and starting negotiations,” Peres said. As if September had some special significance. Everyone involved had let August pass, July pass, and June and May and April pass without “a new beginning.” Why not September?

Last week, Peres met—secretly, because meetings don’t matter anymore unless they are secret—with Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and told him pretty much the same thing. But the Palestinians seem unconvinced. They’ve made a resumption of peace negotiations with Israel conditional on a construction freeze in the settlements. That might be a problem, considering what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday, just hours before his first meeting of the week with Mitchell. “I told the Americans that we will consider scaling down construction,” the prime minister confided. Scaling down is less than freezing. If Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas wants an excuse to avoid Netanyahu, he will not have to sweat over it. The excuse has been provided for him.

. September 18, 2009 at 10:14 am

‘No agreement’ in Mid-East talks

US envoy George Mitchell’s latest round of shuttle diplomacy in the Middle East has ended without agreement, Palestinian officials said.

Mr Mitchell had met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem in a fresh attempt at getting a deal on Jewish settlement activity.

He also went to the West Bank to speak with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.

Mr Mitchell was hoping for a consensus before all sides attend the UN General Assembly in New York next week.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said: “There is no agreement yet with the Israeli side and no middle ground solution.”

An Israeli official was reported to have suggested that there may be a hiatus is settlement building in the West Bank, not including East Jerusalem, a little longer than previously offered.

“Israel will agree to extend the freeze beyond six months – possibly nine months, but less than a year,” the official said according to the Reuters news agency.

. September 19, 2009 at 11:22 pm

Obama to meet Middle East leaders

President Barack Obama will meet Israeli and Palestinian leaders on Tuesday to try to relaunch peace talks.

Mr Obama will hold separate talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, before a joint meeting.

Efforts to restart the peace process have so far been blocked by disagreements over Israeli settlements.

A senior US official told the BBC that there was no expectation of an announcement after Tuesday’s meetings.

He said the meetings are “clear sign of the President’s personal commitment to this issue.”

But he added that it was critical to put the discussions “in context”.

“Nine months ago there was a war in Gaza,” he said. “The Israeli government has only existed for five months.

“And now these three leaders are going to sit down in the same room and continue to narrow the gaps.”

Mr Netenyahu’s office issued a statement welcoming the invitation to talks and saying they would be held “without preconditions”, Reuters news agency reported.

. October 1, 2009 at 3:02 pm

“The outlines of a durable agreement have long been clear. The two states’ boundary must run close to the 1967 line, with several of the big Jewish settlement blocks eventually becoming part of Israel, while the Palestinians are compensated with land swaps of equal size and quality. Jerusalem must be shared. Israel should accept the Palestinians’ moral right to return to lands they lost when Israel was founded in 1948, while the Palestinians accept that only a few of them from the diaspora will in practice be able to resettle there.

Mr Obama equally needs to tell the Palestinians and their Arab backers why they, too, have to take decisions that will stick in their gullets. They must accept Israel as a Jewish state, albeit one where people of all faiths, including Arab-Israelis, have full rights. And if a deal is to stick, the rival Palestinian groups, Fatah and Hamas, must settle their own differences.

Year after year, under Israeli governments of every stripe, the settlements have butted into Palestinian land, eroding a would-be Palestinian state. Since 1993, when a peace deal that eventually failed was signed in Oslo, the number of settlers in the West Bank and the mainly Arab east side of Jerusalem has grown by more than 200,000. In this way Israel has flouted all the big agreements under American and international auspices. Yet no American administration, bar briefly that of George Bush senior, has ever penalised Israel for its settlement-building. Palestinians therefore utterly disbelieve American protestations of even-handedness.

For all these reasons, Mr Obama was quite right to say “Enough”. Mr Netanyahu’s arguments, for instance that new buildings are needed to cater for growing families, are bogus. If the settlers need more space, they could move to Israel proper; America could perhaps offer cash incentives to help them do so. The real worry behind Mr Netanyahu’s shilly-shallying is that he has shown no sign, since his reluctant and caveat-ridden acceptance in June of the two-state idea, that he really envisages, let alone welcomes, a Palestinian state.”

. October 5, 2009 at 4:15 pm

A number of disparate events involving the Israelis and Palestinians are occurring that, when taken together, indicate a significant diplomatic process may be under way.

Israel received a video Oct. 2 confirming that Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, whom Hamas captured in June 2006, is still alive. Hamas ostensibly provided the video in exchange for the release of 19 females held prisoner by the Israelis.

A day earlier, the Palestinian delegation at the United Nations agreed to defer until March 2010 a vote by the U.N. Human Rights Council investigating Israeli and Palestinian war crimes during the Dec. 27, 2008-Jan. 18 conflict in the Gaza Strip. The investigation, led by former South African Judge Richard Goldstone, concluded that Israeli forces and Palestinian militants had committed war crimes and possible crimes against humanity during the Gaza conflict.

The first anomaly to note is that Israel does not release prisoners — particularly not to Hamas — unless it receives substantial concessions in exchange. And the video does not appear to be a sufficient concession. Israelis take prisoner releases very seriously, and though the Israeli media is broadcasting that these female detainees were close to the end of their sentences and had no blood on their hands, this is still a highly emotional issue for the Jewish state. And there is no apparent outrage in Israel over the release; even hard-line Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has remained quiet on the issue. As the prisoner release was no easy concession for the Israelis to make, it had to involve something more in return than the Shalit video.

The second anomaly involves the Palestinian deferment. The Palestinian delegation at the United Nations was armed with the Goldstone report, which certified Israeli war crimes against the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. The Palestinian National Authority (PNA) is claiming that it is still keeping the report “alive” even if it has delayed passing it onto the U.N. Human Rights Council, but there is no doubt that this was an enormous concession on their part. Had the vote gone ahead, the U.N. Human Rights Council ultimately could have led to Israel’s prosecution at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Moreover, even though the report also accused Palestinian militants of committing war crimes, the PNA always could have claimed that these were guerrilla forces not under the Palestinian government’s control, and therefore subject to a different standard than the Israel Defense Forces. Israel cannot claim the same.”

. October 8, 2009 at 2:09 pm

Peace an illusion, says Israel FM

Israel’s foreign minister has said there is no chance of an early solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and told people to “learn to live with it”.

Avigdor Lieberman does not lead Israeli peace negotiations, but his statement casts a pall over latest US diplomatic efforts to revive negotiations.

Envoy George Mitchell is in the region, spearheading Obama administration efforts to relaunch negotiations.

Talks are stalled over the issue of Jewish settlements on occupied land.

Mr Mitchell is due to meet Mr Lieberman and Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak on Thursday, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas on Friday.

Reports quote US officials saying the visit was unlikely to conclude with a resumption of talks.

. October 20, 2009 at 9:28 am

Maryland Scientist Accused by U.S. of Trying to Spy for Israel

By Justin Blum

Oct. 20 (Bloomberg) — A Maryland scientist, whose work with U.S. defense, space and energy agencies had given him access to classified information, is under arrest on charges of attempting to spy for Israel.

A criminal complaint unsealed yesterday in Washington accuses Stewart David Nozette, 52, of Chevy Chase, of attempted espionage. Nozette allegedly attempted to deliver U.S. defense secrets to an undercover FBI agent posing as an Israeli intelligence officer in exchange for money, the Justice Department said in a statement.

Nozette held security clearances as high as top secret and had access to information related to national defense, according to the Justice Department. He developed a radar experiment that purportedly discovered water on the south pole of the moon and designed “highly advanced” technology at the Energy Department, according to the statement.

“This case reflects our firm resolve to hold accountable any individual who betrays the public trust by compromising our national security for his or her own personal gain,” said Channing D. Phillips, acting U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia.

Tris October 20, 2009 at 9:41 am

“Talks are stalled over the issue of Jewish settlements on occupied land.”

So, there is no chance for Peace because Israel can’t be bothered to withdraw its settlements. That is great. This is not so different from Germany asserting there will be no peace so long as it be demanded to re demilitarize the Rhineland, or to leave territories it occupied before September 1939.

Tris October 20, 2009 at 9:45 am

Incidentally, Obama keeps coming off as not a total jerk in these articles:

“President Barack Obama called the refugees’ situation “intolerable” but has not backed their right of return. ”

“The Obama administration has been struggling for months to pressure Israel to freeze settlement construction on occupied land, a key Palestinian demand for restarting talks.”

. November 12, 2009 at 8:22 am

Obama fails to resuscitate the Middle East peace process

Obituaries for the hope generated by his election are being written in Arabic, Hebrew and English

Barack Obama seems to have failed dismally in his first sustained attempt to show he is serious about making peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Obituaries for the hope generated by his election, peaking in his Cairo speech in June, are being written in Arabic, Hebrew, and English. For those who never believed that even Obama could succeed where Bill Clinton failed in the final days of his presidency, this was a death foretold.

But having been unable to persuade or cajole Binyamin Netanyahu to accept a total freeze on West Bank settlements, friendly Arab states to “normalise” relations with Israel or the Palestinians to restart long-stalled peace talks without preconditions, what will he do next?

Mahmoud Abbas’s decision to stand down as Palestinian president has sharpened concerns that the moribund peace process is now facing a terminal crisis. Even if Abbas relents, as he yet may, Obama’s strategy is clearly in deep trouble.

. January 25, 2010 at 10:36 am

Benjamin Netanyahu: Israel will never quit settlements

The Israeli prime minister has taken part in tree-planting ceremonies in the West Bank while declaring Israel will never leave those areas.

Benjamin Netanyahu said the Jewish settlements blocs would always remain part of the state of Israel.

His remarks came hours after a visit by US envoy George Mitchell who is trying to reopen peace talks between Israel and Palestinians.

A Palestinian spokesman said the comments undermined peace negotiations.

“Our message is clear: We are planting here, we will stay here, we will build here. This place will be an inseparable part of Israel for eternity”, the prime minister said.

Mr Netanyahu’s comments have angered Palestinians, who want a state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem.

“This is an unacceptable act that destroys all the efforts being exerted by Senator Mitchell in order to bring back the parties to the negotiating table”, Palestinian spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina told the Associated Press.

Tristan March 28, 2010 at 10:41 am

On the Cairo speech:

“Obama once again praised the Arab Peace Initiative, saying only that Arabs should see it as ‘an important beginning, but not the end of their responsibilities.’ How should the Obama administration see it? Obama and his advisers are surely aware that the Initiative reiterates the long-standing international consensus calling for a two-state settlement on the international (pre-June ’67) border, perhaps with ‘minor and mutual modifications,’ to borrow U.S. government usage before it departed sharply from world opinion in the 1970s, vetoing a Security Council resolution backed by the Arab ‘confrontation states’ (Egypt, Iran, Syria), and tacitly by the PLO, with the same essential content as the Arab Peace Initiative except that the latter goes beyond by calling on Arab states to normalize relations with Israel in the context of this political settlement. Obama has called on the Arab states to proceed with normalization, studiously ignoring, however, the crucial political settlement that is its precondition. The Initiative cannot be a ‘beginning’ if the U.S. continues to refuse to accept its core principles, even to acknowledge them.”

“It is also worth remembering that the Bush I administration went a bit beyond words in objecting to illegal Israeli settlement projects, namely, by withholding U.S. economic support for them. In contrast, Obama administration officials stated that such measures are ‘not under discussion’ and that any pressures on Israel to conform to the Road Map will be ‘largely symbolic,’ so the New York Times reported (Helene Cooper, June 1).”


Tristan March 28, 2010 at 10:58 am

“For those who never believed that even Obama could succeed where Bill Clinton failed in the final days of his presidency, this was a death foretold.”

This is a strange analysis of Clinton. It does seem true that a deal within the world-consensus parameters was nearly reached, and if the US were to impose any degree of pressure on Israel to again engage in legitimate talks on the issue, a deal could be reached. Calling total unwillingness to restrict military aid to a state which uses it largely to terrorize civilians an American “failure” is right – but the failure concerns their own actions, not their ability to influence the actions of another.

. April 21, 2010 at 8:06 pm

You don’t actually have a post on Israeli Apartheid, so this will have to do.

Is ‘Apartheid’ a proper name? Language, Speech and Violence in the Middle East


. July 26, 2010 at 2:06 pm

Hamas thinks time is on its side

Ever fewer Israelis can imagine doing a deal with Fatah, let alone with Hamas, though President Shimon Peres, in a cryptic comment, recently seemed to urge Europeans to try drawing Hamas into the diplomatic fold. Most Israelis think Hamas wants to throw them into the sea. Besides, they would struggle to forgive it for the scores of bombings and attacks its people carried out during the intifada, or uprising, between 2000 and 2005, killing hundreds of Israeli civilians and soldiers, often blowing themselves up at the same time. In any event, Hamas is still isolated from the main diplomatic game, as Fatah’s more emollient negotiators strive to make headway.

Mr Abbas, who was given red-carpet treatment by Mr Obama in Washington only a month ago, has no apparent desire to bring Hamas to the negotiating table any time soon. The two factions are still at loggerheads. A year and a half after its election win, Hamas violently evicted Mr Abbas’s Fatah from the Gaza Strip. Since then, Fatah has sat back as Israel, increasingly criticised by most of the rest of the world, has blockaded the territory. It was partly thanks to the clumsily lethal confrontation between Israeli commandos and a flotilla that challenged the blockade that Hamas, as Gaza’s ruling party, has stridden back into the limelight.

The pro-Western Arab countries most closely involved, in particular Egypt, are still keen to bolster Mr Abbas’s party and keep Hamas out of the negotiating game. For several years Egypt’s government has been trying, after a fashion, to patch up differences between Hamas and Fatah, but in reality it loathes Hamas, originally a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, because it bitterly opposes Egypt’s regime and its ailing president, Hosni Mubarak. .

So Mr Meshal is waiting for the talks to fail, hoping for a groundswell of diplomatic calls for Hamas to be part of future negotiations, even if it refuses to recognise Israel first. He notes with relish the weakening diplomatic clout of Egypt, the reluctance of Saudi Arabia to take the lead, the rise of Turkey and its froideur with Israel following the flotilla episode that left nine Turks dead, and the resilience of both Syria and Iran, both backers of Hamas. At the same time, he savours the apparent enfeeblement of America, as it flounders in Afghanistan and fails to pacify Iraq. “They can’t even deal with the Somali pirates,” says Hamas’s foreign-affairs spokesman, Osama Hamdan, with a chuckle.

. July 28, 2010 at 12:10 pm

Israel’s foreign minister
Might Avigdor Lieberman go?
Strains between the prime and foreign ministers could reshape the coalition

Jul 22nd 2010 | Jerusalem

AVIGDOR LIEBERMAN, Israel’s foreign minister, has asked European countries to consider building a power station, a desalination plant and a harbour in the Gaza Strip, promising Israel’s full co-operation in bringing in the necessary raw materials. The aim, says Mr Lieberman, is to end Gaza’s residual dependence on Israel and let the territory’s 1.6m Palestinians fend for themselves. That would dump responsibility for Gaza on neighbouring Egypt. Its connection with the West Bank would be severed, making a territorially linked Palestinian state nigh-impossible to attain. It is an idea that no Western or Arab government could countenance. But it is making waves because Mr Lieberman, an extreme nationalist, has the second-biggest chunk of seats in Israel’s awkward coalition.

Mr Lieberman says that Israel, whose troops and settlers vacated the strip five years ago, must show the world it is no longer in any respect the occupier, as international law currently deems it to be. Western governments and international bodies should police Gaza’s borders and crossing-points to stop weapons illicitly coming in. Israel would presumably lift its naval blockade. All this, argues Mr Lieberman, could be done without talking directly to Hamas, the Islamist movement that runs the strip and which Israel, the United States and the European Union still shun as a terrorist outfit.

The foreign minister says some of his European counterparts are interested. At home he has been backed by a doyen of Israel’s foreign-policy pundits, Shlomo Avineri, a former director of the foreign ministry, who says the foreign minister, whatever his motive, is right. “Israel does not rule over Gaza but is held responsible for it,” he says. Mr Lieberman has yet to convince the prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu. Nor has he put his plan to the cabinet. “There is a long tradition in Israel of foreign ministers floating their personal ideas,” says an aide to the prime minister.

Mr Netanyahu has been increasingly irritated by Mr Lieberman’s ideas. Some say that strains in the coalition are worsening. Mr Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu party, backed largely by immigrants from the former Soviet Union, has 15 seats in Israel’s 120-member parliament; Mr Netanyahu’s Likud has 27. At a recent cabinet meeting, Mr Lieberman’s lot voted against budget proposals for next year, saying that ministries it runs had been singled out for particularly savage cuts. Mr Netanyahu and Mr Lieberman have also clashed repeatedly over key diplomatic appointments.

Barack Obama’s people, frustrated by the lack of progress in indirect talks between Israelis and Palestinians that America has been trying to mediate, may be hoping for just that. Many of them want Mr Lieberman, who apparently has no desire to seek a deal with the Palestinians, to abandon Israel’s ruling coalition and for Tzipi Livni and her more emollient Kadima party, with its 28 seats, to join it instead.

Tristan July 29, 2010 at 1:16 pm

Is this your only post concerning Israel or Israel-US relations from the period of the Gaza massacre?

Tristan August 9, 2010 at 2:17 am

“1) The leadership in Arab states cares a lot less about the Palestinians than the ‘Arab street’ does. The leaders know they can manipulate the street to legitimize themselves, but there is good reason to suspect they are largely indifferent to the harms done to those on Gaza and the West Bank.”

This has become such a common assertion that it barely requires proof. According to my friend who was recently in Egypt, the “Arab street” is indeed angry that Arab leaders use strong words supporting the Palestinian cause, and then effectively do very little. That is the common opinion.

But, how much truth is there to it? The Arab League met in 2002 and 2007 to endorse a peaceful resolution to the Palestinian situation along the lines of resolution 242. As I understand it, this peaceful resolution is supported by most of the World, save Washington DC and a few weak US allies. This is the same peaceful resolution as Obama mocked in his Cario adress, by referring only to the normalization of relations with Israel, and not to the substantial content of the settlement.

What more ought the Arab League do to help the Palestinians?

Tristan August 9, 2010 at 2:19 am

Because I can’t expect other people to look things up, I’ll paste the relevant summery of the proposal:

“(a) Complete withdrawal from the occupied Arab territories, including the Syrian Golan Heights, to the 4 June 1967 line and the territories still occupied in southern Lebanon; (b) Attain a just solution to the problem of Palestinian refugees to be agreed upon in accordance with the UN General Assembly Resolution No 194. (c) Accept the establishment of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state on the Palestinian territories occupied since 4 June 1967 in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital. In return the Arab states will do the following: (a) Consider the Arab-Israeli conflict over, sign a peace agreement with Israel, and achieve peace for all states in the region; (b) Establish normal relations with Israel within the framework of this comprehensive peace.[2]”

Those of you who remember the Cairo speech – you can see what is present and what is missing from Obama’s remarks.

. August 24, 2010 at 10:14 am

Barack Obama makes his push for Palestine

Aug 21st 2010, 15:35 by Lexington

I RETURN from holiday just in time to catch a briefing from a senior administration official on Barack Obama’s success in at last persuading Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, to start direct talks with Israel’s prime minister, “Bibi” Netanyahu. There is to be a grand opening in Washington on September 1st, attended by Messrs Abbas and Netanyahu, with Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and Jordan’s King Abdullah acting as chaperones. Talks between Israel and the Palestinians will then ensue, which the administration expects to reach completion, ie, agreement on a final peace settlement, within a year.

It is easy to be cynical about the scope of this supposed breakthrough. By getting the two sides back into direct talks Mr Obama has merely returned to where George Bush was after his Annapolis summit of November 2007. Big deal: the direct talks initiated then got nowhere, even though Israel’s prime minister at the time, Ehud Olmert, was far readier for territorial compromise than is Mr Netanyahu. Even if, by some miracle, the two men came close to agreement, Hamas is still absent from the table. This means that half of the Palestinian movement would not be party to any deal and will try hard to sabotage one. So indeed will those Israelis in Bibi’s governing coalition who for reasons of ideology, security or both vehemently oppose the creation of a Palestinian state. It is better for the parties to be talking than not talking, but a betting man would not favour the chances of a breakthrough to peace.

That said, it would be a mistake to put the chances of success entirely at nil. When Mr Netanyahu and Mr Abbas hit the inevitable impasse, the Americans, who intend to be actively involved in the process through the person of George Mitchell, will doubtless table a bridging proposal. And this is the point at which the script could begin to depart from the precedent Mr Bush set at Annapolis.

. August 27, 2010 at 10:10 am

“The Israeli government and the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) have agreed to engage in direct peace talks Sept. 2 in Washington. Neither side has expressed any enthusiasm about the talks. In part, this comes from the fact that entering any negotiations with enthusiasm weakens your bargaining position. But the deeper reason is simply that there have been so many peace talks between the two sides and so many failures that it is difficult for a rational person to see much hope in them. Moreover, the failures have not occurred for trivial reasons. They have occurred because of profound divergences in the interests and outlooks of each side.

These particular talks are further flawed because of their origin. Neither side was eager for the talks. They are taking place because the United States wanted them. Indeed, in a certain sense, both sides are talking because they do not want to alienate the United States and because it is easier to talk and fail than it is to refuse to talk.

The United States has wanted Israeli-Palestinian talks since the Palestinians organized themselves into a distinct national movement in the 1970s. Particularly after the successful negotiations between Egypt and Israel and Israel’s implicit long-term understanding with Jordan, an agreement between the Palestinians and the Israelis appeared to be next on the agenda. With the fall of the Soviet Union and the collapse of its support for Fatah and other Palestinian groups, a peace process seemed logical and reasonable.

Over time, peace talks became an end in themselves for the United States. The United States has interests throughout the Islamic world. While U.S.-Israeli relations are not the sole point of friction between the Islamic world and the United States, they are certainly one point of friction, particularly on the level of public diplomacy. Indeed, though most Muslim governments may not regard Israel as critical to their national interests, their publics do regard it that way for ideological and religious reasons.

Many Muslim governments therefore engage in a two-level diplomacy: first, publicly condemning Israel and granting public support for the Palestinians as if it were a major issue and, second, quietly ignoring the issue and focusing on other matters of greater direct interest, which often actually involves collaborating with the Israelis. This accounts for the massive difference between the public stance of many governments and their private actions, which can range from indifference to hostility toward Palestinian interests. Countries like Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey are all prepared to cooperate deeply with the United States but face hostility from their populations over the matter. “

. August 27, 2010 at 10:12 am

“In the Islamic world, public opinion, government rhetoric and government policy have long had a distant kinship. If the United States were actually to do what these countries publicly demand, the private response would be deep concern both about the reliability of the United States and about the consequences of a Palestinian state. A wave of euphoric radicalism could threaten all of these regimes. They quite like the status quo, including the part where they get to condemn the United States for maintaining it.

The United States does not see its relationship with Israel as inhibiting functional state-to-state relationships in the Islamic world, because it hasn’t. Washington paradoxically sees a break with Israel as destabilizing to the region. At the same time, the American government understands the political problems Muslim governments face in working with the United States, in particular the friction created by the American relationship with Israel. While not representing a fundamental challenge to American interests, this friction does represent an issue that must be taken into account and managed.

Peace talks are the American solution. Peace talks give the United States the appearance of seeking to settle the Israeli-Palestinian problem.”

Tristan August 27, 2010 at 1:35 pm

“Peace talks give the United States the appearance of seeking to settle the Israeli-Palestinian problem.”

If the US were serious about wishing to settle the problem, they would stop blocking the 30 year old consensus on a peace settlement in the middle east. This settlement is not fully supported by the Arab League, so claims that Arab countries care little about the plight of the Palestinians are about as absurd as claims that America is a force for peace in the region.

Academics and the media keep obvious truths like this out of the public eye through the form of censorship described by Orwell in the censored preface to Animal Farm:

“Any fairminded person with journalistic experience will admit that during this war [WW2] official censorship has not been particularly irksome. We have not been subjected to the kind of totalitarian ‘co-ordination’ that it might have been reasonable to expect. The press has some justified grievances, but on the whole the Government has behaved well and has been surprisingly tolerant of minority opinions. The sinister fact about literary censorship in England is that it is largely voluntary. Unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without the need for any official ban. Anyone who has lived long in a foreign country will know of instances of sensational items of news – things which on their own merits would get the big headlines – being kept right out of the British press, not because the Government intervened but because of a general tacit agreement that ‘it wouldn’t do’ to mention that particular fact. ”

. August 30, 2010 at 10:23 am

The president and the peace process
A thankless task, but at least Barack Obama seems to be trying

Aug 26th 2010

“Whether Mr Obama is trying to solve the conflict or simply to manage it is hard to say, since the secret of “managing” is to maintain the pretence that the peace process will indeed one day produce. Either way, it cannot be a bad thing to get old enemies to talk, and this Mr Obama has now done. After the dinner he intends to host at the White House on September 1st for Israel’s prime minister, Binyamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, and Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, the two sides are supposed to start talking directly again, relieving George Mitchell, Mr Obama’s envoy, of the need to shuttle between them. That is progress of a sort, albeit not the sort that poses the slightest danger of raising high expectations. It merely restores matters to where they stood after Mr Bush inaugurated a previous set of direct talks in Annapolis at the end of 2007. These were expected to fail, and lived up to expectations.

This next lot of talks is expected to fail, too, not least because with Mr Netanyahu as prime minister Israel is under harder-line management than it was at the time of Annapolis. Even if he wanted to, Mr Netanyahu would find it hard to cut a deal with Mr Abbas and keep his coalition together. And if Mr Abbas compromises with Mr Netanyahu, he will be accused of betrayal by Hamas, the extremist half of the Palestinian movement which he does not control and which already denounces him as an American dupe. So the moment of truth will come only after the talks reach their inevitable impasse and Mr Obama tables a bridging proposal. The seriousness with which he pushes that proposal will be the first real clue as to how genuine his intentions are.

Having given the talks a year, the president may not yet have made up his own mind. He could use some time to reflect. For if Middle Eastern peacemaking requires the stamina of a boxer, it also demands a chess master’s patience to play the game in at least three dimensions. The first of these, fixing a border between Israel and the putative Palestine, is hard enough. But that task is often subsumed within a second dimension that extends beyond the confines of Palestine and engages American interests more directly. For Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and Mr Carter it was the cold war. For Mr Obama it is fear of a nuclear-armed Iran.”

. August 30, 2010 at 4:22 pm

“Phillip Winslow wrote Victory for Us Is to See you Suffer: In the West Bank with the Palestinians and the Israelis after 2½ years of doing humanitarian work on the West Bank with the United Nations. Every day Mr. Winslow witnessed the fear, humiliation and violence routinely faced by Palestinians as they negotiate the endless series of Israeli walls, checkpoints and military operations that deface the West Bank, which Israel illegally occupies.

Of course if you’re afraid of real information, you could simply smear Mr. Winslow as just another anti-Semite, since that’s how critics of Israeli governments are normally treated. But it’s obvious he fully understands Israel’s legitimate security needs and anxieties. Yet he also sees what anyone who has ever been around the West Bank quickly grasps. The way Israeli soldiers casually humiliate and torment Palestinians goes way beyond any legitimate security needs. Both Israelis and Palestinians recognize this reality.

The result is inevitable: the emergence of a group of young Palestinians for whom, as one of them tells Mr. Winslow, the only small victory left for them is if Israelis suffer too. Much is explained in that one pungent sentence. Every day, Israel wittingly creates more bitter, despairing, hopeless Palestinians with nothing to lose, and so the existing vicious cycle is perpetuated. Does our government understand this?

Now Avraham Burg can hardly be an anti-Semite. So when the Harper government dismisses any critic of the Israeli government as an anti-Semite, as it invariably does, Mr. Burg will give them trouble. His father, barely escaping Hitler, went on to become a prominent Israeli cabinet minister. Himself a sabra (born in Israel), he has been a leader of the Labour Party, speaker of the Knesset and chairman of the Jewish Agency and the Zionist Executive. Try dismissing this man as your typical self-hating Jew.

Mr. Burg’s remarkable thought-provoking book, The Holocaust is Over: We Must Rise from its Ashes, is like an intense debate between him and much of Israel’s conventional wisdom. From the heart of Israel itself, Mr. Burg has the courage to accuse his fellow Israelis of deliberately exploiting the Holocaust as an excuse to treat Palestinians deplorably. “We must admit that present-day Israel and its ways contribute to the rise in hatred of Jews.” That’s precisely what Phillip Winslow shows is happening in the West Bank.”

Milan September 1, 2010 at 3:47 pm

The U.S. really has three options:

  1. Cease to be involved in the Middle East region, and let the chips fall where they may
  2. Intervene to maintain the status quo
  3. Intervene and try to change things

The U.S. is unlikely to do the first, partly because they are so dependent on oil. One of the nicest things about moving beyond fossil fuels is that it will make the Middle East much less geopolitically important.

The U.S. has often done the second: defending Saudi Arabia (and the House of Saud), pushing Iraq out of Kuwait (but not toppling Saddam), and arming both the Iranians and Iraqis during the Iran-Iraq War (whoever seemed to be losing).

The U.S. has sometimes done the third, most notably by toppling the Saddam Hussein government. I don’t know whether the U.S. could impose a settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute even if they were willing to commit significant effort to it. Many of the powerful actors in the region prefer the status quo to a settlement. That includes not only elements of Israeli society, but elements within the Palestinian territories and neighbouring states as well. I also don’t know whether an end to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute would do much to make the region more peaceful overall. It would remove one major source of legitimacy for many Arab governments in the region, who use the Palestinian issue to distract their citizens from domestic problems.

. September 14, 2010 at 3:30 pm

“YET another bout of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations was launched this week amid a splurge of pious public talk tempered by sceptical punditry. Not much new in that, it seems, though it is almost two years since the previous direct talks took place (and ran aground).

Nothing new, either, in two ghastly shootings on the West Bank in the days before the talks. The first left four Israeli civilians dead, two of them the parents of six children and another a pregnant woman. Hamas proudly took the “credit” as a means of exposing, it said, the collusion between the Palestinian Authority and the occupying forces of Israel. The following day two more Israelis were wounded.

What may be new, though, is Binyamin Netanyahu. The butt, deservedly, of much of the scepticism, the Israeli prime minister may be swinging around from spoiler to genuine, if hesitant, peacemaker. If he is, prospects for success, even partial, will much improve. At a dinner at the White House on the eve of the talks, Mr Netanyahu said that he sought a peace that would “end the conflict” with the Palestinians “once and for all.”

Mr Netanyahu began negotiating with the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, coddled and prodded by President Barack Obama and with President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, King Abdullah of Jordan and Tony Blair for the “Quartet” all there to urge them on. Back in Tel Aviv, his defence minister, Ehud Barak, laid out terms for a final agreement. Jerusalem, said Mr Barak, should be divided, with the Jewish areas under Israel—including 12 new sections built on the Palestinian side since 1967—the Palestinian areas under the new state of Palestine, and the ancient Old City and its environs under “a special regime with agreed arrangements”. On the West Bank, Mr Barak says, the spread-eagled settlements would be dismantled and only the large settlement blocks near the old border retained. There would be “stringent security arrangements” and questions over the fate of Palestine refugees would be “solved within the state of Palestine or by resettlement outside.”

This amounts to the old “Clinton Parameters” which Mr Barak, then prime minister, accepted, but the then Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, rejected ten years ago in talks chaired by the then American president. These terms, give or take, are accepted by most foreign countries.”

. November 15, 2010 at 1:21 pm

Israel ‘risks chaos without peace’, official warns
By Rupert Wingfield-Hayes BBC News, Jerusalem

The Palestinian leadership could fall apart without significant progress towards peace with Israel, which would be a major setback for Israel, a senior Israeli intelligence official has said.

The situation in the West Bank was the best in over a decade, he said – but warned it could lurch back into chaos.

The source was speaking to the BBC on condition of anonymity.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad were the “best combination”, he said.

He said that, while both men did not particularly like each other, they both believed that terrorism was very damaging to the Palestinian cause, and were “fully supportive of the Palestinian security forces”.

He said that situation was very different from previous Palestinian leaderships.

. January 7, 2011 at 1:10 pm

A bad blip but not the end of the affair

Israel and Palestine must one day come to terms with each other—but sadly not just yet

NEVER say never, when it comes to the prospect of peace in the Middle East. Yet even the most straw-clutching of optimists must wonder whether the Israelis and Palestinians will ever agree to live side by side in two secure and sovereign states. This week the Americans declared that the latest direct talks, stalled since September, would not resume.

It is a blow all around. For Barack Obama it is a bitter failure. When he came into office, he was hopeful that he could orchestrate a peace treaty before the end of his first term. For the Palestinians the prospect of a real state now looks bleaker than ever. Among the Israelis the feeling is more mixed. Hawks, perhaps a majority, think fortress Israel is pretty strong just now and that concessions are therefore unnecessary. Doves think the Jewish state will never be safe unless the Palestinians have the satisfaction of a state of their own. For outsiders, who have been striving for decades to put those twin states in place, there is no obvious plan B, no easy way out of the impasse.

Already voices in Israeli and American circles, especially Republican ones, are holding Mr Obama primarily responsible for what has gone wrong. It is widely argued that he was foolish, even reckless, to make the talks contingent on a freeze of building or expanding Jewish settlements on the West Bank, the heartland of any future Palestinian state. That is unfair. Mr Obama and his secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, were right to put down a marker. Any peace deal will require the removal of settlements from a future Palestinian state. Each new building therefore makes it harder for that deal to be done. Besides, the settlements are plainly illegal under international law. The Palestinians and Americans were right to insist that, as a minimal token of intent, Israel must stop expanding or building them if talks are to progress. By refusing to do so, the main blame for the impasse rests with Binyamin Netanyahu.

. January 26, 2011 at 6:28 pm

Leaks show Palestinians giving much ground to Israel

Palestinian negotiators secretly told Israel it could keep swathes of occupied East Jerusalem, according to leaked documents that show Palestinians offering much bigger peace concessions than previously revealed.

The documents, obtained by the Al Jazeera television channel, could undermine the position of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose public declarations about Jerusalem are at odds with what his officials were promising in private.

Equally sobering for the Palestinian people, who want to create a state on land Israel seized in a 1967 war, is the fact that Israel offered nothing in return for the concessions and turned down their offer, saying it did not go far enough.

The leaked minutes of a 2008 meeting between Palestinian, U.S. and Israeli officials showed a senior Palestinian proposing that Israel annex all but one of its major Jerusalem settlements as part of a broad deal to end their decades-old conflict.

Al Jazeera said Sunday it had other documents that it would publish shortly showing the Palestinians were also ready to make other massive concessions on the hugely sensitive issue of the right to return for Palestinian refugees.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat went on the defensive, dismissing the documents as “a bunch of lies” during an appearance on Al Jazeera shortly after they were released.

In a heated exchange, Erekat was confronted by critics including Abdel Bari Atwan, editor of the London-based al -Quds al-Arabi newspaper, who asked him who had authorized him or the Palestinian leadership “to give up Islamic holy sites.”

. January 31, 2011 at 8:40 pm

Great sacrifices, small rewards
Has America’s obsession with this region been worth it?

THE Middle East holds a giant chunk of the world’s energy reserves, and also generates its biggest political headaches. Small wonder that the United States has long had an outsize interest in the place. Since September 11th 2001, and the rise of radical Islam as the sole violent challenge to an American-shaped international order, America’s focus on the region between the Nile and the Indus rivers has been obsessive. Yet all the attention would seem to have been in vain. America’s influence has dwindled everywhere with the financial crisis and the rise of emerging powers. But it seems to be withering faster in the Middle East than anywhere else.

Two decades ago, when America marshalled a daunting force to toss Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait, it stood unchallenged in the region. Kings and presidents-for-life vied for American favour. Countries such as Iran that would not, or Somalia that could not, were ignored. When America summoned leaders to Madrid in 1991 to sort out the most intractable Middle Eastern mess, the Arab-Israeli struggle, some grumbled, but all fell into line.

Most of them still come when America beckons, but ten years ago things began to slip. Despite the commitment of successive American presidents, and despite near-consensus worldwide on the outlines of an agreement, Arab-Israeli peace has kept receding out of reach. The invasions of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003 vastly expanded America’s bootprint in the region. But the smoke of those Pyrrhic triumphs cleared to reveal America in trouble. The global “war on terror” declared by George Bush displaced al-Qaeda and prevented several serious attacks. But those successes drained America’s treasury, alienated its friends and emboldened its enemies. Recalcitrant, revolutionary Iran found itself magically enhanced.

. February 11, 2011 at 10:50 pm

In office, Mr. Obama has shown himself to be a cool-headed realist in foreign-policy matters. This is not to say he does not share the Egyptian protesters’ ultimate goal of a free and democratic society. But he is not naive enough to believe the line from autocracy to democracy is necessarily a straight one. Nor is he ideological enough to believe, as did Mr. Bush and the neocons, that democracy is the inevitable outcome of the march of history.

In the months before the Egyptian uprising, the Obama administration was uncritical – at least in public – of Mr. Mubarak’s lock on power. It seemed to shrug its shoulders last year as the Egyptian strongman, a staunch U.S. ally, rigged parliamentary elections and renewed the 30-year-old law that gave him emergency powers. It also cut funding for democracy promotion.

. February 13, 2011 at 9:35 pm

Leaks must not poison diplomacy
Palestinian leaders should be praised, not reviled, for their willingness to compromise

THE sadly misnamed Israeli-Palestinian “peace process” is proceeding precisely nowhere. America, its chief mediator for the past three decades, has formally taken time out. Israel’s government seems blithely uninterested. The Palestinians are no longer talking to the Israelis. And now, thanks to leaks about the Palestinian conduct of the negotiations from Al Jazeera, a Qatar-based satellite-television channel, it is widely mooted that the process has been killed off altogether.

Diplomacy is indeed comatose at present, but the leaks do not suggest it is past praying for. Rather the opposite. They show clearly the outlines of a possible deal, they suggest that the gaps between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in 2008 were narrow, and they demonstrate that the Palestinians were far readier to make the necessary compromises than Israel’s backers, especially in America, had given them credit for.

The leaks were presumably motivated by enemies of Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian leader. Their main revelation is that he bent over backwards to make a deal. Since no deal was done, his willingness to make concessions is being portrayed by his harder-line opponents in the Palestinian diaspora and among the Arab world’s rejectionists as cowardice, collaboration, duplicity and incompetence. They present it as a vindication of the bleaker alternative vision of Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist movement that in theory rejects the notion of a Jewish state altogether and has in the past been readier to espouse violence to achieve its aims. Some of Mr Abbas’s critics are calling for him to step down; many of them castigate him and his team for saying one thing in public and another in private.

. April 7, 2011 at 12:00 pm

Fundraising for Palestine (Kalandia Youth Media Project)

“As some of you will already know this may to july I’m travelling to Palestine to volunteer at the Kalandia youth media program as part of a trip run by Operation Groundswell. The trip is self-funded, and I’ve been lucky enough to have parents with aeroplan points so all I have to pay of my flight are taxes and fees. However, I need to raise 1000$ “mandatory fundraising component”, which goes towards the projects that this trip and others do in the communities that we visit.

During our six-week trip, we will work with the Kalandia youth by leading workshops and classes where the youth will develop their media skills in photography, videography, and the use of social media. We will also be travelling with the youth to Bethlehem and Nablus to collaborate with the radio and videography programs in those areas. Also, there will be time to create site projects such as documentaries and photography collections – the aim is to put these materials together in an arts show at the end of the program for the Palestinian community and also the people of Israel.”


Pledge site: http://og.dojiggy.com/tristanlaing

. May 24, 2011 at 8:41 am

Obama and the Arab Spring

By George Friedman | May 24, 2011

U.S. President Barack Obama gave a speech last week on the Middle East. Presidents make many speeches. Some are meant to be taken casually, others are made to address an immediate crisis, and still others are intended to be a statement of broad American policy. As in any country, U.S. presidents follow rituals indicating which category their speeches fall in to. Obama clearly intended his recent Middle East speech to fall into the last category, as reflecting a shift in strategy if not the declaration of a new doctrine.

Events in the region drove Obama’s speech, but as with any presidential speech, politics also drove it. Devising and implementing policy are the president’s job. To do so, presidents must be able to lead — and to lead requires having public support. Moreover, elections are coming while the United States is engaged in wars that are not going well. After the 2010 election, I said that presidents who lose control of one house of Congress in midterm elections turn to foreign policy because it is a place they retain the power to act. Obama thus sought to make a strategic and a political speech

. May 24, 2011 at 11:38 pm

Obama policy calls for Palestinian state
Israel’s Netanyahu says idea is ‘indefensible’
Sheldon Alberts, Postmedia News

U.S. President Barack Obama on Thursday signalled a shift in his Middle East policy by publicly calling for the creation of a Palestinian state along 1967 borders and bluntly telling Israel the “status quo is unsustainable” if it wanted to achieve lasting peace.

Expressing impatience with a peace process he said was characterized by “endless delay” and setbacks, Obama also warned against a plan by the Palestinian Authority to marginalize Israel by unilaterally seeking a recognition of independence by the United Nations this fall.

“The world looks at a conflict that has grinded on and on and on, and sees nothing but stalemate,” Obama said. “The international community is tired of an endless process that never produces an outcome.”

The U.S. president’s comments came in a sweeping speech outlining his administration’s response to the Arab Spring uprisings across the Middle East, but they also set the stage for today’s White House meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

. May 28, 2011 at 10:33 pm

Government Official Who Makes Perfectly Valid, Well-Reasoned Point Against Israel Forced To Resign

WASHINGTON—State Department diplomat Nelson Milstrand, who appeared on CNN last week and offered an informed, thoughtful analysis implying that Israel could perhaps exercise more restraint toward Palestinian moderates in disputed territories, was asked to resign Tuesday.

Rafael Crisostomo June 24, 2011 at 7:54 am

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. July 27, 2011 at 9:40 pm

Let’s Boycott Israel
Jonathan McLeod
July 12, 2011

I generally don’t call for boycotts, nor do I pay much attention to them. There are some companies* with whom I won’t do business, but I never bother to suggest a greater boycott. I doubt these boycotts tend to do much good, anyway.
Israel, of course, is often the target of boycotts (*cough*KAIROS*cough*). I tend to stay out of discussions of Middle East politics (I’m far from an expert and the discussions never seem to accomplish anything), but Israel’s response to repeated calls for boycotts caught my eye

. July 28, 2011 at 5:37 pm

U.S. report recommends ending loan guarantees to Israel at end of 2011
Report says U.S. diplomats have difficulty mustering support for Obama administration’s policies, implies the embassy failed completely in its PR efforts during the Obama administration.

By Barak Ravid

An internal report of the Office of Inspector General for the U.S. Department of State recommends terminating the U.S. loan guarantee program to Israel at the end of 2011.

The report, which deals with the performance of the U.S. embassy in Israel, says American diplomats have difficulty mustering support for the Obama administration’s policies and implies the embassy failed completely in its PR efforts during the Obama administration.

“A fragile Israeli coalition government leans toward the views of its members from the nationalist and religious right, creating a challenge for diplomats seeking to build support for U.S. policies,” the report says.

The unclassified version of the report was distributed in the State Department in March. At the same time the OIG released a report about the Consulate General Jerusalem. Haaretz has obtained copies of both reports, whose findings are published here for the first time.

The State Department’s comptroller’s team came to Tel Aviv in October 2010 and spent two weeks talking to its American diplomats.

The reports portray a problematic picture of the missions’ performance in Israel.

The Tel Aviv embassy faces intense challenges, generated by Israel’s current government, negative public opinion toward President Obama, a sensitive political environment and a vibrant media scene, the report says.

It finds that the embassy’s annual public relations budget, intended to influence public opinion in Israel, is about $7 million a year, or roughly NIS 25 million.

Despite its diplomatic wording, the report implies the Tel Aviv embassy has totally failed in its public relations efforts during the Obama term. “Much of the Israeli public is suspicious of U.S. efforts to promote negotiations aimed at establishing an independent Palestinian state,” it says. “The lively and fractious press often misinterprets American policies.”

One of the main issues the OIG team dealt with on its visit in Tel Aviv was the loan guarantee package the United States granted Israel in 2002. The Americans gave Israel loan guarantees of up to $9 billion in world banks to help its economy over the recession.

A condition of the guarantees was that Israel would not use the money for construction in the settlements. The OIG report says the embassy “devotes considerable time to monitoring Israel’s compliance with conditions in the loan guarantee agreements,” especially as the program has “accomplished its purpose – stabilizing Israel’s economy.”

“Planning should begin now for [the loan-guarantee program’s] orderly termination,” the report says. “Israel has been admitted to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, an indication that it is now a modern, self-sufficient economy capable of supporting its citizens as an industrialized country. The OIG team found a broad consensus that the loan guarantee program can prudently be terminated in accordance with the sunset clause in the original legislation, which provided that it would end by 2011.”

The report on the Consulate General Jerusalem, which is in charge of relations with the Palestinian Authority, says American diplomats face considerable difficulty in obtaining in-depth information about what is happening there.

“The consulate produces strong reporting on the West Bank, where it has extensive contacts with the senior levels of the Palestinian Authority,” it says. “The mission is aware that it is less successful in reporting the views of ordinary Palestinians outside Ramallah. For security reasons, those areas are more difficult and expensive to reach….”

In Gaza things are worse. Since the terror attack on American diplomats there in October 2003, the State Department has forbidden its staff to enter Gaza. “Reporting on Gaza is constrained… by the inability of U.S. diplomats to travel there….” the report says.

“Unable to travel there themselves, consulate officers rely on information from other diplomatic missions, nongovernment organizations, the media and UNRWA. They also meet with Gazan contacts outside Gaza.”

Contacts with those in Gaza are maintained by telephone or mail.


. September 21, 2011 at 9:06 pm

Al-Qaeda has not just poisoned relations between countries. It has poisoned minds as well. In all of the Muslim countries polled recently by the Pew Global Attitudes Project, majorities still refuse to believe that the perpetrators of September 11th were Arabs. Pew finds that the Muslim world and the West still see the other as fanatical and violent. Muslims are liable to add that Westerners are also immoral and greedy—and largely to blame for keeping Muslims poor. An American-made peace in Palestine might have assuaged some bitter hearts, but Mr Bush never pushed for peace hard enough, and, for all his fine speeches, Mr Obama’s inept diplomacy ended in humiliation. A poll for the Arab American Institute reported this summer that America’s standing across the Arab world is now lower than it was at the end of Mr Bush’s term.

. November 9, 2011 at 10:06 am

French President Nicolas Sarkozy called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a “liar” in remarks to US President Barack Obama overheard by journalists.

“I can’t stand him any more, he’s a liar,” Mr Sarkozy said in French.

“You may be sick of him, but me, I have to deal with him every day,” Mr Obama replied.

The exchange at the G20 summit was quoted by a French website, Arret sur Images, and confirmed by other media.

. November 9, 2011 at 10:10 am
. January 16, 2012 at 3:13 pm

The story begins with the Ottoman Empire, which controlled the Middle East from 1517 to 1918, when World War I ended. The Ottomans divided the Middle East into provinces, one of which was Syria. Under the Ottomans, the Syria province encompassed what is today Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Israel. Constantinople (Istanbul), the Ottoman seat, sided with the Germans in World War I. As a result, after the war the victorious British and French dismantled the Ottoman Empire, and the province of Syria came under British and French rule. Under a secret wartime French-British deal, known as the Sykes-Picot agreement, the province was divided on a line running from Mount Hermon due west to the sea. The area to the north was placed under French control; the area to the south was placed under British control.

The French region was further subdivided. The French had been allied with the Maronite Christians during a civil war that raged in the region in the 1860s. Paris owed them a debt, so it turned the predominantly Maronite region of Syria into a separate state, naming it Lebanon after the dominant topographical characteristic of the region, Mount Lebanon. As a state, Lebanon had no prior reality, nor even a unified ethno-sectarian identity; its main unifying feature was that demographically, it was dominated by French allies.

The British region also was divided. The Hashemites, who ruled the western Hejaz region of the Arabian Peninsula, had supported the British, rising up against the Ottomans. In return, the British had promised to make them rulers of Arabia after the war. But in addition to the Hashemites, London was also allied with the French and with other tribes against the Ottomans, and thus could not make the Hashemites the unquestioned rulers of all of Arabia (the Peninsula as well as the Levant). Furthermore, the Sauds in 1900 had launched the reconquest of Arabia from Kuwait, and had gained control over the eastern and central parts of the peninsula. By the mid-1920s, the Hashemites lost control over the peninsula to the Sauds, paving the way for the eventual creation of Saudi Arabia.


Tristan January 17, 2012 at 3:33 pm

Which “story” begins in 1517? The province of Syria-Palestina was established after the last failed ancient Jewish revolt in 135 C.E. (Bar Kokhba). This was the first time that the Galilee, the Judean and Samarian deserts, and the Negev were all under a single administrative unit, with the name of Palestine. But there is no reason to start the story there either, you can always trace empires back to earlier administrative territories.

The story of the middle east, in its modern configuration, is the story of the failure of pan-arabism. There is no good reason to have so many different countries, other than their elites are perhaps easier for western interests to dominate. The story of Lebanon or of Palestine are subservient stories within the larger narrative of the failure of the creation of a pan-arab state. The reason we resist the formation of such a state is that it would challenge the interests of other powerful states, i.e. the US, Britain, or groupings of states, i.e. the EU.

Milan January 17, 2012 at 3:39 pm

Also, ethnically-defined states tend to be a bit scary wherever in the world they emerge.

We have spoken before about ethnic and civic nationalism: Kosovo and Quebec, and Blood and Belonging.

Milan January 17, 2012 at 5:05 pm

Also, aren’t pan-Arabism and Zionism awfully similar concepts? Each asserts, based on race and/or religion, that the people under consideration are a cohesive polity. Each asserts, based on a view of history, that it is in rightful possession of certain lands, and perhaps should be in possession of others. Each also has major historical reasons for being suspicious of the other.

. April 16, 2012 at 11:55 am

WE APPEAL – in the very midst of the onslaught launched against us now for months – to the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel to preserve peace and participate in the upbuilding of the State on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions.


. May 16, 2017 at 12:19 pm

The Palestinians chose no agreement over one that did not meet the bare minimum supported by international law and most nations of the world. For years this consensus view supported the establishment of a Palestinian state on the pre-1967 lines with minor, equivalent land swaps that would allow Israel to annex some settlements. The Palestinian capital would be in East Jerusalem, with sovereignty over the holy site known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary or al-Aqsa mosque compound, and overland contiguity with the rest of the Palestinian state. Israel would withdraw its forces from the West Bank and release Palestinian prisoners. And Palestinian refugees would be offered compensation, a right to return not to their homes but to their homeland in the State of Palestine, acknowledgment of Israel’s partial responsibility for the refugee problem, and, on a scale that would not perceptibly change Israel’s demography, a return of some refugees to their pre-1948 lands and homes.

Although years of violence and repression have led Palestinians to make some small concessions that chipped away at this compromise, they have not fundamentally abandoned it. They continue to hope that the support of the majority of the world’s states for a plan along these lines will eventually result in an agreement. In the meantime, the status quo has been made more bearable thanks to the architects of the peace process, who have spent billions to prop up the Palestinian government, create conditions of prosperity for decision-makers in Ramallah, and dissuade the population from confronting the occupying force.

Israel, for its part, has consistently opted for stalemate rather than the sort of agreement outlined above. The reason is obvious: the deal’s cost is much higher than the cost of making no deal. The damages Israel would risk incurring through such an accord are massive. They include perhaps the greatest political upheaval in the country’s history; enormous demonstrations against – if not majority rejection of – Palestinian sovereignty in Jerusalem and over the Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary; and violent rebellion by some Jewish settlers and their supporters.

There could also be bloodshed during forcible evacuations of West Bank settlements and rifts within the body implementing the evictions, the Israeli army, whose share of religious infantry officers now surpasses one third. Israel would lose military control over the West Bank, resulting in less intelligence-gathering, less room for manoeuvre in future wars, and less time to react to a surprise attack. It would face increased security risks from a Gaza-West Bank corridor, which would allow militants, ideology and weapons-production techniques to spread from Gaza training camps to the West Bank hills overlooking Israel’s airport. Israeli intelligence services would no longer control which Palestinians enter and exit the occupied territories. The country would cease extraction of the West Bank’s natural resources, including water, lose profits from managing Palestinian customs and trade, and pay the large economic and social price of relocating tens of thousands of settlers.

. May 16, 2017 at 12:21 pm

“It was, is, and will remain irrational for Israel to absorb the costs of an agreement when the price of the alternative is so comparatively low. The consequences of choosing impasse are hardly threatening: mutual recriminations over the cause of stalemate, new rounds of talks, and retaining control of all of the West Bank from within and much of Gaza from without. Meanwhile, Israel continues to receive more US military aid per year than goes to all the world’s other nations combined, and presides over a growing economy, rising standards of living and a population that reports one of the world’s highest levels of subjective wellbeing. Israel will go on absorbing the annoying but so-far tolerable costs of complaints about settlement policies. And it will likely witness several more countries bestowing the State of Palestine with symbolic recognition, a few more negative votes in impotent university student councils, limited calls for boycotts of settlement goods, and occasional bursts of violence that the greatly overpowered Palestinians are too weak to sustain. There is no contest.”

. July 9, 2017 at 11:38 pm

Kerry had not, so he was surprised and disappointed when his efforts came to naught. That was why he blurted out the truth that American politicians are never supposed to acknowledge. He said that without the two-state solution, “a unitary [Israeli] state winds up either being an apartheid state with second-class [Palestinian] citizens – or it ends up being a state that destroys the capacity of Israel to be a Jewish state.”

It was clumsily phrased, but the basic idea is common in both Israeli and Palestinian political discourse. Even if Israel never formally annexes the occupied territories, it has been building Jewish settlements all over them for decades, and the Palestinian inhabitants are effectively controlled by the Israeli government.

If this situation continues indefinitely, and the Palestinians must live out their lives as mere residents without no political rights, then they are in the same position as the black South Africans who lived all their lives under white rule without citizenship or the vote. That was the very essence of apartheid.

Alternatively, of course, Israel might grant them citizenship and the vote: that’s what happened when apartheid ended in South Africa in 1994. But there are already a great many Palestinians living under Israeli rule, and their higher birth rate would make them a majority in in that “unitary” Israel in less than a generation. That might or might not be a state where Jews were happy to live, but it would definitely no longer be a Jewish state.

That’s all Kerry was saying: if you don’t accept the two-state solution then willy-nilly you get the one-state solution, in one of two flavours – an apartheid state in which the great majority of the actual citizens are Jews and the Palestinians have no voice in how they are ruled, or a more broadly defined state in which everybody is a citizen but Jews are no longer the majority.

. July 31, 2017 at 7:56 pm

For 10 years, Israel and most of the international community have sought to weaken Gaza’s rulers by pretending they don’t exist. Israel collects taxes on all the goods it sends into Gaza and transfers that money to the Palestinian Authority, knowing full well that the Authority spends most of it not on services for Gaza but on the Palestinian Authority’s former employees there, who for a decade have been paid to stay home in order to cripple the Hamas-led government.

To compensate its own employees and cover its operating expenses, the Gaza government had relied on taxing goods that came through the Sinai smuggling tunnels. Unlike goods that enter from Israel, these did not arrive with price tags inflated by taxes that went to the Palestinian Authority. When the tunnels were almost entirely closed by Egypt in 2013, the amount of goods entering Gaza from Israel greatly increased. Gazans were now doubly taxed on many imports — first by the Palestinian Authority, before the goods entered the territory, then by the Gaza government.

While the switch to goods from Israel put an extra burden on the people living in Gaza, it was a boon to the Palestinian Authority’s coffers. But instead of spending more on the Strip, the Authority started to spend less, hoping to bring an already weakened Hamas to its knees. Meanwhile, the international community helped uphold this unjust system, refusing to engage with the Gaza government and instead directing much of the budgetary aid that was ostensibly intended for the people of Gaza — roughly 40 percent of Palestinians in the occupied territories — to the Palestinian Authority.

To stabilize Gaza, Egypt has begun to allow in some fuel. That is a positive first step. But much more needs to be done, above all changing the system in which the people of Gaza are taxed by a government that not only does not represent them but is actively seeking to do them harm.

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