Sunday, 2 May 2010

RubinReports: On the Verge of Israel-Palestinian Authority Talks and What Comes After?

On the Verge of Israel-Palestinian Authority Talks and What Comes After?

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By Barry Rubin

Gradually, the U.S. government is constructing the basis for indirect Israel-Palestinian talks which will be simultaneously meaningless and hailed--at least by the U.S. government--as a great achievement. The latest two developments are the Arab states' approval of the talks and a U.S. pledge to the Palestinian Authority (PA) that there will be no Israeli construction in the West Bank or Jerusalem outside the 1967 line.

All of these details are interesting. It is a sign of the weakness of the PA and its leader, Mahmoud Abbas, that it needs the cover of Arab regimes. Incidentally, an amazing thing happened when the PA last did this a few months ago. The Syrian government opposed giving approval and the New York Times simply edited this material out of the Syrian statement it quoted. It was a graphic example of how slanted the media is today, in that case trying to show that Syria was moderate when that was most untrue.

As for the construction freeze, the U.S. government neither tried nor delivered to Israel any comparable concession on the PA's part. Anti-Israel incitement on the media and elsewhere will continue as will, no doubt, the PA's official honoring of terrorists who killed Israeli civilians. This imbalance will also not be reported generally.

The Obama Administration has basically signalled to the PA that it is in the driver's seat. The more it sabotages talks, Abbas and his colleagues have been shown, the more pressure might be put on Israel. But no real pressure will be put on the PA. Thus, U.S. policy has given the PA every incentive to be intransigent.

How long will these talks go on? Israel's commitment to a freeze has a time limit until around July. The PA thus has good reason to stall so that the talks will still be going on when the deadline comes. Then the U.S. government will press Israel to renew the freeze--even though it has received nothing material in return--lest it "wreck" the talks.

What will the Obama Administration do if the talks are deemed to have "failed." Well, first and foremost, it has an incentive not to say that the talks haven't worked out since the mere holding of indirect conversations may be its sole foreign policy success. So unless there is a really obvious collapse, it presumably will go on pretending for months--and one would think through the November U.S. congressional elections--that progress is being made.

There are many rumors of some dramatic action--an imposed solution? an international conference? U.S. backing for a PA declaration of independence?--if the talks break down as the next step. Much of the analysis of this issue, especially on the right, is based on a series of false premises. Obama is seen as a semi-demonic force who can do anything he wants and will sacrifice everything in order to damage Israel. This perspective is not borne out by the administration's behavior so far.

The main goal of the Obama Administration is to look good, implying that it is succeeding in the "peace process," and to avoid trouble on the Israel-Palestinian front so it can get on with Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Iran nuclear issue. Clearly, this is the least friendly administration to Israel in history, yet it is also a government which has taken no material step to pressure or punish Israel despite a fair amount of growling.

It is also a White House aware that this is the least popular policy in its entire foreign policy repertoire. Congressional Democrats have criticized the president's strategy--albeit politely--to a considerable extent. Public opinion polls show that the American people don't like it. The White House is certainly not blind to the consequences of these problems.

If, however, the Obama Administration invests too much prestige and political capital on Israel-PA issues, it is going to be the big loser. An international summit would end in humiliating disputes, for example. The same applies to other extreme measures. The PA is simply not going to cooperate even with a pro-Palestinian White House; the Arab states are not going to give U.S. policy any real help on this or other issues.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remains quite strong. He has won a strong victory in his own party for his policy and the harder-line right has remained pretty quiescent. The country does not blame Netanyahu for the problems in U.S.-Israel relations because they have been so obviously due to Obama, his behavior, and to his lack of sympathy for Israeli needs.

In addition, Israelis are quite skeptical about any likelihood for peace, progress in negotiations, and the reliability of the PA as a negotiating partner. They are also quite aware that the U.S. government has let them down so far over Iran.

And so, as in 1991-1992 and after 16 more recent years of direct talks, there will probably once again only be indirect talks between Israel and the Palestinians. One can't take even this for granted until they actually happen. But one can take for granted that these negotiations and any U.S. efforts to broker instant peace will fail completely.

So what is the Obama Administration likely to do? Let's review

I think the administration has four restrictions:

A. They don't want to push the PA as they view that as hurting their Arab/Muslim support which will actually produce some benefit for them. This is an illusion but they believe it. So they won't blame or threaten the PA unless it goes really over the line. They also know the PA would reject every demand thus leading to escalation. That's one reason why this administration's can never be even-handed as long as it maintains its current thinking: because it can only criticize or make demands from one side, Israel.

B. They don't want to bash Israel because of congressional and public opposition, especially in an election year. They may also sense that they have asked Israel for as much as it's going to give, especially since it has received nothing much in return.

C. They don't want to spend too much political capital in pushing the "peace process" or rush to say that talks have failed because it makes them look bad, especially because they are going to do very badly with Iran and probably Afghanistan and maybe Iraq. That's too much failure. Also, they have at least some sense now that they aren't going to get a peace agreement.

D. Their goal is to avoid crisis, both to tell the domestic audience they are doing great, and also to tell Arabs and Muslims that the process is advancing so they don't have to obsess about it and, instead, can help U.S. policy achieve various goals. In other words, keep things relatively quiet.

Therefore, I'd suggest that the Obama Administration will seize on every session held and minor agreement made in order to claim success, at least for this year. Expect to see the headline: Obama Policy Achieves Progress by Getting Israelis and Palestinians to Talk.

RubinReports: On the Verge of Israel-Palestinian Authority Talks and What Comes After?

RubinReports: Middle East: Much Worse Off Than a Year Ago

Middle East: Much Worse Off Than a Year Ago

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By Barry Rubin

Let’s take a deep breath, clear our heads of any ideological or partisan preconceptions, and then ask a simple question: How has the Middle East changed in the last year?

If one approaches this in a fair-minded, calm, and honest manner, the answers are quite shocking.

Let’s start with Iran. While some companies and banks have been discouraged from doing business with Iran, the sanctions or barriers to Tehran are almost the same as they were a year ago. That means that Iran has moved one year closer to obtaining nuclear weapons without serious hindrance. This is not good. No blather about conferences, plans, meetings, speeches, and efforts should conceal this fact.

The Obama Administration's effort to engage Iran failed. Then it missed repeated self-set deadlines for imposing sanctions. The engagement strategy was supposed to produce strong international support for sanctions--including from Russia and China--but that plan also failed. Now, at best, some kind of sanctions cannot be expected until the second half of the year.

What about the keystone of Iranian strategy, its alliance with Syria? Despite much Western talk about pulling Syria away from Iran—which isn’t going to happen—the relationship is closer than ever. This is not good. No blather about conferences, plans, meetings, speeches, and efforts should conceal this fact.

Lebanon? It is more in the grip of Iran, Syria, and Hizballah than a year ago. The Lebanese moderates have retreated and some have changed to a neutral position, because they know that the West will not back them up. Lebanon’s president is ready to align with the Iran-Syria access. Walid Jumblatt, the lion of the opposition, has made his peace with the Syrians, as has Said Hariri, despite the fact that Damascus was responsible for killing both their fathers. Hizballah, says the U.S. secretary of defense, has more missiles than most industrialized country though the UN promised to block these supplies back in 2006. This is not good either. No blather….

Turkey? Both the Iranian and Syrian governments have bragged that Turkey is now their ally. The Turkish regime does military maneuvers with Syria and not Israel. Turkey’s government opposes any sanctions or pressure on Iran regarding nuclear weapons. Today, Turkey is no longer a reliable ally of the United States. This is not good either. No blather….

U.S.-Israel relations? For the moment, they are on a better footing but they have gone through several crises since the Obama Administration took office for no gain whatsoever. On at least two occasions—settlement blocs and also the freeze on West Bank construction only—the administration broke previously made promises to Israel by itself or its predecessor. Moreover, a tone of distrust and hostility has set in on Washington’s side that has hardly ever existed in the entire history of Israel.

Palestinian Authority (PA): Despite extensive American efforts to prove how pro-Palestinian it is, the PA has yet to do anything for the United States, including breaking its promise not to take the lead in pushing the Goldstone Report or to hold direct negotiations with Israel. With U.S. policy unwilling to press the PA on concessions, the Obama Administration has given the PA a lot of support but obtained nothing in return. This is not good.

What about the Israel-Palestinian peace process? Well, the best hope at present is that it might return to indirect negotiations, which puts it roughly at the level of contacts prevailing back in 1991. Indeed, getting the two sides to talk—however distantly, however slowly—is going to be regarded by the Obama Administration as a huge victory meriting the opening of champagne. This is pretty pitiful.

How about U.S. relations with the relatively moderate Arab states, moderate compared to Syria that is? Despite the Cairo and Istanbul speeches of Obama, the outreach to Muslims, the hint that Islamists would be welcome to dialogue, the distancing from Israel, there is not one iota of improvement. Arab regimes will literally not do anything the United States wants. And rather than cheering Obama as a pro-Arab president they are frightened that he is a pro-radical forces or pro-Shia president, that is he favors their enemies and is weak in protecting them. This is also not good.

This brings us to the one great achievement claimed by the current U.S. government—high popularity in the Arabic-speaking world. Whatever numbers can be pulled out of polls, and they aren’t as good as many people think, any popularity Obama has is totally useless from the standpoint of U.S. interests.

Iraq? It is a relative bright spot, with the U.S. withdrawal under way. There are terrible problems with infighting in Iraq’s government, which might turn quite unstable. This is not the Obama government’s fault so much but what is worthy of blame is its cowardly refusal to back up Iraqi protests against Syria’s sponsorship of terrorism. At any rate, the calm that does exist is due in no small part to Tehran’s wanting to keep things quiet until the United States pulls out, then try to increase its own influence in the country. Not great.

Pakistan should be a big disappointment. True, the government is holding together. But despite the massive tidal wave of American aid the regime is only willing to defend itself, not exert a real effort to wipe out the Taliban and al-Qaida on the border. And of course Pakistan is shielding its own terrorist assets that have been used to commit horrendous murders in India. Not good.

Finally, Afghanistan where the president has made a public relations’-oriented decision: send in the troops in a pseudo-surge to show his apparent toughness, then pull them out to show his apparent dovishness. And with all good intentions the military and political leadership has set an impossible program of stabilizing Afghanistan and providing it with a good government. Meanwhile, bilateral relations have hit an all-time low. Not good.

Have I missed some bright spot or great achievement? I don’t think so. It’s a pitiful situation. What is the point of making this list? Not, despite what you might think, to bash Obama. The real problem is the refusal of policymakers to recognize just how bad things are and how negative has been the impact of their policy.

It is not too late to change course. But how can opinionmakers explain this to the administration when most of them don’t see how much has gone wrong? Waking up is the first step.

RubinReports: Middle East: Much Worse Off Than a Year Ago

Yaacov Lozowick's Ruminations: Long-term Reflections on Jew Hatred

Long-term Reflections on Jew Hatred

For centuries, hatred of Jews was a straightforward occupation. It had diverse forms and many different motivations, some of them contradictory to one another, but the act itself was clear. One could say of Voltaire that his contribution to humanity outweighed his hatred of the Jews, and even - often - pretend not to notice that it was there, but no-one who took the time to notice could claim he didn't hate Jews. This was equally true for anyone who engaged in the practice from earliest Christianity (perhaps earlier) all the way to the mid-20th century. Most of the time the haters of the Jews were proud of their sentiments, and expected others to join them; offhand, I can't think of any examples of haters who pretended they were not hating (though an expert in the matter might be able to dig up a rare example).

Which is not to say that there weren't people who condemned the haters for their positions: of course there were. That's my point: both sides to those arguments accepted the premise they were arguing about.

Then came the Nazis, and gave antisemitism a bad name. Antisemitism, it transpired, could destroy the world. You want to stay away from it, and certainly not be tainted by association with it.

One interesting way of getting over this was the very strong academic tradition of claiming the Nazis weren't really all that antisemitc. Hitler was, of course, and Himmler, and Streicher, but most of the others didn't much care one way or the other, rather they had other agendas, or they got caught up in the excitement, or whatever. This interpretation was very convincing for a while, until a group of mostly German researchers effectively dismantled it in the 1990s. Yet that was mostly a discussion by the academics and their hangers-on the educators.

The second, more pervasive way of disassociating oneself from the taint of association with the Nazis was to redefine antisemitsm as only what the Nazis did: mass murder of Jews. That's awful. But lesser forms of prejudice, say, they weren't what the Nazis did and thus weren't antisemitism. This argumentation is still very much with us to this day.

The third disassociation was of course to love the Jews next door, but detest the anachronistic ones who engaged in such outlandish practices such as patriotism, wars of national interest, national particularism in any form, and so on. It's not antisemitism, it's anti-Zionism. See the Guardian. This form has a second strand, in which even the anti-Zionism is played down, with the pretense that one is merely critical of some of Israel's actions; this line of reasoning is the most sophisticated since Israel really does offer quite a bit to be critical about: so long as one is equally critical of everyone else, and recognizes the context, and makes the effort to understand what's really going on...

The upshot of all this is that people can engage in activity which for centuries would have been openly recognized as expressing animosity to the Jews, and the Jews and their allies must invest inordinate efforts merely to get to the starting line of rejecting the antisemitism.

Take this long speech by John Mearsheimer, which went online two days ago. It is being cited widely - Noah Pollak, David Bernstein, and of course, Mondoweiss and Juan Cole, to name just a few.

I'm not going to argue with Mearsheimer. The man's lack of access to the subject of internal Israeli politics and how they play out, and his willingness to tell falsehoods about Jews, is beyond embarrassing, though his ability to get away with it speaks volumes to the potency of Jew hatred in our time. The truly significant part of his speech comes about halfway through, when he begins to divide America's Jews into Righteous, Apartheid-Jews, and undecided. This is the ominous part: a man who is lying through his teeth about Israel, and totally disregarding the actions of the Palestinians, is classifying America's Jews and tarnishing them.

Anyone who cares about democracy and a free society in America needs to take note. The reason the antisemitism of the Nazis was so horrific for humanity was that it threatened decency everywhere. It's not yet back, Nazi antisemitism, but its forerunners seem to be.

Yaacov Lozowick's Ruminations: Long-term Reflections on Jew Hatred

Yaacov Lozowick's Ruminations: Shirim Mizrachi'im

Shirim Mizrachi'im

I've been off the Shirim Ivri'im thread for a while, but there's still lots that could be said. So here's an installment.

Between sometime in the 1950s and the end of the 1970s, the strains of Israeli music which were deeply influenced by the surrounding culture were pushed aside, out of the mainstream: Arab music, Greek, Yemenite, Turkish. The music continued to be very popular, it just wasn't played nor accepted on the mainstream national platforms. (This would be impossible in the technology of the 1990s onward, of course, but the world was different in the 1960s). As usual with such narrow-minded censorship, society at large was the loser.

The change happened for various reasons; the single most significant, however, may have been the trickle-down effect of having a Likud government (though it could also have been the other way around, of course: there was a Likud government because of the coming of age of the Jews from Arab states). One way or the other, the early 1980s saw the resurgence of what was called Oriental music (musika mizrachit) into the mainstream, from which it never again departed. Oriental, meaning of course "non-European", not Japanese or Vietnamese.

The single most important singer to break down the barriers was Zohar Argov, 1955-1987. Argov was an unlikely character to be an enduring cultural icon, as his human flaws were considerably greater than most peoples', and included a jail spell for sexual assault and long bouts of drug abuse which eventually contributed to his suicide. Yet his exuberance as a performer and unabashed pride in his genre won him a permanent place in the pantheon of Shirim Ivri'im, and forever changed their contours. His 1980 album Elinor is apparently the best-selling album of Israelis songs ever, and some of his greatest hits are recorded again and again as if they came off the press for the first time just yesterday.

Here are two: Badad (Alone), and HaPerach Begani, (The Flower in My Garden), both from 1982. Haperach was the single most important battering ram into mainstream popularity.

Badad Hebrew lyrics

English translation
Alone, on the way to the nothingness
Alone, on the path to nothing
Alone, as the time flies
time does not forget
to set the limits.

Alone, without a carressing hand
alone, without a friend's shoulder
Alone, how good it is not to know
that your hand is already touching
the hand of some other man.

Chorus x2:
Alone I will walk - with no prayer,
alone, without a future, hope or dream

Alone, I will wander like the sun,
alone, in the hot desert
Alone, even tears are vanity;
suffering has no song to it
a song of the mute (of my mother).

Haperach Begani Hebrew lyrics
English translation
On a clear and crisp spring day
I remember you.
Already since then I knew well
that I won't give up,
for you were in my eye
every night and every day.
You were for me, as a heavenly angel
in the mist.
I wanted to ask for your hand.
I wanted to say to you
the secret of love that is in my heart
guarded from all.
I wanted to say to you, my love,
I loved and it's over
for I did not dare
also when it was too late.

You are my world at dawn.
You are mine all day.
You are my world at night.
You are the dream.
You are in my blood, my spirit and in my heart.
You are the sweet fragrance,
the flower in my garden.

Since you went my day is dimmed,
long and boring.
In vain I wish to forget
and not to notice.
Return fast, for without you
my world is desolate,
my vocal chords are silenced
and my violin is quiet.


Haperach Begani

Yaacov Lozowick's Ruminations: Shirim Mizrachi'im

RubinReports: PA Prime Minister Sets Forward Palestinian Strategy: Independence, Not Peace

PA Prime Minister Sets Forward Palestinian Strategy: Independence, Not Peace

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By Barry Rubin

A new interview with Palestinian Authority (PA) Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is especially significant because at this precise moment the key question is: Will the PA renew negotiations with Israel either directly or indirectly? Israel has already agreed to talk and made two major concessions at the request of the United States: suspending construction in Jerusalem outside the 1967 borders and agreeing to discuss all issues.

So it is nominally up to Fayyad whether things will move forward or not. President Barack Obama just said that he will come down hard on Israel or the PA if they sabotage talks. Obviously, it is only the PA that is now doing so. Equally obviously, Obama isn't going to criticize or press the PA too hard. So what's going to happen next?

There should be a clear understanding that Fayyad—who was recently named as one of Time Magazine’s most powerful leaders in the world—has no real power. He has no political base, is not a member of the dominant Fatah organization, and has no personal loyalty from the security services.

He’s only in office for one reason: the Western financial donors demand it and the money on which the PA depends wouldn’t come in otherwise. That’s why the Fatah bosses keep him on and for no other reason. Even having the post of prime minister at all was something the donors forced on the PA.

Nice guy? Yes. Relatively moderate? Yes. Powerful? No.

What is Fayyad’s program: that he is just going to announce that Palestine is an independent country in about one year. And what does this mean? A total violation of every agreement made by the PA and its PLO parent in the last 17 years. Instead of independence being the product of a comprehensive peace agreement with Israel, which requires compromises, he wants simply to declare it and then have the world impose that decision on Israel. Fayyad’s euphemism for this was “a healthy unilateralism.”

In general, the Western media never point out this point.

Fayyad's plan isn’t going to happen but it is an understandably attractive strategy for him and the PA. The strategy is to make no concessions; make no commitments; just do it. If Palestine were to become an independent state then it could, for example, allow cross-border attacks on Israel and then demand Arab military and UN diplomatic support if Israel retaliated.

Not to mention the fact that Fayyad and the PA has no control in the Gaza Strip. Fayyad insists that once a state is achieved this problem will magically disappear. He can't or won't even acknowledge that Hamas was the aggressor in seizing the Gaza Strip because he and his colleagues want to make a deal with Hamas. That will never happen either.

Incidentally, I was in the room the last time the Palestinians, in the form of the Palestine National Council, declared independence. It was at their Algiers meeting in 1988 and the goal then was also to get a state without having to negotiate a deal with Israel. It didn’t work that time either.

So what is most important here is that Fayyad cannot actually do very much. For example, he can say, “The absence of security has been our undoing” and he wants to end the "security pluralism” that produced a “state of chaos and militias.”

And what is he going to do about it? Merge the multiple security forces into one or two well-defined agencies? Replace the current leaders? None of this is going to happen because the generals and Fatah bosses won’t let it happen. A year from now the same problem will continue to exist.

So it is with all the basic PA difficulties. Don’t get me wrong. The PA does have some achievements to its credit. It has kept the level of violence low and achieved the minimal cooperation with Israel necessary. The economy has improved, though this is largely due to massive foreign aid. Hamas has been kept at bay. In short, the PA is doing enough to maintain the status quo peacefully and bring some improvements in living standards.

This could break down over night, however, if the PA decides out of alleged “frustration” to relaunch war on Israel. And that decision will not be Fayyad’s to make.

Fayyad says he will build institutions that include better schools, infrastructure, and a court system. Yes, this is what needs to be done. But this is what Yasir Arafat was supposed to start doing in 1994. The Palestinians on the West Bank who were entering school then are now having children and this promise hasn’t been fulfilled.

Setting deadlines in this context is a joke. Here’s an example. In 2000 we were told that a negotiated solution was needed as soon as possible because Arafat could not hold back the alleged tidal wave of pressure demanding a state immediately. So the United States and Israel supported the Camp David summit. It failed because Arafat rejected peace. We were then told the exact opposite by some of the people demanding speed: that having this meeting was a big mistake because Arafat was being rushed and pressured.

Fayyad said in the interview: “Every day we do work consistent with that to create the sense of a state growing. Bad things happen every day but you’re bound to have a lucky bounce and we have to be ready for it.”

What might “a lucky bounce” be? President Barack Obama supporting such a unilateral action? One that would take place without security guarantees for Israel, without bans on inviting in foreign armies, with no limits on armaments, with no agreement on resettling refugees in Palestine. And equally a new state of Palestine which would either allow or not try too hard to stop cross-border raids, and whose official media, schools, and mosques with state-appointed imams would carry out endless incitement for wiping Israel off the map in future?

Fayyad is the best the PA could do in terms of having a prime minister at present. A stable two-state solution would be a good thing but it is not something on which the world’s future depends. And a two-state outcome would only be a step forward if it did create a more stable region and a lasting solution rather than one that would quickly break down in renewed conflict.

In practice, Fayyad might be the man who could help produce a stable status quo as a longer-term transition to a two-state peace, but he cannot deliver some near-instant solution. An “unconditional” declaration of independence is a prelude to disaster. Precisely because Fayyad knows this he won’t launch such a thing, without that “lucky bounce” of misguided Western support.

Pretending otherwise is not going to help anyone, most of all the Palestinians and certainly not U.S. interests.

RubinReports: PA Prime Minister Sets Forward Palestinian Strategy: Independence, Not Peace

Israel Matzav: Israel's 'racist' traffic lights

Israel's 'racist' traffic lights

No, Israel does not have traffic lights that can tell the difference between Jewish cars and Arab cars. But you can read about the respected publications who think that we do have such traffic lights (and proof that we don't) here.

Israel Matzav: Israel's 'racist' traffic lights

Israel Matzav: Obama's cop-out

Obama's cop-out

Jennifer Rubin interviews Dan Coats, the frontrunner for the Republican nomination for the Senate from Indiana (the seat currently held by Democrat Evan Bayh, who is leaving the Senate). Here's part of the interview.

I ask him whether the focus on the Palestinian “peace process” has distracted us from the Iranian threat or undermined the U.S.-Israel alliance. He says that with a nuclear-armed Iran “the very existence of Israel would be at stake.” He says that absent a more credible policy by the U.S., “Israel will be forced to act. It is unthinkable that the U.S. will passively stand aside [while Israel takes action].” He explains that “our credibility around the world” would be irreparably harmed as it became clear that the U.S. was unwilling to protect the security of any nation. As for the peace process, he says that “it is simply a cop out” to say that we need progress there in order to deal with the threats to Middle East peace. “I don’t for a moment think that even we had resolution [of the Palestinian conflict] we would have a kumbaya moment in the Middle East.” The mullahs have their own agenda and time table, he notes. “I’m not saying we shouldn’t pursue it [a resolution of the Palestinian conflict] but we have been pursuing it for half a century.”

Finally, I ask him about the Obama administration’s desire to return our ambassador to Syria. He says, “We are past that. What we need is the administration to stand up to the reality of what is taking place in the Middle East — to show resolve and to show strength.” He says the move conveys weakness and we risk sending the signal that “we are not prepared to defend Israel.” He reminds us that this president had promised to use “all” aspects of American power. But, he says, Obama is not “willing to use American power. They must be laughing at us in the councils of Iran. And Israel sits on a powder keg.” He closes by warning that it may now be too late to thwart the mullahs’ nuclear plans, “We’re going to read in a few months that the game is over.”

Read the whole thing. Sounds like a straight shooter, doesn't he?

Israel Matzav: Obama's cop-out

Israel Matzav: Overnight music video

Overnight music video

I've mentioned before the connection of Rabbi Akiva to Lag BaOmer. Here's Yaakov Shwekey (and son) singing Omar Rabbi Akiva (Rabbi Akiva said), except that it's a different saying of Rabbi Akiva than the one I posted on Friday.

This one is from a live concert in Paris in 2006.

Let's go to the videotape.

Israel Matzav: Overnight music video

Yaacov Lozowick's Ruminations: Distorting Israel

Distorting Israel

One of the many ways our radical left uses to slander their country for the amusement of its enemies is by telling quarter-truths in a way that makes us look outlandish, while refraining from telling the three-quarters of the story (or the 95% of it) that would honestly explain what's going on. In the past I've mentioned their claims that we're passing all sorts of laws meant to shut them down and stifle free speech, end democracy and generally destroy the Zionist dream. The Guardian dutifully and gleefully runs with the story, of course.

Here's what I mean about dishonest lack of context. Yossie Verter, the top political correspondent at Haaretz, pokes serious fun at Netanyahu for blocking a law that's just beginning its meandering through the legislature. The sense of the fun is that everyone - even the legislators trying to push the law through - knows fully well that from here to there, from inception to law, the road is so long and twisted that the current stage is hardly more than grandstanding. Maybe it's a fine law, maybe it's foolish, but in any case, why in the world is the prime minster getting all worked up about it? He wants it stymied? Fine. Pull a string and have it die in committee. Or re-word it so it says the opposite of what it was intended to say. Or use any one of 3002 other tricks, all standard procedure, so that it never becomes law. Why squander political capital on making such a fuss?

That's the fist part of the article. The second says the same, from the opposite side. This time Netanyahu's bugbear isn't a talented lefty-MK, but rather a talented right-wing demagogue with almost no political base, whom Netanyahu just propped up by taking him extremely seriously, with no particular justification.

Now, take Verter's comments about Netanyahu and cut and past them so that it's the radical left, not the prime minister, and the acting out is happening in the foreign press, not in our internal discussion in Hebrew. Is there an occasional act of political grandstanding aimed against them? Yes. Is it likely to transform Israeli democracy into something not-recognizably democratic? Of course not. Do 100% of the participants in the grandstanding, from all sides, recognize this state of the matter? Yes. Is this the message being broadcast to the rest of the world? No. Rather the opposite. Is there any rational justification for spreading stories abroad which are palpably dishonest, in such a way as to besmirch your country? Not that I can see.

Yaacov Lozowick's Ruminations: Distorting Israel

Yaacov Lozowick's Ruminations: The Enemy of My Enemy is My Friend

The Enemy of My Enemy is My Friend

Or so the saying goes.

I don't vote in British elections, and doubt they're really important for the history of the world these days, but since I follow both the Guardian and the Economist I sort of know who's who and such. Well, for those of you who don't follow such matters, the past two or three weeks they've been all agog about this new fellow, one Nick Clegg, boss of a normally unimportant party called the Lib-Dems, who is apparently really good at televised debates, and seems poised to be the spoiler of the election. I don't know much about him, and his party seems to be all over the political map depending on the issue, but I've got this vague felling that on the parts of the discussion that might interest me (Mideast policies, Afghanistan) he's probably not someone I'd vote for.

Today the Guardian endorsed him. Now I know this may make me look churlish, tribal, atavistic, primitive, irrational, mean, and generally unserious, but if the Guardian is for something, I'm against. Luckily for me, Normblog, a totally serious fellow who also happens to live in the UK and vote there, says the same - so I'm off the hook:

(5) The Guardian has come out for the Lib-Dems - and the Guardian is now a moral swamp, where poisonous vapours are allowed to circulate freely.

Yaacov Lozowick's Ruminations: The Enemy of My Enemy is My Friend

Israel Matzav: Good news: When 'proximity talks' fail, Obama to convene 'international summit'

Good news: When 'proximity talks' fail, Obama to convene 'international summit'

President Obumbler is so determined to establish a 'Palestinian state' that he has already told several European leaders that if when the 'proximity talks' fail, he will convene an 'international summit' to establish a 'Palestinian state.'

U.S. President Barack Obama has told several European leaders that if Israeli-Palestinian talks remain stalemated into September or October, he will convene an international summit on achieving Mideast peace, senior Israeli officials told Haaretz on Thursday.

The officials said the conference would be run by the Quartet of Middle East peacemakers - the United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia - in a bid to forge a united global front for creating a Palestinian state. The summit, they said, would address such core issues as borders, security arrangements, Palestinian refugees and the status of Jerusalem.

Obama is determined to exert his influence to establish a Palestinian state, the officials said, and several European leaders have vowed that the EU would support any peace plan proposed by Washington. Therefore, though so-called proximity talks are set to start in the coming weeks, Obama is already readying for the possibility that the indirect Israeli-Palestinian talks might reach a dead end.

And why September or October? Because the Arab League is meeting Saturday night and demanding that 'progress' be shown within four months.

The UN General Assembly will reconvene in late September, and that month will also mark one year since Obama hosted a largely unproductive trilateral summit with Abbas and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In addition, September 26 marks the end of the 10-month period Israel allocated for a freeze on West Bank settlement construction, and Netanyahu will have to decide whether to allow such building to be resumed.

Israeli officials said they believe Obama could postpone the international summit, or the unveiling of his own peace plan, until after the midterm Congressional elections in November, in which his Democratic Party is widely expected to suffer heavy losses.

Because after all, it would do wonders for the Democrats electorally if Obama made an announcement like that in October, wouldn't it?

What could go wrong?

Israel Matzav: Good news: When 'proximity talks' fail, Obama to convene 'international summit'

Israel Matzav: Nick Clegg on Israel

Nick Clegg on Israel

London's Jewish Chronicle had an interview with Liberal Democrat candidate Nick Clegg over the weekend. I don't know enough about Clegg to assess how believable this interview is and how much is for the Jewish community's public consumption (his invocation of Obama gave me the creeps), but for what it's worth....

What would you do to kick-start talks in the Middle East in order to bring about a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict?

Clearly President Obama has the most leverage over the parties in the peace process. There is a limit to what we can do on our own, but I would like to see the UK and the EU supporting the initiatives being taken by the Americans.

Ultimately, I believe Israel’s long term peace and security will depend on reaching a settlement with the Palestinians and therefore it is incumbent on all of Israel’s friends to do what they can drive forward the peace process.

What is your position on Israel's actions in Operation Cast Lead and what should Israel do to calm international opinion on this issue?

Israel has a right to take action to protect its civilians. That is beyond question. I understand that the constant attacks from Gaza on innocent families living in Sderot was and is intolerable and Israel rightly seeks to defend its citizens.

But the truth is that Operation Cast Lead did not work. It was self-defeating. There are still attacks on Israeli citizens from Gaza.

Israel is more isolated internationally, the people of Gaza are more embittered and Hamas strengthened as a direct result of Operation Cast Lead. It has made it harder not easier to achieve Israel’s long term peace and security and that is deeply regrettable.

I think Israel could do a great deal to reassure international opinion by holding an independent inquiry into Operation Cast Lead.

What is your view of the current state of UK-Israel relations in the light of Israel’s use of British passports in Dubai? What further action should be taken if the investigation of the Dubai authorities confirms that Israel was responsible for the assassination of the Hamas operative?

Clearly relations between Israel and the UK have been affected. It is unacceptable for British passports to be abused in this way. We will have to wait and see what the Dubai authorities conclude.

While of course I understand Israel’s unique security predicament, my view is that this kind of killing would be completely counter-productive to the peace process. I just don’t see how this fits into a long-term security strategy for Israel.

Someone needs to tell him that the number of rocket attacks from Gaza has dropped over 90% since Operation Cast Lead ended, and that we're not making peace with Hamas, and therefore the liquidation of a Hamas terrorist (even if the Mossad did it) can only being good and happiness to the World.

No, I'm not impressed, and I sure wouldn't vote for him.

Israel Matzav: Nick Clegg on Israel

Israel Matzav: Why Assad keeps arming Hezbullah

Why Assad keeps arming Hezbullah

Well, this is an interesting theory:

"He won't abandon Iran and continues to arm Hezbollah because the Iranians could implicate him DIRECTLY in Hariri's murder instead of just some third-rate Syrian and Hezbollah killers.

The UN Tribunal can dilute Iranian extortion by implicating him directly. Only then, real negotiations will be meaningful"


Israel Matzav: Why Assad keeps arming Hezbullah
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