The Question of Palestinian Refugees Cannot Be Avoided

In my latest piece on the Meretz USA web site, I discuss the question of Palestinian refugees and the misguided urge of many peace activists to try to remove this question from the agenda without negotiations.

It seems to me that many well-intentioned peace activists seem to buy into the idea that Palestinian pursuit of the Right of Return (RoR) is rooted in the desire to destroy Israel. While I agree that the full realization of RoR may have that

Rafah Refugee Camp in Gaza

result (which is one of the main reasons I don’t support RoR), it does not follow that this is the reason Palestinians pursue RoR.

I don’t support RoR, but I absolutely support Palestinians’ right to hold their view on it and to pursue it. It is a final status issue that must be negotiated. Read more here.

Danny Ayalon Plays a Losing Blame Game

While taking apart an argument made by Danny Ayalon may seem like shooting fish in a barrel, his op-ed in today’s LA Times contains so many inaccuracies or outright falsehoods, and there are enough people, both in the US and Israel, who will take this piece seriously, that it seems worth the time. Ayalon offered up a fine brew of classic myths and his own, odd version of reality, so let’s dig into it and see what the facts are.

Since the Oslo peace accords were signed in 1993, the Israeli position on the peace process has

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon

constantly progressed and evolved. That has been best enunciated by the generous offers made by Prime Ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert in 2000 and 2008, respectively. Meeting nearly all of the Palestinian demands, these offers were rejected without further discussion or counteroffer.

Ayalon starts out with a classic. The so-called “generous offer” that Barak made was a take-it-or-leave-it offer that fell well short of minimal Palestinian demands and, while that particular story has been debunked many times, it still persists.

Olmert’s offer of 2008 seemed to improve on Barak’s, but it also seems not to have addressed the holy sites of Jerusalem or refugees, and whether it was a proposal to advance talks or, like Barak’s also a take-it-or-leave-it offer is unclear. The proposed borders maintained the essential problem that has dogged maps of two states for years—the Israeli insistence on keeping some far-flung settlements like Ma’ale Adumim and Ariel seriously compromises the territorial contiguity of the proposed state of Palestine.

The present Israeli government has accepted the principle of a two-states-for-two peoples solution. Israel has contributed to the improvement of the lives of Palestinian to the point where the West Bank’s economic growth is greater than almost anywhere in the world; it has removed more than two-thirds of all security checkpoints and initiated a unilateral moratorium on construction in the settlements. Continue reading

Is Obama Charting a New Mideast Peace Course?

Now that the United States has officially abandoned its attempt to convince Israel to stop building settlements for just a little while, please?, everyone is waiting for Plan B. Those who still hope for a peaceful resolution to the Middle East conflict are hoping that the Plan B will include an American assertion of its positions, at least on the matter of borders.

Well, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was supposed to present Plan B on December 10 at the Saban Center of the Brookings Institute in Washington. But while her speech was more even-handed than what we’ve gotten used to, it

Ehud Barak and Hillary Rodham Clinton

was too short on specifics to be said to really mark a new direction. She reinforced the US commitment to Israeli security and the two-state solution and claims that, through renewed shuttle diplomacy, the US would facilitate continued negotiations that are purported to tackle all of the core issues.

The familiarity of her statements cannot but breed contempt, but there were a few hopeful signs. The first one was the Israelis in attendance. Defense Minister Ehud Barak and opposition leader Tzipi Livni, the two most prominent leaders vying for Benjamin Netanyahu’s job, represented Israel. That can easily be interpreted as a public American recognition that the current Israeli government, and its leader, is not interested in peace, which is, of course, true. There was also the clearest endorsement yet for the Arab Peace Initiative, and for the most part, Clinton put more than the usual onus on Israel.

Still, the Obama administration continues to repeat the mantra: “…negotiations between the parties is the only path that will succeed in securing their respective aspirations.”

It is, of course, true that there are details that must be worked out between Israelis and Palestinians, but if there is one myth that the Obama administration has shown the emptiness of, it is this holy grail of bilateral negotiations. It is time we examine the assumptions that underlie that axiom. Continue reading

Rabbis Issue Anti-Arab Ruling and Anti-Jewish Statements

A group of Israeli rabbis issued a religious ruling forbidding Jews to rent homes to Arabs.

Even Benjamin Netanyahu could take the high road on this one. “How would we feel if we were told not to sell an apartment to Jews?” asked Netanyahu. “We would protest, and we protest now when it is said of our neighbors.”

Bibi gets this one exactly right, of course. The rabbis, however, display themselves to be ignorant of halakha (Jewish law), willfully or otherwise, and, even worse, to be classical anti-Semites. Consider the words of Rabbi Yosef Scheinen, who heads the Ashdod Yeshiva: “Racism originated in the Torah. The land of Israel is designated for the people of Israel. This is what the Holy One Blessed Be He intended and that is what the [sage] Rashi interpreted.”

I don’t know what passage Scheinen is referring to. But I do know he is wrong about the law. Doing business, renting, to non-Jews is not prohibited. Even the question of selling land in Israel to non-Jews is off-base—those laws deal with a post-messianic Israel, where Jews have already returned.

We may recall that Orthodox Jews opposed Zionism for many years, on the basis that Judaism teaches us that Jews live in galut (exile) by God’s decree, and only the coming of the Messiah can end that exile. Religious Zionism re-wrote Jewish history to accommodate the Talmudic acrobatics they needed to perform in order to poison Jewish nationalism with religious fundamentalism. Continue reading

Carmel Blaze: How Much More Disaster Can Settlements Cause?

One thing Eli Yishai cannot be said to have lied about is his dedication to the settlements. In June of 2009, he said “I promise to use my ministry, all the resources at my disposal and the ministry’s impact on local authorities for the good of expanding settlements.”

Neglecting his other responsibilities, Yishai has worked doggedly to expand settlements, to fund them and to ensure

Interior Minister Eli Yishai

they will grow throughout the West Bank, especially in East Jerusalem (which, we need to remember, is part of the West Bank).

Many Israelis, of all political views, are angry at Yishai now that his negligence, which can legitimately be considered of a criminal nature, has led to Israel’s near-total helplessness in the face of what has come to be known as the Carmel Fire. Yishai’s own pathetic and insulting attempt to claim that this is anti-Mizrachi (Jews of Middle Eastern descent) racism has found him little sympathy.

There is indeed no excuse for this. Israel is a wealthy country. In 2009, the World Bank ranked Israel 25th out of 162 countries. Yet Israeli officials knew very well that their ability to cope with a major fire was virtually non-existent. Instead, Israel turned to the rest of the world for help.

Despite the constant Israeli harping about the whole world hating them, being out to get them, being anti-Semitic, the help flooded in. Long before help came from the United States, lo and behold, there were the Turks, the Egyptians and even the Palestinians, pitching in to help. European countries, like Spain, Italy and the UK, those awful de-legitimizers, also pitched in. As Norway’s ambassador to Israel pointed out, the only thing anyone is trying to delegitimize is the occupation and its accompanying settlement program. Continue reading