Demography Is Not A Threat

Last week, just ahead of the failed “Unite the Right” rally in Washington, Fox News commentator Laura Ingraham spewed some venomous anti-immigrant statements. She said that “in major parts of the country, it does seem that the America we know and love doesn’t exist anymore. Massive demographic changes have been foisted on the American people and they’re changes that none of us ever voted for and most of us don’t like.”

Plenty of people lined up to criticize Ingraham, and rightly so. But I wonder how many would have similarly criticized this statement:

In about a decade, the Arabs between the Jordan and the Mediterranean will be a majority and the Jews a minority. The Jewish national home will become the Palestinian national home. We will be again, for the first time since 1948, a Jewish minority in an Arab state. I want to separate from the Palestinians. I want to keep a Jewish state with a Jewish majority. I don’t want 61 Palestinian MKs in Israel’s Knesset. I don’t want a Palestinian prime minister in Israel. I don’t want them to change my flag and my national anthem. I don’t want them to change the name of my country to Isra-stine.

Those remarks were made in June 2015, at the annual Herzliya Conference in Israel. Who made them? Benjamin Netanyahu? Or perhaps one of the far-right figures in his government such as Ayelet Shaked, Miri Regev, Avigdor Lieberman, or Naftali Bennett?

No, those words were uttered by Isaac Herzog, who was, at the time, the opposition leader and chair of the Labor Party, the largest part of Zionist Union coalition. He was the leader of the center-left in Israel. Notably, his words drew little attention. Laura Ingraham would wish for such indifference. Read more at Lobe Log

Big News From The Foundation for Middle East Peace

Today, I have some news to share with you: the Foundation for Middle East Peace now has a new website!fmep small

For decades, FMEP has been at the forefront of Israel and Palestine advocacy. With the launch of our new website, the organization’s online presence now takes on a 2015 look and approach to technology and social media integration.

We have been working on this project for months and couldn’t be more excited about the end result. The new site is designed to optimize user experience, curate the latest news and resources and provide easily-accessible information about the key issues of the conflict and ideas for a peaceful resolution. Continue reading

Image of Hate

The photo you see to the left was found by Jewish Voice for Peace on the Facebook page (since removed) of a group that named itself

"Hating Arabs Isn't revenge--it's values." Hashtag reads Israel Demands Revenge!"

“Hating Arabs Isn’t revenge–it’s values.” Hashtag reads Israel Demands Revenge!”

“Am Yisrael Doreshet Nekama,” in English, “The People of Israel Demand Revenge.” The hashtag on the sign is similar, though with an important difference–the word “Am” is removed and it is “Israel Demands Revenge.”

The photo has since gone viral, though not as its creators may have hoped. It has become a Twitter and Facebook symbol for Israeli racism. For me, personally, it is important that the hashtag removes the word “Am” because “Am Yisrael” commonly means the Jewish People, while “Israel” alone more commonly refers to the country.

But what’s really important that people understand in the image is the driving force behind Israeli policy. Yes, these girls or young women may not yet even be old enough to vote or to serve in the IDF. But it doesn’t take a very hard look to understand that they are not fanatical settlers. These are not orthodox young women, and just judging by their appearance and dress (which, it should be noted, is not conclusive), they are probably quite secular, mainstream Israelis, very much of the Tel Aviv culture.  Continue reading

Bibi’s Epic Fail

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s trip to the United States has ended in an unprecedented failure. On the Palestinian front, the Iranian front and the domestic US front, Netanyahu’s efforts last week ran badly aground. Let’s review the categories.

Iran

Netanyahu himself illustrated his greatest failure: his attempt to divert the conversation about Iran by making a big show of intercepting a ship carrying rockets, ostensibly, according to Israel, headed for the Gaza Strip. Bemoaning the lack of global outrage that he had hoped would sabotage the talks between Iran and world powers on the nuclear issue, Netanyahu told the Israeli cabinet upon his return that: “”The goal of seizing the arms ship was to expose Iran’s true face. I say this in order to bring it to the attention of Ms. Ashton, who is now visiting Tehran, and I wish to ask her whether she asked her hosts about the shipment of weapons to terrorist organizations.”

In fact, there are very serious questions about the incident that are not being raised. It may be best that they’re not, because it is a reflection of the minor impact the incident has thus far had on the talks with Iran. The timing of the Israeli intercept was obviously staged to coincide with Netanyahu’s visit to the US to speak at the annual AIPAC conference and to meet with US President Barack Obama. As Amir Rappaport points out, the operation was being planned for months and was carried out far outside of Israeli waters, so the timing was no accident.

The plan fails in its very conception, though. At no point did Iran agree to stop its support for Hezbollah and Hamas in order to pursue these talks, nor did anyone expect them to. But other questions can be raised here as well. Was this, as Netanyahu alleges, Iran showing its “true face” as it masquerades behind the apparent moderation of Hassan Rouhani and Javad Zarif or was it, as many observers suspect, an attempt by Iranian hardliners to undermine the efforts of the moderates? Indeed, there is some question as to whether the weapons were even intended for Gaza.

It is also odd that weapons from Syria are brought to Iran to be smuggled all the way back to Gaza; the point of the Iran-Syria connection is for such flows to run in the opposite direction, although this could, perhaps, be explained by the ongoing civil war in Syria. In part, that explanation is connected to increased Israeli surveillance of Syrian munitions. That, however, raises the question of why Iran, knowing how closely Israel is watching Syria, would engage in such an operation now.

There are many questions about this incident, not the least of which is the veracity of Israel’s version of events, absent any proof they have made public about the weapons’ destination; they could have been heading for Hamas, to Islamic Jihad (as Israel claims) in Gaza, to anti-government militias in Egypt, to groups in Sudan… There is a lot here that is unclear at best in the Israeli version of events, although certainly nothing to prove that any part of it is untrue.

But what is clear is that the response from the United States and Europe is considerably less than Netanyahu had hoped for. No one believes this shows Iran’s “true face” because no one ever believed that engagement on the nuclear issue by itself was going to change Iran’s position and policy vis–à–vis Israel. What can do that, as Zarif has strongly indicated, is an agreement that the Palestinians clearly accept. So, where are we with that?

Palestinians and the Kerry peace plan

Netanyahu didn’t have much to say about peace with the Palestinians, but what little he did say was a clear attempt to negate any possibility of success on the part of US Secretary of State John Kerry. His very first remark to the fawning crowd at the AIPAC conference was a greeting “from Jerusalem, the eternal, undivided capital of Israel and the Jewish people.” Not surprisingly, this did not sit well outside the hall of sycophants at AIPAC. His only other substantive statement was a call on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to recognize Israel as a “Jewish state,” something neither Jews nor Israelis can even agree to a definition of and that everyone knows is a non-starter for Abbas.

This demand is a threadbare attempt to get the Palestinians to acknowledge, before an agreement, that they have no claim to a return of refugees (fair for Israel to try to win in talks if they want, but unreasonable to demand as a precondition, as Israel generally has), that Palestinian citizens of Israel must be content with second-class status and most of all, that the Zionist historical narrative is more legitimate than the Palestinian one. No leader of any people would ever agree to such a thing, and Netanyahu is well aware of this.

But outside of the lock-step supporters of Israel in AIPAC and their fellow travelers to the right of that organization, no one is buying into this demand even though its crucial for Netanyahu. For months now, it has been getting clearer and clearer that Kerry’s efforts were likely to fail and much of what both Netanyahu and Abbas have been doing and saying has been geared toward escaping blame, especially US blame, for this likely failure. Bibi needs the demand for recognition of a “Jewish state” to be seen as reasonable, but he’s not winning the battle.

“The level of mistrust is as large as any level of mistrust I’ve ever seen, on both sides,” Kerry told a House of Representatives Appropriations Committee hearing on Wednesday. With Netanyahu now back in Israel and Abbas slated to come to Washington next week, this is a clear statement of pessimism from the one man who, whatever the reality of the talks, has insisted on maintaining a show of optimism. The prospect of failure is becoming more certain, but thus far, Netanyahu has failed to gain the upper hand in escaping blame, as Ehud Barak did with Bill Clinton in 2000.

The US domestic audience

On the US front, the situation is unprecedented. The good wishes most US citizens hold for Israel remain steady, indicating the same widespread support for Israel’s security that has always existed. But the war-weary United States is withdrawing into itself and the diminishing support for Israeli policies is a reflection of this. However, that’s far from the only cause of the new situation Israel finds itself in.

Relationships between Israeli leaders and US presidents have varied. Barack Obama is not the first to have a rocky relationship with an Israeli Prime Minister. Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush did not always get on well with Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir, respectively. On the other hand, Bill Clinton was practically a groupie for Yitzhak Rabin and had a very warm relationship with his political successor, Ehud Barak. Similarly, George W. Bush called Ariel Sharon a mentor, and continued to get along famously with Sharon’s successor, Ehud Olmert. Yet through all these relationships, bad and good, Israel always maintained warm ties with both major US parties. AIPAC prided itself for decades on its bi-partisan reach.

Netanyahu has severely damaged that bipartisanship. From his deep ideological connection to US neoconservatives, to his barely hidden meddling in US electoral politics, he has alienated Democrats. Those Democrats remain dedicated to Israel’s security, or, in some cases, to AIPAC-directed campaign contributions. But with his repeated attempts to draw the United States into deepening conflict and possibly war with Iran, Netanyahu has forced Democrats to choose between their constituents and AIPAC. That’s a battle AIPAC would never win, but Netanyahu seemed to believe that AIPAC could do anything. For all those who accused John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt of demonizing “Jewish power” in their book on the Israel lobby, it seems it was Netanyahu who imagined an omnipotent lobby for his country in the US and wildly overestimated their power.

While Bibi spoke to AIPAC and other US audiences, article after article — in the Huffington PostForeign Policy, the Washington Examiner, Israel’s YNet, and other sites — proclaimed AIPAC’s diminishing influence. It really isn’t surprising. Bibi has tried to increase US involvement in the Middle East at a time when most in the US, despite being willing to continue to fund Israel and help it out at the United Nations, want to reduce our involvement in the region. And, while Bibi can talk the talk of the US right-wing, most Jews in the United States are liberals. With voices who support the rights of Palestinians as equal to Israelis gaining prominence, US Jews are looking for ways to reconcile their liberalism with their support of Israel in a way they have not had to in the past. Bibi is trying to push them back to the old narratives, and they aren’t working.

What if Netanyahu fails?

That’s a reasonable question. Right now, there is no serious challenger to Netanyahu on the horizon, but that can change if his bungling of the US relationship becomes more of a problem for the average Israeli. The challenge could come from the right, as Avigdor Lieberman is trying to position himself to make a run at the Prime Minister’s office. But if failure with the Palestinians and with the US is at issue, Lieberman wouldn’t be the answer, and no one more moderate than Bibi is currently poised to make any kind of challenge.

Still, it is now much more likely that the peace talks are going to collapse at the end of April. Netanyahu won’t be directly blamed by the Obama administration, but if they do think it is his fault they can easily communicate that in Israel and Europe, with profound consequences for Netanyahu. Meanwhile, more and more of Europe is turning against Israel’s increasingly right-wing and rejectionist policies. That could cost Bibi dearly.

Failure might not only harm AIPAC, but it could seriously harm more moderate groups in the US like J Street. If the two-state solution appears unrealistic, J Street will have little to hang their hats on. And without the moderate alternative, US support, apart from the annual military aid, is likely to diminish as well. Unfortunately, without a Palestinian strategy to take advantage of this changing state of affairs (beginning with unifying their body politic), it’s not going to lead to better days. And such does not seem to be forthcoming.

Bibi’s gone back home now. But his trip here was notable for how much was at stake and how badly he did with it.

If a Two-State Solution Fails, What Next?

The failure of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians could lead to a significant shift in public opinion in the United States regarding Israel’s future, according to a new poll released Monday.

When asked about two options in the event the two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict was no longer on the table, 65 percent of U.S. citizens said they preferred a democratic state where Jews and Arabs are equal, against only 24 percent who supported “the continuation of Israel’s Jewish majority even if it means that Palestinians will not have citizenship and full rights.”

The Barack Obama administration has repeatedly warned both parties that the window of opportunity for a two-state solution to their conflict is closing.

This is widely understood to be driving the frenetic efforts by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to cobble together a framework for further talks which he hopes would culminate in a permanent status agreement by the end of 2014. But should these efforts fail, the United States has no alternative to the current two-state formula.

The poll, commissioned by pollster Dr. Shibley Telhami, the Anwar Sadat professor for peace and development at the University of Maryland, indicates that, as Telhami said, “if the two-state solution fails, the conversation among the American public might shift to that of a one-state solution as the next-best thing.”

In that context, United States citizens hold the value of one person, one vote very strongly. Telhami told IPS that this value was held even among those polled who felt the United States should be favouring Israel over the Palestinians in negotiations.

“We asked if you want the U.S. to lean toward Israel, towards the Palestinians or to stay neutral. As usual, two-thirds want the United States to be neutral and among the rest, most want it to lean toward Israel. So we asked that segment what they would do if the two-state solution was no longer an option. And we still got 52 percent of that segment who would support one state with equal citizenship.

“We always assume that pro-Israel means people will accept immoral situations if they have to and that’s not true,” Telhami continued. “A lot of people try to reconcile their support for the cause with their moral view of the world and that view is antithetical with occupation or inequality for many of these people.

“So for them, two states is a way out, where they can say ‘I’m not paying too much attention to occupation now because it will be going away.’ But if the two-state solution goes away then the status quo looks permanent and I think people, even the segment that primarily cares about Israel, will have an issue with that.”

The possibility of the two-state solution finally collapsing seems stronger with each passing day. Despite some positive statements from Kerry and Obama, the sentiments that have been expressed by both Israeli and Palestinian leadership have, almost from the beginning, been pessimistic and accusatory, with each side seeming to jockey for position to avoid blame for what they have portrayed as the inevitable failure of the U.S.-brokered efforts.

On Monday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told the leader of the left-wing Israeli Meretz party that there is strong opposition within the Palestinian Authority to continuing talks beyond the agreed upon deadline of Apr. 29.

Abbas has repeatedly stated that ongoing Israeli settlement construction makes negotiations very difficult for Palestinians and sends the message that while the Palestinian leadership talks with Israel, the Israelis are simply taking the West Bank through settlement expansion.

Bolstering Abbas’ case, the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics released a report on Monday which stated that starts on new settlement building in the occupied West Bank increased by 123.7 percent in 2013.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who arrived in Washington on Monday for a meeting with President Obama and the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), accused the Palestinians of not doing enough to advance peace talks and called on them to recognise Israel as a Jewish state.

Netanyahu vowed to stand firm against pressures on him to make compromises on what he referred to as “our crucial interests. “

Given these stances, it seems there is little hope for Kerry’s dogged efforts. Obama warned of the consequences of failure in an interview published Sunday with Bloomberg’s Jeffrey Goldberg when he said “if you see no peace deal and continued aggressive settlement construction…If Palestinians come to believe that the possibility of a contiguous sovereign Palestinian state is no longer within reach, then our ability to manage the international fallout is going to be limited.”

Indeed, this poll shows that even within the United States, fallout will be a factor.

“Americans still have a generally favourable view of Israel and think it ought to live in peace and security,” Stephen Walt, professor of international affairs at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and co-author of “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy”, told IPS.

“But much of that support is fairly soft, and most Americans do not support backing Israel no matter what it does. This latest poll confirms that basic view, and suggests that Israel cannot count on deep U.S. support if peace talks fail and its control over the West Bank and/or Gaza becomes permanent.”

But Leon Hadar, lecturer in Israel Studies at the University of Maryland and senior analyst with Wikistrat, disagrees and believes this poll does little but satisfy the “wishful thinking of some.”

“My guess is that most Americans would support the establishment of a democratic and liberal system here, there and everywhere, including in Saudi Arabia, Congo, and certainly China,” Hadar told IPS.

“But the main problem is that there is no constituency in the U.S. or for that matter among the Israelis and the Palestinians advancing such a formula. That’s very different from the South Africa story when you had powerful constituencies in this country, including Congress, pushing for that.”

Telhami disagrees. “It may not have a direct impact on foreign policy. I don’t expect even 80 percent support for a single, democratic state will mean the White House and State Department will suddenly support it. But it results in a lot of civil society pressure.

“U.S. foreign policy is based on a lot of considerations, and domestically it is more responsive to groups that are better organised and today that means groups that are supportive of Israeli government positions. But I think the discourse itself will alter the priorities and put a lot of strain on the relationship.

“This will mean pushing the government to act on this issue. We see it now, with academic boycotts and boycotting of settlement products. Those things can happen at a level that changes the dynamic of policymaking.”