In Their Own Words: Israeli Officials Oppose Palestinian State

Israel’s new government does not support a two-state solution. But don’t take it from us. Listen to the words of the leading figures in Israel’s government. Read more at the FMEP blog.

Netanyahu and Obama: Name-Calling and its Discontents

The obsession in politics and diplomacy with decorum–largely a relic from the past–can easily distract people from the realities of the present. 8575956802_b0f1918361_zCase in point, the uproar over Jeffrey Goldberg’s latest article in the Atlantic, the headline of which, The Crisis in U.S.-Israel Relations Is Officially Here, would seem important enough to warrant more attention than it has gotten so far.

Instead, the whisper of an unnamed “senior Obama administration official,” who called Netanyahu a “chickenshit,” has occupied headlines. And instead of taking a strong, or even a weak stance on Netanyahu’s repeated declarations about expanding settlement activity everywhere in Jerusalem and the West Bank, the White House has only tried to distance itself from the remark, describing it as “unauthorized” and “inappropriate.” Read more at LobeLog

The Celebrated Murderer, A Phenomenon on Both Sides of the Israel-Palestine Divide

Yesterday, an old Israeli “war hero” died. His name was Meir Har-Zion. He was a veteran of the Israeli military in its formative

Meir Har-Zion in 1954

Meir Har-Zion in 1954

years after the creation of the state, and we should look very carefully at the re-telling, upon his death, of an incident that took place in 1954.

The incident was an act of vengeance that Har-Zion, along with several accomplices, enacted in response to the killing of his sister, Shoshanna. We’ll get to it in a minute. But first, let’s understand how Har-Zion is viewed in Israel.

Moshe Dayan called Har-Zion “the greatest Jewish warrior since Bar Kochba.” That’s a description we should take a close look at. Bar Kochba is a Zionist icon, and a symbol of the nationalist revision of Jewish history. For most of pre-Zionist Jewish history, Bar Kochba was a very divisive figure, but the majority view of him was negative. He was seen as a false prophet (which he undoubtedly was) who duped the greatest religious figure of his day, Rebbe Akiva ben Yoseph (though some argue that he was not actually involved with Bar Kochba’s revolt) into supporting him and eventually led the Jews to final defeat and exile at the hands of the Romans. Continue reading

Israelis and Palestinians Moving Apart, Not Closer

This article originally appeared at LobeLog.

It’s a busy week for Secretary of State John Kerry. On Monday, he received Israel’s top two negotiators, Tzipi Livni and Isaac

John Kerry boarding a plane for Switzerland for the bug meetings in Geneva and Davos.

John Kerry boarding a plane for Switzerland for the bug meetings in Geneva and Davos.

Molho. Then he packed his bags and headed off to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Kerry will have any number of important tasks in Davos, but perhaps the highest profile of them will be a sideline meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. These meetings, it is said, are meant to “bridge the gaps between Israel and the Palestinians.”

If anyone was holding out hope that these talks were anything more than a sham, those words should end such hopes. The framing of the United States bridging the gap between Israel and the Palestinians belies the reality of Israeli anger and Palestinian disappointment bordering on feelings of betrayal in terms of the US’ relationship with both sides. Let’s just look at where things stand. Continue reading

2013 Brings No Change to US Policy On Israel-Palestine

This article originally appeared at LobeLog.

When it comes to the tedious dance between the United States, Israel and the Palestinian Authority, the more things change, the

Shimon Peres, John Kerry and Mahmoud Abbas at the World Economic Forum in May 2013

Shimon Peres, John Kerry and Mahmoud Abbas at the World Economic Forum in May 2013

more they stay the same. As 2013 draws to a close, we have another proof of that cliché.

As 2013 dawned, President Barack Obama began his second term, and Benjamin Netanyahu — whose horse in the US race, Mitt Romney, had lost decisively — was winning re-election but embarking on a very difficult set of talks to cobble together a governing coalition in Israel. As there always is with a second-term US president, there was some speculation that Obama might decide to damn the torpedoes of domestic politics and put some moderate pressure on Israel to compromise. Despite some illusions, by the end of the year it became clear that this wasn’t happening.

A little less than a year ago, John Kerry was named Secretary of State and vowed not only to restart talks between Israel and the Palestinians but to bring them to a conclusion. Few believed he could get the two sides talking again, but Kerry managed it and thereby breathed a bit of life into Washington groups like J Street and Americans for Peace Now who have staked their existence to the fading hope of a two-state solution. But even fewer objective observers believed Kerry could actually fulfill the second part of his pledge, and as 2013 comes to an end, all the evidence points to the vindication of that pessimistic view. Continue reading

Israel’s New Cabinet

This article originally appeared at LobeLog

The new Israeli government features a security braintrust that might be a bit more reasonable on Iran, but is likely to be even more hawkish both in the immediate region

Netanyahu has a new and untested cabinet

Netanyahu has a new and untested cabinet

and within the country itself. Gone are voices from the Israeli right who favored a more reasoned and diplomatic approach to their right-wing agenda. They have been replaced by figures who want more direct action and refuse even the pretense of a two-state solution.

On Iran, the retirement of Ehud Barak removes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s leading supporter in his effort for a strike on Iran sooner rather than later, whether that be carried out by Israel or, preferably, the United States. He is replaced by Moshe “Bogey” Ya’alon. Bogey is also an Iran hawk, but is not in favor of Israel launching an attack other than as a last resort. He is far more content than Barak to allow the United States to take the lead and wants Israel to act only if it becomes apparent that the US will not. That puts him pretty well in line with the Israeli military and intelligence leadership in practice, though he sees Iran as more of a threat than they do.

In fact, no one in the current or even the outgoing inner circle came close to matching Barak’s eagerness for military action against Iran. Only Netanyahu himself could match him, and he remains daunted by the lack of support for his position in Israel. The ongoing hawkishness in the US Congress and President Barack Obama’s repeated statements holding firm to a military option and refusing a policy of containment also blunt Netanyahu’s resolve. It would seem that, at least for the time being, the calls for war on Iran will be fueled more in the United States than in Israel.

Ya’alon is a former Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces, but he did not have a distinguished term of service there, was not well-liked and returns without a great deal of good will among the military and intelligence services’ leadership. In fact, colleagues in Israel tell me there is a good deal of consternation in those services regarding Bogey’s appointment. But for now, they will wait and see how he acts. For a deeper look at Ya’alon, see my recent piece on him here. Continue reading

The Apology to Turkey and My Analysis of Obama’s Speeches

A reader at LobeLog  asked how I thought Netanyahu’s surprising and long-belated apology to Turkey over the Mavi Marmara killings fit in with my analysis of Obama’s speeches in Jerusalem and Ramallah. I thought my readers here would be interested in my response, so I reprint it below.

William,
I think it fits in perfectly. What Obama set out to do, in my view, was to reset his foreign policy priorities, given not only the pivot to Asia, but also the domestic political

Protesters at Ashdod, Israel one year after the IDF killed eight Turkish and one US civilian aboard the Mavi Marmara

Protesters at Ashdod, Israel one year after the IDF killed eight Turkish and one US civilian aboard the Mavi Marmara

realities that severely limit his options in dealing with Israel (i.e. AIPAC et al). He’s essentially trying to move the conflict out of the way.

It may well be that events, maybe in Syria, possibly even in Egypt or Jordan, will change the status quo by drawing Israel in and that may hamper the move to lessen US involvement in all of this. But for now, Obama will do what he must as dictated by US politics but I think little if anything more, and that was his message to the Israeli public.

To Bibi, I think he handed that perspective as a gift, or more precisely a payoff. Basically, he said I’m not going to push you the negotiating table, but you’re going to pay me back for that by making this issue less of a thorn in my side. I think the rapprochement with Turkey is the centerpiece of that, because while the split between those two US allies has not always been in the news, it is a central concern for US diplomats. This makes matters simpler.

I think Obama was also hoping that Bibi would agree to turn the heat back down on the Iran issue and let Obama take the lead. Such a thing would probably be wise for Israel, even from their point of view, because Obama’s own rhetoric on Iran has hardly been mollifying. But I think that was an area where Bibi was much less forthcoming. He knows his new defense minister prefers the US hit Iran rather than Israel, but also that he very much believes that the US should be pressured to do so–Ya’alon does not seem to share the assessment of his military and intelligence leaders on Iran, which is pretty much identical to the US’. Continue reading