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Today, I watched Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Meet the Press. Speaking to David Gregory, he claimed that the Palestinians are the obstacle to peace, and Gregory never once stopped him and said, “Hey, you’re factually wrong.” The Palestinians have in fact recognized Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state for about three decades. The Israelis have not recognized Palestinians’ right to exist even once. In the Occupied Territories, the Palestinian security forces have never had a tighter grip on security, thus making Israeli’s safe from potential attacks from terrorists who do not want peace. Furthermore, both President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad have gone above and beyond in structuring a functional government in the West Bank. So, the Palestinians have done their part, but Israel has failed to move an inch toward peace. Instead, Netanyahu lazily claims (lies) that Palestinians have not accepted peace or recognized Israel, both factually incorrect, but also not refuted by people like David Gregory. Netanyahu has also continued to build settlements, even during the period of time there was a so-called “moratorium” on settlement construction. This is why Abbas circumvented the Israelis and went straight to the international community. Netanyahu has simply not been a good-faith partner, so it would be a waste of time to return to the negotiating table until he stops the construction of all settlements. I don’t see that happening anytime soon, unfortunately.


By Jose Rodriguez

Yesterday, September 24, 2009, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke before the United Nations. It was an impassioned speech, an angry speech, that he opened with a rebuke to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It was also a rebuke to the United Nations, who allowed Ahmadinejad to speak at the UN the day before. The Iranian President had recently denied the Holocaust’s existence, which prompted Netanyahu to spend a great deal of his time presenting documents proving the existence of the Holocaust, and even more time talking about the threat of anti-Semitism to Israel’s existence.

While Netanyahu is absolutely correct in demonstrating the truth about the Holocaust, and while he is absolutely correct in describing anti-Semitism as evil, he is wrong in attempting to portray Israel as an underdog, vulnerable to the evil Muslims and Arabs that surround them. The truth is that Israel is the strongest nation, militarily, in the region; and the truth is that Israel has the strongest ally possible: the United States.

A common theme appears in Netanyahu’s speech that is part of the Israeli psyche– that there is always the possibility that another Holocaust could occur. It is so indelibly burned into their collective consciousness, especially since Israeli politicians continually invoke those memories, that the Israelis live in perpetual fear. It does not matter that in every military engagement since 1948, Israel emerged victorious. It does not matter that the U.S. has, for the most part, delivered military weaponry to support Israel in its wars. The truth is that the Holocaust will never, never, be replicated because the world community, and the United States in particular, would never, never, allow such an horrific event.

Netanyahu rebukes the United Nations for allowing Ahmadinejad a platform to speak, as though it would be better to simply deny him an ability to speak at the UN, a right that every world leader has, whether we agree with them or not. Ahmadinejad’s speech, on the contrary, gave many countries the opportunity to get up and leave, demonstrating their solidarity with Israel and their disgust with the filth and lies emanating from Ahmadinejad’s mouth. The French delegation led about twelve other delegations, including the United States, in a walk-out during the Iranian President’s speech, symbolizing their extreme disagreement with Ahmadinejad and their unwillingness to dignify his speech with their presence.

Another chunk of the speech was dedicated to the Palestinians, who he described, as Abba Eban once did, as participants who willingly miss opportunities for peace. This is patently false, and extremely offensive. He began by citing the failure of the Palestinian leadership, in 1948, to accept the partition of Palestine into Jewish and Palestinian states. While this is an accurate statement, it nonetheless is false in its implications. The fact is that Palestine belonged to the Palestinians, and had belonged to them for 2,000 years (some Palestinians would argue that they have been there far longer, since they trace their roots to the land as far back as Abraham, as the Jews do). The Palestinians constituted a majority in Palestine— roughly 1.35 million Palestinians, whereas there were only 650,000 Jews. They had been promised, since the end of World War 1, their own state. The British Mandate was intended to provide the Palestinians the necessary guidance and support they would need in order to reach full statehood. However, there had been a substantial immigration of Jews into Palestine, who intended to take the land away from the Palestinians. As the Peel Commission suggested in 1937, and the UN carried out in 1948, the land of Palestine was to be divided without the approval of the Palestinians, who constituted an overwhelming majority of the population and had historical ties to the land thousands of years old. However, by 1949, the Palestinians had been driven from their land, and the Jews constituted a majority in a land where they previously had been a minority.

So, naturally, they opposed the partition of Palestine (especially since the UN plan allocated more land to the Jews than the Palestinians) on grounds that they had natural rights to statehood that were being usurped by colonial powers (i.e., Britain and the U.S.). But it was too late for the Palestinians. The full and horrific extent of the Holocaust came to light, and out of sympathy and guilt, the UN created a homeland specifically for the Jews, and ran roughshod over the inherent right of the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination in their own land.

I know that this is a topic that inflames people’s passion. In the U.S. we are so reflexively supportive of Israel that if anyone is even remotely critical of the state then they are accused of being anti-Semitic, or any other horrible pejorative they can think of. A great deal of this, I suspect, is that they do not know enough about the region or its history to intelligently debate the subject. So, they revert to name calling in order to cut off any discussion. It is wrong and it is not right. It is un-American, quite frankly. Ironically, in Israel, people have this debate every day and it is an honest and open debate, yet we in this country cannot.

Because people are so ignorant of the facts and of history, I put try to put it in the simplest of terms: How would you like it if the UN, without our consent, were to partition the United States? How would you feel if the UN said, “We’re going to give over half of the United States to the Native Americans, a quarter to the Mexicans, and the U.S. can live in the remaining quarter”? I don’t think too many Americans would appreciate that. In fact, if you think the TEA Party people are pissed, just wait and see how many more people would be equally pissed, if not more, if the UN did this to us.

And, again, he defended the actions of the Israeli Defense Forces, who waged an aggressive and indiscriminate war against the people of Gaza. Granted, as he stated, there were elements of Gaza (Hamas) who were firing rockets into Israel, threatening the safety of Israeli citizens. However, there is a prevailing rule in International Law regarding proportionality and protection, at all costs, of civilians. According to Israeli Human Rights group B’tselem, IDF killed 1,387 people, with 773 civilians killed, including 320 children under the age of 16 and 109 women over the age of 18. Only 330 people killed were active combatants, and another 248 were Palestinian security forces, most of whom were killed on the first day as a result of aerial bombing. B’tselem could not determine the status of 36 people.

Only 13 Israelis were killed during the war: 5 were soldiers in Gaza, 3 were civilians killed by rocket fire, 1 was a security officer in Israel killed by rocket fire, and four were killed in friendly fire. Though this is not to demean the lives lost, it is, nonetheless, an example of the disproportionate use of force by the IDF.

Part of the anger and resentment in Gaza stems from Israel’s blockade of Gaza, which has crippled their economy, stymied the freedom of movement, and denied Gazans important resources, such as medicine, food, and fuel. The Pope has even expressed his desire to see the embargo lifted: “Please be assured of my solidarity with you in the immense work of rebuilding which now lies ahead and my prayers that the embargo will soon be lifted.” This anger has, obviously, manifested itself in violence.

Be assured, this violence is not aimed at the overthrow or destruction of Israel, but is intended to show the Israelis the price of occupation. It is also, in their eyes, an act of self-defense.

And finally, Netanyahu asserted that Palestinians have never recognized Israel’s right to exist, which, again, is patently false. It is Israel who has never recognized the right of Palestinians to exist. It is hardly worth noting since it is so obvious, but I will list just a few examples to make the point.

* On December 14, 1988, after several attempts to satisfy the U.S.’s definition of accepting the right of Israel to exist, Arafat held a press conference in Geneva, Switzerland. There, he said, “We want peace…we are committed to peace, and we want to live in our Palestinian state and let others live.” He outlined several key points: The PLO accepted UN Resolution 242, the PLO promised recognition of Israel, and the PLO also renounced terrorism.

* In 1993, Yassir Arafat wrote a letter to then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. In the letter, Arafat, on behalf of the Palestinian people, formally recognized the right of Israel to exist. In the letter, Arafat wrote: “The PLO recognizes the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security.” That sounds pretty definitive and unambiguous. He went even further: “In view of the promise of a new era and the signing of the Declaration of Principles and based on Palestinian acceptance of Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, the PLO affirms that those articles of the Palestinian Covenant which deny Israel’s right to exist, and the provisions of the Covenant which are inconsistent with the commitments of this letter are now inoperative and no longer valid.”

* More recently, in 2002, President Bush made a feeble attempt at brokering a peace agreement through his “Roadmap for Peace.” As a pre-requisite for negotiations, the Palestinians had to recognize Israel’s right to exist. The fact that negotiations were undertaken proves that President Bush must have been assured that the Palestinians met that requirement. The Palestinian negotiators also put out this statement: The “Palestinian leadership issues [an] unequivocal statement reiterating Israel’s right to exist in peace and security and calling for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire to end armed activity and all acts of violence against Israelis anywhere. All official Palestinian institutions end incitement against Israel.”

The bottomline is that the balance of power is in favor of Israel. They have unlimited U.S. military and economic support, they have control over the territories, they are the ones who can simply pull back to the pre-1967 lines. The Israelis argue that a pull back would endanger them, and they point to Gaza as proof. However, if they were to allow the Palestinians to create their own state, as they are entitled to, then there would be no more grievance. Arab states all across the region, particularly Saudi Arabia, and including Hamas, have already stated that they would recognize Israel’s right to exist if they allowed Palestinians to have statehood and if they pulled back to their pre-1967 lines.

It’s that simple.

So long as there are hardliners, like Netanyahu, who keeping moving the field goal posts back, and insisting that any future Palestinian state must bend to the will of Israel, there can be no solution.

In the end, there may have to be an imposed settlement, whether they like it or not.


By Jose Rodriguez

President Barack Obama spoke today to at the United Nations. His speech urged the world to take stronger action on the threat of Global Climate Change; he insisted that the United States is no longer beholden to the “go it alone” mentality that dominated the Bush administration; and he reminded that all nations must be aggressive in their economic policies in order to prevent a backslide into economic ruin.

He also spoke firmly on the issue of Middle-East peace. He affirmed that he would continue to work for a lasting peace between Israel and Palestine. He called on Palestine to rein in their militants, while reminding Israel that their settlements were not legitimate in the eyes of the United States. While aware that the peace process would be difficult, and that it would require Israel to recognize Palestinians have legitimate claims, and that it would require Palestinians to recognize that Israel has a right to exist.

There came a moment when the President reminded the UN body that we are “all God’s children.” He stressed that we all have the right to live in dignity, and that it was not acceptable for Gazans to have to live without clean drinking water. It was a not so subtle reminder that there is a moral component in bringing about a lasting peace to the people who live in the Holy Land.

The President of the United States has my full support on this issue.

On Tuesday, the President met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

As acknowledged in the speech, the President knew that it would be difficult to forge a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians. This was demonstrated on Tuesday when Netanyahu refused to halt all settlement construction in the West Bank, only agreeing to a time- limited freeze. Mahmoud Abbas, who had refused to meet with Netanyahu until he halted all settlement building, allowed himself to be photographed shaking hands with Netanyahu, though that was a moment of embarrassment for him. They see Obama as even-handed, something they have not seen from previous Presidents, so Abbas (as a token of goodwill) agreed to the photo-op.

The President, after meeting both leaders, demonstrated his annoyance and impatience : “It is past time to stop talking about starting negotiations; it is time to move forward… Permanent status negotiations must begin and begin soon. So my message to these two leaders is clear: despite all the obstacles, all the history, all the mistrust, we have to find a way forward.” The way forward will be difficult as Netanyahu and Abbas have different goals: Abbas wants complete independence and statehood, whereas Netanyahu wants to maintain the occupation with limited Palestinian self-rule.

Afterward, Netanyahu claimed that Abbas had given up his preconditions (an implicit self-congratulatory remark, since he did not have to stop all settlement construction) and agreed to negotiations; Abbas has said that negotiations must be on final status issues, including the refugee problem and the issue of Jerusalem. On this issue, Abbas has the full support of President Obama, who insists that negotiations will include the refugee problem, borders, Jerusalem, and guaranteed security for Israel. Netanyahu, like every one of his predecessors, would prefer to kick that can down the road and only speak about future topics for future final status negotiations.

While Netanyahu seems to have won this round of diplomacy, there are signs that the President’s patience is growing thin and that he will compel the Israelis to be honest participants in negotiations. According to aides within the Obama administration, the President reminded Abbas and Netanyahu that the upcoming negotiations will be based on past agreements, including Oslo and the Clinton parameters.

There are also rumors that President Obama will summon both leaders to Washington D.C. to begin final status negotiations. However, Netanyahu, who has seen his poll numbers rise as he has defied President Obama, may not be willing to play ball. The failure of any upcoming negotiations would only further erode Abbas’ authority, as his numbers have fallen due to a failure to bring about any concessions or promises from Israel in the last decade. That has happened because Israel has refused to make any significant movement toward peace, as President Bush was not particularly interested in peace in the Middle-East and he was content to just allow the Israeli government to do whatever it pleased.

In the end, it might very well be that the Obama administration will have to impose a settlement on both parties, whether they like it or not.

Israel’s invasion of Gaza was a humanitarian disaster. Roughly 1,417 people were killed in the 22 day war, 926 of them civilians. Of those, 313 were under the age of 18 and 116 were women. The war, aimed at the 1.5 million Palestinians living in Gaza, destroyed 15,000 homes and businesses, seriously damaged another 20,000 homes, destroyed 16 government buildings, and destroyed 20 mosques. The World Health Organization also reported that half of Gaza’s 27 hospitals and 44 clinics were seriously damaged in the invasion. Two clinics were completely destroyed. In addition to delaying treatment to civilians injured during combat, according to Physicians fo Human Rights, Israel also targeted medics, killing 16. During the war, the International Red Cross ceased operations within Gaza after 13 of its ambulances were attacked while transporting victims to hospitals in Egypt. Despite these horrific figures (and thousands of personal accounts), Defense Minister Ehud Barak maintained that the Israeli army is the “most moral in the world.”

Hamas militants in Gaza were also guilty of gross disregard for human life. These militants fired rockets, such as the Kassam, into Israel, with reckless disregard for the damage to property and loss of life these rockets would cause. By the end of the war, 13 Israelis were killed: 3 were civilians killed by rocket fire, 6 were soldiers killed in battle, and the remaining 4 were killed by friendly fire. Throughout the three week war, Hamas militants fired 796 rockets into southern Israel (mostly in Sderot and Ashkelon), damaging an estimated 1,500 homes, 327 vehicles, and damaging 9 schools. Israeli officials have also accused Hamas of using human shields, though no evidence has been provided and human rights groups have found no evidence to support the claims. Both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have called for independent investigations into the conduct of war by both Hamas and Israel.

Though all life is valuable, it is ridiculous to assert that conducting a major ground invasion that results in the destruction of a society and causes the deaths of over 1,400 people is a reasonable and proportionate response to the attacks from a minority of militants using inaccurate shoulder rockets.

In an earlier blog, as the war was being waged, I wrote that “one must remember International Law, which dictates that the aggressor must keep the rule of Proportionality in mind.” The principle of Proportionality, an international law, dictates that “even if there is a clear military target it is not possible to attack it if the risk of civilians or civilian property being harmed is larger than the expected military advantage.” This is also known as the Fourth Geneva Convention. Proportionality should always be a guideline in war, and it clearly was not in this war.

Revelations of civilian abuses over the last week from veterans of the Gaza war have sent the Defense Ministry (still headed by Ehud Barak) into a defensive position. Soldiers came forward late last week with revelations that the Israeli army violated the rules of war and recklessly targeted civilians. One squad leader, quoted in a newsletter by Oranim Academic College in Kiryat Tivon (a pre-military preparatory program), explained the IDF’s (Israeli Defense Forces) procedures for clearing out houses: “When we entered a house, we were supposed to bust down the door and start shooting inside and just go up story by story. Each story, if we identified a person, we shoot them. I asked myself: ‘How is this reasonable?” Another soldier, according to Haaretz, described how a mother and child were killed by a sniper located on a rooftop. They misunderstood an order from an Israeli commander and went left, instead of going right. They paid for that mistake with their life. A soldier, named Aviv, described how an unarmed elderly woman, who was walking down a road, was killed, on command, by a sniper. When asked how this could happen, he remarked: “That’s what is so nice, supposedly, about Gaza: You see a person on a road, walking along a path. He doesn’t have to be with a weapon, you don’t have to identify him with anything and you can just shoot him. With us it was an old woman, on whom I didn’t see any weapon. The order was to take the person out, that woman, the moment you see her.” One soldier, identified only as Moshe, was asked if these kinds of killings are investigated, to which he responded: “The attitude is very simple: It isn’t pleasant to say so, but no one cares at all. We aren’t investigating this. This is what happens during fighting and this is what happens during routine security.”

There were many more stories of wanton disregard for human life. Palestinians are widely regarded in Israeli society as homo sacer. In other words, according to the Roman designation, those who are homo sacer cannot be sacrificed, nor can their killing be considered homicide. They are entities without human rights. So, it becomes easy to kill them, or to destroy their homes and property. Vandalism becomes a medium for expressing this disregard, as evidenced by the fact that some soldiers wrote “Death to Arabs” on the vacated homes of Palestinians, as they threw their furniture out windows and desecrated family pictures. How could they do this? The squad leader (mentioned earlier) explained: “…the atmosphere in general [was that] the lives of Palestinians, let’s say, are something very, very less important than the lives of our soldiers, so as far as they are concerned they can justify it that way.” Further revelations have made these attitudes even more worrisome.

A soldier identified as Ram described how Rabbis (like Chaplains in the U.S. army) were assigned to the military in order to provide services to religious soldiers, and to ensure that the kitchens were kosher. However, according to Ram and many others who served in Gaza, the military rabbinate have assumed the role of holy warriors. “The rabbinate brought in a lot of booklets and articles, and … their message was very clear: We are the Jewish people, we came to this land by a miracle, God brought us back to this land and now we need to fight to expel the non-Jews who are interfering with our conquest of this holy land. This was the main message, and the whole sense many soldiers had in this operation was of a religious war,” Ram said. A staff Sergeant echoed this sentiment: “This rabbi comes to us and says the fight is between the children of light and the children of darkness. His message was clear: ‘This is a war against an entire people, not against specific terrorists.’ The whole thing was turned into something very religious and messianic.” The staff Sergeant said that he was uncomfortable about the sermon, but he noticed that other “troops seemed receptive.” This attitude, that Palestinians should be completely removed from Gaza, and that the Gazan invasion was part of that larger effort, was reinforced by the military rabbinate, who indirectly argued that international law should not prevail– instead, using overwhelming force to eliminate civilians was not only acceptable, but necessary in order to minimize the danger to soldiers. The words “Our ancestors did not always fight with a sword and at times preferred to use a bow and arrow from a distance” appeared in some of the texts distributed by the military rabbinate. These religious figures were unabashedly advocating ethnic cleansing.

Though the military rabbinate sound extreme, and they are, they represent only a small faction of Jewish clerics. The problem, according to Rabbi David Hartman, is that this minority is passionate about their belief in “Holy War” (like their Islamic fundamentalist counterparts) and so they are more likely to volunteer for military service, adding, “There’s a vacuum and it gets filled by crackpots.” Hartman said that this extreme nationalistic ideology has “to be fought with a rational religious ideology that takes into account the living reality of two peoples.” This is certainly a belief that needs to be shared by both sides of this conflict.

What always amazes me about the United States is that there is zero room for dialogue on this subject. None. Dissent on this topic is not tolerated. However, in Israel, there is a sharp debate on this very issue. On the left, there are secular pragmatists who believe the occupation and settlements should come to an end; on the right, there are religious fanatics who seek Zionist control over the whole region. There are some moderates, but they tend to be more right-leaning. For example, Ehud Barak and his Labour party are generally regarded as moderate, as is Tzipi Livni’s Kadima party. These parties only seem moderate when compared to Likud, the extreme right-wing party led by Prime Minister-elect Benjamin Netanyahu. Both Livni and Barak were key figures in the recent invasion of Gaza. Under Netanyahu, more settlements and more war can be expected. For President Barack Obama, this is troubling. He has high hopes of resolving this conflict, which has dogged every President since 1967. He has already sent his Mid-East envoy George Mitchell to the region in order to signal his readiness to engage in the peace process. However, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has already publicly rebuked incoming-PM Netanyahu for his assertion that the Palestinians are not yet ready for a state. She has also criticized Israel for its plans to destroy 80 Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem, saying: “Clearly this kind of activity is unhelpful and not in keeping with the obligations entered into under the ‘road map’… It is an issue that we intend to raise with the government of Israel and the government at the municipal level in Jerusalem.” This is a troubling sign for the President, who is willing, but is currently being sucked more and more into the day to day management of the failing economic situation. Added to this domestic crisis is the extreme right-wing stances of the Netanyahu coalition, one that has signaled it will not place a high value on diplomacy.

It may very well be time for an imposed settlement, whether either side likes it or not.


Secretary of State Hillary Clinton shaking hands with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas


Middle-East Envoy George Mitchell talks with President Abbas, as a portrait of Yasser Arafat hangs on the wall behind them


President Obama with President Abbas

Hopefully, this administration will take a more evenhanded approach to this conflict.

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