Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Change They Can Believe In

Walter Russel Mead, author of the amazing God and Gold (and top dog at Harvard and CFR) says America can do what hasn't been achievable yet between Israel and the Arabs - but in order to do so Palestinian refugees have to become the central element of the discussion.

He quotes - as an estimate of the cost of resettling the refugees - an enormous $80bn, and says that Israel should pay a "significant" portion, with the US, Germany, Britain, Japan and Europe paying the rest. He believes this is justified as the wars between Jews and Arabs were a direct result of the UN's failure to provide security for both sides.

Many people have tried to end it; all have failed. Direct negotiations between Arabs and Jews after World War I foundered. The British tried to square the circle of competing Palestinian and Jewish aspirations from the time of the 1917 Balfour Declaration until the ignominious collapse of their mandate in 1948. Since then, the United Nations, the United States, and the international community have struggled with the problem without managing to solve it. No issue in international affairs has taxed the ingenuity of so many leaders or captured so much attention from around the world. Winston Churchill failed to solve it; the "wise men" who built NATO and the Marshall Plan handed it down, still festering, to future generations. Henry Kissinger had to content himself with incremental progress. The Soviet Union crumbled on Ronald Reagan's watch, but the Israeli-Palestinian dispute survived him. Bill Clinton devoted much of his tenure to picking at this Gordian knot. He failed. George W. Bush failed at everything he tried. This is a dispute that deserves respect; old, inflamed, and complex, it does not suffer quick fixes.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Helping Palestinians

From Elliot Abrams, at the influential Council of Foreign Relations:

The Obama administration seems determined to repeat all the mistakes the Bush administration made, especially that of concentrating on fancy negotiations on final status issues while slighting the chances for real-world progress on the ground in the West Bank. So determined is our government to produce nirvana for Palestinians, it seems willing to ignore chances to bring them better lives now—something Netanyahu pledged to work with the U.S. on immediately. If the administration chooses to keep fighting almost entirely on the settlement "freeze" issue, it will be showing that a confrontation with Netanyahu is not a problem it seeks to avoid but a tactic it seeks to embrace. And once again, any chance of helping Palestinian moderates to deliver real improvements in Palestinian life will be lost.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The BNP on Jewish Continuity

The Independent sent Peter Victor to interview the British National Party's newly elected MEP Nick Griffin. (He's black, and so the discussion is about why the BNP want him to leave England).

Halfway through the interview, when discussing intermarriage, he mentions Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks:

What would he do, then, if one of his three daughters brought home someone like me? "I would be as disappointed, as I know many Sikhs, Hindus and black people would be, and I'd talk to them both about it, try and put them off. But in the end that's their business.

"Children grow up and do their own thing. I wouldn't go as far as, say, someone from the orthodox Jewish community could well do, which is to hold a funeral, a symbolic funeral for them. But I would ask you again – unless you're going to condemn the Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, for writing a book called Will We Have Jewish Grandchildren? – don't call me a racist, or some kind of wicked bigot, for saying I would be very disappointed."

Intermarriage is indeed a difficult thing for most Orthodox Jewish parents to accept (although the symbolic funeral is something I have never seen - what I have seen is the exact opposite). And Jonathan Sacks did indeed write a book about Jewish continuity.

But Jonathan Sacks also wrote a book called The Dignity of Difference, arguing not simply for tolerance of difference, but for a celebration of difference as a cure to intolerance. It is a powerful a call for a new religious pluralism.

That's not BNP.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A thought on Amalek

In this week's Torah portion (Shelach Lecha), the spies return from their journey into Canaan and report negatively on what they saw. There are attempts to explain what exactly was negative about their report (one of my favorites is from I believe the Chafetz Chaim who said it was that they spoke negatively about themselves when they said "we can't do it").

But I wanted to briefly dwell on something that Rashi says at the start of their report. In Numbers 13:28 and 29 the spies mention Amalek twice. In 13:28 they say "moreover we saw Amalek" and in 13:29 they say "Amalek dwell in the Negev".

Rashi says that this second mention of Amalek was an attempt to scare the Israelites, given that they had been attacked by them as they were departing Egypt. Once would have been a sufficient description of what they had seen, but twice implied something more than a factual report. Sewing the seeds of fear, implies Rashi, was wrong.

But hold on - is there more to be said here?

If we fast forward to Deuteronomy 25:17 - we read:

"Remember that which Amalek did to you on your way out of Egypt - they attacked your weak ones when you were tired and weary, and did not fear God...[when God defeats your enemies].... erase the memory of Amalek from under the heaven - don't forget!"

One of the perplexing questions raised by this commandment is the paradoxical nature of the prohibition to remember to forget Amalek. How can a person remember to forget anything? Isn't it like me telling you not to think of a cat? See, you just thought about a cat.

However, one might also see Deuteronomy 25:17 as a commandment to act in two different ways, depending on the circumstances.

At times when national security isn't guaranteed, (in the Bible's language - when God hasn't defeated Israel's enemies), this verse tells Israel to remember that which Amalek did. In other words, be alert - preoccupy yourself with security.

At times when national security is guaranteed (or in the Bible's language - when God has defeated Israel's enemies) don't think about Amalek. Or perhaps in other words, let yourself be occupied with other, more positive elements of Jewish life.

It was God who told Moses to "scout out the land" (Numbers 13:2). The spies were supposed to recognize their situation as one where they were guaranteed national security. Their report - with its emphasis on the sightings of Amalek - failed to emphasize the positive aspects of the land - and in doing so betrayed a fatal misreading of the situation's true potential.

Monday, June 8, 2009

World Outside My Shoes

Learning from Rwanda to equip and inspire each one of us to enter the world of the “Other”. The “Other” may be under our own roof or on the other side of the globe.

World Outside My Shoes

Friday, June 5, 2009

Obama: "Only Likud can make peace"

Well, not exactly - but nearly:

"Just as so many Palestinians lost confidence and faith that the process can move forward, I think many Israelis lost confidence that they will ever be recognized by Arab states or there will be security," he continued. "So I believe Netanyahu will recognize the strategic need to deal with this issue and in some ways he may have an opportunity that a Labor or a left leader might not have."

Thursday, June 4, 2009

What Obama didn't say

From David Horovitz:

Where he, terribly, missed a vital opportunity from Israel's point of view, however, was in legitimizing our Jewish nation-state solely on the basis of our people's persecution through the centuries, which "culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust."

Yes, of course, denying the Holocaust is 'baseless, ignorant and hateful." And yes, "threatening Israel with destruction" does indeed serve "to evoke in the minds of Israelis this most painful of memories while preventing the peace that the people of this region deserve."

But our rights in this land are not predicated solely, or even primarily, on the tragedies that have befallen us during our history in exile. Those rights relate, rather, to the fact that we were in exile - from this land, this historic Jewish homeland. This is the only place on earth where the Jews have ever been sovereign, the place we never willingly left, the place to which we always prayed to return.

The culminating tragedy of the Holocaust occurred only because we had been denied that rightful homeland. Six million Jewish lives were lost because that legitimacy was not internationally internalized in time. This president, in that place, should have emphasized the point - stressed the physical root of our legitimacy to a Muslim world, and especially a Palestinian populace, that overwhelmingly refuses to acknowledge it.

Instead, unfortunately, the president spoke of the "displacement" of Palestinians "brought by Israel's founding" (while making no mention of the Arab world's rejection of the Arab entity that would have been simultaneously created alongside us). In so doing, he reinforced the very portrayal of Israel as a modern colonial upstart that Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad so cynically and strategically asserts.

In so painstakingly calibrated an address, delivered in so vital and urgent a cause, this was a stark failure, and one Obama should himself recognize the need to rectify as he translates his talk into action. For Muslim recognition of our fundamental right to be here, precisely here, is central to the president's admirable quest to make a better world, a peaceful world, a new beginning.

Obama on Mid-East peace

Here is what President Obama reportedly told Thomas Friedman about his approach to peace in the Mid-East:
“We have a joke around the White House,” the president said. “We’re just going to keep on telling the truth until it stops working — and nowhere is truth-telling more important than the Middle East.”
A key part of his message, he said, will be: “Stop saying one thing behind closed doors and saying something else publicly.” He then explained: “There are a lot of Arab countries more concerned about Iran developing a nuclear weapon than the ‘threat’ from Israel, but won’t admit it.” There are a lot of Israelis, “who recognize that their current path is unsustainable, and they need to make some tough choices on settlements to achieve a two-state solution — that is in their long-term interest — but not enough folks are willing to recognize that publicly.”
There are a lot of Palestinians who “recognize that the constant incitement and negative rhetoric with respect to Israel” has not delivered a single “benefit to their people and had they taken a more constructive approach and sought the moral high ground” they would be much better off today — but they won’t say it aloud.
“There are a lot of Arab states that have not been particularly helpful to the Palestinian cause beyond a bunch of demagoguery,” and when it comes to “ponying up” money to actually help the Palestinian people, they are “not forthcoming.”
When it comes to dealing with the Middle East, the president noted, “there is a Kabuki dance going on constantly. That is what I would like to see broken down. I am going to be holding up a mirror and saying: ‘Here is the situation, and the U.S. is prepared to work with all of you to deal with these problems. But we can’t impose a solution. You are all going to have to make some tough decisions.’ Leaders have to lead, and, hopefully, they will get supported by their people.”

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

More on Bibi and Obama

from the Economist:

...relaxing with an intimate group of American conservative magnates who have backed him over the years, Mr Netanyahu gave vent to his discomfort. For all his efforts to set the scene in a Jewish-historical perspective, he felt that the president focused more on the plight of the Palestinians. “What moves Mr Obama?”, he wondered edgily aloud.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Freezing natural growth in major settlements - not worth the fight (at the moment)

Akiva Eldar argues that this is the wrong time to fall out with the US over settlement growth. Obama has a key trip to the Middle East in the coming weeks and needs to shore up support for action against Iran - Muslim perception of the US will play a role in determining the support he can win:

Does Israel have a greater existential strategic asset than its relations with the U.S. and its neighbors' understanding that these intimate relations are unshakable?

Is this the way to keep "all options open," including receiving American approval to fly over the skies of Iraq, on the way to attacking Iran's nuclear installations? And what will we do when the Iranians launch missiles at Tel Aviv? Will we send the new Abba Eban, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, to Washington to ask Obama to declare war on Tehran? At the same time, the settler from Nokdim can reprimand the president for refusing to take his "natural growth" into account.

I do think that his point is a good one - in the grand scheme of things, at least whilst we still need the US for dealing with Iran, it may be better to put a freeze in place. In the long run however, freezing growth in places like Talpiot, Gilo, Efrat and Ariel - major settlements that don't disrupt Palestinian life - would not be in the israeli interest. As for other settlements, those located in large palestinian population centers and that bring Israel closer to becoming an apartheid state, they should come down and stay down.