Thursday, April 24, 2014

Hamas-Fatah Unity: Good? Bad? Game Changer?

Our colleague Hillel Schenker has sent us a link to the YouTube video of the event held at the Church Center opposite the UN on April 8th on "Palestinians, Israelis and the Kerry Initiative," sponsored by the Israel-Palestine NGO Working Group and the NGO Committee on Disarmament, Peace and Security:  IPWG --The Kerry Initiative for a Two State Solution

In the meantime, the world is just beginning to absorb the potentially game-changing news on the latest effort at Hamas-Fatah unity.  This NY Times news article, "Palestinian Rivals Announce Unity Pact, Drawing U.S. and Israeli Rebuke," surveys initial reactions in the U.S. and Israel -- mostly negative -- but concludes with a quote that raises a critical question:
Tamara Cofman Wittes, director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington, said the implications depended on the precise terms of the reconciliation, which have yet to be revealed.
“If, and it is a big ‘if,’ Hamas comes under the P.L.O. umbrella in such a way that it accedes to the P.L.O.’s recognition of Israel and the P.L.O.’s signed agreements with Israel,” she said, “that would be historic.”
“What would make it horrible is if Hamas were to join the P.L.O. without those kinds of commitments,” Ms. Wittes added. “Then it calls into question the P.L.O.’s commitments that it has already made.”

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Meretz Head Supports Abbas UN Move

Gal-On (rt.) with Partners activists at 2013 J Street conference.
In an interview with Meretz party head, Zehava Gal-On, Al-Monitor "Israel Pulse" columnist Mazal Mualem finds her unfazed by Abbas going to the United Nations -- in contrast to Livni and Lapid, whom she criticizes as enablers for the right.  And with a new poll showing gains for Meretz from six to ten seats, she is also hopeful about a new center-left government being elected.  (Click here for article.)

Monday, April 21, 2014

Parks as Weapons: New Strategy of Right

It is no secret that the Israeli government has always been concerned with demographics. It is in no way special in this; even relatively reputable academics such as Samuel Huntington have written unabashedly about the "threat" of the growing Hispanic population in the U.S., which he claimed neither speaks nor wants to learn English and is tipping the balance of population from Protestants to Catholics. The Russians took care to settle its nationals in every republic in the Soviet Union, managing to form a majority in Kazakhstan and a large minority even in the Baltic states, especially Estonia. French limits on immigration and Australian policy towards the Aborigines, I'll only mention. Yet there are legitimate concerns, legitimate means -- and then there's the latest policy in Jerusalem.

On the one hand, Israel has always wanted very much to enlarge Jerusalem and develop it as its capital. On the other hand, it wanted as few Palestinians (who refused Israeli citizenship) and as high a percentage of Israeli Jews as possible within the municipal boundaries. The size of Jerusalem tripled in territory after the Six-Day War -- and efforts were immediately begun to build new Israeli neighborhoods in the area available: not surprising.

Mount Scopus Slopes National Park
Since then, Israel has continued to build for Israelis and persisted in making acquiring building permits as difficult as possible for Palestinians, if not impossible. A variety of means have also been developed to make it difficult to acquire permanent residency status -- but easy to lose it. Yet despite its best efforts, the percentage of Palestinians residing in the city has continued to climb (it now stands at 37%) while the percentage of Israeli Jews has correspondingly dropped. This, apparently, has prompted an inventive new weapon in the demography battle: the transformation of all possible land available to the Palestinians into national park land. Apparently the hope is that with virtually no chance of building on park land, the Palestinians will simply move out.

A Lesson From the 'Power Broker'

I don’t care what they say, I love, and loved, the 1964–65 World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows, Queens.  This week is its 50th anniversary, and as usual the nay-sayers are in the saddle.  A series of articles in the Times alleges that the fair was derivative and uninspired, it couldn’t hold a candle to the 1939-40 World’s Fair, left no legacy, helped make the whole notion of a “world’s fair” obsolete, was a simple-minded celebration of capitalist excess and one final exhibition of  Robert Moses’s megalomania before his long overdue superannuation.   

I don’t buy any of it, or at least, I don’t care.  When I was ten years old, and living in Queens, the World’s Fair was a magical place. I don’t know how many times I went there—about 15,  I suspect.  It was inexpensive and always endlessly entertaining.  I was minus 15 years old in 1939, so I never got to the earlier fair, and I was in no position to make invidious comparisons.  I loved the fair I had.

What are my memories?  All of those rides in the IBM and GM pavilions, with their radically off-target views of the future. Those animatronic computers, singing “It’s a small world, after all,” or the animatronic Lincoln in the Illinois pavilion. The Continental Insurance Company’s wonderful exhibit about the Revolutionary War.  The panorama of New York City (which is still there, and still worth a visit to the Queens Museum.  The now badly decayed map of  New York State, the size of a football field.  My outrage at being charged a whole quarter  for a slice of pizza,  well above the just price of 15 cents.

Jordanian pavilion mural, '64 World's Fair
What I do not remember are any of the international pavilions, except for the Vatican pavilion, with Michelangelo’s Pieta, and for some reason, the Philippines pavilion, plastered with large pictures of Ferdinand Marcos, then at the beginning  of his odious reign.  I must have gone to the Israel pavilion, but have no memory of it. I don’t know if I went to the Jordanian pavilion.  Thereby hangs a tale, one I became acquainted with many years later, as part of research on a different project.

T. Mitchell on ‘Hawk-Dove', Ari Shavit

My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel by Ari Shavit, New York: Spiegel and Grau, 2013; $28.00, 419 pp.  Reviewed here by Thomas G. Mitchell:

Since Israel’s stunning victory in the June 1967 Six Day War, there has been a small publishing industry in both the West and Israel devoted to explaining the Jewish state to the goyim. It began with books on the 1948 and 1967 wars, on kibbutz life and travel writing. As Israeli universities began producing their own historians, these were supplemented by histories written by American and British Jewish historians like Martin Gilbert and Bernard Wasserstein. The finest, most comprehensive such work, A History of Israel From the Rise of Zionism to Our Time by Howard Sachar, was published as two volumes in the 1980s and then reissued as a single updated volume in 1997. Since then fine histories have been published by Colin Shindler, Martin Van Creveld, and Anita Shapira.

But for average readers the more journalistic treatment is preferable. An ideal person to tell Israel’s story is Israeli journalist Ari Shavit, a longtime writer for the liberal Ha’Aretz newspaper. Shavit has a reputation as a hawk-dove: like Israel’s leading military politicians he is aware of the problems of the occupation, which he protested against as a young peacenik, and of the real hostility of the Arabs. In recent decades he has been seen as a writer representing the Israeli center—those who voted for the Labor Party of Rabin and Barak and for Sharon’s Kadima Party. Shavit at one point identifies himself very clearly as belonging to the “upper-middle-class, secular Ashkenazi” Israel; as Bernard Avishai has pointed out, Israel is very much a society of different ethnic and cultural “tribes”: the secular center-left Labor Zionist, the secular neo-Revisionist Zionist right, the religious Zionists, ultra-Orthodox Jews, and Arabs. Shavit’s “tribe” would have voted over the last two decades primarily for Meretz, the Labor Party and Kadima—depending on the political circumstances and their mood. And most of the people Shavit writes about come from this tribe as well.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Partners Critiques Dershowitz on Targeted Boycott

Our acting executive director, Nathan Hersh, notifies us from his vacation hideaway that his letter to the editor ("Wrong On Targeted Boycott") has just been published in the New York Jewish Week.  Here it is:
Alan M. Dershowitz writes that a targeted boycott of settlement products is “bigoted in effect if not in intent” (“Marching Together For Israel,” Opinion, April 11.) He goes on to liken such a boycott to Harvard’s limit on Jewish applicants. The writer is far off the mark on both assertions.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Teleconference on BDS & targeted boycott, 4/17 7PM

I will be the guest discussant of the Social Democrats USA -- a group that traces its lineage to the Socialist Party USA, the movement associated with Eugene Victor Debs, Norman Thomas, Bayard Rustin and Michael Harrington -- in a conference call on the politics of boycotting Israel.  I will focus upon the difference between a settlements-only boycott, such as advocated by Partners for Progressive Israel and Peter Beinart, and a general boycott of Israel, as advocated by the international BDS movement and its American supporters, such as Jewish Voice for Peace.  

On Thursday, April 17, 7 PM Eastern time, call this number-- 218.862.6420, with access code 244 6793-- to participate. 

Monday, April 14, 2014

T. MItchell Reviews Khalidi's 'Brokers of Deceit'

Independent scholar and blogger, Thomas G. Mitchell, Ph.D., provides us with his review (below) of Prof. Rashid Khalidi's most recent book, Brokers of Deceit (Beacon Press, 2013; 120 pp.—plus 37-page introduction):

Prof. Rashid Khalidi
The title of Rashid Khalidi’s latest book—a continuation of the Columbia University historian’s themes from his 2007 book, The Iron Cage—reminded me of the classic Sa’adia Touval book on mediation in the Middle East, The Peace Brokers (Princeton University Press, 1982). Touval examined every serious mediation attempt in the Arab-Israeli conflict between 1948 and 1979—from Count Bernadotte to the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty. He looked at the issue of mediator bias. In the end he concluded that being unbiased was not a requirement to being an effective mediator as long as the party that the mediator was biased against believed that he could change the bias through his actions. Thus, although Henry Kissinger ultimately had a pro-Israel bias, he was successful because Anwar Sadat thought that he could change him. The reverse was true with Jimmy Carter, who was biased in favor of Anwar Sadat, and Menachem Begin thought he could influence him otherwise.

Prof. Khalidi starts chronologically where Touval finished off, with three cases from 1982, 1991-93, and 2009-12, and stresses American bias in favor of Israel and against the Palestinians. In his 37-page introduction, Khalidi spells out his basic themes: Since Truman in 1945, the United States has been biased in favor of Israel, and against the Palestinians in particular and the Arabs in general. This bias is mainly due to American domestic politics, which overwhelmingly favors Israel against the Palestinians. During the Cold War, the United States supported Israel (or opposed it in 1956) for reasons having to do with countering the Soviet Union. Finally, because America is allied with undemocratic oil-producing regimes in the Gulf and with Egypt and Jordan, this pro-Israel bias is not as harmful as it otherwise might be, but is storing up problems for the future when the region democratizes.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Bahour & Klug's New Idea on Ending Occupation

Sam Bahour
Dr. Tony Klug
Palestinian-American businessman Sam Bahour (who met with our visiting delegation to Ramallah in 2012) and British-Jewish peace activist and Mideast policy analyst Tony Klug have co-authored an article in the English Edition of Le Monde Diplomatique, "If Kerry fails, what then?" They propose an international ultimatum to Israel for a three-year period for its decision on how to resolve its relationship with the Palestinian Territories. We are not endorsing this idea, but only sharing it for the purpose of discussion.  This is an abridged version of the article, with some additional comments beneath it: