Israel and Palestine

Who started the feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys? Who is to blame? In the case of the new nation of Israel in the land of Canaan (Palestine) we might go back to Adam and Eve or more recently to the Balfour Declaration in 1917 (see the brief history in my book “Palestine-Oslo Accords-My Travels to Jerusalem”) to see where the feuding began.

Who started it?

But let’s start this current, tragic round of fighting with the Israeli police attacks on demonstrators “rallying against the forced expulsions of Palestinian families from the occupied East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah…. At least 90 Palestinians were wounded on Saturday [May 8] during an Israeli police crackdown on protesters outside the Old City of Jerusalem, while another 200 Palestinians were injured on Friday when Israeli forces stormed the Al-Aqsa Mosque.” Al-Aqsa Mosque, known as the Dome on the Rock in English, is Islam’s third most sacred site. Muslims believe that Muhammad ascended to heaven from this site.

 “Jerusalem court delays Palestinian Sheikh Jarrah eviction hearing”

Israel’s Supreme Court “is reviewing a judgment to evict Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of East Jerusalem. Their homes sit on land that was owned by Jews before Jordan occupied the eastern part of Jerusalem in 1948. Israeli law allows the heirs of the original owners to reclaim property in East Jerusalem. Yet Palestinians cannot claim their former homes in West Jerusalem (or anywhere else in Israel). No wonder Palestinian residents of the city are always ready to protest.

“The injustices elsewhere are worse. Palestinians in the wider West Bank, like those in Jerusalem, have watched Israel confiscate land and build settlements on occupied territory, which is illegal under international law. They must also deal with Israeli checkpoints and an onerous permit regime. In Gaza more than 2m Palestinians have been cut off from the world by Israeli and Egyptian blockades since 2007, when Hamas grabbed control.” The Economist: Only negotiations can bring lasting peace to Israel and Palestine”

That is the immediate background to the dozens of rockets launched by Hamas from Gaza starting on Monday (May 10): “Palestinian militants launched dozens of rockets from Gaza and Israel unleashed new air strikes against them early Tuesday, in an escalation triggered by soaring tensions in Jerusalem and days of clashes at an iconic mosque in the holy city.” “Israeli police Palestinians clash Jerusalem holy site”

At least 30 Palestinians, including 10 children, and three Israelis were killed as tensions in Jerusalem spread west toward the seacoast Tuesday. Israeli airstrikes flattened a multistory apartment building in Gaza and rockets fired from the Gaza Strip reached Tel Aviv in an unusually far-reaching barrage that sent residents of Israel’s largest city scrambling into bomb shelters.  “Israeli clashes Palestinians turn deadly Jerusalem tensions spread”

More concerning than the exchange of rockets between Gaza and Israel, is the sharp rise of violence between Arab Israelis in Israel and between Palestinians and Israelis throughout the West Bank.  A major problem is that there are no good guys on either side. “Most Israelis are comfortable with the ‘anti-solutionism’ of Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, who shows little interest in pursuing a permanent settlement with the Palestinians….  Fatah, has not done much better in the West Bank. The party’s leader, Mahmoud Abbas, is in the 17th year of a four-year term as Palestine’s president. He seems concerned mainly with preserving his own power.”  The Economist: Only negotiations can bring lasting peace to Israel and Palestine”

Critically, the United States has failed to promote Palestinian rights, giving one-sided support to whatever Israel does.

Sadly, the winners, if we can call them that, of today’s tragic fighting are the status quo leaders (Netanyahu, Abbas, and Hamas), who have failed to address the central issues of the coexistence of Israelis and Palestinians in the land of Canaan. War, or the threat of it, are historically tested instruments for strengthening public support of existing leaders.  In a recent report on the situation in Israel, the Human Rights Watch pronounced Israel an Apartheid state.  “Israel report apartheid” The Jewish diaspora are increasingly speaking up against the policies of Israel. The United States could make a major contribution by conditioning its very large financial aid to Israel on its respecting the rights of Palestinians.  “A New U.S. Approach to Israel-Palestine”  

I shudder to think what might be happening by the time you read this.

The Future of Israel and Palestine

At an otherwise friendly dinner conversation at the home of Israeli friends, our host explained that Israel having taken over the West Bank and Gaza Strip (WBGS) in the 6 day war in 1967, i.e. having won the war fair and square, so to speak, the Palestinians and the rest of the world should accept that reality and move on. He was articulating the one state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem. The WBGS now belongs to and is part of Israel (though Israel did withdraw later from and gave up Gaza).

The Zionist movement’s goal of establishing a Jewish homeland, a Jewish nation, seemed fulfilled with the U.N.’s recognition of the new state of Israel in 1048. The commitment of its Jewish residents to building a democratic state required achieving and maintaining a Jewish majority in the population. Absorbing the West Bank into Israel presents some obvious challenges. If you are not familiar with the history of Israel, I urge you to read my summary of it: “View from the West Bank–A History of the Conflict”

One state for Israel and the West Bank would have a majority of Palestinians. The Jews around the world willing to move to Israel (the earlier strategy for obtaining a Jewish majority) have pretty much already done so and birth rates among the Palestinians are higher than among the Jews. Thus a consolidated, democratic, and Jewish state would require second-class citizenship for its Palestinian residence. A British journalist living in Nazareth, Israel explains this in more detail: “With-more-palestinians-than-jews-israel-waging-war-of-attrition”

Former President Jimmy Carter described this potential outcome in his 2006 book, “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid,” where he wrote: “The bottom line is this: Peace will come to Israel and the Middle East only when the Israeli government is willing to comply with international law, with the Roadmap for Peace, with official American policy, with the wishes of a majority of its own citizens — and honor its own previous commitments — by accepting its legal borders.” This reality is recognized by many Israeli and even endorsed by some: “Israeli minister-endorses-apartheid.”

An apartheid regime for Israel would be an affront to liberal democratic values not easily swallowed by the Jewish diaspora. In fact, it would not be acceptable at all. That argues for continued effort to agree on a two state solution. In the following article Ronald Lauder, President of the World Jewish Congress, makes the case for the two state solution that the U.S. and U.N have worked for until now (or perhaps until last year) as the only morally and practically acceptable solution to this problem: “Israel’s Self-Inflicted Wounds”.

What we are seeing now, however, is something much uglier. The third option to two states, or one apartheid state, is one state that has ethnically cleansed the unwanted Palestinians in order to preserve Jewish control in a democratic state. The increasingly corrupt regime of Bibi Netanyahu seems to be moving in this direction and uncritical U.S. support of whatever his government does is putting the U.S. at odds with the rest of the world. For a similar review, see: “The-strange-catharsis-of-hopelessness-in-Israel”

U.S. tacit support of continued construction of illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian land was resoundingly rejected by the U.N. When President Trump moved the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem “The United Nations General Assembly voted… 128-9, with 35 abstentions, on a non-binding resolution condemning President Trump’s new policy recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel…. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley told an emergency meeting of the General Assembly [that] ‘the United States will remember this day in which it was singled out for attack in the General Assembly for the very right of exercising our right as a sovereign nation.’” This is the language of a bully, not a world leader, and I was appalled and embarrassed for my country. “UN-votes-to-reject-US-decision-on-Jerusalem-despite-threats”

More worrying are increasing signs that Netanyahu’s government is indeed pursuing the ethnic cleansing option. In addition to stealing Palestinian land in the West Bank for Israeli expansion, Israel has increasingly isolated and stifled the Palestinian economy. “Israel-Jewish-nation-state-bill”

Israel has occupied the West Bank for fifty years. Some of its treatment of its wards would be seen as human rights violations if committed by any other country. “Alabama-Israel-apartheid.” Recent Israeli laws are escalating such abusive treatment, allowing “the minister of interior to revoke the residency rights of any Palestinian in Jerusalem on grounds of a “breach of loyalty” to Israel.” “Israel-passes-law-strip-residency-Jerusalem’s-Palestinians”

Last December you may have watched the video of 17 year old Ahed Tamimi attacking two Israeli soldiers who had just shot her 15-year-old cousin Mohammed Tamimi in the head at close range with a rubber-coated steel bullet. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8YFen2KdqbU. The Israeli soldiers get points for staying cool. Ahed is now servicing eight months in prison after agreeing to a plea bargain. More recently (March 30, 2018) Israeli soldiers shot and killed 16 Palestinians on the Gaza Israeli border and wounded hundreds. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-43593594 “Both UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini have called for an independent investigation. On Saturday, the United States blocked a draft UN Security Council statement urging restraint and calling for an investigation of the violence.” Such blind obedience to Netanyahu’s government does not service the U.S. or Israel well (not to mention the Palestinians). Israel rejected the call. “Israel-rejects-calls-independent-probe-Gaza-violence.”

To ours and Israel’s shame, ethnic cleansing seems to be winning out. During my many visits to Israel and the West Bank and Gaza I marveled at the open debate among Israelis of these issues and praised their free press. I wrote the following from Jerusalem 12 years ago and again praised the importance of a free journalism. “Jerusalem-in-august-2006″. I am now waiting for today’s tweet attacks from Mr. Fake News, and wondering if we are in danger of letting it slip away.

As a bonus, I recommend the following video discussion of these issues at the New America: “Ultimate-deal-or-ultimate-demise”

 

 

 

Improving Intercultural Understanding

My friend Yael Luttwak, a film maker, undertook a brilliant project in Palestine (now comprising Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip) in 2007 to improve relations between Jewish Israeli and Palestinian women. In her own words she “filmed A Slim Peace, documenting what happened when women who were secular Israeli Jews, Jewish settlers, West Bank Muslims, and Bedouin came together in a health and nutrition group run by a Jewish and a Muslim woman. Most had never met the likes of their counterparts before, and most never would have. But in that setting, they connected and empathy and understanding grew.” These women met in Gush Etzion, outside Jerusalem, not for the ostensible purpose of improving Israeli Palestinian relations, but to explore how to improve their diets and lose weight. That is the brilliance of the project. Improved understanding of each other as people was a by-product rather than the main focus. It is worth reading Yael’s full account of the project: “About A Slim Peace”

With Yael’s project in mind, I read with some dismay the experience of white and black fraternity and sorority students at the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga with what seemed a similar project. In the 1990s well meaning white students joined receptive and welcoming black students in learning the African American “step” routines that back students had performed annually for many years. But in October 2016 “black fraternities and sororities at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga had decided to [step] on their own. They took the show off campus, abandoning a glitzy annual homecoming event that had long included black and white students — and produced a program they felt was a more authentic reflection of stepping’s African American origins.” What was going on? “The-show-was-supposed-to-bring-black-and-white-students-together-it-almost-tore-them-apart”.

It is important to understand the profound difference between Yael’s Palestinian project and what happened at the University of Tennessee. The gatherings of Israeli and Palestinian women did not result in merging and blending, melting pot style, their respective cultures. Rather it resulted in improved understanding and cross-cultural bonding.

According one black student at the U of Tennessee: “The show no longer felt like a sharing of tradition but, rather, was one more element of black culture and identity that had been usurped…. This isn’t just entertainment for us,… When white students performed, it was just a performance. It had no greater meaning, or a sense of why. We don’t step without a ‘why.’ It connects us to something bigger.’”

“’Stepping isn’t yours,’ Hicks recalled responding. ‘This experience was so essential, and it’s so tied to the history of [black Greeks], and I think it just became something you have stolen and you are using it as your own’…. Kaitibi [a black student] told the audience that the black Greeks wanted to do something to ‘preserve our heritage and honor our traditions.’ It wouldn’t necessarily be bad if a white group wanted to do the same, ‘but we have to wonder: What traditions are you honoring?’”

“Black students [explained that] they were trying to find a balance between self-affirmation and racial reconciliation.”

In other words, the goal of racial and religious harmony and equal treatment under the law is not best served be attempting to obliterate or denying cultural/racial/religious differences. It is better served by developing and strengthening cross-cultural understanding and mutual respect.

American Exceptionalism—where has it gone?

Americans are among the most generous people in the world.  World Giving Index – published by the Charities Aid foundation – averages the percent of the population giving money to charities, the percent who have volunteered time for an organization in the past month, and the percent who have helped a stranger in the past month. Americans are sixth, tied with Switzerland with a score of 55%. Australia and New Zealand are first and second with 57% followed by Ireland and Canada with 56%. Germany is 19th with 44% and France is 93rd with a score of 27%.

I have always been proud that visitors to the United States have generally found Americans to be friendly, helpful, and good-hearted. I realize that this is a bit hard to imagine these days with the negativism thrown from the right and the left at each other, but we still manage the occasional smile in the grocery store as we wait at the checkout line. However, views of America abroad have been declining for some years and have plummeted this year. http://www.pewglobal.org/2017/06/26/u-s-image-suffers-as-publics-around-world-question-trumps-leadership/

The reasons for this decline that leap out to me reflect the propensity of our government to throw its weight around. We have been at war almost continuously since 9/11 (Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Nigeria, and who knows where else). The U.S. has 662 overseas bases in 38 foreign countries and military personnel in 130 countries. Most American soldiers are fine young men but no one likes foreign soldiers on their streets for very long, even went they are well behaved most of the time.

I was discussing with a Pakistani friend the “special” qualities of the American government and American people that make us exceptional https://works.bepress.com/warren_coats/35/. He suggested that a growing number of people around the world see the United States as exceptional in the sense that it doesn’t think it needs to follow the rules it sets out for everyone else. We are seen as bullies. Ouch.

The most recent and embarrassing example of this was President Trump’s announcement that the United States recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and would move the U.S. Embassy there. As background, on May 14, 1948 the British agreed when Israel declared its independence from the British mandate that ruled Palestine. The State of Israel was immediately recognized by the United States. After several rejections by the UN Security Council, Israel’s UN membership application was accepted by the General Assembly on May 11, 1949 in Resolution 273, which, among other things, defined the new country’s boundaries. Between June 5 to 10, 1967 Israel attacked and captured surrounding territories in Egypt, Jordan and Syria in what became known as the Six-Day War. Except the Gaza Strip and the West Bank most of the captured territory was returned as part of a peace agreement. Israel ended its occupation of the Gaza Strip in August 2005.

The termination of Israel’s “temporary” occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem remains the subject of the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. “Under the 1947 UN Partition Plan to divide historical Palestine between Jewish and Arab states, Jerusalem was granted special status and was meant to be placed under international sovereignty and control. The special status was based on Jerusalem’s religious importance to the three Abrahamic religions.”  “Jerusalem-capital-Israel”

In general, the international community rejects the use of brute force to change borders. Russia’s annexation of Crimea into Russia (though it was previously part of Russia before Khrushchev gave it to Ukraine in 1954) violated this understanding.

President Trump’s announcement about the status of Jerusalem violates standing U.S. and international policy. It was almost universally condemned. The US vetoed a Security Council condemnation of Trump’s action but the General Assembly overwhelmingly (128 to 9, with 35 abstentions) passed a resolution declaring that, “any decisions and actions which purport to have altered the character, status or demographic composition of the Holy City of Jerusalem have no legal effect, are null and void and must be rescinded.” White-House-vows-to-stand-firm-on-trumps-recognition-of-jerusalem-as-israels-capital/2017/12/23/

The General Assembly vote used a rarely exorcised power as explained by Paul Pillar. “Among the principal takeaways from the General Assembly’s action is that an international sense of justice and fairness matters.  Many states reject the notion that might makes right, which is how the Israeli government has treated its relations with the Palestinians, and how the Trump administration approached its lobbying on this resolution.” “Uniting-against-trumps-policies-for-peace”

When the UN voted Thursday (Dec 22) to condemn this action “Only seven countries—Guatemala, Honduras, Togo, Nauru, Palau, Micronesia and the Marshall Islands—were willing to stand with Uncle Sam and Israel and vote against the resolution.” “Next-year-in-Jerusalem”

Aside from keeping the favor Israeli Prime Minister “Bibi” Netanyahu and some wealthy American Jewish donors, there is no upside to this step to be found. The peace talks, such as they were, have been damaged. Even the “Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations called for maintaining of the status quo of Jerusalem.” In its letter to the President of the General Assembly it stated that: “The unique identity of Jerusalem, which is of universal interest, consists in its particular nature as a Holy City, most sacred to the three monotheistic religions and a symbol for millions of believers worldwide who consider it their “spiritual capital”. Its significance goes beyond the question of borders and this reality should be considered a priority in every negotiation for a political solution.” “Holy-See-supports-Jerusalem’s-historical-status-quo”

Israelis themselves are deeply divided on this issue. The continued and unresolved occupation of the West Bank by Israel has and continues to provoke terrible behavior by both sides. Uri Avnery, an Israeli freedom fighter in his youth, decries acts by his country against occupied Palestinians in passionate terms (email me if you are interested in his email) as does Phillip Weiss: Ending-crisis-Zionism/

But American bullying did not stop there. Nikki Haley, U.S. Ambassador to the UN, delivered a disgusting and threat-filled speech condemning the U.S. rebuke. “The crude tactics included Nikki Haley’s rhetoric about ‘taking names’ and Donald Trump’s bombast about cutting off U.S. aid.  Among the Arab states that supported the resolution were the two states—Egypt and Jordan—that receive more U.S. aid than anyone other than Israel.  The very crudeness of the tactics, and the offense taken to bullying, probably made the tactics counterproductive.” (see Pillar article above).

Good hearted and freedom loving Americans are increasingly represented by governments that push our views and interests on the rest of the world. The rest of the world’s resistance is building. This does not serve our economic or security interests. How did the “essential country”—the “exceptional country”—become a big bully? In recent weeks we have also been asking ourselves how prominent leaders in the media, industry, and Congress have become sexual bullies. It seems that power corrupts. Eternal vigilance is still needed.

David M Friedman

PEOTUS Trump’s nomination of David M. Friedman as his ambassador to Israel is a very bad choice. It will perpetuate Israel’s refusal to take the steps it needs to take to be a secure and prosperous member of its neighborhood and will further discredit the U.S.’s reputation and influence in the Middle East.

If you are not familiar with the basic details of what is now generally referred to as the Israeli Palestinian conflict I urge you to read my summary of it written 11 years ago: https://works.bepress.com/warren_coats/26/ and take a look (it has pictures) of my blog from Jerusalem exactly five years ago today. https://wcoats.wordpress.com/2011/12/16/the-invented-palestinians/

Israel drove Palestinians from their homes in several wars decades ago because they wanted to establish a homeland for Jews that was both democratic and Jewish. After the horrors of the Holocaust, most of the world was sympathetic. But to be democratic and Jewish, the new occupants of Palestine needed to drive out most of the existing residents (Palestinians) in order to insure a Jewish majority. Fast forward to recent decades, most of the world has settled on a two state solution by which the exiled Palestinians would be given the West Bank and Gaze to rule but the several details requiring agreement were never fully worked out. Under the Oslo Accords, which provided a step-by-step process for implementing a two state solution, I led the IMF teams that set up the Palestine Monetary Authority.

The UN, U.S. and most of the world designated Israeli settlements in the West Bank by those Israelis wanting to take still more land from the Palestinians as illegal and urged the Israeli government to stop supporting them. They continue to expand.

“Friedman has been outspoken in describing as ‘legal’ Jewish settlements in the West Bank, which every U.S. administration since 1967 has considered illegitimate.”

“Trump-picks-a-supporter-of-west-bank-settlements-for-ambassador-to-Israel”/2016/12/15/ Washington Post. Israel itself is strongly divided on the issue. Many support a two state solution and making peace with their neighbors (giving up land for peace). Others want to expand Israel’s borders to encompass all of Palestine, relying on America’s military protection for its security.

“J Street, the Washington-based [Jewish] organization that supports a two-state solution, said it was ‘vehemently opposed’ to the nomination. ‘As someone who has been a leading American friend of the settlement movement, who lacks any diplomatic or policy credentials . . . Friedman should be beyond the pale for Senators considering who should represent the United States in Israel,’ J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami said in a statement.

“Calling the proposed nomination ‘reckless,’ Ben-Ami said it puts ‘America’s reputation in the region and credibility around the world at risk. Senators should know that the majority of Jewish Americans oppose the views and the values this nominee represents….’”

“In a column for the Jerusalem Post before the election, Friedman wrote that…under president Trump, Israel will feel no pressure to make self-defeating concessions, America and Israel will enjoy unprecedented military and strategic cooperation, and there will be no daylight between the two countries.” [All quotes are from the same Post article linked above.]

This is just the sad point. Our blanket guarantee of military support for any policy (including illegal settlements, bombing Iran, etc.) that Israel might pursue has removed the incentive for Israel to make genuine peace with its neighbors and do right by the Palestinians (peace for land). The U.S. Senate should reject the Friedman nomination.

Romney on Culture

Mitt Romney is clearly an intelligent guy with an impressive business track record. This makes it all the more disturbing that while visiting Israel Romney felt called upon to blame the difference in living standards between Israel and the occupied West Bank and Gaza (WBG) on cultural differences. I will unpack the ignorance of this claim further on, but first, why did he do it?

We know that Romney is weak on foreign policy issues and regrettably influenced in this area by neocon advisors who tend to favor the one Israeli state solution to the Israeli/Palestinian problem favored by the Israeli right wing over American interests and policies. Since George W Bush American policy has explicitly supported a two state solution. Those unfamiliar with the history of these issues are urged to read my earlier blogs on the topic: “The View from the West Bank – a history of the conflict”, “Jerusalem in august 2006″, “Leaving Israel August 11 2006″. “The Invented Palestinians”.

The United States has a strong commitment to the military defense of Israel and it was appropriate for Romney to restate that commitment while visiting Israel. But it is neither in our national interest nor Israel’s to support or endorse every measure the current Israeli government might think up or take in relation to its neighbors. Israel’s well being depends on making a just peace with its neighbors and returning the West Bank and Gaza to the Palestinians that live there. This is well known and accepted by most Israeli’s but not, apparently, by Romney’s neocon advisors. Given Romney’s lack of understanding in these issue, wisdom would have called for him to remain silent on the issue. So why did he say it, then deny it and than say it again?

First, what did he actually say? According to the Associated Press (“Romney outrages Palestinians by saying Jewish culture helps make Israel more successful”) on July 30 Romney told a breakfast meeting with wealthy donors at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem:  “As you come here and you see the GDP per capita, for instance, in Israel which is about $21,000 dollars, and compare that with the GDP per capita just across the areas managed by the Palestinian Authority, which is more like $10,000 per capita, you notice such a dramatically stark difference in economic vitality…. And as I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things.”

Saeb Erekat, a top Palestinian official told the AP: “What is this man doing here? Yesterday, he destroyed negotiations by saying Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, and today he is saying Israeli culture is more advanced than Palestinian culture. Isn’t this racism?”

The next day in an interview with Fox News’ Carl Cameran in Poland, Romney denied that he has spoken of the role of culture in the differences in income between Israel and Palestine. (Cameron interview of Romney) It did not take long for Romney to correct this misstatement in a National Review article under his name, “Culture does matter-Mitt Romney”: “During my recent trip to Israel, I had suggested that the choices a society makes about its culture play a role in creating prosperity, and that the significant disparity between Israeli and Palestinian living standards was powerfully influenced by it. In some quarters, that comment became the subject of controversy.”

So why did he say it?  Sadly Tom Friedman probably has it right in his July 31 column in the New York Times: “Why not in Vegas”  “Since the whole trip was not about learning anything but about how to satisfy the political whims of the right-wing, super pro-Bibi Netanyahu, American Jewish casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, why didn’t they just do the whole thing in Las Vegas? I mean, it was all about money anyway — how much Romney would abase himself by saying whatever the Israeli right wanted to hear and how big a jackpot of donations Adelson would shower on the Romney campaign in return.”

So statesmanship, diplomacy, American national interest had nothing to do with it. So maybe Romney actually understood how stupid his comments were. But let me walk us through the facts.

First, Palestinians and non Arab Israelis are first cousins racially. So this can’t be what Romney had in mind. Religiously, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, the three great monotheistic religions, with Islam the most recent in that evolutionary chain, all share cultures of individual responsibility and work ethic. So it is hard to see Romney’s point in this area. My point is not that culture is unimportant, though calling in “everything” is clearly wrong. My point is that anyone who knows anything about Israel and the WBG, knows that it does not apply there. A very informative and well worth reading criticism of Romney’s statement is in Fareed Zakaria’s Aug 2, Washington Post op-ed, “Capitalism not culture drives economies”.

If Romney had driven the short, but time consuming, distance from Jerusalem to the temporary Palestinian capital in Ramallah, he would have seen some of the physical evidence of how Israel is choking the economies of the occupied, land locked West Bank and the blockaded Gaza Strip (high concrete walls cutting through Palestinian farms, check points blocking the movement of people and commerce, illegal Israeli settlement on Palestinian lands, etc.). I would have thought that a man of Romney’s intelligence would chose to remain silent on these deeply explosive issues until he could consult a more balanced group of foreign policy experts. Sadly he seems to have put politics above national interest.

The Invented Palestinians

Five years after a previous visit to Israel and the West Bank and Gaza (or the OPT—Occupied Palestinian Territory—as the UN and the Palestinians call it), I am once again residing in the charming American Colony Hotel. As on my two most recent previous visits (in 2005 and 2006) I am advising the Palestine Monetary Authority that I helped set up in the mid 1990s on strengthening its capacities as a central bank and preparing to issue its own currency should the political and economic situation ever justify doing so.

The American Colony Hotel, now decked out for Christmas (see pictures), has a long history here—over 150 years—and has hosted many interesting guests. There are the politically important visitors such as Winston Churchill, Mikhail Gorbachev, Senator George Mitchell, George Shultz, James Wolfensohn, Kofi Annan, and T. E. Lawrence. There are the artistically important visitors such as Graham Green, Leon Uris, Saul Bellow, John Steinbeck and Marc Chagall. There are some big names in the media business such as Ted Turner and Barbara Walters and in music such as Sting and Juan Baez (my personal favorite). The list of movie starts is long, including Sir Ben Kingsley, Lauren Becall, Peter Ustinov, Ingrid Bergman, Omar Sharif, Richard Gere, Uma Thurman and Vanessa Redgrave. But the one that tickles me the most is Peter O’Toole, who visited here many decades after the visit of T.E. Lawrence who he portrayed in Lawrence of Arabia.

The Hotel is in East Jerusalem, that part of the city that is in the West Bank, OPT, or Palestine as you wish, that was occupied by the Israelis in the Six Day War of 1967. Following that war, famous visitors were generally making a political statement in favor of peace. The American Colony was considered neutral territory. I have written a lot in the past about the Israeli-Palestinian situation and if you are interested I urge you to reread earlier blogs (posted here for the first time): “The View from the West Bank – a history of the conflict”, “Jerusalem in august 2006”, “Leaving Israel August 11 2006”.

While here this past week, American politicians demonstrated again a lack of balance and/or understanding in addressing the truly difficult situation here. In the case of Newt Gingrich, who brushed aside the desire of Palestinians (Arabs or whatever you want to call the people driven out of their homes by Zionists sixty years ago and the Israeli Defense Forces almost 45 years ago) to return home, it is surely blatant dishonestly and vote pandering, as he knows better. The Israeli Press is ablaze with debate about Newt’s comments (as it always is about something), and Israel’s political relationship with the U.S. more generally.  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit and comments about women are still reverberating.

Balancing America’s commitment to the military defense of Israel with promoting the peace in the region that we rightly see as essential to Israel’s well being, has grown particularly difficult of late. President Obama stated the obvious several times during his administration (Israeli settlements being build in the West Bank are illegal, and the border between Israel and a new Palestinian state should be based on the borders of Israel approved by the UN long ago) then rolled over dead in the face of Israeli President Netanyahu’s (who we know from French President Sarkozy is a liar) shouts of outrage.

I had not appreciated before that when some Israelis quote Hamas and some other Palestinians as refusing to recognize Israel’s right to exist (which sounds rather like the desire for another holocaust) they are referring to the Palestinian demand for their “right to return” to their homes, the other insoluble issue preventing a resolution of the Israeli Palestinian conflict. Two articles on the front page of Monday’s The Jerusalem Post illustrate the issue. The banner article was titled: “Cabinet approves plan to fight illegal infiltration; Netanyahu: We will close businesses, so that the enterprise known as the State of Israel does not close – PM to consider repatriating workers when he visits Africa.” What is this all about? Statements by Israel’s Justice Minister, Yaakov Neeman, in the article just below the one quoted above help clarify that question.

Reacting to criticisms from visiting American participants in the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) leadership mission to Israel of pending legislation containing loyalty oaths, the Minister scolded the American’s with raised voice saying: “There is no discrimination in any of the legislation…. We will have a majority of non-Jews if not. This is a Jewish state. If you don’t like it, you can move to another country.” He followed this with: “All Jews need to come home to Israel. I want them here. A Jew who doesn’t live here in Israel is not doing the most important thing.”

The Minister and many Israeli’s want a democratic Jewish state. That required them to drive out those living here who were not Jewish and preventing them and other non-Jews from returning (about 20% of Israelis are Arab). The refusal of Hamas and some other Palestinian’s to accept the legitimacy of the Israeli state is not anti-Semitism, it is an expression of their demand for their “right to return” home. It is anti-Zionist.

Israeli Jews are divided on this issue. Palestinians are divided as well. Those in the West Bank and living in Jordan as Jordanian citizens lead relatively prosperous lives and are prepared to give up their past claims on their homes and move on. These Palestinians are generally well-educated and hard-working. For them some token return of a few hundred thousand of the almost 5 million Palestinians driven out of their homes would be enough. But those 1.4 million still living in refuge camps after all these years (largely in Gaza, Lebanon, and Syria) have little to gain from, nor interest in, moving on. This split in the Palestinian ranks largely reflects the Hamas – Fatah divide.

Why then hasn’t the U.S. and the Quartet (U.S., EU, UN, and Russia) focused more on better treatment and integration of refuges in their host countries, largely Lebanon, following the good example of Jordan? And why has Israel so often frustrated the economic development of the West Bank and especially Gaza where most of the refugees still living in camps can be found. There in lies a very complicated story of conflicting interests among Israeli Jews, and among Lebanese political groups. The Lebanese do not allow Palestinians to work or become citizens for fear they will upset the delicate, existing balance between Christian, Sunni Muslim and Shea Muslim political groups and interests. The political conflict in Israel between those wanting a greater Israel and turning a blind eye if not actually encouraging illegal settlements in the West Bank and the peaceniks who favor a “two state solution,” is complicated by monopolistic business interests who continually use their economic and political influence to stifle (if not crush) economic competition from often very adept Palestinian enterprises. Thus no proposal for peace with the West Bank and Gaza can gain wide-spread support in Israel or in Palestine.

The Governor of the Palestine Monetary Authority told me at dinner last night that he feared that the resent wave of so-called “price tag” attacks on Palestinians and mosques in the West Bank and on the IDF (Israeli Defense Force) by right-wing Ultra Orthodox Jewish settlers risked turning what is now a territorial dispute into a religious dispute (Muslims vs Jews). For decades Ultra conservative Jews would park their campers in target areas of the West Bank and stay. When they were harassed by Palestinians for being on Palestinian property, the about to become settlers would seek protection from the IDF, which has occupied the West Bank since the Six Day War. Some months later they would demand adequate water and waste disposal, and then electricity and a few years later they would demand permission to build homes their on the grounds that they had already been living there for some time.

Many Israelis have lost patience with these settlers and periodically the IDF remove them from their illegal settlements. The settlers have dubbed their current attacks on the IDF as the “price tag” for being evicted from their illegal settlements. But right-wing Israeli governments have tolerated the continued advances of these settlements for years. The mystery is that the U.S. seems to tolerate it too. Netanyahu’s sharp rebuke of President Obama’s criticism of the settlements last year and Obama’s quick back down is a case in point. For the moment, the Israeli government seems to be creaking down. According to the Jerusalem Post: “IDF feels that to tackle ‘price-tag’ phenomenon, the gov’t needs to toughen legislation, increase policing, send a clear message.”

The United States has already faded as a major influence on events here. Speaking the truth would be the best way to serve the best interests of our friends in Israel, Palestine, and region. It would help if Newt Gingrich and other politicians stopped pandering to the Jewish and religious right voters in America who ally with them with unprincipled and inaccurate characterizations of the situation here in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory. “Look who is talking about ‘invented’ peoples”

Leaving Israel, August 11, 2006

This is the re-posting of an earlier note:

Hi from Home

Sorry for two notes so close together, but travel conditions today warrant an update after British authorities arrested 24 terrorists who planned to blow up 10 planes over the Atlantic yesterday. I left Israel this morning on Lufthansa with the Governor of the PMA heading for Washington DC. We assumed that we were on the same flights all the way. Thus in Frankfurt I followed him to his gate. After one hour of extra security procedures we arrived at the gate to discover that we were on different flights and I was in the wrong terminal. Thus I passed through another security check point in the correct area and boarded my flight. To my disappointment the plane lacked the sleeper seats I was expecting. I am afraid that I grumbled about it to the steward. Half an hour later my name was called along with 5 other first class passengers and informed that we were being moved to another flight using a 747 with proper seats. The steward whispered that it was because of my complaint. This, however, meant that we had to go through the original security check point yet again. This time they took away my toothpaste and other similar items from my PC bag. They were not impressed when I told them that all of these items had passed through there three hours earlier. Go figure. Anyway, I am home safe (except for the security warning about demonstrations in Washington against US support of Israel’s war against Lebanon).

I would like to share with you the experience last week of one of my fellow advisors at the Palestine Monetary Authority (PMA). He was leaving Gaza, where the PMA has a branch, to return to Ramallah where I was working when he and his driver come under fire from an Israeli tank. This occurred at the Palestinian side check point of the border crossing from Gaza into Israel (the only way to get to the other part of Palestine in the West Bank). The gun fire lasted three hours during which he spoke by phone from the floor of his car to the Governor of the PMA and the U.S. Embassy. He is a fellow American and was born and raised in Virginia. You will be shocked, as he and I were, at what the American Embassy said to him. The woman on the phone said that his name, Akram Baker, sounded Arabic and asked if he was of Palestinian decent. He said yes. She asked what he was doing in Gaza and informed him that the Israeli government does not want American’s of Palestinian decent in Gaza and that the U.S. government would not help him. Israel basically keeps Palestinians living in Gaza prisoners within Gaza and makes it very difficult for Palestinians to enter and leave Gaza. The PMA Governor contacted the Palestinian President Abbas who got the Israelis to call off their tank. We seem to have a new second class American citizen.

The day before this incident one of the PMA employees in Gaza and her daughter were killed by an overhead Israeli helicopter. Akram asked me how I would define terrorism and answered his own question by saying the UN defines it as terrorizing (intimidating, frightening, even murdering) civilians in order to promote some political or ideological goal. Doesn’t that describe, Akram asked, Israel’s continued use of collective guilt and pressure against Palestinians to pressure their government to control terrorists in their own midst. For example, placing dozens and dozens of check points throughout the West Bank to make it difficult for Palestinians to travel around their own homeland (I had to go through two permanent check points every morning and again every afternoon between East Jerusalem and Ramallah—all in the West Bank—plus the occasional impromptu ones). Or closing the border to Palestinian day workers in Israel whenever a suicide bomber blows himself up in Israel? Or by arresting Palestinians legally and fairly elected to the Palestine National Authority (PNA) Parliament for simply being members of the Hamas political party because some terrorists affiliated with some members of Hamas held an Israeli solder. Or by destroying vast parts of Lebanon’s infrastructure and killing over a thousand of its men, women, and children to punish them (Christians included) for not being tougher against Hezbollah fighters in their midst (before the current war, a majority of Lebanese opposed Hezbollah and now a majority support them). Or, killing the PMA employee and her daughter as they walked down the street because they “tolerated” Palestinian terrorists in their midst who held an Israeli solder hostage.

For Palestinians, Akram said, Israeli solders are terrorists. That is why Palestinian children sometimes throw stones at the Israeli solders as they drive through their neighborhoods. It is the only weapon they have. A few become suicide bombers.

But what is Israel to do to defend itself when so many of its neighbors do not accept its right to exist. Become a better neighbor perhaps? But what does it mean that many Arabs do not accept Israel’s “right to exist?” This is a sanitized reference to the desire of many Palestinians to drive Israelis back off the land they took from Palestinians in 1948 and 1967. Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and other Palestinian terrorists are the small minority that cannot get over that historical fact and move on. Most Palestinians—everyone I have ever met—have moved on and would just like the Israelis to withdraw from the territories the UN demands them return (West Bank and Gaza) so that they can get on with their lives. In fact, like almost all political movements anywhere, Hamas really simply wants to govern like any other political party and has separated itself from its militant wing (sounds like the IRA of old). It is in Israel’s interest to make normal political participation more rewarding for Hamas than terrorism—to let Hamas or any other elected government succeed or fail on their merits and to hold them accountable for their performance. Israel and the rest of us should do all possible to help the Palestinian government succeed. A successful Palestine would be a safer neighbor for Israel. Instead, Israel has stopped transferring the taxes it collects for the Palestine government on imports through Israel, proliferated walls and checkpoints throughout the West Bank and made proper administration by the Palestinian government impossible. Now the failure of the PNA will be blamed on the U.S. and Israel. When will they ever learn,… when will they ever learn.

Jerusalem in August 2006

This note was written in August 2006 following the earlier (October 2005) posting of a brief history of the Israeli Palestinian conflict: “The View from the West Bank – a history of the conflict”

Hi from Jerusalem (East Jerusalem for those of you in the know),

After leading the IMF technical assistance teams that helped establish the Palestine Monetary Authority in 1995 and 96, I returned a year ago to prepare a blue print for the steps needed for the PMA to introduce its own currency some time in the (ever more) distant future. People in the West Bank and Gaze largely use the Israeli shekel and to a lesser extent the Jordanian dinar for payments and contracts. Keeping the notes in good condition and clearing checks in shekel requires arrangements with Israeli banks. These banks recently notified the PMA that they intend to end these arrangements soon. I have returned to help the PMA figure out what to do.

The political situation in and around Israel has gone from bad to worse, to much worse. You may substitute Iraq for Israel in the previous sentence as well. When Palestinians democratically elected representatives of Hamas in enough numbers to take over the government of the West Bank and Gaze (the Palestine National Authority) from the ineffective and corrupt government of Al-Fatah (Arafat’s party), political life for Israel and the West became more complicated. The military wing of Hamas is on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations, as is Hezbollah, the Lebanese terrorist group sponsored by Iran and Syria. Hezbollah also has democratically elected representatives in the Lebanese Parliament.

Israel is now at war with Hezbollah and more or less with Hamas. At least one well-known American commentator argued that Israel has a moral right to defend its borders and thus to attack Lebanon (its bombs have fallen on far more than its Hezbollah enemy). This totally and tragically misses the point. Israel is again acting against its own interests, which in the case of Hezbollah is to help build a strong Lebanese government and army that can disarm Hezbollah (as demanded by the UN) and enforce a peaceful and secure border with Israel.

I shudder at those who argue that (if you are strong enough) you just need to smash your enemies. Be tough. They don’t seem to live in the same world I do. Can the Shi’a Muslim Iraqis who now dominate the Iraqi government really wipe out all Sunni Muslim terrorists in Iraq or can the Sunni and Christian Lebanese and the Jewish Israeli’s really wipe out the Shi’a Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon? Walid Jumblatt, the leader of Lebanon’s Druze community and a harsh critic of Hezbollah stated Saturday that “We have to acknowledge that they [Hezbollah] have defeated the Israelis….” Being tough and launching war on Hezbollah/Lebanon has greatly weakened Israel (militarily, economically, and politically), just as the miscalculated U.S. attack on Iraq has weakened America (militarily, economically, and politically). These acts of war have weakened the security of both of our countries, not strengthened it.

Wars between tribes and religious factions can only be “won” diplomatically. The infamous Hatfields and McCoys ended their vicious cycle of feuding only when they mutually came to accept that they would never succeed in totally exterminating the other. There would always be a son, or a relative, or a friend of a son left somewhere to carry on the hatred and revenge. The famous feud ended only when a combination of carrots and sticks and harsh experience led both sides to accept a credible truce as the best that they could do. Read or watch again Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and weep.

A few weeks ago I watched a TV reality show called “The Nanny” (please done ask me why). In the show the well-meaning and conscientious parents of three little monsters were sinking into despair as their spoiled and confused kids walked all over them. The parents were not dumb, but they were failing as parents. My first reaction was that the Third Geneva Convention (on the Treatment of Prisoners of War) should be suspended for these awful brats. Where is George W when we could really use him? The British Nanny brought in to save this family, was wise indeed. She found as many ways to pull out and encourage the cooperation of the children (carrots) as she did to establish clearer and more consistent rules and punishments for violating them (sticks). In short, she found the right balance of incentives that encouraged these children to redirect their considerable energies into positive and pleasant behavior that became a joy to be around. It was brilliant. It is what societies need as well—values and rules under which everyone can get along. I am sure that you have seen perfectly behaved but regimented and dull children and laud, rude and out of control ones and said to yourself, please don’t make me have to be around either.

My boss in Baghdad emailed me last week: “Please don’t go to Jerusalem.  I don’t think that you will be safe there.  Come back to Baghdad.” She has quit a sense of humor. The security situation in Iraq has finally degenerated beyond my comfort level and I have not returned to Baghdad since December despite many requests to do so. I have been highly critical of that war, when we should be fighting Al-Quaeda in Afghanistan and elsewhere (they didn’t exist in Iraq until we attacked it). And I have been even more critical of our ineffective follow-on efforts to establish a stable democracy there. However, there is one aspect of our conduct of that war I am proud of.

Every war has produced atrocities (torture, rape, murder, etc). It is a tragic and unavoidable part of war. We are again seeing examples of this ugly fact with the revelations of the killing of 24 Iraqis, mainly women and children, by American Marines in Haditha in the heat of war. The rape of an Iraqi girl and murder of her family by an American solder (Steven D. Green) in Mahmoudiya was purely criminal. Four of his U.S. Army buddies have also been arrested in connection with those crimes. Iraqis are not surprised that Americans have done these things (in very limited quantities). But they are surprised at the openness with which we expose and punish them. We can be very proud of that. It gives credence to our belief that we try to live by high principles.

Our principles of government revere openness and honesty—what more recently has come to be known as “transparency.” We can thank our free press for making that principle meaningful. While the most professional, well-trained, and well armed military in the history of mankind protects our freedom from attacks from abroad, the most professional and dedicated press in the world protects us from attacks on your freedom at home. Our practice of transparency is the ultimate check and balance on government (or corporate or labor) abuse. When combined with the high standards that guide our military leaders, transparency has helped contain the abuses of power that exist in every military, police force, and government. Three cheers for our free press.

I hope that all is well with you.

Warren