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.

Is Rep Ilhan Omar anti-Semitic?

U.S. Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, a Muslim Somalian immigrant, has been insisting that we need to publicly condemn Israel’s mistreatment of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza as well as in Israel itself. This mistreatment includes illegally occupying Palestinian land on which Jewish Israeli’s build so called “settlements,” excessive use of force against Palestinians protesting their treatment (since 2000 Israeli soldiers have killed 9 Palestinian, including women and children, for every Israeli killed by a Palestinian), and legally restricting the citizen rights of Israeli Arabs (i.e. imposing apartheid on Palestinians living in Israel) in an effort to keep Israel both democratic and Jewish with a “one state solution” that would make Jews a minority). All of my Jewish friends, including some Israeli Jews, also condemn these horrible acts. The issue is well summarized by Andrew Sullivan: http://nymag.com/intelligencer/2019/03/how-should-we-talk-about-the-israel-lobbys-power.html?utm_source=fb&fbclid=IwAR1B12R8xQ0PTQhRO3u2f0nPO2ssSPmdZCEbbYbnvWNByClY2zuNgXaV9TE

So why is Ms. Omar being condemned as an anti-Semite by some (those who, in my opinion, are simply diverting the conversation away from Israel’s bad behavior)? It seems to arise from her complaints that “‘I am told everyday that I am anti-American if I am not pro-Israel,’ Omar tweeted March 3 in response to critics. ‘I find that to be problematic and I am not alone.’” Washington Post 3/11/2019 https://wapo.st/2TEMzt9. More specifically, and this is where critics have focused, she has complained that the so-called Israel Lobby has blinded American’s to Israel’s bad behavior. “On Feb. 27, Omar told an audience at a town hall event in Washington, D.C., that accusations of anti-Semitism were meant to silence her criticism of Israel and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.”  Ibid. In my opinion the charges of anti-Semitism reported in the above Post article, prove her point.

Some people were particularly offended by her reference to the “Dual loyalty” of many Americans (Jewish and non-Jewish) to both our own country and to Israel.  I do not respect anyone who uncritically agrees with anything and everything their hero says or does whether it is Trump, Putin, or Bibi (I like some of Trump’s policies and dislike others, but disrespect the man). The same goes for governments. Given the strong reaction (claims of anti-Semitism) of any criticism of Israel in earlier years in the U.S. (we now see a regression to those days) I was pleasantly surprised on my many visits to Israel that a critical public discussion of Israeli policies and behavior was far more open and honest there. We should not be surprised or concerned that organizations such as American Israel Public Affairs Committee champion a particular point of view. That is what they exist for (just as the Log Cabin Republican’s and other policy oriented groups exist to propagate a point of view). What is unusual is the amazing influence that AIPAC has had on American foreign policy, often against America’s best interest. If you are not aware of this read John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt’s “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy.”

It is natural and usual for any of us with origins in another country (that would be most of us) to retain sympathies for the fatherland even when condemning bad things it might do. My Russian American friends, for example, can’t help smarting a bit at criticisms of Putin even when they fully agree with them. The country that gave us some of the world’s greatest literature and music has also given us the gulag, etc. But no one, at least no one I know, would dream of calling me anti-Russian when I condemn Putin.

I have not read every word from Rep Omar, but I have not read anything that suggests she is anti-Semitic. She has raised important points about the policies and behavior of the Israeli government.  President Trump’s, and for that matter his predecessors for many years, uncritical acceptance of Israel’s outrageous treatment of the Palestinians in their charge, should be challenged. Those diverting the discussion by labeling those of us who condemn Israel’s behavior as anti-Semitic are exploiting America’s very understandable sympathies for the horrors of the holocaust and a long history of anti-Semitism. But such charges and diversion are dishonest and a disservice to the best interests of the United States (and I would say of Israel as well).

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.

Economic Sanctions

Economic sanctions can be a political tool to punish and hopefully stop or deter bad behavior by another country, group, firm, or individual. However, sanctions are rarely effective, often hurting the wrong people. Robert Pape’s examination of past sanctions on countries found that only 4% were clearly effective. Their virtue is that they tangibly register disapproval of bad behavior without going to war. An important policy question is when to use them. In my opinion sanctions should be used very rarely against countries when there is a broad global consensus that the behavior of the country is significantly and unacceptably at variance with established international norms. This is both because they are rarely effective, in part because they often hurt the general public rather than the leaders responsible for the bad behavior, and because it should generally not be the business of our government to dictate how other governments behave unless that behavior is directly against us. What that means, for example, is that sanctions should not generally be used against countries whose human rights behavior we disapprove of.

Under what circumstances might the use of economic sanctions be justified and effective? The effectiveness of economic sanctions varies greatly with their nature and the circumstances in which they are applied. In what follows I very briefly illustrate the range of experience and possibilities.

Cuba

Clearly the sanctions of one country against another, such as outlawing trade in certain products or outlawing trade and financial transactions of any sort, are of very limited effectiveness as the sanctioned country can simply trade with others instead. Cuba illustrates this point. First imposed over 50 years ago by President John F. Kennedy and now enforced through six different statutes, the United States forbids most trade with Cuba by its citizens or companies. President Bill Clinton extended and stretched the reach of this embargo to apply to the foreign subsidiaries of American companies as well. The purpose of this embargo as stated in the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992 is to encourage the Cuban government to move toward “democratization and greater respect for human rights”.

Though the U.S. has put a lot of pressure on other countries to restrict their own trade with and travel to Cuba, it has been largely ignored. The U.S. pretty much stands alone. The cost of the embargo has fallen more on the U.S. than on Cuba. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimates the cost to the U.S. economy at $1.2 billion per year in lost sales and exports. More over it has not improved governance in Cuba nor led to regime change. In 2009, Daniel Griswold, director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Trade Policy Studies, criticized the embargo by stating:

“The embargo has been a failure by every measure. It has not changed the course or nature of the Cuban government. It has not liberated a single Cuban citizen. In fact, the embargo has made the Cuban people a bit more impoverished, without making them one bit more free. At the same time, it has deprived Americans of their freedom to travel and has cost US farmers and other producers billions of dollars of potential exports.” Former Secretary of State George P Schultz called the embargo “insane.”

Cuba is a mess not because of U.S. sanctions but because of the highly repressive Marxist regime in control for the last 52 years. The American embargo has given the Castro government an escape goat for its own failures—and the Castro government still rules. President Obama recently reestablished diplomatic relations with Cuba but the embargoes will remain until Congress amends or removes them. The President has been criticized for not getting enough in return for reestablishing relations and its link with Cuba’s freeing of American spy Alan P. Gross is certainly unfortunate, but the U.S.’s diplomatic recognition of a country should have nothing to do with whether we approve of its government and its approach to governing. The 50 plus year-old embargo has totally failed in its objectives as well, which were not justified in any event. It should finally be lifted and we, and our government, should continue to criticize the Cuban government’s oppressive and destructive policies.

Iran

Economic and financial sanctions against Iran have been more successful. Though the U.S. initially imposed limited sanctions following the Iranian revolution in 1979, international sanctions were imposed by the U.N. Security Council in 2006 and later by the EU in response to Iran’s refusal to suspend its uranium enrichment program. These sanctions banned supplying Iran with nuclear-related materials and technology, and froze the assets of key individuals and companies related to the program. In the following years these sanctions were expanded to include an arms embargo and broader freezes on assets held abroad and monitoring the activities of Iranian banks, and inspecting Iranian ships and aircraft.

These sanctions have reduced Iran’s export (largely oil) revenue and sharply restricted its imports of materials needed for its uranium enrichment program. The international arms embargo has negatively impacted Iran’s military capacity as it is now reliant on Russian and Chinese military assistance. The U.S./EU embargo on oil shipments was made more effective when the EU extended its embargo to ship insurance resulting in most supertankers refusing to load Iranian oil. Excluding Iran from international payments via SWIFT has significantly complicated such payments. The value of Iranian rial plunged by 80% and the standard of living is suffering.

While smuggling has allowed wide spread evasion of many restrictions, they significantly raise the cost of, and thus reduce the gains from, trade. In the list of unintended consequences, Fareed Zakaria argues that sanctions have strengthened the state relative to civil society because in Iran the market for imports is dominated by state enterprises and state-friendly enterprises, thus smuggling requires strong connections with the government.

While it is difficult to assess the impact of sanctions on public attitudes, they seem to be succeeding in increasing pressure on the government to reach an agreement with the U.S. and EU to reign in its uranium enrichment program. This qualified success reflects the broadly accepted purpose for the sanctions (thwarting Iran’s nuclear weapons potential), and hence broad (but not universal) enforcement of such sanctions.

Islamic State — Da’ish

Da’ish is not a recognized state but is so widely seen as an evil pariah that it constitutes an entity and cause for which sanctions should have their maximum impact. Moreover it is being resisted and attacked militarily as well. While direct U.S. military engagement would be counterproductive in the long run (it is their region and interest, not ours), logistical and weapons support to the government of Iraq and close coordination with Iraq’s neighbors has been and will be helpful. Blocking every possible source of income, payments, and weapons procurement by Da’ish will gradually degrade its ability to fight and to hold on to the territory it needs to fulfill its Islamic caliphate objective.

When virtually the whole world is behind sanctions, we have many tools and capability to make them effective. But even in this most obvious and potentially effective case, there are challenges. While strongly and rightly defending the right of anyone to offend the Prophet or anyone else we can hardly forbid public statements in support of Da’ish. The British “human rights group” CAGE, for example, is under attack for calling Jihadist John “a beautiful young man.” The group, led by former Guantanamo Bay inmate Moazzam Begg, is being attacked by both public and private groups in the UK for its jihadist sympathies. Similar issues exist in the U.S. Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2972757/Fury-charities-fund-ISIS-Jihadi-John-apologists.html and http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-31657333

But what about financial support to terrorist groups from their sympathizers? Striking the right balance between fighting terrorists and freedom of expression will require care. Who of my generation can forget the controversies raised in the 1970s and 80s over the financial contributions of Irish Americans and their charities to the Irish Republican Army (officially a terrorist group)?

Russia

In general, the modern world is blessed with many positive incentives for people and countries to behave well. The broadly embraced values of the Enlightenment, and classical liberalism’s respect for each individual and his and her rights has established a presumption against force and coercion and hence against war. It is far more profitable (for both sides) to buy what we want than to try to take it (trade vs war). But unfortunately this has not always been enough to deter bad behavior necessitating consideration of deterrents. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, whose behavior I can only understand as that of a self enriching gangster who is happy to exploit the fears and paranoia of the average Russian to enhance his power and control, but who cares little for the future well being of his country, is grossly violating post Westphalian principals of sovereignty. Our interest in Ukraine is marginal and Putin’s is intense for reasons of Russian history and its emotional value for Russian support of its new autocrat. U.S. intervention of any sort in Ukraine would likely precipitate intensified interference by Russia. Where and when would the escalation on each side end? Would Russia’s bankruptcy end the fighting before reaching the nuclear level? We should not try to find out. Whether we should provide the pro west Ukraine government with defensive arms is a more difficult question, but would risk ill-advised escalation by Ukraine, a risk we should not take. This leaves us with economic sanctions as the most appropriate deterrent of Russia’s bad behavior.

Interestingly and frustratingly the vary interdependencies that develop with trade also create weapons that can be used by either side to promote a country’s aims. Da’ish is not in a position to deprive us of anything in retaliation to sanctions we impose on it. Even shutting down all exports of oil in the territories it controls or is likely to control would be barely noticed. On the other hand, Russian threats to shut off the flow of oil and gas to Europe and especially Germany, which receives 40% of its oil from Russia, must be taken very seriously. All of the natural gas consumed in Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, and Macedonia comes from Russia as does over 50% in Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Montenegro, Serbia, Slovenia, Turkey, and Ukraine. A Russian cut off of gas and to a lesser extent of oil would be devastating to Europe. On the other hand, the loss of that revenue would be devastating to Russia. This is the two-sided nature of trade. It introduces caution into measures to harm trading partners.

Russia’s recent deal to supply oil and gas to China will reduce its reliance on its European market and hopefully Europe will also take steps to reduce its reliance on Russia. However, the U.S. has moved slowly if at all to increase its capacity to ship gas and oil to Europe, which is currently heavily dependent on existing pipelines from Russia. Russia has spent billions of dollars in Europe through environmental groups and others to discourage the development of Europe’s oil shale potential and to encourage the reduction of its use of nuclear energy. http://www.thenewamerican.com/world-news/europe/item/18546-nato-head-russia-is-funding-anti-fracking-movement http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/feb/2/richard-rahn-vladimir-putin-funding-opposition-to-/

Sanctions so far have been carefully (and wisely) targeted to a few specific individuals and companies. It is difficult to determine whether they are having any effect on Putin’s behavior. If they are increased, the risk of Russian retaliation will increase as well, the burden of which would fall on Europe, not the U.S. Russia has cut off the flow of its gas and oil to Europe before for relatively short periods but has resisted doing so for the last few years. Putin is now threatening it again: http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/putin-threatens-to-cut-gas-to-ukraine-as-showdowns-shift-to-economy/2015/02/25/b0d709de-bcf6-11e4-9dfb-03366e719af8_story.html.

Putin’s behavior justifies increasing sanctions but they should remain well targeted. A total blockade of Russia, which would be extremely difficult for Europe, would lead to a collapse of the Russian economy with unpredictable political consequences. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 following the end of the cold war in December 8, 1987, with the signing of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty launched the transition (for a while) to a more liberal regime. It was the most dramatic and totally peaceful regime change the world has ever seen, but it took 70 years of patience to achieve. In a letter to this week’s Economist former British Ambassador to Russia Sir Tony Brenton said: “The solution to the Russia problem is not to sanction and isolate, but to hug close and thus, eventually, subvert.” We have a strong interest in an orderly political transition in nuclear-armed Russia.

Israel

Ironically the opposite side of the page of the Washington Post story on Russia linked above reported on the very disturbing use of economic sanctions by Israel against the Palestinians living in the West Bank. Israel refused to turn on the promised water to a new upscale city (residences, shopping mall, theater complex, sports club, school, etc.) being built on a West Bank mountaintop. “Before granting water access to the planned city of Rawabi, Israel — which controls the area that the water pipe would run through — wants Palestinian Authority officials to return to an Israeli-Palestinian Joint Water Committee. The Palestinians abandoned the group in 2010 because they don’t want to approve water projects to Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, which are built on land that Palestinians want for a future state — and which still get plenty of water.” http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/new-palestinian-city-has-condos-a-mall-and-a-sports-club–but-no-water/2015/02/24/d5a28dcc-b92e-11e4-a200-c008a01a6692_story.html

After driving Palestinians from their homes in the war of 1948 that established the Jewish state of Israel, the new state of Israel and the international community accepted boundaries between Israel and the rest of Palestine that were somewhat enlarged from the UN approved partition of Palestine into Israel and the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The right of the 700,000 displaced Palestinians to return to their homes remain one of the unresolved issues in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. The Jewish settlements referred to above are in the West Bank and have been ruled illegal in a number of UN resolutions and U.S. State Department opinions. http://works.bepress.com/warren_coats/26/

On several occasions Israel has also withheld the import tariffs that it collects on behalf of the WBG government (the Palestinian Authority) in order to pressure the PA not to challenge the construction of additional illegal settlements in the West Bank. “To protest the Palestinian Authority’s move this year to join the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Israel has also withheld for three months the transfer of $381 million in custom duties Israel collects on Palestinians’ behalf.” http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/israel-to-let-water-flow-to-west-bank-development-at-center-of-political-feud/2015/02/27/d1b598de-be84-11e4-bdfa-b8e8f594e6ee_story.html

These are examples of a country’s use of “sanctions” to achieve its own, not widely shared, political ends. In the New York Times Nicholas Kristof said: “The reason to oppose settlements is not just that they are bad for Israel and America, but also that this nibbling of Arab land is just plain wrong. It’s a land grab.” http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/26/opinion/nicholas-kristof-the-human-stain.html?_r=0 The same can be said of Russia’s land grab in Ukraine.

Fortunately in the case of Israel, Prime Minister Netanyahu intervened on February 27 and approved turning on the water before traveling to the U.S., presumably worried about bad press from Israel’s behavior, something President Putin unfortunately but predictably doesn’t seem to care about.

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”