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    Israël - Palestina Info: Background Articles & Opinions

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    Background Articles & Opinions Renewing the Direct Negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians (INSS)
    Geplaatst door abby op Sunday 29 August @ 04:42:14 GMT+1 (1861 maal gelezen)

    Renewing the Direct Negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians
    INSS Insight No. 203, August 26, 2010
    Brom, Shlomo

    Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently announced that direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians will be renewed on September 2, 2010 in Washington. The talks will be launched in the presence of Prime Minister Netanyahu, Palestinian Authority President Abbas, and President Obama; also invited to the inaugural meeting are President Mubarak of Egypt, King Abdullah of Jordan, and Quartet emissary Tony Blair. After the initial meeting, the sides will proceed to direct talks, in the United States or in this region, and continue with active American involvement. A similar announcement was also issued by the Quartet.

    The renewal of the talks was made possible following heavy pressure leveled by the United States on Abbas to concede his three conditions for renewing the talks. The first was that the talks be conducted according to principles determined in advance relating to the territorial component of the agreement. Abbas demanded that it be agreed in advance that the solution be based on the 1967 borders with the exception of some limited land swaps. The second condition was predetermining a negotiations schedule, and the third condition was that Israel extend the construction freeze in the settlements after it expires on September 26.

    The announcements by Clinton and the Quartet were meant in part to make it easier for Abbas to agree to renew the talks by mitigating the political cost he will have to pay to the Palestinian public in light of what is seen as capitulation to American and Israeli pressure. However, from Abbas' perspective it is doubtful that the announcements will have their desired effect. He has already been attacked on the internal Palestinian front for his "surrender," and even within Fatah, his own party, his decision is not enjoying much support.

    It is unclear whether the US administration made any promises to the Palestinians to ensure the start of the talks, and if they did, what they were. Clinton's announcement contained two elements of importance to Abbas, though these were formulated in a non-committal way. The first referred to the timetable, namely, the hope that the talks would reach a conclusion within one year. The second referred to active American involvement in the talks. There were reports in the Arab media – so far unsubstantiated – that President Obama has given the Palestinians guarantees that the territorial solution would be based on the 1967 borders and include limited land swaps for territory identical in size. It was likewise reported that the Americans would be prepared to present bridging proposals reflecting Palestinian considerations. It is also possible that the Americans promised Abbas that if he agreed to direct talks, they would be able to persuade Netanyahu to continue the construction freeze de facto, even without a public declaration to that effect.

    All sides share low expectations about the talks' prospects of success, even if the US American administration and Prime Minister Netanyahu thought the announcement merited some optimistic statements, including Netanyahu's declaration that the Palestinians will be surprised by his proposals. This remark hints at greater willingness on his part to meet them part way.

    Already at the outset there will be a number of hurdles that the sides will have to overcome to prevent an early breakdown of the talks. The first hurdle is agreement on the order of the agenda. While the Palestinians have agreed to the American suggestion to begin by discussing security and territory in tandem, Netanyahu has demanded that the talks start by discussing security and recognizing Israel as a Jewish state. He conditions the discussion of other issues on agreement in these areas. Yet if Netanyahu indeed insists on this demand, the talks will likely be nipped in the bud, with the United States siding with the Palestinians over this.

    The second hurdle is the construction freeze. The Palestinians have made it entirely clear that renewed construction in the settlements will end the talks. The United States will likely attempt to reach an understanding with Israel over continuing the construction freeze, barring in the settlements close to the Green Line, including the Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. However, continuing to expand the settlements in the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem will almost certainly end the talks. Similarly, it is unclear if the Palestinians will accept a compromise that would allow construction in even some of the locations. It may be that given the current political situation, the most convenient scenario for Abbas is one in which he ends the talks because of construction in the settlements. In that case, the decision to renew the talks will only have temporarily postponed the crisis that was already expected to erupt in September.

    On the face of it, starting the talks without preconditions was a political victory for Netanyahu, who managed to twist Abbas' arm while ensuring the unity of his coalition. The Labor Party cannot threaten to leave because of the political stalemate, and he has not made any concessions that are liable to annoy his coalition partners on the right. The question is whether this is not in fact a Pyrrhic victory. Israel dragged a weakened, humiliated partner into the negotiations, which weakens this partner politically and denies it legitimacy in the Palestinian public. A weak negotiator is incapable of reaching compromises over sensitive issues. In addition, Netanyahu's opening positions are presumably far removed from the positions presented by then- Prime Minister Olmert to the Palestinians. As such, the gaps between the stances of the two sides are now greater than they were a year and a half ago. Hence, even if the talks do not break down immediately, the probability that Israel and the Palestinians will be able to bridge the gaps between them within a year seems highly far-fetched.

    If so, the three parties – Israel, the Palestinians, and the United States – will have to consider other options as well. The Palestinians will again consider the option of a unilateral establishment of a Palestinian state with international backing. It may also be that in the given situation, the only realistic step would be to return to the Roadmap route and consider an interim solution of establishing a Palestinian state within temporary borders. At the same time, the negotiations over a permanent settlement would continue, based on the assumption that arriving at a permanent agreement would require a longer period of time and might also depend on political changes on both sides.

    An additional question touches on the role of the United States in the direct talks. On the one hand, the distrust between Israel and the Palestinians requires active American involvement, particularly viable bridging proposals. On the other hand, precisely because of the distrust and the assessment of both sides that the talks are destined to fail, there is a danger that the American presence will encourage both sides to talk to the Americans rather to one another. In this case, the goal of the two sides would be primarily to convince the Americans that the expected failure should be attributed to the other side. Thus, the American team involved in the talks will have to navigate very carefully in order to avoid contributing to their failure.

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    Background Articles & Opinions Study shows Dutch newspaper's bias against Israel (Ratna Pelle)
    Geplaatst door abby op Wednesday 10 March @ 05:03:05 GMT+1 (2073 maal gelezen)

    Study shows Dutch newspaper's bias against Israel24.01. 2010
    Original content copyright by the author

    NRC Handelsblad
    is one of the leading quality newspapers in the Netherlands, and thus a logical subject for a study of bias in reporting about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I conducted such a study in 2008 and 2009, in collaboration with the WAAR foundation, a group of volunteers who are alarmed by the anti-Israel bias in Dutch media in recent years. I picked two time periods to monitor: the winter of 2007-2008 and last year's Gaza War and its aftermath.

    Last September I published the findings on the Internet in Dutch, after the newspaper itself declined to comment on the study. Recently I added an English summary of the study. See: Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Dutch Media: A study of NRC Handelsblad.

    The main question investigated was whether NRC Handelsblad reported in an evenhanded and impartial way about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Did it give attention to all relevant facts and views on the conflict, without pushing the reader in a particular direction? Another important question was how NRC's coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict relates to its own journalistic principles.

    The two time periods examined included 203 articles dealing with the conflict. These articles were evaluated on the basis of several criteria:

    * Whose perspective is given in the article?
    * Which people are cited or interviewed?
    * Are both sides heard?
    * Are events and actions put into a broader context?
    * Are claims substantiated?
    * Do reporters bring their own opinions into the article?
    * Is the wording neutral or shaded?
    * Does the article contain factual errors?
    * Are headlines or illustrations suggestive or misleading?
    * Which sources were used?

    These criteria were used to systematically grade articles as neutral or biased. The grading system ranked articles according to three degrees of bias --- somewhat, moderate, or strong --- and also differentiated between material that favored one side and that which worked to the detriment of the other side.

    The study found that only 33 percent of NRC Handelsblad news articles, 14 percent of background articles and 10 percent of opinion pieces dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict maintained a posture of neutrality, while 66 percent of news articles, 84 percent of background articles and 86 percent of opinion pieces examined showed bias in favor of the Palestinians or to the detriment of Israel. Only 2 articles in NRC Handelsblad - less than 1 percent of the total studied - leaned in Israel's favor.

    NRC Handelsblad is not religiously or ideologically bound and says in its own charter that it promotes a diversity of opinions and is wary of every form of authority. The newspaper, however, turned out to be very biased in its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It reserved more space for Palestinian views, treated Palestinian sources differently and used them more frequently, and published only op-eds from the pro-Palestinian side. Often the reporter or journalist gave his personal view in news articles.

    In its own op-eds NRC Handelsblad made clear that it blamed Israel for the siege of the Gaza Strip, for the continuation of building over the green line, for the failing of the peace process, for Israel being to aggressive towards the Palestinians, and during the Gaza War for excessive violence and collective punishment of the Palestinian population. Also, it argued that Hamas had become more pragmatic and that the boycott of Hamas turned out to be counterproductive.

    All these views could also be found in the news articles, in the choice of people being interviewed and the questions being asked, and in the op-eds by others that it published. NRC Handelsblad also published many unsubstantiated reports and accusations by Palestinians about Israeli misbehavior and cruelty, without quoting anyone from the Israeli side. Palestinian violence and incitement were ignored almost completely.

    In background articles, the NRC correspondent in Israel explained about Israel's successful and sophisticated PR war, and how it was also winning this war from the helpless Palestinians. One article quoted Economist correspondent Gideon Lichfield as writing in Haaretz that Israeli hasbara is so well-developed that its spokespeople could talk the hind legs off a donkey and then persuade it to dance the hora. (January 8, 2009, "Een oorlog verslaan ver van het front".) The reporter wrote about Israeli press kits with addresses and information about all the Qassam victims and spokespeople who walked around and offered the foreign journalists their help in perfect English. This was during the Gaza War, and he was probably referring to the hill near Sderot where journalists gathered and complained because they were not allowed into the Gaza Strip. Of course, the fact that they were not allowed into Gaza was also an important subject in such articles and it was claimed that journalists were only able to see the Israeli side for that reason. In reality, readers of newspapers and viewers of television in the Netherlands had plenty of footage and information from Gaza, from Palestinian cameramen and reporters and from journalists from Al Jazeera who were already in Gaza before it was closed to journalists.

    NRC Handelsblad had only a single article during the Gaza War in which one man from Ashdod briefly told that he had barely escaped death as a rocket fell near his home. About half of the article was devoted to Israeli critics of the Gaza War. There was not a single report from Sderot, not during the Gaza War and not in the other period I monitored. Of course, the newspaper never had an article about Palestinian PR efforts, about how Palestinians manipulate the news by staging things, about their sometimes exaggerated stories about massacres and atrocities. It was, in short, good against evil, the all-powerful Israel against the poor helpless Palestinians, David against Goliath.

    Other newspapers and news programs in the Netherlands show a similar one-sidedness. Especially during the Gaza War, they mostly showed the Palestinian perspective, and information from Palestinian sources was used more frequently and presented as more truthfully than information from Israeli sources, except of course when the Israeli sources were critical to Israel. Israeli and Jewish critics of Israel are very popular with Dutch media, and tiny critical or even anti-Zionist organizations get a lot of media exposure in comparison to the larger and more mainstream Jewish organizations.

    Comparing Israel to the Nazis and describing Gaza as the Warsaw ghetto and the like has become rather mainstream in the Netherlands recently, encouraged by columnists and high-profile critics including left-wing politicians and activists. Zionism is supposedly based on the same ideology of racial purity and superiority as Nazism proclaimed, and the Zionists were from the outset out to ethnically cleanse the Palestinians. It is a view which has become increasingly normal and acceptable to voice in Western Europe.

    The Dutch WAAR foundation and the Israel-based Israel Facts monitor group together published a report on the coverage of the Gaza War by the main Dutch evening news show, the NOS Journaal. More such studies will probably be carried out in the coming year to show that it is not just a problem of one particular newspaper or news program, but a general tendency.

    Despite the pro-Palestinian bias of the media in the Netherlands, many people still think the media show more understanding for Israel's side, as they did in the (distant) past. A few years ago, Joris Luyendijk, a former Dutch Middle-East correspondent, wrote a book about his experiences, which became a bestseller. He also reproduced (and reinforced) the myth that the Israeli PR is so successful and 'sneaky' and the Palestinians are the poor oppressed victims on all counts. He has been a much-seen guest in talk shows, and he wrote many op-eds about the Middle East. With these studies of the NOS news show and NRC Handelsblad we aimed to show that Luyendijk and likeminded people are mistaken, and the situation is actually the other way around, and we hope to get a discussion started about the role and responsibilities of the media regarding the conflict.

    The media coverage on Israel and the Palestinians is not without consequences. People have become much more sympathetic to the Palestinians. It has become normal to view Israel as an aggressive or even rogue state that oppresses a defenseless people. Moreover, anti-Semitic feelings and utterances have grown, especially during the Gaza War and other conflicts. Jews feel increasingly unsafe, particularly in or near neighborhoods with a large population of Moroccan descent. During the Gaza War there have been several anti-Semitic incidents, and there have been demonstrations were angry young Dutch Moroccans shouted anti-Israel and anti-Semitic slogans. Their extreme views on the conflict are not corrected in our media and schools, and there is a tendency to show more and more understanding for their anger and their viewpoint.

    Not all of these developments are due to the media of course, but they do play a role in the increasing polarization regarding the Middle East conflict. Anti-Zionists in particular have become more vocal and more extreme in their views and their verbal attacks on sympathizers of Israel. This is illustrated by the enormous amount of anti-Semitic reactions in talkbacks on the internet, not in the last place on the websites of quality newspapers like NRC Handelsblad and De Volkskrant. It is not possible to read just one such 'discussion' without finding Nazi comparisons and rantings that an all-powerful Jewish lobby controls the world, that Israel was only created because of the Holocaust and that the Palestinians are paying for our sins. Jews have become the perpetrators and the Palestinians have become the new Jews. It is hard to blame such talkbackers for writing things not too different from what is written in op-eds by renowned historians like Thomas von der Dunk.

    Unfortunately, the reports on the coverage of the NOS and NRC have both been ignored by the mainstream media, and only pro-Israel websites and blogs have written about them. The media are extremely reluctant to write about critical studies about other media. Also, as an anti-Zionist view is trendy and viewed as new, refreshing and breaking taboos, it is much harder to get your point across when you disagree with that view than when you go with it like Luyendijk did and many with him.

    Ratna Pelle

    (This post was revised 09.03.2010 - Thanks to Ami, Joe and Wouter for corrections.)

    The English language summary is at: Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Dutch Media: A study of NRC Handelsblad
    The complete Dutch study is at: Krantenonderzoek NRC Handelsblad berichtgeving Israëlisch-Palestijns Conflict

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    Background Articles & Opinions Mohammed al-Dura - Israel's greatest PR failure (Haaretz)
    Geplaatst door abby op Saturday 30 January @ 12:51:05 GMT+1 (1467 maal gelezen)

    Haaretz / Last update - 09:01 24/01/2010 
    Mohammed al-Dura - Israel's greatest PR failure
    By Reuven Pedatzur

    The photograph of Mohammed and Jamal al-Dura crouching behind a cement-filled barrel in a fruitless effort to avoid being hit by the bullets of Israeli soldiers became a symbol of the cruelty and brutality of Israel. It established the image of the Israel Defense Forces as a bloodthirsty army, operating on the basis of unacceptable norms. At the end of the 55-second footage aired by the France 2 television station, reporter Charles Enderlin declared that "Mohammed is dead," opening "the floodgates to a torrent of vengeance," as Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff wrote in their book "The Seventh War."

    Mohammed al-Dura became a martyr, a symbol of the struggle of the Palestinian people against a ruthless occupier. Postage stamps bearing an image of the father and son were issued throughout the Arab world, and streets were named after the boy.

    The story of Mohammed al-Dura was a tremendous propaganda victory for the Palestinians. But it was also Israel's biggest public relations failure, and it is unclear why. There is plenty of evidence showing that the story about the boy's death was a show skillfully orchestrated by the Palestinians.

    What is troubling in this affair is that official Israel ignored the testimonies and investigations that began piling up immediately after the incident. The documentary by the German journalist Esther Shapira, and the investigation by French businessman Philippe Karsenty, raise suspicions that Palestinian cameraman Talal Abu Rahma who shot the footage that was delivered to France 2 meddled with the story. And many others were party to this effort.

    The cameraman's testimony is full of contradictions. He says that "the soldiers shot the two in cold blood for 45 minutes." However, if the IDF soldiers wanted to hit Mohammed and his father in "cold blood" they could have killed them in less than a minute. Regarding the question of how many bullets were fired toward the two, Abu Rahma said "at least 400." The wall at the site of the incident clearly shows eight holes.

    Karsenty managed to acquire the raw footage of Abu Rahma, including the 10 seconds of film after Enderlin declares that "Mohammed is dead," which shows the child raising his hand and peering toward the camera. Nowhere in the footage are bullets seen hitting the bodies of father and son, even though the father claims he was hit by 12 bullets and his son by three. No blood was found at the site of the incident.

    Mohammed al-Dura was buried in a funeral attended by masses. However, the child who was buried was brought to Shifa Hospital in the Gaza Strip at 10 A.M., according to the testimony of a doctor who admitted him. The shots at the Netzarim junction began only at 2 P.M., and Mohammed was taken away from the site at 3 P.M. In the photographs shown by a Gaza pathologist, a child who had been hit by bullets is seen, but his injuries are not the sort that Jamal spoke of. While the father says that Mohammed was hit in his right leg, the boy at Shifa was hit in his left leg. A biometric identification expert compared the photograph of the child who was buried and the child at the Netzarim junction, and found that they are different.

    The father, Jamal, claims that 12 bullets hit his body, and he proudly shows off the scars on his arms. However, Shapira found Dr. Yehuda David, who says that he operated on him six years before the incident and that the scars are the result of knife wounds.

    Nonetheless, official Israel is silent. A golden opportunity to challenge the credibility of the Palestinian version on one of the most formative events in the history of the conflict is being missed, and it is hard to understand why. The IDF, more than once, has sinned in the excessive use of military force, which leads to the death of innocents. But when it turns out that in the Dura affair IDF soldiers did not hit a child and his father, those responsible for public relations at the IDF are silent, as is the Foreign Ministry. Thus Israel relinquishes the media front to the Palestinians, who are taking advantage of it with sophistication while using television stations that sympathize with their cause such as France 2.

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    Background Articles & Opinions Why are Americans so Pro-Israel? (Jeff Jacoby)
    Geplaatst door abby op Friday 25 December @ 00:18:26 GMT+1 (1528 maal gelezen)

    by Jeff Jacoby

    Four reasons that put Americans sharply at odds with the rest of the world.

    Why are Americans so pro-Israel?

    Of all the ways in which the United States marches to the beat of its own drummer, few are more striking than the American people's consistent and deep-rooted support for the Jewish state. In a recent nationwide survey, the Gallup organization asked Americans: "In the Middle East situation, are your sympathies more with the Israelis or more with the Palestinians?" For the fourth year in a row, 59 percent - nearly 6 in 10 - said their sympathies were with Israel, while just 18 percent sided with the Palestinians. When respondents were asked for their opinion of various countries, 63 percent said they had a favorable view of Israel (21 percent said very favorable), compared with just 15 percent who thought highly of the Palestinian Authority.

    Conversely, only 29 percent of Americans told Gallup that their opinion of Israel was negative, even as a whopping 73 percent expressed a negative attitude toward the Palestinians.

    This overwhelmingly positive feeling for Israel is normal for the United States, but it puts Americans sharply at odds with the rest of the world. At the United Nations, for example, nothing is more routine than the castigation of Israel. Similarly, any time Israel is forced to use its military power in self-defense, it comes under the harsh glare of the international media, which subject it to a scrutiny far more unforgiving than any other country receives. It was only a few years ago that a poll commissioned by the European Union found that a plurality of Europeans regarded Israel as the greatest threat to world peace - more menacing than even North Korea or Iran.

    So what makes Americans different?

    Foreign policy "realists" could certainly suggest reasons why close friendship with Israel is not in America's interest, beginning with the fact that most of the world doesn't share it. There are 300 million or more Arabs in the world, and they sit atop a vast share of the world's oil supply. Why endanger American access to that oil by maintaining such close ties to a nation with only 6 million people and no petroleum to export? Why risk incurring the wrath of Islamic terrorists by supporting Israel, a nation most of them detest? Surely it would make more sense - so a "realist" might argue - for Americans to distance themselves from the world's lone Jewish state, and tilt instead toward the much greater number of nations and governments that are hostile to Israel.

    Yet most Americans instinctively reject such advice. The national consensus in support of Israel is longstanding and durable, and it isn't grounded in economics, energy policy, or a quest for diplomatic popularity. Nor, as some conspiracy-minded critics have claimed, is it because a "Zionist lobby" in Washington routinely hijacks US foreign policy, manipulating America into serving Israel's ends.

    The roots of America's bond with Israel lie elsewhere.

    First, Americans stand with Israel because in it they recognize a liberal democracy much like their own: a nation in which elections are lively, fair, and democratic; in which freedom of speech and the press are core values; in which the political rights of minorities are respected; and in which a commitment to civil liberties and justice is woven into the very fabric of society.

    Second, Americans know that Israel is a stable ally in one of the world's most critical and volatile regions. Its intelligence service is perhaps the world's finest, its military is the best in the Middle East, and its painfully acquired expertise in counterterrorism is invaluable - all the more so as we wage our own war against jihadi terrorists.

    Third, Americans sympathize with Israel because they understand that the enemies of Israel state hate the United States as well. The suicide bombers who revel in the death of innocent Jews, the fanatics who chant "Death to Israel," the Iranian- and Syrian-backed forces that launch rockets from Gaza or Lebanon with the aim of shedding Israeli blood - they are steeped in the same murderous ideology as Osama bin Laden and the Islamists who slaughtered so many Americans on Sept. 11, 2001.

    And fourth, there is a deep religious bond between American Christians and the Jewish people, a bond that stretches back to the earliest era of American history. More than a century before the Revolutionary War, the Puritan leader Increase Mather taught his followers to anticipate the day when the Jews would return to their homeland and establish "the most glorious nation in the whole world." In 1819, former President John Adams wrote of his wish to see "the Jews again in Judea an independent nation." Today, tens of millions of American evangelicals passionately support - even love - the Jewish state, and consider it nothing less than their duty as Christians to stand with Israel and her people.

    Why are Americans so pro-Israel? For reasons practical and idealistic, religious and strategic. They are linked by the kinship of common values - an affinity of strength and decency that reflects the best of both nations, and sets them apart from the other nations of the world.

    This article originally appeared in the MetroWest Jewish Reporter

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    Background Articles & Opinions Why a Peace Agreement with the PLO has not been Reached (Haaretz)
    Geplaatst door abby op Thursday 17 December @ 00:54:29 GMT+1 (2420 maal gelezen)

    Why a Peace Agreement with the PLO has not been Reached
    Ze’ev B. Begin
    [Translation by Israel GPO]
    Published (in Hebrew) in Haaretz – 5 Dec 2009

    "To this day, I cannot understand why the Palestinian leadership did not accept the far-reaching and unprecedented proposal I offered them," wrote former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (The Washington Post, 17.7.2009). "It would be worth exploring the reasons that the Palestinians rejected my offer and preferred, instead, to drag their feet, avoiding real decisions."
    The main elements of Olmert's proposal, as understood by Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mahzan) were: acceptance of the principle of the "right of return" for Palestinian Arab refugees and resettling thousands of them in Israel; Israel’s withdrawal from 98 percent of the territory of Judea, Samaria and Gaza; and a land swap for the remaining two percent (Washington Post, 29.5.09). In addition, Olmert proposed a "safe passage" between Gaza and Judea; acceptance of the eastern part of Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian State; and relinquishing Israel's sovereignty on the Temple Mount, the Mount of Olives and the City of David while proposing a joint administration of these sites by Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the PLO, the United States and Israel (The Australian, 28.11.09).
    What this means is that at the end of 2008 Mahmoud Abbas rejected a concrete proposal for the establishment of a state in all of Samaria, Judea and Gaza, with its capital in Jerusalem. The failure of the recent negotiations, following the failure of the previous round of negotiations in 2000, demands an explanation.

    As a first attempt to explain the recent failure, it was suggested, mainly in Israel, that the belated nature of the offer and the weakness of the Olmert government at the time the offer was made led the PLO to reject it. PLO leaders, however, at no point questioned the prime minister's authority to negotiate with them, just as they did not question the authority of Ehud Barak in 2000, after he lost his parliamentary majority. The PLO leaders suggested more substantial explanations for the most recent failure.
    Saeb Erekat asserted that Jerusalem had been left unsolved (Al Jazeera, 27.3.09; translations from Arabic are by the Middle East Media Research Institute, and appear on its Web site). He later claimed that the problem had been Israel's refusal to acknowledge PLO sovereignty in the entire area up to the 1967 lines before attempting a detailed demarcation of the border (Al Dustour, 25.6.09). Recently, Mahmoud Abbas stated that it was the number of refugees who would be allowed to return to Israel that had remained in dispute (Al-Hayat al-Jadida, 10.11.09). However, of all these, the most precise and thorough explanation for the failure of the negotiations is to be found in the simple words of Abbas: "The gaps were wide" (The Washington Post, 29.5.09). Obviously, to narrow the gaps after all the concessions Israel offered, the      PLO still demands more.
    This means that the explanation for the rejection of Israel's far-reaching proposals is a profound one, and is to be found in the adherence of the PLO leadership to the traditional, extremist positions of the movement. While it has been argued that these positions are no longer valid, they were in fact recently reaffirmed by the sixth Fatah conference in Bethlehem, convened in August 2009.
    Resolutions of the Fatah Conference
    The principal ideological resolution of the conference reads: "The goals, principles and methods, as they are written in Chapter One of the [Fatah] charter, are the basic point of departure for our movement, and are part of the ideological and political identity of our people." The Charter is posted on the official Fatah Web site, and includes, in Chapter One, Article 19: "Armed struggle is a strategy, not a tactic. The armed revolution of the Arab Palestinian people is a crucial element in the battle for liberation and for the elimination of the Zionist presence. This struggle will not stop until the Zionist entity is eliminated and Palestine is liberated."
    The practical translation of this declaration is reflected in the conference's resolution on the issue of refugees: "Efforts must be made to implement the right of return and restitution for refugees, and they are entitled to have their property restored. Likewise, the refugee problem should [be handled] uniformly, with no differentiation based on the refugees' location, including the refugees within the 1948 areas [pre-'67 Israel]."  Before the Conference, Saeb Erekat explained that "there is restitution for each article: not return or restitution but return and restitution," (Al Dustour, 25.6.09).
    The suggestion in some circles, that the PLO will eventually give up on the "right of return" but will only announce this at the very last moment, is not supported by facts on the ground: the very last moment has already passed twice - in  2000 and in 2009.
    This unequivocal position regarding the “right of return” is well tied to another resolution of the Fatah conference: "There must be absolute opposition, from which there will be no withdrawal, to recognizing Israel as a 'Jewish state,' in order to protect the refugees' rights and the rights of our people on the other side of the Green Line [i.e., Arab citizens of Israel]." This statement is a direct echo of the announcements by Fatah leaders made several months prior to the conference. Ahmed Qureia (Abu Ala) said: "It's not fair to demand that we recognize [Israel] as the state of the Jewish People because that means an evacuation of the Arabs from Israel and a predetermination of refugees' future, before the negotiations are over. Our refusal is adamant," (Haaretz, 26.5.09). Abbas explained that the PLO refused to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, since it would imply renunciation of any large-scale resettlement of refugees within Israel (Washington Post, 29.5.09).
    However, the source of Fatah's opposition to recognition of Israel as a Jewish state is deeper than that. It arises from the reaffirmation of the term "Zionist entity," meaning that the ideology of the movement is still based on the assertion that Judaism is not a nationality, but only a religion, which has no right to a sovereign state. Hence, recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people contradicts the profound ideology of Fatah, as explained by Erekat before the Fatah conference: "Whoever asks you to recognize the Jewish State asks you to fill a form requesting to join the Zionist movement. This movement maintains [the idea] that religion is nationality," (al Dustour, 25.6.09).
    Hence, what we see is a solid ideology: "The liberation of Palestine" will come in the wake of the return of the refugees to Israel and the "elimination of the Zionist presence," and no decision contradicting this plan, such as acceptance of Israel as a "Jewish state", can be allowed. Whether such a plan can be realistically implemented in the near future is unimportant. Declaring it is aimed mainly at the movement activists, in order to keep them politically alert with a clear understanding of the common goal. Experience shows that Fatah resolutions and declarations by its leaders should be regarded seriously, and the competition for public opinion support between Fatah and Hamas increases Fatah's commitment to its stated policy.
    In August 2009, attempting to improve its image, Fatah could have refrained from any discussion of its Charter, or could have adapted it to current political conditions by eliminating its extremist sections. However, by preferring a blatant reaffirmation of the Charter, the conference demonstrated the importance that its delegates attribute to adherence to their original goal. Abbas, who has been recently threatening to resign, did not try to prevent the acceptance of the extremist resolutions at the conference through a similar threat, and has not expressed any
     reservations about them.
    We can therefore assume that the updated platform of Fatah indeed defines the impossible Fatah conditions for an agreement with Israel. Fatah does not really accept the "two-state solution" and does not view an independent state within the 1967 lines as its final goal. This explains well the series of events since 1993: the Fatah leadership violently violated the Oslo Accords, it failed to reach an agreement with Israel in 2000 despite far-reaching concessions offered by Prime Minister Barak, and it turned down Prime Minister Olmert's proposals in 2008. This is in accord with the fact that in 2008, when the Israeli delegation asked the PLO delegation whether a final agreement with Israel would include an article declaring the end of conflict and an end to further demands, the reply was in the negative.
    Refraining from reaching an agreement with Israel has served the PLO well, as explained by Erekat: "At first they told us that we would run hospitals and schools, later they were willing to give us 66 percent, at Camp David they reached 90 percent and today they have reached 100 percent. Why then should we hurry, after all the injustice caused to us?" (Al-Dustour, 25.6.09).
    Those who urge Israel to reach an agreement with the PLO "now" should explain what they suggest doing if negotiations are resumed, as the PLO is demanding, at precisely the point where they left off in 2008. There is no indication that the PLO agrees now to terms it declined a year ago, and hence it is clear that in this situation the PLO will make additional demands. Those who prod us should suggest what else Israel is expected to concede? I have not heard an answer to this question, except for mutterings "but we have to try." As long as Fatah does not fundamentally change its platform, there will be no Zionist faction in Israel that is capable of reaching a final-status agreement with it.
    Reality must not be artificially beautified. This is indeed a regrettable situation, but we cannot allow it to cause despair. As was the case 100 years ago, our future in our land does not depend on the ill-will of our neighbors' leadership. It is in our hands. We have proven that.
    The writer is a minister in PM Netanyahu's cabinet.

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    Background Articles & Opinions Presenting my peace plan to Barack Obama (Ray Hanania)
    Geplaatst door abby op Tuesday 08 December @ 18:38:35 GMT+1 (2662 maal gelezen)

    Presenting my peace plan to Barack Obama
    Dec. 1, 2009

    I'm no dummy. I know that the Jews don't run the media and the Arabs have no clout. So who do I present my peace platform to where it might find some "legs" to make it happen? The White House, of course.

    As you know, I'm running for "president of Palestine." Not that I can win, of course, but I know I have better ideas on peace than any of those who can be elected president. The White House has pretty much run the Middle East conflict since the beginning, not always on the same side. If the White House wants to make a difference and push both Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table, it can.

    So how do I get my plan to the one guy who can make a difference, President Barack Obama? Since announcing my candidacy and the Yalla Peace Party and platform, I've been contemplating that challenge. I figured that feat to be harder than compromising on Jerusalem. And I almost gave up until I read last week that a guy and his wife managed to walk right up to the president of the United States without having to worry about little things like "security clearances" and "background checks."

    To top it off, the guy, Tareq Salahi, is an Arab, though we all know that just because you have an Arab name doesn't mean you are actually Arab. The president's middle name is Hussein, and while he has a lot of admirers on the far Right who insist he is an Arab (and a few other choice four-letter-words that I won't repeat here), he's not an Arab.

    Still, Obama's the guy I have to reach to make peace happen. I could use my connections to Obama. He is a distant cousin 53 times removed, who I refer to in colloquial Arabic as khiyya, or cousin.

    OR I could just follow the Salahi lead and walk right past all the president's security to shake his hand, First Lady Michelle Obama's hand, the hand of some Indian dude who the black-tie party was called to honor, and even get to share a few laughs with Vice President Joe Biden and Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.

    Who's laughing now? Just walked right in. Past the security gate. Past the Secret Service. Past the bodyguards.

    I always assumed that anyone who just walked up to the president uninvited would get tackled to the ground faster than a Chicago Bears quarterback. And that's fast, as many of you sports fanatics who are interested in America football (real football, not that fake kicking-stuff thing) know.

    But apparently, any Arab can just walk into the White House and see the president. That's the message the conservative Right, led by its new fearless leader (actually old former leader) Dick Cheney, is peddling.

    I'm Arab, or so I am told. So I had better get in there to see the president before Cheney gets into office, because Cheney won't just have me tackled to the ground. He'll use me as target practice for a new battalion of Blackwater and Halliburton contractors.

    Salahi's wife is one of those socialites. Hot looking, with blond hair. Nordic. My wife is hot-looking, too. Blond hair, European Jewish. Which reminds me, if I'm elected president, Palestine and Israel would both share something huge. They'd both have Jewish first ladies.

    My wife thinks I'm nuts, or meshuganeh in Yiddish. Magnoon in Arabic. If I'm elected president of Palestine, where am I going to get the gefilte fish? It's a big issue in my house, although I told her that she'd still be able to eat all those "Jewish" foods like mensiff, tabouleh, felafel and humous. Hey, I have to be strategic about my marriage - of course it's not called a marriage when a Jew and a Palestinian marry. It's called an "occupation."

    Still, she thinks my plans are the most imaginative presented so far. I'm just hoping President Obama has an imagination just like mine. He needs something, with all his big plans from health care to the Middle East in disarray.

    She did point out, though, that Salahi may have ruined it for me. "You ululate 'Allahu akbar' once in his presence and the Secret Service will be swarming all over you." I just shrugged and sighed, insha'allah! Like all Arabs do.

    Does Obama say that, I wonder? If I do make it past the security, I wouldn't just shake his hand. I'd give him a fist bump. And then hand him my plans for the "settler-refugee exchange program" - the heart of my campaign efforts.

    The plan is simple, really. For every Israeli settler that Israel keeps as part of the peace process, Israel has to take back one Palestinian refugee. There are some 500,000 settlers in the West Bank, including around east Jerusalem.

    Israel can take back all or none, depending on how many settlements it wants to keep.

    That's a lot of reasons to maybe trade in a few more settlements than they have been planning on, in exchange for real peace.

    For the Palestinian refugees, it just might be the answer, too. They've been held hostage by politics for years, living in destitution and despair for generations since the war started more than 62 years ago.

    In the end, in my plan, everyone gets a new life, Palestinian and Israeli. And that's all we can hope for in a two-state solution.

    I think Obama could like that idea.

    Of course, if it fails, maybe I can follow the lead of the Salahis and get my own reality TV show. A comedy. Along the lines of Survivor.

    The writer is really running for president of Palestine. His Web page is www.YallaPeace.com.

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    Background Articles & Opinions Ehud Olmert still dreams of peace (The Australian)
    Geplaatst door abby op Tuesday 08 December @ 18:28:41 GMT+1 (1354 maal gelezen)

    Greg Sheridan, Foreign editor
    The Australian - November 28, 2009 12:00AM

    EHUD Olmert is a giant of contemporary Middle East politics. As Israel's prime minister he made war - twice - in Lebanon in 2006, and in the Gaza Strip earlier this year. He's also tried to make peace, offering the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, the most extensive concessions any Israeli leader has ever brought to the table in the search for a settlement.

    Now Olmert's out of office, not because he lost an election but because he is fighting corruption charges in the courts. Previous such charges against him came to nothing and Olmert has always asserted his innocence.

    In Sydney this week, I conducted, perhaps, the longest interview and discussion Olmert has undertaken with any media since leaving office in March after more than three years as prime minister.

    Dressed in jeans and black T-shirt with a Red Bull logo, Olmert looked pretty chipper for a balding lawyer with a modest paunch in his early 60s who'd just flown 24 hours from Israel.

    For 90 minutes in the boardroom of Sydney's Park Hyatt, and then over a relaxed lunch with his wife, Aliza, at Circular Quay, Olmert talked with remarkable frankness about the military campaigns in Gaza and Lebanon, the historic peace deal he offered the Palestinians, President Barack Obama's Middle East policy and the options for action against Iran.

    Olmert's role in history is a big one. If he clears his name of the corruption charges he could come back to the centre of Israeli life, as previous prime ministers - like Likud's Benjamin Netanyahu, now PM for the second time - and Labour's Ehud Barak, who both staged comebacks.

    Olmert is straightforward and direct, and sometimes surprising, in his assessments of the global leaders he dealt with. He believes, for example, that the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, is a genuine partner in the peace process.

    Olmert says of Abbas: "I think he's genuine in his desire to achieve a Palestinian state, and he recognises the right of Israel to exist. And, while I can't speak for him, even if he can't say it publicly and formally, he recognises that Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people."

    This judgment by Olmert is critical because it means he still believes the peace process has a chance, while Abbas remains the Palestinians' leader. And it's not as if Olmert, who spent most of his life in the centre-right Likud party and was once the hardest of hardliners, is unwilling to pass a harsh judgment on a Palestinian leader.

    I ask Olmert to compare the failure of Abbas to conclude a peace agreement with him, with the opportunity Yasser Arafat passed up at Camp David in 2000. It is one of the few times Olmert cuts off a question with a declarative response: "The two are not alike. Yasser Arafat never wanted to make peace with Israel. Yasser Arafat was a murderer and a terrorist and remained so until the last day of his life. Abu Mazen (the name by which Israelis and others in the region commonly refer to Abbas) wants peace."

    So, too, Olmert says, does Netanyahu. Olmert followed Ariel Sharon out of Likud to form the Kadima party, based on the idea that Israel would unilaterally withdraw from the Gaza Strip and later the West Bank. It withdrew from Gaza but withdrawal from the West Bank became untenable in light of the missile attacks on Israel from Gaza.

    Sharon was felled by a stroke and Olmert took over as acting PM in January 2006, later won an election in his own right and remained PM until the end of March this year. Netanyahu became leader of Likud and consistently attacked Sharon and Olmert from the Right, for offering too many concessions to the Palestinians.

    But Olmert says Netanyahu is not an obstacle to peace: "The Prime Minister (Netanyahu) is dedicated to peace, he is concerned with peace. Naturally - he is also worried about security."

    Olmert is similarly positive about Obama, implicitly rebuking those Israelis who see Obama as hostile to Israel's security interests: "I'm entirely free of any suspicions or complaints about the Obama administration. I think the Obama administration is very friendly to Israel. I know a lot of the people in the administration and they are committed to Israel. Many people in this administration are intimately acquainted with all the facts of the Middle East - Hillary Clinton, Dennis Ross, Rahm Emmanuel, Jim Jones."

    Olmert, like many Israelis, was critical of Obama's speech to the Muslim world in Cairo: "I was not happy with this speech. There should not even be a tacit comparison of the Holocaust with the Palestinian situation. This mistake was not corrected by Obama later visiting Buchenwald (the site of a Nazi extermination camp during World War II). However, this does not mean that Obama is an enemy of the Israeli people, just that he made a mistake. I hope he realises he made a mistake."

    But he has some advice for Obama on the search for an Arab-Israeli peace: "I don't quite understand the American approach. Every new president believes they have to start from square one. If they're lucky they last for eight years, and by the end there is almost peace. But the new administration then starts anew, because they always know best."
    Olmert believes Obama made a mistake by focusing initially on a demand for an Israeli building freeze in West Bank Jewish settlements: "I think the tactic of starting to argue about a building here or there is a tactical mistake and I expect the Americans to change their approach."

    So what should the Americans do? "Instead of starting at the beginning, they should start at the end."

    Here, Olmert approaches the most significant aspect of his prime ministership. He waged a war against Hezbollah in southern Lebanon in 2006, and since then Hezbollah has not fired rockets against Israel. He waged a brutal operation against Hamas in the Gaza Strip at the start of this year, and since then the Hamas rockets have mostly fallen silent. And the Israeli economy, despite everything, did well in the last few years.

    But Olmert's term in office is best remembered for the extensive negotiations, and final peace offer that he undertook with Abbas.
    Olmert explains this position to me in unprecedented detail. His offer to Abbas represents a historic watershed and poses a serious question. Can the Palestinian leadership ever accept any offer that an Israeli prime minister could ever reasonably make?

    It is important to get Olmert's full account of this offer on the record: "From the end of 2006 until the end of 2008 I think I met with Abu Mazen more often than any Israeli leader has ever met any Arab leader. I met him more than 35 times. They were intense, serious negotiations."

    These negotiations took place on two tracks, Olmert says. One was the meetings with the two leaders and their senior colleagues and aides (among them Kadima leader Tzipi Livni on Olmert's side). But Olmert would also have private, one-on-one meetings with Abbas.

    "On the 16th of September, 2008, I presented him (Abbas) with a comprehensive plan. It was based on the following principles.

    One, there would be a territorial solution to the conflict on the basis of the 1967 borders with minor modifications on both sides. Israel will claim part of the West Bank where there have been demographic changes over the last 40 years."

    This approach by Olmert would have allowed Israel to keep the biggest Jewish settlement blocks which are mainly now suburbs of Jerusalem, but would certainly have entailed other settlers having to leave Palestinian territory and relocate to Israel.

    In total, Olmert says, this would have involved Israel claiming about 6.4 per cent of Palestinian territory in the West Bank: "It might be a fraction more, it might be a fraction less, but in total it would be about 6.4 per cent. Israel would claim all the Jewish areas of Jerusalem. All the lands that before 1967 were buffer zones between the two populations would have been split in half. In return there would be a swap of land (to the Palestinians) from Israel as it existed before 1967.
    "I showed Abu Mazen how this would work to maintain the contiguity of the Palestinian state. I also proposed a safe passage between the West Bank and Gaza. It would have been a tunnel fully controlled by the Palestinians but not under Palestinian sovereignty, otherwise it would have cut the state of Israel in two.

    "No 2 was the issue of Jerusalem. This was a very sensitive, very painful, soul-searching process. While I firmly believed that historically, and emotionally, Jerusalem was always the capital of the Jewish people, I was ready that the city should be shared. Jewish neighbourhoods would be under Jewish sovereignty, Arab neighbourhoods would be under Palestinian sovereignty, so it could be the capital of a Palestinian state.

    "Then there was the question of the holy basin within Jerusalem, the sites that are holy to Jews and Muslims, but not only to them, to Christians as well. I would never agree to an exclusive Muslim sovereignty over areas that are religiously important to Jews and Christians. So there would be an area of no sovereignty, which would be jointly administered by five nations, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the Palestinian state, Israel and the United States.

    "Third was the issue of Palestinian refugees." This issue has often been a seeming deal-breaker. The Palestinians insist that all Palestinians who left Israel - at or near the time of its founding - and all their spouses and descendants, should be able to return to live in Israel proper. This could be more than a million people. Olmert, like other Israeli prime ministers, could never agree to this: "I think Abu Mazen understood there was no chance Israel would become the homeland of the Palestinian people. The Palestinian state was to be the homeland of the Palestinian people. So the question was how the claimed attachment of the Palestinian refugees to their original places could be recognised without bringing them in. I told him I would never agree to a right of return. Instead, we would agree on a humanitarian basis to accept a certain number every year for five years, on the basis that this would be the end of conflict and the end of claims. I said to him 1000 per year. I think the Americans were entirely with me.

    "In addition, we talked about creating an international fund that would compensate Palestinians for their suffering. I was the first Israeli prime minister to speak of Palestinian suffering and to say that we are not indifferent to that suffering.

    "And four, there were security issues." Olmert says he showed Abbas a map, which embodied all these plans. Abbas wanted to take the map away. Olmert agreed, so long as they both signed the map. It was, from Olmert's point of view, a final offer, not a basis for future negotiation. But Abbas could not commit. Instead, he said he would come with experts the next day.

    "He (Abbas) promised me the next day his adviser would come. But the next day Saeb Erekat rang my adviser and said we forgot we are going to Amman today, let's make it next week. I never saw him again."

    Olmert believes that, like Camp David a decade earlier, this was an enormous opportunity lost: "I said `this is the offer. Sign it and we can immediately get support from America, from Europe, from all over the world'. I told him (Abbas) he'd never get anything like this again from an Israeli leader for 50 years. I said to him, `do you want to keep floating forever - like an astronaut in space - or do you want a state?'
    "To this day we should ask Abu Mazen to respond to this plan. If they (the Palestinians) say no, there's no point negotiating."

    Olmert is right to paint this offer as embodying the most extensive concessions, and the best deal, ever offered to the Palestinians by an Israeli leader. But his very experience with this offer raises several questions. Could he have delivered its terms if the Palestinians had accepted it? Perhaps international momentum would have enabled him to do so, and, in fact, Olmert's Kadima party did remarkably well in the election which followed his prime ministership. Could any Israeli government today realistically make such an offer? The answer would seem to be no.

    And most important, if the Palestinian leadership cannot accept that offer, can they accept any realistic offer? Do they have the machinery to run a state? Is their society too dysfunctional and filled with anti-Semitic propaganda to live in peace next to the Jewish state? Could they ever deliver on any security guarantees?

    I put these questions to Olmert and his response to them is perhaps the most lukewarm part of our interview: "It's certainly a legitimate concern, since I never received a positive response from them. I think it's up to them (the Palestinians) to prove the point. I hope they will rise to this."

    Olmert still believes the Palestinians should respond to the deal he offered them. If they did so, this would open the way to peace, but only if Palestinian society is reconciled to living in peace next to Israel as it really exists.

    Olmert is robust in defence of other parts of his legacy. The war he led in 2006 against Hezbollah in southern Lebanon was widely criticised within Israel itself as being poorly executed. Not surprisingly, this is a view Olmert rejects: "The war in Lebanon ended with a unanimous UN resolution which allowed Israel to stay in the south of Lebanon until an international force took over from us. Since then, there has been not one military attack on Israel from Hezbollah. For more than three years now the northern border has been totally quiet and the northern part of Israel is flourishing as never before.

    "The military operation in Lebanon was the most successful military operation in recent Israeli history. Many in Israel don't recognise that."
    He claims a similar success in the military operation in the Gaza Strip, which has also resulted in a vast decline of rocket attacks on Israel. He sees a grotesque double standard in the world's criticism of what he portrays as Israel's efforts at self-defence: "When they were firing rockets at us from the north or the south, their purpose was only one thing, to kill Israeli civilians. Nobody (at the UN) was so devastated by this that they set up a special commission to investigate it. Everyone comes to us and says non-involved people (innocent civilians) were killed in Gaza. I regret it very much. But I had to protect a million people who were under attack. Every prime minister . . . has the responsibility to provide security for his people."

    Not surprisingly, Olmert rejects the Goldstone report accusing Israel of war crimes in Gaza root and branch: "To write a report that focuses only on Israel's response to terror against innocent civilians was a moral indignity by Goldstone."

    Olmert went quite a long way towards achieving a peace deal with Syria, but could not conclude it before he left office: "If Bashir Assad (Syria's President) wants the Golan Heights, I made it clear what the requirements would be for Israel."

    Part of those requirements, Olmert says, would be "breaking off military co-operation with Iran that is harmful to Israel's security. Breaking off that military co-operation is important, but I don't expect Syria to break diplomatic relations with any country."

    Olmert believes that the Syria track is perhaps the only peace process open to Israel in the immediate future, and that the time has come for direct Israel-Syria negotiations.

    But if Syria is willing to make peace, I ask Olmert, how come it was building, with North Korean help, a nuclear reactor which Israel, under Olmert, bombed to obliteration? "I am saying nothing about that."

    One matter where Olmert is a little critical of Obama is the ever present issue for all Israelis, Iran: "There is no doubt that Iran is planning to have a non-conventional capacity. Why would any country fight with the whole world over a civilian nuclear program if they have no plan of developing a nuclear bomb?

    "They (the Iranians) are enriching uranium and hope to have enough fissile material for a few bombs. At the same time they are developing delivery systems with a range of 3000km. Once they have enough fissile material it will be impossible to stop them.

    "When the President of Iran talks about removing Israel from the face of the Earth and is building nuclear bombs with a range of 3000km, you have to be worried.

    "Israel is very active about this, but we feel the leadership on this issue should be taken by the Americans, and also by the Russians, Chinese, Germans and French.

    "I was not happy with Obama's decision to have a dialogue with Iran. This dialogue will be used for only one purpose, to buy time for Iran.
    " My advice would be to set a rigid timetable for this dialogue. This will not be easy as the Iranians are not dumb. Secondly, prepare your fallback position now. Don't start to prepare it when the talks fail.

    "My view is that the Chinese and Russians are not in favour of a nuclear Iran. The problem is how to co-ordinate action. This is the responsibility of President Obama. The Americans want to lead the world, they must lead the world. Europe certainly now wants tough action.

    "It is not a simple choice between acquiescence in the face of Iranian nuclear weapons or a comprehensive military attack on Iran. There are a lot of other effective options."

    And what are some of these options? "I'm not prepared to discuss them publicly."

    Olmert's life and political persona have seen radical transformations, from ultra-hawk to offering historical compromise. He was mayor of Jerusalem for 10 years, was finance minister, has been at the heart of intense political and military struggles.

    He is visiting Australia in connection with the Australia-Israel Leadership Forum, which has its second session next week. Olmert has been a frequent visitor to Australia, and compares Sydney to Tel Aviv.

    "Growing up in Israel, how can I not be an optimist? When you remember what Israel was 50 years ago and you see Israel now, one of the most successful countries in the world, stable, democratic, with an enormously stable economy despite everything that has happened in the global economy in the last few years, how can I not be an optimist?"

    His final injunction seems simple enough in theory, but is immeasurably difficult in practice: "We need to be powerful enough to defeat all our enemies, and generous enough so that they will understand that peace is more attractive than any alternative their extremists can offer."

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    Background Articles & Opinions A Palestinian peace plan Israelis can live with (Bradley Burston)
    Geplaatst door abby op Monday 30 November @ 01:33:23 GMT+1 (1686 maal gelezen)

    A Palestinian peace plan Israelis can live with 
    By Bradley Burston

    Ray Hanania is a compassionate and, in fact, delightful person, with rare insight into the aspirations and failings of Palestinians and Israelis. In the eyes of many, that alone ought to disqualify him from consideration as a leader in the Holy Land.

    Add to that, the fact that the acclaimed journalist also happens to be a first-generation Palestinian-American married to a Jewish woman, as well as a stand-up comedian who has appeared alongside Jewish comics, and the self-destructively polarized electorate of the Holy Land will need to expend not a whiff of thought in dismissing him out of hand.

    Which all makes his candidacy for the president of Palestine, and the Mideast peace proposal that is his platform, all the more compelling. He is realistic about his chances ("No, I don't expect to win"). But the Hanania plan embodies the radicalism of the truly moderate, and deserves much more than cursory consideration.

    Consider his proposal for one of the thorniest municipal quandaries in the West Bank. Jews who wish to live in Hebron in a future state of Palestine, should be allowed to do so, he writes, "and should be protected, just as non-Jews. In fact, for every Jewish individual seeking to live in Palestine, a Palestinian should be permitted to live in Israel."

    What Hanania is proposing is a two state solution that addresses not only quantifiable issues, but underlying emotional grievances, and the anguish in the histories of both sides. Cynics, and, in particular, the extremists among them, will reject it out of hand as simplistic and artificially balanced. But if peace is ever to be made in the Holy Land, it will be made despite extremists and not by them.

    The following is the text of Hanania's outline. I have taken the liberty of numbering the clauses, with an eye toward facilitating discussion:

    1. I support two-states, one Israel and one Palestine. As far as I am concerned, I can recognize Israel's "Jewish" character and Israelis should recognize Palestine's "non-Jewish" character.

    2. I oppose violence of any kind from and by anyone. I reject Hamas' participation in any Palestinian government without first agreeing to surrender all arms and to accept two-states as a "final" peace agreement. But I also reject allowing Israeli settlers to carry any weapons and believe Israelis must impose the same restrictions on them.

    3. I can support some settlements remaining - given the reality of 42 years of time passing - in a dunam-for-dunam land exchange. If Ariel is 500 dunams with a lifeline from Israel, then Israel gives Palestine 500 dunams in exchange.

    4. Jerusalem should be a shared city and Palestinians should have an official presence in East Jerusalem. The Old City should be shared by both permitting open access to the city to all with a joint Palestinian-Israeli police presence.

    5. Palestinian refugees would give up their demand to return to pre-1948 homes and lands lost during the conflict with Israel. Instead, some could apply for family reunification through Israel and the remainder would be compensated through a fund created and maintained by the United States, Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia and the United Nations.

    6. I also think Israelis should find it in their hearts to show compassion and offer their apologies to Palestinians for the conflict.

    7. I support creation of a similar fund to compensate those Jews from Arab lands who lost their homes and lands, too, when they fled.

    8. I think the Wall should be torn down, or relocated to the new borders. I have no problem separating the two nations for a short duration to help rebuild confidence between our two people.

    9. All political parties, Palestinian and Israelis, should eliminate languages denying each other's existence, and all maps should be reprinted so that Israeli maps finally show Palestine and Palestinian maps finally show Israel.

    10. A subway system should be built linking the West Bank portion of the Palestine state to the Gaza Strip portion of the Palestine State. Palestine should be permitted to build a seaport access to strengthen its industry, and an airport to permit flights and too and from the Arab and Israeli world.

    11. I would urge the Arab World to renew their offer to normalize relations with Israel if Israel agrees to support the creation of a Palestinian State.

    12. And I would ask both countries to establish embassies in each other's country to address other problems.

    13. While non-Jewish Palestinians would continue to live in Israel as citizens, Jews who wish to live in settlements surrendered by Israel could become Palestinian citizens and they should be recognized and treated equally.

    14. If Jews want to live in Hebron, they should be allowed to live in Hebron and should be protected, just as non-Jews. In fact, for every Jewish individual seeking to live in Palestine, a Palestinian should be permitted to live in Israel. In fact, major Palestinian populations in Israel could be annexed into Palestine (like settlements).

    15. Another concept is to have non-Jews living in Israel continue to live there but only vote in Palestinian elections, while Jews living in Palestine would only vote in Israeli elections. A special citizenship protection committee could be created to explore how to protect the rights of minorities in each state.

    16. Israel and Palestine should create joint-governing and security agencies working with the United States to monitor the peace, and establish an agency to pursue criminal acts of violence.

    As in every potentially workable peace proposal, Hanania's plan has something in it to upset and disappoint everyone. But its underlying principle of compromise based on mutual respect and compassion, its openness to the needs and wounds of two victimized peoples, and its suggestion that grassroots sentiment for peace can succeed where leaders have so consistently failed, are surely as worthy of serious consideration, as anything currently on the table.

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    Background Articles & Opinions The crime of being a Zionist (Karl Pfeifer)
    Geplaatst door abby op Monday 30 November @ 01:19:31 GMT+1 (1349 maal gelezen)

    The crime of being a Zionist
    By Karl Pfeifer

    I am an 81-year-old survivor of the Holocaust. Strange things happened to me last week in Germany.

    A journalist, I had been invited by a student organization at Bielefeld University and College to give a lecture on "Racism and Anti-Semitism in Hungary." My host was the left-wing anti-fascist group Antifa AG at the Bielefeld campus, located in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

    My lecture was scheduled to take place on November 19 at a youth center that serves as the home of a number of left-wing organizations. The event had been announced in late October, but two days before I was to appear, at a meeting of people who frequent the center, several raised an objection about my speaking there. They said they had received information that during Israel's War of Independence, when I served in the Palmach (the pre-state elite strike force of the Haganah), I had participated in a massacre in a Palestinian village. They went so far as to allege that I myself had actively participated in the killing.

    Those accusing me did not name the place where this alleged massacre was committed, or provide any other details, and even acknowledged that their information was incomplete. But when pushed for corroboration, they settled the matter by explaining that "Pfeifer is a Zionist." At the same time, in an apparent - and bizarre - attempt to appear even-handed, those in attendance resolved that they also would not be willing to host someone who had been a member of the militant Palestinian organization Black September in the 1970s.

    Of course, no one at the youth center asked me to respond to the accusations before they decided to rescind the invitation. Nor have any of them been willing to answer the questions of German journalists who learned about the incident regarding just why they excluded me. I only learned about what happened because it was reported to someone in Antifa by two of its members who had been present at the decisive meeting.

    Fortunately, my hosts were able to organize an alternate space with limited notice, and I gave my lecture in the end. My subject was Hungary, where a recent resurgence of racist acts and statements can be observed. This includes the murder of eight Roma (Gypsies) in racial attacks during the past two years, and the shocking anti-Jewish verbal attacks in the right-wing media there and on YouTube.

    As for me, I did indeed serve in the Palmach and the Israel Defense Forces from 1946 until 1950, after arriving in Mandatory Palestine in 1943. And although I left Israel in 1950, I am proud of my service as a soldier there, when we were defending ourselves against aggression and fighting for the right to have our own state. I did not participate in any massacres, but I know that improper acts were carried out by both sides in the conflict between Israel and its neighbors, as happens during wartime.

    But the comparison of the Palmach with Black September, which carried out murderous acts of terrorism against civilians in the name of the Palestinian struggle, is an outrageous and ignorant one.

    To accuse someone of having participated in a "massacre" - in this case, with no details and no proof - is an act of projection that is unfortunately not unusual in certain European circles. The best-known and by far the most widespread example of projection of guilt is the defamation of Israelis as the "Nazis of today." This is one of the most objectionable forms of anti-Semitism in the era after Auschwitz. As far as I can tell, my real crime apparently is being a "Zionist," which I can only understand as being guilty of being a Jew who defended himself and who favors the existence of a Jewish and democratic state. In Germany, I had the feeling that I was being judged by those arrogant anti-Semites not on the basis of what I have done or am doing, but for what I am.

    Karl Pfeifer is a Vienna-based journalist.

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    Background Articles & Opinions The IDF ethics code and the Goldstone Illusion (The New Republic)
    Geplaatst door abby op Thursday 12 November @ 03:07:43 GMT+1 (1608 maal gelezen)

    Published on The New Republic ( http://www.tnr.com )


    The Goldstone Illusion
    What the U.N. report gets wrong about Gaza--and war.
    ·         Moshe Halbertal
    ·         November 6, 2009 | 12:00 am


    In 2000, I was asked by the Israel Defense Forces to join a group of philosophers, lawyers, and generals for the purpose of drafting the army’s ethics code. Since then, I have been deeply involved in the analysis of the moral issues that Israel faces in its war on terrorism. I have spent many hours in discussions with soldiers and officers in order to better grasp the dilemmas that they tackle in the field, and in an attempt to help facilitate the internalization of the code of ethics in war. It was no wonder that, when the Goldstone Report on the Gaza war was published, I was keen to read it, with some hope of getting a perspective on Israeli successes or failures in this effort to comprehend war, and to fight it, morally. Unlike many who responded to the report, in praise or in blame, I gave this immensely long document a careful reading.

    Let us begin with a sense of the moral stakes. Since the early 1990s, the nature of the military conflict facing Israel has been dramatically shifting. What was mainly a clash between states and armies has turned into a clash between a state and paramilitary terror organizations, Hamas in the south and Hezbollah in the north. This new form of struggle is now called “asymmetrical war.” It is defined by an attempt on the part of those groups to erase two basic features of war: the front and the uniform. Hamas militants fight without military uniforms, in ordinary and undistinguishing civilian garb, taking shelter among their own civilian population; and they attack Israeli civilians wherever they are, intentionally and indiscriminately. During the Gaza operation, for example, some Hamas militants embedded in the civilian population did not carry weapons while moving from one position to another. Arms and ammunition had been pre-positioned for them and stored in different houses.

    In addressing this vexing issue, the Goldstone Report uses a rather strange formulation: “While reports reviewed by the Mission credibly indicate that members of the Palestinian armed groups were not always dressed in a way that distinguished them from the civilians, the Mission found no evidence that Palestinian combatants mingled with the civilian population with the intention of shielding themselves from the attack.” The reader of such a sentence might well wonder what its author means. Did Hamas militants not wear their uniforms because they were inconveniently at the laundry? What other reasons for wearing civilian clothes could they have had, if not for deliberately sheltering themselves among the civilians?

    As for the new “front” in asymmetrical warfare, we read in another passage, which is typical of the report’s overall biased tone, that, “On the basis of the information it gathered, the Mission finds that there are indications that Palestinian armed groups launched rockets from urban areas. The Mission has not been able to obtain any direct evidence that this was done with the specific intent of shielding the rocket launchers from counterstrikes by the Israeli armed forces.” What reason could there possibly be for launching rockets from urban centers, if not shielding those rockets from counterattack? And what is the moral distinction that is purportedly being established here?

    By disguising themselves as civilians and by attacking civilians with no uniforms and with no front, these paramilitary terrorist organizations attempt nothing less than to erase the distinction between combatants and noncombatants on both sides of the struggle. Suicide bombers exploded themselves on buses and in restaurants in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa, Dimona, Eilat, and many other places. Qassam rockets and Katyushas were fired randomly at various Israeli civilian centers, as far as their range allowed. So the war had no defined place and was waged by unidentified murderers. It justifiably felt like a change in the very nature of warfare. The goal of this momentous transformation was to create a war of all against all and everywhere. It aimed at shifting the Israeli population from a healthy sense of cautious fear attached to a particular place-a border, a security zone--to a generalized panic that has no location. Everywhere and everyone is now regarded as dangerous. This is not paranoia. It has a basis in a new reality, and is the outcome of a new strategic paradigm.

    Faced with this unprecedented and deeply perplexing situation, two extreme positions have emerged in Israel. The radical left claims that, since such a struggle necessarily involves the killing of innocent civilians, there is no justifiable way of fighting it. Soldiers ought to refuse to engage in such a war, and the government has only one option, which is to end the occupation. This view is wrong, since Israel has the right and the obligation to protect its citizens, and without providing real security, it will fail also to achieve peace and to put an end to the occupation. The radical right claims that, since Hamas and Hezbollah initiated the targeting of Israeli civilians, and since they take refuge among their own civilians, the responsibility for harming Palestinian civilians during Israel’s attempt to defend itself falls upon the Palestinians exclusively. This approach is also wrong. The killing of our civilians does not justify the killing of their civilians. Civilians do not lose their right to life when they are used as shields by Hamas and Hezbollah. In fighting the militants, Israel must do as much as it possibly can do to avoid and minimize harm to civilian life and property.

    The aim of the IDF ethics code is to strike a coherent and morally plausible position that provides Israel with the effective tools to protect its citizens and win the war while also setting the proper moral limits that have to be met while legitimately securing its citizens. In debating the code, I heard many times that it imposes constraints upon Israeli action that would limit the capacity of the army to win the battle and to provide security. In fact, the moral constraints and the strategic goals are mutually reinforcing. Radical groups such as Hamas start their struggle with little support from their population, which tends to be more moderate. They increase their base of support cynically, by murdering Israeli civilians and thereby goading Israel into an overreaction (this is not to deny, of course, that Israel can choose not to overreact) in a way that ends up causing suffering to the Palestinian civilians among whom the militants take shelter. The death and the suffering of the civilian Palestinian population, in the short run, is a part of the Hamas strategy, since it increases the sympathy of the population with the movement’s aims. An Israeli overreaction also leads to the shattering of Israel’s moral legitimacy in its own struggle. In a democratic society with a citizen’s army, any erosion of the ethical foundation of its soldiers and its citizens is of immense political and strategic consequence.

    And so, Israel’s goal in its struggle with Hamas and Hezbollah is to reverse their attempt to strengthen themselves politically by means of their morally bankrupt strategy. Rather than being drawn into a war of all against all and everywhere, Israel has sought to isolate the militants from their environment: to mark them and “clothe” them with a uniform, and to force them to a definite front. The moral restraints in this case are of great strategic value. I am convinced, for this reason, that targeted killing, especially of the militants’ leadership, is an effective and legitimate endeavor. It is for this same reason that I believe that Israel’s siege of Gaza, and its harsh effect upon general civilian life, is morally problematic and strategically counterproductive.


    In accordance with the just war tradition in Western history and philosophy, three principles are articulated in the IDF code concerning moral behavior in war. The first is the principle of necessity. It requires that force be used solely for the purposes of accomplishing the mission. If, for example, a soldier has to break down the door of a home in order to search for a suspected terrorist, he has no right to smash the TV set on his way in: Such gratuitous use of force has no relation to the mission. This is a straightforward principle, professionally and morally, though its implementation might be complicated if the mission is not well-articulated or if there are serious arguments about what kind of force is necessary to accomplish a given mission. In ordinary war, the collapse of the enemy’s army is a more or less clear event; but in an asymmetrical war, victory is never final--the mission seems not so much to end as to shift; and so it may be difficult to apply the necessity principle.

    The second principle articulated in the code is the principle of distinction. It is an absolute prohibition on the intentional targeting of noncombatants. The intentional killing of innocent civilians is prohibited even in cases where such a policy might be effective in stopping terrorism. At the height of the violence in 2002, some suggested that the only deterrence against suicide bombers who wish to die anyway is the killing of their families. But such a policy is blatantly murderous, and it is prohibited. An Israeli soldier is prohibited from intentionally targeting noncombatants, and, in the event that he is given such an order, he must refuse it. He is obligated to engage in fighting only those who threaten his fellow soldiers and civilians.

    The implementation of the principle of distinction is also very difficult in an asymmetrical war. Since the enemy does not appear in uniform and there is no specified zone that can be described as the battlefield, the question of who is a combatant becomes crucial. In the process of identifying combatants, a whole causal chain must be established and marked as a legitimate target. This “food chain” of terrorism is made up of people whose intentional actions, one after the other, will end up threatening Israeli civilians or soldiers. This chain includes the one who plans the attack, the one who recruits the bomber, the one who prepares the bomb, the driver of the car that transports the bomber to his or her target, and so on. It is clear that such an attempt gives rise to difficult cases, and even the most scrupulous effort will leave some room for doubt. What about the financer of the bombing, for example?

    It is also clear that applying the international law of war to this new battlefield is fraught with problems. Consider a painful issue that comes up in the Goldstone Report--the matter of the Gaza police force. In the first minutes of the war, Israel targeted Hamas police, killing dozens. There is no question that, in an ordinary war, a police force that is dedicated to keeping the civilian peace is not a military target. The report therefore blames Israel for an intentional targeting of noncombatants. But such a charge is only valid concerning a war against a state with a clear and defined military institution, one that therefore practices a clear division of labor between the police and the army. What happens in semi-states that do not have an institutionalized army, whose armed forces are a militia loyal to the movement or party that seized power? In such situations, the police force might be just a way of putting combatants on the payroll of the state, while basically assigning them clear military roles. Israeli intelligence claims that it has clear proof that this was the case in Gaza. This is certainly something that Israel will have to clarify. But it is clear to me that Goldstone’s accusation that targeting of the police forces automatically constitutes an attack on noncombatants represents a gross misunderstanding of the nature of such a conflict.

    The third principle,the most difficult of all, is the principle of proportionality, or the principle of avoidance. Its subject is the situation in which, while targeting combatants, it is foreseeable that noncombatants will be killed collaterally. In such a case, a proportionality test has to be enacted, according to which the foreseeable collateral death of civilians will be proportionate to the military advantage that will be achieved by eliminating the target. If an enemy sniper is situated on a roof, and 60 civilians live under the roof, and the only way to kill the sniper is to bomb the roof, which is to say, bomb the house, such bombing is prohibited. The military advantage in eliminating the sniper is disproportionate to the probable cost of civilian life.

    In discussing the proportionality constraint, there emerges a natural pressure to provide an exact criterion for measuring the proper ratio between collateral deaths and military advantage. I must admit that I do not know the formula for such a precise calculation, and I do not believe that a clear-cut numerical rule can be established. Different people have different intuitions about strategic value and moral cost. And yet, the Israeli army has traditions and precedents that can be relied upon. In 2002, for example, Israel bombed the Gazan home of Salah Shehadeh, who was one of the main Hamas operatives responsible for the deaths of many Israeli civilians. Fourteen innocent people were killed along with Shehadeh. The Israeli chief of staff, Moshe Yaalon, claimed that the collateral deaths were not only unintentional, they were not even foreseeable. The innocent people who were killed lived in shacks in the backyard of the building, which, in aerial photographs, looked like storage units. Yaalon claimed that, had Israel known about this collateral harm, it would not have bombed Shehadeh’s hiding place. It had already aborted such an operation a few times because of concern with foreseeable civilian death. I believe that such care is right. It is better to err on the side of over-cautiousness concerning collateral damage.

    Besides the difficulties that are raised by the proportionality test, there is a far greater and more momentous issue at stake in the principle of avoidance. The IDF code states that soldiers have to do their utmost to avoid the harming of civilians. This principle states that it is not enough not to intend to kill civilians while attacking legitimate targets. A deliberate effort has to be made not to harm them. If such an active, positive effort to avoid civilian harm is not taken, in what serious way can the claim be made that the foreseeable death was unintended? After all, the death occurred, and could have been expected to occur. So the proper ammunition has to be chosen to minimize innocent deaths; and, if another opportunity is expected to arise for eliminating the target, the operation must be aborted or delayed. Civilians have to be warned ahead of time to move from the area of operation if this is possible, and units have to be well aware that they must operate with caution, even after warning has been given, since not all civilians are quick to move. A leaflet dropped from the sky warning of an attack does not matter to the people--the sick, the old, the poor--who are not immediately mobile.

    In line with such principles, the Israeli Air Force developed the following tactic. Since Hamas hides its headquarters and ammunition storage facilities inside civilian residential areas, the Israeli army calls the residents’ telephones or cell phones, asking them to move immediately out of the house because an attack is imminent. But Hamas, in reaction to such calls, brings the innocent residents up to the roof, so as to protect the target from an attack, knowing that, as a rule, the Israeli army films the target with an unmanned drone and will avoid attacking the civilians on the roof. In response to this tactic, Israel developed a missile that hits the roof without causing any actual harm in order to show the seriousness of its intention. The procedure, called “roof-knocking,” causes the civilians to move away before the deadly attack.

    It is rather a strange point in the Goldstone Report that this practice, which goes a long way to protect civilians, is actually criticized. Concerning such a practice, the report states that, “if this was meant as a warning shot, it has to be deemed reckless in the extreme.” The truth is that this is an admirable and costly effort to avoid civilian collateral harm. As is true with many of its criticisms, the report does not state what the alternative should be. What should Israel do in such a case? Attack the house without calling on its residents to move, or attack it while they are gathered on the roof? Or maybe avoid attacks altogether, allowing the enemy to take effective shelter among civilians?

    In the deliberations about the Israeli army’s code of military conduct, a crucial question emerged in connection with the requirement that efforts be made to avoid harming civilians. For such efforts surely must include the expectation that soldiers assume some risk to their own lives in order to avoid causing the deaths of civilians. As far as I know, such an expectation is not demanded in international law--but it is demanded in Israel’s military code, and this has always been its tradition. In Operation Defensive Shield in 2002, for example, Israeli army units faced a tough battle in the Jenin refugee camp. The army refused to opt for the easy military solution--aerial bombardment of the camp--because it would have resulted in many civilian deaths, and it elected instead to engage in house-to-house combat, losing 23 soldiers in the battle. This norm of taking risks with soldiers’ lives in order to avoid civilian deaths came under criticism in Israel, but I believe that it is right. Innocent civilian lives are important enough to obligate such risks. And, if commanders are told that they do not have to assume such risk, then they will shoot at any suspicious person, which will result in widespread killing.

    Yet the application of such norms in battle raises difficult moral quandaries. One of them comes up in the Goldstone Report. When the operation started, Hamas militants mostly avoided face-to-face battles with Israeli soldiers. They withdrew into the civilian heartland and fired mortar rockets from within their own population, targeting Israeli units. Mortar locations can be detected by radar, but the crew can move the mortar to a new location in a few minutes, and then fire from there. It is therefore impossible to target these mortars and their crews with a helicopter or in any other way that would provide a direct visual of the target and use accurate ammunition: Such means simply take too much time to deploy. The only option is to fire back with mortars that can be quickly and accurately directed at the coordinates of the mortars on the other side.

    The problem with such a tactic is that such mortars are of 120 millimeter caliber and the radius of their hit is 50 meters. This means that collateral damage to civilians might occur while hitting the legitimate target. Of course, the commanding officer can choose not to fire back and put his soldiers at risk from the next rounds of mortar shots. It is important also to note that, when returning fire, the commanding officer cannot know whether there are civilians in that radius and how many of them are there. In “fog of war” conditions, and under pressure to react, such information is not available.

    The Goldstone Report claims that the shooting of mortars caused disproportionate collateral harm, which is, of course, an empirical matter; but it is important to understand that this can be known only after the fact. So what to do? My own view is that, if the fire that the unit is taking is not accurate, and if the commander can move his own unit to another location, he should do so rather then fire back and endanger civilians. But this is a very difficult choice, and sometimes this choice might not be available. It is wrong to give the commanding officer a blank check to shoot anytime his soldiers are at probable risk--but he must be given the means of protecting them as well. The Goldstone Report is very critical about the firing of the Israeli mortars, but it does not take seriously into account the problems that such a situation imposes.

    It is my impression that the Israeli army in Gaza did not provide clear guidance on the matter of whether soldiers have to assume risk. Some units took risks in the Gaza in order to avoid the collateral killing of civilians, while some units accepted the policy of no risk to soldiers. This does not amount to a war crime, but it is a wrong policy. It also might be a cause of unnecessary civilian deaths: It could inspire a reason for a misguided order to shoot whoever crosses a certain line on the map in proximity to an Israeli unit. Given the fact that anyone in the battle zone could be a militant, and that warnings were given, such an order might make sense--and yet, the order should refer to someone who seems to pose a threat rather than to anyone who crosses the line, since fear and confusion might cause innocent civilians to move too close to the line and even to cross it.

    These are not simple issues. They are also not political issues. They are the occasions of deep moral struggle, because they are matters of life and death. If you are looking for an understanding of these issues, or for guidance about them, in the Goldstone Report, you will not find it.


    In discussing the code of ethical conduct with Israeli officers, many times I encounter the following complaint: “Do you want to say that, before I open fire, I have to go through all these moral dilemmas and calculations? It will be completely paralyzing. Nobody can fight a war in such a straitjacket!” My answer to them is that the whole point of training is about performing well under pressure without succumbing to paralysis. This is the case with battlefields that have nothing to do with moral concerns. Do I attack from the right or from the left? How do I respond to this new tactic, or to that? And so on. This is why moral considerations have to be an essential part of military training. If there is no time for moral reflection in battle, then moral reflection must be accomplished before battle, and drilled into the soldiers who will have to answer for their actions after battle.

    Besides the great difficulty of adjusting the norms of warfare--the principles of necessity, distinction, proportionality, and avoidance--to a non-traditional battlefield without uniforms and without a front, there is still another pedagogical challenge. In a traditional war, the difficult moral choices are made by the political elites and the high command, such as whether to bomb Dresden or to destroy Hiroshima. But in this new kind of micro-war, every soldier is a kind of commanding officer, a full moral and strategic agent. Every soldier must decide whether the individual standing before him in jeans and sneakers is a combatant or not. What sorts of risks must a soldier assume in order to avoid killing civilians while targeting a seeming combatant? The challenge is to make these rules part of the inner world of each soldier, and this takes more than just formulating the norms and the rules properly. It is for this reason that I looked to the Goldstone Report to learn whether these norms were in fact applied, and in what way Israeli soldiers did or did not succeed in internalizing and acting upon them.

    The commission that wrote the report could have performed a great service if it had concentrated on gathering the testimonies from Gaza and assessing them critically, while acknowledging (as it failed to do) that they are partial and incomplete. This would have forced Israel to investigate various matters, provide answers, and take appropriate measures. (I do not imagine Hamas engaging in such an investigation of its own crimes. This is yet another asymmetry.) But instead the commission opted to add to its findings three unnecessary elements: the context of the history that led to the war; its assessment of Israel’s strategic goals; and long sections on Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. Why should a committee with a mandate to inquire into the operation in Gaza deal with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at large?

    The honest reader of these sections cannot avoid the impression that their objective is to prepare a general indictment of Israel as a predatory state that is geared toward violating human rights all the time. It will naturally follow from such a premise that the Gaza operation was yet another instance of Israel’s general wicked behavior. These long sections are the weakest, the most biased, and the most outrageous in this long document. They are nothing if not political. In Goldstone’s account of the history that led to the war, for example, Hamas is basically described as a legitimate party that had the bad luck to clash with Israel. The bloody history of the movement--which, since the beginning of the Oslo accords, was determined to do everything in its power, including the massacre of civilians, to defeat the peace process--is not mentioned.

    The Israeli reader who actually experienced the events at the time remembers vividly that Hamas terrorists murdered Israeli men, women, and children all over Israel while a peace process was underway. Hamas was doing all this in accordance with its religious ideology, which is committed to the destruction of Israel and is fueled by Iranian military and financial support. In the supposed context that the report analyzes, there is no mention of Hamas’s role and its ideology as reflected in its extraordinary charter, which calls for the destruction of Israel and the genocidal killing of Jews. In its attempt to stop Hamas’s vicious attacks on Israel’s citizens, Israel built a long fence--an obstacle to prevent a suicide bomber in Kalkilya from rolling out of bed and driving to the heart of Kfar Saba and Netanya in five or ten minutes. (The distances between life and death are really that short.) The Goldstone Report mentions the fence, of course--but as a great violation of human rights, as motivated sheerly by predatory desires.

    Hamas was responsible in many ways for torpedoing the next opportunity for ending Israel’s occupation. After the collapse of the Oslo agreement, Ariel Sharon, then the prime minister, decided to withdraw unilaterally from Gaza, in the belief that there was no reliable partner on the Palestinian side and that Israel had to start putting an end to its control of the Palestinian population. Ehud Olmert, Sharon’s successor, was elected on a platform that committed him to unilateral withdrawals from the West Bank. But the implementation of this policy of continued Israeli withdrawal was cut short by the unrelenting shelling of Israeli cities and villages from recently vacated Gaza. Such ongoing attacks made Israelis rightly concerned that an evacuation of the West Bank would expose Israel’s population centers to such attacks, and the possibility of unilateral evacuation from the West Bank collapsed.

    In the last ten years, Israel has withdrawn unilaterally from south Lebanon and Gaza. In both cases, the vacuum was filled by militant Islamic movements religiously committed to the destruction of Israel. Anyone who supports a peaceful two-state solution must ponder the role of Hamas in destroying such a prospect--and yet, quite astonishingly, nothing of this is mentioned in the Goldstone Report. It also avoids mentioning the legitimate concern of Israel about the ongoing rearmament of Hamas in Gaza, which supplies them with more lethal long-range missiles to wreak destruction on Israeli population centers. The commission should not have dealt with the context leading to the war; it should have concentrated on its mandate, which concerned only the Gaza operation. By setting its findings about the Gaza war in a greatly distorted description of the larger historical context, it makes it difficult for Israelis--even of the left, where I include myself--to take its findings seriously.

    Then there is the report’s conclusion concerning Israel’s larger aims in the Gaza war. It claims that Israel’s objective in Gaza was a direct and intentional attack on civilian infrastructure and lives: “In reviewing the above incidents the mission found in every case that the Israeli armed forces had carried out direct intentional strikes against civilians.” In another statement, intentional destruction of property and attacks against civilians are lumped together: “Statements by political and military leaders prior to and during the military operations in Gaza leave little doubt that disproportionate destruction and violence against civilians were part of a deliberate policy.” Now, there is a huge moral difference between the accusation that Israel did not do enough to minimize collateral civilian death and the claim that Israel targeted civilians intentionally. It might well be that Israel should have done more than it did to minimize collateral deaths--it is a harsh enough claim, and it deserves a thorough examination. But the claim that Israel intentionally targeted civilians as a policy of war is false and slanderous.

    There are different accounts of the numbers of civilian deaths in Gaza, and of the ratio between civilian and militant deaths. B’Tselem, the reliable Israeli human rights organization, carefully examined names and lists of people who were killed and came up with the following ratio: Out of the 1,387 people killed in Gaza, for every militant that was killed, three civilians were killed. This ratio--1:3--holds if you include the police force among the civilians; but if you consider the police force as combatants, the ratio comes out to 2:3. There are 1.5 million people in Gaza and around 10,000 Hamas militants, so the ratio of militants to civilians is 1:150. If Israel targeted civilians intentionally, how on earth did it reduce such a ratio to 1:3 or 2:3?

    The commission never asks that question, or an even more obvious one. In operating under such conditions--Gaza is an extremely densely populated area--is such a ratio a sign of reckless shooting and targeting? One way to think about this is to compare it with what other civilized armies achieve in the same sort of warfare. I do not have the exact numbers of the ratio of civilian to militant deaths in NATO’s war in Afghanistan, but I doubt that it has achieved such a ratio. Is it ten civilians to one combatant, or maybe 20 civilians to one combatant? From various accounts in the press, it certainly seems worse. The number of collateral deaths that are reported concerning the campaign to kill Baitullah Mehsud, one of the main Pakistani militant operatives, is also alarming: In 16 missile strikes in the various failed attempts at killing him, and in the one that eventually killed him (at his father-in-law’s house, in the company of his family), between 207 and 321 people were killed. If such were the numbers in Israel in a case of targeted killing, its press and even its public opinion would have been in an uproar.

    Besides the 500 civilians who were killed in the bombing of Serbia, how many militants were killed? The inaccurate high-altitude bombings in Serbia, carried out in a manner so as to protect NATO pilots, caused mainly civilian deaths. What would have been the ratio of deaths if NATO forces were fighting not in faraway Afghanistan, but while protecting European citizens from ongoing shelling next to its borders? And there are still more chilling comparisons. If accurate numbers were available from the wars by Russia in Chechnya, the ratio would have been far more devastating to the civilian population. Needless to say, the behavior of the Russian army in Chechnya should hardly serve as a standard for moral scrupulousness--but I cannot avoid adducing this example after reading that Russia voted in the United Nations for the adoption of the U.N. report on Gaza. (The other human rights luminaries who voted for the Goldstone Report include China and Pakistan.) So what would be a justified proportionality? The Goldstone Report never says. But we may safely conclude that, if the legal and moral standard is current European and American behavior in war, then Israel has done pretty well.


    So a good deal of the outrage that has greeted the Goldstone Report is perfectly justified. And yet its sections devoted to the Gaza war do make claims and cite testimonies that no honest Israeli can ignore. They demand a thorough investigation, and I will enumerate them in their order of severity.

    The worst testimonies are of civilian deaths, some of which sound like cold-blooded murders. In the report, such cases amount to a few individual incidents, and they call for criminal investigation of particular soldiers. Was there indeed a killing at close range of a mother and her three daughters carrying white flags? Then there are a few cases of alleged civilian deaths that are the result of the reckless use of firepower. The most disturbing of them is the testimony about the Al Samouni neighborhood in Gaza City, in which 21 members of a family were killed in an attack on a house. The place and the names are given in the report, and Israel will have to provide answers. Was it a mistake? Were some of the family members Hamas fighters? Did someone shoot at the soldiers from the house? Or was this an act of unjustified homicide?

    The testimonies in the Goldstone Report are Palestinian testimonies. They were collected in Gaza, where the watchful eye of Hamas authorities always looms, rendering them vulnerable and partial. Israel chose not to cooperate with the commission, and so the Israeli version of events is not here. It was a mistake on Israel’s part not to participate in the inquiry--though, after reading the report, I am more sympathetic to Israel’s reluctance. This commission that describes its mission as fact-finding treats the missing Israeli testimonies as if they are Israel’s problem, rather than a methodological and empirical shortcoming in the report itself. Whatever one thinks about Israel’s refusal to cooperate, the Goldstone Report is still only 452 pages of mostly Palestinian testimony, and this grave limitation must be acknowledged.

    Yet the allegations have now been made, and Israeli answers must be given. The next issue that Israel will have to deal with is the use of what the report calls “human shields,” which seems to have been an Israeli practice on some occasions. In justifying such a practice, Israeli commanders claim that they forced Palestinian civilians to go to certain homes to warn other civilians before attacking the houses. This might be justified, but the testimonies sound different. They sound as if Israeli soldiers were using civilians to gather information. After attacking a certain building, a civilian was allegedly forced to go and check whether the Hamas militants were dead or not. This is a troubling testimony. Was this done, or not? If it was done, then it is in violation of Israel’s own Supreme Court ruling on the matter of human shields.

    Other testimonies pertain to the destruction of civilian property. One of the most disturbing is the report of the flattening with bulldozers of the chicken farm at Zeytoun, in which 31,000 chickens were killed. Such destruction, like other reported destructions of agricultural and industrial facilities, does not seem to serve any purpose. The accusation concerning the destruction of civilian property pertains as well to the large-scale destruction of homes. According to the commission, aerial photographs show that, of the total number of homes that were destroyed in two of the hardest-hit neighborhoods, about half were destroyed in the last three days of the operation. If so, then such destruction cannot be justified as in the heat of the battle. It was done to leave a brutal scar as proof of the Israeli presence, as immoral and illegal instruments of deterrence. If this were the case, then reparations should be made to the families whose homes were destroyed.

    Next in order of severity comes the bombing of civilian infrastructure. According to the report, the Israeli Air Force bombed the flour mill, the water wells, and the sewage pipes in Gaza. It is possible that the flour mill was strategically located and was used as a perch for snipers or as a launching facility for Qassam rockets fired in the war. This would be the only justification for such a bombing. Israel should now provide its version of these events. If indeed these facilities were attacked as part of a premeditated policy, then this was wrong, and Israel should say so.

    I do not see much substance in the complaint against Israel’s bombing of the Hamas parliament and other offices while they were empty. A persuasive case can be made that an organization such as Hamas does not have a division of labor between its military and civilian functions. The report’s long section on the attack on the prison in Gaza also seems to me a mistaken accusation. The commission notes that only one guard was killed in the bombing, but it blames Israel for endangering the prisoners in attacking a target that has no military use. It did not occur to the commission that Israel attacked the prison to allow Fatah prisoners to escape harsh treatment at the hands of Hamas. (The commission is well-aware that this was the population of the prison.) Some of them did escape, and some were subsequently shot by Hamas militants.

    The Goldstone Report as a whole is a terrible document. It is biased and unfair. It offers no help in sorting out the real issues. What methods can Israel--and other countries in similar situations--legitimately apply in the defense of their citizens? To create standards of morality in war that leave a state without the means of legitimate self-protection is politically foolish and morally problematic; but real answers to these real problems cannot be found in the Goldstone Report. What should Israel do when Hezbollah’s more lethal and accurate missiles strike the center of Tel Aviv, causing hundreds of civilian deaths? It is a well-known fact that these missiles are in Hezbollah’s possession, and, when they are fired, it will be from populated villages in Lebanon.

    It is important, for this reason, that Israel respond to the U.N. report by clarifying the principles that it operated upon in Gaza, thus exposing the limits and the prejudices of the report. A mere denunciation of the report will not suffice. Israel must establish an independent investigation into the concrete allegations that the report makes. By clearing up these issues, by refuting what can be refuted, and by admitting wrongs when wrongs were done, Israel can establish the legitimacy of its self-defense in the next round, as well as honestly deal with its own failures.

    Moshe Halbertal is a professor of philosophy at the Hebrew University and the Gruss Professor at New York University School of Law.

    Source URL: http://www.tnr.com/article/world/the-goldstone-illusion

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