Commentary Magazine


Topic: Hebron

What Happens When You Assume

When I pulled up the home page of the liberal Israeli daily Haaretz this morning, I was greeted with a somewhat humorous sight. The top headline, in large print, was: “Israeli security forces evacuate settlers from Hebron house.” Immediately to the right of that headline was this one: “Haaretz Editorial: The Israeli government gave in to the settlers.” Oops.

It appears Haaretz was expecting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not to evict the residents of a house in Hebron who the government says are not there legally. So the editors wrote a blistering editorial excoriating Netanyahu for what they assumed he would (or would not) do. It’s true that Netanyahu had recently indicated that he was not yet ready to evict the settlers. But that is a common tactic used by the government to ensure that the soldiers carrying out the evictions are not met with organized resistance. It’s not the first time the Israeli authorities have done this–it’s not even the first time they’ve done this in Hebron. Should Haaretz have assumed that Netanyahu would not evict Jews from Hebron? Just the opposite–Netanyahu has a track record of willingness to move Jews out of Hebron. He even signed an agreement with Yasser Arafat during the Clinton administration relinquishing some control over Hebron.

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When I pulled up the home page of the liberal Israeli daily Haaretz this morning, I was greeted with a somewhat humorous sight. The top headline, in large print, was: “Israeli security forces evacuate settlers from Hebron house.” Immediately to the right of that headline was this one: “Haaretz Editorial: The Israeli government gave in to the settlers.” Oops.

It appears Haaretz was expecting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not to evict the residents of a house in Hebron who the government says are not there legally. So the editors wrote a blistering editorial excoriating Netanyahu for what they assumed he would (or would not) do. It’s true that Netanyahu had recently indicated that he was not yet ready to evict the settlers. But that is a common tactic used by the government to ensure that the soldiers carrying out the evictions are not met with organized resistance. It’s not the first time the Israeli authorities have done this–it’s not even the first time they’ve done this in Hebron. Should Haaretz have assumed that Netanyahu would not evict Jews from Hebron? Just the opposite–Netanyahu has a track record of willingness to move Jews out of Hebron. He even signed an agreement with Yasser Arafat during the Clinton administration relinquishing some control over Hebron.

Should Haaretz have assumed Netanyahu wouldn’t respond to political pressure to turn parts of Jewish holy cities over to the Palestinians? No again. As the editorial itself notes, during his first term as prime minister Netanyahu “ordered the settlers to evacuate Ras al Amud,” a neighborhood in Jerusalem. (Netanyahu once even indicated, in a 2010 speech, that Jerusalem could be on the table for negotiations–an unprecedented move.)

What else surprised the Haaretz editorialists? They write that Netanyahu was ignoring the West Bank military prosecutor’s opinion, which includes a “warning of violence.” Yet, as the article on the evacuation notes, the mission was carried out “without any unusual events”–code for “peacefully.” It continues to surprise the media that settlers aren’t violent fanatics. (The picture accompanying the article shows a young Jewish mother pushing a stroller with a couple of young children walking peacefully next to her. Because Haaretz would generally post the most violent picture they have of any incident involving settlers, it would appear they were unable to locate anything but peaceful cooperation.)

Personal dislike of Netanyahu by the left has, since the very beginning of Netanyahu’s career, perverted the newsgathering and political processes to such an extent as to present a picture wholly unrelated to reality. In November, after President Obama and French President Sarkozy were caught trying to prove to each other who dislikes Netanyahu more, the Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl asked a good question: “Why do Sarkozy and Obama hate Netanyahu?”

He argued that Netanyahu has been responsive all along to Obama’s initiatives, even when Netanyahu didn’t like them. He agreed to settlement freezes, declared he would evict squatters, agreed to immediate negotiations with Mahmoud Abbas, and even announced his support for an independent Palestinian state. (The list is even longer than this, but Diehl was on the right track.) But what about the Palestinians? Diehl went on:

Abbas, it’s fair to say, has gone from resisting U.S. and French diplomacy to actively seeking to undermine it. Yet it is Netanyahu whom Sarkozy finds “unbearable,” and whom Obama groans at having to “deal with every day.” If there is an explanation for this, it must be personal; in substance, it makes little sense.

It is personal, not to mention petty and counterproductive. Netanyahu’s commitment to peace and the rule of law is only surprising to those, like the president and the Haaretz editorialists, who allow personal animus, rather than a fair reading of the facts, to guide them.

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German Opposition Leader Smears Israel as “Apartheid Regime”

Anyone wondering about how much progress those promoting hatred of Israel have made in recent years need only look at Germany. German governments have combined an understanding of the legacy of the Holocaust with a natural reticence about criticizing the Jewish state even when European political fashion has made such sentiments commonplace on the continent. But apparently that appears to be giving way to a willingness on the part of some of the country’s elites to promote some of the worst slanders against Israel.

As the Jerusalem Post reports, Sigmar Gabriel, the head of Germany’s Social Democratic Party and a likely challenger to Chancellor Angela Merkel in the next parliamentary election, posted on his Facebook page today a statement that Israel “is an apartheid regime, for which there is no justification.” Though he subsequently sought to explain the remark by seeking to limit his slur as applying only to the situation in Hebron (where an embattled small Jewish community lives under siege conditions surrounded by a hostile Arab majority) and also expressed his support for Israel’s existence and right to defend himself, that a possible future German chancellor would be willing to use such language illustrates the extent to which Palestinian propaganda has come to dominate mainstream discourse in Europe.

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Anyone wondering about how much progress those promoting hatred of Israel have made in recent years need only look at Germany. German governments have combined an understanding of the legacy of the Holocaust with a natural reticence about criticizing the Jewish state even when European political fashion has made such sentiments commonplace on the continent. But apparently that appears to be giving way to a willingness on the part of some of the country’s elites to promote some of the worst slanders against Israel.

As the Jerusalem Post reports, Sigmar Gabriel, the head of Germany’s Social Democratic Party and a likely challenger to Chancellor Angela Merkel in the next parliamentary election, posted on his Facebook page today a statement that Israel “is an apartheid regime, for which there is no justification.” Though he subsequently sought to explain the remark by seeking to limit his slur as applying only to the situation in Hebron (where an embattled small Jewish community lives under siege conditions surrounded by a hostile Arab majority) and also expressed his support for Israel’s existence and right to defend himself, that a possible future German chancellor would be willing to use such language illustrates the extent to which Palestinian propaganda has come to dominate mainstream discourse in Europe.

Hebron is a ticking time bomb where the proximity of Jews and Arabs to each other has led to much violence and hatred. But to imply that the Jewish presence in this place where a Jewish community was massacred in the last century by Palestinian mobs is somehow a form of racism is outrageous. For Gabriel to employ the language of South Africa to Israel is a short step to the delegitimization of the Jewish state. Those who would deny to Jews the same rights they reserve for themselves and others are practicing anti-Semitism. That is a line that no European, let alone a German, should dare to cross.

That the leader of Germany’s second largest party would think nothing of writing in this manner speaks volumes about the way the SPD has adopted the terminology of the far left on Israel. It also highlights the way European elites, even those in Germany where a special relationship has always existed with the modern Jewish state, have come to view the Middle East conflict through the prism of Arab nationalists and Islamists who view the Jewish presence in the country as the cause of the conflict. The real advocates of apartheid and racial cleansing in the region are not the Jews but Palestinians who think Jews must be evicted from the country. Even if Gabriel expressly opposes that goal, by using the language by which Israel may be made a pariah he has strengthened the expectation by the Palestinians that they can reject peace without paying any price.

Though Merkel’s attitude toward Israel has often been critical, it appears that if she is defeated by Gabriel, the result will be even more isolation for Israel in Europe.

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Peace Process Progress Report

One week into the new peace process and the results so far: four Israeli civilians murdered (Yitzhak and Talya Ames, parents of six children, expecting their seventh; Kochava Even Chaim, a married teacher and mother whose husband was on the first-aid team that arrived to find that his wife was one of the victims; Avishai Shindler, a newly married 24-year-old); Talaya’s baby, a month from being born; seven new orphans, a new widow and widower; and their community (Beit Hagai, a small settlement of 95 families, formed 25 years ago near the biblical city of Hebron) without recourse.

A second attack occurred a day later, with two wounded, one seriously.

Yitzhak Rabin used to say that Israel would fight terrorism as if there were no peace process — and conduct the peace process as if there were no terrorism. Several peace processes later, only the latter part of that aphorism remains in effect. The first part has become a casualty of the peace process.

Israel cannot fight terrorism as if there were no peace process, because fighting terrorism would jeopardize the peace process. The peace process cannot progress as long as terrorism exists, but terrorism is safe from response as long as the peace process is in progress. Since the process is so important, any retaliation would by definition be disproportionate.

So it will not happen – even though the perpetrator is known, proudly claims responsibility, and promises to do it again. The peace process, which causes the deaths for which there cannot be any response other than to continue the peace process, will continue.

In other peace process news, the speeches in Washington last week were excellent.

One week into the new peace process and the results so far: four Israeli civilians murdered (Yitzhak and Talya Ames, parents of six children, expecting their seventh; Kochava Even Chaim, a married teacher and mother whose husband was on the first-aid team that arrived to find that his wife was one of the victims; Avishai Shindler, a newly married 24-year-old); Talaya’s baby, a month from being born; seven new orphans, a new widow and widower; and their community (Beit Hagai, a small settlement of 95 families, formed 25 years ago near the biblical city of Hebron) without recourse.

A second attack occurred a day later, with two wounded, one seriously.

Yitzhak Rabin used to say that Israel would fight terrorism as if there were no peace process — and conduct the peace process as if there were no terrorism. Several peace processes later, only the latter part of that aphorism remains in effect. The first part has become a casualty of the peace process.

Israel cannot fight terrorism as if there were no peace process, because fighting terrorism would jeopardize the peace process. The peace process cannot progress as long as terrorism exists, but terrorism is safe from response as long as the peace process is in progress. Since the process is so important, any retaliation would by definition be disproportionate.

So it will not happen – even though the perpetrator is known, proudly claims responsibility, and promises to do it again. The peace process, which causes the deaths for which there cannot be any response other than to continue the peace process, will continue.

In other peace process news, the speeches in Washington last week were excellent.

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A Response to Elvis Costello

As I noted last week, Elvis Costello, with great fanfare and sanctimony, decided to boycott Israel. A response was penned by Assaf Wohl, for whom I think some sort of award should be named that celebrates those who debunk and undo Israel-bashers. (Alan Dershowitz, Elliott Abrams, and Sen. Joe Lieberman have lifetime-achievement awards and so won’t eligible.) Wohl wrote a “Dear Costello” letter that must be read in full. Here’s a sample:

I attempted to understand the reasons you referred to in your cancellation notice. You addressed the “humiliation of Palestinians civilians in the name of national security,” and I wonder what you meant. Perhaps you’re referring to the roadblocks and fence we built in order to prevent suicide bombers from exploding in our buses and coffee shops. The dramatic decline in Palestinian massacres, from an average of one a day to almost nil may indeed be humiliating for them, as you noted.

Or maybe you referred to Operation Cast Lead. If that’s the case, you are in fact condemning us for deciding to put an end to eight years of rocket attacks targeting our kindergartens. If you think this is demagoguery, please go ahead and check the timers which the “humiliated” terrorists set for the rockets. They were aiming for the hours where our children head to kindergarten and to school.

And on the democracy front Wohl, explained:

You refer to human rights, Costello, while ignoring the fact that Israel is a democracy. You should look into the State of Israel’s attitude to minorities, compared to our neighbors whose side you took. Let’s see how long it will take before you’re decapitated, should you aim to lead a Gay Pride Parade in Gaza or Hebron. Are you aware of the state of Christians in the Gaza Strip, or the state of women’s rights there? Your silence on these matters attests to the honesty of your claims. You should also ask yourself why all these “humiliated” people would love to get an Israeli ID card. If we’re so bad to them, why are they infiltrating Israel in every possible way?

This deliciously exacting letter is precisely what defenders of Israel need to do on a consistent basis. Whether the gibberish is coming from the White House, from J Street, from feeble-minded “artists,” or from the legions of Israel-haters on the left or right (who are sounding remarkably similar — is Andrew Sullivan saying anything that Pat Buchanan doesn’t?), Israel’s defenders need to consistently and robustly respond. The war to delegitimize and slander the Jewish state succeeds when the accusations are not rebutted.

So yasher ko’ah, Assaf Wohl. And I welcome future nominees.

As I noted last week, Elvis Costello, with great fanfare and sanctimony, decided to boycott Israel. A response was penned by Assaf Wohl, for whom I think some sort of award should be named that celebrates those who debunk and undo Israel-bashers. (Alan Dershowitz, Elliott Abrams, and Sen. Joe Lieberman have lifetime-achievement awards and so won’t eligible.) Wohl wrote a “Dear Costello” letter that must be read in full. Here’s a sample:

I attempted to understand the reasons you referred to in your cancellation notice. You addressed the “humiliation of Palestinians civilians in the name of national security,” and I wonder what you meant. Perhaps you’re referring to the roadblocks and fence we built in order to prevent suicide bombers from exploding in our buses and coffee shops. The dramatic decline in Palestinian massacres, from an average of one a day to almost nil may indeed be humiliating for them, as you noted.

Or maybe you referred to Operation Cast Lead. If that’s the case, you are in fact condemning us for deciding to put an end to eight years of rocket attacks targeting our kindergartens. If you think this is demagoguery, please go ahead and check the timers which the “humiliated” terrorists set for the rockets. They were aiming for the hours where our children head to kindergarten and to school.

And on the democracy front Wohl, explained:

You refer to human rights, Costello, while ignoring the fact that Israel is a democracy. You should look into the State of Israel’s attitude to minorities, compared to our neighbors whose side you took. Let’s see how long it will take before you’re decapitated, should you aim to lead a Gay Pride Parade in Gaza or Hebron. Are you aware of the state of Christians in the Gaza Strip, or the state of women’s rights there? Your silence on these matters attests to the honesty of your claims. You should also ask yourself why all these “humiliated” people would love to get an Israeli ID card. If we’re so bad to them, why are they infiltrating Israel in every possible way?

This deliciously exacting letter is precisely what defenders of Israel need to do on a consistent basis. Whether the gibberish is coming from the White House, from J Street, from feeble-minded “artists,” or from the legions of Israel-haters on the left or right (who are sounding remarkably similar — is Andrew Sullivan saying anything that Pat Buchanan doesn’t?), Israel’s defenders need to consistently and robustly respond. The war to delegitimize and slander the Jewish state succeeds when the accusations are not rebutted.

So yasher ko’ah, Assaf Wohl. And I welcome future nominees.

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Klein of Arabia (Again)

Joe Klein has a characteristically paranoid post in which he says that the criticisms of Barack Obama lodged by AIPAC and other “American Likudniks… teeter on the brink of treachery.” The AIPAC statement called on the administration “to take immediate steps to defuse the tension” with Israel. This is treachery? What happened to dissent being the highest form of patriotism? Klein adds:

They are making their case in ways that encourage right-wing American extremists who deny the legitimacy of our President. They are walking on very thin ice here.

I’m not sure what he’s getting at here, but it sounds like he’s saying that if something bad happens to Barack Obama, it will be because some Americans criticized the administration’s treatment of Israel, including 327 members of the House of Representatives. Klein is indeed an ugly paranoiac when it comes to American politics. But he is also a high-flying ignoramus about the Middle East. He writes that Hebron is “the largest West Bank city and home to 500,000 Palestinians.” And that:

[Jews who live in Hebron] claim, correctly, that Hebron was a Jewish city 3000 years ago (as, of course, Arabs can claim evidence of their presence throughout the current land of Israel as least as long-standing).

There are not 500,000 Palestinians living in Hebron — there are about 163,000, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. Klein is confusing the Hebron governorate with the city of Hebron. The Hebron governorate comprises around half the southern territory of the West Bank. This is like confusing the region of southern California with the city of Los Angeles.

But the best Kleinism is the block-quoted text above, in which he says that the Arabs have been in Hebron at least as long as the Jews. He apparently isn’t aware of the Arab conquests. You see, the Arabs originally came from Arabia, and after the death of Mohammad in the 7th century, they emerged from the Arabian peninsula and swept across the Middle East and North Africa, even into Spain, spreading Islam and Arabic in what today Joe Klein would call an illegal preemptive war to spread colonialism and empire.

Perhaps the Arabs were actually the first neocons? Klein surely has an opinion (I think, in keeping with his high political ideals, he should call for the removal of the illegal Arab settlements in Hebron, which are an obstruction to the peace process). But one thing that is not up for debate is how long Jews and Arabs have lived in Hebron: the Jews have been there for over 3,000 years; the Arabs, since the 7th century CE.

When you read Joe Klein, it’s hard to tell which is worse, the sloppiness or the ignorance.

Joe Klein has a characteristically paranoid post in which he says that the criticisms of Barack Obama lodged by AIPAC and other “American Likudniks… teeter on the brink of treachery.” The AIPAC statement called on the administration “to take immediate steps to defuse the tension” with Israel. This is treachery? What happened to dissent being the highest form of patriotism? Klein adds:

They are making their case in ways that encourage right-wing American extremists who deny the legitimacy of our President. They are walking on very thin ice here.

I’m not sure what he’s getting at here, but it sounds like he’s saying that if something bad happens to Barack Obama, it will be because some Americans criticized the administration’s treatment of Israel, including 327 members of the House of Representatives. Klein is indeed an ugly paranoiac when it comes to American politics. But he is also a high-flying ignoramus about the Middle East. He writes that Hebron is “the largest West Bank city and home to 500,000 Palestinians.” And that:

[Jews who live in Hebron] claim, correctly, that Hebron was a Jewish city 3000 years ago (as, of course, Arabs can claim evidence of their presence throughout the current land of Israel as least as long-standing).

There are not 500,000 Palestinians living in Hebron — there are about 163,000, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. Klein is confusing the Hebron governorate with the city of Hebron. The Hebron governorate comprises around half the southern territory of the West Bank. This is like confusing the region of southern California with the city of Los Angeles.

But the best Kleinism is the block-quoted text above, in which he says that the Arabs have been in Hebron at least as long as the Jews. He apparently isn’t aware of the Arab conquests. You see, the Arabs originally came from Arabia, and after the death of Mohammad in the 7th century, they emerged from the Arabian peninsula and swept across the Middle East and North Africa, even into Spain, spreading Islam and Arabic in what today Joe Klein would call an illegal preemptive war to spread colonialism and empire.

Perhaps the Arabs were actually the first neocons? Klein surely has an opinion (I think, in keeping with his high political ideals, he should call for the removal of the illegal Arab settlements in Hebron, which are an obstruction to the peace process). But one thing that is not up for debate is how long Jews and Arabs have lived in Hebron: the Jews have been there for over 3,000 years; the Arabs, since the 7th century CE.

When you read Joe Klein, it’s hard to tell which is worse, the sloppiness or the ignorance.

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How Many Lives Is Biden’s Pride Worth?

What prompted this morning’s violence in Jerusalem’s Old City? Though the stone-throwing and disruptions resulted in only eight Israeli security personnel being wounded and a similar number of Palestinian casualties, the context of the American diplomatic offensive against the Jewish state must be seen as an incentive for the Palestinians to do their own part to ratchet up the pressure. While the Obama administration is using its hurt feelings about the announcement of building homes in a Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem to put the screws to the Netanyahu government, the Palestinians have their own game to play here. And since Washington has decided to go all out to falsely portray the Israelis as the primary obstacle to peace, it should be expected that the supposed victims of the new housing — Palestinians who are in no way harmed by the building of new apartments — will seek to keep events churning.

The rumors filtering through the Islamic world about supposed “threats” to the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount are clearly efforts to foment violence — reminiscent of the bloody 1929 riots which led to Arab pogroms against Jews living in Jerusalem and Hebron and of the fake controversy over Ariel Sharon’s walk on the Temple Mount, which Yasir Arafat used as cover for launching the second intifada. The Jerusalem Post reports that busloads of Arabs are heading to the capital to “protect” the Temple Mount against mythical Jewish attempts to undermine the mosque’s foundations. They appear to be referring to this week’s rededication of the Hurva Synagogue in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, whose destruction by Jordan’s Arab Legion in 1948 was a symbol of the expulsion of Jews from the Old City. The mere act of reasserting the Jewish presence there is viewed as an affront by a Muslim world that still refuses to accept Israel’s legitimacy.

The point here is that while the Obama administration’s huffing and puffing about the insult given by Vice President Joe Biden last week may be about an effort to undermine the Netanyahu government, their decision to brand all Jewish building in the city as illegal and as reason for American rage means something very different to the Palestinians. The ultimatum delivered to Netanyahu by Secretary of State Clinton, in which she demanded that the housing plan be rescinded, is viewed by many Palestinians as American support — not only for their ambitions for a redivided city but also for the expulsion of the Jews from all of East Jerusalem.

Even more to the point, the attacks on Israel emanating from Washington in both on- and off-the-record interviews with administration officials, may be tempting the Palestinians to do more than throw stones. An isolated Israel looks like a vulnerable Israel to the Palestinians, and that has always served as an incentive to further violence. And since neither the Palestinian Authority nor Hamas have any intention of following up Clinton’s demands by actually negotiating for peace in good faith, they may decide that now is the perfect moment to exploit Obama’s rage by raising the stakes with a mini intifada or with acts of terrorism, since they may think Washington will now oppose any Israeli counterattack or retaliation.

Biden may have had a genuine beef with Netanyahu for the blunder over the timing of the announcement but does this man, who has always touted himself as “Israel’s best friend in the Senate,” really want an argument over his injured pride to serve as the excuse for a new round of bloodshed? Do those left-wing American Jews, like the J Street lobby, who are now calling for more pressure on Jerusalem understand the possible cost of their signal to the Palestinians that Israel’s democratically elected government has lost its only ally? Those Americans who are heedlessly stoking the fires of resentment against Israel may soon have more to answer for than merely prejudicial attacks against Netanyahu.

What prompted this morning’s violence in Jerusalem’s Old City? Though the stone-throwing and disruptions resulted in only eight Israeli security personnel being wounded and a similar number of Palestinian casualties, the context of the American diplomatic offensive against the Jewish state must be seen as an incentive for the Palestinians to do their own part to ratchet up the pressure. While the Obama administration is using its hurt feelings about the announcement of building homes in a Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem to put the screws to the Netanyahu government, the Palestinians have their own game to play here. And since Washington has decided to go all out to falsely portray the Israelis as the primary obstacle to peace, it should be expected that the supposed victims of the new housing — Palestinians who are in no way harmed by the building of new apartments — will seek to keep events churning.

The rumors filtering through the Islamic world about supposed “threats” to the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount are clearly efforts to foment violence — reminiscent of the bloody 1929 riots which led to Arab pogroms against Jews living in Jerusalem and Hebron and of the fake controversy over Ariel Sharon’s walk on the Temple Mount, which Yasir Arafat used as cover for launching the second intifada. The Jerusalem Post reports that busloads of Arabs are heading to the capital to “protect” the Temple Mount against mythical Jewish attempts to undermine the mosque’s foundations. They appear to be referring to this week’s rededication of the Hurva Synagogue in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, whose destruction by Jordan’s Arab Legion in 1948 was a symbol of the expulsion of Jews from the Old City. The mere act of reasserting the Jewish presence there is viewed as an affront by a Muslim world that still refuses to accept Israel’s legitimacy.

The point here is that while the Obama administration’s huffing and puffing about the insult given by Vice President Joe Biden last week may be about an effort to undermine the Netanyahu government, their decision to brand all Jewish building in the city as illegal and as reason for American rage means something very different to the Palestinians. The ultimatum delivered to Netanyahu by Secretary of State Clinton, in which she demanded that the housing plan be rescinded, is viewed by many Palestinians as American support — not only for their ambitions for a redivided city but also for the expulsion of the Jews from all of East Jerusalem.

Even more to the point, the attacks on Israel emanating from Washington in both on- and off-the-record interviews with administration officials, may be tempting the Palestinians to do more than throw stones. An isolated Israel looks like a vulnerable Israel to the Palestinians, and that has always served as an incentive to further violence. And since neither the Palestinian Authority nor Hamas have any intention of following up Clinton’s demands by actually negotiating for peace in good faith, they may decide that now is the perfect moment to exploit Obama’s rage by raising the stakes with a mini intifada or with acts of terrorism, since they may think Washington will now oppose any Israeli counterattack or retaliation.

Biden may have had a genuine beef with Netanyahu for the blunder over the timing of the announcement but does this man, who has always touted himself as “Israel’s best friend in the Senate,” really want an argument over his injured pride to serve as the excuse for a new round of bloodshed? Do those left-wing American Jews, like the J Street lobby, who are now calling for more pressure on Jerusalem understand the possible cost of their signal to the Palestinians that Israel’s democratically elected government has lost its only ally? Those Americans who are heedlessly stoking the fires of resentment against Israel may soon have more to answer for than merely prejudicial attacks against Netanyahu.

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UN “Peace” Coordinator: Jewish Heritage an Invalid Concept

Earlier today I wrote about the implications of an important new archeological discovery that highlights the 3,000-year-old Jewish heritage in East Jerusalem. Such finds have political significance specifically because the whole focus of Palestinian nationalism has been to deny Jewish ties to the land and to attempt to rewrite history in such a way as to expunge the historicity and continuity of the Jewish presence.

But the reason why this issue is so important was brought home again today by a statement coming from Robert Serry, the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process. In it, Serry went out of his way to condemn the recently announced National Heritage Plan announced by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu because two ancient Jewish religious shrines were included in the list of sites to be preserved and protected. Serry objected to the inclusion of Rachel’s Tomb outside Bethlehem and the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron in the list of essential places in Jewish history, because the two are in the West Bank and thus, in his view, “occupied Palestinian territory.” The fact that they are located on land that is subject to dispute between the two parties is of no interest to the UN official who, despite his status as a peace mediator, is ready to dictate where the borders of a putative Palestinian state must be. But Serry’s argument is not merely one of borders, because in the same statement he claimed that the sites “are of historical and religious significance not only to Judaism but also to Islam, and to Christianity as well.”

It is true that Christians and Muslims have an intrinsic interest in any biblical site. And since Muslims, like Jews, consider Abraham to be one of their patriarchs, they have a religious stake in the Cave of the Patriarchs. But Muslims have never been willing to share this most ancient of Jewish shrines with other faiths. Throughout the history of Muslim control of the land of Israel, through the Ottoman era and even during the time of British rule, Jews were forbidden to enter the cave and were, instead, constrained to ascend no higher than the seventh step of the entrance to the sacred place. Jewish prayer inside the cave only resumed in June 1967, after the Israeli conquest of Hebron, after which the two religions have shared the place despite the history of tension and bloodshed in the Hebron area.

As for Rachel’s Tomb, it is simply a lie to consider it anything but a Jewish synagogue. No faith but Judaism has ever held worship services in the place or considered it a shrine. Palestinian propaganda that has attempted to portray it as some sort of a Muslim site are of recent vintage and utterly false.

But much like the history of the Western Wall in Jerusalem, where Jews were forbidden even to visit while it was under Muslim sovereignty from 1949 to 1967 during Jordan’s illegal occupation of East Jerusalem, the only thing that has guaranteed Jewish access to both the Hebron and Bethlehem sites has been Israel’s control of these areas. Moreover, and this is a crucial point, the only time in the history of Jerusalem or Bethlehem or Hebron that these religious sites have been kept free and open to all visitors of all faiths has been the 42 years since the Six-Day War. Netanyahu’s Heritage Plan is no threat to other faiths, because only Israel is committed to religious freedom and the protection of all religious shrines.

Should the UN coordinator have his way and Rachel’s Tomb or the Cave of the Patriarchs ever fall under the control of the Palestinian Authority, let alone Hamas, we know very well what would happen. Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus, a longtime site of Jewish worship and study, was sacked and burned by a Palestinian mob aided and abetted by PA policemen in 2000 at the outset of the second intifada. The PA has prevented the reconstruction of the site. An ancient synagogue in Jericho, also under PA control, met the same fate.

By opposing the Jewish Heritage Plan, the UN isn’t merely sniping at Netanyahu. It is signaling its backing of a Palestinian and Muslim approach to the history of the land in which Judaism is systematically erased. If indeed Serry and the UN are actually interested in preserving these sites for members of all faiths to visit, rather than in merely chasing the Jews out of them, the only formula for their preservation lies in continued Israeli control.

Earlier today I wrote about the implications of an important new archeological discovery that highlights the 3,000-year-old Jewish heritage in East Jerusalem. Such finds have political significance specifically because the whole focus of Palestinian nationalism has been to deny Jewish ties to the land and to attempt to rewrite history in such a way as to expunge the historicity and continuity of the Jewish presence.

But the reason why this issue is so important was brought home again today by a statement coming from Robert Serry, the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process. In it, Serry went out of his way to condemn the recently announced National Heritage Plan announced by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu because two ancient Jewish religious shrines were included in the list of sites to be preserved and protected. Serry objected to the inclusion of Rachel’s Tomb outside Bethlehem and the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron in the list of essential places in Jewish history, because the two are in the West Bank and thus, in his view, “occupied Palestinian territory.” The fact that they are located on land that is subject to dispute between the two parties is of no interest to the UN official who, despite his status as a peace mediator, is ready to dictate where the borders of a putative Palestinian state must be. But Serry’s argument is not merely one of borders, because in the same statement he claimed that the sites “are of historical and religious significance not only to Judaism but also to Islam, and to Christianity as well.”

It is true that Christians and Muslims have an intrinsic interest in any biblical site. And since Muslims, like Jews, consider Abraham to be one of their patriarchs, they have a religious stake in the Cave of the Patriarchs. But Muslims have never been willing to share this most ancient of Jewish shrines with other faiths. Throughout the history of Muslim control of the land of Israel, through the Ottoman era and even during the time of British rule, Jews were forbidden to enter the cave and were, instead, constrained to ascend no higher than the seventh step of the entrance to the sacred place. Jewish prayer inside the cave only resumed in June 1967, after the Israeli conquest of Hebron, after which the two religions have shared the place despite the history of tension and bloodshed in the Hebron area.

As for Rachel’s Tomb, it is simply a lie to consider it anything but a Jewish synagogue. No faith but Judaism has ever held worship services in the place or considered it a shrine. Palestinian propaganda that has attempted to portray it as some sort of a Muslim site are of recent vintage and utterly false.

But much like the history of the Western Wall in Jerusalem, where Jews were forbidden even to visit while it was under Muslim sovereignty from 1949 to 1967 during Jordan’s illegal occupation of East Jerusalem, the only thing that has guaranteed Jewish access to both the Hebron and Bethlehem sites has been Israel’s control of these areas. Moreover, and this is a crucial point, the only time in the history of Jerusalem or Bethlehem or Hebron that these religious sites have been kept free and open to all visitors of all faiths has been the 42 years since the Six-Day War. Netanyahu’s Heritage Plan is no threat to other faiths, because only Israel is committed to religious freedom and the protection of all religious shrines.

Should the UN coordinator have his way and Rachel’s Tomb or the Cave of the Patriarchs ever fall under the control of the Palestinian Authority, let alone Hamas, we know very well what would happen. Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus, a longtime site of Jewish worship and study, was sacked and burned by a Palestinian mob aided and abetted by PA policemen in 2000 at the outset of the second intifada. The PA has prevented the reconstruction of the site. An ancient synagogue in Jericho, also under PA control, met the same fate.

By opposing the Jewish Heritage Plan, the UN isn’t merely sniping at Netanyahu. It is signaling its backing of a Palestinian and Muslim approach to the history of the land in which Judaism is systematically erased. If indeed Serry and the UN are actually interested in preserving these sites for members of all faiths to visit, rather than in merely chasing the Jews out of them, the only formula for their preservation lies in continued Israeli control.

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What Happened to “Defensible Borders”?

The Jerusalem Post reports that George Mitchell will return to the Middle East in early January and quotes an Arab diplomat saying that Mitchell will present “two draft letters of guarantee, one for Israel and one to the Palestinian Authority” as a basis for renewing negotiations. The Post reports that a senior Israeli diplomatic source said “the terms of reference Mitchell is reportedly bringing would probably closely resemble [Hillary Clinton’s] statement” last month, which read as follows:

We believe that through good-faith negotiations the parties can mutually agree on an outcome which ends the conflict and reconciles the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state based on the 1967 lines, with agreed swaps, and the Israeli goal of a Jewish state with secure and recognized borders that reflect subsequent developments and meet Israeli security requirements.

Letters of assurance have previously played an important part in the peace process. In 1997, Secretary of State Christopher wrote to Israel to assure it that the U.S. supported “defensible borders” for Israel as the conclusion of the peace process. In 2004, President Bush reassured Israel of the “steadfast commitment” of the U.S. to defensible borders. In his “Let Me Be Clear” address to AIPAC in 2008, Barack Obama stated that “any agreement with the Palestinian people must preserve Israel’s identity as a Jewish state, with secure, recognized and defensible borders,” reflecting the longstanding U.S. commitment.

The absence of any reference to “defensible borders” in Secretary Clinton’s statement is thus both conspicuous and troubling, particularly because the administration has repeatedly refused this year to answer whether it considers itself bound by the Bush letter. Even the reference to “secure and recognized” borders is expressed in Clinton’s statement simply as an Israeli “goal” rather than as a U.S. commitment.

There is a significant difference between the prior letters given to Israel and the new “letter of guarantees” that may be given to the Palestinians. The letters to Israel were provided in exchange for tangible concessions: withdrawals from significant territories in Hebron and Gaza. They were parts of negotiated deals; they were not mere statements of policy subject to change. The possible “letter of guarantee” for the Palestinians, on the other hand, is simply for an agreement to resume negotiations, with no Palestinian concession on any issue – and on a basis that omits any reference to defensible borders.

Some have argued that (a) borders are secure only if they are recognized; (b) the Palestinians will recognize only the 1967 lines with minor adjustments; and (c) Israel can thus only have secure and recognized borders if it acquiesces in the Palestinian demand for indefensible ones — and relies for peace on the resulting peace agreement (perhaps with a “binding” UN resolution and blue helmets on the borders). The Palestinians have already rejected offers of a state (after land swaps) on 92 percent of the West Bank (at Camp David), 97 percent (in the Clinton Parameters), and 100 percent (in Olmert’s Annapolis Process offer). The borders they have in mind are not defensible ones, and the Obama administration appears to have deleted “defensible borders” as one of the guarantees of the process — unless there is some other explanation for the obvious reluctance of the administration to use the term, much less commit itself to the concept.

The Jerusalem Post reports that George Mitchell will return to the Middle East in early January and quotes an Arab diplomat saying that Mitchell will present “two draft letters of guarantee, one for Israel and one to the Palestinian Authority” as a basis for renewing negotiations. The Post reports that a senior Israeli diplomatic source said “the terms of reference Mitchell is reportedly bringing would probably closely resemble [Hillary Clinton’s] statement” last month, which read as follows:

We believe that through good-faith negotiations the parties can mutually agree on an outcome which ends the conflict and reconciles the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state based on the 1967 lines, with agreed swaps, and the Israeli goal of a Jewish state with secure and recognized borders that reflect subsequent developments and meet Israeli security requirements.

Letters of assurance have previously played an important part in the peace process. In 1997, Secretary of State Christopher wrote to Israel to assure it that the U.S. supported “defensible borders” for Israel as the conclusion of the peace process. In 2004, President Bush reassured Israel of the “steadfast commitment” of the U.S. to defensible borders. In his “Let Me Be Clear” address to AIPAC in 2008, Barack Obama stated that “any agreement with the Palestinian people must preserve Israel’s identity as a Jewish state, with secure, recognized and defensible borders,” reflecting the longstanding U.S. commitment.

The absence of any reference to “defensible borders” in Secretary Clinton’s statement is thus both conspicuous and troubling, particularly because the administration has repeatedly refused this year to answer whether it considers itself bound by the Bush letter. Even the reference to “secure and recognized” borders is expressed in Clinton’s statement simply as an Israeli “goal” rather than as a U.S. commitment.

There is a significant difference between the prior letters given to Israel and the new “letter of guarantees” that may be given to the Palestinians. The letters to Israel were provided in exchange for tangible concessions: withdrawals from significant territories in Hebron and Gaza. They were parts of negotiated deals; they were not mere statements of policy subject to change. The possible “letter of guarantee” for the Palestinians, on the other hand, is simply for an agreement to resume negotiations, with no Palestinian concession on any issue – and on a basis that omits any reference to defensible borders.

Some have argued that (a) borders are secure only if they are recognized; (b) the Palestinians will recognize only the 1967 lines with minor adjustments; and (c) Israel can thus only have secure and recognized borders if it acquiesces in the Palestinian demand for indefensible ones — and relies for peace on the resulting peace agreement (perhaps with a “binding” UN resolution and blue helmets on the borders). The Palestinians have already rejected offers of a state (after land swaps) on 92 percent of the West Bank (at Camp David), 97 percent (in the Clinton Parameters), and 100 percent (in Olmert’s Annapolis Process offer). The borders they have in mind are not defensible ones, and the Obama administration appears to have deleted “defensible borders” as one of the guarantees of the process — unless there is some other explanation for the obvious reluctance of the administration to use the term, much less commit itself to the concept.

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