Commentary Magazine


Topic: Negev

Israel: 1991-2011

Twenty years ago, Saddam Hussein’s Scud rockets began to rain down on Tel Aviv. The specter of a chemical attack was Israel’s nightmare, because anthrax was a reality in Saddam’s Iraq. Thirty-nine missiles fell on Israel. On those cold nights, the Israelis wore gas masks, because Saddam had revived the idea in the Israeli unconscious that the Jews could be gassed again. The Israelis checked the shelters, sealing doors and windows, they stood in line for gas masks in the hallways of neighborhood elementary schools, and watched chemical-warfare defense videos. Food cans quickly disappeared from the supermarkets. “Drink a lot of water” was the army’s advice against the effects of a possible biochemical attack. Saddam’s Scuds damaged 4,393 buildings, 3,991 apartments, and 331 public institutions. This accounting does not include the incalculable costs of equipping every Israeli with a gas mask, of the need for every Israeli family to prepare sealed rooms, of the national disruption caused by multiple alerts, and of lost business and tourism.

Twenty years ago, Saddam Hussein threatened to “burn half of Israel.” Today Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has promised to wipe out the “dead rats,” as he called the Israelis. Tehran is the biggest strategic threat to Israel’s existence, especially by the terror satellites of Hezbollah and Hamas. According to the new Israeli intelligence reports, Iran would now be able to launch 400 “lethal” missiles on Tel Aviv. Hezbollah could launch up to 600 rockets per day. From Teheran to Tel Aviv, an Iranian Shihab-3 rocket would take 12 minutes to hit the Jewish state. The Dan area of Tel Aviv, where live a quarter of the entire Israeli population, is the target of the next war, about which nobody knows if and when it will burst, but everyone knows that it will have emblazoned within it the eyes of the ayatollahs.

Israel is investing in its own survival. Both Tel Aviv and the port city of Haifa were severely hit by the rockets of 1991. But, for the first time since the birth of Israel, tomorrow these cities could be reached by devastating bombs. The power of death in the region has risen dramatically. It has been estimated that four years ago, Syria had 300 missiles that could reach Tel Aviv, a dozen for Hezbollah, 50 for Iran, and nothing for Hamas. Two years later, Syria had 1,300, Hezbollah 800, Hamas a dozen, and Iran 300. Today it’s 2,300 for Syria, 1,200 for Hezbollah, 400 for Teheran, and a good arsenal of Fajr-5 for Hamas. Jerusalem could be hit with a precision that would leave intact the Al-Aqsa Mosque. So Tel Aviv today is not extending only to the sky with its beautiful skyscrapers but also sinks into the ground because it’s a new target for Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas. Read More

Twenty years ago, Saddam Hussein’s Scud rockets began to rain down on Tel Aviv. The specter of a chemical attack was Israel’s nightmare, because anthrax was a reality in Saddam’s Iraq. Thirty-nine missiles fell on Israel. On those cold nights, the Israelis wore gas masks, because Saddam had revived the idea in the Israeli unconscious that the Jews could be gassed again. The Israelis checked the shelters, sealing doors and windows, they stood in line for gas masks in the hallways of neighborhood elementary schools, and watched chemical-warfare defense videos. Food cans quickly disappeared from the supermarkets. “Drink a lot of water” was the army’s advice against the effects of a possible biochemical attack. Saddam’s Scuds damaged 4,393 buildings, 3,991 apartments, and 331 public institutions. This accounting does not include the incalculable costs of equipping every Israeli with a gas mask, of the need for every Israeli family to prepare sealed rooms, of the national disruption caused by multiple alerts, and of lost business and tourism.

Twenty years ago, Saddam Hussein threatened to “burn half of Israel.” Today Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has promised to wipe out the “dead rats,” as he called the Israelis. Tehran is the biggest strategic threat to Israel’s existence, especially by the terror satellites of Hezbollah and Hamas. According to the new Israeli intelligence reports, Iran would now be able to launch 400 “lethal” missiles on Tel Aviv. Hezbollah could launch up to 600 rockets per day. From Teheran to Tel Aviv, an Iranian Shihab-3 rocket would take 12 minutes to hit the Jewish state. The Dan area of Tel Aviv, where live a quarter of the entire Israeli population, is the target of the next war, about which nobody knows if and when it will burst, but everyone knows that it will have emblazoned within it the eyes of the ayatollahs.

Israel is investing in its own survival. Both Tel Aviv and the port city of Haifa were severely hit by the rockets of 1991. But, for the first time since the birth of Israel, tomorrow these cities could be reached by devastating bombs. The power of death in the region has risen dramatically. It has been estimated that four years ago, Syria had 300 missiles that could reach Tel Aviv, a dozen for Hezbollah, 50 for Iran, and nothing for Hamas. Two years later, Syria had 1,300, Hezbollah 800, Hamas a dozen, and Iran 300. Today it’s 2,300 for Syria, 1,200 for Hezbollah, 400 for Teheran, and a good arsenal of Fajr-5 for Hamas. Jerusalem could be hit with a precision that would leave intact the Al-Aqsa Mosque. So Tel Aviv today is not extending only to the sky with its beautiful skyscrapers but also sinks into the ground because it’s a new target for Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas.

The Habima Theater, for example, will have four underground floors, with entrances on each side. Jerusalem should see the opening of the largest nuclear bunker across the country: 80 feet underground to accommodate 5,000 people. Haifa, the third-largest city in Israel, is building “the largest underground hospital in the world.” And the state is continuing the distribution of gas masks. These first appeared in 1991, when Benjamin Netanyahu, then the Israeli deputy foreign minister, appeared on CNN with a mask. Today thousands of private Israeli homes have been equipped with nuclear-proof shelters ranging from air filters to water-decontamination systems.

Drills have become a routine all over the country. Hospitals and emergency facilities have to be ready in case of necessity, and the municipalities have evacuation protocols. A postcard of the Home Front Command, delivered to Israeli citizens, divide the country into six regions, from the Negev to the Golan. Each region has different times of reaction in case of attack. If you live along the Gaza Strip, you have 20 seconds to shelter. In Jerusalem, it’s three minutes. But if you live close to Lebanon or Syria, the color red means that, unless you are already in a bunker, you just have to wait for the rocket. The Knesset, Israel’s parliament, is building a labyrinth of underground tunnels and rooms where the Jewish leadership would guide the country in case of attacks.

Twenty years after the first Gulf War, Israel remains the only “bunkered” democracy in the world and is now even more relentlessly demonized and ghettoized. But if in 1991 Israel responded with understatement and quiet civil courage, it will probably react differently to Iran’s nuclearization. Because, as Joe McCain wrote few years ago, “the Jews will not go quietly again.”

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An Emotionally Satisfying Peace Process

Jeffrey Goldberg writes that he is “agnostic” about whether the Palestinians must acknowledge Israel as a Jewish state. He needs three hands to set forth his views:  (1) “on the one hand, it seems to be an unnecessary and provocative demand;” (2) but “on the other hand … it would be emotionally satisfying” if the Palestinians acknowledged Jewish ties to the Land; (3) but “on the other other hand, the success of a peace treaty will not hinge on … whether Palestinians acknowledge [a Jewish state] on paper” but on “more practical, concrete, and internationally-safeguarded guarantees.”

If adjectives were analysis, the issue would be clear: between (a) an “emotionally satisfying” paper acknowledgment and (b) “practical, concrete, and internationally-safeguarded guarantees,” one would presumably prefer the latter – at least until one reflected on the meaning of “safeguarded guarantees” (which apparently are “guaranteed guarantees” from that famously reliable guarantor, the international community).

The flurry of adjectives in Goldberg’s post obscures the issue, which is not emotional satisfaction for Israelis but a requirement that Palestinians explain why, exactly, the demand for recognition of a Jewish state is “provocative.”  Netanyahu articulated the issue last month while visiting Sderot (and returned to the subject of a Jewish state in extended remarks to the cabinet yesterday):

When the Palestinians refuse to say something so simple, the question is – why? You want to flood the State of Israel about refugees so that it will no longer have a Jewish majority? You want to tear off parts of the Galilee and the Negev into mini-states? In a peace agreement, there will be simplest symmetry: Israel recognizes the Palestinian state – and the Palestinians recognize the Jewish state. This is so simple.

Guaranteed guarantees may be emotionally satisfying to peace processors, but peace will not occur until the Palestinians and their Arab supporters are ready to recognize Israel as a Jewish state within defensible borders.

Jeffrey Goldberg writes that he is “agnostic” about whether the Palestinians must acknowledge Israel as a Jewish state. He needs three hands to set forth his views:  (1) “on the one hand, it seems to be an unnecessary and provocative demand;” (2) but “on the other hand … it would be emotionally satisfying” if the Palestinians acknowledged Jewish ties to the Land; (3) but “on the other other hand, the success of a peace treaty will not hinge on … whether Palestinians acknowledge [a Jewish state] on paper” but on “more practical, concrete, and internationally-safeguarded guarantees.”

If adjectives were analysis, the issue would be clear: between (a) an “emotionally satisfying” paper acknowledgment and (b) “practical, concrete, and internationally-safeguarded guarantees,” one would presumably prefer the latter – at least until one reflected on the meaning of “safeguarded guarantees” (which apparently are “guaranteed guarantees” from that famously reliable guarantor, the international community).

The flurry of adjectives in Goldberg’s post obscures the issue, which is not emotional satisfaction for Israelis but a requirement that Palestinians explain why, exactly, the demand for recognition of a Jewish state is “provocative.”  Netanyahu articulated the issue last month while visiting Sderot (and returned to the subject of a Jewish state in extended remarks to the cabinet yesterday):

When the Palestinians refuse to say something so simple, the question is – why? You want to flood the State of Israel about refugees so that it will no longer have a Jewish majority? You want to tear off parts of the Galilee and the Negev into mini-states? In a peace agreement, there will be simplest symmetry: Israel recognizes the Palestinian state – and the Palestinians recognize the Jewish state. This is so simple.

Guaranteed guarantees may be emotionally satisfying to peace processors, but peace will not occur until the Palestinians and their Arab supporters are ready to recognize Israel as a Jewish state within defensible borders.

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How Misreading Hamas’s Motive Undermines Prospects for Peace

Israel has suffered almost daily rocket and mortar fire from Hamas-run Gaza this week after 19 months of quiet. Yesterday, for the first time, Gazans launched phosphorus shells at the Negev. And Hamas has twice attacked Israelis in the West Bank this month, again following a long hiatus.

The response from American, European, and Israeli officials has been predictable: Hamas is escalating the terror to foil Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. But this conventional wisdom is false. And this falsehood has been undermining prospects for peace for the last 17 years.

Hamas does oppose a peace deal. But because almost nobody in either Israel or the Palestinian Authority thinks the current talks will produce one, the idea that Hamas leaders are driven by fear of the talks’ success is risible. Hamas knows quite well that the talks will fail even without its help.

Moreover, Hamas has often escalated attacks even when no negotiations were in sight. Between Israel’s August 2005 pullout from Gaza and the Annapolis summit in November 2007, for instance, Hamas fired thousands of rockets and mortars at Israel, a volume that dwarfs the current level. Yet during most of that time, not only were there no peace talks, there wasn’t even any effort to launch them.

So what really motivates Hamas? It’s no secret; Hamas officials proclaim it repeatedly: their goal is Israel’s eradication, and their method is armed struggle. Therefore, they will attack whenever and wherever it’s feasible.

Viewed through this prism, the pattern of Hamas’s terror activity is easily explained: terror escalates whenever Hamas officials think they can get away with it and de-escalates when the danger of a devastating Israeli response becomes too great.

Thus, for instance, terror soared following the 1993 Oslo Accord because Hamas realized it was safe. The Rabin-Peres government, having promised that Oslo would bring peace, couldn’t politically admit it had brought war instead, so it had to downplay the attacks rather than responding. But when Benjamin Netanyahu was elected prime minister in 1996 on a platform of fighting terror, Hamas feared he might be less restrained and de-escalated. Thus the number of Israelis killed by Palestinian terror plummeted 70 percent from 1993-96 to 1996-99.

Similarly, after the 2005 disengagement, Hamas knew the Kadima-led government couldn’t politically admit its flagship initiative had brought war rather than peace. Thus Hamas could safely triple the volume of rocket fire, knowing Israel’s government would downplay it rather than responding.

Today, thanks to the peace talks, escalation is once again safe — because Hamas knows that if Israel responds forcefully, the PA will quit the talks, and the world will blame Israel. Thus, Israel is compelled to avoid responding.

In short, it’s not the peace talks that cause terror to escalate but the world’s insistence that Israel refrain from responding so as not to “disrupt” them. And by taking this attitude, the world has effectively made “peace” synonymous with stepped-up terror.

So if Time magazine really wants to know “Why Israel Doesn’t Care About Peace,” it’s quite simple: as long as “peace” means absorbing ever-increasing casualties without responding, most Israelis would rather do without it.

Israel has suffered almost daily rocket and mortar fire from Hamas-run Gaza this week after 19 months of quiet. Yesterday, for the first time, Gazans launched phosphorus shells at the Negev. And Hamas has twice attacked Israelis in the West Bank this month, again following a long hiatus.

The response from American, European, and Israeli officials has been predictable: Hamas is escalating the terror to foil Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. But this conventional wisdom is false. And this falsehood has been undermining prospects for peace for the last 17 years.

Hamas does oppose a peace deal. But because almost nobody in either Israel or the Palestinian Authority thinks the current talks will produce one, the idea that Hamas leaders are driven by fear of the talks’ success is risible. Hamas knows quite well that the talks will fail even without its help.

Moreover, Hamas has often escalated attacks even when no negotiations were in sight. Between Israel’s August 2005 pullout from Gaza and the Annapolis summit in November 2007, for instance, Hamas fired thousands of rockets and mortars at Israel, a volume that dwarfs the current level. Yet during most of that time, not only were there no peace talks, there wasn’t even any effort to launch them.

So what really motivates Hamas? It’s no secret; Hamas officials proclaim it repeatedly: their goal is Israel’s eradication, and their method is armed struggle. Therefore, they will attack whenever and wherever it’s feasible.

Viewed through this prism, the pattern of Hamas’s terror activity is easily explained: terror escalates whenever Hamas officials think they can get away with it and de-escalates when the danger of a devastating Israeli response becomes too great.

Thus, for instance, terror soared following the 1993 Oslo Accord because Hamas realized it was safe. The Rabin-Peres government, having promised that Oslo would bring peace, couldn’t politically admit it had brought war instead, so it had to downplay the attacks rather than responding. But when Benjamin Netanyahu was elected prime minister in 1996 on a platform of fighting terror, Hamas feared he might be less restrained and de-escalated. Thus the number of Israelis killed by Palestinian terror plummeted 70 percent from 1993-96 to 1996-99.

Similarly, after the 2005 disengagement, Hamas knew the Kadima-led government couldn’t politically admit its flagship initiative had brought war rather than peace. Thus Hamas could safely triple the volume of rocket fire, knowing Israel’s government would downplay it rather than responding.

Today, thanks to the peace talks, escalation is once again safe — because Hamas knows that if Israel responds forcefully, the PA will quit the talks, and the world will blame Israel. Thus, Israel is compelled to avoid responding.

In short, it’s not the peace talks that cause terror to escalate but the world’s insistence that Israel refrain from responding so as not to “disrupt” them. And by taking this attitude, the world has effectively made “peace” synonymous with stepped-up terror.

So if Time magazine really wants to know “Why Israel Doesn’t Care About Peace,” it’s quite simple: as long as “peace” means absorbing ever-increasing casualties without responding, most Israelis would rather do without it.

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Ya’alon Unloads on Obami

The entire interview with Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon should be read in full here. But a few of the Q&As are certainly of particular note. On the American administration’s amnesia:

Does the US not see in Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s refusal to accept Ehud Olmert’s generous offer in 2008 as a lack of willingness on the Palestinian side to come to an agreement?

Apparently not. From the dawn of Zionism there has not been a Palestinian leadership willing to recognize Israel’s right to exist as the national home of the Jewish people. This is the source of the problem, and not what is called the occupied territories since ’67. The opposition to Zionism began before we liberated Judea, Samaria and Gaza; before we established a state.

On the issue of settlements:

Israel’s critics say enlarging settlements helps Palestinian extremists and ruins any efforts to get the Palestinians to recognize our right to be here.

The prime minister said before the elections he was willing to accept the commitments of the previous government, among them the understanding between [George] Bush and [Ariel] Sharon, that no new settlements would be built in Judea and Samaria, and that construction in the settlements would be allowed [to enable] normal life, not exactly natural growth. That was the understanding, and construction continued through the Olmert and Sharon governments.

More than that, [Netanyahu] said we accept our commitment regarding dismantling 23 outposts that were defined by the Sharon government as illegal. He accepted that, until it became clear that the US administration does not accept the commitments of the previous administration.

Secondly, we completely reject the argument that the settlements are the reason there is no peace. I think Arafat was willing to go to Oslo because of the settlements. When he saw the [massive Russian] aliya, and the settlements, he thought he was going to lose everything.

But if we are talking about coexistence and peace, why the insistence that the territory they receive be ethnically cleansed of Jews? Why do those areas have to be Judenrein? Don’t Arabs live here, in the Negev and Galilee? Why isn’t that part of our public discussion? Why doesn’t that scream to the heavens?

In order for there to a proper prognosis, you need a proper diagnosis. We are arguing, and not only with them, but with the Israeli Left, about what is the root of the problem. Part of the issue, which influences the US and European positions, is our internal confusion.

I also used to think the solution was land for peace, until I became the head of military intelligence, saw things from up close and my thinking underwent an evolution.

And on the American role in thwarting Iran’s nuclear ambitions:

Which leaders today are the most determined regarding Iran?

We see France today demonstrating the right policies, and Britain. They understand the enormity of the challenge.

Does Obama?

Something has happened here that we haven’t seen in the past. Previously the US led the aggressive line. Today, as I said, the president of France and prime minister of Britain are leading a more aggressive line than the president of the US. And then you have Germany and Italy, who join up with the American position.

I don’t think there is an actor in the world who wants to see a nuclear Iran.

There is much more of interest, including his take on the potential for an  imposed settlement. (“If someone really thinks they can impose peace just like that, then they are detached from reality.”) What is most noteworthy is the candor with which the disdain for the American administration comes through. It seems the Israelis have at least adopted one of Obama’s suggestions — be more “honest” in public and in private.

It’s incumbent on the American Jewish community now to do likewise. It is a time to make clear whether it intends to shuffle along, meekly accepting the administration’s inertness on Iran and its ferocity toward our democratic ally.

The entire interview with Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon should be read in full here. But a few of the Q&As are certainly of particular note. On the American administration’s amnesia:

Does the US not see in Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s refusal to accept Ehud Olmert’s generous offer in 2008 as a lack of willingness on the Palestinian side to come to an agreement?

Apparently not. From the dawn of Zionism there has not been a Palestinian leadership willing to recognize Israel’s right to exist as the national home of the Jewish people. This is the source of the problem, and not what is called the occupied territories since ’67. The opposition to Zionism began before we liberated Judea, Samaria and Gaza; before we established a state.

On the issue of settlements:

Israel’s critics say enlarging settlements helps Palestinian extremists and ruins any efforts to get the Palestinians to recognize our right to be here.

The prime minister said before the elections he was willing to accept the commitments of the previous government, among them the understanding between [George] Bush and [Ariel] Sharon, that no new settlements would be built in Judea and Samaria, and that construction in the settlements would be allowed [to enable] normal life, not exactly natural growth. That was the understanding, and construction continued through the Olmert and Sharon governments.

More than that, [Netanyahu] said we accept our commitment regarding dismantling 23 outposts that were defined by the Sharon government as illegal. He accepted that, until it became clear that the US administration does not accept the commitments of the previous administration.

Secondly, we completely reject the argument that the settlements are the reason there is no peace. I think Arafat was willing to go to Oslo because of the settlements. When he saw the [massive Russian] aliya, and the settlements, he thought he was going to lose everything.

But if we are talking about coexistence and peace, why the insistence that the territory they receive be ethnically cleansed of Jews? Why do those areas have to be Judenrein? Don’t Arabs live here, in the Negev and Galilee? Why isn’t that part of our public discussion? Why doesn’t that scream to the heavens?

In order for there to a proper prognosis, you need a proper diagnosis. We are arguing, and not only with them, but with the Israeli Left, about what is the root of the problem. Part of the issue, which influences the US and European positions, is our internal confusion.

I also used to think the solution was land for peace, until I became the head of military intelligence, saw things from up close and my thinking underwent an evolution.

And on the American role in thwarting Iran’s nuclear ambitions:

Which leaders today are the most determined regarding Iran?

We see France today demonstrating the right policies, and Britain. They understand the enormity of the challenge.

Does Obama?

Something has happened here that we haven’t seen in the past. Previously the US led the aggressive line. Today, as I said, the president of France and prime minister of Britain are leading a more aggressive line than the president of the US. And then you have Germany and Italy, who join up with the American position.

I don’t think there is an actor in the world who wants to see a nuclear Iran.

There is much more of interest, including his take on the potential for an  imposed settlement. (“If someone really thinks they can impose peace just like that, then they are detached from reality.”) What is most noteworthy is the candor with which the disdain for the American administration comes through. It seems the Israelis have at least adopted one of Obama’s suggestions — be more “honest” in public and in private.

It’s incumbent on the American Jewish community now to do likewise. It is a time to make clear whether it intends to shuffle along, meekly accepting the administration’s inertness on Iran and its ferocity toward our democratic ally.

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Why No Jews in a Palestinian State?

One of the orthodoxies of Middle East peace advocacy is that Jewish settlements in the West Bank (which by now has come to include Jewish neighborhoods in the city of Jerusalem) are a terrible obstacle to peace. You see, so long as Jews are building homes in these places, the Palestinians and their supporters can’t believe in peace. So those who claim to be peace advocates insist that the number of houses and Jews in these towns and villages must be absolutely frozen as prerequisite for peace. And we are assured that, once a peace agreement is signed, this will mean without doubt that all of these settlements, including every single house and every single Jew living in the houses, must be removed. That is, we are assured, the definition of peace for Palestinians.

But a member of Israel’s Cabinet has now asked a very pertinent question. Moshe Ya’alon, a former Israel Defense Forces general who now serves as Benjamin Netanyahu’s strategic affairs minister, posed the following query in an interview published in the Jerusalem Post: “If we are talking about coexistence and peace, why the [Palestinian] insistence that the territory they receive be ethnically cleansed of Jews? Why do those areas have to be Judenrein? Don’t Arabs live here, in the Negev and the Galilee? Why isn’t that part of our public discussion? Why doesn’t that scream to the heavens?” Ya’alon believes that previous withdrawals, such as the evacuation from Gaza, only encouraged Hamas and Hezbollah to raise the ante in terms of violence.

These are excellent questions. If what Israel is being asked to negotiate with the Palestinians is mutual recognition and legitimacy in the context of a cessation of violence, why can’t Jews stay in the areas designated as part of a Palestinian state, just as Arabs live in Israel with full rights as citizens? Indeed, what kind of a crazy peace would create a state alongside Israel in which Jews are forbidden to live and where Arabs face the death sentence for selling property to Jews, as is currently the case in both Jordan and the Palestinian Authority?

Critics of the settlements might answer that the settlers are too extreme and too violent to be allowed to stay behind because some might attempt to sabotage the peace. Others might also point out that without the protection of the IDF, no Jew surrounded by hostile Arabs would be safe. As to the charge that violent settlers would seek to destroy the peace, that might be true of a small minority, but the overwhelming majority of settlers are law-abiding. But the fact that some Israeli Arabs were hostile to Jews didn’t mean that all Arabs couldn’t live in Israel. If there was a commitment to peaceful coexistence from a Palestinian government, there’s no reason why most of the Jews living in outlying settlements on land closely associated with Jewish history and faith couldn’t stay on. As for the threat to the safety of Jews remaining in a putative state of Palestine, that’s a different question that goes to the heart of the problem.

The reason why Palestinians insist that all Jews must leave their future state is because they do not recognize the legitimacy of Israel or the Jewish presence anywhere in the land. And Palestinian political culture is so steeped in violence and hatred of Jews and Israel that it is literally impossible to believe that Jews, even if they behaved like Quakers, could live in a Palestinian state.

Moreover, Ya’alon’s point about the example of Gaza is telling. Removing every Jew from Gaza didn’t satisfy the Palestinians there. Not only did the Palestinians burn the synagogue buildings and the tomato greenhouses left behind by the Israelis for them to use, they immediately began to use that land for launching terrorist missile attacks inside of Israel. So long as the Arabs still view the conflict as zero-sum game in which the goal is to remove or kill every Jew, territorial withdrawals won’t bring peace. If the Palestinian vision of peace — even the vision articulated by so-called moderates like Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas — is predicated on ridding the land of Jews rather than embracing coexistence, then there will be no peace.

One of the orthodoxies of Middle East peace advocacy is that Jewish settlements in the West Bank (which by now has come to include Jewish neighborhoods in the city of Jerusalem) are a terrible obstacle to peace. You see, so long as Jews are building homes in these places, the Palestinians and their supporters can’t believe in peace. So those who claim to be peace advocates insist that the number of houses and Jews in these towns and villages must be absolutely frozen as prerequisite for peace. And we are assured that, once a peace agreement is signed, this will mean without doubt that all of these settlements, including every single house and every single Jew living in the houses, must be removed. That is, we are assured, the definition of peace for Palestinians.

But a member of Israel’s Cabinet has now asked a very pertinent question. Moshe Ya’alon, a former Israel Defense Forces general who now serves as Benjamin Netanyahu’s strategic affairs minister, posed the following query in an interview published in the Jerusalem Post: “If we are talking about coexistence and peace, why the [Palestinian] insistence that the territory they receive be ethnically cleansed of Jews? Why do those areas have to be Judenrein? Don’t Arabs live here, in the Negev and the Galilee? Why isn’t that part of our public discussion? Why doesn’t that scream to the heavens?” Ya’alon believes that previous withdrawals, such as the evacuation from Gaza, only encouraged Hamas and Hezbollah to raise the ante in terms of violence.

These are excellent questions. If what Israel is being asked to negotiate with the Palestinians is mutual recognition and legitimacy in the context of a cessation of violence, why can’t Jews stay in the areas designated as part of a Palestinian state, just as Arabs live in Israel with full rights as citizens? Indeed, what kind of a crazy peace would create a state alongside Israel in which Jews are forbidden to live and where Arabs face the death sentence for selling property to Jews, as is currently the case in both Jordan and the Palestinian Authority?

Critics of the settlements might answer that the settlers are too extreme and too violent to be allowed to stay behind because some might attempt to sabotage the peace. Others might also point out that without the protection of the IDF, no Jew surrounded by hostile Arabs would be safe. As to the charge that violent settlers would seek to destroy the peace, that might be true of a small minority, but the overwhelming majority of settlers are law-abiding. But the fact that some Israeli Arabs were hostile to Jews didn’t mean that all Arabs couldn’t live in Israel. If there was a commitment to peaceful coexistence from a Palestinian government, there’s no reason why most of the Jews living in outlying settlements on land closely associated with Jewish history and faith couldn’t stay on. As for the threat to the safety of Jews remaining in a putative state of Palestine, that’s a different question that goes to the heart of the problem.

The reason why Palestinians insist that all Jews must leave their future state is because they do not recognize the legitimacy of Israel or the Jewish presence anywhere in the land. And Palestinian political culture is so steeped in violence and hatred of Jews and Israel that it is literally impossible to believe that Jews, even if they behaved like Quakers, could live in a Palestinian state.

Moreover, Ya’alon’s point about the example of Gaza is telling. Removing every Jew from Gaza didn’t satisfy the Palestinians there. Not only did the Palestinians burn the synagogue buildings and the tomato greenhouses left behind by the Israelis for them to use, they immediately began to use that land for launching terrorist missile attacks inside of Israel. So long as the Arabs still view the conflict as zero-sum game in which the goal is to remove or kill every Jew, territorial withdrawals won’t bring peace. If the Palestinian vision of peace — even the vision articulated by so-called moderates like Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas — is predicated on ridding the land of Jews rather than embracing coexistence, then there will be no peace.

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How Bad Can It Get?

The Obama administration has embarked on an assault on our ally Israel that can no longer be chalked up to a minor gaffe or a misunderstanding. The Obami have been unrelenting and consistently hostile toward the Jewish state. The Obama administration started off by ignoring the Bush administration’s agreements on settlements and making a settlement freeze the cornerstone of its Israel policy. That managed to alienate both sides. Last month, the temper tantrum over a routine housing permit was followed by Hillary Clinton’s 43-minute lecture to the prime minister. This was followed by the abusive and inexcusable treatment of Israel’s prime minister at the White House. That, in turn, was followed by leaks of the potential for an imposed settlement plan. No administration has ever treated Israel in this fashion. None.

Now we get this report, as yet unconfirmed from the Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv, that the Obama administration is denying visas to Israeli nuclear scientists at the Dimona nuclear-research facility. In addition, the paper reports that the U.S. is imposing a defacto embargo blocking the purchase of component parts. This all marks a dramatic change from past U.S. policy:

The Americans are toughening their behavior toward the Nuclear Research Center in Dimona. Workers at the center say that while the Americans are behaving in a conciliatory and non-aggressive way regarding the Iranian nuclear program, President Obama’s people have chosen to behave in a humiliating manner toward a country that is friendly toward them.

Officials of the Nuclear Research Center in Dimona said yesterday that Obama’s government has imposed restrictions and toughened its behavior toward them, as has never happened before in relations between the two countries. For decades, employees of the Nuclear Research Center have traveled to universities in the United States for advanced professional training in physics, chemistry and nuclear engineering. In order to study at those universities, the researchers from the Nuclear Research Center had to request entry visas for the United States, as any Israeli citizen must. Yet recently, several of them encountered humiliating treatment and been refused visas, while their only crime has been that they are employees of the Nuclear Research Center. According to security officials, the people in question are researchers with clean records who have never been in any trouble with the law either in Israel or in the United States, so the new manner in which they are being treated constitutes a severe offense against them and their families.

But the treatment of the employees themselves is not the only thing that has changed. According to officials who are familiar with the details, attempts to purchase certain components from the Americans have also encountered difficulties, with some of the items under a de facto embargo. To put it mildly, officials at the nuclear center are not pleased with the tougher treatment, which did not take place during President Bush’s term. The Americans have asked for a detailed report on the purpose of some of the items that they wish to buy from the United States…

Professor Zeev Alfasi, the director of the nuclear engineering department at Ben-Gurion University in the Negev, who is familiar with the circumstances, describes the toughening of the Americans’ relations with the Nuclear Research Center. “Some of the people did not receive visas to the United States because they are employees of the Nuclear Research Center,” he explained. “The United States is not selling anything nuclear to the Nuclear Research Center, and that includes everything. For example, radiation detectors for nuclear research are purchased in France because the Americans do not sell to people of the Nuclear Research Center.

Not too long ago, a report like this would have been greeted with great skepticism. Now? It seems pretty much par for the course. It would be nice to think the U.S. is Israel’s “only reliable friend.” But for now, it’s not. The U.S. is, by each and every action, communicating to Israel that it should fend for itself. And it will have to for now.

The Obama administration has embarked on an assault on our ally Israel that can no longer be chalked up to a minor gaffe or a misunderstanding. The Obami have been unrelenting and consistently hostile toward the Jewish state. The Obama administration started off by ignoring the Bush administration’s agreements on settlements and making a settlement freeze the cornerstone of its Israel policy. That managed to alienate both sides. Last month, the temper tantrum over a routine housing permit was followed by Hillary Clinton’s 43-minute lecture to the prime minister. This was followed by the abusive and inexcusable treatment of Israel’s prime minister at the White House. That, in turn, was followed by leaks of the potential for an imposed settlement plan. No administration has ever treated Israel in this fashion. None.

Now we get this report, as yet unconfirmed from the Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv, that the Obama administration is denying visas to Israeli nuclear scientists at the Dimona nuclear-research facility. In addition, the paper reports that the U.S. is imposing a defacto embargo blocking the purchase of component parts. This all marks a dramatic change from past U.S. policy:

The Americans are toughening their behavior toward the Nuclear Research Center in Dimona. Workers at the center say that while the Americans are behaving in a conciliatory and non-aggressive way regarding the Iranian nuclear program, President Obama’s people have chosen to behave in a humiliating manner toward a country that is friendly toward them.

Officials of the Nuclear Research Center in Dimona said yesterday that Obama’s government has imposed restrictions and toughened its behavior toward them, as has never happened before in relations between the two countries. For decades, employees of the Nuclear Research Center have traveled to universities in the United States for advanced professional training in physics, chemistry and nuclear engineering. In order to study at those universities, the researchers from the Nuclear Research Center had to request entry visas for the United States, as any Israeli citizen must. Yet recently, several of them encountered humiliating treatment and been refused visas, while their only crime has been that they are employees of the Nuclear Research Center. According to security officials, the people in question are researchers with clean records who have never been in any trouble with the law either in Israel or in the United States, so the new manner in which they are being treated constitutes a severe offense against them and their families.

But the treatment of the employees themselves is not the only thing that has changed. According to officials who are familiar with the details, attempts to purchase certain components from the Americans have also encountered difficulties, with some of the items under a de facto embargo. To put it mildly, officials at the nuclear center are not pleased with the tougher treatment, which did not take place during President Bush’s term. The Americans have asked for a detailed report on the purpose of some of the items that they wish to buy from the United States…

Professor Zeev Alfasi, the director of the nuclear engineering department at Ben-Gurion University in the Negev, who is familiar with the circumstances, describes the toughening of the Americans’ relations with the Nuclear Research Center. “Some of the people did not receive visas to the United States because they are employees of the Nuclear Research Center,” he explained. “The United States is not selling anything nuclear to the Nuclear Research Center, and that includes everything. For example, radiation detectors for nuclear research are purchased in France because the Americans do not sell to people of the Nuclear Research Center.

Not too long ago, a report like this would have been greeted with great skepticism. Now? It seems pretty much par for the course. It would be nice to think the U.S. is Israel’s “only reliable friend.” But for now, it’s not. The U.S. is, by each and every action, communicating to Israel that it should fend for itself. And it will have to for now.

Read Less

Olmert’s Contradictory Strategy

For the first time since Syria withdrew from Lebanon over three years ago, Arab states are in broad consensus that Damascus is still meddling in Lebanese politics.

Indeed, Lebanon has been without a president since November because Hezbollah–with Syria’s political backing–is demanding cabinet veto power in exchange for approving Gen. Michel Suleiman as president.  In response, Egypt and Syria threatened to boycott the upcoming Arab League conference in Damascus, while Gulf states withheld their decisions to attend the conference until Syrian President Bashar al-Assad formally invited Lebanon.  Still, only 12 of 22 Arab heads-of-state have announced that they will attend.  Of course, this unity against Syria’s involvement in Lebanon has profound implications for Hezbollah, which depends on Syria’s political support for domestic leverage.

If you were prime minister of Israel, you would probably see this as a good thing.  After all, in the aftermath of Imad Mughniyeh’s assassination, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah announced preparations for another war against Israel, further hinting that Hezbollah would target Israeli interests abroad.  Moreover, Hezbollah is a key conduit for delivering Iranian weapons to Hamas in Gaza. As Hezbollah’s al-Manar reported on Wednesday, Iran is attempting to transport anti-aircraft systems to Gaza that could hit Israeli airbases in the Negev.  If Syrian support is threatened, Hezbollah will have to redouble its domestic political efforts, potentially stalling its strategy against Israel.

Yet during a cabinet meeting earlier this week, Olmert called for opening negotiations with Syria–throwing the Assad regime a potential lifesaver as Arab consensus against Damascus developed.  Indeed, negotiating with Syria would undermine western attempts to hold Assad accountable for the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri–providing a significant boost to Hezbollah’s March 8th Alliance.  In short, at the very moment that Olmert should be most focused on weakening Hezbollah, he is advocating a policy that would do the opposite.

Apparently, Olmert believes that, through peace negotiations, Israel can induce Syria to abandon “its involvement in terrorism and extricate it from the axis of evil.”  However, yesterday’s events should convince him that this is a fantasy.  For starters, Palestinian Islamic Jihad–whose operatives often receive training in Syria–attacked an Israeli jeep operating along the Israeli-Gaza border, using a sophisticated device likely made in Iran.  At the same time, Assad received the Iranian first vice-president in Damascus, with the two sides agreeing to link the Syrian electricity network to Iran’s grid.

Make no mistake: these Iranian-Syrian links will not be broken any time soon.  Olmert should recognize this reality, and take advantage of the rare opportunities that Arab consensus against Damascus provides for weakening Hezbollah politically.

For the first time since Syria withdrew from Lebanon over three years ago, Arab states are in broad consensus that Damascus is still meddling in Lebanese politics.

Indeed, Lebanon has been without a president since November because Hezbollah–with Syria’s political backing–is demanding cabinet veto power in exchange for approving Gen. Michel Suleiman as president.  In response, Egypt and Syria threatened to boycott the upcoming Arab League conference in Damascus, while Gulf states withheld their decisions to attend the conference until Syrian President Bashar al-Assad formally invited Lebanon.  Still, only 12 of 22 Arab heads-of-state have announced that they will attend.  Of course, this unity against Syria’s involvement in Lebanon has profound implications for Hezbollah, which depends on Syria’s political support for domestic leverage.

If you were prime minister of Israel, you would probably see this as a good thing.  After all, in the aftermath of Imad Mughniyeh’s assassination, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah announced preparations for another war against Israel, further hinting that Hezbollah would target Israeli interests abroad.  Moreover, Hezbollah is a key conduit for delivering Iranian weapons to Hamas in Gaza. As Hezbollah’s al-Manar reported on Wednesday, Iran is attempting to transport anti-aircraft systems to Gaza that could hit Israeli airbases in the Negev.  If Syrian support is threatened, Hezbollah will have to redouble its domestic political efforts, potentially stalling its strategy against Israel.

Yet during a cabinet meeting earlier this week, Olmert called for opening negotiations with Syria–throwing the Assad regime a potential lifesaver as Arab consensus against Damascus developed.  Indeed, negotiating with Syria would undermine western attempts to hold Assad accountable for the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri–providing a significant boost to Hezbollah’s March 8th Alliance.  In short, at the very moment that Olmert should be most focused on weakening Hezbollah, he is advocating a policy that would do the opposite.

Apparently, Olmert believes that, through peace negotiations, Israel can induce Syria to abandon “its involvement in terrorism and extricate it from the axis of evil.”  However, yesterday’s events should convince him that this is a fantasy.  For starters, Palestinian Islamic Jihad–whose operatives often receive training in Syria–attacked an Israeli jeep operating along the Israeli-Gaza border, using a sophisticated device likely made in Iran.  At the same time, Assad received the Iranian first vice-president in Damascus, with the two sides agreeing to link the Syrian electricity network to Iran’s grid.

Make no mistake: these Iranian-Syrian links will not be broken any time soon.  Olmert should recognize this reality, and take advantage of the rare opportunities that Arab consensus against Damascus provides for weakening Hezbollah politically.

Read Less




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