Welcome new thinking on the Palestine Question

In Washington today former deputy speaker of Israel’s Knesset Naomi
Chazan had some great advice for President-elect
Obama. Noting that Israel’s election comes just 20 days after Obama’s
inauguration, she said Obama should wait 20 days before announcing the
US’s new policy on the Arab-Israeli peace– “but he shouldn’t wait any
longer than 21 days.”

The US might, she said, present its own peace plan. (She didn’t spell out whether Obama should do that right then, or a little later.)

Chazan– who is one of the smartest and most well-grounded people I
know, of any nationality or gender– also argued
convincingly that the whole process that goes back to Oslo and running
right through Annapolis “has dead-ended.” She said the whole way the
“peace process” has been framed and organized since Oslo needs to be
reframed, and gave some excellent suggestions on how to do this.

She was speaking along with Daniel Levy at the New America Foundation,
at an event co-hosted by the strongly pro-peace New Israel Fund, of
whose board she is president.

Chazan  provided these three examples of the kind of reframing
she envisaged:

  1. “We need to recognize
    the asymmetry there is both on the ground and at the negotiating table,
    between the Israelis and Palestinians, and find ways to rebalance that.
    So far, since Oslo, the negotiations have all tended to create a false
    idea that there is symmetry between them. There isn’t.” Later,
    Levy  amplified that point, saying that just leaving the two
    sides in a room together to deal with everything through bilateral
    negotiations wouldn’t work. Chazan agreed. Both of them said the US
    needs to play a much more activist role in the negotiations than it did
    in the whole “process” from Oslo through Annapolis.
  2. “We need to go back to looking at the root causes of the
    conflict. There’s always been this idea that doing this would be
    unhelpful to the negotiations, but actually there are ways it could be
    helpful.” Later, in response to a question about the Palestinian
    refugee issue, she spelled out that rather than dealing with it just in
    a distant and sort of technical way, if the Israeli government would
    agree to make some kind of public acknowledgment that Israel’s actions
    had “helped to create” the problem and wanted to join with others in
    finding a solution, that was the kind of action that could help move
    the whole process forward.
  3. “We could also think of trying to separate the issues of
    ending the occupation and dismantling the settlements.” In the
    discussion period she noted that the fact that settlement dismantlement
    had always, in the Oslo-to-Annapolis process, been an explicit item on
    the agenda gave the settlers and their supporters a big cause to
    mobilize around and, in effect, gave them a veto over the whole
    negotiation. “But how about if we didn’t say anything explicit at all
    about the settlements or the settlers but just reached an agreement by
    which Israel would withdraw completely to the Green Line or a line near
    it with negotiated changes, handing the area over in the first instance
    to an international or NATO force, perhaps without doing anything
    explicit to dismantle the settlements? What would the settlers do then?
    They lose their veto.”

Chazan’s visit to Washington is timely indeed. As I noted here
on Monday, when Obama announced his foreign policy team in Chicago
earlier that day, he also made prominent mention of the need to work
rapidly “a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians.”

Continue reading “Welcome new thinking on the Palestine Question”

Israeli analysts prepare next war against Lebanon

In the latest issue of its quarterly journal, Tel Aviv’s Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) carries two (or three) articles debating in some depth whether– in the event of a new war against Lebanon that one writer describes as “inevitable”, Israel should actively target institutions and facilities of the Lebanese state, or just “restrict” itself to targeting Hizbullah.
The plainest case for targeting Lebanese national institutions directly is argued in The Third Lebanon War: Target Lebanon (PDF), by Maj.-Gen. (Retd) Giora Eiland, a former national security adviser to PMs Sharon and Olmert and before that head of the IDF’s planning and operations branches.
A more nuanced view– but one that concludes that launching a large-scale, and possibly also lengthy, ground operation in Lebanon is “inevitable”– is argfued by Yossi Kuperwasser in The Next War with Hizbollah: Should Lebanon be the Target? (PDF). Kuperwasser is a former head of the IDF’s intelligence research division.
Now, I understand that it’s the job of planners within the active-duty military to “plan for the worst.” But it’s fairly depressing that a publication that aims at a broad portion of the international political elite should give so much space to people making arguments completely based on the premise that Israel “has no alternative” but to go to war against Lebanon (or Hizbullah) sometime in the (possibly near) future. In addition to those two technical-military articles, the issue also contains one by Israeli exerts arguing– especially in light of Israel’s experiences during the 33-day war of 2006– that Israel should spearhead an attempt to get the laws of war changed to be more in its favor. (Surprise, surprise.)
Nowhere in this journal is there any hint that actually, within the context of a comprehensive Israeli-Arab peace settlement, there is a strong scenario whereby Israel might never “need” to go to war against Hizbullah or Lebanon ever again. (Ah, but if there’s not a salutary little war from time to time, how on earth can all the Israeli military companies that these men doubtless consult profitably with, ever keep their sales and profit figures up?)
Actually, the arguments both men make are really weak. They exhibit strategic short-sightedness, tactical idiocy, and severe historical airbrushing (mendacity.) Perhaps that’s because they’re writing here for an “international”, English-language audience that they expect– based on the rock-star welcome they get in most US think-tanks– will ignore the facts and just lap up every word that they write?
Strategic shortsightedness: Neither Eiland nor Kuperwasser can provide a convincing answer to the question, “Yes, but then what?” regarding all their arguments about how (not whether) to fight another war against Lebanon.
In his piece, Eiland makes a couple of arguments. He notes that Hizbullah has become stronger within the Lebanese state than it was at the time of the 33-day war. (Note, though, that he completely fails to explain that it was precisely the ferocity of the assaults Israel made on Lebanon during that war that spurred, that outcome…) So he concludes from that that, to fatally weaken Hizbullah it will be necessary to damage the Lebanese state a lot, too.
He also argues from the “precedent” of the massive, destructive campaign Sharon waged against the PA in June 2002. He writes that there, the real target was Hamas, but Hamas had won a lot of support from the PA, which had strong political support from the west.
“The US sanctioned an Israeli operation against Hamas,” he writes,

    but had a hard time accepting the operation as Israel planned it – an operation against the Palestinian Authority.
    The US at first demanded that Israel leave all West Bank cities (area A) within forty-eight hours. Notable Israeli steadfastness maintained that this time it was impossible to return to the familiar rules of the game whereby only the terrorists are targeted, and the sponsors (the Palestinian Authority) remain immune. Israel’s firmness, which stemmed from a lack of other options, was successful. Israel had to concede on one matter only, stopping the siege of the muq’ata in Ramallah, home to Arafat at the time. On the other hand, the new policy (Israeli control over all Palestinian areas) was well received and commended by the international community.

So, he writes, it would probably be similar with an attack on Lebanon. The “west” might complain a bit at first… but “Israeli firmness” in pursuing its own goals would win the day and even become “well received and commended” by the international community.
His conclusion:

    There is one way to prevent the Third Lebanon War and win it if it does break out (and thereby prevent the Fourth Lebanon War): to make it clear to Lebanon’s allies and through them to the Lebanese government and people that the next war will be between Israel and Lebanon and not between Israel and Hizbollah. Such a war will lead to the elimination of the Lebanese military, the destruction of the national infrastructure, and intense suffering among the population. There will be no recurrence of the situation where Beirut residents (not including the Dahiya quarter) go to the beach and cafes while Haifa residents sit in bomb shelters.
    Serious damage to the Republic of Lebanon, the destruction of homes and infrastructure, and the suffering of hundreds of thousands of people are consequences that can influence Hizbollah’s behavior more than anything else…

Yes, Gen. Eiland, but then what??
So Israel succeeds in completely or substantially destroying the entire physical infrastructure of the state of Lebanon… (Assuming that the post-2008 model “international community” allows it to do this, which I actually doubt.)
And then what?
Israel has a failed state on its northern border and substantial portions of the international community up in arms… And that’s going to “solve” your Hizbullah problem, how?
I believe that Gen. Eiland is urging coordinated use of air and ground force attacks against Lebanon. In which case we could assume that the ground troops might be in control of substntial chunks of Lebanese territory.
Which takes us Back to the Future! Israeli troops bogged down in Lebanon, for 22 long years after 1978, 18 years after 1982.
The very conditions that created and incubated Hizbullah in the first place.
Why should anyone buy your crazy, inhumane, and go-nowhere arguments?
And then there’s Gen. Kuperwasser, who is much more explicit about the need for the “large scale ground operation” in Lebanon, even if he questions whether all the facilities of the Lebanese state as such should be targeted along the way.
Here’s what he writes about the ground op that he argues for:

    If there is another round between Israel and Hizbollah, Israel will not be able to make do with standoff counter attacks on Lebanese targets, and will probably have to launch a large scale ground operation. While Hizbollah will be able to exact a not inconsiderable cost from Israel for such an operation, the IDF has the ability to take control of the organization’s operational territories in southern Lebanon, including north of the Litani River, and if necessary, also in Beirut and the Bek’a valley. Such an operation, together with inflicting damage on infrastructures that serve Hizbollah, is the only one that will stop the firing, create a new reality in the field, and enable examination of the possibility of establishing a different arrangement with regard to relations between Israel and Lebanon in general and the Shiite community in particular.

So, you “stop the firing” of Hizbullah’s rockets onto northern Israel. Okay. And you “create a new reality in the field”… which is one in which Israel is left in control of very large chunks of Lebanese territory…
And then what?
(See my note about the IDF’s post-1978 and post-1982 occupations of south Lebanon, above.)
All Kuperwasser tells us about the political-strategic goal to be sought through this operation is “examination of the possibility of establishing a different arrangement with regard to relations between Israel and Lebanon in general and the Shiite community in particular.” Whatever that means. May 17 agreement, anyone?
These guys are strategic-thinking kindergartners, honestly.
Regarding their tactical skills, they don’t seem much better, either. Eiland writes,

    There is one way to prevent the Third Lebanon War and win it if it does break out (and thereby prevent the Fourth Lebanon War): to make it clear to Lebanon’s allies and through them to the Lebanese government and people that the next war will be between Israel and Lebanon and not between Israel and Hizbollah.

Yeah, well. The military planning required to prevent a war (through deterrence) is quite different from that required to fight one. Actually, Eiland doesn’t seem terribly interested in trying to prevent the next “Lebanese War,” at all. Only, perhaps, the one after that. (See note on the Israeli military industries, above.)
And then, from Kuperwasser we have this truly hilarious and ahistorical explanation of how “the next war” against Lebanon that he favors could actually work out, politically, to help realize the fuzzily defined political-strategic endpoint that he seeks:

    the Israeli goal might be to weaken Hizbollah and strengthen the moderate parties in Lebanon, while damaging the organization’s ability to rehabilitate itself and continue controlling southern Lebanon and presenting itself as the defender of Lebanon, similar to Israel’s strategic objectives in the Second Lebanon War (even if they were not explicitly defined as such). Other objectives in this context could be strengthening moderate elements in the regional system and increasing Israeli deterrence, in part to increase the chances of achieving a favorable peace treaty with Syria and to weaken the extremist elements in the Palestinian system.

Note how he’s effortlessly adopted the misleading and content-free US label of “moderate” to describe what are, actually, pro-US forces within Lebanon. But then see how he is advocating an almost exact replay of what the Israeli leadership attempted to do in 2006: Namely, to attack Lebanon’s civilian state facilities with the aim of turning as many Lebanese as possible against Hizbullah… while “strengthening” Israel’s general deterrent p;ower throughout the region.
It backfired badly in 2006, didn’t it?
Why on earth should anyone assume it might work better next time?
And this brings me to the whole question of these two mens’ extreme historical airbrushing (mendacity).
Actually, from Willem Buiter, I just learned a new word that’s very handy in this context: Publikumsbeschimpfung, which means insulting the intelligence of your audience.
Both Eiland and Kuperwasser insult our intelligence primarily through their reliance on a crucial but completely false assumption about the 33-day war, namely that Israel did not, actually, target any non-military facilities pertaining to the Lebanese state during that war, and, by clear implication, that that very ‘restrained’ approach to warfighting helped deny Israel the victory it could otherwise have won. But just look at the record of that war, including both the roster of the sites that Israel attacked during it– road systems, bridges, civilian factories, a power station– and the extremely bellicose statements from military and political leaders spelling out that “Once it is inside Lebanon, everything is legitimate“, “we will turn Lebanon’s clock back 20 years,” etc.
So Eiland and Kuerwasser are asking us to forget all that… Asking us to forget, too, that Israel’s use of massive overkill tactics against Lebanon backfired badly in [’06, and that after 33 days of assaults they were still unable to impose their will on the Lebanese people or their political system.
This, though the war occurred less than 30 months ago.
Publikumsbeschimpfung, indeed. (Taking the public for chimps, perhaps?)
At one level, I suppose we could read these two guys’ fevered and ill-informed writings as further evidence– if evidence still be needed– of the sterility of what passes for Israeli strategic “thinking” in the present era. After all the INSS, formerly the Jaffee Center, is not chopped liver. It’s the flagship of Israeli strategic-affairs think-tanks.
The problem for these guys, and for all their counterparts in the military-industrial complex throughout the western world is that the world has changed a lot in the past 15 years. Foreign wars have become just about unwinnable. Israel’s performance in Lebanon in 2006 is Example A in that regard. They had overwhelming superiority over Hizbullah at every single step on “the escalation ladder.” But still, they were unable to achieve their strategic goals!
So if foreign wars are unwinnable, then people– taxpayers, conscripts’ families, and others– might soon start to ask, “Why wage them? And why invest such a lot of our country’s treasure in the military industries that help us prepare for them?”
But if that were to happen, what on earth would happen to the military industries and their hordes of nicely paid consultants??
A problem, I think, not just for Israel but also for the US, Britain, and the rest of NATO…
But here’s the good news: There are many, many better ways to resolve conflicts and address fears of insecurity than through war.,

L. Rozen on Israelis in Kurdistan

Laura Rozen has a great new investigative piece at Mother Jones about the very lucrative business and security activities undertaken in post-2003 Kurdistan by former Israeli Mossad head “Danny” Yatom and his Israeli-US dual-national associate Shlomi Michaels.
HT: Wired’s “Danger Room”.
Rozen describes Michaels thus,

    He was a former commando with Israel’s elite internal counterterrorism force, the Yamam; he had since become one of the middlemen who work the seams between the worlds of security, intelligence, and international business, along with a few more colorful sidelines including a private investigations/security business in Beverly Hills.. [H]is business partner was former Mossad head Danny Yatom. Before arriving in Washington, Michaels, a dual Israel-US citizen, ran a string of businesses in Beverly Hills… After 9/11 he left Los Angeles, alighting first in New York (where he taught counterterrorism for a semester at Columbia University) and then in DC, where he would soon launch a lucrative venture to cash in on the Iraq War and its aftermath.

Here were some of his activities:

    He helped introduce information in Washington that the United Nations’ Iraq oil-for-food scheme was riddled with corruption—a matter that became a key GOP talking point for promoting the war. Later Michaels helped the Kurds find Washington lobbyists (Rogers’ BGR) who would make the case that Kurdistan was owed some $4 billion in oil-for-food back payments. In June 2004, during his last days in Iraq, US Iraq proconsul Paul Bremer sent three US military helicopters loaded with $1.4 billion in 100-dollar bills to Kurdistan, according to the Los Angeles Times. The money helped finance Kurdish infrastructure and development contracts that Michaels and his business partners then contracted with the Kurdish government to build and secure…
    One Michaels/Yatom joint venture, Kudo AG (short for Kurdish Development Organization), registered in Switzerland, won a major contract to serve as the Kurdish government’s general contractor for the $300 million project to rebuild Irbil’s Hawler International Airport. According to an associate familiar with Michaels’ Kurdish ventures, the deal was structured such that Kudo (a joint venture between Michaels and Yatom and their Kurdish associate representing one of Kurdistan’s two ruling parties) was to get paid 20 percent of every contract awarded in the airport project. Though it’s not clear how much Kudo was ultimately paid, that ratio would have made its contract worth roughly $60 million. (Michaels declined to comment for this story.)
    Michaels also won a smaller contract with the Kurdish Minister of Interior to provide counterterrorism training and equipment; in 2004, Michaels brought several dozen Israeli ex-security officials as well as bomb-sniffing dogs, secure communications equipment, and other military gear into a camp in northern Iraq.

As Rozen tells it, Michaels and Yatom had some plans that didn’t work out. One was a 2004 offer to sell some alleged “evidence” about Saddam’s former WMD programs to the CIA for $1 million. The CIA, very sensibly, didn’t buy. Also, the two men’s plan to provide security services to the Kurdish Regional Government had to be curtailed after Turkey raised complaints– and the Israeli security services suddenly (a little late in the day?) ‘discovered’ laws that forbade Israeli nationals from entering Iraq Iraq without explicit permission or from dealing in defense equipment without the requisite license…

Continue reading “L. Rozen on Israelis in Kurdistan”

Olmert’s late-term epiphany on Iran and Palestine

It was not quite Saul the tax-collector on the road to Damascus but it was almost like that. Ehud Olmert, still nominally in office as Israel’s PM but leaving very soon, told Yediot Aharonot that:

    1. Israel would have to leave all or nearly all the occupied territories to win a peace agreement with the Palestinians, and would have to give territorial compensation on a one-for-one basis for any land it kept.
    2. The withdrawal would also have to include just about all of East Jerusalem, though with “special solutions” for the holy sites; and
    3. Israeli threats to attack Iran represent “megalomania” and a loss of “sense of proportion” about its own power.

These positions all sound like ideological bombshells, especially for someone who grew up and spent most of his life in rightwing nationalist parties.
In Haaretz today, Aluf Benn dismisses Olmert’s statement as “too little, too late.” Personally, I don’t think it’s too little. I think on every point he showed real insight and courage. (Except perhaps when he said Syria would have to cut all its ties to Iran, Hamas, and Hizbullah as part of a peace agreement.)
But to say the things he said about Israel’s “megalomania” regarding its own powers and its ability to deal with the Iranian challenge alone? That was even more significant than what he said about the peace process with the Palestinians.
Here in the US, there are numerous people in the Jewish community who are doveish on the peace process but very hawkish on Iran. I wish they could say things about Israel and Iran similar to what Olmert said.
Benn was quite right in noting that, if Olmert sincerely holds the beliefs that he now– right at the end of a 30-month term as PM– espouses, and if he has held them for a whole now (which is a reasonable assumption)… then why did he take so many decisions and actions while he was in power that undermined the policies he now espouses?
Especially regarding the implantation of additional tens of thousands of new Israeli settlers into the West Bank.
Benn writes:

    Sharon … was the only leader willing to stand up to the settlers and evacuate them from their homes. Actions, not words. Olmert is a hero in a newspaper interview, but in reality has been a marionette of the settlers just like the leaders who preceded him.

By the way, Benn notes– as the NYT account linked to above does not– that in the interview Olmert also strongly opposed a new IDF incursion into Gaza.
… Anyway, it is now ways too late for Olmert to have any hope of implementing the kind of policy toward the Palestinians that he describes in the interview. His successor has already been chosen: Tzipi Livni. And Israel is in an inter-regnum period that may last some months as she works to assemble her new governing coalition.
But during the inter-regnum, Olmert does remain in power. It is significantly reassuring to me that for the few months ahead the reins of power in Israel are held by someone who looks prepared to withstand the kinds of pressures that others might put on him, to launch an Israeli military strike against Iran.
But as Aluf Benn says, it’s actions not words that count. So let’s hope that Olmert sticks to– and continues to argue in public for– the policy of restraint toward Iran that his recent words represented.

Still-PM Olmert presents resignation

Ehud Olmert has been an ineffectual lame duck in Israeli politics for over two years now. It’s possible many people have forgotten that he is still, actually, the country’s prime minister.
But he presented his resignation today, four days after his protege Tzipi Livni won the internal Likud Kadima contest for the party’s leadership.
Livni now has 42 days to wrangle enough of Israel’s other parties into a coalition that the coalition can be stable. That will take us to just before the US elections. Right now, Israel’s internal politics look provincial and not terribly important. The country doesn’t have a functioning, nationally significant pro-peace or pro-withdrawal party. The only choices are between Olmert and Livni’s Kadima Party, a center-right party that loves to engage in endless, just-for-show, negotiations with Washington tame “Palestinian” interlocutors (led by still-President Abbas) that are as unserious as they are unprincipled, and Likud, which is more plainspoken and doesn’t even bother about putting on that show.
The main significance Israeli politics might have for world politics in the coming weeks is if, as function of the country’s internal political wrangling, Olmert and/or Livni should decide they want to “look tough” and launch some kind of disastrous military adventure against Iran.
Still-President Bush should get both of them on the phone and tell them absolutely No Way!

Arrest warrants for former Israeli military chiefs

Spain’s highest court, the Audiencia Nacional, has issued arrest warrants on charges of war crimes against six Israelis who were high-ranking military officials at the time of the IDF’s bombing of an apartment building in Gaza City in 2002 which killed 15 civilians.
The six include current Infrastructure Minister Binyamin (‘Fouad’) Ben-Eliezer, who was defense minister at the time of the incident; Moshe Yaalon, who was IDF chief of staff; and Dan Halutz, then chief of the air force and later IDF chief of staff. The others are Doron Almog, Giora Eiland, and ‘Mike’ Herzog.
(Does anyone have the text of the arrest warrant? I’d love to see that.)
The 2002 incident was part of a longstanding policy of the Israeli government of undertaking extrajudicial killings (EJKs) of its opponents. EJKs, also known as assassinations or in Israel’s somewhat euphemized parlance “targeted killings”, are precisely what they sound like: completely extra-judicial, that is, outside the rule of law. That is, there is no duly constituted court that considers in an impartial and open manner the evidence against the “accused”, listens to his defense, and judges the case on its merits. Instead, Israel’s military authorities get to be prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner all wrapped into one, though they have made various attempts to describe their efforts as “humane”, “restrained” and, of course, completely “justified.”
For one such attempt see this piece of sympathetic hasbara reporting from the WaPo’s Laura Blumenfeld back in August 20096. In it, Bluemnfeld describes the “anguish” experienced by several Israeli commanders– including, crucially, arraigned-in-Spain Moshe Yaalon– as they recalled their calculations regarding whether to undertake any particular EJK
Actually, though Blumenfeld’s reporting was extremely sympathetic to Israel’s high-ranking assassins, it contains many revealing details that could be useful in any court case against Yaalon and his co-defendants. (And also, against present Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, a leader of some of Israel’s earlier EJK ops.)
Reflecting on her conversations with Yaalon about the period 2000-2003, Blumenfeld wrote,

    Almost every day, Yaalon had to decide who would live or die. “Who is a ‘ticking bomb’ ? Can we arrest him? Who is a priority — this guy first, or this guy first?” Yaalon recalled. Once a week, military intelligence and Shin Bet proposed new names. At first, the list was limited to bombers themselves, but several years later it expanded to those who manufacture bombs and those who plan attacks.
    “I called it ‘cutting weeds.’ I knew their names by heart,” Yaalon said. How many did he kill? “Oh, hundreds, hundreds. I knew them. I had all the details with their pictures, maps, intelligence, on the table… ”

Then this, which is of direct relevance to the court case:

    Only once, Yaalon said, did he knowingly authorize a hit that would also kill a noncombatant, the wife of Salah Shehada. Shehada helped found Hamas’s military wing, which had asserted responsibility for killing 16 soldiers and 220 Israeli civilians. In 2002, the air force dropped a one-ton bomb on his home. The blast also destroyed a neighboring house, which Yaalon said he had thought was empty. Fifteen civilians were killed, including nine children. It felt, Yaalon said, “like something heavy fell on my head.”

Excuse me– something fell on his head??
Blumenfeld’s piece makes eery reading. But it also provides a vivid example of two important points:

    1. How unresolved feelings of victimization and helplessness from the past can be used to try to justify the perpetuation of new acts of escalation and violence. In this regard, she makes a point of noting that Yaalon’s mother, and the parent of one of the other high-ranking EJK perps were Holocaust survivors, and how this affected their thinking about the use of violence.
    2. How extremely slippery the slope of the justification of violence “for self-defense”, “pre-emption”, “prevention”, and “deterrence” can become. The Israeli decisionmakers were justifying their use of EJKs since 2000 mainly in terms of “deterrence,” that is, sending a powerful message “to discourage others from trying the same thing.” It worked in terms of raw violence, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of those “targeted”– along with additional hundreds of bystanders. But at the crucial level of politics, it didn’t work. Hamas kept on generating new cohorts of leaders, while retaining intact both its core political ideology and its ability to hit Israel with new kinds of weapons, primarily the fence-hopping rockets. Only recently did the Israeli government try another approach to the challenge posed by Hamas: the Egypt-mediated negotiations which resulted in the conclusion of a ceasefire (tahdi’eh) back in June. The ceasefire has not been totally successful, since a handful of very small, non-Hamas groups remain uncommitted to it. But by and large it has worked. The number of rockets falling inside Israel has been drastically reduced. And yesterday, even Ehud Barak– who was previously a strong skeptic of the ceasefire approach– announced that he now thinks it is the best way forward!

In Blumenfeld’s piece, she reports on the recollections of some of Israel’s super-assassins of another operation they conducted, against a reported gathering of Hamas leaders in a Gaza City apartment in September 2003. On that occasion, they used “only” a quarter-ton bomb, which was designed to hit “only” the third story of the targeted building. But the Hamas leaders being targeted– who included both political and military leaders– were sitting on the ground floor, and escaped with little damage. (Note that the idea of killing political leaders is completely outside what is allowed in the laws of war, as is the idea of killing military personnel when they are not on active duty. So such operations were war-crimes from the get-go, regardless of whether “untargeted” bystanders were also harmed, which in many or most cases they certainly were.)
Among those who escaped the airborne assassins that day were Hamas’s paraplegic founder and historic leader Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, whom the Israelis did succeed in killing a year later, and Ismail Haniyyeh, who ran in the Palestinian parliamentary elections of January 2006 and emerged as Prime Minister of the Palestinian government elected that month. Haniyyeh and his colleagues in the Gaza portion of Hamas’s leadership have been essential participants in the Egypt-mediated negotiations for the June ceasefire.
It is almost certain that if Israel had indeed “succeeded” in assassinating Haniyyeh and others in the present Hamas leadership, then it would have been far harder, or perhaps impossible, for the Egyptians and Israelis to find any Palestinian leaders with the political charisma, clout, and legitimacy that have been required to negotiate and implement the ceasefire from the Palestinian side. (It would be kinda nice if Barak could admit that publicly, and also apologize to Haniyyeh for his past attempts to assassinate him?? Dream on, Helena.)
As part of the tahdi’eh, Israel undertook to stop its EJK attempts against the Hamas leaders, which is valuable first step towards the further de-escalation of tensions (and positive peacemaking!) that is so desperately needed.
B’tselem has some good updates about the state of the EJK policy as of the end of 2007 in its 2007 annual report (PDF here.) It includes this:

    On 14 December 2006, the High Court of Justice issued its decision on the petition filed in January 2002 against Israel’s targeted-killing policy. The court did not rule the policy illegal, but it held that the actions involved in the targeted killing had to meet the principle of proportionality. It also ruled that, after the attack, a “thorough and independent inquiry” must be conducted to verify the identity of the persons hit and the circumstances. However, when B’Tselem demanded an inquiry of this kind into seven targeted-killing cases that took place in 2006 and 2007, which killed 36 bystanders, including 16 minors, the State Attorney’s Office rejected the demand.

Seven EJKs that killed 36 bystanders? Where’s all the much-vaunted “proportionality” and “restraint” that Blumenfeld was writing about in her article?
As for the Spanish arrest warrants against Ben-Eliezer and the others, the Israeli government is reportedly “battling hard to overturn [the] Spanish court’s decision.”
My view– with this case in Spain, as with the earlier attempts to indict Ariel Sharon through the Belgian courts– is that though these court cases play an important role in helping to sensitize wwestern opinion to the nature of some of the actions involved, and though they hold out the important hope that “international criminal justice” can be brought to bear impartially, including against offenders who are not members of groups marginalized within the present, “west”-dominated international system, still, the pursuit of these cases is not the path that will lead to finding and implementing a durable end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And it is that path of conflict termination that is the one that must most urgently be pursued.
Back in the early 2000s, when the Belgian court made a (notably halfhearted and short-lived) attempt to go after Ariel Sharon for war crimes committed against Palestinians in 1982, he was still the Prime Minister of Israel. And though seeing him in the dock may have given some satisfaction to some Palestinians, still, what they most needed from him at that time was his serious engagement in serious peace negotiations… and inasmuch as the Belgian court case distracted attention or commitment from that path, it might actually have been harmful.
And similarly with the present Spanish court cases. Of course, the actions on which the defendants stand arraigned were heinous ones: the assassination of political opponents on a wide scale, and with far too little heed to the effects of those actions on bystanders. And the past actions and decisions of many of the Hamas leaders were equally heinous in their disregard for the laws of war, including the absolute injunction to avoid civilian casualties. But the priority– with regard to the misdeeds of both sides– must still remain on the search for a durable political outcome to the conflict.
Is such an outcome in sight? Perhaps not as far distant as many westerners seem to think. I think the new interest that some leaders in the secular portion of the Palestinian nationalist movement are expressing in the longheld goal of a single, binational state in all the area of Mandate Palestine is a heartening development.
Since 1967, the Israelis have had numerous chances to achieve a two-state solution, which could keep essentially intact their goal of having a state in existence that would be strong, secure, intentionally Jewish, and at peace with all of its neighbors. That would involve a return to something at or very close to the lines of June 4, 1967.
But repeatedly over the years they avoided making that choice. Instead, every time, they voted with their concrete mixers, pouring vast volumes of concrete into the project to build Jews-only colonial settlements throughout the West Bank (and Golan) and to connect them with their own, beyond-apartheid grid of Jews-only roads. As a result of that, and of the implantation of 450,000 Jewish settlers into those settlements, it is now almost impossible to imagine how the West Bank could be separated from Israel proper. The small chunks of land there that might be left to a Palestinian Bantustan would be quite incapable of supporting a viable Palestinian state.
Time to return to the older dream of humane Zionists like Martin Buber or Judah Magnes, who held up the goal of a unitary, binational state…

Disarray in Israel’s ruling group

This is how Haaretz’s Uzi Benziman describes what’s been going on:

    June 2008 may be remembered as the month when the Israeli public’s patience with its leaders and their style of politics runs out, as citizens are currently witnessing the inner workings of the parties exposed for all to see. In the past, backroom dealings were kept secret, but now the politicians themselves are shedding light on their dark practices, and they are doing so with gusto, in a sort of unabashed striptease revealing all their deformities. Thus, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert informed the public that Defense Minister Ehud Barak allegedly imposed upon him to reach an agreement with Hamas [huh?? Interesting if true, though Benziman’s qualification of “allegedly” implies he doubts it… ~HC] over a calm in the Gaza Strip not because it was in the national interest, but because of the Labor leader’s political considerations.
    Members of the defense minister’s inner circle say in return that the prime minister allegedly reneged on an agreement regarding a prisoner swap for abducted Israel Defense Forces solders held by Hezbollah because of interests concerning the Kadima leader’s political survival.
    Furthermore, the prime minister said the defense minister is imposing his will on security establishment officials, which prompted the defense minister to claim that the prime minister’s policy is as stable as a seesaw. Neither take into consideration that they are using the fate of the three abducted soldiers as ammunition to fire charges against each other.
    Olmert’s pride prevents him from doing the honest thing of stepping down, even for a period of three months, and turned authority over to Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni until the police investigation against him clears up. His purely selfish interests, which are completely alien to the common good, have driven him to pull a maneuver that may lead to early elections.
    Had Olmert allowed Livni to take over, or given the green light for his party to hold an early primary election, then he may have boosted the chances of the current government coalition to continue, and averted a political crisis. But Olmert has his urges, and he would rather throw everything down the drain then have Livni, or anyone else from his party, take over from him.
    Say he manages to pull off a last-minute deal with Shas that keeps it in the coalition, or he succeeds in delaying the preliminary reading over the proposal to dissolve the Knesset – will he then have the right to make fateful decisions? Does he believe that a dubious deal with Shas promising the ultra-Orthodox party funds will endow him with the moral authority to conduct the nation’s affairs with Hamas, Hezbollah, the Palestinian Authority and Iran?
    Olmert’s public behavior these days are a repeat of his performance during the Second Lebanon War, which the public was not aware of in real time. Now like then, he lacks a cohesive opinion and is not displaying leadership. Also, his relationship with the defense establishment is problematic and, much like in July 2006, he does not trust his defense minister. Concerns about appearances are considerable factors in the prime minister’s decisions over returning abducted IDF soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev.
    Even if Olmert is trying to implement the recommendations of the Winograd Committee war probe, he is failing to implement its main requirement of his job: Confidence and assertiveness, two further reasons why he should step down.

I guess I hadn’t been paying attention to the continuing breakdown in the integrity an coherence of Israel’s ruling group. It must be incredibly hard for anyone who’s trying to negotiate with this chaotic government to figure out who they can rely on, or even who they should be dealing with.
One big concern. If this ruling system (I shall not say the two words “spider’s… web… “) is really this close to chaos, doesn’t that mean that these leaders’ motivation to spark a war or some other form of national emergency to distract attention from their own deep shortcomings as leaders, and even if it looks quite reckless or otherwise counter-productive, correspondingly grows?
Best precedent: Peres’s big, reckless, and quite counter-productive attacks against Lebanon in 1996. Also a precedent: Olmert’s ditto of 2006.
Recklessness in the present circumstances might take the form of launching an act of war against Iran that would have a very high probability of sparking retaliation against the United States’ very long and very vulnerable supply lines in Ira and the rest of the Gulf…
Or a big military assault against Gaza that would likely spark an explosion of anti-US actions throughout the Middle East…
Are people in the Bush administration worried about the political incoherence and instability in Israel’s current leadership? They should be.

Levy and Bronner on Israelis’ distaste for peace

The headline of Gideon Levy’s article today is even more provocative than mine: “Quiet is muck” is how it reads in the English translation. He leads off with this:

    A great disaster has suddenly come upon Israel: The cease-fire has gone into effect. Cease-fire, cease-Qassams, cease-assassiations, at least for now. This good, hopeful news was received in Israel dourly, gloomily, even with hostility. As usual, politicians, the military brass and pundits went hand in hand to market the cease-fire as a negative, threatening and disastrous development.
    Even from the people who forged the agreement – the prime minister and defense minister – you heard not a word about hope; just covering their backsides in case of failure. No one spoke of the opportunity, everyone spoke of the risk, which is fundamentally unfounded. Hamas will arm? Why of all times during the cease-fire? Will only Hamas arm? We won’t? Perhaps it will arm, and perhaps it will realize that it should not use armed force because of calm’s benefits.
    It is hard to believe: The outbreak of war is received here with a great deal more sympathy and understanding, not to say enthusiasm, than a cease-fire…

So maybe this is the obverse side of the “bellophilia” (love of war) that Meron Benvenisti diagnosed sweeping the Israeli public in 2002. We could call the present phenomenon eirenophobia, the fear or hatred of peace.
Levy continues:

    Hamas wants the calm because it serves its goals. That is not necessarily bad for Israel. A few months of quiet and the lifting of the terrible siege on Gaza could create a new reality. Noam Shalit’s protest is understandable, but the new atmosphere of calm is precisely the time to finally secure the release of his son Gilad and hundreds of Palestinian prisoners – two positive developments for the two peoples.
    Yes, the zero-sum game between us and them ended long ago. It is a shame we are the only ones not to have internalized it… A new and somewhat better life in Gaza will assure a new life for Israel, too. It is not for nothing that the days when the fence was breached between Gaza and Egypt were the quietest days the Negev had known in two years.
    In the wake of the cease-fire, a Palestinian government of national unity may arise and be a real and not virtual partner, the representative of the entire Palestinian people and not half of it. True, Hamas will not quickly abandon its hard-line positions, but under the aegis of a unity government it may surprise people, at least in a passive way. An agreement with such a government will not be an agreement of puppets between Ramallah and Jerusalem, the one known as the “shelf agreement.” If it is attained, it will be a real agreement. The cease-fire has already proven that not only is Israel willing to negotiate with Hamas, Hamas is willing to negotiate with Israel. Is this not good news?

The largely negative and fearful way that most Israelis have responded to news of the tahdi’eh with Hamas has also been remarked on by the NYT’s Ethan Bronner. He writes:

    After a year of painful violence — Hamas rockets flying into Israeli communities, soldiers killed and wounded on forays into Gaza — one might have expected the start of a six-month cease-fire with Hamas to be hailed here as good news. Yet what was the front page headline in Maariv newspaper that day? “Fury and Fear.”
    That says a great deal about the mood in Israel, a widely shared gloom that this nation is facing alarming threats both from without and within. Seen from far away, last week must have offered some hope that the region was finally at, or near, a turning point: the truce with Hamas, negotiated by Egypt, started on Thursday; other Palestinian-Israeli talks were taking place on numerous levels that both sides said were opening long-closed issues; there were also Turkish-mediated Israeli negotiations with Syria, and a new offer to yield territory to Lebanon along with a call for direct talks between Jerusalem and Beirut.
    But it looked very different here. Most Israelis consider the truce with Hamas an admission of national failure, a victory for a radical group with a vicious ideology. As they look ahead, Israelis can’t decide which would be worse, for the truce to fall apart (as polls show most expect it to do), or for Hamas actually to make it last, thereby solidifying the movement’s authority in Palestinian politics over the more secular Fatah…
    The backdrop for all of this is the fear of Iran’s growing power and the world’s inability so far to stop it from working on atomic weaponry. But it is not only foreign relations that so depresses the Israeli public. It is also that their political system is in crisis with the leaders under investigation and feuding among themselves.
    “It is not ‘the situation’ that darkens the mood here in Israel,” wrote Yossi Sarid, a longtime leftist politician, in an opinion article in the newspaper Haaretz. “It is the lack of exit from the situation. There is not really any hope for change. Who will rescue us from depression? Who will give us expectations?”

Bronner then notes that, whereas in the US, many people are pinning considerable hopes on Barack Obama as offering a chance for a “new beginning”, and a way out of a still gloomy national situation, in Israel there is no such immediately evident and compelling alternative to the current, chronically logjammed and distrusted crop of political leaders.
Crucially, he notes this:

    One point many commentators made last week is that while there may be a state of “calm” with Hamas, there is still nothing resembling that between Mr. Olmert and his defense minister, Ehud Barak. They remain at war. And the feuding goes beyond the two of them.
    Both of Mr. Olmert’s two main lieutenants, Mr. Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, have called publicly for him to resign over an investigation into whether he took envelopes of cash from an American Jewish businessman. Everyone assumes there will be a new government by year’s end. Yet a vote tentatively planned for the coming week in Parliament, on whether to dissolve itself and trigger new elections, may not happen because so many parliamentarians worry they will not be re-elected.

Bronner ends with a few quotes from that supremely irrelevant and silly man, Tony Blair. He quotes Blair as saying that,

    as he now understands it, what started in late 2000 when the second Palestinian uprising began and Israel counterattacked was “a complete breakdown in the credibility of peace.”

What an idiot Blair is. From 2000 till last year he was Prime Minister of Britain, and therefore had access to all the best “intelligence” the Britas and Americans could muster about the situation in Israel/Palestine. And it is only now that he finally understands that what happened in 2000 was a complete breakdown in the credibility of, as I understand what he’s saying, the kind of coercive peace process the western powers had been trying to shove down the Palestinians’ throats since 1993? When I took part in the 2-week-long Quaker fact-finding mission to Palestine/Israel in summer 2002, the breakdown in the credibility of the post-1993 “peace” process was already extremely evident. We wrote a lot about it in the book we then jointly published; and I wrote about it here on JWN and elsewhere on many occasions back then…
But the present developments in Israel are still very interesting indeed: the eirenophobia, the uncertainty about their national future, and the stalemate and strategic stasis of their political leadership.
I still don’t buy Sayed Hassan Nasrallah’s analysis that Israel is like a spider’s web that is on the point of collapsing under the weight of its own contradictions. But if this is the response of most Israelis to news of the ceasefire with Gaza, then maybe Israel is closer to being an unsustainable spider’s web than than it previously appeared.

Likud taking down its apostate?

It strikes me that the current, very specific allegations of financial malfeasance being made under oath against Israeli PM Ehud Olmert in a lawcourt in Israel may well be part of a plan by long-time supporters of Likud to take down a government leader who (a) was one of the leaders of the movement to split the Kadima Party out of Likud and (b) has been edging closer and closer to engaging in the true apostasy, from Likud’s point of view, of agreeing to withdraw Israel’s control from some portions of “Judea and Samaria” (the West Bank.)
As far as I can see, all the transfers of dodgy money to Olmert that are alleged by Morris Talansky took place when Olmert was still in Likud. Therefore, Talansky and the other donors rallied by him were presumably shoveling over that money with the aim of furthering Likud’s ends.
Olmert then betrayed them…
I wonder whether Labor or any other parties in Israel’s money-drenched political system are any more free of the kind of sleazy internal corruption we are now seeing revealed in the Likud of the 1990s?
Leslie Susser tells us this in Jerusalem Report:

    The limits on campaign donations only apply to the last nine months before an election. There are no limits on donations made between elections before the final nine-month run-up. President Shimon Peres, for example, received donations of $100,000 each from Swiss-based businessman Bruce Rappaport and Hollywood magnate ex-Israeli Haim Saban, and $120,000 from S. Daniel Abraham of Palm Beach, Florida for the Labor party leadership primaries in 2005; but although the funding was well over the prescribed limits, Peres was able to show that he received the funds before the critical nine-month period, that he registered all the donations and then used the money for campaign purposes…
    The fact that so many probes have been instituted against Olmert and other public figures would seem to suggest a high degree of public graft in Israel. The once powerful finance minister and Olmert confidante Avraham Hirchson is about to be indicted on charges of embezzling about 2.5 million shekels ($750,000) from the National Workers organization, which he headed. A prominent Shas politician, former Health minister Shlomo Benizri was convicted in late April for accepting hundreds of thousands of shekels worth of services from a building contractor and sentenced to 18 months in prison. But Transparency International (TI), a Berlin-based organization that measures global corruption, gives Israel relatively good grades….
    But where Israel is very weak in the corruption stakes is in the concentration of wealth in very few hands – relatively fewer than just about anywhere in the world. According to some estimates, around 60 percent of the country’s economy is controlled by 12 family business groups – the Ofer, Dankner, Arison, Gabriel, Charles Bronfman, Matthew Bronfman, Tshuva, Saban, Leviev, Bino, Borovich and Fishman groups. “This gives them enormous influence,” says [democracy researcher Doron] Navot.

Susser’s piece is broadly researched and well worth bookmarking.
She notes that “Olmert aides continue to … claim the case against him stems from a right-wing conspiracy to unseat a leader bent on making peace with the Palestinians.”
She concludes with this:

    the prime minister also has a serious political and public opinion battle on his hands. This was greatly aggravated by a mid-May opinion poll by the respected Dahaf organization, showing that 59 percent of the public think he should step down and only 33 percent that he should stay. Worse: 60 percent of the public do not believe his claim that he did not pocket any of the money, and only 22 percent do. But the most crushing blow for Olmert was in the poll’s election predictions: With Olmert at the helm, his Kadima party would crash to only 12 Knesset seats to the Likud’s 28 and Labor’s 19; but with Foreign Minister Tsipi Livni, as the party’s candidate for prime minister, it would actually win, with 27 seats, to the Likud’s 23 and Labor’s 15.
    Ariel Sharon, as prime minister, also had to contend with several parallel police investigations. The difference is Sharon could have won any ensuing election hands down, from jail if necessary. Olmert could not, and in the weeks ahead this is likely to accelerate moves in Kadima to unseat him. Whatever happens on the Talansky front, it will be virtually impossible for Olmert to keep the party behind him if he is seen as a surefire electoral disaster and Livni as a safe ticket to power.