Archive for the ‘Israel’ Tag

Israel takes more Palestinian land

Unfortunately, MSNBC reports that Israel is planning to take over even more Palestinian land, further adding to already illegal West Bank settlements.

Plans to expand a West Bank settlement by up to 2,500 homes drew Palestinian condemnation Monday and presented an early test for President Barack Obama, whose Mideast envoy is well known for opposing such construction.

Israel opened the way for possible expansion of the Efrat settlement by taking control of a nearby West Bank hill of 423 acres. The rocky plot was recently designated state land and is part of a master plan that envisions the settlement growing from 9,000 to 30,000 residents, Efrat Mayor Oded Revivi said.

The settlements, located on land captured by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War, are illegal under international law which requires military occupiers to adminster areas under their control for the good of the local populace, not for their own good.  Many of the settlers are frank about wanting to make it impossible for Palestinians to form their own state, something that they are unfortunately accomplishing; these settlements derail the peace process. Furthermore, Israel is stealing property from individual Palestinian landowners to make these settlements and their concomitant access roads.

About 290,000 Israelis live in the settlements—about 4% of the nation’s population—up from about 195,000 in 2001.

Netanyahu wants to expand West Bank settlements

Former Prime Minister of Israel and current leader of the opposition Benjamin Netanyahu says he will expand Israeli West Bank settlements if he becomes Prime Minister again after February 10th’s elections.  Based on current opinion polls, it appears likely that Netanyahu’s party, Likud, will secure a  plurality of seats in the Knesset and be able to form a government.

“I have no intention of building new settlements in the West Bank,” Netanyahu was quoted as saying. “But like all the governments there have been until now, I will have to meet the needs of natural growth in the population. I will not be able to choke the settlements.”

Israel’s West Bank settlements, constructed on land captured in the 1967 Six-Day War, are probably illegal under international law and are certainly a major obstacle to a lasting peace deal with the Palestinians.  It is therefore unfortunate that Netanyahu is willing to allow them to expand.

Settlement construction in the West Bank has been a key obstacle to peace talks over the years. The Palestinians claim all of the West Bank as part of a future independent state that would also include the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem. They say Israel’s settlements, now home to 280,000 people in the West Bank, make it increasingly difficult for them to establish a viable state.

Nearly all Israeli settlement construction over the past decade has taken place in existing West Bank communities. And Netanyahu’s positions do not significantly differ from outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who has allowed construction in existing settlements to continue even while holding peace talks with the Palestinians.

The West Bank. Israeli settlements in purple, areas where Palestinian movement is restricted in pink.

The West Bank. Israeli settlements in purple, areas where Palestinian movement is restricted in pink.

The settlements (see Wikipedia article) are home to about 280,000 Israelis and make it harder to the Palestinians to form a viable state.  They also require significant security infrastructure due to violence against them from Palestinians.  While the violence is deplorable, the anger which motivates it is understandable—how would you feel if foreigners came into your country and effectively claimed permanently as their own by building cities there?  Also keep in mind that about 40% of the land on which the settlements are built is privately owned by (unremunuerated) Palestinians.  Additionally, it is not simply the land on which they sit that Palestinians are deprived of; the settlements effectively cut up the West Bank, making travel and transport through the area difficult.

There are a lot of passions involved with the Israeli-Palestinian situtation.  For a possibly less charged example of a similar sort of activity, consider the Chinese policy of trying to tightly wed Tibet, which they conquered militarily, to the People’s Republic by settling ethnic Chinese people there.

These settlements make Israel less secure, not more secure.  They are furthermore one of the biggest obstacles to peace, right up there with continued Palestinian violence.  They are increasingly costing Israelis the good will of their allies, including, quite possibly, the United States under the new Obama administration.

Kadima party leader and Prime Minister candidate Tzipi Livni has vowed to dismantle the settlements, if elected.  This blog very much hopes that she will get that chance.

An analysis of Israel’s strategic decision-making

8. The precise shade of blue is not specified.

The Flag of Israel, shown with the correct hight/width ratio of 11:8

Foreign Policy magazine has an interesting new piece out, “The myth of Israel’s strategic genius,” which attempts to analyze the wisdom of that nation’s strategic decisions since its founding.  The author, Stephen M. Walt, concludes that while Israel gets a lot of credit for making good decisions, its actions have not helped it achieve long-term security and, indeed, some, such as supporting Hamas in the 1980s, have done much to imperil the country.

The article looks at pretty much every major armed crisis involving Israel since the 1948 Israeli War of Independence, including the 1956 Suez Crisis, the 1967 Six Day War, the Yom Kippur War, and all the way up to the current Gaza action.

From the article’s conclusion:

In virtually all of these episodes — and especially those after 1982 — Israel’s superior military power was used in ways that did not improve its long-term strategic position. Given this dismal record, therefore, there is no reason to think that Israel possesses uniquely gifted strategists or a national security establishment that consistently makes smart and far-sighted choices. Indeed, what is perhaps most remarkable about Israel is how often the architects of these disasters — Barak, Olmert, Sharon, and maybe Netanyahu — are not banished from leadership roles but instead are given another opportunity to repeat their mistakes. Where is the accountability in the Israeli political system?

The moral of this story is that there is no reason to think that Israel always has well-conceived strategies for dealing with the problems that it faces.  In fact, Israel’s strategic judgment seems to have declined steadily since the 1970s — beginning with the 1982 invasion of Lebanon — perhaps because unconditional U.S. support has helped insulate Israel from some of the costs of its actions and made it easier for Israel to indulge strategic illusions and ideological pipe-dreams. Given this reality, there is no reason for Israel’s friends — both Jewish and gentile — to remain silent when it decides to pursue a foolish policy. And given that our “special relationship” with Israel means that the United States is invariably associated with Jerusalem’s actions, Americans should not hesitate to raise their voices to criticize Israel when it is acting in ways that are not in the U.S. national interest.

Those who refuse to criticize Israel even when it acts foolishly surely think they are helping the Jewish state. They are wrong. In fact, they are false friends, because their silence, or worse, their cheerleading, merely encourages Israel to continue potentially disastrous courses of action.  Israel could use some honest advice these days, and it would make eminently good sense if its closest ally were able to provide it. Ideally, this advice would come from the president, the secretary of state, and prominent members of Congress — speaking as openly as some politicians in other democracies do. But that’s unlikely to happen, because Israel’s supporters make it almost impossible for Washington to do anything but reflexively back Israel’s actions, whether they make sense or not. And they often do not these days.

Also touched on briefly are some of the failed peace initiatives, including the Camp David meetings presided over by Bill Clinton.  Unfortunately, the article doesn’t go into detail about the proposals and their perceived deficiencies.

The article additionally mentions the West Bank settlements.

More importantly, after seizing the West Bank, Golan Heights and Gaza Strip during the [Six Day] war, Israeli leaders decided to start building settlements and eventually incorporate them into a “greater Israel.” Thus, 1967 marks the beginning of Israel’s settlements project, a decision that even someone as sympathetic to Israel as Leon Wieseltier has described as “a moral and strategic blunder of historic proportions.” Remarkably, this momentous decision was never openly debated within the Israeli body politic.

As I blogged about previously, Israel’s West Bank settlements are a major obstacle to peace and should be dismantled immediately if Israel is interested in a workable, long-term peace deal.

Palestinians offer peace plan to Israel

The Palestinians don't have a state, but they have a good flag.  That's a good sign.

The Palestinians don't have a state but they already have a good flag. That's a good sign.

There is a positive development in the Arab-Israeli conflict: the Palestinian Authority has published, in Hebrew, a peace proposal in Israel’s four largest daily papers.  It outlines the plan that’s backed by both Saudi Arabia and the Arab League that calls for:

  1. Israel withdraws from entire Gaza Strip, West Bank, and Eastern Jerusalem;
  2. Normalization of relations between Israel and the 57 members of the Arab League, who would “consider the Arab-Israeli conflict ended”; and
  3. the right of return for Palestinian refugees.

Apparently it was Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’s idea to place the ads, which describe what Israeli officials have called a “positive initiative” that need to be “fine tuned and corrected.”.

Like the majority of Israelis and Palestinians, this blog favors a two-state solution and welcomes this development.  This is a serious proposal, and hopefully is being offered and will be taken and seriously. 

Of course the third item, the Palestinian right of return, would significantly change the nature of Israel in the short-term,  making it about 40% Arab, and would have the longer-term effect of there being two Palestinian states, due to demographics changes. However, the plan calls for a “just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem,” which could be accomplished via other means.  For instance, I rather think it’d be well worth it for the United States to put up several billion dollars to compensate the refugees and allow them to get on with their lives in a rebuilding Palestinian state; it’d be much cheaper and safer than an indefinite continuation of the status quo. 

8. The precise shade of blue is not specified.

The Flag of Israel has a hight:width ratio of 11:8. The precise shade of blue is not specified.

There are two major stumbling blocks that need to be removed.  For their part, Israel needs to remove the settlements which have been built in the West Bank.  Just as two Palestinian states wouldn’t qualify as a solution neither would two Israeli states, which is basically what is accomplished with these settlements.  They need to be dismantled, something which can be accomplished fairly easily.  Israel should begin removing these outposts immediately and unilaterally.  That will put the onus on the Palestinians to do their part and will show everyone that Israel is serious about making a Palestinian state possible.

The second major problem going forward is the ability of the Palestinian Authority to end the attacks on Israel.  If they can’t do that, this isn’t going to work; Israel must have security.  Lasting peace will require two states, side by side, and living in peace with each other.  Of course, there will be some radicals on both sides who will reject any possible compromise; some on the Arab side will likely resort to violence.

Reportedly, President-elect Barack Obama finds this Arab proposal to be constructive.  He is also impressed with Benjamin Netanyahu’s “economic peace” plan, which calls for rebuilding the economy and infrastructure of the Palestinian areas as a prelude to a formal peace plan.  If Palestinians had more jobs and were less desperate, they’d be less likely to strap bombs to themselves.

There have been problems with just about all the peace deals offered thus far, and this one from the Arab League is no exception.  However, I think the way forward is becoming pretty clear.  Ultimately, I think there will be two states, based largely on the 1967-borders (with some 1:1 land swaps) and no right of return, but some other sort of compensation to make up for that.  This won’t happen until Israel dismantles, or guarantees it will dismantle, the West Bank settlements and the Palestinians make significant progress in curbing the violence from their side.  I predict this will happen 5-20 years from now.  It’s just a matter of how soon the two sides realize this and make it happen.  More than 42% Palestinians are under 15.  Hopefully they’ll soon realize that violence isn’t going to get them what they want and will reject terrorism and decide that most of what they want with peace and modernization is better than a continuation of the violence.

Praying for peace in Jerusalem

Since 2004, the first Sunday in October has been observed by some Christians as a day to specifically pray for the peace of Jerusalem, something specifically enjoined by the psalmist:

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
“May they prosper who love you.
“May peace be within your walls,
And prosperity within your palaces.”
For the sake of my brothers and my friends,
I will now say, “May peace be within you.”
For the sake of the house of the LORD our God,
I will seek your good.
— Psalm 122:6-9

The Day of Prayer for the Peace of Jerusalem (official site), first organized by a pair of Pentecostal evangelists, Jack W. Hayford and Robert Stearns, day is mostly observed by evangelical Christians and it’s date was selected to fall near Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement and repentence. While many involved with the day may be as concerned with politics as with God, we should never require much convincing before we pray for and contemplate peace and how we can promote its realization on earth, as it is in heaven.

Beating swords into plowshares, a well-known biblical image of peace

Beating swords into plowshares, a well-known biblical image of peace

Jerusalem, and the entire conflict that centers on it, certainly needs peace; entirely too much blood is shed over the city and the region—and a single drop constitutes too much. But if we simply say “peace, peace” there will be no peace: peace is more than just the absence of violence; it requires the existence of a just system wherein everybody is free from harm and free to be who they are and who they can be. Such a system cannot be established until there is healing for the enormous amounts of hatred and anger that exist on both sides of the present conflict. That conflict, which effects not just Jew and Moslem, and not just Israeli and Palestinian, but the larger world as well, has gone on for far too long. One need not be a Christian or a Jew, or even religious at all, to desire and pray for the peace of Jerusalem and the region.

Those who are within the Judeo-Christian tradition have as their heritage some of the most beautiful passages on peace in all of world literature, and perhaps sharing some selections might be appropriate on this day. One image of peace used frequently in the Hebrew Bible, albeit not very much today, is the hope that

Every man will sit under his own vine
and under his own fig tree,
and no one will make them afraid,
for the LORD Almighty has spoken.
— Micah 4:4

Vines and trees were beyond the means of the poor to own, so a society where each person had his or her own fig tree is one where poverty has been eliminated; and since they take a long time to grow, this image implies a stability and permanence to the situation, not just a temporary cease-fire. It speaks to the point that it is difficult to eliminate anger and hatred if you have not yet eliminated deprivation, a theme often emphasized by people who are especially interested in social justice.

Many of the Bible’s other passages about peace are still commonly used today, often by those unaware of their origins. From the prophet Isaiah we read:

The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
and a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The infant will play near the hole of the cobra,
and the young child put his hand into the viper’s nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea.
— Isaiah 11:6-9

From the same source we get one of the best known images of peace:

He will judge between the nations
and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.
— Isaiah 2:4

In the Christian New Testament peace is also an emphasis. One of Jesus’s epithets is Prince of Peace (though the phrase itself occurs only in the Old Testament) and, of course, in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus tells us “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.”

Paul of Tarsus, the second most important figure in early Christianity, wrote in his epistle to the Romans that “so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” and that “the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” So, let us “pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.”

This brief listing is by no means exhaustive, even of the Judeo-Christian tradition; all of the world’s enduring religions, in their best forms, emphasize peace. And, of course, many people who consider themselves nonreligious also seek peace and pursue it.

In an ecumenical spirit, here is a prayer for peace in the Middle East written by Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed, former Secretary General of the Islamic Society of North America:

O God of Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad! Bring peace and tranquility to the people of Middle East who have been plagued with pain and suffering.

O God! We appeal to you bring our soldiers back safe and help our nation to be one that is given to truth and justice.

O God! We call you with your beautiful names: the One, the Holy, the Sovereign, the Just, and the Peace. We call with love and sincerity to bring peace to our world and guide our steps to do what is right and what pleases You.

O God! You are the Source of Good, the Guardian of Faith, the Preserver of Safety, the Exalted in Might, the Supreme: All Glory belongs to you! Help us to see our glory in serving you and upholding the values of compassion and justice on earth.

O God we beg you to forgive our sins and ask you not to hold us accountable for mistakes and missteps we did or were done in our names. Our Lord give us the humility to recognize our mistakes and limitations, and the strength and courage to choose right over wrong and justice over pride.

O the Eternal and Compassionate Lord! Fill our hearts with your Love, and help us to love one another, and show compassion to your servants throughout the world and your creation.

O God! We ask you in submission and humility to allow wisdom to triumph over vanity, truth over falsehood, and love over hate.

Amen.

Amen.