The West Bank and Gaza: Give economics a chance


In the wake of this summer’s war between Israel and Hamas, it is evident that neither party achieved its military or political objectives. And while a cease-fire is currently in place, fundamental steps to resolve the conflict aren’t on the agenda. Given a history of costly and recurrent armed conflict, it is clear that both parties are in need of a paradigm shift.  

Perhaps it is time to give economics a chance. Both Israelis and Palestinians would be well served by aggressive efforts in economic development of the West Bank and Gaza. This idea is not new. In 2013, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry proposed a plan to invest $4 billion in the West Bank. Currently, a sparkling, privately developed Palestinian new town called Rawabi, replete with amphitheater, piazzas and multiplex theater, is about to open in the West Bank. Israeli social-impact entrepreneurs are seeking to bring venture capital and high-tech success to the West Bank. Discussions are also underway for an economic federation encompassing Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan that would bolster trade, tourism, economic development and energy deployment for the benefit of all three parties.  

A broad-based initiative for economic development of the West Bank and Gaza could take a page out of the post-World War II U.S. Marshall Plan playbook. The program provided $160 billion (2014 dollars) for the reconstruction of a war-ravaged Europe. The plan included a rebuilding of infrastructure and trade, amelioration of hunger and poverty, creation of economic opportunity and suppression of competing Soviet economic doctrines. The vanquished and disarmed Germany received substantial aid under the Marshall Plan.  

In the wake of the Marshall Plan, Europe witnessed two decades of unprecedented economic growth. The vastly improved economic conditions also resulted in political stability, substantially diminished interest in communism and a rise in Western culture.  

In the Palestinian application, the idea would be to direct concerted foreign investment for purposes of peaceful economic development of the West Bank and Gaza. At the outset, efforts should leverage the $2.7 billion just pledged by the international community for the postwar rebuilding of Gaza. Funding should bolster vocational and higher education to provide young Palestinians with technical job skills. Private investment and job creation could then proceed consistent with accretions to human capital. Subject to strict controls on weaponry and related supplies, roadblocks should be removed in the West Bank and a modern train system built to enable efficient movement of people and goods both within and between the West Bank and Gaza. Ultimately, a new port in Gaza could play a major role in connecting the West Bank, Gaza and Jordan to markets around the globe.  

A critical component of the plan would be the dismantling of Palestinian refugee camps and the resettlement of their inhabitants. The refugees have too long been pawns in the political struggle. Since 1948, those camps have served to reinforce a cycle of abject poverty and to foment terror activity. In their place, industrial parks, education and health campuses, and other for-profit real estate should be developed. Foreign investors should be encouraged to build facilities in those parks. The refugees should benefit from returns to such development and from newfound employment opportunities.  

As security threats fade, borders should be opened to allow trade, movement of population and creation of economic linkages. In this new environment, investment partnerships among Israelis and Palestinians could serve to rebuild grass-roots ties and leverage resources. Beyond economics, social benefits would include increased interaction and reduced demonization among conflict participants. As in Europe, the aim would not only be elevated economic activity, but also a change in fundamental culture. Growing economic opportunity could bring with it the creation of widespread and popular vested interests in entrepreneurship, individual advancement and prosperity, education, legal and human rights, and rejection of competing fundamentalist and confrontational leadership and ideologies.  

Why would such an effort have a chance of success? The encouraging element of such a plan is the limited scale of the effort. In stark contrast to Europe, whose 1950 population was roughly 350 million, the population of the West Bank and Gaza currently numbers only about 4.5 million. That’s just one-quarter the population of the L.A. metro area. Similarly, the land area of the West Bank and Gaza is only half that of L.A. There is little doubt that a concerted global effort could significantly enhance economic opportunity among Palestinians. The scale and size of the Palestinian entity make the prospects of game-changing investment highly promising.

Foreign direct investment has the potential to materially improve the lives of Palestinians in a manner that could be a game-changer for conflict resolution. Investment in the Palestinian sector, however, should be limited to partners who are publicly and unequivocally committed to mutual recognition and peaceful conflict resolution.  

This vision of economic advancement and hope for Palestinians in both the West Bank and Gaza should be presented to all Palestinians. For it to succeed, the Hamas rulers of Gaza, who engender substantial popular support in both Gaza and the West Bank, must accept this vision and act as partners in its implementation. Indeed, it is Hamas who can change the Palestinian vision from the destruction of Israel to the building of a prosperous Palestine. For Israel, the benefits of such a plan could become evident in trade, economic cooperation, creation of a Western-leaning, vested Palestinian middle class and reduced Palestinian support for radical rejectionist ideology.  

Both Palestinians and Israelis have tried the stick. It doesn’t seem to work. It’s time to try the carrot.


Stuart A. Gabriel is professor of finance and Arden Realty Chair at UCLA Anderson School of Management. Rabbi Ed Feinstein is senior rabbi at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino.

Lawsuit accusing Israel of genocide to be filed in Argentina


An Argentine lawyer said he will file a lawsuit in federal court in Buenos Aires accusing Israel of crimes against humanity and genocide.

Carlos Slepoy told Pagina/12, a Buenos Aires newspaper, in an interview published Tuesday that the suit will be filed in the coming days in response to Israel’s 50-day operation in Gaza this summer. The suit is in conjunction with the American Association of Jurists.

The suit singles out specific Israeli leaders as being responsible both directly and non-directly for the alleged crimes, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz  and Likud lawmaker Moshe Feiglin, according to Pagina/12.

“The disproportionate number of forces and the large number of [Palestinian] victims reveals the huge crime; we will provide to the court a list with names and ages of the Palestinian kids murdered“ said Slepoy, who successfully opened in Argentina a trial about crimes committed in Spain during the government of Francisco Franco, who was the dictator of Spain from 1939 to his death in 1975.

Slepoy said he hoped that Gaza victims and human rights groups representing Gazans would join the suit.

In July, the American Association of Jurists issued a statement “strongly condemning the criminal aggression of Israel against Gaza and the occupation of Palestinian territories including East Jerusalem.”

After Gaza conflict, Israel’s Arab minority fears rising discrimination


Handcuffed to a wooden chair in the middle of the night, Rafat Awaysha still wasn’t sure what crime he had committed.

He had announced a demonstration against the war in Gaza in a July 11 Facebook post. Soon afterward, he received a call from the police, who came to his dormitory and took him in for questioning.
 
Released after an hour, Awaysha, the head of the Arab-Israeli Balad party student group at Ben-Gurion University in Beersheba, thought the ordeal was over. But at 3 p.m. the police returned.
 
“You have the right to express yourself in a democratic process,” Awaysha, 20, said. “You don’t need to be in an interrogation for 12 hours for participating in a protest.”
 
Awaysha was one of approximately 1,500 Arab-Israelis arrested for involvement in protests against Israel’s operation in Gaza, according to NGOs and Israeli media reports. Mossawa, a nongovernmental organization that advocates for the equal treatment of Israel’s Arab minority, said that at least 70 Israeli Arabs were illegally fired, reprimanded or suspended from work for publicly opposing the war.
 
Reached by JTA, a police spokesman confirmed the total number of arrests but would not confirm or deny Awaysha’s account.
 
Arab-Israeli opposition to the recent conflict, which ended with a late August truce, brought the predicament of Israel’s 1.7 million Arabs into stark relief.
 
Community activists advocating for Arab-Israeli advancement and civil liberties say that most Arab-Israelis — even those  seeking to integrate better into Israeli society — opposed Israel’s Gaza operation because of the grave risk it posed to Palestinians there. An Aug. 11-12 poll by the Israel Democracy Institute think tank found that 62 percent of Israel’s Arabs opposed the war, as opposed to 24 percent who said they supported it.

Arab-Israelis “are not being patriotic enough for the Israelis, but at the same time they are called traitors by their own people because they are not joining the struggle against Israel,” Thabet Abu Rass, co-executive director of the Abraham Fund Initiatives, which promotes Arab-Jewish coexistence, explained one day after the conflict.

Throughout the war, Israeli-Arabs faced discrimination from the streets, where Jewish protesters chanted “Death to Arabs,” and from the halls of Knesset: Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman called for a boycott of businesses owned by Arab-Israelis who participated in a one-day strike to oppose the war. Some Knesset members called for Balad lawmaker Hanin Zoabi, who was suspended from parliamentary activity for six months, to be punished even more harshly for several statements they called inflammatory. And last month, some right-wing Knesset members proposed a bill to demote Arabic from being an official language of Israel.
 
In a poll last year, the Israel Democracy Institute found that nearly half of Jewish-Israelis believed that Jews should have more rights than Arabs in Israel, and that nearly half would not want to live next to an Arab family.
 
Following the poll’s release, survey author Tamar Herman said, “Instead of focusing on citizenship and Israeli-ness, [Jewish-Israelis] find it easier and more convenient to focus more on their Jewishness.”
 
Sayed Kashua, a well-regarded Arab-Israeli Hebrew-language writer, made news this summer when he decided to move from Israel to Illinois. Kashua wrote about the transition in a Guardian Op-Ed titled “Why I have to leave Israel,”describing his fears for his family.
 
“After my last columns some readers beseeched that I be exiled to Gaza, threatened to break my legs, to kidnap my children,” he wrote. “I live in Jerusalem, and I have some wonderful Jewish neighbours, and friends, but I still cannot take my children to day camps or to parks with their Jewish friends. My daughter protested furiously and said no one would know she is an Arab because of her perfect Hebrew but I would not listen. She shut herself in her room and wept.”
 
 
For Arab-Israelis, the climate of fear and animosity had intensified even before the most recent conflict in Gaza. Earlier this year, a spate of so-called “price tag” attacks targeted their communities. Perpetrated by Jewish-Israeli right-wing extremists in response to perceived anti-settlement policies, the attacks ranged from graffiti on mosques and businesses to tires slashed on Arab-owned cars.
 
Tensions spiked when Jewish extremists kidnapped and burned alive a Palestinian teen, Mohammed Abu Khdeir, on July 2 in a revenge attack following the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens in June. Outraged by the incident, Arab-Israelis gathered in mass protests in Jerusalem and northern Israel. Demonstrators blocked roads and burned tires, and vandals damaged Jerusalem light rail stations in the eastern part of the city. Demonstrations continued across Israel throughout the war.
 
Thousands of Jewish-Israelis, it should be noted, protested alongside their Arab counterparts during the war — and a handful of those Jewish demonstrators were arrested.
 
“More and more young people feel the democratic methods of struggle adopted by the political leaders of the Arab community haven’t been effective,” said Jafar Sarah, Mossawa’s director. “More and more people will take the risk of using illegal methods,” such as riots and violence against property.
 
Following a demonstration by Arab-Israelis last week celebrating the Palestinians “Gaza victory,” Liberman said Israel should treat the demonstrators “as traitors and supporters of a terror organization, to put them to justice and to give them the ‘right’ to stand for a moment of silence, as they did during the demonstration, in jail cells.”
 
Biotechnology student Alaa Taha, 25, lost her job monitoring quality control at a plastics factory shortly after she was arrested at a protest on July 18. Her managers said they were firing her for an error committed months ago, Taha said, but she doubts that story. To boot, she said she still hasn’t received her the final paycheck or a letter of termination that would allow her to receive unemployment benefits.
 
“I don’t know what to say, but this is racism,” she said. “I went to a protest. I didn’t do anything. We just yelled and that’s it. This is a democratic state. Where’s the democracy?”
 
Ron Gerlitz, co-executive director of Sikkuy, an Israeli NGO that aims to advance equality for Arab-Israelis, sees a tug of war between democratic forces and anti-democratic forces.
 
“The democratic forces are now fighting back against the attacks against the Arabs,” he said. “Will they succeed in that struggle? I don’t know. The public has gotten to such difficult places that I hope it says it can’t be silent.”
 
Awaysha said that during his police interrogation, he was asked why his Facebook post called for violence (it didn’t, he said). After he was handcuffed to the chair, he said, an officer from Israel’s Shin Bet security service began to question him. When Awaysha tried to fall asleep in the chair after the interrogation, he recalled the police officer saying, “This isn’t a hostel.”
 
He was released in the early morning — and given a week of house arrest.
 
“They started saying, ‘We know where your father works, where your mother works, we know you’re a student,’” related Awaysha, a political science student who also was arrested last year for protesting a government plan to relocate Negev Bedouins. “They asked me to work with them. They didn’t get what they wanted.”

Swiss Jewish leader denies leaking pro-Gaza mayor’s nude selfies


The president of a Swiss Jewish community denied accusations that he helped leak nude photos of a pro-Palestinian mayor who had sent them to a younger woman.

Josef Bollag, who heads the Baden-Baden Jewish community, issued the denial last week in an Op-Ed that he wrote amid the unfolding of a scandal that forced Mayor Geri Muller to temporarily step down as mayor, though he was reinstated this week. Bollag is a longtime critic of Muller over Muller’s harsh criticism of Israel and advocacy of Iran.

The woman, a 33-year-old teacher identified in the Swiss media only by her initials, N.W., “made contact with me and in no time did I press to hand over the incriminating material about Geri Muller to media,” Bollag wrote in the Neue Zurcher Zeitung daily on Aug. 26.

The affair, known locally as Mullergate, was first reported last month by the Schweiz am Sonntag weekly. According to the publication, Muller, 52, sent the woman nude photos of himself while posing at his office at Baden-Baden City Hall.

The weekly did not publish the photos but wrote about their existence after receiving copies.

Muller, of the Green Party, filed a police complaint alleging that the woman had violated his privacy and defamed him. In the complaint he said that correspondence from her cellphone, which police have confiscated as evidence, contains correspondence with a “Mr. Bollag.”

In his Op-Ed, Bollag said the woman contacted him “as a cry for help” and that he was shocked by the photos but did not pass them on.

Police investigating the case asked the woman about her relationship with Bollag and Sacha Wigdorovits, a Jewish public relations professional who, together with Bollag, runs the pro-Israel media watchdog Audiatur, the Neue Zurcher Zeitung reported.

Wigdorovits acknowledged being in contact with the woman but denied sending any photos.

Muller, who is also a lawmaker in Switzerland’s federal parliament, has hosted several Hamas officials. During a demonstration for Gaza in 2010, he said, “The Holocaust is terrible, but that does not entitle any party to do the same with a different population,” though he later denied this constituted equating Israel with Nazism.

He has also said that Iran was a democracy.

Obama administration calls on Israel to reverse land appropriation


The Obama administration formally called on Israel to reverse its appropriation of West Bank land for settlement building, saying it was counterproductive to peace efforts.

“We are deeply concerned about the declaration of a large area as ‘state land’ to be used for expanded settlement building,” said the statement Tuesday from Jen Psaki, the State Department spokeswoman.

“We have long made clear our opposition to continued settlement activity,” Psaki said. “We call on the Government of Israel to reverse this decision.”

While U.S. governments have expressed concern about settlement activity in the past, direct and public calls for Israel’s government to reverse a decision are rare.

“These steps are contrary to Israel’s stated goal of negotiating a permanent status agreement with the Palestinians, and it would send a very troubling message if they proceed,” Psaki said in the statement emailed to reporters.

The Israel Defense Forces Civil Administration on Sunday said it would appropriate nearly 1,000 acres in the Gush Etzion bloc and convert it to state land.

Centrist ministers in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government have opposed the appropriation, saying it would damage peace efforts.

“Yesterday’s announcement, which wasn’t brought to the Cabinet, regarding 900 acres of land for building in Gush Etzion harms the State of Israel,” Finance Minister Yair Lapid said Monday while addressing a conference organized by Calcalist, an Israeli business publication.

“We are after a military operation and facing a complex diplomatic reality,” said Lapid, referring to the aftermath of Israel’s most recent conflict with Hamas in the Gaza Strip. “Maintaining the support of the world was already challenging, so why was it so urgent to create another crisis with the United States and the world?”

Palestinian driver killed attempting to run West Bank checkpoint


A Palestinian driver was killed as he tried to run over Israeli soldiers at a West Bank checkpoint.

Another Palestinian in the minivan and an Israeli civilian also were injured in the Tuesday afternoon incident.

The driver was seriously wounded when an Israeli soldier opened fire as the vehicle attempted to overrun the Eyal checkpoint near the Palestinian city of Kalkilya. He later died of his wounds.

The minivan had Israeli license plates and held several Palestinian passengers without documentation reportedly attempting to enter Israel illegally, according to The Jerusalem Post. They were arrested and taken for questioning.

Lady Gaga pre-Tel Aviv concert ‘Shalom’ video irks some Arab fans


Lady Gaga apparently riled some Arab fans with a short video in advance of her Tel Aviv performance featuring a “Shalom” greeting.

“Shalom, Israel,” the American pop star says in the 10-second video. “I’m so excited to perform my new tour in Tel Aviv.”

The performer’s manager announced Sunday that the Sept. 13 concert in Yarkon Park – part of her “artRave: The ARTPOP Ball” international tour — would go on as planned, despite cancellations by other high-profile performers due to the Gaza conflict and its aftermath.

Responding on social media platforms to the video, which reportedly has gone viral, some Arab fans called Lada Gaga “disgusting,” “devilish” and insensitive, Al Arabiya News reported.

Tens of thousands of Israeli fans are expected to attend the concert, which is listed on the performer’s official website. Tickets remain on sale.

Neil Young, The Backstreet Boys, America and Lana Del Rey are among the stars who canceled performances this summer due to Israel’s conflict with Gaza.

Lady Gaga performed in Tel Aviv in August 2009, despite of attempts by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement to have her cancel.

Canada’s Green Party president quits after defending Israel


The president of Canada’s Green Party resigned his post a week after expressing pro-Israel views.
 
Paul Estrin stirred controversy last week when he posted a blog entry defending Israel on the party’s website. On Tuesday night, Estrin announced his resignation after the party leader, Elizabeth May, said his position was contrary to the Green Party’s position.
 
“I never intended to create confusion or have any of my actions negatively impact the party,” Estrin said wrote on the party website. “Therefore, I tender my resignation, effective immediately.”
 
According to a report  in the Times of Israel, Estrin said that at an Aug. 5 meeting called to deal with the matter, the party’s board asked him to resign and made it clear he would be fired if he refused. On Tuesday, Julian Morelli, the party’s communications director,  rejected suggestions that Estrin was forced to resign because of his pro-Israel views.
 
“He resigned because of the confusion caused,” Morelli said, according to the National Post.
 
In his post, entitled “Why Gaza makes me sad,” Estrin Palestinians in Gaza were made to be like “sheep to the slaughter.” The post has since been removed from the party website.
 
“Gazan officials tell their people to be killed while they hide in bomb shelters,” Estrin wrote. “This is worse than cowardice. It is vile and ugly and they should be put to shame. Instead, it is Israel who is put to shame.”
 
Writing on Twitter, May said she was unaware of Estrin’s views, which “are contrary to Green Party of Canada position. We support peace. We condemn violence.”
 
Last Friday, Estrin posted another statement on the party website. “Some have mistaken my personal views to be the perspective of the Party and our Leader. Neither is true. I apologize for not including a disclaimer to make it clear that the views expressed are my own and not the official position of the Green Party of Canada.”

Dutch hotelier cancels Israeli family’s reservation over Gaza


A Dutch hotelier apologized for canceling the reservation of an Israeli family over Israel’s actions in Gaza.

Mart Muis, who last week canceled the reservation of the Natzitz family from Kiryat Ono, Israel, at his bed & breakfast in Waterland, near Amsterdam, said he had “a moment of insanity” when he sent the email canceling the reservation, the Nieuw Israëlietisch Weekblad weekly reported.

Muis wrote he canceled the reservation, which was booked through the Israeli tour operator Sababa, “primarily because every day I get angrier and angrier when I see and read how much suffering and death and loss Israel is causing in Gaza. As long as this disproportionate violence of Israel continues, I will not accept guests from Israel.”

Discrimination on basis of nationality is illegal in the Netherlands.

Contacted by NIW, Muis expressed regret for the incident offered to host the Natzitz family for free. He added that he suffers from panic attacks and has hardly left his home since 2008.

“It is absolutely irrational, he said. “I am deeply ashamed that I ruined their vacation.”

Neta Natzitz said the cancellation did not seem impulsive.

“At first I heard the owner wanted to cancel the reservation because he feared our flight would be canceled,” she said. “The next day he canceled altogether because of the violence in Gaza.”

Eliese Friedmann, a senior researcher at the Center for Information and Documentation on Israel, a Dutch watchdog on anti-Semitism, told NIW the family should file a complaint with police. The family told NIW they have not yet decided on whether to do this.

Alleged leader of cell that killed three Israeli teens arrested


The West Bank man believed to be the leader of the cell that kidnapped and killed three Jewish teens was arrested.

A gag order on reporting the arrest more than three weeks ago of Hussam Kawasme was lifted Tuesday evening, according to Israeli media.

Kawasme, of Hebron, was apprehended while attempting to flee with the help of his family to Jordan under a false identity, Ynet reported.

He reportedly admitted to serving as the leader of the cell that perpetrated the murders of Gilad Shaar, Naftali Fraenkel and Eyal Yifrach. Kawasme said that funding for the attack, which he used to buy weapons, came from Hamas in Gaza.

In his interrogation, Kawasme said he helped to bury the bodies on a plot of land he had purchased two months prior to the murders. He then helped the two men who drove the car and shot the teens to hide.

Security forces are still searching for the two men — Kawasme’s brother, Marwan, and Omar Abu Aysha. Marwan Kawasme, who is active in Hamas, was freed in the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange and deported to Gaza, The Times of Israel reported.

Another suspected cell member, Hussan Dofesh, also was arrested a month ago in Hebron.

The bodies of the three teens were discovered following a massive search on June 30 in a shallow grave in a field near Hebron, 18 days after they were kidnapped and murdered.

Deadly tractor incident in Jerusalem called terror attack


A tractor rammed a bus and a car, killing one, in Jerusalem, in what police are calling a terrorist attack.

Police shot and killed the driver of the industrial digger, reportedly a Palestinian man, in the incident Monday on Shmuel HaNavi Street, in north-center Jerusalem.

The tractor hit and crushed a pedestrian, who later died, before hitting a car and overturning a bus. The bus was empty, except for the driver, at the time. The drivers of the bus and the car were lightly injured.

Video taken of the incident by a bystander and broadcast on Israel’s Channel 2 showed the tractor ramming the bus repeatedly until it toppled.

The driver was identified on Twitter as Mohamad Jabis, in his 20s, of the eastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Jabel Mukaber. He reportedly worked on the construction site from where the digger was taken. Pro-Palestinian tweets accused Israel Police of shooting and killing Jabis for being involved in a simple traffic accident.

Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch in an interview on Channel 2 did not name the tractor driver but indicated he may have been involved in a previous terror incident. Aharonovitch also said the man’s “entire family is under investigation.”

Tractors have been used in the past in Jerusalem to carry out terror attacks.

Protesters threaten British cosmetics store that sells Israeli products


A cosmetics store in Manchester, England, that sells Israeli cosmetics has been victimized by callers threatening to kill the staff and burn down the store.

Local police are investigating the ongoing threats, the Jewish Chronicle reported. The store, called Kedem, has been the scene of daily anti-Israel protests since the start of Israel’s operation in Gaza.  Six anti-Israel protesters have been arrested.

Pro-Palestinian protesters also have posted threatening messages on the store’s Facebook page.

Meanwhile, also in Manchester, two 13-year-olds were charged this week with criminal damaging for vandalizing gravestones last month at a Jewish cemetery. The gravestones at the Rochdale Road cemetery were painted with swastikas and anti-Semitic graffiti, and about 40 were toppled.

Israeli Arab reinstated at job after suspension over anti-IDF Facebook post


An Arab nurse at an Israeli hospital suspended from his job for a Facebook post that calls the Israeli military “war criminals” was reinstated.

The Arab-Israeli male nurse at Sheba Medical Center must issue a public apology to the hospital administration, according to reports.

The agreement between the nurse and the hospital came on Wednesday, a day before a scheduled hearing at the Tel Aviv labor court.

Several Israeli-Arabs reportedly have been fired from their jobs during Israel’s current Gaza operation, for statements against Israel or the Israel Defense Forces.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel this week stressed that employers are forbidden from firing a worker just because of his or her viewpoints or online comments.

ACRI in a statement “also has reminded the public that in general, employers bear no responsibility for statements made by their employees in the context of their personal lives outside of the workplace. It is forbidden for employers to spy on their employees or interfere in their personal lives by imposing sanctions or threats thereof.”

The organization also stressed that Israel’s Law for Equal Opportunities in the Workplace “prohibits an employer from discriminating against an employee because of his/her viewpoint unless the comments made affect the professional functioning of the employee.”

Israel rejects Kerry’s proposed cease-fire


Israel rejected U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s cease-fire proposal.

“We are not announcing that it has been achieved tonight,” Kerry said in Cairo on Friday night. “The world is watching tragic moment after tragic moment unfold and wondering when both sides are going to come to their senses.”

Kerry said he wanted a seven-day humanitarian cease-fire during which the sides would discuss “fundamental” issues that could extend the truce, according to a BBC reporter covering the press conference, but did not add details.

Israeli media had earlier reported that Israel’s security Cabinet rejected the truce because it did not allow Israel adequate means to demolish Hamas’ tunnel system.

It was not clear what limits Israel rejected, because multiple reports suggested the cease-fire included an allowance for Israel to continue dismantling the tunnels.

There was no official word of Hamas’ reaction, but reports on CNN and Israel Radio said the group, which controls Gaza, rejected the cease-fire precisely because it allowed Israel to remain in the tunnels.

A U.S. official told JTA that Kerry would continue to try to achieve a cease-fire.

Israel says Hamas built the tunnels to carry out terrorist attacks inside Israel.

Israel’s army meanwhile announced the latest Israeli casualty, Sgt. Guy Levy, 21, who died in fighting on Friday.

That brings to 35 the number of Israeli soldiers killed in the Israel-Hamas conflict, which started July 8 when Israel launched air strikes after an intensification of rocket fire from Gaza. Another three Israeli civilians have been killed. More than 820 Palestinians have been killed, most of them civilians.

Blaming Birthright for a Gaza death


Is Birthright Israel to blame for the death of Max Steinberg, one of two American Israeli soldiers killed in the war in Gaza?

That’s the assertion of Allison Benedikt, a senior editor at Slate, who first provoked Israel supporters in 2011 with an angry and rambling essay about how after her nefarious Zionist youth group (she doesn’t name it, but it’s Young Judaea) brainwashed her into liking Israel, she eventually learned better.

In Benedikt’s latest piece, she asserts that Steinberg’s decision to enlist in the Israel Defense Forces “seems like the ultimate fulfillment of Birthright’s mission” and asks in the story’s teaser “what makes an American kid with shaky Hebrew decide he is ready to die for Israel?” Not surprisingly, it has quickly sparked over 300 online comments. Meanwhile, the Times of Israel’s Haviv Rettig Gur has published a heated, point-by-point response.

Benedikt’s article isn’t the only Israel-Gaza conflict-fueled attack on Birthright. A darkly satirical Tumblr feed, “My Birthright Summer in Israel,” features perkily captioned photos of happy, partying Birthright participants superimposed over images of carnage and destruction in Gaza.

Backstreet Boys scrap Israel shows due to Gaza crisis


JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Backstreet Boys canceled three sold-out concerts in Israel due to the Gaza conflict.

The American pop band posted a message Sunday on its official website announcing the cancellation of the July 29-31 concerts at the Raanana Amphitheater “to assure the safety of the audience.” New dates will be scheduled for the spring.

“This is a major disappointment for the band and fans as this was to be our first visit to Israel and we looked forward to meeting our fans,” the message said.

Canadian singer Paul Anka also canceled two concerts set for this week in Tel Aviv. The concerts will be rescheduled “once the local situation is resolved,” according to a statement issued by his representative.

Earlier, the Gaza conflict forced the cancellations of a Neil Young concert in Tel Aviv and a performance by the band America.

Obama tells Kerry to broker ‘immediate’ cease-fire in Gaza


WASHINGTON (JTA) — President Obama told U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to push for an “immediate cessation of hostilities” between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

“As I’ve said many times, Israel has a right to defend itself against rocket and tunnel attacks from Hamas,” Obama said Monday in a brief news appearance as Kerry headed to Egypt to attempt to broker a cease-fire.

“And as a result of its operations, Israel has already done significant damage to Hamas’s terrorist infrastructure in Gaza. I’ve also said, however, that we have serious concerns about the rising number of Palestinian civilian deaths and the loss of Israeli lives. And that is why it now has to be our focus and the focus of the international community to bring about a cease-fire that ends the fighting and that can stop the deaths of innocent civilians, both in Gaza and in Israel.”

Obama said he wanted a return to the truce with Hamas brokered in November 2012, but Hamas has rejected such a return. Hamas has added demands including internationally monitored border crossings, prisoner releases and Israel staying out of Hamas-Palestinian Authority unity talks.

“I’ve instructed him to push for an immediate cessation of hostilities,” Obama said.

More than 500 Palestinians have died in the fighting, most of them civilians, while 25 Israeli troops and two civilians have been killed.

Rabbi Daniel Gordis: When balance becomes betrayal


Universalism, Cynthia Ozick once noted, has become the particularism of the Jews. Increasingly, our most fundamental belief about ourselves is that we dare not care about ourselves any more than we can about others. Noble Jews have moved beyond difference.

This inability to distinguish ourselves from the mass of humanity, this inability to celebrate our own origins, our own People and our own homeland, I argue in my latest book, “The Promise of Israel,” is dysfunctional. Do we not care about our own children more than we care about other people’s children? And shouldn’t we? Are our own parents not our responsibility in a way that other people’s parents are not? The same is true of nations and ethnicities. The French care about the French more than they do about others. So do the Italians. So do the Spanish. It’s only this new, re-imagined Jew who is constantly seeking to transcend origins which actually make us who we are and enable us to leave our distinct fingerprints on the world.

Read the rest of the story on timesofisrael.com.


More on the compassion controversy: 

Heartache: an email from Rabbi Sharon Brous


It has been a devastating couple of days in Israel and Gaza. 

I believe that the Israeli people, who have for years endured a barrage of rocket attacks targeting innocents and designed to create terror, instability and havoc, have the right and the obligation to defend themselves. I also believe that the Palestinian people, both in Gaza and the West Bank, have suffered terribly and deserve to live full and dignified lives. And I happen to agree with the editors of The New York Times that the best way for Israel to diminish the potency of Hamas — which poses a genuine threat to Israel — is to engage earnestly and immediately in peace negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. 

But most critically at this hour, I believe that there is a real and profound need for all of us to witness with empathy and grace. Take a breath. We are deeply entrenched in our narratives of good and evil, victim and perpetrator — and we are scared. Over 1 million Israelis will sleep in bomb shelters tonight and rockets have nearly reached Tel Aviv. So it’s tempting to dig in our heels, to diminish the loss on the other side of the border, even to gloat. This is not the Jewish way. However you feel about the wisdom and timing of Israel’s response to the Hamas threat, the people of Israel need our strong support and solidarity. At the same time, supporting Israel’s right to protect and defend itself does not diminish the reality that the Palestinian people are also children of God, whose suffering is real and undeniable. 

Let us pray that this conflict comes to an end quickly, and that we soon see a return to negotiations and a real, viable and sustainable peace.

L’shalom,
Rabbi Sharon Brous


Rabbi Mordecai Finley is the spiritual leader of Ohr HaTorah and Professor of Jewish Thought at the Academy for Jewish Religion, California Campus.


More on the compassion controversy: 

A call from Tel Aviv: Freaked, at first


Is this a war?

It’s so hard to know these days. Wars used to happen on things called battlefields, where armies met, fought and met again.

What’s going on in Gaza and Israel is far murkier than that. In Israel, the rockets rain down on apartment buildings, fields, schools. The retaliation into Gaza, for all Israel’s careful targeting, must of necessity strike neighborhoods, homes, children.

This is not a war of tanks in the Sinai or dogfights over Damascus. It is a war of families huddled in stairwells, of bodies spilled out of cars. The wars of Israel get more intimate as the home fronts and battlefronts merge.

My friend Simone left a message on my cell phone when the fighting began. She had moved to Tel Aviv from Los Angeles less than a month ago, when her boyfriend, Wes, got a high-tech research job there. “You’ll love it,” I’d told her. “Most fun city in the world.”

“Rob,” Simone’s voice quavered. “I know it’s 3:30 in the morning, but we just heard explosions over Tel Aviv and I’m freaking out.”

Is it an existential war for Israel?

At first read, no: As of Monday, Israel has suffered just three casualties. Hamas is using weapons that are several rungs below conventional. No enemy armies are poised to invade, no enemy aircraft will — or perhaps even can — take to the skies.

But appearances are deceptive. No country can be expected to tolerate, as Israel has, its people being subject to unremitting terror from the skies. No country would accept that as “the price of doing business.” No economy or tourist industry or education system can function indefinitely under the constant threat of missile attack. As long as Hamas continues to procure, store and use rockets, Israel’s survival is at stake. Gaza 2012 is the latest battle in a war that began in 1948, when Arab nations rejected the Jewish sovereignty in Palestine, escalating in 1967 when Arab armies threatened to wipe Israel off the map, and again when Egypt sought its revenge in 1973. 

“The problem for the 1 million (out of a total of 7 million) Israelis who live in the southern part of the state closest to the Gaza Strip has been the ongoing unleashing of Hamas rockets against these southern communities,” Jerusalem Report writer Robert Slater wrote in an e-mail to friends. “Though casualties have been few, those 1 million Israelis live in constant dread that a rocket will fall on them.”

And it’s not just the south: Slater’s family in Jerusalem had to rush into a bomb shelter when air raid sirens went off there. Several rockets exploded near or above Tel Aviv.

We hear of all this instantly. The air raid sirens go off in Tel Aviv, and seconds later a push notification pops up on my iPhone. We Skype my brother-in-law as he sits with his daughter in a Tel Aviv cafe, waiting for the next round. I listen to live reports on Galei Tahal and Reshet Gimel, via an app called Israel Radio, as if I’m driving on the Ayalon Highway. My e-mail inbox fills up with first-hand accounts and cell phone video clips. My Twitter feed shows photos of friends in shelters, and of Palestinian children in Gaza mangled by Israeli retaliation. In intimate wars, there is no escaping the battle, or the images.

“Why is Hamas doing this?” a friend asked — because everyone sees the inevitable and fearsome retribution Israel is able to inflict.

The simplest answer is, because it’s Hamas. If Hamas cared about Palestinian children, it would cease its fire. If its warriors didn’t want to paint themselves in the blood of innocent women and children, it would stop. If it wanted to build the Gaza economy, with Israel as a partner, it would quit. But it can’t: Hamas is the heir to the same dead-end ideology that has compelled Arab nations to reject and battle Israel from the beginning of the state. This current conflict is one more skirmish in that longer war. Israeli tanks rolled across Gaza in June 1967 to thwart an Egyptian army advance — and the battle goes on.

Israel captured and then occupied Gaza for decades, then withdrew unilaterally to allow Palestinians to shape their own future. But Hamas decided the future lay in … 1967.

Israel, of course, is not what it was then. It has rockets that can intercept and shoot down rockets midair. It has cities and an economy far more resilient than it had decades ago. It has people who know — intimately — what it takes to live next to a neighbor who wants to destroy them.

By the time I checked back in with Simone, she had endured several air raid sirens, several fast walks to the shelter or reinforced hallways, where people brought their laptops and their dachshunds, and stood around and talked.

She told me she was now embarrassed to think how frightened she was in her first message to me.

“You kind of get used to it,” she said.

More images as Israel-Gaza fighting continues


Obama discusses violence in Israel, Gaza with Turkish Prime Minister


President Barack Obama called Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan to discuss how the two countries could help bring an end to escalating violence between Israel and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, a White House official said on Saturday.

Ben Rhodes, White House deputy national security adviser, told reporters the United States “wants the same thing as the Israelis want,” which is an end to rocket attacks on Israel by Palestinian militants in Gaza.

The United States is emphasizing diplomacy and “de-escalation” as keys to solving the conflict, Rhodes said.

Shalit deal only worsens the conflict


No one should mistake the afterglow in Israel from the release of Gilad Shalit, or the rare sight of Israelis and Palestinians showing mutual flexibility and actually concluding an agreement, as hopeful signs for the prospects of peace. Just the opposite: Shalit’s release, in addition to being an undeniable security risk for Israelis, is giving the Right yet another boost, and making relations with the Palestinians even worse, as hard to imagine as that may be.

Freeing 1,027 Palestinian prisoners, including many terrorists who took part in deadly attacks on Israeli civilians, is the most “left-wing” thing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ever done, with the possible exception of the Wye agreement with Yasser Arafat in his first term. The right wing – the settlers, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Shas, much of Likud – is now presenting the bill.

As Hamas emerges the big winner and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas the big loser in the Shalit deal, Ha’aretz reports that the IDF brass is imploring the government to give Abbas something to show his people, such as a substantial release of prisoners and the transfer of territory to PA control. But the government isn’t interested; it wants to continue “punishing” Abbas for his statehood bid at the UN. The prospect of Abbas and the PA losing power doesn’t faze Netanyahu or the cabinet. “We don’t want the Palestinian Authority to collapse, but if it happens, it won’t be the end of the world,” an adviser to Netanyahu told Ha’aretz on Monday.

Later that day, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told the newspaper, “If there is one obstacle that should be removed immediately, it is [Abbas]. If he were to return the keys and resign, it would not be a threat, but a blessing.”

That’s on the diplomatic front. On the security front, everyone is eager to show that they’re tough on terror, that they’re not pushovers, that after the 1,000-for-Shalit deal, it’s no more Mr. Nice Guy. This is the message from Defense Minister Ehud Barak, this is the mood of the Knesset, and this is plan for dealing with future kidnappings that was drawn up by the blue-ribbon Shamgar Committee, due to be released any day.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu’s right flank, in the government and opposition both, is pressing him to crack down hard on every instance of Palestinian violence. After a teenage Israeli boy was stabbed in Jerusalem, Knesset member Danny Danon, leader of the Likud’s ultra-hawkish faction, called on the army to demolish terrorists’ homes. “Following the generosity shown in the Shalit deal, the time has come to show determination.” Opposition parliamentarian Arieh Eldad called for the assassination of Hamas leaders in Gaza.

On the international front, the pressure seems to be off Netanyahu. The Western world has given him credit for taking a brave decision, for showing flexibility, for what it may wishfully, mistakenly interpret as a “confidence-building measure” for the Palestinians.

In short, after the Shalit release, the Right is breathing down Netanyahu’s neck, while the UN, Europe and the rest of the West is taking a couple of steps back.

And once again, there’s no evading the fact that putting hundreds of Palestinians “with blood on their hands” on the streets, including the streets of the West Bank, poses the risk that Israelis will get killed – or kidnapped – on account of this deal. Such threats are already coming out of the Hamas leadership and its supporters. As I write this Monday evening, Jerusalem is on “high alert” for a terror attack. If these threats materialize, the “peace index” will sink even lower, as hard to imagine as that may be.

How to answer the most common anti-Israel charges


Some charges criticizing Israel are distortions and slanted, based on faulty information and half-truths, animus, and even classic anti-Semitism.
However, the situation and history are complex, and unfortunately, Israel is not perfect.

Here are some answers in a nutshell:

The establishment of the Jewish state violated the right of Palestinian Arabs to self-determination

In 1947, the United Nations had offered self-determination to both Arabs and Jews in western Palestine, and both had been offered their own separate state. Palestinian Arabs could have created their own state in the portion allotted to them under partition at any time. The Arabs unanimously rejected this offer, and the partition boundaries were erased by the Arab invasion in 1948. It was the Arab states — not the Jews — who destroyed the proposed Arab Palestine as they sought to grab all the territory for themselves. Part of what was designated as Arab Palestine was seized by Transjordan in the east (the West Bank and East Jerusalem) and by Egypt on the southwest coast (Gaza). Israeli forces captured western Galilee, which had been used as a base by Arab irregulars. Ironically, in 1947, the only group in the area supporting a separate Arab/Palestinian state was the State of Israel.

Israel expelled the Palestinians in 1948 and has consistently taken over Palestinian land

From the Israeli left to the right, there is agreement about mass expulsion, that many were, in fact, forced to leave. The only question is what proportion of the 700,000 Palestinians who left in 1947-48 were forcibly expelled, and what proportion left voluntarily. About 300,000 were likely forcibly expelled by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), and 100,000 to 200,000 left because they were “encouraged” by rumors, bombing of empty buildings by the IDF or frightened that Israeli atrocities like the Deir Yassin massacre would be repeated.

There’s no doubt that David Ben-Gurion and others were very concerned about the large number of Palestinians in the land, and talked openly of “transfer,” going back to the 1930s (in 1936 Jews were only 28 percent of the total population). There’s also no doubt that once Palestinians started leaving, the political and military leaders of the Yishuv were eager to “facilitate the situation.” The debate was over Tokhnit Dalet (Plan D), the military plan that called for expulsions near or behind enemy lines, in hostile villages, etc.

Historian Benny Morris argues that the evidence doesn’t show an intentional program designed ahead of time, but rather a spontaneous response to military conditions by low-level commanders in the field. Others argue (using Morris’ own evidence) that documents clearly show a plan for mass expulsions from above, that is, that Tokhnit Dalet was the realization of the “transfer impulse” under the cover of military language.

Still other scholars take a middle position, arguing that Tokhnit Dalet was originally intended as a purely military and small-scale operation, but that once Palestinians were “encouraged” to leave and the IDF had attained military superiority, the understanding became that the long-term interests of the state would be served by having as few Palestinians as possible. So the argument goes, military commanders were given a “wink and nudge” to expel and Tokhnit Dalet served as an appropriate cover/rationale.

Most of the area of Israel was once Arab owned

According to British government statistics, prior to the establishment of the state, 8.6 percent of the land area now known as Israel was owned by Jews; 3.3 percent by Arabs who remained there; 16.5 percent by Arabs who left the country. More than 70 percent of the land was owned by the British government. Under international law, ownership passed to Israel once it was established and approved as a member nation by the United Nations in 1948. The public lands included most of the Negev — half of Palestine’s post-1922 total area. (Source: Survey of Palestine, 1946, British Mandate Government).

Arabs formed a majority of the population in Palestine, and the Zionists were colonialists from Europe who had no claim to or right to the land of Israel

Jews have had a continuous emotional, religious and historic connection to the land of Israel for the past 3,300 years.

At the time of the 1947 U.N. Partition Resolution, the Arabs did have a majority in western Palestine as a whole. But the Jews were in a majority in the area allotted to them by the U.N. Partition Resolution (a very small but contiguous area mostly along the coast and in parts of the Galilee — much smaller than the borders after the 1948 war).

Israel humiliated Palestinians during the second intifada (2001-2005) and continue to treat them inhumanely

It is true that Palestinians felt humiliated by the series of checkpoints and searches throughout the West Bank. However, to cite the feelings of humiliation, as legitimate as they are, out of context belies the greater truth. Israelis have had good reason to fear their Palestinian neighbors because of the relentless terrorism, bombings of public buses, restaurants, university cafeterias, kibbutzim, children’s houses and the deliberate murder of Israeli civilians. Israel’s series of checkpoints and searches, while at times excessive, are done not to intimidate or humiliate but for security. The erection of the security fence roughly the length of the Green Line was hotly debated in Israel until it became clear to the government that political considerations aside, the fence was a security necessity. It has proven successful in drastically reducing infiltration of Palestinian terrorists. Even Shalom Achshav (Peace Now) acknowledges the importance of the fence as a security measure.

Israel’s settlements are illegal

Technically, they are not illegal because there has been no peace agreement delineating borders between Israel and the Arab nations. Consequently, Jews have the right to live anywhere they wish. However, from a political point of view, many believe that many of these settlements are obstacles to peace. Current Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has promised to remove the vast majority of these settlements subsequent to undertaking the unilateral evacuation of Gaza by Israel in 2005.

Palestinians are victims of Israeli aggression

Undeniably, Palestinians are victims — but of whom? For decades the despotic Arab nations used the Palestinians for their own purposes and kept them in squalor in refugee camps. They are also victims of former Palestinian Authority chairman Yasser Arafat’s well-documented corruption and inability to take the final step to make peace with the Jewish state. They are now victims of Palestinian terrorist movements (e.g., Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, etc.) that have refused to accept the existence of the State of Israel and therefore to compromise over land. The Palestinians are victims of retaliatory raids by the Israeli military against terrorist leaders who deliberately operate out of civilian areas and draw fire from Israel.

Jewish life in the City of Lights


Fortunately I traveled to Paris before Pesach, because missing buttery croissants and oven-fresh French baguettes would have been ruinous to my experience. Indeed, France is most famous for its delicacies — wine, cheese, pastries, foie gras — but it is also home to a vibrant Jewish community; one that has prospered for the better part of 2,000 years, but currently suffers from a malaise of bad press.

Despite the historic turbulence of Jewish French life, current population statistics suggest there are between 500,000 and 600,000 Jews living in the region, the majority of whom reside in the cultural capital of Paris. The figure is surprising, considering frenzied media depictions of French anti-Semitism, recent waves of Jewish French immigration to Israel and also because the population was estimated at 300,000 prior to World War II, which suggests that, even though France is depicted as less than empathetic to the Jewish community, the Jewish population there has actually grown.

However, the aftermath of Nazi occupation in France left the country scarred, with a visibly guilty conscience, which I investigated during my stay in a 16th century walk-up on the Ile St. Louis.

In a bustling student cafe on Rue Saint-Guillaume just across from the elite French university Sciences Po, a young Parisian typed on his laptop before striking up conversation about the thesis he is writing on generational divides. He seemed well informed, so I asked, “Is it true that the French are hostile to their Jews?”

He laughed, and said that too many people argue politics about the Arab-Israeli conflict without knowing the history, essentially implying that if there’s hostility toward the Jews it’s related to Israel. But it also begged the question: Is argumentation or even Palestinian empathy what the world perceives as hostile to French Jews?

The following night, Israeli filmmaker Amos Gitai attended a screening of his new film, “Disengagement” at an artsy independent theater in Place Saint Germain. The film, a French-Israeli co-production (and a good sign of comity in the arts), depicts a woman’s search for the daughter she abandoned, set against the backdrop of the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza. The film was, in short, riveting; and the Q-&-A that followed revealed French cineastes. were provoked by its content.

Dressed in black with a white scarf draped around his neck, Gitai, 58, stood aloof at the front of the room, fielding question from critics and fans, brooding during one man’s rant about the film’s lack of a Palestinian portrayal.

“This is an Israeli story,” Gitai said, explaining that the conflict in the film was not between Palestinians and Israelis, but between Israeli soldiers and the Israeli citizens they were ordered to remove from their homes; a conflict between secular Jews and religious Jews.

Scrubbing aside content and politics, there was still the idea that an Israeli filmmaker — telling an Israeli story — had been invited to screen his film at a distinguished arts venue, in a city ensconced in highbrow cultural snobbery. Perhaps more importantly, a famous and beautiful French actress (Juliette Binoche) figured prominently on the theater’s marquee, wrapped in an Israeli flag.

Whether fueled by guilt or regret or just plain reparation, Jewish culture is pervasive almost anywhere you go in Paris: There’s the sophisticated bookstore, Librairie Gallimard, which contains shelves full of books about the Holocaust, French resistance fighters and Nazi occupation, along with a special section devoted to Israeli literature; there’s the Holocaust Memorial on the Ile de la Cite, just behind the Notre Dame cathedral, certainly one of Paris’ most popular destinations; there’s the Jewish quarter, Rue de Rosiers, undeniably well situated in the trendy Le Marais, with some of the city’s best shopping, and near the historic Place des Vosges, an opulent 17th-century manse built for royalty.

So for the few-thousand French Jews who have made aliyah since 2004, there emerges new hope, like Gitai’s crosscultural storytelling or the Paris-born, Israeli-raised pop singer Yael Naim whose shows sung in Hebrew, French and English sell out among young, bourgeois Parisians.

In the song “Paris,” Naim’s enchanting ode to her beloved birthplace, she best captures the conflicting sentiments Jews feel for the City of Lights: I came here / A bit disenchanted / This beautiful illusion of mine / The country is so good to me here / So why do I cry and get upset?

Well, because it’s hard choosing between Paris and Israel. But still, it’s delightful to have that choice.

What’s next after Hamas’ Gaza takeover?


Fatah-Hamas conflict forces Palestinians to choose


In calling for elections, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has sharpened the choice facing the Palestinian people: Back his Fatah party and have peace with Israel and the promise of economic prosperity, or support the rejectionism of Hamas, whose nine months in office have brought only war, chaos and impoverishment.

Abbas’ call Saturday for early elections in the Palestinian Authority triggered fierce street fighting between Fatah and Hamas, which won the last election in January. Despite a hastily arranged cease-fire Monday, the two factions remain on the brink of civil war.

The United States, Israel and other Western countries are hoping for a Fatah election victory that could pave the way for a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. The United States is actively helping Fatah, but Israel — fearing that support for Fatah will backfire and undermine the moderates — is staying out.

The turmoil in the Palestinian camp comes as Syria launched a new initiative for peace with Israel. Peace with Syria would be a major strategic gain for Israel, breaking up the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah-Hamas axis, and it would put additional pressure on the Palestinians to cut a deal with Israel.

But Israel is not biting. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert does not trust Syria’s intentions and does not want to cross President Bush, who opposes dealings with Damascus.

The internal Palestinian struggle and the Syrian overtures are both part of a greater regional struggle for hegemony, pitting Iran and radicals such as Syria and Hamas against Western-leaning moderates such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel and Abbas’ Fatah. How the Palestinian struggle plays out, and whether Syria comes over to the moderate side, will have major implications for Iran’s position in the region.

In his speech Saturday calling for elections, Abbas launched a scathing attack on Hamas’ policy of violence and non-recognition of Israel.

“The settler land” — parts of Gaza that Israel evacuated last year — “should have flourished with economic, tourist and agricultural projects, but some people insist on firing rockets,” he scoffed.

“They kidnapped the Israeli soldier,” a reference to Cpl. Gilad Shalit, who was abducted by Gaza gunmen last June. “And since then they paid with 500 martyrs, 4,000 wounded and thousands of homes destroyed.”

The subtext was clear: Violence is getting the Palestinians nowhere, while peace moves could bring economic reward.

But Abbas did not set any date for elections. Analysts say he hopes to use the threat of elections to pressure Hamas into forming a national unity government with Fatah. That might enable the Palestinian Authority to accept the international community’s benchmarks for dialogue — recognition of Israel, acceptance of past agreements and renunciation of violence — paving the way for peace talks and the lifting of the international economic boycott of the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority.

Some Hamas leaders are in favor of this. Others still hope to circumvent the boycott by bringing in Iranian money.

P.A. Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas was intercepted recently trying to smuggle $30 million from Iran into Gaza in a suitcase. Indeed, Hamas strategy is built on financial and political ties with Tehran.

“Iran gives us strategic depth,” Haniyeh declared during a recent visit to Tehran.

The thinking behind this is the basis for Hamas rejectionism. Hamas leaders believe that if they can hold out until Iran gains regional dominance, they’ll be able to defeat Israel. Therefore, they argue, any attempts to make peace with the Jewish state are short-sighted.

The fighting on the streets was the worst between Fatah and Hamas in years, with children caught in the crossfire. Leaders on both sides also came under fire: There was a shooting attack on Haniyeh’s convoy as he returned to Gaza from Iran. Hamas blamed Fatah strongman Mohammed Dahlan and threatened to assassinate him.

Later, mortars were fired at Abbas’ presidential compound in Gaza.

Pundits say the slide into civil war can only be averted if there is an agreement on holding elections or if a unity government is formed. Hamas has been adamantly against elections, describing Abbas’ call for an early ballot as an “attempted coup” against a legitimately elected government.

Despite efforts to reach a compromise, analysts argue that an eventual showdown is inevitable, since the two groups’ basic positions on Israel and the nature of a future Palestinian state are irreconcilable.
As both sides prepare for armed conflict, the West is openly backing Fatah. The United States has pledged funds, and an American general, Keith Dayton, is training Fatah forces.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair visited Ramallah on Monday to back Abbas’ conception of peacemaking as something that brings significant economic benefits. By outlining a vision of economic prosperity, Blair hoped to convince the Palestinian people that Abbas’ approach has a good chance of success.

Abbas also has the backing of moderate Arab states such as Saudi Arabia, which is providing funds, and Egypt, which reportedly is supplying weapons.

Syria, however, continues to host Hamas leaders in Damascus, and that is one of the reasons Israel is wary of its new peace offer.

The Syrian peace rhetoric was unprecedented. In an interview with Italy’s La Repubblica newspaper, President Assad invited Olmert to meet him and test his intentions, while Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem told the Washington Post that a commitment to return the Golan Heights was no longer a precondition for talks.

Israeli leaders are divided on how to respond. Olmert, and most of the government, argue that Syria must first show whether it’s on the side of Iran or the West. It can do that by expelling Hamas and other terrorist leaders from Damascus and stopping its meddling in Iraq and Lebanon.

Others, in Labor, the left and the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party, say Israel should use the chance to engage Damascus and try to swing it to the moderate camp. In a briefing of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Mossad Chief Meir Dagan came down firmly on Olmert’s side, arguing that Syria isn’t really interested in peace but simply wanted to use talks with Israel as a means of easing Western pressure.

Some pundits argue, however, that Olmert is making a huge strategic blunder. The most scathing was Ma’ariv political analyst Ben Caspit.

“I wonder what Ehud Olmert will say to the members of the next commission of inquiry — the one that is set up in two or three years time after war with Syria or after it becomes clear just how big a chance was missed to split the axis of evil and isolate Iran,” Caspit wrote.

Two-state solution ASAP only chance for peace


Lebanon held the world’s headlines for much of the summer as Hezbollah and Israel waged sudden, furious battle. On the strength of the internationally brokered cease-fire that
brought a halt to the violence, Israel has now withdrawn the last of its troops and the world is holding its breath, hoping the cease-fire is sustainable.

But in the meantime, the Gaza Strip has continued to fester and collapse, seemingly forgotten. The situation in Gaza has been deplorable since Israel’s unilateral withdrawal in August 2005, its population suffering from hunger and growing desperation. Late spring saw further deterioration and an escalation in the violence.

During a June 25 attack on an Israeli army base, two soldiers were killed and Israeli Cpl. Gilad Shalit was captured.

Since that time, Gazans have been subjected to repeated Israeli attempts to combat terrorism, resulting in enormous loss of life and damage to the area’s infrastructure. Newspaper readers know, for instance, that the war in Lebanon led to the deaths of more than 850 Lebanese and 150 Israelis, combatants and civilians. How many know that since June 25, more than 240 Palestinians, combatants and civilians, have been killed by the Israel Defense Forces?

Meanwhile, Qassam rockets have continued to be launched into southern Israel — far fewer in recent weeks, but still a source of fear and tension for those living within the rockets’ range. Despite an iron-fisted response to the Hamas attack and reports of a possible prisoner exchange, Shalit remains in his captors’ hands.

Most critically, the humanitarian situation in Gaza has gone from awful to far worse. The New York Times reported earlier this month that “it is difficult to exaggerate the economic collapse of Gaza,” and Jan Egeland, the United Nations undersecretary for humanitarian affairs, called Gaza “a ticking time bomb.”

Gaza’s economy, health care and social services are near collapse, and there are growing signs of malnutrition. Sixty percent of the population is without electricity, due to Israel’s bombing of Gaza’s only power station.

Border crossings have been open for only a few days over the past several months, leading to drastic shortages in basic human necessities: hospital supplies, essential medicines and food. Seventy-nine percent of households are now subsisting below the poverty line, and the World Bank forecasts that if the current situation persists, 2006 may be the worst year in Palestinian economic history.

As American Jews for whom Israel’s well-being is of paramount importance, we find it impossible to believe that these circumstances will lead to Israel’s security or help bring about a lasting peace. While it is understandable that we focused our attention on Lebanon for many weeks, we now call on the U.S. government and international community to dedicate the resources employed in achieving the Hezbollah-Israel cease-fire to address the looming disaster in Gaza and work toward reviving negotiations for a two-state resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

First and foremost, the United States must work with Israel and the international community to open the border crossings on a regular basis to ensure receipt of desperately needed humanitarian supplies and the establishment of a functioning economy. Indeed, the Israeli daily, Ha’aretz, reported early this month that the U.S. Security Coordinator, Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton, told a group of Israeli and Palestinian business leaders that “without the restoration of commercial activity, there will be no security in the area.”

The possible formation of a Palestinian unity government may allow for the resumption of direct aid to the Palestinian Authority but seeing to it that more Palestinians get enough to eat and can meet their basic medical needs will not be enough.

Ha’aretz columnist Gidon Levy said of Israeli actions: “There is a horror taking place in Gaza, and while it might prevent a few terror attacks in the short run, it is bound to give birth to much more murderous terror.”

The only thing that can bring a final resolution of the conflict, creating economic stability for Palestinians and Israelis alike, as well as the longed-for end to the violence, is a negotiated, two-state solution.

Now that the cease-fire is in place and Israeli troops have left Lebanon, the international community, led by the United States, must turn its attention to Gaza. Continuing to ignore the problem will not make it go away. On the contrary, if the crisis is not addressed soon, Palestinians and Israelis alike will pay dearly as the peace process is further delayed.

Steve Masters and Diane Balser are the chair and co-chair of Brit Tzedek v’Shalom’s national advocacy committee. Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, the Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace, is a national grass-roots movement more than 35,000 strong that educates and mobilizes American Jews in support of a negotiated two-state resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

A way to peace: carrot-and-stick approach might break impasse


We seem to be at an impasse.

Israel is in dire need of a new political architecture regarding the Palestinians. While it remains of existential importance to end Israel’s control over the Palestinian population, there now seems to be no viable way to do so. It looks as if there is no Palestinian partner that can take decisions and implement them.

At the same time, in the wake of the summer’s attacks from Lebanon and Gaza, unilateral withdrawals have fallen out of favor. The Israeli government has lost its political way.

Several dynamics hinder Israel’s ability to conclude agreements with the Palestinians or to implement unilateral political moves. Terrorism, the weakness of the political systems, and the perception among Palestinians that time is working on their side compromise Israel’s ability to reach agreements and push Israel toward unilateralism. But, at the same time, strengthened radical factions, international delegitimacy and principled objection undermine unilateralism and push Israel back to negotiations.

There is no silver bullet here, unfortunately. However, although contradictory on face value, unilateralism and negotiations can actually be complementary.

Political impasses are unstable. So is ours. Sooner or later, the volatile situation will erupt, and a new reality will be created. It may be a popular uprising across the West Bank, the collapse or dismantling of the Palestinian Authority, a bold international initiative imposed on Israel or a wave of violence that will bring Israel back to the Gaza-Egypt border or to the entire Gaza Strip. The common denominator of these scenarios is a significantly higher economic and political burden.

The perception on both sides is that Israel has a stronger interest in a withdrawal from the West Bank than the Palestinians do. PA President Mahmoud Abbas understands this and uses an all-or-nothing strategy to increase the pressure on Israel. The radical factions understand this, too, and work to undermine any Israeli withdrawal, whether through negotiations or unilaterally.

Hence, the Palestinians may be unable or unwilling to play their part in ending the “occupation” of their own people. Just as a critical mass of political support for withdrawal from the West Bank took hold in Israel, a critical mass of forces coalesced on the Palestinian side to prevent such withdrawal. This is a turning point, the significance of which cannot be overstated.

It means that Israel may be forced to control the Palestinian population against its own existential interest and will. For the forces that permanently resist the existence of Israel, the two-state solution can and should be rendered irrelevant. Their violent factions want Israel “occupying” to be able to fight Israel without compromising internal support and legitimacy. Their nonviolent factions are going for a political elimination of Israel through the one-person-one-vote agenda. Following recent events and with a combination of politics and violence, they may be in the position to do so.

Israel is in a strategic disadvantage during negotiations, despite its military and economic superiority. Counterintuitive as it may seem to some, Israel is the underdog here.

So what can Israel do? It must complement negotiations by cultivating a viable and credible unilateral option in order to reduce such Palestinian leverage. Israel has to be able and willing to end “occupation” unilaterally. The hybrid strategy of negotiation and unilateralism is essential for success.

Against this background, I argue that Israel’s organizing logic should be to seek an end of “occupation” — either de jure, by agreement on the establishment of a Palestinian state in provisional borders, or de facto, by ending the control over the Palestinians in the West Bank, implementing the Ehud Olmert government’s Convergence Plan to withdraw from the West Bank unilaterally and upgrading the political status of the Palestinian Authority to statehood.

Five Possible Strategic Ideas; Only One Viable

Israel has five possible strategic options vis-a-vis the Palestinians.

  • The first is to seek to end the conflict and reach finality of claims via a permanent status agreement.
  • The second is to end “occupation” de jure by an agreement with the PLO on a Palestinian state in provisional borders in most of the West Bank, as provided for in the roadmap peace plan.
  • The third option is to end “occupation” de facto by implementing Prime Minister Olmert’s Convergence Plan, based on the model of the Gaza Disengagement and the Rafah Agreement and to recognize the Palestinian Authority as a state.
  • A fourth option may be to effectively separate from the Palestinians in the West Bank by withdrawing from most of the areas east of the fence, without changing their political status. This can be achieved by adjusting the Interim Agreement of September 1995 or by expanding the model that was created in the northern West Bank, following the disengagement from Gaza.
  • Finally, as a fifth option, Israel may seek to stabilize the status quo.

Of the five, only one is viable.

Palestinian Address as a Precondition

The precondition for all these options is for the Palestinian Authority to be an “address” that can make decisions and implement them, particularly regarding the basic needs of the population and the restraint of terrorist activity.

At present, due to constitutional and political reasons, the establishment of a national unity government of Fatah and Hamas is an essential, albeit not necessarily sufficient, condition for stability.

Faced with the risk of rapid deterioration in the PA, Israel, and the United States may have to swallow the bitter pill and change their current policy, allowing such a unity government to govern, despite Hamas participation.

Furthermore, on the Palestinian side, only prospects for significant political progress may legitimize a clamp down on militants or a self-imposed cease fire by some of them.

What, Then, Is the Viable Option?

Any course of action should be politically viable and provide for strategic benefits to both sides. The relevant criteria for evaluating the options are: the potential for Israeli-Palestinian collaboration, prospects for international endorsement, the prevention of future military attacks by Palestinian militants and the prospects for promoting the end of control over the Palestinians and diminishing the threat of the one-state solution.

In that light, Option 1 — ending the conflict by concluding a permanent status agreement — is doomed to failure. Israel and the PLO are not ready to accept the Clinton parameters of December 2000 as the framework and point of departure for their future relations. Any negotiations now would lay bare the most sensitive issues on both sides. Hence, the weakness of both political systems would render prospects of success slim to null.

Option 4 — establishing sustainable physical separation — may seem attractive. However, this option will not mobilize Palestinian moderates and will certainly galvanize Palestinian radicals. On the Israeli side, this logic would require dismantling settlements with no political achievement.

The logic of consolidating the status quo unilaterally or through tacit or explicit understandings with the PA — Option 5 — is not viable for Israel or the Palestinians in the long run. It can only serve as means to a greater strategy.

Ending “occupation” de jure or de facto remains the most promising option. For both sides, it represents a significant improvement, albeit with a great compromise. Israel would end “occupation,” which is an existential long-term threat, without achieving finality of claims or end of conflict.

For the Palestinians, this option would bring about the establishment of a Palestinian state in provisional borders, but would compromise Palestinian leverage over Israel on the outstanding issues, such as refugees or the holy sites in Jerusalem.

The political viability of seeking an end to “occupation” exists, despite opposition. In Israel, the potential benefits of ending “occupation” may engender political support, even in the aftermath of Lebanon and in the shadow of the Kassams. On the Palestinian side, significant forces in the Arab world and among Palestinians are in favor of establishing a Palestinian state in provisional borders as an interim arrangement.

Where does the international community fit in? In the aftermath of the Lebanon episode, the idea of introducing international forces into the conflict seems to have become the magic cure. It is not.

On the one hand, there is an international component to each of these options, either in the design, planning or implementation phase. On the other hand, a precondition for the introduction of international forces is clarity on the Israeli side, with regard to our national security objective and strategy. Until we have such clarity and a political outline that is agreed upon by the Palestinians, there is no prospect to fielding international troops as they would be doomed to failure.

Negotiate Ending ‘Occupation’ But Prepare to Go Unilateral

There is a way forward in the form of a hybrid. In the case of ending “occupation,” it is relatively easy to outline such a strategy. On the one hand, Israel should negotiate an interim agreement on a Palestinian state in provisional borders, as provided for in the roadmap in the areas east of the security fence. At the same time, it must prepare to implement the Convergence Plan in the form of a unilateral withdrawal and upgrade the political status of the PA into statehood. By offering the carrot of a state through good faith negotiations, as well as waving the stick of unilateral withdrawal, Israel may be able to break the current impasse.

This hybrid would require close coordination with the United States, particularly regarding what would constitute good-faith negotiation, benchmarks for the failure of negotiation and, in the event of failure, guidelines for the unilateral strategy.

This strategy requires Israel and the United States to make some tough choices. First, Israel would have to change its current policy toward the prospects of a Palestinian national unity government and allow it to govern by granting access to budgets and some freedom of movement to its elected officials. Second, Israel has to determine the above mentioned benchmarks, which may mean that at some point, Israel’s actions may compromise the position of Abbas and other Palestinian moderates, as Israel ceases to negotiate and begins to take unilateral action.

Despite its many weaknesses, at present a hybrid approach to end “occupation” seems the most viable option. The challenge is to transform this concept into policy.

Gidi Grinstein is founder and president of the Re’ut Institute, dedicated to providing real-time decision support to the Israeli government (

One More Casualty in Crisis — Unilateralism


More than two weeks into the war in Lebanon, there is a growing consensus that one of the chief casualties will be Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s plan for a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank.

Pundits on the right and left argue that the war in Lebanon and fighting with the Palestinians in Gaza prove that unilateralism doesn’t work. They note that both previous unilateral pullbacks, from Lebanon in May 2000 and Gaza in August 2005, were followed by rocket attacks on Israeli civilians from the evacuated areas.

The same is bound to happen if Israel withdraws unilaterally from the West Bank without cast-iron security arrangements, pundits say.

But Olmert remains unmoved. Close aides say he is determined to pull out of the West Bank and set Israel’s permanent borders by the end of his current term in 2010. One of the main reasons is demographic — to ensure a democratic Israeli state with a clear Jewish majority.

The question is how to do it.

After the Lebanon and Gaza experiences — sustained rocket attacks on Israel in the wake of unilateral pullouts — will Olmert still want to adopt last summer’s Gaza model of withdrawal without agreement, or will he seek a different formula, such as bilateral arrangements with moderate Palestinian leaders or the introduction of international forces to keep the peace after Israel pulls back?
One of the most influential backers of the unilateral idea was journalist Ari Shavit of Ha’aretz, whose 2005 book, “Dividing the Land,” attempted to explain the rationale of the idea. But now Shavit has become one of unilateralism’s most outspoken critics.

Shavit’s change of heart reflects widespread disillusionment in Israel with the unilateral approach. In mid-July, a day after the outbreak of hostilities in the North, Shavit published an article “The End of the Third Way,” urging the government to come up with a new strategy.

In the article, Shavit argues that Israel has gone through three predominant policy phases since the 1967 Six-Day War, each undermined by an eruption of Arab violence. Initially, Shavit says, Israelis believed the Palestinian conflict could be maintained by occupation, then through a peace deal, and after that through unilateral separation.

But the occupation thesis was discredited by the first intifada in the late 1980s and early 1990s; the peace process it generated exploded with the second intifada in 2000 and unilateralism has crashed against the violence in Gaza and Lebanon, which Shavit calls the “third intifada.”

He concludes that “Israel is now desperately in need of a new diplomatic idea, a new strategic idea, a fourth way.”

A number of ideas are coming to the fore:

  • An international force to keep the peace and oversee the transition to Palestinian statehood after Israeli withdrawal.

    The endgame in Lebanon envisages a multinational force to keep the peace and help the Lebanese government deploy forces in the South and disarm Hezbollah. If that happens and proves successful, analysts say the model could be extended to the West Bank and Gaza.

    There it could take the form of an international mandate responsible for the transition to Palestinian statehood. Its main tasks would be to police the cease-fire, help create a single Palestinian armed force and build democratic institutions.

    The main advantage is that it could provide the stability Israel and the Palestinians have been unable to achieve. The main disadvantage is that an international force could become a target of Palestinian terrorism.
    The idea of an international transitional mandate has been proposed before by former Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami and former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk.

  • The establishment of a Palestinian mini-state with temporary borders through direct negotiations under American aegis between Israel and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

    The Americans would need to give both sides strong guarantees: To Israel that the Palestinian refugee problem will be resolved in the emerging Palestinian state, and to the Palestinians that the final border will closely approximate the pre-1967 boundary.

    The main advantage of this approach is that it would be easier to achieve than a full peace deal. The main disadvantages are that the Palestinians have opposed the idea because they fear temporary borders would become permanent; the Israelis suspect that Abbas, even if he signed an agreement, would not be able to deliver.

    The Israeli Foreign Ministry has set up a team to refine this approach.

  • Going back to the “Clinton parameters” of December 2000 for a final peace deal. Left-wingers argue that if the sides are able to begin negotiations on a mini-state they might as well aim for a full peace deal and a full-fledged Palestinian state. Terrorist organizations would be dismantled, the Palestinian state would be demilitarized and border arrangements would be made to prevent weapons smuggling.

    The trouble is that this is precisely the formula that failed so dramatically at Camp David six years ago, and the situation has deteriorated markedly since then.

  • Modified unilateralism. Israel’s West Bank settlements would be dismantled but the army would remain to prevent Kassam rocket fire and other terror attacks.

    The main advantage is that Palestinian terrorists wouldn’t be able to arm and act as freely as they would if the army pulls out. The main disadvantage is that Israeli occupation would continue, creating points of friction with Palestinians and costing Israel international goodwill.

    Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter, a former head of the Shin Bet security service, is the main proponent of this approach.

  • A Palestinian arrangement in the context of a major regional shake-up. This would entail stability in Lebanon under an international umbrella, good neighborly relations between Israel and Lebanon, and possibly even detachment of Syria from the Iranian axis.

    This would depend on the degree to which Israel crushes Hezbollah’s military power in the current conflict. Hezbollah’s defeat would reverberate in the territories and could lead to a strategic reassessment by Hamas leaders, especially if the Syria-Iran axis also collapses.

    The main advantage is that conditions could be created for a final, comprehensive resolution of the Israeli-Arab conflict. The disadvantage is that so far, at least, there is little sign that this scenario is realistic.

It’s clear that Olmert will have to adapt to the new post-war reality — but it’s still too early to gauge which fourth way,” if any, he’ll adopt.