Benjamin Netanyahu speaking at a memorial ceremony honoring late Israeli presidents and prime ministers, held at the president’s residence in Jerusalem, March 28. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

Israeli Security Cabinet approves first new settlement in two decades


Israel’s Security Cabinet gave the go-ahead for the building of the first new settlement in two decades.

In a unanimous vote Thursday, the Security Cabinet approved the building of a settlement for Jewish residents who had been living in Amona, a West Bank outpost of 40 homes that was evacuated in February, according to i24 News. It must now be approved by the full Cabinet.

The announcement comes after U.S. President Donald Trump said in February that he would like to see Israel “hold back on settlements a little bit.” Earlier in February, Trump had said settlement expansion “may not be helpful” in achieving peace.

Israeli negotiators said last week they would take into account the Trump administration’s “concerns” about settlement building.

“The United States delegation reiterated President Trump’s concerns regarding settlement activity in the context of moving towards a peace agreement,” the statement said. “The Israeli delegation made clear that Israel’s intent going forward is to adopt a policy regarding settlement activity that takes those concerns into consideration.”

Earlier on Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had said he would approve the establishment of a new settlement to make good on a promise he had made to the Amona settlers.

“I promised at the outset that we would build a new community,” Netanyahu told reporters. “I believe that I first gave that promise back in December, and we will uphold it today. In a few hours, you will know all the details.”

Israel has not established a completely new settlement since the early 1990s, though existing settlements have expanded since then and once illegal outposts have been retroactively recognized.

Kerry questions how much longer U.S. can support Israel under status quo


This story originally appeared on jewishinsider.com.

A

fter years of built-up personal frustration, Secretary of State John Kerry issued a lengthy critique of Israeli and Palestinian leaders during a speech at the State Department on Dec. 28, a mere 23 days before leaving office. 

Assailing the current status quo, America’s top diplomat emphasized, “If the choice is one state, Israel can either be Jewish or democratic, it cannot be both and it will not ever live in peace.” 

In the speech, Kerry criticized Palestinian actions as well. “The murderers of innocents are still glorified on Fatah websites, including showing attackers next to Palestinian leaders following attacks,” Kerry noted.

Kerry has invested hundreds of hours mediating between the parties and responded somewhat defensively to criticism from Israeli leaders and members of Congress in recent days during the 70-minute address. 

“They fail to recognize that this friend, the United States of America, that has done more to support Israel than any other country, this friend that has blocked countless efforts to delegitimize Israel, cannot be true to our own values — or even the stated democratic values of Israel — and we cannot properly defend and protect Israel if we allow a viable two-state solution to be destroyed before our own eyes,” he said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a response carried live by CNN, blasted Kerry’s speech as a “big disappointment” while calling the focus on settlements as “obsessive.” “Israelis do not need to be lectured about the importance of peace by world leaders,” Netanyahu declared. 

Netanyahu accused the outgoing secretary of state of paying “lip service to the unremitting campaign of terrorism that has been waged by the Palestinians against the Jewish state for nearly a century.”

From Ramallah, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas reiterated past comments that he would be ready to begin negotiations if Israel were to freeze settlement construction and referenced United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334, adopted Dec. 23, condemning Israeli settlements.

“The speech was replete with paternalistic, arrogant lecturing,” Abraham Foxman, former national director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), told Jewish Insider. “The threats to peace and the implementation of a two-state solution are not Israeli settlements, but the non-recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, Palestinian incitement and violence.”

Incoming Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) also criticized Kerry for focusing on the settlements while ignoring the fact that Hamas continued launching rockets into Israel after Israel forced settlers to withdraw from all settlements in the Gaza Strip. 

Others recommended Israelis take a hard look at the substance of the secretary of state’s remarks.

“It’s an important speech for those who support the two-state solution and do not want to see Israel’s Jewish and democratic nature being undermined,” Dan Arbell, former deputy chief of Israel’s embassy in Washington, D.C., told Jewish Insider. 

Hussein Ibish, a senior scholar at the Arab Gulf Institute in Washington, said, “I think it’s probably the most sympathetic (speech) to the Palestinian cause given by a major American official.” However, Ibish found the timing of the speech problematic. The address “could have been really meaningful if it had been given two or three years ago and backed up with actual policies with real consequences. But at this point, with a couple of weeks left, it’s almost pointless.”

President-elect Donald Trump indicated last week that he will indeed look to make up for the damage done by the outgoing administration over the weekend. “We cannot continue to let Israel be treated with such total disdain and disrespect. They used to have a great friend in the U.S., but not anymore,” Trump tweeted hours before Kerry’s speech. “Stay strong Israel, January 20th is fast approaching!”

Trump’s Israel gatekeeper: Like his boss, no Room for ‘PC’


Love him or hate him, Republican candidate for president Donald J. Trump is doing it his way, ignoring what the American professional political world believed was the only way to become a party’s nominee and win “the Oval.”

No issue is more imbued with slogans and adherence to conventional wisdom than is the Middle East. Two-state solution, occupied territories, illegal settlements, incitement and even terrorism — the list is long.

Yet, notwithstanding the extreme sensitivities of the regional players and the long history of seasoned diplomats failing to broker anything that even remotely resembles a lasting peace deal, Trump, the first-time-out candidate, has selected gatekeepers for Israeli-Palestinian issues whose loyalties undeniably lie on the side of the Jewish state; who are personally and professionally erudite and successful, but who are also noticeably lacking the political trial-by-fire one would expect of a senior adviser on a lightning rod issue in a presidential campaign. Nevertheless, both of the two lawyers tapped for this delicate representation qualify for the position by virtue of what Trump himself was quoted as saying he looks for in an adviser on Israeli affairs: “people who truly love Israel.”

Jason Greenblatt, 49, who has worked for Trump for almost two decades and who is religiously-observant, told the Jewish news agency JTA that he stays apprised of issues by accessing a number of pro-Israel sources and advocates along with members of the Israeli government. His colleague – in law and in the Trump campaign – is 58-year old David Friedman, a native New Yorker whose father, a prominent rabbi, became the first Jewish clergyman to host a sitting president for a Shabbat meal when President Regan joined the Friedman family for lunch in 1984.

Speaking to Friedman, of whom it has been rumored that if Trump wins he will trade in his Jerusalem apartment for the US Ambassador’s residence in Herzliya, it becomes quickly apparent that he intends to be well-served by his lack of political experience if judged by responses more akin to a deposition than to a politician’s news conference.

David Friedman, thank you for speaking with the The Media Line.

TML:  Who is David Friedman and why has Mr. Trump made you the gate keeper on policies relative to Israel?

Friedman: Well, first and foremost I’m somebody who loves Israel and someone who has Donald Trump’s trust. We’ve known each other for 15 years. I’ve worked with him in some challenging circumstances and have gained his trust and I would hope his respect. When he was called upon to select advisers in various areas, one of those areas was the relationship between the US and Israel and he wanted to select advisers who he knew had a deep love and commitment to the state of Israel.

TML:  Are you going to tell us that one of the first acts is to move the embassy to Jerusalem?

Friedman: I think one of his first acts is going be to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. I think the movement of the embassy to Jerusalem is logistically something that can’t be done on the first day [but] I think that will happen in due course.

TML: How did you first meet Donald Trump?

Friedman: My first meeting was in his office. A mutual friend introduced us. He had some issues relating to Atlantic City. From time to time I’ve been his lawyer, but for all the time I’ve been his good friend.

TML: Why do you think Donald Trump should be the next president?

Friedman:  The president is the chief executive of the United States. He’s not a legislator, he’s not a committee member, and he’s not an adviser. Donald Trump has outstanding executive skills. He is a terrific decision maker. His heart is in the right place. Contrary to what people say about him he’s not impulsive. He is someone who listens to his advisers, and when called upon to make decisions, actually exhausts material on the subject.

He’s also the right person at the right time because in America, we are very much hungering for non-teleprompted leadership and authentic leadership actually accessible to the press. If you compare Donald Trump to any other candidate in history, he dwarfs the field in terms of his accessibility to the media and being on TV every night.

I think he’s what the country needs and I think his message is resonating with people who feel that globalism has failed them. And it’s a fairly large constituency in this country.

TML: Many believe that a candidate who doesn’t utter the mantra of a two-state solution won’t be taken seriously. Is the Trump position on a two state solution a one state solution?

Friedman: His position is not a one-state solution. His position is that he’s observed the obvious, which is that a two-state solution over the past generation has been attempted over and over again and has been a failure. The definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again expecting a different result — and he’s not insane. To blindly embrace a two-state solution because it’s been an American policy for the past 25-years is not something he’s going to do, any more so than one would have expected a president in the 1970s embrace the Vietnam war because it was a 20-year policy of the United States. Policies are only good if they work.

TML: So what’s his answer?

Friedman: I don’t think this is an area which is susceptible to jingoism. It’s a very complex issue. The conventional wisdom is that Israel has to be a Jewish state or a democratic state, but can’t be both. It’s essentially a demographic assessment which I think is wrong. With the removal of the Gazan population from the denominator, I think a one-state solution would reduce Israel from about 75 percent of a Jewish state to maybe about 65 percent. I don’t think it’s existential to do that. Ultimately, the issue is one of reducing tension and improving quality of life. That ought to be the first step, not the geography. The geography will follow if appropriate advances are made in quality of life.

TML: A good chunk of the world uses the word “illegal” before the word “settlement” when speaking about Israel. You don’t. Will President Trump?

Friedman: I think it’s almost silly to talk about settlements in terms of legal or illegal. I’m saying that as a lawyer who has actually studied the issue. My experience has been that the legal conclusions follow the political views. I can make an argument for legality; I can make an argument for illegality. I happen to be the view that the settlements are not illegal. I think they were captured in a defensive war from a country that no longer wants them back. You could obviously make an argument for why they are legal but it’s a waste of time to debate the issue.

TML: The United States is part of the quartet which has again condemned Israel for its expansion of Jewish communities in post-1967 areas. Would a President Trump change minds and policies of the European Union, United Nations, and Russia — its partners in the Quartet — or withdraw from the Quartet?

Friedman: It’s a good question. I haven’t really given it enough thought as to whether he’d withdraw from the Quartet and what the consequences would be. He would certainly use his influence within the Quartet to have a significant change of direction. The recent criticism of Israel in regards to Gilo and Ma'aleh Adumim [Jerusalem neighborhoods which the Palestinians claim for their state-in-waiting and object to Israeli building in those areas – Ed.] I think is just ridiculous. These are significant Israeli population centers. There is no scenario under any peace accord where Gilo or Ma'aleh Adumim would ever be evacuated or become part of a new Palestinian state.  I think it jeopardizes the credibility of the Quartet and it jeopardizes the credibility of the United States when they focus on these types of issues.  It’s really a mistake.

TML: France is planning to throw a bash for Middle East peace before the end of the year: an international conference the Palestinians support and Israel says is a bad idea. How is David Friedman advising candidate Trump?

Friedman:  My advice is that it’s a bad idea. The international community should not be dragging Israel against its will to a conference. I don’t think France has the type of gravitas in the world community to be making that demand in any event. A Trump perspective is to support Israel and its approach to the peace process.

Trump policy first and foremost is to trust Israel that they know what they are doing. Israel has now been independent for 70 years. They’re a grown up country. They are not a client state of the United States. They are a partner with the United States in a global war on terrorism. We trust our partner and we want our partner to be secure and safe. We trust them to do the right thing.

TML: Assume rumors are true and Donald Trump decides to fly Trump Force One to Israel before the election. To maintain his status as honest broker would he meet with Palestinian Authority President Abbas?

Friedman: I think he might. I don’t know. I haven’t had that discussion with him. I think there are good reasons not to and I think there are some reasons not to do it. I’m not sure what the decision will be.

I personally think putting the Israeli leadership on a common level with Abbas is a mistake. In one case you have a sovereign nation that is democratic, and in the other case you have a leader who is hanging on by a thread, who does not have an actual mandate and who funds stipends to pay to families of terrorists while they are in jail. These are difference types of governments — if you even want to call the Palestinian leadership a government. That doesn’t mean that you don’t have a meeting. The answer is, I don’t know. We haven’t had the discussion.

TML: What is Trump’s message to Abbas and the Palestinians who fear another pro-Israel president in the White House?

Friedman: The message to Abbas is that you have a burden that you have to carry to be taken seriously as a potential nation state. You haven’t met that burden yet. That includes renouncing violence, recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, creating infrastructure where money and funds are handled in a non-corrupt manner.

TML: What will Trump do to prevent Iran from creating nuclear weapons?

Friedman: This is at the very height of his foreign policy concerns and what he’s going to try to do is re-engage with the other significant players in the region to try and re-assert leverage with Iran. The situation is absolutely untenable right now. I don’t know if the agreement gets rips up at the beginning.

TML: Where do you and Donald Trump come down on the belief that the Israeli Palestinian conflict is the region’s core conflict, even when compared to Syria, ISIS and Sunni vs. Shia?

Friedman: That’s obviously not true. The Israeli conflict with its neighbors predated the Six Day War. Obviously there were two wars before then, from 1948 to 1967. This is not about battle about land. It’s an ideological battle about whether there will be a Jewish state and it’s a battle between a radical jihadism and the rest of the Muslim world.

TML: Hillary Clinton has just about everyone suggesting she is the most qualified person ever to be president. Where did she go wrong with the Middle East — if she did?

Friedman:  I don’t think she has made a right decision. I think she said some helpful things when she was the senator from New York when she had a Jewish constituency. As soon as she became secretary of state, the first thing she did was to embrace a unilateral settlement freeze. I think it completely poisoned the environment. I’m not aware of anything she did that is particularly good. I can name off the top of my head things that were nasty, like ripping up the letter from George Bush to Ariel Sharon, which I think was the only thing Israel got from evacuating Gaza. I don’t think she particularly likes Israel. I think she likes the kind of elite left among the Jewish people of Israel and in America like the Max Blumenthals, the Sidney Blumenthals and the people of that ilk who would like to turn Israel into a sort of Singapore. I think she’s terrible for Israel.

TML: Who advises David Friedman when Donald Trump wants to change the world?

Friedman: Nobody. I have never really spoken of myself in the third person. I spend three to four hours a day reading everything I can up on the subject. I have had really good access to Israeli leadership who I think are doing the right thing by not endorsing anybody. I have a high level of information available to me and I study it.

TML: Are you in touch with Palestinians or Arabs?

Friedman: Both the Palestinians and Israelis that I’ve spoken to have asked me and I’ve agreed not to mention who they are.

TML: American Jews have shown little interest in voting foreign policy in a Presidential election. How will you change that? Can you change that?

Friedman: Look, it’s a great disappointment to me that the Jewish Left doesn’t support Israel as a priority. I’m hoping that as the American Jewish community recognizes the stark differences between a Trump administration and a Clinton administration on Israel that they will reprioritize Israel in their voting calculus. I think for a lot of the Jewish Left that does not prioritize Israel, it’s because they assume that Israel no longer faces existential threats. A strong Israel untethered to American pressure is essential to Israel’s ongoing survival.

TML: Will Donald Trump become “45”?

Friedman: I hope so. At the core, the American people are very much ready for a change. He is obviously the change candidate. Hillary Clinton is the antithesis of change. She’s been around for 25 years. It will come down to that. In many of the battlegrounds states, people feel tremendously neglected.

I don’t know if you saw a very good piece done by [Israel’s] Channel Ten here on the rust belt. It is extraordinarily depressing. These are good people who served in the military, supported the country and never really asked for much. They’ve been abandoned by multiple administrations. They are very much in large number supporting Donald Trump.

TML: David Freidman, if you’re right, will we see you in the US ambassador’s residence?

Friedman:  I sure hope so. It’s not my decision. It’s Donald Trump’s decision but I would love that opportunity.

TML: Thank you.

6 top Senate Dems rap Obama’s refusal to extend anti-BDS protections to settlements


Six top Democratic senators, including the party’s Senate leader and four Jewish lawmakers, urged the Obama administration to abide by new provisions that would protect Israeli West Bank settlements from boycotts.

The Feb. 25 statement addresses Obama’s stated refusal last week to abide by provisions in a new trade bill that extends protections against boycotts to Israeli-controlled territories.

It was issued in the name of Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, the minority leader, and Sens. Charles Schumer of New York; Ron Wyden of Oregon; Ben Cardin of Maryland; Michael Bennet of Colorado, and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.

“While the Obama Administration has reiterated its opposition to boycotts, divestment campaigns, and sanctions targeting the State of Israel, it has mischaracterized the TPA and Customs bill provisions as making a U.S. policy statement about Israeli settlements,” their statement said.

“These provisions are not about Israeli settlements. Rather, consistent with U.S. policy, they are about discouraging politically motivated commercial actions aimed at delegitimizing Israel and pressuring Israel into unilateral concessions outside the bounds of direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. We urge the Administration to implement these provisions as enacted and intended.”

“Politically-motivated commercial actions” alludes to European Union regulations established last year that require goods produced in settlements to be labeled separately from those produced in Israel.

Party leaders signing onto statements is unusual. Schumer, Wyden, Cardin and Blumenthal are Jewish; Bennet does not identify as Jewish, but notes that his mother is Jewish.

Republicans also have objected to the policy. Two senators — Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Ted Cruz of Texas, a presidential candidate — are circulating a bill that would override the longstanding U.S. policy of distinguishing goods from Israel with those from the West Bank.

Germany ‘very worried’ about Israeli plans to build more settler homes


The German government is extremely concerned about Israeli plans to build more settlements in the West Bank in response to the inauguration of a Palestinian unity government backed by Hamas Islamists opposed to the Jewish state's existence.

“The German government is very worried about this report because this step poses the threat of making efforts to continue peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestines even harder,” German government spokeswoman Christiane Wirtz said.

She called on both sides to avoid provocative steps and said the German government urged the Israeli government to refrain from inviting bids to construct homes.

Reporting by Noah Barkin and Michelle Martin

Where can I sign up for a BDS marketing course?


I want to sit at the feet of the BDS movement. These people, whom I fear and hate, are my marketing mentors. They’re winning. We’re losing. Look what they’ve just accomplished with the Super Bowl, Scarlett Johansson and SodaStream. Absolutely brilliant.

They grab headlines. They gather supporters. They pull on heart strings. They capture the next generation on campuses and in the online universe. They know how to build a movement. They know how to organize. They know how to finance their efforts. They’re strategic, creative and plan extraordinary international events, such as the Freedom Flotilla. They know how to pull off a worldwide boycott. They shape world opinion. They stay with the plan and build.They know how to turn a protracted, complex and nuanced conflict into a simple, black-and-white choice for global consumption. They appear capable of doing everything that we cannot seem to do.

They’ve done their homework. They know our lingo. Did you catch Omar Barghouti’s statement in The New York Times Opinion piece, “The Israel brand today is more toxic than ever”? They know everything we are up to, including the efforts of Brand Israel.

As an adjunct professor at USC/Annenberg teaching nonprofit marketing, I want to get my PhD from these folks. As a marketer of the Jewish world, I want to understand how they accomplish what they do so well. 

BDS cannot be dismissed. As cause marketers, they need to be respected.

Marketing is always a war. There are opponents, competition and territory to be taken. As a marketer of nearly 40 years, I can recognize when I am sitting across the table from a formidable marketing foe. I can tell when there is a central planning group and a sizable budget. If that were about marketing and not about my Zionist belief system and commitments, I’d defect and join the BDS team. 

As a liberal, I used to believe that only if Israel created a just peace with a two-state solution, all this would end. Even though I still support efforts to make this happen, I don’t believe it will stop the de-legitimization. We’re in this propaganda war for the long haul.

What the hell is the matter with us? We are giving these folks carte blanche to win this battle? Why?

Allow me to list 10 reasons and the challenges. (I am certain there are many more.):

1. Brand Israel has attempted to re-image Israel based upon its accomplishments. Technololgy. The Start-Up Nation. Wine. Women. Gays. Medical research. Its strategy has been to side-step the conflict. But the conflict appears on the front pages and in the news multiple times a week. It is what people care about. The conflict makes them fear for the safety of the world and their own lives. That left the door wide open for BDS to seize upon the conflict and spin it their own way.

2. BDS is organized. They’re collaborating and working together. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t be able to do what they do.

3. We don’t work together. Every Jewish leader and organization believes it knows better than the next leader and organization. We’re on a battlefield with everyone working in cross purposes and directions. On top of it, we dismiss each others’ efforts as the wrong ones. 

4. We have no central leadership that everyone has bought into. There is no general leading this battle.

5. We don’t fund this well. The Israeli government doesn’t fund it well. The worldwide Jewish community doesn’t fund it well.

6. We keep believing that the solution is to bring in a bunch of Jewish ad agency people. Ad agency people know how to sell hamburgers, cars and computers. They don’t know how to win an international propaganda battle of epic human proportions.

7. None of us has the magic solution. There isn’t one. We’re going to have to actually work together, nicely, to figure this out.

8. We don’t know how to work together nicely. Not when there are so many self-appointed kings and queens of the Jews, who believe they have the absolute answer.

9. We’re going to need to recognize there will be failures on the road to success and it doesn’t mean you pull the plug.

10. I can’t figure out Number 10. But I have no doubt all of you will, up to 120.

BDS is just revving their engines. What we are seeing is probably nothing in comparison to the plans they have on the table. I hope in a few years, I’ll be able to teach a graduate seminar on what they did — and how they ultimately failed. But unless we Jews turn ourselves into expert, risk-taking, well-funded collaborative marketers, I’ll probably be teaching about our defeat at the hands of BDS.

 


Gary Wexler is the co-founder of SeizeTheConversation.com. He is adjunct professor of both nonprofit marketing as well as advertising, in the Masters in Communication Management Program at USC/Annenberg.

With Kerry coming, Israel to delay announcement of West Bank building


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly will wait until after a visit by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to announce new construction in West Bank settlements.

Kerry is scheduled to arrive in Israel on Thursday in a bid to boost the current U.S.-backed Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. He reportedly will stay through Sunday and could extend his trip by several days in order to work for progress.

Kerry was last in Israel less than three weeks ago; it is his 12th visit to Israel since becoming secretary of state.

Netanyahu asked Housing Minister Uri Ariel to delay announcement of the tenders for the construction of 1,400 housing units in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem, Haaretz reported Wednesday.

Israeli media reported last week that Netanyahu would announce up to 2,000 tenders for new settlement housing units on the heels of the third Palestinian prisoner release.

Israel agreed to several rounds of prisoner releases more than three months ago in conjunction with the Palestinians’ return to the negotiating table. The latest release occurred after midnight on Monday; the new West Bank construction had not been announced as of late Wednesday night.

Both the United States and the European Union have called on Netanyahu to refrain from announcing new settlement construction during Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.

West Bank settlement housing construction projects were announced in October following the second release of Palestinian prisoners. The projects were roundly criticized by the United States, international bodies and international leaders.

On Chanukah, four questions on Iran, Syria, the EU and peace


As the beginning of Chanukah and end of the year approach, where does lsrael stand?

The nuclear threat by lran, the continuing unrest and tragedy in Syria and the troublesome ongoing peace talks between lsrael and the Palestinians, as well as new pressures from the European Union (EU), which was a great shock to lsrael, are the center of the political debate in lsrael. These are all complex challenges that may, in fact, come to a head in the coming year. But in the spirit of the Passover Four Questions, I offer four questions we might all ask now in attempting to understand and address these issues.

lran: ls Tehran Gaining Time by Talking?

The replacement of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad by Hassan Rouhani seems to have been a step toward moderation. However, Rouhani considers lsrael, in his words, a “miserable country, a wound in the body of lslam.” That leaves Israel rightly concerned about the interim deal Iran signed on Nov. 23 with the P5+1 nations.

Israel’s leadership knows that when it comes to lran’s nuclear armament, the opinion of Rouhani is in no way different from those of the official lranian policy.

“You should measure lran on its exploits,” said lsraeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, “not on its smile. lran should be judged based on whether it adheres to the terms and conditions, which were provided by the international community, with a final stop of all uranium enrichment and the closing of the illegal nuclear facility in Quam. There are no signs of a freeze of the nuclear program in lran.”

Netanyahu is convinced that the only thing that an interim agreement between lran and the Western powers will achieve is to give Tehran more time. Economic sanctions have hit lran’s economy, but are not sufficient by far. Hopes that Rouhani will actually carry through on a deal tough enough to thwart lran’s nuclear ambitions are unrealistic — it’s not his decision to make. Revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is the strategic decision maker with regards to the lranian nuclear program anyway.

Syria: How Can We Thwart lran’s Aims in Syria?

ln addition to the resurgence of Al-Qaeda and the massive aid to the rebels by Saudi Arabia, there are new players with the Hezbollah militia supported by lran and the reemergence of the jihadist organization Al-Nusra Front in Syria in the already two years of carnage. Their “regional war strategy for the land of the Levant” states that Syria is the “key for the turnaround in the Levant” and “the Levant is the key for the turnaround in the Arab and the lslamic world.”

lran has invested billions of dollars and thousands of elite Hezbollah fighters, lranian supported militias in lraq and its own revolutionary guards to support the Assad regime, because it considers its survival strategically essential. America would have the military power to threaten lran, but Syria is the much simpler target.

It would be a disaster if the Assad regime emerged victoriously from the battle. Money and weapons from lran and the Hezbollah forces have become key factors of the fighting. A triumph of Assad would consolidate power and prestige of Shiite lran and the Hezbollah and thus pose a direct threat to lsrael. However, a victory for the rebels would be, as Edward N. Luttwak noted in The New York Times, dangerous as well.” lf the jihadists would win there,” he wrote, “ lsrael would not have any peace on its northern border.” ln other words, a fall of Assad would put an end to the lran/Assad/Hezbollah axis but it would bring radical lslamists to power, which could initiate a very tense situation for lsrael. The best solution: a very weakened Assad.

Unfortunately, the United States has already missed the best time frame to intervene, emphasized John J. Hamre, director of the Center for Strategic and lnternational Studies. The United States did not intervene when the Assad regime was most vulnerable and when the limited support for the then-moderate rebel groups very well could have driven Assad away from power. Meanwhile Assad is much stronger militarily.

The United States will only have sustained success with a military mission in Syria if it can provide a reasonable chance of a stability that specifically restricts the influence of lran and Hezbollah and helps to confront the enormous humanitarian crisis effectively.

The EU Guidelines: Will Germany Step Up?

According to its new guidelines, EU programs shall only apply to lsraelis who are not residents of the “occupied” territories of the borders before 1967, i.e. outside of the West Bank, the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem.

Being asked for an analysis, Netanyahu declared: “We have been attacked within the borders declared by the EU and were in mortal danger in 1967. The situation has changed dramatically in the past 40 years. There are hundreds of thousands of lsraelis in the neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, and it is out of the question to divide the city into two parts.” 

The EU’s decision could, for example, cause the prestigious Hebrew University of Jerusalem to be boycotted because it is located just beyond the green line. Jewish residents of the Old City of Jerusalem might be discriminated against, although the 1949 Armistice Agreement stated that the demarcation lines can never be regarded as territorial boundaries because they otherwise would be subject to exactly that prejudicing with regard to a peaceful settlement of the Palestinian problem, which the EU specifically targets with its plan.’

The lsraeli business community, which summarizes the anti-lsrael policy of the EU with the words “hypocrisy, hostility and crude prejudice,” points out that the unemployment rate in the West Bank and Gaza is already over 20 percent and that a fifth of its working population is employed in lsrael and the settlements. Anything that affects the lsraeli economy would negatively affect the Palestinian economy in an extreme way.

It needs to be pointed out that the amazing decision of the EU is based on no legally binding decision by the United Nations. There is no doubt that the scandalous new EU guidelines were substantially supported by its Minister for Foreign Affairs, Catherine Ashton, who is extremely negative toward lsrael, and finally rubber-stamped by a majority. The new EU directives clearly clash with lsraeli law: lt is legally impossible to separate, for example, the area of East Jerusalem, and to abolish lsraeli rights there, without two-thirds of the Knesset and the result of a referendum approving this.

The prospect of a change of the EU decision is based on Germany’s friendship with the State of lsrael. The foreign policy spokesman of Germany’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) parliamentary group Philipp Missfelder has announced that the federal government will distance itself from the guidelines. Germany’s Foreign Minister Guido Westenruelle has asked for direct talks between lsrael and the EU to find pragmatic solutions that are acceptable to lsrael.

The loyalty of the German chancellor toward lsrael should contribute substantially. Angela Merkel was and is, of all the world’s leaders, most closely connected to the only democracy in the Middle East and shows exemplary understanding of its isolated situation.

The Peace Process: ls Progress Possible Now?

Poll after poll shows that lsraelis are tired of a process that consists only of a stream of lsraeli concessions, while the Palestinians refuse to give anything in exchange for it. Unfortunately the Arab side shows no willingness to live in peace with lsrael, the Jewish state. lnstead, it honors prematurely freed murderers and declares that no Jews should be allowed to live in a Palestinian state.

A so-called peace process, in which one side only gives and the other only takes is a priori hopeless.


Arthur Cohn is an international film producer whose films include “The Garden of the Finzi-Continis,” “Central Station” and “One Day in September.

Israel, EU reach research deal, finessing settlement issue


Israel struck a compromise deal with the European Union on Tuesday allowing it to join a prestigious EU scientific research project, Israeli government sources said, resolving a dispute over Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Israeli participation had been jeopardized by new EU guidelines unveiled in July effectively barring EU money from being allotted to Israeli research institutes and other entities with operations in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had said the restrictions were unacceptable. But with the deadline for signing onto the lucrative Horizon 2020 science program less than a week away, the two sides managed to overcome their differences.

“A compromise has been reached that will allow this project to move forward,” said an Israeli government official, who asked not to be identified. “Both sides understand that the other side has a different position on the politics, but there is an understanding that there is a mutual interest to cooperate in the issues of science and technologies.

“Ultimately, we believe it is a two-way street, and both sides have much to gain from this sort of cooperation.”

The EU is Israel's biggest economic partner, accounting for almost a third of all its exports and imports.

Yet despite deep historical links, relations between Israel and Europe have grown rockier in recent years, with the EU increasingly vocal in criticism of Jewish settlements, saying they imperil the chances of peace with the Palestinians.

Matters came to a head in July when the EU's Executive Commission announced it would bar financial assistance to any Israeli organization operating in the West Bank from 2014.

The move finally put some teeth into EU opposition to settlements built on territory Israel seized in a 1967 war and which are now home to more than 500,000 Israelis. Palestinians want the land for part of a future independent state.

A second Israeli official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said the compromise was reached between Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

Under the compromise reached, the EU prohibition of funds for groups in the West Bank will be referenced in an appendix to the deal while Israel will add its own appendix stating it does not recognize the new guidelines, the official said.

Israeli companies and organizations that have operations on West Bank land can request funds if they ensure the money does not cross the pre-1967 border.

Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Mark Heinrich

Building plan for eastern Jerusalem’s Gilo advances


A plan to build nearly 900 apartments in the eastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo was approved on the eve of scheduled peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

The final approval by the Interior Ministry came late Monday. The plan now goes to the Housing Ministry and the Israel Lands Administration for approval.

The plan was approved by the ministry’s regional planning and building committee in December, according to Haaretz, but ministry approval was delayed by changes to the plan.

Monday’s announcement came a day after the announcement that Israel would issue tenders for construction companies to build 1,200 apartments in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem.

Palestinian negotiators have threatened to boycott the opening of the first new peace negotiations in three years, scheduled for Wednesday in Jerusalem, over the issue of the new settlement construction announcements.

“Settlement expansion goes against the U.S. administration’s pledges and threatens to cause the negotiations’ collapse,” Yasser Abed Rabbo, a member of the PLO Executive Committee, told the French news agency AFP following the announcement. “This settlement expansion is unprecedented. It threatens to make talks fail even before they’ve started.”

Most Israelis object to withdrawing to pre-1967 borders, poll says


Most Israelis would oppose any peace deal with the Palestinians that involved withdrawing to pre-1967 ceasefire lines, even if land swaps were agreed to accommodate Jewish settlements, a poll showed on Tuesday.

The survey by the liberal Israeli Democracy Institute showed 65.6 percent of those questioned did not expect to see a deal in talks between Israel and the Palestinians within a year.

The talks resumed last month after a three-year hiatus. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has said he hopes a peace agreement that has eluded the parties for decades can be achieved within nine months.

But even if Israel manages to defy skeptics and secure an accord, the poll, jointly sponsored by Tel Aviv University, suggested it would struggle to sell it to its people.

Of the 602 people questioned, 55.5 percent said they were against Israel agreeing to the 1967 lines, even if there were land swaps which would enable some Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem to remain part of Israel.

Among Israel's majority Jewish population, opposition to such an agreement was 63 percent, while among Israeli Arabs, a minority group, only 15 percent objected to such a deal.

The issue, which refers to the lines that existed before the Six-Day War between Israel and its Arab neighbors, is considered key to sealing any deal.

Some 67 percent of all Israelis said they would also oppose Palestinian demands for a return of a even a small number of refugees who either fled or were driven away when Israel was created in 1948. They were also against compensating the refugees or their descendents financially.

On one of the other issues facing negotiators, the question of whether Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem should become part of a Palestinian state, some 50 percent of Israeli Jews said they were against the idea.

Only 55 percent of Israeli Arabs were in favor, fewer than might be expected, suggesting Arab residents of East Jerusalem did not want to lose advantages of living under Israeli government control, such as health and national insurance benefits, the IDI said.

After an opening round of talks in Washington a week ago, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have agreed to meet again during the second week of August.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the next round of discussions would be “soon.”

“We have said they would meet in the region, but we have not made an announcement about an exact date yet,” she said, adding that the talks would be led by U.S. envoy Martin Indyk.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is also facing an uphill task trying to sell the talks to his people, even within his Palestine Liberation Organization — an umbrella body that includes many leading political factions.

In a statement on Tuesday, two groups – the Popular and the Democratic Fronts for the Liberation of Palestine — called for the talks to be suspended, denouncing them as “a repetition of pointless and harmful negotiations” held since the early 1990s.

Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mugrabi in Gaza and Lesley Wroughton in Washington; Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Crispian Balmer and Sonya Hepinstall

EU’s Ashton to draft labeling guidelines for settlement products


European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton will draft guidelines by the end of the year requiring all products from Israeli settlements to be labeled accordingly.

In a letter sent earlier this month and revealed this week by Haaretz, Ashton asked several EU commissioners to support the move on the products from the West Bank, eastern Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.

Ashton claims that a majority of the EU’s 28 member states support labeling settlement products, and that the policy relates closely to the EU’s view that all Israeli West Bank and Golan Heights settlements are illegal under international law.

Three countries — the United Kingdom, Holland and Denmark — already label settlement products.

The guidelines would be nonbinding, but most EU states are expected to adopt them.

“An overwhelming majority of Member States have recently supported or openly demanded the preparation of EU-wide guidelines on this issue in order to implement EU law in a coherent manner,” Ashton wrote, according to Haaretz.

The letter comes as the European Union has passed new regulations prohibiting the awarding of grants to companies with activity in the Israeli settlements. The regulations also require that any agreement between the EU and Israel state that the West Bank and Golan Heights are not included in Israel.

Plenty of unknowns as Kerry lures both sides back to peace negotiations


We don’t know.

That’s the operative phrase of the new round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks announced July 19 and ostensibly set to begin in the coming days in Washington.

We don’t know their parameters, or if Israel will freeze settlements, release hundreds of Palestinian prisoners or agree to negotiate based on its pre-1967 borders.

We don’t know whether the Palestinian Authority (PA) has agreed to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. We don’t know how long PA President Mahmoud Abbas will hold off on taking Israel to the International Criminal Court.

Most of all, we don’t know whether they’ll lead anywhere.

The talks, according to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, will last six to nine months with the intended outcome of a two-state, final-status agreement between Israel and the PA.

For now they will involve the chief negotiators for both sides: Saeb Erekat for the Palestinians, and Tzipi Livni and Isaac Molho for the Israelis.

The rest of the details, as Kerry said in his Friday announcement, are “speculation” and “conjecture.”

“The agreement is still in the process of being formalized, so we are absolutely not going to talk about any of the elements now,” Kerry said, adding that “the people who know the facts are not talking about them. The parties have agreed that I will be the only one making further comments about this.”

Kerry’s dogged efforts to simply bring both sides to the table — including six trips to the region this year — have been characterized by their secrecy. During his months of shuttling between Jerusalem, Ramallah and Amman, Kerry has praised progress toward negotiations but kept details under wraps.

Following Kerry’s July 19 announcement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he hopes the talks will prevent the establishment of a binational state in Israel and the creation of an Iranian-sponsored terrorist entity in West Bank.

“These will not be easy negotiations, but we will enter into them with integrity, sincerity and the hope that this process will be conducted responsibly, seriously and substantively — and, I must say, at least in the opening stages, discreetly,” he told his Cabinet on July 21. “Throughout this process, I will strongly uphold, as I already have, the security needs of the State of Israel and other vital interests.”

Signs of the rocky road ahead were evident almost immediately, with Palestinian officials denying July 22 that any agreement had been reached to participate in final-status negotiations.

A Palestinian spokesperson said the upcoming meeting would only be a preliminary one; formal negotiations would take place only when Israel consented to freeze settlement expansion and negotiate based on the 1967 lines. Israeli ministers shot back that they would agree to none of those stipulations.

Israel is set to release 82 Palestinian prisoners as a goodwill gesture ahead of the talks, but Israeli Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz told Israel Radio that “a settlement building freeze isn’t on the table.”

The biggest question that no one can answer, of course, is whether this round will succeed where so many others have failed. Israelis and Palestinians have been talking peace for more than 20 years, but the process has borne little fruit in the past decade.

The last attempt at talks, in 2010, ended after three weeks, when Israel rebuffed Abbas’ demand for the extension of a 10-month settlement building freeze.

Before that, lengthy negotiations in 2008 between then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Abbas reportedly ended after Abbas rejected an Israeli proposal without presenting a counteroffer. Soon after, Olmert was indicted for corruption and resigned his post.

It’s far from clear whether the political will exists on either side to conclude a final-status agreement, which would likely include at least some evacuation of Israeli settlers from the West Bank and Palestinians abandoning claims for millions of refugees to return to Israel.

On the Palestinian side, Abbas has held power for eight years without elections and has no power in Gaza, which has been controlled by Hamas since 2006. Kerry has gained backing for the negotiations from the Arab League, but Hamas, deemed a terrorist group by Israel and the United States, has come out against the talks.

In Israel, Netanyahu supports the talks, but a majority of his coalition opposes the establishment of a Palestinian state. In January’s election, Jewish Home — a pro-settler party — won 12 of the Knesset’s 120 seats running on a platform of opposing a Palestinian state.

Jewish Home Chairman Naftali Bennett, Israel’s economics minister, threatened Monday to vote against the coalition’s proposed budget unless Netanyahu advances a bill that would put any peace deal to a national referendum. Netanyahu said Sunday he would do that.

And in recent weeks, as Kerry was galvanizing support for the talks, prominent members of Netanyahu’s Likud Party — including Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon — came out against Palestinian statehood. On July 20, Danon said he trusts Netanyahu but opposes settlement evacuation or a release of Palestinian prisoners.

Should Netanyahu’s coalition turn on him, the prime minister could count on support from across the aisle. Labor Party Chairwoman Shelly Yachimovich, who leads the opposition, has said her party would support Netanyahu should a peace deal come to the table.

“I hope that Prime Minister Netanyahu, who declared loud and clear that he supports the two-state solution, will make the necessary decisions,” Yachimovich said, according to the Times of Israel. “We should not just settle for a renewal of negotiations but do everything possible to work toward real accords.”

Dutch commission calls for freezing ties with Israel


Holland’s ruling party rejected a recommendation by the country’s foreign policy advisory council to negotiate with Hamas and freeze ties with Israel over settlements.

The recommendations on Israel came in nonbinding conclusions listed in a recent report by Holland’s Advisory Council on International Affairs, or AIV, a government agency tasked by Parliament with advising on foreign policy.

Titled “Between Word and Deed, Perspectives for Sustainable Peace in the Middle East,” the 58-page report states, “As long as Israel’s actions in occupied territories do not change,” they should “lead to the freezing and limiting of [Dutch-Israeli] relations, especially in economic and military areas.”

The Netherlands is considered one of Israel’s closest allies in Western Europe.

Coauthored by a nine-man commission of Dutch scholars and Middle East experts, the AIV report says it is “desirable to negotiate with all relevant parties, including (the democratically elected) Hamas movement” and that “the Western boycott of Hamas creates additional complications in peace talks.”

The report’s introduction describes the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians as between “the victims, and the victims’ victims.” The AIV says that “Israel is in fact, within the pre-1967 borders, already a binational state with an Arab minority of roughly 20 percent … The position of Premier [Benjamin] Netanyahu reveals, however, that this is a reality he is not prepared to recognize.”

Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans of the Labor Party has declined to comment on the report, but the ruling center-right People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, or VVD Party, called the document “an astonishing combination of wishful thinking and biased, unrealistic recommendations.”

Israel’s Foreign Ministry said the report “cannot be taken seriously.”

Wim Kortenoeven, a Middle East specialist from The Hague who analyzed the report, said it was “the malicious product of political activism, whose only objective appears to be Israel bashing.”

On Tuesday, Kortenoeven, a former lawmaker and pro-Israel activist, published on his website the first exhaustive analysis of the AIV report, which he says contains factual errors, including a reference to the nonbinding United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194 on Israel — which calls on Israel to allow the return of Palestinian refugees from the 1948 war — as a binding Security Council resolution.

Timmermans was scheduled to comment on the report before July 5, when Dutch Parliament goes into recess, but has not so far and declined to comment to JTA.

AIV Executive Secretary T.D.J. Oostenbrink declined JTA’s request for a comment on criticisms regarding the report.

Han ten Broeke, a senior lawmaker for the VVD ruling party, said in a statement his party was “astonished”  by the document, which ten Broeke said was “unbalanced and unfair, and makes hard demands from Israel based on international law requirements, which are not applied to the Palestinians.”

He added that the VVD had “criticism on Israel, for example on departures from the Green Line in the route of the Security Barrier,” and the detention of minors for stone throwing, “but we also certainly make demands of the Palestinian Authority.”

In a statement earlier this month, Yigal Palmor, a spokesman for Israel’s Foreign Ministry, called the report an “error-rich flatbed” that “cannot be taken seriously” and “engenders by logical deduction a whole set of expectedly misled and misguided analytical statements.”

The truth about settlements


Whenever the Middle East peace process is a topic in the news or in discussions, its factual stagnation is almost automatically blamed on the Israeli settlement development. It is one of the most controversial issues in the Middle East conflict. Even friends of Israel dissociate themselves when it comes to questions of the settlement policies. Without any intention to define in any form what steps should be undertaken in this regard, it is extremely important that some central points concerning the settlements question are explained factually:

1. “The West Bank is illegally occupied territory, and all Israeli settlements there are unlawful.”

The reasoning that the settlements in Judea and Samaria are illegal is based on the 49th Article of the Geneva Convention IV, implemented after World War II and the Nazi occupation of European states. Accordingly, the oppressive relocation of a civil population to other states is prohibited. Such a kind of relocation, however, never took place in the West Bank.

Moreover, Israel did not — and this must be specifically stressed — occupy any territories of a recognized, sovereign state. Jordan, from which Israel took over these areas in the Six-Day War (that was provoked by the Arab states), never had been able to enforce there its sovereignty because its occupation of the territories had been illegal and not been recognized by any state except by England and Pakistan.

But most of all we must in all explicitness be reminded that the League of Nations — the decisions of which were taken over by the United Nations (Article 80 of the U.N. Charter) — at the time had clearly determined in San Remo that Jews are allowed settle down in all areas of Palestine.

These areas thus are not a matter of “occupied territories,” and the construction of settlements there does not contradict international right. The term “occupation” is linked to many dismal associations, according to which the West Bank is “stolen” territory, and consequently has to be eliminated in political discussions.

This of course does not mean that under a peace agreement this land should not be redivided — but the moral and legal grounds for the peace negotiations have to be clearly defined: It certainly is not about illegally occupied, but about disputed territories to which people make a claim and the future of which must be determined in the context of a peace treaty.

2. “Jerusalem is an Arab town, and Jews cannot legitimately build there.”

This is a totally untenable assertion. For thousands of years (see 1. Book of Kings, 8,48), Jews all over the world have prayed toward Jerusalem — not least for the good of their Holy City, and in the hope of soon being able to return in this “City of Peace” (uru-salem). 

In the 2,000 years since the Roman rule, Jews practically uninterruptedly have lived in the Holy City, and for 150 years they again have represented the majority in Jerusalem.

Until 1967, Jews were absolutely prohibited to access the Western Wall. In total contrast, the State of Israel thereafter left the administration of the Temple Mount and its mosques to the Arab side, in order to create the grounds for a peaceful atmosphere in Jerusalem. This tolerance-minded act however has been badly rewarded: Until today, it has been strictly forbidden to Jews to pray on the Temple Mount.

And now, in defiance of all these facts, it should be forbidden that Jews build up their homes in large parts of Jerusalem — what an irony! As the Arabs expelled the Jews by force from Jerusalem in 1948, and now, as a “result” of this illegal attack, a return to the city of their dreams should be prohibited to them? What a peculiar idea.

3. “The settlement construction inhibits the continuation of the peace talks.”

This is a strange statement. The absolute hostility toward Israel’s existence has accompanied the Jewish state ever since its founding in 1948. The PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization), the forerunner of the Palestinian Authority, was founded in 1964, i.e. at a time when there were no “occupied” territories yet — unless one considers the whole of Israel (also Tel Aviv, Haifa and Beer Sheva) as illegally occupied areas. But most important is that in the Oslo Accords, on which the Palestinian-Israeli efforts for peace are based, there is no talk of a settlement stop as a precondition for peace negotiations. The Accords explicitly state that the settlements in question shall be discussed only in the last phase of the peace negotiations.

4. How did the expansion of the settlements come about?

Right after the Six-Day War (1967), in which Israel was able to successfully ward off the Arab states’ attack, the Old City of Jerusalem and the West Bank were liberated from Jordan’s illegal occupation, and Israel was hoping for peace negotiations. But eight Arab states unanimously decided on a triple “no” in Khartoum: no peace negotiations, no recognition of Israel, no peace with Israel. At that time, the Israelis started, for historical and security-related reasons, to populate primarily those territories that have been a direct part of the Jewish history, such as the regions around Jerusalem and Hebron. Because of the Arabs’ rejection to negotiate with Israel, these construction activities then broadened, but it has always been clearly determined that no privately owned land may be used for settling, and to this date, Israeli courts give assistance to Arabs who can evidence their rights to private property.

At the same time, it has always been obvious that in the course of true peace negotiations certain settlements would be evacuated. So it happened for the peace agreement with Egypt (Sinai settlements). And later, Israel retreated from the 25 (!) prosperous settlements in the Gaza Strip (thus causing 10,000 people to lose their homes), in order to promote a peace process. This, however, was badly rewarded: Instead of settling Palestinian refugees in this area, these settlements were turned into bases of terror from which towns in southern Israel and their civil populations are permanently shelled. This is no confidence-inspiring development in view of future negotiations regarding the settlements!

Three years ago, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decreed a 10-month settlement stop in order to facilitate the peace negotiations — this, too, without any success.

5. How can the question of settlements be resolved within the scope of a peace treaty?

By means of a true will from all sides concerned to peacefully coexist in the Middle East. To achieve this, it is indispensable to accept each other, to recognize the other’s rights and to believe in an acceptable modus vivendi.

Israel has done much already in this regard. It recognizes the rights of the Palestinian Arabs and their cause to have their own state, and it prohibits (also by its courts) any attacks against the latter’s population. Also, Israel has proved that within the Jewish state, a large Arab minority (far more than 1 million people) can live freely and with full civil rights.

The Palestinian Arabs, however, still have to undertake a lot in this regard. For the time being, they deny, also in official documents, any rights of the Jews to Israel and the Holy Land (“no rights, even in Jerusalem”); they reject the formula “two states for two people” and are not willing to recognize Israel as a Jewish state; they use their official media against Israel and Judaism and to highly praise the worst of terrorists. And as far as the settlements: They time and again declare that the West Bank must become totally “judenrein” (free of Jews)!

In spite of all the internal difficulties, the Palestinian Arabs now have to change their basic attitude toward Israel and the Jews — then the question of settlements certainly can be resolved, be it by the elimination of settlements in areas densely populated by Palestinian Arabs, be it by the exchange of territories or be it by the peaceful coexistence also in a Palestinian state, as it has been the case within Israel since 65 years. Moreover, it would probably also be a natural solution to link the West Bank with Jordan. Jordan rules over more than 77 percent of the classical Palestine Mandate, and the majority of its citizens are Palestinian Arabs.

With a candid will of all sides, it will certainly be possible to find ways to a true peaceful coexistence in the Holy Land.


Arthur Cohn is an international film producer whose films include “The Garden of the Finzi-Continis,” “Central Station” and “One Day in September.”

Cal-Berkeley student senate passes divestment measure


A student senate at the University of California, Berkeley narrowly passed a measure calling on the school to divest from three companies with dealings in the West Bank.

Following 10 hours of sometimes heated debate, the Associated Students of the University of California senate early Wednesday morning passed the resolution in an 11-9 vote, the student newspaper, the Daily Californian, reported.

The resolution calls on the school to divest more than $14 million in university and Associated Students funds from Caterpillar, Hewlett Packard and Cement Roadstone Holding, saying they profit from Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Jewish settlements there.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker, a proponent of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, or BDS, came to support the resolution. Many faculty and community members attended the debate.

“Tonight is not about corporations,” Sadia Saifuddin, one of the resolution's co-sponsors, told the Daily Californian, according to the j. weekly. “It's about asking ourselves before we go to sleep whether our money is going toward the destruction of homes, toward the erection of a wall” — a reference to the security fence.

Saifuddin added, “I don't want one cent of my money to go toward fueling the occupation of my brothers and sisters.”

Jason Bell, an opponent of the divestment measure, told the student paper, according to the j., that the resolution language “frames Israel as the sole aggressor.”

“This is more than just divesting from three companies,” he said. “Divestment is undoubtedly taking a side in the conflict.”

Similar resolutions have been passed at the University of California campuses in Irvine and San Diego.

The University of California, Riverside's student government passed a BDS resolution last month that was overturned on April 3 — opponents argued that they were not given enough time to prepare for the vote. BDS measures also were rejected in the last two months at UC-Santa Barbara and Stanford University, the j. reported.

Are critics of Israeli occupation getting nervous?


It’s a sure sign of nervousness when people start using the vocabulary of absolute certainty — when they refuse to allow for even the possibility of debate.

That’s precisely what Hussein Ibish did in his response in Daily Beast/Open Zion to my column last week where I suggested that Israel’s presence on the West Bank ought to be characterized as “disputed” rather than “illegal”— he refused to give an inch, or even a millimeter.

His headline captured his certainty, if not his smugness: “Of Course the Settlements are Illegal.” His point of view was not even a point of view; it was, he declared, a “political and legal fact.” Anything else is an “entirely fictive alternate reality” where people who disagree with him “neurotically retreat.”

[Related: Love ‘em or hate ‘em, Settlements are not illegal]

I don’t blame Mr. Ibish for his anxiety. For years now, Ibish and other critics of Israel’s occupation have had the field pretty much to themselves. It has become one of the world’s hard-rock truisms that Israel’s occupation is “illegal,” repeated reflexively throughout the world’s media and spawning the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign to isolate and delegitimize the Jewish state.

So, you can understand if these critics were somewhat flummoxed last July when a respected juror, former Israeli Supreme Court Justice Edmond Levy, led a commission that concluded that “Israeli settlements are legal under international law.”

I quoted that report in my article, and, interestingly, Mr. Ibish never refers to it in his rebuttal. Apparently, Ibish is so sure that this is a black and white issue that he won’t even waste his time studying a report that introduces plenty of gray.

Is the issue of the settlements’ legal status really so settled? How can we assess whether it’s even worthy of debate?

Well, keep reading and decide for yourself.

Let’s start with the Levy report, which Mr. Ibish chose to ignore. I will elaborate on why I consider its conclusions to be eminently fair and reasonable.

The report concludes that the laws of belligerent occupation do not apply de jure to Israel’s presence in the West Bank.  Is that reasonable?

As Avi Bell, professor at the University of San Diego School of Law, notes: “One of the sine quibus non of belligerent occupation, as reaffirmed recently in an expert conference organized by the International Committee of the Red Cross, is that the occupation take place on foreign territory,” adding that “considerable state practice supports the traditional view that captured territory is ‘foreign’ only when another state has sovereignty.”

Bell asserts that the Levy commission “is on solid ground in observing that neither Jordan nor any other foreign state had territorial sovereignty over the West Bank in 1967 and that the territory cannot therefore be ‘foreign’ for purposes of the law of belligerent occupation.”

In fact, as we shall see, one could persuasively argue that Israel itself was already the lawful sovereign over the West Bank in 1967.

Ibish probably knows all that, which is why he chose to ignore the binding League of Nations agreements which laid down the Jewish legal right to settle anywhere in western Palestine, the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, an entitlement unaltered in international law.

This “Mandate for Palestine” was fully embraced by the international community. Fifty-one member countries — the entire League of Nations — unanimously declared on July 24, 1922:

“Whereas recognition has been given to the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine and to the grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country.”

As Eli Hertz and other experts have pointed out, political rights to self-determination as a polity for Arabs were guaranteed by the same League of Nations in four other mandates — in Lebanon and Syria [The French Mandate], Iraq, and later Trans-Jordan [The British Mandate].

You might be shocked to know that an Arab entity called Palestine never existed; the term Palestine referred only to the Jews.

Moreover, the Arabs never established a Palestinian state when the UN in 1947 recommended to partition Palestine, and to establish “an Arab and a Jewish state” (not a Palestinian state, it should be noted).

Nor did the Arabs recognize or establish a Palestinian state during the two decades prior to the Six-Day War when the West Bank was under Jordanian control and the Gaza Strip was under Egyptian control; nor did the Palestinian Arabs clamor for autonomy or independence during those years under Jordanian and Egyptian rule.

It’s a fact, not an opinion, that the Arab Palestinian movement came of age only after the Arabs lost the Six Day War and the hated Zionists took over the West Bank.

And yet, Ibish has the chutzpah to refer to the disputed territory as “their [the Palestinians’] land.” Who’s living in an alternate universe?

But let’s go deeper. Ibish’s main argument for calling Israel an illegal occupier is what he calls a “mountain” of United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions. He begins with the big one: UNSC Resolution 242, which was adopted unanimously by the UN Security Council in the aftermath of the 1967 Six-Day War.

The resolution calls for a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict based in principle on states having the right to “just and lasting peace” within “secure and recognized boundaries.”

But what Ibish fails to tell you is that Resolutions 242 and 338 never branded Israel as an “unlawful occupier” or an “aggressor.”

The fact is, the resolution never called on Israel to withdraw from all the “territories,” while the wording of the resolutions themselves clearly reflect Israel’s contention that none of the territories were occupied land taken by force in an unjust war.

In contrast, the revisionist International Court of Justice, which critics like Ibish like to quote, repeatedly talks of the “… illegality of [Israel’s] territorial acquisition,” misleading readers by ignoring Arab aggression and concealing “the provisions of the Charter concerning cases in which the use of force is lawful,” as was the case of the 1967 Six-Day War.

In fact, if you study the minutes of the six month ‘debate’ over the wording of Resolution 242, you’ll see that draft resolution proposals that speak of “occupied territories,” “aggression” and called on Israel to “withdraw immediately all its forces to the positions they held prior to 5 June 1967,” were all defeated.

As is well documented, one can easily trace the General Assembly’s attempts to change the status of the Territories, doctoring the definition of their status from “territories” to “Occupied Territories” to “Arab territories” to “occupied Palestinian territories” to “Occupied Palestinian Territory” and finally to “occupied Palestinian territory, including Jerusalem.”

All of the above has been documented in detail by legal expert Eli Hertz. Ibish doesn't get into all those details, and who can blame him? They would severely undermine his “black and white” case.

As if all that weren’t enough to show that this is hardly a slam dunk case, Professor Bell notes an additional reason for questioning the de jure application of the laws of belligerent occupation to the West Bank: Israel’s peace agreement with Jordan.

He quotes expert Yoram Dinstein on this point: “The rules of belligerent occupation cannot be applied to Israel’s presence in the West Bank in light of the combined effect of … the Jordanian-Israeli Treaty of Peace of 1994 and the series of agreements with the Palestinians.  There is simply no room for belligerent occupation in the absence of belligerence, namely, war.”

On the issue of settlements, Bell continues, “the Levy report likewise adduces several strong arguments to the effect that even if the laws of belligerent occupation applied to Israel’s presence in the West Bank, the Fourth Geneva Convention poses no bar to the kinds of actions that are subsumed under the term ‘settlement activities.’”

Again, Ibish chooses to ignore the crucial fact that while The Fourth Geneva Convention forbids “transfers” and “deportations” by the occupying state of parts of its population into occupied territory, it does not forbid “settlements.” As Bell explains, officials of the state of Israel have provided services to settlers and sometimes encouraged them, but the state of Israel has not transferred any Israeli to the West Bank against his or her will.

In fact, as even anti-settlement activists like Talia Sasson acknowledge, “there was never a considered, ordered decision by the state of Israel, by any Israeli government” on settlements.

“There is no precedent,” Bell writes, “for any other state being adjudged to have violated the Fourth Geneva Convention simply on the basis of permitting or facilitating private preferences in the way Israel has done.”

In a worst case scenario, even if facilitating private Jewish residential preferences in the West Bank were otherwise suspect “transfers,” the Levy report notes that sui generis rules apply to the area:  “Article 6 of the Mandate of Palestine demands ‘encourage[ment], in cooperation with the Jewish Agency … [of] close settlement by Jews on the land, including State lands …’”

Bell quotes the late Yale professor and international law expert Eugene Rostow as asserting that “this command is preserved by article 80 of the UN Charter, and, if the West Bank is under belligerent occupation, by article 43 of the Hague Regulations.”

I could go on, but you get the picture: The deeper you investigate the accusation that Israel is an “illegal occupier,” the more you realize that this is hardly an open and shut case.

Ibish calls me “reliably hawkish,” but if he’s any less ideological, why did he so easily dismiss evidence that contradicted his case—going as far as not even mentioning the Levy report which I quoted?

Here’s what I think. Since the Levy report came out, Ibish and other critics of Israel’s occupation have been getting nervous. Their views have been unchallenged by the mainstream media for so long that they can’t fathom, let alone handle, any serious pushback. That’s why you see smug language like “Of course, the settlements are illegal,” and juvenile accusations that anyone who disagrees with them is “neurotically” retreating into an alternate universe.

What would happen if this “alternative” view ever gained traction? Well, for one thing, the global movement to make Israel the most hated nation on the planet would definitely stall.

Deprived of their cherished “illegal Israeli occupation” lightning rod, what would the Israel haters do then? Would they be forced to finally confront the unpublicized and miserable conditions of Palestinians living in Lebanon and Jordan, who are much worse off than Palestinians living in the West Bank?

Would they be forced to admit that the Arabs with the most human rights, the most freedom and the most economic opportunities in the Middle East live in that hated Zionist state, Israel?

Would they also have to admit that Israel has offered to end the occupation three times, and that the Palestinians refused each time?

What would happen if the mainstream media ever got hold of the narrative that the Israel occupation may not be so illegal after all?

As shocking as it may sound, one can make a case that it might benefit the peace process. How so? Because Israel can’t credibly negotiate “land for peace” if it is seen as having no rights to the land in the first place.

As I wrote in my original column, one of the reasons negotiations with the Palestinians have gone nowhere is that, since Palestinians believe the land is already theirs, they have no incentive to negotiate, let alone compromise.

Until they realize that Israel does, in fact, have rights to the land, why should they compromise? What is there to negotiate?

Of course, don’t bet on any of these “alternate” views gaining traction any time soon. Ibish and his ilk know that there’s a better chance of convincing the world media that Ahmadinejad is a peacenik than convincing them that the Israeli occupation is not illegal. Truisms against Israel die hard.

But cynicism is no excuse. The “disputed, not illegal” position is a fair and reasonable one.

This debate has nothing to do, it must be noted, with whether one thinks the occupation is a good or moral idea or even in Israel’s interest. Those issues have dominated the dialogue up until now.

The debate ignited by the Levy report is about legal rights. This is an important debate that is long overdue. If Israel can credibly assert its rights, this could have positive implications for the peace process and put the ills of the Middle East in a fresh perspective.

The pervasive propaganda that for decades has made Israel the Middle East’s favorite scapegoat — because of its “illegal occupation”— has only hurt the people of the Middle East.

No matter what people like Ibish tell you, this should be the beginning of a great debate, not the end of one.


David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

For Obama campaign, trying to put to rest persistent questions about ‘kishkes’


The moment in the final presidential debate when President Obama described his visit to Israel’s national Holocaust museum and to the rocket-battered town of Sderot seemed to be aimed right for the kishkes.

The “kishkes question” — the persistent query about how Obama really feels about Israel in his gut — drives some of the president’s Jewish supporters a little crazy.

Alan Solow, a longtime Obama fundraiser and the immediate past chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said at a training session at the Democratic convention that he “hated” the kishkes question. It “reflects a double standard which our community should be ashamed of. There hasn’t been one other president who has been subject to the kishkes test,” Solow told the gathering of Jewish Democrats.

But it’s a question that has dogged the president nevertheless, fueled by tensions with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over settlements, the peace process and Iran’s nuclear program.

Obama’s Jewish campaign has tried to put these questions to rest by emphasizing his record on Israel, with a special focus on strengthened security ties. In July, the Obama campaign released an eight-minute video that includes footage of Israeli leaders — including Netanyahu — speaking about the president’s support for the Jewish state.

The Obama campaign also has worked to highlight the domestic issues on which Jewish voters overwhelmingly agree with the president’s liberal positions: health care reform, church-state issues, gay marriage and abortion.

Republicans, meanwhile, have made Obama’s approach to Israel a relentless theme of their own Jewish campaign. Billboards on Florida highways read “Obama, Oy Vey!” and direct passersby to a website run by the Republican Jewish Coalition featuring former Obama supporters expressing disappointment with the president’s record on Israel and the economy.

Polls show large majorities of Jewish voters — ranging between 65 and 70 percent in polling before the debates — support the president’s reelection. A September survey from the American Jewish Committee found strong majorities of Jewish voters expressing approval of the president’s performance on every single issue about which they were asked. The survey also found that only very small numbers said Israel or Iran were among their top priorities.

But Republicans are not hoping to win a majority of the Jewish vote. They're looking to capture a larger slice of this historically Democratic constituency, which gave between 74 percent and 78 percent of its vote to Obama in 2008. According to the AJC survey, the president was weakest with Jews on U.S.-Israel relations and Iran policy, with sizable minorities of nearly 39 percent expressing disapproval of his handling of each of these two issues, with almost as many saying they disapproved of Obama’s handling of the economy.

Critics of the president’s Middle East record have pointed to Obama’s difficult relationship with Netanyahu. Top Jewish aides to Obama say that differences between the president and Netanyahu were inevitable.

“The conversations between them, they are in the kind of frank detailed manner that close friends share,” said Jack Lew, Obama’s chief of staff. Lew spoke to JTA from Florida, where he was campaigning in a personal capacity for the president’s reelection. “It should surprise no one that there have been some political disagreements. The prime minister, even on the Israeli political spectrum, is center right; the president, on the American spectrum, is center left. But you could not have a closer working relationship.”

Indeed, the relationship between the two men was beset by mutual suspicions before either even took office. In February 2008, at a meeting with Cleveland Jewish leaders, then-candidate Obama said that being pro-Israel did not have to mean having an “unwavering pro-Likud” stance.

Dennis Ross, who had served as Obama’s top Middle East adviser, said the president was able to set aside whatever philosophical concerns he had about Netanyahu and his Likud Party. “Once it became clear who he was going to be dealing with, you work on the basis of you deal with whichever leader was there,” said Ross, who is now a senior counselor at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Republicans have zeroed in on remarks Obama made at a July 2009 meeting with Jewish leaders. After one of the attendees encouraged Obama to avoid public disagreements with Israel and keep to a policy of “no daylight” between the two countries, the president reportedly responded that such an approach had not yielded progress toward peace in the past.

In their debates, Romney has picked up on this issue in his criticisms of Obama, accusing the president of saying “he was going to create daylight between ourselves and Israel.”

The Republican nominees’ supporters amplified the criticism. Romney “will stand with Israel – not behind her, but beside her – with no ‘daylight’ in between,” the Republican Jewish Coalition said in a statement after the final presidential debate.

Yet Obama’s performance in that debate — in which he repeatedly cited Israel’s concerns about developments in the region, from Syria to Iran, and took what was perhaps his toughest line to date on Iran’s nuclear program — drew accolades from his Jewish supporters.

“He made me very proud last night for many reasons, but especially for his unequivocal, rock solid declarations of support for Israel,” Robert Wexler, the former Florida congressman who has become one of the campaign’s top Jewish surrogates, told JTA the next day, speaking from South Florida, where he was campaigning for the president.

At one point in the debate, Romney had criticized Obama for not having visited Israel as president. Obama pivoted, contrasting his own visit to Israel as a candidate in 2008 to Romney’s visit in July, which included a fundraiser with major GOP donors.

“And when I went to Israel as a candidate, I didn't take donors, I didn't attend fundraisers, I went to Yad Vashem, the — the Holocaust museum there, to remind myself the — the nature of evil and why our bond with Israel will be unbreakable,” Obama said.

“And then I went down to the border towns of Sderot, which had experienced missiles raining down from Hamas,” he continued. “And I saw families there who showed me where missiles had come down near their children's bedrooms, and I was reminded of — of what that would mean if those were my kids, which is why, as president, we funded an Iron Dome program to stop those missiles. So that's how I've used my travels when I travel to Israel and when I travel to the region.” (Romney, The Times of Israel reported, has also been to Yad Vashem and Sderot on past trips to Israel.)

The Obama camp apparently saw in the president’s answer an effective response to questions about the president’s kishkes. It was quickly excerpted for a video that was posted online by the Obama campaign.

Solow said that based on his campaigning, he doesn't see Jewish voters generally buying into the “kishkes” anxiety expressed in the past by some Jewish community leaders.

“I'd like to think our community is more sophisticated than that, and if we're not, we should be,” Solow said. The president “has a longstanding relationship with and interest in the Jewish community, and he takes pride in that.”

Palestinians plan “other options” if U.N. bid fails


Palestinians want the Security Council to decide on their bid for full U.N. membership soon so they can pursue “other options”, the Palestinian U.N. envoy said, repeating charges that Washington is procrastinating to avoid a vote.

Riyad Mansour, in comments to a Palestinian newspaper, did not say what the Palestinians would do once their bid for U.N. membership reached its conclusion. It is widely expected that the bid will fail because of U.S. opposition.

However, Palestinian officials have said that failure at the Security Council would push them to seek an upgrade in their U.N. status to that of a “non-member state”, something they can secure from the General Assembly without Security Council approval.

The Palestinians currently hold the status of an “observer entity” at the United Nations.

“We are serious about this application and we want it to reach its logical conclusion in the hope that we succeed,” Mansour told Al-Ayyam newspaper in remarks published on Thursday.

“But if we do not succeed, we want this effort to end in a near time frame so we can resort to other options available to us.”

Diplomats at the United Nations said on Wednesday the Palestinian quest was likely to come to a head on or around Nov. 11, when Security Council members plan a final meeting to decide their response.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas submitted the application for full U.N. membership on Sept. 23 in the face of opposition from the United States and Israel.

They accuse him of trying to bypass the two-decade old peace process with moves they describe as unilateral. Washington says the new Palestinian approach will not bring them any closer to their goal of an independent state.

This can only happen through peace talks, it says.

The Palestinians respond that the peace process has hit a dead end and the continued expansion of Jewish settlements threatens to destroy any chance of the establishment of a viable state. Recognition as a state in the U.N. system will level the playing field in future peace talks, they argue.

Recognition as a “non-member state” will pave the Palestinians’ way to membership of U.N. and international agencies to which the Palestinians are currently denied access.

These include the International Court of Justice and International Criminal Court, where the Palestinians have suggested they could bring cases against Israel.

Mansour said the United States was attempting to obstruct the application for full U.N. membership, repeating an accusation made by other Palestinian officials.

Washington was using “all means available to it with the aim of obstructing the Palestinian application in the Security Council”, he said.

While the Palestinian application looks certain to fail in the council, Abbas has made a major effort to attract nine votes in support, which would force the United States to use its veto and be seen by the Palestinians as a moral victory.

To pass, resolutions need nine votes and no vetoes.

Washington and its allies have been trying to defuse the diplomatic crisis over the Palestinian U.N. application by trying again to revive peace talks which broke down over a year ago because of the settlement issue.

International mediators will hold separate meetings with both sides next week in Jerusalem, though analysts say there is little chance of a breakthrough because of a chasm between them, particularly over the issue of settlement expansion.

Writing by Tom Perry; editing by Elizabeth Piper

Worst Fears Come to Pass for Foes of Gaza Pullout


Librarian Stephanie Wells so opposed Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from 21 Jewish settlements in Gaza last summer that she moved to the disputed territory just three weeks before troops moved in. She stayed to the bitter end.

Among the most committed in the fight against the withdrawal, the Los Angeles resident said she flew halfway around the world and took a two-week leave of absence from her job to show her support for the settlers. She’d hoped that taking a stand, both literally and physically, would help derail the planned evacuation. She believed that pulling out of Gaza would embolden Palestinian terrorists and go down in history as one of Israel’s gravest mistakes.

Less than a year after Israel’s withdrawal, Wells and other Los Angeles-based disengagement opponents view what’s happening in Gaza as their worst fears coming to pass. Far from acting as a catalyst for peace, they say, Israel’s “abandonment” of Gaza has been greeted with Qassam rocket attacks, terrorism and the murder and abduction of Israeli soldiers. The Palestinians have elected a government headed by Hamas, a party committed to Israel’s destruction and classified as a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department. Israel last week re-entered Gaza to quell violence emanating from a crowded and impoverished territory teeming with Islamic extremist and other terrorists.

“We had people who were willing to be the front line in Gush Katif, and now the front line has moved into Israel proper,” Wells said. “And what did Israel get for [the unilateral withdrawal]? Hamas is in charge, and Israel is being shelled daily.”

Disengagement proponents respond that terrorism has been an ongoing problem and did not suddenly appear after Israel’s evacuation. They also dispute the argument that Palestinians voted for Hamas as an endorsement of the group’s terror tactics. Instead, they say, Palestinians had tired of the then-ruling Palestinian Authority’s corruption and turned to Hamas to send a message of frustration and as a signal of the need for a government they believed would be more responsive and competent in serving their needs.

Leaving Gaza also made sense morally, said Daniel Sokatch, executive director of the Progressive Jewish Alliance.

“For Israel to remain a democratic and Jewish state, it cannot occupy and control millions of Palestinians indefinitely,” he said.

The Israeli consulate in Los Angeles declined to comment for this article.

The majority of Israeli and American Jews believed that the occupation of Gaza came at an unsustainable political, economic and moral price. And despite the “I told you so implications” of some who opposed the move, there is no widespread public support for going back into Gaza.

Nevertheless, many opponents of the withdrawal here in Los Angeles and elsewhere look upon the unfolding events in Israel as a tragic consequence of last year’s pullout.

Jon Hambourger, founder of L.A.-based SaveGushKatif.org, at one time the biggest U.S. organization committed solely to keeping Gaza in Jewish hands, believes that nothing good has come from the withdrawal. He believes it has boosted the standing of Hamas and other terrorist groups in Palestinian society, which claim that suicide bombers and Qassam rockets forced the Jews to retreat in fear. With Israel out of Gaza, new terror groups have moved in to fill the vacuum, including Al Qaeda, Hambourger said.

“The unilateral withdrawal didn’t bring peace, it brought war,” he said.

Hambourger, like many of the mostly Orthodox Jewish members of his organization, believes God entrusted the Jews with stewardship over Gaza and the West Bank, which they call Judea and Samaria. As such, Hambourger largely opposes the concept of trading land for peace, especially since he so distrusts the Palestinians.

Still, he thinks Israel made a terrible strategic mistake by giving away Gaza without demanding anything in return. At the very least, Hambourger said, the Jewish state should have insisted that the Palestinians cease publishing officially sanctioned newspapers and school textbooks brimming with anti-Semitic invective.

Wells, the L.A. resident and SaveGushKatif member who moved to Gaza, believes an Israeli school where she spent some time during her stay in Gush Katif has since become a terrorist training camp.

For settler advocates, the aftermath of the Gaza pullout has only intensified their opposition to ceding another inch of Israeli territory — disputed or otherwise — to the Palestinians, whom they consider an implacable foe bent on Israel’s destruction.

“The lesson is obvious: A pullout from Judea and Samaria will result in another terrorist state within Israel,” said Larry Siegel, a SaveGushKatif member, who in 2003 raised $140,000 for Israeli terror victims.

“The Israeli government is basically in a state of war right now for having given away Gaza,” added Shifra Hastings, another SaveGushKatif partisan. “There is no justification for giving away any more.”

 

Briefs


 

700 Gather to Protest Suicide Bombings

With the charred remains of Israeli Bus No. 19 as a backdrop, about 700 Angelenos gathered Jan. 30 at the Museum of Tolerance to take a stand against suicide bombings.

In a show of support with the community, guest speakers such as Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn; Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center; and Carrie Devorah, a free-lance journalist whose sibling perished on the bus, inveighed against the destruction wrought by suicide bombings.

“This is my brother Scotty,” said Devorah, clutching a framed picture of him while fighting back tears. “It’s all that’s left.”

At the exhibition, signatures were gathered to petition the United Nations to declare suicide bombing a crime against humanity. Hier said that the scourge of suicide bombings represented a clear and present danger that called for a unified response from the international community.

“This hate threatens all of us: Jews, Christians, Muslims and people of all faiths,” he said. “Today, these fanatics can murder thousands. Tomorrow, they will have the technology and know-how to murder and maim tens of thousands and even hundreds of thousands and more.”

Bus No. 19 came freighted with controversy both for its message and the messenger. Some local Jewish groups opted not to attend the event, because they considered it exploitive, inflammatory and a hindrance to Arab-Jewish reconciliation. Peace Now, the Progressive Jewish Alliance and The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles declined invitations to participate.

And then there’s the messenger. Jerusalem Connection, an Evangelical Christian group owns the bus, and the group’s leader has rankled some in the community. Dr. James M. Hutchens said in a recent interview that Palestinians are not a distinct people, that a religious war between Muslims on one side and Christians and Jews on the other is taking shape and that true Muslims believe in Jihad or holy war.

Hutchens’ beliefs prompted the Southern California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) to ask event co-sponsor, the Wiesenthal Center, to call off the exhibit. The center denied CAIR’s request.– Mark Ballon, Senior Writer

Board of Rabbis to Lead Christian Clergy Israel Tour

The Southern California Board of Rabbis is taking a tour group to Israel next week, largely composed of Protestant clergy from churches often at odds with Israeli policies.

“Christians and Jews who visit Israel see different things,” said Rabbi Mark S. Diamond, the board’s executive vice president. “We tend to see things from the Israeli perspective; they tend to see things from the Palestinian perspective. This trip is an attempt to say, ‘Can we do one unified mission, where we visit Israel and also meet with the Palestinians, and see and do the same things?'”

Diamond organized the trip with support of the local Council of Religious Leaders, which he chairs, and The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, which funds the Board of Rabbis. The Feb. 7-14 trip, with each of the 19 participants paying their own way, is centered on the council’s leadership of Jewish, Catholic and mainline Protestant leaders and will touch on Jewish-Protestant clashes over the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s calls last summer for divestment of church funds from companies doing business with Israel.

Traveling with Diamond and B’nai David Judea’s Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky will be local leaders from the Episcopalian, United Church of Christ, Lutheran, Methodist and Presbyterian churches, all of which have faced internal divestment debates.

Along with meeting Knesset members and Cabinet officials, the clergy tour group will meet Israeli journalists, such as Yossi Klein-Halevi; politicians from the recently elected Palestinian leadership; and Episcopalian/Anglican leaders at St. George’s College in Jerusalem. Diamond said that Saturday, Feb. 12, will be a free day for the Christian clergy to tour Bethlehem and meet their Arab Christian counterparts. – David Finnigan, Contributing Writer

Sympathetic Ear

Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz, chaplain for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, went to the site of the recent Metrolink crash in Glendale to provide counseling and a sympathetic ear. As medical examiners and coroners were removing the 11th and final body from the wreckage, Kravitz rushed to their side and led them in a short prayer. – MB

Synagogue Raises Funds for Darfur Genocide Victims

Valley Beth Shalom (VBS) hosted several-hundred people at its Jan. 31 Darfur awareness event, with the Encino synagogue announcing $45,000 in local Jewish donations for genocide victims in Sudan’s Darfur region.

“We fight with whatever weapons we have, and this is my weapon,” said actor Theodore Bikel, pointing to his guitar, before singing at the evening sponsored by the Conservative shul’s Jewish World Watch (JWW) group. Linking Jewish history to Africans slaughtered in Darfur, Bikel said, “It is always my fight. It is always our fight.”

Speakers stood at the bimah in front of a large picture showing a refugee mother and her child, with the headline, “Genocide in the Sudan: A Human Tsunami.” The event followed JWW’s mid-December Darfur event at the Skirball Cultural Center, which attracted more than 650 people.

Reform shuls Kol Tikvah of Woodland Hills and Stephen S. Wise Temple in Bel Air, Westwood’s Conservative Sinai Temple, the UCLA Hillel and the Jewish Community Foundation, have been sponsoring the Darfur awareness evenings.

“God is not in the cause; God is in the response,” said VBS Rabbi Harold Schulweis. The rabbi is the driving force behind JWW raising the funds for the Santa Monica-based relief group, International Medical Corps, and its Darfur refugee work in neighboring Chad.

Another $13,000 has been donated to the corps by students at Milken Community High School, organizers said. Students have been wearing green Darfur awareness bands. VBS day school students have raised about $1,100.

Human-rights experts have estimated that about 10,000 people a month were killed last year in Darfur, most of the victims were tribal residents killed by Sudanese military and Arab terrorists.

Rep. Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys), who sits on the House International Relations Committee, told the VBS audience, “Many other countries do not seem to view the situation with the same gravity as we do.”

On April 6, Sinai Temple will host another Darfur evening with American Jewish World Service President Ruth Messinger. – DF

 

Negev to Blossom Under JNF Blueprint


A prominent Jewish organization wants to turn the mostly barren desert that is the Negev into a string of tree-lined, thriving communities dotted with verdant parks, flowering fields and pristine waterways.

The Jewish National Fund (JNF), a nonprofit group that has served as caretaker of Israeli land for more than a century, hopes to oversee the transformation of a mostly arid region that comprises 60 percent of the Jewish state’s land but only 8 percent of the population into a magnet for Jewish families, replete with commerce, housing and cultural centers. Parts of the Negev will bloom, both figuratively and literally, as recycled and reclaimed water fills new reservoirs and replenishes dry riverbeds to help communities sprout up where now there is only sand.

Blueprint for the Negev: The Vision for 21st Century Israel, an ambitious $500 million project, was unveiled Oct. 17 at a major JNF conference in Los Angeles. The plan calls for increasing the number of Jews in the region by 250,000 in five years and by 500,000 in a decade, partly to check the high birthrate among the area’s Bedouins. With Israel’s population expected to double in two decades and congestion increasing, now is the time to develop the arid 4,600-square-mile Negev, supporters said.

“We want to develop the Negev in the spirit of [modern-day Zionism founder] Theodore Herzl and with the vision of [Israel’s first Prime Minister] David Ben-Gurion,” JNF President Ronald S. Lauder said in his keynote address.

A booming Negev could also serve as a safety valve of sorts for displaced settlers from the Gaza Strip and West Bank, as well as new olim, or Jewish immigrants to Israel, supporters said. Also, JNF’s vision for the Negev might resonate with Jewish and other donors by promoting a more positive image of Israel.

But they concede that the Negev has yet to realize its potential. The confluence of several forces, however, could make this the propitious moment to turn Ben-Gurion’s dream into a reality, said Zvi Vapni, deputy counsel general of the Israeli consulate in Los Angeles.

Israelis in search of better air, more affordable housing and elbow room might finally give the Negev a chance, he said. Improved train service and a north-south highway now under construction could turn parts of the Negev into bedroom communities for Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, Vapni added.

At the same time, JNF officials said improvements in water reclamation and recycling have made it easier to sustain large-scale development in the region.

“In many ways, the future of Israel is in the Negev,” Vapni said.

Indeed it is, said Ra’anan Gissin, senior adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

The Negev might serve as the future home for 8,000 displaced settlers from the Gaza, Gissin said. The government has such high hopes for the Negev that it plans to push the Knesset to offer incentives to settlers choosing to relocate there.

“In one area, we’re dismantling and in another we’re expanding,” Gissin said. “I think developing the Negev would bring a new direction, a rejuvenation to Zionism.”

However, some observers worry that JNF’s plan could further diminish the quality of life for the Negev’s nearly 200,000 Bedouins, who already suffer from high unemployment, low education levels and poor health care.

David Lehrer, director of the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies in the Negev, said he has suggested that JNF and other nongovernmental agencies make a financial and social investment in the Bedouin community to help them address such problems as poverty, joblessness and women’s rights. Lehrer said he feared the Negev initiative might exacerbate tensions between Jews and Bedouins by displacing the Arabs from land they traditionally live on and pushing them into impoverished settlements.

“We must stop looking at the Bedouin as the enemy but as citizens of the Jewish state of Israel and our partners in building a strong and healthy Negev,” Lehrer said.

JNF executives said the Negev’s development would benefit Bedouins by sparking regional economic growth.

As envisioned, major development in the Negev would take place around two hub cities, the region’s capital of Beersheba and Eilat. Among other things, JNF’s Negev initiative calls for:

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• Recycling Beersheba’s waste water and sending it down a now-dry, foul-smelling riverbed to promote tourism and riverfront development. With clean water running throughout the city, JNF hopes to boost Beersheba’s population by 50 percent to 300,000. The cost: $25 million over five years.

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• Establish seven new communities within a 15- to 30-minute drive from Beersheba. The largest would have up to 2,500 homes. Work has already started on six communities. The cost: $75 million.

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• Rebuild and expand a central park and develop a water recycling reservoir to revive a dry riverbed in Ofakim, a small town with 27,000 residents and a 45 percent unemployment rate. The cost: $10 million.

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• Create a JNF economic development fund to co-sign loans making it possible for Negev home buyers to receive 100 percent mortgage financing. Typically, Israelis can borrow no more than $65,000 for housing, even though homes go for $125,000 to $150,000, according to JNF. The development fund cost: $5 million.

“For years, the Jewish community has been raising money to fight terrorism, wars and other crises,” JNF Chief Executive Russell Robinson said. “This [blueprint] is a tangible way for Jews to connect with Israel. It’s a great, positive vision for Israel that gives the Jewish people the hope and spirit that sort of brings us back to the future.”

To be sure, talk of developing the Negev has been around probably as long as the Jewish state itself. However, past efforts have fallen short because many Israelis viewed the region as a cultural backwater, far removed from Israel’s cosmopolitan cities of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

Poor roads and slow train service physically isolated the Negev. The expense and difficulty of bringing water there made it enticing to only the hardiest of souls.

That’s not to say growth and modernity have completely bypassed the Negev. Under JNF’s auspices, farming throughout the region has boomed, partly because of land purchases and irrigation and water reclamation projects. Beersheba, once little more than a desert outpost, today thrives with a population of 200,000, a world-class center of higher education in Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and one of Israel’s best hospitals, Soroka.

Ofir Fisher has personally experienced the rejuvenation that comes with taming the desert. Five years ago, the rugged 28-year-old and six friends founded a new community in the Negev called Sansana.

They did so for the idealistic purpose of promoting growth in the region, a place where $150,000 buys a dream house instead of a tiny three-bedroom apartment in Tel Aviv, Fisher said. Today, Sansana has 250 residents and is growing.

Fisher, a board member of Or Movement — a nonprofit advocacy group that works with JNF to support development in the Negev and Galilee — said his and other Negev settlers’ efforts have slowly helped burnish the area’s image.

“There’s a new spirit in Israel,” Fisher said. “People are starting to talk about the Negev.”

But even he conceded that some Israelis continue to think of the place as some sort of nowhere-land, good for little more than hiking.

To change those attitudes, JNF plans to bring 10,000 families to the Negev this Passover to “see for themselves, to let them feel what it will be like to be 21st century pioneers,” JNF President Lauder said.

In the Southland, Jewish support for the Negev initiative might resonate with affluent parts of the local community more than past appeals for Israel, said David Frank, president of JNF’s Greater Los Angeles region.

Whereas many Hollywood liberals have balked at supporting the Jewish state, lest their donations go toward supporting the occupation, they would likely open up their wallets to help relocate settlers from occupied Gaza to Israeli land in the Negev.

“A lot of people who have money in this town are in the entertainment business and don’t respond to some Israeli issues related to security,” Frank said. “But when they hear that we’re developing land and moving people there to help make peace, I think they’ll be quite excited.”

Sharon Defuses Settlement Crisis


For a day or two in early August, Israel and the United States seemed to be heading for a showdown neither side wanted.

Quick action by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon managed to avert a looming crisis over Israeli building in the West Bank, but the tension could resume as Israel comes under pressure to meet its commitments to dismantle illegal settlement outposts and not to expand existing settlements.

Tension between Washington and Jerusalem was triggered by reports of massive Israeli construction in and around the settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim, a bedroom community about three miles east of Jerusalem.

The Americans also wanted to know why Israel hadn’t removed dozens of "illegal" or "unauthorized" West Bank outposts, despite earlier promises. In early August talks in Jerusalem, Sharon was able to convince a high-level U.S. envoy, Elliot Abrams of the National Security Council, that he was acting in good faith and that he soon would take extensive action to dismantle the outposts.

Simultaneously, Sharon took a number of steps to show the Americans that he meant business: He froze several Housing Ministry projects, despite the fact that they already had received government approval, and he offered the Americans detailed explanations of what was happening on the ground and his government’s difficulties in dealing with the settler problem.

Israeli officials also went to unprecedented lengths to coordinate data on the outposts with the Americans. For the first time, the two sides were able to produce an agreed-upon list of which outposts should be dismantled.

Sharon told the Americans that he had ordered a Justice Ministry attorney to prepare new legislation that would make it easier for Israel to dismantle the outposts before the U.S. presidential election in November. Sharon also ordered Dov Weisglass, his bureau chief, to give the Americans a progress report in the next few weeks.

To ensure that there would be no confrontation now with the Americans, Sharon froze a number of projects approved by former Housing Minister Effie Eitam, the hawkish leader of the National Religious Party, who resigned over Sharon’s plan to withdraw Israeli troops and settlers from the Gaza Strip and part of the West Bank.

In his capacity as acting housing minister, Sharon ordered the suspension of tenders for about 1,300 housing units in the settlements of Ariel, Kiryat Arba, Betar Elit, Geva Binyamin, Karnei Shomron and Ma’aleh Adumim until the new minister, Tzippi Livni of Sharon’s own Likud Party, examines whether the projects contravene understandings with the Americans on halting settlement expansion.

As for the building that is proceeding in Ma’aleh Adumim, Sharon explained that this was an old project approved by former Prime Minster Ehud Barak’s government in 1999 and now nearing completion. It was not something his government had approved or could stop, Sharon said.

Some in the Israeli media confused the building in Ma’aleh Adumim with a far more significant plan to join the city to Jerusalem through a continuous network of urban communities scheme known as A-1, which dates to the administration of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1994. The idea was to build a complex of residential and tourist areas all the way from Ma’aleh Adumim to Jerusalem, creating a huge metropolitan area and ensuring Israeli control of Greater Jerusalem.

According to Israeli officials, the A-1 plan was designed to preempt an opposing Palestinian scheme to cut Ma’aleh Adumim off from Jerusalem by continuous north-south building, connecting the villages of Abu Dis, Issawiya and Anata, preventing Jewish territorial contiguity.

So far, neither side has done very much on the ground. In his talks with Abrams, Sharon noted that the plan hadn’t yet been approved in its entirety and maintained that it was not on the agenda, at least for the time being. For now, the Americans seem prepared to give Sharon the benefit of the doubt on building in existing settlements, but they want to see action soon on removal of outposts.

As a first step to show it is acting in good faith, Israel has charged a senior Defense Ministry official, Baruch Spiegel, with comparing Israeli and American data on the outposts and reaching agreement on numbers and locations. The bottom line is that Israel and the United States now agree on the figures: There are 82 outposts in all, including 23 built after March 2001, when Sharon came to power, and which he has promised to remove first.

"These 23 are the main focus of our work now," Spiegel told Israel TV.

The same model has been adopted with regard to the legal issues pertaining to removal of the outposts: A Justice Ministry official, attorney Talia Sasson, has been assigned the task of formulating new legislation to ease their removal.

The old laws, based on Jordanian and Turkish precedents, afford protection for illegal buildings. Ironically, a system that successive Israeli governments exploited to build settlements is now being used to prevent the government from taking them down.

Sasson has been given two months to come up with new legislation that will radically alter the legal position. Sharon has promised the Americans to act quickly once the legislation is in place and to start evacuating outposts well before the presidential election.

As he seeks international support for his disengagement plan, Sharon has no wish for a confrontation with the United States — and the American president, in an election year, has no wish for a clash with Israel that could cost him crucial Jewish votes.

Though there is little American pressure on him now, Sharon is well aware that the Americans and the rest of the international community see his ability to remove outposts as a test of whether he will be able to carry out his far more ambitious disengagement plan, which calls for dismantling more than 20 bona fide settlements.

Sharon’s accommodating tactics seem to have won him breathing space until after the U.S. election. But if he fails to deliver by then or soon afterward, he knows that he will face strong pressure from the elected president and a possible escalation that could jeopardize his main strategic goal: achieving a separation between Israelis and Palestinians, backed by the international community, led by the United States.

Sharon Interview: Truth or Bluff?


It’s customary for Israeli prime ministers to express their wishes for peace on the eve of the major Jewish holidays. But with speculation rife about how the war in Iraq will affect the prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace, a mid-April interview with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon — notable more for Sharon’s inflection than for any startlingly original messages — has thrown Israel’s political establishment into a frenzy.

After the initial furor, however, few on the left or right believed Sharon would be able to make significant progress toward peace with the Palestinians, because of the list of tough demands he is making.

The most controversial is Sharon’s new insistence that the Palestinians give up the "right of return" for millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants, even before negotiations begin based on the "road map" toward peace.

In the interview with the daily newspaper Ha’aretz, Sharon injected a new time element: He said after the war in Iraq, new opportunities had opened up for a settlement with the Palestinians and that agreement could be reached "faster than people think."

He also expressed moral and economic concerns related to continued Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

"I do not think we should rule over another people and run their lives," he declared. "I don’t think we have the strength for that. It’s a very heavy burden on the public, and it raises ethical problems and heavy economic problems."

For the first time, Sharon mentioned names of settlements that Israel might have to give up in a peace deal.

"Our whole history is bound up with some of these places: Bethlehem, Shiloh, Beit El," Sharon said. "And I know we will have to part with some of these places. There will be a parting from places that are connected to the whole course of our history."

Some right-wingers threatened to leave the government over Sharon’s comments. Left-wingers said that if the right-wingers jump ship, they would consider joining.

Arye Eldad of the far-right National Union said his party’s executive would meet soon to table its red lines and then would present Sharon with a list of conditions for staying in the government.

"We intend to do all we can to stop Sharon from facilitating the establishment of a Palestinian state," Eldad said. "We will mobilize all the support we can in the government, the Knesset, public opinion at home and abroad. And if we have to leave the government to do so, we will."

Housing Minister Effi Eitam, leader of the hawkish National Religious Party (NRP), was less apprehensive.

Sharon’s statement was worrying, Eitam said, "because it is the first time he has talked about dismantling specific settlements like Shilo and Beit El."

Yet Eitam implied that nothing along those lines was likely to happen, precisely because of the hawkish composition of the Sharon government.

"Sharon chose to form a coalition with the NRP and National Union," he said, "and it’s obvious that the government in its present form will not part with Beit El and Shiloh."

Left-wingers questioned Sharon’s sincerity. The secretary-general of the Labor Party, Ophir Pines, accused Sharon of putting on "his familiar mask of moderation," trying to please the Americans after the war in Iraq.

"On the one hand, he backs the road map for peace with the Palestinians, while on the other he sends AIPAC [the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the main pro-Israel lobby in Washington] to Congress to lobby against it," Pines charged.

Legislators from the dovish Meretz Party were equally skeptical.

"For three years, we’ve been hearing about painful concessions — and it really is painful, because during all these years, not a single concession has been made," Meretz leader Yossi Sarid quipped.

Still, Labor leaders say they would be ready to join Sharon’s coalition if he is serious about making peace.

But, said Pines, "the litmus test of his seriousness will be dumping the hawkish right-wing parties, the National Union and the NRP, because as long as they are in the government, no progress will be possible."

Pundits don’t expect this to happen. In the speech, Sharon continued to insist on demands that the new Palestinian Authority prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, will find difficult to meet.

Progress, Sharon said, "depends first and foremost on the Arabs."

The Palestinians, he said, would have to install a new leadership, fight terrorism, carry out reforms, stop incitement, dismantle terrorist organizations and "recognize the Jewish people’s right to a homeland and the existence of an independent Jewish state in the homeland of the Jewish people."

Moreover, Sharon intimated, before Israel even started implementing the road map, the Palestinians would have to give up the "right of return" for Palestinian refugees and their descendants. Only that and recognition of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state could provide the basis for an end to the conflict, he said.

Many Israelis feel the Palestinian insistence on the right of return — which could swamp Israel with millions of Arabs, ending Israel as a Jewish state — is code for the destruction of Israel.

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer warned during an early-April visit to Israel that demanding a concession on the right of return from the outset would kill negotiations before they even start.

Some Israeli pundits agreed.

"Now Sharon is conditioning his agreement to Palestinian statehood on their giving up the ‘right of return,’ which even the moderate Palestinians see as their main bargaining chip in negotiations for a final settlement," Yediot Achronot’s veteran diplomatic analyst, Nahum Barnea, wrote. "Trying to make this a precondition is a sure way to torpedo the talks or the road map before they get under way."

Israel now is trying to get the "right of return first" idea incorporated in the road map.

Given Fischer’s reaction, the chances of success are probably nil. Yet, if the United States and the other players who helped draft the road map — Russia, the European Union and the United Nations — present the road map as is, Sharon probably will have trouble getting it through his right-leaning government.

That means that if Sharon is as serious as he says he is about peacemaking, he may have to consider shuffling the coalition deck somewhere down the road.

Indeed, on this score, his interview — and the reactions to it — might have been a taste of things to come.

Absence of ‘Justice’


“Imperfect Justice: Looted Assets, Slave Labor, and the
Unfinished Business of World War II” by Stuart E. Eizenstat (Public Affairs,
$30).

“Holocaust Justice: The Battle for Restitution in America’s
Courts” by Michael Bazyler (New York University, $34.95).

In the last moments of the Clinton administration, Stuart
Eizenstat was breathless. From his posts at the European Union and the
Commerce, Treasury and State departments, Eizenstat was the administration’s
“point man” on Holocaust restitution, with a unique portfolio to pursue the
assets that were looted from Nazi victims. This was to be the final financial
accounting for the crimes of World War II. In the frenzied final days of the
Clinton presidency, Eizenstat was wrapping up deals with the Austrians and
French that — together with earlier agreements with the Germans and Swiss banks
— were worth some $8 billion.

In his memoir, “Imperfect Justice: Looted Assets, Slave
Labor, and the Unfinished Business of World War II,” Eizenstat, who will be
speaking at the University of Judaism on Sunday, March 30, recounts his five
peripatetic years as a facilitator-mediator sprinting among the various parties
in the most emotional legal and diplomatic issue of the time. On one side were
the Western European governments and businesses that faced lawsuits in U.S.
federal courts assailing them for their failure to honor war-era insurance
policies and demanding compensation for slave labor and the restoration of
dormant and unclaimed Jewish accounts in Swiss banks. On the other were the
lawyers, Jewish organizations, American regulators and Eastern European
governments that pressed victims’ claims.

“I felt like the manager of an insane asylum,” he writes.

It’s a valuable, if lopsided, book, and it contains some
surprises. The U.S. government jumped into this fray without any thought.
Eizenstat was based in Brussels, nudging the post-communist governments of
Central and Eastern Europe to restore communal properties confiscated during
the Nazi-era to religious communities, when, in June 1995, he read a Wall
Street Journal story about the dormant accounts in Swiss banks. He asked
Richard Holbrooke, his boss at the State Department, for authorization to
extend his restitution work to Switzerland. Holbrooke did not hesitate to
approve.

“No one in Washington held any meetings or weighed the
pluses or minuses,” writes Eizenstat, now an international trade lawyer in
private practice in Washington and special counsel to the Commission on Art
Recovery of the World Jewish Congress. “I just plunged in, initially with no
goal other than to find out the facts about the numerous dormant bank accounts
in Swiss hands for over five decades. There were no grand plans or strategies;
these came later.”

Eizenstat’s work on the issue entailed juggling conflicting
interests as the Swiss banks issue snowballed. Eizenstat was attempting to help
Nazi victims while trying to steady the United States’ diplomatic and economic
relations with European governments, which were roiled by the American lawsuits
and regulators’ threats of sanctions. Much of it was far beyond his control,
and he routinely battled with state and local regulators, arguing that their
threats of sanctions interfered with U.S. foreign policy. The $1.25 billion
Swiss banks settlement was under the supervision of U.S. District Judge Edward
Korman in Brooklyn, not the U.S. executive branch. Where Eizenstat did take
some control — to deal with claims against German and Austrian interests — he
freely admits in his memoirs that he used “creative accounting” and “dubious”
arithmetic to reach deals that looked better than they were.

He also was creative with funds that the U.S. government set
aside for Holocaust survivors. The funds were supposed to be “redress” for the
American failure to turn over to Jewish successor organizations the heirless
Jewish assets held by American banks after the war. Eizenstat was “rarely more
proud” than when he announced in 1997 that the United States would contribute
$25 million to a new international fund for Nazi victims. The money, he writes,
was to be used for food and social programs for Holocaust survivors in Eastern
Europe. However, 150 pages later, he recounts that, in the midst of the slave
labor negotiations, the Polish delegation was balking at the amount of
compensation being offered to its war-era forced laborers, so Eizenstat made a
“secret” deal in which Poland would receive $10 million of the $25 million.

The public did not notice Eizenstat’s efforts until May
1997, when he issued a U.S. government historical report on Switzerland’s
commercial links to the Nazis. His statement that these links helped “prolong”
the war was the sound bite that made the news. In his memoirs, however, he says
that these were “ill-chosen words” and that he could have made the same point
less harshly by saying these links helped “sustain” the German war effort.
“Prolong” is not the only thing from which he is backtracking. The cover of the
book — a swastika-shaped image superimposed over the Swiss flag — raised a hue
and cry. Eizenstat has said he regrets that the book cover offended the Swiss.
Apparently, that is not good enough. In January, a lawyer in Zurich filed
criminal charges against him, under a Swiss law that protects the flag from inappropriate
use.

Eizenstat seems to have an aversion to giving others proper
credit — even to the government he served. He refers repeatedly to the fact
that over 50 years, Germany paid DM 100 billion [$44.25 billion based on
conversion rates] to Nazi victims, without stressing that it was American
military occupation authorities who, after the war, compelled the German states
in the American Zone to enact restitution and compensation measures for
victims, and that in every subsequent treaty dealing with German sovereignty,
including reunification, the U.S. insisted that Germany retain its commitment
to Nazi victims.

In his chapter on Nazi-looted art, he discusses the “poster
child” of all successful claims: a 16th century painting by Lucas Cranach the
Elder that was looted from the collection of Philip von Gomperz, a Viennese
industrialist, and turned up at the North Carolina Museum of Art. The Gomperz
heirs, so impressed that the museum agreed to return the painting, agreed to
sell it to the museum for half its value. Eizenstat mentions by name everyone
except the woman who mediated between the museum and Gomperz heirs, arranging
both the recovery and the sale: Monica Dugot of the Holocaust Claims Processing
Office of the New York State Banking Department.

“Imperfect Justice” focuses on the political and diplomatic
aspects of Holocaust restitution. The legal dimensions are covered in
“Holocaust Justice: The Battle for Restitution in America’s Courts” by Michael
Bazyler, a professor at Whittier Law School in Costa Mesa. (I should disclose
here that Bazyler mentions me in the acknowledgments, for reading part of the
manuscript in draft.) The book, which is due out in April, is valuable as a
play-by-play of litigation on the Swiss banks cases, slave labor, Nazi-looted
art and Holocaust-era insurance policies, the latter being a topic Eizenstat
ignored. But to tell the story, Bazyler relies heavily and indiscriminately on
news accounts, especially those that bolster his points. However, most of the
news reporting of the litigation, negotiations and settlements was shoddy. Most
reporters were ignorant of the relevant history and law, and the stories were
only as accurate as the sources cited. Thus, the stories routinely were
incomplete, ahistorical and often served as platforms for partisans in the
disputes.

Despite these flaws, taken together, the two books provide
the most realistic picture yet of the road to Holocaust restitution settlements
at century’s end. Try to overlook the titles. Bazyler’s title implies that the
courts provided a remedy, although the major suits — against German companies
for slave labor compensation — failed. The Swiss banks’ settlement was not a
triumph of law and legal rights, but instead was due to Korman jawboning
everyone to reach a settlement. As for Eizenstat’s choice, it suffices to say
that Nazi victims rarely call this justice, imperfect or otherwise.

Stuart Eizenstat will be speaking and signing his book on
Sunday, March 30, at 8 p.m. at the University of Judaism, Gindi Auditorium, 15600
Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles. For more information, call (310) 476-9777 ext.
445.

He is also scheduled to speak at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books at UCLA on Sunday, April 27 from 2-5 p.m. For more information, visit