Category Archives: Peace Process

Obama in 2012: Won’t Get Fooled Again

Just happened to glance at a blog post I wrote during the 2008 Presidential General Election campaign entitled “Go Rabbis for Obama!”

Man, what a difference four years makes. I think I can safely say it will be impossible for me to summon the kind of excitement I expressed in that giddy blog post just four short years ago.

Actually, if truth be told, it was just one year into his presidency when I concluded that Obama, from a foreign policy point of view at least, was essentially Bush 2.0.  Now as his first term comes to a close, I’m daring to consider the possibility that he might actually be worse.

I’ve already written a fair amount about my disillusionment on this score – most pointedly in my Yom Kippur serrmon from earlier this year:

For some Americans the most salient lesson of 9/11 was that the world is a dangerous place and we must use military power to mitigate the danger.  I include myself among those who learned a very different lesson: 9/11 taught us that when we intervene militarily abroad, we beget blowback here at home.

Many of us had hope that Obama truly believed this as well – that he would turn back the Bush doctrine and steer our nation’s foreign policy toward a saner course. But as it has turned out, the very opposite has happened. He has embroiled us in even more Mideast wars and has deployed even larger numbers of special operations forces to that region.  He has also transferred or brokered the sale of substantial quantities of weapons to these countries and has continued to build and expand US military bases at an ever-increasing rate.

He also promised to prosecute the so-called “War on Terror” with greater attention to civil liberties, but that hope has been fairly dashed as well.  During his campaign, note what he had to say about this subject:

“As president, I will close Guantanamo, reject the Military Commissions Act, and adhere to the Geneva Conventions. Our Constitution and our Uniform Code of Military Justice provide a framework for dealing with the terrorists. Our Constitution works. We will again set an example for the world that the law is not subject to the whims of stubborn rulers, and that justice is not arbitrary.”

Well, it’s over two years later and Guantanamo is still open. This past March, the Obama administration announced it would be resuming military tribunals there. And just last week, we learned that our President did something truly unprecedented – our President actually approved the extra-judicial assassination of an American citizen in Yemen.

And it’s gotten even worse since then. More recently, we’ve learned that Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Obama has been personally been maintaining a drone “kill list” which, according to the NY Times:

counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants … unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent. (Emphasis mine).

Even more recently, the NY Times has revealed that President Obama has been secretly overseeing a massive cyber-war initiative against Iran (known as “Olympic Games”) that, among other things, almost assuredly represents the official kickoff to a global cyber-weapons race. As the article correctly concludes, the blowback to our nation from Obama’s cyber-adventures could potentially be devastating:

(No) country’s infrastructure is more dependent on computer systems, and thus more vulnerable to attack, than that of the United States. It is only a matter of time, most experts believe, before it becomes the target of the same kind of weapon that the Americans have used, secretly, against Iran.

But my disillusionment in the Obama administration is most profound when it comes to its handling Israeli-Palestinian peace process.  I’ve written about this issue over and over as well – but if you still need more convincing that this administration has utterly caved to the Israel lobby and has abdicated any semblance of “honest broker” status in this process, it was recently reported that Obama unabashedly assured a group of Jewish orthodox leaders that his administration is “decidedly more attentive to Israel than it is to the Palestinians.”

All this to say that I’m in a very different frame of mind as Obama now runs for reelection. The giddiness has been replaced with a dose of hard, cold realism about the role of the President in the 21st century national security regime:

Again, from my Yom Kippur sermon:

I’m focusing these observations exclusively on our Commander-in-Chief, but of course I realize that this issue is much, much larger than just one man.  I know it’s natural to look to our primarily to our President, but in truth what we call “Washington” is really a massive bureaucracy that includes a myriad of interests. It’s a far reaching power elite that includes not only the federal government but the national security state, as well as the intelligence and federal law enforcement communities. It also includes big banks and other financial institutions, defense contractors, major corporations and any number of lawyers, lobbyists former officials, and retired military officers, all of whom hold enormous influence over our foreign policy.

So as we swing into summer and we listen to Obama and Romney trade salvos over foreign policy, don’t be fooled – at the end of the day there is less than an inch of daylight between the two.  Mideast analyst Aaron David Miller, in a Foreign Policy post entitled “Barack O’Romney” only half jokingly suggested that if reelected, Obama ought to consider making Mitt Romney his new Secretary of State.  Another respected analyst, MJ Rosenberg, has gone as far as to suggest that President Obama would actually be more likely to bomb Iran than a President Romney.

What should we do with all this hard political realism?  As for me, I’m taking my cue from the classical Jewish text, Pirke Avot:

Love work. Hate authority. Don’t get too friendly with the government. (1:10)

And for good measure:

Be careful with the government, for they befriend a person only for their own needs. They appear to be friends when it is beneficial to them, but they do not stand by a person at the time of his distress. (2:3)

The events of these last four years have provided a painful education for me.  I’ve learned more than ever that it is not politicians who create socio-political change – it is, rather, the people and the movements who make it impossible for them not to.

Yes, there are some important domestic issues at stake in this election (not least of which are potential Supreme Court appointments) but let’s not be fooled into thinking that the future of US foreign policy fundamentally depends on who we choose to be our Commander in Chief.

The real difference will depend on our readiness to hold him accountable once the election is over.

Jeff Halper: Israel is Warehousing Palestinians

I’m sure there are many who watch Israel’s Jewish settlement policy unfold in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and ask themselves: is there actually a method to this madness?  Among the most compelling answers to this question comes from veteran Israeli peace activist Jeff Halper, co-founder and coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions.

One of the truly great Israeli peace organizations, ICAHD has been indefatigably tracking the demolition of homes and evictions of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories since 2007.  Even more critically, Halper and Co. have been exposing Israel’s institutionalized displacement of Palestinians and their resettlement in concentrated areas throughout the West Bank.

In an interview last week, Halper offered a detailed – and profoundly troubling – picture of Israel’s resettlement of Palestinians throughout the Occupied Territories:

(Area C of the West Bank) contains less than 5 per cent of the Palestinian population. In 1967 the Jordan valley contained about 250,000 people. Today it’s less than 50,000. So the Palestinians have either been driven out of the country, especially the middle class, or they have been driven to areas A and B. That’s where 96 or 97 per cent of them are. The Palestinian population has been brought down low enough, there is probably somewhere around 125,000 Palestinians in area C, so Israel could annex area C and give them full citizenship.

Basically, Israel can absorb 125,000 Palestinians without upsetting the demographic balance. And then, what is the world going to say? It’s not apartheid, Israel has given them full citizenship. So I think Israel feels it could get away with that. No one cares about what’s happening in areas A and B. If they want to declare a state, they can…

In other words, we’re finished. Israel is now from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River, the Palestinians have been confined in areas A and B or in small enclaves in East Jerusalem, and that’s it.

To better understand Halper’s point, look carefully at the map on the top right of this post. Areas A, B and C refer to regions that were created through the terms of the 1993 Oslo Accords.  According to the agreement, Palestinians are responsible for security and for the civil administration of Area A; Area B is under Israeli military control and Palestinian civil authority; and Area C is under total Israeli military and civil control. (In reality, however, the Israeli military has ultimate control over all three areas – for over a decade the IDF regularly has made incursions into Areas A and B with impunity).

According to the terms of the Oslo Accords, these three regions were intended to be temporary until 1998; today they have become permanent facts on the ground. As you can see from white portions of the map, Area C comprises the strong majority of the West Bank. It contains nearly all Israeli settlements; it is crisscrossed by Israeli-only access roads that connect the settlements to each other and to Israel proper; it includes large buffer zones and almost all of the Jordan Valley and the Judean Desert (the large swath of white on the east).

As Halper points out, Israel is pursing policies that are systematically driving Palestinians out of Area C, to the extent that these regions now contain less than 5% of the population. The overwhelming majority of West Bank Palestinians now live in Areas A and B (on the map, grey and black) – which are essentially concentrated, disconnected cantons separated by checkpoints and choked off from Israel by the Separation Wall.

Bottom line? Israel has succeeded extending its control over the majority of the West Bank by moving Palestinian residents into what amount to “legal” open-air prisons – or as Halper calls it,”warehousing.”

(Warehousing) captures what’s going on better than apartheid. Warehousing is permanent. Apartheid recognizes that there is another side. With warehousing it’s like prison. There is no other side. There is us, and then there are these people that we control, they have no rights, they have no identity, they’re inmates. It’s not political, it’s permanent, static. Apartheid you can resist. The whole brilliance of warehousing is that you can’t resist because you’re a prisoner.

Prisoners can rise up in the prison yards but prison guards have all the rights in the world to put them down. That’s what Israel has come to. They are terrorists and we have the right to put them down. In a sense Israel has succeeded with the international community, and the US especially, in taking out of this situation the political. It’s now solely an issue of security, just like in prisons.

Halper actually predicted the warehousing phenomenon as long ago as 2008, in an important piece that offered an in depth analysis of Israel’s practices throughout the West Bank. Among other things, he compared Israel’s practice to South Africa’s creation of Bantustans, in which 3.5 million black South Africans were forced from their homes from the 1960s through the 1980s:

Warehousing…is in many ways worse than the Bantustans of apartheid-era South Africa. The ten non-viable “homelands” established by South Africa for the black African majority on only 11% of the country’s land were, to be sure, a type of warehouse. They were intended to supply South Africa with cheap labor while relieving it of its black population, thus making possible a European dominated “democracy.” This is precisely what Israel is intending – its Palestinian Bantustan encompassing around 15% of historic Palestine – but with a crucial caveat: Palestinian workers will not be allowed into Israel. Having discovered a cheaper source of labor, some 300,000 foreign workers imported from China, the Philippines, Thailand, Rumania and West Africa, augmented by its own Arab, Mizrahi, Ethiopian, Russian and Eastern European citizens, Israel can afford to lock them out even while withholding from them a viable economy of their own with unfettered ties to the surrounding Arab countries. From every point of view, historically, culturally, politically and economically, the Palestinians have been defined as “surplus humanity;” nothing remains to do with them except warehousing, which the concerned international community appears willing to allow Israel to do.

Perhaps most crucially, Halper places Israel’s policies and practices within a larger global context.  He refers to a “Global Palestine”: a new 21st century reality in which political considerations and human rights are jettisoned in favor of a corporate-military model that seeks to control, manage, contain (and profit from) “surplus populations.”

Again, from last week’s interview:

(Warehousing) does not have any legal reference today but we’d like to put that in because warehousing is not only in Israel. Warehousing exists all over the capitalist world. Two-thirds of the people have been warehoused. That’s why I’m writing about Global Palestine. I’m saying that Palestine is a microcosm of what’s happening around the world.

Even though Jeff Halper may be a secular Israeli anthropologist, I believe him to be a prophetic figure of the highest order. He has long been speaking hard truths on the wages of corrupt power in his country. Do we have the courage to listen to his message?

Why I’m Presenting at Harvard’s One-State Conference

The Harvard Kennedy School is hosting a “One State Conference” this weekend and already the usual suspects are crying foul. Since I’m going to be speaking on a panel at the conference on Sunday, I thought it might be a good idea to weigh in with some thoughts.

I’ll begin with the stated vision/goals of the conference, according to student organizers:

To date, the only Israel/Palestine solution that has received a fair rehearsal in mainstream forums has been the two-state solution. Our conference will help to expand the range of academic debate on this issue. Thus, our main goal is to educate ourselves and others about the possible contours of a one-state solution and the challenges that stand in the way of its realization.

Sound reasonable? Not according to self-appointed Jewish community watchdogs like the ADL and NGO Monitor and the ubiquitous Alan Dershowitz and Jeffrey Goldberg.  According to the ADL, such a conference could only be interested in “the elimination of Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish people.”  Dershowitz referred to it as an “anti-Israel hate fest.” Goldberg thinks organizers share “a goal with Hamas: the elimination of Israel as a homeland and haven for Jews.”

Reading incendiary words such as these, I can’t help but be struck by the abject hysteria that gets regularly mistaken for public relations by the American Jewish establishment.

I find it fascinating that these concerned institutions and individuals are more than willing to rail against the wide eyed extremists and useful idiots participating in this conference, yet cannot take the time to ponder what might have brought us to this point in the first place.  Has Abe Foxman, for instance, ever called out Israel over its settlement policy that has by now made a mockery of a viable two-state solution?  Is Alan Dershowitz willing to bring half as much righteous anger to the concern that Israel is fast creating “one state” all by itself?

I wrote recently about the “ever-closing window” on the two state solution. We might still argue about whether or not the window has closed yet, but I think we can all agree that the prospect for a viable, equitable two state solution for Israel/Palestine is in serious jeopardy.

As I pointed out in my post, sooner or later we’ll be forced to choose between a patently undemocratic Jewish state that parcels out rights according to ethnicity and a democratic state in which equal rights are enjoyed by all its citizens. Given this scenario, is it unreasonable that people of good will seek to open conversations and suggest fresh, creative approaches that might ensure a better future for Israelis and Palestinians?

It’s even more ironic when you consider that notable and respected Israeli figures have been discussing a potential one state solution for some time. While the American Jewish establishment grows apoplectic at the very thought, Israeli society seems more than secure enough to tolerate the discussion.

As far back as 1991, for instance, respected Israeli/American political scientist Daniel J. Elazar promoted a one-state “federal solution” for Israel/Palestine (most notably in his book, “Two Peoples – One Land: Federal Solutions for Israel, the Palestinians, and Jordan.”) Meron Benvenisti, an Israeli political scientist who was Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem under Teddy Kollek from 1971 to 1978, has publicly advocated the idea of a bi-national state for several years. A more recent Israeli advocate of one state is Avrum Burg, former Speaker of the Knesset and chairman of the Jewish Agency, who wrote about the subject in a widely read 2011 op-ed in Ha’aretz.

It is even less widely-known in the American Jewish community that prominent numbers of the Israeli right wing, such as former Minister of Defense and Foreign Minister Moshe Arens and current Speaker of the Knesset Reuven Rivlin, have suggested the desirability of some form of a one-state solution. Granted, the solution advocated by Arens and Rivlin – an undivided state that nonetheless retains it’s exclusively Jewish character – differs significantly from the federalist or bi-national models promoted by Elazar, Benvenisti and Burg. Still, I believe these unlikely bedfellows share critical aspects in common: the conviction that a two-state solution is unworkable, a willingness to pursue fresh creative ideas, and – contrary to what many might claim – a hard-headed political realism.

Many of the conference’s critics have pointed out that secular multi-ethnic states simply do not work. Goldberg claims that it “barely works” in Belgium and Dershowitz points out that it failed in India and the former Yugoslavia.  Fine. If this is the criticism, then let’s put this issue on the table and discuss it – as we most certainly will be doing this weekend (most likely at the panels entitled “Nationhood and Cultural Identity: The Preservation of the Peoples” and “What are the Obstacles to the Realization of a One-State Solution?”) But must we seek to marginalize the conference for simply seeking to have the conversation?

There are also criticisms that the conference is too “one sided” and that the presenters are unduly “biased.”  In truth, the presenters in the conference represent a spectrum of opinions on this issue. Some (like Ali Abunimah) have openly advocated a one state solution, others (such as Stephen Walt) support a two state solution and some (like me) are agnostic on the issue.  But I know many of the presenters personally and have long admired many more. Contrary to the venom being slung their way, these are thoughtful – if sometimes controversial – people of good will.  While we are a diverse lot, I believe we share a common desire to broaden this scope of conversation and an eagerness to bring fresh new thinking to a painful and paralyzed status quo.

The student organizers of the conference have released an open letter to their critics. Here’s an excerpt:

The aim of this conference is to explore the possibility of different solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Invoking inflammatory language like “anti-semitism” and “destruction of Israel” to describe the ideas and speakers of the conference is not only incorrect and defamatory but serves to prevent rational discussion of ideas and preempt the effective exercise of speech.

I look forward to reporting on my experiences at the conference.

Moment of Truth for Liberal Zionism

For the last ten plus years, advocates of a two-state solution in Israel/Palestine have been warning that the “window of opportunity” for a two-state solution is closing fast.

Here’s Jordan’s King Abdullah II using the image in a 2005 speech:

Israelis and Palestinians must take advantage of a “small window of opportunity” for peacemaking, he warned. “If we don’t do it, I think the Middle East will be doomed, unfortunately, to many more decades of violence.”

From a 2007 Boston Globe report:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said yesterday that a “two-state solution” in the Middle East is in jeopardy and described a narrow window of opportunity to push Israel and the Palestinians toward peace.

J Street director Jeremy Ben-Ami, writing in a 2008 Forward op-ed:

The window is closing on a two-state solution, and Israel’s prospects for a second, safer 60 years grow are growing ever dimmer.

And as recently as two weeks ago, Ben-Ami used a different metaphor to underscore the urgency of the latest “moment:”

If this round of talks breaks down yet again – and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a single observer who’ll argue that they won’t – then Israel, like the boater on the river, can briefly revel in having avoided the risk of heading to shore.

But bear in mind that “sitting this one out” isn’t an option. The waterfall is still dead ahead.

As someone who’s invoked the “closing window” more than once myself over the years, I’m quite familiar with this pedagogy. Time is running out for a viable negotiated two-state agreement between Israelis and Palestinians – and thus the future of a Jewish and democratic state. The status quo – namely unrestricted Israeli settlement of the West Bank, coupled with an ever-increasing Palestinian birth rate – simply cannot be sustained.

At a certain point, however, I think it’s fair to pose the challenge: how many times can you repeatedly warn of a last chance before the notion is rendered devoid of all meaning? How long can advocates of a two-state solution invoke the urgency of a fleeting opportunity before admitting that this solution is simply no longer a realistic option any more?

To be sure, with each passing day, the warning of a last chance opportunity appears increasingly toothless. The latest “window of opportunity” occurred earlier this month when it was reported that Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu was “mulling gestures to Palestinians to keep the peace talks going.” Barely a week later, we learned that Israeli officials had formally informed the PA of its position that West Bank settlements “must be a part of the Israeli State.”

Such a position, of course, makes a complete mockery of any suggestion of a viable, contiguous Palestinian state. It lays bare the truth that Israel is not really interested in two actual states, but merely the formalization of an inherently inequitable status quo.

The political realities here are stark and undeniable. Israel’s settlement of the West Bank continues with impunity and the US continues to provide its “closest ally” with all the diplomatic cover it needs to do so. Politically speaking, it is no longer possible to invoke windows of opportunity with a straight face. Perhaps the real question before us is not “how many times have we missed these opportunities?” but rather, “did they ever really exist at all?”

So what happens now? It’s reasonable to assume that this paralyzed, inequitable status quo will continue apace into the indeterminate future. Israel will continue to create facts on the West Bank with the tacit permission of the US, creating a conditions that no Palestinian leader could possibly be expected to accept.

Under such circumstances, it is equally reasonable to expect the reality for Palestinians on the ground to grow increasingly oppressive and dire.  As this occurs, their plight and their cause will be more difficult for the world to ignore. Governments, individuals and institutions will increasingly rally to Palestinian requests for support, most prominently the Palestinian civil society call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel.

In turn, Israel’s actions will be increasingly more difficult for its supporters to defend.  As the status quo is allowed to languish, the state of Israel will become further and further isolated from the rest of the world community and more pressure will be brought to bear upon the political elites to fundamentally change their approach to ending this conflict.

While these are certainly sobering and painful prospects, I don’t think they are exaggerated or far-fetched. On the contrary, I believe the burden of proof is on those who believe the same tired approach to the “peace process” will somehow yield results in the future when it has failed repeatedly in the past.

Once we accept that a division into two states is no longer realistically possible, the calculus is sobering, to put it mildly: we will be forced to choose between a patently undemocratic apartheid Jewish state, in which a minority rules over a majority or a civil democracy in which all citizens have equal rights under the law.

For many liberal Zionists, this unbearably painful decision will represent a profound moment of truth. If forced to choose, which will it be? A Jewish state that parcels out its citizens’ rights according to their ethnicity – or a democratic state in which equal rights are enjoyed by all its citizens?

I truly believe this is more than an academic question.  Perhaps it’s time to stop talking about mythic “windows of opportunity” and open a new discussion: what will it take for us to admit that it is finally closed? And what will our options be then?

Ta’anit Tzedek Conference Call: Journalist Ahmed Moor on the One State Solution

As the prospects for a viable two-state solution for Israel/Palestine grow more and more unlikely, we are witnessing a tentative but growing discussion of a one-state solution in the Jewish community.

Indeed, this concept has already been raised and advocated by respected Israelis. As far back as  2002 a one state solution was publicly supported by famed political scientist Meron Benenisti. And more recently, Israeli journalist Dimi Reider has pointed out:

In light of the ongoing deadlock in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, leaders such as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni have raised the specter of a one-state solution. Their intention, of course, is to scare some sense into Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his intransigent coalition partners. But, as this once-taboo idea becomes a legitimate part of political discussion in the region, some Israeli intellectuals are making the case that this is not something to fear, but a path toward a viable resolution to the region’s long-running crisis.

Here in the American Jewish community, however, this sort of discussion is considered to be naive at best and heresy at worst. But as difficult and painful as it might be for us to contemplate, I believe that sooner or later (and probably sooner than later) it is a conversation we will inevitably have to have – regardless of where we might personally stand on the issue.

To this end, I am proud to announce the next conference call sponsored by Ta’anit Tzedek – Jewish Fast for Gaza: “Conceiving of a One-State Solution” with Palestinian-American journalist Ahmed Moor on Thursday, December 15 at 12 noon EST.

Ahmed Moor was born in Gaza and raised in the US, graduated from University of Pennsylvania in 2005 and spent several years as a freelance journalist based in Lebanon and Cairo. His work as been published in numerous publications, including Al Jazeera, Huffington Post, and the Los Angeles Times. He is currently a graduate student of Public Policy at Harvard University.

During our conversation, Moor will share his views on the need and the prospects for one secular democratic state in which Jews and Palestinians live together as equal citizens.  Can we conceive of such a solution and what would such a state look like practically speaking?  What are the political realities that mitigate against it and how could they ever be shifted? What are the prospects that these two peoples could live and govern a state together?

Call Info:

Thursday, December 15 at 12 noon EST
Access Number: 1.800.920.7487
Participant Code: 92247763#

As always, there will be opportunities for questions and answers during the call.

We are looking forward to an informative and respectful conversation. I encourage you to join us.

UNESCO Admits Palestine, the US Pulls $60 Million

The U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) voted yesterday to admit Palestine as its newest member – and the United States promptly responded by cutting off $60 million of funding for the agency.

Apparently our administration feels that Palestine’s membership in an organization committed to “the building of peace, the eradication of poverty, sustainable development and intercultural dialogue” is “reckless,” “anti-Israel and anti-peace.”

Is there anything at all the US will not do for Israel?

From a smart CNN editorial yesterday:

The irony of the decision to cut funding is that UNESCO is one of the few United Nations groups where the U.S. finds a sympathetic ear on issues related to Israel.  UNESCO is actively working with America to promote tolerance and is working to deepen understanding of the Holocaust in countries where people don’t even believe it existed.

Even more important U.S. interests will be at stake if the World Intellectual Property Organization grants Palestinians membership, which as an affiliate of UNESCO they are almost certain to do.  That is where you start directly encountering obvious and significant interests to American business.

To my mind, the best commentary on the absurdity of all this came when AP reporter Matthew Lee questioned State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland during a press conference yesterday. You can watch the whole thing above or read a full transcript on Sami Kishawi’s blog.

Here’s my favorite part – Kafka couldn’t have written it better:

Reporter: Okay, and how does it undermine exactly the prospect of where you want to go?

Victoria Nuland: The concern is that it creates tensions when all of us should be concerting our efforts to get the parties back to the table.

Reporter: The only thing it does is it upsets Israel and it triggers this law that you said will require you to stop funding UNESCO. Is there anything else? There’s nothing that changes on the ground, is there?

Victoria Nuland: Our concern is that this could exacerbate the environment which we are trying to work through so that the parties will get back to the table.

Reporter: How exactly does it exacerbate the environment if it changes nothing on the ground unlike, say, construction of settlements? It changes nothing on the ground. It gives Palestine membership in UNESCO, which was a body the US was so unconcerned about for many years that it wasn’t even a member.

Victoria Nuland: Well, I think you know that this administration is committed to UNESCO, rejoined UNESCO, wants to see UNESCO’s work go forward.

Reporter: Actually, it was the last administration that rejoined UNESCO, not this one. But I need to have some kind of clarity on how this undermines the peace process — other than the fact that it upsets Israel.

Victoria Nuland: Again, we are trying to get both of these parties back to the table. That’s what we’ve been doing all along. That was the basis for the President’s speech in May, basis of the diplomacy that the Quartet did through the summer, the basis of the statement that the Quartet came out with in September. So in that context, we have been trying to improve the relationship between these parties, improve the environment between them, and we are concerned that we exacerbate tensions with this, and it makes it harder to get the parties back to the table.

Reporter: Since the talks broke off last September until today, how many times have they met together, with all your effort?

Victoria Nuland: How many times have the parties met?

Reporter: Yes.

Victoria Nuland: I think you know the answer to that question.

Reporter: Correct.

The Return of Gilad Shalit: Reactions

On the subject of the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange, I can’t put it any better than blogger Emily Hauser, who has written a number of eloquent posts on this subject over the years. Click here and here to read her latest reactions.

Also highly recommended: this recent op-ed by journalist Rachel Shabi:

But meanwhile, the terms of the Israel-Hamas brokered prisoner swap – one Israeli, whose name the world knows, for 1027 faceless Palestinians – has generated some absurd comments on the value each side places on human life. In reports of how much Israelis care about the soldier Shalit – all true – there is somehow the inference that Palestinians don’t cherish their loved ones in the same way. But it is clearly more approachable a task to keep one soldier’s name in people’s hearts and in the headlines, than it is with countless thousands of Palestinian men. And the undertaking is smoothed by a media skew on the subject: taking part in a panel discussion on reporting the conflict last year, I heard a European journalist explain that Shalit was an easier pitch because he seemed innocent and blameless, while Palestinian prisoners didn’t generate the same assumptions. Meanwhile, the cold exchange rate of a thousand prisoners to one Israeli obviously doesn’t mean that Palestinians morally agree with this equation; it just points to the brutal asymmetry of forces and capacity in this struggle.

There is, however, one setting in which the two sides stand on level ground. When the prisoner deal was announced this week, there were jarringly rare images of both Israelis and Gaza strip Palestinians joyously celebrating the same news story. There it was, in that moment: an equality borne of shared humanity.

Palestinians to Obama: “We Have Listened and You Have Failed”

I was prepared to write extensively about Obama’s shameful speech at the UN General Assembly yesterday, but this post by Palestinian analyst/activist Abir Kopty (above) says everything I wanted to say and more.

I’ll just add that I genuinely believe that after last night, the US has utterly abdicated any meaningful role as a peace arbiter between Israel and Palestine. Where this political leadership will come from remains to be seen.

And meanwhile, the oppression continues…

We listened to you when you talked about Israel’s citizens who have been killed by rockets fired at their houses, and that other children are taught to hate Israeli children. Do you not think that Israeli children hear what is said by rabbis who preach hate about Arabs? And we listened about Jewish suffering. No doubt Jewish people have suffered Mr. Obama, but let us put things in order: Jewish people are not the victims here. The Israeli state is not the victim; it is the occupier and the oppressor which continues to deny Palestinians living in their homeland and in exile ‘their universal right to live in freedom and dignity’.

When you fail to mention Palestinian suffer under occupation, when you fail to consider Palestinian children as equal human beings who deserve a better future, who are also entitled to human rights, you might win elections, but you lose your integrity, and you make it clear to everyone why the ‘so called peace process’ should be out of your hands…

We listened to you when you talked about the Arab Spring with such a passion. We listened with much suspicion, as America was very happy with the leaders of those countries who ruled for decades, and did not care then for Egyptian, Tunisian, Libyan, Syrian, Yemeni and Bahraini aspirations for freedom and dignity. And we know that you won’t leave those nations alone.

We listened to you and we did not understand why Palestinian freedom and dignity can wait? The only thing your speech made clear is that you do not dare to speak honestly.

I strongly encourage you to read her full post – please click here.

Understanding the Palestinian UN Initiative: A Conference Call with Josh Ruebner

How can we understand the PA’s initiative to declare statehood at the UN? How should US and the international community respond?  Will it advance the prospects for justice and peace in Israel/Palestine?

To explore these timely issues, Ta’anit Tzedek – Jewish Fast for Gaza is sponsoring a phone conference with Josh Ruebner, National Advocacy Director of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation on Thursday, September 22 at 12 pm (EST)

Ruebner is a former Analyst in Middle East Affairs at Congressional Research Service, a federal government agency providing Members of Congress with policy analysis. His analysis and commentary on US policy toward the Middle East appear frequently in media such as NBC, ABC Nightline, CSPAN, Al Jazeera, USA Today, Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, Middle East Report, and more.

The US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation is a national coalition of nearly 350 organizations working to end US support for Israel’s illegal 43-year military occupation of the Palestinian West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip, and to change U.S. policy toward Israel/ Palestine to support human rights, international law, and equality.

Call-in info:

  • Call in number: 1-800-920-7487
  • Code: 92247763#

Participants in the call are encouraged to read one or more of the following articles:

Please join the call!

Palestinian Statehood: The US Fails the Leadership Test Again

I don’t have a position on whether or not it is a good thing for the PA to seek membership status for Palestine at the UN. That is for the Palestinians to determine – and I know there are a variety of Palestinian opinions both pro and con on this issue.

But I do believe this: the Obama Administration is being highly disingenuous in its attempts to block this declaration by claiming a Palestinian state can only achieved through peace negotiations.

On this one I’m in full agreement with former AJC Executive Director Henry Siegman, who offered this analysis yesterday:

(Is) there anyone who witnessed the frenzied applause that greeted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s most recent speech before the U.S. Congress in which he left no doubt about his government’s intentions for East Jerusalem and for the West Bank, or heard President Obama’s assurances to AIPAC’s conventioneers that the ties that bind the U.S. to Israel are forever “unbreakable,” who still believes that the U.S. will ever exert the kind of pressure on Israel that will finally change its cost/benefit calculations with regard to its colonial project?

Two years ago, Obama stood at a podium in Cairo University and said the following:

America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own…

The only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security…

The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements.  This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace.  It is time for these settlements to stop…

And now here we are. The Obama administration has done everything it can to undermine its own publicly articulated goals. It continues to support Israel unconditionally as it settles the West Bank with impunity. Last February it cast the sole veto vote on a UN Security Council resolution that condemned the settlements. Now it is poised to publicly oppose Palestinians formal membership at the UN – the very body by which Israel itself became a state.

No, I’m not personally taking a stand on this because I don’t presume to preach to Palestinians what I think is in their best interest. But as an American citizen, I can’t accept my government’s claim that it is in any way committed to this so-called “peace process.”  Until the Obama administration is truly ready to be an honest and effective broker, it could at the very least refrain from smacking Palestinians down when they seek recourse through other means.

And when it comes to the larger implications of a US veto, I’ll say this: whatever good will Obama might have engendered after Cairo is now on the verge of being completely and utterly squandered. You know things are looking dire when a former Saudi Ambassador to the US writes in the NY Times:

The United States must support the Palestinian bid for statehood at the United Nations this month or risk losing the little credibility it has in the Arab world. If it does not, American influence will decline further, Israeli security will be undermined and Iran will be empowered, increasing the chances of another war in the region.

When one of your only allies left in the Arab world makes a public statement such as this, I’d say its time to pay heed.