Yesterday was very busy. I attended the lunch hour talk at Massey College by Cliff Orwin on “Populism.” I then went to my dentist and heard the disappointing news that my implants were not yet fused solidly enough to my jaw bones to put on crowns; I would have to wait another two months. I then returned to the University of Toronto and attended the J.F. Priestley lecture delivered by Jill Lepore on “Facts.” Today and tomorrow I will attend the second and third of these lectures by Jill Lepore on “Numbers.” And “Data” respectively. The three-part series is called, “The End of Knowledge.” In the evening I returned to Massey College to listen to a panel discussion on “Religion and Conflict.” I will report on each in turn in this and subsequent blogs as a way of gaining an understanding of the university as a Social Service Station.

Cliff is a brilliant scholar who was educated at Cornell University under the aegis of Allan Bloom and at Harvard in the sixties and then, like many American academics, migrated north. He is a professor of political philosophy renowned for his work on Thucydides (The Humanity of Thucydides), but is also engaged with modern, contemporary and Jewish thought. In his own bio, he writes that his main current concerns are compassion and the emergence of justice or righteousness in the Torah. Coincidentally, at the panel on “Religion and Conflict,” Rabbi Yael Splansky, one of the panelists, handed out a drash (an interpretation of religious text) from the Talmud, Bereishit Rabbah 8:5, that dwelt on the interplay of kindness or compassion, truth, justice and peace. As is customary, it is written in the form of “on the one hand” and then “on the other hand” in an argument among the angels over whether God should create humans. Because humans will be bestowed with compassion and justice – Cliff’s two current topics – in the angel’s eyes, this argues for human creation. However, humans will also be characterized by the propensity to lie rather than seek the truth and with the propensity for conflict and dissension rather than peace, the arguments offered for not creating humans.

These will be the four themes that run through the next series of blogs – the expression of compassion and the quest for justice offset by the propensity to lie rather than seek the truth and the propensity for dissension or conflict rather than peace. What does God do after listening to the debate amongst his angels? He “took truth and flung him to the ground. Thus it is written: ‘You will cast truth to the ground.’ (Daniel 8:12)” “Why did you do that?” asked an angel. Why would you despise your seal of truth since truth must rise from the ground? “Truth will grow from the earth.” (Psalms 85:12)

Two historians of the past and a rabbinic scholar on the same day are really all mesmerized by the issue of truth in juxtaposition with developments in the external world. The scholarship of the two professors is used to offer different reasons for the current passion to denigrate “truth” and to explain why this is so. They are not addressing abstract topics, but issues we now confront daily. They may be political philosophers or scholars in modern intellectual history or preoccupied with the Talmud, but the issue before them all is explaining the current widespread disdain for truth and assessing the significance of this turn of events. They are esteemed thinkers, two of them working in a university still characterized as a Social Service Station focused on and guided by the current problems of the day which they use their scholarship to address. In addition to their scholarship, Orwin, Lefore and Splansky are all prolific contributors of op-eds.

Populism is certainly on the rise. In the past ten days we witnessed Doug Ford, a local populist, being elected to lead the Conservative Party of Ontario, an event reported by Foreign Affairs in its coverage of the noteworthy issues around the world. In the Italian elections on 4 March, populist parties emerged triumphant, Matteo Salvini’s Northern League (Lega Nord), the far-right Brothers of Italy (Fratelli d’Italia), Luigi di Maio’s Five Star Movement (MoVimento 5 Stelle or M5S) and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forward Italy (Forza Italia), the latter now portrayed more as a traditional centre-right party than a populist one. Together, they won a majority of the seats in Parliament with M5S winning a much greater proportion of the votes than expected. Then, of course, there was the latest flood of news from the strongest label in the populist arena, Donald Trump himself and his shenanigans.

Trump’s initiative to meet with North Korea’s supreme leader, Kim Jong-un, first unconditionally, then conditionally, then quasi-conditionally, that is, unconditionally with some conditions, his firing of Rex Tillerson as his Secretary of State via a tweet, his protectionist trade policies and imposition of duties on imported steel and aluminum, at the same time as he was embroiled in the suit be Stormy Daniels, the porn star with whom he allegedly had an affair and to whom he indirectly paid $130,000 to shut her up just before the elections. Yesterday, Trump reviewed the design prototypes in San Diego of his long-promised wall along the Mexican border, one of the main planks of his populist program that won him the presidency. The cup of populism runneth over.

What did Thucydides have to say about populism? As Cliff noted, the pattern of lying is not unique to populism. Look at the big lie of the George Bush presidency about nuclear weapons in Iraq that justified the American invasion. As Thucydides wrote (Book VI of The Peloponnesian Wars), the Athenians based their invasion of Sicily, ignorant of the deep divisions within that population, on advancing their imperial and pecuniary interests, but based on misinformation and downright lies as revealed by Nicias who had been appointed general against his will. Nicias thought that the decision to go to war was based “upon slight and specious grounds.” Nicias warned of the many existing enemies that would arise from such an expedition and the new ones that would emerge from within Sicily.

One populist response to these lies and historic consequences was a rejection of global overreach and a propensity towards neo-isolationist policies. The imperial elites that populists subsequently rejected in the name of self-determination and the opposition to bringing more foreigners to Athens because the needs of Athens’s own population were being neglected, were the same problems pointed to by liberals. Neo-cons were the enemies of both liberals and populists as were the mandarins who supported those imperialist adventurers.

The populists simply marked all bureaucrats with the same brush. The populists were correct in at least one sense – liberals had lost touch with the people. And Cliff is driven by a need to reconnect intellectual elites with the people in the pattern of his hero, Thucydides, who he claims always displayed a sympathy for the victims of power. Trump went further along another path and insisted, “Let us have no more allies such as ours have often been to whom we are expected to render aid when they are in misfortune, but from whom we ourselves get no help when we need it.” (Thucydides, Book VI)

Further, as with Athens, America is an innovative state that has always been dedicated to imperial expansion and glory in pursuit of its own interests at the expense of others. Populists simply insist, contrary to fact, that it is the U.S. that has been suckered. Further, the populism of Athens, and any other city-state in the ancient Greek world, preferred safety even at the cost of justice. So wherein comes justice, wherein comes compassion, in a world torn between imperial passions and defensive self-concern? Even Sparta, rooted in conservatism, moderation and the old-fashioned virtue of justice, was motivated by fear, fear of the helots on whose labour the city-state depended. States are caught between imperial overreach (such as that of the neo-cons) that expresses a willingness to sacrifice for a larger cause, and an obsession with safety of self characterized by populism. Liberals must manage the two diverse and rival passions of glory versus safety, ambition versus self-determination, and must do so by a reverence for candor and truth.

Cliff made the same point that Thucydides did – the need to make liberalism more populist. In order to reinvigorate a democracy that had abandoned its roots, its foundations in self-determination and in democracy. The problem, of course, is that populism and liberalism, whatever their overlaps, are very different. Populism embraces a politics of resentment, of negativity rather than offering a positive program based on a canonical text outlining core beliefs. Further, populism is anti-elitist where the elites are NOT defined by their wealth, but by their failure to identify with the problems of ordinary people. The elites are journalists, academic intellectuals and mandarins who speak what to them is a foreign language and who substantively appear to be hypocrites in their ostensible concern for resolving social problems while neglecting the decline in jobs, the decline in hopes and the general distress of a working class displaced by globalism.

Localism, anti-mandarinism, neo-isolationism in both trade and foreign affairs, mark them off from liberals. In Europe, populist parties have tended to don a liberal dress to attract a wider appeal. In North America, they market themselves as anti-liberal. In both cases, populists regard the position of these academic elites as consisting entirely of lies and responsible for the dissension in society because they do not attend to “the core values” that once purportedly characterized the nation. To top it off, these liberals lacked compassion towards their own and a determination to deliver on the promise of justice. Barack Obama bailed out the banks but not the people who were underwater because of the history of the banks disregard of the impact of their policies on small homeowners.

But the central characteristic that I take to be typical of populism is a total disregard of the truth that they project onto elites. It is they who sell out their heads for what they feel. It is they who base policy on sentiment in response to a deep need for compassion and justice directed toward themselves. In The New Yorker (5 March 2018), there is an investigative report by Mike Spies on the famous or infamous gun lobbyist in Florida, Marion Hammer who earns US$316,000 a year for her efforts. Florida witnessed the second-deadliest mass shooting by a single shooter in the attack of a killer with assault weapons on a largely Latino gay nightclub in Orlando on 12 June 2016. 49 were killed and 58 others were injured, a fatality toll only surpassed by the attack in Las Vegas a year later. But the killer was Omar Mateen, a follower of radical Islam.

This was not the case in Las Vegas. This was not the case of the 17 killed most recently at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. A majority of Americans may support increased gun control, but a populist-rooted NRA and its lobbyists have been behind a series of efforts to expand the access to weapons by Americans, including the unique privilege of carrying firearms by the ordinary public, bills that punish officials who even attempt to establish gun registries, the right to carry concealed weapons and, more fundamentally, for overturning 100 years of American judicial interpretations of the second amendment of the American constitution that protects the rights of states to arm militias and converting it to a policy that insists on the natural-born right of every individual in America to bear arms. Not only to bear them, but to use them if they have a reasonable belief that they are acting to defend themselves. “Subjective feelings of fear were grounds to shoot someone even if there were other options available.” (p. 28)

Law and order displaces the rule of law and a respect for due process. It is no surprise that subsequent to the passage of such legislation, “the number of homicides ruled legally justifiable had increased in Florida by seventy-five percent.” “Such killers need provide zero evidence of self-defence to avoid not only being convicted but being prosecuted at all.” (p. 31) On 26 February 2012, George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida killed an unarmed black man, Trayvon Martin, and was found innocent. Since the law took effect, seventy percent of those who invoked it (the belief in a justified fear of danger) as a defense had gone free.” (p. 28)

Behind it all is not a politics of informed debate, but a politics of lies and threats, of coercion and manipulation. The NRA has 300,000 members in Florida. It is Marion Hammer, a non-elected lobbyist, who writes bills and oversees their passage and who prevents ANY and ALL legislation that would limit access to and the use of guns to even come up for vote. She controls a politically very active voting bloc that she manipulates with provocative language, paints even her most loyal legislative supporters as traitors if they deviate one iota from the line she establishes. Their miniscule attempts at deviation are marked as “unforgiveable betrayals.”

The basic position is that she is not just defending the right to both bear and use weapons, but a way of life under attack defended by a large “number of fanatical supporters who will take her word for almost anything and can be deployed at will.” (p. 26) She sends out 2-3 million e-mails on an issue and there are 4.6 million registered Republicans in the state. Hammer refused to be interviewed for Mike Spies’s story and in response to queries insisted that, “facts are being misrepresented and false stuff is being presented as fact.” But she offers no proof. She offers no rebuttals. As a complete fabrication based on no offered or available data, Hammer contended that “before the law (the one allowing the use of a weapon if you had a reasonable belief that you were in danger) was enacted, innocent people were being arrested, prosecuted and punished for exercising self-defence that was lawful under the Constitution.“ (p. 28) Ask for even one example and the answer is, “Not relevant.”

Mandarins who supply objective and disinterested “facts” are called liars propelled by the political intent to kill the legislation she supports. Anyone who does not support the positions she advocates, no matter what their past activity and support had been, become enemies. “(I)f you cross me once, even if the issue doesn’t involve the Second Amendment, I will take you out.” In defence of a Hobbesian state of nature in opposition to responsible government, any lie is permissible, any libel justified.

Though truth is thrust on the ground and covered with dirt and filth, truth will still grow from that earth, but it will take courage, commitment and compassion to protect those tender shoots against the assaults of populism. The duty of academics in a Social Service Station is to launch a full-scale attack on behalf of truth against these purveyors of lies and manipulators of voters. The dilemma, as Cliff points out in his book on Thucydides, is that reason and truth are weak in dealing with fears; hypocrisy must be employed to win support. Both liberalism and democracy need to be reclaimed by ensuring that truth can grow and thrive and that compassion rather than coercion, justice rather than injustice, can prevail. But it won’t come without costs.

With the help of Alex Zisman

Tomorrow: Jill Lepore on Facts



Reflections on the Trump Overseas Tour

Reflections on the Trump Overseas Tour


Howard Adelman

My overall impression of Donald Trump’s first excursion overseas as President is the low standard American commentators have set for their President. Further, Trump has surrendered American leadership in the world, although the focus has been on whether his visits to Saudi Arabia, Israel, the Vatican and the G7 were far less damaging than expected.  I examine the trip thus far one stop at a time.

Saudi Arabia

The glitz was familiar. Friendships were forged and solidified. The dancing at the ardha ceremony on the part of the Americans was awkward, and that may have been the metaphor for the whole visit. At the same time, a number of issues came into sharper focus.

  1. Donald’s supreme ignorance concerning terrorism

Though Trump declared that the war against terror was not a war of one civilization against another or one religion against another, but a war against evil, Iran alone was blamed as the heinous source of terrorism, as “the tip of the spear of global terrorism.” To some extent, in the Middle East, the country is a prime source. However, most radical Islamicist terrorism in Europe, in North America and even in the Middle East, is a product of Sunni, not Shiite, background. Wahhabism, rooted in Saudi Arabia, is both a source of proselytizing as well as repression, though both merge together in terrorism in only a small proportion of adherents to this fundamentalism. ISIS in its theology and jurisprudence is far closer to Saudi Arabia than to Iran.

  1. Donald proved he could be diplomatic

He learned to follow Barack Obama’s lead, a lead at which he once aimed withering criticism, and avoided the phrase “Islamic terrorism.” He also deliberately ignored his anti-Islamic rhetoric in addressing Muslim leaders and conveniently forgot that he had once declared that Muslims hate us.

  1. Donald’s Respect for Democracy

Saudi Arabia is a dynasty and theocracy, permitting only male descendants of the founder, King Abdulaziz bin Abdulrahman al-Saud, to rule. Further, the Basic Law that dictates a dictatorship is rooted in sharia law; punishment can be severe for apostasy, sorcery and adultery. Trump could have offered indirect criticisms of the Saudi democratic deficit by applauding the honesty of its December 2016 elections and the innovation in allowing women to both vote and run as candidates, while urging moves towards further reform. If he had a deeper sense of diplomacy than he exhibited, this need not have emerged as a scolding, but as encouragement towards judicial independence and due process in opposition to rampant use of arbitrary arrest, particularly targeting human rights activists. However, Donald Trump’s “principled realism” unveiled an absence of any principles.

  1. Donald’s Ethos

Donald seems to have no sense of human rights – freedom of speech, freedom of assembly – and universal values; he expresses a positive disdain for them in the leaders he admires. He never once brought up the issue of human rights or confronted the repressive government of the Saudis. Instead, a member of his executive, Secretary Wilbur Ross, lauded his visit to Saudi Arabia by noting there were no protesters. “There was not a single hint of a protester anywhere there during the whole time we were there. Not one guy with a bad placard.” When Ross was offered an option to amend or qualify the statement, he abjured and, instead, doubled down on the plaudits he awarded Saudi Arabia without reference to the authoritarian reasons.

(See the U.S. Government Report: https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/253157.pdf)

This State Department Report explicitly notes that, “the [Saudi] government categorically forbids participation in political protests or unauthorized public assemblies.” Two protesters currently sit on death row sentenced to be beheaded.

  1. Donald’s Economic Interests

While the billions in trade deals (selling billions of dollars in arms to the Saudis whom he once charged with masterminding 9/11) were being celebrated, so was Saudi investments in America – $55 billion in defence, manufacturing and resource companies. Sales and investments also promised to bring more jobs to America. Less apparent was the fact that a close associate of Donald Trump, Hussain Sajwani, whose DAMAC Properties built the Trump International Golf Course Dubai, might be a big beneficiary.

  1. Saudi Middle East Peace Plan

Though the fifteen-year-old Saudi-led plan for peace between Israel and the Palestinians had previously led nowhere, there were hints that the Saudis had modified their approach by offering Israeli recognition as well as trade and investment cooperation if Israel took positive steps towards peace – freezing settlements, releasing prisoners. The increasing surreptitious cooperation between Israel and Saudi Arabia in trade, security and even diplomacy has, in fact, provided the possibility of making the current period propitious for an advance toward peace, however unlikely that seems to be.

Israel and the Palestinians

At this time, virtually no one with any in-depth knowledge of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict expects any breakthrough on the conflict. This is especially true of the Palestinians. Some still believe that Palestinian stubbornness on the “right of return” is a, if not the, major impediment. In fact, there is a deal in the backdrop which allows Israel to ensure its demographic Jewish majority while giving a nod to Palestinian honour. Since there are agreements in place for trading territory and various resolutions are thrown about in dealing with the 80,000 Jewish settlers outside Area C in the West Bank, the problem of Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel versus East Jerusalem serving as a capital of a Palestinian state still seems insurmountable. Could that problem be bracketed and a peace deal agreed upon on the other issues?

  1. Orthodox Jews were already suspicious when an unknown rabbi purportedly gave permission to Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner landing in Saudi Arabia after the sun had set for the beginning of shabat.
  2. Donald Trump arrived in Israel against a background in Washington where he let the Russians know that intelligence had come from Israel.
  3. Former MK Moshe Feiglin, former leader of Zehut, criticized the $110 billion dollar-weapons-deal signed by Donald with Saudi Arabia.
  4. Netanyahu had to order his ministers to meet Trump at the airport; extreme right wing members recognized that they could not win Trump’s endorsement for a one-state solution based on Israeli victory.
  5. Netanyahu welcomed Trump to the “united capital of the Jewish state.”
  6. Donald Trump, whatever the huge range of his ignorance and inadequacies, does have a keen ear for identity politics and an ability to appeal to that side of Palestinian political concerns. In the past, efforts to strike a deal based on Palestinian self interest have failed. Would Donald be able appeal to their identity concerns?
  7. Recall that in February, Trump suggested that he, and the U.S., were no longer wedded to a two-state solution, even as the State Department reaffirmed that the U.S. still supported a two-state solution. Only a bare majority of Israelis continued to support a two-state solution and the support among Palestinians had dropped to 44%. However, it was not clear whether Trump had dumped the two-state solution or whether he was holding out that possibility if the Palestinians refused to bend and compromise. In his dealings with Israel, he was much clearer that he continued, for the present, to support a two-state solution, but it was also clear that it would not be based on a return to the Green Armistice Line, though Trump disdained the use of a label to characterize the solution without clarification of any content.
  8. When Donald Trump went to Bethlehem to meet Mahmud Abbas, he was greeted with a banner declaring Trump to be a man of peace: “the city of peace welcomes the man of peace.”
  9. Donald Trump did urge Palestinians to refrain from inciting violence.
  10. Trump broke a taboo and flew directly from Riyadh to Tel Aviv.
  11. Trump broke another taboo and, as U.S. President, visited the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem, but without any Israeli politicians.
  12. He also reinforced Netanyahu’s propensity to demonize Iran as Trump insisted that Iran would never be allowed to make nuclear arms in the same week that a relative moderate, Hassan Rouhani, had just been re-elected as President of Iran.
  13. On the other hand, Trump did not announce moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem as he had promised.
  14. Further, Trump asked Netanyahu to “curb” settlement expansion, but did not ask for a freeze on building housing units in existing settlements.

The Vatican

  1. Instead of building bridges, as Pope Francis favoured, the Pope had criticized Trump’s promise to build a wall on the Mexican border during his campaign.
  2. Trump in return had called Francis “disgraceful.”
  3. Pope Francis, a critic of climate change sceptics, openly advocated adopting policies to deal with climate change. (Francis gave Trump a copy of his encyclical on preserving the environment – of course, there is little possibility that Trump will read it).
  4. Francis is also perhaps the best-known world figure who identifies with giving a helping hand to the poor, with compassion for refugees and, in a Ted talk, he had urged the powerful to put the needs of the people ahead of profits and products.
  5. Francis and Trump did not end up in fisticuffs, but the half-hour visit appeared to be a downer for the Donald and certainly for Sean Spicer, a Catholic, who never got to meet the Pope; the background of the Manchester terror attack did not help, though Trump is all sentiment when children are killed and riled up when terrorists do the killing.


  1. The visit to the heartland of globalism was bound to depress the Donald, especially when the UK placed a curb on sharing intelligence with the U.S. since Washington leaks could have compromised the investigation of the Manchester terror attack.
  2. The release of the CPO discussed yesterday did not help.
  3. Donald lectured other members of NATO – totally ignoring the progress made towards the 2% of GDP to be dedicated to the military; he claimed other members owed “massive amounts”; “23 of the 28 member nations are still not paying what they should be paying and what they are supposed to be paying.”
  4. The combination of ignorance and bravado earned some open sniggers from a few European leaders but more frowns.
  5. Donald did not say that NATO was obsolete or dysfunctional, but neither did he pledge America’s unconditional fealty to NATO as required under Article 5 dealing with collective defence and the requirement that each member come to the defence of another.
  6. Donald was mostly left to wallow in his depressed isolation.

The G7

  1. At the G7, Trump lost the control he had exhibited in the Middle East and even Rome.
  2. It is difficult to say whether this was because of events back in Washington – John Brennan’s testimony that there definitely was Russian interference in the election and “possible” collusion because of Trump campaign officials contacts with the Russians, the breaking news of Trump possible obstruction of a criminal probe when he urged his intelligence chiefs to announce that there was no evidence of collusion, and the continuing parade of information that the Trump budget would be disastrous for Trump’s working class white supporters, or whether it was a result of events at the G7, or some combination thereof.
  3. First, while Trump refused to commit to the Paris Accord on the environment, he bragged that he won two environmental awards. And he did – for soil erosion control and preserving a bird sanctuary on one of his golf courses and for donating park land to New York State. Donald did not add that the first on the golf course complemented his self interest and the second was a way to get a charitable donation for land on which he was refused permission to build a golf course. Further, as one drives on the Taconic State Parkway through Westchester, you are greeted with large signs advertising the approach to Donald J. Trump State Park, but one finds the park is small (436 acres of woods and wetlands) relative to the signs, lacks any amenities – trails, parking, washrooms and picnic areas – and is uncared for (overgrown pathways and buildings deteriorated and covered with graffiti) since Trump never donated the money needed for its maintenance.
  4. President Xi of China told Trump that the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Accord would be irresponsible.
  5. Was America’s pledge to commit $2 billion to the Green Climate Fund alive or would Trump issue an executive order this week cancelling the American commitment?
  6. In turn, European leaders lectured Trump on the fallout for the U.S. withdrawing from the Paris Accord – a wave of international anger that would lead to retribution, declining trade with the U.S. and destroy the last shred of trust in Washington; withdrawal would be treated by the world as “diplomatic malpractice” and characterized as betrayal; Trump had delayed an announcement before he arrived at the G7 and, perhaps, might allow U.S. state interests to take precedence over fulfilling his wild and destructive promises.
  7. Europeans tried to educate Trump on globalization and trade policy, but there was little indication that they had made a dint in his thinking. However, a private meeting with Justin Trudeau seemed to indicate that Trump would not scrap NAFTA, but would work to iron out wrinkles. On the other hand, the Europeans rejected out of hand his plea for bilateral trade deals instead of multilateral ones.
  8. The Donald was sabotaged in his effort to deliver French President Emmanuel Macron his traditional macho pull and handshake. Macron, instead of greeting Trump first, let him stand there, as he planted cheek kisses on Angela Merkel, greeted several others and then, having been briefed, subverted Trump’s effort and even pressed his hand harder and longer and would not let Trump pull away.
  9. When all other leaders are seen chatting informally with one another as they look over an iron fence at the spectacular view, Trump is nowhere in sight. Instead of walking there with the others, he went in a golf cart. When he arrived, he was surrounded by a phalanx of security men and only then joined the group and appeared to dominate the conversation.
  10. When Italian Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, as host of the conference, addressed his fellow leaders, all leaders had on headphones and listened – except Donald Trump, sitting two seats away, Donald without headphones sat looking vacantly at the table. Perhaps no one can understand Italian as well as he can.
  11. Trump had been gone too long from living in what he owned and projected his possessive individualism. Was it the requirement of collegiality that made him slip from his vacuous demeanour at the Vatican to his glumness in Taormina, Sicily?
  12. There was a media dustup over whether he referred to Germany as evil or bad, and, if “bad,” as seems to be the case, did he mean the situation in which Germany finds itself, specifically with respect to refugees, or did he mean German political policies were bad?
  13. The meetings confirmed what Angela Merkel had come to believe: a) that the U.S. was no longer a reliable ally on which Germany could depend; b) American current policies on trade and climate change were disastrous.
  14. Trump had gone from dancing with swords in Riyadh to dodging darts at the G7.

The trip overseas marked the U.S. loss of leadership in the Western world and threatened America with negative repercussions because the Europeans had linked action on climate change with trade policy. Trump managed to keep his head above water in this overseas trip as he escaped the domestic closing in on the administration in its fourth month in office, but only by moving America towards disastrous policies that would be economically and politically detrimental to the U.S.


With the help of Alex Zisman

The Data on Settlements and the Effects on the Peace Talks

The Data on Settlements and the Effects on the Peace Talks


Howard Adelman

Between January and June 2013 before the talks began, there were 1,708 housing starts compared with 995 during the same period the year before. In all of 2013 there were 2,534 housing units completed in the West Bank, slightly more than double the 1,267 units completed in 2012. When these figures were released by the Central Bureau of Statistics in Israel (www.cbs.gov.il) in early March 2014, is it any surprise that Israeli news headlines read:

“Settler housing  starts up by 124% in 2013” Jerusalem Post 3;

”Settlement construction more than doubled in 2013,” Haaretz;

“West Bank housing starts rise by more than 120 percent,” Jewish Journal;.

“Settlement housing starts nearly triple, in 2013,” The Times of Israel.

So what do you expect news outlets around the world from Fox News to the Japan Times to report?

Of the units completed in 2013, 853 had been started in 2012 and a further 1,421 units were under construction in 2012. So 90% of the units completed in 2013 had been started in 2012.

On 11 August, Uri Ariel announced plans to expand housing in Leshern as well as other West Bank settlements totaling about 400 new homes plus approximately 800 in areas of East Jerusalem that are part of Jewish Jerusalem. Another over 1200 units were announced later in the month. The breakdown of housing units approved and started in August 2013 were as follows:

Date                Approved    Started   Constr. Complete         Area

August 6         239                                                                  Ma’on

August 8         878                                                                              Jordan V, Binyamin, Etzion

August 12       890                                                                              Gilo Jerusalem

                                           63                                                 Jabal Mukabir, E. Jerusalem

                       392                                                                   Ma’ale Adumim, Ariel, Betar

August 27      942                                                                   Gilo

                                          66                                                  Neve Yaakov

                      283                                                                    Elkana

                   3,624            129

Uri Ariel, Israel’s Housing and Construction Minister, predicted the talks would fail, but did not acknowledge that the new housing starts would contribute to or be a key cause of that failure, although I believe he certainly hoped so.  While Israel insisted these planned housing units were in accord with an understanding not only with the Americans but with the Palestinians, Nabil Abu Rdeneh, President Mahmoud Abbas’ spokesman, issued a statement: “We don’t accept any settlement bids and Israel should stop these acts to give negotiations the opportunity to succeed. For us, all settlements are illegal and Israel should stop putting obstacles in the way of peace and all its acts in this regard are illegal and void.”

When the talks had been underway for almost four months, in October 2013, just after the Israeli negotiating team once again met with John Kerry in Israel, the government announced that 1500 more housing units would be built in Jerusalem. Further, Netanyahu approved tenders for 2500 housing units in the West Bank, though the actual breakdown of approvals did not total 2,500.

The Palestinians protested by suspending talks for two weeks. The announcement timing seemed to offer a quid pro quo to the Israeli right because it immediately followed the release of 26 more Palestinian prisoners. The Jerusalem housing units were to be built in the non-Arab populated bare hills of East Jerusalem as fill-ins of existing suburbs. Similarly, the housing units for the West Bank were fill-ins rather than expansions of the boundaries of those settlements.

Date                Approved    Started   Constr. Complete         Area

October 10      58                                                                    East Jerusalem

October 31    582                                                       

                               296                                                           Bet El

                               160                                                           Yakir

                                 96                                                           Almog


By December, both the EU and the USA strongly lobbied with the Israeli government officials not to announce any new government housing activities as they anticipated such announcements would correspond with the release of more prisoners at the end of December, an anticipation confirmed by Netanyahu himself. The warnings were ignored, though the announcement was delayed. Israel announced tenders for 1400 housing units in the West Bank and Jerusalem in the second week of January. Although earlier leaks had indicated that the announcement would be for 2000 rather than 1400 new starts already downgraded from early December leaks of 1500 units for Ramat Shlomo in East Jerusalem and 3500 for the West Bank, actually, 2,553 units were approved.

The pattern is clear. Leak news of new announced housing starts to time with a scheduled prisoner release. Then, following the release, announce a smaller number than the numbers leaked and ignore European, American and Palestinian warnings that such announcements jeopardized the talks. The actual starts could be smaller still. The Israeli right and the Israeli left were united in the propensity to exaggerate housing figures in the West Bank and Jerusalem.

The breakdown for January 2014 were as follows:

Date                Approved    Started   Constr. Complete         Area

       6                       22                                                            Karnei Shomron

                              250                                                            Ofra

      10                    227                                                            Efrat

                                78                                                            Alfe Menashe

                                86                                                            Karnei Shomron

                                40                                                            Ariel

                                75                                                            Adam

                                24                                                            Betar Illit

                               102                                                           Emmanuel

                               169                                                           Elkana

                               600                                                           Ramot

                               182                                                           Pisgat Zeev

                                56                                                            Neve Yaacov

     21                     381                                                            Givat Zeev

     22                     256                                                            Nofie Prat

                                  5                                                            Ariel 

Three months later, Netanyahu postponed the prisoner release and the government also announced the construction of 700 new housing units, Kerry let it be known that he blamed Israel for the breakdown in the talks because of reneging on the prisoner release and for the continued building of new houses in the settlements though Kerry never overtly made the statement that was originally planned.

The announced housing starts before and after the talks began were as follows:

Date                                        East Jerusalem             West Bank          Total 

Jan-June 2013                                                                                         1708

August 2013                              800                              400                    1200

October 2013                          1500                            2500                    4000    6908

January 2014                                                                                                      1400

April                                         1400                             700                                2100

Total over period of peace talks                                                                      10,408

Total over 16 months                                                                                       13,116      

Actual authorized units totaled 8,217.     

By adding up the figures based on early leaks, one gets the total of 14,000 new unit approvals publicized by Peace Now. By including the first six months before the talks formally starter, one gets a figure of just under 14,000. Whichever way Peace Now made its calculations, the actual figures were much less.

Further, if the data from the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, which everyone regards as the most reliable source, are used, since the beginning of 2013, 32,290 construction sites for housing units were slotted across all of Israel in 2013, an increase of 5.5% compared to the corresponding time frame in 2012. Work actually began on 2,534 new housing units, 1710 apartments and 824 homes, in the settlements in 2013, compared to 1,133 in 2012, that is, roughly one-third of the units approved Nevertheless, the total of new units that were constructed more than doubled rather than increased by just over 5%., though still only 50% of the units started under Barak in 2000. Further, 40% were subsidized public housing units, twice the normal percentage within Israel proper. This suggests a very deliberate government policy of expanding the settlement housing units beyond that required by any consumer demand as indicated in the following chart.

For Sale   Sold         Demand   

17,114     18,860     35,974 R       2009

17,584     22,786     40,370 R       2010

20,516     19,737      40,253 R      2011

20,251     22,526      42,777 R      2012

18,716     24,547      43,263 R     2013

Thus, the overall rate of housing construction over Israel, East Jerusalem and the West Bank increased by about 7.5%. But the amount of approvals, and especially of construction in the West Bank increased disproportionately. This is particularly significant because demand fell significantly for the purchase of housing units in the West Bank. Of the total number of 11,146 units built in all of Israel, 500 were for Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) and 1,227 were for Jerusalem. Announcements of newly constructed units in the West Bank far exceeded demand which no where came close to the number of units approved for construction. The demand figure for 2014 fell even further than in 2013 to 212 in the West Bank, though 1891 for Jerusalem. Housing for sale took significantly longer to sell than in the rest of Israel. Further, housing on the market took longer and longer to sell – up to 8 months on average for new units. The number of housing units announced are clearly not a response to demand; the announcements, as well as the denunciations, are driven by political goals.

This is clearly indicated by the actual number of housing starts versus the numbers authorized, Announced numbers far exceed actual construction. Of those built on public land (all land in the West Bank is public land), and since housing is built on both government and privately owned land in an approximate 50/50 ratio, of the over 21,000 units to be built on public land in 2013, almost 40% were to be built in the West Bank or East Jerusalem. In reality, abut 30% were actually built, most in Jerusalem.  

Let me summarize what I believe is going on. For political reasons, presumably to both satisfy the demands of the far right critical of any peace talks, housing permission for starts are announced that greatly exceed demand or actual construction and disproportionate to housing starts in the rest of the country. and deliberately insensitive to public opinion, or rather, official public opinion in Europe, America or Palestine. Further, the permits for housing starts and actual starts are now confined to fill-ins within the established border of settlements or to connect with outlier sections to create continuity.

While headlines parade the more than doubling of West Bank construction in 2013, the reality is that the doubling is an aberration caused by the depressed number of starts over the previous few as the chart below indicates and do very little to make up for the depressed number of starts from 2010 to 2012. Further, 80% of units completed in 2013 were started in 2012.

The reality is, whatever the far right insists about ambitions for Greater Israel, that plan is dead. What is alive is the plan to consolidate settlements and trade them for other land to reinforce Israel’s security position and the thrusts it has already established consistent with Ariel Sharon’s strategic objective to “thicken” Israel’s narrow waist. Israelis generally concur that the settlement blocs of Ma’ale Adumim, Gush Etzion, Elkana and Ariel will remain within sovereign Israel as part of a final status agreement. Since the Palestinian Authority has agreed to these land swaps and the real debate is still over sufficiency with the exception of parts of Jerusalem – this suggests that settlements are a key part of the rhetoric of peace talks for the far right, for the left critics, for Palestine and for both Europe and America, but they are not the insurmountable obstacle to peace negotiations.

So although I have always disagreed with settlements activity, my criticism now is mostly about bad public relations. What may be needed for peace on Netanyahu’s domestic political front plays very badly on the international arena and offers the Palestinian Authority free reign to win that public relations battle. Further, since both sides know they cannot agree on Jerusalem, Netanyahu has calculated that domestic political peace is of greater value than international public relations. Since Tzipi Livni clearly knows the full story, she recognizes this is a rhetorical and not primarily a political battle on the ground. The question for her remains whether a deal can be made on Jerusalem.

That remains the elusive target. Though housing starts are also about the Jerusalem issue, most of the blather about settlements is a public relations issue which in part explains why the American negotiators dumped on Netanyahu for sabotaging the talks. Someone had to be blamed. Netanyahu had been set up for blame right from the start, even though he had not agreed to a settlement freeze. Blaming Netanyahu is the clear easier choice. Otherwise, to focus on the central dilemma would lead to questions about why the initiative was taken in the first place. 

Finally, I personally applaud the initiative in spite of the failure and in spite of the political use of the blame game because the talks have really narrowed the end game. Since I do not see the conflict as resolvable at this time, I think the next stage will be more well thought-out unilateral moves by Israel to reduce frictions at minimal risk while further consolidating claims on territories Israel plans to annex. However, I am not imaginative enough to envisage how land swaps can be managed unilaterally. However, in order to understand how any unilateral moves can be made in light of the terrible experience with Gaza, and with Lebanon earlier, it is important to understand the nature of the newly announced realignment of Fatah and Hamas and the Palestinian position..

That is for tomorrow.

An Inside Post-Mortem: The Connection Between Violence and Peace

An Inside Post-Mortem: The Connection Between Violence and Peace


Howard Adelman

On Friday, after I published my analysis on Jerusalem as the key stumbling block in moving forward on a peace agreement, an article entitled, “U.S. post-mortem on peace talks: Israel killed them,” appeared in +972, a blog-based web magazine. That blog was reprinted and re-circulated by the Foundation for Middle East Peace (FMEP) dedicated to promoting peace between Israel and the Palestinians. The post-mortem was evidently based on non-attributable interviews by Nahum Barnea of Yedioth Ahronoth with U.S. officials involved in the negotiations.

What has to be recognized is that I (and many others) rely on tracking the data on Israeli settlement activities through the reports of the FMEP edited by Geoffrey Aronson. (Cf. Report on Israeli Settlements in the Occupied Territories) What also has to be known is that since Merle Thorpe Jr. founded the FMEP in 1979 and published her book, Prescription for Conflict: Israel’s West Bank Settlement Policy in 1984, FMEP has always held the position that the settlements are the main obstacle to peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis. As has been clear, it is not an interpretation with which I agree, but it is the thrust of the results of the unattributed interviews with American officials and certainly of both Peace Now and B’tselem which also track settlement activities. I will deal with that thesis in tomorrow’s blog.

The big noise that arose out of the publication of the summary of the interviews in Israel focused not on the analysis of blame but on the remark that, “It seemed as if we’re in need of another intifada to create the circumstances that will allow for progress,” even though instant clarification noted that the American participants regarded such a possibility, not as something to be welcomed, but as a tragedy. Nevertheless, they believed that recent history indicated that Israeli-Arab peace only happens after war makes it urgent.

Before I turn to the full post-mortem tomorrow, let me deal with the connection between an intifada as a catalyst to peace with the Palestinians and the more general thesis that war has been the catalyst to peace between Israel and Arab states. This specific correlation became a truism when the 1967 war brought Sadat to the realization that he had to make peace with Israel, but he had to instigate the 1973 war in order to get Israel to draw the same conclusion. As a result, the Egyptian-Israel Peace Accord was signed six years later. There was at least some plausibility in the simplistic connection in this case.

However, the Jordan-Israel Peace Treaty was signed in 1994. Was that a product of the 1987-1991 first intifada? Was the Oslo process a result of that intifada?  What is not debated is that immediately after the eruption of the intifada in 1987, Shaikh Ahmed Yassin created Hamas as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood which Israel had been supporting to counter-balance the PLO. Instead of remaining committed to non-violence, Hamas took up arms against Israel. As an immediate result, in the first full year of the intifada, 304 Palestinians, 6 Israeli civilians and 4 IDF soldiers were killed.

Most significantly, Israeli naval commandos killed Abu Jihad (Khalil al-Wazir) in Tunis in April. This refugee from Ramla completely committed to the right of return and the elimination of Israel, the militant behind Black September in Jordan and the terrorist incursions into Israel from Lebanon, the co-founder with Arafat of Fatah and the leader of its militant wing, al-Assifa, and the key organizer of the youth committees that instigated the intifada in the West Bank in December of 1987, was the Palestinian leader most committed to the military overthrow of Israel. His death – setting aside the deaths of 300 other Palestinians – was the initial most significant outcome of the intifada because his elimination meant that the greatest obstacle to a rapprochement between the Palestinians and Israel had been removed. In that very ironic sense, the intifada did help create the possibility for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

There was a second outcome of the first year of the intifada that also dialectically facilitated peace between Israel and Jordan. In August of 1988, King Hussein of Jordan abandoned any claims to the West Bank, his first key step in forging a separate peace with Israel. In that sense, the intifada had instigated a peace deal, but not because of its effects on Israel, but because of its effects on Jordan, especially when the Palestinian National Council in Algiers then declared an independent State of Palestine. If the Palestinians could go ahead ignoring Jordan on top of instigating war against Jordan in Black September, Jordan was preparing itself to forge a peace independent of the Palestinians.

In the subsequent three years of the intifada, the huge disproportion between Palestinians and Israelis killed recurred each year until it became clear to Arafat that the only outcome of the intifada had been suffering for the Palestinians and tremendous loss of material assets as well as greatly increased repression by the occupation forces. The Palestinian intifada had been a bust except that some leaders, in addition to Faisal Husseini who had been among a small minority promoting non-violent resistance, began to believe that armed resistance was not the path to self-determination. But the intifada had buried that idea temporarily. At the same time, doubts deepened over whether Arafat had surrendered his belief in the use of violence to achieve peace.

What is also undeniable is that the Madrid Conference was a direct product of the end of the intifada as was the UN resolution retracting by a substantial majority the equation of Zionism with racism. However, the Madrid Conference was also a failure. Further, the killing of Palestinians in great disproportion to Israelis continued on virtually the same scale through 1992 and 1993 as when the intifada was in full force as Israelis engaged in mopping up operations of those still committed to violent revolt. However, via the Track II route, Israelis and Palestinians had been meeting in a multiple of tributaries – when I was involved, I counted 18 – but one which most of us knew nothing about led to Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin signing the Oslo Accords in August of 1993. In one sense, this was an outcome of the first intifada, not as implied by making the Israelis more amenable to a peace agreement, but by making the Palestinian leadership recognize that violence was not the best route to an independent Israeli state.

So all of the immediate and direct outcomes of the first intifada had to do with the effects on the Arab (Jordan) and Palestinian positions and not on Israel’s position. Perhaps not all. It seems that the intifada could have played a significant role in the growing recognition by the Israeli right that they could not achieve the vision of a Greater Israel and that they began to recognize that an independent Palestinian state would have to develop in the West Bank. I happen to believe that this shift in perception would have come quicker without the intifada, but that would be difficult to prove. In any case, Rabin had all along been prepared for a two state solution and the intifada only made him very cautious in approaching that possibility.

Further, the series of killings of Israelis that followed Oslo and the Jordanian peace process in 1995 alienated many Israelis from the peace process: the Beit Lit massacre by Islamic Jihad in January that killed 21, the Kfar Darom bus attack in April that killed 8 and injured 52, the Ramat Gan bus bombing in July that killed 6 and wounded 33, the Ramat Ashkol bus bombing in August by Hamas that killed 5 and wounded 100. The more obvious conclusions that many Israelis drew, though equally simplistic as the conclusion connecting intifadas as a causal condition of peace agreements, is that, in fact, peace agreements bring more violence than the combination of occupation and any uprising by the Palestinians.

What about the connection between Intifada II and peace? When Ariel Sharon took a stroll on the Haram al-Sharif or the Temple Mount in September of 2000, clashes between Palestinian militants and Israeli police allegedly set off what Arafat dubbed the Al-Aqsa Intifada. We only learned much later from Imhad Falouji, the PA Minister of Communications, that, in fact, the intifada had been planned ever since the failure of the Camp David negotiations. In examining the argument that violence leads to peace, two reverse propositions seem to have much greater truth: failure of peace leads to violence, and peace agreements can just as well produce violence. Since both peace and its failure can both be connected with an upsurge of violence, it seems both absurd to suggest that another intifada may be needed to bring about peace, even if you agree that violence is a tragic course.

The outbreak of the second intifada led the newly elected Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, to call off peace negotiations in the aftermath of Taba. The lynching of two Israeli soldiers in a Palestinian police station in Ramallah in 2000, the deliberate killing of an Israeli baby by a Palestinian sniper and the Dolphinarium massacre by a Hamas suicide bomber killing 21 young Israelis and wounding 100, the August Sbarro restaurant suicide bombing that killed 15 including 7 children and a pregnant mother, and the December Hamas suicide bombing killing 9 teenagers and wounding 188, encouraged Israelis to turn against peace and accommodation with the Palestinians. After 131 Israelis were killed in March 2002, Israelis once again turned to extensive use of repressive force though suicide bombings continued. The full scale Operation Defensive Shield was launched at the end of March at the same time as the Tel Aviv café suicide bombing and the Haifa Hamas suicide bombing of the Arab Matza restaurant that killed 15 Israelis.

The result was enhanced security, enhanced repression of Palestinians and the construction of the Security wall/fence that eventually could be directly correlated with a severe reduction in violence against Israeli civilians, though during the process the pattern of suicide bombings continued — including the junction massacre killing 19 Israelis and wounding 74, the Immanuel bus attack that killed 9 Israelis, the Hebrew University massacre that killed 9 students, the Karkur junction suicide bombing that killed 14, the Jerusalem bus massacre in November of 2002 and the Hamas suicide bombing on bus 20 that killed 11 and wounded over 50. By the time the Quartet at the end of April 2003 announced a road map for peace and two months later Hamas, Jihad and Fatah agreed to a three month truce, many more instances of terrorism had taken place. Though the International Court of Justice in an informal ruling declared the security barrier being constructed by Israel as illegal, there was a closer connection between the security barrier and the reduction of violence than any connection between the violence and peace. The belief in connecting the intifadas with instigating peace is a myth with virtually no empirical evidence to back the thesis up. If members of Martin Indyk’s team really held such views, then I was completely incorrect in praising the quality of the team the Americans sent.  

Did tit for tat military responses bring about the peace? I doubt if there is a 1:1 connection. The October 2004 military operation, “Days of Penitence” in Gaza, along with the construction of the security barrier, was followed by a significant reduction in the killing of Israelis in  2005. This was followed by a unilateral disengagement plan from Gaza by Israel, not peace, and that was followed by the appearance of a unity government among the Palestinians – that needless to say did not last – and the initiation of the Annapolis Conference to discuss peace in November 2007, but the unilateral withdrawal and the peace talks only led to a much bigger war, the devastating Israeli Operation “Cast Lead” against Gaza that killed 1300 Palestinians before it was terminated 22 days later in January of 2009. 

The 2010 Fall direct talks followed and, like the 2013-14 talks, they too ended in failure. I find it impossible to make a 1:1 correlation between an upsurge in violence and peace. So why would mediators engaged in the peace process utter such a mythological connection?

Tomorrow: the building of settlements as the key obstacle to peace.

Netanyahu, Joseph and Moses


Howard Adelman

Over Saturday night dinner, a close friend bemoaned how badly Netanyahu was handling the fallout from the peace talks. My friend is not a leftist but nevertheless thinks that Netanyahu should have shown a greater interest and willingness to forge a permanent peace agreement – not so much for the sake of the Palestinians as for Israel’s reputation in the world. My friend was not alone in this criticism. It is rather widespread. It became more acute with Netanyahu’s unwillingness to free the remaining Palestinian prisoners on time that he had pledged to free as a condition for the Palestinians resuming the peace talks last year, though reports often conveniently omitted the commitment Netanyahu had made to do so if Abbas agreed to continue the talks past the deadline. The fact that this condition to resume the talks was not part of the original agreement did not seem to matter for the defenders of Netanyahu.

Instead of joining in either the criticism or the defence of Netanyahu, I want to first characterize Netanyahu as a leader using the background on Joseph and Moses as foils of two contrasting types of leaders. For example, Joseph made his name and reputation as a political leader on the basis of a domestic political platform, not as Phillipe Couillard did who won a clear majority for Liberals last night on a program of jobs, jobs, jobs versus a boring repetitive refrain of referendum, referendum and referendum by the Parti Québecois. Joseph won popular acclaim for a program even more fundamental tha Couillard’s stressing food, food and more food. In contrast, Moses was a far less popular leader for he was both a top-down chief magistrate with only ears for a divine voice rather than the pleas of the masses, as well as one whose almost exclusive concern was a unique form of separatism, separating one’s own followers from the body politic within which they had lived for over four hundred years and finding a new land to call home under one’s own jurisdiction and under the rule of law handed down from heaven. Ideals rather than daily domestic concerns would or should motivate the people to vote with their feet was Moses’ belief.

Was domestic or international policy the prime concern of Netanyahu’s leadership, granted that security always had to be the number one concern of any Israeli leader. But had security concerns been pushed into the background? After all, look at the long list of domestic political agenda items for Netanyahu. Whatever was on the list, issues of social justice did not seem to have a high priority among them as it did for Québec Solidaire which increased the number of seats it held in the provincial assembly from 2 to 3. Netanyahu seems to have no or little interest in any of the following issues: discrimination in housing against and anti-discrimination protection with respect to jobs for Israeli Arabs; racial profiling of Israeli Arab citizens undergoing security checks at Ben Gurion airport; fair and equal access to purchasing land, though the Supreme Court of Israel did force the hand of the government on this issue by obligating the Israel Land Authority, which controls over 90% of the land available in Israel, to have a fair representation of Israeli Arab citizens (and women as well) on its board (I was not able to find out whether that included Bedouin and especially Bedouin women); racism against Arab-Israeli citizens in general which two-thirds of Israelis recognize, though Israelis believe the racism against Ethiopian Jews is even more prevalent; fostering anti-racism in sport, particularly in soccer; in general, the Israeli government, again unlike the new Quebec government, is not committed to promoting a shared and inclusive society as distinct from one that fosters divisions; fostering a charter of values based on inclusiveness rather than divisiveness; my own particularly important issue, the problem of refugee claimants and illegal economic migrants in Israel, though once again the Israeli court intervened to ensure that the children of these refugees and migrants, especially those born in Israel, had legal rights; protection for Jewish orthodox women unable to divorce their husbands (agunot) when their husbands refuse them a timely and fair get (divorce); the increasing disparities in salaries experienced in Israel (and around the world) compounded by salary discrimination between Ashkenazi versus Mizrachi, Ethiopian Jews, women and especially Israeli Arabs, though the Netanyahu government did get legislation passed to publish information on gender wage gaps; protection and adequate welfare for the 1,754,700 million Israeli citizens or 430,000 households out of a population of eight million who live below the poverty line, including 180,000 seniors and 817,200 children as documented in the National Insurance agency (according to an OECD Report the poverty rate in Israel went from 15% in 1995 to 21% in 2012), although the government did pass a law that made welfare payments payable jointly to a husband and wife rather than just to a husband; Netanyahu, after much dithering, did finally appoint Karnit Flug as the first woman governor of the Bank of Israel; the court’s order and perhaps surprisingly, Netanyahu’s instructions, for the government to implement Israel’s 1998 Public Housing Act; ignoring the problems of the homeless, though when our television program, Israel Today, did a program on the homeless in Tel Aviv where the majority of homeless are to be found, compared to Toronto, we were surprised at how relatively few homeless there were and even more surprised at the large number of agencies and professionals working on this problem; the government did cancel tax hikes on healthcare and housing; fairness in the treatment of Reform and Jewish rabbis and congregations in comparison to the treatment of the Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox, though on this topic the Netanyahu government has demonstrated a degree of initiative, perhaps because the overseas American Jewish community is so important for the issues Netanyahu does prioritize, so the State Attorney’s office ruled that that the Ministry of Religious Services must allow Reform and Conservative rabbis  movements to serve as community rabbis; the requirement of military service by Haredi, however imperfect, is in process of being implemented.

With some notable exceptions, Netanyahu does not run a social justice government or one committed to social inclusiveness. He fails the Joseph test. What about foreign policy, especially the near-to-home policy of dealing with peace with Palestinians? As everyone knows, I strongly supported the Obama-Kerry peace initiative even though I only had faint hope that it would succeed. But that hope was bolstered by the excellent team Kerry had assembled led by Martin Indyk who was committed unreservedly to Israel and had been a student in Israel when the Yom Kippur War took place, authored U.S. President Clinton’s Middle East strategy, had been active in the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).was a former American ambassador to Israel and, as Vice-President at Brookings, the Washington liberal think tank on foreign affairs, led its Middle East program. But the talks are now on life support and most observers seem ready to publish an obituary, though Indyk and Kerry have not thrown in the towel. Just on Sunday, Indyk led serious and evidently sincere talks among Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Isaac Molho, Netanyahu’s personal representative at the talks, senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, and Majed Faraj, the head of Palestinian intelligence services.

Who is to blame for what appears to be an immanent failure? The Palestinians blame Netanyahu for not keeping his promise to release more prisoners. Israelis, especially Lieberman, counter with the argument that why should more prisoners be released if there is no likelihood of the talks continuing past the 30 April deadline let alone any realistic prospect of a deal. Further, while admitting Israel did not release the prisoners, the government had vowed to do so if there was a Palestinian commitment to continue the talks. Instead, the Palestinian Authority, to the surprise of both Israelis and Americans, took unilateral steps to initiate Palestine’s membership in fifteen international bodies in which only states can be members by signing letters of accession, an initiative taken, contrary to the negotiation agreement, without Israel’s permission let alone knowledge. However, the decision to join the International Criminal Court has been held in abeyance. This was a response not only to the non-release of the prisoners but to the Israeli government decision to let a tender for 700 additional residential housing units in Gilo, though the construction ban really only applied to the West Bank and Gilo is virtually an integral part of Jerusalem. Both the Israeli and the Arab negotiators at Sunday’s meeting did ask Indyk to convene another session. But Likud ministers in the government gloated that “the danger of peace had been averted”

Tzipi Livni has come in for particular criticism for being part of an artificial process when the head of the government, Netanyahu, had not truly been committed to the peace process. I believe this criticism is unwarranted and that Netanyahu is committed to a two- state solution, but a commitment not based on a possible deal he can make with the Palestinians. More importantly for an assessment of Netanyahu as a political leader, he was very astute in including Livni in his government, and more astute in appointing an individual with a relatively dovish reputation to be in charge of the negotiations.

The reality is that the negotiations are very painful and complex because Netanyahu and Abbas are totally at odds and equally uncompromising on Jerusalem. Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state can be dealt with through creative ambiguity and indirection by endorsing UN resolutions recognizing Israel as a Jewish state. The issue of Palestinian refugee return, which is so central to Abbas’ history, has witnessed a seismic shift with Abbas’ admission that very few Palestinians would return to Israel, but Abbas remains stubbornly wedded to the principle of the right of return. In the scheme of things, the tractable issue of settlements and borders seem to be the least important issue in these negotiations as everyone seems to recognize the broad outlines and agreement on that policy just as they long ago recognized the deal and discussions over water.  In fact, Netanyahu has initiated steps to demolish illegal building in Yitzhar which has led to clashes between settlers and the Border Police.

So, again, who is to blame? Will the Republican controlled House of Representatives blame the Palestinians and initiate a move to block the half billion dollars of aid America gives the Palestinian Authority?  Abbas has already taken steps to counter such an expected initiative by asking the Arab League to make up for American shortfalls. Most observers sympathetic to the Palestinians place the full blame on Netanyahu. And my friend on Saturday evening who belongs probably to the centre, tends to place the primary blame on Netanyahu. Rabbi Dow Marmur casts equal blame for, as he writes, “the Palestinian and Israeli narratives are irreconcilable”. I do not happen to agree with him. The narratives are reconcilable if both parties give up the claim that, “all of the land is ours and ours only”. Both Netanyahu and Abbas have given up that claim. The issue is not that they are not pragmatists, but their pragmatism has drawn red lines in the sand, now specifically over Jerusalem, that need to be bridged but, given both current governments, no one has been able to build the divide on the ground including the experts and committed members of Kerry’s team.

So though pessimistic, my pessimism is shallow compared to Dow’s. I do not believe that either Abbas or Netanyahu is simple engaged in shadow boxing to keep the Americans entertained and off their respective backs. The fact that Livni has not turned on Netanyahu is but one among many clues. Netanyahu’s problem is that he does not carry a divine magic rod and lacks the backing of a transcendent belief and agent. Abbas and Netanyahu, with all their clever political skills – skills that Moses never mastered – lack a mediating formula which would allow them both to go home discontented with the result but delighted there was a result.

My Promised Land Peace 1993

My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel


Ari Shavit


XI        Peace 1993

For Ari, the desire for peace has always been one stream of Zionism. But it has always been on the fringes. The more basic instincts have been militant.. Further, since the Arab uprising of 1936-1939, the militancy has grown. Sometimes he seems to attribute this to external factors – the responses of local Arabs. However, it is clear here that the main factor is that Zionists, “paid lip service to peace, but [Zionism] was not willing to pay a real price for it.” (240) Immigration. Settlement. Nation-building. These were all supreme values. Peace was not.

For Ari, the real peace movement started in 1967. The movement for Greater Israel started in earnest at the same time. Yossi Sarid, a Holocaust survivor who rose to become Israel’s Minister of Education, is his first hero of many in this chapter. Like many Israeli characters, like Shulamit Aloni who died two days ago, Yossi was arrogant and brilliant, conceited  and rebellious. and unable to serve any authority higher than himself. Yossi had accomplished more as a literary figure than Shulamit. Yossi and Shulamit were hard to tolerate as people but enchanting nevertheless. Yossi’s brilliance was such that he was destined to lead the Labour Party. The crux of the first part of this chapter is both why he failed to fulfill his destiny.

According to Ari, Yossi became a committed peacenik in the early 1970s when he was convinced then that occupation and settlements were a disaster. Was it the settlements that served as the turning point? Ari says the turning point came in the early 1970s not mid-1970s when Ofra was established. Was it the Yom Kippur War? He does not mention that and only focuses on peace with the Palestinians not Israel’s neighbouring Arab states. Even if others, such as Jacob Talmon, arrived at that position in 1967, Ari never tells us why Yossi arrived at his position at the time he did, only that the timing was premature for the Labout party and he was out of synch with its hawkish leaders. So Yossi Sarid, the prince-in-waiting of the Labour Party, became an outcast, a leader of protests rather than of a major political party or faction within it.

In 1982, in opposing the Lebanon War, Yossi came into his own as undisputed leader of the peace movement. But his breach from the Labour Party meant he was confined to the life of a maverick, frustrating for him because, unlike others, he saw himself as destined for prime leadership.  So he ends up disheartened, discontented and disillusioned. The dilemma is posed. How does one say “No” to warmongering but remain within the folds of potential leadership without consigning oneself to being a permanent outsider? For Ari, protest alone is inherently vacuous, barren and sterile; it does not offer you a position to really inspire and lead.

As someone who has always preferred the role of the outsider and critic, I find the argument totally unconvincing. There is a role in society for action and leadership from the sidelines as well as the mainstream. Some who want both power and reform manage to straddle both. But most or many of us do not. What is clear is that if you want power and are unable to learn the art of pragmatic compromise while upholding your own ideals, then you are doomed either to sell out or to be relegated to the margins in frustration.

The core issue is the settlements for Ari. That is not, of course, how Netanyahu sees it. As quoted by John Ivison approvingly in yesterday’s National Post., he says settlements “are not the core of the conflict, since there were no settlements for nearly half a century while conflict raged between Jews and Arabs. Settlements were uprooted in Gaza, and Israel reverted to the pre-1967 line, ‘But we didn’t get peace. We got 16,000 rockets.’ He says the settlement issue will be resolved in a final peace deal. It will be hard but it is resolvable. Simply pulling the IDF from Hebron would be one solution, as long as any Jews that want to remain are guaranteed safe haven by the Palestinian Authority. It would be painful for any Israeli prime minister but politically possible. However, the real Gordian knot is not the Arab mission to liberate the West Bank – it’s the one to liberate pre-1948 Palestine.” (A6)

Ari agrees with Netanyahu that the central issue is not the occupation and not the settlements. But he reverses the focus from the Palestinians to the Zionists who settled the land and had to clear out Palestinians by force.

Sarid has a different view. “The occupation is the father of all sins. Occupation is the mother of atrocity. When we occupied the West Bank and Gaza, we opened a door, and evil winds swept through it. All the depravity you see in Israel is because of the occupation. The brutality. The deceit. The decay. Even the army is now rotting because it was forced to be an occupying army.” (244)

I personally believe that settlements are one obstacle to peace. But I agree with Netanyahu and Ari. They are not THE obstacle. To single out settlements and to blame settlements are all of Israeli ills is not simply hyperbole of the worst order, but does not jibe with what I have heard from Palestinian activists. Ari answered Sarid, “You (to Sarid) discovered the world but you ignored our own history. You forgot 1948 and the refugee problem that it created. You were blind to the chilling consequences of Zionism and the partial dispossession of another people that is the core of the Zionist enterprise.” Setting aside whether dispossession was the core of Zionism, the refugee problem is the key (along with Jerusalem) and not the settlements. For Israel will not allow a return and is simply following the normal pattern of every other group involved in an ethnic or religious conflict. Those who fled or are forced out never return with few exceptions, except if they are the victors.

Another hero of the chapter is Yossi Berlin, more sober than Sarid, a man of peace but not of protest. Also industrious, eager and ambitious though perhaps not as brilliant as Sarid, he too became preoccupied with the quest for peace but not obsessed with the occupation or the settlements. And it was the Yom Kippur War not the Six Day War that was the major turning point in moving him from being religiously observant to becoming a professional politician obsessed with peace and playing the role of peace entrepreneur with two professors from Haifa with whom he helped initiate the Oslo process when he was deputy minister to Shimon Peres in 1992. Ari succinctly sums up the back door diplomacy that led to Oslo and the Oslo process which initially only envisioned a local autonomy agreement.

I am not sure Ari knows the full story of the transition from the Palestinians as part of the Jordanian delegation to recognition of the Palestinians as a separate delegation to recognition of the PLO as the representative of the Palestinians, but he does tell the end of the story. The start was made, in fact, in the multilateral talks gavelled by Canada over the refugee issue..

Ari accuses Yossi Beilin of becoming mesmerized by the appearance of peace and getting rid of the occupation. “An Arafat peace agreement should have been based on a Palestinian about face recognizing the Jewish people, recognizing the Jewish national movement and its national rights, relinquishing the Palestinian right of return.” (251)  That is what a true peace requires. Ari who has always been devoted to peace found that his fellow-peaceniks failed to come face to face with the central tragedy of two peoples fighting over the same land. So Beilin from a very different perspective suffers from the same pre-occupation with the occupation and fails to confront the central tragedy. This explains the withering away of the peace movement after the failure of Oslo. The advocates of Oslo never understood the source of that failure.

“So it transpired that peace stopped being peace. It was no longer bound by a realistic analysis of power, interests, opportunity, threat, and alliance — by sound judgment. It ignored Arab aspirations and political culture. It overlooked the existence of millions of Palestinian refugees whose main concern was not the occupation but a wish to return to their lost Palestine. It was not based on a factual state of affairs, but on a sentimental state of mind. It was a wish, a belief, a faith..” (255) So in conflict with this non-rational mythos of return, a naive belief in rational self-interested politics in pursuit of peace was useless. One needed a counter myth that recognized rather than repressed the brutality required to possess the land and accepted living within a tragic frame.

Menachem Brinker echoes Ari’s thesis. Avishai Margolit, the author of the unilateral Gaza withdrawal, denies that he advocated that position blind to the larger obstacles, but insisted they were necessary in spite of and to confront the real core issues. Avishai blamed the peace movement to which he was one of the intellectual leaders with a naiveté about the political process needed in obtaining political allies sufficiently to stop settlements, not with ignoring the issue of refugees and return. Avishai has become pessimistic even though the peace movement was successful in getting most of the right to accept the reality, inevitability and desirability of a two state solution and surrender the vision of a Greater Israel. “But on the ground, we lost badly. We didn’t stop colonization. We never managed to forge a coalition wide enough and strong enough to stop the settlers. Now it’s too late. It’s almost irreversible. I don’t see a power within Israel fierce enough to stop the state founded by my parents from becoming an apartheid state.” (256)

Ari’s answer to why the peaceniks failed is different but simple. “We were right to try peace. We were right to send Beilin’s team to meet with the Palestinians and offer them a grand deal: a demilitarized Palestine living side by side with a Jewish democratic Israel along the 1967 border. But we should never have promised ourselves peace or assumed that peace was around the corner. We should have been sober enough that occupation must end and even if the end of occupation did not end the conflict…We failed to say to the world and to our people that occupation must cease even if peace cannot be reached.” (256-257)  Ari faults Avishai and Menachem, not for being peacniks, but for failing to take up the responsibility of political leadership. It is a false charge. That was not their job. It was not my job. We were all teachers, not politicians.

Further, the fault was not naiveté. We all knew the risks. We all understood the internal resistance. But we hoped – and we came very close – that the Palestinians would grasp the offer. And until the last minute, there were plenty of reasons to believe we would succeed in spite of the forces undercutting a leap forward. But Arafat turned out to be a flake. He agreed then he backed down and changed his mind. The timing was right. But the opening and opportunity was not grasped. To retrospectively suggest that we should have recognized that such a failure was inevitable is to resign to necessitarianism. Peace is pursued on the basis of possibilism. and not surrendering to the necessity of being trapped in a tragedy.

I actually cannot recall whether Menachem and Avishai were blinded to the larger conflicts in the Middle East,, as Ari charges. But I think not. Uri Avneri, Matti Peled and Michel Warschawski who formed the Peace Bloc, criticized Peace Now for selling out to Labour and tolerating Rabin’s procrastination and provocations. Avishai and Menachem opposed “escalating” the Lebanese conflict but did not oppose responding to the artillery attack  There appeared to be a temporary reprieve. When the Declaration of Principles were signed with the Palestinians in August 1993, momentum seemed to support cautious optimism instead of the constancy of pessimism which Ari sees as a necessary requirement of the pursuit of peace. The miracle of peace with Egypt fifteen years earlier could be followed by another miracle. The deal clearly recognized that other issues were as critical if not more critical than the occupation. Even Shulamit Aloni, then a Minstter in the Coalition government, welcomed the agreement and declared, “No more parents will go weeping after the coffins of their sons,” and Amos Oz echoed, “And death shall rule no more.” (Mordechai Bar’on (1996) In Pursuit of Peace: A History of the Israeli P{eace Movement, Washington: USIP, 310)

The problem was not myopia but, to prove his point, Ari offers Amos Oz. For Amos, the captured lands of 1967 were only to be used as bargaining chips and NOT for settlement. The results of the Yom Kippur War eventually brought both sides around to the need to recognize that peace required that the land be divided between the two peoples. The issue now became how to make that division and in that both sides failed. But both sides also succeeded. For this new recognition is not reversible.

However, in Ari’s tragic vision and the necessity of adopting a tragic posture, Hulda of 1948 is the problem. The destroyed villages of 1947 are the problem. “Hulda is what the conflict is really about. Hulda is the crux of the matter. Hulda is what the conflict is really about. And Hulda has no solution. Hulda is our fate.” (265) “What is needed to make peace between the two peoples of this land is probably more than humans can summon. They will not give up their demand for what they see as justice. We shall not give up our life. Arab Hulda and Jewish Hulda cannot really see each other  and recognize each other and make peace. Yosi Sarid, Yossi Beilin, Ze’ev Sternhell, Menachem Brinker, Avishai Margolit, and Amos Oz put up a courageous fight against the folly of the occupation and did all they could to bring about peace. But at the end of the day, they could not look Jabal Munheir in the eye. They could not see Hulda as it is. For the most benign reasons, their promise of peace was false.” (268)

But it was not a promise. It was a push and effort. Everyone of those people could look Jamel Munheir in the eye just as well as Ari Shavit. Only they, as well as I, would say that in every other case of such conflict and such separation of ethnic groups, peace is made when each side accepts the current reality and neither tries to get back what was lost or to advance further beyond what was done. Israelis and Palestinians have to do the same thing. The sooner the better. But there is no other realistic game in town. Viewing the situation as the need to correct historic wrongs that cannot be corrected or changed and viewing this as a tragic trap is what passes for reality when it is simply a recipe for living under a doomsday cloud. And peace always requires not surrendering to the temptations of despair.

If for Ari, “Hulda has no solution. Hulda says peace shall not be,” (267), I answer, Why not? There have been a myriad of such conflicts. Sooner or later they end either in peace or in the total victory of one party over the other. I can only hope it will be the former and not the latter and sooner rather than later. I have maintained that hope since 1967 and see no reason to surrender it to Ari’s recipe of a tragic vision of deep doom.

Obama’s Speech in Jerusalem

Obama’s Speech in Jerusalem 21/03/13


Howard Adelman

WOW!!! Obama could certainly sell refrigerators to the Innuit. Facing a tough and justly cynical audience of young Israelis, Israelis who serve in the army, postponed their lives and careers, and live in the nastiest neighbourhood in the world in which every calumny possible is thrown against them, Israelis who themselves have increasingly given up hope and persuaded themselves to ignore or even hate Palestinians, he sold them on hope. He sold them on the possibility of peace. He sold them on the idea that it is their task, not just the government’s, to begin the true and the hardest struggle – the struggle to make peace.

How did one speech achieve so much? How is it that this one speech will go down in history as one of the great pieces of oratory? There was no soaring language. There were very few sonorous phrases that would echo and re-echo in your brain. There was none of the historic rhythmic black cadences that Martin Luther King used so brilliantly in his speeches. It was the structure of the speech and its comprehensiveness in a very tight format. It was the direct appeal to the hearts, the minds and, most of all, to the great courage and guts of Israelis – particularly Israeli youth.

I have attached the speech if you have not already read or heard it. When you read it, you want to stand up at certain points and applaud even though you are just reading the speech. It is a speech that gets you up off your ass.

First of all, whether or not it ever had any validity, Barack Obama put to rest, as he had tried to do in the previous 36 hours, the image of himself and Benjamin Netanyahu as not only not at loggerheads, as not being linked by icicles. He did it, not only by calling the Prime Minister of Israel, Bibi, but with humour: "just so you know, any drama between me and my friend Bibi over the years was just a plot to create material for Eretz Nehederet." At the same time, he showed that he knew the most popular satirical news show on Israeli television.

He did it by personally and institutionally identifying with the Jewish people. Not only had he introduced seders into the White House, but the story of Jewish wandering, Jewish homelessness, Jewish perseverance, Jewish religious faith, indeed, even the history of Jewish persecution, was his personal story even though he was not a Jew. It was the story with which he identified and that inspired him. "For me personally, growing up in far-flung parts of the world and without firm roots, it spoke to a yearning within every human being for a home."

As he said, however, the Zionist dream did not end with getting to the promised land, with getting a state of their own for the Jewish people. That was just a new beginning: "the work goes on – for justice and dignity; for opportunity and freedom." Barack Obama did not just say that the statement that Zionism is racism or that Zionism is apartheid. Barack Obama in effect said: I am a Zionist, just as John Kennedy had once said, I am a Berliner. "The Jewish people sustained their unique identity and traditions, as well as a longing to return home. And while Jews achieved extraordinary success in many parts of the world, the dream of true freedom finally found its full expression in the Zionist idea – to be a free people in your homeland." Israel is the realization of national self-determination for the Jewish people. "Israel is rooted not just in history and tradition, but also in a simple and profound idea: the idea that people deserve to be free in a land of their own."

The second part of the speech dwelt on Israel as the start-up nation par excellence. Israel is a country of innovators, of Nobel prize winners, a thriving democracy where referring to lively public debate is an understatement. And all this has been accomplished in the midst of intense hostility and physical insecurity. He then told a big white lie. Through it all, the United States of America has shared an unbreakable bond of friendship with Israel. In the context, it was totally understandable and forgivable.

America shares interests with Israel, shares $40 billion dollars annually in trade, shares a commitment to the security and stability of the Middle East, shares a belief in economic growth and the expansion of trade around the world, shares a belief in a strong middle class, shares a faith in democracy. But international realism is not all both nations have in common. Both are countries of immigration representing the ingathering of people from around the world. Both are countries enriched by faith. Both are countries made strong by a belief in the rule of law. Both are countries fueled by innovation and entrepreneurship. After he established his deep personal identification with Israel and America`s shared interests and values with Israel, Obama moved into the third and tough part of his speech – the issues of establishing security, peace and prosperity in the Middle East.

He began with security as he had adumbrated in his speeches over the last months when addressing the Issue of Israel. Security was basic – not simply in general but for the child in Sderot. Security requires an Iron Dome. Security requires a strong defence force. But these are not sufficient. These will not protect Israelis boarding a tour bus in Bulgaria. The only real protection is when the people in the region – specifically in reference to Syria – can live in states in which the leadership is responsive and responds to the needs and desire of its people while protecting all communities within and making peace with countries beyond those borders.

Obama brought up Iran, and without underlining any differences with Netanyahu over red lines, reaffirmed that America was committed to Iran not acquiring nuclear weapons. While giving diplomacy a chance, "America will do what it must to prevent a nuclear armed Iran." Then he delivered the lines that must have received the longest and loudest standing ovation. "Make no mistake: those who adhere to the ideology of rejecting Israel’s right to exist might as well reject the earth beneath them and the sky above, because Israel is not going anywhere. Today, I want to tell you – particularly the young people – that so long as there is a United States of America, Ah-tem lo lah-vahd."

You are not alone. I am with you. America is with you. Further, you are even justified in being sceptical about the prospects of peace. But I, Barack Obama, am not going to take the easy way out and express solidarity in the abstract without working to assure that security in the best way possible, through peace.

So Obama came to the fourth and greatest section of his speech – his arguments to say that peace was necessary, peace was just and peace was possible with the Palestinians.

1. First, peace is necessary. Indeed, it is the only path to true security. You can be the generation that permanently secures the Zionist dream, or you can face a growing challenge to its future. Given the demographics west of the Jordan River, the only way for Israel to endure and thrive as a Jewish and democratic state is through the realization of an independent and viable Palestine.

2. Second, peace is just. Though security must be at the center of any agreement, the only path to peace is through negotiation. The Palestinian people’s right to self-determination and justice must also be recognized. Neither occupation nor expulsion is the answer. Just as Israelis built a state in their homeland, Palestinians have a right to be a free people in their own land.

3. Third, peace is possible. Palestinians must recognize that Israel will be a Jewish state, and that Israelis have the right to insist upon their security. Israelis must recognize that continued settlement activity is counterproductive to the cause of peace, and that an independent Palestine must be viable– that real borders will have to be drawn. But only you can make that dream possible. That is where peace begins – not just in the plans of leaders, but in the hearts of people; not just in a carefully designed process, but in the daily connections that take place among those who live together in this land, and in this sacred city of Jerusalem. Speaking as a politician, I can promise you this: political leaders will not take risks if the people do not demand that they do. You must create the change that you want to see. Your hopes must light the way forward.

There will be many voices that say this change is not possible. But remember this: Israel is the most powerful country in this region. Israel has the unshakeable support of the most powerful country in the world. Israel has the wisdom to see the world as it is, but also the courage to see the world as it should be. Ben Gurion once said, "In Israel, in order to be a realist you must believe in miracles." Sometimes, the greatest miracle is recognizing that the world can change. After all, that is a lesson that the world learned from the Jewish people.

We bear that history on our shoulders, and we carry it in our hearts. Today, as we face the twilight of Israel’s founding generation, you – the young people of Israel – must now claim the future. It falls to you to write the next chapter in the story of this great nation.

As a man who has been inspired in my own life by that timeless calling within the Jewish experience – tikkun olam – I am hopeful that we can draw upon what’s best in ourselves to meet the challenges that will come; to win the battles for peace in the wake of so much war; and to do the work of repairing this world. May God bless you, and may God bless Israel and the United States of America. Toda raba.

I believe that great words well said can change the course of history.

Category: Politics

Tags: Obama, Israel, peace process, Zionism.



Parashat Vayikra.Leviticus 1:1- 5:26.Peace, Sin and Guilt.16.03.13

Leviticus 1:1- 5:26 Peace, Sin and Guilt 16.03.13

Parashat Vayikra


Howard Adelman

Why do Jewish children begin their Biblical Jewish studies with Leviticus? On the surface, Leviticus is a total bore for children. Once you try to analyze the text, you have to conclude that the concepts must go way over their head. Further, if the book is a set of instructions for priests (Torat Kohanim), why should a youngster be interested? In any case, rabbinic Judaism prevails and there is no longer a Jewish religion centred on temple rituals, so what relevance could such a book have as an introduction to contemporary Judaism? Why would any child be interested in different categories of sacrifice, initiation rites into the priesthood and the horrific consequences if you make a mistake?

Leviticus is an emotionally disturbing book. A child has not yet acquired the censors and indirection, the inhibitions and redirections. The direct even involuntary attraction towards a powerful emotional response provides the power of the text. It is not that the children are pure in being without sin but pure in the sense of their openness to another, especially empathy for the emotions of the other.

Leviticus is about such openness. "Vayikra" means that God called. Moses is called. We as inheritors of the Mosaic credo will eventually be called. We are not called from heaven. The voice calling us comes from midst of the Tent of Meeting. In the Maori community that I will discuss at the end in reference to the movie, The Whale Rider, the call comes from the spirit of the whale. We all have a calling. Depending on our community, that calling can originate from different sources. Children have to learn to listen for their calling.

1. And He called to Moses, and the Lord spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying,

א.וַיִּקְרָא אֶל משֶׁה וַיְדַבֵּר יְהֹוָה אֵלָיו מֵאֹהֶל מוֹעֵד לֵאמֹר:

And what are we called to do?

2. Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: When a man from [among] you brings a sacrifice to the Lord; from animals, from cattle or from the flock you shall bring your sacrifice.

ב.דַּבֵּר אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם אָדָם כִּי יַקְרִיב מִכֶּם קָרְבָּן לַיהֹוָה מִן הַבְּהֵמָה מִן הַבָּקָר וּמִן הַצֹּאן תַּקְרִיבוּ אֶת קָרְבַּנְכֶם:

We are called to speak to the children of Israel.That includes real children as well as adults who still behave as children. Why and how do we speak to the children first about sacrifice?

The first lesson we are required to impart is in the form of a horror movie. A man, adam not ish, a representative of all humanity rather than a specific human, comes near so the child can witness. What is sacrificed on the high altar before the temple? Preferably an unblemished bull, but possibly a sheep or goat or even a turtle dove. In every case, killing, dissection and creating a bloody mess are involved. There is a slaughter of the animal, splashing its blood on the altar, skinning the animal, dissecting the animal into sections, piling the parts in a particular order with the head and fat on top of the wood so the fat drips down and sizzles in the fire. When the innards have been cleaned, washed and piled with the other parts of the animal and the hind legs on top, we then watch the face and eyes and mouth of the animal consumed first by the flames as the animal is burnt until there are only ashes left. It is a scene designed to arouse fear in the child.

This type of sacrifice is called a burnt offering. We can capture its meaning by going back to the first sacrifice, Cain and Abel providing a burnt offering to the Lord. Cain was a farmer. He offered the best of his labour, grain, as a sacrifice. But God chose to recognize Abel’s animal sacrifice. In a jealous rage, because the sacrifice of the best products of his labours for God were not recognized, Cain killed Abel. God preferred to recognize the nomadic way of life of the shepherd even as humanity was adopting to a sedentary agricultural way of life. The irony is that God’s recognition was not for that which was to be valued as historically the superior way of life, but as the way of life that had to be sacrificed to give way to agricultural societies.

The animal sacrifice is now given not for its recognition as having a higher status, but for atonement, for acknowledging the sacrifice and loss of a way of life that once was and is no more. There must be a sacrifice to atone for a way of life that no longer exists, that has gone up in smoke, and now persists and exists only in symbolic and token forms. God requires that we recognize and atone for the ways of life that have been sacrificed in the civilizing of humanity. Through the rituals of sacrifice, the community symbolically preserves its past. The rituals provide the songline for community survival.

How does the child experience this? A child would certainly not grasp the symbolic significance. I am convinced that this is where fear and trembling are appropriate and properly describe reactions that could be expected on first seeing such a truly awesome sight, the burnt, or more accurately, ascendant offering upon the high altar. What ascends to heaven entirely in a cloud of smoke is no more on earth and in history.

In Ezra 3.3, even in the face of enemies, especially when surrounded by enemies, the burnt offering must be made to teach a community that it is fighting for its way of life. If death from the enemy is to be feared, the greater fear is the existential one, that the way of life of your community and society will be wiped from the face of the earth and from history. "Despite their fear of the peoples around them, they built the altar on its foundation and sacrificed burnt offerings on it to the LORD, both the morning and evening sacrifices." Children of Israel are instilled very early in life with existential fear.

Animal and grain sacrifices are no longer made competitively side-by-side, but in succession. Ch. 2 begins with the depiction of the meal sacrifices, a fire rather than a burnt offering, an acknowledgement that bread must be made and food cooked by applying heat. Except for Shavuot, leavened bread is not sacrificed on the altar. It goes on the table. Only unleavened bread, the bread of affliction, is sacrificed. As chapter, verse 11 states, "No meal offering that you sacrifice to the Lord shall be made [out of
anything] leavened. For you shall not cause to [go up in] smoke any leavening or any honey, [as] a fire offering to the Lord." We keep the tastiest and best now for our own consumption.

Chapter 2

1. And if a person brings a meal offering to the Lord, his offering shall be of fine flour. He shall pour oil over it and place frankincense upon it.

א.וְנֶפֶשׁ כִּי תַקְרִיב קָרְבַּן מִנְחָה לַיהֹוָה סֹלֶת יִהְיֶה קָרְבָּנוֹ וְיָצַק עָלֶיהָ שֶׁמֶן וְנָתַן עָלֶיהָ לְבֹנָה:

2. And he shall bring it to Aaron’s descendants, the kohanim, and from there, he [the kohen] shall scoop out his fistful of its fine flour and its oil, in addition to all its frankincense. Then, the kohen shall cause its reminder to [go up in] smoke on the altar; [it is] a fire offering [with] a pleasing fragrance to the Lord.

ב.וֶהֱבִיאָהּ אֶל בְּנֵי אַהֲרֹן הַכֹּהֲנִים וְקָמַץ מִשָּׁם מְלֹא קֻמְצוֹ מִסָּלְתָּהּ וּמִשַּׁמְנָהּ עַל כָּל לְבֹנָתָהּ וְהִקְטִיר הַכֹּהֵן אֶת אַזְכָּרָתָהּ הַמִּזְבֵּחָה אִשֵּׁה רֵיחַ נִיחֹחַ לַיהֹוָה:

For all fire offerings, we add salt. For of the three parts of earth – wilderness, settled areas and the sea – the settled areas increasingly displace the wilderness. But what of the sea? The sea too, even though it was never a way of life, once covered all of earth and had to recede. The sea must be used in service to settled society. Thus, with all offerings, salt must be added. Salt becomes the symbol of the Covenant. In order to have settled life, the sea had to recede. Civilization proceeds by pushing back the subterranean life, the life of the sea, and expanding human settlements of the land and bringing as much as possible into the light of day. Salt, the best preservative known in the ancient world, allows food to be preserved and put away in storage. The salt of the Covenant allows that which is preserved and stored away to be raised up. That is why Israel was given to King David and the children of Israel to be preserved and raised up. (Chronicles 13:5).

"And every sacrifice of your meal offerings salt with salt and do not banish salt, the Covenant of your G-d from on your meal offerings. Place salt on every one of your offerings…" (Leviticus 2:13)

"All the sacred gifts that the Israelites set aside for the Lord I give to you, to your sons, and to the daughters that are with you, as a due for all time. It shall be an everlasting covenant of salt before the Lord for you and for your offspring as well. (Numbers 18:19)

Once the dialectic of the Cain and Abel sacrifices are re-enacted, three other sacrifices are depicted – the peace offering, the guilt offering and the sin offering. Chapter 3 begins with the peace offering. In analyzing the peace offering, we must ask in what sense are we both drawn closer to death and enriching our experience of life? What is being substituted for and lost through the sacrifice? In what sense is the offering an offering of oneself? In one sense, in a peace offering, we give up very little.

3 And he shall offer of the sacrifice of the peace offering an offering made by fire unto the LORD; the fat that covereth the inwards, and all the fat that is upon the inwards,

4 And the two kidneys, and the fat that is on them, which is by the flanks, and the caul above the liver, with the kidneys, it shall he take away.

Not much of a sacrifice! You simply put on the altar what you would not eat anyway – fat and blood. The rest is divided between the priest and the sacrificer. We are not talking about giving to express gratitude for a benefit gained. Nor for a benefit expected! The zevach sh’lamim or "sacrifice of well-being" was a voluntary animal offering, sometimes to fulfill a vow. (Leviticus 3:1-17) What is given up and surrendered is excess. The fat is burned on the altar. It must not only substitute for but be inclusive of what is excessive. By giving of ourselves in acts of charity and benevolence we gain a sense of who we are as humble beings. For we identify then with all who are humble. In that way we come to peace with ourselves and with every other member of humanity. If fear accompanies a burnt offering, happiness and contentment accompany a peace offering.

Historically, in Judaism, Judah ha-Levi exemplified the giving and the product of a peace offering. The sages taught that none drew so near to God as Judah. By giving up the work that defines you for a day of rest, by substituting prayer and study and worship for blood, sweat and tears, we gain a new love, Shabat. "On Friday doth my cup o’erflow, What blissful rest the night shall know, When, in thine arms, my toil and woe Are all forgot, Sabbath my love!" The highest reward for the peace sacrifice is Shabat itself. "Bring fruits and wine and sing a gladsome lay, Cry, ‘Come in peace, O restful Seventh day!’"

In chapter 4 of Leviticus, we are introduced to the sin offering. Note the emphasis on "unintentionality". The sin is inadvertent. But the offering is not; it is an obligatory one.

1. And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying,

א.וַיְדַבֵּר יְהֹוָה אֶל משֶׁה לֵּאמֹר:

2. Speak to the children of Israel, saying: If a person sins unintentionally [by committing one] of all the commandments of the Lord, which may not be committed, and he commits [part] of one of them

ב.דַּבֵּר אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לֵאמֹר נֶפֶשׁ כִּי תֶחֱטָא בִשְׁגָגָה מִכֹּל מִצְוֹת יְהֹוָה אֲשֶׁר לֹא תֵעָשֶׂינָה וְעָשָׂה מֵאַחַת מֵהֵנָּה:

3. If the anointed kohen sins, bringing guilt to the people, then he shall bring for his sin which he has committed, an unblemished young bull as a sin offering to the Lord.

ג.אִם הַכֹּהֵן הַמָּשִׁיחַ יֶחֱטָא לְאַשְׁמַת הָעָם וְהִקְרִיב עַל חַטָּאתוֹ אֲשֶׁר חָטָא פַּר בֶּן בָּקָר תָּמִים לַיהֹוָה לְחַטָּאת:

What happens if the children of Israel unintentionally sin? The text immediately jumps to the koanim sinning and bringing guilt to the people. Only later do we return to the sins of the community committed out of ignorance. Are the people punished for unintentional sins? Can the koanim commit unintentional sins? The text is clear. The koanim and the community as a whole bear a greater responsibility for sins of ignorance than any individual; a young male bull must be sacrificed.

14. When the sin which they had committed becomes known, the congregation shall bring a young bull as a sin offering. They shall bring it before the Tent of Meeting.

יד.וְנוֹדְעָה הַחַטָּאת אֲשֶׁר חָטְאוּ עָלֶיהָ וְהִקְרִיבוּ הַקָּהָל פַּר בֶּן בָּקָר לְחַטָּאת וְהֵבִיאוּ אֹתוֹ לִפְנֵי אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד:

The animal parts are not consumed nor even burnt on the altar but taken outside the camp to be consumed by fire. Depending on your status in the community, there are different expectations and different levels of sin offerings.

Finally, we have the guilt offering. It differs from the sin offering in that, although the actions may appear inadvertent, whether it is the neglect of the Catholic Church or the Canadian government to have protected children sexually and otherwise abused in the aboriginal school system or the interpersonal digs and actions that upset our partners as indirect ways of expressing our anger, they are actions that hurt another, actions that we can be conscious of and correct. Our secular society relies on therapeutics instead of ritual outlets to deal with guilt and anger. Our society lacks rituals to deal with inadvertent sins and sadness when it blankets the whole community.

Last night I once again watched the beautiful and very moving movie, The Whale Rider, the 2002 film directed by Niki Caro about a young Maori girl of eleven years old in a Maori patriarchal community on the east coast of New Zealand. It is the strongest feminist film I have ever seen. The Whangara Maori date their history back through many generations to a single ancestor, Paikea, who travelled to New Zealand by canoe but before his arrival, the canoe capsized and he was saved by riding to shore on the back of a whale. The chiefs have always been the first-born sons of Paikea’s direct descendants. The eldest son of Koro, the leader of the community, left New Zealand to pursue an art career in Germany. He left behind his daughter, Pai, who has to break through the melancholy that hangs like a heavy cloud over the community to eventually prove, against all Koro’s inherited beliefs, that she, Pai, is the one destined to inherit the leadership of the community and bring it back to the joys, celebrations and love of a way of life that need not be lost by modernity. Pai heard her call.

Only after the community has overcome the sin of ignorance to break through the collective melancholia, only once they as individuals and a community have broken through the various degrees of guilt over self-indulgence, bad habits (smoking and lack of exercise), to not caring sufficiently for one another and the next generation, only once they have broken through once again to re-connect with their animal spirits, the whales, who in the breakdown of spirit have beached themselves on shore, only when they once again re-engage in a form of peace offering, can the community truly enjoy and celebrate the equivalent of a shared communal meal and the fire offering to the divine.


Obama 23: Tactics as Strategy – The Israel-Palestinian Peace Process 06.03.13

Obama 23: Tactics as Strategy – The Israel-Palestinian Peace Process 06.03.13


Howard Adelman

Vali Nasr in his forthcoming volume, The Dispensable Nation: American Foreign Policy in Retreat,criticizes the Obama administration’s foreign policy for substituting tactics for strategy. “It is not going too far to say that American foreign policy has become completely subservient to tactical domestic political considerations.” The resort to and emphasis on tactics is correct, but they are emerging as primarily foreign policy tactics in the case of the Israel-Palestine peace process. Second, the emphasis on tactics has been the strategy deliberately adopted by the Obama administration.

Obama was offered two strategic options. One was to concur that the time was not ripe to make peace since the positions of the parties were too far apart. America should, therefore, stand by in a passive but supportive role waiting for an opportunity to help. In any case, it was up to the parties themselves to resolve their dispute and America was in no position to impose one. Investing its political capital for such a purpose would have been a waste. The second option said that the agreements discussed at Taba and then between Abbas and Olmert were so close that a deal was doable if only America intervened with bridging proposals backed up by American pressure and even a willingness to impose such a solution. This strategy was backed up by claims that the perpetuation of the Israeli-Palestinian problem jeopardized American interests in the region and undercut its credibility as a neutral broker. If something was not done quickly, the situation would blow with disastrous consequences to peace in the region and America’s future influence.

Passivity, however, seemed to benefit the Israeli right and the settler movement, leaving a running sore between America and its other allies in the region. On the other hand, charges that the situation was the key source of unrest in the region seemed not only to be totally exaggerated, but a misreading of the unstable politics in the region. There was no question, however, that leaving the situation alone courted enormous risks to stability. But what realistically could be done?

In his first term, Obama had supported an active role for the U.S. in the peace process, but without a willingness to impose solutions or even put "undue" pressure on either party. This hybrid of an activist diplomatic role without bringing in any heavy diplomatic, political and economic modes of pressure failed abysmally. Obama was unwilling to abandon dealing with a problem in urgent need of a solution. At the same time, he was unwilling to become the mediator promoting let alone imposing a particular solution. Obama wanted to resurrect a very activist role. On the other hand, he was still unwilling to adopt a strategy that put the US in the central position to propose or even impose a solution. How could America abandon the sidelines once again but not get terribly mauled as it became caught up in the centre of the fray?

The only approach is tactical rather than strategic because it accepts a number of seemingly contradictory propositions as both being true.

1a. Only the parties in dispute can come to an agreement;

1b. The parties are incapable of coming to a resolution on their own.

2a. The political position currently is relatively stable.

2b The stability is misleading for the situation could blow at a moment’s notice.

3a America cannot force the parties to agree.

3b. Only America is in a position to facilitate the parties coming to an agreement.

4a. There is an enormous gulf that separates the parties on borders, refugee return and the status of Berlin.

4b. The gap between the parties is infinitesimally small and can easily be bridged with a modicum of sustained effort.

Obama was presented with two very different strategies for dealing with the stalemate in the peace process between Israel and Palestine. Opting for one strategy or the other, or some variation of either, entails support for either the (a) or the (b) camp. Further, the (a) set, favours the Israeli settler position. The (b) set favours the Palestinian position. Choosing a strategy was itself inherently a problem. If America sat idly by for another four years saving its political capital in the hope that an opportunity would emerge would itself almost help insure that there would be no such opportunity on the horizon. On the other hand, opting to present U.S. parameters for a two-state outcome to kick-start negotiations, then, absent constant U.S. pressure, the president would be squandering his credibility unnecessarily for the existing asymmetrical negotiating paradigm guaranteed failure.

The irony is that America was as polarized on the domestic front as the situation in the Israeli-Palestine conflict. Congress represented and was polarized between red and blue states because "Americans live in communities of like-minded people who elect more ideological representatives. Obama’s rhetoric about a nation of common purpose and values no longer fits this country: there really is a red America and a blue America." (Daniel Levy "From Illusions to Solutions," The New York Times 18 May 2011) In the Middle East, on each side there is also a peace camp and a war camp. Only the war camp has the credibility to negotiate with the other side. But only the peace camp can make peace across the divide.

What are President Obama’s options? If he presents a plan to force Netanyahu and the Israeli body politic to make a choice by endorsing a border based on 1967 with equal land swaps, he corners the rejectionist Netanyahu who cannot challenge the USA in a direct confrontation. President Clinton adopted such a strategy in 1998 at the Wye River Summit in dealing with Netanyahu. It appeared to work since both Arafat and Netanyahu signed the Wye River Memorandum on 23 October 1998, an agreement that the Israeli Knesset endorsed by a vote of 75-19. Israel withdrew from area "A" and transferred total jurisdiction to the Palestine Authority. Israel transferred civil jurisdiction to the PA in area "B". In return, the PA agreed to adopt a policy of zero tolerance with respect to terrorism and would participate with Israel in a bi-lateral effort to eliminate any incitement, support structure for financing, planning, or abetting terrorism. The agreement was imbedded is a series of implementation and confidence building formulae to facilitate a final full peace agreement. Given Palestinian demands that were unattainable and Israeli requirements that would not be fulfilled without adequate trust, rather than serving as a framework for enhancing confidence, the effort to implement the agreement enhanced the level of distrust for the other side. For the agreement was based on a fundamental Catch-22. The agreement had to be implemented to enhance mutual trust. However, mutual trust was a necessary prerequisite for implementation of the agreement. The agreement proved to be a recipe for failure.

There were proposals that Obama go over the heads of each of the governments and direct an appeal directly to the people on both sides. He could ask the Israeli public to make a fundamental choice between remaining both a democracy and a state with a majority of Jews or continue an undemocratic occupation. He could ask the Palestinians whether they wanted a state of their own alongside Israel but committed to non-violence. The problem with such a populist appeal is that that its success would be too easy and obvious, for the answers from both publics would be a resounding affirmation. But since there would be no implementable result, the cynicism on both sides would be reinforced now supplemented by greater distrust of America being able to make a positive contribution.

Alternatively, the US could reach for a radical game change and bet on all or nothing. A year ago, Professor Menachem Klein of Bar Ilan University, a former adviser to the Barak government and a Geneva Initiative negotiator, and author of A Possible Peace Between Israel and Palestine and The Shift: Israel-Palestine: From Border Struggles to Ethnic Conflict, published an article, "We Need a Game Change" in The New York Times (8 March 2012) in which he advised Obama that the current political and psychological gap between the Israeli and Palestinian mindsets was too wide to bridge so that the chance for a successful negotiation was close to zero. The only option was to bet all or nothing. Make a total commitment to investing 100% of one’s political capital, time and energy into brokering a deal or continue to remain on the sidelines. Otherwise it was unrealistic to expect the United States president to perform the job that neither the Palestinian nor Israeli sides have been able to achieve. On the other hand, the piecemeal approaches of Oslo and Wye offer poor precedents and further efforts along those lines are doomed to eventual failure. But such advice was merely another version of waiting on the sidelines.

Alternatively, the United States could throw up its hands in despair and quit the field, turning the problem over to the UN or another consortium of interveners as Rashid Khalidi has advised in his September 2011 article in The New York Times, "An End to the Status Quo". The world cannot afford to wait while America fiddles and the region goes up in flames. Following the Arab Spring and the revolutionary eruptions of the last few years, the Arab public will no longer acquiesce in a fifth decade of occupation and more and more blather. Negotiations without issue are no longer tolerable for millions of young people around the region emboldened by the taste of freedom and tired of what they perceive as America’s coddling of Israel. Is Obama going to be on the wrong side of history in the Middle East or will he resolutely oppose the oppressive and untenable status quo before the peoples of the region take the matter into their own hands?

It is already clear that Obama will not be abandoning the field. Neither has he opted to continue to sit on the sidelines. What can he do to avoid getting ploughed under by the muscular approaches of either side? Obama is not a football but a basketball player. He will adopt a full court press but the phrase means precisely the opposite of what it connotes. It stands not for a risk all offensive strategy but for a set of tactical defensive procedures. Instead of concentrating on pushing with all your might to score, the team enters the game and adopts a person-to-person zone defence with specific diplomats assigned the task of blocking and corralling one particular player and position from the other side. The United States must not see itself as mediating or brokering between two competing teams but must enter the game determined to beat both of the other sides, not by concentrating on scoring points but by preventing both the Palestinians and the Israelis from using the period of play to score points themselves. The aim is to entrap each of the sides in their own courts beneath their own nets so that each side tires and gets worn down. It is a process of tactical harassment of each of the main ball handlers from the other side while preventing the ball from being passed off.

The analogy is meant to point to the following:

1) America is not a referee but a team playing against both the Israelis and the Palestinians.

2) America is not out to score points but to prevent either the Palestinians or the Israelis from using their time to score points and make an agreement impossible.

3) America should itself avoid prescriptions for a solution other than mouthing banal platitudes about peace, good will and good intentions while recognizing that its opponents are in short supply of both.

4) The main object of American involvement is to get the players committed to a series of round robins that will produce an agreement between them that will be implemented and will endure rather than once again be attenuated or possibly abandoned altogether.

5) The narrative of the past has to be rewritten from a series of failed attempts to get a final agreement to a series of increasingly successful efforts in teaching the two players to play basketball together. And in the series of games as they continue, each side may win in turns but both will only really win when they become committed to playing basketball and not fighting.

6) Since the United States will never retreat into isolationism and since it remains committed in the Middle East, then it should recognize that it is not a referee but a player itself competing with both sides, but a player not determined to win each or all the games but determined to teach the game.

7) That is why the rhetoric must change from telling either player what it can and must do to challenging each player to learn and adapt its tactics to see if that side can get by the blocking tactics of the United States. Changing its own attitude in redefining its roll is a critical first step. That is why Obama is dead on in saying he is not going to advance proposals but to listen and hear. Obama does not have to say that he is also going to block and tie up their players in their own ends to give each side time to get their own acts together.

8) Israel is an economic, security and innovation partner of the United States; The largest economic support for Palestine comes from America. The USA can work on the terms of its partnerships with either entity with both positive and negative incentives to the degree each moves towards a peace agreement with the other.

I have already portrayed Obama as a social democrat and a community conservative, but that refers to his ideology. However, his style affects his approach to a problem like peace between the Israel and Palestine. Recall that Barack Obama is a left-handed basketball player who likes to fake right and go to the left. He also plays point guard responsible for setting up the plays rather than scoring himself and, even more importantly, controlling the ball to ensure that it gets to the right player at the right time. In his first term in office, Obama totally lost control of the ball with respect to the Israel-Palestine conflict. However, advising Valerie Jarrett, he told her, "You need to just calm down. This is gonna be fun! Valerie, you’re not a guy but let me explain it to you in sport terms. It’s like we’re in a basketball game, and I’m gonna fumble the ball, and someone’s gonna steal the ball, and I’m gonna miss a free throw, but we’re gonna win the game." (cf. Larissa MacFarquar’s "The Conciliator, The New Yorker 7 May 2007) This, of course, reinforces the widespread agreement that he is unflappable and cool, an aloof but pragmatic searcher for consensus. "We must talk and reach for common understandings, precisely because all of us are imperfect and can never act with the certainty that God is on our side."

However, in that search for consensus, he is not a glad-hander. Unlike Clinton, he dislikes the hassle and the political hustle, the detailed tactics to get votes and legislators on your side. It is not the tactics of politics but political tactics that intrigue him. And the bottom line of his tactics is that, though he writes in a different genre than the homespun strung-out tales of Abraham Lincoln, he is a teller of tales, a narrator, but one focussed on his own life and how the presidency fits into it as an outlet for his own "special qualities" and his determination to produce an experience he found common in Black Protestant churches, "collective redemption". Barack Obama is not interested primarily in the details of negotiations, the going back and forth and the give and take to reach a deal. He is not President Johnson’s scrappy wheeler-dealer. He wants to reconcile Palestine and Israel because if they can be reconciled, it makes possible redemption for anyone.

Kyle-Anne Shiver’s critical article on "Obama’s Politics of Collective Redemption" (American Thinker 11 February 2008) begins by depicting a great leader poised to redeem collective sins and "change nearly everything, bringing about a new era in which permanent solutions are found to age-old conditions." In the case of Israel-Palestine, the specific issues of where the border will run, how many if any refugees will be allowed to return and under what rubric, the governance of the holy basin as well as border and security issues are matters of pragmatic possibility. The redemption of a liberation process, however, will result from the peace agreement itself made between and by the two parties and that will bring about the greatest transformation in which hope replaces cynicism, and dreams of new possibilities replace the constraints of dealing with the necessary demands of self-protection and security.

Obama recognizes the difference between the prudence and calculation of interests and considerations and the search for common ground that go into making an agreement. On those elements he will offer his and his team’s services as facilitators. (See Ryan Lizza, "The Obama Memos: The making of a post-post-partisan Presidency," The New Yorker, 30 January 2012)But he is also aware that beyond detached reason, each of the sides in the conflict is driven by a more basic yearning: "Zionists’ yearning for homecoming…to a place where they believed Jews had once led authentic, independent, and pristine lives of simplicity and purity: a pastoral kind of life, with the golden city of Jerusalem at its center," and the almost erotic attachment Palestinians have "toward the landscape of Palestine – a landscape that was lost" and "is more important for many Palestinians than the lost community." (Avishai Margolit, "Palestine: How Bad & Good, Was British Rule?" New York Review of Books, 7 February 2013) Olive trees, figs and apricots permeate the nostalgic longing for return not captured by characterizing return as a right. (See Howard Adelman and Elazar Barkan (2011) No Return, No Refuge. New York: Columbia University Press) The longing and sense of loss also have to be dealt with through a redemptive process of restoration. Making peace will require as much sensitivity to these affective dimensions as to the detailed back and forth trade-offs.

Parties to a conflict can reconcile with each other over conflicting interests and needs. But, at the same time, each party has to reconcile with itself concerning its dreams and aspirations. Obama is as sensitive to the latter as to the former and sees himself providing even more input into the latter for each party is more than capable of looking after its own interests. Besides, in that equation, America has its own interests, however relatively small compared to the parties in the conflict, and America can best deal with each party on that level by trying to reconcile American interests with Israeli interests and American interests with Palestinian interests. Precisely because of that, Obama will have an easier time being non-partisan in the Middle East than in dealing with the intractable divisions in Congress.

Obama has to control the tempo of the new game he has set in motion and not let the clock run out as Olmert did. He has to recognize when opportunities open up and he can push for a fast break and when to hold back, and which of his team to assign to carry the ball at any one point. He has to be able to handle and pass the ball while having an overview of the whole game. And if he is going to play a full court press where the Palestinians and the Israelis in turn try to carry the ball, he has to demonstrate not that he is the best friend of each, but that he can block every move unless they begin to conform to a reconciliation process. This does not require a well thought-out strategy but a mastery of the various skills and tactics, a situational awareness and a short response time so that he can control the game from the perimeter of the play. He has to be as sensitive to the fears of Israelis as he is to the aspirations of the Palestinians. He knows that the problem is not the solution per se, because these have been negotiated ad nauseum, but how to finish the game without a brawl breaking out. To do that, he must immerse himself in the process but not by offering his own framework agreement or road map or bridging proposals.

He has to stick to tactics and eschew setting down an overall strategy. That is and will be his strategy.

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Obama23.Tactics as Strategy.The IsraelPalestinian Peace Process 06.03.13.doc

Obama 22: Conditions for an Israel-Palestinian Peace Process 05.03.13

Obama 22: Conditions for an Israel-Palestinian Peace Process 05.03.13


Howard Adelman

Two weeks before his inauguration, Israeli ground forces invaded Gaza. Barack Obama, America’s first African-American President, was inaugurated into office on 20 January 2009 two days after each side in the Gaza War declared unilateral ceasefires and a day before Israel withdrew its ground troops from Gaza. In the United States, Obama inherited a disintegrating economy, the implosion of America’s financial institutions, rapidly rising unemployment, the collapse of the housing market all alongside a dysfunctional health system with by far the highest costs in the Western hemisphere, decaying infrastructure and an educational system that was of middling rank. Obama had two long wars to wind down and a war against al Qaeda to win. Iran was going nuclear and North Korea already was and continued to flex its meagre muscles in threatening ways. China was becoming a rising military and economic power. Pakistan, a nuclear power, always seemed to be on a razor’s edge of imploding. And these were just the problems that were in the headlines. Who would expect Obama to take on the challenge of advancing the Israeli-Palestinian peace process?

Obama ignored the signs and the warnings. He surprised many with initiatives on other fronts where there had been few expectations. He had campaigned on a shift to Asia, but a wide assault on various problems in Latin America and the Caribbean had not been anticipated. As President-elect, the only foreign leader he met was Felipe Calderón of Mexico. The first foreign visitor he invited to Camp David was the President of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. He then welcomed President Michele Bachelet of Chile and President Ălvaro Uribe of Columbia. Key cabinet members travelled to various Latin American and Caribbean capitals. Obama loosened travel restrictions to Cuba and entered into negotiations for postal telecommunications and migration agreements with the Castro regime. (Cf. Abraham F. Lowenthal (2012) The Obama Administration and the Americas, 2)

With initiatives of all kinds on various fronts across the globe in the face of the most horrendous problems on the domestic front, Barack Obama made peaceful settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a top priority. He appointed Senator George Mitchell as his special envoy. When Secretary of State Hilary Clinton traveled to Israel in March, she immediately got the backs of the government up when she denounced the settlements in East Jerusalem and demolition of Palestinian houses as "unhelpful". Netanyahu responded by saying that resumption of negotiations and freezing of settlement activity would be conditional upon the Palestinian Authority recognizing Israel as a Jewish state. On 12 April, Mahmoud Abbas phoned Benjamin Netanyahu to officially restart the peace negotiations.

Obama then antagonized the Israeli government further in his speech in Cairo on 4 June addressed to the Muslim world where he called for a final settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict based on a two state solution and declared that settlements were illegitimate and undercut the possibility of peace. Finally, Obama got a positive result. Netanyahu in a speech at Bar Ilan only ten days after Obama’s Cairo speech endorsed the two state solution based on a demilitarized Palestinian state, but insisted that Jerusalem had to remain as the undivided capital of Israel. The Likud Party, that historically had opposed the two state solution, had officially and publicly reversed its longstanding position.

The parties seemed very far apart and discussions did not proceed from where Olmert and Abbas left off. Netanyahu refused to cede the major settlements, insisted on a united Greater Jerusalem, rejected any right of refugee repatriation and demanded a demilitarized Palestine. Abbas insisted on the green line being the borders and that not one centimetre of the West Bank would be ceded to Israel, demanded territorial contiguity between Gaza and the West Bank under Palestine sovereignty, insisted that the right of return be recognized and rejected any settlement building even for organic growth within the existing settlements. Nevertheless, on 23 August 2009, President Netanyahu announced the resumption of negotiations in September. After Barack Obama arranged a three way meeting with himself, Netanyahu and Abbas on 22 September, all sides announced that the negotiations would be re-launched. Abbas had conceded without a formal settlement freeze. Netanyahu had agreed to a two-state solution. They were still far apart but at least they were talking and a goal was in sight.

However, in Shakespearean terms, events in nature seemed ominous. Climate change threatened the future and increasingly violent storms seemed to adumbrate an ominous end as well as raise emergency costs and infrastructure challenges of its own in the interim. The world seemed cursed by fire, earth, air and water. The worst bushfires in Australian history took place in February killing well over a hundred people. Devastating earthquakes struck in Italy (6 April), New Zealand (15 July) and Samoa (29 September) the latter resulting in a tsunami. While Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the United Nations on 24 September 2009, introducing himself as the Prime Minister of a Jewish state just a day after the President of Iran’s anti-Semitic rant and denial of the Holocaust, and while he boasted of his state being at "the forefront of many of these advances, in science and technology, in medicine and biology, in agriculture and water, in energy and the environment" standing for a future of hope against nostalgic and often fanatical efforts to resurrect a dormant past, after challenging the international community to "stop the terrorist regime of Iran from developing atomic weapons, thereby endangering the peace of the entire world," and confronting the seeming unteachability of mankind and the United Nations as it hypocritically prepared to condemn Israel for attacking Gaza in self-defence against Iran-sponsored missile attacks, as the United Nations prepared to condemn Israel for violations of human rights based on an error-filled and unjust report, Ondoy Typhoon began to strike the Philippines killing almost 500 over the next few days. On 25 November in Saudi Arabia of all places the 2009 Jeddah floods swept hundreds of cars and people to their death right in the midst of the Haj. Talk about auspicious signs!

Except for East Jerusalem and construction already underway, on that same day, 25 November 2009, Netanyahu finally imposed a settlement freeze for ten months. In fact, an informal de facto freeze was even put in place in east Jerusalem. Obama thus far seemed to have succeeded beyond almost all expectations.

All this took place against a domestic economic collapse in the United States in which both Chrysler (30 April) and General Motors (1 June) had filed for bankruptcy protection, North Korea had tested its second nuclear device, the protests against the rigged Iranian elections were being quashed, Pakistan was beset with one firebomb after another beginning with the horrific attack against the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore on 3 March to the 28 October Peshawar bombing that killed 117 and wounded twice that number. Recall the year ended with the 28 December suicide bombing of Shias in Karachi while observing the Day of Ashura.

Events were not going well in Iraq either from bombing throughout April to the 19 August bombings in Baghdad that killed over hundred and injured over 500, to the 25 October bombings that upped those casualty rates by 50%. At least the 8 December bombing casualty rate from bombings in Baghdad had receded to the ordinary horrors of 19 August.

However, on the Israel-Palestine peace process, 2010 would prove that everything put in place in 2009 was for naught. There were American outbursts over constructions projects even though they were in the heart of existing settlements that would eventually be involved in land swaps. On 31 May 2010, the Israeli attack on the Gaza flotilla with a loss of nine lives was denounced as a massacre by both President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. Abbas met with the Arab League in July and said that Palestinians would once again revert to violence if the Arab states would agree to invade Israel. The situation seemed to be getting worse. The period of the freeze was being squandered and the two sides seemed to be getting further apart. Yet Hilary Clinton in August 2010 still opined that a peace agreement could be in place in a year. Finally, in September 2010 direct talks were initiated.

Hamas tried to sabotage the talks by resuming attacks on Israel. But the talks were imploding on their own as Netanyahu would only extend the freeze if Palestine formally recognized Israel as a Jewish state and Abbas replied that not only would he not recognize Israel as a Jewish state as a precondition of resuming peace talks but would never recognize Israel as a Jewish state. The U.S. kept offering further incentives such as security offers and military aid to get the talks back on track but all efforts failed and the Palestinians went the UN route to seek recognition of a Palestine state.

Both sides were embittered by the experience and more distrustful of the other side. The United States which had staked so much political capital on the effort was thrown under the bus by both sides. So why would the U.S. once again commit its political capital, in increasingly less supply, to resurrect the peace process in 2013?

The situation since 2009 had radically changed. Netanyahu, though emerging from the elections with the largest number of seats, his combined total with Lieberman’s party only came to 31. Netanyahu had been severely weakened. Israelis were disinterested in the peace process and only Tsipi Livni campaigned to make it a priority but won only seven seats. Israeli society in the meanwhile was growing richer and more prosperous. As the Israeli government continued to fill in settlements for strategic reasons, Israel was on the verge of self-sufficiency in energy because of tremendous reserves of fossil fuels discovered in the past few years.

If the domestic economic situation, other than the growing disparities between the rich and the poor, made Israel feel more secure, the immediate neighbourhood had deteriorated considerably. An increasingly unstable Egypt has shifted from a cold ally to a frozen foe headed by a leader of an Islamic party with a relationship with Hamas and a record of anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist assertions. In a protracted two year civil war, the president of Syria, Bashar Hafez al-Assad, certainly no friend of Israel, seemed on his way to eventual defeat as Syrian rebels captured the northern city of Raqqa and, in imitation of the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s statue in Firdos Square in Baghdad almost ten years earlier, toppled Hafez al-Assad’s Bashar’s father’s statue in the provincial capital of the north. Jabhat al-Nusra, the Islamist rebels in Syria allied with al Qaeda captured the long-range Scud missiles in a military complex in Deir al-Zour and also swept the Syrian army from their posts on the Golan Heights. Except for the West Bank and Jordan, Israel was surrounded by implacable enemies – Hezbollah on the north, now Jabhat al-Nasra on the north-east, Hamas in Gaza on the south-west and an increasingly Islamic Egypt in the Sinai.

As Israel was weaker in political security, and stronger in economic security, its military security had become precarious. Iran was closer than ever in operating its centrifuges to produce weapons grade nuclear energy. Turkey had slipped from a friend ten years earlier to an implacable foe unwilling to reconcile over the Gaza flotilla incident. Israel seemed more vulnerable than ever and more dependent on American goodwill as Europe became increasingly shrill in opposition to Israel. Since Obama could do little on the domestic front in dealing with the recalcitrant Republicans, he was freer to turn his attention to international affairs and the Israel-Palestine issue itself. Obama hated being a loser and had a record of picking himself up and trying even harder a second time. But this time it was unlikely he would lead with his chin.

President Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu, as I have shown, have not enjoyed the best relationship as leaders of two states that are ostensibly allies. To rehearse Bibi’s resentments, in his first year of his first term, Obama visited Saudi Arabia and Egypt but had no time for Israel in his first itinerary to the Middle East. The two leaders have differed over settlement policy. Bibi demanded that Obama draw a red line in the sand with respect to Iran’s nuclear program; Obama demurred. Bibi visited the White House in March 2010 and was left stewing in his seat when Barack Obama went off to have dinner with his family. Further, Obama refuse to have his picture taken with Bibi. Bibi tried to audition as Mitt Romney’s campaign manager by holding a tremendous welcoming reception for Romney during the presidential campaign.

In the recent Israeli elections, Bibi’s joint party with Lieberman managed to only muster 31 seats. Moderate Likudniks like Benny Begin and Meridor had been driven off the electoral lists and Bibi had an even more extreme right wing party to his right led by Naftali Bennett with 12 seats. Bibi is considerably weaker while Obama, with no election facing him, is much stronger. If Obama is going to face that group down, he will have to come with strong words and a very big stick.

Bibi announced that as a priority he wants to restart the peace talks with the Palestinians and his first announcement of an agreement with another party was with Livni who ran on giving the peace talks first priority. Though Obama virtually ignored Israel during his re-election campaign, he did appoint Senator John Kerry as his Secretary of State and Kerry has unequivocally said that he is determined to get an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. The first trip he announced about going abroad was to Israel. After speaking to Benjamin Netanyahu on January 28th, Barack Obama then announced that he too would be going to Israel on March 20th. Obama would also be visiting Jordan and the Palestine Authority.

However, most Israelis and Palestinians simply don’t believe that peace is possible. Israelis do not want to repeat the mistake of Gaza. Palestinians do not want to see years and years of further negotiations as Israeli settlements expand and strengthen. Israelis do not want to risk an existential threat from the Judean Hills. While both sides believe the other is now genuinely committed to a two-state solution, the two state visions of the two sides are not congruent. Abbas sees Netanyahu as committed to a Palestine state made up of three truncated Bantustans, one north of Jerusalem, one south of Jerusalem and one in Gaza with wiry links between them. Netanyahu sees Abbas as committed, not to a Palestinian and a Jewish state living side-by-side in peace, but to a Palestinian and a bi-national state living side-by-side until the Arab birth rate and Jewish emigration allow a re-amalgamation.

Obama will keep his word and will not be coming to Israel and Palestine to impose a solution or even to offer a bridging formula. What will he bring? Lots of negatives! To Netanyahu, he can reaffirm that America is drawing down and shrinking its military but Obama is prepared to offer a security agreement with Israel that will include American boots on the ground. He will also be able to offer firmer guarantees that America will not allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. Obama will want to know what he will get in return. Netanyahu will have to bargain with Obama.

Obama will tell Abbas that the American economic belt is shrinking and the American public is no longer willing to make personal and collective economic sacrifices for the Palestinians unless they firmly and formally are committed to peace with a Jewish state. "Since the establishment of limited Palestinian self-rule in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the mid-1990s, the U.S. government has committed over $4 billion in bilateral assistance to the Palestinians, who are among the world’s largest per capita recipients of international foreign aid." (Jim Zanotti, "U.S. Foreign Aid to the Palestinians," Congressional Research Service, 18 January 2013) That aid was contingent upon Palestine fostering stability, prosperity, and self-governance in the West Bank in peaceful coexistence with Israel and committed to a genuine “two-state solution”. The United States has already held back allocated funds when Abbas, against American wishes, went and asked UN endorsement and recognition of Palestine as a state and admitted Palestine as a non-voting state member to the UN, holdbacks that have weakened the economy significantly.

"Annual regular-year U.S. bilateral assistance to the West Bank and Gaza Strip has averaged around $500 million, including annual averages of approximately $200 million in direct budgetary assistance and $100 million in non-lethal security assistance for the PA in the West Bank. Additionally, the United States is the largest single-state donor to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA)." As the USA moves towards fossil fuel independence in the next few years and is less susceptible to pressures from the Gulf States, Obama may ask what Abbas is willing to offer in return for continuing US economic life support since lack of progress toward a

politically legitimate and peaceful two-state solution could undermine the utility of and American public support for U.S. aid.

After all, in the absence of Israeli-Palestinian peace and because of Palestinian pursuit of

international support for statehood contrary to American clearly expressed wishes, and given Hamas’s heightened role in Palestinian politics, Obama could signal that lasting aid has become fragile over and on top of existing Congressional holds.

Tomorrow: Tactics as a Strategy

[Tags Obama, Israel, Palestine, peace process}