Sunday, November 29, 2009

Barrier in Israel strives to preserve right to life

This letter was published in The New London Day on Sunday, November 29, 2009.

The analogy implied by the author of the letter titled "Hope for Reagan-type to utter his words," published Nov. 22, is absurd. Indeed, the security barrier constructed by Israel, only about 5 percent of which can reasonably be referred to as a "wall," could not be more different than that of the Berlin Wall.

While the Berlin Wall was built to repress the desire of East Germans for freedom, the security barrier forced on Israel by the terror offensive launched by the Palestinian Arabs was built to save lives. In that, it has succeeded extremely well, likely already saving thousands of lives, not just Israeli lives, but Arab lives as well.

One cannot help but question the motives of those who ignore numerous walls around the world, generally built either for economic reasons or to simply keep innocent but unwanted people away, while reserving their criticism for the one barrier built to preserve the most important human right of all, the right to life.

Alan H. Stein

Editor's note: The writer is president of Promoting Responsibility in Middle East Reporting - Connecticut.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Frustration is misdirected

This letter was sent to The Connecticut Post in response to an article published there November 16. It was published November 27.

The article in The Connecticut Post was an abridged version of an Associated Press article by Mark Lavie which may be found on the WFSB web site.

The letter may also be viewed on The Connecticut Post web site. (One needs to scroll down since there are other letters on the same page.)

I found it interesting to read the article "Frustrated Palestinians to appeal to U.N. for state," published Nov. 16, since the only reason they don't yet have another state, along with the existing Palestinian Arab state of Jordan, is that they keep refusing offers to establish one.

Their most recent refusals came in 2000, when Yasser Arafat chose to launch a terror offensive rather than accept the overly generous offer by Israel that they establish a state on virtually all the disputed territories, including parts of Jerusalem, and then again when his supposedly "moderate" successor, Mahmoud Abbas, turned down a similarly generous proposal by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

And now Mahmoud Abbas, also know by his nom de guerre, Abu Mazen, refuses to even talk to the Israeli government, even though the prime focus of negotiations have always been on Israeli concessions to the Palestinian Arabs.

Were I a Palestinian Arab, I would indeed be frustrated, but my frustration wouldn't be directed at either the United States or Israel; my frustration would be directed at my own leadership for insisting on perpetuating a conflict and forcing so many of my brethren to live in refugee camps for so many years.

Alan H. Stein
PRIMER: Connecticut Promoting Responsibility in Middle East Reporting

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Issue of Settlements

By Joel Abramson

Looking at maps of settlements in the West Bank, and reading polemics by Palestinians and pundits, one could be excused for thinking the West Bank has been taken over by Israeli zealots whose settlements leave too little land for an eventual Palestinian State to be viable.

I’ve had the privilege of being flown all over the West Bank -- once with Doris with an IDF intelligence officer in a small Israeli Air Force plane -- and another time in a Beechcraft two-seater, courtesy of Honest Reporting, the media-monitoring organization. Both times I was greatly surprised to see that most of the land was just open space. How are we to square that with the impression we are given that settlers are seizing all the land?

Well, the fact is that the area taken up by settlements is actually only about 1.7% of the total. That estimate is made by B’Tselem, an Israeli civil rights group that is harshly critical of Israeli policy. Another estimate, made by Peace Now, an Israeli organization vigorously opposed to all settlements, is only 1.36%. The figures differ because B’Tselem includes roads and land between settlements. In both scenarios, settlements actually take up a very small percentage of the West Bank. So when we hear settlements described as the major obstacle to a peace agreement we need to wonder.

However, when perceptions are hyped up, they tend to take on a reality of their own.

Let’s examine some diplomatic and legal aspects of the Settlements Issue. We hear over and over that settlements are illegal; so often that many accept it as fact. The last binding international legal document which divided the territory in the region that we now know as Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, dates back to the League of Nations Mandate of June 1922, which explicitly recognized the right of Jewish settlement in ALL territory allocated to the Jewish national home in the British Mandate. Under International Law, these rights under the League are still preserved by its successor organization, the United Nations, under Chapter XII of its charter. Go to Google and read it for yourself.

It must be remembered that Israel won the West Bank from Jordan, not from the Palestinians, in a defensive war in 1967. Jordan in turn had seized the West Bank illegally in an aggressive war it started in 1948, when it attacked the newly independent state of Israel. In fact, there was no Palestinian entity at the time, and Jordan’s occupation was never recognized by the international community, with the exception of Britain and Pakistan.

Another claim of illegality is that settlements violate the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention. But that deals with “mass forcible transfers” of protected persons from occupied territories, and prohibits deporting or transferring parts of its own population into territory it occupies. But forced transfers never took place. Eminent legal authorities such as Morris Abram have held that the Geneva Conventions do not apply to this issue.

Other legal authorities, such as Eugene Rostow, a former Dean of Yale Law School and Undersecretary of State under President Johnson, and Stephen Schwebel, a legal advisor to the State Department and later President of the International Court of Justice in The Hague, have held that Israel has an unassailable right to establish settlements in the West Bank, and that Israel’s claims to the territory captured in a defensive war are better than those of Jordan or Egypt . History (including American history) abounds with examples of keeping territory acquired in war.

Others claim that UN Resolution 242 supersedes prior law. They claim that 242 requires Israel to withdraw to the pre 1967 borders. That really means the 1949 cease fire lines at the end of Israel’s War for Independence. This, too, had been a defensive war. Those lines were not borders. They were truce lines. But UN 242 does not say Israel must withdraw from ALL territory it captured in the 1967 war. It says it must withdraw from TERRITORY it captured. This, Israel has done. Justice Arthur Goldberg, who negotiated UN 242, has explained that omission of the word ALL was deliberate and had been carefully negotiated. Further, UN 242 calls for Israel to withdraw behind defensible borders. This is a crucial phrase for a country as small as Israel, where TelAviv, for example, is a scant 9 miles from the West Bank.

Opponents of settlements often describe them as having been declared illegal by the 1993 and 1995 Oslo Accords. To the contrary, the accords do no such thing. Don’t take anybody’s word for it, ask Google and read the actual documents for yourself.

It’s interesting to note that it was not until the Carter administration that a State Department legal advisor expressed the view that settlements violated international law. But the Carter policy was reversed by all succeeding administrations until now, and I’ll discuss the Obama policy shortly.

I don’t believe settlements violate international law. But the question remains, are they really the - or even an - obstacle to peace?

Prior to 1967 there was not one single settlement, but there was war and terror. From 1949 to 1967 Jews were forbidden to live in the
West Bank, but still the Arabs refused to make peace.

Then, in 1994, Jordan signed a peace agreement with Israel and settlements were not an issue. So what is the basis for saying settlements stand in the way?

In 2005, Israel made the agonizing decision to unilaterally disengage from Gaza. It was a risky, wrenching decision. Israeli settlements had developed a thriving greenhouse agribusiness of growing and exporting fresh fruits, vegetables and flowers. Thousands of jobs were created for Palestinian workers. The decision to disengage alienated the more than 8,000 settlers and profoundly upset much of the population in Israel proper. After all, they had been there for 38 years and it was the only home their children knew. All Israelis in Gaza, including those buried there, were removed, some forcibly, by the IDF. Instead of peace, the disengagement brought violence. The Palestinians destroyed the greenhouses, and with them thousands of their own jobs. Gaza became a launching pad for thousands of rockets relentlessly fired into Israeli cities over the following years. Removing settlements was a devastating setback to the cause of peace.

In the West Bank, Palestinians say settlements and their connecting roads create Bantustans that prevent Palestinians from having a contiguous state of their own. But the big settlements, such as Ma’ale Adummim are really suburbs of Jerusalem and are basically contiguous to Israel proper.

Time and again, Israel has offered to withdraw from most of the West Bank. Figures vary, but percentagewise it is estimated that it would give up 97% of the land. Further, Israel has offered to swap other land from within the Green Line in compensation. All these offers have been flatly rejected, never with a counter offer, and sometimes with extended murderous violence.

It is easy to find many major obstacles to a peace agreement, other than Israeli settlements, but they are beyond the purview of today’s discussion. How then do we explain President Obama’s policies toward Israel? I find them puzzling. In Cairo on June 4 this year he stated, "The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop." Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said: "He wants to see a stop to settlements - not some settlements, not outposts, not ‘natural growth' exceptions." This harsh language contradicts the policies of every administration except that of Jimmy Carter.

Israelis really resented being told no natural growth exceptions. Most people do see a problem in expanding the areas of settlements and expropriating more real estate. They don’t see a problem in building upward, within existing boundaries. Families grow. Children marry, have babies. They want their own apartments. What’s the harm in building an extension to a house or more floors to an existing building? As long as the geography of an existing settlement is no greater, one is left to wonder how that harms the Palestinian cause. Thus it was seen as a gratuitous slap at Israeli civil rights and an unnecessary intrusion into Israel’s internal affairs.

Indeed, according to a recent poll commissioned by The Jerusalem Post, Israeli perceptions of President Barack Obama's administration as "pro-Israel" have dropped precipitously. Only 6 percent of Jewish Israeli respondents believe the Obama administration is pro-Israel.

Many analysts attribute the plunging Israeli perception of the president's policies to his call for Israel to stop all construction in Jewish West Bank settlements, including allowances for natural growth of the population. By a firm majority, Israeli Jews support the dismantling of outposts their government has deemed illegal. 

But when it comes to halting construction in large settlement blocs such as Ma'ale Adumim and Gush Etzion just outside Jerusalem, and Ariel in Samaria, 69 percent of those surveyed oppose a construction freeze.

This is alarming the supporters of the alliance between the United Sates and Israel, and Obama has since been going out of his way to reaffirm the strength of that alliance. In fact, when Hilary Clinton made a statement reaffirming America’s support of Israel and recognizing Israel’s concessions for peace, Mahmoud Abbas threw a hissy fit.

For all the reasons I’ve been mentioning, I find it hard to understand why President Obama made freezing settlements the centerpiece of his new strategy to achieve peace between Israelis and Palestinians, when there are so many other issues. I can mention the intractable schism between HAMAS and Fatah; the cultural chasm dividing Jews and the Islamists who hold sway in the area; and oh yes, the prospect of seeing Iran’s Revolutionary Guards encamped in the West Bank. Perhaps we’ll get into some of these obstacles to peace in a future forum.

Before I close, I would like to ask you to think of names like Judea, Samaria, Hebron, Shiloh, Bethlehem. We know these names from the Bible, which tells the ancient stories of our people. These are the place names where we lived. They happen to be in the West Bank. In many of them, there has always been a Jewish presence. Our roots in Hebron go back to the time of Abraham. Our patriarchs and matriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Leah, Rachel are buried in the Cave of Machpelah, in Hebron. Rebecca is buried in Bethelhem. Our brethren in Hebron were massacred by the Arabs in 1929. I find the notion that Jews should not be allowed to live where Judaism was born deeply offensive. So do many Israelis. Yet, they stand ready to yield this historic land for the cause of peace. No, the settlements are not the obstacle to peace. In my opinion, the main obstacle to peace is the oft-stated and well-documented goal of so many of our enemies to eradicate Israel and the Jews, and the inability, or unwillingness, of the so-called moderate Palestinians to confront them. Evacuating settlements will not change that.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, wages in the West Bank have increased 24%. While Palestinian officials say they demand a complete settlement freeze, others say that it would damage their livelihoods as 12,000 Palestinians are employed on construction work in settlements. Palestinian unemployment in the West Bank has decreased by 3%. Tourism to Bethlehem is up 94%. Olive harvest income is up 158%. The West Bank GDP has grown 2.3%. Why do I have to get this information from web postings instead of the mainstream media? Why aren’t Abbas and Obama shouting, “It’s the economy, stupid.” I think the disheartening reason is that really, “It’s the ideology, stupid.”

To sum up, I’d like to quote from the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs:

“One may legitimately support or challenge Israeli settlements in the disputed territories, but they are not illegal, and they have neither the size, the population, nor the placement to seriously impact upon the future status of the disputed territories and their Palestinian population centers.”

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Obstruction of Peace

Published in The Waterbury Republican-American November 18, 2009:


I could only laugh at the Nov. 16 article "Palestinians ask U.N. to endorse a state," suggesting such a request "appeared more an expression of frustration with U.S. and Israeli policies and stalled peace talks than a real effort to go it along."

Perhaps there is some frustration with the understandable refusal of the Israelis to cave to all of the Palestinian Arabs' outrageous demands, but it has been the Palestinian Arabs themselves who repeatedly have refused offers for the establishment of a state on virtually all the disputed territories.

Peace talks are not just stalled now; they are nonexistent. The reason there are no peace talks is Mahmoud Abbas, the supposedly "moderate" leader of the West Bank portion of the Palestinian Authority as well as the Fatah and PLO terror groups, refuses to talk with Israel.

Like most of the Arab-Israeli conflict, Palestinian Arabs' refusal to negotiate with Israel is hard for the rational, Western mind to understand because the substance of those talks would focus on the establishment of the state the Arabs claim to want along with the quantity and quality of additional Israeli concessions.

Any frustration on the part of reason able Palestinian Arabs should be with their own, rejectionist leadership rather than with America and Israel, both of which have gone to extremes to appease the Arabs.

Alan H. Stein

The writer is president of PRIMER Connecticut (Promoting Responsibility in Middle East Reporting;

The following was submitted to The Waterbury Republican-American October 26, 2009 but was not published:

Reading the October 26 article about the Muslim riots on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, one might miss the single sentence, "There was no evidence to support either claim."

This notes the vacuousness of claims that Israel was plotting to damage Islamic sites and to let Jews pray on the Temple Mount.

This demonstrates the Muslim "religious" leaders whom Israel, with incredible tolerance, has allowed day-to-day control over Judaism's most sacred site, deliberately instigated the riots.

The first false claim is doubly ironic. The Islamic sites were built on the ashes of the Jews' destroyed Temple, while irresponsible and illegal Arab construction activity has done extensive structural damage to the Temple Mount and destroyed irreplaceable historical artifacts.

The second false claim highlights the undue consideration Israel has given to Muslim sensitivities. It is mind-boggling that, in deference to Muslims, Israel has even prohibited Jews from praying at their own holiest site!

Imagine an analogous situation such as Saudi Arabia prohibiting Muslims from praying at Mecca or Medina. Contrast this with the horrible treatment of Christians in Hamas-controlled Gaza and Palestinian Authority-controlled Bethlehem.

An Arab-Israeli peace awaits the emergence of a Palestinian Arab leadership which puts the welfare of its people ahead of its desire to destroy Israel, the one bastion of Western-oriented democracy in the Middle East. That one of the rioters, arrested after reportedly physically attacking a police officer, was Hatam Abd al-Qadir, advisor on Jerusalem affairs to the Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, reinforces this sad truth.

The following was submitted to The Hartford Courant November 2, 2009 but was not published:

Those who wish to understand why the Arab-Israeli conflict defies resolution should carefully read the November 1 article, "Clinton pushes peace talks."

Praising Israeli concessions being made even in the absence of negotiations, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said "What the prime minister has offered in specifics on restraints on a policy of settlements ... is unprecedented."

In response, the supposedly "moderate" leader of the West Bank branch of the Palestinian Authority "Mahmoud Abbas is sticking to his refusal to resume negotiations."

Aside from isolated exceptions, the Arab world hasn't really progressed from its rejectionist position of forty-two years ago, when the Arab League met in Khartoum and responded to Israel's clear willingness to withdraw from the then recently captured territories if the Arabs would only agree to peace with its infamous "Three Nos:" no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel and no negotiations with Israel.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Tree of Lies, Distortions and Hatred

There is a church in Connecticut, the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme, which puts a tremendous amount of energy into what it professes is an effort to promote peace between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs but in actuality simply spreads lies, distortions and outright hatred.

One of the centerpieces of its efforts is an annual conference, generally on a Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, which it misleadingly calls a "Tree of Life Conference."

I recently attended the Sunday afternoon portion of this year's conference, on November 8. This is their fifth conference and I've gone to four of them. (I missed it one year when I blessedly had another commitment.)

There are lessons which may be learned at events such as this, although it sometimes takes a strong stomach. One improvement this year was not including a luncheon in the middle.

One lesson I learned years ago was that groups which include either peace or justice in their name or their mission are generally not really interested in either.

(Food for thought: It is obviously impossible to undue the injustice done to the Jews by the Arabs over six decades of rejectionism, war and terror. For Israel to insist that there could be no peace without justice would effectively say there could be no peace, period.)

Evidence of the extremism of the Tree of Life Conference was that one of the more moderate voices was Nihad Awad, executive director of CAIR, the Council of American-Islamic Relations. CAIR was named by Federal prosecutors as an unindicted co-conspirator in a criminal conspiracy to support Hamas and keeps finding its officials and employees arrested on terrorism-related charges. Daniel Pipes has a compilation of some of CAIR's legal problems at

The organizers do provide what they call the Jewish or Israeli perspective, scouring the sewers for Jews and Israelis on the fringe to defame Israel. One of the lessons from these conferences is that the Israel and the Jewish community are both very good at producing Jews who enjoy defaming their own people and nation.

The final portion of the conference prior to a question and answer period was for three people to present what was billed as the Christian, Muslim and Jewish perspective.

What was supposedly the Jewish perspective was given by Mark Braverman, who admits he's on the fringe and doesn't even belong to a synagogue. More telling is that while some of the other presenters gave lip service to peace and a two-state solution, Braverman went right out, asserted the very concept of a Jewish state was unsustainable and effectively said he hoped Israel would not continue to exist. Braverman also tried to use the Holocaust against the Jewish people, describing as a vehicle for political indoctrination.

In Braverman's defense, it must be pointed out he never repeated a blood libel; that was left to Huda Musleh, a thirteen year old Palestinian Arab who repeated the libels about Israel stealing and selling body parts.

In terms of balance, there was none other than an observation I made during the last portion of the program, when there was an opportunity for questions from people in the audience.

I pointed out that there are multitudinous accusations that people only get to hear the Israeli side, but the Tree of Life Conference certainly put a lie to that. Along with those accusations usually come the assertion that it's important that all sides be heard, and that certainly wasn't the case that day at the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme. While Israel isn't perfect, it is not the devil incarnate as depicted that day and the Palestinian Arabs aren't the blameless angels they are depicted as.

The First Congregational Church of Old Lyme certainly has the right to organize incredibly biased and misleading programs, but nobody should be fooled into thinking those programs do anything to promote peace; they do just the opposite.

Those who really do want to further the cause of peace need to pick up the ball.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Afternoon report: Israeli and Arab experts agree a nuclear conflagration is at least a year off.

Courtesy of Dan Friedman

The IDF confirms that none of the Iranian weapons it seized on Wednesday appear to be nuclear devices. One high-level Israeli military official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told our correspondent, "it was a calculated risk bringing the ship and its cargo into a major Israeli port like Ashdod. Even a low-yield nuclear bomb could have blown half the country sky high. But we are pretty confident it will take at least a year before Iran can miniaturize an atomic weapon and get it to fit inside the small wooden boxes they now use for their Katyushas. We'll worry about it when the time comes."

In other reassuring news, UN Atomic Energy chief Mohamed ElBaradei said there was "nothing to be worried about" at Qom, the previously secret uranium enrichment site Iran revealed in September. "It's a hole in a mountain," he said. The Egyptian-born ElBaradei, whose name means "Mohamed the liar" in Arabic, also told reporters he was examining possible compromises to unblock a draft nuclear cooperation deal between Iran and three major powers that has foundered over Iranian objections. "We still have plenty of time to get back on track," he told the New York Times. "It will take at least a year before Iran can miniaturize an atomic weapon and get it to fit inside the small wooden boxes they now use for their Katyushas."  

On a personal note, ElBaradei, who will be retiring next year, was asked if he planned to spend his golden years in his native Egypt. "Are you shittin' me?," the suave diplomat replied. "The whole freakin' Middle East is going to become one radioactive powder keg the day after I hang up my dark grey suit. A nice basement apartment near the White House, that's where you'll find me."

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Letter to Jeffrey Fleishman

That news articles these days almost always seem to contain the embedded opinions of the writers doesn't make it good journalism. A version of the article referred to in the letter to its author included below may be read on the Chicago Tribune web site.

This letter was sent to the author, Jeffrey Fleischman, at his email address of <>

Dear Mr. Fleischman:

I read one of your articles today in The Hartford Courant, published with the headline "Clinton seeks Egypt's help on talks, Arabs, Palestinians fear U.S. tilt favoring Israel on building settlements," and have two criticisms regarding regarding the first and third paragraphs:

"Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Wednesday in a move to rescue shrinking Middle East peace prospects and regain the confidence of Arab nations angry that Washington has not pressed Israel harder to stop building settlements."

"Arab capitals have grown exasperated over Israel's settlement activity and are expressing doubt whether the Obama administration can create grounds for a new round of Palestinian-Israeli negotiations."

One criticism is that they both contain opinions, that Middle East peace prospects are shrinking, that Clinton's move was to rescue those prospects and "regain the confidence of Arab nations," that those nations are angry about Washington not pressing Israel even harder on the Jewish communities in the disputed territories and that "Arab capitals have grown exasperated."

Reasonable or not, opinions of the journalist do not belong in what are supposed to be news articles.

(I recognize that the injection of opinions into news articles seems to be the rule these days. Indeed, several years ago I wrote an op-ed published in The Hartford Courant in which I analyzed The New York Times for one particular day and found that almost every news story on its front page that day inappropriately contained expressed opinions of the writer.)

The second criticism is that I believe your opinion is incorrect. While there may be some spokespersons who have said they are angry or have grown exasperated about Israeli settlements - and writing that would be reporting rather than injecting your opinion - far more reasonable is the inference that they have taken advantage of President Obama's foolish and counterproductive pressure on Israel to try to create the false impressions you have conveyed.


Alan H. Stein, Ph.D.