Sunday, March 22, 2015

Open Letter to President Barack Obama

Dear President Obama:

The assessment of American policy you are considering relating to the Arab-Israeli conflict is long overdue.

In 2002, at the height of the Palestinian Arab terror offensive generally referred to as the Second Intifada, President George W. Bush reversed long-standing American opposition to the establishment of another Palestinian Arab state and came out in favor of the establishment of such a state. You have continued this relatively new "two states for two peoples" policy.

The remarks made by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu near the end of the recent Israeli election campaign helped clarify that this policy has not been working.

Netanyahu stood by his earlier endorsement of "two states for two peoples," but noted certain realities that made it clear the goal of that policy cannot be reached in the next few years because of unfortunate realities, primarily related to the opposition of the Palestinian Arabs and the violent turmoil embroiling the Middle East.

Even the president of the Palestinian Authority has directly, both publicly and to you, asserted his permanent opposition to "two states for two peoples" in his clear statements that he will never recognize Israel as the Jewish state.

Prior to the death of Yasser Arafat, there was hope that his successor would be less extreme and willing to compromise. Whereas Arafat in 2000 and 2001 had rejected the establishment of a Palestinian state on approximately 95 percent of the disputed territories, there was hope his successor would not repeat that "mistake." That hope was quashed in 2008, when Mahmoud Abbas walked away from the negotiating table after being offered even more, the equivalent of 100 percent of the disputed territories.

Since that time, the Israeli leaders have tried hard to lure Abbas back into serious negotiations. At your urging, Prime Minister Netanyahu froze construction of homes in the Jewish communities in the disputed territories for ten months, after being assured by you that there would be reciprocal gestures both by the Palestinian Arabs and some of the Arab states. No such gestures were ever made, and Abbas stayed away from the negotiating table for more than nine of those ten months. Even when he came to the table, he made it clear he would again walk away less than a month later. In this, he was true to his word.

More recently, at your urging, Israel agreed to release 104 terrorist prisoners, including a number of mass murderers, in four stages, just to bring Abbas to the negotiating table. Israel actually released 78 of those terrorists and was prepared to release the last batch if Abbas would just commit to staying at the negotiating table. Instead, Mahmoud Abbas formed a unity government with Hamas, which we correctly recognize as a terror group, and resumed taking steps to unilaterally change the status of the disputed territories. This step was a blatant violation of the Oslo Accords, which commit both sides to refrain from changing the status of those territories pending a negotiated agreement.

During this same period, Mahmoud Abbas himself gave you his infamous three nos, each of which alone would be enough to doom any possibility of a peace agreement. He told you he would never recognize Israel as the Jewish state, thus reiterating his permanent opposition to a "two-state solution." He told you he would not abandon the so-called "right of return," thus continuing his insistence that Israel give up control over its borders and accept the immigration of millions of hostile Palestinian Arabs, few of whom ever lived in Israel. He also told you he would not commit to an "end of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," thus making any agreement worthless.

Meanwhile, your administration, like the Bush administration before it, has continually pressured Israel to make concessions while putting little pressure for concessions on the Palestinian Arabs. Israel, under all its leaders, has responded and made enormous, painful concessions, concessions which have led to three primary results: intransigence by the Palestinian Arabs, pressure for more concessions, and deadly terrorism.

Long before the comments Benjamin Netanyahu made during the Israeli election campaign, it should have been clear that a reassessment of America's failing policy was in order. Paying lip service to Israeli interests while ignoring Arab perfidy has not worked. It does not bring peace closer. It only encourages Arab intransigence and terrorism, terrorism which may be directed at Israelis and Jews first, but never stops there.

Your reassessment needs to take this reality into account. As Benjamin Netanyahu noted, there will not be a peace agreement in the foreseeable future, because the Palestinian Arabs are unwilling and there's no reasonable possibility of that changing soon. Trying to force a solution, by pressing Israel into more and more one-sided, unreciprocated concessions, only makes things worse.

It's necessary to plan for the long-term, rather than continue to prematurely force an agreement based on one-sided Israeli concessions. It's necessary to recognize, as Prime Minister Netanyahu does, that there first needs to be a fundamental change in Palestinian Arab society. American policy should be aimed at facilitating that necessary change.

One part of America's policy has been wise, the recognition that any solution must be negotiated directly between the parties. A solution imposed by third parties, even well-meaning third parties, will never work. All the past breakthroughs were made by the parties themselves, such as Anwar Sadat's historic visit to Jerusalem, which amazingly enough was actually opposed at the time by the Carter White House. This important lesson seems to have been lost. It does no good for America to be more eager for a Palestinian state than the Palestinian Arabs themselves.

Pending a fundamental change in Palestinian Arab society and leadership, America's strategy should really be based on the Beatle's song, "Let It Be." Encourage the Palestinian Arabs to build their society, support Israel as it struggles with enemies still committed to its destruction, and do no more harm.


Alan Stein

Netanyahu's Win Is Good for Palestine

This letter was written by Arthur Toporovsky in response to an op-ed "Netanyahu's Win Is Good for Palestine" by Yousef Munayyer.

It is worth noting that while Mr. Munayyer repeatedly describes Israel as having "apartheid policies" and being an "apartheid regime" he does not describe in what way that label is fitting to the situation. Instead, he speaks of it as if it is the truth, and allows his blank-check accusation to do its damage without having to substantiate his claim.  In the same manner he writes of how Israel is "monopolizing West Bank land and natural resources" without explaining what resources he is referring to.  Are there mineral resources that lie under the Israeli settlements and in no other place in the West Bank? Do Israeli settlements encompass the only oil or gas wells in the area, thereby depriving the Palestinian Arabs of those resources?  Surely he cannot mean water, which has been subject of a successful cooperative project between Jordan, the Palestinian Arabs and Israel.  Again, the accusation is left unfounded, and it need only be made in order to do its work.

Instead of land for peace, Mr. Munayyer claims that the Arabs are now seeking rights for peace, but he does not acknowledge the full truth of the matter.  Arabs, he says, are demanding the right to live on their land with  free movement, due process, equal treatment under the law, voting rights and freedom from discrimination.  In reality, Arabs live throughout the West Bank, Gaza and Israel area.  It is the Jews who are prevented from freely living on the land and who are only permitted to live in those areas that were not conquered by Arab forces in 1949.  Freedom of movement in and out of Israel and near the Israeli settlements is and has to be dependent on the Arab rejection of violence against Israelis.  It was the increasing Arab hostility from the West Bank that led to the building of the Israeli security barrier, and it is the failure of the Arab leadership to renounce violence that maintains it.  Notably, while the Arabs demand the right to go into Israel on a regular basis, they do not wish to reciprocate by allowing Israelis into Gaza and the West Bank in the same manner.

Most disingenuous is his claim that Arabs are denied voting rights, especially as he makes this claim after noting that Arabs had indeed voted in Israeli elections.  This claim, promoted by BDS, is based on the conception of the West Bank, Gaza and Israel as being one state under Israeli governance, which therefore requires all peoples within that state to vote.  The reality is that it is not one state, the West Bank and Gaza are slated to be recognized as Palestine, and there is already a Palestinian Arab government of that state.  For Israel to dissolve that government and bring the entire region under Israeli governance would be a true violation of the rights of the Palestinian Arabs.  One could make an argument that the Arabs who are living in the Israeli settlements should be allowed to vote in Israeli elections, but one can just as accurately claim that the Jews living in the West Bank should have been allowed to vote in the Arab elections, which they were not.  As the sovereignty of those areas are disputed, it is appropriate that those people living there vote in the elections of the country they wish to be part of when a final definition of borders is achieved.  Similarly, just as Israel cannot impose its government on the West Bank and Gaza, so too it cannot impose its legal system on the citizens of those areas, and Arabs from those areas who are arrested by the IDF cannot be brought into Israel for trial.  This is what is required by international law.  Ideally, the P.A. government should be arresting those people who commit acts of violence, even if only as a demonstration of respect for the human rights of the Israelis who are living in the disputed areas, but that is not what happens.  What is important to note is that the Arabs living within Israel are subject to the same laws as the other citizens of Israel, and have the same right to due process as any person who might be arrested, and also have the right to work within the system as lawyers and judges.  One might want to ask Mr. Munayyer how many Jewish lawyers or judges are in the Palestinian Arab legal system.

No nation is free from discrimination.  P.M. Netanyahu’s call for right-wing supporters to get out the vote to counter the impact of left-wing parties busing in voters was not wrong in principle, but his including the word “Arab” to describe the demographic group that was being bused in made it insensitive and open to charges of discrimination and “fear-mongering”. Clearly he should have never used that word.  Most certainly he owes a public apology for it, though I can understand that it might not be entirely well received.  Nonetheless, what is important to note is that he was not denouncing the Arab right to vote in any way, even if he was calling for people to come out so as to counteract their increased presence in the voting booth.  Nor does that comment change the fact that 17 Arabs were elected, by a mix of Arabs and Jews, to serve in the Knesset.  The Joint List is not only an Arab party, but with 13 seats it is the third largest party in the Knesset, which gives it the potential for significant power, either as a member of the governing coalition or as opposition.  This is not true in any other Arab nation, where Palestinian Arabs are typically not allowed to vote, much less run for office.  For months, P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas has been insisting that Israel has reversed its 47 year commitment to preserve Arab control of the Al Aqsa place, despite assurances from the Israeli government that it has no intention of doing so.  In a series of speeches, Abbas has been referring to Israelis as “cattle” and that the mere presence of Jews has been “defiling” the sanctity of the Muslim holy places, calling all Muslims to protect those places by all means necessary.  Hamas has been telling people to attack Israelis with their knives and cars.  Not only has Fatah not condemned such blatant calls for violence, it has been sending letters of commendation to the families of those who have killed Israelis or died in the attempt.  Where is the condemnation of that fear-mongering and incitement?

Over the course of his tenure as prime minister, Netanyahu has released hundreds of prisoners, including mass murderers, and even froze settlements for 10 months, just to bring the Palestinian Arabs to the negotiation table.  What has been offered in return? The idea of two states, side by side, based on the 1949 Armistice lines, in which Arabs can move freely from one to the other while Jews are denied the right to visit ancient sites such as the thousands year old Mount of Olives cemetery or the Western Wall?   A rejection of every Israeli proposal offered, including some drafted with Pres. Abbas himself?  Attempts to unilaterally have the borders defined by the U.N.?  Why is it impossible for the two states to have both peoples living in both states, with one state under Arab governance and the other under Jewish governance?  Why must East Jerusalem, with the Old City of Jerusalem, be rendered free of Jews instead of being open to both peoples as proposed in  U.N. resolutions?  While Hamas has always rejected Israel’s to exist at all, and much of the Fatah party speaks of the two-state solution as a step towards the goal of one Arab state, why is it that Netanyahu’s comment is seen as the death of the peace process?  Perhaps it does not matter that Netanyahu is once again prime minister, not so long as the Palestinian Arab people continues to dream of a land free of Jewish inhabitants.  Perhaps it is time to begin pressuring the Palestinian Arabs to stop promoting violence against Jews, to let go of the unrealistic claim of 1967 (really 1949) lines as borders, and to fully accept Israel’s right to exist.  Perhaps then we might have peace in the Middle East.  Unfortunately, Mr. Munayyer does not even come close to such considerations.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

On Iran: Netanyahu offers a viable alternative

On Iran: Netanyahu offers a viable alternative

March 18, 2015

In view of the historic speech by Prime Minister Netanyahu to Congress, it is now apparent that the campaign to censor that speech based on alleged “protocol,” for which no legal precedent was cited, as well as the slurs on Israel’s leader, were simply tactics to distract attention from the proposed deal with Iran, with all its dangers, potential and actual.

The deal’s proponents never disclosed the basics of that deal until Netanyahu’s speech compelled them to do so, hoping that the “protocol” claims would obscure the real issues; i.e., the injurious effect of his proposed deal on national and international security and the world balance of power.

Although the Iran deal is not yet finalized, and its details are not yet known, the broad outlines of its proposal are now exposed. As Charles Krauthammer stated in a March 6 editorial, under the “sunset” clause,” “[i]n about 10 years, the deal expires. Sanctions are lifted and Iran is permitted unlimited uranium enrichment with an unlimited number of centrifuges of unlimited sophistication.” The Associated Press stated on Feb. 24: “Once the deal [for at least 10 years] expires, Iran could theoretically ramp up enrichment to whatever level it wanted” (“U.S.-Iran Close in on Nuke Accord,” AP report).

It is disingenuous to claim, as the supporters of this deal have claimed, that there is no alternative. As Jennifer Rubin in the Washington Post has stated, Netanyahu’s speech did contain an alternative: “Hold firm and increase sanctions.” Furthermore, it was the President himself who had originally argued, after opposing sanctions, that it was the sanctions that had forced Iran to the table.

As  Krauthammer also points out, when you ratchet up sanctions as Congress urges, Iran with collapsed oil prices would be extremely vulnerable.

It is almost incredible that Obama has even stated, in a Feb. 28 article in The Wall Street Journal, that Iran can be “a very successful regional power.” In view of the fact that Iran is a world sponsor of terrorism, has sought to control Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen, has ignored U.S. deadlines to stop nuclear enrichment, and has misled U.N. inspectors, this reflects a world view of the President that is very troubling, to say the least.

As former Mayor Rudy Giuliani stated in a New York Post article of March 8, what the President is doing with Iran right now “is extremely reckless.”

After the Holocaust and World War II, we should have learned the dangers of appeasement. As Churchill stated, “…the middle course adopted from desires for safety and a quiet life may be found to lead directly to the bull’s eye of disaster.”

June S. Neal, Delray Beach, Fla. (formerly of Connecticut)
Lorie Zackin, West Hartford
Daniel R. Schaefer, Hartford

Thursday, March 12, 2015

An election quandary: 26 parties and none to support

An election quandary: 26 parties and none to support

By Alan Stein

Published in the Jewish Advocate, March 14, 2015

Alan Stein, a retired college professor, is CAMERA’s 2015 “Letter Writer of the Year.” He splits his time between Massachusetts and Israel.

When I made aliyah in October, I didn't expect to get a chance to vote before my teudat zehut was dry. Then Yair Lapid and Tzipi Livni got on Benjamin Netanyahu's nerves and an election was scheduled for March 17. Oy. Twenty-six parties on the ballot. I have to make a choice.

I won't waste my vote on any of the minor parties with no chance of making the Knesset.

I may like the way Ale Yarok, the Green Party, is running on the platform of legalized pot, but it isn't going to get any seats and so it won't get my vote.

The ultra-religious parties insist on having everyone else support the non-working Haredim. Not with my shekels.

I've always considered myself a liberal, although a Jerusalem Post questionnaire during the last election campaign placed me almost dead center. I don't like the extremes. I won't vote for any party too far left or right.

Okay. Four parties left: Koolanu, Likud, Zionist Camp and Yesh Atid.

In the previous election, I probably would have voted for Yesh Atid (There Is A Future), a then brand new party started by television personality Yair Lapid. I don't like the way politicians keep leaving one party and starting another, but my agreement with much of its platform overcame that basic negative. Yesh Atid performed better than expected in that election, became part of the governing coalition and, even though he admittedly knew nothing about finance, Yair Lapid became Finance Minister, It showed. Then he criticized the government during the recent Gaza war. That offends my American sensibilities. Politics stops at the water's edge. Scratch Yesh Atid. It doesn't have my future vote.

Isaac Herzog is the new leader of Labor, the major component of the Zionist Camp. Labor has lost every election since Ehud Barak, Camp David and the second intifada and votes in a new leader after each one. Herzog also publicly criticized the government during the Gaza war. That affects my American sensibilities. Herzog also formed an alliance with Hatnuah, the party formed by Tzipi Livni for the prior election after being defeated for the leadership of Kadima, which she had joined after leaving Likud. Together, they're running as the Zionist Camp. While opposition leader, Livni strongly criticized the Israeli government - and praised Mahmoud Abbas! - both in speeches and in op-ed published in American newspapers, while touring the United States. Scratch the Zionist Camp.

I'm opposed to formal term limits, but also think it's unhealthy for the government to be controlled by the same individual or party for too long. Netanyahu's been prime minister in Likud-led coalitions for six years, after previously serving for three years. I think that's long enough. Time for a change.

Koolanu is a brand new party started a few months ago by Moshe Kahlon. Kahlon had been a lifelong Likudnik and served as a minister in the previous government. He's popular for opening up cellular service to competition. I'm happy about that; thanks to Moshe, I've been getting unlimited cellular and data for my iPhone for 37 shekels (under $10) a month! His list also includes some candidates I consider excellent, such as Michael Oren, the former Israeli ambassador to the United States. Unfortunately for its chances getting my vote, nobody from Koolanu showed up when I went to an election forum at AACI (Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel). I was already reluctant to vote for yet another new party just started by an individual bolting from one party. So long Koolanu.

Twenty six parties running for the Knesset and none to support! Time for a song from The Boss, a sequel to Bruce Springsteen's "57 Challens (And Nothin' On)."

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

A perspective from Israel

A perspective from Israel


Published February 26 in the Greenwich Time and Stamford Advocate of Connecticut.

I am a former 30-year resident of Stamford and now live in Netanya, Israel.

Through the years, Trudy Rubin has been right on some issues, but she is wrong and misleading on the Netanyahu speech to the Congress (op-ed, Feb 23, "Bibi, Boehner playing games") and I think your readers deserve another point of view. She quotes Nahum Barnea writing in Ha'aretz, a paper consistently critical of Netanyahu. His is only one voice among many. She accuses "Bibi" of plotting an end run around Obama who she claims has "twisted himself" in providing military and diplomatic support to Israel, when in truth the longstanding relationship between the United States and Israel has survived despite Obama's preference for changing Middle East policy to favor other regimes.

Rubin thinks Netanyahu is making this speech as a last desperate warning over Iran's intentions to dominate the Middle East by developing a bomb. She is right. Netanyahu is scared, and so are all of us who live in this region; not just Israeli's but also other Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia. Perhaps Rubin hasn't been listening to Iran's continued threats to wipe Israel off the map.

But we have and we believe it!
Israelis are voting March 17 in an election that is focusing on domestic issues primarily. Whether Netanyahu makes a speech in the United States or doesn't, she is wrong in thinking that will sway the election on his behalf. It will not. What she doesn't tell you is that every major candidate is just as scared as Netanyahu is, and support his attempts to deter a "bad agreement."

This whole brouhaha is very painful for those of us who are both American and Israeli. I do not believe this was a deliberate plot to insult the president or to favor the Republicans. Mistakes were made but Obama's reaction looks to me like an opportunity to put Netanyahu in his place once and for all. And to influence the Israeli election. What Rubin doesn't tell you is that the White House is using every means available within the law to defeat Netanyahu, from setting up a legal lobbying group called V15 which is funded by an organization called One Voice based in the States which cannot directly fund and lobby because they are a foreign entity to using a public relations person once on Obama's White House team. These are just two examples.

The bottom line is this: Trudy Rubin can fling accusations at Netanyahu all she wants, true or untrue. But she isn't sitting under the gun, and neither are your readers. To really understand what is going on, I would invite anyone reading this to spend a few months with us here in Israel, maybe go through a barrage of missiles, or run for a shelter. One's perspective changes a lot when one is threatened as we are on an almost daily basis.

Jan Gaines is a former Stamford resident who now lives in Netanya, Israel.