Friday, March 29, 2013

Israel's Healthy Cynicism

Israel's Insightful Cynicism -Robert D. Kaplan

Israel had a convenient situation for decades, surrounded by stable Arab dictatorships. Israel could promote itself as the region's only real democracy, even as it quietly depended on the likes of Hosni Mubarak, the al Assad clan and the Hashemites to ensure order and more-or-less few surprises. Now dictators are falling and anarchy is on the rise.

Fighting state armies of the kind that the Arab dictators built in wars in 1948, 1956, 1967 and 1973 was simpler compared to today's wars: Because the Arabs never really believed in their dysfunctional states, they didn't always fight very well in state-organized formations.

But sub-state militaries like Hizbullah and Hamas have been more of a challenge. Given their geographical circumstances, Israelis can be forgiven their cynicism

Arab Leaders WhoTake Risks Paid with Their Lives -Clifford D. May

Meeting with King Abdullah II in Jordan last Friday, President Obama was gracious enough to mention the monarch's great-grandfather, King Abdullah I, assassinated in 1951, who "gave his life in the name of peace." To Western ears, that sounded like a tribute. To Arab and Muslim ears, it may have sounded like a warning.

Imagine you are Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority. You know that making peace with Israel will bring you the praise of British prime ministers and American presidents. Perhaps you understand that peace would be in the best interest of your people. But you also are keenly aware that serious peacemaking will place you and members of your family in severe peril.
Egypt's President Anwar Sadat made peace with Israel in 1979. Two years later, he was assassinated in accord with a fatwa written by Omar Abdel Rahman, the "Blind Sheikh," who would go on to be convicted for his role in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. Since becoming president of Egypt, Mohamed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, has been calling for the Blind Sheikh's release.

The assassination of Lebanese president Bashir Gemayel in September 1982 was related to the fact that just two weeks earlier he had agreed to start the process of establishing diplomatic relations with Israel.
(Israel Hayom)

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Obama Snubs Abbas: Accept "Jewish State"

Obama to Palestinians: Accept the Jewish State -Daniel Pipes, PhD
  • One key shift in U.S. policy during President Obama's visit to Israel last week was the demand that Palestinians recognize Israel as the Jewish state.
  • Israel's founding documents aimed to make the country a Jewish state. The Balfour Declaration of 1917 favors "a national home for the Jewish people." UN General Assembly Resolution 181 of 1947, partitioning Palestine into two, mentions the term "Jewish state" 30 times. Everyone simply assumed that diplomatic recognition of Israel meant accepting it as the Jewish state
  • When Israelis and their friends realized that they had to insist on explicit Arab acceptance of Israel as the Jewish state, in 2007, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced that unless Palestinians did so, diplomacy would be aborted.
  • When Benjamin Netanyahu succeeded Olmert as prime minister in 2009, he said: "Israel expects the Palestinians to first recognize Israel as a Jewish state before talking about two states for two peoples."
  • In his Jerusalem speech last week, Obama suddenly and unexpectedly adopted in full the Israeli demand: "Palestinians must recognize that Israel will be a Jewish state."
  • That sentence breaks important new ground. It also makes for excellent policy, for without such recognition, Palestinian acceptance of Israel is hollow.
  • Those 10 words establish a readiness to deal with the conflict's central issue. They likely will be Obama's most important, most lasting and most constructive contribution to Arab-Israeli diplomacy.
The writer is president of the Middle East Forum.
(Washington Times)


Obama's Foreign Policy Team  -Jonathan S. Tobin

[H]aving wasted his first term on dead-end diplomacy with Tehran and the Palestinians, the president's Israel visit suggested that he has learned from his mistakes.

This was demonstrated, inter alia, by his reaffirmation of Washington's "eternal" alliance with Jerusalem in language validating Israel's ancient history: in stark contrast to his 2009 Cairo speech which ascribed Israel's right to exist to the Holocaust. Obama also upped his rhetoric regarding Iran, leaving himself little room short of a full diplomatic success that would contain Tehran's nuclear threat.

These positive aspects notwithstanding, given Obama's past failure to follow through on his rhetoric, it remains to be seen whether his recent pronouncements translate into actions that make the U.S. more secure while maintaining its close alliance with Israel.
[The Middle East Forum]

Watch North Korea & Iran

How Iran Could Get the Bomb Overnight -Edward Jay Epstein

The West has tried to stop Iran from manufacturing nuclear weapons by diplomacy, sanctions and cybersabotage, and with the threat of military action if Tehran crosses red lines in moving toward the final stages of making a bomb. If Iran becomes discouraged in its efforts, an easier and more immediately dangerous option is available: buying nuclear weapons from North Korea.

Since the U.S. has munitions capable of destroying all of Iran's centrifuges above ground at Natanz and sealing off the entrances to its underground facilities at Fordo - plus the Stealth bombers to deliver these knockout punches - Iran would likely lose the means to manufacture nuclear weapons before it could make a single one.

But what if Iran buys one or two nuclear warheads from North Korea?

[North Korea] claims it has nuclear warheads that fit on its No Dong medium-range ballistic missiles. If that claim is true, then mounting the warheads on Iran's Shahab missiles, which are copies of the North Korean ones, would present little problem.
(Wall Street Journal)

Will the Turkey-Israel Truce Hold?

Turkey & Israel

Can Israel and Turkey Really Bury the Hatchet? -Eyal Zisser

The events of the 2010 raid on the Mavi Marmara seem far away now. Since that incident, Egyptian President Mubarak was overthrown, the reality between Israel and Gaza changed radically, and Syria has plunged into a bloody civil war. It is doubtful that the re-normalization of relations will truly allow both nations to re-establish the same intimate relationship they once shared - not any time soon.

At the same time, Israel and Turkey's financial ties continued to prosper over the past three years, despite the diplomatic rift. Tourism may have suffered, but commercial ties bloomed. Erdogan had hoped that his anti-Israeli, pro-Arab policies would open the Arab markets for them, only to see Ankara's massive investments in Syria literally go up in smoke. The same fate befell Turkey's investments in Egypt. This reality makes Israel seem like a reliable and promising economic partner.

The Arab Spring has also exposed - and deepened - the political chasm between Turkey and Iran.

Israel must remember that Turkey is ruled by a firebrand prime minister who supports various Islamic movements in the Arab world. But he too understands that political interests trump all others; and it was those economic and security interests that facilitated the reconciliation with Israel.
Prof. Eyal Zisser is former director of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University.
(Israel Hayom)

Turkish Perception Versus Reality - Herb Keinon

Turkish President Erdogan crowed that Israel acceded to all of Ankara's demands in apologizing for the Mavi Marmara incident. According to Israeli diplomatic officials familiar with the months-long negotiations over the formula, Erdogan wanted a public apology to him for the raid on the ship and the killing of nine Turks. What he got was a bit different. Netanyahu regretted the loss of life, and issued an apology to the Turkish people, not to Erdogan, for operational mistakes - if they happened - that led to the loss of life. Furthermore, Netanyahu did not apologize for commandeering the ship, something the Turks wanted.

On the issue of compensation, Israel always said it would pay compensation. On the issue of lifting the blockade of Gaza, the statement issued by the Prime Minister's Office and carefully crafted by both sides read: "Prime Minister Netanyahu also noted that Israel had substantially lifted the restrictions on the entry of civilian goods into the Palestinian territories, including Gaza, and that this would continue as long as calm prevailed." That in no way can be interpreted as "lifting the siege of Gaza," but Erdogan declares his demands were met.
(Jerusalem Post)

The Erdogan, Netanyahu Reconciliation: Interests Triumph -Barak Ravid

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu told Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan in a phone conversation on Friday that he appreciated the comments Erdogan made to the Danish newspaper Politiken on Wednesday in which he took back the statements he previously made calling Zionism a form of racism. Erdogan explained that he was criticizing Israeli policies in Gaza and that his statements were misconstrued. Erdogan told Netanyahu that he cherishes the longstanding relationship between Israel and Turkey and between the Turkish people and the Jewish people, stressing that he would like to improve relations.

The Turkish prime minister promised President Obama to stop his harsh public criticism of Israel. Erdogan was surprised by the strong American response to the speech in which he said that Zionism is a crime against humanity. The Americans were furious and publicly rebuked him. In actuality, Netanyahu's message of apology to Turkey was only made possible after Erdogan apologized himself for his remarks.

What led more than anything else to the end to the crisis was the serious deterioration of the crisis in Syria. In addition, shared interest in the Iranian nuclear issue is only growing. As in September 2007 in Syria, Erdogan will not shed a tear if Israel or the U.S. "solves" this problem.


BBC Bests New York Times on Coverage of Israeli Apology

The New York Times informed readers that Israel apologized "for a deadly commando raid" and expressed regret "for the raid." But Israel did not apologize "for the raid" itself, but rather for operational errors potentially tied to loss of lives during the incident.

The BBC offered a more accurate summary: "Israel's prime minister has apologized to Turkey for "any errors that could have led to loss of life" during the 2010 commando raid on an aid flotilla that tried to breach the Gaza blockade.

The Times also avoided pointing out that the loss of lives on the boat were part of an intense and violent battle between Israeli troops and the activist passengers who attacked them as they boarded the ship.       

Not Yet a Reconciliation -Ely Karmon

The first test for Erdogan's real intentions will be his expected visit to Gaza in mid-April, where he is sure to be received as the next Sultan.

The crucial question is how much support Erdogan will give to Hamas, which has not renounced its goal of liberating all of Palestine through the armed struggle. Turkey's leadership has neither criticized Hamas' violent activities nor succeeded in influencing its strategy, while protesting loudly Israel's retaliatory actions.
The writer is Senior Research Scholar at the Institute for Counter-Terrorism at the IDC in Herzliya. 

PA: We Don't Want Turkish Prime Minister to Visit Gaza
-Khaled Abu Toameh

The Palestinian Authority opposes Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan's intention to visit Gaza, a senior PA official in Ramallah said. "The Palestinian Authority leadership has informed the Turkish government that we are opposed to such a visit," he said. "Gaza is not an independent Palestinian state and Hamas is not the legitimate representative of the Palestinians."

The PA fears that such visits would legitimize Hamas rule in Gaza and affect the PLO's claim to be the sole, legitimate representative of the Palestinians.
(Jerusalem Post)

Iran's Foes Are Israel's Friends -Editorial

The rapprochement between Jerusalem and Ankara has profound implications, not just for the conflict in Syria, but also for containing Iran's nuclear ambitions and regional designs. A UN investigation found Israel's blockade was legal and its forces justified in defending themselves against "organized and violent resistance."

Yet the ensuing standoff has been a major impediment in confronting the Syrian crisis and has given comfort to Syria's ally Iran.

Netanyahu has had to swallow a bitter pill, but the reconciliation with his Turkish counterpart Erdogan is a strategically smart decision for which they both deserve great credit.
(The Australian)

Turkish-Israeli Rapprochement -Yoav Karny

Three weeks ago, Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu invited the descendants of the last of the Ottoman dynasty to a festive dinner at the Turkish embassy in London. Among the guests was the grandson of the last Caliph, whom Kemal Ataturk deposed in March 1924.

And Turkey is seriously trying to convince its neighbors that it has no interest in reviving the Ottoman past?

Turkey's gloating billboard

Maybe that Israeli Apology to Turkey was a Good Idea -Daniel Pipes, PhD

The municipality of Turkey's capital city, Ankara, put up billboards on city streets reveling in the Israeli apology. They are not subtle, showing a sad-looking Netanyahu beneath a larger, buoyant Erdoğan, separated by the Mavi Marmara itself. Addressing Erdoğan, they read: "Israel apologized to Turkey. Dear Prime Minister, we are grateful that you let our country experience this pride."

Erdoğan himself claims not only that the apology has changed the balance of power in the Arab-Israeli conflict but that it obligates Israel to work with Ankara in its diplomacy with the Palestinians.

Indeed, the Turkish gloating has been so conspicuous and extended that it may have prompted to a healthy sense of reality.

Now that Israelis humiliated themselves and Erdoğan is rampaging ahead, some are awakening to the fact that this apology only made matters worse. Naftali Bennett, Israel's minister of economy and trade, slammed the Turkish response: "Since the apology was made public, it appears Erdoğan is doing everything he can to make Israel regret it, while conducting a personal and vitriolic campaign at the expense of Israel-Turkey relations. Let there be no doubt — no nation is doing Israel a favor by renewing ties with it. It should also be clear to Erdoğan that if Israel encounters in the future any terrorism directed against us, our response will be no less severe."

Boaz Bismuth of Israel Hayom colorfully notes that Israelis "didn't expect to feel that only several days after Israel's apology, Erdoğan would already be making us feel that we had eaten a frog along with our matzah this year."

Perhaps after all the apology was a good thing. For a relatively inexpensive price – some words – Israelis and others have gained a better insight into the Turkish leadership's mentality. It's not that they suffer from hurt pride but that they are Islamist ideologues with an ambitious agenda. If the misguided apology makes this evident to more observers, it has its compensations and possibly could turn out to be a net plus.
[National Review Online]

Reconciliation with Turkey? Not with Erdogan - Nitzan Nuriel

So long as Erdogan remains prime minister of Turkey, there is no chance for genuine, full reconciliation between the countries. Erdogan does not accept Israel's activities, he has acted defiantly in the past, and his stance with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is known.

It is not good for Israel to be in a state of high intensity friction with Turkey. Therefore, measures that are intended to reduce the friction are correct, but we must not be tempted to believe that these will fundamentally change Erdogan's opinions towards Israel.
Brig.-General Nitzan Nuriel is the former head of Israel's Counter Terrorism Bureau.
(Israel Defense)

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Obama Snubs Abbas: 'Forget Settlement Freeze'

President Obama, who once championed a settlement freeze, does an about face, paying Abbas back for his intransigence

Obama Tells Palestinians: No Preconditions to Peace Talks
- Matti Friedman

President Obama told Palestinians that he does not support preconditions to peace negotiations. Speaking at a press conference in Ramallah, Obama indicated that Palestinians could not expect an Israeli settlement freeze ahead of talks. If issues were made into preconditions to negotiations, he said, there was "no point in negotiations."

Obama reminded listeners that the U.S. is the Palestinians' biggest donor, and blamed Hamas for "misery" in Gaza. The situation there, he said, came about "because Hamas refuses to renounce violence...because too often it focuses on tearing Israel down than building Palestine up." 
(Times of Israel)

Obama's Visit with Abbas in Ramallah - Jonathan S. Tobin

During President Obama's visit, rockets were fired from Gaza into southern Israel, illustrating not only that the PA didn't control much of what would constitute an independent Palestinian state, but that those who did had no interest in a two-state solution.

The Obama-Abbas press conference struck a very different note from the friendly exchanges that marked the president's appearance with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. While the president was again stating his support for the idea of a Palestinian state, he also pushed back a little bit on Abbas' charade that Israeli settlements were preventing the outbreak of peace.

Obama said that settlements were not the core issue at the heart of the conflict and that if all the other factors dividing the two sides were resolved, settlements would not prevent peace. Even more importantly, he emphasized that there ought to be no preconditions placed by either side before peace negotiations could be resumed. That's a direct shot at Abbas who has refused to talk to the Israelis since 2008 and consistently set conditions for doing so that were merely a thinly veiled excuse for staying away from the table.

Obama's message to Palestinians seems to be more one of "get your act together" than one that offers them hope they can count on the president to hammer the Israelis on their behalf. The lack of a direct demand from Obama for a settlement freeze and the seeming endorsement of Israel's call for resumption of negotiations without preconditions means the Palestinians have been put on notice that the president's second term may not be squandered on further attempts to help a divided people that won't help themselves.

Palestinians Disappointed with Obama - Khaled Abu Toameh

Even before President Obama left Ramallah, PA officials were quick to express disappointment with the result of his talks with President Abbas.
Asked about the PA's future steps in light of Obama's visit, an aide to Abbas said, "We have no choice but to step up popular resistance against Israeli occupation and settlements."   
(Jerusalem Post)

Palestinians Protest Obama Visit - Noah Browning

Palestinian protesters raised their hands and tried to wave away the helicopter that brought U.S. President Barack Obama to Ramallah in the West Bank, accusing him of siding with Israel. Around 150 demonstrators chanted anti-American slogans, saying they wanted weapons not presidential visits.

While the U.S. president received a warm welcome when he arrived in Israel on Wednesday, Palestinians were much colder, clearly angered by his promise of unstinting support for Israel and repeated pledges to guarantee its security needs. Obama laid a wreath on the grave of Zionist leader Theodor Herzl, but Palestinian requests for Obama to visit the tomb of former President Yasser Arafat were turned down. In Gaza, dozens of protesters burned U.S. flags and chanted that the president should "get out of Palestine." 

Obama's Israel Visit Leaves Arabs Upset -Ariel Ben Solomon    

The Arab media see the Obama visit to Israel as a reversal of his initial attitude upon beginning his first term in 2009 and his famous outreach to the Muslim world, symbolized by his speech in Cairo that same year.      
(Jerusalem Post)


Obama Aligns U.S. Policy with Israel -Robert Satloff

The main story of President Obama's Middle East trip was his intensive focus on engineering an emotional reset with both the leadership and people of Israel, including an embrace of Israel's founding ideology. The visit also marked a shift in U.S. policy on the requirements for resuming Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. The president firmly aligned himself with Israel's position that they should now proceed, immediately and without precondition.

He reiterated that the most effective way to proceed remains a negotiation over the delineation of borders, which he said would resolve the settlements issue. This approach is now likely to dominate U.S. diplomatic efforts, as opposed to focusing on interim arrangements or incremental changes. 
The writer is executive director of The Washington Institute.
(Washington Institute for Near East Policy)

Obama in Israel -Josh Gerstein

Obama's second-term strategy became clear during the trip: express such unqualified, heartfelt love and affection for Israelis and the State of Israel that they trust him to have Israel's back in future peace talks, then coax Palestinians back to the table. Obama warmed the hearts of many Jews by paying tribute to the ideas of Zionism and Jews' historic connection to the Holy Land.

His statements were unequivocal and rejected Arab narratives about Jews and the Jewish state being interlopers

What Really Happened in Jerusalem -Charles Krauthammer, MD

Obama knows that peace talks are going nowhere.

First, because there is no way that Israel can sanely make concessions while its neighborhood is roiling and unstable — the Muslim Brotherhood taking over Egypt, rockets being fired from Gaza, Hezbollah brandishing 50,000 missiles aimed at Israel, civil war raging in Syria with its chemical weapons and rising jihadists, and Iran threatening openly to raze Tel Aviv and Haifa.

Second, peace is going nowhere because Abbas has shown Obama over the past four years that he has no interest in negotiating. Obama’s message to Abbas was blunt: Come to the table without preconditions, i.e., without the excuse of demanding a settlement freeze first.

Obama himself had contributed to this impasse when he imposed that precondition — for the first time ever in the history of Arab-Israeli negotiations — four years ago. And when Israel responded with an equally unprecedented 10-month settlement freeze, Abbas didn’t show up to talk until more than nine months in — then walked out, never to return.

In Ramallah last week, Obama didn’t just address this perennial Palestinian dodge. He demolished the very claim that settlements are the obstacle to peace. Palestinian sovereignty and Israeli security are “the core issue,” he told Abbas. “If we solve those two problems, the settlement problem will be solved.”

Finally. Presidential validation of the screamingly obvious truism: Any peace agreement will produce a Palestinian state with not a single Israeli settlement remaining on its territory. Any settlement on the Palestinian side of whatever border is agreed upon will be demolished. Thus, any peace that reconciles Palestinian statehood with Israeli security automatically resolves the settlement issue. It disappears.

Yes, Obama offered the ritual incantations about settlements being unhelpful. Nothing new here. He could have called them illegal or illegitimate. It wouldn’t have mattered — because Obama officially declared them irrelevant.

Exposing settlements as a mere excuse for the Palestinian refusal to negotiate — that was the news, widely overlooked, coming out of Obama’s trip. It was a breakthrough.

Will it endure? Who knows. But when an American president so sympathetic to the Palestinian cause tells Abbas to stop obstructing peace with that phony settlement excuse, something important has happened. Abbas, unmasked and unhappy, knows this better than anyone.
[Washington Post]

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Obama in Wonderland [continued]

President Obama & Prime Minister Netanyahu tour the ancient Dead Sea Scrolls

Obama Visit: A Love Fest with Policy Complications -Barry Rubin, PhD

Palestinian anti-Obama demonstrations showed the "gratitude" amassed for Obama's previous support by branding him as a Zionist, imperialist running dog.

But one detail drew my close attention. The demonstrators sang a song called "America is the head of the snake." That's the song that then PLO leader Yasir Arafat led in singing at the Palestine National Council meeting almost 45 years ago. In other words, after 45 years of effort and especially the last 23 years in which America tried to help create a Palestinian Arab state, it has made zero progress toward winning Palestinian support or recognition of America's aid and efforts. The same story, of course, will be reproduced regarding Obama's efforts to show his respect for Islam and his empathy for Islamism.
[PJ Media]

How would Obama's speech play in Ramallah or Gaza? -Herb Keinon

While the US president's speech got roaring applause in Jerusalem after providing his listeners with a balanced amount of honey and vinegar, the question remains whether this was the audience Obama needs to convince.

US President Barack Obama delivered a passionate peace paean to a warm and excited crowd in Jerusalem on Thursday. That peace will arrive when a similar address receives a comparable ovation in Ramallah, let alone Gaza.

There were some other correctives to the Cairo speech Thursday as well. He didn't compare Palestinian suffering to that of the Jews, as was implied in the Cairo address, and he did not compare the Palestinian cause to that of the US civil rights movement, as was also hinted to in Cairo. Indeed, his reference Thursday to the US Civil Rights movement was how the Passover story served that movement as an inspiration.
[Jerusalem Post]

Obama and Netanyahu Show Unusual Solidarity - Scott Wilson

President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed an unusual degree of solidarity on a set of shared national security concerns that have divided them in the past.

The warm display by Obama and Netanyahu comes against the backdrop of a rapidly changing Middle East. Signs of a stronger U.S.-Israel relationship may put new pressure on Iran's leaders, who Obama said must be convinced that it is not in their interest to pursue a nuclear weapon.
(Washington Post)

Rockets Hit Israel as Obama Visits - Neri Brenner

Five Kassam rockets were fired at Israel from Gaza on Thursday morning, on the second day of President Obama's visit to Israel. One rocket hit the backyard of a house in Sderot.
(Ynet News)

Behind the Obama Visit - Ron Ben-Yishai

Washington is seeking to create an axis of stable Sunni countries to counter the Iran-led radical Shiite axis, which is seeking hegemony in the Middle East - with Israel as a quiet partner in this axis. For the sake of this cooperation Obama will likely ask Netanyahu to show restraint and calm in the Palestinian arena and ask Abbas to refrain from attempting any empty diplomatic provocations that will anger Israel and foment unrest in the territories.

With regard to Iran, there are fewer disagreements between Israel and the Obama administration. There is no argument over the intelligence information indicating that Iran's nuclear program is at an advanced stage. The sides also agree in principle on the need to exhaust the non-military means and that the West should have a credible military option that will be activated should Iran cross the red line, although the U.S. and Israel are still at odds over the definition of this red line.

The Americans argue that more than a year will pass before Iran reaches the point where it has the ability to produce a nuclear weapon within weeks of Khamenei's order. Israel claims a decision must be made this coming summer, or in the autumn at the latest - when Iran will have enough 20%-enriched uranium to produce one nuclear warhead.
(Ynet News)

Why Is Obama Going to Israel? - Michael Oren

The U.S. is economically, militarily and strategically engaged in the Middle East. And Israel keeps chaos from completely engulfing the area. Without Israel, jihadist forces which have killed Egyptians in Sinai and fired rockets at Jordan would spread unchecked as far north as Lebanon.

Israel has effectively deterred Hizbullah, confining its regional influence and blocking its stated vision of creating "a greater Islamic republic governed by...Iran." Syria long dreamed of annexing Lebanon but refrained for fear of Israeli intervention. If not for Israel, Lebanon as we know it might not even exist. In 1970, when Syria threatened to invade Jordan, Israel mobilized its army in Jordan's defense.

The Palestinian Authority as well remains extensively dependent on the Jewish state. Israel facilitates international trade for the Palestinians, supplies them with water and electricity, and furnishes thousands of jobs. And without Israeli warnings that spurred the international community to act, Iran would have long ago become a nuclear power.
The writer is Israel's ambassador to the U.S.
(Los Angeles Times)

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Obama in Wonderland

Israel rolls out the red carpet for President Obama

Palestinians spraypaint swastikas on a poster of US President Barack Obama in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, Monday, March 18, 2013



A New Reality in U.S.-Israeli Relations -George Friedman

U.S. President Barack Obama is making his first visit to Israel as president.

In private I expect a sullen courtesy and in public an enthusiastic friendship, much as an old, bored married couple, not near a divorce, but far from where they were when they were young. Neither party is what it once was; each suspects that it is the other's fault.

In the end, each has its own fate, linked by history to each other but no longer united.
[Jewish World Review]

77 Senators Call on Obama to Stand by Israel - Julian Pecquet

More than 3/4 of the U.S. Senate have signed on to a letter urging President Obama to stand by Israel ahead of his visit. The letter, led by Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), and spearheaded by AIPAC, asks the president to warn the Palestinians against using their new status as a UN observer state to take action against Israel, and that their relationship with the U.S. would be jeopardized if they seek action against Israel at the International Criminal Court. "It is important to re-emphasize that the United States will not tolerate efforts to isolate or delegitimize Israel," the letter states.
(The Hill)

Obama in Israel: It's Not about the Lobby - Walter Russell Mead 
  • The world continues to marvel at American support for the frequently isolated Jewish state.
  • Recent Pew polls found that Americans sympathize more with the Israeli cause than with the Palestinian one by a margin of 49% to 12%, and they have consistently favored a "pro-Israel" foreign policy. When the House and the Senate overwhelming endorse pro-Israel resolutions, and when they tell presidents that they can't cut Israel's aid, those politicians are responding to the will of their constituents.
  • Especially since 9/11, American public opinion has become significantly more pro-Israel. Most see Israel as an important strategic ally in a dangerous part of the world. Most think Israel isn't doing so badly considering its unique and difficult circumstances, and that Israel has every right to defend itself from terror attacks by any means necessary.
  • The American public tunes out the "blame Israel" narrative. The public likes Israel, thinks it is a good thing, and rejoices when it does well.
  • When President Obama lands in Israel, he will be representing a nation that has long seen the existence and security of a Jewish state as an important international achievement, as a step forward on humanity's long march to a better world.
  • When he speaks to Israelis about America's commitment to their security, he will be speaking for one of the strongest and most durable points of consensus in all of American foreign policy. When he tells Israel that America stands with it, a solid majority of the American people are ready to back that up.

    The writer, Professor of Foreign Affairs and Humanities at Bard College, was until 2010 a Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
(American Interest)

For an LATimes Slideshow of the beginning of Obama's trip to Israel click HERE

For a short video summary of the day's events click HERE

Monday, March 18, 2013


A poignant new rap video by LatmaTV, expressing pride in the Israel Defense Forces' mission

Friday, March 15, 2013

Reflections on Obama's Upcoming Israel Visit

U.S. Official Explains Obama's Israel Trip -Yitzhak Benhorin

Deputy U.S. National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes said that President Obama's upcoming visit to Israel "is not about trying to lay down a new initiative or complete our work on a particular issue; that, frankly, there's value in traveling precisely at a time when there is a new government in Israel and a new government in the United States and just having a broad strategic conversation."

"With a new government, you don't expect, again, to close the deal on any one major initiative. But you, on the other hand, want to begin a broad conversation about all these issues where we're cooperating on a day-to-day basis. And there are obviously going to be significant decisions in the months and years ahead about Iran, about Syria, about Israeli-Palestinian peace.... That's the way in which the President is approaching the trip."
(Ynet News)

If a Palestinian State Were Established -Khaled Abu Toameh

As President Obama prepares to visit the region, he would do well to take the following facts into consideration: Any agreement reached between Israel and the Palestinian Authority would be rejected by a large number of Palestinians, especially Palestinian refugees who continue to insist on the "right of return" to their former villages inside Israel. A majority of Arabs and Muslims would also reject such a peace agreement, especially in the wake of the "Arab Spring."

Even if a Palestinian state were established in the West Bank, Hamas and other groups would work to take control of it and, with the help of Iran and al-Qaeda, turn it into a launching pad for attacking Israel and other neighbors.

The PA is in power thanks to the presence of the IDF in the West Bank. Ironically, ending Israeli "occupation" would also bring an end to Abbas' rule.

Any agreement reached under the auspices of the U.S. would be received with utmost suspicion. Already, many Palestinian activists are waging a campaign on Facebook and Twitter to "prevent Obama from desecrating the land of Palestine." Activists have called for "huge demonstrations" in the West Bank to protest against Obama's visit; they are even preparing shoes to throw at his motorcade.
(Gatestone Institute)

IDF Military Intelligence Chief Surveys Threats -Yoav Zitun

IDF Military Intelligence chief Maj.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi said that "[f]or the first time in dozens of years Israel has four borders threatened by terrorist breaching."

Kochavi noted that "for the first time in many years the four main [regional] powers - Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt - are controlled by religious leadership.... The State of Israel is considered by them as unacceptable, so it will be increasingly difficult in the coming years to reach agreements and normalization."
(Ynet News)

Close the Peace Gap -David M. Weinberg

The best thing that President Obama can do to advance Middle East peace is to press the Palestinians to close the "peace gap" - to help Palestinian leaders bring their own constituency towards the levels of compromise and moderation that Israeli leaders have successfully achieved. Over the past thirty years, Israelis have gone from denying the existence of a Palestinian people to recognition of Palestinian peoplehood and national aspirations. Israel has even withdrawn altogether from Gaza, and allowed a Palestinian government to assume authority over 95% of West Bank residents.

The Palestinians, however, have utterly failed to move themselves away from rejectionism and towards peace with Israel. Many Palestinian political and religious figures still deny the historic ties of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel, and refuse to accept the legitimacy of Israel's existence in the Middle East as a Jewish state.

There is an enormous gap between the two peoples in their readiness for peace. The Palestinians are light years away from being ready to settle amicably with Israel, whereas Israelis are desperately eager to cut a fair deal with the Palestinians. Without a serious attempt to address the peace gap, any new diplomatic initiative will fail and will sink into the quicksand of Palestinian rejectionism.
(Israel Hayom)

Obama Not Coming to Press Israel -Herb Keinon
  • Uzi Arad, who sat in on Obama-Netanyahu meetings as Netanyahu's national security adviser for the first two years of the prime minister's second term, is not among those who believe that foremost on President Obama's mind will be pressing Israel on the Palestinian issue.
  • "There is nothing much to push hard on," he said. "It is clear that the realities allow for only so much maneuvering space." According to Arad, the U.S. administration has largely abandoned the sentiment that a final status agreement is lurking just around the corner, with Hamas' consolidation of power in Gaza and the resulting "hardening" of the Palestinian camp major reasons for the jettisoning of this assumption.
  • The new Palestinian reality - Fatah in the West Bank, Hamas in Gaza - has altered the viability of the 2001 Clinton parameters. When Clinton presented his parameters calling for an Israeli withdrawal from some 95% of the West Bank and Gaza, and the division of Jerusalem, no one imagined Hamas would rule Gaza and "be armed to the teeth. That would have been considered a nightmare at the time." That this nightmare is now reality makes things look significantly different.
  • He recommended limited, reciprocal steps for any peace process to work. "No one can expect Israel to take steps, but that the Palestinians do not. Unilateral steps will not fly, people are wiser and older. This should be a two-way street."
(Jerusalem Post)


Will Obama Finally Crack the Israeli Code? -Jeffrey Goldberg

One of the reasons Obama is traveling to Israel is to correct the impression, partly created in his 2009 Cairo speech, that he doesn't understand Israel's history, and has no feeling for the underlying justice of its cause. The Cairo speech had a chilling effect because, to Israelis, the Holocaust alone doesn't justify the existence of their state. "The Holocaust doesn't explain why we're here," said Yossi Klein Halevi, a research fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. "The Holocaust explains why we fight as fiercely as we do to stay here, but it doesn't explain our rootedness."

Halevi said Obama failed to acknowledge "Jewish indigenousness in the region," the idea that the uninterrupted Jewish presence in the lands of ancient Israel for more than 3,000 years justifies the modern Jewish claim to a state there.

Mideast Seeks a New Commitment from Obama -Michael Singh

President Obama's trip this week is about neither Israel nor Jordan. It is about the U.S. and the role we see for ourselves in the Middle East. Our allies want more American leadership in the region and greater clarity regarding U.S. policy on vital issues.

The administration should spend more time listening to our friends and trying to understand their interests. Our allies see Iran's regional activities, the disintegration of Syria and the rise of Islamism as threats. Their cooperation will depend less on our popularity than on convincing them that we share those interests and will act decisively.

Exercising leadership means building consensus, not following it; forming coalitions, not joining them; and shaping outcomes, not reacting to them. If Washington declines to take a leading role in addressing the Middle East's problems, the alternative is likely to be a proliferation of problems as the region's main players and outside supporters stake out their positions.
The writer, who worked on Middle East issues at the National Security Council during 2005-2008, is managing director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
(Washington Post)

Bethlehem Rioters Set Fire to Pictures of Obama -Khaled Abu Toameh

Palestinians in Bethlehem set fire to pictures of U.S. President Barack Obama, saying he was not welcome in their city. PA policemen did not intervene. There were even indications that the PA leadership was encouraging or initiating some of the protests.

Scores of protesters gathered near Manger Square and threw shoes at a U.S. diplomatic vehicle that had arrived as part of preparations for Obama's visit to Bethlehem later this week.

Anti-Obama demonstrations are expected to take place in Ramallah and other Palestinian cities in the coming days.
(Jerusalem Post)

Egypt Bans Documentary


Egypt Bans Film about Jewish Community -Ben Child

Egyptian security agencies have banned a film about the nation's once-thriving Jewish community just a day before it was due to open in cinemas, according to the documentary's producer, Haytham el-Khamissy.

The "Jews of Egypt" examines the lives of the country's estimated 65,000 Jews prior to their departure in the late 1950s due to Egypt's conflict with Israel. The film presents a harmonious vision of early 20th century multicultural Egypt and asks: "How did the Jews of Egypt turn in the eyes of Egyptians from partners in the same country to enemies?" - according to director Amir Ramses.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

SodaStream Creates Oasis of MidEast Cooperation

The video above highlights SodaStream's inspiring corporate culture which brings together Israelis & Palestinians
[Hat tip: Dev S]

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

No Bread for Obama on Israel Trip

There will be none of this when Obama visits Israel

Obama to Be Limited to Strict Kosher for Passover Diet -Robert Tait

President Obama will arrive at Jerusalem's landmark King David Hotel on March 20 - after it has changed its menu in preparation for the start of the annual Jewish Passover festival five days later.

On Passover, which marks the exodus of the Israelite slaves from Egypt, Jews avoid foods containing wheat, barley, rye, or oats. Pasta dishes will be very much off the menu, while dishes rich in vegetables will predominate - even on room service. Bread is replaced with unleavened bread, known as matzah.

Obama's Itinerary: The Deeper Significance of Each Stop -Herb Keinon

US President Barack Obama is not your Aunt Myrtle. When he comes to town for a rare visit you can’t just point out the Dead Sea, the Tel Aviv beach promenade, the Old City walls in Jerusalem, and be done with it.

Everything is carefully planned and choreographed. Everything. Every site that will be visited, every venue for a speech that will be delivered, every public word that will be uttered, even the amount of time allotted for each meeting. Nothing is left to chance, all is weighed for its symbolic value: who it will please, who it could possibly antagonize. Everything is planned with a message in mind.

(Jerusalem Post)

Hamas Calls for Daily Confrontations Ahead of Obama's Visit -Elhanan Miller

In an op-ed titled "Receive Obama the way Sharon was received," published on Hamas' news website Al-Resalah, columnist Mustafa Sawwaf wrote: "Palestinians everywhere should begin their activities with direct confrontation with the Zionists in preparation for Obama's visit, even if this entails martyrs and injured until the ominous day of the visit. That should be the day of battle, the great day of mobilization worthy of the American president."

Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank demanded on Tuesday that President Obama coordinate his Jerusalem tour with the PA, since the city, it claimed, is "occupied territory."
(Times of Israel)

Ethiopian Israelis Rising

Israel's Bold New Queen -Daniel Estrin 

Ethiopian-born Yityish Aynaw [pictured], 21, was just crowned Miss Israel. Almost 30 years since the first clandestine Israeli airlift of Ethiopian Jews, Israel has anointed one of them Israel's most beautiful woman.

The past few years have been trailblazing ones for Ethiopian-born Israeli women. In 2011, Hagit Yaso was the first Ethiopian-born winner of the Israeli version of "American Idol." In 2012, Belaynesh Zevadia was appointed Israel's first Ethiopian-born ambassador - to Ethiopia. In January, Pnina Tamano-Shata (of the Yesh Atid party) became the first Ethiopian-born woman to be elected to the Knesset.

In 1952, Yemen-born Ora Vered became the first Miss Israel of Middle-Eastern Jewish descent. In 1993, in the midst of post-Soviet immigration, Kiev-born Jana Khodriker won, and in 1999 judges crowned Rana Raslan the first Arab Miss Israel.      

Ethiopian-Born Miss Israel to Meet Obama -Sam Sokol 

The newly crowned Miss Israel, Yityish Aynaw, will meet President Obama next Thursday at a state dinner hosted by President Shimon Peres. Aynaw, 21, a former IDF officer, said she was "very excited" ...
(Jerusalem Post)

Monday, March 11, 2013

Ignoring the Real Bloodbath

When an Arab Kills an Arab It Is Not News - Douglas Murray 
  • It has been estimated that the number of people killed in Syria since the uprising began now stands at more than 90,000.
  • All the wars involving Israel, throughout its history, have caused at least 30,000 fewer deaths than have been caused in Syria in the last couple of years alone.
  • Air and ground incursions in Gaza in recent years have on each occasion led to deaths that are a fraction of the number in Syria. Yet the world, and the world's press, and the world's protest movements have on every occasion mobilized in a way which seemed to demonstrate an obsession which is probably at best unhealthy, and at worst the expression of straightforward bigotry.
  • All those people who claim that small incursions into Gaza were in fact a "holocaust," where are they now? If the death of a hundred people is a "holocaust," what is the death of 90,000?
  • With Israel, every death is investigated, every movement protested against. Yet when it comes to the wholesale slaughter in Syria, there is just a single global shrug. We are forced to conclude yet again that when an Arab kills an Arab it is not news. Only if a Jew is involved does it make the cut.
(Gatestone Institute)

Friday, March 08, 2013

Israel Falsely Accused of Bus Segregation

Waging an "Anti-Segregation" Crusade on the Palestinians' Backs
- Evelyn Gordon

The headline: "Israeli buses for Palestinians spark accusations of segregation" appeared worldwide this week

The headline that didn't appear was: "Palestinians thrilled: Finally, decent bus service for those who work in Israel." For years, Palestinians who work in Israel have had only two ways to get to work - take a shared taxi, which is expensive, or ride an Israeli bus, which is inconvenient. Israeli buses don't serve towns controlled by the Palestinian Authority, so Palestinian workers had to commute to where they could pick up the bus.

This week, Israel took a step toward solving this problem: It instituted bus service direct to central Israel from the Eyal crossing near Kalkilya, to serve workers from that PA-controlled city and its suburbs. As the Israeli daily Ha'aretz reported, most Palestinians are thrilled: "Thousands pushed onto the Tel Aviv line. There weren't enough buses to meet the demand." As one worker explained, the new buses will save him NIS 250 a month, more than a full day's wages.

Because West Bank Jews and Palestinians don't live in the same towns, calling it "segregation" to have different buses serving Arab Kalkilya and Jewish Ariel makes about as much sense as saying that America has segregated bus lines because New Yorkers and Chicagoans ride different buses to get to Washington.

The international response to the new bus service was utterly predictable. If every Israeli attempt to offer better service to Palestinians is going to spark cries of "segregation" and "apartheid," Israel has an obvious interest in refraining from such attempts.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Israeli Star Wows United Nations

Hosting Rita at UN, Israel Sends Message to Iran -Michael Wilner

Israeli-Iranian singer Rita Yahan-Farouz performed in the UN General Assembly Hall, joining Israeli ambassador Ron Prosor and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in their calls for closer cultural ties between the Jewish state and the Islamic Republic.

Rita sang in Persian, Hebrew and English to the packed hall during an event that sent a very intentional message from Israel to Iran that it's strategic enemy is a nation rich in culture and in search of peace, Prosor said.

"It's saying, through music, that we have nothing against your people," Prosor said. "And while you play the drums of war, we're playing songs of love and peace."
(Jerusalem Post)

Rita Rocks the UN with "Tunes for Peace" Concert

Rita and her nine-piece band performed in Hebrew, English and Persian before a full house that included President of the UN General Assembly Vuk Jeremic, ambassadors, diplomats, and leaders of the US Jewish and Iranian communities.
(Times of Israel)

Bruce's Notes:
The concert, which can be viewed above or at the following link, begins at 17 minutes & 20 seconds:

A CD of this amazing music can be purchased at this link:

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

American Blinders

Things You Can't See From DC: Palestinians Will Never Be Satisfied
-General Giora Eiland

US President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry are expected to visit the region together in late March to try and promote an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. It is amazing to see how American policy has not changed in 20 years. Each administration creates expectations regarding a solution to the conflict without reassessing it and asking the basic question: Why have the peace efforts failed so far?
According to the American assumption, the Palestinians want to free themselves of the "occupation" and establish a small independent state in the West Bank and Gaza. But this is not true. The Palestinians were never willing to make do with a small state of their own. They want "justice," revenge, recognition as victims and above all - the "right of return."

The Palestinians do not really want a small and divided state, and therefore are not willing to pay the price for it: a commitment to declare an end to the conflict, promising not to make any other demands in the future, and recognizing Israel as a Jewish state.

So what should be done? The Americans must take a few steps back and reexamine their basic assumptions. Should the Americans insist on the old paradigm, Israel must continue to play the game: Agree to return to the negotiation table without preconditions and recognize that the peace process is a positive thing. Will the process bring peace? Probably not, but that is not the most important thing. The most important thing is that we will not be blamed for its failure. 
The writer is former head of Israel's National Security Council.
(Ynet News)

Friday, March 01, 2013

The Dissolution of the Arab State

A map of the Arab world with flag overlays.  Israel can barely be seen.

Tribes with Flags: The Myth of Arab Statehood - Aaron David Miller
  • In the wake of the Arab Spring, we're witnessing the beginning of the end of the illusion of the functional and coherent Arab state. Egypt, Iraq, and Syria once competed for power and influence in the Arab world. In the wake of the Arab Spring, all three have essentially gone off line, their regional reach much diminished.
  • It has been said that, with the exception of Egypt, the Arab states are essentially tribes with flags. Sectarian and ethnic identity, rather than national affiliation, is the driving organizing principle in much of Arab politics. When these societies undergo stress, it's loyalty to the tribe, family, sect, and religious group that provides the primary source of identity and organization.
  • Forget about the establishment of democracies, or liberal, secular societies. Right now, what the Arab world needs most are stable polities that can provide basic security and some material improvement in the lives of their people.
  • America's room for maneuver in the Middle East is shrinking. The authoritarians have gone - and good riddance. The democrats haven't yet arrived - and won't for a good while. And with the end of that old order, perhaps we can finally cast off the illusion that the U.S. can somehow fix all of this.

(Foreign Policy)