Saturday, November 30, 2013

Obama, Iran, and the Jews Reconsidered

To adapt Winston Churchill: Never in the field of global diplomacy has so much been given away by so many for so little.
Britain and France came to Munich in 1938 as military weaklings. The U.S. and its allies face Iran from a position of overwhelming strength. Britain and France won time to rearm. The U.S. and its allies have given Iran more time to stockpile uranium and develop its nuclear infrastructure.

For a detailed comparison for Munich 1938  and Geneva 2013 see:
Jonathan S. Tobin  11.25.2013

President Obama hasn’t made it easy on his Jewish supporters. Conservative critics—and if polls are right, the majority of Israelis—have always doubted his intentions toward the Jewish state and suspected him of either tilting toward the Palestinians or, as veteran diplomat Aaron David Miller memorably put it, someone who was “not in love with the idea of Israel.” But for the majority of American Jews who remain loyal Democrats and liberals, Obama was, at worst, a satisfactory ally of Israel, and, at best, the misunderstood victim of smears. At times, the president’s penchant for picking fights with the Netanyahu government over settlements, borders, and even a consensus Jewish issue like Jerusalem caused some liberal true believers like lawyer and author Alan Dershowitz to worry about his intentions. But even when the relationship between Washington and Jerusalem was at its worst during the past five years, the president’s supporters could point to the issue of paramount importance to Israel’s security and claim with some justification that he was as solid an ally as could be asked.
That issue was, of course, the Iranian nuclear threat, and from the earliest days of his first presidential campaign, Obama had made it clear that he would never allow them to gain a nuclear weapon. Though he had also mentioned his desire for a rapprochement with Iran in that first campaign, the president’s rhetoric on Iran was consistent and strong. Critics could point to failed efforts at engagement, his slowness to back tough sanctions, and his reliance on a shaky diplomatic process as undermining that rhetoric. Yet administration backers like columnist Jeffrey Goldberg continued to make the case that on this point there could be no doubting the president’s resolve.
But in the wake of this past weekend’s nuclear agreement with Iran and the evidence that the president has not only ignored Israel’s concerns about the deal (as well as those of Saudi Arabia) but appears to want a d├ętente with Tehran that will upend America’s entire stance on the Middle East, it’s fair to say that the president has put his backers into a new and even more difficult test. Liberals may be lining up to take Obama and Secretary of State Kerry at their word that they have not given up their determination to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions and even accept the claim that the deal makes Israel safer. But given the administration’s acceptance of Iran’s “right” to enrich uranium and its apparent belief that it is unrealistic to think that Tehran can be forced to give up its nuclear program, belief in its bona fides on this issue can no longer be consideredanything more than a leap of faith. At this point, American friends of Israel as well as those who understand the grave threat that Iran poses to U.S. interests and security need to face the fact that this president has abandoned them.
The disappointment must be especially acute for Goldberg, who has continued to insist that Obama should be trusted on Iran, even insisting that he would, if push came to shove, order air strikes or do whatever it took to make good on his pledge. Thus, to readthe latest Bloomberg column from this respected journalist is to see what happens when leaders cut their supporters off at the knees. Though the president has made Goldberg’s previous defenses of his Iran policy look silly, he is still hoping that the bottom line here won’t be complete betrayal and therefore tries weakly to rationalize or minimize what has just happened.
Goldberg’s position now is that demands for Iran to give up its nuclear program are unrealistic. That’s a new position for him, as he has never doubted that Iran’s goal was a weapon, a point that he doesn’t abandon even in his latest column when he rightly reminds us that, “Iran’s leaders are lying” about being only interested in a peaceful program. But also new is his belief that the crushing sanctions on Iran that he has been advocating for years would never bring about Iran’s capitulation. Thus he finds himself lamely accepting the administration’s excuse that a weak deal that legitimizes Iran’s nuclear infrastructure and does nothing to roll back the tremendous progress it has achieved on Obama’s watch is “the least-worst option.”
He justifies this surrender of principle by assuring himself, if not us, that Iran won’t take advantage of the opening Obama has given them. An even greater leap is his suggestion that after investing so much effort in this diplomatic campaign, the administration “might just have to walk away” from its new relationship with Iran once it realizes than Hassan Rouhani and the supposed moderates aren’t in charge in Tehran. This is absurd because, as reports about the secret diplomatic track that led to this agreement tell us, Obama’s efforts to make nice with Iran preceded Rouhani’s victory in the regime’s faux presidential election.
Equally absurd is his fainthearted attempt to reassure himself that “everything that has happened over these past months may not amount to anything at all.” Having gambled this much on appeasement of Iran, the administration isn’t backing off. No matter what tricks the Iranians pull in the next six months of talks, they know they’ve got the U.S. hooked and won’t let go. The future of the sanctions regime that neither Obama nor the Europeans ever really wanted is much more in question than Iran’s nuclear program. Only a fool would trust Iran’s word on this issue or believe that once they start to unravel, sanctions could be re-imposed.
All this puts American Jewish supporters of Israel like Goldberg in a tough position.
Liberal critics of Israel, like the J Street lobby that was set up to support Obama’s efforts to pressure the Jewish state to make concessions to the Palestinians, will instinctively back the president in any argument with Netanyahu. And it is true that most Americans are not terribly interested in involving the U.S. in yet another foreign conflict and may accept Obama and Kerry’s false argument that the alternative to a weak deal was war.
But mainstream American Jewish groups, and even most of their moderate and liberal supporters, understand what happened this past weekend was more than just another spat in a basically solid relationship. Try as they might, Obama and Kerry will be hard-pressed to persuade most supporters of Israel that they have the country’s best interests at heart as they embark on a road whose only main goal is to normalize relations with Iran.
Though American supporters of the Jewish state loved his rhetoric during his visit to Israel last spring, the president’s goal here has been to isolate America’s sole democratic ally in the Middle East. As Goldberg aptly pointed out, one of Obama’s prime objectives has been to ensure that Israel cannot act on its own or even in concert with some of its unlikely Arab allies of convenience against Iran. Indeed, that appears to be the only American objective that has actually been achieved with this agreement.
That is why Israel’s supporters cannot hesitate about backing congressional efforts to increase sanctions on Iran despite administration resistance. Jewish leaders were lied to earlier this month when senior officials tried to convince them to back off on lobbying for sanctions (an effort that met with at least partial success at first). They also lied to Netanyahu for months while Obama’s envoys were talking to Iran behind Israel’s back.

Obama has worried Jewish supporters before, but never has he so ruthlessly undermined their faith. The choice for the pro-Israel community is clear. It can, like Goldberg has done, redefine its objectives, and concede defeat on stopping Iran and/or pretend nothing has happened. Or it can find its collective voice and speak out against a terrible betrayal that gives the lie to every Obama statement about stopping Iran. If it chooses the latter, these groups will face the usual “Israel Lobby” calumnies from anti-Semites and Israel-haters who will claim they are undermining U.S. interests. But they cannot take counsel of their fears or be silenced. If they do, they will look back on this moment when it was still possible to mobilize congressional action against this betrayal with regret.

Friday, November 22, 2013

EU right about Western Sahara but wrong about Israel

Commentary: The European Union makes up its own rules for engaging with occupied territories.

 JERUSALEM — The European Union recently affirmed that there is no international legal problem in signing a deal with an occupying power that extends to the territory it occupies, or from foreign companies doing business in occupied territory.

It did so when it provisionally approved a fisheries agreement earlier this month with Morocco that extends into the territory of occupied Western Sahara, which is beyond Morocco’s recognized sovereign territory.

Moreover, the EU actually pays Morocco for European access to Western Saharan resources. On all these points, the agreement directly contradicts what the EU, in negotiations with Israel, calls fundamental principles of international law.

In recent years, Europe has contested Israel’s insistence that its EU agreements do not apply to Israel’s activities in the West Bank. The EU stance has been celebrated by some as an example of European commitment to international law. The EU’s new deal with Morocco appears to be contradicting those principles.

Moreover, the European Parliament’s legal advisor issued a formal opinion earlier this month making it clear that it is the EU’s treatment of Morocco, not Israel, that accords with international law.
By inventing rules of international law, the EU actually sends the message that Israel might never “comply” with international law, because where Israel is concerned, this “law” is a moving target, that can be concocted from thin air.

Morocco invaded Western Sahara in 1975 and has occupied it since, claiming it as its own territory. The Security Council has condemned Morocco’s presence and demanded a complete withdrawal.
In the face of this demand, Morocco has initiated an aggressive settlement policy. As a result, Moroccan settlers may now be the majority in the territory.

The EU, like the rest of the world, does not recognize Western Sahara as part of Morocco, but this has not stopped EU from extending its agreements with Morocco to cover Western Sahara. The Polisario Front is the generally recognized representative of the indigenous people of Western Sahara, and it vigorously opposes the EU deal.

The Moroccan agreement contradicts two central elements of the EU’s legal approach to Israel. The EU says that any application of agreements to the occupied territories would violate international law by “recognizing” Israel’s control. Yet while the EU also refuses to recognize Moroccan claims to Western Sahara, it sees no tension between this and extending its agreements with Morocco to that territory.

The EU says it cannot spend a cent on Israeli-sponsored activities in the occupied territories, while in Western Sahara, Europe will actually pay Morocco for its exploitation of natural resources there.
The controversy over EU deals with Morocco led to a ruling from the European Parliament’s legal advisor. In brief, the official opinion says international law does not prevent Morocco from exploiting the natural resources of the occupied territory, or for the EU to pay Morocco to exploit the resources of occupied territory.

The EU position regarding Western Sahara is consistent with prior international law, including a 2002 opinion by the Security Council’s legal advisor, and a ruling of the French Court of Appeals this summer, as well as the general practice of nations.

The EU is right about Western Sahara — which means it is wrong about Israel.

To be sure, there are differences between the EU’s policies toward Western Sahara and the West Bank; the former is much worse.

In Western Sahara, the EU has licensed the exploitation of scarce natural resources. In the West Bank, the EU seeks to punish pure academic and business activity that do not exhaust resources but only create jobs and opportunities for Arabs and Jews
Moreover, Israel’s economic activity in the West Bank is confined to areas under Israeli jurisdiction by agreement with Palestinian authorities under the Oslo Accords. Morocco’s activities have no limitations, because unlike Israel, it has not turned over most of the territory to Polisario rule.
Ironically, the inconsistency in European policies sends exactly the opposite message from that intended by Europe. In its dealings with Israel, the EU wants to make clear that it opposes settlements
Fair enough. But implicitly, Europe is telling Israel that the problem is not its presence in the disputed territories, but rather that it does not have enough presence; in particular, not enough economic enterprises.

Spanish and French businesses, interested in opportunities in the Western Sahara, are pressing the EU to sign the deal with Morocco.

The Moroccan precedent suggests that if significant Israeli defense, high-tech or biotech enterprises were located in the West Bank, the EU would reduce diplomatic pressures on Israel.

The message Europe wants to send Israel through its tough diplomatic line is that the occupation of the West Bank and settlements are the source of its diplomatic problems. But by not holding any other occupation to the same standard, Europe sends another message: it is not the settlements that bother Brussels — rather, it is Israel itself.

Eugene Kontorovich is a professor of international law at Northwestern University School of Law in Chicago and a senior fellow at the Kohelet Policy Forum in Jerusalem

Monday, November 11, 2013

Lessons on hypocrisy from Syria

By DAVID M. WEINBERG 11/10/2013

All the human rights moralizers are ignoring the frightening plight of Palestinians and Christians in the Syrian civil war. There is, alas, no anti-Israel angle to the story.

The fighting in Syria once again proves the sad old adage that human rights organizations and their advocates in the mainstream Western media are essentially anti-Israel. There is no other way to explain the fact that all these high-and-mighty moralizers are ignoring the frightening plight of Palestinians and Christians in the Syrian civil war.

You see, there is no anti-Israel angle to the story of Palestinian or Christian suffering in Syria.
That suffering can’t really be blamed on the Jews. So nobody cares.

a) UNWRA  reports 250,000 Palestinians have been displaced in Syria since the start of the conflict
b) In May, for example, some 6,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homes in Ein al-Tal, a refugee camp near Aleppo in northern Syria.

The response from the world: Nothing. - SILENCE

c) more than 55,000 Palestinians have been forced to flee Syria to Lebanon and Jordan
d) In Lebanon, the Palestinian refugees join more than 500,000 other Palestinians who live in refugee camps.

International uproar  - ZERO .

IN ISRAEL If six (never mind 60, 600, or 6,000) squatting Palestinian families were forced to move two kilometers out of an IDF firing zone in the southern Hebron hills. There would be UN investigations, international tribunals, condemnations from Western capitals, and much handwringing and moralizing by Amnesty, Human Rights Watch and more.

Actually, this has happened exactly. A grand total of 10 Palestinian families were evicted by an IDF evacuation order

e) At least 2,000 Palestinians have been killed in Syria, by both the rebels and the Syrian army.


IN ISRAEL Now imagine if IDF troops killed 150 terrorists, and inadvertently also killed a few civilians behind which the terrorists were hiding, during a raid meant to destroy enemy missile launchers. There would be UN investigations, international tribunals, condemnations from Western capitals, and much handwringing and moralizing by Amnesty, Human Rights Watch and more.

Actually, this has happened exactly.

The two Palestinian governments – Hamas in the Gaza Strip, and Fatah-led Palestinian Authority in the West Bank – have said or done nothing to draw global attention to the plight of their brethren in Syria. No emergency UN Security Council session to discuss the new Palestinian tragedy. They are more worried about construction of a few homes in Israeli settlements in the West Bank than the lives of thousands of Palestinians in Syria.

f) Syria’s Christians, more than 600,000 of whom have been displaced or fled Syria since the rebellion began. It seems that their fate will be similar to that of the Christians in Iraq, half of whom emigrated, fled or were killed.

In March 2012, Islamist militants went door to door in neighborhoods of Homs, expelling local Christians. Of the more than 80,000 Christians who lived in Homs prior to the uprising, approximately 400 remain today. In May 2012, Christian residents of Qusayr received an ominous warning: Either join the opposition against Bashar Assad or leave.

Soon after, thousands of Christians fled the town.

The Vatican News Agency Fides and Catholic Online magazine reported this week that 45 Christians were recently massacred and thrown into mass graves by Islamists in Sadad, a town of 15,000 mostly Syriac Orthodox Christians located 160 km north of Damascus.

The 4,000-year old Assyrian town’s 14 churches and monastery were defiled and looted. According to Archbishop Selwanos Boutros Alnemeh, Syriac Orthodox Metropolitan of Homs and Hama, about 2,500 families have fled from Sadad. “

Where is the Christian conscience? Where is human consciousness? Where are my brothers?”
But of course, you wouldn’t know about this from the mainstream Western press or from Western leaders.

IN ISRAEL Now imagine that a few Jewish hooligans were to vandalize a monastery or two in Israel.
There would be howls of protest worldwide.

The attack would be covered extensively in just about every newspaper in the world, with a lot of buzz about the supposed brutalization of Israeli society and a radicalization of religious Jewry. There would be UN investigations, condemnations from Western capitals, and much handwringing and moralizing by Amnesty, Human Rights Watch and more.

Actually, this has happened exactly.

When persecution against Palestinians and Christians doesn’t come from the Jews, nobody cares. And this tells me that international howls of protest against Israel related don’t stem from real concern for Palestinian or Christian “victims” of Israel’s heavy hand.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Palestinians: The War between Mahmoud and Mohamed

Khaled Abu Toameh November 1, 2013

Dahlan was quoted as saying that Abbas and his team were not negotiating with Israel about the restoration of Palestinian rights, but in order to win American and Israeli backing.
Abbas's aides are accusing Dahlan of being part of a "conspiracy" to topple the Palestinian Authority President.
A weak and divided Fatah further boosts Hamas's popularity among Palestinians.
After a prolonged lull, the ongoing war between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and ousted Fatah operative Mohamed Dahlan erupted once again over the past few days.
The two men are now accusing each other of treason, corruption and conspiracy, prompting some Palestinians to wonder whether the time has come for U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to make an effort to hold "peace talks" between Abbas and Dahlan.
The Abbas-Dahlan rivalry reflects growing tensions in the ruling Fatah faction, which dominates the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.
But the war is not only between two figures. Rather, it is between two camps in Fatah representing the old guard and new guard.
There were days when Abbas and Dahlan were considered close allies and friends. When Abbas served as prime minister under Yasser Arafat, in 2003, he appointed Dahlan as Minister of Security.
Back then, Abbas and Dahlan were forced to work together to face Arafat's autocratic regime, which sought to undermine the power of the two men.
However, tensions between Abbas and Dahlan first surfaced after Hamas seized control over the Gaza Strip and drove the Palestinian Authority out of the area in the summer of 2007.
Abbas and his loyalists then held Dahlan and his forces responsible for the Hamas "coup," saying they had not done enough to prevent the defeat of the Palestinian Authority. Dahlan was a former commander of the Palestinian Preventive Security Force in the Gaza Strip.
The tensions between the two reached their peak four years ago when Abbas learned that Dahlan had been bad-mouthing the president's sons, Yasser and Tareq Abbas.
In response, Abbas ordered the Palestinian Authority security forces to raid Dahlan's residence in Ramallah and confiscate documents and various types of equipment. Some of Dahlan's friends and aides were arrested during the raid.
Dahlan was forced to flee Ramallah and has since found refuge in the United Arab Emirates.
Abbas escalated his campaign against Dahlan by persuading Fatah's Central Committee to expel him from the faction.
Abbas aides have since accused Dahlan of involvement in various crimes, including the "poisoning" of Arafat, who died in November 2004, the assassination of a number of Fatah officials in the Gaza Strip, and embezzlement of public funds.
In recent weeks, the United Arab Emirates and other Arab countries have been trying to negotiate an end to the war between Abbas and Dahlan, but to no avail.
Palestinian sources claimed that the Arab mediators had even asked the 78-year-old Abbas to appoint Dahlan, 53, as his deputy. Abbas, according to the sources, turned down the proposal, saying he would never forgive Dahlan for betraying him and Fatah.
The failure of the mediation efforts prompted Dahlan last week to launch a scathing attack on Abbas and his close aides in Ramallah, reigniting the war between the two men.
Dahlan was quoted as saying that Abbas and his team were not negotiating with Israel about the restoration of Palestinian rights, but in order to win American and Israeli backing. "The leadership of the Palestinian Authority is so weak that it can't turn down any Israeli request," Dahlan was quoted as saying.
Dahlan was also quoted as accusing unnamed Palestinian Authority officials of providing logistical aid to construction work in Jewish settlements.
Dahlan's statements have drawn strong condemnations from Abbas and his top aides. They are now referring to the ousted Fatah operative as "Lieberman Dahlan" – a reference to Israeli right-wing politician and former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who is a strong critic of the Palestinian Authority and its leaders.
Abbas's aides are also accusing Dahlan of being part of a "conspiracy" to topple the Palestinian Authority president. They claim that Dahlan is wanted by the Palestinian Authority for his role in the assassination of Fatah activists and financial corruption.
Dahlan does not seem to be standing alone in his battle against Abbas. Several Fatah-affiliated groups and figures in the Gaza Strip and Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon have come out in support of Dahlan, deepening divisions inside Fatah.
The war between Dahlan and Abbas has seriously undermined Fatah's credibility among Palestinians. Fatah has already lost much of its credibility as a result of its failure to reform and come up with new leaders.

This war, a weak and divided Fatah, plays into the hands of Hamas and further boosts its popularity among Palestinians. Before pursuing its efforts to achieve peace with Israel, Fatah needs to solve its internal problems. A weak and divided Fatah would never be able to sell any peace agreement with Israel to its people.