Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Quiet diplomacy or public confrontation?

By EVELYN GORDON 12/23/2013

Surprisingly, the latter may serve Israel better in both its key foreign policy challenges.

Over the coming months, two foreign-policy issues will predominate: the ongoing negotiations between Iran and the six powers over its nuclear program; and American efforts to broker an Israeli-Palestinian deal. In both cases, Israel has vital interests at stake, yet in both cases, these interests don’t necessarily coincide with those of its American and European allies. This raises the question of how Israel can best protect its interests: through quiet diplomacy or public confrontation?

Among both Israel’s chattering classes and American Jewry, the dominant view seems to be that quiet diplomacy would be best. And at first glance, this makes intuitive sense. Israel’s alliance with the US is one of its greatest assets, so a public rupture with Washington could seriously undermine its diplomatic and military deterrence. And while Europe provides neither diplomatic nor military backing, it remains Israel’s largest trading partner; hence an open rupture could undermine Israel’s economic well-being.

Yet Israel’s own recent history demonstrates that public confrontation is sometimes vital to secure diplomatic achievements. To understand why, it’s worth studying two examples.

One is Israel’s acceptance earlier this month into the Western European and Others Group at the UN in Geneva. Previously, Israel was the only country excluded from any regional grouping in Geneva, which meant it was automatically barred from various UN posts that rotate among the different regional groups. Israel was also the only country to which the UN Human Rights Council had dedicated a permanent agenda item – meaning Israel’s alleged human rights violations were criticized at every council session, whereas other countries’ records were scrutinized only every few years. In short, Israel was discriminated against twice over compared to every other UN member.

For years, Israel tried to rectify this situation through quiet diplomacy, but in vain. Though Western allies agreed the situation was unfair, it didn’t negatively affect their own interests, whereas solving the problem would have antagonized Arab and Islamic states that some Western countries had invested heavily in cultivating. Israel’s interests thus diverged fundamentally from those of some of its natural allies – and in that situation, quiet diplomacy is of limited value.

Yet the West’s calculus changed dramatically once Israel switched to open confrontation. Infuriated over the HRC’s decision to launch yet another investigation of Israel even as it ignored massive abuses like the Syrian regime’s slaughter of its own citizens, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman persuaded the government to sever all ties with the council and refuse to participate in its Universal Periodic Review process.

Israel’s Western allies feared this boycott could lead other states to follow suit, thereby emptying the UPR of all content. And since they are deeply committed to this process, they suddenly had a real interest of their own in accommodating Israel’s longstanding concerns. Feverish negotiations thus ensued, and eventually, a compromise emerged. First, Israel would finally be admitted to the WEOG. Second, for the next two years, members of this group would refuse to participate in any debate held under the auspices of the permanent agenda item on Israel (which they don’t command enough votes to repeal). In short, confrontation had achieved what years of quiet diplomacy failed to do.

The second example is sanctions on Iran. Two previous prime ministers, Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert, adopted a low-profile approach to Iran’s nuclear program. They considered it crucial for Iran to be seen as the world’s problem rather than Israel’s, and therefore believed Israel’s interests were best served by working behind the scenes and letting the West lead the public battle. Yet this approach produced meager results. It took four years after Iran’s secret nuclear program was discovered for the UN Security Council to impose its first sanctions, and even then, they were largely toothless – as were additional rounds approved in the following years.

But when Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu took office in 2009, he scrapped the quiet-diplomacy approach and adopted a much more confrontational posture, including vocal threats of Israeli military action against Iran. This ultimately produced the first truly biting sanctions ever imposed on Tehran: America and Europe effectively disconnected Iran from the global banking system, and the European Union also imposed an oil embargo.

Here, too, quiet diplomacy had failed because Israel’s interests diverged fundamentally from those of its allies. First, Israel viewed a nuclear Iran as a much greater threat than they did. As chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey admitted in a rare moment of candor, Israelis “are living with an existential concern that we are not living with.” Second, Europe had a major economic interest in continuing to do business with Iran. Hence to much of the West, the costs of stiff sanctions simply outweighed their benefits.

These calculations changed only when the West concluded that Netanyahu’s threats to attack Iran were serious. Since they believed an Israeli attack would be destabilizing to Western interests, they had a strong interest in trying to forestall it by offering an alternative form of pressure on Iran – stiff sanctions. A senior French official acknowledged this openly last year when he explained why his country now supported an oil embargo it had previously opposed: “We must do everything possible to avoid an Israeli attack on Iran, even if it means a rise in the price of oil and gasoline,” he said.

This history is important for understanding how Israel should deal with its current challenges, since in both the Iranian nuclear talks and negotiations with the Palestinians, Israel’s interests once again appear to diverge fundamentally from those of its allies. The West now seems more interested in reaching a deal with Iran – any deal – than in actually halting Tehran’s nuclear program. And it appears far more interested in creating a Palestinian state than in ensuring that this state doesn’t threaten Israel’s existence.

In short, on both issues, quiet diplomacy is liable to prove ineffective. Hence Israel must be prepared to stand up for its own interests via confrontation. For only if the West has something to lose by not accommodating Israel’s interests will it consider such an accommodation to be in its own interests as well.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

St James’s Church, Piccadilly, installs life size replica of Israel’s security wall

This  is  the  perfect  example  of  how  an  uninformed  public can  be  brainwashed  into  hating  Israel  by  being  shown  only  one  side,  and  a  very  prejudiced  one  at   that, of  a complex  situation.   There  is  no  mention  of  terrorist attacks,  or  suicide  bombings  against  Israel  in  the exhibitions  and  the  public  has  no  way  of  knowing  that  it is  these  that  have  necessitated  the  construction  of  the security  fence.

Norman & Lola Cohen (Chairpersons“BIG”)

The life size replica wall at St James’s Church, Piccadilly for Bethlehem Unwrapped.

Richard Millett Dec. 24th 2013

St James’s Church, Piccadilly, in London’s West End has installed a life size 8 metre tall/30 metre long replica of Israel’s security wall in its courtyard as part of its Bethlehem Unwrapped festival. The replica wall is so vast that it obscures the Church itself.

The replica wall will be lit up at night and for the next twelve days of Christmas (until 5th January) a montage of images and slogans will be continuously projected onto it. Scenes include parts of London with a wall passing through it.
What you won’t see projected onto the replica wall are scenes of bombed out Israeli buses, hotels, pizza restaurants, bars and nightclubs that were ubiquitous in Israel before the wall.
Bethlehem Unwrapped has evening events with anti-Israel polemicists including comedians Jeremy Hardy and Ivor Dembina, musician Nigel Kennedy, columnists Yasmin Alibhai-Brown and Mark Steel, Jeff Halper of Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions and War On Want’s in-house poet Rafeef Ziadah.

Maybe Ivor Dembina will reprise his notorious Holocaust “joke” in which he mocks the Jewish people for wanting to hog the Auschwitz limelight. According to Dembina Jews don’t really want others to know that gays, gypsies and the disabled were also murdered at Auschwitz because we like to see it as “Ourschwitz, not Yourschwitz”.

Had someone made a joke about, for example, Srebrenica they would rightly be excluded but Dembina, host of the Hampstead Comedy Club, is one of the star turns at Bethlehem Unwrapped.

Or maybe poet Rafeef Ziadah will reprise her praising of Islamic Jihad chief Khader Adnan. Adnan, you may recall, is keen to incite Palestinians to become suicide bombers and blow up innocent Israeli children.

Unbelievably, into this political hatefest have stepped the supposedly “non-political” chefs Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. They will be hosting the “Bethlehem Feast” at the church on Friday January 3rd.

Last night’s unveiling of the replica wall was introduced by St James’s Church Rector Lucy Winkett.
Rector Winkett said the reason behind the replica wall was that when 20 of them visited Israel and the Palestinian territories in October “one of the lasting memories of our time there was this wall” (see clip).

It is a shame Rector Winkett didn’t also visit the graves of Israeli children murdered by Palestinian suicide bombers or Israelis left disabled by them.
The microphone was then handed to Jeff Halper of Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions who left those who made it to the church despite the dreadful weather conditions in no doubt as to what the next twelves days of Bethlehem Unwrapped had in store. Halper has previously expressed his wish to boycott Israel out of existence.

Last night Halper described Israel’s security wall as a “very deadly barrier that people cannot pass” and said “this wall is not built for security…it doesn’t protect Israelis in any way”. He continued “the wall defines the borders of the Israeli bantustan that is being created for Palestinians in an apartheid state…it defines those cantons in which Palestinians will be confined”

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Palestinian red line

Ephraim Inbar 16.12.2013

The media reported that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas rejected the peace proposals submitted by U.S. Secretary John Kerry. The Palestinians leaked that Abbas sent a letter to Kerry reiterating his complete opposition to the demand to recognize "Israel as a Jewish state." This was declared a "red line" the Palestinians would not cross.

This "red line" is not just about semantics, but the essence of the conflict. The Palestinian position amounts to denying the Jews the right to establish their state in their homeland. It also indicates without any doubt that the Palestinians, despite the conventional wisdom, are not ripe for reaching a historic compromise with Zionism, the Jewish national revival movement. A stable peace based on mutual recognition and ending all demands is not in the cards. The weak PA seems to accept partition of Mandatory Palestine into two states (perhaps in accordance with the stages approach championed by the Palestine Liberation Organization), but it still refrains from accepting the legitimacy of the Zionist enterprise.

This is in stark contrast to Israel, which recognized the "legitimate rights of the Palestinians" back at the September 1978 Camp David Accords, and which is ready for generous territorial concessions in order to implement a partition of the Land of Israel/Palestine. The bitter truth is that the asymmetry in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has not changed for over a century. In essence, this ethno-religious conflict is not about territory, although it obviously has a territorial dimension, but about securing the recognition of the other side to national rights in a given territory.

Despite the image of untrustworthiness, Palestinians give great importance to the language used in the documents they are asked to sign. Yasser Arafat, generally viewed by most Israelis as an accomplished liar, refused to sign an agreement in 2000 that included a clause about an end to all demands. For him the conflict could end only by the eventual demise of Israel. Similarly, Abbas cannot bring himself to put his signature to a document which says that the Jews have returned to their homeland. 

We know that the perception of Jews being foreign invaders of Palestine is a fundamental widespread Palestinian attitude, which is instilled in the younger generations in the PA-run schools.

The entrenchment of such attitudes is clear also by the lack of a debate among the Palestinians whether to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Discussing Jewish rights to the Land of Israel is not conceivable in the current intra-Palestinian deliberations. Not even the so-called Palestinian moderates are calling for a debate among the Palestinians on whether to recognize the right of self-determination of the Jews in their historic homeland. Polls of Palestinians do not ask whether Israel should be recognized as a Jewish state. Normative language mentioning rights and international norms in Palestinian discourse is reserved for Palestinian demands only and is never applied in an attempt to understand what Israelis want.

The efforts of the Palestinian media to negate the Jewish past and historic links to the Temple Mount and even the Western Wall all indicate the ideological commitment to rewrite history. Palestinian archaeology is similarly used to erase all traces of Jewish presence from the land. Even Koranic sources mentioning the links of the Jews to the Land of Israel are ignored. Such Palestinian behavior serves only to prolong the conflict because it does not teach the Palestinians that Jews are part of the history of this land. All these acts are intolerable and must stop before Israel considers signing a comprehensive peace agreement.

It was a mistake not to insist on recognition of Israel being a Jewish state in the negotiations with the Palestinians in the 1990s. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu understands well the need for such recognition on the part of the Palestinians to ensure a historic peace deal and his insistence on getting it in the framework of a comprehensive settlement is right on the mark.

Moreover, Palestinians are different than Egyptians or Jordanians that were not required to accept Israel as a Jewish state. They have no claims to Palestine, while it is the Palestinians and the Israelis who fight for the same piece of land. Since the Israelis recognized Palestinian legitimate rights 35 years ago, it is high time for the Palestinians to learn about the "other" with whom they are in conflict, and reciprocate if they are serious about peacemaking.

Professor Efraim Inbar is a professor of political studies at Bar-Ilan University, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies and a fellow at the Middle East Forum.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Even Beduin Leaders like the plan!!

Whilst many international news reports have a totally negative view on the plans for the Beduin in the Negev, several brave Beduin community leaders have begun to speak-out in favor of the Prawer-Begin plan, despite threats against them from militant Israeli Arab leaders. (with thanks to DAVID M. WEINBERG 12/05/2013, full article at  http://tinyurl.com/ndxxhjc  

a)               Sheikh Odeh Zanoon is the first Negev Beduin leader to reach agreement with the State of Israel to establish a modern Beduin settlement for his tribe members, near Yeroham.

The 300 families of the Zanoon tribe, currently spread across an area of 20,000 dunams without electricity, running water and roads, will move to a modern settlement of approximately 1,500 dunams. The settlement will be planned with their full participation. Many tribe members doubt Israel’s benevolence, but recognize that the plan constitutes an invaluable opportunity for real quality of life.

b)               Abed Tarabin is also moving his Tarabin clan from an illegal encampment near Omer to a properly- planned Beduin town, New Kfar Tarabin, with government support.

He says that “The government plan isn’t 100% perfect, but it is a great improvement over the current situation of Beduin in the Negev. We can build proper homes on recognized land, demand employment and health and education services, and make other demands of the government, like any other citizen. In our new town, we have asked for and received agricultural and industrial help.”

Tarabin adds, “The opposition to the plan comes from belligerent politicians, making noise for their own purposes. It doesn’t come from real Beduin leaders who are concerned with their people. There is plenty of room in the Negev for everybody, and it is good that the government is working to improve things and is investing money in us.”

c)               Kamel Jum’a Abu-Nadi of Lakia, a Beduin town founded in 1982 as part of a previous government project to settle Beduin in permanent towns, says that “The Begin plan is a fair proposal that seeks to end the saga of Beduin land claims. 85% of Beduin have no land claims; only 15% do, and these claims are holding up the development of the Negev for the Beduin. We simply have to reach a compromise on the land claims, since the government’s NIS 10 billion economic development plan for the Negev will improve our currently- very-bad situation in education, employment, welfare, transportation and other infrastructures.”

d)               Id Abu Rashed, a prominent leader of the Rashed tribe from the town of Abu Qrenat (a Beduin town of 2,700 people expected to grow to 7,000 people by 2020, that lies between Beersheba and Dimona) says that “Those who oppose the Begin-Prawer plan do so for political reasons, not substantive reasons. If you check just who has been demonstrating against the plan, you discover that half of the protesters are Arab-Israelis [i.e., not Beduin] from Israel’s north that are being bussed in from the north in organized fashion. The flags of Palestine that are flown at these demonstrations led by the Arab-Israeli Islamic Movement and its Balad political party in fact damage the reputation of the Beduin in the Negev. The Negev Beduin have no anti-Israel nationalist motivations, nor have they ever in past.”

e)               Hassan Ka’abia, a Beduin officer in the IDF from the village of Ka’abia who now works for the Israel Foreign Affairs Ministry, says that the sedentarization of the Beduin people is necessary and inevitable, and the alternative is poverty, crime and illness.

“This transition,” he says, “difficult as it may be, is fascinating and another piece in the cosmopolitan mosaic that is the modern State of Israel.”

Consequently, the Netanyahu government should be praised, not vilified, by Diaspora rabbis and human rights activists for proposing a comprehensive, judicious (and very expensive!) plan that will both facilitate proper development of the Negev and ensure advancement for the Beduin community.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Behind the Headlines: The Bedouin in the Negev and the Begin Plan

This new policy constitutes a major step forward towards integrating the Bedouin more fully into Israel's multicultural society, while still preserving their unique culture and heritage.

View of Bedouin town of Lakiya in the Negev

The Bedouin in the Negev, numbering approximately 210,000, is one of many communities which comprise Israel's pluralistic society. Unfortunately, historically this community has been ranked low in socio-economic indicators.

Recognizing that the Bedouin of the Negev need assistance, the government of Israel created a comprehensive policy - called the Begin Plan - aimed at improving their economic, social and living conditions, as well as resolving long-standing land issues. 

To this end, Israel has allocated approximately 2.2 billion dollars (8 billion shekels), including over 330 million dollars (1.2 billion shekels) for specific economic and social development projects.

January 2013 policy - named after then-minister Ze'ev Binyamin (Benny) Begin - is designed to solve a wide range of problems affecting the Bedouin population. Among the numerous initiatives that have begun or are planned are the expansion of technological and adult education, the development of industrial centers, the establishment of employment guidance centers, assistance in strengthening Bedouin local governments, improvements to the transportation system, centers of excellence for students and support for Bedouin women who wish to work or start businesses

                               Ahmed Al-Karnawi in his greenhouse in Rahat in the Negev

As part of the Israeli government's efforts to reduce Bedouin unemployment, he and other Bedouin have received government plots to set up small agricultural businesses. Al-Karnawi cultivates  roses (which he exports abroad) and vegetables.

Israel is working with the Bedouin community on all aspects of the Begin Plan. Indeed, the plan was developed through dialogue and in close coordination with the Bedouin: In an attempt to expand on the previous Prawer Plan, Minister Begin and his team met with thousands of Bedouin individuals and organizations during the development stage. As a result, Bedouin traditions and cultural sensitivities were taken into consideration, and a plan was formulated to reinforce the connection of the Bedouin to their culture and heritage.

Furthermore, contrary to some claims, Israel is not forcing a nomadic community to change its lifestyle. The Bedouin in the Negev, who moved to the area starting at the end of the 18th century, began settling down over a hundred years ago, long before the establishment of the State of Israel. By now, most Bedouin citizens live in permanent homes.

Still, one of the major problems facing the Bedouin is housing.  Almost half of the Negev Bedouin (approximately 90,000) live in houses built illegally, many of them in shacks without basic services. Isolated encampments and other Bedouin homes may lack essential infrastructures, including sewage systems and electricity, and access to services such as educational and health facilities is limited.

There are solutions to this problem and to the many other difficulties facing the Bedouin. For example, under the Begin Plan, the government is giving every Bedouin family (or eligible individual) that needs it, a resident plot. These lands are being developed to include all the modern infrastructures and will be granted free of charge. Bedouin families can then build houses according to their own desires and traditions. Those that move will be offered their choice of joining rural, agricultural, communal, suburban or urban communities.

                         A street in the Bedouin village of Drijat, "the first Bedouin solar village"

The village was converted in 2005 to a modern solar village by a governmental project of installing there a multipurpose solar electricity system. Thus, many houses, the school, the mosque and the street lights in Drijat are powered by solar panels.

Most of the Bedouin citizens will remain in their current homes. 120,000 already live in one of the seven Bedouin urban centers or eleven recognized villages. Of the remaining 90,000 that live in encampments or communities that are not zoned, only 30,000 will have to move, most of them a short distance (a few kilometers at most). The other 60,000 will have their homes legalized under Israel's initiative, which will develop their communities and grant the residents property rights.

Much has been made of those Bedouin who will have to move. However, almost half of them (14,000-15,000) have settled illegally within the danger zone of the Ramat Hovav Toxic Waste Disposal Facility. Given the threat to their health, and even lives should there be an incident at the facility, the government of Israel has an obligation to relocate these families.

The Begin Plan will also resolve land claims made by a number of Bedouin in the Negev, most of which have been in dispute for decades. Currently, there are 2,900 land claims regarding 587 square kilometers (227 sq. miles). Although these claims have no legal basis under Israeli law (and were not recognized under the previous Ottoman or British land law systems), Israel wants to resolve the issue. It will do so by adopting a compromise according to which all the Bedouin claimants will receive compensation in land and money equivalent to the full value of the land claimed. The Bedouin will no longer have to engage in lengthy court cases while the compensation process will be based on the principles of fairness, transparency and dialogue

There have been attempts to attack the Begin Plan (which its detractors deliberately misname the Prawer Plan in order to associate it with an outdated proposal). Many of those acting in the international arena against Israel's plan for the Bedouin belong to the camp which seizes upon any opportunity to harm Israel's reputation. Others have purer motives, but have based their opposition on false information distributed by Israel's opponents.

This opposition is unfortunate, particularly for the Bedouin who will benefit greatly from the Begin Plan. This new policy constitutes a major step forward towards integrating the Bedouin more fully into Israel's multicultural society, while still preserving their unique culture and heritage.

Most importantly, the Begin Plan guarantees a better future for Bedouin children. No longer will they have to reside in isolated shacks without electricity or proper sewage. Now they will live closer to schools and will be able to walk home safely on sidewalks with streetlights, alongside paved roads. They will have easier access to health clinics and educational opportunities. Their parents will enjoy greater employment prospects, bettering the economic situation of the whole family. To oppose the Begin Plan is to oppose improving the lives of Bedouin children.

A classroom in the Regional Center for Education and Rehabilitation of Disabled Bedouin Children (suffering from C.P.) in the town of Tel Sheva in the Negev. The center, financed by Israeli governmental ministries, currently accommodates around 140 children with C.P., from pre-kindergarten to post high-school age, and will in the future accommodate 500 pupils.
Whilst there has been strong criticism and demonstrations against the plan, most of the activists are not Bedouin. Local Bedouin complain that outsiders are agitating against the plan. 

Two Bedouin Sheikhs who have not hesitated to criticize former Israeli policies toward the Bedouin, but they now express satisfaction with the plan as can be seen in the video below.