The inbox runneth over. Goldblog reader Thom Seaton writes:
There are many Zionists who do not support the settlement project but who believe that Obama's approach has essentially provided Palestinians with a free ride. Settlement expansion can be verified; attempts to curtail incitement cannot be verified and Abbas can escape responsibility for the continued failure of Palestinian leaders to accept the existence of a majority Jewish state. ... If American leaders and many Jews among J Street, Brit Tzedek, et al were quick to condemn Bibi's reluctance to embrace a two-state solution, why did not the administration find fault with Palestinian refusal to accept the existence of a Jewish state. If this is to be a matter for final negotiations, why is not the settlements also a matter for such discussions.
Shmuel Rosner has some disturbing numbers out of Israel.
Jennifer Rubin at Commentary is mad at me:
Many thanks to Jeffrey Goldberg, both for taking a reader's question "paraphrasing" me as to whether there is "any red line for [him] vis-a-vis Obama and Israel?" and for again demonstrating that there is apparently nothing Obama can do that would offend a certain segment of American Jewry....
I have many red lines, of course, when it comes to the question of Israel's survival, and readers of this blog know this. I want Israel to remain a Jewish-majority democracy, I don't want it to be a pariah, in part because pariahs don't survive, and I want Israel to protect itself from the threat posed by Iran. I think Israel must be ready to compromise on questions related to the Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, and to settlement expansion on the West Bank, precisely because these other issues are so important.
She's condensed a week of Senate blather about Sotomayor into exquisite little poems. A sample:
Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.:
What Sonia has done
Is so very impressive
So I am impressed
Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa:
Pit in my stomach
Ricci, Maloney, Didden
Too biased to judge
People are making such a big deal about settlements, I figured I'd ask Michael Oren to help me calculate their ultimate importance to the peace process. This is a continuation of our discussion held at the Aspen Ideas Festival:
Jeffrey Goldberg: Do you think if settlements were frozen right now, that the Arabs would reach out to Israel for peace talks?
Michael Oren: Very difficult, very difficult. They'd maybe reach out to peace talks. I don't know where those peace talks would run, but I'll tell you several weeks ago, the Prime Minister of Israel, Benyamin Netanyahu, gave a speech. And in the speech he recognizes the need for an independent Palestinian state. He wanted the state to be demilitarized because we've had some nasty experiences with Palestinian entities that shoot at us. And he also had another demand. It wasn't a precondition but it was a demand, that at some stage before the final treaty is signed, that that Palestinian state is going to have to recognize Israel as the Jewish state, as the nation state of the Jewish people. And many people in the Arab world, many people in Europe, were sort of scratching their heads and saying 'why do you need this, isn't this just an obstacle to peace?'
A.B. Yehoshua, who's a very good friend of mine, called me up on the phone screaming, saying 'why do you need this? It's just another obstacle! The prime minister doesn't want peace.' And I explained to [him], I said what you see as an obstacle, I see as a door. And this is a notion that I have held for many, many years, well over 15 years, that without recognition of the legitimate existence of a Palestinian people with an historic land, the right to an independent state in that land, without the reciprocal recognition of a Jewish people with an historic tie to a land and a legitimate claim to a state, there will never be an end to the conflict. That is, only on the basis of that reciprocity can we actually end the conflict, because if you don't have that, if you only have the Jewish state recognizing the Palestinian state, then they will always regard the Jewish state as illegitimate, foreign and temporary.
And there, to me, lies the essence. So Israel can freeze settlements tomorrow -- we plucked up 21 settlements out of Gaza two years ago, and you know I was there, it was the most traumatic event of my military career, was pulling Jews out of their houses -- we did that, and we turned around and got 7,200 rockets fired at us. Settlements are not the issue. The issue is the recognition of the mutual legitimacy of these two peoples, the legitimate claim to these two states.
JG: There are so many ways to go with this, but let me go with a very specific point. You say settlements are not the issue. The Obama Administration believes that settlements are a clear issue, in a way that very few administrations have, they have made this the early centerpiece of their move, their desire to reignite peace talks. Do you think they are making a mistake?
MO: I never said that settlements aren't an issue. I cant speak for the Obama Administration, but I think that they understand as well that the settlements are not the issue, that it's one of many issues. Another issue is the degree to which the Arab states are willing to embark on a process of normalization with us and that process is right now moribund. I think that both sides - the Israeli side, the American side - are working earnestly, ardently, to try and find a compromise over the question of the degree to which construction can continue in the settlements to accord for what we call normal life, and I think, I'm fairly confident, that in the coming period, we will find a solution for this.
JG: You've been studying this for 30 years. Do you actually believe that there's a moment in time, in the near future, when the Palestinians will recognize Israel as a legitimate Jewish state?
MO: I think there is a time in the future, but that moment is the culmination of a process. It's a process that begins with the schools, it begins with changing textbooks, which deny Israel's legitimacy and right to exist. Two weeks ago, I watched public service announcements by the Palestinian Authority -- paid for, by the way, with American taxpayers' dollars -- and the PSA said 'Welcome to PA television, we are going to liberate not only Tulkarem... but we're going to liberate Haifa and Jaffa and Tiberias.' Now that is not the way to go. That does not lead to mutual recognition to the right of two people to their independent states. And that process has to start now. We have recognized our obligations under previous agreements. One of those agreements talks for a sequential process in which Israel will find a solution for the settlement issue, but the Palestinians have to begin to end what we call hatred on their television sets and in their textbooks. Without that, you are raising generations to regard Israel as an alien hostile temporal state. That's not a prescription for peace.
Goldblog reader Zev Klagsbrun writes, in reference to a previous post on the morality crisis in Orthodox Judaism:
I found the following language in regard to the Madoff scandal misleading and unfair: "I mean, just in the last year, we've had the scandal of Agriprocessors, and the Madoff scandal (admittedly, he wasn't leading even the facsimile of an Orthodox life, but the scandal has involved some prominent Orthodox Jews and institutions) and now this." This sentence implies that Orthodox Jews and institutions were involved in perpetrating the scandal, while in fact they just featured prominently amongst the victims.
As an Orthodox Jew, I am all too well aware of the ethical disdain exhibited by many of my coreligionists. We have enough scandals actually perpetrated by Orthodox Jews to be ashamed of without having the Madoff scandal thrown into the mix.
The U.S. is easing export restrictions previously placed on Damascus. Anything that helps bring Syria out of Iran's orbit seems useful, the realist in me says.
Not Intelligence intelligence, but actual intelligence. Yaacov Lozowick thinks so:
He preaches that we need to rethink our positions while demonstrating very little understanding of the complexities we've long since worked through; he assures us public bilateral agreements made a mere four years ago never happened; he seems incapable of distinguishing between settlements even when the Palestinians have already recognised such distinctions, and his position is empowering them to renounce positions they've already accepted.
Shortly after I posted a link to Aluf Benn's New York Times op-ed on President Obama, I spoke to two senior administration officials who seemed to feel fairly strongly that Benn doesn't understand what the President is trying to do. In his piece, Benn argued that Obama has spoken to most everyone in the world except to the Israelis -- the Cairo speech to the Muslim world being the most obvious example of Obama's desire to re-set relationships -- and that until he allays Israeli fears, and explains his vision for the Middle East and for Israel's security, Israelis will mistrust him, to generally deleterious effect.
These two senior officials -- sorry, those were the ground rules -- made the plausible argument that the Cairo speech was, in fact, directed at Israelis as much as it was directed at Arabs. "The President went before a Cairo audience in a speech co-sponsored by Al-Azhar with Muslim Brotherhood members in the audience and spoke of America's strong, unshakable support for Israel," one of the officials said. "He could have gone to a million different venues to say this, but he went to Cairo, and it wasn't exactly an applause line. Isn't it more important to say this to the Muslim world than it is to say it to an audience of Israelis or American Jews?"
These two officials pointed out something that I forgot about the speech, which is that it contained strong condemnations of the cynical Arab ploy to use the Palestinian issue as a diversion (in other words, to keep the focus of unhappy Arabs on Israel and not on the weaknesses of their own anti-democratic, corrupt governments), and of course it contained an unequivocal denunciation of terrorism committed in the name of resistance.
For what it was worth, I mentioned my worry that in all of the noise about settlements, the pro-Israel message of the Obama Administration wasn't being heard -- not only the left-sounding message that a Palestinian state is in the best security, demographic and moral interests of the Jewish state, but the message that Obama believes in the core ideas of Zionism (as he expressed them to me during the campaign) and that, because he's a believer, he sincerely wants to protect Israel from true existential threats.
I asked these two officials when Obama might visit Israel, or at least speak at length about his positive vision for a secure Israel, but they were non-committal, but I'm obviously hoping that this happens soon. Otherwise, the forces that seek to exploit the growing unease in some Jewish quarters with Obama in order to advance their own pro-settlement -- or pro-recalcitrance -- agendas will only be strengthened. The Obama Administration doesn't help its own cause when it condemns the so-called "natural growth" of settlement blocs that everyone from Abu Mazen to Hosni Mubarak knows will wind up as part of Israel in a final deal, but you're not going to get too many complaints from me, and, my guess is, from the majority of American Jews, when the Obama Administration questions the motivations of those who seek aggressive settlement expansion right now, at a time when the Palestinian leadership of the West Bank is actually fighting terrorism, and building a functioning economy.
To be continued, I'm sure.
Goldblog reader James Wynn writes, in reference to my statement that time is running out for Israel to achieve permanent, internationally-recognized borders and diplomatic relations with the bulk of Muslim-majority countries,"
Why do you think this is possible? If Israel relinquished all territories gained since the start of the 1967 war (which would include the WHOLE of Jerusalem, not just East Jerusalem), the Palestinians will a) prohibit Jews from entering those areas --certainly from entering them safely-- and the Palestinians will begin drumming about the "right of return" to all areas of 1948 Israel. And the Muslim states and the European will reflexively nod their heads. Wishing something doesn't make it so.
I don't know that it's possible or not. I do know that the status quo is untenable. I also believe -- not so strongly anymore, but still believe somewhat -- that a so-called "end of claims" by the Palestinians, recognized internationally, is not something that could so easily be thrown away.
A new iPhone application, aptly titled Synagogues, directs users to nearby congregations, replete with their denomination, rabbi's contact information and, presumably, a place to hide the device once you actually get to synagogue, or a place to hide outside the synagogue. It's a little late if you consider the tech company RustyBrick -- which, among other things, locates nearby kosher restaurants and mikvahs -- but all this so-called convenience does make guilt that much more inevitable.
This one from Bradley Burston, in the form of a letter to Rahm's boss:
You are in danger of losing critical support for progress toward a two-state solution. Though you have been president for only six months, you are fast running out of time. Your primary enemy here is not the extremist hoping to blow up or gun down or forcibly squat a prospective peace to death. Your enemies are the clock, a culture which allows peacemaking only at the unlikely opening of a series of windows of opportunity, and, if you do not move quickly, your own inaction... Simply stated,take your campaign directly to the Israeli people, and soon. Fail to do this, or wait too long, and you'd be well advised to leave the table while you still have chips.... In your open and generous dealings with the Muslim and Arab world, you have demonstrated the one quality which underlies all emotional, political, and cultural transactions in this part of the globe: respect.
From Aluf Benn, asking why President Obama hasn't spoken to the Israeli people yet:
This policy of ignoring Israel carries a price. Though Mr. Obama has succeeded in prodding Mr. Netanyahu to accept the idea of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, he has failed to induce Israel to impose a freeze on settlements. In fact, he has failed even to stir debate about the merits of one: no Israeli political figure has stood up to Mr. Netanyahu and begged him to support Mr. Obama; not even the Israeli left, desperate for a new agenda, has adopted Mr. Obama as its icon.