- Renewed calls for commercial, academic, and cultural boycott and divestment around the world, likely with serious outcomes
- Suspended (if not severed) diplomatic relations with Turkey
- Suspension of proximity talks with Palestinians
- Suspension of proximity talks with Syria
- Some new set of concessions by the Netanyahu coalition on settlement growth
- Multiple nonbinding UN resolutions condemning Israel
- Renewed resistance from Iran on its nuclear program, and new resistance on sanctions against it
Tuesday, June 1, 2010
Thursday, February 4, 2010
After many months of pretending it was not true, I have to admit that I just don't have the fighting spirit to keep this little blog going. The conversation about Israel in the US and Europe (not to mention in Israel itself) has become so depressingly polarized that I really can't see myself mustering the effort required to even document it, let alone add my own opinion.
I can honestly say that after my year spent there, I care more about Israel than I ever have before. It is that outlook that makes bowing out of these conversations both as difficult and as necessary as it is. Israel is too important to me to tune in every day to hear it slagged by a left wing that has understood nothing about it, or a right wing content to use it as a political football and accelerate its destruction in the process.
I am now wholly immersed in drug policy, which I honestly believe will be one of the defining issues of this new decade (which I couldn't be more pleased about), and even conversations with insane DEA people seem tame compared to debates about Israel. I'm content to inch forward what few good ideas I have in this realm, and to hope that Israel continues to do what it has always done best, either as a people or a country: see to its own preservation, keep its own house and its own counsel.
Thanks to those who were reading, semi c-list prominent bloggers among you. I appreciate the support, the challenges that here at least were always respectful, and especially the opportunity to grapple in public and with openness with one of Israel's more difficult wars. This was a meaningful experience and not one that I will forget.
If you want to keep up with me or drop me a line, you can reach me via Facebook (Max Socol) or Twitter, where I am @mbsocol.
Monday, September 7, 2009
Of the essays, Alpher's is best at outlining and anticipating the consequences of Fayyad's plan to begin building up state infrastructure in preparation for a de facto statehood to be declared in two years -- assuming the failure of negotiations. As the essayists mention, this is not the first time that Palestinians have attempted this route, having tried and failed in 1988, and threatened a second time just prior to Oslo. But those were gestures undertaken by Yasser Arafat, whose disorganization and corruption made such declarations threatening only (or at least mostly) in the abstract.
Fayyad is a different animal: a competent technocrat, seemingly incorruptible, deft at more than just political gamesmanship. When he threatens (if that can even be the word) to build up infrastructure, he does so as nearly the only Palestinian official with the drive to follow through.
Israeli officials and supporters ought to be welcoming Fayyad's plan with open arms. Israel has nothing to fear from an organized and structurally sound polity in the West Bank. On the contrary, this is precisely what we have been hoping for: a credible and strong central government, capable of reigning in Hamas and other disparate extremists; curbing Islamic fundamentalism; and continuing to assume the security burden now carried largely by Israel.
A unilateral Palestinian action would complicate issues of territory, and possibly force Israel to work under pressure to make difficult decisions regarding larger settlements. But the upshot, as Alpher points out, is probably worth it: "[unilateral action] would seemingly free Israel of any further need to consider the refugee issue since it would have been delinked from bilateral territorial questions between two sovereign states. Indeed, UDI might reflect Palestinian recognition that the insurmountable refugee problem has to be bypassed."
This would be a tremendous revelation on the part of the PA. For those within the pro-Israel camp who take a more reasonable and sympathetic line with Palestinians, granting them the territory they need, refugees are the only really impossible demand. The establishment
Ironically, if we are to believe Alpher's description, it may be in the best interests of this camp to do very little while Fayyad maneuvers. If he really does follow through with his two-year plan, Israel the Territories both stand to gain in the short term. And a unilateral declaration in two years that releases Israel of the refugee burden while enforcing 1967 territorial claims is just about as reasonable a deal as anyone could hope for.
But then there is FM Lieberman, who, as they say, never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity, declaring that "Israel will respond" to any hint of Fayyad's plan going into action. Why, exactly? This is coming from the man who ostensibly favored territorial trades in exchange for the cleansing of Israel's Arab minority, and its transfer to the West Bank. Isn't Fayyad laying plans that would align rather nicely with these? Is it possible that Lieberman knows something we don't? Or perhaps the "thuggery as foreign policy" strategy that served the US so well for eight years has now migrated to the office of the Israeli PM.
Friday, August 21, 2009
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
"[The senior political analyst will] work with AIPAC's regional offices to: track and provide analysis for congressional races; schedule candidate meetings and obtain pro-Israel position papers."[my bold]
One of the most frustrating aspects of critiques of AIPAC by Andrew Sullivan and others is that they confuse the responsibilities of the lobbyists with those of politicians. When congressmen stick to their guns on pro-Israel positions that are of dubious benefit to Americans, this is treated by Sullivan et al not as a political failure, but assomething to be laid at the feet of the lobby, amid accusations of illicit dealings.
Beyond the uncomfortable overtones of Protocols-era anti-Semitism lurking in such talk, the fact of the matter is that AIPAC is essentially being punished in commentary for being effective at its stated goal: to build US support for Israel. When other lobbies succeed in pushing legislation, they are considered powerful. When AIPAC succeeds, it is not powerful but manipulative. It is only a short leap from such a characterization to start seeing the "Lobby" behind all sorts of political decisions over which it has actually exercised no influence whatever. A conspiracy theory is born -- or a dozen.
While it is today a certain segment of "realist" commentators pushing this meme, in the end AIPAC probably has neoconservatism's eight years of rotten harvest to thank for its worsening public image. Whether it can properly be considered part of that political philosophy is up for debate, I suppose. I tend to think not; AIPAC's purpose is too singular, and the neocon demagoguery of the Israel issue too pervasive, to produce anything but a false positive.
(It's interesting, by the way, to compare AIPAC's public image to certain other lobbies routinely flogged for their competence. I mean the "death lobbies," those representing tobacco, alcohol, and firearms. A success for these groups is treated (rightly?) as a failure for the public wellbeing. I see a similar attitude emerging among "realists" with regard to AIPAC. But if there are medical studies proving the health risks of Israeli success, I have yet to see them.)
AIPAC may be in a position to do right by Americans in rethinking its short- and mid-term lobbying goals. But it has no responsibility to do so. It is a lobbying group whose affairs and objectives are there for all to see. And if that sounds cold, imagine the temperature of the politicians shirking their manifest duty to the public, the better to toe the line on a contentious foreign policy issue.
The question of AIPAC's responsibility to American Jews, however, is a little different. With or without their express consent, Jewish Americans are part of what may well be the most interesting and risky cultural/national experiment to have begun in the 20th century. By virtue of being Jews, they are invested in Israel. By virtue of being Americans, they shoulder more responsiblity for Israel's successes and failures than Jews living elsewhere in the diaspora.
AIPAC may be a thorn in the side of "realists" fed up with what they see as a counterproductive alliance with a controversial foreign power. But in that view, AIPAC is one piece of a much larger puzzle.
In the American Jewish community, AIPAC is something bigger. It has for many years set the tone and agenda for discussions about Israel, through community events and literature, lectures, and a reputation as the authority on advocacy earned on its merits. AIPAC is supported by a tremendous number of Jewish philanthropies, and in turn supports programming all the way down to the micro level, designed to shore up American support for Israel among what must always be its base -- the Jewish community.
Organizations like J-Street are beginning to challenge AIPAC's monopoly on dialogue within the community. J-Street has recently hired a few campus coordinators to begin to develop competitive university programming, traditionally an easy win for the larger organization. (Full disclosure: I applied for one of these positions and did not get it; a friend did.)
College campuses are an obvious choice: political activism there tends to be more liberal, and Jewish students are already living in an environment where, like it or not, they are forced by Arab students to confront some of Israel's negative portrayals. Though it makes no apologies for a pro-Israel stance, it stands to reason that J-Street will benefit from comparisons to AIPAC in the college world. But this is less than a dent in AIPAC's wider influence, and even if the program succeeds it is not clear to me where else J-Street can turn.
Like other lobbies, AIPAC doesn't just lobby the government -- it lobbies everyone. Unlike other lobbies, though, AIPAC has this natural captive audience which appears to me to be more and more confused by the dissonance between what AIPAC is saying in synagogue events and what a growing number of political commenators are saying on the Internet.
When AIPAC searches for a senior political analyst in DC, they are unquestionably seeking someone to operate on Capitol Hill -- a lobbying position, in other words, political and influential and certainly not involved in community organizing.
But on the local end, AIPAC is attempting to shepherd American Jews using the same tricks in a country whose hostility toward the lobby, and perhaps the cause, is growing in volume. My questions to AIPAC, then: do you need to acknowledge this? And do you need to respond? And how would you?
It's too early to say whether AIPAC's control over the conversation about Israel amongst American Jews is going to weaken. But some of J-Street's own polling suggests the ground is shifting, a process that has been sped up by the recent political turn within Israel itself. It may be time for AIPAC to consider treating the Jewish community less as a lobbying target, and more as an equal party to decisions about American support for Israel. If they fail to do so, they run the risk of cutting their base off entirely from the majority.
That would be nothing less than a crisis for Israel advocacy in America, on par with the current chaos dominating the remains of the Republican party: hijacked by conspiracy theorists and clowns, and careening full-tilt toward irrelevance.
The responsible decision for AIPAC would be to shift its rhetoric and its treatment of the Jewish community, to try to bring itself more in line with the state of advocacy today. Embracing the reality of American Jewish doubts and fears about Israel, instead of denying their existence, is the only way to maintain a strong base capable of interacting with the wider American community.
Monday, June 29, 2009
I intended to wait longer before responding to Marc Lynch's newest offering on settlements, in part because it wasn't bringing much to the discussion that we don't already know, and -- I have to admit -- in part because some of it annoyed me. (At the very least it's in poor taste to suggest that his writing on Israel might earn Lynch “special attention” at Ben Gurion – I know of no instances of Israeli authorities harassing journalists because of their writing, and unless Lynch can point to a case it's an irresponsible assertion.)
At the very least, however, Lynch was right to interpret the Netanyahu government's announcement of additional settlements as a challenge to President Obama's stated desires for the region, though in my opinion it falls well short of “brazen.” (I struggle even to imagine how the government could have more timidly challenged the issue than its chosen path of a low-key bureaucratic notice of continued construction. Anything less would fail to constitute a challenge at all.)
But then this came up, and now the story has transformed from mundane accusations and theories into something real. We should hesitate to declare settlement expansion over in any permanent sense. But this is the kind of leak – immediately prior to a high-level meeting between Defense Minister Barak and Envoy Mitchell – that generally heralds a real change in attitude. I have spent all morning wondering what, precisely, was said to Netanyahu by the Obama administration behind closed doors. I honestly have no idea; but I suppose it must have been persuasive.
In Israel, Netanyahu is famous for his (forgive the phrase) “flip-flopping,” and I imagine that, had Bush not ended his term as one of the most hated presidents in US history, last winter's candidates in Israel's election might have employed the same Rove-speak in their campaigns against the current Prime Minister. (Israeli politicians, like those in much of the rest of the world, tend to take their cues from American campaigns; Netanyahu himself built a campaign website that was nearly identical to Obama's.)
This newest development represents a characteristic Netanyahu flip-flop: he begins by taking a hard line in a situation in which many observers think it untenable; and at the first sign of real pressure, he folds, often sloppily. He has and has always had a genius for pleasing no one, even beyond his cohorts in the rudderless Israeli political scene, and today will count as no exception. I say this in part as a way of explaining my lack of alarm at Netanyahu's “major address” a few weeks ago, during which he rejected a settlement freeze – provided that Obama was serious, it was only a matter of time before he came around.
Now we have arrived at the threshold, what supporters of Israel can only hope is the beginning of the end of the settlement project. Good riddance to it; and should it bring down the Netanyahu coalition in the process, good riddance to that, as well, and to the man himself. I can take a bitter sort of pleasure in the repudiation of those who blindly support what has certainly been the costliest, deadliest, and most dangerous boondoggle in Israeli history.
If I'm not yet excited, it's because I see coming around the corner a rude awakening for analysts like Mr. Lynch, who have built up elaborate fantasies in which Israeli settlements are somehow the lynchpin of the entire peace process. What will these writers say when, as the settlements are coming down, Palestinians still cannot reach a unity government? What new single issue will suddenly ,become the totality of the conflict when Israelis and Gazans continue to trade fire?
It is no contradiction to recognize the tremendous moral and logistical problems of the settlement project while simultaneously acknowledging that it is far from the biggest obstacle in the peace process. Yet Lynch, for all his experience in the Middle East, falls into exactly such false distinctions: only in an imaginary world can Obama see “his administration's credibility on Israeli-Palestinian issues shattered forever” simply out of failure to act on the settlements. What of developing a functioning Palestinian political process? Or coordinating an effective regional response to Iran and its terrorist proxies? In short: how is it possible that a region fraught with such tremendous problems can see its defining moment come in the form of Israeli settlements?
Lynch and I both want to see the same thing happen, so perhaps this is just splitting hairs. But now that we may be on the way to seeing the real end of settlements, it seems that everyone could do with a healthy dose of skepticism, if only to keep us focused on the tremendous number of problems that lie ahead.
Update: Lynch's fellow traveler Brian Katulis brings a refreshing sense of proportion of precisely the sort I was hoping to see with a post on Salam Fayyad's role (or lack thereof) in the Palestinian negotiations.
Monday, June 22, 2009
My interest was further piqued by a book which I happened to have been reading when the revolt broke out: Eichmann in Jerusalem by Hannah Arendt (more popularly referred to as The Banality of Evil). I was reminded of the book this morning, when I read this analysis from Jeffrey Goldberg:
The Iranian regime has exposed itself as interested mainly in self-preservation. Netanyahu told me earlier this spring that Iran is run by a "messianic, apocalyptic cult." But I think there's an argument to be made that Khamenei and Ahmadinejad are grubby men mainly interested in perpetuating their power. In other words, they seem to behave like rather quotidian dictators, not religious fanatics. A confrontation with Israel would certainly threaten the stability of their regime, and the stability of their regime is something they quite obviously cherish.
I think Arendt would find much to unpack here, from the casual assumption that a regime can have a singular purpose (and that it can be exposed!) to our ease in assigning the status of "cult" to anything Islamic.
In Arendt's account of the final months of World War Two, she takes pains to emphasize just how preposterously self-destructive the Nazis' "Jewish policy" really was. Critical army transports of personnel and supplies were interrupted in order to move more Jews, more quickly, to death camps. Huge amounts of military manpower were expended pulling surviving Jews deeper and deeper into the Reich, in an effort to murder them before the coming surrender. And weeks were spent dismantling camps and burning documents in an effort to conceal the activity, all of it time that might have been spent on the war effort.
We are habituated to thinking of the Nazis as terrifyingly rational and efficient, though they were nothing of the sort. Why is this? Because of their early successes? Their totalitarian aesthetic? Their propaganda? That they were, in fact, an apocalyptic cult was so easily concealed by the regime that even today, with all of the facts available, few people understand the extent to which Nazism was sacrificed for the sake of killing Jews.
That Iran has come to surprise anyone, including Goldberg, with an instinct for self-preservation probably says much more about our perceptions of Islamic theocracies than about Iran itself. Indeed there may be something racial at the basis of this commentary (in general, not singularly from Goldberg) that allows us to more easily find hints of messianic extremism in Middle Easterners than in Europeans. That's not to suggest that such things don't exist in Iran, since they certainly do. I mean only that these strains of political thought should have been expected to exist in tension with an instinct for self-preservation, and thus they should have surprised no one. It will perhaps be a lesson to all concerned that there is yet a small bit of value to the "one-worldism" that teaches us to expect some similarities in the outlook of foreign peoples, rather than endless differences.
The other point of interest in Goldberg's post was his impulse to do away with the distinction between Iran's treatment of its internal political situation and its treatment of Israel. And this, more than anything else he has said, can probably be used as proof of his lack of sympathy for Netanyahu's worldview. For what self-respecting Israeli hawk would for a moment imagine that the Ayatollah's comparitive rationality in dealing with a political uprising within his country would have any bearing on his approach to Israel? We are, after all, talking about an Islamist death cult, yes? And while insane martyrdom may not be prescribed for quelling "reformist" uprisings within the country, they are most certainly the order of the day when it comes to an attack on Israel.