Listening to whispers in Tehran and beyond
Posted: 11 Jun 2010

Dissent exists in the Islamic Republic, away from the Western media.

Branding the enemy as outcasts
Posted: 11 Jun 2010

Henry Siegman, former national director of the American Jewish Congress, returns with a powerful piece that questions the direction of the Jewish state:

Who would have believed that an Israeli government and its Jewish citizens would seek to demonize and shut down Israeli human rights organizations for their lack of “patriotism,” and dismiss fellow Jews who criticized the assault on the Gaza Flotilla as “Arabs,” pregnant with all the hateful connotations that word has acquired in Israel, not unlike Germans who branded fellow citizens who spoke up for Jews as “Juden”?
The German White Rose activists, mostly students from the University of Munich, who dared to condemn the German persecution of the Jews (well before the concentration camp exterminations began) were also considered “traitors” by their fellow Germans, who did not mourn the beheading of these activists by the Gestapo.
So, yes, there is reason for Israelis, and for Jews generally, to think long and hard about the dark Hitler era at this particular time. For the significance of the Gaza Flotilla incident lies not in the questions raised about violations of international law on the high seas, or even about “who assaulted who” first on the Turkish ship, the Mavi Marmara, but in the larger questions raised about our common human condition by Israel’s occupation policies and its devastation of Gaza’s civilian population.
If a people who so recently experienced on its own flesh such unspeakable inhumanities cannot muster the moral imagination to understand the injustice and suffering its territorial ambitions—and even its legitimate security concerns—are inflicting on another people, what hope is there for the rest of us?

The reasons most Israelis have no real interest in giving up the West Bank
Posted: 11 Jun 2010

While America’s neo-conservatives begin a full-fledged campaign of hatred directed at Turkey, this is how one of the United States’ major (war-supporting) Jewish writers, The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, frames the debate; Israeli fear, paranoia and belligerence:

Last night Mrs. Goldblog and I went to a dinner at which The Situation was the main topic of discussion. At one point, someone asked an Arab ambassador at the table how central the question of Jerusalem was to the peace process. Very central, he said, and then threw the question to me. I answered that it wasn’t an entirely relevant question. Seventeen years after the inception of the Oslo peace process, the Israelis and the Palestinians — or at least the half of the Palestinian polity theoretically committed to peaceful compromise — are no longer speaking directly to each other.
 In other words, asking about the final disposition of Jerusalem right now is akin to asking how best to distribute the AIDS vaccine to the interior of the Congo. It’s a good and necessary question, but we should probably develop an AIDS vaccine first, and then worry about its delivery.
One main reason it is so premature to talk about the disposition of Jerusalem is that the cynicism among Israelis about the ultimate aims of the Palestinians is deep and wide. It is true that many Israelis believe — as many American Jews believe — that the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, and his prime minister, Salam Fayyad, are very different sorts of leaders than Yasser Arafat. They are practical men who are trying to create reality-based policies that actually serve the best political and economic interests of their people.
But Israelis tend to see them as semi-powerless; they see Hamas as the rising power (especially after Hamas’s victory in the Turkish flotilla war), and they understand, in ways that many Americans don’t seem to understand, that Hamas poses an existential threat — you should pardon the expression — to the Palestinian Authority led by Abbas and Fayyad. Seizing the Palestinian Authority, and taking over the Palestine Liberation Organization, is Hamas’s penultimate goal (well, maybe not penultimate, because Hamas’s ultimate goal is not merely the eradication of Israel but also the creation of a pan-Muslim entity led by the Muslim Brotherhood.)
But about those Israeli doubts: For the typical Israeli (and again, I’m not talking about settlers, but about people who have, in the past, agreed in principle that the Palestinians should have an independent state) two events in particular have soured them on the chance for compromise.
 In 2000, the Israeli army pulled out of Lebanon. It was hoped that this pull-out would lead to peace on the northern border, but instead it led to rocket attacks by the Iranian-sponsored Hezbollah. In 2005, Israel unilaterally pulled its soldiers and settlers out of Gaza. Again, rockets followed. The saving grace of these rockets attacks — both the Lebanon attacks and the Gaza attacks — was that the rockets did not reach the center of the country — Tel Aviv, as well as Israel’s only international airport, Ben-Gurion.
Now, of course, the peace process, such as it is, hinges in part on an Israeli willingness to withdraw from the West Bank, including the hills of the West Bank that overlook Tel Aviv, the airport, and the entire thickly-populated central region of the country. This withdrawal will not be happening anytime soon, because there is a high degree of certainty among Israelis that a withdrawal from the West Bank hills would be followed not by peaceful reconciliation, but, again, by rockets. 
 No Israeli wants to be a freier, a sucker, and right now the Israelis feel like suckers. Twice in ten years they’ve withdrawn from territory, and twice they’ve been hit by rockets. They are not doing this again, not until the politics of the Palestinians — and the politics of Iran — change dramatically.
So this is Prime Minister Netanyahu’s dilemma. He has said he agrees to the creation of a Palestinian state, but he knows his populace will not soon countenance the birth of a Palestinian state of the type and size the Palestinians demand. He also knows that Israel’s protector and benefactor, the United States, believes that the creation of this Palestinian state will help ameliorate other problems in the Middle East, especially the problem of Iran, while he believes the opposite, that only the neutralization of Iran (preferably by the Americans) and its proxies will lead to conditions in which it is possible for Israel to once again take risks for peace.
So he has five main tasks over the next year: Stopping Israel from committing grievous, unforced errors of the sort we saw with the Turkish flotilla, despite the rising number of provocations emanating from the Hamas-friendly movement that seeks to delegitimize the idea of a Jewish state; continuing to pressure the world to confront Iran and its existential threat to Israel, so that he doesn’t have to do it by himself; creating a better life for Palestinians on the West Bank, all the while knowing that he will not be able to give them what they say they want; figuring a way out of the Gaza blockade morass that does not wind up rewarding Hamas; and all the while maintaining good relations with an American administration that wants Israel to do things right now that it can’t do.
This next period, in other words, is going to be among the most challenging in Israeli history.

Welcome to what Gazans were saying four years ago
Posted: 11 Jun 2010

While a new French reality program pits Israelis and Palestinians under constant watch to learn more about the other (and hopefully not worsen stereotypes), the New York Times decides to finally report on the inevitable: the siege on Gaza has failed and perhaps a different strategy should be employed. But note the tone. Israel was simply trying to protect itself and now, with a heavy heart, must turn to different methods to manage the situation:

Three years after Israel and Egypt imposed an embargo on this tormented Palestinian strip, shutting down its economy, a consensus has emerged that the attempt to weaken the governing party, Hamas, and drive it from power has failed.
In the days since an Israeli naval takeover of a flotilla trying to break the siege turned deadly, that consensus has taken on added urgency, with world powers, anti-Hamas Palestinians in Gaza and some senior Israeli officials advocating a shift.
In its three years in power, Hamas has taken control of not only security, education and the justice system but also the economy, by regulating and taxing an extensive smuggling tunnel system from Egypt. In the process, the traditional and largely pro-Western business community has been sidelined.
This may be about to change.
“We need to build a legitimate private sector in Gaza as a strong counterweight to extremism,” Tony Blair, who serves as the international community’s liaison to the Palestinians, said in an interview. The views of Mr. Blair, a former prime minister of Britain, reflected those of the Obama administration as well. “To end up with a Gaza that is dependent on tunnels and foreign aid is not a good idea,” he said.
Businesspeople in Gaza say that by closing down legitimate commerce, Israel has helped Hamas tighten its domination. And by allowing in food for shops but not goods needed for industry, Israel is helping keep Gaza a welfare society, the sort of place where extremism can flourish.

How to shame Washington with one easy online dump
Posted: 11 Jun 2010

The power of Wikileaks has become legendary (this recent New Yorker profile is fascinating). A website unafraid to publish sensitive information and to hell with the consequences. Transparency with few limits:

Pentagon investigators are trying to determine the whereabouts of the Australian-born founder of the secretive website Wikileaks for fear that he may be about to publish a huge cache of classified State Department cables that, if made public, could do serious damage to national security, government officials tell The Daily Beast.
The officials acknowledge that even if they found the website founder, Julian Assange, it is not clear what they could do to block publication of the cables on Wikileaks, which is nominally based on a server in Sweden and bills itself as a champion of whistleblowers.

How to please your Zionist masters without even trying
Posted: 11 Jun 2010

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas goes to Washington and attends a private dinner with the Zionist lobby. Notice anything wrong with this? The exact group who spend every waking hour extinguishing the prospects of Palestinian self-determination now want to dine with the puppet leader.
The report speaks for itself:

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas can’t seem to unify the political factions within his own community, but there is one disparate group that he does have the ability to bring together: the American Jewish community.
Representatives from all sides of the pro-Israel NGO world all came together to meet with Abbas at a private dinner at the Newseum last night. The groups put aside their differences over Israeli tactics, U.S. pressure, treatment of Gazans, and treatment of the Israeli human rights community to show a united front to the Palestinian leader and get him to answer the questions on their mind.
Leaders of more hawkish groups like AIPAC, the Anti-Defamation League, the Conference of Presidents, Mort Zuckerman, Elliott Abrams, and Dov Zakheim broke bread with the more dovish likes of J Street, Americans for Peace Now, and Hillel.
The Cable spoke got the readout from multiple participants. Here’s how it went:
Host Robert Wexler, president of the S. Danial Abraham Center for Middle East Peace and rumored next ambassador to Israel, opened with some short remarks. Abbas made a quick speech, and the rest of the two-and-a-half-hour session was all questions and answers.
Three topics dominated the questioning: how and when to move to direct talks, Palestinian “incitement” and how far Abbas would be willing to show both sides he was serious about peace, and to a lesser degree, what to do about Hamas.
The Gaza flotilla incident was not discussed. Nobody, including Abbas, brought it up.
Most participants we spoke with said Abbas gave mostly constructive answers, went further on explanations that he ever has before, and sometime gave as good as he got.
“I’ve never seen him as impressive,” said one conservative participant. “You have to give the guy credit. He handled himself well in a den of lions.”

See: www.antonyloewenstein.com

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