- White House briefing for Jewish-American leadership outlines strategy for Israeli-Palestinian talks
- Anti-Defamation League condemns the very ‘anti-Muslim sentiment’ it contributes to
- It’s not about religion
- Israeli troops fire on nonviolent anti-wall protest in Al Ma’sara, injuring five,
- I wish Jewish journalists would emulate Aslan and Zakaria in being transparent about their religious identity
White House briefing for Jewish-American leadership outlines strategy for Israeli-Palestinian talks
Aug 27, 2010
The following article appears on the front page today’s Yediot Ahronoth, and was translated by Didi Remez on his blog Coteret.
Agreement now, peace later
Shimon Shiffer, Yediot, August 27 2010 [front-page]
The Obama administration intends to present Israel and the Palestinians with a new outline for ending the conflict. Yedioth Ahronoth has learned that the Americans will pressure the sides to sign a framework agreement for a final status arrangement within a year — but the agreement would be only implemented within a number of years, apparently up to ten years at the most. The US administration intends to invest all possible efforts to ensure that the direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians, which will be officially launched next Thursday, will end in an agreement and not in a crisis, as happened in the previous rounds of negotiations. Barack Obama, whose standing in the polls is at a low, very much wants to score a first success in the Middle Eastern arena — in light of the ongoing bloodbath in Iraq and Afghanistan.
For this purpose, the US president intends to become personally involved this time: Director of the Middle East department at the National Security Council Dan Shapiro told leaders of Jewish organizations in the US that Obama intends to visit Israel and the Palestinian Authority in the course of the coming year. The US president wishes to take advantage of his visit to persuade both peoples to support painful compromises for peace.
A few days ago, the leaders of Jewish organizations in the US held a conference call with three of the most senior figures who set the administration’s Middle East policy. The most senior of the three, Dennis Ross, has been a partner to all the talks between Israel and the Palestinians since the Oslo Accords. Ross is currently considered Obama’s number one expert on Middle East affairs. Alongside Ross, the participants of the conference call included Dan Shapiro and David Hale, deputy of special envoy George Mitchell.
Yedioth Ahronoth has obtained the summary of the minutes of the conference call, which were prepared by the White House. The document provides a fascinating glimpse into the administration’s plans for the coming period. According to the American plan, the negotiating teams of Israel and the PA will conduct intensive talks with the aim of reaching a framework agreement on a final status arrangement within a year. The intensive talks will be held in isolated locations, so that the teams will be able to quietly discuss the core issues of the final status agreement: The future of Jerusalem, borders, settlements and refugees. Binyamin Netanyahu and Abu Mazen will be called upon to meet frequently in order to resolve problems and move forward the stages of negotiations.At points in which the negotiations meet an impasse, senior administration officials will intervene in the talks and will present bridging proposals to the sides. In addition, the US will try to persuade the moderate Arab states to make gestures towards Israel and influence the Palestinians to compromise.
At the end of the intensive year, the framework agreement for ending the conflict is supposed to be signed. From that moment onward, the agreement will be implemented gradually over a number of years.
“Many people will try to sabotage the talks. Our challenge will be to ensure their success,” Ross assessed. “What can be learned from the mistakes that caused the previous attempts to resolve the conflict to fail,” the Jewish leaders asked. “I have learned that a situation must not be accepted in which the sides speak one way inside the room and another way outside the room,” Ross replied. In other words: The administration will not look kindly upon a situation in which the senior Israeli and Palestinian figures cast muck at each other outside the conference rooms. “Is Netanyahu capable of reaching an agreement that will receive political support in Israel?” the Jewish leaders asked. Hale replied that Netanyahu had assured [the administration] that he was capable of doing so. “We consider him a strong partner who is committed to the process,” Hale said.
Senior political sources in Israel, however, reveal that Netanyahu has not yet prepared any firm position for the direct talks. The government is still not in agreement on the outline for the final status arrangement — not to mention the issue of the construction freeze. “Bibi will escape from Washington by the skin of his teeth,” a senior source in Jerusalem assessed. Minister Dan Meridor, with Netanyahu’s knowledge, is trying to persuade Ross and Shapiro to consent to the outline he proposed for the end of the freeze period on September 26: The construction freeze would only continue in the isolated settlements, but construction would be renewed in settlement blocs that are expected to remain under Israeli sovereignty. As of now, only one minister from the forum of seven supports this idea: Ehud Barak.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman believes that the Americans should be told that construction within the settlement blocs would continue without restrictions, whereas in the isolated settlements construction will be renewed according to the natural growth of the residents. The Palestinians, for their part, have already clarified their demands for the start of the talks: Establishing a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. At the start of the talks, they will demand that Israel withdraw from territory in the northern Dead Sea as a gesture for the continuation of the negotiations. The PA is expected to consent to a land swap with Israel: In exchange for giving up 3.9% of the area of the West Bank in which the settlement blocs are located, the Palestinians expect to receive land in the Negev.
Anti-Defamation League condemns the very ‘anti-Muslim sentiment’ it contributes to
Aug 27, 2010
A month after the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the “nation’s premier civil rights” agency (in their words), came out against building an Islamic community center blocks away from Ground Zero because “building [it] in the shadow of the World Trade Center will cause some victims more pain,” the group is now condemning the anti-Muslim stabbing that occurred in New York City Aug. 25.
The ADL statement condemned the attack “in the strongest terms,” saying that the incident was “especially disturbing” because it occurred “amid an atmosphere of elevated anti-Muslim sentiment surrounding the Ground Zero controversy.”
When the ADL came out against the proposed Muslim community center in Lower Manhattan, it took pains to say that the group “categorically reject[s] appeals to bigotry on the basis of religion.” But no matter the ADL’s intent, their statement against the Muslim center contributed to the very same “elevated anti-Muslim sentiment” that is no doubt connected to the stabbing of Ahmed Sharif, a New York City taxi driver. The ADL should look in the mirror before it begins to lecture others on anti-Muslim sentiment.
It’s true that the ADL statement against the Park51 project was mild compared to the hateful rhetoric coming from the likes of Pamela Geller, Newt Gingrich and Rick Lazio. However, the ADL’s statement can only be read as holding the whole of Islam and Muslims as somehow responsible for the attacks of September 11, 2001. The only reason why the proposed center would “offend” the sensitivities of the victims of 9/11 is if the ADL concludes that Islam attacked the United States on that day.
It is the height of hypocrisy for the ADL to condemn the stabbing of Sharif and the general hate of Muslims engulfing the United States without looking at their statement against Park51 again and realizing that they have played a central role in legitimizing that anti-Muslim sentiment. Their gentile opposition to the project has emboldened the hate-mongers on the right that are aiming to shut this project, and proposals to build mosques around the country, down.
This article originally appeared on Alex Kane’s blog.
It’s not about religion
Aug 27, 2010
Gregory Harms is author of Straight Power Concepts in the Middle East: U.S. Foreign Policy, Israel and World History.
Since the September 11 attacks, the topic of Islam, and in particular Muslim extremism, has come front and center in the news coverage and public discourse. This focus has in some cases spun off into strange and disturbing areas. One example in the news is the “Ground Zero mosque,” which is neither a mosque nor located at Ground Zero. Another are reports on a recent Pew Research poll indicating 18 percent of Americans think President Obama is a Muslim. Yet the point in both stories is not the inaccuracies. The point is that these perceptions are construed as being negative; the mosque’s “location” and Obama’s “religion” are a source of indignation. In other words, anything associated with Islam existing at Ground Zero or in the White House is, to some, unacceptable. More succinctly put, anything associated with Islam is unacceptable.
This fear and hatred, while irrational, is unsurprising. The American conception of the Middle East and Islam was impoverished to begin with. And the actions of al-Qaida on 9/11 did not improve matters. Moreover, after almost a decade of operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, with thousands of US military personnel dead and tens of thousands wounded (physically and mentally), the public’s negative view of the Middle East has been compounded.
But the cases of fear and hatred only happen to be directed at Islam. The issue is certainly not theological, that is, Islamophobia is not based on specific disagreements with the religious tenets of Islam. Instead, the contention is with whatever is common among those who live in the Middle East. They happen to be Arabs, and they happen to be Muslim. And therefore, in instances of intolerance, those are the objects of animosity.
There is also the opposing scenario. The Middle East is a place where religion plays a central role in people’s lives; no different than, say, Christianity does among many Americans. However, the Middle East has borne the burden of external, Western intervention in its affairs for the past century, which has had an effect. No different than anyone anywhere on Earth, when groups suffer oppression, they find solace and strength in what binds them communally. Most of the Middle East is ethnically Arab and religiously Islamic, two distinctions setting the region apart from the uninvited Christian West. For most Arabs, being Muslim is a source of identity, a point of cultural pride, and a guiding tradition. For those who participate in terrorism, on the other hand, it is a battle cry and an excuse for indiscriminate killing.
Both groups have a relationship with Islam — one sincere, one tenuous. However, if the former group were represented by a swimming pool, the latter would amount to a teaspoon. Yet many Americans view the Middle East as being a mess (not unjustifiably), as being violent (likewise), and that these realities are a function of what is contained in the Quran. This is where things go awry. The answer to the question, How much does religion play a role in Middle Eastern instability is: Basically zero.
In the United States, the Middle East has always been, at minimum, something of a peculiarity. As it exists in the American imagination, the region and its inhabitants are characterized by a gallery of reductionistic images.
One such image is the cartoon-like portrayals in the spirit of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, referencing the Abbasid dynasty (758-1250) during the Arab Empire. Another caricature is the wealthy Arabian prince, with his traditional headdress and flowing dishdasha, driving a Rolls-Royce and dealing in Saudi crude. Another is the now all too familiar evocation of the terrorist. In other words, the Arab/Muslim Middle East has been defined by preconceptions — of decadence, violence, wealth, and religious fervor. (See American television and movies for the last fifty years, which have reflected and reinforced this fact.)
Of course, instances of these three stereotypes do exist. The Abbasids were a real dynasty during the height of the Caliphate. The Middle East is in fact bursting with oil, and some around the Persian Gulf have achieved opulence beyond comprehension. And terrorists do exist and do kill innocent people. However, it should be pointed out that the first group existed over 750 years ago and the caliphs and sultans portrayed (questionably) in Walt Disney films represent a very small group of people. The second group is also very small, as is the third. Nevertheless, this distorted view is a fixture of Western culture, one that we have inherited over the centuries and grown up with since birth. This observation is not new and has been thoroughly investigated in what is now a sizable scholarly literature existing under the rubric “orientalism,” a mode of critique established by the late scholar Edward Said.
As mentioned, US involvement in the region has exacerbated our worst impressions of it. After 9/11 Americans were encouraged to ask, Why do they hate us? This question was initially posed by George W. Bush’s national coordinator for security and counterterrorism, Richard Clarke, and promptly made its way into the president’s speeches and the mainstream commentary. The “they” in the question meant the terrorists specifically, but the pronoun quickly generalized to mean the Middle East.
Prior to World War II, US relations with the Middle East had been quite limited. It was Great Britain and France that had established imperial domination throughout the region, dividing after World War I what had been the Ottoman Empire into Western-style nation-states. Conversely, the Arabs’ sense of the United States was rather favorable, as its was not involved in their manipulation. As observed by historian Rashid Khalidi,
From the nineteenth century until at least the middle of the twentieth, the United States was in fact viewed quite positively in the Middle East as a non- or anti-colonial power, as having no imperialistic designs on the region, and as engaged primarily in benevolent activities there such as education and health care. Beyond this, the United States was often seen as a beacon of hope for those aspiring to democracy and freedom from foreign control.