Saturday, November 24, 2007

The forgotten Refugees

From The Natinal Post (Canada), by Steven Edwards, CanWest News Service, Monday, November 05, 2007 [my emphasis added - SL]:

UNITED NATIONS - New research shows there was Arab inter-state "collusion" to persecute Jews in Arab countries after Israel's creation, former federal justice minister Irwin Cotler and Jewish rights scholars ... announce[d] .... in New York.

While it is known up to 850,000 Jews left Arab countries after the post-war division of the Palestine mandate, the group is holding a news conference to highlight a rediscovered Arab League "draft law" that suggests a pan-Arab conspiracy was at play. The new assessment comes just ahead of a major Israeli-Palestinian peace conference in Annapolis, Md., where the rights of millions of descendants of up to 600,000 Palestinian refugees of the Arab-Israeli conflict will be discussed -- but not the rights of Jews squeezed from Arab countries.

Without the inter-Arab draft, the measures individual Arab states took against their Jewish citizens may not have been so widespread, the researchers will say. Only 8,000 Jews remain in 10 Arab countries today that once hosted many more.

"We will show that the various state sanctions in Arab countries did not occur haphazardly, but were the result of an international collusion organized by the League of Arab States at the time to set in place a blueprint for the denationalization of their Jewish nationals, the sequestrations of their property and the declaration of Jews as enemies of the state," Mr. Cotler said.

He said he and his research colleagues will also present evidence showing the United Nations failed to investigate the matter, in part because an Arab League representative ran the agenda at one of its key debating chambers.

"It is now clear the United Nations has played a singular role in expunging the whole question of Jewish refugees from Arab countries on the Middle East agenda for the last 60 years," Mr. Cotler said....

..."The existence of the Arab League draft law makes the story of what happened all the more heinous because it represented the acting out of a master plan," Mr. Matas said . "It enhances the case for redress, which should at least include recognition of the Jewish refugees, given the peace process speaks of redress for the Palestinian refugees."

The researchers hope their work will influence U.S. lawmakers currently considering two bills that call for the rights of all refugees -- Muslims, Jews, Christians and any others displaced in the region-- to be recognized in the peace talks....

....The researchers will also call on the Canadian government -- as chair of the Refugee Working Group under a peace track launched in Madrid in 1991 -- to include displaced Jews as refugees.

Today comprising 22 countries, the Arab League had seven members in 1947, the year documents say its political committee drafted a Text of Law concerning Jews. They were Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen. After the UN created Jewish and Arab areas in the Palestine mandate, laws reflecting what had appeared in the Arab League draft began to appear in Arab countries.

The draft law calls for registering all Jewish citizens of Arab countries, and freezing their bank accounts to use the money to help fund "resistance to Zionist ambitions in Palestine." This would happen even to those Jews prepared to join an Arab army. A Jew considered an "active Zionist" would be interned as a political prisoner. Such Jews would see their money confiscated.

Brackets written into the draft law suggest it was intended as a template: "Beginning with (date), all Jewish citizens of (name of country) will be considered as members of the Jewish minority State of Palestine," it begins.

The researchers located the document in UN and World Jewish Congress archives after spotting a May 16, 1948, New York Times reference to it. In the Times article, Congress officials cited the document as evidence Jews faced grave danger in Arab lands -- something the researchers say turned out to be prophetic.

Israel is a Jewish State

From the Boston Globe, November 14, 2007, by Jeff Jacoby [with emphasis added...]:

IN ADVANCE of the upcoming diplomatic conference in Annapolis, Israel Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced the other day that he expects the Palestinian Authority to finally acknowledge Israel's existence as a Jewish state. A newly arrived visitor from Mars might wonder why this should even be an issue - after all, Israel is a Jewish state. If the more than 55 countries that make up the Organization of the Islamic Conference are entitled to recognition as Muslim states, and if the 22 members of the Arab League are universally accepted as Arab states, why should anyone balk at acknowledging Israel as the world's lone Jewish state?

Yet Olmert's demand was rebuffed. Saeb Erekat, the senior Palestinian Authority negotiator, said on Monday that Palestinians would refuse to recognize Israel's Jewish identity on the grounds that "it is not acceptable for a country to link its national character to a specific religion."

In fact, there are many countries in which national identity and religion are linked. Argentinian law mandates government support for the Roman Catholic faith. Queen Elizabeth II is the supreme governor of the Church of England. In the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, the constitution proclaims Buddhism the nation's "spiritual heritage." The prevailing religion in Greece," declares Section II of the Greek Constitution, "is that of the Eastern Orthodox Church of Christ."

In no region of the world do countries so routinely link their national character to a specific religion as in the Muslim Middle East. The flag of Saudi Arabia features the shahada - the Islamic declaration of faith - in white Arabic script on a green background; on the Iranian flag, the Islamic phrase "Allahu Akbar" (God is great") appears 22 times. And then there is Erekat's own Palestinian Authority, whose Basic Law provides in Article 4 that "Islam is the official religion in Palestine."

Clearly, then, Erekat and the Palestinian Authority do not refuse to accept Israel's legitimacy as a Jewish state out of some principled opposition to linking national and religious identity. Perhaps, our visiting Martian might surmise, their objection is simply tactical: Are the Palestinians withholding formal recognition from Israel in order to extract some corresponding recognition for themselves?

But that explanation also doesn't hold water. Olmert has repeatedly endorsed the creation of a sovereign state of Palestine. "We support the establishment of a modern, democratic Palestinian state," he says. "The existence of two nations, one Jewish and one Palestinian, is the full solution to the national aspirations and problems of each of the peoples." Last week he went so far as to suggest that a plan for Palestinian peace and statehood might be achieved "even before the end of President Bush's term in office."

So why won't the leaders of the Palestinian Authority acknowledge the obvious - that Israel is the Jewish state? The Jewish connection to Palestine is a matter not just of rich historical fact, but of international law. When the League of Nations entrusted Britain with the Mandate for Palestine in 1922, it expressly recognized "the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine" and the rightfulness of "reconstituting their national home in that country." By that point, Britain had already transferred 80 percent of historic Palestine to Arab rule - today's Muslim kingdom of Jordan. All that remained for a Jewish state was the residual 20 percent. But there, at least, it was clear that the Jewish community was "in Palestine as of right and not on sufferance," as Winston Churchill underscored at the time.

Eighty-five years later, that small sliver of the Middle East is home to nearly half the world's Jews. If that isn't a Jewish state, what is?

Yet all this is beside the point. The refusal of the Palestinian Authority to acknowledge Israel as a legitimate Jewish state isn't a denial of reality; it is a sign of their determination to change that reality. Like Arab leaders going back a century, they seek not to live in peace with the Jewish state, but in place of the Jewish state.

Olmert can show up at Annapolis bearing Palestinian sovereignty on a silver platter, with half of Jerusalem thrown in for good measure. He will not walk away with peace. On the contrary: He will intensify the Arab determination to replace the world's one Jewish state with its 23rd Arab state.

The key to Arab-Israeli peace is not Palestinian statehood. It is to compel the Arab world to abandon its dream of liquidating Israel. As a matter of national self-respect, Olmert should repeat his demand that the Palestinians acknowledge Israel's Jewish identity - and make it nonnegotiable. If Israel cannot insist even on so fundamental a point of honor, it has already lost more than it knows.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Does Syria want peace?

Analysis by Ely Karmon, from THE JERUSALEM POST, Nov. 22, 2007 [my emphasis added - SL]:

... Syria [is] the key to a stable and pacific Lebanon and a disarmed "political" Hizbullah.

Syria - not Iran - has provided the most important support for Hizbullah's terrorist and guerrilla activity against Israel from the north. Without Syria's overall strategic umbrella, specific military and political coordination and pressure on Beirut to give the organization free rein in southern Lebanon, Hizbullah could not have achieved its current status. Syrian aid in heavy weaponry alongside Iranian support has transformed Hizbullah into a strategic partner and operational arm of the Syrian army.

Syria is also heavily involved in the support of all the radical Palestinian organizations and factions and actively participated in the derailing of the peace process between Israel, the Palestinians and other Arab states.

But Syria is also extremely important in the attempt to isolate Iran in the region by denying the Teheran regime its only ally in the Arab world and the direct operational link to the Palestinian radical organizations acting from Damascus. Without that alliance, Teheran's negative influence on the Palestinian arena and on the peace process would be significantly curtailed.

It is possible that the combined efforts of the European Union leaders, the Bush administration and the Israeli leadership will convince the Syrian leaders of their sincere wish to strike a deal and offer Damascus the return of the Golan Heights and generous economic incentives. Still, in my view, Bashar Assad's regime actually has other priorities that outweigh the Western and Israeli potential incentives.

Fear of the fall of the regime
....Syria lacks internal coherence due to its diverse population and minority-dominated regime. To survive, the regime needs transcendent slogans like Arabism. The regime requires conflict and radicalism as tools for maintaining internal control.

Damascus correctly assumes that any strengthening of US influence in the region will run counter to Syrian interests, so it is no accident that the regime has become the most systematically anti-American state in the Arab world. Defiance and resistance to American pressure will win Assad the support of the Syrian public, and even popular Arab support at large, and ensure the survival of his regime for many years to come.

For Syria, Lebanon is much more important than the Golan Heights....

....Although US policymakers publicly hinted that the United States would help bring about a "Lebanon free of foreign forces" once a peace treaty was concluded, they sent Damascus unmistakable signals to the contrary. American officials failed to recognize that Assad would be prepared to sign a peace treaty only if the expected benefits outweighed the guaranteed political, strategic, and economic returns of the occupation of Lebanon.

Lebanon is, of course, important to Syria for political and military reasons, but this tends to overshadow the economic aspect of Syrian-Lebanese relations. The direct and indirect income derived from Syria's presence in Lebanon has over time become an almost indispensable factor in the Syrian economy.

The Baker and Hamilton Iraq Study Group report proposed cooperation with Syria in stabilizing Iraq. But what Assad wants is a cancellation of the investigation into the murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri and the corollary international tribunal approved by the Security Council, a free hand in Lebanon and possession of the Golan without conditions. Are these acceptable conditions?

A Syrian peace agreement with Israel foretells a peace agreement of Israel with Lebanon - which means the Cedar country will be lost forever as a Syrian protectorate.

Palestine part of Greater Syria?
.....This Syrian regime probably still dreams of seeing the national Palestinian movement, like in the 1920s and 30s, part of a Greater Syria.

Waiting for the Iranian nuclear umbrella
Should Iran succeed in completing its nuclear project and declare a nuclear weapons capability, Syria would face a conflicting situation. On the one hand, its devotion to the Arab cause would compel it to share a sense of anxiety. On the other hand, more than other Arab states, it would be untroubled by an Iranian nuclear capability due to the strategic partnership between the two states. Syria would see an Iranian bomb as a useful deterrent against Israel and a newly assertive Iraq and as an important constraint on US freedom of action in the region......That's the sort of rising star to which Syria would like to be hitched.

....In this author's view, a real change in the Syrian regional strategy could happen only if Assad evaluates that the US, or Israel with US support, would attack the nuclear facilities in Iran and thus bring even more direct pressure on the rogue elements in the Middle East.

Possibly, the September 6 Israeli air attack against the presumed "nuclear facility" has shaken the Damascus leaders' confidence in the Iranian invincibility on the nuclear front and they want to use the conference as a feeler for the future US plans and a kind of insurance in case…

The US, Europe and the other powers present at Annapolis should insure that Syria's participation at the conference will not be used to bestow on its regime "incentives" like the "liberation" of the Golan, recognizing its "rights, interests and positive role" in Lebanon, or the closing of the investigation into Rafik Hariri's assassination.

The Damascus regime should see at the conference a united front which presses it firmly, first and foremost, to stop the support to Hizbullah and the Palestinian radicals and to exit the strategic alliance with Iran.

Ely Karmon is Senior Research Scholar at Institute for Counter-Terrorism, The Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Stop abusing the memory of Yitzhak Rabin

From JPost, by Isi Leibler November 21, 2007:

... I am enraged at the cynical, even obscene manner, in which the memory of an assassinated prime minister has been transformed into a cult to promote political objectives ... which Rabin adamantly opposed, even at the height of the Oslo period of his career.....

...I had considerable interaction with Rabin ...I found his frankness refreshing and developed a warm relationship with him. ...Oslo proved to be Rabin's undoing....Shimon Peres, Yossi Beilin and their cohorts had sandbagged him into endorsing policies which utterly conflicted with his long-standing attitudes....

... in the course of my private encounters with Rabin I shared with him my growing concerns. I clearly recollect him telling me repeatedly that Oslo was a "gamble" but that he felt obliged to put it to the test. "If it fails," he said, "we will have a carte blanche to take everything back." ....

....It is therefore clear that despite the best possible intentions, Rabin gambled and failed. As a consequence, the nation paid a bitter price. Since Oslo, 1,400 Israelis were killed and some 20,000 injured. Despite one-sided and unilateral concessions, our geopolitical position is at an all time low. Beyond that, we made an irretrievable blunder by literally resurrecting Arafat who at the time, in the wake of the first Gulf War, was effectively a political corpse, even reviled by the Arabs....

....It is therefore surely surrealistic, year after year, to hear speeches sanctimoniously extolling and misrepresenting Rabin's allegedly glorious Oslo legacy and spuriously claiming that he was the first to achieve a historic breakthrough in peace with the Arabs. Promoting such fantasies renders a disservice to Rabin.

It is even more infuriating when Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, President Peres and Peace Now activists have the gall to claim that they are implementing Rabin's vision. How Rabin may have acted had he not been struck down by the assassin is open to conjecture. Some speculate that once he came to the realization that his gamble had failed, unlike his Labor successors, he would have reverted to his former stance and initiated tough and resolute military action.

However, what is surely beyond the realm of speculation is that Rabin was a genuine Labor Zionist and despised the Peace Now agitators. He displayed uninhibited contempt toward Beilin, Burg and the young radicals who were then steering the Labor Party toward post-Zionism. The bitter remarks about Shimon Peres which appear in his memoirs speak for themselves.

Indeed, even at the height of the Oslo debate, Rabin's views remained diametrically opposed to the proposals now emanating from those claiming to have inherited his mantle. For example, in one of his last speeches in the Knesset, on October 5 1995, only days before his assassination, referring to borders Rabin said: "We will not return to 4 June 1967 lines."

In relation to Jerusalem he said "First and foremost, united Jerusalem …as the capital of Israel under Israeli sovereignty."

And about settlements he stated "We committed ourselves before this Knesset not to uproot a single settlement in the framework of the interim government and not to hinder building for natural growth."

In this context, for Prime Minister Olmert and his allies to continuously proclaim that they are fulfilling Rabin's vision is pure Orwellian double speak.

But the problem transcends misrepresenting themselves as heirs to Rabin. ....To make matters worse, by collectively portraying entire law abiding sectors of Israeli society especially Orthodox Jews and settlers, as sub- human accomplices to the Rabin assassination, the promoters of the personality cult are themselves indulging in outright incitement and defamation.

....Yitzhak Rabin should be commemorated as an assassinated Israeli Prime Minister who served his country with distinction as a leader, military commander and diplomat. However such commemorations must be apolitical and promote harmony and unity, expressing a tragic national loss as opposed to indulging in divisive and provocative political opportunism.

This, I believe, is how the overwhelming majority of Israelis would wish to honor the memory of Yitzhak Rabin.

The writer is a former chairman of the Governing Board of the World Jewish Congress and a veteran international Jewish leader.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Conspiracy theory dismantled

From a review of "The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy" by John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt in The Weekend Australian, by Bret Stephens November 17, 2007 [very brief excerpts only - follow the link for the full article]:

JOHN J. Mearsheimer ...[and]...Stephen M. Walt ...are prominent and highly respected theorists of the realist school of international relations.... That is in part why, when The Israel Lobby first saw light in March 2006 as a long article in the London Review of Books, it caused a worldwide sensation and why its charges were taken with the utmost seriousness by gleeful admirers and shocked detractors alike....

In short, much of The Israel Lobby's authority derives from its authors' resumes. Something similar can be said of the book's effect, particularly of the damage it has caused by throwing a mantle of academic legitimacy over some of the most disreputable ideas to infect political discourse...

... The Israel Lobby makes the case, briefly, that US support for Israel is not only wildly and irrationally excessive but has increasingly become a strategic liability; that it can no longer be justified on moral grounds; that it has led the US into one catastrophic misadventure in Iraq and may soon lead it into further misadventures against Syria and Iran; and, what is key, that it has been sustained only by the strenuous and sometimes bullying exertions of a "loose coalition" of pro-Israel interest groups and individuals, which in turn are often co-ordinated with the Israeli Government.....

.... Precisely because it has issued from two respected establishment figures and comes cloaked in a tone of academic reasonableness, The Israel Lobby and its claims have been subjected to exceptionally close scrutiny during the past 1 1/2 years by any number of careful analysts and researchers. What their collective labours have demonstrated beyond any doubt is that behind the authors' conclusions lies a farrago of shoddy or nonexistent scholarship and rank intellectual dishonesty....

....consider the challenge for a reader or reviewer who must wade through not just The Israel Lobby's 355 pages of text but its no fewer than 1399 footnotes, many of which contain references to multiple sources. The opportunities for intellectual mischief are staggering, and Mearsheimer and Walt rarely miss a chance to take them.

Amid the blizzard of detail, however, one thing stands out: the complete absence of original scholarship. Scarcely any primary source materials cited; no first-hand interviews; no hint that Mearsheimer or Walt bothered to visit Israel during the course of their researches or so much as spoke to an actual member of the lobby against which they level heavy charges of working at cross-purposes with vital US interests.

.... Instances in which Mearsheimer and Walt present claims that are wholly unsubstantiated or blatantly contradicted by a reading of the sources they themselves cite in their footnotes multiply in dizzying profusion. It is no doubt for this reason, among others, that Benny Morris, a controversial Israeli historian on whose scholarship and credentials Mearsheimer and Walt heavily rely, wrote of their original essay that were it "an actual person, I would have to say that he did not have a single honest bone in his body".

True, the authors are on somewhat safer ground with some of their other sources. But what [nasty] sources those are! In addition to Chomsky, one finds respectful appeals in The Israel Lobby to the work of Norman Finkelstein, a Jewish supporter of Hezbollah, as well as to revisionist historian Ilan Pappe, the hysterically anti-Israel Washington Report on Middle East Affairs and radical online newsletter Counterpunch. Where, moreover, the likes of the Brookings Institution and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy are dismissed by Mearsheimer and Walt as lapdogs of the Israel lobby, these other disseminators of supposedly more objective information escape identification as voices from the far Left or the lunatic fringe.....

.... their whole argument is geared towards insinuating (sundry disclaimers notwithstanding) that not Islamist but Jewish behaviour, objectively considered, is the menace to the peace of the world.

...."Some Islamic radicals," they grudgingly concede, "are genuinely upset by what they regard as the West's materialism and venality, its alleged theft of Arab oil, the support for corrupt Arab monarchies, its repeated military interventions in the region, etc." .... if it is the case that Osama bin Laden is "genuinely upset" (!) over our sins against Islam, why should Mearsheimer and Walt's principal prescription for palliating this discontent be to cut back or sever our ties with Israel? Why not press for cutting our ties to the Saudi royal family, or voluntarily paying more taxes on oil, or devoting ourselves wholeheartedly to improving America's moral tone so as to lessen the offence to bin Laden family values? Ah, but none of those would lead us back, always back, to Israel and its American lobby....

....What need for manipulation by unseen forces when the simple truth... is that friends of Israel have "a pretty good product to sell" and that this product is not fake, fabricated or ersatz but a country whose democratic history and daily tribulations resonate in a compelling way with a whole variety of American audiences: Jewish and Gentile, religious and secular, liberal and conservative?

... why, with all the conspiracy theories that political scientists have at their disposal at any given moment, [should] Mearsheimer and Walt have alighted on this one[?] ...that is a question to which the answer may finally have to be sought in modes of investigative analysis beyond the routinely political.

This article was opriginally published in Commentary Magazine [subscription required] by Bret Stephens, a member of the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal and author of the paper's "Global View", a weekly column.

New Palestinian Political Movement Launched

From AP, by MOHAMMED DARAGHMEH, 16/11/07:

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — Hundreds of Palestinian business people and professionals, led by an influential billionaire, launched a new political movement Thursday, reflecting growing disillusionment with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah party.

...Billionaire businessman Munib al-Masri, 73, inaugurated his "Palestine Forum" with meetings in Ramallah and Gaza, linked by video conference. Supporters said he would convert the new group into a political party and field candidates in the next Palestinian election. No date for an election has been set.

...Recent polls have shown that about a third of the people have no faith in either [Fatah or Hamas]. Al-Masri said he plans to step into that breech, emphasizing the economy, education and welfare programs for the needy as well as reuniting the West Bank and Gaza.

"My concern about the fate of my people has driven me to form a national democratic body that cares about people," al-Masri told The Associated Press. "The situation is very difficult, the national cause is deteriorating and people are frustrated."

The U.S.-educated al-Masri runs an investment company that controls the telecommunications sector and has holdings in industry, agriculture, tourism and in banks. His leadership appeals to the West Bank's elite and middle class, trying to protect their investments and businesses in a chaotic political situation.....

...The 2006 election reflected frustration with Fatah for corruption, nepotism and ineffective rule as much as support for Hamas. Members of the Palestine Forum said if Fatah does not reform itself, the new group is poised to replace it.

Palestinian public opinion expert Jamil Rabah said that is a distinct possibility. The people "are closer to Fatah," supporting a peaceful solution to the conflict with Israel, so "if Fatah doesn't reform itself, people would see the Forum as an alternative."