Friday, October 18, 2013

Book Review: "Like Dreamers", by Yossi Klein Halevi

A book review, 18 Oct 2013, by Daniel Gordis:

In Like Dreamers, we have a history. We have great yarn, brilliantly told. And we are exposed to Yossi Klein Halevi as a teacher of great moral weight, begging us to realize that if we truly wish to preserve this little state of ours, there is nothing we can do more important than beginning to hear those whose views are most challenging to our own.

This is the sort of region that periodically forces us to ask ourselves probing questions about our condition and how things got to be the way that they did. Did we intend to get where we are? In what direction would we now head if we were wise? Is change necessary? Is it still possible?

It is those sorts of questions that lie at the heart of Yossi Klein Halevi's new book, Like Dreamers: The Story of the Israeli Paratroopers Who United Jerusalem and Divided a Nation. Klein Halevi, long among Israel's most thoughtful, penetrating, honest and compassionate writers, has now written his magnum opus. Many books in one, Like Dreamers is, on the surface, the story of seven paratroopers who liberated the Old City of Jerusalem in June 1967. But as told through the lives and eyes of these seven men - before the war, during the battles and long after the guns have been silenced - Like Dreamers is also a social history and, no less, the story of the internal Israeli conflict about the settlement project, from its very inception and for decades following.

Like Dreamers is, of course, not the first book to cover the issue of the settlements. Gershom Gorenberg's Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements 1967-1977 is a very thorough and largely accurate history of the origins of the settler movement. The differences between the books, though, are legion. Gorenberg's is a story of a blundering national policy, "crafted" almost by accident, while Klein Halevi's book is the story of people. The men who fought to liberate Jerusalem had come to that battle from very different social and political backgrounds; they went on, in some cases, to found Gush Emunim and in other cases, to become the mainstays of the peace camp. Seeing the two sides through the loves and losses, the triumphs and failures of those who were at the core of these movements affords us a three dimensional understanding of what has unfolded here in a way that no other book, of which I'm aware, ever has before.

An infinitely more important difference, however, is that books like Gorenberg's (and like Peter Beinart's The Crisis of Zionism, among others) drip with venom and anger. To people like Gorenberg, Beinart and Jeremy Ben-Ami, the settlement project is so foolishly immoral, so callously disregarding of the Palestinians and so corrosive of Israel's international standing that their books are at the end of the day just broadside attacks on both the policy of settlement building and on the men and women who were at its core.

Klein Halevi is by no means oblivious to the problems of the settlements. When Arik Achmon (a central character in Like Dreamers) is exposed to the worldview of Rabbi Moshe Levinger, Klein Halevi writes for Achmon, "A foreign spirit, antithetical to Zionism, was stirring."

Throughout its 500+ pages, Like Dreamers shows time and again some of the dangerous impulses at the heart of the settlement movement.

But - and here is where Klein Halevi's genius truly shines - the book shows equally compellingly the powerful moral and Zionist commitments of both the settlers and the peace camp. On the most divisive issue faced by a highly divided state, Yossi Klein Halevi gets us to admire, perhaps even to love, the leaders of both. In prose so compelling that it reads like a novel, Like Dreamers makes clear that the real settlement story is not good guys versus bad, Zionists versus non-Zionists, or colonialists versus territorial minimalists. It's something much more complex and infinitely more nuanced.

Like Dreamers is almost talmudic in its holding up of conflicting positions for each side to critique and defend. On the one hand, profound Israeli leaders, committed Zionists - from Ben-Gurion to Yeshayahu Leibowitz - said almost the minute the war was over that Israel ought to give most of the territory back; Israel would callous its soul by ruling over so many Palestinians (though interestingly, none of Klein Halevi's characters ever really speak for the Palestinians, so their positions remain only assumed, their voices the ones we end up wishing we'd heard more of).

But other Jews - motivated not by hatred or disregard of Arabs, but by love of Israel - disagreed. The Jewish state had always been a story of acquiring land and then building on it. That was the story of Tel Aviv and Petah Tikva. It was the story of Karmiel, built on land captured in the War of Independence. Why then should the land taken in 1967 be any different, especially in places that Jews had lived in as late as the 1930s and 1940s until rabid Arab violence forced them to flee?

Could Israel have stymied the impulse to return to those places in 1968 without smothering the most passionate Zionist impulses still remaining? Can it do so now?

What Israel should do now is a question that Like Dreamers wisely never addresses directly. But there are hints. Of the seven paratroopers Klein Halevi follows, he seems most spiritually connected to Rabbi Yoel Bin-Nun. And in an article in Nekudah, the settler's publication, Bin-Nun had advocated a policy of "no annexation and no withdrawal," and instead, dividing the West Bank into Jewish and Arab cantons. The Jewish areas would vote in Israeli elections, and the Arab cantons in Jordanian. Even Bin-Nun acknowledged that this was a far from perfect solution, but as Klein Halevi then writes for Bin-Nun, "there [is] no perfect justice in this world."

Does Klein Halevi mean to endorse something along the canton approach? He never says. His purpose in this book is entirely other: He aims to teach us a complex and fascinating history, and to introduce us to seven fascinating, frustrating, passionate men who reflect the wide diversity of Israel's complex society.

But there is one lesson he definitely does want to teach. In May 1996, with the peace process seemingly marching forward and the future of the settlements very much in doubt, a young man asks Bin-Nun "What went wrong?" The rabbi's response was chilling: "We didn't listen to the moral arguments of the Left," he replied.

If there is any line in the book in which a character speaks for Klein Halevi, that is the one. More important to him than the position we take is his hope that we might come to realize that there are powerful moral, Zionist and strategic insights on both sides of this painful divide. If Bin-Nun believes that the settlers' greatest failure was not hearing the moral insights of the left, Klein Halevi insists that what ails our entire country is our inability to listen to the other and to learn.

In Like Dreamers, we have a history. We have great yarn, brilliantly told. And we are exposed to Klein Halevi as a teacher of great moral weight, begging us to realize that if we truly wish to preserve this little state of ours, there is nothing we can do more important than beginning to hear and to grow from those whose views are most challenging to our own.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Iran’s commitment to disarmament must be tested before sanctions are lifted

From The Washington Post Editorial, 14 October 2013:

THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION says it expects Iran’s new leadership to show its seriousness about striking a deal on its nuclear program by offering a response in Geneva this week to a proposal that the United States and its partners put forward this year. That confidence-building plan calls for Iran to
  • freeze its higher-level enrichment of uranium and
  • accept more inspections
in exchange for the easing of several second-order sanctions, including a ban on trading in gold. ...that would signal a major change in position by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has repeatedly rejected both interim and comprehensive offers to end the standoff over the nuclear program.
But the Obama administration should not necessarily be prepared to accept an Iranian “yes” for an answer, even if it is unqualified. That is because Iran’s continued development of its nuclear infrastructure during the course of this year has torn some big holes in what was intended to be a temporary safety net.
A year ago, Iran’s growing stockpile of uranium enriched to 20 percent appeared to be the most dangerous piece of its nuclear infrastructure, because that material could be quickly converted to bomb-grade. The enrichment takes place in an underground facility that has little plausible use other than for weapons production. A freeze or shutdown of that plant and the securing of the material already produced, if accepted by Tehran even six months ago, would have eased the threat that Iran could race to produce a bomb sometime soon.
Since then, however, Iran has begun installing a new generation of centrifuges at its largest enrichment plant, in Natanz. Because they can process uranium far more quickly, these new machines create a threat of an Iranian nuclear breakout beyond that posed by the 20 percent stockpile.
Meanwhile, a new reactor based on heavy-water technology, in Arak, is due for completion next year and would allow Iran to produce plutonium that could be used in bombs.
Any accord with Iran, even an interim arrangement, must take these new facts into account. No sanctions relief should be granted unless Iran takes steps that decisively push back its potential time frame for producing the core of a nuclear warhead. That means that the advanced centrifuges and the Arak reactor must now be part of any deal.
Even such a broadened interim arrangement would draw strong objections from Israel, which says that no sanctions should be eased unless Iran gives up all uranium enrichment. Israeli officials argue that even a slight easing of sanctions would cause the system to quickly crumble, as Russia, China, Turkey, India and other nations that have only reluctantly honored the sanctions rush to resume normal trade. Iran might then win sufficient relief to succor its economy while retaining a robust nuclear capacity.
All the difficulties with a preliminary accord might be addressed if it were folded into a larger framework that spells out how much of its nuclear program Iran is prepared to give up in exchange for full sanctions relief. That, in turn, invites the ultimate test of the new government: Is it willing to definitely abandon its drive for a nuclear weapon or only temporize?

Iran continues to play for time and easing of sanctions

From The Australian, 16 Oct 2013, by AFP:

IRAN has said it had presented a potentially "breakthrough" proposal to end a decade-long [make that "15-year"] standoff with world powers over its nuclear drive...
Iran's team said it received a good reception to its new plan ...[at its] two-day meeting with the European Union-chaired P5+1 group - the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia, plus Germany ...
 "The proposal that we have introduced has the capacity to make a breakthrough," senior Iranian negotiator Abbas Araqchi said, telling reporters it was "very comprehensive" but that all parties had agreed to keep it under wraps.
... [Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad] Zarif said Tehran's plan contained three steps that could settle the long-running nuclear standoff "within a year"...
EU spokesman Michael Mann said discussions had been "very detailed" and technical, and underlined the "very different" atmosphere compared to previous talks. A senior US State Department official added: "For the first time, we had very detailed technical discussions, which carried on this afternoon. We will continue these discussions tomorrow."
.... Despite the upbeat tone, Iranian state news agency IRNA quoted Araqchi as saying that snap inspections of the Islamic republic's nuclear facilities were not part of the new proposal. "It does not exist in the offer," Mr Araqchi told IRNA. Iran has drawn other red lines, saying it will not accept any demand to suspend uranium enrichment or ship out stockpiles of purified material.

Israel ...warned against accepting "cosmetic concessions" that would not impede Iran's weapons quest. It has not ruled out a military strike on archfoe Iran to halt the nuclear drive, and has warned the world not to fall for Mr Rowhani's "sweet talk".
Western negotiators insist they are cautiously hopeful but not naive. "We have come here with a sense of cautious optimism and a great sense of determination because we believe it's really time now for tangible results," Mr Mann said. "There are signals from Tehran that they want to engage in these negotiations, that they want to be more transparent. The proof would be if they made real progress," he said. "We are on our side ambitious to move forward quickly... The ball remains in their court."
A senior US administration official said earlier in Geneva that any easing of sanctions would be "targeted, proportional to what Iran puts on the table". "We are hopeful, but that has to be tested with concrete, verifiable actions," the official said. A first meeting between Mr Zarif and his counterparts from the six powers took place last month during the UN General Assembly, accompanied by a landmark two-way meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry. Mr Kerry underlined on Sunday that while the diplomatic window was "cracking open", Washington was serious about never allowing room for a nuclear-armed Iran.

Monday, October 14, 2013

£1.95bn EU aid to Palestine has gone missing

From The Sunday Times, 13 October 2013, by Bojan Pancevski, Brussels: 

Hamas soldiers

Hamas terrorists in Gaza - funded by the EU?

EU investigators found ‘shortcomings’ in the management of funds   
BILLIONS of euros in European aid to the Palestinians may have been misspent, squandered or lost to corruption, according to a damning report by the European Court of Auditors, the Luxembourg-based watchdog.

Brussels transferred more than £1.95bn to the occupied territories between 2008 and 2012 but had little control over how it was spent, the auditors say in an unpublished report seen by The Sunday Times.

EU investigators who visited sites in Jerusalem, Gaza and the West Bank noted “significant shortcomings” in the management of funds sent to Gaza and the West Bank. Gaza is controlled by Hamas, which is classified as a terrorist organisation by the EU.

The auditors complained about the lack of measures to mitigate “high-level” risks, such as “corruption or of funds not being used for their intended purpose”.

A spokesman for the court declined to comment.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

'We are not Arabs. We are Christians who speak Arabic'

From Israel Hayom, 4 Oct 2013, by Dror Eydar:

Many of Israel's Christians feel that their history, culture and heritage have been hijacked by Muslim Arabs in the region, while they feel a much stronger link to Israel's Jews • The Jewish state is the only place where we are protected, they say.
A conference titled "Israeli Christians: Breaking Free? The advent of an independent Christian voice in Israel" in Jerusalem
Photo credit: Dudi Vaaknin
A conference titled "Israeli Christians: Breaking Free? The advent of an independent Christian voice in Israel" in Jerusalem
Photo credit: Dudi Vaaknin

UNRWA: an obstacle to peace

From Fathom, 13 Sept 2013, by Einat Wilf*:

One of the greatest obstacles to peace, and certainly the least acknowledged, is the perpetuation of the Palestinian refugee problem and the inflation of its scale by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). Whereas the actual number of Arabs who could still claim to be refugees as a result of the Arab-Israeli war of 1947-1949 is today no more than several tens of thousands, the number of those registered as refugees is reaching 5 million, with millions more claiming to have that status.

The UNRWA Problem

Since the Second World War the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has been responsible for the welfare of all refugees in the world and has assisted in their resettlement and relocation – so that nearly all of them are no longer refugees – with one exception: the Arabs from Palestine. By contrast, UNRWA, the organisation created specifically to handle the Arab refugees from Palestine from the 1947-1949 Arab-Israel war, has collaborated with the Arab refusal to resettle the refugees in the areas where they reside, or to relocate them to third countries. Worse, UNRWA has ensured that the refugee issue only grows larger by automatically registering descendants of the original refugees from the war as refugees themselves in perpetuity, For Palestinians, uniquely, refugeeness is an hereditary trait.
For several decades UNRWA has been engaging in an act of bureaucratic self-aggrandisement, inflating the numbers of those in its care, thus ensuring the growth of its budget.
 If the descendants of the Arab refugees from the Arab-Israeli war were treated like all other refugees, including the Jewish ones, they would not quality for refugee status because almost all of them (upward of 80 per cent) are either citizens of a third country, such as Jordan, or they live in the places where they were born and expect to have a future such as Gaza and the West Bank. The Palestinians born in the West Bank and Gaza are not fleeing war and are not seeking refuge. They are considered citizens of Palestine by the Palestinian Authority itself, just like all other Palestinians born in these territories. No other people in the world are registered as refugees while being citizens of another country or territory. Moreover, if the European Union has adopted the policy that Gaza and the West Bank are territories to be allocated to Palestine – and some EU countries already recognise Palestine as a state – then it makes no sense for it to argue that people who were born and are living in Palestine are refugees from… Palestine.
The remaining 20 per cent of the descendants who are not Jordanian citizens or citizens of the Palestinian Authority in Gaza and the West Bank, are inhabitants of Syria and Lebanon who are by law denied the right to citizenship granted to all other Syrians and Lebanese. Yet, UNRWA does nothing to fight for the right of these Lebanese and Syrian-born Arabs to citizenship, collaborating in their discrimination and the perpetuation of their refugee status.
Why does this matter for peace? Because if millions of Arabs who are citizens of Jordan and the Palestinian Authority, or inhabitants of Syria and Lebanon, claim to be refugees from what is today Israel, even though they were never born there and never lived there, and demand that as a result of this refugee status they be given the right to relocate to Israel (‘the right of return’), then the whole basis for peace by means of two states for two people crumbles. If Israel with its 6 million Jews and more than 1.5 million Arabs has to absorb between 5 and 8 million Palestinians then the Jews will be relegated again to living as a minority among those who do not view them as equals; the only country in which the Jews are a majority and can exercise their right to self-determination would be no more.

A large banner depicting UN secretary General Ban Ki Moon hangs outside the UNRWA school in Gaza on 2 February 2012
A large banner depicting UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon hangs outside the UNRWA school in Gaza on 2 February 2012 Abed Rahim Khatib / Flash 90

Western Complicity

Even more absurd is that UNRWA is funded by countries who support two states for two peoples. The United States, the EU, Canada, Japan and Australia fund 99 per cent of UNRWA’s annual budget of over $1 billion, whereas the 56 Islamic countries who supposedly grieve for their Palestinian brethren supply only a few million dollars.
...As it stands right now the policy of Western countries towards UNRWA is ...telling the Arab world: ‘Go ahead and keep inflating the numbers of refugees in perpetuity by registering descendants of refugees as refugees themselves. Register them as refugees from Palestine even though they were born and are living in the Palestinian Authority. Allow them to maintain both a refugee status and citizenship from a third country. Keep telling them that even though they were born in Gaza and Ramallah, they are actually from Ashdod and Ashkelon and can realistically expect to live there soon. Keep them in a discriminated-against state in Syria and Lebanon, where their basic human rights are denied, just so they can keep the conflict alive. We trust that when the day comes to negotiate a final settlement with Israel, you will do so in good faith in a way that guarantees the coherence and existence of a Jewish state.’


Banner of UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Geneva, Switzerland
Banner of UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Geneva, Switzerland Adam Jones, Global Photo Archive

If the West truly wants to promote a coherent policy that supports a two-state solution and does not favour one side over another, it should use its power as the financial supporter of UNRWA to steer its practices along a more constructive path. The welfare, education and health services provided by UNRWA could continue and even be expanded, but their provision should be based on need, not refugee status.
In Gaza, where there is no Israeli presence and which is clearly part of Palestine, the continued registration of Palestinians living in Palestine as refugees should be discontinued. In the West Bank, in the areas under Palestinian Authority control, the funds currently going to UNRWA should go to the Palestinian Authority for the provision of services, while the designation of the citizens of the Palestinian Authority as refugees should also be discontinued. Finally, outside the West Bank and Gaza, UNRWA’s work should be merged with that of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and operate on the same basis as all other refugees in the world, with efforts directed at securing the equal rights of the descendants in Lebanon and Syria where they were born and have lived their entire lives.
A first effort in this direction was taken in 2012 when the US Senate, acting on the initiative of Senator Mark Kirk, introduced an amendment to the budget bill, requesting that UNRWA report ‘on the number of refugees that it services separate from their descendants.’ The US Senate Appropriations Committee asked for nothing more than information and transparency in reporting in return for the 250 million dollars of US taxpayers money that it supplies UNRWA annually. It did not ask for aid to be cut. It did not call for cessation of services to the millions of descendants; it only asked for transparency in numbers. Even though the amendment did not go through, given that the budget bill as a whole did not move forward, the US Senate sent out a powerful message for peace in that the attainment of a two-state solution cannot be congruent with UNRWA’s practice of inflating the number of refugees...
*Dr. Einat Wilf is a Senior Fellow with the Jewish People Policy Institute. She served as a member of the Knesset for the Labour Party and Independence from 2010 to 2013.

Israel's Final Warning on Iran

From Gatestone, October 7, 2013, by Yaakov Lappin:

The coming weeks probably represent the last opportunity for Iran and the international community to reach an enforceable deal that will dismantle Tehran's nuclear weapons program, before Israel concludes that time has run out, that Iran has gotten too close to creating its first atomic bombs, and that the time for a military strike has arrived.
Despite Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's well-planned and deceptive charm offensive at the United Nations last week, so far not a single uranium-enriching centrifuge has stopped spinning in the underground nuclear facilities in Natanz and Qom. The heavy water plutonium facility at Arak is moving forward, and Iran has already amassed enough low-enriched uranium for the production of seven to nine atomic bombs.
Iran conducts test launches of its long-range Shahab-3 missiles, in 2008.

The speech given by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at the United Nations last week, in which he warned that Israel would act alone against Iran if it needed to, is an authentic warning, and serves a dual purpose.
First, the speech reintroduces a credible military threat and aims it squarely at the Islamic Republic.
This notice is important as deterrence against Iran has waned significantly since August, when President Barack Obama hesitantly climbed down from his commitment to carry out a military strike on Iran's ally, the Syrian regime, over its use of chemical weapons to massacre civilians.
A diminished threat of military force leaves diplomatic efforts with Iran almost no chance of success: it leaves Iran with virtually no incentive to stop its nuclear progress, despite the painful economic sanctions it faces.
With no military threat, Iran might well conclude that the sanctions could disappear in the course of endless rounds of diplomacy, in which skilled Iranian negotiators would succeed in getting some of the sanctions lifted while giving up very little in return.
Many of America's allies in the Middle East are very concerned about the lack of deterrence; and Netanyahu, keen to ensure that he has given talks with Iran all possible opportunities before taking matters into his own hands, has placed the military threat firmly back on the table, lest Iran forget that even if the U.S. will not act militarily any time soon, Israel most certainly will if it must.
The second purpose of Netanyahu's speech was to put the international community on notice regarding the urgency of the situation, and to send the message that even if many in the West have fallen for Iran's "campaign of smiles," Israel has not, and if Israeli concerns are neglected, action will be taken.
Should the international community continue to allow Iran to buy more time for its nuclear program, as it has done for more than a decade, after Netanyahu's warning, it will not be able to respond with surprise when Israel attacks Iran's nuclear sites.
Israel's leadership has long since concluded that a nuclear-armed Iranian regime -- a regime that is doctrinally and theologically committed to Israel's destruction, and that controls a state-sponsored terrorist network, active worldwide -- is an outcome many times more dangerous than any military attack.
Israel's defense establishment recognizes that stringent U.S.-led economic sanctions have forced Iran to the negotiating table. But senior officials, such as Israel's Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon, have warned that merely arriving for negotiations and offering "sweet talk" is no reason to reward Iran by easing sanctions. On the contrary, easing sanctions now would guarantee that talks will fail.
Similarly, any agreement that allows Iran to continue to enrich uranium under the guise of a civilian energy program will simply enshrine Iran's position as a nuclear breakout state. Only tangible, verifiable steps that will ensure Iran is pushed back by years from its current progress could be considered an accomplishment.
Against the background of these developments, it is worth bearing in mind that the core of Jerusalem's defense doctrine holds that Israel cannot depend on any foreign power -- even its most trusted ally, the United States -- to deal with an existential security threat.
Israel's clock, which gauges Iranian nuclear progress, ticks faster than that of America's, due to Israel's lesser strike capabilities, its smaller size, its closer proximity to Iran, and ultimately, because Israel is the openly and repeatedly declared number one target of Iran's ambition to destroy it.
If Israel misses its window of opportunity to act, such a lapse would violate a central tenet of its own defense doctrine -- that Israel cannot depend on any external power to deal with existential security threats -- thereby making that option unthinkable. Once Israeli intelligence agencies and senior military command levels conclude that the clock has struck one minute to midnight, no amount of pressure from allies will succeed in dissuading it from acting in self-preservation.
A military strike would not be a goal in itself, as Iran could go right back to reactivating its program, but it would be a last resort designed to accomplish what years of talks could not: to push Iran back from the nuclear brink.
Israel's strike capabilities remain a closely guarded secret, but according to international media reports, the Israel Air Force has more than 100 F15i and F16i fighter jets that can fly to Iran and return without the need to refuel, as well as, for other jets, advanced midair refueling capabilities that would allow them to strike multiple Iranian targets. According to the reports, Israel also possesses long-range Jericho ground-to-ground missiles.
Any strike, moreover, would be unimaginable without the Israel Defense Force's advanced electronic warfare units.
In the event that Iran orders its Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah to retaliate with tens of thousands of rockets and missiles on the Israeli home front, Israel could respond with devastating air force strikes using new weapons systems, and a lightning ground invasion of southern Lebanon to extinguish quickly the rocket attacks and leave Hezbollah on the ropes.
No one in Israel seeks war, and few dispute that a diplomatic solution that can really freeze the threat from Tehran is the most desired outcome.
But so far, beyond empty gestures, Iran has given no indication that it is prepared to give up its program, and time is running out.