Friday, September 16, 2016

At the UN, The Earth is flat, and only Israel is an ‘Occupying Power’

What about Russia in Crimea, Armenia in parts of Azerbaijan, or what Vietnam did in Cambodia?

Image result for uninvolved in peace photo
The United Nations began its annual session this week, and Israel will be prominent on the agenda. Many fear the Security Council may consider a resolution setting definite territorial parameters, and a deadline, for the creation of a Palestinian state.
President Obama has hinted that in the final months of his term, he may reverse the traditional U.S. policy of vetoing such resolutions. The General Assembly, meanwhile, is likely to act as the chorus in this drama, reciting its yearly litany of resolutions criticizing Israel.
If Mr. Obama is seeking to leave his mark on the Israeli-Arab conflict—and outside the negotiated peace process that began in Oslo—there is no worse place to do it than the U.N. New research we have conducted shows that the U.N.’s focus on Israel not only undermines the organization’s legitimacy regarding the Jewish state. It also has apparently made the U.N. blind to the world’s many situations of occupation and settlements.
Our research shows that the U.N. uses an entirely different rhetoric and set of legal concepts when dealing with Israel compared with situations of occupation or settlements world-wide. For example, Israel is referred to as the “Occupying Power” 530 times in General Assembly resolutions. Yet in seven major instances of past or present prolonged military occupation—Indonesia in East Timor, Turkey in northern Cyprus, Russia in areas of Georgia, Morocco in Western Sahara, Vietnam in Cambodia, Armenia in areas of Azerbaijan, and Russia in Ukraine’s Crimea—the number is zero. The U.N. has not called any of these countries an “Occupying Power.” Not even once.
It gets worse. Since 1967, General Assembly resolutions have referred to Israeli-held territories as “occupied” 2,342 times, while the territories mentioned above are referred to as “occupied” a mere 16 times combined. The term appears in 90% of resolutions dealing with Israel, and only in 14% of the much smaller number of resolutions dealing with the all the other situations, a difference that vastly surpasses the threshold of statistical significance. Similarly, Security Council resolutions refer to the disputed territories in the Israeli-Arab conflict as “occupied” 31 times, but only a total of five times in reference to all seven other conflicts combined.
General Assembly resolutions employ the term “grave” to describe Israel’s actions 513 times, as opposed to 14 total for all the other conflicts, which involve the full gamut of human-rights abuses, including allegations of ethnic cleansing and torture. Verbs such as “condemn” and “deplore” are sprinkled into Israel-related resolutions tens more times than they are in resolutions about other conflicts, setting a unique tone of disdain.
Israel has been reminded by resolutions against it of the country’s obligations under the Geneva Conventions about 500 times since 1967—as opposed to two times for the other situations.
In particular, the resolutions refer to Article 49(6), which states that the “Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” This is the provision that the entire legal case against Israel settlements is based upon. Yet no U.N. body has ever invoked Article 49(6) in relation to any of the occupations mentioned above.
This even though, as Mr. Kontorovich shows in a new research article, “Unsettled: A Global Study of Settlements in Occupied Territories,” all these situations have seen settlement activity, typically on a scale that eclipses Israel’s. However, the U.N. has only used the legally loaded word “settlements” to describe Israeli civilian communities (256 times by the GA and 17 by the Security Council). Neither body has ever used that word in relation to any other country with settlers in occupied territory.
Our findings don’t merely quantify the U.N.’s double standard. The evidence shows that the organization’s claim to represent the interest of international justice is hollow, because the U.N. has no interest in battling injustice unless Israel is the country accused.
At a time of serious global crises—from a disintegrating Middle East to a land war and belligerent occupation in Europe—the leaders of the free world cannot afford to tempt the U.N. into indulging its obsessions. Especially when the apparent consequence of such scapegoating is that the organization ignores other situations and people in desperate need of attention.
Mr. Kontorovich, a professor at Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law, heads the international law department at the Kohelet Policy Forum, a think tank where Ms. Grunseid is a researcher.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

PM Netanyahu just ROCKED the world in this 2 minute speech

From Israel Video Network, September 12, 2016:

Are Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria an obstacle to peace? 
Are the millions of Arabs living inside Israel obstacles to peace?

Prime Minister Netanyahu makes it clear that ethnic cleansing and judenrein are terms that will no longer be a part of the future of the Land of Israel.

Ethnic cleansing for peace – what the Arab side proposes – is nothing more than blatant hatred of Jews and Israel.    

And from Truth Revolt, 12 September 2016, by Caroline Glick:

Netanyahu’s statement flummoxed the administration because no Israeli leader has ever stated the obvious bigotry of the US position regarding the so-called settlements so pointedly.

Sometimes, nothing is more infuriating than the truth.

On Friday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu infuriated the Obama administration when he told the truth about the nature of the internationally supported Palestinian demand that Israel must transfer control over Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem to the Palestinians Jew-free.

In a video address posted to his Facebook page at around dawn Washington time, Netanyahu said, “The Palestinian leadership... demands a Palestinians state with one precondition: No Jews.
“There’s a phrase for that. It’s called ‘ethnic cleansing.’ And this demand is outrageous.”
Netanyahu then turned his fire on the so-called international community that supports this bigoted demand.
  “It’s even more outrageous that the world doesn’t find this outrageous,” he said, adding, “Some otherwise enlightened countries even promote this outrage.”

Later that day, Associated Press correspondent Matt Lee asked US State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau what the administration thought of Netanyahu’s statement.

Apparently turning to a prepared text, Trudeau declaimed robotically and emphatically, “We obviously strongly disagree with the characterization that those who oppose settlement activity or view it as an obstacle to peace are somehow calling for ethnic cleansing of Jews from the West Bank.
“We believe that using that type of terminology is inappropriate and unhelpful....
We share the view of every past US administration and the strong consensus of the international community that ongoing settlement activity is an obstacle to peace. We continue to call on both sides to demonstrate with actions and policies a genuine commitment to the two-state solution.”
The only thing missing from Trudeau’s response was an explanation of why Netanyahu was wrong. She didn’t explain, nor was she asked, how the US’s opposition to Israel’s respect for Jewish Israelis’ property rights in these areas squares with her denial that its policy supports ethnic cleansing.
To make this point a bit more clearly, here are a few questions that Trudeau was neither asked nor explained on her own, but whose answers are self-evident from the administration’s apoplectic response to every move by Israel to permit Jews to lawfully build homes in Judea, Samaria and unified Jerusalem.
  • In the US government’s view, does Israel have the right to pass laws or ordinances for land use in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria? If not, why not?
  • And if you do respect Israel’s right to issue rules on land use, why do you oppose the destruction of illegally built structures in Susiya? Why do you oppose the legal purchase of land by Jews in the so-called outposts?
  • Under what circumstances is it legal for Jews to buy land beyond the 1949 armistice lines in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria?
  • Under what circumstances is it legal for Jews to build homes for themselves in these areas? Through its consistently stated and deliberately applied policy of totally rejecting all rights of Jewish Israelis to live and build in these areas, from its first days in office, the Obama administration has made clear that it rejects the civil rights of Jews as Jews in these areas and seeks the complete negation of their rights through mass expulsion, property seizure and destruction, that is, through ethnic cleansing.
As Trudeau noted, the Obama administration’s support for the ethnic cleansing of Jews is a continuation (and radicalization) of the policies of its predecessors.
Netanyahu’s statement flummoxed the administration because no Israeli leader has ever stated the obvious bigotry of the US position regarding the so-called settlements so pointedly.

To the contrary, for much of the past 20 years, in a futile attempt to mobilize international support Israel, it has been the consistent policy of successive Israeli governments to ignore the anti-Semitic bigotry at the heart of “otherwise enlightened” nations’ rejection of Jewish civil rights.

The problem for Israeli leaders has been that the so-called “two-state solution” which successive governments have been strong-armed by “otherwise enlightened countries” into supporting is predicated on the ethnic cleansing of Jews.

You cannot have a “two-state solution” unless Israel forcibly expels more than a half million Jews from their homes in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem.

In his remarks, Netanyahu argued that it is impossible to base peace on bigotry. And of course he is right. Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 proved his point.
Eleven years ago, with the support of ideologically driven jurists and journalists and the Bush administration, then prime minister Ariel Sharon suspended the rule of law in Israel when he denied the due process rights of 10,000 Israelis lawfully residing in lands to which they had legal title in Gaza and northern Samaria, and denied their supporters’ the right to lawfully protest his policies.
Far from convincing the Palestinians or their “otherwise enlightened” supporters of Israel’s commitment to peace, Sharon’s actions convinced them that there is no downside to supporting ethnic cleansing of Jews in furtherance of a Jew-free Palestine.
Hamas’s victory in the Palestinian elections the following year, and the Bush and later Obama administrations’ increasingly extreme rejections of Jewish rights across the board in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria proved that limited enactment of ethnic cleansing of Jews merely whets the “otherwise enlightened” nations’ appetite for more.
Rather than point out this state of affairs, until last Friday, Israel’s leaders pretended it away. And then, all of the sudden, Netanyahu decided to overturn the applecart.
Lee asked Trudeau whether the administration was demanding that Netanyahu “walk back” his statement. Trudeau gave no answer.
But it wouldn’t matter if they were. It is too late.
As Trudeau’s non-denial response showed, Netanyahu’s statement was the truth. The anti-settlement policies of the Obama administration and its predecessors are founded on the anti-Semitic assumption that Jewish civil rights – as opposed to everyone else’s rights, are conditional. When Jewish rights collide with the internationally supported demand for a Jew-free Palestine, Jews and Jewish Israeli governments become “obstacles to peace.” That is, they become evil and therefore deserving of persecution.

As Trudeau was failing to explain how the US’s support for ethnic cleansing was anything other than support for ethnic cleansing, The Jewish Press reported that the administration-supported pro-ethnic cleansing group J Street is lobbying the IRS to trample the civil rights of a group that rejects ethnic cleansing.
According to the report, J Street’s president Jeremy Ben-Ami sent an email to the group’s membership announcing that he is lobbying the IRS to revoke the non-profit status of Regavim. Regavim is a private group that documents illegal Palestinian construction.
Regavim works to convince the courts and the government to enforce land laws without prejudice to Jews and non-Jews alike. For rejecting anti-Jewish bigotry, Ben-Ami wrote, Regavim acts in defiance of US government policy. As a consequence, J Street is seeking to deny Regavim’s American supporters their right to lawfully donate and raise funds on behalf of Regavim’s lawful activities.
Netanyahu’s decision to tell the truth about the anti-Semitic nature of the anti-settlement movement was a watershed event. From now on, leaders from Ramallah to Washington to Brussels will have to account for their anti-Jewish policies.

For the first time, the Israeli government has made clear that there is no distinction between the civil rights of Jews in Tel Aviv, Beit El or New York.

Like every other national, religious, ethnic, racial and other group in the world, Jews have the right to exercise their civil rights to property. And if the Palestinians and their “otherwise enlightened” supporters don’t like it, that’s their problem, not ours.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Dennis Ross: If Elected, Clinton Should Seek More Israeli Concessions

Once again, a senior US official has demonstrated an inexplicable desire to pressure Israel into making further concessions to the Palestinians – a dangerous move that has only proven to distance peace, not facilitate it.

If Hillary Clinton is elected US president, she should launch a behind the scenes initiative to bring about changes in Israel’s policies, according to former Clinton adviser and US Mideast envoy Dennis Ross.
Ross’s remarks came during a panel discussion at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service on Thursday.
Ross said that “even though negotiations with the Palestinian Authority won’t work now,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should take steps of his own. “He should, at a minimum, announce an official policy that there will be no further Israeli construction east of the security barrier,” Ross said.
Numerous Israeli settlements would be affected by such a policy, including the communities in the Jordan Valley. Ross said such unilateral concessions would be consistent with “the traditional Zionist way of shaping your own destiny.”
The public disputes between Israel and the Obama administration were counter-productive, the former peace process negotiator said. “So if the more traditional of the two presidential candidates is elected, she should not undertake a big public initiative, but instead there should be some effort behind the scenes,” he added.
Ross charged that Netanyahu “does not want to make the difficult choice between his domestic interests and what the international community expects.” But, he emphasized, Netanyahu’s past concessions to the Palestinian Authority indicated that “if you could create the circumstances that would force him to make that historic choice, I think he would.” Twice the former ambassador said the Israelis need to realize if they want peace, “they can’t get it on the cheap.”
Ross sparked a moment of controversy when he said that President Obama “considers himself a genuine friend of Israel–the kind of friend who doesn’t let his friend drive drunk.”
Ross’s apparent agreement with the comparison of Netanyahu to a drunk driver provoked a strong response from fellow panelist Elliot Abrams, a former assistant secretary of state and former President George W. Bush’s former deputy national security adviser.
Abrams said senior White House aides traditionally step in to help patch relations when the president does not get along with a foreign leader. With Netanyahu, “the White House staff has made things worse,” he asserted.
Abrams singled out National Security Adviser Susan Rice as harming relations between the US and Israel. He also pointed out that the unnamed White House official, who last year used an obscenity to characterize Netanyahu, “did it deliberately, for publication, and yet was never punished for that ugly remark.” Abrams added, “If the president and his national security adviser wanted such talk to stop, it would have.”
Ross responded that “things like that didn’t happen under Tom Donilon, with whom I worked.” Donilon, Rice’s predecessor, served from October 2010 to June 2013. Several audience members pointed out afterwards there were a number of unpleasant incidents during Donilon’s time, including Obama’s open mic moment when he complained that he “has to deal with [Netanyahu] every day,” and Hillary Clinton’s assertion, at the 2012 Saban Forum, that Israel has a “lack of empathy” for “the pain of an oppressed people.”
Ross also seemed to blame Netanyahu for some of the problems enforcing the terms of the Iranian nuclear agreement. “Instead of holding Iran’s feet to the fire, [the administration] just comes up with excuses for Iran’s actions,” he said. “More could have been accomplished if Netanyahu had pressed for the creation of a Joint Implementation Committee, as I proposed.”...

Israeli victory is the only way to advance peace process

From The Hill, 4 Sept 2016, by Gregg Roman*:

Getty Images

At his first security briefing, Avigdor Liberman, Israel’s Defense Minister, declared that Israel no longer has “the luxury of conducting drawn-out wars of attrition.” 100 days into his term, with no sign of the decades-long conflict slowing, it is clear that the time has come to apply that principle to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. In order for there to be peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors, Israel must win and the Palestinians must lose.
For most of human history, military victory ended wars. The Pax Romana, a period of 200 years of relative peace within the Roman Empire, began only when Augustus defeated Marc Antony in the Battle of Actium.  When the North ravaged the South in the American Civil War, it caused the seemingly intractable conflict that claimed three quarters of a million lives over four years to fade away. The South, knowing it was defeated, never made trouble again. German and Japanese ill-will toward Western democracies in World War II rapidly dissipated, thanks to the bitter pill of defeat; friendship soon followed.
Today’s conventional wisdom holds that conflicts are best resolved through negotiation and compromise. But let’s look at the facts. After 40 years of negotiations to reunite Cyprus, the island remains divided, and 60 years of standoff over the Korean peninsula have achieved little. In Syria, the killing continues unabated despite five years of talks to reconcile Sunnis and Alawites. And at the same time, years of diplomatic efforts to roll back Iran’s nuclear program ended with the West’s capitulation to Tehran’s demands.
The negotiations fallacy is especially evident in the Arab-Israeli conflict. 
The crux of the conflict is simple:  Israel wants to survive; the Palestinian leadership wants to destroy it. 
Some Palestinian leaders make no secret of this. Hamas leaders’ open incitement to violence spawned the so-called “stabbing intifada,” and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas praises the Palestinian “martyrs” and names streets after them. Others talk peace but demand a Palestinian “right of return” to Israel, a requirement that would effectively eviscerate the Jewish state by allowing millions of Arabs of Palestinian descent to resettle permanently within Israel’s borders.  But no matter their angle, all Palestinian leaders preach hatred towards Israel.
American policy has long been to prevent Israel from achieving a decisive military victory over its adversaries. In 1956, President Eisenhower forced Israel to abandon its territorial gains from the Suez Crisis.  Similarly, following the 1967 Six Day War, the U.S. helped engineer a U.N. resolution calling on Israel to return unspecified “territories occupied” in the war.  The Reagan administration stopped Israel from obliterating Yasser Arafat’s PLO forces in Lebanon in 1982, and, most recently, the Obama administration pressured Israel to limit its objectives in its 2014 war with Hamas. These concessions, which are often unilateral and irreversible, include settlement freezes, prisoner releases and forfeiture of territory.
Such policies deliver pernicious results; American “restraint” of Israel encourages its enemies to take risks. Much like government bailouts encourage banks to make high-risk, high-payoff investments by removing the consequences of failure, Israel’s adversaries need not fret over irrevocable loss because they know the international community will admonish Israel for any gains it achieves.
Moreover, restraining Israel legitimizes and nourishes Palestinian rejectionism, defined as the refusal to acknowledge Israeli sovereignty and right of Jews to live in their ancestral homeland. Because it knows there will be no consequences for its sophisticated propaganda war, the Palestinian Authority can continue to demonize Israel. “To become a normal people, one whose parents do not encourage their children to become suicide terrorists, Palestinian Arabs need to undergo the crucible of defeat,” writes Middle East Forum President Daniel Pipes.
When Israel has licensure, without American opprobrium, to unleash its military might after a Palestinian rocket or terror attack, as when Liberman ordered over 50 airstrikes on Hamas military infrastructure in Gaza in response to one rocket, the Palestinians retreat. The fear of crushing defeat is a potent weapon in neutralizing Palestinian resistance.
America’s handling of the Arab-Israeli conflict is preventing the kind of metamorphosis in Palestinian thinking about Israel that peace requires. It’s time for Washington to allow Israel to demolish the Palestinian dream of a one-state solution, free of Jews. As Ronald Reagan said regarding the US fight against communism, the only way to “win is if they lose.”
This doesn’t mean the U.S. should support a winner-take-all settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But we must dispense with the fallacy that Israel is only a concession or two away from an American-brokered diplomatic breakthrough. As Gen. Douglas MacArthur said famously, “there is no substitute for victory.”
*Gregg Roman is the director of the Middle East Forum.

The Oslo Disaster

From BESA Mideast Security and Policy Studies No. 123, September 4, 2016, by Prof. Efraim Karsh*:

Prof. Efraim Karsh, the incoming director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, indicts the Oslo diplomatic process as “the starkest strategic blunder in Israel’s history” and as “one of the worst calamities ever to have afflicted Israelis and Palestinians.”

“Twenty three years after its euphoric launch on the White House lawn,” Karsh writes in this comprehensive study, “the Oslo ‘peace process’ has substantially worsened the position of both parties and made the prospects for peace and reconciliation ever more remote.”

“The process has led to establishment of an ineradicable terror entity on Israel’s doorstep, deepened Israel’s internal cleavages, destabilized its political system, and weakened its international standing.”
“It has been a disaster for West Bank and Gaza Palestinians too. It has brought about subjugation to corrupt and repressive PLO and Hamas regimes. These regimes have reversed the hesitant advent of civil society in these territories, shattered their socioeconomic wellbeing, and made the prospects for peace and reconciliation with Israel ever more remote.”

“This abject failure is a direct result of the Palestinian leadership’s perception of the process as a pathway not to a two-state solution – meaning Israel alongside a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza – but to the subversion of the State of Israel. They view Oslo not as a path to nation-building and state creation, but to the formation of a repressive terror entity that perpetuates conflict with Israel, while keeping its hapless constituents in constant and bewildered awe as Palestinian leaders line their pockets from the proceeds of this misery.”

Karsh details at length how the Oslo process has weakened Israel’s national security in several key respects.

On the strategic and military levels, it allowed the PLO to achieve in one fell swoop its strategic vision of transforming the West Bank and the Gaza Strip into terror hotbeds that would disrupt Israel’s way of life (to use Yasser Arafat’s words).

Politically and diplomatically, he says, Oslo instantaneously transformed the PLO (and, to a lesser extent, Hamas) into an internationally accepted political actor while upholding its commitment to Israel’s destruction, edging toward fully fledged statehood outside the Oslo framework, and steadily undermining Israel’s international standing.

The ending of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian population of the territories within three-and-a-half years from the onset of the process has gone totally unnoticed (due partly to Palestinian propaganda, partly to Israel’s failure to get this critical point across), with the Jewish state still subject to international opprobrium for the nonexistent “occupation.”

Domestically, Oslo radicalized Israel’s Arab minority, nipping in the bud its decades-long “Israelization” process and putting it on a collision course with Israel’s Jewish community. No less importantly, it made Israeli politics captive to the vicissitudes of Palestinian-Israeli relations, with the PLO and Hamas becoming the effective arbiters of Israel’s political discourse and electoral process.
“On the face of it,” Karsh writes, “Israel’s massive setbacks can be considered Palestinian gains. Yet one’s loss is not necessarily the other’s gain. The Palestinian leadership’s zero-sum approach and predication of Palestinian national identity on hatred of the ‘other,’ rather than on a distinct shared legacy, has resulted in decades of dispersal and statelessness.”

“Even if the PLO were to succeed in gaining international recognition of a fully fledged Palestinian state (with or without a formal peace treaty with Israel) and in preventing Hamas from seizing power, it would still be a failed entity in the worst tradition of Arab dictatorships, in permanent conflict with its Israeli neighbor while brutally repressing its unfortunate subjects.”

Karsh bemoans that fact that “there has been no real reckoning by the Oslo architects and their erstwhile ‘peace camp’ successors, both in Israel and abroad, of the worst blunder in Israel’s history, and no rethinking of its disastrously misconceived assumptions – let alone any public admission of guilt or show of remorse over its horrific costs.”

“Instead, they continue to willfully ignore the Palestinian leadership’s total lack of interest in the two-state solution and serial violation of contractual obligations. They continue to whitewash ongoing Palestinian violence, belittle the extent of Israeli suffering, and blame Jerusalem for the stalled process despite the public endorsement of the two-state solution by five successive Israeli prime ministers: Peres, Barak, Sharon, Olmert, and Netanyahu.”

“Not only has the same terror-tainted Palestinian leadership come to be universally viewed as the prospective government of a future Palestinian state, but its goal of having this state established without negotiating with Israel, or even recognizing its right to exist, seems to be gaining ever wider currency.  This soft racism – asking nothing of the Palestinians as if they are too dim or too primitive to be held accountable for their own words and actions – is an assured recipe for disaster.”

“For so long as not a single Palestinian leader evinces genuine acceptance of the two-state solution or acts in a way signifying an unqualified embrace of the idea, there can be no true or lasting reconciliation with Israel. And so long as the territories continue to be governed by the PLO’s and Hamas’s rule of the jungle, no Palestinian civil society, let alone a viable state, can develop.”

“Just as the creation of free and democratic societies in Germany and Japan after World War II necessitated a comprehensive sociopolitical and educational transformation, so it will only be when Palestinian society undergoes a real ‘spring’ that the century-long conflict between Arabs and Jews can at long last be resolved and a semi-functioning Palestinian state come into being. This requires sweeping the corrupt and oppressive PLO and Hamas rulers from power, eliminating endemic violence from political and social life, and teaching the virtues of coexistence with Israeli neighbors.”

“Sadly, the possibility of a Palestinian spring, which seemed to be in the offing in 1993 when the PLO hovered on the verge of extinction and West Bank and Gaza leadership appeared eager to strike a historic deal within the framework of the Washington peace negotiations, has been destroyed for the foreseeable future by the Oslo ‘peace process’.”

Follow this link to download the full report (pdf)

*A renowned authority on Middle Eastern history and politics, Prof. Karsh has authored over 100 scholarly articles and sixteen books, and is editor of the Middle East Quarterly and Israel Affairs academic journals. He taught for 25 years at King’s College London, where he founded and directed the Middle East and Mediterranean Studies Program (currently the Institute of Middle Eastern Studies). In 2013 he joined Bar-Ilan University as professor of political science. In November 2016 he will succeed Prof. Efraim Inbar as director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.

Can Israel become a maritime power?

From Times of Israel, 2 September 2016, by Haviv Rettig Gur:

A commission of former Israeli and American navy admirals and policymakers is calling for the Jewish state to take a far greater role in securing and administering the Eastern Mediterranean, so that the US doesn’t have to...

An Israeli Navy ship during a major exercise held in the Red Sea off the coast of Eilat, March 2016. (IDF spokesperson)

Several years ago, before the onset of the Arab Spring, the eminent historian Bernard Lewis suggested that Israel’s future in the Middle East was more secure than many assumed. In measurable ways, the nearer Arab and Muslim states were sinking into ever deeper political, social and economic dysfunction and despair, while Israel, for all its innate tensions and divisive culture wars, was politically and economically sound and socially cohesive.
It was an argument about the way these nations conduct themselves: By conscious choice, the wealthiest Middle Eastern economies rely on oil for their prosperity, whereas Israel relies on technological innovation as its single largest export. As technological advances slowly but surely sideline Middle Eastern oil as a keystone of the global economy, economies that rely on little else will sink further, he argued, while Israel, which has transformed itself into an engine for those very advances, will only rise.
The history of the past few years has largely borne out this assessment.
Israel’s strength set against an imploding Arab state system – indeed, Israel’s strangely separate life in a region that is increasingly seen as an exporter primarily of its own social and religious imbalances – is quietly but decisively transforming the Jewish state’s place in the calculations of both friend and foe.
It has turned some erstwhile enemies into allies in potentia, and forced Israel’s most bitter foes, such as Hezbollah and Hamas, to develop a new apologetic discourse that seeks to explain to ordinary Lebanese or Gazans why the ideology of permanent war against the Zionists justifies their current and future suffering.
Meanwhile, regional and global actors with less emotional investment in Zionism — countries like Greece, India, Russia, Cyprus, China, and even distant Honduras — have all taken dramatic steps to upgrade economic and defense ties with Israel, in no small part out of a clear sense of these growing disparities in power and prosperity in the region.
And, of course, America noticed.
The United States is a strange actor in this sense. For a country like Israel, the US is not just an ally, it is a world order. Its navy serves as the de facto global coordinating and enforcement institution that ensures the security and safety of maritime commerce – a fact of overwhelming significance to a country like Israel, which carries on almost no trade across its land borders and transports 99% of its foreign trade by volume via the sea. The US financial system, too, still largely sets the terms for global finance, a fact of no less importance to a country as susceptible as Israel to the vicissitudes of foreign investment or currency fluctuations.
And on a more profound level, it is no accident that some 80% of the Jewish diaspora outside Israel lives in the United States. For many Israeli Jews, the American-led world order represents the desirable alternative not, as is imagined within the confines of American or European politics, to post-war European social democracy, but to something far more brutal: the still-living memory of expulsion, flight and mass-murder faced by Jews in the last century.
Israelis’ fondness for America is thus not rooted in any particular president’s relationship with any specific prime minister – which were as often as not antagonistic rather than friendly – but in the palpable sense that the world they wish to live in is the one forged by American blood, ideas and commerce over the past century.
It is this America, the Atlas holding up a world that for all its tragedies is nevertheless freer, more prosperous and safer than at any previous period humanity has known, an America as celebrated by Israel’s socialist founding father David Ben-Gurion as by his ideological nemesis Ze’ev Jabotinsky, by Meretz’s Zehava Galon as by Jewish Home’s Naftali Bennett, that Israelis now see returning to the peculiarly American brand of pox-on-both-their-houses isolationism.
And it is this America, too, as it reassesses its capacity and desire to bear so many of the world’s burdens, that is increasingly turning to Israel as an anchor of stability and prosperity that can help mitigate, at least in the limited scope of its regional reach, the fallout from US disentanglement.
Can Israel shoulder a larger share of the burden of upholding the global order on which its own safety and prosperity relies?

The commission

On Friday, a group of six Americans and four Israelis published a startlingly ambitious report that tries to imagine what this new role might mean for both sides.
Noting the chaos roiling the region – the Arab collapse; Russia’s entry into the Syria conflict; Iran’s growing assertiveness on land and sea; China’s first-ever permanent overseas naval base in Djibouti; the growth of Islamic State and Hezbollah with their state-like capabilities but guerrilla-like lack of responsibility; the massive new gas (and possibly oil) finds in the maritime waters of Israel, Egypt, Cyprus and others – the report warns that Israel cannot secure its future unless it turns, as America did far earlier in its own history, to the sea.
The group bills itself the “Commission on the Eastern Mediterranean” and explains its goal bluntly: “to help lay the foundation for the formulation of Israel’s maritime strategy.”
Its roster bears eloquent testimony to this focus on naval matters: three admirals — former US chief of naval operations Gary Roughead, former Israel Navy commander Ami Ayalon and former deputy commander of Israel’s navy Shaul Chorev — former US undersecretary of defense for policy Douglas Feith; former US senator and chair of the Senate Energy Committee, Mary Landrieu; former Israeli Foreign Ministry director general and subsequently the envoy to the UN and London, Ron Prosor; former CEO of Noble Energy, the largest foreign company drilling in Israel’s natural gas fields, Charles Davidson; former deputy undersecretary of the navy Seth Cropsey; eminent Israeli economist who headed a government commission examining Israel’s natural gas policy, Eytan Sheshinski; and the military historian Arthur Herman.
The group was brought together by the Hudson Institute, a Washington-based think tank, and Haifa University’s Research Center on Maritime Strategy, headed by Chorev.
An Israel Navy ship fires a Harpoon sea-to-sea missile at a decommissioned boat during an exercise on July 5, 2016. (Screen capture: IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
An Israel Navy ship fires a Harpoon sea-to-sea missile at a decommissioned boat during an exercise on July 5, 2016. (Screen capture: IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)
“We consciously created a commission that would include people who don’t agree with each other on policy, a politically and philosophically diverse group of people,” Douglas Feith told The Times of Israel in an interview this week.
The report “represents the commissioners’ consensus,” it assures readers early on. And that’s no mean feat. The group includes a prominent Democrat (Landrieu) and a well-known Republican (Feith), Israelis considered right of center (Prosor) and left of it (Ayalon), and negotiators from both sides of the natural gas talks between the Netanyahu government and Noble Energy (Sheshinski and Davidson).
“We’re not trying to make points pro or con on the Obama administration or the Netanyahu government,” Feith says. “That wasn’t the point. The conscious idea was to create a group that will agree at the level of strategy but not at the level of policy.”
The report it produced is a fast read. It lays out its case in simple terms early on. Israel, it says, has always looked to the land and air for its security and prosperity. This is no longer enough. “Israel is an economic island” that “recently discovered offshore gas fields” destined to transform it into “an energy-independent nation and even a potential energy exporter.”
Former US undersecretary of defense for policy Douglas Feith. (Public domain)
Former US undersecretary of defense for policy Douglas Feith. (Public domain)
At the same time, Israel’s non-state foes, such as Hezbollah and Hamas, “are expanding their [naval] arsenals to enable them to threaten Israel’s offshore infrastructure.” And, indeed, Israel is small enough and densely populated enough to “tempt an enemy to use weapons of mass destruction in the expectation that they would have strategic effect.”
The sea “gives Israel strategic depth, more area from which to operate militarily than is afforded by Israel’s landmass…. Use of the sea for ships, submarines and other equipment helps Israel to deter and defend against WMD, ballistic missiles and heavy rockets.”
Meanwhile, the Mediterranean is only gaining in strategic importance. The report explains: “Despite – or perhaps because of – America’s disengagement, the Persian Gulf, Red Sea and Mediterranean are growing in political, economic and security significance. Three choke points to and from the Indian Ocean are located there: the Hormuz straits, the Suez Canal, and the Bab el-Mandeb straits…. Iran, China, Russia and India are building capabilities to influence events there.”
Technology, too, is changing the nature of seaborne threats. “Since the end of the Cold War,” the report notes, “the number of active submarines in the world has fallen, largely because of large-scale decommissioning of former Soviet vessels, but the number of countries operating submarines has increased. Regional tensions in the Middle East have been a principal driver of submarine procurement.”
“Submarines,” the report emphasizes, “have unique operational capabilities and their proliferation” – for example in the hands of Iran, Russia-allied Syria, or even established, land-holding terror groups – “undermines regional stability.”
The INS Rahav, Israel's newest submarine, sets off from the German port of Kiel towards Haifa, December 17, 2015. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
The INS Rahav, Israel’s newest submarine, sets off from the German port of Kiel towards Haifa, December 17, 2015. (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)
All these factors – major new energy resources, increasing interest from distant powers, and growing non-conventional threats – make it “impossible to overstate Israel’s interests in maritime security.
“Yet, surprisingly, the maritime domain is almost absent from public discourse in Israel, a nation not known for its maritime culture or history.”

A maritime power

There is a difference, explains former Israeli Navy no. 2 Chorev, between mere naval strategy and a broader maritime one.
“A naval strategy asks, ‘How do I ensure open routes to Israel, or the supremacy of the Israeli fleet against potential enemy fleets?'” Chorev said in an interview this week with The Times of Israel.
“But a maritime strategy is much larger: How do I secure the [natural gas] installations? What legal regime do I need? Do I want to export the maritime gas to Turkey, or to Egypt? Which navies do I establish close alliances with? Israel has almost no merchant marine fleet. Can the Israeli government’s controlling share in [shipping company] ZIM ensure that ships continue to sail to Israel in an emergency? Our trade with China and India is growing larger than with Europe. Does Israel have a strategic interest in its Indian Ocean trade? And if it does, does it need to have naval assets there?”
And, he might have added, should Israel continue to rely on a single easily-disrupted pipeline from the Tamar gas field as its main source of energy?
It is this sweeping mix of issues and challenges, and a careful examination of how they interconnect, that transforms a country with a more or less straightforward naval presence into a more attentive and powerful maritime power.
The paper, not accidentally, dwells at length on the recent gas finds in Israeli waters. “Not all countries with large resources manage to benefit from them,” it warns. “The key is being able to attract investment continually. Where laws and policies make resource development too hard, the resources, however valuable, remain undeveloped.”
Shaul Chorev (Photo credit: Channel 2 Screen Shot)
Shaul Chorev (Channel 2 screenshot)
At first glance, the report’s conclusions on the gas question are unsurprising given the number of Americans in the group, including Noble Energy’s immediate past CEO. But the more one reads about the “regulatory hurdles” that have stymied development of Israel’s largest known gas field, Leviathan, or considers the sheer surprise with which the government received the High Court’s strike-down of its promise to energy companies of a decade of regulatory “stability” – during which the rules for drilling Israeli gas cannot be changed by successive governments – the more one begins to grasp the difference between Israel as it functions today and the Israel envisioned by these retired admirals and former policymakers.
Israel’s gas debate has been almost entirely a domestic fight: how gas exports might affect Israelis’ electricity bills, how much tax to impose, questions about monopolies and price controls, about whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been sufficiently transparent or the Knesset sufficiently assertive. When Netanyahu has occasionally warned over the past two years that further delays would scare away foreign investors, or that swift development of the gas fields, even at the cost of less advantageous terms from foreign energy companies such as Noble, was in Israel’s immediate geopolitical interest, he was mocked mercilessly by media, opposition politicians and even, more quietly, within his own party.
“Israel has not traditionally thought of itself as an energy exporting country,” noted Feith. “It doesn’t have a culture of an energy exporting country. Developing that culture – thinking about opportunities and not just vulnerabilities, thinking about attracting international energy investors – those are brand new ideas for Israel. Cultures change slowly, it’s a process.”
The report acknowledges, too, the overpowering influence of domestic politics in a democracy, but argues that Israel must forge an institutional culture that turns its attention outward. A maritime power is by definition an extroverted one, a state that takes a keen interest, shared across the broad swath of its financial, military and legal institutions, in goings-on beyond its shores. And that means inculcating in the public mind and among officials and politicians a new set of commitments.
Maritime powers conduct their domestic politics with the same urgency and tendentiousness as their landlubber neighbors, but without losing sight of the responsibilities they have undertaken in the global commons.
Israel Navy chief Admiral Ram Rotberg poses for a picture near the Tamar gas processing rig 24 kilometers off Israel's southern coast on September 2, 2015. (Flash90)
Israel Navy chief Admiral Ram Rothberg poses for a picture near the Tamar gas processing rig 24 kilometers off Israel’s southern coast on September 2, 2015. (Flash90)
The report urges action on several fronts: that Israel rethink its naval capabilities in the face of new threats from the sea, that it put in place the kind of legal and regulatory regime possessed by other successful energy-producing countries, and that it adopt a new mental image of itself as a nation with responsibilities to secure its near abroad, especially the gas fields and strategic sea lanes nearby.
Israel’s navy is thought to be very good at what it does, but what it does is extremely limited: patrols, coastal defense, a small commando force, an alleged (as reported by foreign media, of course) submarine nuclear strike capability.
In practical terms, how does this small force, and this narrow vision of Israel’s seafaring requirements, transform into the more expansive fleet and broader commitment envisioned by the report?
The group’s answer is simple: America is here to help.
“How can Israel ensure that it has the capabilities, force structure and organization needed to implement the [maritime] strategy? Draw on expertise at America’s Naval War College and Naval Postgraduate School,” it urges.
And Israelis don’t just need to go to America; America can come to them.
‘US ships in Haifa could include increased presence, deterrence of Benghazi-style attacks, assistance with non-combatant evacuations, and security for drilling rigs’
“Of particular interest are options for US forward deployment in the Mediterranean, including in Israel. What would be the net contribution to American security and to Israel? Benefits from US ships homeported in Haifa, for example, could include increased (and stabilizing) presence, deterrence of Benghazi-style attacks, assistance with non-combatant evacuations, and security for drilling rigs, liquefaction plants, and pipeline terminals.”
An upgraded Israeli maritime presence would act as a force multiplier for such an American deployment, and vice versa. And that means the two navies must learn to work together far better than they have in the past.
“How could US and Israeli forces improve their interoperability?” the report asks. “Consider bilateral and multilateral fleet drills, better intelligence sharing and more extensive military-to-military cooperation.”
It is worth remembering that this idea is being raised by a group that includes three admirals, including a former head and deputy head of Israel’s navy and a former chief of US naval operations.

Pirates in the east

The benefits of such a strategy for Israel are obvious. For one thing, ensuring the security of the gas fields gives Israel unprecedented energy independence.
China and India may seem out of reach of Israel’s current navy, but these two eastern powers are quickly becoming vital to Israel’s future prosperity. Last year marked the first time that Israel’s combined exports to Asia (at 24.9% of total value of exports that year) surpassed the share that went to the US (at 23.8%). Yet maritime routes eastward pass within striking distance of an increasingly assertive Iran, not to mention Somali pirates and other potential pitfalls for Israeli shipping. If Israel’s economy comes to depend on eastward commerce, it does not stretch the imagination very much to believe that Israel could find itself deploying a meaningful naval force, as Chorev imagined, to the Indian Ocean.
And in an age where advanced Russian rockets might easily find their way to Hezbollah, and Islamic State has proven its capacity to take and hold land in Syria, Iraq and Libya, and thus, perhaps, to deploy naval forces that would act as de facto pirates in adjacent Mediterranean waters, even Israel’s western and northern maritime approaches seem less secure than in the past.
An Iranian navy vessel during a drill in the Strait of Hormuz (YouTube screenshot)
An Iranian navy vessel during a drill in the Strait of Hormuz (YouTube screenshot)
Meanwhile, the permanent US naval presence in the Mediterranean, the report notes, has shrunk drastically since the end of the Cold War. “The Sixth Fleet’s permanent naval presence is now a single command ship in Italy and four Aegis destroyers equipped for ballistic missile defense, all based in Rota, Spain, just outside the Mediterranean.”
Israel may have to face these challenges by itself.
In other words, there is more at stake here for Israel than mere strategic clarity. The world is changing, and the ability to secure the sea is becoming increasingly vital to maintaining Israel’s safety and prosperity.

Two-way street

But that’s only half the story told by the report. America, too, stands to gain from Israeli maritime power.
The commission dwells in passing on the benefit to the world of Israel becoming a more serious player in energy development. Trigger warning: the term “startup nation” figures prominently.
“Building a domestic energy industry…[could] stimulate Israelis to promote innovation in an important global industry that would be new to them…. US companies could help foster…growing experience in energy exploration, development, and production – all capitalizing on Israel’s ‘Start Up Nation’ innovation skills.”
But this is a mere quip. For American members of the commission, something far more important is at stake in the potential for Israel to step up and take on these responsibilities.
America, the report warns in its most strident passages, is leaving behind a dangerous vacuum.
“The desire to disengage from the Middle East and the Eastern Mediterranean is an especially strong element of the general American isolationist impulse. After decades of leading the democratic world in the Cold War and more than a decade of multiple wars since 9/11, many Americans…would prefer to have nothing to do with foreign wars, with lands that breed jihadists or stagnate in corruption, or have populations that reject modernity or hate the United States,” the report notes in its conclusion.
“The preference is easy to understand, but it’s not realistic,” it declares. “The issue is not whether isolationism is desirable; it is whether it’s possible.”
“Isolation is not an option. The region’s wealth will necessarily influence interests around the world; and so will its pathologies…. Imagine if ISIS or al-Qaeda were to take power in Saudi Arabia and control its bank accounts; no amount of ‘homeland security’ could then neutralize the resulting terrorist danger. Similarly, even though America and other Western countries tried to stay out of Syria’s civil war, the conflict’s ill effects reached them in the form of terrorist murders and millions of refugees.”
Illustrative: A rigid hull inflatable boat transits alongside the coastal patrol ship USS Typhoon during a vertical onboard exercise in the Arabian Gulf, February 2014. (Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Martin Cuaron, US Navy via AP)
Illustrative: A rigid hull inflatable boat transits alongside the coastal patrol ship USS Typhoon during a vertical onboard exercise in the Arabian Gulf, February 2014. (Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Martin Cuaron, US Navy via AP)
Regions cannot be “quarantined. Nuclear or biological weapons developed there could strike anywhere and cyber attacks launched from there can infect computers anywhere.” Then there’s “the question of who will protect freedom of navigation on the seas? Since the sun set on the British Empire, the United States has been instrumental in keeping the world’s seas open to commerce. No other country or alliance is ready and able to substitute. Without open sea lines of communication, much of the world’s trade would cease to flow. If, in hopes of disengaging from the Middle East or cutting its defense budget, the United States were to relinquish this essential role, the harm to the global economy, including America’s economy, would be catastrophic.”
Disengagement from the Mideast ‘simply forfeits America’s ability to shape events.’
Disengagement from the region “does not actually isolate the United States; it simply forfeits America’s ability to shape events.”
It is here, in the depths of this anxiety, that the American side of the commission finds in Israel a kind of answer, perhaps a prototype for a new sort of relationship with regional powers that allows immense America to withdraw without leaving behind it an equally immense vacuum.
The US has vital interests in the region: “Upholding freedom of navigation on the seas; preventing WMD proliferation; countering radical Islamist ideology; preserving the international state system and the principle of national sovereignty; promoting international commerce; and protecting (from terrorists and others) the free and open nature of its society.”
Enter Israel.
“Founded on liberal democratic ideas similar to those that America embodies, Israel has shared those interests wholeheartedly. No other country in the region has greater capability or willingness to contribute to their advancement through ‘hard’ means, such as military, intelligence and cyber, and ‘soft’ means, such as technology, culture and alliance-building.”
This is something more than an ally, but less than a client. It is akin to the American relationship with Britain or Australia, who share the stewardship of the American-led world order in their more limited spheres of influence, and in deep coordination with American institutions.
Could such a relationship be replicated with regional powers in East Asia in the face of Chinese assertiveness, developing complimentary capabilities and mutual commitments that can compensate for American fatigue?
In the introduction, one learns about what Israel stands to gain as an emboldened maritime power. In the conclusion, it is America that benefits, and perhaps, if this experiment succeeds, also nations and regions in all the far-flung corners of the world.


Can Israel do it? Can its competing institutions come together to forge such a vast, shared new vision of Israel’s maritime mission?
“It’s the very reason we established in Haifa a center for maritime strategy,” says Chorev. The institute strives to jump-start that process by bringing together expertise from across the many disciplines required to forge a comprehensive maritime strategy. It is now home to a former Transportation Ministry official who was the director of Israel’s seaports, as well as an expert on southeast Asia and others.
For some of the Israelis, it is also, simply, an idea whose time has come.
In the report one hears echoes of an old complaint by Israel’s admirals. The Israel Navy has long believed it was undervalued in the state’s strategic posture and underappreciated by generations of defense planners and cabinet ministers.
Ami Ayalon in 2008 (photo credit: Olivier Fitoussi /Flash90)
Former Navy commander and Shin Bet chief Ami Ayalon. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Israeli planners spent decades constructing an IDF built to withstand the onslaught of conventional Arab armies. The Arabs bought Soviet and American tanks, so Israel built its own extensive armored corps. The Arabs fielded air forces; Israel responded in kind.
For all the complexity involved in forging the IDF’s force structure, the fundamental strategy behind it was once straightforward – and delivered when it counted. But in the past 20 years, those conditions have changed. The case for an upgraded navy is now so compelling that the commission has reason to believe its advice will not fall on deaf ears.
The economist John Maynard Keynes once reflected on the role of the “scribbler” whose ideas percolate unnoticed through the zeitgeist until they become so obvious and widely accepted that political leaders believe they came up with the ideas themselves.
“Practical men who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence,” said Keynes, “are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back.”
In a similar vein, Feith insists that the most important part of the report is the simple act of beginning to think aloud about the question. The discussion itself has strategic implications.
“For a country to have a strategy requires more than the prime minister or chief of staff to be a strategic thinker,” he says. “One of the purposes of strategy, as I understand it, is when you have a large set of institutions, how do you get all of those various institutions pointing in the same direction and not undercutting each other? One of the purposes of strategy” – of the mere act of developing that strategy – “is to accomplish that.”
Both Feith and Chorev recognize the institutional obstacles that lie in the path of so significant a shift in Israel’s vision of itself. But the major obstacle, and the easiest to overcome, is that the discussion itself isn’t taking place.
That, at least, they can change without delay.

Other "Palestinians" are of little interest...

From Gatestone Institute, 31 August 2016, by
  • Nearly 3,500 Palestinians have been killed in Syria since 2011. But because these Palestinians were killed by Arabs, and not Israelis, this fact is not news in the mainstream media or of interest to "human rights" forums.
  • How many Western journalists have cared to inquire about the thirsty Palestinians of Yarmouk refugee camp, in Syria? Does anyone know that this camp has been without water supply for more than 720 days, and without electricity for the past three years? In June 2002, 112,000 Palestinians lived in Yarmouk. By the end of 2014, the population was down to less than 20,000.
  • Nor is the alarm bell struck concerning the more than 12,000 Palestinians languishing in Syrian prisons, including 765 children and 543 women. According to Palestinian sources, some 503 Palestinian prisoners have died under torture in recent years, and some female prisoners have been raped by interrogators and guards.
  • When Western journalists lavish time on Palestinians delayed at Israeli checkpoints, and ignore bombs dropped by the Syrian military on residential areas, one might start to wonder they are really about.
It seems as though the international community has forgotten that Palestinians can be found far beyond the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. These "other" Palestinians live in Arab countries such as Syria, Jordan and Lebanon, and their many serious grievances are evidently of no interest to the international community. It is only Palestinians residing in the West Bank and Gaza Strip that garner international attention. Why? Because it is precisely these individuals that the international community wield as a weapon against Israel.

Nearly 3,500 Palestinians have been killed in Syria since the beginning of the civil war in 2011. But because these Palestinians were killed by Arabs, and not Israelis, this fact is not news in the mainstream media. This figure was revealed last week by the London-based Action Group For Palestinians of Syria (AGPS), founded in 2012 with the goal of documenting the suffering of the Palestinians in that country and preparing lists of victims, prisoners and missing people in order to submit them to the databases of human rights forums.

Yet the "human rights" forums pay scant attention to such findings. They are indeed too busy to take much notice, wholly preoccupied as they are with Israel.

By focusing their attention only on the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, these "human rights" forums continuously seek to find ways to hold Israel responsible for wrongdoing, while ignoring the crimes perpetrated by Arabs against their Palestinian brothers. This obsession with Israel, which sometimes reaches ridiculous heights, does a great disservice to the Palestinian victims of Arab crimes.

If you take some numbers, according to AGPS, 85 Palestinians were killed in Syria in the first year of the civil war in 2011. The following year, the number rose to 776. The year 2013 saw the highest number of Palestinian victims: 1,015. In 2014, the number of Palestinians who were killed in Syria was 724. The following year, 502 Palestinians were killed. And since the beginning of this year (until July), some 200 Palestinians were killed in Syria.

How were these Palestinians killed? The group says that they were killed as a result of direct shelling, armed clashes, torture in prison, bombings, and as a result of the besieging of their refugee camps in Syria.

Yet the plight of its people in Syria does not seem to top the list for the Palestinian Authority (PA) in Ramallah. Pride of place on that list goes to assigning blame to Israel for everything the PA itself has caused. For PA President Mahmoud Abbas and his senior officials in the West Bank, the Palestinians in Syria simply do not rate. In fact, in a step that boggles the mind, the PA leadership is currently seeking to improve its relations with the Assad regime in Syria -- the very regime that is killing, imprisoning and torturing scores of Palestinians on a daily basis.

In a move that has enraged many Palestinians in Syria, the Palestinian Authority recently celebrated the inauguration of a new Palestinian embassy in Damascus. "They [the PA leadership] have sold the Palestinians in Syria and reconciled with the Syrian regime," remarked a Palestinian from Syria.
Another Palestinian commented: "Now we know why several PLO delegations have been visiting Syria recently; they sought to renew their ties with the regime and not ensure the safety of our refugee camps or seek the release of Palestinians held in [Syrian] prisons."

Others accused the Palestinian Authority leadership of "sacrificing the blood of Palestinians." They pointed out that the Syrian regime, by permitting the opening of the new embassy, was rewarding the PA for turning its back on the plight of the Palestinians of Syria. The Palestinians complained that PA diplomats and representatives in Damascus, to whom they appealed in the past for help, have ignored their calls.

International media outlets regularly report on the "water crisis" in Palestinian towns and villages, especially in the West Bank. This is a story that repeats itself almost every summer, when some foreign journalists set out to search for any story that reflects negatively on Israel. And there is nothing more comfortable than holding Israel responsible for the "water crisis" in the West Bank.
But how many Western journalists have cared to inquire about the thirsty Palestinians of Yarmouk refugee camp in Syria? Does anyone in the international community know that this camp has been without water supply for more than 720 days? Or that the camp has been without electricity for the past three years?

Yarmouk, which is located only eight kilometers from the center of Damascus, is the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Syria. That is, it was the largest camp. In June 2002, 112,000 Palestinians lived in Yarmouk. By the end of 2014, the camp population had been decimated to less than 20,000. Medical sources say many of the residents of the camp are suffering from a host of diseases.

Palestinians flee Yarmouk refugee camp, near Damascus, after fierce fighting in September 2015.
(Image source: RT video screenshot)

These figures are alarming, but not to the Palestinian Authority leadership or mainstream media and "human rights" organizations in the West. Nor is the alarm bell struck concerning the more than 12,000 Palestinians languishing in Syrian prisons, without the right to see a lawyer or family members. These include 765 children and 543 women. According to Palestinian sources, some 503 Palestinian prisoners have died under torture in recent years.

Sources say that some of the Palestinian female prisoners have been raped by their interrogators and guards. Huda, a 19-year-old girl from Yarmouk, said she became pregnant after being repeatedly gang-raped while she was held in Syrian prison for 15 days. "Sometimes, they used to rape me more than 10 times a day," Huda recounted, adding that as a result she suffered severe bleeding and lost consciousness. She also told an hour-long story of how she was held in a cell for three weeks with the bodies of other prisoners who had been tortured to death.

Such stories rarely make it to the pages of major newspapers in the West. Nor are these stories discussed at conferences held by various international human rights organizations, or even the United Nations. The only Palestinian prisoners the world talks about are those incarcerated by Israel. The Palestinian Authority leadership never misses an opportunity to call for the release of Palestinians held by Israel, most of whom are suspected of or have been found guilty of terrorism. But when it comes to the thousands who are being tortured in Syria, the PA leaders in Ramallah are deadly silent. For the sake of accuracy, it is worth mentioning that the Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas have sometimes contacted the Syrian authorities regarding prisoners -- but it turns out that the two groups were just seeking the release of some of their members.

Reports from Syria say that three Palestinian refugee camps remain under strict siege by the Syrian army and its puppet Palestinian groups. Yarmouk, for instance, has been under siege for more than 970 days, while the Al-Sabinah refugee camp has been under siege for more than 820 days. The Handarat camp has been facing the same fate for over 1000 days. Most of the residents of these camps have been forced to flee their homes. In Yarmouk, 186 Palestinians have died of starvation or lack of medical attention. More than 70% of the Daraa camp has been completely destroyed due to recurring shelling by the Syrian army and other militias.

The Palestinians of Syria would have been more fortunate had they been living in the West Bank or Gaza Strip. Then the international community and media would certainly have noticed them. Yet when Western journalists lavish time on Palestinians delayed at Israeli checkpoints in the West Bank, and ignore barrels of explosives dropped by the Syrian military on residential areas in refugee camps in Syria, one might start to wonder what they are really about.