The Netanyahu Witch Hunt

Demonization, double standard, and delegitimization: the famous “Three D’s” proposed by Natan Sharansky in 2004 have proven to be a powerful tool to distinguish between legitimate criticism of Israel, and “new antisemitism,” in which the Jewish state replaces the individual Jew as a target.

What these criteria do is reveal the irrational basis of the exaggerated charges against Israel, and help show how they are part of an emotional propaganda attack aimed at creating a strong antipathy in the listener which is not justified by facts.

These same propaganda techniques can be deployed in other venues for other purposes, such as in an attempt to damage a democratically elected political leader and influence an election. In a situation like this, the Three D’s can help us distinguish between legitimate criticism of policies and behavior – even alleged criminal behavior – and a witch hunt.

Of course I am talking about the witch hunt against PM Binyamin Netanyahu.

***

The major complaint against Netanyahu today is that he is corrupt, as is charged in the three cases in which the Attorney General has said he will attempt to indict Netanyahu: accepting gifts of cigars and champagne in return for political favors, conspiring to obtain positive coverage from a newspaper in return for suppressing a competitor, and – most damaging – promoting regulatory actions that provided financial benefits for a media mogul in return for positive coverage on a website he controlled.

There are some serious problems for the prosecution in these cases. The first case is both trivial and vague (how many cigars is too many?) In the second, Netanyahu is supposed to have traded support for legislation to ban the free distribution of newspapers – a bill aimed at Israel Hayom – for positive coverage from the publisher of its competitor, Yediot Aharonot. But Netanyahu opposed the legislation, and Yediot didn’t support him anyway. In the third, the website that allegedly provided positive coverage did publish several favorable articles, but overall did not change its slant.

In addition, all three accusations are based to some extent on the testimony of state’s witnesses – people who have been given immunity from prosecution for their own illegal actions in return for their testimony against the Prime Minister. Testify the way we want, they are told, or you will go to jail! Could there be a greater conflict of interest?

But what I find the most egregious is the way the media – with the cooperation of the police and the prosecutor’s office – has been trying Netanyahu in public for at least the last three or four years, in order to demonize and delegitimize him as Prime Minister. Netanyahu has been interrogated by the police at least twelve times for hours at a time in various cases, and each time there were sensational leaks that were gleefully reported on the evening TV news or in the next days’ papers. Naturally, the reports stressed the most incriminating material. As far as I know, no one has been disciplined for these leaks.

There is also evidence of double standards. Arnon Milchan, who gave Netanyahu cigars and champagne was also friends with many other Israeli politicians, including Yair Lapid, one of the principals in the Blue and White party that is Netanyahu’s main rival in the coming election. Lapid also supported legislation that would have benefited Milchan. But he was not investigated.

Further, 43 members of the Knesset – led by MK Eitan Kabel of the Labor Party – voted to ban the free distribution of newspapers, but none of them were investigated.

Politicians everywhere have always tried to trade favors for media coverage. The legal doctrine that treats this as bribery, however, is something new which seems to have been created just for Netanyahu.

Alan Dershowitz argues that interference by law enforcement in the relationship between politicians and media, except in cases of “clear and unambiguous financial corruption” is extremely dangerous to democracy, because almost every contact between them would be open to legal scrutiny. These questions are highly political, and therefore should be decided by the political process – in other words, the voters.

Avi Bell notes that there is a “new understanding of the traditional crimes of bribery and breach of public trust” in which media coverage is equivalent to a monetary payoff. This either implies that there will have to be “police oversight of nearly all interactions between media and public officials,” or it is a one-time application of special rules to Netanyahu – obviously a serious injustice. Either way, it is a “severe crisis in Israel’s democratic governance.” Indeed.

These are not the first allegations against Netanyahu and his family that have been splashed across the media. There was a bribery scandal in connection with the procurement of submarines; it turned out that Netanyahu had no connection with the affair. There was the ludicrous “deposit bottle scandal” in which Sara Netanyahu was accused of keeping the money for bottles that had been returned after their purchase for public functions (she was not charged). She was indicted for misuse of public funds for ordering out for expensive meals when she had a government-paid cook (she is on trial now). There have been lawsuits concerning her alleged ill-treatment of employees and bad temper. And on and on and on.

The Attorney General has announced his intention to hold a hearing on the charges against the PM, after which a formal indictment can be issued. The hearing would take place after the election. The announcement has no other legal significance, but it certainly will affect the vote and the coalition negotiations after the election. It is very unlikely that the timing of this announcement was accidental!

The American Founding Fathers understood that the removal of a chief executive would be highly charged politically, and they created a political method for dealing with malfeasance or criminal behavior in office: impeachment by the House and conviction by the Senate. They did not leave it to policemen or lawyers, or even the Supreme Court. This has proven to be the right path, and it’s unfortunate that Israel does not have something similar.

Netanyahu has been Prime Minister since 2009, and his opposition is frustrated to the point of hysteria. They have been unable to defeat him by the normal political processes, so it seems that they have chosen to tie him down with multiple legal threads, as the Lilliputians did to Gulliver, and stone him to death with innuendos. Bibi claims, and I think he is essentially correct in this, that pressure from media and the legal establishment – groups that are largely opposed to him – forced the hand of the Attorney General in deciding to move forward toward indictment.

Just as Israel’s enemies wish to destroy international sympathy for Israel by demonization and delegitimization, Netanyahu’s enemies hope to fracture his political support before the election.

Will they succeed? We’ll find out after the 9th of April.

Posted in Israeli Politics | 2 Comments

Strong horses and strong Jews

When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature they will like the strong horse. – Osama bin Laden

All courses of action are risky, so prudence is not in avoiding danger (it’s impossible), but calculating risk and acting decisively. Make mistakes of ambition and not mistakes of sloth. Develop the strength to do bold things, not the strength to suffer. – Niccolò Machiavelli

It’s probably not an exaggeration to say that anti-Jewish expression of all kinds – ordinary Jew-hatred, antisemitic violence, and anti-Zionism – throughout the world are at their highest levels since the end of the Second World War.

Theodor Herzl and others thought that the normalization of the Jewish people – the change from “rootless cosmopolitans” living in other peoples’ homelands to a settled people in its own land – would bring about an end to the phenomenon of Jew-hatred.

It did not. People didn’t hate Jews any less, and the Jewish state simply provided another focus for hatred and another target for violent antisemitism.

It was also thought that if the traumatic events of the Holocaust and their historical roots in Jew-hatred were known throughout the world, there would be a wave of moral revulsion that would put an end to antisemitism. In simple terms, 1) Jew-hatred leads to mass murder, 2) mass murder is bad, 3) therefore, Jew-hatred is bad. So Holocaust museums were built, educational programs mandated, films made, and so forth.

This may have had some temporary effect, at least on overt expressions of Jew-hatred, which became socially unacceptable for a time. But it did not change hearts, and now, some years later, even the effect on overt expressions of hatred has dissipated.

For those who like to put the entire blame for the Holocaust on Hitler, the Nazis, or even Germany, I note that many British officials acted – before, during, and after the war – as though they would rather see Jews dead than in Palestine. Similar observations apply to the actions of US President Roosevelt, who had to be dragged kicking and screaming to do the minimum possible on behalf of Hitler’s victims. I don’t know or care what was in the hearts of these people, but they were aware of the Holocaust and their actions were deliberate.

Jew-hatred, both the individual kind and the kind that expresses itself as hatred of the Jewish state, is dangerous to the continued survival of the Jewish people. Indeed, many of its practitioners are acting consciously with the destruction of our people as a goal. They know what they are doing and are effectively using modern technology and psychological techniques to attack us.

As Jews, we have two general options: we can acquiesce to the disappearance of the Jews as a distinct people through a combination of violent oppression and suicidal assimilation, or we can try to preserve it.

I take it as a given that the Jewish people should survive as a people, and I place my obligation to the Jewish people ahead of my obligation to humankind in general, just as I prioritize my family over the other inhabitants of my neighborhood. These are moral axioms, first premises; if you don’t agree with me, I have no further arguments to convince you of them (and probably you should stop reading).

I wish to present a general framework for the preservation of the Jewish people. I am not proposing specific tactics, or even overall strategies – just some general principles, inspired by the writings of Ze’ev Jabotinsky, Kenneth Levin, Niccolò Machiavelli, and others: I call it the Strong Jew Doctrine. I introduced the concept here, and it has application both in the schoolyards and college campuses of the West, and on the battlefields of the Middle East.

It’s based on the idea that honor, respect, and deterrence are critical for survival, and these properties – which actually inhere in those that meet and confront us, friends and enemies – depend on our use of power or our hesitance to do so.

The Jewish people have both gained and lost from their diaspora experience; but during centuries as a powerless minority, it developed an inferiority complex which interferes with its use of power, now that we have it. Over the years, Jews became accustomed to trying to buy safety with money, negotiating from a position of weakness, depending on the protection of others, and developing the capability to suffer. These strategies sometimes succeed in saving our skins and sometimes not, but they worked against obtaining the respect of others, especially our enemies. They reinforced the antisemitic conception of the Jew as weak, sneaky, and contemptible – and as someone it is permissible to attack.

We don’t have to use those methods anymore. Today we are a people with an economically and militarily powerful homeland.

When challenged, whether by a neighborhood antisemite, the UN, or Hezbollah, a Jew or a Jewish state should respond in a way that takes into account not only meeting the particular challenge, but also maximizing the respect and deterrence that accrues as a result of our actions (our enemies, in particular, should experience fear and be deterred from future attacks). In this way, we not only hurt our enemies, but become the “strong horse.” The objective should be to obtain respect, not pity.

Sometimes what we must do to maximize respect is not consistent with European understandings of humanistic morality or international law. These are hard decisions, and there is no definitive general answer. Is it more important to avoid being accused of war crimes – which will happen regardless of what we do – or to reduce the risks faced by our ground troops in urban combat? This very question regularly comes up when the IDF is forced to enter Gaza or Arab towns in Judea/Samaria, and the army bends over backwards in the humanitarian direction. We would reduce the number of violent confrontations and our own casualties if we acted more aggressively when they did occur.

Here are some principles that either derive from or are consistent with the Strong Jew Doctrine, along with some examples of their application in personal and geopolitical situations:

  1. Self-reliance is better than dependence. Accepting American military aid may seem to be advantageous for Israel, but we can do without it, it makes us dependent on an unreliable partner, and has numerous other deleterious effects.
  2. It’s good to have passive defenses against aggression, but only an active response can provide a non-temporary solution. You can prevent a bully from hitting you by keeping your guard up, but you can only make him stop by hitting him back. Iron dome can protect a city, but it doesn’t motivate the enemy to stop firing rockets (indeed, it encourages him to fire more rockets in an attempt to overwhelm the system).
  3. Never pay tribute or ransom. Some Israeli “security” officials argue that improving the humanitarian situation in Gaza or helping the PA meet payrolls helps prevent conflicts. Wrong: paying our enemies or introducing aid of any kind frees up funds for military purposes and sends a message of weakness. They are enemies.
  4. Take revenge when appropriate. We live in the Middle East. Allowing members of other tribes to kill our people and to receive relatively mild penalties send the message that killing us is permissible. Allowing the PA to pay terrorists in our prisons encourages terrorism.
  5. Restraint is not an indicator of strength. It is often the opposite. Letting Hamas burn southern Israel sends the message that we are too weak to stop them.
  6. Use collective punishments when appropriate. Polls consistently show that the majority of residents of Gaza and the PA support violence against Israel. Many towns in the PA are dominated by clans associated with Fatah or Hamas. They provide direct support for terrorists. Why shouldn’t they pay a price?
  7. Reprisals should always be disproportionate. When a bully hits you, hit him back harder. As Machiavelli recommended, when you have to hurt someone, hurt him so badly that he will not be able to get revenge.
  8. Messaging should emphasize our strength, not our victimhood. Reports of terror attacks should stress that all the terrorists were eliminated on the spot (and they should be!), not how painful the attack was for us.
  9. Never make threats that we are not prepared to carry out.

It may seem paradoxical, but the more aggressive we are, the less Jew-hatred there will be. People and nations give lip service to meekness, but honor comes from boldness and exercise of power. At the end of the day, it’s the strong horse that gets respect.

Posted in Jew Hatred, The Jewish people, Zionism | 2 Comments

AIPAC criticizes Netanyahu: Q&A

Binyamin Netanyahu incurred the wrath of numerous diaspora Jewish organizations last week, including AIPAC, which almost never criticizes an Israeli PM. The issue might be a bit confusing for some, so here are some questions and answers:

Q: What did Bibi do now?
A: He pretty much guaranteed that the extreme right-wing party called Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) would have seats in the Knesset.

Q: How did he do that?
A: Under Israel’s on system, the 120 seats in the Knesset will be divided up between the parties that get more than 3.25% of the vote each, in proportion to the number of votes that they get. Votes for a party that does not reach the 3.25% cutoff will be lost. So it is to the advantage of small parties to join together. They can actually merge, or they can run jointly just for the election. In the latter case, if the joint list gets enough votes, its component parties will divide up the seats in a prearranged way afterwards, and then go their separate ways. Bibi urged and cajoled – even pressured – several small right-wing parties to include Otzma in their joint list.

Q: Why?
A: Because of what happens after the election. After the votes are counted, since no single party will have a majority (there are fifteen parties that might pass the cutoff running), Israel’s President will ask the candidate that he believes has the best chance of making a coalition of 61 seats or more to attempt to form a coalition. This is usually the party with the most votes, but it need not be. Indeed, according to today’s polls, Gantz’ party will get the most votes, but Bibi would be more likely to be able to make a coalition with parties to the right of his Likud than Gantz with parties to his left. So Bibi wants to maximize the number of seats among his possible coalition partners, and avoid losing seats from parties that don’t make the 3.25% cutoff. Otzma was close to the cutoff, and running jointly with two other parties will ensure that it gets in. Even if it does not join Bibi’s coalition – it probably wouldn’t, and chances are, it won’t be asked – its seats (one or two) will come from the total of 120, and reduce the number available to the other side.

Q: Is the election that close?
A: It’s impossible to say this early. But with the coalition system, anything can happen.

Q: So what’s wrong with Otzma being in the Knesset? After all, it will end up with a number of seats proportional to the number of votes that it got.
A: In my opinion, nothing. That’s called “democracy.” But AIPAC, following other “centrist” Jewish groups including the ADL, and the American Jewish Committee (AJC), called the party “racist and reprehensible.” This represents a major departure for AIPAC, which until now has stayed out of Israeli politics.

Q: Doesn’t Otzma draw inspiration from the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, who was banned from running for the Knesset for racism? Aren’t its views racist? Perhaps Americans don’t understand the situation here, but even Israeli David Horovitz, the centrist editor of the Times of Israel, calls it “a group of racists” and sharply criticizes Netanyahu for his “despicable” maneuver.
A: This is going to be a long answer.

“Racist” is a word beloved by many, especially in the US, where its use has become symptomatic of a national obsession. There is no word more triggering for Americans than “racist,” no accusation so damning. What it actually means in an Israeli-Arab context is not obvious. Both Jews and Arabs come in every color, from the blackest of Ethiopian Jews to the blonde hair and blue eyes of Ahed Tamimi, the celebrity slapper of IDF soldiers. There are plenty of reasons – some better than others – that Jews and Arabs dislike, distrust, and even hate each other, and “race” doesn’t come into it (although perhaps religious-based Islamic Jew-hatred comes closest to what would be called “racism”).

But the accusation of racism functions in the same way here as in the US. It’s an on-off switch, or, better, a guillotine. When a person or political party is successfully labeled “racist,” then nothing they say and no position that they advocate is acceptable. They join the class of Nazis, pogromists, assassins, and mass murderers. People are considered justified in punching them. It goes without saying that such a person or group is not given the right to be heard or – even more so – to hold political office.

This is dangerous. Political parties need to be judged by their platforms and programs, not read out of the human race. There are laws against incitement or actual violence – there don’t also need to be laws against thought-crime, or limits on democratic elections. I think it was wrong to bar Kahane from the Knesset, especially if the same sanction wasn’t applied to the inciting Haneen Zoabi, who, among other things, sailed on the 2010 flotilla to Gaza and claimed that the “activists” had no plans for violence (until video surfaced of her standing next to Turks with pipes and iron bars).

All of the Otzma Yehudit platform (Hebrew) doesn’t appeal to me. I don’t think its concept of law leaves room for secular Jews, non-Orthodox Jews, or non-Jews in Israel. I don’t want to live in a halachic state. On the other hand, it calls for Jewish settlement of all of Eretz Israel, a death penalty for terrorist murderers, reestablishment of Jewish sovereignty on the Temple Mount, encouraging Arabs to emigrate, and other things that I strongly support. Would I vote for them? No, but I don’t believe that they should be barred from the Knesset.

Q: How did Bibi respond?
A: He didn’t mention AIPAC, but pointed out the hypocrisy of left-wing critics whose own parties or candidates cooperated with anti-Zionist Arab parties or politicians.

Q: As an American-Israeli, how do you feel about AIPAC’s statement?
A: I was surprised, since they normally maintain a distance from the rough-and-tumble of Israeli politics. They were fooled. If they understood Israeli politics, they might have put this into perspective as a technical maneuver to improve Bibi’s chance of forming a coalition and becoming PM, and to prevent Gantz and the Left from doing the same. But Bibi’s opponents were screaming bloody racist murder, because in politics you exploit every opportunity to the fullest; AIPAC and the others were triggered, and jumped when they shouldn’t have.

Q: But what about all the other diaspora Jewish groups?
A: I was disappointed, because it seems to be yet another sign of the movement of the American Jewish community away from Israel, as the older generation leaves Jewish institutions and is replaced by a younger one which does not grasp the continued precarious condition of the Jewish state, and which has been fed a diet of anti-Israel propaganda beginning in elementary school.

Q: What will be with American Jews, anyway?
A: We’re losing them, and we’ll lose more as the old ones die off. Our enemies are doing great propaganda, and it dovetails perfectly with the “progressive” politics that are so popular among young people. I don’t have an answer. Maybe you do.

Posted in American Jews, Israeli Politics | 4 Comments

The absurdity of land swaps

Recent hints about what might be in Donald Trump’s deal of deals indicate that it includes Israel annexing parts of Judea and Samaria containing major settlement blocks, in return for “land swaps” in which a Palestinian entity would receive land that is presently within the Green Line.

I am not sure where the idea first surfaced, but it was included in the Clinton Parameters, the offer made at the 2000 Camp David summit, which was rejected by the PLO.

Let’s consider the history.

Prior to 1948, all of the land from the river to the sea was a single entity, the British Mandate for Palestine, established in 1922 and intended to constitute or contain a “national home for the Jewish people.” In 1947, Britain had had enough rioting and terrorism from both Jews and Arabs in the territory of the Mandate, and wanted to be done with its obligation. Over the years, they had lost interest in the Jewish national home, and felt that their interests would best be served by Arab control of the area. But others supported the establishment of a Jewish state, for various reasons.

There was the worldwide Zionist movement, and of course the Yishuv, the Jewish settlement in Eretz Yisrael itself, which had already put into place the structure of a shadow state. There were Christian Zionists, who believed that the establishment of such a state would be a fulfilment of Biblical prophecy. There were elements in the US who thought that the Jews deserved recompense after the Holocaust. There were those who saw a Jewish state as a convenient destination for millions of Jewish refugees that nobody wanted. And there was Stalin, who saw in the socialist leanings of the leadership of the Yishuv a possible ally in a very strategic neighborhood.

So the UN proposed a compromise and recommended a partition of the area of the Mandate into a Jewish and an Arab state. The Jewish Agency, happy to get any kind of state no matter how attenuated, accepted it, although both Begin and Ben-Gurion were apprehensive, correctly expecting war. The Arabs – both those who lived in the Mandate and the Arab nations – rejected it. Why should the Jews get anything at all? The nonbinding recommendation (UNGA 181) of the General Assembly was never implemented. It’s important to understand that it was only a recommendation, with no legal force. Both Jews who say “the UN gave us a state” and Mahmoud Abbas, who in 2016 called for the implementation of the partition on its original lines, are wrong.

In May 1948, the State of Israel was proclaimed without specifying borders (although an agent of the “provisional government” wrote to US President Truman that the state was declared “within the frontiers approved by the General Assembly… in [Resolution 181],” it’s not clear if this had any legal significance). It has been persuasively argued by Eugene Kontorovich that Israel inherited the borders of the Mandate, since there was no other entity that could have a claim on it.

Immediately after the declaration, several Arab states invaded the new state of Israel, making statements that they intended to destroy the state and massacre its Jewish inhabitants. The war ended with a cease-fire, not a peace agreement. In 1949, agreements were signed between Israel and Jordan and Israel and Egypt, which specified lines of disengagement where the armies were at the time of cessation of hostilities. The line between Jordanian and Israeli forces in the east was called the “Green Line” because Moshe Dayan drew a line on a map with a green pencil during negotiations with the Jordanians.

Neither side, particularly the Arabs, wanted to make borders out of the armistice lines, and there is language in the armistice agreements that specifically states that the lines have no political significance. The agreement with Jordan states,

Article II

  1. The principle that no military or political advantage should be gained under the truce ordered by the Security Council is recognised;
  2. It is also recognised that no provision of this Agreement shall in any way prejudice the rights, claims and positions of either Party hereto in the ultimate peaceful settlement of the Palestine question, the provisions of this Agreement being dictated exclusively by military considerations. …

Article IV

  1. The lines described in articles V and VI of this Agreement shall be designated as the Armistice Demarcation Lines and are delineated in pursuance of the purpose and intent of the resolution of the Security Council of 16 November 1948 [UNSC 62].
  2. The basic purpose of the Armistice Demarcation Lines is to delineate the lines beyond which the armed forces of the respective Parties shall not move. …

Article VI

  1. The Armistice Demarcation Lines defined in articles V and VI of this Agreement are agreed upon by the Parties without prejudice to future territorial settlements or boundary lines or to claims of either Party relating thereto.

During the fighting and after its end, Jordan occupied the territory of Judea and Samaria to the east of the Green Line, committing numerous war crimes – massacres of prisoners and civilians; ethnic cleansing; unnecessary destruction of civilian property, especially including religious sites; sniping civilians, and more. A year later, in 1950, Jordan officially annexed the territory, calling it (for the first time) “The West Bank.”

The annexation violated the UN charter, and was considered illegal by most of the world. It was only recognized by the UK – which had helped the Jordanians in the 1948 war and which still hoped to replace the Jewish state with an Arab one – Iraq, which was an ally of Jordan in that war, and possibly Pakistan.

Jordan, which had opposed the partition resolution in 1947, did not try to create an Arab state in Judea and Samaria in 1949. Its objective was to add to its territory.

Nineteen years later, in 1967, King Hussein of Jordan ignored Israeli warnings, listened to the fake news coming out of Egypt and joined the war – yet another Arab war to destroy Israel. As a result, Israel gained control of Judea, Samaria, and eastern Jerusalem, ending the Jordanian occupation, and arguably finally obtaining the borders it should have had with the declaration of independence in 1948. Later, treaties with Egypt and Jordan established recognized borders between Israel and those countries.

But the Green Line and the name “West Bank,” artifacts of the nineteen-year illegal Jordanian occupation never went away. Despite the clear declaration by all parties that the Green Line was not a border, the PLO – by wishing it so – has decided that it is one, between Israel and the non-country of “Palestine.” The Israeli presence between the Green Line and the Jordan river is considered by the European Union and others, following the lead of the PLO, to be a “military occupation,” and Israeli Jews living there are called – based on an egregiously wrong interpretation of the Fourth Geneva Convention – “illegal settlers.”

How this happened is a long story, but a simplified explanation is that a lie can become accepted as true when it is repeated enough times by enough people. And that’s what happened here, starting with the KGB’s creation of the Palestinian people in the 1960s, through the extended blackmail of Europe by Palestinian terrorism, bolstered by Western leftist guilt, and sealed by resurgent European and Islamic Jew-hatred.

The idea of swaps ought to be unacceptable to Israel, because it presupposes Arab ownership of all of Judea and Samaria. Why should Israel be required to compensate the Palestinians for taking its own land?

The next time someone tells you that the “West Bank” is “Arab land,” ask them how nineteen years of illegal Jordanian occupation made it so.

Posted in 'Peace' Process, Israel and Palestinian Arabs, Israeli or Jewish History | 1 Comment

A “New Middle East” — maybe in 500 years?

News item:

Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah [Al-Sisi] said last night at the Munich Security Conference that “the failure to achieve a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the main source of instability in the Middle East,” according to a report published Sunday by the Hebrew paper Haaretz.

Al-Sisi said in his speech that his country supports international efforts to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on the two-state solution within the 1967 borders and a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem.

At least, this is an improvement over Nasser, who once said “We must fight our way to victory on a sea of blood and a horizon of fire.”

Does this mean that 71 years after the UN partition resolution, the Arabs are ready to accept the reality of a Jewish state? Not at all. More accurately, some Arab leaders, recognizing that Israel is less of a threat (read: zero) to them than Iran, have dialed back their rhetoric. A bit.

Al-Sisi’s words studiously do not call for “two states for two peoples” but just two states. As is well known, the Palestinian Authority’s position is that there will be one Palestinian Arab state in the east, and one “secular, democratic state” in the west, to which Arab “refugees” will have a right of “return.” If this “solution” permits the existence of a Jewish state, it would be for a very short time. The ambiguity in the phrase “two-state solution” – with one meaning including the existence of a Jewish state and the other not – is one of the reasons so many initiatives have failed.

The statement that the manufactured conflict – manufactured by the Arabs and their anti-Jewish European supporters – between Israel and the manufactured “Palestinian nation” (manufactured by the Soviet KGB), is the “main source of instability” in the region is also ludicrous. Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians is an effect of a much broader struggle, not a cause.

Some of the greatest public squanderings of money, effort, and good will in the past 50 years or so have been the efforts – some honest and some cynical – by the West, particularly the USA, to “solve” this conflict, operating on the mistaken principle that it is an underlying cause of the wider troubles, and not an artificial charade created to provide an excuse and a means to try to destroy the Jewish state.

If you think I’m wrong, ask yourself why the Arab nations, instead of trying to ameliorate the problem of the Arab refugees of 1948, forced them to stay in camps, discriminated against them, and fought against any option to normalize them other than “return?” Why did the UN come up with a unique definition of “refugee” that would only be applied to Palestinian Arabs and that would ensure that their number would rapidly multiply over time instead of decreasing?

Why did the PLO refuse to accept any of the various offers of a sovereign state, and why has it always refused to admit that there even is a Jewish people? Why do its claims and demands only escalate? Could it be that the goal is not a “just solution” as al-Sisi says, but the perpetuation of the conflict?

Al-Sisi’s language is the best we can expect from the Arabs, just as the Arctic peace that we have received from Egypt and Jordan has stayed frozen for decades. These are Muslim states, and Islam is an ideology as much as it is a religion. The ideology is scandalized by the idea of a sovereign Jewish state in the Middle East, in dar al Islam. We might as soon invite them to a pig roast and beer party. Every once in a while we catch a glimpse of how strong their feelings are, as when a Jordanian snaps and murders any Israeli Jews that happen to be in range (see here, and here), or when Egyptian rioters attack the Israeli Embassy in Cairo.

The Palestinians, both the PLO and Hamas varieties, are a special case. The Palestinian nation itself was created in opposition to Israel, and their ideology – even among those that are secular – is essentially anti-Israel. To the extent that they see themselves as Palestinians, they will oppose the Jewish state. This is why plans to reduce conflict by improving the economic conditions of the Palestinian Arabs have been and will be unsuccessful.

PM Netanyahu often talks about his success in improving relations with Arab nations like Saudi Arabia, UAR, and Oman. Cooperation on the subject of Iran there definitely is, and I don’t want to minimize its practical importance. But anyone who thinks there is any fundamental ideological change, or that the atmosphere of cooperation will continue any longer than necessary, is deluded. If the Iranian threat were to disappear tomorrow, relations with our new “friends” would snap right back to where they were.

Ideology has become less and less important in the West over the past 500 years or so, with nations being motivated more and more by economic and geopolitical interests and less by religion or other ideological motivations. Even the Marxist Soviet Union behaved rationally. But in the Islamic world, the importance of ideology has never waned. This helps explain the irrational struggle against Israel. It is often noted that both sides could gain from real cooperation, and westerners are sometimes puzzled that it doesn’t happen. The answer, of course, is Islam. Some things are more powerful than economics.

Al-Sisi, probably the “friendliest” of the Arab leaders, has gone as far as he can. He is happy to accept Israel’s help and to cooperate on matters of security, but we can’t expect that he, or any Muslim leader for that matter, will be a Zionist, or even be tolerant of the Jewish state. All we can do is try to make quiet cooperation profitable for them.

Will it someday become possible for real friendship between Jews and Arabs in the Middle East, even a “New Middle East” as Shimon Peres imagined? That will depend on whether Islam can become more tolerant. Perhaps in another 500 years.

Posted in Islam, Middle East politics | 2 Comments