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Hillary’s Bombshell: Obama Administration Subtly Launches Dramatic Policy Change on Peace Process

Posted by Zamir Ben Etzioni on November 28, 2009

By Barry Rubin

In a one-paragraph statement welcoming Israel’s ten-month-long freeze on building apartments in existing West Bank settlements, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a major statement. The dramatic new U.S. stance on Israel-Palestinian Authority peace agreement is camouflaged by  brevity and subtle wording. But make no mistake: this is one of the most important foreign policy steps the Obama Administration has taken.

Here is the statement in full:

“Today’s announcement by the Government of Israel helps move forward toward resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We believe that through good-faith negotiations the parties can mutually agree on an outcome which ends the conflict and reconciles the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state based on the 1967 lines, with agreed swaps, and the Israeli goal of a Jewish state with secure and recognized borders that reflect subsequent developments and meet Israeli security requirements.”

Clearly, this approach builds on the 2000 Camp David meeting and the December 2000 plan of President Bill Clinton. Ironically, the latter is called the Clinton plan, so the name need not change since now it is renewed and extended by another Clinton.

These 77 words are worth analyzing in great detail. First, there is what the United States is offering the Palestinian side:

“The Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state based on the 1967 lines, with agreed swaps…”

One should first ask, which Palestinians? Hamas and Islamic Jihad don’t favor this approach and Hamas still runs the Gaza Strip. To pretend that Israel can or should make a peace treaty with the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority (PA) which has no authority over the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip is ludicrous. Whatever deal Israel makes with the PA, it could—indeed, probably would–be attacked by Palestinians from Gaza the next day. The conflict cannot be ended by anything the PA does by itself. Without a real commitment to overthrow Hamas the United States can never make peace.

The second issue is that what Clinton lists is not the entire Palestinian goal since the PA also demands a right for all Palestinians to go and live in Israel, thus subverting that country and destroying the state. This is no mere throw-away line but a very strongly held demand. Anyone who thinks that the PA is just going to drop it—no matter how much land or money it is given—knows nothing about Palestinian politics.

The word “based” in the phrase, “based on the 1967 lines” is carefully chosen to imply flexibility as to where the exact border would be drawn. In fact, the PA has always said that it must get the 1967 boundaries completely, never mentioning the word “swaps.” Therefore, when Clinton says that this is a Palestinian “goal” she is wrong.

It tells a great deal that the idea of “swapping land” so that the PA gets the equivalent of the same number of square miles as Jordan ruled before 1967 is an Israeli idea, another example of Israel’s willingness to compromise. Remember that the original Israeli position was that it annex about four percent of the West Bank.

Hence, by whittling down the demands she is making the typical negotiators’ error of putting forward a false stance and then finding out the negotiation fail.But at the same time, however, Clinton is trying to define how the United States sees a reasonable Palestinian demand that it will accept. In other words, she is implying: this is all you’re going to get.

There is also Clinton’s formulation of what Israel gets:

“The Israeli goal of a Jewish state with secure and recognized borders that reflect subsequent developments and meet Israeli security requirements.”

This incorporates several Israeli demands:

–“An outcome which ends the conflict”: Israel insists that any peace treaty will explicitly end the conflict. Makes sense, right? But the PA refuses to agree to this principle. The reason is, of course, that it does not view getting an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and east Jerusalem as an end to the conflict but only as stage one of a longer-term effort to wipe Israel off the map.

— “Jewish state”: Israel wants Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. Why: To show a real acceptance on the Palestinian side. In addition, though, it has a very practical side, avoiding a Palestinian claim to recognize “Israel” and then doing everything possible—like flooding it with Palestinian Arabs—to transform it into an Arab and/or Islamic state. (“Binationalism” is just a cover word to hide a step in that direction.)

–“With secure and recognized borders”: Israel wants borders recognized as a sign that full peace exists. The word “secure” here implies security arrangements to prevent future attacks.

–“That reflect subsequent developments”: This is a fascinating and new phrase. What can it mean other than this: Since so many Jews have moved into settlements, this new factor must be taken into account in shifting the borders. This is the Obama Administration’s version of its predecessor’s idea that Israel could keep “settlement blocs,” large towns built up along its border like the Etzion bloc and Maale Adumim. It could also be applied to Jerusalem, though that sensitive word is not mentioned in the statement.

–“And meets Israeli security requirements”: Another and stronger reference to security guarantees.

How will this statement be received in Israel? This raises a fascinating question: Was it coordinated with the Netanyahu government as part of the freeze deal? If so, the Netanyahu government has certainly proved itself to be flexible and peace-oriented. Certainly, there isn’t everything Israel wants in this statement yet it does encompass some important points taken out of the cabinet’s position on peace arrangements.

The more I think about this point, the more it makes sense to me that the position is a gesture toward Israel. This is a statement that favors Israel’s position while still offering the Palestinians, in the mind of the administration, enough to make them happy (wrong) and enough to show the world that the United States is even-handed (right for Europe; wrong for the Arab world).  It isn’t a blatantly pro-Israel stance but does incorporate key elements of what Israel wants to an extent greater than where the United States has gone before.

It also offers the Palestinians, or at least the PA, what it says it wants. Well, not exactly but in a way that Americans think is reasonably close. Unfortunately, that’s not the way the PA thinks. For more than thirty years the United States has been trying to formulate plans on the basis of what it thinks will satisfy Palestinian goals—the first Camp David meeting, the Reagan plan, the second Camp David meeting, and a thousand plans, conferences, statements, and initiatives in between.

Each time they fail because they aren’t addressing what the Palestinian leadership really wants. And today that is further complicated by there being two Palestinian leaderships.

The United States has endorsed the Israeli position that the PA must recognize Israel as a Jewish state, this is a big step forward and a victory for Israel.

ps: (in response to a reader’s question asking if this means the United States demands that Israel return to the 1967 borders):

It does NOT say the 1967 borders. Israel’s  formula for the last 15 year has been: “with minor modifications” to the borders.  I definitely don’t think this will lead to any breakthrough–the Palestinians will reject it and there is no treaty in sight for decades. In that sense, what it offers the Palestinians is not important because they will say no to everything short of all they want without their making any concesions.

Compare this statement to the Israeli government’s own program as well as to Israel’s position in the 2000 Camp David meeting and the subsequent [Bill] Clinton plan in December 2000. It is quite comparable. It includes recognition of the Jewish state, security arrangements satisfactory to Israel, changing the border, and end of conflict are four of the main six points. The fifth, resettling Palestinian refugees in a Palestinian state–no return, is unquestionably going to be endorsed by the United States. The sixth, a demilitarized Palestinian state, is also not mentioned either way.

Of course, Jerusalem is an important issue not explicitly mentioned here. But Clinton statement of  [“that reflect subsequent developments”] also must apply to Jerusalem, thus legitimizing post-1967 Israeli neighborhoods there. This is very significant.

As I said, this is not a statement endorsing everything Israel would like to have. But it is the best conceivable position that the United States, and especially the Obama Administration, could conceivably take.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

 

 

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Tactics the Republic party is using in the Health Care Debate.

Posted by Zamir Ben Etzioni on November 23, 2009

The human race has evolved in the last few hundred years.

Let me give you an example.

In the civilized world, women are no longer property. Women have been leaders or in positions of power, in their own right, in most of the advanced and some of the developing nations, as well.

We no longer beat women, at least not with impunity.

There are American men who long for the days when they could slap their women around.

I have spoken to them.

There really are quite a few of them.

I was talking casually with a co-worker I was particularly fond of, who seemed like a reasonably intelligent man, a little of above averagely intelligent, and we were discussing the situation regarding what I see as the barbaric treatment of women in Afghanistan, and most of the Muslim world.

He said that he thought that Muslim treatment of women might not be that bad an idea, here.

He thought women in America dressed like whores.

He thought they acted like whores and had too much freedom, and other comments which were probably pretty close to what the former slave owners in the south said about their former slaves.

In short, there is much sentiment amongst many American males that a woman should be submissive and subservient.

That is at the heart of the abortion debate.

Control of women.

The same people that volunteer to throw the switch on an adult man or women and terminate their lives

wants you to believe they have a multitude of compassion for someone who hasn’t been born.

They wouldn’t hesitate for a second to send every baby they “rescue” off to die horribly in a foreign war, once they turn eighteen, but before they are born they care about them.

Only before they are born.

Once they are eighteen, or as young as the thirteen year old tried as an adult in North Caroline, their concern miraculously vanishes.

Now the health care debate is at least partly, supposedly, based on a woman’s right to choose versus those who don’t believe a woman should be in charge of her body,

The push is constant.

Let’s not forget the Muslim views on women.

Most will say, “Oh, we treasure women, we put them on a pedestal and protect them.”

They protect them, alright, the way we in the U.S. Protect poor drug users, by punishing them.

The Muslim world, particularly the Arab Muslim world, codifies brutal mistreatment of women.

Based on this alone, they, and the Iranians, are far and away the worst violators of human rights.

American women, and Americans who support freedom and equality need to be prepared to react forcefully to attempts at reducing the status of woman through the type of tactics the Republic party is now using in the Health Care Debate.

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Is Civility a Sign Of Weakness?

Posted by Zamir Ben Etzioni on November 16, 2009

When the President bowed to Japanese Emperor Akihito it ignited a firestorm of righteous indignation among the macho members of the hard right. It was not even a story, other than the right’s reaction to it. President Obama, unlike the previous President, not only actually was elected to the nation’s highest office, his life, unlike Bush’s life, is one of accomplishments against odds stacked against him. George Bush was born wealthy, he never had to struggle, therefore, he never really had the confidence to be himself, to do what he thought was right. Obama, on the other hand, had to fight his way upstream, so to speak, from poverty to the opulence he enjoys today. No matter what you think of Obama, this is a man. He doesn’t have to act tough. He is tough, he’s proven that. Bush talked tough, Bush swaggered, the sure signs of a man filled with self doubt. I admire Obama’s self assurance as I despised Bush’s swagger. The look on the face of the Emperor and his wife spoke volumes, the most powerful man in the world was a humble man. We should be humble too. Humility is a good thing.

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Israeli Boxer takes World Boxing title

Posted by Zamir Ben Etzioni on November 15, 2009

Now this is different, another Foreman holds the world Championship Boxing title, only this time he’s a Jew!
A Jewish boxer and Israeli citizen who is studying to become a rabbi captured the world super welterweight championship.
Yuri Foreman of Brooklyn defeated champion Daniel Santos of Puerto Rico by decision in Las Vegas Saturday night to win the World Boxing Association 154-pound title.
Israeli politicians flew from  Israel to see the fight, according to news sources.
Foreman was born in the city of Gomel in  Belarus,  and moved to Israel at 9. Foreman relocated to Brooklyn in 2001 to pursue his boxing career.
Foreman is following in the footsteps of other great Jewish fighters including Maxie Rosenbloom, Harry Haft (who battled Rocky Marciano,) and the world renowned Barney Ross, one of the greatest pound for pound champions of all time.
These are the top five Jewish fighters of all time, according to Jake Emen:
Benny Leonard – 183 (70) – 19 – 11 – Benny Leonard must top the list for the best Jewish boxers of all time. Starting his career in 1911 at the age of 15, Leonard kept fighting until 1932. He won the lightweight championship and successfully defended it at least six times, while twice challenging for the welterweight championship. He lost only two times in the final 13 years of his career.
2. Barney Ross – 74 (22) – 4 – 3 – Picking up where his idol Benny Leonard left off, Ross won the lightweight world title in 1933. He bested his contemporaries, going 2-0 against Tony Canzoneri and 2-1 against Jimmy McLarnin, the man who ended Leonard’s career. He simultaneously held the lightweight, junior welterweight and welterweight titles and went an astonishing 14-2-1 in title fights.
3. Abe Attell – 125 (52) – 18 – 23 – Abe “The Little Hebrew” Attell was a dominating featherweight champion and held a career record 18-3-3 in title fights. With one of those losses coming before and after his prime, respectively, he held a remarkable 18-1-3 title fight record in his best years. He first won the featherweight championship in 1903 and challenged for it for the last time in 1912.
4. Ted “Kid” Lewis – 232 (80) – 44 – 24 – In the prime of his career in the mid 1910s, Lewis won the welterweight title and defended it successfully six times before losing the belt and exchanging it back and forth with several other fighters for the next four years. In something that the
boxing world could never imagine today, Lewis fought the same man, Jack Britton, over 20 times in his professional career, winning and losing the championship on many such occasions.
5. Maxie Rosenbloom – 222 (19) – 42 – 31 – Maxie Rosenbloom was the longtime light heavyweight champion of the world, reigning from 1930 to 1934. This is despite his infamous weak punch, knocking out less than 10 percent of the men he beat.
Honorable Mention- Daniel Mendoza – The boxing champion of England for several years in the 1790s is also the man credited with introducing tactics and defense into the squared circle, changing cruder slug fests into the beginnings of The Sweet Science that we know today.

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Obama deserves high grades for his work so far in Iran, Iraq and Pakistan

Posted by Zamir Ben Etzioni on November 8, 2009

Why can’t the administration of President Barack Obama get the word out about its policy successes? President Obama campaigned on an ambitious platform of withdrawing from Iraq, engaging Iran on its nuclear program and persuading the Pakistani government to take on the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Despite the charge by critics from both the right and the left in the wake of his winning the Nobel Peace Prize that he has accomplished little so far, in fact he has already set in motion significant change on several of these fronts — despite the enormous domestic tasks that have inevitably preoccupied his administration. Yet you’d never hear about these successes from the mainstream media.
When Obama came into office in January, 142,000 U.S. troops were in Iraq, conducting regular patrols of the major cities. His Republican rivals were dead set against U.S. withdrawal on a strict timetable. He faced something close to an insurrection from some of his commanders in the field, such as Gen. Ray Odierno, who opposed a quick departure from Iraq. Moreover, Obama assumed the presidency at a time when Iran and the U.S. were virtually on a war footing and there had been no direct talks between the two countries on most of the major issues dividing them. In February, the government of Pakistan virtually ceded the Swat Valley and the Malakand Division to the Pakistani Taliban of Maulvi Fazlullah, allowing the imposition of the latter’s fundamentalist version of Islamic law on residents, and Islamabad had no stomach for taking on the increasingly bold extremists.
Eight months later, it is a different world. While it is still early in his presidency, and there is too much work unfinished to give him an overall grade, it’s already apparent he’s outperforming his predecessor.
Iraq: B Obama has decisively won the argument over Iraq policy. Despite the massive bombings in Baghdad on Sunday — the most deadly since 2007 — the U.S. troop withdrawal is ahead of schedule and seems unlikely to be halted. One reason is that the security situation in Iraq, while shaky, did not deteriorate when U.S. troops ceased their urban patrols on June 30 (a date Iraqis celebrated as “Sovereignty Day”). Occasional big explosions obscure the reality of reduced guerrilla attacks. According to the Pentagon, civilian casualties have been steadily declining since late summer. Even John McCain said that Sunday’s carnage should not delay the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq — a 180-degree turn in policy for the former presidential candidate.
The process of U.S. disentanglement from Iraq has been gradual, generating no big headlines, no “Obama brings 22,000 troops out of Iraq, cuts war spending by $30 billion.” But, in fact, troop levels are down to about 120,000 from 142,000 early this year, and spending on the war has fallen, from $180 billion in 2008 to $150 billion this year. Many things could still go wrong in Iraq, affecting the ability of the U.S. to meet the current timetable, but so far the Iraqi security forces are generally keeping order (there were horrific bombings when the U.S. was in control, too). He can be faulted for not working closely enough with the Nouri al-Maliki government to ease the transition, hence a grade of B instead of an A.
Iran: A There has also been movement on Iran. On Oct. 1 the administration fulfilled its campaign pledge by joining other members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany in Geneva to jawbone with Iran on the nuclear issue. As a result, Iran accepted that a United Nations inspection team would visit the newly announced enrichment facility near Qom, and on Monday inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency arrived at the Fardo plant. The acceptance of inspectors is an excellent sign. As long as Tehran remains willing to allow U.N. inspections, both at Natanz near Isfahan and at Fardo (which is not operational but could eventually house 3,000 centrifuges), neither facility can be used to produce fissionable material. Obama has changed the West’s dynamics with Iran by direct negotiation, something that 63 percent of the American people support.
Pakistan: B Then there is Pakistan. The Obama administration came into office determined to whittle away the “state’s rights” prerogatives of the Pashtuns, who form about 12 percent of the Pakistani population, of which the tiny minority of Taliban had taken advantage. From its inception, the Pakistani federal government had inherited from the British Empire a policy of not attempting to rule the tribal Pashtuns too heavy-handedly. In addition, the Pakistani military uses some Taliban and other guerrilla groups to project influence in the Pashtun areas of neighboring Afghanistan, making the generals reluctant to move against them. In spring-summer, the Obama administration convinced the Pakistani government to launch a major military operation against the Taliban in the Swat Valley. Despite temporarily displacing 2 million residents, the operation enjoyed substantial success and gained wide popular support from a Pakistani population — including most Pashtuns — increasingly appalled at the brutality of Taliban rule. In October, the military launched a similar operation against the Taliban in South Waziristan, despite a raft of bombings aimed by the militants at deterring the federal government from coming after them.
Obama has, moreover, signed a $7.5 billion civilian aid package that encourages economic, educational and medical development and puts pressure on the civilian government to keep the military under its control. The Bush administration gave most of its aid in the form of military weaponry or support, something of which polling shows the Pakistani public disapproves. Obama intends to build clinics and schools and to develop an infrastructure that might help fight militancy more effectively than any drone strikes can.
Obama’s Pakistan approach, of building state capacity and improving the economy and basic services, while dealing with the Pakistani Taliban through large-scale military operations, may or may not succeed. But compared to his predecessor’s policy of just handing over billions to corrupt military officers, some of whom have links to factions of militants, Obama’s policies have been far more coherent. His use of unmanned predator drones to kill suspected al-Qaida operatives and the aid bill’s demand for the supremacy of civilian rule over the military are both unpopular in some quarters, because of fears that the U.S. is turning the country into a sort of colony and infringing against its sovereignty. Obama may need to be less heavy-handed in the future to avoid a popular backlash. If not for this insensitivity to Pakistani popular opinion, he might deserve an A. The Swat and South Waziristan campaigns, at least, appear to have the support of the Pakistani public.
The administration has not succeeded everywhere. The president has yet to make a determination on his Afghanistan policy, and so far little progress has been made on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A verdict is still outstanding about his performance in those two regions, leading to two grades of “incomplete.” But Obama’s withdrawal from Iraq is actually ahead of schedule, his direct engagement with Iran is producing some tentative results, and he has strong-armed the Pakistani state into owning the problem of the Pakistani Taliban, while instituting a major civilian aid program. Far from accomplishing nothing in his first eight months, Obama has been a whirlwind of activity and has already gained a place in the Iraqi, Iranian and Pakistani history books. He receives his lowest grade for his failure to force America’s chattering classes to take notice. While it is a bit of a relief not to be subjected to the constant propaganda of the Bush administration about its creation of shining cities on a hill abroad, the Obama administration has gone too far in the opposite direction, hiding its light beneath a bushel.

deserves high grades for his work so far in Iran, Iraq and Pakistan

President Barack ObamaWhy can’t the administration of President Barack Obama get the word out about its policy successes? President Obama campaigned on an ambitious platform of withdrawing from Iraq, engaging Iran on its nuclear program and persuading the Pakistani government to take on the Taliban and al-Qaida. Despite the charge by critics from both the right and the left in the wake of his winning the Nobel Peace Prize that he has accomplished little so far, in fact he has already set in motion significant change on several of these fronts — despite the enormous domestic tasks that have inevitably preoccupied his administration. Yet you’d never hear about these successes from the mainstream media.
When Obama came into office in January, 142,000 U.S. troops were in Iraq, conducting regular patrols of the major cities. His Republican rivals were dead set against U.S. withdrawal on a strict timetable. He faced something close to an insurrection from some of his commanders in the field, such as Gen. Ray Odierno, who opposed a quick departure from Iraq. Moreover, Obama assumed the presidency at a time when Iran and the U.S. were virtually on a war footing and there had been no direct talks between the two countries on most of the major issues dividing them. In February, the government of Pakistan virtually ceded the Swat Valley and the Malakand Division to the Pakistani Taliban of Maulvi Fazlullah, allowing the imposition of the latter’s fundamentalist version of Islamic law on residents, and Islamabad had no stomach for taking on the increasingly bold extremists.
Eight months later, it is a different world. While it is still early in his presidency, and there is too much work unfinished to give him an overall grade, it’s already apparent he’s outperforming his predecessor.
Iraq: B Obama has decisively won the argument over Iraq policy. Despite the massive bombings in Baghdad on Sunday — the most deadly since 2007 — the U.S. troop withdrawal is ahead of schedule and seems unlikely to be halted. One reason is that the security situation in Iraq, while shaky, did not deteriorate when U.S. troops ceased their urban patrols on June 30 (a date Iraqis celebrated as “Sovereignty Day”). Occasional big explosions obscure the reality of reduced guerrilla attacks. According to the Pentagon, civilian casualties have been steadily declining since late summer. Even John McCain said that Sunday’s carnage should not delay the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq — a 180-degree turn in policy for the former presidential candidate.
The process of U.S. disentanglement from Iraq has been gradual, generating no big headlines, no “Obama brings 22,000 troops out of Iraq, cuts war spending by $30 billion.” But, in fact, troop levels are down to about 120,000 from 142,000 early this year, and spending on the war has fallen, from $180 billion in 2008 to $150 billion this year. Many things could still go wrong in Iraq, affecting the ability of the U.S. to meet the current timetable, but so far the Iraqi security forces are generally keeping order (there were horrific bombings when the U.S. was in control, too). He can be faulted for not working closely enough with the Nouri al-Maliki government to ease the transition, hence a grade of B instead of an A.
Iran: A There has also been movement on Iran. On Oct. 1 the administration fulfilled its campaign pledge by joining other members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany in Geneva to jawbone with Iran on the nuclear issue. As a result, Iran accepted that a United Nations inspection team would visit the newly announced enrichment facility near Qom, and on Monday inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency arrived at the Fardo plant. The acceptance of inspectors is an excellent sign. As long as Tehran remains willing to allow U.N. inspections, both at Natanz near Isfahan and at Fardo (which is not operational but could eventually house 3,000 centrifuges), neither facility can be used to produce fissionable material. Obama has changed the West’s dynamics with Iran by direct negotiation, something that 63 percent of the American people support.
Pakistan: B Then there is Pakistan. The Obama administration came into office determined to whittle away the “state’s rights” prerogatives of the Pashtuns, who form about 12 percent of the Pakistani population, of which the tiny minority of Taliban had taken advantage. From its inception, the Pakistani federal government had inherited from the British Empire a policy of not attempting to rule the tribal Pashtuns too heavy-handedly. In addition, the Pakistani military uses some Taliban and other guerrilla groups to project influence in the Pashtun areas of neighboring Afghanistan, making the generals reluctant to move against them. In spring-summer, the Obama administration convinced the Pakistani government to launch a major military operation against the Taliban in the Swat Valley. Despite temporarily displacing 2 million residents, the operation enjoyed substantial success and gained wide popular support from a Pakistani population — including most Pashtuns — increasingly appalled at the brutality of Taliban rule. In October, the military launched a similar operation against the Taliban in South Waziristan, despite a raft of bombings aimed by the militants at deterring the federal government from coming after them.
Obama has, moreover, signed a $7.5 billion civilian aid package that encourages economic, educational and medical development and puts pressure on the civilian government to keep the military under its control. The Bush administration gave most of its aid in the form of military weaponry or support, something of which polling shows the Pakistani public disapproves. Obama intends to build clinics and schools and to develop an infrastructure that might help fight militancy more effectively than any drone strikes can.
Obama’s Pakistan approach, of building state capacity and improving the economy and basic services, while dealing with the Pakistani Taliban through large-scale military operations, may or may not succeed. But compared to his predecessor’s policy of just handing over billions to corrupt military officers, some of whom have links to factions of militants, Obama’s policies have been far more coherent. His use of unmanned predator drones to kill suspected al-Qaida operatives and the aid bill’s demand for the supremacy of civilian rule over the military are both unpopular in some quarters, because of fears that the U.S. is turning the country into a sort of colony and infringing against its sovereignty. Obama may need to be less heavy-handed in the future to avoid a popular backlash. If not for this insensitivity to Pakistani popular opinion, he might deserve an A. The Swat and South Waziristan campaigns, at least, appear to have the support of the Pakistani public.
The administration has not succeeded everywhere. The president has yet to make a determination on his Afghanistan policy, and so far little progress has been made on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A verdict is still outstanding about his performance in those two regions, leading to two grades of “incomplete.” But Obama’s withdrawal from Iraq is actually ahead of schedule, his direct engagement with Iran is producing some tentative results, and he has strong-armed the Pakistani state into owning the problem of the Pakistani Taliban, while instituting a major civilian aid program. Far from accomplishing nothing in his first eight months, Obama has been a whirlwind of activity and has already gained a place in the Iraqi, Iranian and Pakistani history books. He receives his lowest grade for his failure to force America’s chattering classes to take notice. While it is a bit of a relief not to be subjected to the constant propaganda of the Bush administration about its creation of shining cities on a hill abroad, the Obama administration has gone too far in the opposite direction, hiding its light beneath a bushel.

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Secular Judaism ?

Posted by Zamir Ben Etzioni on November 6, 2009

Secular Judaism has existed as an alternative form of Jewish life for over two hundred years.

A major impetus for this has been the Shoah, but the roots go far back in history. After the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E. the priesthood eclipsed and rabbinical Judaism became ascendant. Rabbinical Judaism, i.e., faith based on Torah study and interpretation as well as Halachic rulings are credited with keeping the Jewish people together during the Diaspora. In the 12th century Maimonides produced the Mishna Torah, a rational analysis of revelation. A towering intellect, Maimonides writings and philosophy had a major impact not only on Judaism but on Christian dogma and Renaissance thought in general.
In the 17th century Baruch Spinoza took up where Maimonides left off.
A major issue for Spinoza was what he considered to be a rational relationship with G-d. Spinoza argued that the Tanakh should be read as a method of understanding Jewish belief at successive stages of development.
He wrote, “Knowledge of G-d is not based on books but on the idea transmitted to the prophets of the Divine Mind,” i.e. “obedience to G-d and and the practice of justice and charity. His views were seen as opposition to Rabbinic authority and in religious court he was excommunicated. Yet so overwhelming was his intellectual power that his work is considered to be the foundation of the philosophies of Descartes, Newton, Locke, Voltaire and Kant, each of whom in their own way followed in Spinoza’s tracks. Zionism is considered by many to be the intellectual prodigy of Maimonides, Spinoza and Mendelssohn(the father of Jewish Enlightenment).
Although none of these thinkers were secular, they are widely credited with providing the intellectual foundation of secular thought.
From the 19th century onwards more and more Jews began to equate Judaism not with Religion but with a culture, a way of life.
Secular Jews believe in reason and reality, that is, the power of humans to solve their problems.
They believe that every human being deserves life, freedom and dignity.
They believe in the value of Jewish identity, separation of church and state as well as the survival of the state of Israel.
The question then is whether secular Judaism is a threat to the continued existence of the Jews, a positive development, or merely another expression of variation among the Jewish people.

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Showdown on J Street: As J Street’s major conference approaches, some pointed questions for director Jeremy Ben-Ami

Posted by Zamir Ben Etzioni on October 30, 2009

Thanks to Israel Resource Review and Pajamasmedia for this article exposing the ostensibly “pro-Israel” J Street.
Michael
By Lenny Ben-David
J Street’s director, Jeremy Ben-Ami, published an open letter to Israel’s Ambassador Michael Oren in The Jerusalem Post this week insisting that he appear at the J Street Conference at the end of the month. Hopefully, Ambassador Oren will continue to deny the supposed “pro-Israel” organization the legitimacy of his presence.
J Street’s goals and policies were revealed when Stephen Walt, co-author of the venomous The Israel Lobby, recently proclaimed, “This is a key moment in the debate. It will be important whether Obama gets enough cover from J Street and the Israel Policy Forum so Obama can say, ‘AIPAC is not representative of the American Jewish community.'”
It’s time to call out Jeremy Ben-Ami, J Street’s director, to answer the following questions:
1: You served as Fenton Communications’ Senior Vice President until you established J Street, launched in 2008. In early 2009, Fenton signed contracts with a Qatari foundation to lead an 18-month long anti-Israel campaign in the United States with a special focus on campuses. The actual text of the contract called for: “An international public opinion awareness campaign that advocates for the accountability of those who participated in attacks against schools in Gaza.”
Did you sever your ties with Fenton when you began J Street? Do you retain any role or holdings in Fenton today? Did you play any role in introducing Fenton to the Qatari agents or play any role in facilitating the contract? Were you aware of the negotiations or the contract signed on March 12, 2009?
These questions are relevant because it’s important to know if J Street’s refusal to support Israel’s anti-Hamas military campaign was influenced by your ties with Fenton, whose promotional material claims: “We only represent people and projects we believe in.”
Were there discussions with Fenton prior to J Street’s refusal to condemn the Goldstone Report on Gaza, a report that certainly serves the Fenton/Qatari interests? Were there communications with Fenton surrounding J Street’s support for Rep. Donna Edwards who refused to sign a congressional resolution supporting Israeli actions in Gaza?
2: You were recently asked in an interview about funds J Street received from Palestinians, Arab-Americans, and Iranian-Americans, to which you answered: “J Street does have some Arab and Muslim donors – about five. These are individuals, not organizations, corporations or foreign countries. Well over 90 percent of our money comes from Jewish Americans and Christians.”
Did you really say J Street has only five Arab and Muslim donors? A partial listing quickly extracted from the U.S. Federal Election Commission shows more than 30 contributors, many with ties to Arab-American organizations.
So far, only J Street’s Political Action Committee has disclosed its contributors, as mandated by federal law. But who are the donors to the main J Street organization? Make that list public, and these pesky inquiries will probably go away.
When asked about J Street’s funding by the Jerusalem Post – the newspaper that ran the original exposé – you responded “at most 3 percent” of contributors were Muslim or Arab. Now you state that the figure may be closer to 10 percent. One tenth of J Street’s budget of $3 million, or $300,000, is a substantial sum. Why do so many Arabs contribute to an organization that purports to be “pro-Israel?”
3: Do any Israelis support J Street’s agenda? How many? Look at the list of Israeli speakers appearing at J Street’s Conference, all losers in Israel’s political arena: Ami Ayalon, Colette Avital, Amir Peretz, Shlomo Ben-Ami, Yuli Tamir, Amnon Lipkin-Shahak. They have all failed to secure support from the Israeli electorate or even from their own parties, so they take their messages to the U.S. and plead with the U.S. government to pressure Israel’s government, make the Israelis do things that their citizens have already rejected. The tactic is patently anti-democratic.
Two retired senior IDF officers, well-known members of the peace camp, recently went to the U.S. to speak on J Street’s behalf. When they got there they discovered that J Street opposed sanctions against Iran. According to a JTA account, Brig. Gen.(res) Israeli Oron called for a “timetable that would be tied to punishing sanctions.”
“The thing that worries me and that worries other Israelis is that [current negotiations are] not limited in time,” Oron said as the faces of her J Street hosts turned anxious, adding “I’m not sure I’m expressing the J Street opinion.”
Maj. Gen. (res) Danny Rothschild discovered that he differed with J Street’s policies on an immediate freezing of settlements, the halting of settlements’ natural growth, and opposing tough sanctions against Iran.
And then Labor MK Ophir Pines-Paz spoke to a Washington gathering in early October sponsored by J Street’s co-founder, Daniel Levy, today of the New America Foundation. When Pines-Paz was told he was wrong in “assuming that everyone on the left is aligned on Iran’s nuclear capabilities and threat, [and in agreement] with Israel’s assessment,” he exploded. “Wake up!” he shouted.
J Street produced a film clip for its site and for YouTube showing prominent Israelis who “speak out in support of a two-state solution and J Street.” But do they actually support J Street? View the clip carefully and discover that only three out of 11 Israelis mention J Street at all – former minister Ami Ayalon and Uri Savir. The third is former MK Colette Avital who is a J Street employee in Israel. Not quite the ringing endorsement J Street had in mind.
Even the leaders of Israel’s opposition have refused to appear at the Conference, according to sources in Jerusalem.
4: How extensive is your interlocking directorship? I believe that is the correct characterization of J Street and its allied organizations. J Street’s contributions from the heads of the Arab American Institute and Iranian lobby NIAC have been documented in these pages. They serve on J Street’s Finance Committee which has a minimum requirement of $10,000. As research continues in the files of various federal agencies, we found that the interlocking relations continue into the second tiers as well.
Take for example, the case of Rebecca Abou-Chedid. She appears in the federal elections records as contributing to J Street’s PAC. Her occupation is listed as “consultant” for “USUS LLC.” But until recently, she was also the national political director at the Arab American Institute where she “was responsible for formulating AAI’s positions on foreign policy. and represented the Arab American community with Congress as well as the Departments of Homeland Security, Justice, and State.” Today, Abou-Chedid is the director of outreach at the New America Foundation’s Middle East Task Force.
J Street co-founder and Advisory Council member Daniel Levy serves as Co-Director of the Middle East Task Force at the New America Foundation, an institute that benefits from George Soros’ largess and membership on its board.
Heads of other pro-Arab organizations, such as AMIDEAST, and Arab foreign agents are contributors to the PAC. But Mr. Ben-Ami claims that no organizations or foreign governments contribute. They don’t need do; their representatives do.
5: Who drives policy at J Street? It’s difficult to imagine that the unwieldy J-Street 160-member board of advisors directs policy. Some of those members are also foreign agents who worked for Egypt and Saudi Arabia. It also seems unlikely that your big bucks, 50-member Finance Committee provides decision-making guidance. That’s where the heads of the pro-Iranian and Arab-American lobbies sit.
So who directs policy? A hint was provided by a left-wing blogger, Richard Silverstein, who heard the pre-launch spiel in Seattle given by you and “co-founder” Daniel Levy 18 months ago.
“It’s always important with efforts like this to examine the board member names,” Silverman wrote. “There are of course leaders of the main American Jewish peace groups. There are rabbis and academics. But most important there are heavy hitter political donors (Alan Solomont), policy wonks (Rob Malley), U.S. ambassadors to Israel (Samuel Lewis), high level political operatives (Eli Pariser of Moveon), Hollywood liberals (Robert Greenwald), business leaders, George Soros’ top aide (Morton Halperin), and even a former Republican senator (Lincoln Chafee) and former Congressman (Tom Downey).. The group founders believe that Barack Obama and his staff “get” J Street’s perspective while they believe a Clinton candidacy might not advance J Street’s mission as aggressively.” [Note, the briefing was given at the height of the Democratic primaries.]
Soros, the National Journal reported, was present at J Street’s initial strategy sessions.
Anyone reading Soros’ 2007 manifesto, On Israel, America and AIPAC, will understand that he is the spiritual godfather of J Street, if not its silent sugardaddy.
“I believe that a much-needed self-examination of American policy in the Middle East has started in this country,” Soros proclaimed, “but it can’t make much headway as long as AIPAC retains powerful influence in both the Democratic and Republican parties. Some leaders of the Democratic Party have promised to bring about a change of direction but they cannot deliver on that promise until they are able to resist the dictates of AIPAC. Palestine is a place of critical importance where positive change is still possible. Iraq is largely beyond our control; but if we succeeded in settling the Palestinian problem we would be in a much better position to engage in negotiations with Iran and extricate ourselves from Iraq. The need for a peace settlement in Palestine is greater than ever. Both for the sake of Israel and the United States, it is highly desirable that the Saudi peace initiative should succeed; but AIPAC stands in the way. It continues to oppose dealing with a Palestinian government that includes Hamas.”
So, it appears that Soros has created an organization that competes with AIPAC, calls for inclusion of Hamas, and opposes sanctions against Iran. His people sit on J Street’s board, and his other offspring from the New America Foundation and the National Iranian American Council, work in lockstep. It’s a scary scenario that should attract the attention of the best investigative reporters from national news outlets, but the modern day Lotus Eaters have been lulled and ensnared by J Street.
But just because they won’t ask the tough questions doesn’t mean that they don’t have to be answered.

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Terrorists Ask for Sanctury In Yehudah and Shomron

Posted by Zamir Ben Etzioni on October 30, 2009

By Michael Blackburn, Sr.

Israel National News today reports that Fatah terrorists in Yehudah and Shomron are asking Israeli authorities to allow them to remain as they fear that returning to Gaza would mean death and torture at the hands of their fellow terrorists in Hamas.Hundreds of Fatah terrorists have been murdered by Hamas terrorists since Israel gave Gaza to the Palestinians 5 years ago.Since the end of the Israeli presence Hamas has become a launching  site for missiles into Israeli civilian centers and a brutal Islamic dictatorship after they seized power from  the Fatah terror group. Although both groups pledge to murder Jewish citizens in Israel and destroy the State of Israel, Fatah is considered ‘moderate”.

In comparison to Hamas.

That’s like saying a contract killer is moderate in comparison to a Mafia Hit man.

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Pelosi, Congress, make Peace with Insurance Industry

Posted by Zamir Ben Etzioni on October 29, 2009

Hopeful comments by Howard Dean and Democratic Party propagandists notwithstanding, it appears Health Care for all Americans  is dead.
Last November Americans rejoiced, we had elected a President that cared, that was for the people, the revolution was here, and it was non-violent.
There was going to be change.
And there was.
A new President.
A Democratic Majority in Congress.
New faces, same old song and dance.
MB

 

The public option was always a compromise for serious supporters of health-care reform, who — like Barack Obama when he was running for the Senate in 2003 — knew that a single-payer “Medicare for All” system was what America needed to provide health care to everyone while controlling costs.

But, in the reform legislation debuted Thursday by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the compromise was even more compromised than had been expected.

Pelosi says the legislation is “historic,” and celebrates the fact that is does still include a public option — a component many pundits had said was destined for abandonment.

But, while there is a public option, it is anything but robust.

Progressives believe Pelosi has bent to far to the right.

And The New York Times suggests as much in its analysis, which declares that:

Under pressure from moderate-to-conservative members of the House Democratic caucus, Speaker Nancy Pelosi has decided to propose a government-run insurance plan that would negotiate rates with doctors and hospitals, rather than using prices set by the government…

Ms. Pelosi said the public plan, which she prefers to call a “consumer option,” would compete with private insurers. But the speaker was apparently unable to muster the votes needed for the ‘robust’ liberal version of a public plan, which she has repeatedly said would save more money for consumers and the government.

Translation: The “public option” Pelosi and her team have proposed a plan that would not make payments for care based on Medicare rates, as the Congressional Progressive Caucus and key Senate Democrats have proposed.

Rather, under the Pelosi plan, the rates be tied to those of the big insurance companies. That’s a big, big victory for the insurance industry, as it will undermine the ability of the public option to compete — and to create pressure for reduced costs.

Pelosi’s plan also drops a number of provisions that had been advanced at the committee level to promote consideration of “Medicare for All” models and to allow states to experiment with single-payer plans.

That’s an especially bitter pill for House progressives, who has won support for state-based experimentation in committee votes.

Groups such as Progressive Democrats of America were quick to raised alarm bells because some of the most innovative responses to the health-care crisis are being forged at the state level. While single-payer proposals are being blocked at the federal level, PDA national director Tim Carpenter says the single-payer fight is ramping up in the states.

“Last week, members of the PDA national team traveled to Pennsylvania for a rally at the capital rotunda in Harrisburg, in support of Healthcare for All Pennsylvania and their single-payer bill,” notes Carpenter. “The momentum for single-payer healthcare grows daily. It appears Congress will have to be forced to follow the lead of states like Pennsylvania, California, Illinois, Ohio and Massachusetts — all working to implement single-payer healthcare at the state level.”

House progressives were quick to express disappointment, as they were counting on the House to advance a strong alternative to the Senate Democratic leadership’s very weak public option proposal — which would allow states to opt out of the plan.

Reviewing the details of Pelosi’s plan in a passionate speech on the House floor, Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich, one of the chamber’s most ardent advocates for reform asked: “Is this the best we can do? Forcing people to buy private health insurance, guaranteeing at least $50 billion in new business for the insurance companies?

Kucinich continued:

Is this the best we can do? Government negotiates rates which will drive up insurance costs, but the government won’t negotiate with the pharmaceutical companies which will drive up pharmaceutical costs.

Is this the best we can do? Only 3 percent of Americans will go to a new public plan, while currently 33 percent of Americans are either uninsured or underinsured?

Is this the best we can do? Eliminating the state single payer option, while forcing most people to buy private insurance.

If this is the best we can do, then our best isn’t good enough and we have to ask some hard questions about our political system: such as Health Care or Insurance Care? Government of the people or a government of the corporations.

 

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The Unfinished War

Posted by Zamir Ben Etzioni on October 27, 2009

By Jonathan Spyer

The explosion in the south Lebanese village of Tayr Felseir offers the latest evidence of the way in which Hizbullah is rebuilding its infrastructure following the Second Lebanon War in 2006. In the pre-2006 period, Hizbullah maintained its military infrastructure in open countryside areas often declared off-limits to all but the movement’s personnel. The rebuilt infrastructure, by contrast, has been constructed within the fabric of civilian life in south Lebanon. This process has taken place largely undisturbed by the Lebanese and UN military personnel conspicuously deployed throughout the south.

Just over a year ago, The Jerusalem Post described some of the methods used by Hizbullah in building its new infrastructure. Fortifications were being constructed in private homes whose owners had left the south for the Beirut area. The owners were offered friendly advice not to inquire too closely regarding the alterations. Evidence suggests that this and similar practices have continued apace.

Hizbullah’s decision to make use of populated areas is primarily a result of the increased presence of UNIFIL and LAF (Lebanese Armed Forces) personnel in the area south of the Litani River, a presence which was enforced under the terms of UN Resolution 1701. Of course, the movement has made use of civilian-populated areas in the past. During the 2006 war, Hizbullah often launched Katyushas from villages (generally non-Shi’ite ones). But the placing of arms caches and permanent positions within residential areas has served to render the renewed military infrastructure largely off-limits to international inspection. Past experience indicates that the embarrassing publicity deriving from the Tayr Felsair explosion is unlikely to alter this picture.

This week’s explosion was not the first time in recent months that Hizbullah ordnance has accidentally detonated in south Lebanon. On July 14, a series of large explosions took place in the village of Khirbet Silm. The events that followed and the UNIFIL investigation into the explosions show the extent to which both the international forces and the Lebanese Army are adopting a “live and let live” attitude to Hizbullah’s preparations for the next war.

At the time, Hizbullah actions in Khirbet Silm followed a similar pattern to those observed on Monday in Tayr Felsair. First, Hizbullah agents removed the evidence. As this was being done, a number of “outraged residents” from the area held demonstrations to prevent UNIFIL troops from inspecting the scene. Peacekeepers eventually conducted their investigation, and concluded that the site at Khirbet Silm contained large quantities of 107 mm.

Katyusha rockets, heavy machine gun rounds and mortar tubes of a type used by Hizbullah.

Investigators from the international force also discovered that the site had been permanently guarded by Hizbullah personnel. They recorded that all this constituted a “serious violation” of Resolution 1701.

Beyond this declaration, the investigation has had no discernible result. No one was ever named, much less held accountable. Nor did UNIFIL’s modus operandi change to take into account the likelihood that if there was an arms depot in Khirbet Silm it probably wasn’t the only one.

UNIFIL REMAINS deployed mainly in unpopulated areas. It enters Shi’ite villages only with an escort of Lebanese army personnel. Its vehicle and air patrols, taking place along recognized patrol paths and in rural areas, have produced some tangible results in terms of discovering unused bunkers and old munitions. But the international force, which maintains no independent checkpoints, does its best to stay out of the way of Hizbullah and the civilian population.

Except for cases where there are obvious signs pointing to the presence of ordnance – such as when a large explosion occurs – UNIFIL simply prefers not to act on the evidence. And there is no indication that the latest explosion at Tayr Falseir will change this situation. Rather, it is more likely that UNIFIL’s investigation will be rapidly forgotten and the results quietly filed away as the media moves on.

Even more problematic is the role being played by the LAF. The Lebanese army and UNIFIL were prevented from entering the house in Tayr Falseir immediately following the explosion. Once LAF representatives were permitted to enter, they swiftly endorsed Hizbullah’s version of events.

The Lebanese army, which is much more visible on the ground than UNIFIL, undoubtedly has a far better sense of what is really going on. The problem with the LAF becoming an obstacle to Hizbullah rearming and reorganizing itself in south Lebanon is that the army is a deeply divided organization. Many of its members are sympathetic to the “resistance.” Thirty percent of the LAF officer corps, and a majority of its rank and file, are Shi’ite, like Hizbullah. More fundamentally, the official position of the LAF is one of “endorsement” of Hizbullah’s “right to resist.” The LAF defines Israel as its “primary antagonist and enemy.” So neither UNIFIL, nor the LAF, nor their respective employers – the United Nations and the government of Lebanon – are going to be standing in the way of Hizbullah’s program of rearming in populated areas any time soon.

Ultimately, the situation in southern Lebanon is a facet of a larger problem, namely, the existence of a Hizbullah state within a state, which is answerable to no one but the movement’s leadership and its Iranian patrons. Since the mini-civil war of May 2008, it has been clearer than ever that there is no force in the country able to challenge Hizbullah’s independent foreign and “defense” policies. The movement maintains a parallel army, parallel security services, a parallel communications network and also, of course, independent educational and social structures.

The winners of last June’s elections in Lebanon do not like the current situation, but they are helpless to prevent it, as they have not even succeeded in forming a government since their victory. The extent to which the Hizbullah state within a state is subservient to Iran or maintains its own agenda remains debated by analysts. But there is no debate that it is entirely free of any control or supervision from the official Lebanese state.

Preparations for the next round of fighting are going on daily, undisturbed, in the heart of the populated areas south of the Litani River, and the occasional “work accident” is the only reminder the world receives that it is happening. UNIFIL conducts its patrols and doesn’t get in the way, and the LAF plays an even more ambiguous role. Anyone who thought that the war between Hizbullah and Israel ended on August 14, 2006 was surely mistaken.

Jonathan Spyer is a senior research fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, Herzliya, Israel

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