Nov 21: Weekend Reading
Former US ambassador to Israel and Egypt Daniel Kurzter, on Sunday, wrote an Op-ed in the Washington Post, criticizing the now almost-certain American incentives package being offered to Israel in exchange for an additional 90-day settlement building moratorium. Kurtzer, who has previously written about settlements vis-à-vis US policy, claims that the deal is a game-changer. The ambassador rightly questions what will happen (when) settlers defy the building ban:
And what about enforcement? Will the United States demand its money back if it learns about construction during the freeze, even if that construction was not authorized by the Israeli government?
Kurtzer continues with his list of reasons the deal is ill-advised. He points out that the “deal will shake the foundation of the U.S.-Israeli strategic partnership.” He writes:
America’s commitment to Israel’s security has [up until now] been manifest. Not so, if this deal materializes. By subjecting Israel’s defense needs to the political demands of an American administration, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has done something quite dangerous for Israel – he has made those needs contingent, negotiable, optional. Israel’s security requirements are now merely a bargaining chip with which to negotiate what Jerusalem will or will not do to advance the peace process.
The good ambassador adds a cynical, yet valid comparison:
Will the United States similarly reward Palestinians for stopping their own bad behavior? Will Washington pay them to, say, halt the incitement against Israel and Jews in their public media and some educational materials – something that shouldn’t have been going on in the first place?
Yaron London, co-host of Channel 10’s daily London and Kirshenbaum news analysis show, wrote an Op-ed (translation from 972mag.com) in Yediot Ahronot on Wednesday explaining how he came to support this month’s artists’ boycott of a new cultural center in the West Bank settlement of Ariel. London describes how settlers (especially in widely-accepted settlements assumed to be included in blocs that will fall on the Israeli side of a two-state solution) desperately want to feel as if they live in “any other [Israeli] town,” irrespective of geographic location. He writes:
Contrary to what I thought at first, there is actually some benefit to the boycott declared by the actors. Its main goal is to damage Ariel’s image as a completely ordinary community, just like one of the communities within the Green Line.
The image of normalcy has been successfully instilled, because consciousness is not fond of complex structures of thinking. If a town looks like any other town, and its residents speak Hebrew, and a good road connects it with central Israel, and it even has a college—this means that there is no difference between it and any other town.
But this is not so: Ariel was built on occupied land, and its existence poses a challenge to common decency and international law. A few brave artists have done us the service of reminding us of this, and their protest created a great commotion. This is all that is required of an effective protest.
More to come on the Ariel boycott.
The Christian Science Monitor on Friday ran an article describing the psychological and social consequences Israel’s intelligence regime have on the Palestinian people. The strongest asset in Israel’s ability to thwart attacks from the Palestinian territories has long been its ability to run a massive number of informers (called collaborators by the Palestinians) in the territories. Since Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip some years ago, they have been desperately trying to expose the collaborators and deny Israel its intelligence capabilities in the Strip. The Monitor describes the distrust, fear, stress on relationships, and general shock that exposing the collaborators has caused:
Gazans were astounded not only by the number or arrests, but by who was arrested. Prominent figures in society, including many doctors, were reportedly among those caught in the sweep. As the hunt for spies continues, Gazans say the revelation of the network’s reach is eroding trust between neighbors, coworkers – even family members. It’s tearing at the fabric of a close-knit society, where families, friends and neighbors often depend on each other.
“It has a really bad impact on society,” says Alaa Fouad, an anesthesiologist at Shifa Hospital in Gaza City. “People start to be afraid of each other. We don’t talk openly with each other, and we suspect each other.”
Haaretz‘ Aluf Benn wrote an analysis of Netanyahu’s motivations in seeking the US incentives package for an extended settlement freeze this week. Netanyahu, speaking at a memorial event for Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, essentially declared himself Ben-Gurion’s successor. He compared himself with the man famous for standing on his head using ambiguous yet relevant statements such as, “Ben-Gurion stood up against the world with impressive courage,” and, “Ben-Gurion knew how to identify the elusive historic moment of now or never.” Aluf Benn gives his own analysis of the comparison:
If the prime minister of Israel does not trust the president of the United States to impose a veto on an essential issue like a forced solution and recognition of Palestine’s independence within the 1967 borders, and wants a written note in advance, then the alliance between the two countries is in deep trouble.
And maybe not. Until now Netanyahu has refused to initiate moves and shown he prefers to act only under American pressure. Perhaps this makes it easier for him to distance himself from his past positions, and maybe it’s convenient for him that Obama tells him what to do.
Netanyahu knows that in direct negotiations vis-a-vis Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, there will never be any agreement on the borders. Perhaps he is expecting an American map that will determine where Palestine will arise and free him from the dilemma of how far to withdraw. After all, that’s what his guide and teacher David Ben-Gurion did when American presidents ordered him to leave Sinai in 1949 and 1956.