News and Opinion Based on Facts

Monday, August 30, 2010

Who Really Runs Your Country?

all is not lost

The Blackburn Report is chiefly news and opinion.
Mostly my opinion, but I utilize experts such as Professor Barry Rubin and others when I need someone more expert than I am on some subjects.

We are also a biographical, or should I say, autobiographical site.
I recount some of the rather fantastic events that I have been witness to or participated in.

We have a number of loyal visitors and we hope to have more in the future.
Our sister site is IsraelAmerica, a pro-Israeli Web site that attempts, among other things, to re-unite liberals with support for Israel, which is a natural affinity given Israel’s status as the only democracy in the middle-east.

The war on poor people is in full swing as corporations consolidate power and purchase more and more of the ostensible leadership of Prison America.
The U.S. has far more of their population caged in inhumane conditions than any other country, including Iran and China.
Most caged Americans are brutalized for victimless crimes.

Although the situation sometimes appears hopeless, in view of the massive military institutions which currently control the populace, chiefly the poor, in the U.S., people have always fought back against oppression and injustice, and sometimes they win.
The Blackburn report will only write what is true, we won’t slant our opinion to gain readers or curry favor with anyone.
This is not to the best way to gain readers, but is our interest in presenting the material we carry here.

Yesterday Paris Hilton was arrested and put in a cage for possession of  cocaine.
There is no doubt that cocaine is a dangerous drug, not as dangerous as alcohol, but it is a harmful substance.
Nonetheless, it is nobody’s business but Paris Hilton’s if she chooses to use whatever substance she chooses, as long as she doesn’t harm others.

Stay tuned, we fear things will get worse before they get better.
More children will live on the streets, more innocent people will be caged with murderers and rapist for non-violent and victimless crimes, and corporate leaders will continue to erode the few freedoms that are left to us.

As long as some of us fight back, and speak truth to power, all is not lost.


Michael Blackburn, Sr.

Super Beings and Caging Americans

An important  factor in the Drug War fiasco is the electorate.
According to a recent poll 50% of American's believe a superhuman being is going to come to earth, perform astounding miracles and bring the end of days.
I'd be willing to bet that most of them also believe people who use Marijuana are immoral.
These are the people that need to vote to legalize pot, and they are not even aware of reality.
They believe in a creature that no on even claims to have seen, because to look at him causes instant death.
The Extreme Muslims believe this creature wants followers to kill Jews, Infidels and Muslims who practice the wrong version of the religion.
The Christians have a long history of violence in the name of their deity.
A large portion of these two religions consists of ways of maltreating people who don't accept their beliefs about their G-d.

So good luck in getting them to see what to most intelligent people seems like common sense based on all the evidence.
More and more people are using pot because it is a safe alternative to Alcohol.
 Alcohol use, as we all know, can have immediate serious results.
A good argument can be made that in some ways Pot is helpful, it's mainly benign, and does have medical uses, as well.
 Our government is supposed to be protecting the rights of minorities, including the rights of the millions of people that choose Pot over Alcohol.
 We all probably remember that the issue that made our government special was that minorities have rights that need vigorous protection.
 The majority doesn't need protection.

In a recent vote in Alaska decriminalization was defeated by a margin of just a few points.

So now, in Alaska, you can go to work everyday, work hard and produce, whatever, Tech Projects or Law or autos or care for the sick.
You can pay your taxes faithfully. Love your wife and children with all your heart, try to emulate your idea of pure virtue in your relations with others, and still have your door smashed off of the hinges by weapon toting policemen who have the right, and from some quarters, encouragement to treat you roughly and throw you into a cage with rapists and murderers and other violent felons because you have Marijuana.

I am not a big “Founding Fathers” Holiness guy.
They were just people, they made mistakes, just like the people who wrote our Bible, our Tanakh, our Torah.

But Jefferson would be rolling over in his grave if he could see what is being done to people, and families, by our “Drug War”.

Michael Blackburn, Sr.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

An Open Letter To Tommy Friedman

by Shmully Hecht

Dear Thomas,

In a recent New York Times column you suggested that those who would like to understand the Middle East conflict should watch a movie "Precious Life" about Israeli doctors and philanthropists who save the life of a young Palestinian
The same rank stench has been emitted for years from under the desks of writers such as yourself who have sold the world on the idea that there are two sides equally committed to peace.

While that film may indeed capture the reality that Israel can do no right for those who dream of its destruction I have a different suggestion to those who desire to better understand the problems that comprise this conflict; travel to the Middle East and talk to the people who live there.

I recently visited Israel and spoke to a Muslim Arab taxi cab driver who drove me across East Jerusalem while telling me that he would not live in the capitol of any other state in the region, not Cairo, not Beirut, not Amman. It is not something you will ever see explored in mainstream American papers, but according to him, the life of an independent minded Arab seeking comfort, freedom and self-sufficiency is vastly better in the Jewish homeland. Measuring by any standard, what the taxicab driver said is an accurate description of life for all Arabs in Israel.
Upon my return I found myself on a connecting flight next to a Christian American who had spent years in Saudi Arabia working for GE, designing healthcare software for Middle East hospitals . After describing the vast differences between Israel and its neighbors he reminded me that non Muslims are not even permitted to enter Islam’s holiest cities, Mecca and Medina. How odd that the same Saudis have offered a “Peace Initiative” to the People of Israel .

So Thomas, I agree that there does exist the foul and ancient stench in the air that you mention. Hyper scrutiny and de-legitimization of Israel have been the hallmark of Arab activism and now we find it in both mainstream press as well as Europe and America's leading universities, including Yale where I serve as the Rabbi of Eliezer; the Jewish Society on campus . How did this happen?
It happened because the same rank stench has been emitted for years from under the desks of writers such as yourself who have sold the world on the idea that there are two sides equally committed to peace. You and your like-minded friends said that if only Israel does the right thing in the form of giving up land or demolishing its security walls then the Arabs will establish a state of Palestine which also only wants what is best for their citizens and the region. The stench is the result of trying to perfume the murderous intent of the PLO, Fatah and Hamas, calling it 'resistance' and statesmanship. The stench is the smell of Yassir Arafat's rotten Nobel Peace Prize.
The fullest and foulest emission of this noxious stench was the Oslo fantasy which began to evaporate even before it took any real form. Even President Bill Clinton could not achieve it’s goals after days of pleading with Mr. Arafat.
You, and most writers on the subject who strive to apportion guilt and responsibility "fairly," sold the world on Oslo and on the withdrawal from Gaza, the first which will never happen, and the second which brought about the daily bombing of Israel with thousands of rockets fired at civilians. Your suggestion that if only Israel now further dismantled cities in the West bank there would be peace, confirm your delusion that there will be a shortage of Kassam rockets fired on Israel from Ramallah.
How odd that the same Europeans and members of the United Nations that urged Israel to withdraw from Gaza were the first to condemn Israel for finally defending their civilians in the Gaza War.
Tom, you return to form with your desire to be a "fair" judge, urging we acknowledge lopsided and twisted criticism of Israel mainly so that Israel will listen better, so that you can be an even better critic.
Now is not the time to criticize Israel or "colonial settlements" on Jewish land that Israel captured in defensive wars and over which Israel maintains legitimate sovereignty. It is time instead to finally clear the air. Thomas, please remove the source of the odor. It is under your desk.

Shmully Hecht is the Rabbinical advisor of Eliezer; the Jewish Society at Yale

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Competing World Views Tear A "Peace Process" to Pieces

By Barry Rubin*

The U.S. announcement inviting Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) for direct talks shows quite clearly, though unintentionally, why the talks will fail.
Special Envoy George Mitchell explains:
"We are all well aware that there remains mistrust between the parties, a residue of hostility developed over many decades of conflict, many previous efforts that have been made to resolve the conflict that had not succeeded, all of which takes a very heavy toll on both societies and their leaders. In addition, we all know that, as with all societies, there are differences of opinion on both sides on how best to proceed, and as a result, this conflict has remained unresolved over many decades and through many efforts. We don't expect all of those differences to disappear when talks begin. Indeed, we expect that they will be presented, debated, discussed, and that differences are not going to be resolved immediately."
This is a good explanation that the administration knows how hard it is to bring peace, though it does not jibe well with his saying a few minutes later: "We believe that if those negotiations are conducted seriously and in good faith, they can produce such an agreement within 12 months. And that is our objective."
Of course, Mitchell is right that the task's difficulty shouldn't preclude an attempt to negotiate and that understanding the difficulty is essential to doing a decent job. The one-year thing, though, is nonsense. If negotiations would be conducted seriously an agreement could be reached in a month but there are reasons this has never happened and won't happen for a long time.
As an analyst not a diplomat, I can point out that the problem is not just "mistrust," "residue of hostility," and "differences of opinion," but rather structural impediments to success. Western media and leaders are all too eager to point out alleged problems on the Israeli side-domestic politics-but never really discuss the same thing on the Palestinian side.
I have pointed out HERE that the problems posed by Israeli politics and public opinion for peacemaking is greatly exaggerated, sometimes due to ignorance and sometimes due to a malicious effort to make things seem Israel's fault.
What is lacking, as I've pointed out HERE and HERE and HERE and HERE, is that there is a huge problem on the Palestinian side. This includes:
--Hardline views by the overwhelming majority of Fatah leaders, who do after all control the PA.
--The belief that it is not necessary to negotiate peace because in the shorter-run the PA can get the West to hand them a state on a silver platter and in the longer-run the Palestinians can win the conflict and destroy Israel entirely.
--The almost 100 percent lack of any effort to prepare and moderate Palestinian public opinion by its own leadership, clergy, media, and politicians. There has been an extensive debate in Israel and there is a great willingness to compromise, something simply not there on the Palestinian side. Israelis have empathy and even often sympathy for Palestinians; the reverse is simply not true. It is a cultural and political issue that lies beyond the bounds of any "Politically Correct" "Multicultural" mentality to understand but can be easily demonstrated.
Incidentally, here's one of many such tricks used to avoid understanding these things. Fatah issues a new charter and Western media articles and experts gushed at how moderate it was, including not repeating material from the old charter that called for the use of violence. The only problem is that the new document explicitly stated that all of the old document was still in effect.
--The wooly mammoth, "elephant" is not an adequate description, in the room of a Hamas regime dedicated to warfare, terrorism, and genocide. There is no conceivable mechanism for dealing with this issue.
On that last point here is how Mitchell (didn't) address it:
QUESTION: So you expect Hamas to accept any decision made by President Abbas at these negotiations?
MR. MITCHELL: It is not for me to make decisions for others....With respect to Hamas, let's be clear. Hamas won a legislative election. They acknowledge the continued executive authority of President Abbas and his team, and it is entirely appropriate that we negotiate with the executive head of that government. When Democrats regained control of the Congress in 2006, that didn't end President Bush's tenure as president, and others who wanted to negotiate with the United States negotiated with the legally elected and then-chief of our executive branch of government. And that is the situation here.
Again, Mitchell says what he needs to say, but of course he omits the Hamas violent coup against the PA. Indeed, his statement jibes with the false history of Hamas and its supporters and is rather a mess factually. Abbas's turn came to an end almost two years ago and Hamas could easily argue-and it sure will do so--that he is in office illegally and thus that any agreement he reached with Israel was not valid. By the way, Mitchell states that Hamas does "acknowledge the continued executive authority of President Abbas and his team." I believe that this is false.
In short, Mitchell lays the basis in theory for an Israel-Palestinian treaty leading to a Palestinian state, then Hamas overthrowing the regime to seize control of that state, tossing out the treaty and calling in Iranian and Syrian troops to "protect" Palestine. True, this is leaping ahead in time but this is the kind of thing negotiators need to take into account.
Instead of Mitchell's facile Democrats/Bush analogy, here's a more accurate one: The Democrats regain control of Congress, the two sides reach an agreement, the Democrats than stage an armed coup and murder Republicans by the score then throw the Republicans out of the regions they conquer, and the United States has two governments that are in effect at war with each other. Bush doesn't hold any elections but just keeps extending his term in office.
Would other countries then be able to rely on agreements made with Bush and consider him "legally elected?" Of course not.
And consider this: By forcing Israel to end the high level of sanctions against the Gaza Strip, the West has in effect recognized the Hamas regime as an independent entity that can stay in office for decades. Certainly, it has ceased any effective attempt to bring down that regime. So what is Hamas's incentive to accept a PA-Israel negotiation process that it has denounced as treasonous?
I don't want to spend so much time on this single issue but it is worth reviewing as an example, one of the more obvious cases where the real world and the fantasy world of Washington's Middle East come into collision.
Mitchell also states:
"But we do believe that peace in the Middle East, comprehensive peace, including, but not limited to, an end to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, is very much in the interests of Israelis and Palestinians, of all people in the region; it's in the national security interests of the United States, and therefore, we are going to continue to pursue that objective with patience, perseverance, and determination."
Trying to promote negotiations is certainly in the U.S. national security interest. Yet the strategy and tactics used cannot ignore regional realities.
Here's one of them: Is "comprehensive peace" in the interest "of all people in the region?" On one level that seems obvious but on the level of actual reality it is completely false. Consider this: having peace in Europe was arguably in the interests of everyone at all times between, say, between 1337 (start of the Hundred Year's War between England and France) and 1990 (the Cold War's end), yet nonetheless there wasn't peace much of the time.
Why is that? Because there were ideologies, nations, and leaders who thought there was something more important than peace: gains, victories, land, glory, the will of the Creator of the Universe, and other things. Moreover, they perceived that triumph was easy and that they could have everything they wanted. This worldview does not characterize the position today of more than 85 percent of Israelis (or Americans and Europeans for that matter) but does characterize the position of more than 95 percent of Arabs, Middle East Muslims, and Palestinians.
An element of this doctrinaire, deterministic "even-handedness" and "mirror-imaging" practices by Western governments today is to misunderstand much about the Middle East (and Israel as well) to the point that they fail in their efforts and stumble into crises. This point also applies to their understandings of Islamism, Iran's ambitions, the internal problems of Iraq and Afghanistan, and much more. These mistakes cost lives and produce strategic disasters.
Iran, Syria, Hamas, Hizballah, and most of the PA's own Fatah rulers don't think a "comprehensive peace" is in the interests of Palestinians, much less all the peoples of the region. They believe that anyone who does think so should be murdered. They are certain that the elimination of Israel, which they do not number among the "peoples of the region”, is in everyone's interest.
Certainly, from the standpoint of 2010, the relatively moderate regimes aren't going to do much to make that happen and there are a number of Arab governments that behind-the-scenes understand the value to Israel for them. But they are generally going to avoid being much help because of their own interests.
A typical example: the United States invites the Egyptian and Jordanian governments to observe the new direct talks believing they will pressure the PA and reassure the Israelis into making peace. A far more likely outcome is that they will simply back PA positions, making Israel feel the dice are loaded against it and convincing the PA that it can avoid making peace by using the usual Arab and Muslim levers to guarantee region wide support for intransigence.
This kind of miscalculation is the problem when people like Mitchell conclude, in his words, that opposition cannot, deter leaders "who...recognize that the interests of their people, the future of their societies rests upon resolving this conflict and achieving the kind of peace and stability and security from which they will all benefit."
But of course it can! Not understanding why is the mistake that has repeatedly led Western leaders and experts to predict diplomacy will succeed only to find, to their puzzlement, that it fails.
Indeed, this factor has been the centerpiece of Middle East history for the last sixty years. Fear of public opinion, fear of Islamists and hardline clerics, fear of rivals taking advantage of their concessions, fear of assassination, fear of political destruction, and other such things have deterred leaders. And those not deterred-King Abdallah of Jordan, Amin Gemayel of Lebanon, Anwar al-Sadat of Egypt (and, yes, Yitzhak Rabin of Israel, too)--have been eliminated as a result.
There is a rather sharp gap between the reality of PA "President" Mahmoud Abbas's political position (hardline) and thinking (scared to an extent which usually brings in a bad word at this point) and what Mitchell portrays it as being.
Again, this does not mean the West should not try to negotiate. It does, however, mean that the West should maintain its own credibility in fighting the radicals (in part, to encourage the relative moderates) and support Israel strongly to show that maximal aims cannot be achieved. The lack of these pillars helps to cripple any peace process.
The text is, "Transcript: Clinton, Special Envoy Mitchell on Push for Middle East Peace, U.S. Department of State, Office of the Spokesman, August 20, 2010.

*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), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books, go to You can read and subscribe to his blog at
The Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center
Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya, P.O. Box 167, Herzliya, 46150, Israel Phone: 972-9-960-2736 - Fax: 972-9-960-2736
© 2010 All rights reserved | Terms and Uses

Monday, August 16, 2010

The NY Times Tries and Fails to Explain The Israel-Palestinian "Peace Process"

By Barry Rubin*

August 14, 2010

We depend on your contributions. To make a tax-deductible donation through PayPal or credit card, click the Donate button in the upper-right hand corner of this page. To donate via check, make it out to "American Friends of IDC," with "for GLORIA Center" in the memo line. Mail to: American Friends of IDC, 116 East 16th Street, 11th Floor, New York, NY 10003.
Forget about The Onion, The National Lampoon, Mad Magazine, and Saturday Night Live (sorry for all those American cultural references). When it comes to satire nobody can beat a New York Times editorial!
Well, this one is funny because the Times is--sort of--trying to praise the Israeli government and criticize the Palestinian Authority (PA) but you can't help but laugh at the contortions they go through.
Here's the first one:
"After three months of American-mediated proximity talks, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has agreed to direct negotiations on a two-state solution; the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, is stubbornly resisting. It is time for him to talk."
Now is this dishonest or what? The implication is that finally, just now, at the very last minute, and after three months (12 weeks, about 90 days) the U.S. negotiators can wipe the sweat from their brow and say that Netanyahu has agreed to direct negotiations.
But guess what? He publicly agreed to direct negotiations during a visit to Washington about 16 months (64 weeks, about 480 days) ago! So to avoid giving Netanyahu credit for being ready to talk all along the Times pretends that thanks only to a tremendous battle has the Obama Administration landed the big fish.
Ok, though, but at least they have praised Netanyahu and pointed out that Abbas is the barrier to progress? Not exactly. Keep reading:
"There are understandable reasons for Mr. Abbas's reluctance. We also don't know whether Mr. Netanyahu, a master manipulator, really wants a deal or whether his hard-line governing coalition would ever let him make one."
Yeah, Abbas, that Netanyahu is one evil dude! We can hardly blame you for refusing to make peace. I can imagine Abbas saying: "Sorry, I cannot negotiate because Netanyahu is untrustworthy. I read it in the New York Times so it must be true."
Might one wonder if Abbas is a "master manipulator" or whether his "hard-line government coalition would ever let him make one?" (See below on that point.) In fact, why throw into question Netanyahu's credentials? What has he done in the last 14 years, during which he has accepted a two-state solution, to make one conclude he is insincere on the issue, rather than just a tough negotiator?
Moreover, his coalition is not "hard-line" at all. Let's give the Times a little lesson in Israeli politics. The coalition includes six parties with a total of 72 seats, 12 more than is needed:

--Likud, 27 seats. While this is the main conservative party, and includes parliamentarians who would be against concessions, Netanyahu has a firm hold on the party.

--Israel Beitanu, 15 seats. While this party is headed by Foreign Minister Lieberman, it is not the "far-right" party that is the stereotype. It is, in fact, a Russian immigrant party. In some ways, Lieberman is rather dovish, proposing far-reaching territorial swaps (even if he does so to get rid of Arab citizens of Israelis the effect is not hard-line on negotiations). He is certainly capable of populist posturing but he is not, as such, an impediment to a peace deal.

--Labour Party, 13 seats. This is the leading party of the dovish left. Enough said.

--Two religious parties: Shas (11) and United Torah Judaism (3). These parties are mainly interested in patronage. They would fight tooth and nail on the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem and perhaps over the whole eastern part of the city. But on most of the issues they are not so intransigent. Shas's mentor has in the past said that giving up the West Bank can be justified if that saves lives.

--National Union (3). Aha, here's a hardline, right-wing party that would walk out of any government that agreed to a two-state resolution! But it represents only 4 percent of his coalition and Netanyahu doesn't need them.

Moreover, Netanyahu could replace any defectors if he wished by bringing in Kadima (28). While one could debate some of the details of my analysis the idea that the Israeli coalition would never countenance a two-state solution is absurd.
What is really astonishing is that, to protect the Palestinian Authority, the Times is even willing to bash its idol, President Obama, in a flagrant miswriting of history:
"Mr. Abbas also is wary of Washington. After Mr. Obama demanded in 2009 that Mr. Netanyahu halt all settlement construction as a prelude to negotiations, Mr. Abbas did the same. When Mr. Netanyahu forced Mr. Obama to back down and the Israeli leader implemented a more limited and temporary building halt, Mr. Abbas was left clinging to the maximalist position."

What? Obama made the demand and Netanyahu complied. He gave a one-year freeze to see what would happen in talks. Was that a case of Obama "backing down?" And when Obama retroactively added Jerusalem outside the 1967 lines, Netanyahu again complied.
Here's the truth: Obama demanded, Netanyahu agreed, and Abbas still rejected direct talks. This has been going on for one year. So I'll stand up for Obama against the Times on this point.

Then there's the way the Times deals with Arab politics. True, it points out that the Arab League backs direct talks. So here's my question for you: What does the Times leave out?
Answer: Palestinian Authority politics, Hamas, Iran, and Syria. Why can't the Times mention that this is the real prime motive for Abbas? It isn't mainly that he doesn't trust Netanyahu (if he were certain Netanyahu was eager for peace it would make it harder, not easier, for Abbas to enter talks!) or he is "wary" of Obama.
The fact is that Abbas knows:
--He has no control or authority over Fatah, a group in which he has almost no direct followers, but is the real power behind the PA. This is the group that would never let its nominal leader make a two-state solution. Most of the Fatah leadership is hardline. Some don't want to make any deal that would block them from trying to destroy Israel in future. Others are afraid to do so. The number one problem is PA politics.
--Palestinian public opinion tends to be hardline. And why should that be surprising? It is conditioned by years of indoctrination to be that way on top of what existed beforehand. The PA has been pumping out hardline propaganda now for 16 years.
--Then there is Hamas which enjoys somewhere between 25 and 30 percent support in the PA-ruled areas. Even the tiniest concession, merely holding direct talks, will be used by Hamas to claim Abbas is committing treason. And joined with some elements in Fatah this hardline coalition would be deadly for the PA, and perhaps for Abbas personally.
--Moreover, Hamas controls the Gaza Strip. This little detail seems to be left out a lot, as if the PA's making an agreement was in any way binding on almost half the territory it is claiming to control! It would be like making a deal with South Korea or West Germany and claiming it applied to all of Korea or Germany.
Incidentally, it is almost never pointed out that Abbas's term in office ended in January 2009 and he keeps extending it without elections. Why? Because if elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip were held Hamas would win them. This shows how unstable is the regime with which Israel is supposed to make a peace based on massive unilateral concessions. If elections were to be held after a two-state agreement was implemented, Hamas would win, immediately reject the agreement, and return to war. This is rather significant for any discussion of Israel-Palestinian peace, don't you think?
--Then there are the external forces like Iran and Syria that are dead-set on making anyone who makes with Israel just plain dead. If Abbas were to negotiate a deal they would do everything in their power (in line with Fatah hardliners and Hamas) to destroy that agreement and overthrow Abbas.
Doesn't all of this seem a bit significant? Isn't it ridiculous to discuss the issue as if Abbas was some independent actor who could do whatever he wished, while Israel's leader (whose public opinion is eager for a negotiated peace, generally willing to make concessions, and flexible on many of the issues) is enchained?
I'm writing about this editorial not because I think the Times is so important in itself. Rather, these are precisely the ideas that dominate Western debate on the issue. What we have here is a failure to engage accurately with the basic facts on what is persistently (if wrongly) touted as the world's most important issue.
*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), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books, go to You can read and subscribe to his blog at

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Peace Process Story So Far: Israel's Cooperation with the US

August 5, 2010

In one of his out-of-control anti-Israel rants, Andrew Sullivan included in his list of alleged evils that Israel had repeatedly "defied" the United States. That point stuck in my mind and made me reflect how demonstrably untrue is that charge contrary to what people might think. 

Certainly, there have been incidents of friction and disagreement--though always fairly short-lived--and at times Israel has either convinced U.S. policymakers of its position or the two sides agreed. Yet consider on all the key issues of the last twenty years how Israel did heed every major U.S. request.

In 1991, President George Bush asked Israel not to respond to Iraqi attacks. This was a huge request for any country whose civilians were being targeted by missiles and especially for Israel which has always believed that retaliation is essential to maintain its credibility. I can speak from personal experience here, with the nearest hit about ten blocks away from my home. The country not only faced the terror of sudden missile attacks, with the possibility of bacteriological or chemical warheads, but was also largely shut down economically for weeks. Yet Likud Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir agreed, and Israelis stood by passive while the United States fought Iraq in Kuwait and Baghdad shot missiles onto its soil.

The Oslo agreements were an Israeli initiative yet during the nine years of negotiations that followed, Israel and the United States cooperated closely. Israel made a very forthcoming offer in 2000 supported by the United States that was rejected by the Palestinian leadership. There were no major incidents of conflict during the Clinton Administration.

The George W. Bush years were ones of relative amity. Ironically, the greatest disagreement, contrary to mythology, was Israel's lack of enthusiasm for the Iraq war. The concern was that Israel would be asked to pay the political bill afterward, that Saddam might again fire missiles, and that the project of making Iraq into a democracy seemed ill-fated. But Israel supported its ally once the decision to attack Iraq was made.

The administration of Barack Obama has been seen as one of great tension and a U.S. policy less supportive of Israel. Yet every time Obama made a request or demand, Israel has complied, if not immediately then after a brief period, with concessions that were very difficult given internal politics and perceptions of its own interests:

--Obama called for an Israeli freeze of construction on settlements in the West Bank. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu invoked a freeze.

--Obama insisted on direct Israel-Palestinian negotiations. Netanyahu supported this stance beginning in mid-2009.

--When Obama changed his position and also demanded a freeze on Israeli construction in areas of Jerusalem beyond the 1967 border, an extremely difficult concession for Netanyahu and Israel to make, the Israeli government did so.

--Finally, when Obama insisted on a change in the sanctions' regime imposed on the Gaza Strip, Netanyahu quickly complied. The U.S. government approved the terms before they were announced.

Thus, on all of the four big issues during the first 17 months of the Obama presidency, Israel did do what the United States asked. In exchange, Israel received no concession whatsoever from either the Palestinian Authority or Hamas. It did get continued U.S. cooperation and praise for so doing, yet basically received nothing new in exchange for these steps.

Whether this compliance was wrong or right in terms of Israeli interests isn't the point here. What's important is that Israel did take actions and risks at the behest of the U.S. government, which also puts the lie to the idea that Israel "controls" U.S. policy. In addition, Washington made some commitments in response to these concessions which have often been forgotten by successive U.S. governments.

It should also be noted that neither Hamas nor the Palestinian Authority (nor Iran or Syria for that matter) complied with any U.S. request or demand during this period yet reaped benefits from Israeli concessions or U.S. efforts at engagement. Indeed, the PA has continually refused to enter direct negotiations with Israel. And despite stories of U.S. "pressure" has lost nothing as a result.

These points are one small example of how myths about Israel and U.S.-Israel relations are so easy to concoct yet equally easy to demolish with simple reference to the facts. Large elements in the mass media constantly claim that Israel, or at least the current government, doesn't want peace despite all the efforts, sacrifices, and risks made. 

Equally, they claim that the PA is moderate and does want peace despite the fact that it does nothing to promote such an outcome. In 2000, the PA rejected the Camp David and Clinton plan deals, launched a violent and terrorist war, and continued it for five years. During the last five years, the PA has not taken a single step toward ending incitement, educating its people for a two-state compromise solution, or offering better terms to Israel. It has not moved one bit from its stance in 1993, 17 years ago.

Meanwhile, as I predicted, here's the Washington Post cartoon, 
"explaining" how Netanyahu and Abbas are "equally" against direct talks, despite Netanyahu advocating and Abbas opposing them for the last 16 months!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

When Can We Leave?

The graveyard of empires.
It looks like we're stuck.
If we had never gone there, or if we had gone there, taken out the Taliban, and come home, we could act like we didn't know how bad things were there, in terms of human rights, and never pay Afghanistan even a passing thought.
Now we have all seen it, particularly the human rights abuses towards women and children.
We cannot, in good conscience, turn our backs on them.
On Fox yesterday they showed a photo of a woman, a formerly beautiful woman, who'd been disfigured by the Taliban for attending school.
These people, the Taliban, and Hamas and Hezbollah and Al Qaeda, and other Islamist criminal organizations, give new meaning to the word "cruelty".
Their brutality towards women is not their "custom", it's criminality, but even if it was "tradition", woman do not deserved to be enslaved by these evil despots.

We should insist that the U.N. become more involved.
We can pressure this body more than any other member.
We should threaten the UN with sanctions if they continue to overlook human rights abuses by anyone.

It is sad that we probably are there now because of the military-industrial complex need for money, power, and control.
Nonetheless, as a moral nation we must defend innocent victims.
Even if we must do it alone.

Monday, August 2, 2010

civil disobedience is making a comeback

If one searches the news, the conclusion that civil disobedience is making a comeback in the U.S., and elsewhere seems apparent.
The reasons are put forth by talking heads and politicians, on the right they believe to one degree or another that Obama is a communist or some variation of it, some believe he’s a facist, they believe that their freedom is being eroded, their religion is dwindling and a thousand other related social concerns.

On the left, they share the government encroachment fear, at least as it relates to personal liberties.
They believe the government should actively assist citizens in need.
Many on the left believe Obama is basically a spokesman for corporations.

There was a report on the civil disobedience in Arizona on public access TV this evening.
The participants describe a kind of high, from the thrill of facing up to the authorities.
From hanging out together and experiencing a rebel camaraderie.

People are going to get hurt.
I want to say to friends on the right and left: you will lose if you go up against the government with guns.
You will not have the majority joining you, for one thing, for another, the police Depts. Across the country have been beefing up militarily for years, and, the actual military will support those who write their paychecks.

There is a huge chasm between Americans, and a lot of it is intentionally created to keep Democracy from being realized.

What is needed is some calm, and some talking between the two camps, and lots of input from the center.

There are those who see the collapse of the U.S. as imminent.
History repeats, they say.
We are just the latest victims of a militaristic leadership.
We are in “The Graveyard of Nations”.
We are fighting on multiple fronts.
Bit destruction is not inevitable.
Together the American people can identify the harms being done to our country, our world, and take steps to reign in disaster.

Here is what we need to do first: Talk to our ideological opponents with clarity and civility.