Archive | May, 2011

Memorial Day

When I was a child, Memorial Day remembered a war that seemed far away and long ago.  It  had no meaning for me, and I always confused it with Veterns Day or D-day or V-day.  I never quite understood the juxtaposition of sadness for people killed in parades and loud, flag-waving, high-stepping parades.

Now Memorial Day means a lot, and I think of how many names of the dead in Afghanistan and Iraq I’ve read or heard recited on PBS or on ABC’s This Week.  Most are young, but during the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, I’ve been startled by how many troops were/are killed in their ‘30s and 40s. I don’t remember that during Vietnam.

During Vietnam, many young men tried to get into the reserves to reduce their chances of deployment to South East Asia.  Many men and women today serve in the reserves not just for patriotic reasons but to earn needed extra income.  Iraq and Afghanistan have made full use of these reservists. Vietnam was a war fought by draftees.  A professional army, with many soldiers signed up for life, fights in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Young or older war deaths are heartbreaking in ways most American won’t ever know. Certainly not on a scale our parents knew after WW2.  But for some reason, I find myself imagining what lives those men and women 35+ left behind:  teenage kids, a widow(er) who never worked outside the home, maybe they were saving for college tuition or stepping into a more secure phase of career.   The older you are, the more you have to lose and then you don’t.

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Israeli Newspaper Poll After Netanyahu Visit

The poll shows a bump for PM Netanyahu after his visit to the US.  It also shows that 57% of those polled believed Mr. Netanyahu should have agreed with President Obama’s plans, including those who responded ‘agree’ and those who responded ‘agree, but….’  Figures below

by  TNS/Teleseker –

Q: If elections were held today, for which
party would you vote?

Likud headed by Netanyahu – 30
Kadima headed by Livni – 27
Yisrael Beiteinu headed by Lieberman – 16
Arab parties – 11
Shas – 10
Labor Party – 8
United Torah Judaism – 6
Meretz – 5
NRP/Jewish Home – 4
National Union – 3
Independence faction headed by Barak -
doesn’t pass the electoral threshold

The seat numbers are based on a sample of
550 respondents aged 18 and over from the
general population (including seniors, new
immigrants and the Arab sector). The margin
of error is two seats.

Q: Who is best suited today to be prime
Netanyahu – 36.9%
Livni – 28.3%
Lieberman – 9.2%
Barak – 2.6%
None of them – 18.2%

Q: To what degree are you pleased with
Netanyahu’s performance?
Very pleased: 7.7%
Fairly pleased: 34.2%
Not so pleased: 32.5%
Not pleased at all: 23.9%

Very pleased: 5.2%
Fairly pleased: 23.1%
Not so pleased: 32.5%
Not at all pleased: 31.1%

Q: How do you think Netanyahu should
have responded to the Obama outline?
He should have declared his support for the
president’s remarks with no reservations: 10%
He should have declared that he was opposed
to what Obama said: 36.7%
He should have declared his support but with
reservations: 46.8%

Q: Do you think that Netanyahu should
have publicly criticized Obama’s
statements, as he did at the press
Netanyahu should have publicly criticized
Obama: 46.3%
Netanyahu should have reserved his criticism
for closed meetings: 47.5%

Q: In light of the situation, do you think
that it is desirable or not to form a
national unity government with Likud and
Kadima at the center?
Desirable: 53.1%
Undesirable: 37.9%

The rest of the poll questioned 450
respondents from the Jewish population aged
18 and over. The margin of error is 4.6%

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Israeli Reactions: Good Speech, Now What?

Nahum Barnea, a widely read columnist for Yediot Aharonot, who accompanied Mr. Netanyahu to Washington, wrote that while the prime minister spoke well, the visit’s results were worrying. He listed them as “a president whom the Israelis suspect and the Arab world scorns for having yielded to the dictate of the Israelis; negotiations that had a slim chance of being renewed before the visit and now have no chance at all; a Palestinian Authority and an Arab League that are more determined than in the past to reach a resolution in the United Nations General Assembly on a state within the 1967 borders, which is a resolution that has quite dangerous consequences for Israel.”  – Ethan Bronner, NYT

Israeli reaction to Netanyahu’s visit in taking an introspective turn.  Most Israelis were hoping for some agreement to move the peace process forward.  As Nahum Barnea indicates in the quote above, the looming UN vote on Palestinian statehood is of high concern to many Israelis and their PM came back empty-handed on ways to address that and other issues.

What are the risks here?  Everyone knows the US will vote against statehood in the General Assembly and use its veto on the Security Council in support of Israel.  However, if the Palestinians are able to garner European support for a UN declaration of statehood, the consequences could be startling.  A decisive UN majority, including major European states, in support of Palestinian statehood would set the process in motion.  Palestinian statehood would change the character of the peace negotiations.  Instead of  between occupied and occupier, talks would be between two (nominally) independent states.  The UN charter and international law forbid one state to indefinitely occupy another, at least without authorization from the UN.  Therefore, Israel would face legal judgments, lawsuits and, perhaps most threatening of all, a new, more powerful divestment movement pattered after the popular 1980s international movement that forced governments, pension funds and other big investors to divest their holdings in South Africa under Apartheid and that was successful in weakening the Apartheid regime.

How can UN recognition of a Palestinian state be avoided?  That was a key strategic issue President Obama raised in his speeches and with Mr. Netanyahu.  Only the re-start of serious negotiations between Israel and the PLO (Abbas) on the two-state solution would persuade the Palestinians against petitioning the UN.  In meetings I attended with President Abbas this month, he clearly indicate his preference for a negotiated settlement and willingness to call off the September vote if the Israelis seriously wanted to negotiate.

Here is a sampling of other Israeli reaction:

A Kadima statement said: “After a difficult week, which peaked in a superfluous clash
with the US that highlighted the terrible relationship that Netanyahu has brought about in
this relationship in the last two years, it is time to begin taking action. After two years of
impasse and rejectionism, Israel is at one of its lowest diplomatic points in its history, its
vital problems are exposed on the table and it is in a worrying process of becoming
isolated” (“Anger on the Right, And on the Left,” Arik Bender et al., Maariv, p12).Speaking to Channel 2, MK Shaul Mofaz responded to Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu’s speech to Congress: “Netanyahu didn’t say anything new,” he said. “He has
no plan, he is leading us to a conflict with the world in September and if the people of
Israel have a choice between conflict and elections, I’m confident that they will choose
elections” (“Shaul Mofaz: ‘Netanyahu didn’t say anything new’,” Gil Hoffman,
Jerusalem Post Online).
MK Yoel Hasson (Kadima) said: “Netanyahu’s speech was no more than an election ad
and an attempt to create a false impression of willingness to enter negotiations.
Netanyahu’s policy will lead us to international isolation and to a bi-national state”
(“Anger on the Right, And on the Left,” Arik Bender et al., Maariv, p12).

MK Zehava Galon of Meretz said: “In Congress they applauded, in the Middle East we’ll
cry. Even Netanyahu knows that there is no peace without a compromise on the 1967
borders and dividing Jerusalem” (“Anger on the Right, And on the Left,” Arik Bender et
al., Maariv, p12).Minister Limor Livnat said: “In a brilliant speech, the prime minister presented the basic
principles for true peace while maintaining security for Israel and Israel’s continued
existence alongside a Palestinian state” (“Anger on the Right, And on the Left,” Arik
Bender et al., Maariv, p12)  (Likud)

For the first time, a right wing prime minister declares that he intends to give up parts of
Judea and Samaria,” said MK Tzippi Hotovely. “The prime minister should realize that
this is not acceptable to the absolute majority of the Likud faction” (“Anger on the Right,
And on the Left,” Arik Bender et al., Maariv, p12).  (Likud)

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Anatomy of Obama-Netanyahu Political-Media Event

Well, now it’s clear.  Not only did President Obama address the AIPAC (American-Israeli Political Action Council) national conference with words almost identical to his Middle East speech last Thursday night, he received repeated applause.  Among other things, Mr. Obama reiterated the formula ‘1967 plus swaps’ from Cairo.2.  And astonishingly, after rebuking the President days before,  PM Netanyanu was quoting his authority:

“Now, the precise delineation of those borders must be negotiated.  We’ll be generous about the size of the future Palestinian state.  But as President Obama said, the border will be different than the one that existed on June 4th, 1967.  Israel will not return to the indefensible boundaries of 1967.”(Emphasis added)

What is going on?  For four days, Mr. Netanyahu went out of his way pointing a finger at Mr. Obama’s Cairo.2 formulation.  Now he’s quoting  it!  I didn’t see any news reports that Mr. Netanyah apologized for misrepresenting the President’s remarks from the time he arrived until his speech to Congress.

President Obama was gracious in telling AIPAC attendees that his remarks were “misrepresented several times.”   Words diplomatically chosen:  Obama’s remarks were misrepresented, they were not misunderstood.  If they had been misunderstood the two leaders would have clarified their respective stands during a two-hour meeting the next day. Instead, the meme that President Obama had thrown Israel ‘under the bus’  became established media truth and was milked for every ounce of political blood it could draw.

Conservative media and politicians outdid themselves in whipping up false debate about what Obama never said, and the so-called East Coast ‘liberal’ press was not better.

There’s simply no excuse: not one major reporter or commenter thought or had the guts to interrupt another corrupt feeding frenzy and say:

“I think Mr. Netanyahu made a mistake here.  We are contacting Netanyahu’s press secretary now to clarify exactly why Mr. Netanyahu is interpreting the President’s remarks in a way seeming at odds with the record.  We’ll return with the Israeli response asap…….Meanwhile, in other news……”

The politics on display over the past week are hardly new. The PM stayed far away from real issues for which he had no answer, and avoided ones like settlements on which Israel is most vulnerable.  To fill the space, Mr. Netanyahu blew up the 1967 non-issue with symbolic importance and divisive meaning.  Mr. Netanyahu wanted and created a controversy, giving the signal to his conservative partisans in the US, now smelling blood, to go on attack

Dissecting Mr. Netanyahu’s speech to a Joint Session of Congress confirms this scenario.  The speech said nothing original, creative or in any way profound.

Most telling?  The PM failed to respond to President Obama’s challenge to AIPAC that the time for peace is running out because 1) demographic changes will mean Israel losing either its Jewish or democratic nature in the near future; 2) the changes in Arab states will put more pressure on Israel because it can no longer depend on the Mubaraks of the region suppressing a popular youth movement impatient for a Palestinian state; 3) for better or worse, the Palestinians have world opinion on their side.

What is Israel going to do?  I’d like to know. So would a lot of others. Does Netanyahu disbelieve challenges cited by President Obama? Is he in denial?  Is he racing head strong into his own self-imposed prophesy?

Sad to say it took the President of the United States to raise the level of discussion over Israel’s future by defining the strategic issues facing it.  The Israeli PM seemed content with a dog-fight.


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Fayyad Suffers Hearth Attack

Palestinian Prime Minister Fayyad suffered a heart attack yesterday while in Houston, Texas, attending the graduation of his son from college.  PM Fayyad is 59 years old and in stable condition

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Netanyahu Lies ‘Officially’ Caught

This just in from the “Dish” by Andrew Sullivan now at Daily Beast:

From last November 11. Money quote:

The Prime Minister and the Secretary {Clinton} agreed on the importance of continuing direct negotiations to achieve our goals. The Secretary reiterated that “the United States believes 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.”

What a bald-faced liar Bibi is; and how pathetic that so many fell for his hissy fit yet again.


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Obama Throws Netanyahu Life Preserver

Peter Beinart in the Daily Beast is astounded at Netanyahu’s behavior and tin ear towards the politics swirling around him:


“A sailor throws a drowning man a life preserver. How dare you, screams the man. Because of you, people are going to think I can’t swim.

That about sums up the relationship between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu. In a few months, the U.N. General Assembly will vote, probably overwhelmingly, to recognize a Palestinian state along Israel’s 1967 borders. No one knows exactly what will happen after that, but from the Israeli government’s point of view, it won’t be good. According to international law, Israel will be occupying a sovereign nation. The result will likely be a bonanza of lawsuits, divestment campaigns and cancelled business deals. Israelis will feel more and more besieged. More and more of the country’s educated, tech-savvy young will realize you can get pretty good falafel in Menlo Park.”



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Foreign Policy Roundtable

Foreign Policy magazine hosts Middle East commentators and academics on their responses to Obama’s speech:


President Obama’s Middle East speech couldn’t possibly have — and almost certainly didn’t — please all of its potential audiences. His comments, however, were refreshingly honest in acknowledging the limitations of American power and influence and even broke new ground on a number of important subjects.  – Hussein Ibish


While many are focused on the nuanced shift in U.S. policy with regard to Israel and the Palestinian territories expressed toward the end of the address, by far the most significant shift in U.S. policy within the speech was its shift in emphasis. No more is U.S. policy going to be dominated by Iraq or Afghanistan. Terror and Iranian nuclear proliferation and Israel and Palestine are important but they will all be viewed in a broader context of resetting America’s relations with the people of the region. This speech was truly Cairo Two, as some have already called it. While the president clearly acknowledged the impossibility of cookie-cutter approaches to each of the conundrums the region presents, he knit those approaches together by identifying and emphasizing our common aspirations with the majority of average citizens in the region. The U.S. will deal with leaders as we must but, acknowledging both the region’s volatility and the legitimate right of its people to representative government, we will seek wherever practicable to avoid being trapped as we have been into false trade-offs between stability and repression.  – David J. Rothkopf


The president laid claim to “a new chapter in American diplomacy,” which he described as “shifting our foreign policy after a decade of war.” But the vision he now endorses for the universality of American values has actually been the basis for our foreign policy in the Middle East for several administrations, most stridently that of his immediate predecessor — it was President Obama’s policies that had sought to tone down the emphasis our values in order to work more constructively with the repressive governments of Iran and Syria, as well as the repressive governments of Egypt and Saudi Arabia. - Kori Schake

What’s more, the nods in the speech to global solutions will count for little given what the president said about the U.N.’s role on Israeli-Palestinian peace. Earlier this week, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas heralded a diplomatic push for a vote on Palestinian statehood during September’s U.N. General Assembly meetings. In response, Obama was caustic. “Symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September,” he warned, “won’t create an independent state.” It was an all-but-explicit promise to veto Palestinian recognition. Should it come to that, Washington will almost certainly be isolated not just from the broad U.N. membership but also from its Western allies.

- David Bosco






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