Showing posts with label Palestinians. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Palestinians. Show all posts

Thursday, September 8, 2022

September 2022: Political Comments, Wineries, Sports, Festivals and General Notes

I am a bit behind getting to my blog but I thought I would throw this one together to comment on a few different  issues.  Maybe I will put together one more just before Rosh Hashanah, which is quickly approaching.

Israeli Politics

Firstly, what  could one of my blogs be without at least some comments on Israeli politics?  As you might know, we have yet another election scheduled - for November 1, 2022.  Former Prime Minister Netanyahu is pulling out all the stops  trying to get himself back into power.  I would say it is going to be very close. According to a few different recent Israeli polls, here is an approximate estimate of where things stand in terms of projected seats by party (poll predictions):

Likud: (Party of Former Prime Minister Netanyahu):           31-33 seats

Yesh Atid (Party of current Interim Prime Minister Lapid):  22-24

National Unity (Party led by Benny Gantz):                         12-13

Shas (Ultra-Orthodox Mizrahi (eastern) Party:                        8-10

Labor (Left wing "workers" party, led by Merav Micaeli):     5

United Torah Judaism (Ultra-Orthodox Ashkanazi party):      7

Yisrael Beytenu (Led by Lieberman):                                        5-6

Religious Zionist Party (Ultra Nationlist - Smotrich/Ben Gvir)  10-13

Meretz (Far left, secularist party):                                            5

Joint List (Arab parties, largely anti-Zionist):                          5-6

Ra'am (Arab party, led by Monsour Abbas):                            4

So if we add all that up - by looking at who could  go with who, we get something like this:  

Netanyahu (Likud), together with the two ultra-Orthodox parties and the RZP is running at 56 to 63.  Obviously, if these parties could put together 63 seats, they would form a far-right wing, narrow government though it would probably be relatively stable for the next 2-3 years.  This would be a government of vengence in my view, which would immediately try to change the law in several areas, especially in the area of religious-secular issues in Israel, budgeting (especially for Orthodox and  Ultra-Orthodox groups) and extensive increased settlement building.  This type of government would try to "roll back" any changes that had been made over the past two years by the current government and would do everything it could to assist Netanyahu in getting out of his legal  problems.

If they fall short of 61, they will try to convince Ganz and his "National Unity" Party to join the government.  Given that Gantz's party could have 10-12 seats, it is definitely a possibility that this could happen though it is unclear who would go first as Prime Minister and what Netanyahu would have to promise Gantz to get him to join the government.  Nevertheless, I don't rule this out especially since Gantz has shown  in the past that he  is prepared to make deals with Netanyahu.  One  would assume that the inclusion of Gantz would moderate the government somewhat but it would still be a very right-leaning government.

On the other side of the ledger, Lapid's "bloc" is running at between 49 and 53, without Ra'am.  If we add back in Ra'am - that would get them to between 53 and 57, still not enough to form a government.  This group would need to make a deal with one or both of the Ultra-Orthodox parties, which seems quite unlikely.  It doesn't look like there are any other potential participants.

Given these numbers, it is possible that there will be another stalemate and that this might finally force Netanyahu to consider resigning from the leadership of the Likud party.  But I wouldn't bet on this.  Unless something dramatically changes, it looks like Israel is heading for some type of right wing government, either with the participation of Gantz's party  or without.  Lapid and his potential coalition partners would all need a big change in the  polling  numbers to be in a position to form a government.  As of right now, that seems unlikely.

I will watch the polls and see if anything interesting develops but with less than two months to go - this is where things seem to be headed.

Israeli TV and Sports

As you may know, the fourth season of Fauda is out and has been airing on Israeli TV, one episode at a time.  The grand finale will be next Wednesday, September 14, 2022.  After that, I understand it will be released worldwide on Netflix.  So if you are a Fauda fan, this season will surely keep you riveted to the screen.  "Fauda" means chaos in Arabic.  This show is definitely chaotic.  Violent, pressure-packed, intense and dramatic, it makes for some very compelling TV.  I would say that the the fourth season has been  one of the best though we are still waiting for the  culminating  episode.

The big news in Sports here in Israel is that the Maccabi Haifa soccer team made it into the European "Champions League."  That is a very big deal for European  and Israeli football (soccer) fans.   Next week, Paris St Germaine will be playing a home game in Haifa - which means that soccer superstar Lionel Messi, among others, will be arriving in Israel for a game.  This is really a huge sports event here and tickets are very hard to come by.  I have no plans to go in person but I will probably jump on the bandwagon and watch it on TV.  Expectations are not very high for Maccabi Haifa against such strong international competition.  But just being there is a big accomplishment for the Haifa squad.

As a Torontonion, on the other hand, I am very excited about the Toronto  Blue Jays this year, who have an excellent (though often inconsistent) baseball team.  When in Israel, this means watching games from 2 a.m. to 5 a.m. (or sometimes longer).  About 20 games left to go in the regular season and the Blue Jays are still in a playoff spot, so I may be keeping strange hours in the coming weeks.  Also quite excited about the Buffalo Bills, who play their season  opener tonight and the Toronto Maple Leafs, who begin the season in about a month.  All of this means keeping a semblance of Toronto hours, while here in Israel - not an easy feat.

A quick musical mention - a blast from the past - the "Counting Crows" are playing  in Ra'anana at the Ra'anana ampitheatre next week.  Not sure I will make it to that but it sounds like it could be fun.  I might go see Tamir Grinburg instead,  winner of last year's "Rising Star" competition on Israeli reality TV.

On my recent  trip back to Israel, on Air Canada, I watched a few Israeli movies on the plane.  Nothing too memorable, but it is worth mentioning that if you look for  these movies in the entertainment system, they are available.

Worthwhile Sight  Seeing Mentions

We  took a few trips  recently to places that we had been to in the past but seemed worth visiting again.  

Photo #3
In late July, we  arranged a tour of the Israeli Supreme Court.  This is a fascinating tour, filled with all kinds of interesting information on the details of the building itself, the history and  role  of the Israeli Supreme Court, and a chance to watch some live proceedings.  It can be arranged in English or  many other  languages - and it is free.  Obviously this is a sight of very high interest for lawyers from around the world, but I think many other people  would also enjoy visiting.

Last week, we  went for a tour of the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament  building.  This is also quite an interesting  tour, which takes about 1.5 hours.  It is free and  can be arranged in English, Hebrew or several other languages.  Like the tour of the Supreme  Court it includes quite a bit of information on the history of the Knesset, the building itself, the Israeli political system and other interesting tidbits.  We had a terrific guide and really enjoyed the tour.

I have included pictures  of the Chagall Art that adorns the Main Knesset entrance and reception hall area.  We spent a significant of time looking at and discussing  these photos.

While in the Knesset, we happen to see a number of current Knesset members wandering around.  One of them was Ayelet Shaked.  Several visitors were stopping her to ask for a picture.  We  didn't.  According to current  polls, Shaked and her  party are unlikely to make it to the Knesset this  time around but she  is still actively campaigning.
Photo #1 (on the  Left)

Photo #2 (Middle)


  





Summer in Israel also features several interesting events and  festivals.  On the liquid refreshment side of things, there are three that I would like to mention.

Each year, the Israeli Museum in Jerusalem holds an annual Wine festival.   It is an outdoor festival at the Israeli Museum grounds, with beautiful views of Jerusalem.  It is usually held in July or August, generally after Tisha B'Av.   There are about 30-40 wineries in attendance.  Guests pay a set admission (120 Shequels this year - or about $40  USD) and receive a wine  glass that they can take  home at the end of the evening.   Guests can then wander around and taste wines from any of  the  different  wineries.   No additional  charges for the wine, though some of the wineries run out of their better wines  early in the evening.  There are also food kiosks selling a wide range  of items - cheese plates, pizza, baked potatoes, sushi.  The festival also includes live music and there was a really fun band playing a wide range of music  - from classic 70s rock to 80s and 90s pop music - to current Israeli music.  On the day  we attended, the band even  played a medley of Jewish Hora music.  Lots of fun.  Our whole family attended and everyone  had a really fun time.  (As crazy as it sounds, everyone is now old enough to drink alcohol legally....)

Next week, there is a Coffee festival in Tel-Aviv, which promises to showcase  more than 50 different  coffee  vendors.  Not sure how much coffee I can drink in one evening - and how long I might have to stay up afterwards until all of that caffeine wears off.  But I suppose, getting back to my sports comments, if there is a baseball or football game to be watched after the event, it may not be so bad.

There is also a beer festival coming up with more than 50 breweries.  I'm not that much of a beer connaisseur but it might still be a fun event.

Israeli Wineries

Speaking of wine, we managed to visit a few wineries over the past few months.

One was "Harei Galil" - the Galil  Mountain Winery.  This winery is in northern Israel, very close  to the Syrian  border.  The winery sits atop a mountain and the visitor's centre provides a beautiful view.  The visitor centre staff were  very friendly.  We arranged a tasting  of six different wines, accompanied by a plate of cheeses, grapes, apricots, dates, olives, breads and other  goodies, all strictly Kosher and  all quite tasty.   The wine itself was nice though not compelling enough for us to load up  with purchases.  Galil is one of Israel's largest wineries, producing more than 1.2 million bottles  a year.  They have some  very nice  high end wines as well as some drinkable mid-range offerings.  It is a beautiful visitor's centre and well worth a stop

Nearby, we also stopped  at one of my favourites, the Dalton  Winery, which produces some delicious wine.  We arrived a bit late so we had a choice of standing  at the bar and tasting whatever they poured us for free - or sitting  down  and ordering a set tasting.  Since  we were running a bit late, we opted  for the bar tasting.  The staff were very friendly and  helpful and poured us a variety of  tastings.  Here we couldn't resist buying  a few bottles though the prices were not really any better than the prices in Israeli wine shops.

We also visited the Tulip Winery which is another  one  of our favourites.  The Tulip Winery invests in and supports a community of adults with special needs, many of whom also work at the winery.  For that reason alone, it is one of  my favourites to visit and support.  We  opted for a 6-7 wine tasting package which also came with a nice selection of fruit, cheeses, breads and other goodies.  Like at the other wineries, the staff were very helpful and friendly.  We sat outdoors on high bar chairs.  It was quite warm but they had fans set up so it was comfortable.  

I will also mention that we visited the Ella Valley  Winery which is much  closer to the  Jerusalem area - located in the Judean Hills.  The tasting here was somewhat  less organized.  We  were served some olives with our wine.  Most of the wines we tasted were not particularly good.  Our guide  was friendly and fun - but not very experienced or  knowledgeable.  We  weren't able to taste the higher  end wines.  Not sure  we will be running  back to this winery for a visit though I have had some Ella  wines that I have quite enjoyed  over the years.

Maybe I am saving the last for the best.  Not far from Ella is the Tzora Winery.  Tzora is more of a boutique winery, which primarily produces  blended wines.  But their wines are all outstanding.  The visitors' centre is beautiful.  We have been there a few times.  On  our most recent vist, we were able to taste 5 or 6 wines and were provided with a wonderful cheese, bread and olive oil platter.  Everyone we were with enjoyed all of the wines.  Of  all the Israeli wineries we have visited, from a taste and experience  point of view, this is definitely one  of the best.

There are somewhere around  300 wineries now in Israel, so this is only a very  small sampling.  We  have probably been to close  to 50 of them but  still a long  way to go.  For any guests who are planning to visit -  we are happy to try and get  to as many  of the  remaining 250 as possible,  although we have visited many of the really good ones so we may have to go back for seconds  to some of those places.

Random Closing Thoughts

With the approach of another Jewish  New Year, Rosh Hashanah,  in just a few weeks, I think I would say  by way of sizing things up that the "State of the Nation is Strong."  Okay, I know I have  stolen that phrase, but I think it is true.   Israel has all kinds  of challenges, including Religious-Secular tensions, serious external threats as well  as sporadic terrorist attacks, ever  increasing cost of living and a variety of other types of tension.  But Israeli recently ranked #9 on a World  Happiness Index, which is quite an accomplishment.  That put Israel higher than Canada or the United States (#16  and  18 respectively).

Sometimes, it can feel like living in a powder keg, not knowing  if hostilities will break out any moment with Gaza, with the Palestinians,  with Hezbollah or with some other party.   And things will  not  really be truly peaceful  here unless and until we  can reach some type of resolution with the Palestinians.  But  Israel has come quite far since its founding more than 74 years ago and certainly seems like  a more stable, prosperous, vibrant - and yes even peaceful place than it  was  in the first  40-50 years of its existence.  Hopefully  we  will soon  find a way to address some of these outstanding  issues and ensure long term peace and stability.

If I  don't  get a chance to write before the holidays, I wish everyone a happy and healthy New Year - Shana Tova u'Metukah.


Sunday, September 5, 2021

The Netanyahu Years by Ben Caspit: A review

 

Over the past week, I read Ben Caspit's book on former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, The Netanyhau Years.  It was a quick and interesting read, primarily covering the time period between 1999 and 2015.

Caspit is an Israeli journalist who writes for Ma'ariv, a slightly right of centre publication.  The book was translated by Ora Cummings.  I would say that the translation was quite choppy at times and probably needs a number of edits.

This is not a classic historian's biography with footnotes, references and details of sources.  Rather there are a great deal of unattributed quotes, anonymous sources and even references to "rumours" and "urban legends."   For  example, after Netanyahu was caught cheating on his current wife, Sara (his third wife), he and Sara lawyered up and reached an agreement on how they would continue their relationship.  According to some sources, there is a written agreement that spells out in detail how everything is supposed to work.  Caspit refers to the existence of the document as an "urban legend,"  though in this case, his assumption is that the document exists. No further sources or details are provided. 

I should also note that the book only covers the period up to the end of the Obama presidency.  There are a good few chapters to write about Netanyahu during the Trump years  and about  the developments with Netanyahu's criminal charges and about Netanyahu's political moves all since 2017, the time of the book's original publication in Hebrew.  

Overall, as someone who avidly follows politics and history, I enjoyed reading the book.  It was at times repetitive, and the organization was a bit disjointed.  Some of it was written chronologically and other parts were written thematically.  So the last two parts of the book include a section on Netanyahu's dealings with the Palestinians and his dealings with Iran.   Earlier, the book flows in a more chronological manner, covering a year or two at a time.  

Caspit covers some of Netanyahu's background growing up, his relationship with his parents, particularly his father, his move to Israel and the devastating  loss of his older  brother Yoni, who was killed in the Israeli raid on Entebbe.  He also covers some of the details of Netanyahu's relationships with his three wives and the impact that  each of these women had on his career, his circle of friends, his motivation and goals.  These parts of the book flowed well and provided quite a bit of interesting background information.

But the majority of the book deals with Netanyahu's relationship with political rivals and friends, at home and abroad and Netanyahu's decision making processes over the years.  Caspit  covers the relationships that Bibi built up with wealthy American and Israeli donors over the years, his close relationship to U.S. republican politicians and influencers, his battles with fellow Likud members over the years and Netanyahu's primary goal of remaining in power at all costs, which is, more or less, one of the themes of the book.

A great deal of Caspit's focus is lost opportunity.  He asserts that Netanyahu had so much popularity for  a period of time, that he could have advanced a joint Israeli-U.S. peace process  with the Palestinians that would have created a  period of medium to long term stablity for Israel vis-a-vis the Palestinians.  Caspit also lays a fair bit of blame at the feet of Abbas, the Palestinian leader, for the failure of the peace process, so it remains unclear how, even if Bibi had made certain decisions, Abbas would have agreed.  Caspit outlines several "secret" tracks of negotiation that were taking place - the Peres-Abbas track, which he maintains was very close to a deal, the "London Track" which was also close to a deal and some other secret initiatives.  On balance, however, his conclusion seems to be that Netanyahu could have made a deal if he had really wanted to do so.  I'm not sure that this is accurate.

Caspit also maintains that if Bibi had taken a different approach with then President Obama, Netanyahu could have partnered with the U.S. to negotiate a much better Iranian deal.   Caspit's thesis here seems  to be that the U.S. was not prepared to create any sort of realistic military option, either its own, or an Israeli option as an alternative to the negotiated nuclear deal with Iran, especially since Israel was not willing to show any flexibility on other policy issues, such as peace initiatives with the Palestinians.  Therefore, the  U.S. was ultimately negotiating from a position of weakness and gave in, unnecessarily, to several Iranian demands  that saw the deal allowing Iran to develop nuclear weapons over a period of 10 years.  Caspit partially blames Bibi for this, since, he asserts, that rather than working with Obama, Netanyahu decided to attack the President at  every opportunity, support the Republicans, even publicly, and make it a mission to try and prevent Obama from winning a second term.  This was obviously a failed strategy in Caspit's view.

That is not to say that Caspit  blames  Netanyahu entirely.  With respect to Obama's mideastern policy, I think it is fair to say that there is little here that is very complimentary of Obama  and his team.  From the beginning of his presidency, Obama sent a very hostile message to Israel by visiting Egypt and Jordan and skipping Israel.  This right away limited U.S. credibility for a country trying to broker a peace deal by being a partial guarantor of Israel's security.  After that, over the course of an 8 year period, there were several snubs, humiliations and questionable political  moves, going both ways. Caspit details many of them. 

With respect to Israel, Caspit has some harsh  words for several U.S. and Israeli diplomats and politicians, including George Mitchell, Hillary Clinton, Martin Indyk, Rahm Emanuel from the U.S. side, Ron  Dermer, Gideon Sa'ar, and a number of others from the Israeli side.  I think it is fair to say that some of his harshest criticism is reserved for Sara Netanyahu.  Given her guilty plea to state criminal charges, her record of scandals and flare ups, much of this may be warranted.  But Caspit spends a fair bit of time covering mistakes and misteps by many political actors, not just  Bibi, that caused such a deterioration in the Obama-Netanyahu relationship, the disintegration of the peace  process and other outcomes.   Overall, there is "lots of blame to go around" and some of Caspit's analysis seems, perhaps, intended to justify some of the positions that Netanyahu took to ward off antagonistic or mistaken policies and proposals advanced by the U.S. that were not in Israel's long term interest.  

Despite these efforts at "balance," Caspit is extremely critical of a number of Netanyahu's moves over the Obama years.  Netanyahu's decision to accept a speaking invitation at the Capitol at the behest of the congressional Republicans and to go ahead and make a presentation there without even informing President Obama in advance was unprecedented and a serious violation of diplomatic protocol.  Netanyahu's decision to announce new settlements just as then Vice-President Biden was arriving in Israel for a  key visit was also quite a poke in the eye.  And the fact that Netanyahu kept President Obama and/or Vice Biden waiting for very lengthy periods for a several meetings was another example of Netanyahu's conduct that  bolster Caspit's conclusion  that Netanyahu went out of his way, on several occasions to try and humiliate Obama and Biden in a manner that was highly unstatesmanlike at best, and thoroughly inappropriate.  

Caspit does a great deal of editorializing.  He tries to write about what Netanyahu must have been thinking, his political and personal calculations, his massive ego, his messianic complex and his enormous sense of self-entitlement.  Those who are supportive of Netanyahu might view much of this as overblown, unsupported and much conjecture.  But since the writing of the book, with political events that  have taken place in Israel since 2017, including developments in Netanyahu's criminal trial, it seems to me that a great deal of  what Caspit has to say is probably not so far off the mark.

Here is Caspit's ultimate conclusion, which is, more or less, the thesis of the book:

"Netanyahu's story  is one of miserably missed opportunity.  Ever since David Ben-Gurion...Israel has never had a leader with the kind of unlimited credit given to Netanyahu....he could have done anything he wanted...."

"As time went by, the real objective of the Netanyahu regime was molded: to remain in power.  He failed to block Iran, he destroyed the peace process, contributed to the growing delegitimizing of Israel in the world, and was forever striving to the right, in a never ending chase  after the mythical electoral "base" that will enable him to remain in power one more  term, another year, longer and  longer...."

"Netanyahu could have gone down in history as a leader who influenced the future of his people, who brought Israel to a new place and burst  through the cul-de-sac into which the Jewish state was forced in the seventh decade of its life.  Instead...he...left behind nothing at all."

Now that last part may be excessively harsh.  There will certainly be those who will argue that Israel's  economy is in a better state than it was  when Netanyahu took office, that foreign relations have improved, especially with peace treaties with some  of Israel's neighbours (although these came into effect after the  book was written) and that there were other successes.  But in other ways, the final four years of Netanyahu's premiership, after the book was written would bolster Caspit's thesis even further.

Between 2017 and 2021, it is quite arguable that Netanyahu's  sole objective was to stay in power and avoid his criminal proceedings.  He was responsible for bringing Israel to the polls on four consecutive occasions and refused to propose or pass a state budget for  more than 2 years.  Few legistlative initiatives were passed or even proposed, other than those that would somehow help or assist  Bibi with his  ongoing issues.  The pursuit of legislated immunity from criminal proceedings seemed to be Bibi's overriding objective, but despite his four attempts, he couldn't seem to muster the majority require to implement it.  By contrast, since  the current  government has taken power, there have been a rash of legislative initiatives in areas including public transportation, the environment,  agriculture and a host of other areas.  

Ultimately,  if and when Caspit decides to update the book and add in a few more chapters, there seems to be very little that has taken place in Israeli  politics that will cause Caspit to change his thesis very much, if at all.  In fact, as the Netanyahu criminal trial continues, and evidence continues to emerge about Netanyahu's involvement in a wide range of very questionable activities, Caspit will probably double down on his thesis.

I plan to read Anshel  Pfeffer's  book as well - Bibi - The Turbulent  Life and Times of Benjamin  Netanyahu.  I would be suprised if Pfeffer's ultimate conclusions are  very different  but  I'm sure it will bring a different perspective.  Stay tuned for my "compare and contrast" blog once I have read that book.   



Wednesday, September 16, 2020

The "Abraham Accords" - Are We Any Closer to Middle East Peace?"


We watched the signing of the "Abraham Accords" yesterday with interest.  It was a big deal for Israel.  After all, any time that Israel can sign peace treaties (okay, normalization treaties) with other Arab countries, that is bound to be a big deal.  The deal and the process have elicited some very polarized reactions so I thought it would be worthwhile to provide a  few comments about this  process.

First of all, I think it is fair to acknowledge that, however we got here, this type  of deal is a favourable and beneficial deal for most players in the region.  Although it may be characterized primarily  as an "arms deal" between the U.S. and the UAE wherein the U.S. will now sell F-35s and other weaponry to the UAE, there is more to it than that.  The UAE and Israel have begun to negotiate deals and arrangements in a wide range of areas including technology, medicine, energy, tourism and, yes, defence.  This type of relationship, if it proceeds, will lead to a much warmer peace than Israel has with Egypt or  Jordan.  If it takes root and develops, it may well lead to a very different Middle East.  Other countries may come along and the peace between Israel and Egypt may develop further.   Israelis may soon find  themselves  visiting more Arab  countries regularly and vice-versa and that is exciting.

At the signing ceremony yesterday, including the accompanying press conferences, President Trump stated that he expected "5 or 6 other countries" to come along very soon.  Apparently, after the press conference he upped this to "7 to 9."   Now, I don't really think, given the track record, that anyone has any great reason to believe very much of what this president promises.  Who knows what these other countries are demanding in the negotiations?   Or how far apart they really are?  Or whether any of these deals can really be closed?  But I will say this - if Israel were to be able to enter deals with 5 or 6 other countries - including some large and significant ones - that would have to be considered a huge step towards Middle East  peace and a brighter future for the whole region.  So far, the names I have heard mentioned include Oman, Sudan, Morocco, Lebanon, and, ultimately, Saudi Arabia.  It would certainly be a huge credit to Trump and Kushner if they were able to close most or all of these deals.

If the other countries do not fall into line as expected, yesterday's  deal may not amount to very much and  may not change much in the region.  Some indications from yesterday's proceedings support a pessimistic view about the  whole ordeal.   Neither Bahrain nor the UAE brought their heads of state.  Instead, each side brought their foreign ministers (secretaries of state, if you will).  For Israel, the Foreign Minister, Gabi Ashkenazi (part of the Blue and White wing of the governing coalition) was left at home and did not attend with Prime Minister Netanyahu.  In fact, press reports here indicate that he wasn't even aware of the contents of the deal.  Neither the Israeli cabinet nor the Israeli Knesset have yet voted to approve the deal and it is unclear that anyone, other than Netanyahu, is aware of its full contents.

Prime Minister Netanyahu and the representatives from the UAE and Bahrain all spoke glowingly about President Trump.  That seems to have been one of the  key terms of the deal.  In fact, Netanyahu did not even acknowledge the foreign representatives from the UAE and Bahrain until later in his speech.  He did  not speak about plans for Israel and the UAE.  One might have thought he could  have publicly invited the UAE and Bahrain leaders to visit Israel during this speech or he could have reviewed some of the hopes and aspirations that citizens of each country might have.  But instead, the focus was on Netanyahu himself as well as Trump.  It is a shame that Netanyahu seems so willing to go  along with turning Israel into a partisan issue in United States politics.  I am not convinced that this is a policy that is in Israel's interests  long term, especially if Trump should lose the  November election.

For their part, the representatives of the UAE and Bahrain also went along with the cue to lavish praise upon President Trump,  repeatedly.  All that was missing was  an official ring-kissing procession.   They both said little about Israel but called for peace across the Middle East.  The Bahraini representative called for a "just  resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian" conflict but really did not discuss what was so great about this particular deal for Bahrain and Israel respectively.  The ceremony, overall, had the feel of a campaign rally for Trump and Netanyahu rather than a key diplomatic event.

Critics of the deal and of the Trump-Kushner approach to the Middle East  have argued that Trump has titled U.S. policy towards Israel and has effectively taken positions that Bibi himself would have put forward.  In some cases, this  is fair comment.  the Trump administration has cut aid to the Palestinians, has recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital and has recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.  The Trump administration has also put together a "Deal of the Century" proposal for peace between Israel and the Palestinians without Palestinian involvement.  And  yes, it is a fairly one-sided document.

That being said, the Trump-Kushner proposal, does call for an independent Palestinian State, something rejected  by Netanyahu,  his Likud party and the various parties to the right of Likud in the  Knesset.  It does not include all of the territory that the Palestinians would like and  it does  not include a right of return to Israel for the many Palestinian refugees.  But it does include territorial compromise by Israel and  it is a negotiable plan rather than the a bottom line.  It is unclear whether there would be any negotiations regarding Jerusalem.

It is true that  this approach tilts towards Israel.  But it has also true that previous plans including  the Arab League Plan and the Clinton plan tilted, almost  completely, to the  Palestinian side, especially the Arab League Plan which called for a Palestinian state on pre-1967 borders including  the Old City.  Even where Israeli leaders were willing to go along with a plan that included most of these terms (i.e. the Clinton plan in 2000) that was not acceptable to the Palestinians.  I  do think that a Clinton-type plan left the station shortly after Arafat rejected it.  Especially after political changes in Israel that were probably linked, to some extent, to the rejectionist approach of the Palestinians at the time.

For years the surrounding Arab countries have  been willing to support Palestinian intransigence by characterizing Israel as the main enemy and  threat in the  region and refusing to enter into peace and  normalization deals with Israel - for fear of having been viewed as  betraying the Palestinian cause.  But over the course of the past 53 years since the 1967 war and 72 years since the establishment of the State of Israel, this has been a failing policy.  It has led to  a great deal of war and violence, terrorism, perennial refugee camps and has helped bolster dictatorial regimes in the region who have  used the Palestinian cause to suppress their own populations and  downplay  other criticism about how their countries are run.  And it really hasn't brought the Palestinians any closer to their own state.

The current approach led by Trump and  Kushner marks a  significant departure from this failed policy.  On the  one hand, the U.S. has tilted towards Israel in some areas, much to the chagrin of the EU, the "progressive wing" of the Democratic Party, Turkey, Iran and some other countries.  On the other hand, the goal of the policy seems to be to  bring in other Arab nations, to become friends and allies of Israel - but also to help work towards a resolution of the Israel-Palestinian conflict in a way that is more realistic. 

It is noteworthy that Netanyahu has called the deals with the UAE and Bahrain "deals from strength" that trade "peace for peace" rather than "land for peace."  But Netanyahu is being disingenuous.  As  part of these deals, Israel has agreed to refrain from unilaterally annexing any of the disputed territories and has also agreed not to oppose a U.S. decision to sell the UAE F-35s.   

The Crown Prince of the UAE states that he believed that the UAE could be in a much better position to assist with the Israeli -Palestinian conflict if it were viewed with some measure of trust and  friendship by Israel.  The UAE and Israel have taken steps  to build that relationship since as early as 2010.  But this does mark  a new  phase - and concurrently, a potentially new level of influence for the UAE in its dealings with Israel.  By including a requirement that  Israel abandon any proposal  to unilaterally annex land, some of which is earmarked for a future Palestinian state, the UAE has signified that it will take an active role in trying to bring about a resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

That brings us to the current situation.  There are really a few very different routes that  this process may now take.

If Trump and Kushner are correct that this process has the potential to bring about a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians - I believe that Saudi Arabia would be the key turning point.  Saudi Arabia may well have the clout to insist that it will only sign a full peace deal with Israel if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is resolved.  

In this scenario, a proposal or  plan may be developed that is somewhere between the Trump-Kushner plan and the Clinton Plan.  It would result in the formation of a Palestinian State and a full resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian  conflict.  The problem is that it may not be acceptable, initially, to the Palestinians or even the Israelis.  But here the hope would be that the combination of the support  of a large number of other Arab countries, financial, economic and other  assistance for the Palestinians would leave the Palestinians with no other real alternatives.

On the other side of the equation, Netanyahu has actively campaigned against the creation of a Palestinian state and has suggested that he opposes this part of the Trump-Kushner plan.  He stated this repeatedly during the last Israeli election campaign.  But at some  point, if pushed by Trump and  Kushner - and with the possibility of having  diplomatic relations, even  warm ones, with a large number of countries in the Middle East, Israel may also have no other real alternative but to accept the deal.

On the other hand, no matter what Trump, Kushner or Netanyahu do, there will continue to be rejectionists in the Middle East.   Iran, Turkey, Qatar, Hezbollah and Hamas have all registered their strong opposition to this approach and the Palestinian Authority has called the UAE and Bahrain "back stabbers."  If the other Middle Eastern countries will not go along with the  Trump-Kushner approach and if the PA decides to  turn to violence as its response (as it has many times in the past), an Israeli-Palestinian deal may be as far off as it has ever been.

If, in November, Trump is re-elected, he may decide to pressure Israel to accept a plan that he can sell to the other Arab countries - and ultimately try to use those countries to get the Palestinians to agree  as well.  There are a lot of "ifs"  here and Trump is very unpredictable.  And, of course, there is a still a good chance that he will not be re-elected.

If Biden is elected, he will have a difficult decision to make.  If he takes the Obama approach to the Middle East, that would mean trying to open up negotiations with Iran immediately, restoring funding to the Palestinians unconditionally and cooling the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and  others.  This may effectively end the current track of pushing for peace deals between Israel and neighbouring countries as a first step  towards peace.

But if  Biden is elected and  he can be convinced that some genuine progress has been made  - and the U.S. is close to brokering a peace deal between Saudi Arabia and  Israel (that also involves an Israel-Palestinian deal), Biden might even continue a version of this path.  He  will almost certainly restore funding to the Palestinians either way and try to re-open dialogue with the PA.  But he might not tilt U.S. policy back to where it was under Obama.

Overall, I think this is all a great opportunity for Israel.  The Palestinians rejected the Clinton plan in 2000 and lost what was probably the best proposal they might ever get from Israel.  They probably regret having done so even if they will not publicly admit it.  At this juncture, if Israel could reach a deal with the Palestinians, along the  lines of what has been proposed by Trump and  Kushner, it would probably be about the best deal Israel could hope to get even if the final deal involves additional Israeli concessions.  If it is a deal that would also involve full peace deals with most of the  surrounding Arab countries, it would be an opportunity that Israel would probably not want to pass up.  

While President Obama and Netanyahu had a great deal of public  quarrels, the U.S.-Israel relationship remained very strong throughout  Obama's presidency.  This was the case despite some of the steps taken by Obama over the course of his presidency, especially his support for anti-Israel UN resolutions at the very end of his second term and the dispute with Israel over the wisdom of the Iranian nuclear deal.  But at the same time, throughout the  Obama presidency, the U.S. continued to cooperate with Israel fully in  a wide range of technological, military, economic and  other areas despite the often successful efforts of Netanyahu to portray the situation otherwise.  President Obama did not take any significant steps to try and impose a deal on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

If Biden is elected, he may well look at all aspects of the Obama-Netanyahu relationship and find a way to do things a bit differently.  He  may want to restore the public perception of the U.S.-Israel relationship as one that is non-partisan even while repairing the U.S. relationship with the Palestinians.  He will have a challenging  time with Netanyahu in this regard but if the ultimate result is comprehensive peace between Israel and the Palestinians with most other Arab countries in agreement - it may make sense to continue a version of the Trump-Kushner approach even if a Biden vision is viewed as being a bit more balanced.  








Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Latest Terrorist Attacks in Israel and Pew Study Link

We have been enjoying some unseasonably warm weather in Israel while dealing with a spate of Palestinian terror attacks.

Yonatan Azarihab, who was stabbed in a terror attack in Petah Tikvah on March 8, 2016, speaks from the hospital (Channel 2 screenshot)
Yonatan Azarihab
Yesterday, as U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was visiting Israel, Israelis fought back three different terrorist attacks in three different areas.  One attack occurred in Petah Tikvah.  The victim, Yonatan Azarihab, was stabbed several times in the shoulder and neck by a Palestinian attacker.  Though seriously injured, Azarihab pulled the knife out of his shoulder and used the knife to fight off the attacker.  The attacker, a 20 year old Palestinian, died of his wounds.  Azarihab is being treated at an Israeli hospital.


In another attack in Jaffa, a 21 year old Palestinian man ran down a a beach promenade stabbing several people in his path.  He injured twelve people and killed one.  Six of the injured were hospitalized, at least one of whom is in critical condition.  A local busker sprang to action by using his guitar to hit the attacker and slow him down before police arrived on the scene and shot the attacker.  The attacker killed an American student, Taylor Force, a U.S. military veteran, who was visiting Israel.  The Fatah website, which represents one of the strongest factions of the Palestinian authority, praised the attack as the work of a "martyr."

In a third attack, a Palestinian on a motorcycle opened fire on a police vehicle near the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem.  One officer was killed in the attack and a second was seriously injured.  Police eventually caught up to the terrorist and killed him.

The current wave of attacks has been ongoing since September 2015.  Hundreds of Palestinians have attacked Israelis across Israel. Although many of the attacks have been knife attacks, there have also been shootings, car attacks (where the attacker purposely drives into a group of civilians) and other incidents.  Many of the attackers have been killed by nearby bystanders, police forces or others arriving at the scene to fight off the attacks.

The attacks have generally not been condemned by the Palestinian leadership or even by Israeli Arab Knesset members.  Many of the attacks have been celebrated and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has praised several of the attackers as "Martyrs."

One has to wonder about the end game for the Palestinians.  If they are of the view that the use of this type of violence will push Israel to make significant peace concessions, that would seem to be a mistaken assumption.  If anything, the Israeli political landscape has been shifting to the right as a result of these attacks.

A Pew Research Center study released this week reported that close to 50% of Israelis would now support a policy of transferring Israeli Arabs out of Israel.  To where?   Well maybe that is a corollary of the Palestinian position that the Palestinian state as part of a "two-state solution" should be emptied of its Jews.  If a "two-state solution" means that each people gets its own state, many interesting questions arise.  If each state has a minority of the other state's people - and provides full rights for that minority (as Israel now does for the Palestinian population), then it seems doubtful that many Israelis would push too hard for the expulsion or transfer from Israel of the Palestinians to the nascent Palestinian state.

But if it is a negotiated condition of a two state solution that Israel uproot any Jewish communities in the territory earmarked for the new Palestinian state and provide the Palestinian state with territory completely free of any Jewish residents, it is understandable that many would view the corollary to be a logical extension of the same premise. 

This is the position taken by Israeli Knesset Member Avigdor Lieberman of the "Yisrael Beitenu" party, which is currently not part of the governing coalition.  Lieberman would argue that this is what President Obama has referred to as "land swaps" where Israel would trade areas within Israel that have primarily Arab populations for areas of the West Bank that have primarily Jewish populations.

Funny enough, the Palestinian Authority view is that Israel should empty the West Bank of Jews as part of a territorial compromise and agree to accept Palestinian refugees into Israel itself rather than their new proposed homeland.  Obviously this makes no sense at all.  The whole purpose of a "two-state solution" would be that the Palestinians could resolve, completely, the issue of refugees within the borders of their new state.  Netanyahu and Lieberman have been criticized for taking this position as racist and intransigent.  But it is neither to accept that a two state solution means two states for two peoples.

Some 50% of Israelis apparently reject the premise of a "transfer," according to the study.  After all, Israeli Arabs comprise some 20% of Israel's population and are involved in all facets of Israeli life.  It is probably also incorrect to interpret the poll result as suggesting that Israelis who claimed to support a transfer would want to deport Arab Israeli citizens, proactively, outside of some type of political deal that created two ethnic nation states with a negotiated population exchange mechanism.

But this latest round of violence has impacted Israeli opinion. As the number of terrorist incidents on civilians within Israel continues to increase, Israeli attitudes towards Palestinians, Israeli and non-Israeli, continue to change for the worse.

Perhaps Palestinian leader Abbas figures that this is the way to force Israel into a deal and to gain international support.  But it seems to me that the current round of Palestinian violence has pushed things in the opposite direction. 


Thursday, March 19, 2015

Israel Elections 2015: A Few More Interesting Points

I have written a number of columns over the past few days.  Well, I have to say that there are few things more interesting than a closely contested national election.  If you are one of those people reading this column, there is a good chance that you agree.

So I thought I would put together a few interesting points about the results and the aftermath.  This information is available on YNet, Haaretz and some other news sources - but I have selected a few points that I found notable.

Results By City

I have provided a link to the YNet map of results by Israeli city (and even neighbourhood).  It is in Hebrew but if you have a map of Israel handy, it should be easy enough to decipher.

As with elections in many other democratic countries, voters in large cities tend to vote for more liberal parties.  There are some exceptions, of course, (like if the city happens to be a religious capital) but, not surprisingly, this can be seen to some extent in the Israeli electorate.  So in Tel-Aviv, the Zionist Camp picked up 34% of the vote, followed by 19% for Likud and 13% for Meretz.  In Haifa, the Zionist Camp won 25% of the vote, followed by 20% for Likud and 11% for Yesh Atid.  On the other hand, 24% of Jerusalem voters chose Likud while 21% voted for the Ultra-Religious Degel HaTorah party.  Another 10% of Jerusalem voters picked Shas.

Outside of those three cities, Likud fared quite well in cities of the next tier in size.  Likud wins included Rehovot (27%), Ashdod (27%), Ashkelon (40%) and Tiberias (45%).

Closer to home, 33% of Ra'anana voters cast their ballots for the Zionist Camp while Likud (21%) and Yesh Atid (14%) finished second and third respectively.

Then there is "home away from home"... in Kiryat Eqron, 45% of the population voted for Likud with another 14% voting for Kulanu.  But just down the street from Kiryat Eqron, 32% of voters in the town of Mazkeret Batya chose the Zionist Camp.  

As in any country, the results show that Israel is very divided geographically.  It is beyond the scope of this short blog to discuss the various socioeconomic factors for each area, but there are obviously a wide range of significant differences between the various geographic locations and their populations.

How Many Israelis Does it Take to Win a Knesset Seat?

Official Israeli election results show that 72.3% of eligible voters voted.  All "eligible voters" are automatically registered.  So whereas in some countries, the percentage of voters is reported as the percentage of registered voters who voted, that is not an issue in Israel.  There were 5,878,000 eligible voters in Israel.  4,253,000 of them cast ballots.  43,800 voters spoiled their ballots.

This means that each Knesset seat was worth 33,482 votes.  However, with a 3.5% threshold, a party needed 136,808 votes to make it in to the Knesset.

In case you were wondering, the Green Leaf party picked up 38,264 votes.  Under the old Israeli rules in which the threshold was 1%, Israel would have elected one Green Leaf party member - who could have sat in the Knesset and put forward bills (probably rolled up) sponsoring the legalization of cannabis.  Unfortunately for those voters, it does not look like Israel is about to become the Netherlands anytime soon.  That being said, I am quite sure that there are many places across the country where finding access to cannabis is not extremely difficult.  Worst case, Israelis can take advantage of the El Al seat sale and fly to Amsterdam or they can go a bit further and visit Colorado or Washington State for some drug tourism...

Quickest Revoked Resignation

Meretz chair Zehava Galon resigned on Wednesday after it was reported that her party had only won 4 seats.  After some absentee ballots were counted, Meretz increased its presence to 5 seats.  Galon decided to retract her resignation and stay on with the party.  She noted that many of the absentee ballots were cast by soldiers and she would not want to let Israeli soldiers down after receiving their support.  Continuing to earn an MK salary may also be a factor but she didn't mention that.

Quickest Orwellian Retraction of a Campaign Statement

As the election campaigning was drawing to a conclusion and Netanyahu was worried about the possibility of losing, he decided to try and shore up his right wing base by announcing the he was retracting his support for a two-state solution with the Palestinians.  I'm reasonably sure that this was what he said...and it was picked up everywhere as a "game changer."  Maybe we were all hallucinating?  (Thinking about the Green Leaf party winning a seat...)

After the election, U.S. President Obama promptly suggested that if Israel would not support a two state solution - the U.S. might end its policy of blocking U.N. resolutions that impose a two state solution.

Surprise, surprise - Prime Minister Netanyahu promptly announced on NBC that he was in favour of a "peaceful, two state solution" and he had not really said what was attributed to him (or something like that) - or had not really meant what he had said...  Okay well, we know now that Prime Minister Netanyahu cannot be confused with Horton ("I said what I meant and I meant what I said...a politician is faithful...100%...) (See Dr. Seuss if you missed the reference...).  Naftali Bennett on the other hand, insisted that he would not negotiate to give up even one centimetre of land.

Now this, of course, all raises several interesting questions.

For one thing, given that Netanyahu used this statement to shore up his base and siphon votes from the more right wing Bayit Hayehudi party, how is it that his voters will accept this prompt about face?  More importantly, which members of his right wing coalition will agree to negotiations for a two state solution after he campaigned by swearing it would not happen under his watch?  Will Bennett also retroactively change his words?  That seems unlikely.

While this Netanyahu about-face is certainly a positive development (albeit a small one) for those in the centre or on the left hoping that somehow there will be a negotiated solution with the Palestinians - it is unclear how Prime Minister Netanyahu could possibly negotiate one unless he assembles a national unity government with the Zionist Camp or includes some centrist or left-leaning parties in his coalition.  I don't see how this can happen given the statements he made while campaigning.   He would face a mutiny in his party.

It is much more likely that there will be another election before Netanyahu takes any real steps towards a peace deal with the Palestinians.

So that is my wrap up for now.  I'll take a break for while on election postings and write again about this issue once some type of coalition starts to take shape.


Monday, January 12, 2015

Je Suis Yoav

Je ne suis pas Charlie.  Je suis Yoav.

Who is Yoav?  Yoav Hattab is one of the four French Jews murdered by terrorists at at the Hyper Cache market in Paris on Friday January 9, 2015.  Mr. Hattab Z"L was not the first French Jewish victim of terrorism in France.  Unfortunately, there have been a number of incidents including a 2012 attack on a Jewish school in Toulouse in which 4 people were killed, including three children.  If the only terrorist incident on Friday had been the attack on the Kosher supermarket, the item would probably not have garnered anywhere near the press coverage that this series of attacks has attracted.

With the murderous attack on Charlie Hebdo, the condemnations of Jihadist terrorism were near universal.  I have heard very few suggestions that we should investigate "root causes" or "deal with the underlying problem."  Of course, there will be some who will say that the press should not publish images of the prophet Mohammad or that the press should always take care to ensure that nothing printed offends Muslim sensibilities in any way. There are those who were not too concerned about the fatwa against Salman Rushdie.  But, fortunately, these voices are in the small minority.  Far more commentators and political leaders have spoken in favour of free speech and freedom of expression.

But with respect to the murderous attack on Hyper Cache, some of the responses tell a very different story.  For example, as reported by YNet News, BBC Reporter Tim Wilcox compared the hostage taking at the supermarket to Israel's treatment of the Palestinians.  Really Tim?  Seriously?  He later issued a mild apology.  CNN minimized its initial reports of the fact that a Jewish establishment was targeted.  Even so, it became apparent that the terrorist had clearly stated that his intention was to kill Jews.

When terrorist attacks on Jewish civilians occur, many quickly try to take a "balanced" approach and "condemn all forms of terrorism" in their response or speak about root causes.  But what are the root causes of the murder of a group of Jews?  How is it any less outrageous than Charlie Hebdo to see an attack in which Jewish worshipers are murdered while at prayer in a synagogue, because they are Jews?  Just because it takes place in Israel?  Or an attack on Jewish shoppers in a Kosher supermarket?  Atlantic magazine correspondent sent out this spot-on tweet on Friday:  "Selling kosher food is a provocative and vulgar act, sure to arouse the hostility of aggrieved extremists."

There is no way to link Israel's issues with the Palestinians to the murder of Jewish civilians, other than for the sickest of minds.  And by the way, Turkish Recep Erdogan does qualify in this category.  He apparently attacked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for attending the French protests on Saturday and tried to draw a parallel between the Paris attacks and the Israeli war with Hamas terrorists in Gaza.  Even Hamas apparently issued a mild condemnation of the attack on Charlie Hebdo but was eerily silent, if not supportive of the murder of some Jewish Parisians.

When news of the attack at Hyper Cache emerged, French leader Francois Hollande initially called the attack "an appalling anti-Semitic attack."  Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper called these French attacks "barbaric."  But when Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu indicated his attention to attend the French rally, Hollande told him not to show up.  Defiantly, Prime Minister Netanyahu eventually decided to come anyways, leading Hollande to invite Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to provide some "balance."  God forbid Hollande should politicize this situation.  After all, even though he can bring himself to say that this was an appalling anti-Semitic attack, he would not want to be seen suggesting that there is any comparison between this attack and the murder of Jewish worshipers in a Jerusalem Synagogue.  Or the countless other terrorist attacks that Israel faces on its civilians.  Or attacks on Jews in other parts of the world.

It is about time that France and other countries, worldwide, show the same type of indignation and determination with respect to attacks on Jews that they have shown with respect to Charlie Hebdo.  Terrorism must be universally condemned, whether it is an attack on the Twin Towers, an attack on Charlie Hebdo or an attack on a group of Jews, wherever in the world they might be.  They should recognize what the leaders of Israel have, unfortunately, understood for far too long.  That terrorist attacks carried out by ISIS, ISIL, Al Qaeda, Hamas the PLO and other terrorist organizations  are all in the some category.  All of it should be condemned vociferously.

There is nothing wrong with a button that says "Je Suis Charlie."  But an equal number of people ought to be wearing buttons that say "Je suis Yoav."  An attack on Jews because they are Jews is as egregious as an attack on free speech.  Or as an attack on any other fundamental aspect of a civil society.








Friday, January 17, 2014

Prime Minister Harper's Trip to Israel - January 2014

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper will be arriving in Israel on Sunday January 19, 2014 for his first visit along with a delegation of cabinet ministers, MPs, and others as well as some Canadian business and religious leaders.  He will also be visiting the West Bank and Jordan.  Among other stops, Prime Minister Harper will become the first Canadian Prime Minister to address the Israeli parliament - the Knesset.  This is, of course, something that President Obama refused to do, for fear of officially recognizing the fact that Jerusalem is Israel's capital.

Prime Minister Harper will also be receiving an Honourary degree from Tel-Aviv University.  It is unclear whether his itinerary will include a trip to the Canada Centre - Israel's Olympic-sized ice rink in Metullah, although given the PM's interest in ice hockey, this would seem to be an appropriate stop.  I'm sure that Israel's national ice hockey team would be happy to entertain the Prime Minister as they prepare for the upcoming IIHF Division II Tournament. 

Prime Minister Harper's government has been a great friend of the State of Israel.  It has been willing to take a principled approach towards issues of terrorism, Israeli security and fairness of treatment towards Israel by the international community, even when these issues have been unpopular.  Under Harper's leadership, the Canadian government has stood by Israel's right to defend itself in the face of relentless, unprovoked rocket attacks from Hezbollah in 2006 and Gaza in 2009.  The Canadian government has also refused to go along with pro forma anti-Israel resolutions put forward annually at the U.N. and other one-time U.N. resolutions that unfairly attack Israel.  For example, Canada stood alone in January 2009, opposing a U.N. Human Rights Council motion to denounce Israel, exclusively, over the military operations in Gaza in response to the rocket attacks that Israel faced from Hamas.  The U.S. is not a member of this distinguished council, which seems to define its success by the number of anti-Israel resolutions it can put forward at any given time, despite any other worldwide conflicts that might be occurring.

Some have argued that Canada's support of Israel means that Canada abandoned a long-standing position as an "honest-broker."  But what does this really mean?  Israel is the only country in the Middle East with values that are remotely similar to Canadian values.  It has a vibrant and free press.  Equality for all citizens.  Freedom of religion for all citizens.  The rule of law.  Contrast that with Israel's neighbouring countries and territories - Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Gaza...the list goes on and on.  How could Canada approach all countries in similar fashion in these circumstances? 

Canada can and should support and assist the Palestinians in their negotiations with Israel with the intention of building a democratic, peaceful, secure country and coming to a peaceful resolution with Israel.  That is the stated Canadian objective.  I have confidence that this Canadian Prime Minister and his government would be very supportive of Palestinians with those goals and would be prepared to provide economic and other assistance to bolster a mutually acceptable peace deal with Israel.  Maybe we could even wind up with an ice hockey arena in Ramallah to go along with the one that is in Metullah.  This Canadian government would also have credibility with the Israeli government in helping to work towards a comprehensive peace deal.

But in dealing with regimes that are not supportive of these types of goals, and that advocate violence and terrorism, such as Hezbollah or Hamas, it would make little sense for Canada to simply be an "honest broker" between Israel and those entities.

Much credit goes to Minister Jason Kenney, Canada's Minister of Employment and Social Development.  Minister Kenney has been a staunch opponent of terrorism, worldwide.  He has supported Holocaust education and awareness and has opposed antisemitism and other forms of racism wherever they might exist.  Even at conferences where antisemitism is in vogue, Minister Kenney has been prepared to call a spade a spade and demand that antisemitism be treated no differently from other forms of racism.  While this is anathema in so many other countries throughout the world, it is a principled approach that contrasts dramatically with the U.N's Orwellian attacks on Israel.   .

This is not all intended to mean that the Canadian government should support every one of Prime Minister Netanyahu's policies or that Canada must refrain from criticizing the Israeli government.  But any criticism of Israel, should be, as Prime Minister Harper recognizes, contextual.  Contrast this approach with the outrageous comments of then Canadian Liberal candidate Michael Ignatieff, who called Israel's actions in Lebanon (in response to a barrage of rocket attacks) a "war crime." (He later apologized).

With the credibility that Canada now has in Israel, it may well be able to assist Israel and the Palestinians in the current negotiations that have been taking place under the guidance of John Kerry.  Ministers in the current Israeli government including powerful Minister of Finance Yair Lapid and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman have been publicly supportive of trying to reach a comprehensive deal.  While there are certainly Ministers in the Israeli government including Minister Ayalon and Minister Bennett who are opposed to the current negotiations, there seems to be some basis for optimism.

It is unfortunate that support for Israel has been characterized as a "right-left" issue in Canadian politics and in other places in the world.  In the U.S., many socially progressive Democratic politicians have been strongly supportive of Israel for the types of reasons that Prime Minister Harper and Minster Kenney have put forward.  They have recognized that if there were democratic, free governments, like Israel across the Middle East, there is little doubt that those countries would be at peace with Israel.  While the Israeli record is far from perfect, Israel's policies in some social areas are completely unrivaled across the Middle East and throughout much of the world; its vibrant, free press; its treatment of minorities including religious minorities, gays, and others and its open court system which consistently adheres to the principles of the rule of law.

With these types of values, it makes sense that democratic countries like Canada and the U.S. would side with Israel in its current conflicts, just as it makes sense that Canada and the U.S. have sided with democratic European countries like Britain and France when they have faced threats from non-democratic, hostile forces.  Few people would say that Canada should have simply played the role of "honest broker" in some of the international conflicts in which Canada has been involved over the course of its history.

I wish the Prime Minister and his delegation the best of success in their travels and I trust that they will have an eye-opening, rewarding and welcoming experience and who knows, maybe they will even assist with some breakthrough negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians to bring about an end to a seemingly intractable conflict. 
   



     

 

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Son of Hamas by Mosab Hassan Yousef - A Review


Mosab Hassan Yousef is a former Hamas member who began working for Israel while living in Ramallah. He eventually converted to Christianity and left Israel to seek political asylum in the United States. He is now living in California.

Yousef's book Son of Hamas is an autobiographical account of his life growing up in Ramallah. Yousef's father, Sheikh Hassan Yousef, was one of the founders of Hamas. Yousef, the oldest child, with five brothers and three sisters, traces his life growing up in Ramallah. He provides a detailed discussion of a very observant Muslim lifestyle in which he was raised. His book, written years after these events, is highly critical of Islam and, in particular, as Yousef sees it, of the propensity for violence that is taught and expected of children, even from a very young age.

Arrested as early as age 10 by Israelis for throwing rocks at settlers, Yousef became increasingly radicalized as he grew older. He was arrested by age 18 after purchasing guns that he intended to use in some type of operation against Israelis. During the first part of the book, he is highly critical of Israel and of the manner in which Israel treated his community. He justifies his early activities and details his arrest and alleged abuse at the hands of Israeli soldiers and officials.

As the book progresses, Yousef details the increasingly violent and dangerous escalation of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians between 1986 and 1997. He begins to question some of the Palestinian tactics and is particularly upset at the Palestinian decision to support Iraq after it invaded Kuwait in 1990. He details the corruption and moral bankruptcy of the PLO leadership and Arafat and describes how Arafat, in particular, was concerned more with lining his pockets than of advancing the cause of the Palestinians. He writes about the PLO's covert but direct support for terrorist attacks against Israel, even while the PLO was publicly renouncing violence. And he describes the horrific Hamas suicide bombing attacks that were carried out in Israel, killing large groups of civilians.

Yousef's father was in and out of Israeli prisons for his own role in inciting or participating in terrorist activities. Yousef himself was a senior member of Hamas. Yousef claims that he began to have doubts about Islam and about Hamas as he watched Hamas carry out these horrible attacks against civilians. He was also troubled by Hamas' brutal vigilante justice against any perceived traitors, many of whom were often innocent.

Yousef claims that in 1997, he agreed to work for the Shin Bet, and become an informant. Known secretly as the "Green Prince," Yousef details how he provided information to Israel that led to the prevention of suicide bombings and assassination attempts. He claims that he provided information to Israelis only if they agreed to arrest rather than kill those about whom he provided information. According to Yousef's account, he seems to have been instrumental in almost every single Israeli counter-terrorism operation between 1997 and 2005. One gets the sense that his account is somewhat exaggerated. Yet he claims it was all with the goal of reducing violence in the region and had nothing to do with the significant sums of money he was paid.

By 2000, Yousef, had been introduced to Christianity, to which he converted by 2005. In the process of converting and ultimately revealing his collaboration with Israel, Yousef's father disowned him. Yousef was eventually granted political asylum in the United States, with the evidentiary support in court of the Shin Bet agent who had worked with him over a number of years while he was in Ramallah and with whom he remained friends after these events. Much of the later part of Yousef's book is filled with his description of the oversimplified version of Christian religious dogma that he came to accept and embrace.

Yousef's story is an interesting one and there is certainly a great deal of information of about Hamas, its activities and the activities of the PLO that make for fascinating reading. It is at times highly critical of Israel and challenges Islam repeatedly. The earlier sections of the book provide a thoughtful description and Palestinian viewpoint of day to day life in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

At the same time, something just doesn't sit right about Yousef's account.

At times, he appears to suggest that his activities were all related to his conversion to Christianity. He finally saw the light and decided to adopt non-violence as a political viewpoint. According to Yousef, it seems, if all of the Jews and Muslims would simply convert to Christianity, there would be peace across the Middle East. Of course that doesn't sound very realistic. One wonders if Yousef's change, and his eventual conversion, has much more to do with finding a way to escape from his overbearing, fanatically religious father.

Certainly, Yousef's story is not a model for bringing peace to the region. One would hope that Muslims and Jews, without the fanciful prerequisite of being required to renounce their families and religious affiliations, could find ways to sit down and negotiate a peaceful co-existence. Maybe this is just as a unlikely as Yousef's proposed solution, but we have to remain optimistic.