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Conspicuous for its absence in President Obama’s State of the Union address was any mention of what is variously called the Arab-Israeli conflict or the Middle East peace process. Israeli analyst Yoram Ettinger suggests this “reflects a U.S. order of priorities and, possibly, a concern that mediation in the Arab-Israeli conflict does not advance – but undermines – Obama’s domestic standing.”
Conceivably, a similar premise underlies Prime Minister Netanyahu’s recent demonstrative acts in favor of settlement in the West Bank. Just after a meeting in Jerusalem with U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell, Netanyahu marked the tree-planting holiday of Tu B’Shevat by planting trees in public ceremonies in the Jerusalem-area West Bank settlements of Kfar Etzion and Maale Adumim.
He capped it off with a tree-planting ceremony in Ariel, a settlement somewhat deeper in the West Bank in Samaria. Netanyahu suggested the settlement was a crucial part of Israel:
“Everyone who understands the geography of Israel knows how important Ariel is. It is the heart of our country. We are here where are forefathers were, and we will stay here.”
A couple of days later, Benny Begin, son of the former prime minister and a member of Netanyahu’s inner security cabinet, took part in a cornerstone-laying ceremony in yet another West Bank settlement, Beit Hagai, and said:
“The state of Israel and the people of Israel have interests in Judea and Samaria and in Jerusalem, which are not only security-related, but based on an ancient affiliation.”
Also conspicuous for its absence, so far – considering that in November Obama harshly criticized Israel for planning to build within a neighborhood of Jerusalem – is any public U.S. rebuke of Netanyahu or Begin for these gestures.
Ettinger suggests Obama’s “involvement with the Arab-Israeli conflict has diverted his attention from issues which are much more important eroded [his] support among the American people, [and] complicated his relations with friends of Israel on Capitol Hill, whose support is critical to Obama’s legislative agenda.”
Although it may be too early to assume a waning of Obama’s pressures on Israel, his words in his recent Time interview also strengthen that impression.
“This is as intractable a problem as you get,” Obama said. “Both sides – the Israelis and the Palestinians – have found that the political environment [was] such that it was very hard for them to start engaging in a meaningful conversation.”
If so, a lull in the grimly relentless diplomatic activity on the Israeli-Palestinian front would be a chance to rethink some assumptions that have become all too axiomatic.
One is that the Palestinian side should always be coddled, with infinite patience, and should never have to pay a price for its failures. With Netanyahu having declared in November an unprecedented ten-month freeze in new construction in the West Bank, and Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas continuing to refuse to hold talks with him, it can be hoped that Netanyahu’s and Begin’s affirmations signal a new Israeli assertiveness.
It is only for the Palestinians that land, and offers, are kept indefinitely on hold even as they preach hatred and practice rejectionism. Energetically resuming settlement activity at the end of the ten months would, for once, be a fitting response.
It could also be asked whether the pursuit of a Palestinian state as a supposed panacea has ever made much sense in normative terms. Human Rights Watch has published its World Report 2010 and gives a rundown of the human rights situation in Middle Eastern Arab countries that is anything but encouraging. Regarding women’s rights, the report points out that:
“Perpetrators of so-called honor killings in Jordan (where there were at least 20 such killings), and in Syria (at least 12), benefit from legal provisions that mitigate their punishments . Domestic abuse went largely unpunished in Saudi Arabia and Yemen. In Lebanon and Jordan, where domestic abuse can be tried as assault, protection mechanisms for women are largely inadequate and ineffective.”
As for prison conditions, “Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Yemen failed to tackle frequent incidents of torture. Jordan’s prison reform program has not strengthened accountability mechanisms for torture .”
Minority rights – “Saudi Arabia discriminated against its Shia population . Kurds, Syria’s largest non-Arab ethnic minority, were subject to systematic discrimination .” and so on.
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Shepherding in the Shomron isn’t your usual kind of shepherding – despite his business-minded beginnings, Eli has discovered that a strong ideological impetus powers the job.
I said to myself, “This story has got to be told. We’re losing this generation of World War II and if we don’t listen to them now, we’ve lost it.”
His entire existence was about spreading simcha and glorifying G-d’s name on a daily basis.
At some point we need to stop simply defending and promoting Israel and start living in Israel
“We Jews are the only people who when we drop a book on the floor pick it up and kiss it.”
Though Zaide was the publisher of The Jewish Press, a big newspaper,I always remember him learning
Speaker Silver has been an extraordinary public servant since his election to the Assembly in 1975 and has been an exemplary leader of that body since 1994.
He spent the first leg of his daylong visit to the French capital at Hyper Cacher.
Drawing Congress into the Iran nuclear debate is the last thing the White House wants.
Great leaders like Miriam and like Sarah Schenirer possess the capacity to challenge the status quo that confronts them.
Obama’s foreign policy is viewed by both liberals and conservatives as deeply flawed
Many journalists are covertly blaming the Charlie Hebdo writers themselves through self-censorship.
Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics has released its population data for 2012, the year that just ended. As usual, the trends are favorable. The total Israeli population rose to just under eight million, while the Jewish population for the first time rose to just over six million.
How well are Jews – and non-Jews – doing with regard to the Jewish state? If the question focuses on the highbrow world, and particularly its predominant persuasion of liberalism (or what is still called by that name), the answer that emerges from Edward Alexander’s new book is: not very well.
It’s been a bumpy road for the Palestinians lately.
Recent staged spectacles that were supposed to whip up sympathy for them and put Israel in a bad light again – the Nakba Day (May 15) and Naksa Day (June 4) marches on Israel’s borders, the flotilla, the flytilla – have been disappointments at best, if not outright flops. And the Palestinians’ long-hyped independent-statehood bid at the UN in September is meeting growing opposition from the West.
When Glenn Beck’s upcoming Jerusalem rally was first announced, he saidit would be called “Restore Courage” – modeled on his “Restoring Honor” rally last year in Washington that drew half a million. Or as Beck put it: “Last summer, we set out to restore honor in Washington, DC. This summer, it’s time to restore courage. It is time for us to courageously stand with Israel.”
In reaction to the Palestinian Authority-Hamas unity deal signed in Cairo, Israel decided to turn off the spigot. It halted the transfer to the PA of over $100 million in customs and tax revenues.
The day after last week’s announcement of a Fatah-Hamas rapprochement in Cairo, Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas said he would keep pursuing peace talks with Israel. Almost concurrently, top Hamas official Mahmoud al-Zahar said Hamas would stick to its stance of neither recognizing nor negotiating with Israel, but “if Fatah wants to negotiate with Israel over trivialities, they can.”
“With the winds of change blowing through the Arab world, it’s more urgent than ever that we try to seize the opportunity to create a peaceful solution between the Palestinians and the Israelis,” President Obama saidlast week after meeting with Israeli president Shimon Peres.
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