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December 19, 2014 / 27 Kislev, 5775
 
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘foreign relations’

Israel’s Surprising Economic and Strategic Position

Sunday, May 5th, 2013

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

Israel’s economic and strategic situation is surprisingly bright right now. That’s partly due to the government’s own economic restraint and strategic balancing act, partly due to a shift in Obama Administration policy and partly due to the conflicts among Israel’s adversaries.

Let’s start with the economy. During 2012, Israel’s economy grew by 3.1 percent. While some years ago this would not be all that impressive it is amazing given the international economic recession. The debt burden actually fell from 79.4 percent of Gross Domestic Product to only 73.8 percent. As the debt of the United States and other countries zooms upwards, that’s impressive, too.

Israel’s credit rating also rose at a time when America’s was declining. Standard and Poor lifted the rating from A to A+. Two other rating systems, Moody’s and Fitch, also increased Israel’s rating.Now not only is gas from Israel’s offshore fields starting to flow but a new estimate is that the fields are bigger than expected previously.

And that’s not all. Unemployment fell from 8.5 percent in 2009 to either 6.8 to 6.9 percent (according to Israel’s bureau of statistics) or 6.3 percent (according to the CIA).

In terms of U.S.-Israel relations, the visit of President Barack Obama and Israel’s cooperation on Iran and on an attempted conciliation with Turkey brought quick rewards. For the first time, Israel will be allowed to purchase KC-135 aerial refueling planes, a type of equipment that could be most useful for attacking Iranian nuclear facilities among other things.

The same deal—which includes sales to Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries to make U.S. allies feel more secure vis-à-vis Iran—includes V-22 Osprey planes that can switch between helicopter and plane mode. Israel is the first foreign country to be allowed to purchase this system. It could be used for border patrols—a bigger problem given the decline in the stability along the Egyptian and Syrian borders—and troop transport.

Finally, there would be more advanced radars for Israeli planes and a new type of missile useful for knocking out enemy anti-aircraft sites, potentially useful against Iran among other targets. In addition, an Israeli company is now going to be making the wings for the advanced U.S. F-35 fighter planes.

The completion of the border fence with Egypt increases security in places where Palestinian and Egyptian Islamist groups are trying to attack. It also has reduced illegal civilian crossings to zero. Ironically, Israel has gotten control of its border while the U.S. government proclaims that task to be impossible for itself.

And of course there is the usual and widely varied progress on medical, agricultural, and hi-tech innovations. Here is a summary of those inventions.That doesn’t mean problems don’t exist, including a budget deficit caused by some boosts in social spending (responding to protests in 2012) and unexpected defense spending to protect the border with Egypt or to handle the Iranian threat. But that deficit will be addressed, unlike in other countries. (Here is a discussion of the problems and likely policies of the new government).

The picture is even bright regarding U.S.-Israel relations, certainly compared to the previous four years. This point is highlighted by Wikileaks publication of a U.S. embassy dispatch of January 4, 2010, describing my article that day in the Jerusalem Post:

“[As far as Israel is concerned] what is important is that Obama and his entourage has learned two things. One of them is that bashing Israel is politically costly. American public opinion is very strongly pro-Israel. Congress is as friendly to Israel as ever. For an administration that is more conscious of its future reelection campaign than any previous one, holding onto Jewish voters and ensuring Jewish donations is very important….

“The other point is that the administration has seen that bashing Israel doesn’t get it anywhere. For one thing, the current Israeli government won’t give in easily and is very adept at protecting its country’s interests. This administration has a great deal of trouble being tough with anyone. If in fact the Palestinians and Arabs were eager to make a deal and energetic about supporting other U.S. policies, the administration might well be tempted to press for an arrangement that largely ignored Israeli interests.

Canadian Ministerial Visit to Jerusalem: A Geneva Convention Lesson

Wednesday, April 17th, 2013

Oh, the irony! Canada’s foreign minister, John Baird, has been lambasted for meeting with an Israeli government official in eastern Jerusalem – but barely anything has been said about the minister with whom he met: None other than Justice Minister Tzipi Livny, possibly best known for her willingness to divide Jerusalem in a final settlement with the Palestinian Authority.

As noted here in the past, Livni basically lost her chance to be prime minister because of her stance on Jerusalem. In late 2008, after she rose to the helm of the Kadima Party, Kadima won the national election and Livni was handed the chance to form the government. However, in part because of her willingness to grant Arab control to parts of Yerushalayim, she was unable to sway the Shas Party to join her coalition and Benjamin Netanyahu became prime minister instead.

Earlier that year, then-Foreign Minister Livni led negotiations with the PA – and promised PA chief Mahmoud Abbas that Israel would cede the entire Atarot airport complex in northern Yerushalayim. She has repeatedly stated that though she knows the entire Land of Israel is ours, she believes there will be peace only if Israel agrees to split Yerushalayim.

Others believe, of course, that statements of that type actually keep peace from arriving, for they encourage the Arab parties to maintain their intransigence.

Rather than ask why Minister Baird met with Minister Livny in the eastern Jerusalem office, why not ask why Minister Livny agreed to meet there with Minister Baird? She certainly knew the fallout that would result, placing her in the same corner as the Land of Israel loyalists with whom she started her career (her father was an Etzel officer in 1948, along with Menachem Begin, and she herself was a longtime Likud member and MK). She has not commented on the matter on her Facebook page or in any other public forum; she would likely prefer that the matter be forgotten.

In any event, John Baird has once again been shown to be true-blue with Israel. He also toured an IDF outpost in the Golan Heights on his recent trip, and in the past has visited the Old City of Jerusalem with an Israeli escort. Both the Golan and eastern Jerusalem are considered hot spots that many Western political officials make sure not to visit so as not to be viewed as recognizing Israeli control there.

Minister Baird deflected all criticism of these visits, however, and especially the most recent one in the Justice Ministry. He said they are “irrelevant” to the larger discussion of Middle East peace.

“I’m just not interested in getting into the semantic argument about whether [if] you have a meeting with one person on one side of the street it’s OK, and [if] you have a meeting on the other side of street it’s not,” Baird said.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor also defended the meeting. “There should be nothing unusual about meeting Israel’s justice minister in [eastern] Jerusalem,” he said. “What is strange is that this is the exception.”

Though Canada’s embassy in Israel is not in Jerusalem but rather in Tel Aviv, and though Minister Baird emphasized that he supports the PLO’s bid for statehood, Canada is a very strong friend of Israel – possibly its best in the world.

“The great struggle of our generation is the struggle against terrorism,” Baird told an Israeli TV station last week, “and far too often, the Jewish people, Israel, has been on the front lines of that struggle. We want to work with Israel to see a lasting peace in this region.” He also related that he had urged Abbas to agree to resume talks with Israel without preconditions, but to no avail.

Canada and Israel have strong, multidimensional bilateral relations that have only intensified in recent years. The relationship has been marked by increased cooperation in public security, defense, trade and investment, with increasing numbers of ministerial visits.

“Israel appreciates Canada’s moral stand on a range of issues,” said Prime Minister’s Office spokesman Mark Regev, “and we appreciate Canada’s friendship.”

The PA did not let Canada or Minister Baird off lightly for his visit in eastern Jerusalem. Chief PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat sent him a sharp official letter of complaint, alleging that he had violated international law by “knowingly aiding another state in the perpetration of a crime.” The referred-to “crime,” based on the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention, is that of attempting to annex what Erekat called “our capital,” and of transferring civilian population to occupied areas.

However, many legal scholars agree that Israel’s policy in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem in no way violates the Geneva Convention.

Eli E. Hertz – a member of our International Keep Jerusalem Council and president of Myths and Facts, Inc., which researches and publishes important topical matters regarding global U.S. interests – has written on this topic extensively. He explains that when the Convention refers to “occupied territory,” it has the Nazi occupation of Europe in mind, and that there is no legal basis for using the term in connection with the Israeli-Arab conflict.

Hertz quotes Professor Julius Stone, a leading authority on the Law of Nations, as categorically rejecting use of the term “occupied territory” to describe Judea, Samaria and eastern Jerusalem. This, for the following reasons:

● The relevant clause, relating to the invasion of sovereign states, is inapplicable, because Judea and Samaria (Yesha) did not belong to any other state. Israel did not capture Yesha from its legal sovereign, but rather from Jordan, whose rule there was recognized by only two countries: Great Britain and Pakistan. Even the Arab League did not approve of Jordan’s “annexation” of these areas.

● The relevant article in the Convention was formulated in light of the Holocaust, seeking to prevent genocide – which is not a fear in the present situation.

● Settlement of Jews in Judea and Samaria is voluntary, does not displace local inhabitants, and is associated with a dramatic improvement in the economic situation of the [local Arab] inhabitants since 1967.

As such, Israel is not in violation of international law, and Minister Baird took the proper moral stance in recognizing that Israel, and not any Arab entity, has the most valid claim – if not the only one – to the Holy City, Yerushalayim.

To help spread the message that Jerusalem is Jewish, KeepJerusalem.org invites you to participate in our eastern and northern Jerusalem bus tours. For information, e-mail tours@keepjerusalem.org or visit our website at www.keepjerusalem.org.

The Ministry of Extraneous Affairs

Thursday, March 28th, 2013

I begin with a full disclosure: a few months ago the Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent me to an Asian country to advise its government in understanding a difficult matter regarding the Islamic population of that state and how to deal with this matter. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs organized the event perfectly, in both the professional and logistical aspects, and the Israeli ambassador of that state personally accompanied me in my meetings with the local professionals.

These days, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is preparing a promotional film on Israel, and in the leading role is Bar Rafaeli, whose participation in the film arouses a wave of objection, because she did not serve in the military. Some official sources also objected, especially the IDF itself, because her participation in an official film produced by the state of Israel could be interpreted as sending a message of leniency towards people who have not served in the IDF. These days, when “sharing the burden equally” has become a political mantra on the level of “It is better to die than commit certain sins”, the IDF expects the Ministry of Foreign Affairs not to act in a way that whitewashes the evasion of military service in the IDF. But it seems that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs does not think it’s a problem.

This case – in my view – is an indication of the way too many people in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs think. The employees of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are public servants, not appointed by the minister, and most are graduates of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ cadet’s course. This was supposed to provide the state of Israel with a working staff that is professional and relevant, and executes the decisions of the government professionally and faithfully, and without dispute.

IN FACT, the reality is totally different. The social profile of workers in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is fairly suitable to the model of the “Akhusalim” – coined by the sociologist Prof. Baruch Kimmerling, who described the state of Israel of the 1970s as being governed by an elite group of people who were Ashkenazim (Jews of European descent), secular, members of the old guard, socialist, and nationalist, forming the Hebrew acronym Akhusal.

In general, one can say that the political, social, diplomatic and cultural agenda of the staff of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs resembles that of the Labor party (and perhaps also Meretz) much more than it resembles that of the Likud, despite the fact that since 1977 there have been more than a few governments led by the Likud. The proportion of religious, ultra-Orthodox, and Arabs who are staff members of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is significantly lower than their proportional representation in the population of the state of Israel.

As a result of this, Avigdor Leiberman, a minister from the Right, found it difficult to impose  his political agenda on his subordinates because of the simple reason that he could not appoint staff that suited him. The political echelon (the prime minister and minister of foreign affairs) can appoint no more than eleven people in the ministry, from the level of ambassador to the person who serves tea, and a minister who cannot place his people in key positions will find it difficult to control what is done in the ministry. My sense is that Leiberman was “persona non grata” in the eyes of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs staff.

THE POLITICAL agenda of the staff in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has created an absurd situation, in which the ministry that is the spokesman for the policies of the prime minister and is responsible for hasbara (dissemination of public relations information), is entrusted with explaining government positions, despite the prime minister being far from being of “one mind” with the officials in the ministry of foreign affairs.

This disparity became obvious in the early 2000s, when the prime minister was Ariel Sharon and the minister of foreign affairs was Shimon Peres. With the passing of years, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has adopted political language that does not reflect the policy of Israel by using expressions such as “the occupied territories” (occupied from whom?), “settlements” (instead of communities), “Palestinian people” (even Azmi Bishara* doesn’t think that there is such a people) and “solution of two states for two peoples.”

Danny Ayalon Shows his True Colors

Sunday, February 10th, 2013

When he served as Israeli Ambassador to the United States during the Disengagement, Danny Ayalon did not merely execute his duties as ambassador, but threw his personal support behind the Disengagement.

For instance in an interview a month before the expulsion was carried out, Ayalon said that “The prime minister had to make the decision because he knew this was the best course of action to take and the best way to strengthen Israel” (emphasis added).

When Ayalon returned to Israel and jumped into politics, he joined Yisrael Beitenu, led by Avigdor Liberman who opposed the Disengagement as a Minister in Ariel Sharon’s government.

Yisrael Beitenu presented itself as being to the right of the Likud and its leader Benjamin Netanyahu (though now the Likud and Yisrael Beitenu sit together as one faction in the Knesset).

In the last government, Liberman served as Foreign Minister and Ayalon served as his deputy. Ayalon even released an English version of video explaining Israel’s right to sovereignty in Judea and Samaria and narrated the video himself. Needless to say, Israel, Liberman and Ayalon worked against Palestinian efforts to get recognized as a state without Israeli agreement at the United Nations.

Ayalon, for instance, was quoted as criticizing the Palestinians’ statehood bid, saying:

The Palestinian Authority, which cannot even collect municipal taxes, wishes to pose as a state… It is clear that the P.A. does not meet the minimum requirements of a state. It also fails to meet another requirement of the U.N. Charter — to be a peace-loving nation. Ayalan also took up Yisrael Beitenu’s Anglo division-campaign, which focused on recruiting the support of Israel’s English-speaking immigrant community which is a little bit more conservative, especially on foreign policy, than the rest of Israel.

Then, unexpectedly  Liberman informed Ayalon that he would not be included in Yisrael Beitenu’s Knesset list. Not long after that Ayalon recalled things he did previously did not which were added to the indictment against Liberman.

Now, Ayalon has taken up the left-wing position regarding the U.N. General Assembly vote recognizing Palestinian statehood, arguing that Israeli should offer the Palestinians recognition as a state:

“Israel will give the Palestinians sovereignty and independence and in return, they will recognize Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish people and will guarantee security arrangements.” That’s a position which doesn’t quite match his prior criticism of the Palestinian’s U.N. bid, his assertion that regardless of what recognition they may receive the Palestinian Authority simply is not a state, his previous criticism of Palestinian Authority funding going towards terrorism, or the general realistic approach towards the Palestinian Authority, which he, Liberman and Netanyahu have championed during the government’s term.

Far from punishing the Palestinians from their efforts to side step Israel at the United Nations, such an offer would reward them and would incur immense amount of international pressure on Israel to sweeten the deal by making more unilateral concessions or to just recognize Palestinian statehood regardless of what the Palestinians agree to.

Aside from the merits of Ayalon’s new position, his zigzagging over the years is yet another lesson in how political ambitions affect a politician’s positions or at least the part of his philosophy he chooses to emphasize to the public.

A Bad Pick for Secretary of Defense

Tuesday, January 8th, 2013

He’s going to be confirmed. Sadly. Chuck Hagel who was nominated by the President to serve as his Secretary of Defense will eventually be confirmed by Congress for the job. This could in theory spell disaster for the State of Israel.
If you are Jewish or a supporter of Israel – unless you have been hiding under a rock somewhere you have probably heard by now that Hagel cannot under any reasonable interpretation of his past statements be considered a friend of the Jewish people. The most troubling of those statements is the following (from The Telegraph):

“[T]he Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here” and “I’m not an Israeli senator. I’m a United States senator.”

I am absolutely convinced that during Congressional hearings he will explain these comments away. He will say that “some of his best friends are Jewish” or some such “reassuring” comment to show that he is not an anti Semite. He will explain that he has no animosity at all toward the Jewish people and was merely expressing the truth about a very powerful lobby… and that he might have used the same language about the gun lobby.

Why did he use the phrase “Jewish Lobby” instead of “Israeli Lobby”? Well… that was just a slip of the tongue. The Israeli Lobby is comprised of Jews. It’s an easy mistake to make. He perhaps might point to “ distinguished” American Jews like Noam Chomsky or Tony Kushner who have been very critical of Israel. He may point to Jewish groups like J-Street who defend him – touting his pro Israel voting record. A record that is selectively cited. A fuller record shows that this support is questionable.

He will defend his beliefs with respect to Israel dealing directly with Hamas and the US negotiating directly with Iran as reasonable. And the truth is that these positions are not necessarily anti-Semitic. They are just radical. And in my view very naïve if not down right stupid. Especially since both of those positions are in diametric opposition to US foreign policy. A policy signed onto by the President himself. And for good reason. But I digress.

Because of answers like these and the apology he gave with respect to his insulting comments about homosexuals, he will be confirmed. Which to me – is very disappointing.

It bothers me that a high ranking official in the government – perhaps the 2nd most important position in the cabinet after Secretary of State is being given to a latent anti Semite.

That’s right. I think he is an anti Semite. Even if he doesn’t think he is. There is no way anyone who uses the term Jewish Lobby in the pejorative way he did is not in some way anti Semitic. He may not want to ship all Jews in America into death camps. In fact I would be willing to bet he would be willing to fight a war over such a notion. But that does not mean he doesn’t have a softer but still bigoted view of us.

From that kind of statement it can be seen that he thinks “the Jews” have too much power in the US. That’s what a phrase like “Jewish Lobby” has come to mean. It is a favorite phrase of every fringe group in the world who hates Jews. Like the Neo-Nazis or the KKK. It suggests images of a “Zionist conspiracy” and a “Zionist occupied government.” It hints at the suggestion that the Jews are running the country… and that he – Hagel – stands alone as a bulwark against the Jewish Lobby as an “American” senator. Not an “Israeli” senator. This kind of talk makes him hero to those fringe groups.

It is also a fact that the Israeli Lobby is not comprised of just Jews. Evangelical Christians are as much supporters of Israel as Jews are. More in fact. These Christian Zionists are more pro Israel Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is.

Jewish Lobby indeed! This was not a mere slip of the tongue. This was his true thinking being exposed in an unguarded moment of candor.

It isn’t only me who feels that Hagel’s comments are troubling. It isn’t even only Jewish interest groups like the ADL that thinks so. It is also the view of many of America’s most distinguished senators that think so. On both sides of the political aisle. Like Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and Democratic Senator Chuck Shummer. And they are not even Christian Zionists. Are they part of the Jewish Lobby too? As Senator Graham said:

Mr Hagel “would be the most antagonistic secretary of defence towards the state of Israel in our nation’s history.”

I am disappointed in the President. No… I still believe that he is in not in any way an anti-Semite. I think he has chosen Hagel for his Defense Secretary simply because he likes the guy. He worked with him when they were together in the Senate and they became friends. They both opposed the Iraq war, the key issue of the day then. He sees Hagel as a principled patriot. A man who served his country heroically as an enlisted soldier in Vietnam earning two purple hearts. He likes the idea of having a Republican on his team… making it more bi-partisan. At least in name.

President Obama is no anti-Semite. He has proven that to me in many different ways. In fact he will probably choose an observant Jew, Jack Lew, for the position of Secretary of the Treasury, perhaps the 3rd most important position in the cabinet. One might even argue that in the current economic climate – it is the most important cabinet position. And then there is the unprecedented US financial and military aid to Israel… and the unprecedented intelligence cooperation between the two countries.

Anyone who suggests that Obama is an anti Semite is just blinded by pure hatred for the man in my opinion. It is demonstrably untrue. I should add that anyone who suggests that the Reverend Jeremiah Wright had anything to do with Obama’s policies on Israel or his choices for who will serve in his cabinet is truly living in a fantasy world.

This makes it all the more perplexing as to why he would choose Hagel for the job. Even if he likes him personally. Why would he want to antagonize American Jews with such a pick? Why would he choose to antagonize Congress – many members have already said that they are troubled by this man and will not have an easy time voting to confirm him? Why spend political capital on such a controversial pick when he needs allies in the coming battle over the budget? It’s not like it was smooth sailing in that department recently.

Pundits are saying that he is sticking with Hagel because he had to back down with Susan Rice as his choice for Secretary of State. He doesn’t want to back down again and show weakness.

What a mess. I don’t like Hagel. I think he has animosity towards Israel and I firmly believe that he is no friend of the Jewish people.

I can just hear it now. I fear that if Israel ever faces existential danger such as that threatened by Iran, Hagel might just say that he is the Secretary of Defense of the US… and not the Defense Minster of Israel. He would argue that he has seen the horrors of war and does not want to spill one drop of American blood in yet another foreign war… and while he is sympathetic to Israel’s plight, bottom line is that Israel is not our concern.

It’s too bad the President has chosen this man for this job. As I said, he will probably be confirmed. All he needs is a simple majority of congress. He’ll probably get it. (Although I still hope he doesn’t)

I wish he had chosen Susan Rice or even Colin Powell. Compared to Hagel they are a Zionists.

Visit Emes Ve-Emunah.

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