Monday, December 11, 2006

Carter's Palestine-Israel Book: It's Even Worse Than They Say, by Gidon D. Remba

Carter's Palestine-Israel Book: It's Even Worse Than They Say

Carter's top 10 misrepresentations reveal systematic anti-Israel bias and a Manichean view of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict


Gidon D. Remba

December 11, 2006
As published at Engage

A close reading of Carter's Palestine-Israel book leads to the inescapable conclusion: it's even worse than the critics say. The book is replete with major errors of fact, all systematically biased against Israel. Carter never makes a single factual error that works in Israel's favor, or against the Palestinians. He offers an abundance of misstatements and distortions that paint Israel black. Some of the most egregious have already been highlighted by others. But Carter's approach to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is as one-sided as that of the Israel haters. Though Carter himself is no Israel hater, at times he does an uncanny impersonation of one, serving up a morality tale of Israeli demons and Palestinian angels forced to descend to hell by the depredations of the evil Israelis. Throughout the book Carter unfailingly shows deep sympathy for Palestinian perceptions, while displaying little understanding for Israeli attitudes or needs. The book suffers from a deep and uncritical pro-Palestinian bias that makes a mockery of Carter’s pretensions to fair arbiter and peacemaker.

Despite his grotesque misdiagnosis of the conflict, Carter advocates many of the same constructive policies endorsed by moderates on the Zionist left and center in Israel and the American Jewish community. This is hardly surprising. Even the Presbyterian Church managed to endorse the Geneva Initiative as a model for a final peace treaty while advocating their morally objectionable, unhelpful and one-sided divestment policy against Israel, while taking no concrete steps at first—and only token steps later—against those who support Palestinian terror. The Presbyterian embrace was by no means a discredit to the Geneva concept. It simply showed the Presbyterian leadership’s failure to grasp the spirit of Geneva, which calls for a Palestinian-Israeli dialogue based on mutual respect, not the demonization of one side and the use of economic boycotts against them. Carter's book reminds us that people come to pro-peace policy positions from very different places, and sometimes these places are not very sympathetic, even quite unfriendly, to Israel. Many others, after all, come to similar conclusions from a robust and deeply held commitment to Zionism and to Israel's security and well-being—including many who have devoted their entire lives and careers to Israel. Policies should be judged on their merits, not on guilt by association.

In what follows, I present ten major errors in Carter's book—serious distortions and misrepresentations of fact which add up to a systematic anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian bias and a Manichean view of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Peacemakers finesse the art of being at once pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian. Carter fails to live up to his self-appointed mission.

1. Carter Misreads International Law, Treating Palestinian Suicide Bombing and Israel's Targeted Killings with Moral Parity

Carter habitually cites international law as a basis for a just peace. But when he talks about the war conduct of the parties to the conflict, he ignores the laws of war, including the Geneva Convention, which he is happy to cite when useful for condemning Israeli conduct, but never when it is at odds with his own prejudices. He cites international law when it serves his purpose, casting it aside when it doesn't. This might be bearable had Carter offered a cogent (or any) moral argument for doing so, for rejecting the laws of war as morally inadequate. But he fails to do so. He simply side-steps whatever might be inconvenient for his case. Here is an example of the kind of pacifistic false parity of which Carter is fond: "The killing of noncombatants in Israel, Palestine, and Lebanon by bombs, missile attacks, assassinations, or other acts of violence cannot be condoned." This lumps together as morally equivalent all Israeli targeted killings of suspected terrorists with Palestinian suicide bombings of Israeli civilians. It fails to distinguish real ticking bombs—like Qassam launch squads in Gaza or Lebanon preparing to fire rockets into Israeli cities from Palestinian or Shiite residential areas, guerrillas who, by their deeds, have lost their civilian noncombatant immunity—from Palestinian, Lebanese and Israeli civilians who do not participate in combat and who therefore qualify for protection under the laws of war. Carter further conflates accidental unintended deaths of innocents which are permitted under the laws of war if the combatant is making reasonable efforts to attack a military target or combatant, and to minimize harm to civilians, as Israel often does, with deliberate targeting of civilians with the aim of maximizing harm to them, which Palestinian suicide bombers always seek.

2. Carter Misrepresents Israel's Plan for the Route of the Barrier, Painting Israel as Seeking to Encapsulate Palestinians into Bantustans in a Truncated Non-Viable State

Carter writes that "the area along the Jordan River, which is now planned as the eastern leg of the [Israeli] encirclement of the Palestinians, is one of Palestine's most lucrative and productive agricultural regions." (p. 195) American Jewish Committee Executive Director David Harris has noted that Carter's claim that Israel plans to build an eastern fence in the Jordan Valley to completely surround the Palestinian areas on all sides and turn them into Bantustans is false. The Israeli government never approved the early proposal for an eastern fence. The plan was unceremoniously tossed out some years ago, emerging still-born, as reported widely in the Israeli and international media. Yet Carter pretends that the eastern barrier is an approved and operative Israeli government plan, just like the barrier now going up in the western portion of the West Bank. He uncritically repeats common Palestinian propaganda, which I heard from many Palestinians when I visited the West Bank and East Jerusalem this past summer. Apparently no fact checking on this all-important point was necessary for Carter, as the noble innocent Palestinian victims of Israeli oppression and apartheid told him so, and that is always proof enough for him.

3. Carter's Evil Israeli "Segregation Wall"

Carter calls the separation barrier "the segregation wall" and accuses Israel of "imposing a system of partial withdrawal, encapsulation and apartheid on Muslim and Christian citizens of the occupied territories"—but he acknowledges that the "driving purpose for the forced separation of the two peoples is unlike that in South Africa—not racism, but acquisition of land." We should object first to the racial and racist connotations of calling the barrier a "segregation wall" (or "apartheid wall" as many Palestinians have dubbed it, but Carter does not use this actual term, even though the latter term is more than implied by his text). "Segregation wall" bears clear overtones from the terrible policy of racial segregation against blacks in the American south, belying Carter’s denials that Israeli apartheid in the West Bank has nothing to do with racism. Since Carter thinks Israel's barrier is equally unjust, representing ethnic-religious segregation against Muslim and Christian Palestinians by Israeli Jews, he has no problem with using this prejudicial term. "Separation barrier" is more neutral, whereas "segregation wall" is highly pejorative and implies a harsh moral absolutist condemnation of Israel's barrier. A well-informed and fair-minded view of the barrier would be more nuanced, and less black and white.

Carter continues to regard all Israeli withdrawal plans from the West Bank which fall short of a complete withdrawal, or something close to it, as bad faith Israeli schemes to impose apartheid-like inequality and to encapsulate the Palestinians in a suffocating Bantustan state. For Carter, the Israeli government cannot possibly have good intentions; nor might political and other constraints make a phased West Bank withdrawal necessary. Partial withdrawals always attest to the Israeli government’s nefarious schemes to subjugate the Palestinians and deprive them of their rights. Nor is Olmert proposing only to withdraw from 40% - 50% of the West Bank, and to annex the rest, as Sharon was in the early plan that bears his name, which would indeed have frozen the Palestinians for the long-term into a fragmented space, with little freedom.

Carter says that "the wall is designed to complete the enclosure of a severely truncated Palestine, a small portion of its original size, compartmentalized, divided into cantons, occupied by Israeli security forces, and isolated from the outside world." (p. 195) Carter ignores the fact that Israeli moderates and left-wing Zionists—in Meretz, Peace Now and among Labor doves and Kadima—favor the separation barrier (albeit in a route closer to the Green Line), but do not intend—nor will they allow— it to do any of the awful things Carter charges. Any actions taken by Israel to prevent arms smuggling and terror attacks against its citizens are not well-intentioned or apparently justified in Carter’s eyes; they exist only to isolate the Palestinians from the rest of the world. Peace can't be built around a better balance between Israeli and Palestinian rights, because only Palestinian rights really matter for Carter. For Carter, the barrier is evil incarnate. Carter is as much of a simplistic Manichean moralist as George W. Bush, and his preaching Sunday school moralism stems from the same religious zeal. In Carter's case that zeal is informed by different premises which lead him in a generally progressive direction rather than the militaristic path towards which Bush's religiosity leads him. But Carter's "progressivism" reminds us how, as the French say, les extrêmes se touchent: immoderate, zealous passion for the rights of just one side in a conflict (typically the side the moralist identifies as the underdog) can become oppressive, posing new obstacles to peace and reconciliation.

Carter continues with the certainty of a man to whom the Lord has spoken and who has no need of empirical fact: “It is obvious that the Palestinians will be left with no territory in which to establish a viable state,” he sermonizes, “but completely enclosed within the barrier and the occupied Jordan valley.” Nor does Carter trouble himself with checking such claims with those he accuses, or with affording them a fair chance to tell their side of the story. What is truly obvious is that for Carter the Israeli government—including the center-left government now led by Kadima and Labor—has nothing but ignoble intentions towards the Palestinians. That would be the Israeli government that the majority of Israeli citizens elected on a platform to end Israel's occupation of some 90% of the West Bank. Like Mearsheimer and Walt, Carter distinguishes, unpersuasively and artificially, between ordinary Jews and Israelis on the one hand, who are largely liberal and oppose such outrages, and their leaders—in Israel it's the government, in the US it's the Jewish organizational heads—who do little but place obstacles in the way of peace.

Carter misrepresents American Judge Thomas Buergenthal's dissent from the near-unanimous International Court opinion against Israel's separation barrier, claiming that the lone American dissent was based largely on "procedural grounds." In fact, Buergenthal had many substantive objections to the opinion rendered mostly by judges from countries who are unsympathetic to Israel and pro-Arab. Indeed, Buergenthal objected to the Court's wholesale denial of Israel's right to take action in defense of its citizens against acts of terrorism. Prominent international human rights experts, including Doug Cassel, Director of the Center for International Human Rights at the Northwestern University School of Law, and Buergenthal, have said that the opinion is “one-sided and imbalanced,” that it “virtually ignores the terrorist attacks on Israel, which led to the construction of the barrier,” and that its dismissal of Israel’s right to self-defense against terrorist attacks is “legally dubious” and based on an unreasonable construal of the rights of states to defend themselves that is inconsistent with the UN Security Council’s own resolutions. Carter further overlooks the fact that what Cassel terms the International Court's "lack of evenhandedness prompted protests by four of the 15 judges--from Britain, Japan, the Netherlands and the United States." (Doug Cassel, Chicago Tribune, July 25, 2004) The resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly on Israel’s barrier is more balanced, calling on the Palestinian Authority “to undertake visible efforts on the ground to arrest, disrupt and restrain” terrorist individuals and groups, and recognizes the right of all states including Israel “to counter deadly acts of violence against the civilian population.” Cassel notes that "The one-sidedness of the [International Court's] opinion thus undermined its effectiveness, not only in the U.S. and Israel--where reaction has been sharply critical--but even in Europe." The fate of Carter's book is likely to be much the same.

Carter claims that there are 375,000 Palestinians stuck on the "Israeli" side of the "wall." In fact, the modifications to the barrier's route that Israel is currently making as a result of a dozen lawsuits working their way through Israel's High Court will reduce the 20,000 - 40,000 West Bank Palestinians now left on the Israeli side to just 2,500 (according to statements made to me and an Americans for Peace Now delegation by Israel's Justice Minister in June 2006). One must add to that the 175,000 Palestinians with East Jerusalem Israeli resident identity cards; but the total number is significantly less than what Carter claims.

4. Carter's Blame-Israel-Only Approach: Palestinian Misdeeds Are Merely Reactions to Israeli Oppression

Here is Carter's Manichean analysis of the entire Palestinian-Israeli conflict in a nutshell. In his concluding summary, he states that "there are two interrelated obstacles to permanent peace in the Middle East"--as if the Palestinian-Israeli conflict were the only source of conflict in the entire region; forget the Sunni-Shia civil war in Iraq or in Lebanon, or Iran's role in promoting hatred, terror and extremism. Carter's two obstacles to peace are as follows:
"1. Some Israelis believe they have the right to confiscate and colonize Palestinian land and try to justify the sustained subjugation and persecution of increasingly hopeless and aggravated Palestinians; and
2. Some Palestinians react by honoring suicide bombers as martyrs to be rewarded in heaven and consider the killing of Israelis as victories.
In turn Israel responds with retribution and oppression, and militant Palestinians refuse to recognize the legitimacy of Israel and vow to destroy the nation."

Israel's occupation, in Carter eyes, is the primary cause of the conflict, and Palestinian suicide bombings are simply a reaction to Israeli injustice. Even Palestinian rejectionism sounds here as if it is merely a response to Israel's evils. This way of thinking had been roundly criticized when it infused the divestment resolution of the Presbyterian Church, which identified the Israeli occupation as "the root of evil acts committed." At the time, Rabbis for Human Rights published a strong response to this Manichean mindset, which is equally appropriate in response to Carter:
"Your resolution purporting to support the Geneva Initiative declares without reservation that the 'occupation…has proven to be at the root of evil acts committed against innocent people on both sides of the conflict.' Like you, we hate the Occupation, condemn it and work for its speedy end in a peace accord...Your simplistic declaration is inaccurate and inadequate to explain the situation in all its tragic moral complexity. It is not just that your resolution ignores the homicidal ideologies that have so sadly taken hold among some of our Palestinian neighbors. Nor is the problem that it averts its eyes from the attempts to destroy our country that transcend the Occupation and precede it by decades...You passed a resolution directed as a 'call …on the Israeli government,' describing the Occupation in a way that profoundly places Israeli sin alone at the heart of the situation....You ignore the incontrovertible fact that this catastrophe is the product of many causes and that there is guilt enough to share between all parties."

This rabbinic statement reminded us that Palestinian rejectionism preceded Israel's occupation and is an independent cause of the conflict. Nor will Palestinian rejectionism evaporate when the occupation ends, though it will be easier to combat if the moderates have won the day. As this Presbyterian-Jewish exchange unfolded, Carter clearly was not listening.

5. Carter Misrepresents Israeli and Palestinian Positions on the Road Map--Painting Israel as the Sole Obstacle to Peace

Carter says that "the Palestinians have accepted the road map in its entirety, but the Israeli government announced fourteen caveats and prerequisites, some of which would preclude any final peace talks." He prints Israel's reservations in an appendix, offering none of the many hateful screeds produced by extremist Palestinian groups, Hezbollah or Iran. But that would only overcomplicate Carter’s morality play and its easy plot line. (One of my favorites is a recent quote from a Palestinian militant in Gaza in the international media who confessed that the goal in firing rockets at the Israeli city of Sderot was to turn it into a “ghost town.” Had an Israeli made such a statement about using force against Palestinians, Carter would surely have accused Israel of threatening ethnic cleansing. Then there are the many peace-loving speeches of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad promising to “eliminate the Zionist regime” and that Israel is but a “temporary country” that “should be wiped off the map,” a “rotten, dried tree” that will be annihilated by “one storm.” No room for these in Carter’s book.) After enumerating some of Israel's key reservations in the main text, Carter concludes that "the practical result of all this is that the Road Map for Peace has become moot." (p. 160) Once again it is Israel that is the entire obstacle to peace; the Palestinians contribute nothing to this outcome, and any contribution they make is merely a function of Israel's bad acts, which once stopped, would magically cease on the Palestinian side as well.

Not only is this one-sided blame-Israel-only style morally and politically objectionable, it is based on a perverse misreading of the facts. The claim that the Palestinians have accepted the Road Map in its entirety is quite simply false. Carter, with remarkable naïveté, takes at face value the claims of Palestinian spokespeople at the time the Road Map was announced. Such claims enabled the Palestinians to gain a short-lived propaganda victory, while the Israeli government was busy issuing reservations. But no one took such statements seriously, as if they represented the entire story--no one, that is, other than Carter and other unashamed shills for the Palestinians. The rest of us looked also at the conduct of both sides, at other things they said and did.

I agree with Carter that Israel's objections to the Road Map were intended to prevent it from being implemented so that Sharon could proceed with his unilateral plans. But the Palestinians also had major objections to the Road Map, and have completely failed to live up to its most central near-term (Phase I) requirement on their conduct--making a sustained effort to disarm terror groups and enforce a truce when renegade militias violate it. The Palestinians never intended to fulfill this element of the Road Map before the creation of a Palestinian state in the equivalent of 100% of the West Bank and Gaza and the realization of their other demands. They have regularly made clear, in both word and deed, that they objected to this obligation imposed on them by the Road Map. As the US has stated many times, both sides are obliged to fulfill their commitments under the Roadmap regardless of the performance of the other. Israel must dismantle the illegal West Bank settlement outposts regardless of whether the Palestinians have disarmed the terror groups, and the Palestinians cannot use Israel's failure to take serious action against the outposts as an excuse for inaction in fulfilling their security obligations. But Carter simply wishes all this away. For as Carter tells the tale, the Palestinians are good and noble, the Israelis are wicked—but only when they cross the Green Line—and the poor Palestinians do wrong only when the villainous Israelis force them to.

6. Carter Misrepresents Israeli Acceptance of the Clinton Peace Proposal

Carter claims that Barak gave "no clear response" to President Clinton's "final proposal," "but he later stated that Israel had twenty pages of reservations. President Arafat rejected the proposal"--a position which Carter regards as justified, on the grounds that "no Palestinian leader could accept such terms and survive." (pp. 150-2) Carter here misrepresents Israel's response to Clinton's proposal.

CNN's Wolf Blitzer interviewed former chief US Mideast negotiator Ambassador Dennis Ross on Carter's claims.

BLITZER: On that point, [Carter] told me that he understands better what happened at Camp David [II], where you were one of the principal negotiators, than the former president himself. I want you to listen to this exchange that we had the other day, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CARTER: I hate to dispute Bill Clinton on your program, because he did a great and heroic effort there. He never made a proposal that was accepted by Barak or Arafat. BLITZER: Why would he [Clinton] write that in his book if he said Barak accepted and Arafat rejected it?
CARTER: I don't know. You can check with all the records, Barak never did accept it. (END VIDEO CLIP)
ROSS: That's simply not so.
BLITZER: Who is right, Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton on this question which is so relevant as to whether or not the Israelis at Camp David [sic: these proposals were made 5 months after Camp David] at the end of the Bill Clinton administration accepted the proposals the U.S. put forward? ROSS: The answer is President Clinton. The Israelis said yes to this twice, first at Camp David, there were a set of proposals that were put on the table that they accepted. And then were the Clinton parameters, the Clinton ideas which were presented in December, their government, meaning the cabinet actually voted it. You can go back and check it, December 27th the year 2000, the [Israeli] cabinet voted to approve the Clinton proposal, the Clinton ideas. So this is -- this is a matter of record. This is not a matter of interpretation.
BLITZER: So you're saying Jimmy Carter is flat wrong.
ROSS: On this issue, he's wrong.

Yossi Beilin, one of the architects of the Oslo Accords, served in Barak's cabinet at the time. He reports that "On December 28 [2000], at a meeting of the government, the [Clinton] plan was endorsed in principle together with permission to send reservations that had not been presented to the government for endorsement...From that moment, the Clinton Plan embodied Israel's stance on the Palestinian-Israeli issue." (p. 223, The Path to Geneva: The Quest for a Permanent Agreement 1996-2004.) Ross reports this as well in his memoir, The Missing Peace (pp. 754-5), as does Shlomo Ben-Ami, Israel's foreign minister at the time (see his Scars of War, Wounds of Peace: The Israeli-Arab Tragedy, p. 272). Ross adds there that Israel's reservations were "within the [Clinton] parameters, not outside them."

On January 2, 2001 Clinton and Arafat met at the White House, and Arafat told Clinton, according to Ben-Ami: "'I accept your ideas,' but and then he proceeded to tick off a number of reservations, each of which completely vitiated those ideas. He never formally said no, but his yes was a no." (Ben Ami, Scars of War, Wounds of Peace, p. 273). Both Ross and Clinton felt that Arafat's reservations were outside the Clinton parameters, and Ross describes them as "deal killers." (Ross, p. 756) Ross reports that Arafat rejected "the Western Wall part of the formula on the Haram...the most basic elements of the Israeli security needs...and our refugee formula." Ben-Ami describes the Clinton proposal as representing "the outer limits of our capacity for compromise as Israelis and as Jews." (Ben-Ami, p. 276) Clinton reminds us that nearly a year after he had left office, "Arafat said he was ready to negotiate on the basis of the parameters" he had presented (Bill Clinton, My Life, p. 944). But Carter is, as Ross says, flat-out wrong when he claims that Barak, like Arafat, did not accept the Clinton ideas.

Carter, who should know better from his own experience as a negotiator at Camp David, ignores the fact that Clinton never asked Arafat or Barak to accept his plan unconditionally. Arafat was not obliged to accept its terms and risk his survival, as Carter suggests, misappropriating a line Arafat used at Camp David about an earlier proposal. In December 2000, Clinton simply asked both leaders to accept his plan as a basis for further negotiations towards a peace treaty.
7. Carter Does Not Call for an Unconditional End to Palestinian Suicide Bombings and Terrorism; Palestinian Terror Must Stop Only When Israeli Oppression Ends

Despite his well-deserved reputation as a humanitarian and an advocate of peace, Carter, remarkably, does not call for an unconditional end to Palestinian "suicide bombings and other acts of terrorism." (p. 213) Instead he says that "It is imperative that the general Arab community and all significant Palestinian groups make it clear that they will end suicide bombings and other acts of terrorism when international laws and the ultimate goals of the Roadmap for Peace are accepted by Israel." In short--forget about Palestinian confidence-, trust- or peace-building measures. Carter does not require the Palestinians to declare an end to suicide bombings until Israel stops "oppressing them." To be sure, Carter does condemn suicide bombings as morally reprehensible and politically counterproductive for the Palestinians. But he is not prepared to demand a cessation of such heinous acts, which are war crimes, until Israel ends its own violations. Carter's position however is itself in violation of the laws of war, which do not permit one party to commit war crimes on the grounds that the other party is already committing them, or in response to political injustice. Under international humanitarian law, both sides have an independent and unconditional duty to refrain from breaches of the laws of war. But Carter can't bring himself to place any such expectation on the poor, victimized Palestinians, who can keep massacring Israeli children until Israel commits to stopping its evil apartheid oppression in the West Bank and Gaza. When it comes to human rights and peace, Carter grades the Palestinians on a curve.

There are also errors of omission in Carter's book which are invariably biased against Israel. For example, Carter's chronology omits any mention of the firing of more than 600 rockets by Palestinian militants into Sderot and southern Israel during the months between Israel's Gaza disengagement and the abduction of Gilad Shalit. In describing Hezbollah's acts of aggression on July 12, 2006 which prompted Israel's military operation in Lebanon, Carter completely omits mention of the dozens of rockets that Hezbollah fired on Israeli civilian communities in the northern Galilee as a diversion from its ambush on the Israeli soldiers. He shows no understanding for Israel's justified claim that the Lebanese government bore responsibility for permitting Hezbollah attacks on Israel from its sovereign territory: "Surprisingly, [Israel] declared that it had been assaulted by the entire nation of Lebanon, and launched an aerial bombardment that eventually included 7,000 targets throughout the country." (p. 201) Surprisingly? Here again, international law favored Israel, but Carter will have none of it. Israel, for Carter, is always in the wrong, ever the serial violator of international laws and human rights.

8. Carter Misrepresents Hamas as Having Accepted a Two-State Solution, International Law, and Peace with Israel in the Prisoners' Document

Carter claims that the famous Palestinian Prisoners' National Reconciliation Document "endorsed a two-state proposal". He says that "the prisoners' proposal called for...acceptance of Israel as a neighbor within its legal borders. It endorsed the key UN resolutions regarding legal borders..." (p. 214) This too is pure fantasy on Carter's part. As anyone who bothered to read the prisoners' document knows, it did nothing of the kind--it did not so much as mention Israel let alone recognize it or UN Resolution 242 or the Arab League Peace Proposal. Hamas has made repeated statements denying that its willingness to accept a Palestinian state in all of the West Bank and Gaza, as called for in this document, was tantamount to a readiness to make peace with Israel or recognize it. But Carter ignores these inconvenient facts. Because the Palestinians, including those nice religious Hamas boys, are the good guys, and must always be given the benefit of the doubt, even when they publicly deny that they mean what Carter wishfully ascribes to them.

Here is Americans for Peace Now's analysis of the prisoners' document on this crucial point: "On the question of recognizing Israel , the Prisoners' Document states that Palestinians have the 'right to self-determination, including the right to establish their independent state with al-Quds al-Shareef as its capital in all territories occupied in 1967.' Fatah activists point to this statement as a victory for moderation, since it could be interpreted as Hamas implicitly recognizing Israel's right to exist inside the Green Line.

"However, in the introduction of the revised document—which the paper says must be considered as part of the whole initiative—it is stated that the document is being put forth 'on the basis of no recognition of the legitimacy of occupation.' Given that Hamas has considered all of Israel to be occupied territory, in addition to the West Bank and Gaza, it's unclear that the moderates have achieved any sort of compromise on this matter from Hamas. Ha'aretz correspondent Zvi Bar'el pointed out that the phrasing 'could either mean the Israeli occupation of the territories or the 'Zionist occupation of all of Palestine.'' Indeed, one Hamas legislator, Salah al-Bardawil, told Reuters, 'We said we accept a state in 1967—but we did not say we accept two states.'

"Along the same line, another section of the document says that the PA 'is committed to the Arab consensus and to joint Arab action.' Fatah leaders point to these words as indicating that Hamas has now agreed to the Arab League proposal adopted in Beirut , which offers pan-Arab recognition of Israel in return for a complete Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories. Therefore, they argue, this is another example of Hamas implicitly recognizing Israel. But the document goes on to say that the PA is committed to such action 'that supports our just cause and the higher Arab interests,' a vague qualifier that could allow Hamas to say that it has not agreed to the Arab League peace proposal." That indeed is what Hamas proceeded to say about the Prisoners' Document, denying that they had accepted the Arab League Peace Proposal. But Carter ignores all of this well-established recent history. It gets in the way of his good Palestinian/bad Israeli morality tale.

9. Carter Misstates What UN Resolutions and International Peace Plans Say About the 1967 Borders

Another misrepresentation in the book which has been noted by others is Carter's belief that "Withdrawal to the 1967 border [is] specified in UN Resolution 242 and ...promised in the Camp David Accords and the Olso Agreement and prescribed in the Roadmap of the International Quartet." Again, this is pure fantasy and willful misreading of key documents. It is widely known that UN Resolution 242 omitted the definite article in its English version, referring to "occupied territories" so as not to imply that Israel would be required to make a complete withdrawal to the 1967 borders in exchange for peace. Moreover, the resolution called for an eventual Israeli withdrawal to "secure and recognized borders" in exchange for peace, which would be the outcome of negotiations, not simply a restoration of the pre-war status quo ante. The Oslo Accords actually say nothing about what the final borders will be, and the Roadmap's call for a final peace treaty that will "end the occupation which began in 1967" does not mean that the withdrawal will be to the 1967 boundaries. In a final peace accord in which the parties agree to define the final borders, the parties will agree that the occupation which began in 1967 has ended. But those borders will not be identical to the 1967 lines. And Carter knows this: he talks of "mutually agreeable exchanges of land, perhaps permitting significant numbers of Israeli settlers to remain in their present homes near Jerusalem." Carter chose his words carelessly here, in ways that are meant to impose his political preferences onto key documents. He's not wrong on the big picture--the 1967 borders must be the basis for a negotiated land swap--but he fudges important details.

10. Carter's Systematic Bias Against Israel: Blame Israel First and Last

Time and time again Carter identifies Israel as the primary cause of the conflict--it's refusal to accept the Road Map, its "colonizing the internationally recognized Palestinian territory" (p. 162). There can only be peace once Israel reverses these immoral and illegal policies, and once the Palestinians then respond "by accepting Israel's right to exist, free of violence." (162) The Palestinians have no burden to initiate peace with Israel, to accept its legitimacy, as Hamas has refused to do, or to demonstrate nonviolence and a commitment to a sustained truce, during which Israelis and Palestinians would have the opportunity to negotiate in a favorable atmosphere. The onus, for Carter, falls exclusively on Israel. And nothing Israel does is legitimately motivated by Palestinian terror and rejectionism, always a mere epiphenomenon that will evaporate with the disappearance of Israel's colonial, expansionist segregation regime imposed on blameless Palestinian victims.

The book concludes with the same one-sided blame-Israel-only dissonant refrain that sullies it throughout: "The bottom line is this: Peace will come to Israel and the Middle East only when the Israeli government is willing to comply with international law, with the Roadmap for Peace, with official American policy, with the wishes of a majority of its own citizens--and honor its own previous commitments--by accepting its legal borders." After Israel solves the problem for which it is solely responsible, then "all Arab neighbors must pledge to honor Israel's right to live in peace under these conditions." (p. 216) The onus to make peace falls solely on Israel; when it ends its oppressive behavior, then the good, innocent and noble Palestinians and Arabs will have to make some lovely pledges in a treaty. Carter places no other demands on them. Palestinian militants can continue to wage terror against Israeli civilians until Israel mends its evil ways. Palestinians, for Carter, bear no responsibility for initiating the conditions necessary for successful peacemaking. After all, they are the hapless and helpless victims of the Israeli iron fist; how can one expect anything of them?

Carter believes that the US must play the role of an honest broker trusted by both parties to the conflict. But Carter's inveterate anti-Israel bias is as unhelpful to Israel's quest for peace and security as the unconditional “pro-Israeli” bias of George W. Bush. Once a great Mideast peacemaker, Jimmy Carter has become a two-bit Palevangelist and propagandist.

Gidon D. Remba is co-author of the forthcoming The Great Rift: Arab-Israeli War and Peace in the New Middle East. His commentary is available at He served as senior foreign press editor and translator in the Israel Prime Minister’s Office during the Egyptian-Israeli peace process from 1977-1978. His essays have appeared in the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times, the New York Times, the Nation, the Jerusalem Report, Ha’aretz, Tikkun, the Forward, the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, Chicago Jewish News, JUF News, and the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle.

Friday, December 8, 2006

Settlements: Israel's March of Folly, Gidon D. Remba

Settlements: Israel’s March of Folly

By Gidon D. Remba

Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle

Revised December 8, 2006

A generation ago, Daniel Ellsberg, a former US government official, leaked to the New York Times a top secret report that became known as the Pentagon Papers. The Papers revealed that the Johnson Administration had misled the American public when it promised not to expand the Vietnam war. They uncovered the true scope of the growing US entanglement, from Truman to Kennedy and beyond, in what the government knew was an unwinnable war. The Nixon Administration sought an injunction to stop the study’s publication by the Times and the Washington Post, claiming that further dissemination would cause “irreparable harm” to US national security interests. The Pentagon Papers became a perfect storm that helped turn the rising tide of public opposition to the Vietnam war into a tsunami. Former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, one of the war’s chief architects, eventually admitted that American policy was fundamentally mistaken.

Proving that history repeats itself first as tragedy, then as farce, an Israeli government official has leaked a treasure trove of secret data to Peace Now in Israel documenting systematic violations of Israeli law in the West Bank by successive Israeli governments over the last thirty-five years. The government had refused to accede to repeated requests by Peace Now filed under Israel’s Freedom of Information Act. It responded to a court petition with the claim that the data dealt with “a most sensitive issue” affecting the “security and foreign relations of the State of Israel.”

Facing continued government stonewalling and refusal to make the data public, Peace Now recently decided to release a groundbreaking report about Israel’s West Bank settlements which garnered front page coverage in the New York Times, capturing headlines in Israel and around the world. Titled “Breaking the Law in the West Bank: One Violation Leads to Another,” the study showed that 39 percent of the land in Israeli settlements and outposts in the West Bank is privately owned by Palestinians. According to the report, the State of Israel, under the sway of the settlement movement, has violated Israel’s own Basic Law on Human Dignity and Freedom and Supreme Court rulings by “confiscating private Palestinian property and building settlements on them.” While Israeli officials have long insisted that settlements were built only on state land, the report shows that the government has been misleading the Israeli public and the world. Peace Now has submitted a formal complaint to Israel’s Attorney General. The government is studying the group’s findings.

The settlers and their sympathizers lost no time before attempting to discredit the study and its authors. A spokesperson for the Yesha Settlers’ Council charged that the report was “just another lie to attack the settlement movement,” and that, “in Peace Now's war against the Jews, everything is kosher.” Another veteran settler leader said, “they merely want to weaken us and the State of Israel.”

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” responded Peace Now. The group’s efforts to “reverse West Bank settlement growth are aimed at securing Israel's long-term survival as a Jewish and democratic state. Peace Now tracks and reports on West Bank settlements because they create points of friction with Palestinians, burden Israel's security forces, drain its economy, and complicate the possibility of a two-state solution.” Dissent—especially from the follies of leaders of a country we cherish—is often the highest form of patriotism. The ancient rabbis taught that “Love unaccompanied by criticism is not love.” So too with amor patriae, love of country.

Other critics caviled that Peace Now’s definition of “private land” was flawed and that the land used by Israel to build settlements is in fact public “state” land. But they are attacking a straw man: it was not Peace Now that declared the land privately owned by Palestinians. It was deemed private by Israel’s own land registry and its Civil Administration for the West Bank. Moreover, Israel’s State Comptroller also issued his own sharp report documenting the construction of an Israeli industrial area on privately-owned Palestinian land in the West Bank, a violation of Israeli law which he described as both severe and far from exceptional, pointing to the existence of many other similar transgressions.

Objections raised to the Peace Now report by settlers and their allies obscure the larger problem facing Israel. Israeli leaders, including many who spearheaded the construction of the settlements in decades past, from Ariel Sharon to Ehud Olmert, have come to recognize that the ground has shifted and that Israel must, for its own sake, dramatically reverse course.

As just as it is in principle, the Jewish historical and moral claim to the entire Land of Israel, historic Palestine, has in practice fueled a four-decades long settlement juggernaut which is now widely seen by Israelis of nearly all political stripes as threatening Israel’s existence and the entire Zionist enterprise. Echoing the post-1967 warnings of Israel’s founding father David Ben-Gurion, then-Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was among the first to say in December 2003 that permitting most settlements to remain in the West Bank “will lead to the loss of Israel as a democratic Jewish state.” The settlements and the military occupation which supports them have transformed Israel, in Olmert’s words, into a country “that controls a large population under conditions of inequality.” If it fails to remedy this situation, warned Olmert, Israel will become a “pariah state.”

The proliferation of Jewish communities throughout areas where several million Palestinians seek self-determination has obstructed a two-state solution to the conflict, precisely as intended by their architects. Every U.S. administration for over twenty-five years, both Republican and Democrat, has viewed the settlements as an obstacle to peace. President Ronald Reagan said in 1982 that “further settlement activity is in no way necessary for the security of Israel and only diminishes the confidence of the Arabs that a final outcome can be freely and fairly negotiated.” Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice reiterated in November 2005 that “settlement activity is counter both to US policy and…to the obligations that the Israelis have undertaken. We’ve been very clear that there should be no activities that prejudge a final status agreement.”

Israel Army Chief of Staff Lieutenant-General Moshe Ya’alon echoed the views of many in Israel’s top brass when in 2004 he acknowledged that “the settlements, far from serving a security purpose, were a security burden [to Israel].” He also blamed the settlements—and the military presence their defense requires—for “exacerbating the tension between Israelis and Palestinians.”

Historian Barbara Tuchman defined folly as the pursuit by governments of policies contrary to their own interests, despite the availability of viable alternatives. The current Israeli government was elected to perform life-saving surgery for Israel’s survival. The Lebanon and Gaza wars deflected Prime Minister Olmert from his plan to disentangle Israel from the lion’s share of the West Bank, making way for a Palestinian state in provisional borders. But for the US to enlist moderate Sunni Arab countries to help stabilize Iraq, and face Iran from a position of greater strength, Israelis and Palestinians will need to take a giant leap forward, as the Baker-Hamilton report urges.

Now Olmert has announced that once the Palestinian Authority meets the Quartet’s conditions—recognizing Israel, renouncing violence and accepting past agreements—Israel is prepared to agree to “an independent and viable Palestinian state, with territorial contiguity and full sovereignty” in the West Bank and Gaza, evacuating “many territories and communities.” The writing is on the wall: Israel must soon gather the will for a negotiated withdrawal, lest history repeat itself again as tragedy.

Gidon D. Remba is co-author of the forthcoming The Great Rift: Arab-Israeli War and Peace in the New Middle East. His commentary is available at He served as senior foreign press editor and translator in the Israel Prime Minister’s Office during the Egyptian-Israeli peace process from 1977-1978. His essays have appeared in the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times, the New York Times, the Nation, the Jerusalem Report, Ha’aretz, Tikkun, the Forward, and other periodicals.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Realists Negotiate, Idealists Make War, by Gidon D. Remba

Realists Negotiate, Idealists Make War


Gidon D. Remba
Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle
December 28, 2006

Negotiations, as a tool for dealing with our enemies, get a bum rap. Hardliners mock them as the feeble crutch of Kumbaya liberals who imagine that if only we talked with our adversaries, everything could be hashed out with a dollop of reason and a gallon of good will. But our foes are truly evil, they cavil. Dialogue with the devil will lead to naught, or worse, to mortal dangers to ourselves and our friends—especially Israel.

It helps to bear in mind the difference between “hawks” and “hardliners.” I’m a selective hawk; sometimes force is both necessary and just. Hardliners, by contrast, are emotionally and ideologically ossified when confronting the threats facing America and Israel. Their response is invariably to scoff at talk and brandish get-tough hit-em-hard panaceas.

But the biggest champions of negotiations aren’t mushy romantic liberals and Birkenstock-clad doves. They are rock-ribbed American and Israeli military strategists, high officers, combat veterans and intelligence analysts. Uber-hawk Donald Rumsfeld, sacked by President Bush for orchestrating our Iraq fiasco, was replaced by former CIA Director Robert Gates, who for two years has urged the US to engage in direct talks with Iran. Gates is noteworthy for his membership in the “realist” camp in foreign policy circles, to which Bush’s father, and his moderate Republican advisors, belong. That’s the school of Republicans and Democrats who, looking at the likely impact of the Iraq war on our fight against Al Qaeda, the regional balance of power between America's Sunni Arab allies and Iran-linked Shias, and our ability to project a credible threat of force against the greater dangers from Iran and North Korea, opposed the invasion and occupation of Iraq for purely realist, strategic reasons, even had it been handled competently.

Our new defense chief served on the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, the blue-ribbon government panel of ten luminaries chaired by Republican James A. Baker III and Democrat Lee Hamilton. In their report, “The Way Forward: A New Approach,” the panel unanimously recommended to the President and Congress that the US talk to both Iran and Syria, one pillar of a comprehensive new Mideast diplomatic initiative for Arab-Israeli peace and Iraqi national reconciliation. The purpose of such discussions would be to enlist Iranian and Syrian help in stabilizing neighboring Iraq through their Sunni and Shia allies, enabling the US to draw down troops without Iraqi chaos drowning the entire Middle East in a bloodbath—a maelstrom from which no one, including Israel, will emerge unscathed.

The US will need to offer some quid pro quo to Iran and Syria, a package of political, security and economic incentives, in exchange for plucking our chestnuts from the Mesopotamian fire. The more we are prepared to give, the more we can demand from the Iranians and the Syrians, and not just on Iraq, but on other issues of deep concern to us and our allies, not least Iran’s nuclear ambitions. A US opening to Syria will likely pave the way for Israel to resume peace talks with President Bashar Assad, blocked, as Prime Minister Olmert has recently acknowledged, by the opposition of President Bush. At the same time, Syria will be expected to stanch the flow of arms to Hezbollah from Iran and its own storehouses, and cut off support for Hamas militants, showing good faith as negotiations begin (incentives are a two-way street). Israel Radio quoted Dubai-based satellite channel Al-Arabiya on December 19 as saying that Assad “has sent a message to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert via Germany, in which he offered to crack down on Hamas and Hezbollah in exchange for a return to negotiations.” Such offers afford Israel and the US the chance to put Assad’s intentions to the test.

A train of moderate Republican and Democratic senators has visited Damascus in recent weeks to test the waters with Assad, notwithstanding the expected howls of protest from the Bush Administration. Incoming Democratic House majority leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), one of Israel’s best friends in Congress, has told JTA that the new Democratic Congress will encourage US contacts with Syria and Iran. Yet the usual suspects in the organized American Jewish community, AIPAC foremost among them, are opposing this and other recommendations of the Baker-Hamilton Commission and the Democratic Congress, aligning once again with the most reactionary forces in American and Israeli politics. This despite the fact that 87% of American Jews voted Democratic in the mid-term election, repudiating the Bush Administration’s wildly successful formula for Mideast peace. A majority of Israelis, polls show, favors talking with Syria. In response to my brief in Ha’aretz for a moderate pro-Israel lobby (see ) AIPAC insisted that its role is “not to advance a prescriptive agenda. It is the voters in Israel and the United States who decide which governments to elect and what policies to follow.” Precisely which voters is AIPAC representing now?

Hardliners trot out aborted peace talks as if they prove negotiations irredeemably hopeless. Yet when war fails to achieve many of its aims at a reasonable cost—as for the US in Iraq, Vietnam a generation before, and Israel (twice) in Lebanon—the war-mongers rarely conclude that military action has proven futile, impotent to solve our problems. Instead, they call for war again, now on a grander scale (next stop Iran and Syria), imagining that if only we change our martial tactics or strategy, throwing bigger and better munitions at our enemies, arms will prove themselves in the next round. Never do they suggest that negotiations fell short because external conditions, specific leaders, or a faulty approach imposed obstacles, so that when one or more of these is changed, bargaining might hold greater promise. They would revolutionize tactics and strategy so the next armed clash might bring us nearer to victory. But never would they make such bold changes to raise the odds that the next negotiation meets with greater success, perhaps preventing the next war.

Hardliners blame national conflicts on efforts to solve them (see the “Oslo caused the intifada” mantra) rather than on the underlying grievances which keep them aflame. For hardliners, the lesson of the failed Oslo peace process is that one can’t negotiate with Palestinians; not now, not ever, or not until they become, well, Finns (in Sharon advisor Dov Weissglas’ famous phrase, a stand-in for “peace-loving liberal Jeffersonian democrats”). But for realists, the lesson is: change the program. Radically rethink our approach to negotiations. Revamp our tactics and strategy, the actions we take, and neglect to take, before, during and after we bargain for peace. Revise our demands of the other side, and our expectations of third parties. Create stronger incentives for constructive moves by our opponent, and disincentives against bad acts, building a regime of accountability with trusted outside arbiters.

Israeli and American realists, and now the illustrious Iraq Study Group, have offered a series of dramatic innovations to the way we bargain for peace and security with Syria, Lebanon, Iran and the Palestinians; most, if not all, have yet to be tried. Just ask former CIA analyst and National Security Council Senior Director Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann, whose New York Times op-ed recounting public information on post-9/11 US-Iranian cooperation against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan was heavily censored last week by the Bush White House. Said Leverett: “They don’t want us to say how many opportunities this administration has missed to put relations with Iran on a better track.” (see )

Peace talks are a grand idea, Israeli author Amos Oz once quipped, if only we’d really try them. But with Olmert’s unpopular government facing mounting regional security threats from Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, Al Qaeda and Hamas, with few answers, and a chastened Bush Administration seeking in its final act a way out of the Mideast morass, the realists may finally get another chance. But only after the idealists make a “grave and deteriorating” situation worse. And by then it may well be too late.

Gidon D. Remba is co-author of the forthcoming The Great Rift: Arab-Israeli War and Peace in the New Middle East. His commentary is available at He served as senior foreign press editor and translator in the Israel Prime Minister’s Office during the Egyptian-Israeli peace process from 1977-1978. His essays have appeared in the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times, the New York Times, the Nation, the Jerusalem Report, Ha’aretz, Tikkun, the Forward, the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, Chicago Jewish News, JUF News, and the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Ha'aretz: Wanted: A Moderate Pro-Israel Lobby

Wanted: A Moderate Pro-Israel Lobby


Gidon D. Remba

As published in Ha’aretz, November 17, 2006

I am a member of AIPAC, the premier American pro-Israel lobby. AIPAC plays a vital role in bolstering America’s alliance with the Jewish state, from galvanizing Congressional backing for US military and economic aid to marshaling moral and political support for its right to self-defense. But AIPAC has not always defined “support for Israel” the way many American Jews and Israelis do.

AIPAC claims that it champions the policies of the elected Israeli government, whatever they may be. But it does not faithfully live up to this promise: over the past twenty years, it has supported right-wing governments in Israel whole-heartedly, while being half-hearted, or worse, about the policies of left-wing administrations. And when Israel is ruled from the right, AIPAC’s credo makes supporting Israel synonymous with lining up behind policies which many American Jews—and often the other half or more of the Israeli public—think baneful for Israel’s quest for peace and security.

Indeed, AIPAC sometimes tries to be more Israeli than the Israeli government, urging American Jews and their elected representatives in Washington to oppose moderate, responsible positions on Israel, while hewing to the hardest line on the Israeli and American Jewish political spectrum. Earlier this year, following the Hamas electoral earthquake in the Palestinian Authority, AIPAC wrote and championed a bill called the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006, which fortunately failed to become the law of the land.

This bill called not only for sanctions against the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority, but for a sweeping and unprecedented boycott of Fatah and PLO officials like Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his allies in the Palestinian Legislative Council. In contrast to Hamas, Abbas advocates peace and negotiations with Israel and opposes terrorism and violence. He merits support, not sanctions.

Furthermore, the bill incorporated a laundry list of pie-in-the-sky conditions for removing the new sanctions that were unrelated to Hamas or to stopping terror. It would have blocked the US from aiding or dealing with any part of the Palestinian leadership even were Hamas sent packing. It deprived the President of a national security waiver (common to other sanctions legislation) for special circumstances when such flexibility is deemed essential for safeguarding American security interests. And after US intelligence agencies failed to predict Hamas’ electoral victory, the bill virtually barred the CIA from operating covertly in the Palestinian arena to gather intelligence on Islamic extremists, another blow to US and Israeli national security.

The bill was so blunt an instrument it might well have strengthened Hamas, spawning greater anarchy and chaos in the West Bank and Gaza, escalating the security threats facing both Israel and the U.S. in the region. Indeed, the Bush Administration itself strenuously opposed the AIPAC-backed House bill. It would have hamstrung U.S. efforts to ensure that Abbas “can fulfill his duties as president, prevent Hamas from taking over the rest of the P.A. and the PLO, and prevail in any confrontation with Hamas,” according to a memo sent by the Administration to Congress. Nor did the bill’s follies end there.

The saga of the bill’s demise has become the butt of a new controversy sparked by the initiative of three of America’s leading center-left Zionist groups—Americans for Peace Now, Israel Policy Forum and Brit Tzedek v’Shalom—and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism to explore with philanthropist George Soros and others the possibility of forming a moderate, pro-Israel American Jewish lobby in Washington. These groups have worked to change the terms of AIPAC’s House bill, for which they now stand accused, by AIPAC partisans, of irresponsibly opposing “legislation penalizing the Palestinians for putting their government in the hands of terrorists.” They came together, charge the critics, “in an ad hoc coalition to shield the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority from Congressional sanctions.” In fact, all the groups supported sanctions against Hamas, but not the AIPAC bill’s more sweeping bid to ostracize all Palestinian leaders.

The Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act was not scuttled by a cabal of left-wing American Jewish Benedict Arnolds, but by AIPAC’s own overreaching ultra-hawkish House bill which was not amended along the lines requested by the Bush Administration. To no one’s surprise, it proved difficult to reconcile with the Senate legislation favored by the administration. Nor is the battle over; AIPAC is mobilizing still to pass the “anti-terrorism” act. Will it now encourage the US and Israel to seize the opening of a new Palestinian technocrat government to help Israel achieve a truce and progress towards a two-state solution? Or will it continue to throw unreasonable obstacles in the way? Few expect AIPAC to fight for a US-Israeli peace initiative with Syria or the Palestinians when it is needed most, creating incentives for curbing Hezbollah and Hamas militants and isolating Iran. We must, to prevent a new and more ruinous war.

A new pro-Israel umbrella group or resource center would likely work in tandem with AIPAC for the same robust American backing for Israel’s military, economic and diplomatic needs, as its constituent groups have long done. But when AIPAC sabotages the mission of dovish Israeli governments, or of a US president collaborating with them; when it flexes its political muscles to push Congress to adopt reckless legislation which jeopardizes the chance for a future Arab-Israeli peace; when it marches in lock step off the cliff with a pro-settlement Israeli coalition opposed even to the most cautious peace probes with Israel’s Arab neighbors, a new Israel lobby could actively work to give voice to the many American Jews who see eye-to-eye with the sensible and the sane.

I’m going to continue contributing to AIPAC, an indispensable bulwark for Israel. But that won’t stop me from helping other Jewish organizations and a pro-Israel American Jewish citizens’ lobby that is in better synch with my pragmatic Zionist outlook, my centrist American politics, my commitment to the progressive values of the Jewish tradition, and to the policies I am convinced Israel’s welfare and America’s own national security demand.

Gidon D. Remba, a veteran Chicago-based Israel activist, is co-author of the forthcoming The Great Rift: Arab-Israeli War and Peace in the New Middle East. He served as senior foreign press editor and translator in the Israel Prime Minister’s Office during the Egyptian-Israeli peace process from 1977-1978. His essays have appeared in the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times, the Nation, the Jerusalem Report, Tikkun, the Forward, the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, Chicago Jewish News, JUF News, and the Pittsburgh Chronicle, where he writes a column on Israel.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

A Response to Abunimah's "One State Solution"

A Response to Abunimah's "One State Solution"
November 13, 2006

Voice of the People
Chicago Tribune

To the Editor:

Ali Abunimah’s “South Africa seen as model for Palestine” rests on faulty assumptions. Abunimah claims that Israel’s establishment of settlements in the territories where Palestinians “wanted” to create a state “has rendered separation impossible” and that “neither Palestinians nor Israelis are willing to give up enough of the country that they love.” In fact, polls have consistently shown that most Israelis and Palestinians are willing to divide the land equitably based on proposals like the Geneva Initiative which would create a Palestinian state in the equivalent of 100% of the West Bank.

The problem is not an unwillingness to divide the land, but how to build mutual trust, end the violence and create a bridge to peace. That requires US leadership, a willingness by President Bush to invest significant political capital into a sustained diplomatic initiative to negotiate a truce and oversee steps towards fashioning two secure and viable states. That kind of leadership—displayed successfully before in the Arab-Israeli arena by numerous Republican and Democratic presidents from Ford, Carter, and Clinton to Bush’s own father—has been sorely lacking in the Bush Administration. For the last six years, President Bush has adopted an irresponsible hands-off approach towards Arab-Israeli diplomacy and a misguided faith in Mideast regime change wars.

Abunimah maintains that Israel’s chosen solution is “unilateral separation” which he insists will “wall Palestinians into impoverished ghettos” liked the Bantustans of apartheid South Africa. In fact, Israeli and Palestinian leaders, with the support of most of Hamas, are seeking to negotiate an agreement which will lead to an armistice, the agreed removal of dozens of West Bank settlements, and the creation of a territorially contiguous Palestinian state in most of the West Bank. This would serve as a first step on the way to a permanent peace treaty and an international economic development campaign for Palestine.

Finally, Abunimah imagines that the persistent wishes of the overwhelming majority of Israelis and Palestinians to live in their own nation-states can be satisfied in a single multiethnic country which would replace Israel and Palestine. But when they have not disintegrated through ethnic and religious power struggles, such Middle Eastern polities have often collapsed into sectarian strife and bloody civil wars: see Iraq.


Gidon D. Remba

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Remba Responds to Tilly's Criticisms in "The One State Solution"

Gidon D. Remba Responds to Jennifer Tilly’s The One-State Solution Criticisms of His Essay in the Nation on Israel and the New Anti-Semitism

In "Anti-Semitism—New or Old? An Exchange," (The Nation, April 12, 2004), I responded to Oxford scholar Brian Klug’s “The Myth of the New Anti-Semitism.” While I agreed that advocacy of anti-Zionism and binationalism is not inherently anti-Semitic, and describe conditions under which binationalism is consistent with the basic rights of Israeli Jews, I take Klug to task for his failure to recognize the pervasiveness of anti-Jewish racism that today underlies much of the anti-Zionism and anti-Israel invective in the Arab world and on the European left. I maintained that much binational advocacy among Palestinians, Arabs and the Western left represents a species of political rhetoric which would, if realized in a unitary “democratic” state, result in an arrangement whereby Palestinians will form the majority and Israeli Jews at best a tolerated, subjugated minority, recapitulating the tragic fates of failed multi-ethnic polities like Lebanon, Bosnia and Yugoslavia (and now Iraq). As a form of anti-Jewish discrimination, it thus satisfies standard definitions of anti-Semitism, directed against Israeli Jews. I believe that a binational Palestinian-Israeli polity will have a reasonable likelihood of respecting the human rights of Palestinians and Israeli Jews only if it arises by mutual consent to confederate two working liberal democratic Israeli and Palestinian states. Any other approach to binationalism is at best naïve and unpracticable, at worst apt to sweep Palestinians and Israelis down to the next rung of the raging Middle Eastern inferno.

Klug’s rejoinder, while acknowledging some of my points, side-stepped the central questions: What are the criteria for appropriate use of the term “anti-Semitism”? And does contemporary Muslim and Arab violence against European Jews, and leftist and Arab rhetoric advocating the elimination of the Jewish state and its replacement with an Arab-majority state, share enough features with classical anti-Semitism to be reasonably considered a form of racism against Jews—even if it lacks some features of the classical phenomenon? Klug also mistakenly attributed to me a willingness to define anti-Semitism solely through reliance on dictionaries, a charge belied by my text. Finally, while he questioned whether I had fairly described the binational Palestinian-Israeli state likely to arise if the wishes of many anti-Zionist critics were realized, he offered no real counter-arguments to show that Israeli Jews’ human, political and civil rights would be fully respected in an Arab-majority binational state (particularly one created against the wishes of the overwhelming majority of Israeli Jews).

My essay prompted a three-page attack in a new book by political scientist Virginia Tilly, The One-State Solution: A Breakthrough for Peace in the Israeli-Palestinian Deadlock (University of Michigan Press, 2005). Tilly, who regards Israel an apartheid state which still relies on ethnic cleansing “for its preservation,” and who unashamedly places all blame for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict on Zionism and Israel, egregiously misreads my arguments, charging me with the view that “‘binational advocacy’ is indeed ‘inherently anti-Jewish racism.’” When I reject the overweening optimism of the European left that a binational “secular democratic” state—particularly one coercively imposed on Israeli Jews by means of economic sanctions and boycotts against Israel—will vouchsafe their basic human and political rights, and am skeptical that Arab majority oppression and domination of an Israeli Jewish minority is avoidable under such circumstances, she charges me with “transparent racial stereotyping” and “demonizing” of the Arabs. Instead, my skepticism is born of the inescapable fact that nowhere in the Arab world does a state yet exist in which the human and civil rights of minorities are respected, or in which citizens are truly equal or free, not even remotely to the degree that they are in Western societies. Realism about the prospects for liberal democracy and human rights in Arab society hardly amounts to demonization or racial stereotyping of Arabs. Moreover, Tilly completely ignores the crucial distinction I introduced between coercive and consensual binationalism.

Finally, Tilly (who studiously ignores my position in Peace Now and my public criticism of many Israeli policies) trots out the ritual claim that the rejection of one-state arguments as anti-Semitic “equates the Jewish state with Jewish people and regards any criticism of the state (or its Jewishness) as anti-Semitic per se.” Setting aside the absurdity of Tilly’s contention that I or others who reject certain species of one-state proposals as leading to anti-Jewish discrimination equate all criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism, the issue at stake is not “mere criticism” of the Jewishness of the state. The issue is rather wholesale proposals to coercively deprive Israeli Jews of national sovereignty and the likely fate of the Israeli Jewish community were such proposals realized (and the fact that such proposals effectively empower Palestinian nationalism without acknowledging this fact). This is a far cry from “criticism of the Jewishness of the state,” which I myself share in some respects, as evidenced in my essay "What is Zionism? A Peace Now Vision: Israel as a Jewish and Democratic State.” (Read the essay at )

In “What is Zionism?,” I explore the meaning of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, articulating principles for a progressive Zionism. The essay defends the view that it is both possible, morally and practically, for Israel to be a Jewish state and a state of equal citizens where the civil, political and economic rights of the non-Jewish Arab minority are accorded fully equal respect. It articulates this position through an examination of the Zionism of Herzl, Ahad Ha’am, and Israel’s (former) Supreme Court President Aharon Barak, among others. In defending a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, I suggest that it is incumbent on progressive Zionists and Palestinian nationalists alike to work towards the creation of two states which should seek to evolve a common civic egalitarian public culture to complement the particularistic aspects of their national cultures. Both should draw from their own cultures in the articulation of the common public culture to be shared by Jews and Arabs in Palestine-Israel.

For a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to succeed, I hold that both Israelis and Palestinians must begin to overcome the zero-sum game thinking inherent in nineteenth-century mythologies of nationalism and the absolutely sovereign nation-state. The kind of future Palestinians and Israelis should begin to construct is neither a single "bi-national" state, nor a conventional two-state arrangement, but an alternative in between, a third way, evolving over time, and by mutual consent. It must begin as two nation-states, which is the unmistakable will of both peoples, and evolve towards nation-states in a regional confederation. Both peoples would maintain continued allegiance to their own nation-states, largely self-governing, but start to move toward devolving some elements of national sovereignty into a cooperative supra-national regional political structure, with some similarities to the European Union.

Thursday, October 5, 2006

Bush and Israel: With Friends Like These, Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle

Bush and Israel: With Friends Like These


Gidon D. Remba

October 4, 2006

Published in the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle

If we’re to believe the Republican Jewish Coalition, President George W. Bush is the best friend Israel has ever had. “George Bush is right to stand up to those who have waged a war of terror on the world’s civilized nations,” boasts the RJC. “Whether it’s Iran, Hezbollah or Al Qaeda, President Bush has refused to back down.”

But take a closer look: In fact, Bush’s Mideast policies have done more to endanger the security of Israel than those of any president in history. Ever. The Bush Administration has caused Israel's gravest threats almost literally to mushroom: Iran’s clandestine nuclear weapons program fast approaches the point of no return. Its militant Lebanese Shiite ally Hezbollah, armed with the latest Iranian, Syrian and Russian high-tech weapons systems, launched an unprecedented 4,000 rockets against northern Israel for an entire month, forcing a million Israelis to flee or hide in shelters, while fighting the IDF in a conflict most Israelis now view as a loss for Israel. 68% of Israelis believe that the Lebanon war has weakened Israel's deterrence in the Arab world, while only 23% feel the country’s deterrence posture was strengthened, according to a recent Tel Aviv University opinion survey.

Iran-backed Islamic Jihad joined the Sunni terror group Hamas to rain hundreds of rockets on communities in southern Israel, while Hamas, emulating Hezbollah’s “success” and with its help, is building underground bunkers and smuggling long-range rockets, advanced anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles into Gaza, and eventually the West Bank. The newly empowered Shiite-dominated government and militias in Bush’s new Iraq, together with Hezbollah, form the molten core of a pro-Iranian Shiite eruption sweeping the region, emboldening oil-rich nuclearizing Iran, threatening to destabilize America’s Sunni Arab allies from Egypt to Jordan, Saudi Arabia to the Gulf emirates.

Fueled by Syria and Iran, Hamas waged war on Israel from Gaza after wresting control of the Palestinian Authority, while Sunni jihadist groups inspired by Al Qaeda are proliferating globally, reports the latest National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), representing the consensus of all sixteen US intelligence bodies. The NIE warns that “threats to U.S. interests at home and abroad will become more diverse, leading to increasing attacks worldwide.” Al Qaeda itself has spread to areas surrounding Israel, mounting attacks in Lebanon, Jordan, Gaza and the Egyptian Sinai, a gathering threat to the Jewish state. Ayman Al-Zawahiri, Osama Bin Laden's deputy, celebrated the fifth anniversary of 9/11 by announcing that Israel was among Al-Qaida's next targets.

The Bush Administration came to power drunk on the fantasy that the US could forcibly mold a more America-friendly “New Middle East,” where Islamist terrorists and their state sponsors in Iraq, Iran and Syria would be rolled back. The overthrow of Saddam and the imposition of democracy in Iraq would set in motion the fall of the radical dominoes, with a little nudge from bonus US military assaults against rogue states as needed. The Islamist radicals vanquished, pro-America moderates would emerge triumphant, paving the way for Arab-Israeli peace. Sworn to steer clear of land-for-peace bargaining, the Bush administration dodged any serious talks between Israel and its neighbors until the US had decisively tipped the balance of power in the region against the extremists.

But things didn’t quite work out that way. Instead, precisely the opposite scenario has unfolded. “The Iraq jihad is shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives,” concludes the NIE. “The Iraq conflict has become the cause célèbre for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of U.S. involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement.” Yet the Bush Administration remains in an ostrich-like state of denial, as told in Bob Woodward’s new chronicle. Bush’s dogmatic devotion to remaking the Middle East by force of arms, and studied refusal to support diplomatic engagement—with Palestinian moderates, Syria or Iran—has cost Israel and America dearly.

Item: The hard-line former IDF Chief of Staff Lt-Gen Moshe Ya’alon recently told Ha’aretz: “In the summer of 2003 I suggested to Prime Minister Sharon that he accede to the requests of [Syrian President] Bashar Assad and enter into negotiations with him. I thought that the very existence of negotiations with Syria on the future of the Golan Heights would crack the northern alignment of Iran-Syria-Hezbollah and perhaps also cause its dismantlement… Even if we did not reach a land-for-peace agreement, the very fact of the renewal of the dialogue channel with Syria would have distanced it from Iran and would have weakened the northern alignment, which I defined as a strategic threat.”

A group of prominent neocons who rose to high positions in the Bush Administration had long rejected “land for peace” deals on the Golan Heights in favor of regime-toppling military adventures, publicly suggesting after Iraq that Syria was next. Even had he been so inclined, Sharon could hardly have contemplated negotiations with Syria given the Bush Administration’s wish to depose Assad. Nor would Bush seize the initiative to bring Sharon along in a US-led rapprochement with Syria, conditional on ending its material support for Hezbollah, Hamas and Iraqi insurgents in exchange for renewed peace talks with the US and Israel. The arming of Hezbollah and Hamas continued apace, setting the stage for this summer’s bold Islamist attacks on Israel’s north and south.

Item: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party, which spearheaded the Oslo peace accords with Israel, has worked to renew negotiations and end all violence. Much as Hezbollah had pushed Israel out of Lebanon in 2000, Hamas has flaunted its success in forcing Israel to withdraw from Gaza last summer with no Palestinian peace or security recompense. Loath to truck in Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy, Bush did little to help Abbas gain credit for Israel’s departure from Gaza. When faced with Hamas’ growing popularity, Abbas sought to postpone Palestinian elections to give his moderate party time to regroup, Bush, the great democratizer, would not hear of it. A Former PA cabinet minister from Fatah told our delegation this summer that Bush insisted Abbas proceed on schedule with democratic Palestinian elections. Hamas won, Fatah lost—another victory for the American leader who stands strong against terror and “appeasement.”

Item: Maj.-Gen. (res.) Giora Eiland, the outgoing director of Israel’s National Security Council, lamented to the Jerusalem Post last week: “In the end, Iran will attain a nuclear capability. The international opportunities of a few years ago were not exploited, and today it’s too late. I don’t see the [international diplomatic] processes unfolding now as being strong enough to stop them, or even to temporarily suspend them.” “America is going to have to learn to live with a nuclear Iran, US intelligence analysts have concluded at a secret meeting near Washington,” echoed the London Times. “Senior operatives and outside experts from the intelligence community were almost unanimous in their view that little could be done to stop Iran acquiring the components for a nuclear bomb,” as Pentagon and intelligence analysts have warned the administration that a military strike on Iran, and economic sanctions, would both fail.

Item: In the spring of 2003, Iran sent Washington a detailed proposal for comprehensive negotiations to resolve all outstanding differences, including its suspected nuclear weapons programs and aid to anti-Israeli terrorist organizations. “The proposal was presented as having support from all major players in Iran's power structure, including the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei,” according to former senior CIA Mideast analyst Flynt Leverett. Iran’s opening positions in the proposed negotiation were spelled out:

“1. WMD: full transparency for security that there are no Iranian endeavors to develop or possess WMD, full cooperation with IAEA based on Iranian adoption of all relevant instruments,” allowing spot intrusive inspections of suspected nuclear facilities anywhere in Iran.
“2. Terrorism: decisive action against any terrorists (above all Al Qaida) on Iranian territory, full cooperation and exchange of all relevant information.
“3. Iraq: coordination of Iranian influence for activity supporting political stabilization and the establishment of democratic institutions and a non-religious government.
“4. Middle East:

1) stop of any material support to Palestinian opposition groups (Hamas, Jihad etc.) from Iranian territory, pressure on these organizations to stop violent action against civilians within borders of 1967.
2) action on Hizbollah to become a mere political organization within Lebanon [Iran would disarm its Shiite militia in Lebanon]
3) acceptance of the Arab League Beirut declaration (Saudi initiative, two-states-approach)”—committing Iran to peace between all Arab states and Israel.

True to form, Bush spurned the Iranian 2003 offer of direct negotiations, leaving Israel, and the world, in a far more dangerous and disadvantageous position today. With friends like these…

Thursday, September 7, 2006

Pax Syriana Redux, by Gidon D. Remba

Pax Syriana Redux


Gidon D. Remba

Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle
September 7, 2006

No sooner had the Lebanon cease-fire taken hold when Israel’s Defense Minister Amir Peretz proposed peace talks with Syria. The critics pounced on him forthwith: the novice minister, notorious for his lack of security experience, “jumped the gun,” showing that he had as much to learn about the art of diplomacy as he did about the art of war.

But was it Peretz’s want of diplomatic and security credentials that accounted for the novitiate minister’s call for talks with Syria? Soon after Peretz spoke, Avi Dichter, Israel’s hawkish Internal Security Minister and former chief of the Shin Bet, Israel’s General Security Service, opined: “In exchange for peace with Syria, Israel can leave the Golan Heights…[returning] to the international border. We have paid similar territorial prices for peace with Jordan and Egypt.”

“A process of discussions with Syria is legitimate…and very suitable,” he went on. “Israel can initiate it. Ultimately, initiatives of this kind are [conducted by] a third party - and there is an abundance of third parties in the world. If a third party approaches us, we must reply in the affirmative. Any political process is preferable to a military-fighting process, be it with Syria or with Lebanon,” concluded Dichter.

Echoing Peretz, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni suddenly appointed Ya’akov Dayan as a special “project manager” for possible negotiations with Syria. Dayan wasted no time meeting with officials who headed Israel’s Syrian negotiations team under Prime Ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak in the mid and late 1990s. Dayan has been tasked with presenting Livni “with a document detailing the chances for resuming the diplomatic dialogue with Syria in light of Syrian and Israeli positions on …borders, security and normalization,” reported Ha’aretz. Knesset Member Danny Yatom, a former Mossad director and chief of the IDF’s Central Command, has been among those in the Labor Party calling for engagement with Syria.

Prime Minister Olmert, portrayed by some as having slapped down any diplomatic exchange with Syria, actually left the door ajar: “I will negotiate only when Syria undergoes fundamental change with regard to its open support for terrorism.” If Syria stopped aiding Hezbollah and Hamas, Olmert was indicating Israel’s readiness to resume the peace talks aborted in 2000. Now Peretz has again urged that Israel “do everything possible to create the conditions for a dialogue with the Palestinians and on the Syrian front as well.”

Were Peretz’s remarks the musings of a dilettante? If so, he was in illustrious company. Were Peretz, Dichter, Olmert and Livni’s moves nothing more than the uncoordinated ramblings of unruly and irresponsible ministers? Or did they reflect a recognition among many in the Israeli government that the strategic benefits for Israel of a resumption of talks with Syria could be unparalleled?

Why now? Why would the Israeli government signal openness to Syria in the wake of a war with Hezbollah that looked, at best, like a Pyrrhic victory for Israel, and at worst like a win for Hezbollah? The timing of Israel’s message could not have been more propitious. It was, if anything, long overdue. If the cease-fire is to hold, if Hezbollah’s “victory” is to be transformed into a resounding defeat, if Israel is to snatch political triumph from the uncertain jaws of combat, there could be no greater boon to Israeli security than to offer Syria a potent political incentive to dry up Hezbollah’s weapons flow from Iran and Syria, to withdraw Syria’s backing for Hamas and re-align itself with the West, isolating Iran. The US and Israel adopted just such a strategy when Egypt was wooed away from the Soviet orbit into a peace treaty with Israel and an alliance with the US three decades ago. With the promise of US and European economic rewards, and the prospect of regaining the Golan Heights taken by Israel from Syria in the 1967 war, Bashar Assad, the young Syrian president, might achieve for his nation what his father Hafez had failed to accomplish in a lifetime.

It behooves us to recall that before Egyptian President Anwar Sadat issued his public offer to talk peace with Israel in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Begin sent messages to Sadat through various secret channels via President Carter and Romanian President Nicolae Ceausescu that Israel was prepared to make major territorial concessions in return for a full peace treaty, and inviting Sadat to meet Begin. Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan traveled incognito to Morocco to meet Sadat’s deputy prime minister, Hasan Tuhami, who informed Sadat that Israel would agree to a complete withdrawal from the Sinai in exchange for full peace. The secret diplomacy gave Sadat the confidence to issue his public offer to talk peace with Israel, leading to his historic visit and the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty.

If such behind-the-scenes messages are not being carried by third parties between Israel and Syria today, they will be tomorrow. These efforts, combined with the Israeli government’s public willingness to entertain full withdrawal for full peace with Syria and a resumption of negotiations, are the best way to examine Syria’s intentions. If Assad stanches Hezbollah’s weapons flow, and his rhetoric softens, we can expect the clandestine dialogue—and the public denials—to intensify, and Assad to take further steps forward, leading eventually to an eruption of overt diplomacy.

Only a rank political and military amateur would fail to thoroughly test the waters now for prying Syria away from Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas, dealing a body blow to radical Islamism. There is no task more urgent. But will the Bush Administration abandon reckless fantasies of Syrian regime change—which could bring Islamists to power or chaos—and play ball?

Tuesday, August 8, 2006

Mideast Peace--The Tough Dove Way, Gidon D. Remba

Mideast Peace—The Tough Dove Way

Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle, August 8, 2006


Gidon D. Remba

Israel is fighting a just and necessary war against the Islamic fascists of Hezbollah and Hamas, backed by Iran and Syria. Virtually the entire Israeli public—95% according to the polls—is behind Israel’s war of self-defense, left, right and center, including Peace Now, the movement of Israeli pragmatists which I have supported ever since its founding by a group of 348 reserve IDF officers in 1978 during the ground-breaking Egyptian-Israeli peace talks.

Shalom Achshav, as it is known in Hebrew, has never been a movement of pacifists, but a mainstream force of Israeli realists who believe that Israel must pursue peace with its Arab neighbors as aggressively and tough-mindedly as it prosecutes its just wars. Peace agreements—buttressed by a powerful military able to defeat aggressors and deter future attack—form an essential part of Israel’s security bulwark. Israel’s peace treaty with Egypt ended the series of multi-front wars Israel suffered during the first twenty-five years of its existence. The peace treaty with Jordan a decade ago has helped keep Israel’s eastern flank secure from cross-border terror attacks and ground assaults from radical Arab states. Shalom Achshavniks, in short, are tough doves; or, in the words of Israel’s former Chief of Military Intelligence Yehoshafat Harkabi, Machiavellian doves. (Yes, Harkabi too was one of us, along with a fair number of contemporary Israeli generals, intelligence and security officials).

But in the ornithology of Mideast war and peace, doves must sometimes fly like hawks, protecting Israel by the sword when necessary. That’s why, for me, some of the paragons of the Peace Now way also happen to be among Israel’s most illustrious war heroes, men like Yitzhak Rabin, Moshe Dayan, Ezer Weizman, and even Ariel Sharon, who though hawk’s hawks for much of their careers, all became tough doves, each in his way (and if only imperfectly). Some have even dubbed Israel’s military campaigns in Lebanon and Gaza the first Peace Now-run wars. Defense Minister Amir Peretz is, after all, a veteran leader in Shalom Ashchav, while other dovish cabinet ministers from the Labor Party, like Education Minister Yuli Tamir, one of the movement’s co-founders, have been among the war’s most vocal champions.

If the UN cease-fire fails, Israel should hit Hezbollah hard with an expanded ground campaign, push its Katyusha rockets north of the Litani River beyond firing range of much of Israel, paving the way for the entry into southern Lebanon of a large, well-armed NATO-led multi-national force to oversee the Lebanese army. Israel should decimate Hezbollah’s ranks and weapons, inflicting a painful blow on Iran’s proxy militia for its chronic aggression. But while it fights and once the guns fall silent, Israel should apply diplomatic leverage as well, and on three fronts: Lebanon, Syria and the West Bank and Gaza.

Hezbollah has used Israel’s continued control over the Shaba Farms, which the UN certified as part of the Golan Heights, as a pretext to continue its attacks against the Jewish state since the IDF withdrew from southern Lebanon in 2000. The Bush Administration appears to have concluded that it would promote Israel’s security and regional stability if Israel ceded the Shaba Farms to the UN. The IDF would redeploy from this small area and permit the new NATO-led force to patrol it, along with all of southern Lebanon and the Syria-Lebanon border (replacing the feckless UNIFIL toy soldiers). The UN Security Council would ultimately turn the territory over to Syria, as part of an exchange for verified Syrian cooperation with a truce in Lebanon and blocking the re-armament of Hezbollah. Syria, which has long displayed a willingness to transfer the area to Lebanon, would proceed to do so, giving Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora a powerful political tool to galvanize the Lebanese public against Hezbollah and its remaining weapons.

There are those who claim that giving the Shaba Farms to Lebanon via Syria is tantamount to surrendering land in response to Hezbollah’s attack on Israel, thus rewarding aggression and violating the international law principle that territory should not be acquired by dint of war. But this objection is off the mark. Syria and Lebanon would receive a sliver of land in exchange for their full cooperation in disarming Hezbollah, accepting a potent multi-national force to patrol southern Lebanon and their common border, preventing new arms from reaching Hezbollah from Iran. This moralistic and legalistic objection, as is so often the case with rightist complaints, ignores what’s best for Israel’s security.

What’s best for Israel’s security is for the U.S. and Israel to drive a wedge between Syria and Iran, isolating Hezbollah’s patron Iran and providing Syria with Western economic and political incentives in trade for its willingness to cut Hezbollah off cold. Those rewards should include a renewal by Israel and the US of the aborted talks with Syria over a land for peace deal in the Golan Heights, talks during which Syria had agreed to “dismantle Hezbollah” as part of a peace treaty. Perhaps it would be the same cold peace that Israel achieved with Egypt. We, and Israel, should be quite content with that, the best of many far worse options. As Prime Minister Menachem Begin used to say, “I’ll take a cold peace over a hot war any day.” Don’t trust the Syrians or the Lebanese? Me neither. Let’s take a page from Ronald Reagan’s book on the Russians: don’t trust, verify (with a twenty thousand-strong combat-hardened NATO force). Hold the Syrians’ feet to the fire when they make sweet promises. Give them some carrots, and speak softly, but carry a very large, bayonet-tipped stick. Make peace—the tough dove way.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Are Israel's Military Operations in Lebanon Proportional? Is Israel Guilty of War Crimes?
What International Law Really Says

Revised July 21, 2006

Gidon D. Remba

Posted on website of Ameinu at and widely cited in the press
Referring to the Hezbollah-Israel conflict, UN Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour has said that indiscriminate shelling of cities is a war crime; presumably this is meant to apply to Hezbollah's indiscriminate rocket and missile fire on Israeli cities. The Swiss International Red Cross, the "guardian" of the Geneva Conventions, has been explicit in saying that “Hezbollah fighters too are bound by the rules of international humanitarian law, and they must not target civilian areas."

But Arbour also has said, presumably with regard to Israeli strikes on civilian areas which harbor military objectives--such as rockets or armed Hezbollah guerrillas in private homes, villages or urban areas--that "the bombardment of sites with alleged military significance, but resulting invariably in the killing of innocent civilians, is unjustifiable," and she has implied that such actions are war crimes for which military and political leaders may be held liable under international criminal law. But is it true that Israeli actions in Lebanon are "unjustifiable" under international law? Is Israel guilty of war crimes, as Arbour suggests?

Both Protocol I and Article 28 of the Geneva Convention (IV) make clear that "the deliberate intermingling of civilians and combatants, designed to create a situation in which any attack against combatants would necessarily entail an excessive number of casualties is a flagrant breach of the Law of International Armed Conflict," according to international law scholar Yoram Dinstein (see his The Conduct of Hostilities under the Law of International Armed Conflict, Cambridge University Press, 2004, pp. 129 - 130). In short, Hezbollah is in violation of the laws of war when it places missiles and rockets in villages and homes in order to shield them from Israeli attack.

Article 51(7) of Protocol I states: "The presence or movements of the civilian population or individual civilians shall not be used to render certain points or areas immune from military operations, in particular attempts to shield military objectives from attacks or to shield, favour or impede military operations." And the Geneva Convention (IV) holds that "The presence of a protected person may not be used to render certain points of areas immune from military operations." (Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, 1949, Laws of Armed Conflicts, 495, 511.) Moreover, the Rome Statute is clear that "utilizing the presence of civilians or other protected persons to render certain points, areas or military forces immune from military operations is recognized as a war crime by Article 8 (2) (b) (xxiii)". (Dinstein, p. 130)

At the same time, Dinstein acknowledges that the principle of proportionality applies even in such cases when a belligerent has committed the war crime of using a civilian objective to shield its military forces or weapons from attack. "However, even if that is the case," he notes, "the actual test of excessive injury to civilians must be relaxed. That is to say, the appraisal whether civilian casualties are excessive in relation to the military advantage anticipated must make allowances for the fact that -- if an attempt is made to shield military objectives with civilians -- civilian casualties will be higher than usual." (p. 131) Dinstein cites, inter alia, legal scholar L. Doswald-Beck who wrote regarding Israel's original Lebanon War in the Journal of Peace Research: "The Israeli bombardment of Beirut in June and July of 1982 resulted in high civilian casualties, but not necessarily excessively so given the fact that the military targets were placed amongst the civilian population."

The above considerations pertain to the norms deriving from treaty law (e.g., the Geneva Conventions). But there is another set of standards which are relevant to the question of proportionality which derive from another source of international law, known as customary international law. Together with treaties, customary law is one of the main sources of international humanitarian law (IHL), or the laws of war. Dinstein explains that "Customary international law is certainly more rigorous than the [Geneva] Protocol on this point. It has traditionally been perceived that, should civilian casualties ensue from an attempt to shield combatants or a military objective, the ultimate responsibility lies with the belligerent [party] placing innocent civilians at risk. A not vested by the laws of international armed conflict with the power to block an otherwise legitimate attack against combatants (or military objectives) by deliberately placing civilians in harm's way." (Dinstein, ibid). In short, Hezbollah is legally (and morally) responsible for any Lebanese civilian casualties which result from Israeli bombardment of villages, homes or urban areas containing missiles, rockets or armed Hezbollah guerrilla forces—so long as Israel is aiming at these military targets, as it has.

Dinstein further notes that "An obvious breach of the principle of proportionality would be the destruction of a whole village--with hundreds of civilian casualties--in order to eliminate a single enemy sniper. In contrast, if -- instead of a single enemy sniper -- an artillery battery would operate from within the village, such destruction may be warranted" under the laws of war. (pp. 122-123)

Bridges and Civilian Casualties

Israel has bombed bridges in parts of Lebanon in order to prevent the movement of missiles into firing range of Israeli population centers, to obstruct the re-armament of Hezbollah, and to prevent Hezbollah from spiriting its captured soldiers to the Iranian Embassy, to Syria or Iran. Dinstein notes that under the international law of armed conflict, "most bridges qualify as military objectives by purpose, use or above all, location...As long as they are apt to have a perceptible role in the transport of military reinforcements and supplies, their destruction is almost self-explanatory as a measure playing havoc with enemy logistics." (p. 92). Moreover, "given the significant military advantage that can generally be gained from the destruction of a strategically located bridge, relatively high civilian casualties would ordinarily be deemed reasonable collateral damage." (p. 125)

Advance Warning Before Attacking Military Targets in Areas Affecting Civilians

Article 57(2) of Protocol I of the Geneva Convention, like the Hague Convention of 1907, "prescribes that effective advance warning must be given of attacks affecting the civilian population, 'unless circumstances do not permit'...Warnings are designed 'to allow, as far as possible, civilians to leave a locality before it is attacked.'" (Dinstein, pp. 127-8) Israel has repeatedly given advance warning to civilians in areas containing military objectives it plans to target: in south Beirut, before it attacked the Hezbollah stronghold, it gave at least 48 hours advance warning via airdropped leaflets, and it did the same with civilians in southern Lebanon, an area from which Hezbollah has been indiscriminately launching rockets at Israeli civilians within Israel, and where Hezbollah guerrillas have built fortifications and store arms.

The Assessment of Proportionality

Several conclusions follow from this review of the international law of armed conflict. First, the international laws of war permit considerable civilian casualties and harm to civilians of various kinds within the ambit of lawful combat, so long as a combatant fulfills its conditions. Second, the principle of proportionality prohibits an attack on a legitimate military target only if the collateral civilian casualties would be disproportionate in relation to the specific military gain anticipated from the attack. An attack against a legitimate military target is a war crime if the incidental loss of civilian life is "excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated." (Article 51 (5) (b) of Protocol I; Article 8 (2) (b) (iv) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court). Dinstein notes that "Even extensive civilian casualties may be acceptable, if they are not excessive in light of the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated." (p. 121) He further notes that "the Protocol refers to expected injury to civilians and to anticipated military advantage....what ultimately counts in appraising whether an attack which engenders incidental loss of civilian life or damage to civilian objects is 'excessive,' is not the actual outcome of the attack but the initial expectation and anticipation."

Leonard Fein's new essay on the Americans for Peace Now website "Disproportionality Now" fails to take into account many of the key considerations which the laws of war mandate for assessing whether the harm caused to civilians is proportional. He does, correctly, raise the question of what military advantages are likely to be gained by Israel's campaign against Hezbollah, but for reasons I shall not elaborate upon in this essay, I think his assessment of the military and strategic gains which may be reasonably expected from Israel's campaign is unduly pessimistic. That, however, is a largely empirical question which won't be settled until we see the outcome of the campaign. But for reasons I've elaborated elsewhere, I believe it is not unreasonable to hold that Israel will achieve some significant military and strategic gains from this operation: These include:

1) pushing Hezbollah guerrillas back from its northern border, preventing further abductions and attacks on IDF forces within Israel (Israel is already engaged in ground operations in southern Lebanon to this end);
2) pushing Hezbollah's thousands of Katyushas beyond 12 miles of the border so that northern Israel's population centers are beyond their 12-mile range;
3) the imposition of an effective multinational force along with the Lebanese army in southern Lebanon to replace the IDF and Hezbollah, thereby implementing a key provision in UNSC resolutions 1559 and 1680, and an international monitoring regime in the Bekaa Valley and the Beirut airport to prevent Hezbollah's rearmament, a proposal which has now won support from the US and several major powers;
4) reducing the number of missile launchers and longer-range missiles available to Hezbollah (it had only 62 Zelzal missiles threatening Tel Aviv and central Israel, and only 75 Fajr-3 and -5 missiles threatening Haifa, Israel's two most strategically important cities other than Jerusalem, before firing some and losing others to Israeli strikes);
5) restoration of a modicum of the deterrence which Israel lost after it unilaterally withdrew from Lebanon and Gaza to the international border, and failed to retaliate to previous Hezbollah abductions. This will
a) create a disincentive against future attacks by Hezbollah and Iran, both of which harbor genocidal intent against Israel and its people, and
b) foster the confidence necessary among the Israeli public for further withdrawal of Israeli settlements (though not of the IDF at this point) from as much as 90% or more of the West Bank, with such evacuations coordinated or negotiated with the Palestinians; such steps will, as the Israeli government has said, safeguard Israel's democratic and Jewish character, represent a giant step towards resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and promote the prospects for a future peace accord with its Palestinian neighbors;
6) dealing a blow to Iran's efforts to gain leverage over the major powers in talks over its nuclear enrichment program, while thwarting its attempts to enhance its stature in the Arab world over the moderate Arab states, by using Hezbollah to threaten and bleed Israel;
7) blocking Iran's efforts to sabotage Palestinian-Israeli accommodation by inflicting a strategic setback to Hezbollah through achievement of the above objectives.

All these are realistic potential outcomes of Israel's operation, achievable to some degree.

Anticipated vs. Actual Outcome of Military Actions and Proportionality

Dinstein also notes that in making judgments as to the proportionality of an attack, "if an extensive air campaign is undertaken, it would be mistaken to focus on the outcome of an isolated sortie. It has been rightly emphasized that, pursuant to Article 8 (2) (b)(iv) of the Rome Statute, assessment of what is excessive is to be based on 'overall' military advantage anticipated. By introducing the word 'overall', the Statute 'somewhat broadens the scope of military advantages which may be taken into account': it permits looking at the larger operational picture and not merely at the particular point under attack." (Dinstein, p. 123) It seems clear that the anticipated military and strategic gains, which include better protecting from rocket and missile attack more than 2 million Israelis--and with Tel Aviv and central Israel, virtually the country's entire population of 7 million--must be factored into any judgments about the proportionality of Israel's operations against Hezbollah.


From all this it follows that it is a categorical mistake to simply count the number of civilian Lebanese casualties, and then ask--is this too many in relation to whether Israel can "destroy Hezbollah", as the appropriate way for evaluating the proportionality of Israel's military actions in Lebanon. It is a mistake for at least two reasons: first, because it is arbitrary and unreasonable to treat "the destruction of Hezbollah," and Israel's inability to attain this objective, as the sole military advantage which should enter into the calculus; and second, because the absolute number of civilian casualties resulting from Israel's actions, while not irrelevant to that calculus, is not the primary determinant of proportionality in international law. This is so because the moral and legal responsibility for many of those casualties under international law falls squarely on Hezbollah. Many more of those civilian casualties are also permitted as proportionate under the laws of war even though they sometimes represent a considerable number, in absolute terms.

As horrible as it is for us to see hundreds of thousands of civilians fleeing from the war zone--and we should support immediate humanitarian assistance to the 45,000 of these (and all others) who need it--Israel has committed no war crime by taking action against legitimate Hezbollah military targets which it has willfully placed within urban and other civilian areas. This is all the more so given that Israel has fully complied with the laws of war by giving sufficient warning to the Lebanese civilians affected by its operations against Hezbollah military targets. The law may seem to some to be insufficiently morally sensitive. But so long as we cannot--and must not, morally--embrace pacifism, we must accept the tragic fact that even the most just wars may result in many civilian casualties—foreseeably and unintentionally—yet justifiably, with the full and terrible weight of law and morality.


Gidon D. Remba, co-author of the forthcoming From Gaza to Jerusalem: A New Road to Middle East Peace?, served as senior foreign press editor and translator in the Israeli Prime Minister's Office during the Egyptian-Israeli Camp David peace process. His essays have appeared in the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun Times, the New York Times, the Nation, the Jerusalem Report, Forward, Tikkun, the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles, JUF News and the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle. Mr. Remba is President of Chicago Peace Now (, affiliated with Americans for Peace Now (

The views in this essay are solely his own and in no way represent the views of any organization.

July 20, 2006
New York Times
Attacks Qualify as War Crimes, Officials Say
Correction Appended
UNITED NATIONS, July 19 — The United Nations’ top human rights official said Wednesday that the killing and maiming of civilians under attack in Lebanon, Israel and Gaza and the West Bank could constitute war crimes.
“The scale of killings in the region, and their predictability, could engage the personal criminal responsibility of those involved, particularly those in a position of command and control,” said Louise Arbour, the high commissioner for human rights.
Ms. Arbour is a former justice of Canada’s Supreme Court who, as chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, indicted the former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic.
“International humanitarian law is clear on the supreme obligations to protect civilians during hostilities,’’ she said. That same obligation exists, she added, in international criminal law, which defines war crimes and crimes against humanity.
“Indiscriminate shelling of cities constitutes a foreseeable and unacceptable targeting of civilians,” she said in a statement released by her Geneva office. “Similarly, the bombardment of sites with alleged innocent civilians is unjustifiable.”
The Swiss-based International Red Cross, the recognized guardian of the Geneva Conventions on the conduct of war, said Wednesday that Israel had violated the principle of proportionality provided for in the Conventions and their protocols.
It also noted that Hezbollah was firing rockets into northern Israel. “Hezbollah fighters too are bound by the rules of international humanitarian law, and they must not target civilian areas,” it said.
At the United Nations, there was support for the view that the only way to spare more victims was to halt the fighting, but there was also evidence that the United States would continue to dispute it.
“We think a truce is needed for humanitarian reasons,” said Jean-Marc de la Sablière, the ambassador of France, which holds the rotating presidency of the Security Council.
But John R. Bolton, the American ambassador, said the notion that a cease-fire would solve the problem was “simplistic.” “Among other things,” he said, “I want somebody to address the problem how you get a cease-fire with a terrorist organization.”
“This is a different kind of situation,” he added, “and I’m not sure that sort of old thinking, conventional thinking, works in a case like this.”
Mark Malloch Brown, the deputy secretary general, said that “on humanitarian grounds but also to enable ultimately a sustainable solution to this, one which allows Israel and its neighbors to live in peace with each other, continued conflict does not help.”
Secretary General Kofi Annan was returning to New York from Europe and was scheduled to brief the Council on Thursday on his call for a “cessation of hostilities” and a stabilization force for southern Lebanon.
“The need to bring this to a stop while we find a longer-term political and security solution is one that he will be stressing tomorrow in the Council,” Mr. Malloch Brown said.
Correction: July 21, 2006
An article yesterday about a statement released by Louise Arbour, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, in which she said that the killing of civilians in the Middle East conflict may constitute war crimes, omitted part of a quotation. The passage, with italics indicating the missing words, should have read: “Indiscriminate shelling of cities constitutes a foreseeable and unacceptable targeting of civilians. Similarly, the bombardment of sites with alleged military significance, but resulting invariably in the killing of innocent civilians, is unjustifiable.”