Friday, July 31, 2009

An Open Letter to ADL Leader Abe Foxman: A Response to Obama's Critics on Israeli-Arab Peace, by Gidon D. Remba

Dear Abe,

You've been at the forefront of American Jewish criticism of President Obama's renewed push for Israeli-Arab peace. After a recent meeting with the President along with 15 other Jewish leaders, you confessed that you continue "to feel uncomfortable with the assumptions that underlie President Obama's approach" to Israel and the Middle East.
You've charged that President Obama's outreach to the Muslim world is being conducted "at Israel's expense." For Obama, you say, "there is a need for the US to demonstrate that it can be tough with Israel to win back credibility with Muslims. We are seeing it already on the settlement issue..."
But being tough on Netanyahu about settlements is not at "Israel's expense." It is a blessing to Israel, given the grave threat which many Israeli military and political leaders have said the settlements pose to Israel's security, to the very possibility of a two-state solution to its conflict with the Palestinians, and to Israel's ability to remain a democratic Jewish state. For the last eight years, we've had a president who recklessly squandered American prestige. He had no credibility to broker an Israeli-Arab accommodation. He made little more than token efforts to do so, when not trumpeting his outright opposition to negotiations with Syria, despite the unanimous advice of Israel's intelligence and military brass, and its political leadership. An American president who has regained the confidence of the Arab and Muslim worlds is quite simply a strategic asset to Israel. American pressure over settlements is an investment in Israel's future, a gift to the Zionist project.
Nor does pressure need to be applied simultaneously and in equal doses to satisfy some artificial notion of even-handedness. As Larry Derfner points out in the Jerusalem Post, "The Palestinian Authority has been cracking down on Hamas for a long while, it kept the West Bank miraculously quiet during Operation Cast Lead, it's enforcing the law in city after city... If the PA wasn't giving us peace and we were giving it land - we'd be right to demand that Obama put all the pressure on the Palestinians and none on us. But the fact is that Abbas and the PA are giving us about as much peace as they're capable of, while we aren't planning on giving them an inch; instead, we're thinking only about how much more conquered land Obama will let us build on."
You've said that President Obama's "notion that we have to pressure Israel to show our bona fides to the Arabs is to buy into their distorted version of history." You've accused the president of ignoring the history of Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts. But such criticisms stand reality on its head. Obama understands all too well why past peace efforts have failed. His new way is designed to overcome the errors and missteps of the past. By adopting a regional approach, he is more likely to gain wide Arab backing for historic Palestinian compromises on Jerusalem and refugees, issues which resonate throughout the Arab and Muslim worlds. By enlisting the help of Syria, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, he stands a better chance of bringing about a unified Fatah-Hamas Palestinian government that will hew to the international and Arab consensus: a government that will have both the will and the wherewithal to honor its commitments under a peace accord with Israel.
Obama recognizes that the US cannot help forge peace between Israelis and Palestinians while allowing Syria and Iran to continue to stoke Hezbollah and Hamas extremism. While Bush's policies added fuel to the fires of Arab and Muslim radicalism, Obama is cutting off their oxygen supply, sapping Hezbollah's political power and reinforcing the impetus towards pragmatism in Hamas. Obama is finally ending the practice, perfected under Bush, of saying one thing--whether about settlements or the president's commitment to help negotiate an accord--and then doing something else.
You hold up President Bush's "enunciation of the need for a Palestinian state, the road map, Israel's disengagement from Gaza in 2005, and the Annapolis process in 2007" as having "provided opportunities for progress toward peace if the Palestinians were truly interested." You highlight what "Israel has done in recent years to advance peace: Israel's offer of a Palestinian state at Camp David in 2000, its unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon, also in 2000, and its disengagement from Gaza were all steps upon which there could have been building toward peace." Instead, you conclude, "the Palestinians responded with rejection, suicide bombs and kidnappings, extremist politics and rockets."
But this Manichean narrative of righteous Israelis and evil Palestinians - the stock-in-trade of right-wing hasbarah - is a cartoon version of what went wrong, ignoring true causes and effects. Annapolis did not fail because the Palestinians refused to accept another "generous Israeli offer," but because President Bush did nothing to help the parties bridge the gaps, failing to apply diplomatic tools to encourage their agreement to a US-proposed compromise, as President Carter successfully did with Egypt and Israel. Similarly, Bush did nothing to hold either party accountable for their commitments under the Road Map, even after promising to "ride herd" on both as he left the company of Sharon and Abbas at Aqaba.
The Road Map and Annapolis were built not only on the wobbly foundation of isolating and excluding Hamas and Gaza, but on an unrealistic, and ultimately failed, American-Israeli bid to topple Hamas by besieging Gaza and its entire population. This siege, more than anything else, coupled with the lack of real progress on the ground in the West Bank--and not Israeli "concessions"--were responsible for the attacks which Israel has endured on its southern communities. Had Sharon truly wanted to promote peace by withdrawing from Gaza, rather than to simply cut Israeli losses and bury any serious peace plan in "formaldehyde"--as his chief aide Dov Weissglas put it--he would have withdrawn Israeli troops and settlers from the Strip as part of an agreement with Abbas, rather than unilaterally. In this way, he would have enabled the PA and Fatah moderates to take credit for a diplomatic achievement, rather than allowing Hamas to gain bragging rights before the Palestinian public that Israel had been pushed from Gaza only by its "resistance"--much as Hezbollah did with its Lebanese audience when Barak unilaterally withdrew from Lebanon.
By the same token, Barak's move was largely motivated by Israel's need to cut its ongoing losses from guerrilla attacks while Israeli troops remained entrenched in Lebanese territory. It was a gift to Hezbollah, not a step towards peace, after Barak had walked away from a potential peace treaty with Syria, an act of political cowardice for which President Clinton and his chief Middle East envoy, Dennis Ross, have criticized him harshly. Barak balked on a Syrian-Israeli deal after Assad had committed to the US that under a land-for-peace bargain, Syria would insure that Hezbollah, its client, would be reined in, according to Ross.
You claim that the Arab world wasn't ready to reach an agreement with Israel when Carter and Brzezinski were in the White House, and that the same is true now--as if nothing has changed in thirty years and there were no Arab peace initiative offering Israel recognition, normal ties and peace with the entire Arab world today; as if the rise of Iran were not providing powerful new incentives for the Sunni Arab states to end the conflict and form a close alliance with Israel and the US.
Nothing's changed? Hamas political bureau chief Khaled Meshal has recently said that his group would not stand in the way of a peace deal between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israel. Shin Bet security service chief Yuval Diskin told the Israeli government that "Hamas rhetoric has changed in recent weeks. ‘Public statements by leaders attest to efforts by Hamas to appear interested in ending the conflict with Israel, based on the model of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders in exchange for a long-term hudnah'" or truce--until Netanyahu silenced him. Netanyahu's spokespeople claim that these changes in rhetoric are purely "cosmetic" and that Hamas "remains rooted in an extremist ideology which fundamentally opposes peace and reconciliation."
But the great Jewish historian Walter Lacqueur was closer to the mark when he observed in the 1970's that "even in the war aims of religious or quasi-religious movements a discrepancy often exists between the desirable and the possible. . . All such movements have come at one stage or another to the realization that with an enemy who cannot be defeated, temporary compromises have to be made. The old enmity, the odium theologicum, is itself subject to gradual erosion as such compromises become permanent; the formulas of hatred may linger on but they no longer carry the same conviction."
The latest poll of Israeli and Palestinian public opinion, conducted jointly by the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah, between May 21-June 3, 2009, showed that “59% of the Israelis support and 36% oppose a two-state solution. Among Palestinians, 61% support the two-state solution while 23% support a one-state solution and 9% support other solutions.” Are you imposing an idealistic, romantic definition of what constitutes acceptance of Israel by Palestinians, rather than a practical and realistic view of what it takes for there to be peace between two countries—whether Israel and Egypt, Palestine or Syria?
It is a categorical mistake to suggest that the Arabs aren't ready to make peace with Israel because some, notably the Saudis, are unwilling to start the normalization process in exchange for the partial settlement freeze Netanyahu will finally offer. His government has been unwilling to come to a full stop on settlement construction, as requested by the US and the international community, and as required by the Road Map. Instead, Netanyahu has insisted that Israel will continue building Jewish housing in Palestinian Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, regarded by the Arab world as the future capital of a Palestinian state. Does this strike you as a wise way to inspire confidence in Israel's good intentions about a future peace?
As any schoolchild knows, but so many Jewish leaders pretend not to, there can be no two-state solution without sharing Jerusalem between Palestinians and Israelis. What's more, Netanyahu remains adamant about continuing to build in Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including those in heavily populated Palestinian areas which have no chance of becoming part of Israel under a future peace accord. To genuinely promote peace, Israel needs to start offering economic incentives to settlers deep in the West Bank to begin returning to Israel, rather than erecting yet more housing for continued settler growth in areas that Israel will most certainly have to leave in any peace deal.
The Saudis want to begin a normalization process only once there is an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. Even if Netanyahu adopts a partial freeze on settlement building, they are rightly skeptical that he will countenance the establishment of a Palestinian state on fair terms. Netanyahu's long-standing opposition to a viable two-state solution, with a territorially contiguous Palestine in the West Bank and Gaza, justifies their skepticism. Under such circumstances, it is hardly surprising that Netanyahu has failed to engender the kind of trust and good faith that would enable Arab leaders to begin an incremental process of normalization with Israel now. Still, some Arab states--including Qatar, Tunisia, Bahrain and others--will probably agree to further normalization steps in exchange for a settlements moratorium.
Now let's turn to what may be your biggest concern: that President Obama is pursuing Israeli-Arab peace with a genuine sense of urgency. I'll address this issue, within the context of the dangers Israel faces with Iran, Hezbollah, Syria and the Palestinians, in the second part of this open letter, which is available here.
B'virkat shalom,

(Gidon) Doni Remba

Part 2 of An Open Letter to ADL Leader Abe Foxman: A Response to Obama's Critics on Israeli-Arab Peace, by Gidon D. Remba

Continued from Part 1
The Urgency of Peace: Palestinians, Syria and Iran

Abe, you're worried that "the administration is putting too much weight on solving the conflict"--as if the malign neglect of the Bush Administration was good for Israel. True, you aren't opposed to "the administration view that the US must be much more engaged to achieve progress." What troubles you is "when the president says that he expects the problem to be resolved in two years." But you can't have it both ways. If you think that President Obama is ignoring the lessons of recent Palestinian-Israeli history, don't begrudge him for grasping that one of the reasons peace efforts have failed was that the US and its allies were unwilling to press both sides to make the compromises needed to bridge the remaining gaps in the way of an agreement. And don't object when the President holds both sides' feet to the fire about fulfilling their Road Map obligations, as Bush promised to do.
If the president announces a two-year deadline--a real deadline, not the kind of fluffy time-lines we've had until now--and if the parties fail to move towards a deal, he may signal that the US and its allies will present a plan, backed by virtually the entire world and by real diplomatic muscle.

You would be among the first to remind us that the clock is ticking on Iran's quest for nuclear weapons. But that clock is also ticking on the very possibility of Israeli-Palestinian peace; and there is indeed a palpable link between the two. A solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, with Hamas' support, and a comprehensive peace with the entire Arab world including Syria and Lebanon, will put an end to the chronic plague of attacks by Hezbollah and Hamas on Israel. An Iran that can no longer exploit these tensions by fueling radical Arab forces will be far less a threat to Israel. An Iran that can no longer exploit Arab anger at Israel's treatment of the Palestinians, no longer living under Israeli occupation, will lose much of its appeal in the Arab world, where those who stand up for Arab and Muslim dignity and rights are viewed as heroes. A Hezbollah that has forfeited its arms flow from Syria will be far less dangerous to Israel, as will a Syria which has moved out of Iran's orbit into the US-Israeli-Sunni Arab camp. An Iran that no longer has Syria as its main ally and collaborator will be weaker than ever before.

You doubt that these things can happen? We have yet to find out by putting the full range of US, international, Arab and Israeli political, military and economic incentives on the bargaining table with Syria. Israel alone cannot lure Syria away from its Iranian embrace; it needs our help to loosen that hold. If Iran does acquire a latent capacity to produce nuclear weapons in the coming year or two, it will redound to Israel's benefit if that comes about once Arabs and Israelis are moving towards rapprochement, not mired in perpetual confrontation. Israel's northern and southern borders would no longer erupt in periodic attacks on its towns and cities, prompting repeated Israeli invasions of Lebanon and Gaza. It would, in short, pave the way to a more secure Jewish state, able to focus a greater share of its resources on renewing Jewish culture and education, both in Israel and in the Diaspora.

Perhaps you would rather see Israel preemptively strike Iran to delay its nuclear program. But as Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen have both warned, an attack on Iran will be profoundly destabilizing, with very grave and upredicatable consequences. That's "diplospeak" for the fact that an Israeli strike on Iran will drag the US into an unwinnable, devastating new Mideast war which will engulf the region, jeopardizing the lives of many US troops along with innumerable Israeli and Arab civilians. Nor is such an Israeli assault likely to succeed even in delaying Iran's nuclear program, according to many military analysts. It would give a giant boost to Iran's hardliners, further undermining the reformist movement, while driving underground a newly accelerated nuclear program, as Secretary Gates has warned. And when Iran does reach nuclear weapons capacity, its hardline leaders will now be bent on revenge against Israel.

Israel's former chief of military intelligence, Major General Aharon Zeevi-Farkash, recently gave voice to the majority view of its intelligence community that Israel is in fact not the primary motive, or target, for Iran's quest for nuclear weapons. Israeli intelligence believes that Iran seeks a nuclear weapons capability mainly to deter any American move to overthrow the Islamic regime; they oppose a preemptive Israeli attack. An Israeli strke would create a self-fulfilling prophecy, making vengeance and retaliation on Israel a more central priority for Iranian leaders.

By insisting that the Obama administration close the door to nuclear negotiations with Iran's "delegitimized government," you are ignoring the history of successful US negotiations with other even more repressive and unrepresentative governments like those of post-Tianenmen China and Soviet Russia, with whom we achieved détente or arms control agreements, clearly serving America's national security. What's more, you would hamper the president from showing China, Russia and our European allies that he had indeed afforded Iranian leaders every reasonable chance for dialogue, truly exhausting the diplomatic option. By insisting on prematurely removing diplomacy from the president's arsenal, you would undermine the prospects for broader international cooperation on more painful sanctions on Iran, without which such measures stand little chance of bearing real economic sting.

And there is yet another ticking clock in Israel and Palestine. The window is rapidly closing on the very possibility of a two-state solution. Every month that goes by without a solution, Israel's settlements grow, as its hold on Palestinian areas of the West Bank becomes harder to reverse. Before Obama, Israelis and Palestinians were rapidly losing hope, Hezbollah and Hamas radicals were gaining strength, as the chance for workable compromise grew more remote.

President Obama is right to impose a two-year deadline on his push for peace. Without both stringency and urgency, and a willingness to make demands on both Israeli and Arab leaders, Obama cannot overcome the deep cynicism engendered by the Bush administration's showboat diplomacy. Under Bush, "commitments were routinely ignored without consequences," as the Center for American Progress notes in a new report. "The president should affirm that there is a short time-frame for negotiations," concludes the report, "and that there will be rigorous monitoring and enforcement of any agreement."

Abe, are you really against the US, European Union, Russia and the Arab League telling the Palestinians that once Israel has displayed, in both word and deed, a genuine willingness to create a viable and territorially contiguous Palestinian state in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, the time has come for them to give up on claims of a "right of refugee return" to Israel? The time is approaching when the US will work with its allies to pass a binding new UN Security Council resolution putting to rest, once and for all, claims by Palestinian refugees and their descendants that they are entitled to return to homes in Israel. As you know, such demands are incompatible with the very notion of partitioning the land into a Jewish and an Arab state.

A new resolution will also make clear that Israel must, for its part, remove Israeli settlements from a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders with mutually agreeable land swaps. Just as an influx of Palestinian refugees is inconsistent with a viable Jewish state, so too hundreds of thousands of Israeli settlers, living in Israeli settlements throughout Palestinian territory, are incompatible with a viable, and even smaller, Palestinian state poised to absorb Palestinian refugees. A new resolution will affirm that Israel must share sovereignty with a Palestinian state in East Jerusalem, ceding Arab neighborhoods to the new Palestinian polity, while Jewish neighborhoods will remain part of Israel, as reflected in the Clinton parameters.

President Obama is right to pursue these goals with a genuine sense of urgency. For Israel's sake, for the Palestinians and our Arab allies--and for America's need to promote stability in a region that is vital to US and global security, as Admiral Mullen has recently emphasized.

Is Israel's insecure status quo, scarred by chronic conflict, really preferable?

B'virkat shalom,

(Gidon) Doni Remba

Thursday, July 30, 2009

A Reply to Disco Stu's Jewcy comment on my Open Letter to Abe Foxman

Dear Disco Stu,

In your comment on my Open Letter to Abe Foxman on Jewcy, you wrongly suggest that I (and Obama, whose Mideast policies I support) want to “force Israel to cease all settlement building without expecting anything in return.” You appear to have read a different article than the one I wrote—in fact, I argued nothing of the kind. Throughout my letter I say things like: “don't object when the President holds both sides' feet to the fire about fulfilling their Road Map obligations, as Bush promised to do,” and talk about how Obama, the Arab League and the international community must pressure the Palestinians to give up on their claims of a right of refugee return to Israel as part of a final treaty in which Israel will evacuate those West Bank settlements which won’t become part of Israel’s final borders.

From what you say about settlements, it seems to me you’ve not learned about how the world really works, as you claim; nor have you drawn the right conclusions from the failure of Oslo which a realistic understanding of what actually happened would require. Israeli Security Expert and Former Mossad Official Yossi Alpher has pointed out that “Settlement expansion was a key catalyst of the first Intifada, the popular rebellion of Palestinian youth [against Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and the settlement enterprise there] that broke out in late 1987 and continued until the early 90’s, as well as of the al-Aqsa Intifada, in fall 2000. More than any other factor, the spread of settlements on what they considered to be their lands was seen by Palestinian youth as a reason for urgent, even reckless action: to continue to struggle passively, as their elders advocated, was to cede Palestine to the settlers. This dramatic expansion of settlement building to a state of critical mass, set against a backdrop of agonizingly slow progress in the Oslo process over a seven-year period, constituted a major catalyst for the al-Aqsa Intifada.”

And: “One of the major flaws of Oslo was that it did not explicitly prohibit continued expansion of settlements. This settlement growth established ‘facts on the ground’ that were used to preempt negotiations on territory and seriously eroded Palestinian trust in the peace process itself.” In fact, the number of West Bank settlers nearly doubled from 100,000 to almost 200,000 from the beginning of the Oslo peace process until its failure in 2000.

How then do we help Israelis and Palestinians create the mutual confidence needed to revive peace negotiations in a way that will be likely to succeed, taking into account how the great gap between what happened on the ground and what was said at the negotiating table was among the major causes for Oslo’s failure? To that end, the Road Map required of Israel to immediately implement a settlement freeze, including all natural growth, and dismantle the dozens of settlement outposts which had been built in recent years, further expanding the geographic footprint of the settlers in the West Bank. The Palestinians were to “undertake visible efforts on the ground to arrest, disrupt, and restrain individuals and groups conduction and planning violent attacks on Israelis anywhere."

In my letter I quote Larry Derfner’s Jerusalem Post column, which points out that "The Palestinian Authority has been cracking down on Hamas for a long while, it kept the West Bank miraculously quiet during Operation Cast Lead, it's enforcing the law in city after city... If the PA wasn't giving us peace and we were giving it land - we'd be right to demand that Obama put all the pressure on the Palestinians and none on us. But the fact is that Abbas and the PA are giving us about as much peace as they're capable of, while we aren't planning on giving them an inch; instead, we're thinking only about how much more conquered land Obama will let us build on."

In short, the reality is that so far the Palestinians have actually done a great deal to comply with what they need to do to rebuild Israeli trust and confidence in their commitment to fighting anti-Israel terror; but Israel has done very little on the ground to inspire confidence among Palestinians that it is sincere about ultimately granting them the right to a state free of hundreds of thousands of Israeli settlers in the West Bank. Netanyahu now claims to support a two-state solution, but while professing fealty to peace he continues to do the very opposite of what’s required to convince any fair-minded observer, let alone the Palestinians, that he intends to negotiate the creation of a Palestinian state.

So this has nothing to do with what Europeans, academics and the “Arab side” say, or with how often some “meme” is repeated, and everything to do with what has been, and is, objectively undermining the chance for a two-state solution to the conflict, and what is objectively necessary to build confidence among both Israelis and Palestinians in order to restart a peace effort on new and more sound footing. And it has everything to do with what both sides committed to do and what they have and haven’t done. But Obama is not stopping with insuring that the Palestinians are fulfilling their security obligations to Israel. He is also pressing the Arab countries to begin normalizing relations with Israel in several areas. So the notion that I or Obama are advocating forcing Israel to do anything without Palestinian and Arab reciprocation is pure invention on your part.

You also seem not to grasp that a settlement freeze is simply a first step towards a two-state solution in a multi-step process in which both sides have obligations to the other. A settlement moratorium is a very minimal step which ensures that Israel finally lives up to its promise—as codified in the Wye Accord and other agreements it signed—to stop taking actions which clearly prejudice the outcome of the negotiations by putting more Jewish housing on more land that the Palestinians claim for their state—whether in Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem or in the West Bank.

As part of a deal in which Arabs and Israelis agree on the final borders of Israel and Palestine, both the Palestinians and the Arab states will be expected to make major concessions to accommodate Israel’s needs on a wide range of issues once we reach the point where Israel begins to actually remove tens of thousands of settlers from the area which it will have agreed will become a Palestinian state. They will, and should, be pressured by Obama and the international community to accept demilitarization of their state—no heavy weapons or air force—unlike almost every other state in the world; they will be pressured to accept a host of security arrangements to accommodate Israel’s requirements, and to give up on their claim of a right of refugee return to Israel, among other concessions.

The other point you raise is whether “If building new settlement houses suddenly ceases” the Palestinians will “suddenly acquire the requisite abilities to both build and govern a functioning state and accept Israel living like a (relatively) rich, glamourous, successful prince right next door?” There are really two different issues here: whether the Palestinians accept Israel’s right to exist in peace and security, and whether they have the ability to build and govern a state.

But the fact that you could write such a sentence suggests that you are not the pragmatist or realist you claim to be. No pragmatist would impute such powers to a mere settlement freeze; only someone out to build a straw man and then tear it down would say such a thing. To gain the capacities to build and govern a functioning state that Palestinians will need, and deserve, significant international help—something like an international trusteeship (even if we don’t call it that) which will, over a period of years after Israel’s occupation of the Palestinians has ended, help them develop the requisite political capacities and institutions to govern their state. This will need to be coupled with a “Marshall Plan” for the economic development of the new state; Obama should press the Saudis and other wealthy Gulf states to make major contributions to this economic package.

You say that “for those of us who feel the Pals. were the ones who dropped the ball or were never on it during Oslo, any move that is unilaterally demanded of Israel that doesn't also address the true weak link in the two-state solution (Palestinian inability to come to terms with a legitimized Israel living free and prospering while they worry about building their own state) is merely sweeping the dust under the rug.”

A true pragmatist would recognize that in fact a majority of Palestinians have for many years supported a two-state peace deal with Israel. The latest poll of Israeli and Palestinian public opinion, conducted jointly by the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah, between May 21-June 3, 2009, showed that “59% of the Israelis support and 36% oppose a two-state solution. Among Palestinians, 61% support the two-state solution while 23% support a one-state solution and 9% support other solutions.” What’s more, you seem to me to have an unrealistic, messianic definition of what constitutes acceptance of Israel by Palestinians, rather than the kind of pragmatic, realistic view of what it takes for there to be peace between two countries—whether Israel and Palestine, or Israel and Egypt or Syria.

Despite your insistence of being a pragmatist and a centrist, on the question of Palestinian acceptance of Israel it seems to me you’ve bought into the right-wing hasbara mythology of what went wrong during Oslo. My letter wasn’t intended as an antidote to that particular hallucinogen. Gaining a realistic understanding of what’s actually happened over the last 10 – 20 years, and why, will require you to actually read—not skim—some serious articles. I’ve tried to sum up some of this material in two places: “Why Camp David and Oslo Failed: Myth and Reality” and "Barak's Chief Negotiator Explodes the Myth of Camp David."

But I would suggest you start with David Grossman’s “Fictions Embraced by An Israel at War”.
There he wrote this bracing passage: ”The story that now reigns nearly unchallenged in the media and political discourse obliterates more than 33 years of roadblocks, thousands of prisoners, deportations, and killings of innocent people. It's as if there were never long months of closures in cities and villages, as if there had been no humiliations, no incessant harassment, no searches of houses, no bulldozing of hundreds of homes, no uprooting of vineyards and olive groves, no filling up of wells and, especially, no construction of tens of thousands of housing units in settlements and large-scale confiscation of land, in violation of international law.

“The new narrative leaps back through the manipulative fog created by the prime minister and his cabinet, his supporters and his various spokesmen straight to the Six-Day War, our pinnacle of justice. And looking forward from that point in 1967 there is a kind of desert devoid of history, devoid of responsibility, devoid of blame, until we suddenly emerge from the miasma right at the Oslo accords, the proposals that Ehud Barak made to Yasir Arafat at Camp David and, after Camp David, like thunder on a bright and sunny day, the second intifada.

"According to this story, the Palestinians suddenly exploded in September 2000 in an uncaused natural eruption, spewing out lava and ash and igniting the entire region. They had no logical reason for exploding and there was no prior Israeli provocation. Ehud Barak made them a generous offer, and they betrayed him with an outburst of violence because they, by their nature, are motivated solely by destructive, irrational forces that make impossible any future compromise with them.

“This theory is also the basis of another right-wing claim that now seems to be accepted by the majority of Israelis. It is that the Oslo accords, and their supporters, were what in fact caused the second intifada. In other words, it wasn't the intolerable conditions in which the Palestinians lived for more than three decades. It wasn't the tacit support that most Israelis lent to the ongoing occupation, all the while persuading themselves that it was such an enlightened occupation that it was barely an occupation at all. It wasn't the refusal of every Israeli government before the second administration of Yitzhak Rabin to try to reach a true, if painful, accommodation with the Palestinians. It wasn't the doubling of the number of Israeli settlers in the territories in the years after Oslo. Nor was it the way in which Ehud Barak conducted the Camp David talks, presenting to Yasir Arafat as ultimatums proposals that, while they were generous compared with Israeli positions in the past, were entirely insufficient in Palestinian eyes.

“None of these factors are now viewed as sufficient reason for a popular uprising by a subjugated and despairing people. No, it's the Oslo accords that are to blame, as if in the absence of Oslo the Palestinians would have come to terms with the Israeli occupation, accepting it tranquilly, even lovingly, to this very day; as if the Oslo agreements were a match, not a fire extinguisher.”

So Disco Stu, I would give your comment a D- for cogency, an F for conscientiousness (to pass, you have to actually read what the person you are criticizing has written), and an A for ad hominem irrelevancies.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Obama's Grand Plan for the Middle East, by Gidon D. Remba, The Jerusalem Report

As published in the Jerusalem Report, June 8, 2009 and online in Jewcy, May 18, 2009

With the maiden visit of newly elected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Washington set for May 18, signs of an immanent clash between U.S. President Barack Obama and the hardline Israeli leader abound.

While both leaders will look to find common ground, papering over differences with diplomatic formulas, the rift may be unavoidable. The impending tension recalls previous encounters between Likud leaders and U.S. presidents from both parties. This time the tremors will center not only on the Palestinian fault line, but also on Iran.

Netanyahu views the development of an Iranian uranium enrichment capacity as an existential threat to Israel that must be squelched. He is certain that Obama’s “dialogue” with Iran is bound to fail, rendering inevitable an Israeli strike against Iranian nuclear sites. An Israeli attack will be preceded by more punishing economic penalties on Iran of the kind mooted lately on Capitol Hill, and backed by AIPAC, the hawkish pro-Israel lobby. But sanctions-on-steroids are unlikely to blunt Iran’s quest to join the nuclear club, serving only to clear away the final hurdles blocking a final push for preemptive Israeli military action.

Obama’s way represents nothing less than a revolution in the Middle East: not the stillborn new Middle East the Bush Administration imagined could be midwifed by the force of American and Israeli arms, but a new order that will arise from the centripetal forces unleashed by a political earthquake. How does Obama hope to set in motion this tectonic realignment? Reading the tea leaves, one can divine an unfolding pattern whose contours will only be more fully revealed when Obama delivers a major speech to the Arab and Muslim worlds in Egypt on June 4, following meetings with Netanyahu, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

With the backing of the Pentagon’s top brass and his Republican Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Obama’s administration is convinced that a military strike against Iran will engulf the region in a raging firestorm. It believes that an Israeli air attack on Iranian nuclear sites will fall far short, accelerating the Iranian nuclear weapons program, part of which will remain intact underground. Netanyahu hopes to persuade Obama that, if all else fails, the U.S. must turn its gunsights on Iran. But Obama will be immovable: he will not launch the next catastrophic Mideast war.

On the contrary, Obama believes a negotiated solution to the nuclear issue may be in the cards if the U.S. treads an untried path with Iran. He may offer to create a multinational consortium to produce enriched uranium inside Iran under international management and supervision, with an enhanced verification system to ensure that weaponization does not take place. Israel too may be pressed to declare its nuclear capabilities, subjecting them, along with those of India and Pakistan, to international oversight and inspection. In return for a mutually acceptable resolution of the nuclear impasse, Iran may be willing to scale back its military aid to the Lebanese Hizballah and Palestinian Hamas militant organizations and accept a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace accord, which could include Lebanon. Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has now offered, on American television, to support whatever peace plan is accepted by the Palestinian people and the international community.

Should U.S.-Iran nuclear negotiations fail, Obama hopes to transform the regional landscape in which Iran would emerge with a nuclear arms capacity in such a way that deterrence would be most likely to succeed. Even without a “grand bargain,” the U.S. will seek to foster cooperation with Iran in as many areas as possible, replacing confrontation with détente, from a position of greater regional leverage. Those in the regime who seek to project Iran’s influence in the Arab and Muslim worlds by backing Hizballah and Hamas “resistance” against Israel will have the rug pulled out from under their feet.

Obama hopes to woo Syria out of Iran’s orbit with economic and political incentives and a determination to broker a peace treaty between Israel and Syria as part of a grand rapprochement between Israel and the Arab and Muslim worlds. The U.S. will loosen Iranian bonds with Syria and Hamas – which has now offered a long-term truce with Israel – while depriving Hizballah and its Iranian backers of the tinder for their incendiary tactics. Contrary to pundits who cry that Israel will be sacrificed on the altar of American reconciliation with the Islamic world, Obama’s aim is the creation of a new regional political architecture in which Israel’s vital needs, and American national security, will be more firmly anchored than ever before.

For Obama, the Israel-Arab conflict, including the Israeli-Palestinian conundrum, can and must be moved towards resolution under American stewardship. Press reports suggest that the U.S. and Arab allies Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt are working on revising the Arab League Peace Initiative, making explicit key compromises on Jerusalem and the refugee problem. They would make Israel an offer it will be hard pressed to refuse: Palestinian refugees would return only to the new state of Palestine or be rehabilitated within the Arab states or other countries. This would insure that refugee repatriation could not undermine Israel’s Jewish majority or the principle of “two states for two peoples” affirmed in the original 1947 U.N. partition resolution calling for an Arab and a Jewish state in Palestine. Gaining Arab unanimity on this radioactive issue may prove impossible. But even engineering the sponsorship of a group of leading Arab states for so far-reaching a change to the historic Arab position would represent a coup for Obama.

Jerusalem’s Old City, with its holy sites sacred to Judaism, Islam and Christianity, objects of both Israeli and Palestinian national identification, would come under international supervision, as proposed in the partition resolution. Arab and Muslim states would begin normalizing relations with Israel, in exchange for concrete Israeli steps like a comprehensive settlement building freeze, and a time-table for removing most West Bank settlers, designed to send the message to Palestinians and the Arab world that Israel is committed not only in word but in deed to realizing a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Arab League, together with the Palestinians, and the U.S.-led Quartet, together with Israel, will become the primary interlocutors in the new negotiations. By adopting a novel holistic, regional framework, and clarifying the parameters of the Arab peace initiative and the way forward to its realization, Obama raises the odds higher than ever before that the players will at last overcome four great obstacles which have thus far stood in the way of a Palestinian-Israeli accord:

1. With the Arab League as the primary Arab interlocutor, Obama’s way helps bypass one consequence of Palestinian weakness and division, creating an environment in which the Palestinians are brought to the table hand in hand with the entire Arab world. By providing broad Arab and international public legitimacy for just compromises on Jerusalem and the refugees, as well as on borders and security, the regional approach eases the way towards Palestinian popular acceptance of the deal. Contrary to those skeptics who see only guile in Hamas’ offers of a long-term truce with Israel, ignoring the larger political context in which the movement operates, Hamas will feel enormous Palestinian public pressure to end terrorism against Israel, and to play its part in a Palestinian government that will sign on.

2. By the same token, the U.S. role in the new constellation helps compensate for the endemic weakness in the Israeli political system which has prevented shaky Israeli coalition governments from credibly offering a viable Palestinian-Israeli bargain. Former prime minister Ehud Barak’s government was already a minority coalition by the time he went to Camp David in 2000, and when he dispatched negotiators to Taba in early 2001. Ehud Olmert, Tzipi Livni and their Kadima party were on their way out the door when they renewed final status talks with the Palestinians this past year under the Annapolis umbrella, in the shadow of a Pyrrhic victory in Lebanon and corruption allegations against the prime minister.

3. Instead, the U.S., the Quartet, and the Arab League may ask Israeli and Palestinian leaders to present to their publics a complete outline for peace incorporating already ongoing Arab concessions and concrete steps to build Israeli confidence, paired with unfolding Israeli concessions and concrete steps to build Palestinian trust. Israeli and Palestinian plebiscites will take place with a full understanding on both sides that pushback from either Israeli or Palestinian governments will be met with the firm hand of their American and Arab patrons, who will be loath to see their monumental efforts fail. Israelis and Palestinians are bound to demand that their governments seize the opportunity for a breakthrough.

The Arab League, the U.S. and NATO will oversee the implementation of all aspects of the regional peace treaty: U.S.-led and Arab multinational peacekeeping forces will guarantee Palestinian and Israeli security in the West Bank and Gaza as Israel removes most settlers and phases out military control. An international trusteeship will guide the economic and institutional baby steps of the newly de-occupied demilitarized Palestinian state.

4. The U.S. will help broker Israel’s peace talks with Syria – and possibly Lebanon, if Iran and Hizballah can be co-opted. Should Iran and Hizballah prove unwilling, they will find themselves isolated in a new Middle East order, facing a far more united Israeli-American-Sunni Arab and international front.

Obama will no longer tolerate the slogans of American or Israeli obstructionists who claim that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is not “ripe” for resolution – it never is by their lights – or that there is no Palestinian partner for peace. Nor will he countenance an Israeli strike on Iran, as he will make clear to Netanyahu. But Obama refuses to accept the status quo, which has proven far too dangerous for the U.S., Israel and our Arab allies. The risks of rejectionism now dramatically outweigh the risks of peace.

Gidon D. Remba is executive director of the Jewish Alliance for Change (, a nonprofit organization which supported Barack Obama’s presidential candidacy and advocates for a progressive domestic and foreign policy agenda. A veteran Middle East analyst and pro-Israel peace advocate, he served as senior foreign press editor and translator in Israel's Prime Minister's Office from 1977-1978 during the Egyptian-Israeli Camp David peace process.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Bibi and Barack: A Chance for Peace?, by Doni Remba

Is the new hardline Netanyahu government in Israel on a collision course with the Obama administration – and the rest of the world? What can President Obama do to advance Israeli-Arab peace even if the Israeli government is led by a man who refuses to endorse the two-state Palestinian-Israeli solution backed by the U.S., previous Israeli governments, the Palestinian Authority, the Arab states and the international community?
Read more here.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Arrange for Gidon D. Remba to speak on Israeli-Arab Peace

Gidon D. Remba is available to speak on "President Obama, Israel & Middle East Peace" at synagogues, churches, universities and other communal institutions.

Mr. Remba, who served as Executive Director of the Jewish Alliance for Change, Ameinu (the US affiliate of the World Labor Zionist Movement), and Americans for Peace Now Chicago, is a veteran Middle East political analyst and pro-Israel peace advocate. He was Senior Foreign Press Editor and Translator in the Israel Prime Minister's Office from 1977-1978 during the Egyptian-Israeli Camp David peace process.

His commentaries on Israel and the Middle East have appeared widely in the Jewish and general press, including the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times, the Chicago Sun Times, the Nation, Ha’aretz, the Forward, the Jerusalem Post, Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA), Jerusalem Report, Tikkun, and many other publications. He blogs at and at

To arrange for Mr. Remba to speak at your event, contact him at

Recent reviews:

Temple Har Zion, a reform synagogue in a Toronto suburb:

"You deliver a fast, hard punch of facts and history." Members felt that "we needed to have you longer, during the day, instead of Friday night. People wanted to learn more and discuss more with you. I will look at things differently now, trying always to determine what is really in Israel's interest." - Natalie Cremer, Adult Education Chair, Temple Har Zion

"Members are still talking about your visit, and the debate it stirred. We were impressed by your insider knowledge of Israeli and American political workings."- Rabbi Cory Weiss, Temple Har Zion

Selected Recent and Upcoming Appearances:

Upcoming: Fall, 2009 (date to be announced): Montana State University, Bozeman, Montana

May 20, 2009, 7:30 PM: Special guest at political comedian Scott Blakeman's political humor talk show "The End Of The Week As We Know It," at the 45th St. Theater, 354 W. 45 St., New York City.

April 26, 2009: Institute for Living Judaism, Brooklyn, NY, "The Settlements," in a dialogue with Stuart Ain, columnist for the Jewish Week

February 2009: Panelist, The Joey Reynolds Show, WOR News Talk Radio

January 2009: Erev Shabbat talk, "President Obama, Israel & the Mideast," Temple Har Zion, a reform synagogue in a Toronto suburb

October 2008: Speaker on Obama’s Chicago career as a progressive pragmatist, in "Broadway for Obama," State Theater, in the Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania electoral battleground before an audience of 1,000 people.

September 2008, Speaker on Obama's Chicago career and Chicago Jewish community support, George Street Playhouse, New Brunswick, N.J. (NJ Jews rally for Obama-Biden ticket: Speakers defend Democrats’ record on Israel, int’l issues, New Jersey Jewish News, Sept. 11, 2009)

Recent Publications:
Obama's Grand Plan for the Middle East (PDF version), Jerusalem Report, May 18, 2009, reprinted online in Jewcy

An Open Letter to Abe Foxman: A Response to Obama's Critics on Arab-Israeli Peace, Jewcy, August 1, 2009

Removing West Bank Israeli settlements is ethnic cleansing? Nonsense., August, 2009

Obama’s policy on Jerusalem and the US Consulate is anti-Jewish and anti-Israel? That’s outrageous,, September 2009

Obama Planned "Ambush" of Israel at U.N.? Fat Chance., September 2009

For Selected Publication List visit here.

Click here for Mr. Remba's full bio