Posts Tagged ‘Mahmoud Abbas’

JERUSALEM, RAMALLAH & WASHINGTON

Once, a man stacked up piles of dried grass, sticks, branches then logs in a heat-baked land. A friend asked, “What’s with all this fuel? One spark could set the whole area ablaze.” The gatherer said, “Maybe the weather will turn cold. But relax. I certainly won’t start a fire now.” The friend shook his head. “It’s not you starting a fire I’m worried about.”

One week ago, the #UnitedNationsSecurityCouncil condemned #Israelisettlements in the West Bank, 14-0. The United States abstained rather than vetoing the measure. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu lashed out at the Obama administration. “Friends don’t take friends to the Security Council.”

I love Israel. Which is why I say, “Friends don’t let friends stack up fuel for someone else to set on fire.”

On Wednesday, Secretary of State #JohnKerry spoke about new settlements preventing a two-state solution between Jerusalem (yes, the capital of Israel) and Ramallah (capital of the Palestinian Authority). Washington supports a two-state solution. I do, too. An Israel encompassing the West Bank ultimately cannot be both a Jewish and democratic state. A one-state solution eventually will lead to Palestinians lighting a match and possibly causing a major conflagration.

Bibi, in turning to Israel’s far right for political support, continues to kick the can down the road. The can makes an increasingly explosive noise. The world community—hypocrites that so many nations are—will become even more antagonistic towards Israel. Yes, Israel is forging ties with India and China (the latter a member of the Security Council), African and Latin American nations, and Russia (also a Security Council member). It’s renewing ties with Turkey and creating “under the table” relationships with Sunni Arab states. Those are all positives. But Bibi keeps gathering fuel and painting Israel into a corner.

Am I bashing Israel? No way. Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state is non-negotiable. Moreover, while the Israeli right remains intransigent about holding on to Judea and Samaria, it’s the Palestinians who turned their backs on a meaningful (read that negotiated, not dictated) two-state agreement. In 2000 and 2008, Jerusalem offered Ramallah East Jerusalem along with modified West Bank borders compensated with land from Israel proper. The Palestinians walked away.

In 2014, Kerry offered what we can surmise to be a similar plan. Jerusalem—read that, Bibi—expressed willingness to talk. Ramallah—P.A. president Mahmoud Abbas—never responded.

Ramallah will continue to avoid making necessary compromises—Israel also will have to compromise—to achieve a Palestinian state and peace. Moshe Yaalon, former Israeli Defense Minister and military Chief of Staff, presents a sad but cogent reason in Foreign Affairs (Jan./Feb. 2017). “Rejecting Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people means that the conflict is not about borders but about Israel’s very existence.” The Palestinians’ “chief objective has been not to achieve their own national community but to deny the Jews theirs.”

It’s in Jerusalem’s best interest to halt settlement building inside the West Bank and hit the ball squarely into Ramallah’s court. Let the Palestinians find another lame excuse for avoiding negotiations and take the blame they deserve. Removing all that highly flammable fuel will help Jerusalem keep from burning down its own house.

If you enjoy these posts, suggest to family and friends that they check out davidperlstein.com. Post something on Facebook, too. And Happy New Year. May 2017 bring us all meaningful steps toward healing and peace.

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GENOCIDE—FACT AND FANTASY

On August 1, The Movement for Black Lives issued its platform. The group represents a coalition of 60-plus organizations calling for equal treatment for African Americans in the criminal justice system and rebuilding Black communities. Among the platform’s statements: “The US […] is complicit in the genocide taking place against the Palestinian people.” Around the same time, the Palestinian Authority’s ruling Fatah party issued an equally outrageous statement. What are the facts?

If the writers of the MBL platform had any idea what genocide entails, they’d think twice. (Perhaps they did: I just checked the platform, and the genocide reference seems to have been removed, although solidarity with “Palestine” remains. Fact: If Israel sought to slaughter the Palestinian people, it would have done so.

Fact: On May 6, France24.com reported that Palestinians engaging in the “Knife Intifada” had to date staged more than 350 attacks on Israelis leaving dead 34 Israelis and nearly 200 Palestinians. Understand that these Palestinians were killed by Israeli soldiers, police and the occasional armed civilian, who responded to the attacks. Does this constitute an Israeli strategy of genocide? I’d more of a case that it doesn’t, but the idea is so bizarre that I won’t waste my time writing more words on this matter and your time reading them.

But I will turn to an August 4 report in The New York Times: “Fatah Makes Incendiary Claim of Killing 11,000 Israelis.” Fatah, the political party headed by Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, made an ugly boast in Arabic on one of its official Facebook pages. As writer Diaa Hadid reports: “’For the argumentative … the ignorant … And for those who do not know history,’ begins the Facebook post, ‘The Fatah movement killed 11,000 Israelis.’” The Fatah website had previously made the same erroneous claim in August 2014, according to the Times.

Is this the norm on Fatah’s part? Writes Hadid, “Mr. Abbas, who succeeded Mr. Arafat, has repeatedly said he supports nonviolent resistance against the Israeli occupation. But Fatah has historically championed armed resistance as a central tenet of its doctrine for the liberation of the Palestinian people.” Given the Facebook post, which side exhibits genocidal tendencies?

Fact: The situation between Israel and the Palestinians is not optimal. Tension and violence mar what passes for peace. Thankfully, the situation isn’t worse. Hopefully, it will get better. I’ve stated before and I’ll state now that I believe only a two-state solution will end these hostilities. But I’ll also emphasize that while Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu will drag his feet as long as he remains in office, Palestinian leadership (let’s not even mention genocide-oriented Hamas in Gaza) digs in its heals to avoid negotiating a realistic two-state agreement.

As to The Movement for Black Lives, I support Black Americans (and Black French and Britons) being treated equally in every phase of life. I’ve always supported that. I always will. And where help is required, it needs to be given. But I will not support MBL in any way.

Fact: The issue does not involve Israel. Fact: Israel is not committing genocide. Fact: Doing nothing but muddy the waters by self-righteously defaming a nation, its people and their supporters will not move forward this important matter of social justice. Thinking that it will represents pure fantasy.

If you enjoy these posts, suggest to family and friends that they check out davidperlstein.com. Post something on Facebook, too. And give a fact a break today.

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FOUR TOUGH TRUTHS

In the movie A Few Good Men (1992), Jack Nicholson is the Marine colonel commanding the U.S. base at Guantanamo. He famously tells a court martial, “You can’t handle the truth.” Given Tuesday’s election in Israel, last November’s American Congressional election and the state of the world, a number of regrettable truths confront us.

Truth #1: The victory of Israel’s Likud party, headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, is scary. Likud won 30 of the Knesset’s 120 seats—hardly a mandate. The problem? Trailing in the polls, Bibi played to the worst fears and prejudices of the rabid right, warning that Israeli Arabs were voting (legally) in big numbers. He also said that he would never allow a Palestinian state—after long accepting a two-state solution given a partner on the other side. (Frustrating truth: Mahmoud Abbas was never that partner.) Yesterday, Bibi backtracked. He’s been misunderstood. He favors a Palestinian state under conditions that guarantee Israeli security. I do, too. But can anyone believe Bibi? His campaign rhetoric sent a statement to Jews in Israel and the Diaspora, as well as to the world community: “We can hate as much as they do.” Oh wait. Just kidding.

Truth #2: The American political system isn’t working on the national scale—and needs an overhaul. President Obama seems out of touch to too many Americans. (Age-old truth: you can’t please all of the people all of the time.) His vaunted communications skills are way overrated. Worse, Congress makes a mockery of our democracy. Republicans detoured around the president and welcomed Netanyahu to speak before Congress in great part because they, like Bibi, pander to the far right. Allied truth: Money talks. Says who? The Supreme Court. Corporations have as much right to speak out as people. Only lots more cash. (Do I hear the Koch brothers wheezing in approval or is that Sheldon Adelson?) Grating truth: Many Republicans oppose the president because a Black man (defined in the U.S.A. as anyone with a drop of Black blood) sits in the White House. Mr. Obama can change his policies. He can never change his genetics.

Truth #3: Democracy may not always be the answer. How has it done in Iraq? Shiites continue to suppress Sunnis in a continuation of a religious conflict going back 13 centuries. Turkey’s Islamist president Tayyip Recep Erdogan has turned democracy into a sham. Iran’s elected officials, including the president, fall under the thumb of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Hosseini Khamenei. And would you really praise democracy in Egypt under the Muslim Brotherhood? Nasty truth: enlightened autocracy might work better in some cases. That’s the position of the noted journalist/scholar Robert Kaplan in his recent book, Asia’s Cauldron. Kaplan cites the incredible flowering of Singapore under Lee Kwan Yew and Malaysia under Mahathir Mohamad (whom Kaplan nonetheless recognizes as an anti-Semite). And no, I’m not a fan of Vladimir Putin, elected by, but hardly accountable to, the Russian people. By the way, he’s wonderfully satirized (and wonderfully played by Lars Mikkelsen) in this season’s Netflix hit House of Cards.

Truth #4: The Giants will not win the World Series. It’s 2015, people—an odd numbered year. The Giants just don’t do that. Joyful truth: they’ll still help take our minds off Truths 1–3.

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SILWAN

A newspaper article from decades ago concerned the wise, heroic act of a teacher in a tough Chicago high school. I wish I could personally tell the story to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu.

A student pulled a gun. Let me be clear. No one has the right to bring a gun into a school. The teacher entered the scene but didn’t threaten the student. He knew that might set the student off. So he said, “Let me hold that for you.” The student, seeing a way out, surrendered the weapon. The teacher’s considered words prevented a possible catastrophe.

Israel faces a similar situation in East Jerusalem. Let me be clear. Israel has every right to exist. Moreover, I defend Israel’s right to strike back at Hamas and other terrorists with whatever force it deems necessary. But the Israeli government’s strategy regarding East Jerusalem—the Silwan neighborhood in particular—seems self-destructive.

Silwan, which borders the southern portion of the Old City, is thoroughly Arab. I’ve been driven through Silwan several times, so I’ve had tires, if not feet, on the ground. Some right-wing Israelis have moved to Silwan to establish a “substantial” Jewish presence in Arab East Jerusalem (as opposed to the huge Jewish suburbs in areas annexed by the Municipality of Jerusalem). Recently, Jews purchased several residences through an Arab intermediary and entered them under cover of darkness.

According to The Jerusalem Post, Jews in Silwan number 500. The Arab population is 50,000. So the Jewish presence is anything but substantial. Yet the right seeks to settle enough Jewish residents to void Arab claims on Silwan and the rest of East Jerusalem. Bibi and the right insist that Jerusalem, East and West, is and will remain the undivided capital of Israel. They see Jewish residents invalidating any claim on East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state.

The right-wing position represents a fantasy that keeps tensions high. Arab East Jerusalem is just that. Jews lived there in the past, yes. But Palestinians once lived in West Jerusalem. That’s also the past; they won’t be returning. We should remember the past but more important live in the present with an eye on an attainable future.

Let me also be clear. Arab/Palestinian violence in response to the situation is wrong. On Wednesday, an Arab resident of East Jerusalem drove his car into a group of people at a light-rail stop. He killed a three-month old Jewish girl. That’s monstrous. Bibi’s response condemned Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for making incendiary statements about Muslims defending the Noble Sanctuary (Temple Mount to Jews). Bibi may be right. But his self-righteousness has not helped matters.

Does it make sense to toss a lighted match into a barrel of gunpowder? The teacher in Chicago might have been “right” to threaten the student, but he chose to defuse the situation. Yes, East Jerusalem has been part of Israel (though two previous Israeli prime ministers offered it to the Palestinians and were rebuffed) since the 1967 Six-Day War. And Arab residents of East Jerusalem take advantage of generous Israeli social benefits. But as to Silwan, this Israeli government’s approach remains needlessly heavy-handed. Cornering the market may pay off. Cornering an opponent risks disaster.

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JOHN KERRY’S FRAMEWORK

My short story “White on White” in Summerset Review in a way suggests the current Israeli-Palestinian negotiations shepherded by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. The tale offers an updated example of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” So do the negotiations.

According to Tom Friedman in the January 29 New York Times, Mr. Kerry is about to present a “framework” for an Israeli-Palestinian agreement. He will inform Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas that an agreement can be reached only if both sides accept several specific concessions.

Duh!

Kerry will tell Netanyahu that Israel must concede East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine. Netanyahu has long championed a united Jerusalem, although most of East Jerusalem is Arab and treated quite differently from Jewish West Jerusalem.

The Palestinians, Kerry will say to Abbas, must forego any right of return to Israel proper and recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Whatever concerns Abbas has about Israeli Arabs’ rights—as if human and political rights in the West Bank (don’t bother mentioning Gaza) were particularly meaningful—he, like Netanyahu, must acknowledge reality. If Palestine can define itself—Abbas opposes Jews living in the proposed new country—Israel can do the same.

Update: Yesterday former Israeli Labor leader Shelly Yacimovich stated that Abbas had agreed last May to allow Jews to live in Palestine as citizens. Abbas, however, has never made this public.

The connection to “The Emperor’s New Clothes” is obvious. Washington, Jerusalem and Ramallah have refused to call a spade a spade. Claiming that an agreement can be reached without following these provisions is a hoax. Bear in mind that Israel offered East Jerusalem to the Palestinians in previous negotiations. Still, no agreement was reached. The present Israeli government keeps its distance from the former position.

What’s next? The Israeli right will oppose Kerry’s framework and pillory Netanyahu if he shows it support. Friction already exists between Netanyahu and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, leader of the Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) party, a right-wing member of the coalition government. (Semi-disclosure: Bennett is my Israeli cousins’ cousin.) Abbas faces a raging storm. Members of Fatah (West Bank), along with Hamas (Gaza) and Hezbollah (Lebanon), will vilify the framework and renew pledges to destroy Israel. Abbas’ safety will be precarious.

Those who oppose the framework will continue to swear that the emperor is wearing the world’s most beautiful garments. Those who keep silent will remain complicit in the deception. Those with open eyes will see that, as before, the emperor is naked.

Giving public voice to this framework is long overdue. It’s not an endpoint. It’s a foundation. Previous American attempts to bring the parties together without first stating the obvious have been more than misguided. They’ve been dishonest and cruel, falsely raising the hopes of many Israelis, Palestinians and the world.

How will Netanyahu and Abbas respond to the reality that has been haunting us since Oslo? I don’t know. But if they turn their backs on Kerry, the situation will move in an entirely different direction.

The outcome will leave everyone dissatisfied.

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MANDELA AND JEWISH WISDOM

Nelson Mandela’s funeral is several weeks behind us. As it happens, now is a good time to consider how Mandela’s philosophy of looking forward finds antecedents in the Talmud and the Book of Proverbs.

Mandela’s greatness was in thinking that while great wrongs had been done to black South Africans, hatred and recrimination serve no good purpose. The new South African society must look to the future without calls for revenge masquerading as justice.

A man who spends 27 years in prison and rejects hatred of his jailers is worth listening to. I hope that both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas have reflected on this. The ancients certainly did.

This week’s Torah portion Be-Shallach (Sent Out), Exodus 13:17–17:16, presents Pharaoh undergoing yet another change of heart. After releasing the Israelites from bondage following the ten plagues, he and his army chase the Israelites into the Reed Sea (Red Sea is an improper translation of Yam Suf). The sea splits. The Israelites pass through. The pursuing Egyptians drown.

Should Jews—should anyone—treasure revenge? The Talmud (Sanhedrin 39b) relates: “In that hour the ministering angels wished to utter the song [of praise] before the Holy One, blessed be He, but He rebuked them, saying: My handiwork [the Egyptians] is drowning in the sea; would ye utter song before me!”

Proverbs 24:17–18 offers related instruction: “If your enemy falls, do not exult; / If he trips let your heart not rejoice, / Lest the Lord see it and be displeased, / And avert His wrath from him.”

Yes, attacks should be repulsed and crimes punished. But we must take a broader view regarding those who offend and those who are offended. God may have found it necessary to slay the Egyptians and assist the Israelites to win many military victories, but this does not make those deeds pleasing. Delighting in destruction pushes us across the boundary between self-defense and cruelty. All humans are God’s handiwork.

Do we get that? And can it lead to peace in 2014? Regarding the Israeli-Palestinian situation, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry still believes that a framework for a two-state agreement can be reached by April. I’m skeptical, but I hope to be proven wrong. And I could be if Palestinians and Israelis emulate Mandela.

Jodi Rudoren wrote in The New York Times (1-2-14) regarding Israel’s demand to be recognized as a Jewish state, “The gulf between the two sides on the issue highlights a broader question critical to the outcome of the talks: whether a peace deal must reconcile conflicting versions of the past, or whether it can allow each version some legitimacy and focus on paving a path forward.”

I’m not addressing the issue of a Jewish state here. De facto, that’s what Israel is. But making room for others’ histories—on both sides—can bring peace closer.

The philosopher George Santayana famously wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” I add a corollary: Those who dwell solely on the past also are condemned to repeat it.

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Read the first three chapters of my new novel, The Boy Walker, at davidperlstein.com. Order in soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com, Barnesandnoble.com or iUniverse.com. And read my short-short story “White on White” in the Winter 2014 online edition of Summerset Review.

BLACK IS WHITE—AND BLACK

In George Orwell’s novel 1984, Big Brother, the symbol of tyranny, declares that “Black is white, and white is black.” This marks just one example of “doublethink,” which twists truth and falsehood. But doublespeak is more than fiction, as we learned in Gaza last week.

On Saturday, Palestinians celebrated Hamas’ twenty-fifth anniversary marked by the first-ever visit to Gaza by Hamas’ political leader Khaled Meshaal. Doublespeak was the order of the day. Yet Meshaal also spoke quite plainly with no attempt at deceit.

Let’s go first with the blatant lie. Hamas claimed victory over Israel in their recent hostilities. Following the declaration of a truce, Gazans celebrated their triumph. How obvious was Hamas’ victory? As obvious as their unguided rockets killing six Israelis and doing some property damage. I’m not sure that any other nation or group has won a war by inflicting so few casualties—although every life lost is precious—and so little damage.

The fact that 170 and perhaps more Gazans were killed—and the civilian lives among them also are precious—in no way seemed to diminish Hamas’ triumph. Why would it? Those casualties represent martyrs sent directly to heaven by Israeli missiles, which were guided with considerable precision towards military targets, often located in civilian areas of densely populated Gaza. The upshot? Being on the high end of a 28–1 kill ratio with considerably more damage to infrastructure—victory photos show many Gaza buildings in ruins—defines winning.

But black also can be black. Meshaal made no attempt at subterfuge when he told an adoring crowd he would never recognize Israel and vowed to “free the land of Palestine inch by inch.” Perhaps some in Europe and in other regions of the world took that as a statement devoted to peace and brotherhood (other than the Islamic kind). But Meshaal left little room for doubt. “Palestine is ours from the river to the sea and from the south to the north. There will be no concession on an inch of the land,” he said. And, “We will never recognize the legitimacy of the Israeli occupation and therefore there is no legitimacy for Israel, no matter how long it will take.”

All this leaves the future a bit murky. Critics expect Israel to negotiate peace with Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas. I’d like that, too. But while Abbas says he wants a peaceful solution and vows no violence, he seeks unity with Hamas. And he never disavowed Meshaal’s remarks. On Monday, Meshaal repeated his own desire for Palestinian unity. Again Abbas, that seeker of peace, made no response.

So do me a favor. If you know how a united Palestinian people can negotiate a peaceful two-state solution while also seeking the destruction of Israel, let me know. For now, I can only conclude that in the Middle East—and among those in the West who would rather engage in fantasy than reality—black and white can be one and the same. Which leaves everything at least fifty shades of gray.

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Read the first three chapters of David’s new novel, SAN CAFÉ at davidperlstein.com. SAN CAFÉ is available at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.