November 30, 2009
Who has made the bigger mistakes?

What has Israel contributed to the impasse in the peace process, and to the suffering of Palestinians?

That is a question several have asked me, often with a follow up charging that I have not responded.

I have responded, more than once. Those convinced of Israeli culpability either have not understood my English, or they are not satisfied with my explanations. When I do not list the severe errors that they hold dear, they accuse me of evading the question.

Israelis have made no shortage of accusations against their own government for "missing opportunities." Usually this means not offering enough, or not taking advantage of the possibilities of Palestinian receptivity with a generous offer.

No doubt Israel has not made its offers attractive enough. The question is, could Israel have offered enough to satisfy Palestinians and other Arabs, and lessened restrictions on the West Bank and Gaza, without endangering its own security?

Could it have gone after the really bad people, and allowed other Palestinians freedom of movement, including opportunities to work in Israel?

To those questions there is no absolute yes or no.

Moreover, it is overly simple to discuss "Israel" as a policymaking entity, just as it is overly simple to discuss "The United States" or any other democracy. Democracies have dominant policymakers, but those individuals cannot overlook the pressures received from domestic allies and antagonists, the constraints of economics and international politics. Israel's political spectrum is wide and boisterous, with demands for spending more on social services or doing more to pursue peace with the neighbors. There are religious Jews more concerned with observing the Sabbath than anything else, intense religious nationalists who feel they have a deed from the Almighty for the whole of Eretz Israel, and young couples, with or without a religious motivation, who want the best housing they can acquire for the least money.

One result of all these pressures is about 500,000 Israeli Jews living on land that Palestinians claim as their own. For numerous Palestinians, all Israelis are living on Palestinian land.

There may have been missed opportunities since the crucial events of 1948 and than 1967, but they have not been obvious.

Israeli policymakers have generally not moved any more heroically or decisively than policymakers in other democracies. Israel has limped along following what its officials perceived as opportunities and constraints, rather than conducting a thorough analysis of the present and future, then an assiduous pursuit of a rational strategy. Over the years settlers have demanded construction, suburbanites have demanded homes on cheap land, Palestinians have not come forward with attractive offers, and inertia has done its work. Politicians typically do what is easiest, not what one or another group of deep thinkers with controversial ideas claim is wisest.

Occasionally there is an heroic moment in politics, but often they end badly. Remember John Kennedy ordering an escalation of American involvement in Vietnam, and George W. Bush invading Iraq and Afghanistan with aspirations to make them stable democracies?

Among the tough nuts currently facing those who would bring peace to the Holy Land are those half a million Jews living where others do not want them. No one should expect a Jewish government to move them, especially after the removal of a few thousand Jews from Gaza brought rockets instead of peace.

Those faulting the Israeli government for missing opportunities have their favorite moments when they are convinced peace was at hand. Camp David in 2000 was one of those. Analysts quarrel about offers made, Palestinian responses, the presence or lack of counter offers, or whether the whole thing was made hopeless by the Palestinian narrative of being the sole party that has suffered, and having the weight of Islam on their side.

Without trying the impossible of solving this or other disputes about moments in history, I have no trouble faulting the Palestinians for mistakes greater than those of the Israelis. It has not be wise for them to insist on what the side with greater power has viewed as unacceptable: the right of refugees and their families to return, and 1967 borders. They have spoiled their chances further by incitement of their own people, and violence against Israeli civilians. The result is a profound lack of trust, which threatens the viability of any negotiations.

The claimed "punishment" of all Palestinians because of a few bad applies is another issue without a simple answer. Armies do not operate like the local police. They do not have complete control over the population, and the people they would arrest have the means to resist them. Are the Israelis less considerate of the local population than other active armies? The question provokes loud claims rather than conclusive answers. The Goldstone Report on Gaza demonstrates predetermined conclusions and reliance on questionable testimony that renders it a hostile document rather than anything reliable.

Is Gaza the world's largest prison, as claimed by those thinking they are on the moral high ground?

Blockade is a conventional way of warfare, not objectionable when waged against an enemy who targets one's own civilians, and fails to provide a prisoner the elementary rights assured by the rules of warfare. The IDF monitors levels of food, fuel and medications allowed into Gaza. Reports are that the people eat better, and are healthier than those in much of the Third World. Part of the explanation is the United Nations, which had been providing food, housing and medical care for 60 years, as well as protection for fighters and stores of munitions in its facilities. The Palestinians suffer as a result of all that assistance, insofar as they have been kept from looking after themselves.

You have heard of welfare dependence. The Palestinians represent the world's worst case.

Add Obama to the problems currently facing both sides. He has lessened whatever meager prospects there were by his overreaching demand of a total freeze of settlement building, including Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem, and then backing down and praising Israel's partial compliance. The combination has turned both the Israelis and the Palestinians against him, lessened his credibility as a mediator and the prospects of peace in the near future.

There have been several years of relative quiet, considerable economic development, and fewer Israeli incursions into Palestinian areas of the West Bank. If Palestinians can see those signs as better than violence, it may help to keep the heroes out of action. The crucial element of trust among Palestinians as well as Israelis may then grow to the point where meaningful negotiations are feasible.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax +972-2-582-9144
irashark@gmail.com

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 12:47 AM
November 27, 2009
Political realities


In response to a recent note, an American friend wrote the following:

"In other words, you are saying that the Israeli gesture is not a good faith
effort to restart peace talks. Isn't that what the Israelis have done before
when they offered "concessions" they knew were inadequate and not
acceptable to the Palestinians so they could claim to be the good guys
while really sabotaging meaningful negotiations?"

This response is not too different from others I have seen, which accuse Israel of taking advantage of its power in order to preserve its advantages.

Most likely true, and understandable.

My friend is retired from a career in the financial sector. I doubt that he negotiated any differently than Israeli officials, seeking to preserve or enhance his opportunities or those of his employer. If he did not seek the advantage of his employer, most likely he was violating his trust.

In my own career, which included several years of teaching and writing about religion and politics, I have encountered several people who told me about contacts with angels, or messengers from heaven. I have neglected to ask such people how angels negotiate, or if they do negotiate. Perhaps they are not self serving. Or they may negotiate as toughly as worldly folks, in their case concerned to preserve or enhance the power of the Lord.

From everything I know about politics, I expect that politicians are concerned to preserve or enhance their status, and that of their constituents. Indeed, they would be violating their public trust if they did not concern themselves with their constituents' interests.

In other words, most Israelis do not vote for politicians who will serve Palestinians, and it is up to the Palestinians to serve their own interests.

Now we have come to the knotty problem of how two communities in a decades long struggle should look after themselves.

Not be maximizing short term advantages. Neighbors have to make concessions to one another in order to live peacefully.

As I have written in several notes, the Israeli record appears to be fair. Its elected leaders have offered concessions to the Palestinians, usually against what substantial segments of the Israeli population wants. The settlers and their supporters have the rights of citizens to express themselves, and to use their votes to select individuals who will serve their interests.

Here and elsewhere in politics, we should not fool ourselves into thinking we are talking about absolute rights and wrongs. Even in the Holy Land, the Lord has absented himself since Malachi, according to the Jewish tradition. The Almighty has left us to get on with it as we see best.

The Palestinian pattern, since the 1930s, is to maximize their demands, to rely on others to pressure the Jews to deliver, and to reject compromise.

As I understand politics and business, individuals who demand everything or nothing usually get nothing.

It's us who are doing the work. As noted above, we do not know how angels would do it.

In the same note, my American friend also recalled a report I have made several times:

"You have referenced 4% support for Obama in Israel. Does this include
all Israeli citizens or just Jewish Israelis? If the latter, you are deliberately
creating "facts" out of whole cloth. Or is that only Jewish citizens of
Israel count?"

Again, my friend seems to be looking for angels where none are likely to be found.

Of course only the Jews count. Again, the explanation is political. Almost all the people who vote for parties likely to join the government are Jews. The vast majority of Arabs vote for anti-establishment parties, whose Knesset members spend their time slamming the government as unjust. Unlike American minorities, they do not play the game of going along in order to get along. They do not trade political support for concessions.

The Arabs of Jerusalem are in a separate category. They were offered citizenship after the 1967 war, and very few accepted it. As local residents they can vote in municipal elections. But for their own nationalistic reasons, usually about 90 percent boycott the elections.

Another rule of politicsis that you get what you vote for. If you don't vote, you don't get. If you vote for parties that refuse to deal with the government, you also don't get.

So in talking about the Israelis who feel Obama is supporting them, why bother to count the Arabs?

Tough talk? Politics is not for the innocent. It is the best way of dealing with dispute. If leaders of a community want something from a democracy, they should not expect gifts. They have to use the power of their votes wisely. Otherwise they will remain on the sidelines with nothing more than occasional screams of injustice.

No one with power is likely to listen. Especially if the community shouting injustice has a history of violence against those who do control things.

--
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax +972-2-582-9144
irashark@gmail.com

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 10:59 PM
November 26, 2009
An empty gesture

Reading the announcements of government officials is more of an art than a science. It is appropriate to weigh the use of certain words rather than others, and take note of what a statement does not say. No one, including those involved in its preparation, can claim certainty as to how it should be read, much less what it can lead to as one statement provokes others from allies and antagonists.

Consider Prime Minister Netanyahu's announcement that his government has agreed to a freeze of new housing construction in the West Bank (excluding Jerusalem) for a period of 10 months in an effort to persuade the Palestinians to begin negotiations toward a peace agreement.

While members of the government trumpeted the announcement as a gesture that should move the Palestinians, It did not take long for commentators to declare it a dead letter. Sure enough, within a day ranking Palestinians reiterated their new position that they would only start negotiations when there was a total freeze of construction (homes and other facilities), including the post-1967 neighborhoods of Jerusalem.

What does all this mean?

One interpretation is that it reflects the teething problems of the American president. When he and his secretary of state emphasized the need to freeze settlements, and included Jerusalem in the mandate, they brought the Palestinians to assert a demand they had not made before during 17 years of negotiations.

Another interpretation, not altogether different, is that the talk of negotiations is a game without end played by numerous governments. If officials are wise and have noticed what has happened since Oslo, they should realize that negotiations go nowhere as long as the Palestinians adhere to their mantras of refugee rights and 1967 borders. Since Gaza fell into the hands of Hamas, the chances of an agreement are even less. The Fatah party of Mahmoud Abbas is barely holding on to the West Bank, propped up by Americans, Israelis and others. Should Abbas dare to show flexibility, his hold on power would be even more tenuous.

Even though wise leaders may recognize that reality, they cannot admit it, and give up the quest for peace. Who could do that when the future of the Holy Land is at stake? Moreover, there are unwise leaders in the bunch who may really believe in fairies and other delights, like peace between Israel and Palestine. With them beating the drums, and especially if they are the powerful Americans with a popular leader (who no other leader can publicly call naive), then the chorus joins in the pursuit of peace.

The result is that emissaries flit hither and yon, trying one idea after another, all the while gaining publicity and feeding the media's needs for a story. Minor players puff themselves up and offer their services as mediators. It is hard to tell them "no," but it is appropriate to weigh the expressions of "yes" to know if they are anything more than words.

The government's freeze for 10 months appears to be no more than a gesture for the Americans, knowing that it might not be enough to attract the Palestinians.

The gesture has not come smoothly. Netanyahu has distanced himself from one minister who has termed the Obama administration "dreadful."

Among the problems of the freeze is its implementation. The attorney general told the government, during the session when the freeze was approved, that there were not enough building inspectors to enforce it. Things more substantial than curtains will be added to existing structures in the West Bank. And whatever goes up in established settlements against the government's edict is not likely to come down.

Settler leaders have expressed anger. They use the word "traitor" in condemnations of the government's action, symbolic as it may be. We hear of young couples who cannot find housing in the same settlement as their parents. Whether they actually build is yet to be seen. One must reckon with the political influence of the settlers. To ride roughshod over them would be like Barack Obama riding roughshod over insurance companies and physicians while passing his health reform. Such things do not happen in the American democracy, or in the Israeli democracy.

If there was any life in the peace process, it appears that the Barack administration killed it by an ill advised overreach (complete settlement freeze, including Jerusalem). Shimon Schieffer, a respected centrist commentator, used the word "childish" in reference to American efforts. Yosi Beilin, a former foreign minister, former head of the left-wing Meretz Party, and the major voice in the Geneva Initiative, expressed his amazement and worry about American blunders. Beilin's mentor, Shimon Peres, former just about everything in Israeli government and the doyen of the peace camp, said pointedly and publicly to the American president that Jerusalem is Israel.

The terms evil and stupid are not appropriate, but naive is sufficiently polite and accurate. President Obama came on the stage of international politics with a great deal of support in the United States and throughout the world. He has made things worse in the Middle East, and may not be doing better elsewhere.

It is timely to say once again that, compared to other democracies, the United States has a flair for selecting national leaders who can excite popular enthusiasm, but are woefully short on relevant experience. Barack Obama is the flip side of George W. Bush. The circus of presidential primaries, inspiring rhetoric, and a lot of money does not assure a better world.

Enjoy what you think is best, my American friends. The rest of us will do what we can to minimize the damage.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax +972-2-582-9144
irashark@gmail.com

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 08:46 PM
November 24, 2009
An American conundrum

You want a conundrum? The New York Times describes a great example.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/25/world/asia/25rollout.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

"In declaring Tuesday that he would "finish the job" in Afghanistan, President Obama used a phrase clearly meant to imply that even as he deploys an additional 30,000 or so troops, he has finally figured out how to bring the eight-year-long conflict to an end. . . .And as Mr. Obama's own aides concede, the messages directed at some may undercut the messages sent to others. . . . He must convince Democrats, especially the antiwar base that helped elect him . . . that in sending more troops he is not escalating the war L.B.J.-style. . . . But at the same moment, he must persuade Republicans that he is giving the military what it needs to beat back the Taliban and keep Al Qaeda from threatening the United States. . . . One of his national security strategists put Mr. Obama's challenge this way: The trick, he said, will be "signaling resolve to the allies while not signaling open-ended commitment to the American people." . . . Mr. Obama must signal resolve -- and staying power -- because the Dutch and the Canadians are both scheduled to be pulling their troops . . So far, the administration has been successful only with the British, who have pledged an additional 500 troops. Germany, Italy and other NATO contributors have been silent. . . the United States is stuck between not wanting to suggest it will be a military presence in the region forever and showing enough commitment to encourage Pakistan to change its behavior. . . . Mr. Obama has a similar signaling problem with President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan. . . . But Mr. Obama is not likely to say what will happen if Mr. Karzai fails to deliver, for fear of further alienating the mercurial Afghan president."

Whatever President Obama says in his public speeches, commentators will trash him within minutes. What the New York Times does not say, and what the commentators will probably not say, is that the United States is stuck with its power. The problem is not Barack Obama. It is not even George W. Bush, although he may be faulted for invading Iraq without sufficient reason and making things worse for the United States, the region, and Iraqis.

There seems no doubt that Afghanistan was the nest that spawned 9-11. A wise response might have been to give the country a mighty blow, and rely on deterrence to prevent retaliation. But who knows how to deal with Islamic fanaticism?

The major problem for the United States is being the lone super power, entangled in a world it cannot fix. It does not have the power, skill, or intelligence (information not IQ) to make Afghanistan into a responsible country.

Domestically the United States is affected by a society with numerous loyalties and beliefs. National unity has never been its trait, and should not be expected. The military draft worked in the context of World War II, but not Vietnam. So far things are holding together with volunteers sent to distant and unpopular wars, but one should not assume continued support from Congress, the media, or the people. As the case of Major Hasan indicates, the United States is so affected by multi-culturalism that it has trouble identifying its threats.

The half of my life spent in Israel has impressed me with the advantages of a small country, with a high degree of homogeneity, whose enemies are close and clearly identified.

During times of trouble, reserve units have reported that more than 100% of the men called show up. Older soldiers who were not called did not want to miss the opportunity. High schoolers from good families have paid for private pre-army training to increase their chances of being selected for commando units.

There is also a capacity to compartmentalize dispute and duty. My function in the IDF was to lecture about public policy, and to provide the troops opportunities to ventilate their feelings. More than once I refereed arguments amongs fighters in Lebanon and Gaza, only minutes from having been on duty or before going back on duty. I once met a university colleague, outspoken as an left wing critic of the government, on his way home for the weekend from serving as a tank commander. He boasted about his activities in battle. He was on his way to change clothes and take part in an anti-war demonstration. Two days later he went back to his tank.

Israel is not like the United States, or the other western countries that Obama wants to keep in Afghanistan. Not only are they far from the conflict. They have not decided how to keep themselves from being changed by Muslim immigrants.

Israelis worry about the shrill animosity directed at them from those places. We also worry about decent Americans and Europeans being asked to fight enemies so far away, who they cannot understand, and who have cousins so close to their own homes.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax +972-2-582-9144
irashark@gmail.com

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 11:50 PM
On academics and intelligence

Israel's image in the world is less than desirable. How bad? is difficult to answer. There have been no serious threats of sanctions by major governments. The efforts of academics to declare boycotts have failed due to more reasonable colleagues. None the less, it is troubling to know about shouting against Israelis who have appeared at academic forums, and faculty members at distinguished campuses who use their classrooms to promote extremism as opposed to the provision of knowledge needed to judge conflicting views. The slogans of some students and faculty members recall the vilest anti-Semitism.


It is no surprise that Jews, including traveling Israelis, are prominent in this distortion of the academic mission. Not only are Jews and Israelis heavily represented on leading campuses, but contrariness comes along with Jewish genes.

It would be a mistake to view the anti-Israel campaign as a Jewish plot. Other elements that feed into it are the increasing presence of Muslims throughout western countries and on campuses. There is also academic superficiality and fashion, and the thin knowledge of what happens outside a lecturer's personal experience and library.

Israeli campuses are not free of the mad screamers, and its media include representatives of the crazy left- and right. Yet this country appears saner than others. Balance comes with considerable knowledge of its problems.


Israelis have paid a heavy price for their sophistication. More than 20,000 soldiers and civilians have died on account of Arab violence. A rough comparison with populations would make that equivalent to 2 million Americans. Add to that the large numbers with family memories of the Holocaust or having to flee from Arab countries.

Americans writing to me claim knowledge about military affairs on the basis of conversations with soldiers, and knowledge of Israel's problems on the basis of conversations with individuals who have served in the IDF. Their feelings of certainty say something not only about their own superficiality, but hint at the problems of Americans who try to assess what their military should be doing in distant places.

The argument here is not that Americans are not intelligent, but that their situation makes it difficult to do well the tasks they set for themselves. Those include fighting in foreign cultures, or commenting on what Israel should be doing.

When an American claims that he knows a great deal from talking with a few soldiers or former soldiers, I think of the people I know in Israel. Few of them are not former or present soldiers.

Familiarity with Arabic and dealing with close neighbors for more than six decades contribute to Israel's assets in military intelligence. There is also a willingness to be assiduous in recruiting and managing informants. It is not easy or pleasant work, and accounts for casualties among the handlers and informants.

Military as well as political experience prevails among policymakers. Among the attributes acquired by exposure to military service by civilians and officials is distrust or skepticism. An early lesson is that fewer than 10 percent of soldiers are combatants, and that individual fighters have a worm's eye view of what happens. Wisdom involves an understanding about the multiple ways of viewing reality, and the biases likely to be associated with individual sources.

Yet another feature of Israeli society is at least a partial freedom from the innocence that prevails in societies with ideological commitments to being multi-cultural and avoiding anything approaching ethnic profiling.

Some Israelis suffer from the sins of those whose ethnicity they share. They are more likely to be stopped by the police for a documents check, and feel themselves harassed where there is a screening of those entering a store, restaurant, government building, or the international airport.

Israelis wonder about the hang ups of Americans who do everything they can to explain Major Hasan's killings as those of an unbalanced individual rather than an affiliate of Islamic extremism.

In a situation when no one should believe that there is complete and wholly accurate information about an issue of national security, it is essential to tolerate extensive discussions among individuals with information that is relevant, although partial. By this standard, the 2008-09 attack against Gaza was better prepared than the 2006 invasion of Lebanon. The Gaza operation has also enjoyed greater support in the Israeli public. That it comes in for such intense criticism internationally is among our frustrations.

What the distortions of Goldstone and others indicate is not reasonable differences of opinion, but the shallowness and decadence of public bodies, universities, and media personalities that can be so certain of views that are partial at best.


It is sad that Israel's image suffers so greatly. From an academic perspective, it is even sadder that Americans and Europeans suffer from universities that have lost their commitment to reasoned deliberation.


Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax +972-2-582-9144
irashark@gmail.com

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 04:25 AM
November 22, 2009
Political disinformation, bureaucracy, and reality

One should never say never. However, Probably not is a fair guess.

Closest to me is one more round in the endless conversations among officials about peace between Israel and Palestine.

The latest we hear is that Israel is willing to stop building settlements, stop taking Palestinian land, and will remove "illegal" settlements once negotiations begin.

Does that mean stop creating new settlements, stop adding on the fringes of existing settlements, or stop building within existing settlements?

Can we assume that it does not include a promise not to build within Jerusalem, given the loud assertions of the prime minister, supported by large majorities in Israeli polls?

So far the Palestinian leadership has not moved down from the lofty position it reached as a result of earlier rhetoric by the American President and Secretary of State. They are still insisting on a complete freeze, including Jerusalem, as a condition for starting negotiations.

And that nasty problem of Gaza is still hanging.

If we look at facts on the ground, the picture becomes even more complicated, in ways that challenge simple portrayals.

Reliable sources indicate that Israel has slowed or stopped construction in sensitive neighborhoods of Jerusalem. The most recent flap about Gilo involves planning approvals by one level in a complex bureaucracy. In the best of circumstances, the people involved may be at least a year away from actual construction.

Are the realities--whatever they are--enough to satisfy the White House or the folks claiming to run things from Ramallah?

That is not apparent. Residents, architects, and contractors can complain about delays or rejections in their applications for construction, but the Israeli politicians who are claiming to represent their people assert that there is no freeze, and American and Palestinian politicians claiming to control their realms are drawing lines that may or may not represent reality.

So who's to judge?

And so far we've been dealing with the smallest of details, unimportant to anyone other than a few thousand residents and business people concerned about homes and profits.

Think of this as a lesson in government, taught by a retired professor of public administration. In short, obfuscation or disinformation is the language of politicians, and the bureaucracy is the government. The politicians blather on at the top, and often do not know, and do not control what happens among those formally responsible to them. John Kennedy once said, "There is always a schmuck who doesn't get the word."

The professor says that there is more than one schmuck, they are not likely to think of themselves as schmucks, and they have their own readings of the laws, rules, and their responsibilities. And, to be sure, some of them are schmucks, i.e., either lazy, ill informed, or intent on using their bit of power to do what they want, no matter what others may say.

The lesson is relevant for officials,clerks, and advisers in units dealing with local planning in Israel, policy formulations and implementation in the White House and State Department, and whoever is currently doing anything or speaking to the media in Ramallah and Gaza.

Somewhat more important issues like the Iranian nuclear program, and the future of those millions in Iraq and Afghanistan are also dependent on the claims and assertions of those who must demonstrate their knowledge and control, when actually they are far from well informed and control only a bit of what happens.

It should be no surprise that there are also schmucks, and individuals convinced that they know best at all levels of everybody's military.

Are we on the road to peace here? Stability in Iraq? Something or other in the place called Afghanistan? A solution for Iran's messianic aspirations?

Never say never, but probably not is a decent answer.


Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax +972-2-582-9144
irashark@gmail.com

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 08:41 PM
November 19, 2009
Is the President contributing to Palestinian violence?

There has been a worrisome shift in Israeli commentary on President Obama's efforts to force peace between Israel and Palestine.

A prominent emphasis had focused on the President's naivete, what one called a "childish" assumption that his engagement could bring the parties to positions they had not taken on their own.

Now there is a concern that the president may actually be advancing the prospect of violence.

The possibility comes from only part of a sentence, but it was a presidential sentence that received wide media coverage. Obama said that construction in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo makes it harder to achieve peace, and embitters the Palestinians in a way that could be dangerous.
http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5ioi_0jtO9RjMwPNRoXNCndRPRq3gD9C23HQ80

It took less than a day for the media to note that a prominent Palestinian--one who was a leader in the 2000 intifada and muted as a possible successor to Mahmoud Abbas-- was urging the launch of popular campaigns to achieve statehood.

http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1129348.html


Is it too much of a stretch to see "popular campaigns" as code for mass demonstrations, likely to produce violence and the start of another intifada, and to see the Palestinians finding an endorsement for their actions in Barack Obama's mention of Israel's contribution to their dangerous embitterment?

To those who say we should not rest expectations on phrases expressed by an American president and a prominent Palestinian, it is appropriate to take another look at history. Palestinian statements and actions going back to the 1930s indicate a deep seated feeling that they have a monopoly of justice in this bi-national dispute. Moreover, they have gone the route of violence on several occasions. Recent statements by several prominent figures provide some justification for Obama's conclusion that prolonging their lack of satisfaction could produce another round.

Was the President simply expressing his worry? Was he careless in overlooking what his comment could add to existing tinder already smoldering? Could he possibly have intended to provide justification for violence, either by way of punishing Israel for not accepting his dictates about freezing settlements, or as an effort to achieve something that would save him the embarrassment of failure?

The intensity of American concern with micromanaging the city that Israel considers its capital is apparent in reports that the Consul General in Jerusalem (de facto ambassador to Palestine) meets frequently with Abbas and other Palestinians on the subject of where buildings are to be constructed in Jewish neighborhoods and where they are destroyed in Arab neighborhoods for having been constructed illegally. Daniel Rubinstein came to the position of Consul General in September, after a career in the State Department dealing with Arab, Israeli, and other issues. http://jerusalem.usconsulate.gov/con_gen.html

I can remember when the State Department was a WASP preserve, and more narrowly the place for those who had degrees from Harvard, Yale or Princeton. When Jews began making an impression on the Foreign Service, they were restricted from any placements in the Middle East other than Cyprus or Turkey. The Arabs did not want Jewish American diplomats in their countries, and the State Department did not want them in Israel. Rubinstein is not the first block buster. There have been Jews serving as American ambassadors to Israel, Jews representing the United States in Arab countries, as well as Henry Kissinger. Rubinstein is one more indication that equal opportunity prevails at the upper reaches of the United States Government. One should applaud, but may also wonder if his appointment is the Administration's way of easing a tough policy on Israel through its Jewish constituency.

Whether the President's statement about dangerous embitterment came by design, clumsiness, or lack of sensitivity, any violence that comes even partly as a result of the President's comments is not likely to end well for the Palestinians. Arab rejection of the United Nations 1947 partition and going to war in 1948, and another effort in 1967 produced major territorial losses. The first intifada that began in 1987 brought on the partial success of the Oslo Accords, but the second intifada that began in 2000 produced the security barrier as well as a considerable destruction in the West Bank and Gaza. Hamas' rocketry caused the disaster of Gaza earlier this year, with closures still preventing international aid and construction supplies from rebuilding the damage. If yet another effort to win via bloodshed comes from Palestinian feeling that they have the President's endorsement, the blood of Israelis and Palestinians will be his to explain.


Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University
Jerusalem, Israel
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
email: msira@mscc.huji.ac.il

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 08:27 PM
November 18, 2009
A McGovern clone in the White House

Remember George McGovern? His clone is sitting in the Oval Office.

The 2008 campaign differed in several ways from 1972 that explain Obama's victory. His speaking ability excels that of other politicians, including McGovern. Obama was running against a ticket with an intellectually handicapped vice presidential candidate, whereas McGovern was embarrassed by his first choice for a vice presidential candidate. The racial scene changed to something much closer to neutral, and in some places favorable to a Black candidate. Gone were the prominent issues of busing and crime in the streets.

Once in office, Obama has demonstrated why so many centrists voted for Richard Nixon. Like McGovern, he acts as if Christian values prevail in international relations. They are not prominent in domestic American politics (leaving aside what can be said about Christian values and abortion or same sex marriages), but they are further removed from international politics. National interest rank higher than doing what the American president wants.

The Middle East is one case in point. The President got no more than polite words from Palestinian and other Arab leaders when he asked for something he could offer the Israelis. In response to the President's latest tirade about construction in settlements, Shimon Peres has responded that Gilo is Israel. When the senior statesman of the Israeli peace camp speaks that forcefully against President Obama, Americans should know that something is wrong in the White House. Obama has brought on himself the ridicule of the Israeli center, and expressions of dismay from the Israeli left. Without those populations on board, he has no hope of bringing Israel to support his ideas. And he should know that no one has ever brought the Palestinians to anything like an accommodation.

Hamid Karzai has been sworn in after an unsurprisingly flawed election in Afghanistan. He is pledging reconciliation and a fight against corruption. Only a George McGovern, or a clone, could expect Karzai and other Afghan elites to give up the drug money and war lord alliances that allow them to preserve their fortunes and their lives.

The Iranians are twisting the President in the wind. Why should they agree to export their partially enriched uranium when they are sure that Russians, Chinese, and Western Europeans will continue trading with them, and provide the Americans with nothing more than a few words of worry about the Iranian nuclear program?

Another test is coming for the President out of Ft Hood. The administration is doing all that it can to downplay the influence of Islam. Surely the United States should not do anything more to incite all those Muslims. The few million living in the United States are manageable (leaving aside 9-11 and Ft Hood), but greater problems can come from those in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Lebanon, and other places important to the White House.

One does not have to accept the claims of those who see Islamic evil under every bed to accept the indications that Major Hasan was plugged into to extremists. Members of Congress are pressing for candor, but the White House is resisting. We can hope for reality based thinking in the White House, but we'll have to see what happens.

Health care and economic stability are the brightest hopes on the President's horizon. Shouts about socialism, rationing, and death committees indicate that madness is not far from American culture and the public relations budgets of health insurance companies. Claims about costs are more reasonable objections to what the President's program includes, or does not include on account of what physicians and others find unpleasant. Some time after a bill signing and applause, the costs may feed into the next economic crisis.

Life is uncomfortable at the summit of the world's greatest power, and the ringing rhetoric of innocence will not make it better.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University
Jerusalem, Israel
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
email: msira@mscc.huji.ac.il

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 11:48 PM
November 17, 2009
Comments on Gilo are annoying. Lack of movement on Iran is dangerous

Barack Obama was six years old when the Jordanian army opened fire on Jerusalem as its part in the 1967 war. Shortly after the fighting, Israel expanded the city's boundaries. Four years later it began construction the Gilo neighborhood. Gilo was in the news early in the intifada that began in 2000, when Palestinians bunkered in the nearby city of Beit Jalla fired on apartment houses. Israel built a wall to protect the vulnerable area, proceeded to wreck more havoc in Beit Jalla and the rest of Palestine than the Palestinians could achieve against Israelis. Some 40,000 people are now living in Gilo, construction of new homes and public facilities proceeds as elsewhere in Jerusalem, and planning authorities have recently approved the construction of an additional 900 units.

Also during the intifada, the idea of a wall protecting Israel from Palestinian violence caught on, and the project continues. It is generally close to the 1967 boundaries, but reaches to the east in order to enclose major centers of Jewish population.

None of this has received the blessing of the international community. However, no government has taken any steps stronger than protests at the unilateral expansion of Jerusalem's boundaries or other Israeli construction in the West Bank.

Possession is nine-tenth of the law. I probably first heard that expression as part of a dispute on a primary school play yard, years before the 1967 war. Believe it or not, it also carries weight in international law. Claims should be bolstered with control in order to win recognition.

Reuters headlines its story on the approval of construction in Gilo with "Israel angers U.S. by approving new West Bank homes." A White House statement indicated dismay, and accused Israel of undermining the President's efforts to resume peace talks with the Palestinians. http://www.reuters.com/article/topNews/idUSTRE5AG2P520091117

Really?

Naivete? Childish? Chutzpah?

What is setting back peace talks is not something that has been a reality for 40 years. Israel controls Jerusalem within the borders that it declared. It also has effective control over the areas included within the security barrier. One does not know what would be the decision of the Israeli government if Palestinians ever become serious about negotiating instead of repeating the tired mantra about 1967 borders and the return of refugees. Every once in a while Palestinians indicate that they have been flexible in talks over the course of the most recent decade, but no details about that flexibility have come to the public's attention. The best guess is that the largely Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem, and the settlements on the Israeli side of the security barrier are not going to be on the table.

Another major barrier to the peace talks is Gaza, controlled by Hamas and their inflexible rejection of Israel's legitimacy. There is also unrelenting incitement in Palestinian schools and media, including those of the West Bank, and occasional threats of renewed violence.

No previous American administration has formally accepted the facts established by Israeli construction since 1967. What is notable about the Obama administration is the renewed emphasis of its alleged illegality, and the repeated inclusion of Jerusalem neighborhoods in the condemnation. No surprise that European officials and the Secretary General of United Nations the have joined the American led chorus.

Change there is in the position proclaimed by the Obama White House. Achievement is something else, and the early signs are negative.

If the Obama administration has contributed anything to the peace process, it has hardened the position expressed by Palestinians, provoked the Israeli right to demand more settlement activity on both sides of the security barrier, and has caused dismay among the Israeli center and left.

More important than the loss of confidence in President Obama among the Israel public is the probable loss of confidence among Israeli policymakers. And more pressing than routine construction in Jerusalem is the looming threat of Iranian nuclear weapons. There is no sign that the President's commitment to engagement has worked any better with the Iranians than with the Palestinians. If Israel decides to take action on its own, it will be unpleasant for many people beyond the initial suffering in Iran and Israel. No doubt that world leaders will blame Israel, but the responsibility will lay no less with Barack Obama.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University
Jerusalem, Israel
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
email: msira@mscc.huji.ac.il

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 10:15 PM
November 16, 2009
State Department bureaucrats on religious freedom

More than 40 years ago I chose public administration as my specialty in political science. I still poke at it, despite being interested in other things as well.

Here I will poke at the 2009 Report on International Religious Freedom published by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor of the United States Department of State. It was prepared for Congress in compliance with Section 102(b) of the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) of 1998. http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127213.htm

All that is bureaucratic folderol, which says that Congress mandates the State Department, among its many other duties, to monitor and report on religious freedom throughout the world, but not in the United States. More on the exclusion later.

The section on Israel and the Occupied Territories is long and detailed. It will offend Jews hyper sensitive to criticism, but is generally accurate in what it includes. It describes the considerable advantages that government policy provides to Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Judaism, and incidents of violence and property destruction attributed to individuals against non-Jewish facilities and individuals, including Messianic Jews, i.e., individuals claiming to be Jews who have accepted Christ as their messiah.

Critics could find additional reasons to cite Israel for its lack of confirming to what is considered acceptable among politically correct Westerners. There is no mention in the Report about the restriction against a man with the surname of Cohen marrying a woman who has been divorced.
http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127349.htm

The section on the Occupied Territories is appended to that on Israel, and spends considerable verbiage criticizing Israeli restrictions on Palestinians, including closing movement from the territories during Jewish religious holidays, and the impact of the security barrier.

One item in the section on the Occupied Territories deals with ultra-Orthodox modesty squads that attack Jewish women on account of their behavior. Civil rights advocates may applaud the language, but it appears to be an issue among Jews in Israel. I recall one incident in the Mea Shaarim neighborhood of Jerusalem. The bureaucrats in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor do not document the location attached to this allegation. Perhaps they have signed on to the Palestinian narrative that Jerusalem is Palestine.

With a stretch, one can describe the Report on Israel and the Occupied Territories as "balanced." But it is the same stretch required to conclude that BBC and CNN are "balanced" in their coverage of Israel and Palestine. One can find criticism of all sides, but the overall taste is not friendly to Israel.

The imbalance is most apparent in what the Report does not include. I found no mention of declining Christian populations in Arab sections of Israel or Palestine. Bethlehem and Nazareth were 80 and 60 percent Christian in the late 1940s and 20 and 30 percent Christian recently. The Palestinian capital of Ramallah was once a Christian majority city. Recent estimates are that the Christian population is 25 percent of the total. A report from 2006, not authored by the State Department Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, cites a Catholic priest serving in Ramallah that classrooms have been burned, church window panes destroyed, bible study halls set on fire, and Catholic youth threatened by Muslims. http://www.asianews.it/view.php?l=en&art=5856

The State Department Report is gentle in the extreme with respect to the behavior of Palestinians. In regard to couples who would challenge the norms against Christian-Muslim marriage, it says they "encountered considerable societal and familial opposition."

This is mild compared to the detailed description about the actions of ultra-Orthodox modesty squads. They may beat, spit, and curse, but honor killings are the specialty of Arab families. No mention of those in the State Department report.

Also missing from the document, excluded by the language of the mandate to issue one of these reports annually, are restrictions on religious freedom in the United States.

Anyone willing to consider abortion or same sex marriages in this category? The prohibitions or restraints come from religious doctrines, promoted by the faithful. Abortion has raised its ugly head once again in the Administration's effort to bring American health care into the 20th century. The President has placed himself squarely on the side of God by opposing the financial support of abortion by anything that looks like public money.

Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jews also oppose abortion, but the Israeli state does not sign onto religious doctrines to the same degree as the United States Congress and White House. There were more than 20,000 abortions performed in government supported hospitals in 2008 according to latest report of the Central Bureau of Statistics.

Same sex marriages in the Holy Land? No chance of getting such a ceremony performed and officially recognized in Israel, and the effort could risk bodily harm in Palestine. However, same sex marriages performed in countries where they are legal have been registered by the Israel Ministry of Interior. It is not as routine as the registration each year of the several thousand interfaith and other marriages performed in Cyprus and elsewhere overseas.

The United States has a reputation for adhering to the Separation of Church and State. The bureaucrats in the State Department who report about religious freedom invite skeptics to question that reputation.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University
Jerusalem, Israel
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
email: msira@mscc.huji.ac.il

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 10:16 PM
November 14, 2009
Ridicule or analysis, Chapter 2

This overloaded news day provokes a secular and politically moderate Israeli to ask if the greater threat against a good life comes from Palestinians or Haredim (ultra-Orthodox)?

In an effort to avoid curses from Jewish readers, I will neither answer that question, nor identify myself as the secular, politically moderate Israeli who is asking it.

Let's start with the cartoon in today's Ha'aretz.

The text reads that the Haredi community is moving to high-tech. The picture shows the good men pushing their burning trash bin from the parking garage open on the Sabbath to an Intel facility, which this week announced that its production lines in Jerusalem would be working on the Sabbath.

Several hundred Haredim protested, threw things, and tried to break into the building. The police let them do their thing until they began attacked the front door. Before the Haredim attacked them, television journalists were able to film confrontations between individuals wanting to work and Haredim asserting that they were violating God's law.

It is another open question as to whether the villains in this piece are the Haredim, the police, or the Intel management.

The hope is that the police were wise in keeping a low profile, letting the Haredim express their need to protest, and that the Haredim will abandon this mission after a few weekends, like they seem to have abandoned the parking garage without success.

The Intel management is not entirely innocent. This facility is in an industrial park only a short walk from a Haredi neighborhood. Working on the Sabbath any place in Jerusalem (except overtly Arab neighborhoods) is an invitation to protest, and something only a couple of hundred meters downhill from a Haredi neighborhood even more so.

Before the weekend, Intel's Israel management indicated that the work must go on. If not, the company would consider pulling out of Jerusalem and perhaps even out of Israel.

That escalation would risk legal problems as well as management headaches. Intel has research and development as well as production facilities in Israel, with its largest facility south of Tel Aviv. It has received substantial financial inducements from the Israeli government, which entail some obligations on the part of the company.

We can hope for calm and good sense, without expecting it to erupt in the next week or two. And for the Haredim to stay in their communities, running their own lives without trying to impose their laws on the rest of us, while the Palestinians also pass over their rough patch of dire threats.

Anyone wanting to bet a shekel or two?


Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University
Jerusalem, Israel
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
email: msira@mscc.huji.ac.il

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 11:34 PM
Ridicule or analysis?

This is one of those times to wonder if ridicule or serious analysis is in order.

The occasion is a combination of two moves by the Palestinian leadership. It is not even clear which of the two warrants ridicule or analysis, or if they are both just part of the noise coming out of a entity with doubtful credibility. Perhaps they deserve no more attention than the bull sessions heard in the halls of a legislature, or in the dorm rooms of individuals aspiring to make a splash in student government.

One of the moves is a threat by the ostensible president of Palestine, Mahmoud Abbas, to resign or not to run for re-election if Israel is not immediately forthcoming with respect to Palestinian demands. The other is to seek international recognition for an independent Palestine with the borders of 1967 and Jerusalem as its capital.

To be precise, it is not clear whether the threat is to resign, or not to run for re-election. The picture is confused by the formal end of Abbas' term some months ago, which has led the Hamas leadership to declare that he is no longer the president. There is a further problem insofar as the Palestinian Election Commission has indicated that it may not be possible to implement the election scheduled for January, and Hamas has indicated that it will not let Gazans vote in an illegal election.

President Barack Obama, the heads of several European governments, and prominent Israelis in and out of government have urged Abbas to continue.

No doubt it would be easier for those saying he should stay if he accepted their call. Leaving aside the human factor (Doesn't an ineffective 74 year old have a right to retire?), his continuation would avoid learning how to deal with someone new.

Some of those urging him to stay on are making the claim that "there is no one who could fill his shoes." Apparently they come from places where the cemeteries are not already filled with indispensable people.

Palestinians are threatening that if Abbas goes, the only viable candidate is Marwan Barghouti. He has a following of unknown size in the West Bank, but was convicted of involvement in numerous murders and is serving several life sentences in an Israeli prison. One doubts that the Israeli government will respond with a "Sure, why not?" to Barghouti's selection.

The other threat is that without Abbas, the Palestine National Authority will collapse, Israel will be saddled with governing the West Bank, and that will advance the idea of one country from the Jordan to the Mediterranean, with majority (i.e., Palestinian) rule.

If the Palestine National Authority does collapse, it is more likely that Israelis will not notice the difference from what currently exists. Those who do notice will be overseas Palestinian investors who are remaking the faces of Ramallah and Jenin. Perhaps their threats to halt the financial inflows will move the Palestinians in a direction of realism.

Those overseas investors might also work to moderate the Palestinian maneuver to seek international recognition for an independent state with the borders of 1967 and Jerusalem as its capital.

No doubt there are many unworthies of the world who will support the Palestinians. Will they notice that Israel surrounds the Palestinian areas of the West Bank, controls who and what moves in and out, including water and electricity? Will they pay attention to existing agreements between Israel and Palestinians that make changes of the kinds indicated dependent on an agreement of both parties?.

Enough analysis? Or is this ridicule?

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University
Jerusalem, Israel
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
email: msira@mscc.huji.ac.il

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 08:29 PM
November 13, 2009
Despair by Israelis and Palestinians?

The Washington Post has published two views, claiming to be contrasting expressions of Israeli and Palestinian despair for peace. http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/guestvoices/2009/11/israeli_despair_for_peace.html
http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/guestvoices/2009/11/palestinian_despair_for_peace.html

Neither is what the headlines claim. They are not expressions by Israelis or Palestinians, but by Americans or individuals affiliated with American institutions (Simon Wiesenthal Center, and the American Task Force on Palestine). One is written by Jews, and the other by an Arab, perhaps with Palestinian roots.

That does not invalidate them as views worthy of notice, but it stretches reality to call them Israeli and Palestinian.

If this is the best that the Washington Post can do, perhaps its editors will ask me to write an American perspective on the Middle East, health care, Afghanistan, or the quality of American railroads.

One of the two men contributing to the Israeli perspective is a rabbi, and he shows his religious roots by including in his argument a story about Maimonides from the 12th century. The item is interesting, and not entirely irrelevant, but a bit removed from what did not happen at Camp David in 2000, discussions involving Mahmoud Abbas up to 2008, and all those rockets and suicide bombers since 2000.

The fluffiness in both articles may derive from their placement in the newspaper's section "On Faith." Some of my best friends are moved by religion. They have something important to say about eternal truths and the human condition, but not necessarily about political ambiguities.

Missing from the article that claims to "look through the eyes of ordinary Israelis" is the element of dispute.

Israel has a well educated, politically savvy population, a great deal of personal experience with the costs and benefits of military action, and a culture that has respected argument since the Biblical prophets and the rabbis who assembled the Talmud from several hundred years of different views about Biblical law. Dispute continues with discussions in the media among people having experience as fighters, diplomats, and commentators, not easily classified as hewing to company lines. Jews from the far right and far left have ample opportunity to express themselves in prominent venues, along with Palestinians and other Arabs or Muslims having their own varieties of perspective.

Israelis are not letting up in their arguments, but the data show that the left is losing. A recent poll predicts Labor getting less than half the Knesset seats it won in the election that occurred in February, and then Labor won the fewest seats ever attained in its long history. http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1127911.html

Why the loss of the left? At least partly it is a response to Palestinian adherence to their fantasies, and American naivite. The lack of Palestinian flexibility is a missing trait that dooms negotiations. Why should Israel give if there is no take?

It is not easy making the point that Obama is trying hard and is not anti-Israel. Polls show his credibility among Israel Jews in single digits.

Among the things missing from the Arab perspective as presented by the Washington Post is the power of Islam. Hamas and like minded movements are prominent, maybe even dominant in the West Bank, and firmly in control of Gaza. If there is one thing that appears more important than anything else in explaining the failure of negotiations, it is the intransigence of Islamic extremists and the refusal of Palestinian politicians to challenge them. American clumsiness is a disturbance, but minor insofar as Palestinian extremism has been prominent since the onset of negotiations in the early 1990s. It may only have been made incrementally more apparent by the flubs of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Israeli intransigence appears in the slogans of the Israeli and international left, but assertion does not stand up to withdrawals from the West Bank in 1993, from Gaza in 2005, and the seven year absorption of rocket attacks before the response to Gaza.

Despair truly is apparent among Israelis and Palestinians. However, the Wiesenthal Center, the American Task Force on Palestine, and the Obama White House have not yet done well in fixing the problems.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University
Jerusalem, Israel
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
email: msira@mscc.huji.ac.il

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 11:02 PM
November 12, 2009
Childish?

You've heard of the crippled giant? The image refers to an entity with so much power that its obligations work against one another.

Consider the United States, with President Barack Obama trying mightily to break the bonds of lethargy identified with his predecessor.

An article in the New York Times describes his handicaps in Afghanistan. President Karzai is not cooperating with American goals of development and reform. Evidence is that Karzai stole the most recent election, and has put in key positions individuals soaked with blood, drug, and financial corruption. Advice from White House and military aides is to try harder. One proposal is for an additional 40,000 troops.
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/12/world/asia/12karzai.html?_r=1&hp

The trap is that Obama cannot threaten Karzai without losing face, and confirming American weakness. Karzai has already promised reform, more than once, without delivering. Obama cannot pull out his troops. That would weaken the resolve of Pakistan to work with diligence against Taliban. Without that, where is the war against terror?

Obama's handicap in Afghanistan is costly in American blood. His handicap closer to these fingers is measured in embarrassment.

The President included a major effort in the Middle East as well as in Afghanistan under his banner of Change. A few days ago, one of Israel's respected and moderate commentators called his efforts "childish" on a widely viewed evening program.

Remember the speech in Cairo. The President made demands on Israeli, Palestinian, Egyptian and other Arab leaders. So far there has been hemming and hawing, and assertions by one and all that they cannot take major steps without someone else moving first. While the President seemed to overlook Hamas-controlled Gaza, perhaps in the hope that it would come along if everything else worked, it remains one of the elephants in the Middle East living room. Mahmoud Abbas is too weak to be brave, Benyamin Netanyahu is not enthusiastic about a Palestinian state, and is at the head of a coalition suspicious of Arab intentions. The dominant Jewish population of Israel was also suspicious of Arab intentions and--thanks to Obama--is now suspicious of American intentions.

Like other giants, the United States cripples itself when it takes on too much, wanders into areas it does not understand, and demands from allies and supplicants what they cannot deliver.

A modest giant preserves its power. An assertive giant demonstrates the limitations on its power. Change is a great electoral slogan, especially in the context of a sitting administration whose popular support dropped below the level where it was threatening the survival of its political party, and a vice presidential nomination that came from who knows where.

In the year since the election, Change has not shown itself to be a viable guide for foreign policy. Engagement with Iraq, Iran, and North Korea is more apparent than results.

The President's health initiative has passed the House of Representatives. Along the way, however, it has roused a threatening array of protest meetings, e-mails, and the Roman Catholic Church. The Bishop of Providence and Representative Patrick J. Kennedy are in a public dispute on the subject of abortion that tests once against the meaning of "separation of church and state." http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/12/us/politics/12kennedy.html?scp=1&sq=kennedy%20providence&st=cse
Another face of the administration is causing problems in the District of Columbia. The Archdiocese has issued an ultimatum: either change a proposed same-sex marriage law or lose the social service programs that the Archdiocese operates. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/11/11/AR2009111116943.html?nav=rss_email/components

The initial proposal of 1,000 pages has become a House-passed bill of 2,000 pages. If anything comes out of the Senate and Conference Committee, it will take a while to know who has gotten what, and whether the hopes invested in President Obama are worth anything more than the label "childish."

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University
Jerusalem, Israel
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
email: msira@mscc.huji.ac.il

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 06:53 AM
November 10, 2009
A multi-cultural conundrum

The Fort Hood killings will reverberate. At the lower end of the military, Muslims will find their property trashed, and hear themselves called camel jockeys and rag heads. The stories differ only in detail from those told over the years by Jews, Catholics, African Americans, and Hispanics. Soldiers the world over are young and the salt of the earth, not likely to be the most sensitive members of society.

The killings also reflect a problem of the United States that comes from its assumption of responsibility for wherever in the world it decides to intervene. Its most prominent enemies are now Muslims, and it has few citizens with suitable language and cultural skills. It needs American Muslims. Hasan's story illustrates a trap comprised of needing American Muslims, some of whom will respond badly to serving against other Muslims.

Israel seeks to minimize those problems by differentiating between its communities. With the agreement of community leaders, the IDF drafts Druze and Circassian men. The Druze are Arabic speaking people who follow their own religion, an offshoot from Islam going back to the early Middle Ages. The Druze homeland spreads over northern Israel, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. There are 120,000 Druze in Israel, in a total Israeli population of 7.3 million. Most Druze of the Golan avoid conscription by virtue of holding Syrian citizenship. Occasionally they demonstrate against Israeli occupation. They may fear being traded back to a harsh society along with their villages.

Some Druze soldiers express problems with the prospect of fighting in countries where they might encounter Druze. Others indicate that they think of themselves as military property when in uniform, rather than as members of a distinct community.

Many of the Circassians in Israel are blond and blue eyed. There are about 4,000 of them. Their families were converted to Islam in their Caucusus homeland during the 17th century, and brought to Palestine by the Turks in the 19th century.

The IDF recruits volunteers from the Bedouin communities, which total some 170,000.

The IDF does not draft women from minority communities, nor does it seek to attract recruits from other Arabs, who comprise 1.3 million, make up the bulk of Israel's minorities, and are most likely to identify with Palestinian nationalism.

Druze, Circassians, Bedouin and other Arabs maintain separate identities, do not intermarry with one another, nor aspire to the kind of assimilation in Israel that--at least previously--was the norm among immigrants to the United States.

Most minorities who serve in the IDF are fighters. Upon their completion of their initial enlistment, many of them remain in the permanent army, enter the police or prison service. Some have become senior officers, including generals.

Israel initially recruited its translators and military intelligence personnel from Arabic speaking Jews who arrived in the 1940s and 1950s from elsewhere in the Middle East. More recently it has relied on its schools, universities, and military for training Jews to staff its intelligence corps and security services.

Jews have a history of being a minority sent to fight against other Jews.. Varda's grandfather and other members of her family were proud to fight on the Western front in the German army during World War I, against my father and other American soldiers. One story concerns Varda's Onkel Albert, who was a sniper. On one occasion when Onkel Albert had a French soldier in his sights, he heard the Frenchman saying his morning prayers: Shema Yisrael . . .

Onkel Albert did not fire.

That story elicits a warm response in Israel. When I told it to an American Jew who was a faculty member at West Point, I perceived that it made him uncomfortable.

The United States is overtly multi-cultural, constrained from differentiating among its Muslims according to their affinity for one or another enemy. It will take years to prepare enough other Americans with language and cultural skills to provide the intelligence needed for fighting in Muslim societies.

Reports are that Major Hasan was outspoken in his opposition to American involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, and was in contact with radical Muslims. Security personnel knew about his statements and contacts, but decided that they did not pose a danger.

Politicians and military personnel will demand more intense coverage of Muslim soldiers by internal security, and more thorough screening of the information uncovered. There will be counter demands by organized Muslims and civil rights advocates concerned with ethnic profiling, discrimination, religious freedom, and privacy. Whatever happens will add to the tensions that come along with a multi-cultural society and military.


Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University
Jerusalem, Israel
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
email: msira@mscc.huji.ac.il

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 03:04 AM
November 08, 2009
Not so simple

Thomas Friedman has written one of his better articles. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/08/opinion/08friedman.html?_r=1&ref=opinion

As a retired professor still inclined to give grades to everything I hear or read, I'd say about 92, or A-.

The major theme is quite good. Friedman recognizes that there is no gas left in the peace process. It is like going to an old play, where the actors are no longer inspiring while reciting their well worn lines.

As a result, the Obama administration should back off, tell the parties to call the White House when they are interested, and spend its energies fixing the many problems of the United States.

Why only an A-?

Friedman cannot refrain from giving equal responsibility to Israeli and Palestinian participants, with a nod toward the negative contributions of other Arabs, and no fault whatsoever to the American administration or decent governments elsewhere.

I would give more credit to Israelis for making sincere efforts to negotiate. Camp David and Taba in 2000 was as close as it has gotten. Israel's prime minister publicly offered, with the participation of Bill Clinton, most of the West Bank, a share of Jerusalem, and some territorial swaps. Yassir Arafat not only said No, but proceeded to plan and/or endorse the intifada that produced casualties and distrust among Israelis who had been willing to make a deal. The distrust deepened with the Palestinian response to the withdrawal of Jewish settlements from Gaza.

Israeli distrust of others has gotten worse with the Obama's administration insistence on a settlement freeze, including my neighborhood and others in East Jerusalem, and all those decent governments mumbling that there may be something worth considering in the Goldstone Report.

The greatest mistake of the Obama administration was to make such a prominent effort to renew the process when the split between the West Bank and Gaza has been so profound as to render a deal highly unlikely. Raising expectations in such an adverse environment has contributed to the wonderment of the Israeli public, and helps to explain why polls show the vast majority of Israeli Jews feeling that Obama is against them. A politician who angers the constituency that is most important for implementing a goal has not only failed in his proclaimed task, but he may have made it more difficult for anyone else to try.

What we have now is an old and tired Palestinian leader playing his last card: Do something or I'll resign.

There are Israeli oppositionists maneuvering for media coverage by offering their own packages, hardly different from what has been tried before, and being rejected within minutes by Palestinians.

A recent front page headline in Ha'aretz claimed that the White House was consulting with the Palestinians, with the possibility that Washington would recognize an independent Palestine with the borders of 1967.
http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1126594.html

The fantasy of the Israeli left? the American left? or only the Palestinians?

No course in public administration is complete without warning that the Devil is in the Details. What would happen to the half million of us Jews living to the east of the 1967 boundaries? Would we allow ourselves no more than modest expressions of disappointment, pack our curtains and other belongings, and move in with friends and relatives?

Don't count on it.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University
Jerusalem, Israel
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
email: msira@mscc.huji.ac.il

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 08:44 PM
November 07, 2009
Allahu Akbar, Praise the Lord, Hear O Israel

Allahu Akbar, Praise the Lord, and Hear O Israel elicit the best of sentiments, and something else.

A youtube segment from CNN shows radical Muslims, native born Americans, including one who converted from Judaism, who praise Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, call for Osama bin Laden to continue his holy war, and urge the destruction of Israel. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W5BtQgTGOI4

My link to the item came from an American who wrote, "The Revolutionary Muslim Brothers in our midst protected by the legal rights given to them by OUR COUNTRY, the country they detest so much...slowly but surely we are becoming the United States of Arabia! WATCH and WAKE UP!"

Another wrote that "Nidal Malik Hasan is (a) . . .medical doctor (who) assert(s) the . . . Palestinian Arab-specific version of the Hippocratic oath: do harm."

Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, MD, is a religious Muslim and the American-born son of immigrants from Palestine. He prays daily, may have authored e-mails praising suicide bombers, and was heard saying Allahu Akbar while killing people at Fort Hood.

All this is food for thought. But we should also remember the religious Jews Baruch Goldstein, Yigal Amir, and Yaacov Teitel. Goldstein was a physician and IDF reservist who killed 29 Muslims at prayer in 1994; Amir killed Yitzhak Rabin; Teitel is accused of murder and other violence against Jewish leftists, Palestinians, and homosexuals. All found justification for their actions in religious doctrine.

Lest Christians feel themselves secure from deadly religiosity, they should remember those believers who expressed their faith by
killing abortionists.

And there has been no shortage of rage among individuals not affiliated with religion, shown by notable cases in post offices, McDonalds, and high schools. The same issue of the New York Times that carried stories about Fort Hood included a headline about a dismissed employee in Florida who returned to his workplace, killed one and wounded six. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/07/us/07orlando.html?hpw

Goldstein, Teitel, and Malik share the trait of having been raised in the United States. They add to the reputation of a society whose murder rate is twice as high as the closest western democracy, and more than four times the average among other democracies. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_intentional_homicide_rate

Jewish and Christian leaders have, for the most part, abandoned ancient doctrines that call for violence against others. Islam has earned our suspicion thanks to 9-11, suicide bombers, and what happens in Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

Muslim countries and Israel have an easier task in dealing with religious extremists than the United States. Egypt, Jordan, Tunis, and Syria can wrap themselves in the symbols of Islam while sending the police and army to do things unacceptable elsewhere against those who threaten the state's control of what happens within its boundaries.

Israeli rabbis condemn their colleagues who urge soldiers not to obey orders about clearing settlements. Security services infiltrate Muslim and Jewish extremists. The Knesset banned Rabbi Meir Kahane from politics. Politicians and the media come down heavily against those who endorse the actions of Goldstein, Amir, or Teitel. The police mass against Muslim and Jewish demonstrators at holy sites, or parking garages open on the Sabbath.

The United States suffers from its pride in individual freedom, multi-culturalism, openness to refugees (especially from countries affected by American military activities), religious freedom, opposition to ethnic profiling, and easy access to fire arms. We can expect a surge of harassment directed at people who look Middle Eastern, as well as official expressions emphasizing that a misguided fringe should not bring retribution against the great majority of Muslims who are good neighbors.

Tensions may increase along with immigration from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

Members of the Muslim community in and around Fort Hood have expressed their concern.

"When a white guy shoots up a post office, they call that going postal. But when a Muslim does it, they call it jihad. . . Ultimately it was Brother Nidal's doing, but the command should be held accountable. . . . G.I.'s are like any equipment in the Army. When it breaks, those who were in charge of keeping it fit should be held responsible for it." http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/07/us/07muslim.html?hp

Ranking officials expressed confusion and caution. The Army Chief of Staff said, "This is a tough one. . . It's a kick in the gut." President Obama cautioned against "jumping to conclusions" while investigations continue. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/07/us/07forthood.html?hp

How should individuals protect themselves from the madness of believers? There may be nothing more certain than staying away from sensitive places at sensitive times, and hoping for good luck.

If anyone out there has any better ideas, my mailbox is open.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University
Jerusalem, Israel
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
email: msira@mscc.huji.ac.il

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 02:06 AM
November 03, 2009
On the value of realism

What is the future?

Who knows?

In Jewish tradition, Malachi was the last prophet, i.e., the last person to hear the word of God.

He died 2,500 years ago.

All else is speculation, whether colored by ideology, what the speculator would like to happen, or what is thought to be inevitable.

There are many who think that unless Israel shows more flexibility, its future will be nasty, brutal, and short. It is likely that the Arabs will continue to multiply. Soon, if not already, they will be a majority between the Jordan and the Mediterranean. Their power will increase in international forums, not only because of numbers and oil, but because American and European governments will tire of Israel's stubbornness. The settlements, in particular, are a problem. They must go, or at least be frozen, in order to satisfy the current demands of the Palestinians. Insofar as the Palestinian prime minister has said there will be state in two years, Israel must work hard to salvage what it can.

Dream on, those of you who forget, or who would not like to reckon with the element of power in international politics.

The Palestinians and their friends, including Americans and Europeans, have lost the Israeli left. Meretz and Labor declined to their lowest polls ever in the last election. Since then, the Labor leadership has coalesced with right of center Likud.

The Israeli government, and the dominant Jewish population hold the keys to Israel's future. The country has a preponderance of military power in the area of conflict. It inflicted severe damage on Lebanon and Gaza in the most recent conflicts, and destroyed Syria's nuclear facility without a response. Greater powers have shown no signs of imposing their will.

Things do change, but no one knows the future. In the absence of certain knowledge, it is wise to assume that present realities will continue. Dreamers and ideologues may be right, but theirs is a risky bet.

While European and North American leftists, along with moderate allies, do not feel comfortable with what Israel has done, their governments have shown an understanding of the Israeli rationale.

No doubt the United Nations is firmly in the Palestinian camp. The most recent indication is that the Secretary General condemned Israel for its violation of Palestinian rights in East Jerusalem. After an court ruled that a Jewish family was the owner of a disputed property, the police implemented the order, removed the Palestinian family, and allowed the Jewish family to move in. Palestinian neighbors scuffled with police while trying to block the transfer, and the United Nations Secretary General expressed his views.

When an Arab family moved into this building in French Hill, it did not require a court order, there was no demonstration by neighbors, and the Secretary General of the United Nations did not take notice of the event.

And what if the Palestinians have, or acquire a majority between the Jordan and the sea?

Who will make Israel accept a one-state solution with majority rule?

It is most likely that those who suffer from an increase in population and congestion in Palestine will be the Palestinians.

The security barrier being built between Israel and the West Bank may remain for fewer or more years than the Berlin Wall, or the Great Wall of China.

It does not seem likely that the Israeli public will warm to the idea of removing settlements. The Palestinians can thank themselves for that reluctance, due to all those rockets fired to Israel from Gaza, before and after the removal of settlements.

Nobody knows what God has in store for us. And nobody knows the future of international politics. That will depend on numerous events, some already seen but others to unfold tomorrow, next year and later, beyond anyone's capacity to predict.

Israel's advantages may not last forever. The British, French, Dutch, Portuguese, Belgian, German, Spanish, and Soviet empires are no longer with us. The United States is changing in its cultures and economy, and the greatness of its power is no more assured than that of all those empires.

We would all be wiser if we left the future out of the conversation, and concentrated on what is likely to make the present more tolerable.

Israeli leaders have made decent offers to Palestinians, in 2000 and 2008. Now it is time to hear from the Palestinians, other than their unchanging demands for "More."


Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University
Jerusalem, Israel
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
email: msira@mscc.huji.ac.il


Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 08:03 PM
November 01, 2009
Has Obama done more harm than good, or doesn't it matter?

This note is about some little details of international politics. They come from the media, which does not always get things right. Perhaps one can rely on the truth of what appears here, without assuming that it is the whole truth. Not available are the nuances of private conversations, body language meant to lessen or add to the impact of what is said, or details meant to be secret.

The story begins with the Obama administration's efforts to jump start a peace process between Israel and Palestine. Among the demands made of Israel, both by Secretary of State Clinton and Special Envoy Mitchell, was a total freeze on construction in settlements over the 1967 borders, including the new neighborhoods of Jerusalem.

There followed a series of meetings between Israelis and Americans, and turmoil within Israel. What came out is an offer by Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu government to freeze new construction for several months, but not to include Jerusalem, housing units already authorized or under construction, or public facilities in settlement areas.

Currently it seems that Americans recognize that this is the most they can get from Israel. The Secretary of State is saying that the United States never demanded a total freeze.

Maybe yes, maybe no. We should not expect individuals having the egos associated with high office to admit failure.

Now Secretary Clinton is saying that the prime minister has offered a landmark concession.

But the Palestinians stopped listening when the Americans were making their original, more severe demands.

Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazan) is saying that he will not begin negotiations unless there is a total freeze of construction within the settlements, including the new neighborhoods of Jerusalem.

Netanyahu is saying that he is willing to begin negotiations without preconditions.

Abbas is holding to his conditions, which Palestinian officials did not demand for starting negotiations in the past. Abbas is angry at the Americans for sandbagging him.

So it looks as if naivete, or the reaching too far by the Obama administration, has set back the Israel-Palestinian peace process.

Obama's election campaign featured an attractive collection of promises all over the board, and he has not realized any of the important ones.

It is too early to call him a failure. The politics about complex and sensitive issues is neither easy nor quick.

Nothing has come out of Congress on health care, and he may achieve something.

Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan have deteriorated. Yet it would be unfair to blame him for these regressions, without pondering the actions of the Bush administration.

Guantanomo has proved to be more complex than he indicated.

The economy may be stabilizing, but here, too, is a problem sorting out the contributions of the Bush and Obama administration.

Getting back to the minutiae of Israel-Palestine, the question is, Does it make any difference that the initial steps of the Obama administration have provided the leverage for Abbas to halt the process?

This is nothing more than an excuse for the whimpering Abbas. Previous efforts at negotiations have not gone well, going back to 1993 and 2000 involving Yassir Arafat, and Olmert's final efforts with Abbas in 2008.

Abbas is traveling the world complaining about Netanyahu. Yet it is Abbas who is unwilling to show the flexibility that pragmatism demands, or is too weak to resist those demanding that Palestinians remain steadfast to their dreams. His line, repeated at every stop, is that the United Nations, the United States, or other powers must pressure Israel to give him what he wants.

Should we cry at the hopelessness of our neighbors? Snicker at the lameness with which they have failed at violence, bluster, and begging for help? Or criticize international organizations and great powers for providing welfare and verbal support for the Palestinians, perhaps feeling that it is the good thing to do, but actually reinforcing Palestinian dependence and lack of concern for their own future?

All of the above.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University
Jerusalem, Israel
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
email: msira@mscc.huji.ac.il

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 01:30 AM