Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Peace Process -- Breakdown or Opportunity?

Last week the Obama administration gave up on its effort to persuade the government of Israel to commit to another (90-day) construction freeze of Israeli housing in the occupied West Bank. In so doing, SecState Hilary Clinton has abandoned a policy that was at the cornerstone of the new Obama approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict. This approach was based on the firm conviction that illegal Israeli settlements are the foremost impediment to a successful process. As this policy was applied by the Obama White House over the last 2 years -- sometimes quite forcefully, with both carrot and stick -- there were many advocates for Israel who pushed back hard against it. They argued that the settlement issue was a diversion and a smokescreen, a knee-jerk sympathizing with the Palestinian bargaining position designed to let the Palestinians off the hook, while exerting maximal pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Other commentators and observers thought the new-found emphasis on Israeli settlement construction was precisely the right antidote for a sclerotic process that had completely bogged down during President George W. Bush's watch.
The Netanyahu government resisted the first settlement freeze, and actually subverted it while it was supposedly in place. Construction of Israeli housing hardly slowed during the 10 months of the first freeze. Netanyahu argued that of greater importance to the peace process than settlements are the question of security guarantees and the need for the Palestinian leadership to confess that it recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Netanyahu seemed to accept, then quibble over, a very unusual package of diplomatic and military bribes offered up by Clinton to make a 2nd fake moratorium possible.
For its part, the Abbas governmental entity (what the hell do we call an "Authority"?) frittered away 8.5 of the 10 months of the first quasi-settlement freeze. However imperfect that freeze might have been, eventually the Palestinians did accept it as sufficient, but only at the very last minute and under the cover of Arab League acquiescence, and only to see if they could get the Americans to force the Israelis to extend it. You could argue, as I have, that all 3 parties were not intent on peace processing, but on other matters.
Now that this two-year policy of "settlements first" is formally kaput, folks are asking is this good for peace or bad for peace? Is this a breakdown or is this an opportunity? Another question posed (as always when an American diplomatic initiative publicly crashes and burns) is: who is to blame?
There is a view of the conflict to which I subscribe which goes like this: the various parties (Hamas, PNA, Israel, the Arab states) hate each other so much that only the threat and actual carrying out of bloody costly warfare will drive them to the table. Israelis argue that the only thing the "Arab mind" understands is brutal force, but it is equally true that the only thing that pushes Israelis off their complacency is violence. When things are good, no one negotiates. But if the beaker gets close to boiling, the various leaderships grasp at the first imperfect diplomatic proposal that comes along. Absent debilitating violence, the parties simply carry on with their hatreds, distrusts, and humiliation.
So that brings us to today.
Arguing that the "settlement first" fiasco is a setback & that the blame lies with the government of Israel, is veteran observer Tom Friedman of The New York Times. Friedman argues a position that has been taken before by various spurned Secretaries of State. My favorite version of the "just walk away" approach is James Baker's sarcastic public announcement in 1990 of the White House phone number: "When Israel is interested in peace, they can give us a call."
Arguing that this is a welcome opportunity & that it is the Palestinians and the Obama administration to blame for the impasse, is Robert Satloff, the executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (a pro-Israel echo chamber if there ever was one). With rose-colored glasses, this breakdown becomes a wonderful possibility for the Israeli sequence of issues to become triumphant.
Now Obama & Clinton aren't exactly walking away. George Mitchell is back in the region to pursue something even less than "proximity talks," and so is veteran processor Dennis Ross. Neither Obama or Clinton is publicly blaming Israel for the breakdown. But given the relative weakness of the parties (a split Palestinian community closer to civil war than reconciliation & a tottering-to-the-right Israeli coalition that can barely survive a forest fire), I think there is only one way to see these developments -- this is a humongus breakdown which marks the end of Barack Obama's engagement with the Arab-Israeli conflict. And I think that while blame can be apportioned to the fecklessness of all involved, Netanyahu deserves the "wag of the finger" here.
George W. Bush came to the conflict late in his presidency, and Barack Obama came early. It doesn't matter -- nothing came of either approach.  J Street to the contrary, there is no bold move left to pursue, no messianic alternative for Obama to try.
For that matter, the efforts of every American president since Richard Nixon to "solve" the AI conflict have ended in smoldering ruins. The AI conflict is a diplomat's heroin addiction. They can't help it. But it is time to say just say no. Not with these players.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Happy Anniversary! Bingoprof is 5 years old

It was 5 years ago today that I posted my first blog. Here we are, 5 years and 180 postings later, and I am still at it.
Nothing much new to report in looking back over the years. The Arab-Israeli peace process has collapsed - for the 3rd or 4th time in these 5 years. The Twins haven't won a World Series and the Vikings suck.
This blog started with a report about personally meeting a great Bollywood movie star. Over the years I've written movie reviews, commented on events in Israel and the Middle East, wrote about my son's wedding, and even posted the story of the time I got bitch-slapped running a BINGO game. Still, my most-read posts remain my techno-nerd discussions of the iPhone and unlocking tricks.
Will I be blogging 5 years from now? Who knows? But I've got nothing to be embarrassed about. I like my blog.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

First Wikileaks and Israel

This afternoon the first 200 or so out of 251,000 US diplomatic cables were published by & a variety of international news organizations. Of these 220 released cables, nineteen originated from Embassy Tel Aviv. There are over 3100 cables all-told originating from Tel Aviv, most covering a continuous period from December 2004 through February 2010. In other words, less than 1% of the Embassy Tel Aviv-originated cables have been released today. says it will take months to release all the cables. Huh?

Update: Add to the Embassy Tel Aviv cables another 2217 cables from the US Consulate in Jerusalem, the bulk running from April 2005 through February 2010. Not a single cable from the Jerusalem consulate was published today. It is widely known that the Jerusalem Consulate is a kind of separate operation, which has diplomatic responsibilities for the West Bank and, once upon a time, for the Gaza Strip. Nothing for us to analyze, not yet.Out of over 5300 cables in the database coming from either Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, exactly 19 "dropped" today. Not even a drop in the bucket.

Anyways, there is nothing particularly newsworthy in the small batch of cables published so far. A great deal of the published cable traffic deals either with Iran's nuclear threat (played up by the Israelis, doubted by the Americans) or with concerns that Israel's QME (Qualitative Military Edge) over its regional adversaries be regularly enhanced. Many of the cables are summaries of discussions held by various visiting congressional delegations with Israeli political and military officials.

Update: Historians are going to have a field day with this shit. Normally this stuff doesn't get declassified for decades. Now it's all available in as close as we have ever gotten to real time. For example, an interesting pattern emerges when comparing the monthly frequency of dispatches emanating from Embassy Tel Aviv and Consulate Jerusalem (assuming the data provided by The Guardian is comprehensive and thorough). Beginning January 2006 and continuing through February 2010, we can compare just how many cables each of these two diplomatic offices sent out. Remember, the Tel Aviv Embassy is the bigger operation, serving the state of Israel. The Jerusalem Consulate is the smaller shop, serving primarily the occupied territories. Here's the data: in 2006 & 2007, only in June and July did the Jerusalem Consulate send more cables than the Tel Aviv Embassy. In 2008 and 2009, the Consulate sent more cables than the Embassy 20 out of 24 months. The Jerusalem Consulate got real busy. Same for the 2 months of 2010. What does it all mean? Take an extreme example: the 2 months of Operation Cast Lead against Hamas in Gaza, December 2008 and January 2009, with a new administration coming into power in Washington in late January. In December 2008 the Embassy sent 57 cables, averaging 2 cables a day. In the same time period, the Consulate sent 68 cables. In January 2009, the Embassy sent 49 cables, the Consulate a whopping 95, a record for cable traffic for either diplomatic office for the entire period covered between 2006-2010.

From cables originating out of other embassies is evidence that other Arab states are greatly concerned about Iran's nuclear threat and intentions, and a correlated queaziness about radical terror groups like Hamas and Hezbollah. This is a claim I've heard many times before from Israeli government officials - Arab leaders privately are equally if not more fearful of the regimes in Tehran, Gaza City, and South Lebanon but won't say so in public. From the cables, there is complete vindication for this claim.

Interesting tidbit: three of the very few cables from Embassy Tel Aviv outside the December 2004-February 2010 timeline are dated November 5, 1995, the date of Rabin's assassination (so too one cable from Consulate Jerusalem). These 4 cables haven't been released yet.

One hilarious irony: in the abbreviated and acronymed gobbledygook of diplomatic cables, the phrase "government of Israel" is reduced to "GOI". You gotta love it. Not perfect spelling, but close enough.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Using the iPhone 4 in Israel

[Updated May 11, 2012 -- For the latest information, go to my most recent post on this matter.]

I've been updating my blog entry entitled "Using my iPhone in Israel" for over a year now, and it seems the time has come to file a separate entry instead of continually updating that single entry which started in June of 2009 (when I had an iPhone 3G) and was most recently updated in October 2010. Since that particular entry still gets lots of hits, I'll add a link to that old post and here update the curious reader.

Basically, I'm going to give up following the news on the iPhone 3G and 3GS and just stick with the iPhone 4 from here on out. Counter-intuitively, the route to success is much easier with one of those older phones, not nearly as complicated as the situation with the iPhone 4. And since the phone I now own is an iPhone 4, I see no need to monitor the situation on those older phones any longer. If you want more information on the older phones, go back to my original post.

[In fact, as of April 4, 2012, I am not going to update this entry any more. There are now numerous ways for applying an untethered jailbreak with baseband preservation for iOS 5.0.1 to the iPhone 4 & 4S (sn0wbreeze, redsn0w, absinthe), as well as unlocked iPhones available directly from Apple. There is simply nothing more to report. There are no so many practical ways to possess an unlocked iPhone 4 & 4S that I consider the matter closed. Thanks for reading.]

(NOTE: This entire post applies to the iPhone 4 supplied by AT&T and designed for use on GSM networks, with a microSIM card slot on the right side. The new iPhone 4 on Verizon works on a completely different network architecture known as CDMA and does not handle SIM cards.) 

To quickly sum up my earlier post: if you want to use your US-based, AT&T Wireless-networked iPhone 4 in Israel inexpensively (not paying AT&T's international rate which is $1.99/min and $.50/SMS msg), your best bet is to unlock your phone, making it a universal GSM phone. Then, when you go to Israel purchase at a cell provider kiosk a Pay-As-You-Go GSM SIM card. For example, I use a plan provided by Orange Israel called Big Talk (here's a link to the Hebrew page). I've got my own personal phone number in Israel, which doesn't expire because of non-use. Voice and data prices are much more reasonable with a domestic PAYG card, more like $0.22/min for a domestic Israeli call and an additional $0.07 to US or Europe; SMS to Israel at $0.14 and to the US at $0.24. You can even get 3G with a data plan (please see the update below, dated July 16, 2011). Free wifi abounds, so don't worry about the Internet when in Israel. Even if you are going for a short visit, it pays to go this route.

Sounds wonderful, right? The trick is that you must unlock your iPhone 4 so it can accept a non-AT&T GSM microSIM card. And that ain't easy. Before you can unlock your iPhone, you need to jailbreak it. As I said in my previous post:

To "jailbreak" is to alter (read: increase) access to the phone's operating system and perform modifications on the phone not allowed by Apple and its monopolistic app store. To "unlock" a phone is to render the iPhone into a universal multi-band GSM phone.

Neither of these steps is easy. But be warned: avoid all the web sites claiming to unlock your phone for a fee. THEY ARE ALL SCAMS, either claiming to do something that can't be done, or charging you for something you can do yourself.

Right now (and I mean literally as-of-today -- things change quickly in this field), anyone who has bought an iPhone at AT&T or the iPhone store in the last 4 months is shit out of luck. To put it more precisely: if your iOS is above 4.0.1 and your "baseband" is above 01.59.00 you are stuck & are unable to unlock the phone. (<--See updates below)

(To find out what your iOS and baseband are, go to Settings-->General-->About. Look at "Version" for your iOS and "Modem Firmware" for your baseband. Just what is a "baseband"? It's the software and separate processor that handles most matters pertaining to the phone's antenna and phone/"radio" functions.)

iOS 4.0.1

(See Updates below -->) Now, if your iOS on your iPhone 4 just happens to be 4.0.1 (and no higher - not even one decimal!) there is a way for you to unlock your phone and take it to Israel or anywhere else in the world, buy a local PAYG microSIM card, and have a great time paying significantly cheaper rates. Here is a link to a reliable web site with clear step-by-step guides. One other thing -- until the Israeli cell companies start selling microSIM PAYG cards, you'll need a specialized cutting tool, very inexpensive and easily available, to cut the plastic down to the right size to fit in the iPhone 4's microSIM slot. See my earlier post (Update 3) where I discuss the cutting tools.

As of a few days ago (I'm writing on Nov. 25 2010) Apple released iOS 4.2.1 with baseband 3.10.01. If you are in my situation (a successfully unlocked iPhone 4 using an "old" jailbroken iOS and unlocked baseband), you cannot touch this latest firmware upgrade, just like you could not go near its predecessor iOS 4.1. Instead we have to wait until the hackers out there produce an unlock for the new baseband, and a few other tricks. When that happens I will be very happy, and I promise I will let you all know.

Update 1 (Nov. 29 2010): A new version of the unlocking software ultrasn0w was released this past weekend, and while it provides a path for unlocking the iPhone 3G & 3Gs on the latest iOS firmware 4.2.1, it does nothing to help iPhone4 users using an iOS above 4.0.1 or a baseband above 01.59.00. Basically the baseband of the older phones is very different from the baseband of the iPhone4, and the hackers haven't released a solution. So for iPhone4 users, nothing has changed with this release of new unlocking software.

iOS 4.2.1

Update 2 (Feb. 4 2011): Finally! It took a bit of doing and a few nerve-wracking false starts, but I was able to upgrade to iOS 4.2.1 and preserve the 01.59.00 baseband using the latest version of a program called Tinyumbrella. Then, using the jailbreaking software greenpois0n RC5 I was able to create an untethered jailbreak, and then, with ultrasn0w, an unlock. Only took 2 hours. It is not something I would recommend for noobies. Here is the somewhat complete step-by-step. Before you do anything, save your blobs! ha-mevin yavin. And if you don't understand what a blob is, you probably shouldn't try this.

Update 3 (April 2, 2011): Nothing has changed, despite the release of two further iterations of the iOS, now to version 4.3.1. The best situation for the solution I am proposing is to remain on iOS 4.2.1 with the preserved baseband of 01.59.00. There are rumors of a jailbreak for 4.3.1, but I've read nothing credible about an upcoming unlock for the newer basebands. So if you were able to follow my guidance - stay put.  

iOS 4.3./1/2/3

Update 4 (April 4, 2011): And just a few days after my last update, it all arrived! This morning an untethered jailbreak which preserves baseband 01.59.00 was released. The Windows package is called Sn0wbreeze 2.5, and if your are going to preserve your 01.59.00 baseband look to this step-by-step for how to do it. I have hit a few minor snags along the way but nothing awful, no worse than any previous jailbreak. There are some issues, like the strange behavior of the signal bars which now always report out at one bar no matter how strong your phone signal might be. But a new version of ultrasn0w is in the works which will fix that trivial inconvenience. The key is this: if your iPhone 4 baseband is higher than 01.59.00 there is still no way you can unlock your phone, and if you jailbreak now, you will likely lose the possibility of unlock FOREVER! If you have been following along in my suggested path, you still have a preserved 01.59.00 baseband on your phone, and in that case you can jailbreak using sn0wbreeze. The ultrasn0w folks are working on later iPhone 4 basebands -- but the new version due to hit in a few days doesn't deal with that problem -- it's just coming to help fix some of the problems associated with the latest jailbreak of iOS 4.3.1.

(Update 5, July 16, 2011): I've been in Israel for a bit more than a week, and unlike my compatriots who were constantly searching for WiFi hotspots or paying 80 NIS per calendar day for hotel WiFi that came and went as the gods saw fit, I bought an Orange PAYG data plan for 99 NIS at a convenience store and thereby gained access to a modern 3G network at the hotel, on the bus, in an open field, and basically anywhere I placed my foot. The 99 NIS plan gave me 5 gigabytes of data stream per 30 days, which is a tremendous amount of 3G data. I could stream television or movies and still have data to spare. I probably could've bought a cheaper plan, but still I feel that given the price of hotel WiFi or the silliness of running around leeching off open networks, I did the right thing. Only problem was that after I bought the data plan at the convenience store, I discovered I needed to go to the Orange service center to trade out my old 2G SIM card for a newer model 3G micro-SIM. I couldn't do this simple act at an Orange store and therefore had to go to the Orange service center (in this case in Givat Shaul) to make the free upgrade. I also had to use the Orange over the phone menu system to add the data plan, and then reboot the phone. But as soon as I did so, I was connected - all the time and everywhere. I highly recommend this simple and elegant solution.

So just to confirm: Orange does make micro-SIMs for the Big Talk plan, and you can have both talk minutes and 3G data on your JB and unlocked iPhone4. Just don't expect the fools at the local Orange store to know a thing about it. If you don't already have a 3G card, you can get it at the service center. Period. It all works.

Two limitations: I can't get FaceTime to work on the Orange network (no surprise given the proprietary aspects of FaceTime), and I receive an error message telling me to contact Orange when I tried to create a hotspot out of my iPhone4 (that makes sense too, given the bandwidth issues of hotspotting). Other than that, I can't discern any issues.

iOS 5.0/5.0.1

Update 5, April 4, 2012:  This might be the final update for this long-running saga. Why final? Well, first, there is an untethered jailbreak with baseband preservation available for iOS 5 & 5.0.1, released a few months ago (Look for latest version of redsn0w or sn0wbreeze if you are using an iPhone 4, absinthe if running an iPhone 4S.). Once you jailbreak, there is an unlock available, though still for no better than baseband 1.59.00.
Second, and more importantly, Apple is now officially selling both the new iPhone 4S and the older iPhone 4 in a natively unlocked state, and while it costs a lot of money (for example, an unlocked 32 GB iPhone 4 sells for a whopping $649 at the Apple Store), it is a practical solution to the unlock problem. The unlocked 32GB 4S sells for $749.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Abe Foxman & the ADL: serially stupid

For me it started a few years ago, in 2006, when the Anti-Defamation League and its progressively more senile leader Abe Foxman complained to Sacha Baron Cohen about "anti-Semitic" images in the movie Borat. "C'mon," I said to myself, "have you completely lost your sense of humor?" Of course, I was assuming that somewhere in the bowels of this strange organization there might actually be a sense of humor to be misplaced.

The last few weeks have put the icing on the cake for me. When the ADL came out -- at an absolutely decisive moment -- against placing the Cordoba House (or as I sometimes snarkily call it, the "GZMM" -- "ground zero mega-mosque") in its proposed location, I knew that the ADL had rendered itself a dead and irrelevant organization. No one could any longer take this once venerable and respected organization seriously, because in one fell swoop it had undone all its good work. At a moment of national insanity, the ADL had aligned itself with the crazy ones.

Yesterday came more icing on the cake. Abe decided to issue a condemnation of Roger Waters' current production of "The Wall Live" tour, a live on-stage performance of Pink Floyd's wonderful rock opera. Waters, as we know, was the leader of the band, and has been an observer in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Waters, it might be remembered, came to Israel in 2006 for a concert as the cultural boycott frenzy was just picking up steam in Britain. He had the temerity to visit the security barrier/separation wall and graffitied on it "Tear Down this Wall." "It's a horrific edifice, this thing," he told reporters at the time. And so a man who wrote a grand and global condemnation of "the Wall" in 1979, turned into a live-action and animated feature film in 1982, comes to give a concert in Israel in 2006 at a village devoted to peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and encounters a real-life crystallization of all he bemoaned 27 years earlier, and calls it a horrible thing. Oh my! How this must have put Waters on the radar screen of the ever-vigilant morons at the ADL.

During the on-stage version of "Goodbye Blue Sky" (one of the most powerful visual animations in the 1982 movie), a new animation, clearly an extension and update of the 1982 version, was shown.  I've only found one video of the current animation, and it is not very clear, but you can see slow-motion formations of B-52 bombers carpet-bombing red symbols on a desolate, already devastated landscape. Look at it yourself, from the Toronto show. You will see the following sequence: B-52s opening their payload doors to reveal, and eventually drop -- 1. crosses; 2. hammers & sickles; 3. crescents; 4. stars of David; 4. dollar signs; 5. Shell Oil emblems; 6. Merecedes Benz corporate symbols; and finally, a hodge-podge of all 6 symbols. The message is simple and as moving as the original 1982 vision, which concentrated exclusively on the cross-symbol: we are killing each other because of all these symbols, all derived from deadly forces in modern society.

But here goes crazy Abe (the lie now repeated on the Jewish Telegraphic Agency and Israel's Ynet):

It is outrageous that Roger Waters has chosen to use the juxtaposition of a Jewish Star of David with the symbol of dollar signs.  While he insists that his intent was to criticize Israel's West Bank security fence, the use of such imagery in a concert setting seems to leave the message open to interpretation, and the meaning could easily be misunderstood as a comment about Jews and money.

Is this serious? Abe Foxman, rock critic? Am I to believe he is an aficionado of AOR? (Daily Show -- are you listening?)

I've said it before (actually quite recently, to the local head of the regional ADL) -- if the ADL is to save itself from complete and total irrelevancy for the future of America's civic debates about race and prejudice, Abe Foxman has got to be put out to pasture. How can you tell a one man show to simply shut the fuck up?

UPDATE 1: October 8: In a bizarre twist, recent viewers of performances of "The Wall Live" tour have noticed that Roger Waters, who categorically denied any anti-Semitic intent in the sequence of animations, has indeed changed the sequence, so that after the Stars of David, Shell Oil and Mercedes Benz symbols are displayed. The ADL pronounces itself satisfied. But OMG! What of the long standing anti-Semitic canard that all Jews are communists, and the other accusation that Islam is simply a variation on the Semitic religion of Judaism? If hammers & sickles and crescents precede the Stars of David, isn't this another horrendous anti-Semitic slur that requires the entire ADL organization to burn the midnight oil? Shades of Father Coughlin! And surely some nut somewhere thinks that the Jews run Shell Oil and Daimler AG. Where's Abe to protect us now that there is a new, vile sequence of symbols???

My point is: we have reached a preposterous state in the quality of civic discourse and the critique of art when a blowhard (about to publish a book entitled Jews and Money: The Story of a Stereotype, btw - won't this whole episode be just dandy for advanced sales!) can decide on his own, and with apparent persuasive credibility, to force a creative artist to alter a thoroughly benign artistic image that does not have the slightest hint of anti-Semitism. 

Congratulations, Abe! But where were you when we needed you? Dig way back deep into The Kinks discography. Listen to a song entitled "When I Turn Off the Living Room Light." I expect a letter and press release to be immediately issued against Ray Davies.  

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

So, Is Abbas Serious?

The way this blog seems to work, is that my very few readers find out about my postings via Facebook, and post their reactions and comments over there. I post a blog, write a tweet announcing the posting, which then is cross-listed to Facebook. There is no doubt that my audience uses Facebook far more than Twitter. In any event, whatever reactions I might get come to me by way of Facebook. It's a bit cumbersome.

So one of my few readers sent me an e-mail about my last post:

It isn't enough to state that other bloggers can dwell on the inadequacies of Palestinian leadership. They won't. And if you don't, boycott backers will cite your own words to advance their cause.

OK, but what's a guy to do? I don't follow the Arab press as closely as the Israeli press. My Arabic ain't nearly as good as my Hebrew. I've lived in Israel when Bibi was last PM of Israel in 1996; I've never lived in Palestine. I have a basic read of the situation that goes like this: Netanyahu doesn't want to deliver, and Abbas can't deliver, even if he wanted to. And I simply do not know if he wants to. One indication that Abbas isn't serious is the way he frittered away the possible opportunity that was provided during the 10-month Israeli settlement moratorium, particularly after the Arab League had given its imprimatur on direct talks in late July. But it wasn't until September that Abbas engaged in direct talks. Hardly indicative of a leader eager to negotiate.

I think thoughtful critics of the Abbas regime (and I don't mean the Ali Abunimahs of the world who simply label the Palestinian Authority "collaborationist" and wash their hands of it; or the Caroline Glicks of the world who believe that the PA is congenitally evil) ought to provide a reading of just what it is that Abbas is willing to do during this round of negotiations. 

As for the second point, my reader is wrong. I think that precisely because I am a severe critic of the Netanyahu approach, and that I regularly register my opinion in this blog that the entire settlement enterprise is wrong and must be undone, proves that my opposition to the BDS effort is impregnable. In any event, proponents of BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) and the USACBI (US Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel) campaign are not out to alter an Israeli policy here or there -- their goal is to deligitimize a Jewish state, and to make it (in its current form, or even in some "dovish" form) disappear into the dustbin of history along with the apartheid regime of South Africa, to which they now regularly compare Israel. Does anyone really believe that the proponents of BDS are simply trying to tactically alter Israel's politics, international relations, and society? Was the Arab League economic boycott merely a tactic to get Israel to change its policies? Of course it wasn't. To paraphrase Ben Gurion: I will oppose BDS as if there is no Netanyahu government, and oppose Netanyahu's rule as if there was no BDS.

That's the only way I can figure out how to move forward.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Is Netanyahu Serious?

Appearing in today's Jerusalem Post is an article that caught my attention. According to the Post, and based on a report on Israeli Army radio (an official media organ if ever there was one), Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is proposing a release of convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard (convicted to a life sentence for espionage against the US in 1987) in exchange for committing to a 3-month extension of the 10-month phony "settlement freeze" set to expire on September 26. I found the original story on the web site of Israeli Army Radio (in Hebrew) here.

A few days ago on the eve of the resumption of the "direct talks," I pointed out in my blog that the last time Netanyahu engaged in face-to-face negotiations with the Palestinians under American auspices (back in 1996), he tried to elicit precisely the same deal for Pollard on the way to the now-forgotten Wye River Memorandum. Netanyahu argued in 1996 that only a release of Pollard would appease his political allies in his government, allowing him to sell the deal. Back in 1996, when everyone thought a deal had been struck, Netanyahu tried to strongarm President Clinton, threatening to back away from the Wye deal (read Dennis Ross's account of Bibi's "bullshit" in The Missing Peace, pp. 455-457). Clinton pushed back against Netanyahu's posturing, and the Pollard matter passed.

But Bibi is still Bibi. And once again, in exchange for a trivial 90 days of the diplomatic equivalent of a photo-op (extending a settlement freeze that really isn't a freeze), Bibi is apparently raising the same issue with the Americans.

Look - it's time to call a spade a spade. Netanyahu is not serious in these negotiations, and never was. There is so much hopeful blather in the news about the "new Bibi" - the chastened Netanyahu, now given a second chance to bring a historic peace to Israel. Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama announce their belief that Netanyahu is serious - the right-wing Israeli leader who can actually deliver his country for a pragmatic deal.

Preposterous. Netanyahu had an opportunity back in February 2009 to convene an Israeli government that might be responsive to a serious American-led diplomatic push. He could have created a viable right-centrist parliamentary majority in 2009; instead he opted for a hard-right coalition government. From the moment Netanyahu created this particular government, he indicated he has no interest in any peace process.

I don't mean to point my finger at Netanyahu alone. The Palestinian leadership is equally unfit for serious negotiations. It's just that I know the Israeli side better than the Palestinian side. Let another blogger write up the real intentions of Mahmoud Abbas. All I know is this -- don't expect Netanyahu to be The Peacemaker.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

My Rosh ha-Shana Talk about Burning the Qur'an

Driving to Hillel this morning, I came up with the following, which I said during this morning's services (Thanks Lisa for letting me have my moment, and this is an approximation of what I said off-the-cuff):

Shana tova and chag sameach. Gut yuntif and gut yor. Because Jews and Muslims both use the moon to mark their calendars, there is a wonderful convergence this week, a convergence of dates which does not happen very often. While we Jews were marking the Hebrew month of Elul, the month leading up to the New Year, Muslims were marking their sacred month of Ramadan. While we Jews celebrate the beginning of our New Year, Muslims are celebrating the end of Ramadan, culminating in a day's time with Id al-Fitr, the joyous end of the month in which Muhammad received (according to Muslim tradition) his first revelation from God. Those revelations continued throughout the rest of Muhammad's life, and were gathered together into a book which Muslims call the recitation, or in Arabic the Qur'an.

Also, in a random bit of coincidence, this Saturday is the ninth anniversary of a day that has seared itself into American memory, what was a "clear blue Tuesday" morning nine years ago when I opened my 9:55 Intro to Islam class with an image from the internet of the North Tower billowing smoke. I told my class I didn't know much about the burning tower, but I announced that the course would be quite different from what I had planned.

This Saturday, a crackpot minister from Gainesville, Florida plans to gather together a number of Qur'ans and set them on fire in the parking lot of his church. He says he has been told by God that Islam is the devil's religion, and he has been commanded to burn the devil's book. Everyone has condemned what he is planning to do. Yesterday Hilary Clinton condemned it, and General Petraeus has said it will endanger our troops in Afghanistan. This morning President Obama condemned the planned bonfire.

Now every one of the holy books has verses that can be interpreted one way or another. Our own Bible has verses that calls for the slaughter of God's enemies. And the New Testament has verses that heap scorn on those who do not accept Christ as Savior. And the Qur'an too has verses that attack Christians and Jews. But I wanted to read to you one verse from the book that Pastor Jones plans to burn on Saturday, which goes like this:

قُولُوٓاْ ءَامَنَّا بِٱللَّهِ وَمَآ أُنزِلَ إِلَيۡنَا وَمَآ أُنزِلَ إِلَىٰٓ إِبۡرَٲهِـۧمَ وَإِسۡمَـٰعِيلَ وَإِسۡحَـٰقَ وَيَعۡقُوبَ وَٱلۡأَسۡبَاطِ وَمَآ أُوتِىَ مُوسَىٰ وَعِيسَىٰ وَمَآ أُوتِىَ ٱلنَّبِيُّونَ مِن رَّبِّهِمۡ لَا نُفَرِّقُ بَيۡنَ أَحَدٍ۬ مِّنۡهُمۡ وَنَحۡنُ لَهُ ۥ مُسۡلِمُونَ

Say: We believe in God and in that which has been revealed to us, and in that which has been revealed to Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and the tribes, and in that which was given to Moses and Jesus, and in that which has been given to the prophets from their Lord - we do not make any distinction between any one of them - and to Him do we submit.

This is one of my favorite verses in the Qur'an (2:136). The simplicity and beauty of its ecumenical message is undeniable.

There was a German man of letters who lived about a century before the Nazis came to power in Germany. Heinrich Heine is famous for the quote:  "Where they burn books, so too will they in the end burn human beings." And it wasn't just the Nazis who burned our Jewish books and fulfilled the premonition - before the Nazis there were the Inquisitors of the Middle Ages, about whom Heine wrote. So we here in the Jewish community know better than anyone else what book burning portends. And because of that, we should all reach out to our Muslim brothers and sisters on campus, at the bayt al-salaam, and offer them our support and our friendship in this time where they must be feeling enormous pain.

But there is another side to the story which complicates the picture. Two years ago in the predominantly religious Israeli town of Or Yehudah, Christian missionaries provocatively distributed hundreds of copies of the New Testament to the homes of residents. The mayor of Or Yehudah organized a mass gathering of the New Testaments and they were then burned. And not long ago some Muslims around the world rioted over a Danish cartoon of the prophet Muhammad, and before that a very few Muslim religious authorities issued a death sentence against an author who wrote a less-than-complimentary portrait of Muhammad.

We are living in a time where the crazies of all three faiths are burning each other's books. It is so sad and disheartening. So here I am, the liberal college professor of religious studies, begging you all to be open-minded and open-hearted, and do whatever you can to stem this tide of insanity. We Jews more than almost any other group know what this madness can lead to. Reach out to your friends who are feeling the heat of this fire of intolerance. Shana tova, and `Id mubarak.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Summit's Eve

There is no good reason to expect anything different this time. But why not? Have direct face-to-face talks. Let the Israeli Prime Minister of a right-wing government meet with the disputed President of the Western portion of what the diplomatic community calls the Palestinian Authority. Anything must be better than the slow, steadily meaner conflict simmering just below a likely regional conflagration that threatens American interests in the region. Right? Anything!!

Bring out the same tired players; the same American diplomats who have been peace processing the Israeli-Arab conflict since the 1980s; the same EU ambassadors; the same eviscerated Arab autocrats and puny Arab monarchs; the same Israeli and Palestinian professional staffs of diplomats, intelligence officers, and security personnel; bring it all on!

It's been some time since Binyamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas have been in the same room together. In Netanyahu's previous premiership, Netanyahu played hard to get before shaking hands with PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat in Wye River, Maryland in 1996. It took a great deal of cajoling 50 weeks ago to get the two to shake hands (with Obama prodding) in New York City in a photo op of no consequence. The last time Binyamin Netanyahu addressed the issues of war & peace in direct negotiations, 14 years ago, Bill Clinton was POTUS, Madeline Albright the SecState, and Dennis Ross was running the operation. The negotiations went on directly for over a week, and Bibi even tried to extract Jonathan Pollard in exchange for his grudging concurrence. What came out was a weak, soon-ignored document -- the Wye River Memorandum, may its memory be for a blessing. Within months Bibi was booted out of office by a frustrated Israeli electorate and the molasses-like intransigence of Netanyahu gave way to Ehud Barak, with a far more creative -- some might say reckless -- approach to the conflict. Neither Bibi's way nor Ehud's way worked out; but here they are in 2010, locked arm-in-arm -- two brash old men who think they can outwit and outmaneuver anything the Americans or the Arabs can throw at them.

Arafat was far more interested in the approach of Ehud Barak when Bibi was replaced, but Arafat would not deliver his movement over to the US-brokered Israeli offer until it was too late. He died years later. Arafat's disappearance, and continued Israeli pressure from a right-leaning Ariel Sharon, caused Palestinian political, security, and military institutions to unravel. What's left of Arafat's infrastructure is holed up in the West Bank; the newer, perpetually hostile vanguard movement HAMAS controls the southern and sinking satellite of Gaza. What role will HAMAS have to play in these soon-to-begin direct talks? Answers the new elder statesman of American foreign policy, George Mitchell - "none." Not smart.

Amazingly, Dennis Ross is giving it yet another try. Can't fault the guy for being persistent.

President Barack Obama, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for not being George W. Bush, wants to try to use the hopefulness of the "direct talks" to help with domestic politics. Nothing looks Nobel Peace-prize worthy like a summit at the White House between implacable enemies.

Bound to fail? Is there anything anywhere that indicates the slightest change, even a hint that a breakthrough is in the offing?

I just don't see it. My friend Tommy says that the Americans can't want Middle East peace more than the parties to the conflict, the Israelis and the Palestinians. But it sure seems that as you look out at the lineups and the starting pitchers, the umps want to be on the field more than the players.

Not a great way to begin the New Year and end Ramadan. Play ball!

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

BDS and Israel, Part IV

(Part III)

You have to ask yourself: if BDS is so clearly a contemporary expression of precisely the same exaggerated and neurotic tropes of modern anti-Semitism, how is it that a tiny number of American and Israeli Jews are actively promoting this tactic? The answer is embedded in my question. In most encounters with anti-Semites, I have been left with the impression that they obsessively and neurotically exaggerate Jewish power and influence, as well as Jewish sins and depravity. I hope that all Jews would sympathize with the complicated condition of Palestine in the midst of Israel, and work to constructively influence for the sane and humane resolution of the century-long conflict. Some Jews, however, are wired to sympathize to their own detriment with the victims of Israeli muscle. Self-hating Jews? Hardly. Rather they are Jews so troubled by the assertion of Jewish national rights (and the particularly ugly way it plays out in the hands of Likud politicians) in Palestine/Israel that they blindly march off down the path of cultural delegitimation and legalized disengagement - the first necessary step in the oft-repeated script for any anti-Semitic society.

This is my first direct engagement on this blog of the BDS movement and it will hardly be my last. I am convinced that on American college campuses, the BDS movement will be the principal vehicle for the faux legitimation of anti-Semitism for the next few years. And now we know it is a legitimate stance in left-Jewish circles, when once "beyond the pale" (if you were to believe some of the right-wing Jewish nattering nabobs) Jewish leftists like Michael Lerner and Jeremy Ben-Ami find themselves now beyond the pale for the likes of  Jewish Voices for Peace (the BDS group that petitioned TIAA-CREF to abandon investments in Israel).

I'm of two minds here. This Israeli government is a disaster; Israeli and Palestinian and Arab societies are chauvinist mutations of ideal societies; the Israeli settlement project of the last 40 years is illegal, a travesty, and constitutes oppression. I do not know if a 2-state solution will work, and I believe that all sides in the conflict have waged stupid wars, fought those wars without principle or humanity, and, once diplomacy became the order of the day, negotiated in bad faith. All this is true. But I do not hate any of the players, and do not think that either side has gone so far off the deep end that BDS is the correct tactic to effect a solution. A despondent (Israeli academic) Neve Gordon to the contrary, there are a million constructive things that every one of us can do to help make Israel/Palestine peaceful short of effectively crippling and deligitimating the study of Jewish culture and history. And I will never deny the possibility to my students of learning about the heritage of any of the parties in the best way possible, according to my best academic judgment. Period. Anyone who advocates otherwise is my anti-Semitic adversary, and I will not back down.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Problem with BDS, Part III

(Part II)

Now the first thing that happens when you accuse proponents and activists of the academic boycott of Israel of anti-Semitism is a hue and cry of righteous indignation, which these blogiators excel at. First, the protagonists have constructed for themselves a very narrow definition of anti-Semitism: they define anti-Semitism as preposterous, medieval forms of theological Jew-hatred based on anachronistic Christian charges of deicide and demonization. Since their problems with Israel are supposedly purely of a political nature and rooted in the concern for human rights, they argue that they cannot possibly be accused of theological Jew-hatred. Furthermore, a surprising number of these folks are by heritage Jews themselves -- some of them are actually Israelis -- so how can they be accused of anti-Semitism? This was one of my colleague's first responses to my request that he quit the USACBI -- "but BINGPROF, I was asked to join the campaign by my Israeli friends!" Let me be clear -- I absolutely support free speech, both here and in Israel, and I will never support punishing someone who promotes BDS, not here nor in Israel. Let the tiny community of proponents argue their very best case! I'll respond by telling each and every one to their face they are walking along the path of Heidegger and the Nazi intelligentsia who boycotted Jews and Jewish scholars because of some other specious reason, and was an incremental step towards genocide. In fact, it is because of free speech that I oppose BDS and oppose seeing any promoters of the academic boycott put into a position of power over the curriculum of an institute or institution.

But back to my main point: the academic boycott of Israeli universities campaign is anti-Semitic. Not because it is a theological assault on Judaism or Jews; and not even because in the BDS universe the Jewish state is bizarrely singled out and painted with demonic hues. It is anti-Semitic because it facilitates the complete evisceration of the field of Jewish Studies as it is practiced in American higher education. As the director of a Jewish Studies program, I know that if the program of the USACBI is implemented, namely:

...Advocate a comprehensive boycott of Israeli institutions at the national and international levels, including suspension of all forms of funding and subsidies to these institutions;
...Promote divestment and disinvestment from Israel by academic institutions, and place pressure on your own institution to suspend all ties with Israeli universities, including collaborative projects, study abroad, funding and exchanges.

then my academic field is not only under attack, but is destined for the dustbin of history. The study of Jews and Jewish history, which oftentimes involves learning the Hebrew language, reading Hebrew books and manuscripts, attending conferences, and publishing papers and books, cannot be accomplished without a robust association with Israeli universities, libraries, and institutes. In my field, I cannot possibly move a step forward without availing myself of the research libraries and colleagues of Israel. The campaign to boycott Israeli universities is an assault on Jewish heritage and history, and it necessarily entails the consequence of assaulting my academic discipline. A field of study is crippled for supposedly "noble" political reasons, and the consequence is the delegitimization of not merely the Jewish state, but of Jewish heritage in its totality.

The last time the study of Jewish history, heritage and culture was first curtailed and then banned from higher education in modern history was during the reign of the Nazis in Europe. Nazi anti-Semitism was hardly a theological endeavor; it was a methodical and obsessive fixation on Jews as the cause of all woes. It was turning the tiny number of Jews in Europe into a cancerous existential threat to the very survival of civilization. And, in the first years of their rise to ascendancy, there were German Jews who echoed the criticisms of their overlords. Eighty years later and nothing changes. In the dementia of the BDS campaign, the tiny Jewish state is in fact the principal catalyst of human misery on earth, threatening the life of all good-hearted people; the tiny Jewish state is the hidden secret agent of modern India's repression of minorities and Kashmir (so claims my colleague); its sins are on par and even worse than Communist China's oppression of the Tibetans and the Uighurs (so another). Jewish exceptionalism (in the form of Zionism) is the cause of all our woes. Die Juden sind unser Unglück! That, my friends, is modern anti-Semitism.

(Part IV)

Monday, July 26, 2010

What's Wrong with the Academic Boycott of Israel, Part II

(Part I)

I've become familiar with the BDS universe these last through months thanks to a colleague at the college I work at. My colleague is a member of the US Advisory Board of the United States Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI) organization. As best I can tell this organization came into existence in January of 2009, in the wake of the Olmert government's cynical and unnecessary war against Hamas and the residents of Gaza. The USACBI is patterned after and comes in the wake of a number of earlier fits and starts of a far more successful effort to boycott in Europe.

I became aware of my colleague's endorsement of the USACBI cause a few months after the creation of the organization. In fact, I counted early on at least 5 colleagues (in a faculty of over 150) who had publicly endorsed the campaign. None of the names were a surprise. I spoke to none of them but one, the colleague in question. Insofar as he led an academic unit devoted to International Studies and to which I contributed a course on the Arab-Israeli conflict, I began a discussion with him in the hopes of getting him to recant his support. It seemed to me impossible to participate in an academic unit whose director believed that Israeli institutions of higher education (and their employees) should not be allowed to participate in the study of international politics, history, and culture. At first through quiet discussions with him, and then eventually by opposing and protesting his appointment to another administrative academic leadership role at my college, I've been introduced to a world of twitterers and bloggers who think of Israel as a criminal, crazed, Nazi-like apartheid state which is irretrievably and morally bankrupt. These denizens of the electronic campaign against Israel feed each other in a cul-de-sac echo chamber of self-righteousness, reading the same postings from a couple dozen authors that reverberate through the Internet with breathless excitement.

The problem here is that every web page occupies the same real estate on your screen. It is easy to imagine that these cranks represent some kind of trending force on the Internet, and therefore in American society. They clearly don't. But it behooves us all to pay them attention, since American college campuses are oftentimes the leading edge of progressive politics, and shrill doctrinaire voices (of either the left or the right) often thunder over the "silent majority" of thoughtful liberals who make up the ranks of academe.
To get a sense of what I have discovered, check out this twitter feed: @USACBI (the official twitter feed of my colleague's organization). If you follow their web links, you will be introduced to a world you probably never imagined existed, at least not among sane people. Following this twitter feed for a mere week will take you into an alternative universe where up is down, black is white, the sun rises in the west and sets in the east. It is not just @USACBI; if you pay close attention you will eventually stumble onto other twitter feeds and blog sites from "journalists" who have made it their neurotic obsession to track every sin and travesty committed by racist Israel; you will come across "information centers" and newsfeeds reporting "stories" that simply no one else will report - because they are false; you will find seething conspiracy theories and ideological diatribes directed against those who do not toe the party line, and especially against those who cry "anti-Semite" to their face. Just allow the digital flow from this very active twitter feed to wash across your screen. This is a world where the only holocaust to have occurred in Jewish history is the genocide perpetrated by the Zionists on the Palestinians, a galaxy in which the difference between AIPAC and J-Street is trivial (insofar as both defend Israel's right to exist), a debate society in which no less than Noam Chomsky (recently and unjustly denied entrance into Israel for his political views) is a traitor to all humanity because he refuses to endorse BDS and supports a two-state resolution of the conflict. OK, maybe I exaggerate a bit, but you'll see when you read these feeds.

In my next posting we'll explore the anti-Semitic component of the BDS movement...(now available)

Friday, July 23, 2010

Academic Boycott against Israel IS anti-Semitism, Part I

In the last few months, I've been forced to come to terms with the growing call for boycott, divestment, and sanctions of Israel in American higher education. I'm firmly opposed to the BDS proposition for a variety of reasons (which I will go into), but I am simultaneously opposed to the efforts inside Israeli society (endorsed most recently by the current Israeli Minister of Education) to demonize advocates of BDS. I acknowledge that BDS is a tactic that might be used against morally bankrupt societies. I simply believe that -- despite a growing sense that the current Israeli government is making a concerted effort to confound the peace process, and mounting evidence that this government is orchestrating a profoundly sour and contentious atmosphere of racism in Israeli civil society -- attacking the institutions of Israeli higher education is an empty  and vicarious way for American academics to register their objections to the ever darker turn of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

And one other thing -- the academic boycott of Israel is anti-Semitic.

Here I will be as charitable as possible to the BDS proponents, Jew and gentile alike, of the academic boycott against Israel. I will stipulate that the foul anti-Semitism of BDS might be merely a matter of unintended consequences, though I think I am being far too charitable. Insofar as the academic boycott of Israel is tantamount to stopping the advancement of Jewish Studies in American higher education by advocating the severing of ties to Israeli universities and research institutions, the BDS movement is an open assault against Jewish culture and religion. I'll explain that too, knowing full-well that using the term "anti-Semitism" in reference to critics of Israel is often a red herring, a screed designed to close rather than encourage debate.

More to come in an upcoming post....(Part II now available)

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Field of Dreams

In a little less than an hour, I'm going to Target Field in Minneapolis for the very first time. In the last 27 years I've seen my Minnesota Twins outdoors in New York, in Boston, and in Cleveland. Before that I saw the Twins outdoors all the time, at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington. But tonight will be the first time I've seen the Twins outdoors in the Land of 10,000 Lakes since 1981. I am so pumped! I'll send pictures via twitpic throughout the afternoon and evening.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

The "Clinton Report" Rumor Broadcast on Israeli TV

I just watched the 8 pm Israeli Channel 2 evening news broadcast. Guess what? My prediction, made yesterday in this blog, that Bill Clinton might be the guarantor or convener of a independent investigation of the May 31 naval seizure of the Mivi Marmara, just got a speculative confirmation by their diplomatic correspondent.

To all 5 readers of this blog: you read it here FIRST!

Saturday, June 05, 2010

A Different Outcome: The Clinton Report?

The MV Rachel Corrie was intercepted today by the Israeli Navy, boarded by commandos of the same unit as the May 31 seizure which had disastrous results, and no incident of violence transpired between the 19 passengers and the blockade enforcement force. The freighter now sits in Israel's Ashdod harbor, its content as yet undelivered. Israeli authorities are offering to move the approved humanitarian supplies to a non-Hamas distributor through one of its monitored land-border transfer points, but both the flotilla organizers and Hamas refuse to allow this "vital" humanitarian equipment to be processed by Israeli blockade authorities. And so the equipment sits on the docks of Ashdod.

The Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is, in a fit of populist bravado, now vowing to personally man an aid ship to Gaza, and is threatening to cut diplomatic (and military, and economic) relations with Israel.

The Israeli Inspector General will be launching a very limited inquiry of the May 31 incident on Sunday. His powers are quite constrained and previous IG reports have had minimal impact on Israeli policy. What the world diplomatic community is demanding is something far more penetrating and definitive. One might recall the "Mitchell Report" (headed by ex-Senator George Mitchell) which looked into the origins of the al-Aqsa Intifada of September 2000. The Sharon government of 2001 accepted this external review (overseen by an American crew of investigators) which Israel then submitted to; true, the Mitchell Report ended up splitting the middle, as it were, blaming both sides equally for the outbreak of the 2nd intifada, but it also led to a path of further negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians at a time of high tension. A similarly constructed American-based fact-finding mission splitting its time between Jerusalem and Istanbul might be the only viable "silver lining" in this awful situation. It will not dampen the fervor of the "Free Gaza" activists, who now demonize Israel to the point of outright Jew-hatred; it will not bring the Netanyahu government into proximity talks with Hamas; it will not facilitate a Fatah-Hamas rapprochement. What a US-sponsored investigatory commission can do is save the US-Israel-Turkish relationship from completely unravelling. George Mitchell is busy, the result of accepting President Obama's request to become the US special envoy to the region. So who can serve as the seasoned statesman to function as commission chair? Yep, you got it - Bill Clinton.

If I get this one right (a prediction like this is the pundit's equivalent of a perfect game), someone owes me a brand new Corvette.

Update, June 6, 8:20 pm: I just watched the 8 pm Israeli channel 2 evening news broadcast. Guess what? My prediction, made yesterday in this blog entry, that Bill Clinton might be the guarantor of some investigation, just got a solid confirmation by their diplomatic correspondent.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Countdown on Netanyahu?

Nehemia Shtrasler is the economics editor for Haaretz, the independent newspaper published in Tel Aviv and often called the New York Times of Israel. Today he published a piece which was not translated for the English language version of either the print paper or the English web site. A few choice passages:

If anyone feels that our international standing has gotten worse and someone else thinks that we are behaving like a suicidal country - think again.

For behold - the Prime Minister says that all the criticism we are receiving due to the brutal seizure of the
Marmara is nothing other than "international hypocrisy." And Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman says that the guilt for the entire incident lies with the Turks, who sent the ship...

Two days ago Netanyahu appeared on television in a delusional speech before the nation. This was a personal defensive speech of the lowest level imaginable. Netanyahu spoke about our obligation to prevent the entrance of arms and rockets into Gaza, as if that is what the debate is about. The question is instead over the method, over the lack of planning, over the arrogance, over the scarcity of intelligence, over the miserable management, over the fact that no one seemed to take into account the price Israel would pay for a brutal seizure leading to deaths, and over the danger into which commandos were thrust without knowing the ambush awaiting them.

About this colossal failure Netanyahu did not say a word. In his familiar way, he continued to frighten the Israeli nation with "an Iranian port that will arise in Gaza."

But today it is clear that if anyone is hastening the arrival of an Iranian port in Gaza, it is Netanyahu himself. His failures are leading now to a second Goldstone Commission, which will investigate the event and arrive at severe conclusions, which will likely result this time in the demand that the blockade be lifted from Gaza, including the military blockade.
Netanyahu, who says that from our perspective, "security is above all else" is the one who is most damaging the security of Israel. In a year and a quarter he has succeeded in turning a country which was a strategic ally of Israel into a bitter enemy. By his own hand Netanyahu has thrown Turkey into the arms of Iran and Syria, with no possibility of repairing the damage...
To great astonishment, Netanyahu has succeeded in harming even the subject that is dear to his heart - the Iranian atomic threat...

The dangerous new low of Israel's international status teaches something about the beginning of the countdown on the Netanyahu regime. Thus it was in his earlier round ('96-'99). The beginning of the demise came about as a result of his successful scuttling of the Oslo Accords and a return to fire and rifles. Thus he became despised by the Clinton administration and the governments of Europe.

One can hope that this time it will not stretch out 3 years. The danger is too great.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Intifada on Water: Part II

It ain't over, not by a long shot. According to news reports, another large ferry (over 225 feet long) belonging to the Free Gaza Movement, the MV Rachel Corrie (named to honor an American activist squashed to death by an Israeli Army bulldozer in 2003) is less than 2 days out from reaching a similar point in international waters where Israeli naval commandos intercepted -- with disastrous results -- the Mavi Marmara on May 31. On board the MV Rachel Corrie are a number of Irish activists, and the Irish media is following the progress of the ferry, reportedly carrying humanitarian aid and cement, with great anticipation. Cement, it should be noted, is one of the products that the Israeli blockade refuses to allow through to Gaza.
Let's step back and take a look at the situation. First, remember that this international firestorm is occurring during the same news cycle when 80 Ahmadi Muslims were killed by multiple terrorist bombs in two mosques in Lahore, Pakistan. Did you hear a word about it? Of course not. Why do I make the point? To show that there is something particularly telegenic and dramatic about the drama of the Palestinians and the Israelis. It captures peoples imaginations in a way that no other havoc does. Some supporters of Israel think there is an obsession with Israel that borders on anti-Semitism. Why single out Israel when there are so many other tragedies and humanitarian crises in the world? they ask. I think the answer is complicated, but I also believe that the question is valid, and an honest answer would be quite revealing. But not in today's blog.

As with all the stories in the Arab-Israeli conflict, it is hard to know where the story begins; it certainly is impossible to know where it will end. If I choose to begin the story with the accession of the Islamist-nationalist Hamas organization to power in Gaza in early 2006, I set aside an enormous pre-history which precedes that moment. If I choose to start the story with the unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in the summer of 2005, I still need to ask the reader to put blinkers on to ignore all the rest. If I begin the story in December of 1987, at the outbreak of the first intifada, and the emergence in January 1988 of a new group called the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas), I will have to ask the reader to ignore all that preceded this moment. If I start the story in 1967, with the Israeli acquisition of the Gaza Strip, I ask you to ignore all that comes before. If I start the story in 1947, with the flight of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians down the coast to Gaza, I ask you dear reader to ignore everything else that led to that moment. I always tell my students that where a narrator of the Arab-Israeli conflict begins his narrative will tell you a great deal about the prejudices and leanings of the narrator.

To make this simple, I am going to start with the June 2007 Israeli decision to blockade the Gaza Strip, a blockade on materiel that is also (periodically) enforced by the Egyptian regime on its long land border with Gaza. The Israeli decision to blockade Gaza came after a brutal civil war in which Hamas militants wiped away the competing forces of Fatah, the secular arm of Palestinian nationalism now holed up in the West Bank. The blockade came at a time when tensions between Gaza and Israel were at (for what was then) an all-time high: daily rocket salvos flying into southern Israel; Israeli troops surrounding the Strip; a year earlier an Israeli soldier was kidnapped on the border. The idea of the Israelis and Egyptians was to prevent military equipment from reaching the Strip; a second goal was to make the economic conditions of Gaza so miserable (they already were awful even before this blockade was ramped up) that the residents of Gaza would reject Hamas leadership. This is an old and worn (and inhumane) tactic that has often been used across the decades by Israeli strategic planners -- put pressure (in the form of reprisal raids, economic restrictions, security checks, and other daily humiliations) on the target general population in order to encourage the general population to renounce and turn away from the hated regime bringing on all this repression and havoc. Trouble is, sometimes the general population does not connect the dots the way Israeli leaders hope. And the embargo is far from hermetic; Israel supplies electricity to Gaza, Israel supplies water; the Israeli sheqel is still the functional currency of Gaza. The Gaza Strip and Israel are even now inextricably tied one to the other.

The Israelis keep using this tactic, and can only point to a less than .500 result. So far, the tactic has failed in Gaza, even as the blockade tightened in the aftermath of the full-scale military operation against Hamas in December 2008-January 2009. During Operation Cast Lead the Israel Defense Forces set the economy of Gaza back another dozen years (commonly referred to as "de-development"), and then produced a list of materiel (including concrete & coriander) that cannot be imported into Gaza. In essence, Israeli authorities were trying to set the caloric intake of Gazans in an attempt to cause Gazans to turn against Hamas. It didn't work, and it is a humanitarian crisis, created by two successive Israeli governments who cannot fathom a different way of dealing with Hamastan.

Aluf Benn of Haaretz has it right today when he writes that Israel should simply end its relationship with Gaza:

The attempt to control Gaza from outside, via its residents' diet and shopping lists, casts a heavy moral stain on Israel and increases its international isolation. Every Israeli should be ashamed of the list of goods prepared by the Defense Ministry, which allows cinnamon and plastic buckets into Gaza, but not houseplants and coriander. It's time to find more important things for our officers and bureaucrats to do than update lists.
So now comes the boats! A vast array of organizations, both outside and inside Israel, are committed to the conviction that the blockade of Gaza is inhumane and unlawful. The Free Gaza Movement has been organizing sea-faring challenges to the Israeli naval blockade since 2008, with varying outcomes. Sometimes the Israeli Navy allowed boats through; sometimes there were collisions at sea; sometimes ships turned back. With the new flotilla on its way, the leaders of Israel decided to treat this new effort to run the naval blockade as a terrorist threat, and prepared a military commando raid for the biggest of the 6 ships in the flotilla.

On May 31 there was a mini-intifada on the high seas. It was in miniature an exact replica of the first days of the intifada in 1987, when television stations around the world broadcast pictures of IDF soldiers shooting live ammunition at youthful Gazans burning tires, throwing rocks, and casting slingshots. Israel lost a great deal of international stature during that first intifada, and will face similar problems from this current confrontation. Armed with the traditional hand-to-hand and symbolic weaponry of the first intifada -- iron rods, knives, slingshots and marbles -- a core of 50-100 passengers on the Mivi Marmara were prepared for "either martyrdom or Gaza" (as one passenger told an al-Jazeera correspondent). On the Israeli side, a thoroughly misinformed military leadership sent heavily armed soldiers into a potential disaster-in-the-making. While the Israeli tactic of using overpowering and intimidating force worked on 5 of the 6 ships in the flotilla, on the Mivi Marmara it all went sour. Why would the Israeli planners of this operation, including the now-disgraced Minister of Defense Ehud Barak (known in international circles ironically as the most flexible Israeli PM in recent history) not have known more of who was on board the Mivi Marmara? After all, Israeli intelligence monitors al-Jazeera Arabic and the Turkish news channels, and anyone could have seen what the mood on this ship was. Why drop soldiers at night (without the cover of sufficient smoke grenades or concussion grenades) onto a ship which had people waiting for just such an occurrence? Why not simply jam the propellers and tow the ship to Ashdod? The Israelis had completely blocked the electronic signal spectrum to and from the ship -- there would have been no ongoing international reporting of that kind of tugging operation. With Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu abroad, (back in December 1987 Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin was abroad for the first few days -- when he returned he announced "we will break their bones"), the worst possible plan was set in motion, with the deserving international outrage now pouring forth. There is a reasonable Internet-based theory floating about that it was the Obama White House that cancelled Netanyahu's scheduled visit and not the other way around -- as soon as the details of the raid became known, the story has it that the White House understood it could not be playing host to the Israeli Prime Minister during the flotilla fiasco news cycle.

So now the next question is: should there be an international investigation, as is being demanded by the UN, and is being hinted at by the Obama White House? And I have to say that from my perspective -- this Netanyahu government shows every sign of digging in, and may be incapable of investigating itself. There was a time, back during the 1970's and 1980's, where it seemed that Israeli democracy could investigate itself. Two major governmental commissions led to sweeping changes in the Israeli military and governing structures. Even the defanged 2007 Winograd Commission (which investigated the circumstances and decision-making of the June 2006 Second Lebanon War) was a thorough and revealing investigation, though then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert refused to allow an independent judicial commission. But something in my guts tells me that the Netanyahu government has decided that "once a Goldstone, always a Goldstone" -- there can be no trust of an international investigation, because Netanyahu perceives an international poisoning of the well when it comes to Israel. In Netanyahu's view, to submit his political allies (in his weak coalition government) and his military command to international investigators for questioning is an abdication of national sovereignty. The world is saying: "Israel, we do not trust you any longer to mend your own problems." Netanyahu's likely reply: "Fuck you." Is there a chance that a calmer, more reasonable tone might prevail in the inner workings of the Israeli cabinet? Can a respectable and independent domestic judicial commission of inquiry be empowered to look into the failings of this current government?

Watch what happens to the MV Rachel Corrie to get an answer. We'll check back in a couple of days.


Monday, May 31, 2010

Intifada on Water

Reports are still preliminary, but at 4 am local time this morning Israeli naval commandos boarded the Turkish ferry Mavi Marmara, part of a self-proclaimed humanitarian aid "Freedom Flotilla" headed for the blockaded Hamas-run Gaza Strip, and in the process killed at least 10 passengers on board.

This bizarre and poorly executed high seas seizure, which was predictable in its unpredictability, is another in a string of serial outrages perpetrated by the right-wing government of Israel.

International condemnation of the Israeli military intervention against the aid flotilla has been swift and comprehensive. Protesters have appeared in Istanbul, Beirut, and London to denounce the Israeli operation. Inside Israel, Israeli Arab towns such as Umm al-Fahm have spontaneously exploded with street protests, tire burnings, and blockages of roads.

Israeli Prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu has cancelled his planned visit to the Obama White House scheduled for later this week, and is returning from Canada to direct the cleanup that will inevitably result from this public relations disaster.

The flotilla had multiple messages and objectives. Calling it an "aid flotilla" is to only capture part of its agenda. Certainly, there is a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, the result of an international embargo on allowing the free movement of materiel into Hamas-controlled Gaza. But part of this "aid flotilla"'s agenda was to legitimize the vicious and inhumane rule of Hamas over Gaza.

Some earlier media reports showed that some of the Arabic-speaking passengers of the Mavi Marmara were preparing for a mini-intifada on the ship. The Free Gaza Movement, which organized the flotilla, is pretending that it was a purely peaceful protest, not so much to provide aid as to try and break what it considers to be an illegal blockade. With some passengers on board chanting "Khaybar, Khaybar, Oh Jews! The army of Muhammad will return" (referring to one of the bloody confrontations between Muslims and the Jewish tribes of Medina in the 7th century), there was clearly a mix of naive Western activists and hardened veterans of the intifada sailing off to challenge the Israeli-Egyptian blockade of Hamastan.

If the government of Israel has not abandoned completely the principles of democratic and orderly rule, a full-scale governmental commission of inquiry must be convened. The Netanyahu government has been careening towards a point of no return, setting a tone of international defiance that is crippling the country at home and abroad. Unlike the Olmert-designed fiasco of the 2007 war with Hizbollah and the equally idiotic Cast Lead campaign of December 2008-January 2009, this military operation which has turned into a national disgrace was devised by two of Israel's top military strategists, both former experienced Chiefs of Staff of the Israeli Defense Forces: Defense Minister Ehud Barak and stand-in vice PM Moshe Yaalon. At the very least, the two of them must be held accountable in the court of public opinion.

It seems as if every action of this Israeli government is willfully designed to make those of us who dream of a just and peaceful Israel give up all hope. Yesterday one of the most remarkable Israeli leaders, an inspiration in a time of hopelessness, passed away at the age of 88. It was my distinct privilege to know Aryeh (Lova) Eliav for the past 15 years. He was a Zionist pioneer, a visionary who understood almost from the first moment that setting Zionism against Palestinian nationalism would lead to a disaster, a humane man of principles with a tremendous sense of humor. Lova ran a very different blockade back in the 1940s, the naval blockade set by the British to prevent the remnants of European Jewry from setting foot in Palestine. It was a humiliation for Britain, just as today's events will be a humiliation for Israel. Lova built Israeli cities, served in the Israeli parliament, rose to the highest ranks of power in the then-dominant Labor Party of Israel. After the victory of 1967, Lova put his entire career on the line to oppose the nascent settlement project in the newly occupied territories just beginning under Labor rule. He resigned from the Labor party, followed his own voice, became a writer and an educator, a builder of youth communties and peace monuments, and continued to serve his fellow man until the day he died.

Because I know that Israel is populated by hundreds of thousands of citizens committed to Lova's way, I will not give up hope on a country currently led by a "ship of fools." These last 48 hours the Arab-Israeli conflict has gotten a bit darker, a bit more vile, a bit more intractable. But because there were men like Lova, and because his spirit still persists amongst Jews and Arabs, I will not give up hope.


Friday, April 02, 2010

Bad Scheduling, Bad Invitation

This coming Tuesday, Dr. Norman Finkelstein is visiting my campus. For those of you who do not know who Norman Finkelstein is, I recommend you go to Pirate Bay or some other torrent index, and then bittorrent the file of a 2009 documentary entitled American Radical: The Trials of Norman Finkelstein. I recommend you bittorrent the movie so that you do no have to pay a single penny to the producers (Baraka Productions) of this tendentious film. Even though the movie is clearly pro-Finkelstein, the neuroses of the man come through so clear that you can develop a reasonable idea of just what kind of an individual Finkelstein is.

Dr. Finkelstein (Ph.D., Princeton, 1988), makes his mentor Noam Chomsky seem reasonable and rational. Finkelstein is today an out-of-work self-styled "esteemed scholar and expert on the politics of the Holocaust" (so says the preposterous Media Advisory put out by my college on its web site) who is the endless invited guest of campus organizations out to criticize Israel in the most underhanded, despicable manner possible.

It is an old trope first developed by the Church and its Inquisitors: march out onto the pulpit a Jew (or former Jew) to lambaste the Jews for their sins. If a Jew is doing it, how can it be anti-Semitic? But I contend that when precisely a Jew performs as a paid monkey for people who are blinded by a perverse kind of Israel-hatred, it certainly is anti-Semitic.

In this case, on my campus, I've seen it once before: find a critic of Israel with marginal academic credentials (in this case it was a researcher from Harvard, one Sara Roy), but make sure that person is not only a Jew, but a child of Holocaust survivors, and then make sure to promote his or her Jewish/Holocaust ties, and then let 'er rip. This all goes to contribute to the single most anti-Semitic variation of Israel criticism (which I readily agree is mostly not anti-Semitic): the Jews, victims of the Nazi Holocaust, are now perpetrating through a Jewish state the very genocidal crimes that they were once the victims of. Perfidious, blind, hypocritical Jews! And look -- here is an idignant Jew, a child of this great crime, willing to call an Israeli spade a spade. Like I said, it has happened on my campus once before, and here we go again -- calculatedly finding a Jew (a survivor child, no less) to do the job that hundreds of non-Jews can easily do -- not just "criticize" Israel, but call her an "insane, lunatic" state -- and be (supposedly) completely protected from the accusation of crossing the line into anti-Semitism.

Now I very much would like to go hear Dr. Finkelstein (downgraded to irrelevancy from Hunter College, denied tenure at DePaul University, apparently fluent in neither Hebrew nor Arabic -- and yet touted as an expert on the Arab-Israeli conflict) this coming Tuesday. I've announced the lecture to my 40 students who take my course on the Arab-Israeli Conflict. I told them that some people shine light on the conflict, and other people simply generate heat. Finkelstein is these days exclusively the latter. He isn't a scholar -- he is a strident polemicist, an activist of a sort, a cause celebre to some.

Originally, the presentation by Dr. Finkelstein was scheduled by its organizers for Monday. I wrote to one of the student organizers that Monday is the 7th day of Passover, and I will not be on campus. One of my colleagues, who had nothing to do with the original invite but had talked to some of the student organizers, came to my office to discuss and apologize for the insensitivity of the scheduling conflict. I assured her it was no big deal -- very few students or faculty here at Trinity College observe these final days of Passover as days off. "Please don't change anything for my sake," I told her.

But this is the domain of politically correct higher education, and Finkelstein's Monday noon talk was switched to Tuesday. Unfortunately, this makes for an even more difficult obstacle for me and some of my colleagues. In the practice of Conservative and Orthodox Jews in the diaspora, the 8th day of Passover is also a day off, and it is made doubly sacrosanct because on the 8th day in synagogue occurs the recitation of the Yizkor memorial service to honor close departed family members. Now one learns from the documentary that Finkelstein is an atheist, so I am not at all surprised that the Yizkor service is not the way he honors his dead parents. (In the movie, he claims that he honors their memory by speaking out against the injustices perpetrated by Israel.) But I find it a bit strange that some student groups, in league with the International Studies Program (an academic program in which I teach a course, and which is led by a colleague who has publicly endorsed the academic boycott of Israeli scholars and higher education institutions), have managed to scrounge up this child of Holocaust survivors, this political activist posing as an academic expert, to launch into a well-constructed screed about Israel and the Gaza War of December 2008-January 2009 (and the Goldstone report too) on a day when some of us simply cannot come.

The truth is that there are many positions I think I share with Finkelstein. I have blogged in real time my opposition to both the 2006 war against Lebanon and the Gaza War of '08-'09, on not only strategic but also on moral grounds. I think the Goldstone report is a devastating critique of Israeli actions during that war. I have blogged my unequivocal opposition to the conduct of the Olmert and Netanyahu governments and their policies. I am absolutely opposed to the Israeli settlement project, and I believe that Israeli policies towards Palestinians and Israeli Arabs are and have been historically shameful.

What I do not do is go to Lebanon and praise Hezbollah as a legitimate resistance organization which should continue to pound Israel with missiles "to knock some sense into them." I do not use the characterization "Israeli Nazi" (though I have to acknowledge that there was at least one highly respected Israeli intellectual who used the term "Judeonazi" to refer to Israeli governmental policy towards the Palestinians.) I will not give a quote to a Turkish paper, then pasted on The Tehran Times , claiming that Israel is committing genocide in Gaza. Maybe if I were a political activist with a failed academic career and nothing left but my penchant for being my own worst enemy (or as the Trinity College media advisory puts it, an "independent scholar") I would do these things. Maybe not.

What I can do is this: I am sick and tired of participating in an academic program that is led by a signatory to an international academic boycott of Israeli academics, and which sponsors such drivel. I have two thesis advisees this semester that I have agreed to supervise through the International Studies Program. When I successfully get them through their graduation, I will sever all ties with this troubled academic unit.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Time to Pile On

No doubt about it -- Bibi is in trouble. After insulting the Obama administration, Bibi ran to Washington to hear the adoring chirping of AIPAC and Congress, and then drove over to his home away from home - the White House. But wait Bibi -- its time for a little Chicago-style politics: "you shit on my alderman, I will shitstorm all over you in spades." So Bibi was humiliated in more-than-exact-measure at 1600 Pennsylvania (and at almost the same moment, at 10 Downing) and then was sent home to his residence in Jerusalem a disemboweled "ally." No sooner did Bibi get home to his right-wing coalition of home builders (is Bibi running a nation or a fly-by-night real estate development project?) than Hamas decides it's time to test Bibi the pugnacious epostulator to see what the former furniture salesman is really made of. People are starting to die on the Gaza-Israel border, troops and tanks and rockets are going every which way, and -- oh no! -- Passover is coming ("tell Barack we can't answer him just yet - we must take a break because we cannot engage in serious negotiations with anyone while we are constipated with matzoh"). Then it will be Holocaust Memorial Day, Independence Day, Shavuot -- and then before you know it, it's the High Holidays, and then Sukkot, and then -- whoops! -- it's mid-term US elections.

Taking a cue from the Yitzhak Shamir playbook, Bibi is now going to try a diplomatic rope-a-dope, and hope that the much friendlier Republicans can hand this Barack Obama fella a midterm setback. Seven months is a long time to say you'll do something, anything; while all the while do absolutely nothing. "Hell," thinks Bibi, "Shamir did it -- dammit, so can I."

Thursday, March 25, 2010

How to Spin Nothing

Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu is on his way back to Jerusalem after an intensive 72 hours in Washington that may well have determined the future of his 2nd crack at leading his country. While Netanyahu's plane is still in the air, it is quite impossible to discern from the Israeli press what exactly transpired in Washington. It seems pretty clear that a document encompassing a statement of American-encouraged Israeli confidence-building moves designed to set the stage for "proximity talks" was not produced. Despite appealing to AIPAC and Congress, Bibi departed Washington without an understanding with the Obama White House. If you are to believe the left-leaning hyper-critical Haaretz, Bibi's visit to Washington has failed on all accounts and thus returns to Israel a humiliated PM who shot himself in his own foot, having completely overplayed his very weak hand. If you are to believe the right-leaning Jerusalem Post, Israel and the US made great progress in resolving disagreements (though the Post points out that all the rosy talk emanates exclusively from the departing Israeli delegation). When Bibi's plane lands, the knives will come out. A PM cannot come and go from the White House and actually worsen Israel-US relations without some political fallout at home. Expect in Israel for all political hell to break loose.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

High Drama in Washington

I've been on vacation this week in the UK, and haven't had a lot of time to blog. I've been busy with other things, like visiting two 3-star Michelin restaurants in 36 hours (and boy, is there ever a difference even within this lofty elite category). Let's put it this way: I liked Gordon Ramsay a lot as a television figure before I went to his flagship restaurant in Chelsea Monday night. Now I really have come to appreciate what he has accomplished as a restaurateur. But this is not a restaurant review. Maybe another time...

There has been great drama both here and overseas in Washington the last 36 hours over the actions of the government of the state of Israel, and while the British expulsion of the Mossad station chief in London is dominating the local media, it seems to me that the events going on between the White House and the Israeli embassy in Washington are far more important. Israeli media is reporting a fevered and angry and truly quite dramatic set of meetings that have been going on since Tuesday and continuing into Wednesday without cessation. Normally, marathon negotiating sessions over the Israeli-Arab conflict occur in the region or at the isolated presidential retreat of Camp David, MD. Israelis and Arabs (Egyptians, Palestinians, sometimes Syrians or Jordanians) would engage in marathon haggling sessions with American diplomats shuttling back and forth between bungalows, serving as trusted mediators, occasionally offering ideas. US negotiators were happy to advance the dialogue, and could match the late-night drama measure for measure.

The big difference this time -- and an indication of exactly how far matters have turned sour for both Israel and the US -- is that the late-night marathons are happening in downtown Washington not between Israelis and Palestinians, but rather between Israeli and American negotiators. Both sides are contributing their own missteps to this amazing and rare display of stark disagreement. But I still maintain that by pressing the government of Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu on the question of Jewish construction in East Jerusalem (I note that on the BBC, it is always called "occupied East Jerusalem"), Barack Obama is trying to bring down the current Netanyahu government. I believe that the American negotiators (George Mitchell, Dennis Ross, and Dan Shapiro) have reached the conclusion that nothing can happen with Netanyahu's current coalition. Better to shuffle the deck now and quickly, than wait for the next Middle East war.

Netanyahu can choose if he so wishes to work with the Obama administration -- but he would then have to roll back the clock to a moment just after the 2009 elections 13 months ago and configure a new government under his leadership without the participation of the rightist nationalist and religious parties which dictate his current policy. Every indication suggests that Netanyahu is not going to forego his strongly mapped-out positions on settlements and East Jerusalem for a chance to roll up his sleeves and work with this new American administration on its suddenly new terms. The next few hours (and weeks) will quite possibly be the most diplomatically intensive evaluation of the Israel-US relationship since the "reassessment" of 1975. A domestically triumphant Barack Obama is trying to discard his weak hand (the Netanyahu government) and make a difference in the Middle East. Exciting -- quite possibly historic -- times.