Category Archives: Israeli – Palestinian Conflict

Cognitive Bias and UNSC Resolution 2334

(Previously published in The Jerusalem Post)

Israeli Amos Tversky and his colleague Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman are famous for their research regarding systematic human cognitive bias. Cognitive bias often leads people to decisions that, when fully understood, are irrational by their own standards.

In essence, one creates a reality not based upon objectivity, but influenced by emotions, leading to irrational judgments.

US President Barack Obama, his adviser Ben Rhodes, National Security Adviser Susan Rice and Secretary of State John Kerry suffer from a postcolonial cognitive bias. Their reality is that Israeli settlements are the primary cause of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Nothing can disabuse them of this distorted reality, and every event in the region is seen through this biased filter.

Ignoring the facts of Israeli offers for two states over the past 69 years, or a Netanyahu settlement freeze in 2009, allows them to blame Israel for their own repeated diplomatic failures, while ignoring a PLO Charter that still calls for the end of Israel. “The partitioning of Palestine… the establishment of Israel are illegal and null and void, regardless of the loss of time,” it says.

The administration is locked in a paradigm where it is axiomatic that Palestinians are helpless victims, not to be held accountable for their words, their actions and what they preach to their children.

Make no mistake about it: UNSC Resolution 2334 is not tough love to move the peace process forward. It is a diplomatic war to delegitimize all of Israel through boycotts, sanctions and the International Criminal Court.

According to the Israel Group, “By the end of 2016, the United Nations… will have adopted 20 resolutions against the State of Israel and four resolutions against all other countries combined.” It is an antisemitic double standard plain and simple, and it is not going away.

Four years ago during the Chuck Hagel nomination, I told an audience that I was not worried about his alleged lack of sympathy for Israel as defense secretary, but was more concerned about the damage Senator John Kerry could do as secretary of state. I was booed by a pro-Israel audience. Years later I learned firsthand that the relationship between Hagel and the Israeli Defense Ministry had been excellent, and today you know what damage Kerry’s cognitive bias has done to Israel.

UNSC Resolution 2334 is non-binding, but can still cause terrible damage to Israel’s reputation and its ability to negotiate on an even footing with the Palestinians.

The best way to respond is for a bipartisan Congress to work with the new administration and go on the offensive. We must return to the days when Israel was a less partisan issue. This will not be easy, as a growing segment of the Democratic Party shares the president’s animus toward Israel, and wants the world to think of Israel as it used to think of South Africa.

What does going on the offensive mean? It is a strategy to legislate unappetizing consequences for those who join in the lynching of America’s ally.

Here are some suggestions: 1. The Lawfare Project recommends “adopt[ing] legislation that would impose sanctions on European government[ s] and private entities that engage in BDS…

[and] reaffirm the letter from President George W. Bush to Israeli Prime Minister Sharon that recognized that major settlement blocs will remain part of Israel under any peace treaty.”

2. Congress should reaffirm UNSC Resolution 242, that says Israel was never supposed to return to the indefensible 1949 armistice line.

3. Since the first consequence of 2334 might be Israel being brought before the International Criminal Court, ICC donors must be quietly convinced to threaten to withdraw funding if Israel is brought before this court.

NATO allies and Japan, who don’t want to get off on the wrong foot with the new administration, need to be pressured by the Trump administration, as they know he can ask them to start paying their fair share of defense costs.

4. Cut the US funding to the UN in half. America should work with the UN only on humanitarian issues.

New legislation must be written, as existing laws and treaty requirements enshrine much of American financial support for the UN.

5. Withdraw participation and funding for the Human Rights Council and UNESCO. UNESCO perpetuates the falsehood that there is no Jewish association to the Temple Mount, and the Human Rights Council is simply an anti-Israel advocacy organization, ignoring the world’s human rights abuses.

6. Create a coalition of willing democracies in place of the UN on security issues. Today’s United Nations is overwhelmingly non-democratic and anti-American.

7. End funding of UNWRA unless the definition of Palestinian refugees is changed to the UN High Commission of Refugees definition. This would immediately decrease the number of Palestinian refugees from five million to 30,000, and end a major impediment to resolution of the conflict.

8. Demand that the 750,000 Jewish refugees and their descendants ethnically cleansed from Arab lands receive the same compensation as Palestinian descendants.

The real problem may be that Congress and the new administration may be so overwhelmed with domestic legislation and getting their cabinet nominees approved that responding to 2334 may be put on the back burner.

Pro-Israel organizations must keep this issue on the radar of Congress and President Donald Trump, because Palestinian advocate J Street will be fighting with everything it has to encourage legislators like Keith Ellison to support 2334.

The author is the director of MEPIN™. He regularly briefs members of Congress, their foreign policy advisers, and journalists on issues related to the Middle East.

Will Trump be Seduced by ‘Ultimate Deal,’ the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict?

(Previously published in The Jerusalem Post)

Trump would be wise to keep in mind a few bits of advice.

“I would love to be able to be the one that made peace with Israel and the Palestinians… that would be such a great achievement. Because nobody’s been able to do it.”

“As a deal maker, I’d like to do… the deal that can’t be made.”

President-elect Donald Trump Before embarking on “mission impossible,” if Donald Trump wants to succeed where other US presidents have failed, it is essential for him to review the record of his predecessors.

When presidents have invested their energies and prestige to solve this conflict, they have inevitably come up against the intransigent Palestinian narrative that cannot bring itself to accept the Jewish state or sign an endof- conflict resolution. So presidents have chosen their only option: pressuring for concessions the only party susceptible to American threats – Israel.

To his credit, Mr. Trump said, “I believe that my administration can play a significant role… (but it must) be negotiated between the parties themselves, and not imposed on them by others.”

Like presidents who have preceded him, he sees the conflict as the “war that never ends.” He needs to understand, however, just how patient Islamic enmity can be, that they are in no hurry to find peace. The Shi’ite and Sunni factions have been going at it for 1,400 years and have no desire to settle their differences any time soon.

Israel’s enemies don’t mind being in a state of simmering war for a long, long time. Hopefully his advisers will use the more appropriate Middle Eastern reference of time to strategize.

If Donald Trump is truly a different kind of politician, he should not follow those who have misunderstood the region, seeing Israel as the cause of instability in a region today where stability and even the desire for stability are not the norm. To Trump’s credit, he has begun to assemble a foreign policy team – with one possible exception – that sees Israel as an essential strategic ally for American security interests.

Of course everyone in the West and Israel would love a lasting resolution of conflict. Hopefully Trump and his foreign policy team will reexamine the failed formula of prioritizing territorial concessions over the true obstacle of the conflict – the inability of Arabs to accept under any circumstances a Jewish state as a neighbor.

But why are American presidents so fixated on this conflict, when there are at least 100 other worldwide hot spots with more profound security and human rights implications? Is it because presidents and their secretaries of state really think it is truly the most important conflict in the world to resolve? Or as Aaron David Miller said, we are ”the fix-it people; Americans have a hard time accepting that we can’t sort out conflicts… and the more we try and fail, the less credibility and leverage we have in the region.” He is spot on.

So, what are strategies the new administration might consider?

1. Instead of thinking about Palestinians as victims and the weaker party, hold them responsible for their failures, something no US administration has done when the Palestinians rejected at least four opportunities to have a state of their own.

2. Make it crystal clear that America will not reward the Palestinians for continuing to institutionalize antisemitism and hatred of Israelis, without preparing their citizens for peace.

3. End the Obama-era mistake of treating all Israeli building over the 1949 armistice line as illegitimate.

4. Israelis should also be asked for the time being only to build within the settlement blocks, while accepting their Supreme Court’s decisions on dismantling illegal outposts.

5. The grand quid pro quo would be to get the Sunni Arab world to accept Israel in exchange for unambiguous American support to stop Iranian ambitions of hegemony from threatening their security interests. Secretary of State Kerry was dead wrong when he told the Saban Forum: “There will be no separate peace between Israel and the Arab world… without the Palestinian process.” That is the kind of myopic thinking he used to negotiate the disastrous Iran deal.

Are there really creative alternatives available? Rabin’s National Security Adviser, General Giora Eiland, wrote a column titled, “Trump era must not be wasted on two-state solution.” Some of his out-of-the-box thinking may inspire others to find a more lasting solution.

Eiland thinks that a “regional solution with land swaps between four players – Egypt, Jordan, Israel and Palestine – or about the creation of a federation between Jordan and the West Bank,” could be options beyond the two-state solution.

Trump would be wise to keep in mind a few bits of advice:

• Khaled Abu Toemeh warns, “We must stop dreaming about the new Middle East and coexistence… There has been a total divorce between Jews and Palestinians. We don’t want to see each other.”

• Dennis Ross advises that “Most importantly, don’t launch big public initiatives before knowing they can succeed.”

• And former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon cautions, “As long as the Palestinians educate their children to hate us, to kill us, to admire the martyr – the conflict will never be resolved.”

The author is the director of MEPIN™. He regularly briefs members of Congress, their foreign policy advisers, members of the Knesset and journalists. He regularly briefs Congress on issues related to the Middle East.


Is Path Forward a Revised Arab Peace Initiative?

(Previously published in The Jerusalem Post)

In 2002 Saudi Arabia proposed the Arab Peace Initiative (API), which seemed at first to promise an end to the Arab world’s rejection of Israel, and a path to resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Initially it appeared that full normalization of relations between Israel and the Arab world was being offered.

Unfortunately, “full normalization” evolved into “normal relations,” which then became almost meaningless as Adil al-Jubayr, the Saudi ambassador to the US, then said normalization would happen only after the achievement of peace.

This allowed the Palestinian leadership to hold a veto over any initiative and the chance of advancing Israeli-Sunni Arab relations.

What started as a dramatic possibility turned into a take-it-or-leave-it offer. It insisted Israel return to the indefensible 1949 armistice line, i.e. 1967 line, while guaranteeing an unlimited right of return for descendants of Arab refuges, i.e. the demographic destruction of Israel.

But times change, and there may be a real opportunity now.

Over the past 16 years Israel has participated in five wars, while the Arab Winter of 2011 upended the legitimacy of the arbitrarily chosen Sykes-Picot borders.

American interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan were replaced by retreat, and Islamists of all stripes filled the resulting power vacuums. Meanwhile, the ill-conceived JCPOA (Iran deal) has given the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism the green light for a nuclear bomb with full international approval in 10-15 years, and access to billions for its war chest. Meanwhile, Palestinians are so disgusted with the Palestinian Authority’s pervasive corruption that Hamas has seemed to many a better choice.

Which brings us to a golden window of opportunity that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.

The Obama administration’s gift to the Iranians is a dark cloud with the following silver lining: Shi’ite Iran’s threats are directed not just at America and Israel, but also at Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab states that are in Iran’s path of aggression.

Israel and the Saudi monarchy have been unofficially cooperating on a number of security issues for the past few years. There have been a few public handshakes – previously unthinkable – between present and former Israeli and Saudi leaders (Saudi prince Turki al-Faisal).

As Lesley Terris of IDC Herzliya wrote in The Jerusalem Post earlier this year, The API “deserves serious consideration because a process based on a document endorsed and supported by Saudi Arabia, Egypt and… the Arab League would enjoy legitimacy in large parts of the Muslim and Arab world.”

So the magic question is, can the 2002/2007 API be tweaked to create a document that will allow all parties to save face, and bring the relationship into the public and diplomatic sphere? A simple document can state up-front that all issues are not going to be resolved immediately, but that it is the basis for an immediate process of normalization of relations between the parties so that they can work together.

Here are some ideas.

  1. Negotiations will be based on UN resolutions 242 and 181. This would allow both sides to move forward without imposing the indefensible Green Line as the final offer on borders.
  1. An Israeli gesture allowing 5,000 Arab refugees from 1948 immediate entrance into Israel, or compensation.

This symbolic gesture would acknowledge the hardships of Palestinians, while at the same time make clear that the deal-breaking UNWRA definition of refugees as descendants of refugees, unique to Palestinian refugees, cannot be on the table.

  1. Normal diplomatic and commercial relations, with embassies opened in the second phase of negotiations. America can sweeten the pot with preferred trade agreements for Arab states that sign onto the revised API.
  1. The issue of the Golan Heights and Jerusalem will be deferred due to regional realities.

A simple document could transform the region.

Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman will be coming to visit members of the Senate and House Foreign Relations Council. He has already shown great foresight in his vision to restructure the future Saudi Arabian economy away from its reliance on oil revenue. He and his security establishment know that if anyone is going to oust the Saudi regime and lay waste to or nuke their country, it’s Iran waving a Shi’ite banner, not Israel or the US.

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog recently revealed that he and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have had many recent discussions over the API, and no doubt could join a unity government if this moves forward.

Unfortunately the myopic Obama administration foreign policy team believes any new initiatives are deliberate plans to sabotage the president’s foreign policy legacy.

It is time for the American Congress to come to the rescue, to take a leading role in forging foreign policy initiatives.

For far to long the legislative branch of the American government has avoided its constitutional responsibilities on foreign policy, allowing presidents of both parties too much executive overreach in foreign affairs.

We should call on respective chairmen of the Senate and House foreign relations committees, Senator Bob Corker and Congressman Ed Royce, and ranking members Senator Ben Cardin and Congressman Eliot Engel, to take up the mantle of forging regional Middle East stability, while promoting American national security interests.

The author is the director of MEPIN™.

He regularly briefs members of Congress, their foreign policy advisers, members of the Knesset and journalists on issues related to the Middle East.

The West’s Wrongheaded Analysis Perpetuates the Conflict

(Previously published in The Jerusalem Post)

Since its creation Israel has been the convenient scapegoat to blame for all the problems of the Middle East.

Dennis Ross, in “Misreading the Middle East, Again” (US News and World Report), says that the premise – widely accepted by US foreign policy makers – that resolving the Israeli- Palestinian conflict would transform the region is “fundamentally flawed.”

He is correct.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has little to do with the 1,400-year-old Sunni- Shi’ite war, the Yemeni civil war, Iranian hegemony, the rise of Islamic State, Syrian Alawite genocide, Lebanese denominational dysfunction, Egyptian and Turkish fundamentalism, Libyan chaos, Iraqi alignment with Iran, Saudi Wahhabism, the abandonment of the Kurds, or the Islamization of Europe.

Since its creation Israel has been the convenient scapegoat to blame for all the problems of the Middle East. Generations of American foreign policy experts have misunderstood that Israel is an excuse, not a root cause of Muslim factions’ hostility toward one another and the West.

Yet as astute as Ross is in his assessment that Israel is not the primary cause of Middle East instability, he and many foreign experts are still locked into an outdated “territorial toolbox” to resolve the Middle East dysfunctionality. This wrongheaded policy prescription perpetuates conflicts throughout the region, including the Israeli-Palestinian one.

This is in part because most foreign policy experts still recommend recreating the artificially created nation-states of the Sykes-Picot lines of 1916. Just as those borders may be more of an impediment than a guideline for creating a more manageable region, the 1949 armistice lines between Israel and the Arab armies, ending Israel’s War of Independence, need to be seen for what they originally were, cease-fire lines between exhausted armies. American foreign policy experts need to stop viewing the artificially created borders as the exact foundation of regional stability.

In his book Doomed to Succeed: The US-Israel Relationship from Truman to Obama, Ross says he convinced President Barack Obama that only borders and security should be discussed between the Israelis and Palestinians. He reasoned that the issue of the right of return for Palestinian refugees is an “animating myth of the Palestinian national movement” and will never be conceded by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will never accept dividing Jerusalem, considering Israeli political realities.

Ross believes if enough territory could be conceded to the Palestinians, Israel could be convinced that the US could guarantee Israeli security. Ross wrote, “We [Ross and George Mitchell] were in agreement that we needed to lean toward the Palestinians on territory and toward the Israelis on security.”

Unfortunately, this is based on a false political narrative that the armistice lines are an international border, and that the Palestinian Arabs’ desires end at the Green Line.

Since 2010 Middle Eastern jihad enthusiasts have been led by America’s actions to believe its redlines drawn in the Middle Eastern sands can be successfully defied. Therefore Israel, and the US as well, can’t depend on the deterrence value of American commitments to keep a Palestinian state from attacking a more vulnerable, 14.5-km.- wide Israel, plunging everyone, likely including the US, into war.

Strategic depth matters, especially when greater Tel Aviv will be almost as close to the West Bank as Sderot is to Gaza City! We know how well the absence of strategic depth worked out in the disengagement of 2005. Territorial depth has taken on even more importance in the age of Islamic State and non-state actors, and yes – territorial depth still matters in the age of missiles.

Remember, there are just 15 seconds to get to a bomb shelter in Sderot, which is a practical impossibility for people on the 15th floor of a Tel Aviv high-rise.

But the issues of territory, settlements, refugees and Jerusalem leave the impression that if you could just concoct the right diplomatic formula, a resolution of the conflict could be conjured up.

This makes little sense unless you are prepared to deal with the elephant in the room, the overwhelming Palestinian belief that Jews have no rights to any land, that the Jewish narrative is illegitimate.

Last year I recommended that if you really want to make progress and know whether the Palestinians will respect any agreement they sign, you must require each party to accept the narrative of the other. In the Palestinians’ case, that would be to respect in word and deed Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state in the Levant, to acknowledge the 3,000-year-old Jewish history in Israel.

Without that, their dream of conquest would be only encouraged, even if every settlement over the Green Line were abandoned tomorrow. The American foreign policy mind-set must understand this conflict is not about the division of territory.

Even left-leaning Israelis, after being mugged by the reality of the second intifada, moved on to a more realistic assessment of the conflict and the goals of their Palestinian partner. Yet American State Department experts are stuck in an Oslo Accords time warp, refusing to acknowledge that despite the good intentions of the plan, in reality it actually hurt the chances for a peaceful resolution. After 20 years they still refuse to acknowledge the nature of the partner Israel is fated to live with; and what is worse, they refuse to learn why Oslo failed. Defending Oslo has become like a religion, where the divine word of Oslo is sacrosanct, the only legitimate path to peace.

The mantra reads:

• Ignore the intifadas; blame the settlements.

• Ignore the Israeli territorial offers; blame the settlements.

• Ignore the true meaning of Resolution 242 and what Oslo actually said; blame the settlements.

• Ignore the withdrawal from every settlement in Gaza; blame the settlements.

• Ignore the 14,000 missiles directed at civilians on the good side of the Green Line; blame the settlements.

To those stuck in the Oslo time warp, married to a wrongheaded analysis of the Middle East, withdrawal from settlements is the answer to ending the conflict and stabilizing the Middle East.

They claim that all the Palestinians want is good schools, economic opportunity and freedom. If only it were so.

The author is the director of the Middle East Political and Information Network and a regular contributor to The Jerusalem Post. MEPIN is a Middle East research analysis read by members of Congress, their foreign policy advisers, members of the Knesset, journalists and organizational leaders. He regularly briefs members of Congress on issues related to the Middle East.

Rationalizing Palestinian Terrorism and Anti-Israel NGO’s

Today’s Vlog deals with two issues, European government support for Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s) whose goal is to Boycott and Delegitimize Israel, and the rationalizations used to explain the “Knife Intifada”.

Thanks to the great work of NGO Monitor, European taxpayers and American supporters of Israel now have some transparency into the odious agenda of many NGO’s that hide behind the false façade of purely humanitarian work.

Susan Rice, the State Department and the U.N.: A Trilogy of Anti-Israel Animus

Today’s VLOG deals with the State Department’s continued use of facts out of context in regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, American credibility in the Middle East, and hostility to Israel within the Obama administration. The VLOG begins with another shocking anti-Israel UN vote that with the exception of groups like UN Watch, fail to ever make it into the reporting of the mainstream media.



Time for a New American Understanding of the Conflict

(Previously published in The Jerusalem Post)

America must finally challenge the Muslim worldview that Judaism is not a nationality if progress is ever to be made in resolving the Israeli- Palestinian conflict.

 “The historical denial about the right of Jewish people to have their own homeland” and the Palestinian “refusal to acknowledge Israel as a Jewish state, that is a critical issue that needs to be addressed.” – Democratic California Congressman Alan Lowenthal

This week the United Nations Security Council debated the causes of the current violence in Israel.

It wasn’t much of a debate.

The ambassadors were in perfect agreement about who caused the violence, and were sure of the remedy. Facts were chosen, and context was conveniently ignored.

That evening I was asked to speak to young Jewish professionals in New York City about the current situation. During the Q&A and afterwards, one question was repeatedly asked: How do we respond to people who disproportionately blame Israel? How do we interact with people especially on the Internet who barely acknowledge the unprovoked Palestinian attacks, or show any discomfort with the blatant Jew hatred pervasive on the Internet? The UN ambassadors were unanimous in agreement that the source of the violence was the settlements, and Israel’s change in the status quo on the Temple Mount. They agreed that it is the Palestinians who need protection from Israelis. The obvious fact that if Palestinian attacks ended, the violence would cease is never mentioned. Israel’s legitimate security requirements, and its rejected offers of land for peace were ignored, as they do not fit the anti-Israel narrative of the United Nations.

As a reminder, having a standard for Israel that is not expected of any other nation is considered anti-Semitism according to the US State Department’s definition.

Further confusing the situation were the American mixed messages on the violence, which seemed absolutely schizophrenic. Inauspiciously, it began with Secretary of State John Kerry’s moral equivalence, saying, “I am not going to point fingers from afar… this is a revolving cycle,” and blaming the settlements for the violence.

He then backtracked a bit, defending Israel’s right to self-defense and attributing some blame to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for incitement.

Processing these contradictory messages for many pro-Israel advocates is difficult enough, especially when the anti-Israel crowd cherry-picks statements to put Israel in the worst possible light. The ad hominem attacks from peers on the Internet who repeat anti-Israel talking points with certainty frustrate and discourage young adults who want to defend Israel.

If you are alone with someone with a closed mind, just keep walking. But with social media, your response to a person who is prejudiced against Israel is monitored and followed by other people whose opinions may not be completely formed, or who are impressionable.

In the 21st century, the goal of pro-Israel advocates is to educate. Ignorance is a major enemy in the war of words against those who want to delegitimize Israel, and concoct rationales for violence and ostracism against Jews everywhere.

Respond and respectfully correct inaccuracies on Facebook and twitter from those who slander Israel. During times of quiet in the conflict, return to basic education to lay the groundwork to combat the next round of falsehoods that will inevitably be hurled at Israel.

Share videos and photos from social media, like the one that shows Palestinians teaching the best ways to insert a knife into a Jew.

When you are charged with stereotyping all Palestinians, share with them polls revealing that 93 percent of Palestinians hold anti-Jewish beliefs. Offer polls of Palestinians by Palestinians, like the one from the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion in June 2015 showing 81% of West Bank Palestinian Arabs say all of historic Palestine “is Palestinian land and Jews have no rights to the land.”

This conflict will not move in a positive and less violent direction until an American administration throws out the failed playbooks for resolving the conflict. The conflict will have a chance for resolution when Palestinian dreams of slaughter and expulsion of Jews are confronted and rejected, not justified by cultural relativism.

A future administration must renounce the disingenuous moral equivalence meant to placate Muslim and Arab states. This has been a failed strategy, playing into the hands of Arab dictators, who have used Israel as the scapegoat to cover up their own incompetence and corruption.

In February 2015 I wrote an article, “ Does Mahmoud Abbas want his legacy to be the third intifada?’ Six months later, we seem on the precipice of another more dangerous uprising that emanates not only from Palestinians of the West Bank, but potentially from Palestinian Arabs with Israeli citizenship.

Unless future American administrations can readjust their tired and failed diplomatic strategies, and realize that this conflict is about 1948 and Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish State, not 1967 when Israel in a defensive war pushed back its assailants from being a stone’s throw from its major population centers and conquered the West Bank, Israel and the Palestinians Arabs will continue to pay the price.

America must finally challenge the Muslim worldview that Judaism is not a nationality if progress is ever to be made in resolving the Israeli- Palestinian conflict.

The author is the director of MEPIN™ (Middle East Political and Information Network™), and a regular contributor to The Jerusalem Post. MEPIN™ is a Middle East research analysis read by members of Congress, their foreign policy advisers, members of the Knesset, journalists and organizational leaders.

He regularly briefs members of Congress on issues related to the Middle East.

Iranian Transgressions and Ongoing Palestinian Terrorism

Today’s VLOG asks two questions:

The first: Is there any Iranian violation or transgression of the JCPOA or of long-standing sanctions that would cause this administration to consider imposing a tangible consequence?

According to news sources, the White House said it had “strong indications” that Iran violated UN Security Council resolutions with a ballistic missile test this week. Yet White House press secretary Josh Earnest said it wouldn’t affect implementation of the nuclear deal with Iran. “Iran has demonstrated a track record of abiding by the commitments that they made in the context of the nuclear talks.”

A factually inaccurate, and a troubling response.

The second question deals with the ongoing Palestinian terrorism.  Is this the beginning of a third intifada?

Watch the VLOG below:

Here is a related article I wrote for the Jerusalem Post 6 months ago: Does Mahmoud Abbas Want His Legacy to be the Third Intifada?” 

As always, please share your thoughts. 

Dr. Eric R. Mandel
Director, MEPIN

American Pluralism is an Israeli National Security Issue

(Previously published in The Jerusalem Post.)

Last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced a new 61-seat coalition government.

Last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced a new 61-seat coalition government.

Pundits have emphasized Israel’s move to the political Right, and the likely impact on negotiations with the Palestinians, its relationship with the US government, and an Israeli response if a bad deal is signed with Iran.

My concern is more nuanced. How does the formation of this new coalition government, which empowered Israel’s ultra-Orthodox minority, affect Israel’s relationship with the majority of American Diaspora Jews? Coalition governments in Israel come and go. In the moment, some mistakenly lose perspective, and define the whole Zionist enterprise as less than worthy of support because of rigid or controversial positions taken by haredim (ultra-Orthodox) in positions of religious power. Their choices reverberate throughout the Jewish world because their decisions affect the most sensitive of personal issues, including marriage, conversion, divorce, burials, and, the most basic of all, “Who is a Jew?” The ascendancy of the ultra-Orthodox to control of the Chief Rabbinate in the past 25 years, replacing more mainstream Orthodox leadership, has needlessly strained the relationship of American Jewry with Israel.

This is not just a theological division; it can have profound and long-lasting national security consequences for Israel. Yes, for Israel. If American Jews begin to question their support of Israel because of decisions of the ultra-Orthodox in control of religious issues in Israel and beyond, that breeds a national security problem, not just a religious issue.

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Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove of the flagship Conservative Park Avenue Synagogue of New York recently observed that with the return of haredim in control of key Israeli ministries, it is inevitable that friction will be created, while American and Israeli Jewry are heading in opposite directions.

With the ascendancy of ultra-Orthodox Jews in the new coalition, official Israeli Judaism emanating from the ministries under haredi control is moving toward a more centralized, less inclusive form. Meanwhile, organized mainstream American liberal Judaism is moving towards more inclusivity, outreach and pluralism in large part as a response to the PEW survey of American Jews that revealed a 70 percent intermarriage rate within the non-Orthodox community. This is incredibly important for the longevity and sustainability of American Jewry, but its impact on national security also deserves attention.

If the majority of American Jews hear from their rabbis that they are now more marginalized and disenfranchised than ever by those in control of religious issues in the new government, American Diaspora Jewry, who instinctively want to support Israel, may now feel disrespected, or certainly confused.

Israeli leaders who have taken for granted the support of mainstream American Jewry need to understand how their new government’s makeup and shift to religious inflexibility will be perceived in the US. These are the people who elect members of Congress, lobby politicians to support Israel, contribute financially to the Jewish state and send their children on Birthright trips.

Israel has one great friend in the world, the unipolar superpower, the United States of America. American Jewry has been and is still overwhelmingly supportive of the Jewish state; they appreciate the security issues Israel faces daily. However, the durability of that bond will be tested if American Jewry feels the Jewish state has somehow morphed into a state with fundamental values different than theirs.

Anything that diminishes that bond is a security issue for Israel.

I am not speaking about the minority of progressive American Jews and their rabbis who seem to revel in siding with Israel’s enemies, and look for opportunities to justify their support of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. Without diminishing the influence of those detractors, I am speaking about the majority of American Jews who are affiliated with religious movements, who may view Israel’s new coalition government as a backtrack on prior promises. From the continuing contentious fight of “Who is a Jew?” to who can marry or convert a proselyte, American mainstream Jewry is more liberal and may find it harder to defend the state when they feel its ultra-Orthodox leadership does not respect them. It must be remembered that American Modern Orthodoxy is also at odds with the ultra-Orthodox, whose motto seems to be a “my way or the highway” Judaism.

Israeli leaders must remember that American Jewish support is not God-given, nor is it inevitable. America is not only a supporter of Israel’s military needs, but also is its diplomatic shield at international organizations.

These are core security interests.

As I wrote in my past column, America needs Israel, but Israel also needs a strong relationship with America.

Prime Minister Netanyahu must realize that in 2015 Israeli security interests are intimately involved with the pulse of the American Jewish community.

Groups like AIPAC, the iconic pro-Israel organization, rely on mainstream American Jewry foot soldiers from the liberal American Jewish movements.

Some Jewish philanthropic organizations already have stopped giving funds to Israel because of contentious issues in the past. A hard shift against religious pluralism in Israel can add fuel to this fire.

My advice for the secular leadership of the new Likud government: Find a way to embrace and legitimize the American liberal religious movements.

Do it for your own national security interests.

The author is the director of MEPIN (Middle East Political and Information Network), a Middle East research analysis read by members of Congress, their foreign policy advisers, members of the Knesset, journalists and organizational leaders. He regularly briefs members of Congress on issues related to the Middle East.


Does Mahmoud Abbas Want His Legacy to be the Third Intifada?

(Previously published in The Jerusalem Post) 

He decided years ago that he cannot, or will not, accept any realistic two-state parameters that could offer Israel reasonable security.

‘America is the land of solutions. In the Middle East, sometimes there are no solutions.”

A headline in The Jerusalem Post last week read, “Abbas may halt security cooperation with Israel unless Palestine is created.” Conventional wisdom says Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ threat to end security cooperation with the IDF is simply empty rhetoric, because Abbas knows very well that without an Israel’s military presence in the West Bank, his PA security forces would be overthrown in short order.

He knows that they would likely follow the infamous path of their comrades in Gaza in 2005 after the Israeli disengagement, and be thrown off 10-story buildings by their “unity partner” Hamas. Both Israel and the PA know that the West Bank would likely become “Hamastan on the Jordan,” a security nightmare for Israel.

President Abbas knows that within a few weeks, or at most a few months, this would become a reality. But what if – this time – something is truly different, and President Abbas really is contemplating ending the security cooperation? Could Abbas have concluded that he needs to start thinking about his legacy and his place in Palestinian folklore?

He decided years ago that he cannot, or will not, accept any realistic two-state parameters that could offer Israel reasonable security, an end to the “Right of Return,” or any shared status on the Temple Mount. We know this because he never responded to prime minister Ehud Olmert’s 2007 offer of 96-98% of the West Bank, land swaps, east Jerusalem and control of the Temple Mount.

Yet America and the West, which continually pressure Israel and claim that the conflict is all about the settlements and borders, pretend that this offer never occurred. Unfortunately, not even the most critical analysis sees Abbas – or any Palestinian leader – as giving up the right of return, acquiescing to Israel’s minimum security concerns in the Jordan River Valley, or signing any end-of-conflict agreement.

So what options does Abbas really have? In America today, we debate the foreign policy legacy of President Barack Obama. Why? The president wants to be remembered for some foreign policy achievement. President Abbas also wants a legacy. His dream is not to be remembered as the man who gave up Muslim land (dar al-Islam) to the Jews, i.e. any of the land of Israel within the 1949 armistice line.

Perhaps his dream is to emulate his mentor, Yasser Arafat, and be remembered by the Palestinian people as a “freedom fighter.” He may feel he can rewrite history before his time passes, and be remembered as a hero, not as the man who presided over the failed Oslo accords and led a corrupt government that stole hundreds of millions of shekels from his own people.

Perhaps Abbas has come to the realization that even though he is in the 10th year of his four-year term, he is also entering the ninth decade of his life, and will not remain the Palestinian president forever.

Perhaps he would like to be revered in the Mukata in Ramallah, where Arafat lies. To the American Progressive organizations, and President Obama, Abbas is “moderate” and the best peacemaker Israel will ever have. As President Obama said in March of 2013: “Of course, Israel cannot be expected to negotiate with anyone who is dedicated to its destruction. But while I know you have had differences with the Palestinian Authority, I believe that you do have a true partner in President Abbas.”

It is inconceivable to these progressives that if the right deal were offered with enough territorial concessions, Abbas would not accept it. (Of course, this ignores the 2007 Olmert offer.) They say it is all about the settlements, not the destruction of Israel. They are convinced that there must be a Western- style “solution,” and it simply means removing all the settlements and ending the “oppressive occupation.”

This reveals the schizophrenia of American foreign policy. On one hand, they see the Palestinians as part of the Arab world, where Islamism is on the rise, pushing the West’s “moderate” PA to join a unity government with the Hamas terrorists. On the other hand, America expects Israel to treat the Palestinians as if they were negotiating with Canada, and to trust a Palestinian culture that sees compromise with the West as weakness, or, at best, a strategic choice.

Unfortunately, Abbas lives not in North America, but in the Muslim world, and his predisposition clearly reflects that he is not prepared to accept a Jewish presence in any part of the Levant. The West refuses to acknowledge that in 2015, “secular” Arab leaders like Abbas never will accept the concept of compromise. A good part of the reason why American foreign policy is such a disaster in the Middle East is because it fails to acknowledge that most modern Islamic analysis cannot be reconciled with our Western perspective.

American is the land of solutions. In the Middle East sometimes there are no solutions, or no solutions right now. It is Israel that pays the price because only Israel can be pressured by the United States and the West, i.e. the threat of cutting off diplomatic protection in the international arena. This is a lethal threat for a tiny nation.

Could it be that America’s foreign policy analysts are the ones who are getting it wrong? Do they fail to acknowledge that the motivation of the Palestinians and Arab peoples may be based more on their Islamic religious outlook, and not on resolving centuries- old conflicts between clans and tribes, where nation-states identity is secondary? Despite Abbas wearing a western suit and tie, his words and his people’s actions are more aligned with the unyielding Islamist demands, than with the idea of Western compromise. We are blind to the fact that over the last 20 years Muslim religiosity has replaced a more moderate secular perspective. The result is that American and many Israeli leaders can’t explain the longevity of the conflict because they are married to the idea of compromise, a value embedded in the Western world order.

If you were President Abbas and you knew that you couldn’t bring peace to your people, would you want to be remembered as the impotent corrupt leader of the PA, or would you erase your past and become known as the leader of the glorious third intifada? All of this may be moot as the Palestinian Authority may not be able to dictate events. As the Jerusalem Post reported: “The army has told the government that at any given moment the Palestinian Authority can collapse…

In one of the scenarios that the IDF presented, a small localized security incident, like an altercation between settlers and Palestinians, or the throwing of a Molotov cocktail could quickly escalate to rioting in the Galilee and the Triangle area. With the weakened Palestinian Authority a situation like this is liable to lead to terrorist organizations taking control of the West Bank.”

What should America do? Understand that the chaos of the Middle East and the weakness of the PA make this an inopportune time for final status negotiations.

America’s goal should be to convince Abbas not to start a third intifada and to help the Palestinians build the foundations of a future democracy, with rule of law, tolerance, freedom of the press, and freedom of speech.

In short, America should lead conflict management, not impose solutions where none exist.

The author is the director of MEPIN (Middle East Political and Information Network), a Middle East research analysis read by members of Congress, their foreign policy advisors, members of the Knesset, journalists and organizational leaders.